Friday, October 31, 2008

Rachel Maddow's interview of Barack Obama

She talks to "Godless" people?

Wheels coming off the Dole Cart?

MCCain clings to narrow lead in Indiana

from Rasmussen Reports

New polling on the presidential race puts Indiana in the toss-up category less than a week before Election Day.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds John McCain slipping below the 50% level of support and clinging to a three-point lead over Barack Obama. McCain now attracts support from 49% of voters and Obama is supported by 46%.

Earlier in the month, McCain had a seven-point lead in the Hoosier State.

Although Indiana has been one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation, it has clearly been a target for the Obama campaign this year. Parts of northwestern Indiana are effectively suburbs of Chicago, Obama’s home base.

During the Indiana Democratic Primary, strong turnout in this region almost enabled Obama to pull off an upset victory over Hillary Clinton. It is possible that a strong turnout in that region of the state could do the same again in the general election.

(Want a daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls).

Nationally, Obama has been leading McCain every day for more than a month in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll. He also has a healthy lead in the Electoral College projections.

With release of this poll, Indiana moves from "Leans Republican" to "Toss-Up" in the Rasmussen Reports Balance of Power Calculator. Today, Montana also has moved from McCain's column to Toss-Up status.

In Indiana, McCain is viewed favorably by 57%, Obama by 49%.

McCain leads among those who regularly attend church while Obama leads among those who rarely or never attend services.

Obama leads by a two-to-one margin among those who consider the economy to be the top issue (see full demographic crosstabs.)

Not surprisingly, the economy is the top issue of the election for 50% of Indiana voters, with no other issue coming close. Voters in Indiana trust McCain more on this issue by a 48% to 45% margin.

Rasmussen Markets data shows that Republicans are currently given a 58.3% chance of winning Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes this fall.

Foreign Policy roundup 10/31

Stock markets in Asia and Europe appear to be headed for their worst month of all time, according to Reuters.
Japan's central bank cut a key interest rate for the first time in seven years.
Barclays, the British bank, is soliciting funds from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

The American auto industry is increasingly seeking government support.
A U.S. judge has ordered that Argentine pension funds' investments in the United States be frozen to meet that country's sovereign debt obligations.
Protests over the distribution of mining revenues have wracked parts of Peru for three days.

Indian officials blamed Islamic militants for the blasts that killed 77 people in Assam state Thursday.
Kim Jong Il skipped an important funeral, fueling speculation that the North Korean leader is in poor health.
South Koreans are losing confidence in President Lee Myung-bak.

Middle East and Africa
Iraq's defense minister is requring ministry employees to be politically neutral.
Zambia's opposition leader is ahead in the vote count.
Refugees are fleeing Congo by the thousands, despite a cease-fire.

Russia denies that some of its nuclear weapons have gone missing.

Today's Agenda
Gen. David Petraeus officially takes charge at U.S. Central Command.
Beijing resumes talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama.
Indonesia executes three militants for the 2002 bombing in Bali.
Obama is campaigning in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois; McCain is in four towns in Ohio; Joe Biden is Delaware and Ohio; Sarah Palin is in Pennsylvania.

Truthout 10/31

Video Undervotes: The Scary Canary
In 2004, voters in key states waited in long lines at the polls only to later discover the voting machines did not record their vote for a presidential candidate. This occurrence is known as an undervoting. This clip from David Earnhardt's documentary film, "Uncounted," focuses on cases of undervoting in the 2004 battleground states of New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

CIA Officers Could Face Trial in Britain Over Torture Allegations
Robert Verkaik, The Independent UK: "Senior CIA officers could be put on trial in Britain after it emerged last night that the Attorney General is to investigate allegations that a British resident held in Guantanamo Bay was brutally tortured, after being arrested and questioned by American forces following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001."

Ohio Provisional Ballots May Prove Pivotal
Ian Urbina, The New York Times: "If the outcome of next week's presidential election is close, this precariously balanced state could be the place where the two parties begin filing the inevitable lawsuits over voting irregularities, experts say.... The most likely source of litigation is the state's heavy use of provisional ballots, which are issued when a voter's identity or registration cannot immediately be verified or when polls stay open late. Ohio has a history of requiring large numbers of voters to use these ballots, which are easy to disqualify and are not counted until after the election."

"Human Catastrophe" Grips Congo
BBC News: "Fierce fighting between government and rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, the Red Cross says. Diplomatic efforts are under way to end the crisis, which has threatened to spill over into neighbouring Rwanda. A tense ceasefire is holding in the eastern city of Goma, where tens of thousands fled as rebels advanced. But rebel leader Gen Laurent Nkunda has threatened to take the city unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire. Killings and rapes have been reported in Goma and aid has not been reaching the displaced."

Bailout Isn't Just for Wall Street Anymore
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "After a bruising battle to get it through a doubting Congress, the Bush administration's $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan to purchase distressed mortgages and other bad assets has morphed into something else entirely.... What once was disparagingly referred to as bailout for Wall Street now looks like a broader bailout of all sorts of troubled businesses. Some lawmakers and outside analysts question whether that's serving the public interest as intended - or whether it's becoming a taxpayer-financed giveaway to favored firms."

Video Undervotes: The Scary Canary
In 2004, voters in key states waited in long lines at the polls only to later discover the voting machines did not record their vote for a presidential candidate. This occurrence is known as an undervoting. This clip from David Earnhardt's documentary film, "Uncounted," focuses on cases of undervoting in the 2004 battleground states of New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

Bush Administration Makes a Last Push to Deregulate
R. Jeffrey Smith, The Washington Post: "The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January."

Vote Watchdogs Warn of Troubles on Election Day
Carol J. Williams and Noam N. Levey, The Los Angeles Times: "Counting down to an election day expected to draw a record-shattering turnout, voting-rights watchdogs are sounding the alarm that a repeat of the Florida fiasco of 2000 could occur in any of a dozen battleground states. Lawsuits are already flying in many of these states."

J. Sri Raman A South Asian Pitfall for President Obama
J. Sri Raman, Truthout: "Far from Barack Obama's battleground, a second-tier city in India's deep south witnessed, on October 26, a fervently devout mass prayer for the Democratic candidate's victory in the presidential election of November 4. The man behind the event, a P. R. Krishnakumar, identified as an astrologer, made a patriotic case for the prayer. 'Obama has vouched that India will be top priority [for him],' he told the media. He also mentioned the significance of Obama's candidature as a symbol of progressive causes."

Elliot Cohen Hell to Pay
Elliot Cohen, Truthdig: "Sen. John McCain's ideological ties to the Bush-Cheney administration have mostly passed beneath the radar of the mainstream media, but if McCain loses the presidential race to Barack Obama, his neoconservative legacy could erupt into the open with a force that should not be underestimated."

The Guardian UK Suffering Without End
The Guardian UK: "If the words humanitarian catastrophe and eastern Congo have a familiar ring to them, it is because the fundamental causes of a conflict that has claimed five million lives and continues to kill 45,000 a month through starvation and disease remain unaddressed. And this despite the world's largest peacekeeping force, with the strongest mandate - to use lethal force if necessary to protect civilian lives. The 17,000-strong UN force, known as Monuc, has patently failed to do this. In most villages the militias represent the only law, the only protection from rape, crop-raiding and kidnap. The international community's attempts to restore order have lost all credibility."

Philippe Escande From One Crisis to Another
Writing for France's premier business paper, Les Echos, Philippe Escande notes, "After the borrowing crisis, the footprint crisis. We're in the process of drowning ourselves in an ocean of debts and here the WWF comes and sends us an odd sort of lifesaver in the guise of ecological footprint. To put it roughly, that honorable assembly of nature protectors reminds us that with respect to natural resources also, we are living on credit."

When consumers capitulate

New York Times

The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday’s G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.

To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn’t been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.

Also, these numbers are from the third quarter — the months of July, August, and September. So these data are basically telling us what happened before confidence collapsed after the fall of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, not to mention before the Dow plunged below 10,000. Nor do the data show the full effects of the sharp cutback in the availability of consumer credit, which is still under way.

So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

It’s true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means. In the mid-1980s Americans saved about 10 percent of their income. Lately, however, the savings rate has generally been below 2 percent — sometimes it has even been negative — and consumer debt has risen to 98 percent of G.D.P., twice its level a quarter-century ago.

Some economists told us not to worry because Americans were offsetting their growing debt with the ever-rising values of their homes and stock portfolios. Somehow, though, we’re not hearing that argument much lately.

Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine’s plea: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap — a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.

Some background: one of the high points of the semester, if you’re a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone’s income.

In fact, consumers’ income may actually fall more than their spending, so that their attempt to save more backfires — a possibility known as the paradox of thrift.

At this point, however, the instructor hastens to explain that virtue isn’t really vice: in practice, if consumers were to cut back, the Fed would respond by slashing interest rates, which would help the economy avoid recession and lead to a rise in investment. So virtue is virtue after all, unless for some reason the Fed can’t offset the fall in consumer spending.

I’ll bet you can guess what’s coming next.

For the fact is that we are in a liquidity trap right now: Fed policy has lost most of its traction. It’s true that Ben Bernanke hasn’t yet reduced interest rates all the way to zero, as the Japanese did in the 1990s. But it’s hard to believe that cutting the federal funds rate from 1 percent to nothing would have much positive effect on the economy. In particular, the financial crisis has made Fed policy largely irrelevant for much of the private sector: The Fed has been steadily cutting away, yet mortgage rates and the interest rates many businesses pay are higher than they were early this year.

The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it’s no use whining. What we need is a policy response.

The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won’t do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we’ve seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn’t spend.

Let’s hope, then, that Congress gets to work on a package to rescue the economy as soon as the election is behind us. And let’s also hope that the lame-duck Bush administration doesn’t get in the way.

A national mobility project

New York Times

Government spending is growing at an astounding pace. Congress and the president have thrown hundreds of billions into stimulus packages, domestic programs, military spending and other initiatives. Total federal spending is growing at a 13.8 percent annual rate.

Has all this money done anything to actually stimulate private economic activity? Not that you’d notice. Consumption is cratering. The U.S. economy just experienced the sharpest real drop in consumer spending since 1974.

The lesson here is that we have a right to be skeptical of so-called stimulus packages. The Federal Reserve can effectively stimulate the economy. There are certain automatic government programs, like unemployment insurance, which also do it. But the history of the past century suggests that politically designed, ad hoc stimulus packages rarely work.

Often they get the timing wrong; they come too late to do any real good. Often they get the pressure points wrong; the economy is simply too complicated for lawmakers to know where to apply the stimulus patch. Almost always, they get psychology wrong. When you give people a chunk of money in the midst of economic turmoil, they don’t spend most of it. They save it.

Nevertheless, economists continue to propose new stimulus ideas with unshaken confidence and over the next six months, the government will almost certainly pass more gigantic programs. Republican economists are talking of plans larger than $100 billion, and Democratic ones are hatching plans in the $300 billion range.

Bad policy ideas are coming in profusion. There are plans to bail out automakers. There are plans to issue more rebate checks (even though the last ones didn’t work). Barack Obama is proposing one-time tax credits for small businesses that are hiring. This is an ineffectual ploy that would shower federal money on those few firms that would be hiring anyway while doing nothing for companies in struggling sectors.

These and other plans amount to an economic sugar rush. And yet the political climate being what it is, something big is going to pass.

In times like these, the best a sensible leader can do is to take the short-term panic and channel it into a program that is good on its own merits even if it does nothing to stimulate the economy over the next year. That’s why I’m hoping the next president takes the general resolve to spend gobs of money, and channels it into a National Mobility Project, a long-term investment in the country’s infrastructure.

Major highway projects take about 13 years from initiation to completion — too long to counteract any recession. But at least they create a legacy that can improve the economic environment for decades to come.

A major infrastructure initiative would create jobs for the less-educated workers who have been hit hardest by the transition to an information economy. It would allow the U.S. to return to the fundamentals. There is a real danger that the U.S. is going to leap from one over-consuming era to another, from one finance-led bubble to another. Focusing on infrastructure would at least get us thinking about the real economy, asking hard questions about what will increase real productivity, helping people who are expanding companies rather than hedge funds.

Moreover, an infrastructure resurgence is desperately needed. Americans now spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, a figure expected to double by 2020. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 42 years. American residential patterns have radically changed. Workplaces have decentralized. Commuting patterns are no longer radial, from suburban residences to central cities. Now they are complex weaves across broad megaregions. Yet the infrastructure system hasn’t adapted.

The smart thing to do is announce a short-term infrastructure initiative to accelerate all those repair projects that can be done within a few years. Then, begin a long-term National Mobility Project.

Create a base-closings-like commission to organize federal priorities (Congress has forfeited its right to micromanage). Streamline the regulations that can now delay project approval by five years. Explore all the new ideas that are burgeoning in the transportation world — congestion pricing, smart highways, rescue plans for shrinking Midwestern cities, new rail and airplane technologies. When you look into this sector, you see we are on the cusp of another transportation revolution.

A mobility project would dovetail with the energy initiatives both presidential candidates have offered. It would benefit from broad political support from liberals and business groups alike. It would rebalance this economy, so there is more productive weight to go along with Wall Street wizardry.

Smart investors are going to take advantage of the current panic to make money. A smart president could take advantage of it to build something that will last for decades and decades to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The weakest "endorsement" I've ever read

From today's South Bend Tribune:


In District 2, Republican Rich Ziegler is facing Democrat Dave Thomas. This is a difficult choice because neither candidate is prepared to serve as commissioner. Although Ziegler is well-meaning, Thomas seems to have a better grasp of a commissioner’s duties.

The Tribune endorses Dave Thomas.


I gave some hard thought to entering this race, rather than school board. Coulda, shoulda, woulda...

It's really time we slayed this three headed monster and replace it with a single elected executive.

Bush legacy: The debasing of military service

by Mark Shields

With the characteristic keenness of speech insight and bluntness that has earned him nearly unanimous respect in both parties and the press, Virginia Republican congressman Tom Davis assessed President George W. Bush's impact on the GOP: “The Republican brand is in the trash can … if we were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

We all know that probably sooner rather than later — and thanks, at least in part, to the Democrats' politically screwing up — the Republicans will recover and once again win a national election. But the Bush political legacy — which will almost certainly include his party having lost more than 20 House seats in two consecutive elections (GOP lost 31 in 2006 and is on schedule to lose another 20 or more on Nov. 4) for the first time since 1930 to 1932 — is an insignificant blemish compared to the Bush political machine's vicious and systematic smearing, if not libeling, of oftentimes heroic military service by Bush's political opponents.

Let's look at the record and the evidence of character assassination. In the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had dared to upset the heavily favored George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, was accused by Bush-backers of being emotionally and mentally unstable because of the 5.5 years of abuse and torture as a prisoner-of-war in North Vietnam. The Bush campaign used discredited veterans to charge that McCain had committed treason by collaborating with the enemy to save himself.

In 1969, Democrat Al Gore had done what no other 21-year-old graduate of St. Albans prep school and Harvard College did that year: He enlisted in the U.S. Army, not as an officer but as a private. In 1971, the Army sent Gore to Vietnam. This was not helpful for Bush and the GOP in the 2000 presidential campaign; Bush had relied upon his father's political clout to jump ahead of many others on the Texas Air National Guard's waiting list and somehow received an officer's commission without ever attending Officer Candidate School.
In Vietnam, the U.S. Marine Corps sustained more casualties than the Corps had in all of World War II; however, Bush forfeited his flight status by failing to show up for his annual physical.

So the Bush campaign accused Al Gore of getting “preferential treatment” in Vietnam in 1971 because his father was a Democratic senator from Tennessee. This conveniently ignored the fact that Gore Sr. had lost his Senate seat in 1970. The Bushies disparaged Gore for serving as an Army journalist in Vietnam (while Bush was not serving as a Texas National Guardsman in the legendary Battle of Amarillo).

In 2002, the Bush organization in the Georgia U.S. Senate race defamed and helped defeat Democrat Max Cleland who had lost both legs and an arm serving in the Army in Vietnam; Cleland opposed the Bush version of the Homeland Security Act. Cleland's opponent Saxby Chambliss claimed “ a bad knee” prevented him from fighting the Commies in ‘Nam, so you had the “bad knee” non-combatant questioning the patriotism of the legless combat veteran.

Again in 2004, Bush faced Democrat John Kerry, another decorated Vietnam combat veteran who had earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. When anti-Kerry ads appeared accusing the Democrat of lying about his war record and betraying his comrades, Republican John McCain branded the anti-Kerry commercials “dishonest and dishonorable.” McCain added: “It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me,” in comparing the attacks to those used against him by the Bush forces in South Carolina. Ignoring McCain's urging, President Bush and his campaign refused to condemn the slurs on Kerry.

The Bush motive is clear: A political adversary's military service, regardless how heroic, must be disparaged, denigrated and demeaned at all costs. That shameful pattern constitutes and reveals ultimate disdain for all those who serve our country in uniform.

FP roundup 1/30

Colombia's defense ministry fired 27 military officers for alleged involvement in the deaths of a dozen civilian youth.
The Washington Post has a series of special reports on Latin America.
Shell is delaying a decision on investing in oil sands in Alberta, Canada.

Bombs killed at least 39 people in northern India.
A suicide bomber struck the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul.
The Afghan government's overtures to the Taliban have "new intensity," the New York Times reports.
More signs that China's economy is slowing faster than expected.

Middle East and Africa
Thousands of demonstrators protested at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.
Congo's rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki agreed to resign earlier than planned.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a whirlwind of questionable activity.
Russia bailed out its oligarchs. Is Putin in political trouble?

Truthout 10/30

Marcia Mitchell Cold War Spy Case Offers Lessons for Today
Marcia Mitchell, Truthout: "New allegations of illegal eavesdropping have put the NSA once again on the political hot seat. This time, for listening in on phone calls made by American military and humanitarian workers. Hardly a surprise, given the agency's history of disregard for the laws that govern who listens to whom and for what purpose. No surprise either that former NSA head Michael Hayden, now director of the CIA, insists that charges of agency lawbreaking are 'ridiculous.'"

More Than 30,000 Registered Coloradans Barred From Voting
Naomi Zeveloff, The Colorado Independent: "Thousands of Coloradans have been denied the right to vote because of a policy that may violate federal law. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman has authorized county clerks to purge newly registered voters under the so-called 20-day rule. Here, county clerks must send non-forwardable letters to newly registered voters. If the mail bounces back to the clerks, then they must remove the voter applicants' names from the rolls. Voting rights advocates say that the policy violates the 1965 National Voting Rights Act."

Colombia Killings Cast Doubt on War Against Insurgents
Simon Romero, The New York Times: "Colombia's government, the Bush administration's top ally in Latin America, has been buffeted by the killings of Mr. Oviedo and dozens of other young, impoverished men and women whose cases have come to light in recent weeks. Some were vagrants, others street vendors and manual laborers. But their fates were often the same: being catalogued as insurgents or criminal gang members and killed by the armed forces. Prosecutors and human rights researchers are investigating hundreds of such deaths and disappearances, contending that Colombia's security forces are increasingly murdering civilians and making it look as if they were killed in combat, often by planting weapons by the bodies or dressing them in guerrilla fatigues."

Top Conservatives to Meet on Rebuilding Republican Party
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "Senior Republicans are planning to meet at a rural retreat in Virginia within days of the election to discuss how to rebuild a party they expect to be badly beaten in the White House and congressional races. News of the meeting emerged as a poll in Arizona indicated that John McCain could suffer the embarrassing loss of his home state. The poll put McCain on 46 percent and Barack Obama on 44 percent, indicating the Republicans are struggling to hold on in their traditional heartlands.... It is intended to look at who should take over chairmanship of the party, whether the party needs to switch to the right, and to make plans for the next presidential election."

Panic Grips Congo as Rebels Advance on Town of Goma
Xan Rice, The Guardian UK: "Congolese rebels closed in on the eastern town of Goma yesterday, causing panic among residents and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of international aid workers and UN staff. Around 45,000 internal refugees, most of whom had only arrived on foot a day earlier, fled a displaced persons' camp near Goma as forces loyal to Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda battled international peacekeepers and government troops.... Nkunda's men have already captured several key towns near Goma in North Kivu province and raised fears of a return to full-scale war in Democratic Republic of Congo."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The behavioral revolution

New York Times

Roughly speaking, there are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action.

Over the past few centuries, public policy analysts have assumed that step three is the most important. Economic models and entire social science disciplines are premised on the assumption that people are mostly engaged in rationally calculating and maximizing their self-interest.

But during this financial crisis, that way of thinking has failed spectacularly. As Alan Greenspan noted in his Congressional testimony last week, he was “shocked” that markets did not work as anticipated. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”

So perhaps this will be the moment when we alter our view of decision-making. Perhaps this will be the moment when we shift our focus from step three, rational calculation, to step one, perception.

Perceiving a situation seems, at first glimpse, like a remarkably simple operation. You just look and see what’s around. But the operation that seems most simple is actually the most complex, it’s just that most of the action takes place below the level of awareness. Looking at and perceiving the world is an active process of meaning-making that shapes and biases the rest of the decision-making chain.

Economists and psychologists have been exploring our perceptual biases for four decades now, with the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and also with work by people like Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, John Bargh and Dan Ariely.

My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been deeply influenced by this stream of research. Taleb not only has an explanation for what’s happening, he saw it coming. His popular books “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Back Swan” were broadsides at the risk-management models used in the financial world and beyond.

In “The Black Swan,” Taleb wrote, “The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup.” Globalization, he noted, “creates interlocking fragility.” He warned that while the growth of giant banks gives the appearance of stability, in reality, it raises the risk of a systemic collapse — “when one fails, they all fail.”

Taleb believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.

And looking at the financial crisis, it is easy to see dozens of errors of perception. Traders misperceived the possibility of rare events. They got caught in social contagions and reinforced each other’s risk assessments. They failed to perceive how tightly linked global networks can transform small events into big disasters.

Taleb is characteristically vituperative about the quantitative risk models, which try to model something that defies modelization. He subscribes to what he calls the tragic vision of humankind, which “believes in the existence of inherent limitations and flaws in the way we think and act and requires an acknowledgement of this fact as a basis for any individual and collective action.” If recent events don’t underline this worldview, nothing will.

If you start thinking about our faulty perceptions, the first thing you realize is that markets are not perfectly efficient, people are not always good guardians of their own self-interest and there might be limited circumstances when government could usefully slant the decision-making architecture (see “Nudge” by Thaler and Cass Sunstein for proposals). But the second thing you realize is that government officials are probably going to be even worse perceivers of reality than private business types. Their information feedback mechanism is more limited, and, being deeply politicized, they’re even more likely to filter inconvenient facts.

This meltdown is not just a financial event, but also a cultural one. It’s a big, whopping reminder that the human mind is continually trying to perceive things that aren’t true, and not perceiving them takes enormous effort.

Ceding the center

New York Times

There are two major political parties in America, but there are at least three major political tendencies. The first is orthodox liberalism, a belief in using government to maximize equality. The second is free-market conservatism, the belief in limiting government to maximize freedom.

But there is a third tendency, which floats between. It is for using limited but energetic government to enhance social mobility. This tendency began with Alexander Hamilton, who created a vibrant national economy so more people could rise and succeed. It matured with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War Republicans, who created the Land Grant College Act and the Homestead Act to give people the tools to pursue their ambitions. It continued with Theodore Roosevelt, who busted the trusts to give more Americans a square deal.

Members of this tradition have one foot in the conservatism of Edmund Burke. They understand how little we know or can know and how much we should rely on tradition, prudence and habit. They have an awareness of sin, of the importance of traditional virtues and stable institutions. They understand that we are not free-floating individuals but are embedded in thick social organisms.

But members of this tradition also have a foot in the landscape of America, and share its optimism and its Lincolnian faith in personal transformation. Hamilton didn’t seek wealth for its own sake, but as a way to enhance the country’s greatness and serve the unique cause America represents in the world.

Members of this tradition are Americanized Burkeans, or to put it another way, progressive conservatives.

This tendency thrived in American life for a century and a half, but it went into hibernation during the 20th century because it sat crossways to that era’s great debate — the one between socialism and its enemies. But many of us hoped this Hamilton-to-Bull Moose tradition would be reborn in John McCain’s campaign.

McCain shares the progressive conservative instinct. He has shown his sympathy with the striving immigrant and his disgust with the colluding corporatist. He has an untiring reform impulse and a devotion to national service and American exceptionalism.

His campaign seemed the perfect vehicle to explain how this old approach applied to a new century with new problems — a century with widening inequality, declining human capital, a fraying social contract, rising entitlement debt, corporate authoritarian regimes abroad and soft corporatist collusion at home.

In modernizing this old tradition, some of us hoped McCain would take sides in the debate now dividing the G.O.P. Some Republicans believe the G.O.P. went astray by abandoning its tax-cutting, anti-government principles. They want a return to Reagan (or at least the Reagan of their imaginations). But others want to modernize and widen the party and adapt it to new challenges. Some of us hoped that by reforming his party, which has grown so unpopular, McCain could prove that he could reform the country.

But McCain never took sides in this debate and never articulated a governing philosophy, Hamiltonian or any other. In Sunday’s issue of The Times Magazine, Robert Draper describes the shifts in tactics that consumed the McCain campaign. The tactics varied promiscuously, but they were all about how to present McCain, not about how to describe the state of country or the needs of the voter. It was all biography, which was necessary, but it did not clearly point to a new direction for the party or the country.

The Hamiltonian-Bull Moose tendency is the great, moderate strain in American politics. In some sense this whole campaign was a contest to see which party could reach out from its base and occupy that centrist ground. The Democratic Party did that. Senior Democrats like Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Jason Furman actually created something called The Hamilton Project to lay out a Hamiltonian approach for our day.

McCain and Republicans stayed within their lines. There was a lot of talk about earmarks. There was a good health care plan that was never fully explained. And there was Sarah Palin, who represents the old resentments and the narrow appeal of conventional Republicanism.

As a result, Democrats now control the middle. Self-declared moderates now favor Obama by 59 to 30, according to the New York Times/CBS News poll. Suburban voters favor Obama 50 to 39. Voters over all give him a 21 point lead when it comes to better handling the economy and a 14 point lead on tax policy, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

McCain would be an outstanding president. In government, he has almost always had an instinct for the right cause. He has become an experienced legislative craftsman. He is stalwart against the country’s foes and cooperative with its friends. But he never escaped the straitjacket of a party that is ailing and a conservatism that is behind the times. And that’s what makes the final weeks of this campaign so unspeakably sad.

FP roundup 10/29

Wall Street rallied again Tuesday, and Asian and European markets made moderate gains Wednesday.
The world's oilfields are declining faster than expected, according to a landmark IEA study leaked to the Financial Times.
Some luxury goods are becoming unfashionable.

A major drug cartel may have had a spy inside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
In an annual ritual, Cuba plans to formally protest the U.S. embargo at the United Nations.

Pakistan has just a few days before its foreign-exchange reserves run out. To make matters worse, a deadly earthquake just hit Baluchistan province.
China signed an oil-pipeline deal with Russia.
Voters in the Maldives decided not to reelect Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader.

Middle East and Africa
Rebels in eastern Congo seized the border town of Rutshuru, sending U.N. aid workers scrambling for safety. Time's Alex Perry comments.
A flurry of suicide bombs struck northern Somalia.
Iran is opening a new naval base near the Strait of Hormuz.

Hungary is getting a $25.1 billion rescue package from the IMF.
Belarus, also hoping for a bailout, says it is ready to liberalize its economy.
British PM Gordon Brown is calling for a global bailout fund.

Today's Agenda
The markets expect a 2:15 p.m. interest-rate cut from the U.S. Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee. China cut its key rate earlier today.
The Czech Republic's prime minister is visiting the White House.
Obama airs his campaign infomercial.

Truthout 10/29

Gates Expands Bush Doctrine
Thom Shanker, The New York Times: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that the United States would hold 'fully accountable' any country or group that helped terrorists to acquire or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The statement was the Bush administration's most expansive yet in attempting to articulate a vision of deterrence for the post-Sept. 11 world. It went beyond the cold war notion that a president could respond with overwhelming force against a country that directly attacked the United States or its allies with unconventional weapons."

ABC Pushing Daisies Instead of Airing Obama
Lisa de Moraes, The Washington Post: "ABC finally offered Barack Obama's camp the 8 p.m. half-hour in its Wednesday lineup for his campaign-related program -- which will air at that time on the other major broadcast networks. But, in an ironic twist, the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign passed on ABC's offer, saying it has allocated the funds elsewhere."

Robert S. Eshelman Meeting Myself in Bucks County: Pennsylvania in the Political (and Personal) Crucible
Robert S. Eshelman, "Statistics tell us that Bucks County -- one of those places Nixon's 'southern strategy' hit hard when, under Ronald Reagan, it moved north in the 1980s -- has been undergoing a political sea change. The pressure of the Obama campaign and its well-organized 'ground game,' as well as the global economic meltdown and diminished support for the war in Iraq have all had their effect ... With the upcoming election, this heavily white county, which tilted ever so slightly for Kerry in 2004, and went heavily for Hillary Clinton in the primary, may become a solidly blue area, coalescing -- albeit somewhat reluctantly -- behind an African-American Democrat."

Iraq Revises Draft Troop Deal; US Likely to Reject Changes
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Iraqi cabinet agreed Tuesday to amend a draft agreement governing the status of U.S. forces in Iraq, but introduced new provisions that the U.S. military is unlikely to accept. Among other things, the amendments would give Iraqi authorities the right to determine whether a U.S. service member was on- or off-duty when he or she committed an alleged crime outside American bases, where such an American would be tried. It also would allow authorities to inspect all U.S. cargo entering the nation."

McConnell Calls on Stevens to Resign
Martin Kady II and John Bresnahan, The Politico: "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for the resignation of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens - a day after the Senate's longest-serving Republican was convicted on seven federal felony counts. McConnell, locked in a tough reelection fight in Kentucky, did not call for Stevens' resignation in his initial statement on the Alaskan's conviction. But Republican Sens. John McCain, Norm Coleman, Jim DeMint, John Sununu and Gordon Smith and Democrat Barack Obama all called on Stevens to resign Tuesday. And by the time a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader put the question to him at a campaign stop Elizabethtown, Ky., Tuesday night, McConnell was ready to say that he thought Stevens 'should resign.'"

VIDEO Obama's Closing Argument
With a week to go before the election, Senator Obama is making his closing argument. He warns his supporters not to be overconfident and urges them to work hard in the final week leading up to the election.

The 700 Billion Dollar Blank Check
John Dunbar, The Associated Press: "First, the $700 billion rescue for the economy was about buying devalued mortgage-backed securities from tottering banks to unclog frozen credit markets. Then it was about using $250 billion of it to buy stakes in banks. The idea was that banks would use the money to start making loans again. But reports surfaced that bankers might instead use the money to buy other banks, pay dividends, give employees a raise and executives a bonus, or just sit on it."

Five Suicide Bomb Attacks Hit Somalia
Mohammed Ibrahim and Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times: "Suicide attacks rocked government security posts, United Nations offices and an Ethiopian consular unit in two regions of northern Somalia on Wednesday, killing or wounding dozens of people, according to officials and witnesses."

McCain's Bermuda Triangle
Ross Tuttle, The Nation: "Just six months after being rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for exercising 'poor judgment' when he interfered with federal regulators on behalf of a wealthy donor, Senator John McCain engaged in activities that may have constituted an abuse of his office for personal gain. In August 1991, McCain hosted a family reunion at the Bermuda Naval Air Station (BNAS) for at least seven days at taxpayer expense."

Some Black Voters Fear Votes Will Not Be Counted
Susan Saulny, The New York Times: "For weeks now, James Jones has been extra courteous in traffic and at the gas station because he has an Obama sticker on the back of his truck. 'Something like that might make a difference for Barack Obama,' Mr. Jones explained. 'I'm not taking a chance.'"

Victor Yves Ghebali Obama: The Hope of a Return to Tocquevillian America
Le Temps: "Victor Yves Ghebali, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced International and Development Studies, emphasizes that Obama is a 'human bridge,' a symbol of creative fusion."

Progressives off-line

Due to a connectivity problem, Progressives, South Bend was not updated for about 36 hours. We regret any inconvenience caused.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Latest Daniels' risky privatization scheme quashed


Friday, Mitch Daniels dropped his plan to privatize the Hoosier Lottery after federal regulators gently reminded him this would be illegal.

Though the bum Toll Road deal slipped past the legislature, there seems to be a pattern now of Daniels' more extreme privatization projects being blocked before they do even more harm. With recent news coverage highlighting the damage done to Hoosiers' lives by social services privatization, we can be thankful that its spread throughout the state was halted at least temporarily. Now the federal government is getting involved again, pointing out that the Daniels plan would violate federal law.

Mitch often tries to justify his outsourcing projects as a way to cut waste, though these savings usually fail to materialize. You know what's really wasteful? Having the state attempt one privatization project after another, only to have it blocked because it's harmful or illegal. Maybe the best way to avoid waste is to elect a governor who won't waste time on trying to outsource important services, and instead just fix them.

For more information, please visit

Quote of the day

In the final days of the campaign, Al Franken (Democratic Senate nominee) is trying to lighten up.

During his rally last week at the University of Minnesota, with Sen. Clinton standing at his side, Franken asked whether the crowd remembered the positive economic times during President Clinton's administration.

"Vaguely!" shouted one man.

Franken laughed. Then, with a deadpan look, he replied: "I'll do the jokes, sir."

Beyond Voting: The Right to Political Participation in the 21st Century

A panel consisting of local political activists and University of Notre Dame professors will convene this Thursday evening.

Thursday, October 30, 7:00 P.M.
Hesburgh Center for Int'l Studies Auditorium on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Panel Participants:

Rev. Robert Dowd, CSC, Asst. Prof. of Political Science, Faculty Fellow, Kellogg Institute for Int'l Studies and Kroc Institute for Int'l Peace Studies

Robert Fishman, Prof. of Sociaology and Faculty Fellow, Kellogg Institute for Int'l Studies

Julia King, Citizen Activist, Women's Action for New Directions (WAND)

Lisa Plencner, President, League of Women Voters, South Bend Area

The event is co-sponsored by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, Center for Social Concerns, Center for the Study of Social Movements and Social Change, Gender Studies Program, NDVotes ’08

FP roundup 10/27

World stocks plunged yet again Monday as the financial crisis hit an unlikely candidate: Kuwait.
The G7 is worried about the yen.

A Colombian hostage escaped after more than 8 years in the jungle.
Mexico nabbed one of its top drug suspects.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is threatening to jail his chief rival.

Half a million people marched in Taiwan against President Ma Ying-jeou.
North and South Korea are holding talks.
A U.S. missile strike in northwest Pakistan may have killed a top Taliban leader.

Middle East and Africa
Iranian officials say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not ill, but merely "suffering from exhaustion."
Syria says an alleged U.S. raid on its territory was a "terrible crime."
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for snap elections as coalition talks failed.

Britain's Prince Harry wants to be a helicopter pilot.
A top British politician again denied granting favors to a Russian oligarch.
Poland's redhot economy is slowing down.

Truthout 10/27

US Raid in Syria Kills Eight
Ian Black and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "American helicopters flying from Iraq landed inside Syria yesterday and dropped special forces who killed eight people, the Damascus government said last night, as Washington admitted it had targeted 'foreign fighters.' Syria warned that it held the US 'wholly responsible for this act of aggression and all its repercussions.'"

US Threatens to Halt Services to Iraq Without Troop Accord
Roy Gutman and Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "The US military has warned Iraq that it will shut down military operations and other vital services throughout the country on Jan. 1 if the Iraqi government doesn't agree to a new agreement on the status of US forces or a renewed United Nations mandate for the American mission in Iraq. Many Iraqi politicians view the move as akin to political blackmail, a top Iraqi official told McClatchy Sunday."

Obama Ties McCain to Republican Philosophy
Jeff Zeleny, The New York Times: "With the final week of campaigning ahead, Senator Barack Obama redoubled his efforts to tie Senator John McCain to the Bush administration by seizing on Mr. McCain’s remark Sunday that he shared a 'common philosophy' with the president. 'I guess that was John McCain finally giving us a little straight talk, and owning up to the fact that he and George Bush actually have a whole lot in common,' Mr. Obama said at a rally here. 'Here’s the thing, we know what the Bush-McCain philosophy looks like. It’s a philosophy that says we should give more and more to millionaires and billionaires and hope that it trickles down on everyone else.'"

Nick Turse The Trillion Dollar Tag Sale: How the Pentagon Could Help Bail Out America
Nick Turse, "Wars, bases, and money. The three are inextricably tied together. If the United States had never wasted the better part of a trillion dollars fighting a war in Vietnam and, following defeat there, embarked on a scheme to saddle the Soviets with a similarly ignominious loss - which has now led to wars with a multi-trillion dollar price tag - the United States might not be in such dire financial straits today. And yet, despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the US continues to sink money into costly wars fought from expensive bases overseas with no end in sight. The result is sheer waste in every sense of the word."

Al Franken Hopes to Have the Last Laugh in Minnesota
P.J. Huffstutter, The Los Angeles Times: "The comedian's opening act warmed up the crowd, whose laughter echoed inside the cavernous lobby of the University of Minnesota's McNamara Alumni Center. Then the headliner stepped onto the stage, took the microphone in hand ... and didn't tell a joke. Lately, Minnesotans have been seeing a more serious side of comedian Al Franken, one of the original writers for 'Saturday Night Live' and author of the book 'Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.' Nearly two years ago, Franken moved back here to his childhood home and launched his Democratic campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Norm Coleman."

Dahr Jamail The Cost of Slumber
Dahr Jamail, Truthout: "Despite a collapsing economy and complicity in a system that is devouring the embers of a burning planet, the privileged carry on with their lives, 'unaware.' But everyone knows. Even the most ardent supporter of the powers that be is aware of what the government of the United States has done and is doing to Iraq, to the world, to the planet."

Dean Baker Greenspan Says, "Who Could Have Known?"
Dean Baker, Truthout: "That's right, the former Maestro told Congress last week, when asked about the meltdown of the housing bubble and the resulting financial crisis, 'we're not smart enough as people. We just cannot see events that far in advance.'"

"US Missile Strike" Targets Village in Pakistan
Peter Walker, The Guardian UK: "A missile believed to have been fired from a US drone aircraft has killed up to 20 people in Pakistan's South Waziristan border region, Pakistani officials said today."

Spending Stalls and Businesses Slash US Jobs
Louis Uchitelle, The New York Times: "As the financial crisis crimps demand for American goods and services, the workers who produce them are losing their jobs by the tens of thousands."

Paul Krugman Desperately Seeking Seriousness
Paul Krugman, The New York Times: "I suspect that the main reason for the dramatic swing in the polls is something less concrete and more meta than the fact that events have discredited free-market fundamentalism. As the economic scene has darkened, I'd argue, Americans have rediscovered the virtue of seriousness. And this has worked to Mr. Obama's advantage, because his opponent has run a deeply unserious campaign."

Young Voters Could Rock the Polls This Year
Martha Irvine, The Associated Press: "There's always talk about the impact young voters could have in choosing the next president. But this truly could be a breakout year for them. Among the factors: nearly 2-to-1 support for Barack Obama among 18- to 29-year-olds and a seasoned get-out-the-vote effort that has seen young voter participation steadily rising since 2000."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Dressing For Success, Part Two, Or, We Costume Palin...For 2/3 Off!

When last we met, Gentle Reader, we were talking about more or less $150,000 in clothing and beauty services that had been purchased mostly for Sarah Palin’s use by the Republican National Committee.

Since then, we have learned that John McCain himself once tried to outlaw the very type of contribution that led to this situation, we’ve heard McCain’s campaign offer a very non-maverick-y denial...and we’ve learned that the highest paid member of the McCain campaign staff—the person who presumably has the magic touch needed to turn this thing around—will be working her magic with a makeup brush.

As we discussed yesterday, I think I could have dressed Palin for 1/3 of what the RNC paid. Yesterday we “purchased” five of the outfits I think she needs...and with half the shopping done, we’re $670 over budget.

Can she be dressed for a mere $43,000?
Let’s see if we can pull it off...

Just so you know...the McCain campaign claims most of the clothing in question has never left the campaign plane...and they want us to know the expensive clothes they just bought but never used will be eventually donated to charity... and they still claim they are the ones who can best manage the Federal budget.

If you missed Part are the rules: we are trying to find for Sarah a total of ten outfits. Seven of these outfits will be for “business” use and three are intended for evening wear.

The business outfits are budgeted at $4000 each; the evening wear’s budgeted at $5000 per ensemble. The total cost for all of this: $43,000.

We have identified four of the business choices, and a gorgeous blue metallic evening dress so far; leaving three more business and two more evening costumes to assemble.

And with all that said...may I direct your attention to the runway, for today’s first selection...

This is a truly understated, but nonetheless truly elegant silver wool and cashmere design, the “Wrap Bust Chevron Dress” by Alexander McQueen ($1670, Saks). The banded Empire waist is virtually the only ornamentation on the dress...but that allows us to be a bit flashy with the accessories.

We can be flashy and still save a ton of money by “recycling” the black Jimmy Choo “Patent Pumps” and the silver “Python Original Clutch” by Jalda from yesterday...and with the money we save we can afford to finish the look by picking up the “Punjab Waist Belt”, also by Alexander McQueen, thereby trickling an additional $625 down to the coffers of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Total cost: $2295—and that’s $1705 under budget for this item, $1035 under budget for the entire exercise to this point.

Mr. Blackwell died at the age of 86 this week.
It turns out he really was caught dead in that outfit...

--Seth Meyers, on “Weekend Update”, October 26, 2008

This next selection is entirely taken from a single page at the Saks website...which is kind of cheating, but the combination could not be better.

From Akris Punto, we present the “Wool Jacket” (which, for my money, could use a less utilitarian name), the “Silk Jersey Boatneck Top”, and the “New Carla Wool Pants” ($1290, $295, and $395 each). The pumpkin colored three button cropped jacket and toffee pants (both made of Swiss wool) are comfortably accented by the chestnut colored boatneck top, which mixes silk and wool.

This is another relatively inexpensive set, so let’s splurge a bit on accoutrement.

Something we can’t afford for this story, but the RNC could: the Dior “Beaded Jacket & Duchess Satin Skirt”, an $8095 vision in peacock green satin.

We need a brown bag...and what could be nicer than Fendi’s “Vintage Leather Baguette” in chocolate brown with lots of detail stitching and interchangeable long and short shoulder straps. From Saks, once again...and considering what we saved on the Akris Punto set and the Alexander McQueen dress, the $1950 price is easily justified.

Shoes? How about these dark brown “Patent Leather Mary Janes” from Manolo Blahnik, courtesy of Neiman’s. Simple, elegant, and at $625, surprisingly affordable.

The total: $4555. We ran a bit over on this one...but for the entire project we are still $480 under budget.

Since we already have the brown accessories, let’s really put them to use: check out this spectacular “Brocade Jacket” by Piazza Sempione ($1400, Neiman’s) in cotton, linen, silk, and...polyester. It’s a cropped length, but it has a traditional blazer style with a notched collar and three button front—and it is the perfect match for the “Belted Pant” from Pringle of Scotland (cotton/linen blend, $595, Neiman’s) and Eskandar’s cotton “Revere Blouse” (Bergdorf-Goodman, $370).

The total: $2365...which is $1635 under for the outfit, and $2115 total under budget.

Another item we can’t afford: the amazing silk and viscose “Stained Glass Gown” by Christian Lacroix...$6760, at Neiman’s.

It is entirely possible that Sarah The Vice Presidential Candidate might find herself giving a speech on a warm and rainy day in New Orleans—so to protect that lovely brocade jacket, we need Proenza Schouler’s “Trench Dress”.

Try to picture a lightweight viscose and linen trench coat, cut just above the knee, and you have the idea exactly. We had $2115 available, the jacket is $1975, leaving us still $140 under budget.

"That whole thing is just, bad!
Oh, if people only knew how frugal we are."

--Sarah Palin

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.

--Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel

We are almost there, with only the final two evening ensembles remaining to select...and we will finish in fine style, I promise.

One of the most complicated mechanical processes I’m aware of is the weaving of jacquard fabrics; and we can observe the amazing results of that process in Caroline Herrera’s wool, silk, and polyester “Floral-Jacquard Jacket & Sheath Dress”. It is a simple bit of construction that uses its long, flat blue surfaces to perfectly show off the elaborate silver weaving.

As with the other outfits, the elegant design and rich fabrics of this jacket and dress make their own statements, which is actually allowing us to save money on jewelry—although, to be fair, that lack of external “bling” requires even more attention to hair styling than most of us often provide.

It is a bit pricey, ($4880, Neiman’s) but this set perfectly mates to the Python clutch from above...and the black Jimmy Choo Patent Pumps also work perfectly for this we are still under budget, the total now being $260 below target.

Ombré is the process of weaving graduated color changes into a fabric, and this effect is presented spectacularly by Herve Leger’s “Allover Sequin Dress”: the navy bodice fades through purple and cranberry and fuscia and pastels, finally finishing in a silver band at the hem. The “allover sequins” make this the perfect dinner dress for a formal State dinner, a fundraising reception at the Washington Hilton...or any time Our Dear Sarah wants to remind Ann Coulter that she’s probably the hearts of the Conservative community.

It’s $2800 at Saks...but if it gives her a chance to have a cocktail dress smackdown with Coulter, it might be well-spent money...especially if, somehow, they could be convinced to appear on ”The Jerry Springer Show” to fight it out, in evening wear, for our amusement.

Obviously the sparkling silver Python clutch is again going to be the perfect choice...and I even found the perfect shoes: from Miu Miu, the “Sequin Pump”. They’re purple, the shimmer like the afternoon sky at “Burning Man”...and at $650, they allow us to finish this project $1810 under budget—which we can use to bolster Palin’s “foreign policy experience” by picking up the tab at the Russian Tea Room.

And with all that said, we come to the end.

And what have we learned?

We have been reminded, once again, that fashion is indeed an art...we have seen the intersection of highly specialized manufacturing techniques and the products they create...but most importantly of all, we were reminded that it is possible to present a candidate in the finest of clothes and accoutrement for roughly $100,000 less than what McCain’s putative minions at the RNC spent—and we were also reminded that you and I are not the ones running around the countryside claiming we know how to balance a budget in our first term while simultaneously claiming most of the clothes were never used and will be donated at a loss.

Which means the biggest lesson we learned today might be this: if you can’t be counted on to handle the purchase of $150,000 worth of clothing, how are we supposed to trust you to manage the purchase of $150 billion worth of currently dead mortgage securities...or military equipment...or prescription drugs for Medicare?

If this big ol’ pile of fashion foolishness is any indication, I’d say we can’t.

Truthout 10/26

David Bacon Stop the Raids in the First 100 Days
David Bacon, Truthout: "The first of the 388 workers arrested in the immigration raid on the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, were deported last week, having spent five months in federal prison. Their crime? Giving a bad Social Security number to the company to get hired. Among them will be a young man who had his eyes covered with duct tape by a supervisor on the line, who then beat him with a meathook. The supervisor is still on the job."

Administration Reopens Effort to De-List Endangered Gray Wolves
Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post: "The Bush administration is trying again to take the gray wolf of the Northern Rockies off the federal endangered species list. Having lost a court battle with conservationists this summer, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reopen for public comment its 2007 proposal to de-list the wolves, currently considered 'endangered' under the Endangered Species Act."

Jonathan Schell When the Gloves Come Off
Jonathan Schell, The Nation: "'Every tree in the forest will fall,' said James McCord, the Watergate conspirator, as he prepared to blow the lid off the cover-up of the scandal, leading to the forced midterm resignation of President Nixon. The phrase comes to mind as one surveys the condition of the United States today. The country's military power is evaporating in failing ground wars in two pulverized, impoverished countries, leaving its recent pretensions to global imperial grandeur in ashes. Its economic power is crumbling daily as its banking system collapses and its instruments of credit seize up in what Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke has told Congress may be a 'heart attack.'"

Ohio: Battleground, USA
Sridhar Pappu, The Washington Independent: "Dusk was falling in Upper Arlington, an affluent Columbus suburb, as members of the Wicked Investment Club gathered in the back dining room of Old Bag of Nails, a bar tucked into a stone strip mall. It looked like the kind of place that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin talks about when she speaks of the real America. Posters of the local high school sports teams decorate the entrance - football players with their arms fiercely crossed, field hockey leaders posing without their shoes - and the air is thick with the smell of beer and fried fish. On TV screens, ESPN and CNBC compete for patrons' attention."

Kennedy Focuses From Home on Health Care Overhaul
Kevin Freking, The Associated Press: "An ailing Senator Edward Kennedy is trying to lay the groundwork for a breakthrough on health care reform next year, though many believe the enormous undertaking has been made even more difficult by the troubled economy."

FOCUS Bush Asks DOJ to Look Into Ohio Voting
Matthew Murray, Roll Call: "President Bush is asking the Justice Department to look into whether 200,000 Buckeye State poll-goers must use provisional ballots on Election Day because their names do not match state databases."

FOCUS While McCain Looked Away, Florida Shifted
Adam Nagourney, The New York Times: "For Senator John McCain, it was not supposed to be this way. From a commanding lead last spring, in a state where Senator Barack Obama did not campaign in the primaries and only hired a state director in June, Mr. McCain is now locked in a neck-and-neck race for a trove of electoral votes that is vital to his hopes of victory."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Truthout 10/25

Seven Things That Could Go Wrong on Election Day
Michael Scherer, Time Magazine: "We can go to the moon, split atoms to power submarines, squeeze profits from a 99 cent hamburger and watch football highlights on cell phones. But the most successful democracy in human history has yet to figure out how to conduct a proper election. As it stands, the American voting system is a worrisome mess, a labyrinth of local, state and federal laws spotted with bewildered volunteers, harried public officials, partisan distortions, misdesigned forms, malfunctioning machines and polling-place confusion."

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III Desperation Makes for Dangerous Politics
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, Truthout: "As America moves into the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign Senator McCain and his surrogates are desperately seeking any message that will resonate with the American people. The problem is that their desperate actions are resulting in dangerous and ugly politics."

Robert Borosage Greenspan: "Shocked Disbelief"
Robert Borosage, The Campaign for America's Future: "It marks the end of an era. Alan Greenspan, the maestro, defender of the market fundamentalist faith, champion of deregulation, celebrator of exotic banking inventions, admitted Thursday in a hearing before Rep. Henry Waxman's House Committee and Oversight and Government Reform that he got it wrong."

Obama Says Goodbye to "Toot," Heads Back to Presidential Campaign
Dan Nakaso and Rod Ohira, The Honolulu Advertiser: "Obama spent time with his grandmother this afternoon, then headed back to Honolulu International Airport around 3:40 p.m. to resume his presidential campaign. Obama spent nearly two hours visiting his ailing grandmother this morning then took a brief walk in his old Makiki neighborhood before returning to the apartment."

Iraq's Prime Minister Won't Sign US Troop Deal
Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers: "Fearing political division in the parliament and in his country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki won't sign the just-completed agreement on the status of U.S. forces in Iraq, a leading lawmaker said Friday."

Execution of Georgia Man in Killing of Officer Is Stayed a Third Time
Robbie Brown, The New York Times: "A federal appeals court on Friday halted the execution of a Georgia inmate convicted in the 1989 killing of a police officer, the third time in 16 months that a stay of execution has been ordered in the case. The inmate, Troy A. Davis, 40, was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday for the murder of Mark A. MacPhail, a Savannah police officer."

FOCUS Prominent Republicans Cross the Aisle to Endorse Obama
Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian UK: "Joel Haugen, a Republican fighting a tough congressional race against the Democrats in Oregon, has fallen out with his party. The reason: his surprise endorsement of Barack Obama for the presidency. 'I believe in putting nation before party and my first priority is following my conscience with regard to what is best for America,' Haugen said in a statement issued by his office today. 'I have a huge amount of respect for John McCain, but I believe that he has more of a cold war mentality.'"

FOCUS Michael Winship: For Whom the Bailout Tolls
Michael Winship, Truthout: "During the Stock Market Crash in 1929, that curtain-raising overture to the Great Depression, stories abounded of Wall Street brokers rushing to their office windows and leaping to their deaths. But according to the late John Kenneth Galbraith and other economic historians, those accounts of suicide were, by and large, fairy tales. Perhaps they were more dark-hearted, wishful thinking than reality - revenge fantasies on the part of those whose real life savings had been wiped out by ravenous speculators."

To turn a red state blue

Hi All

In this historic election, we have an opportunity that I never thought I would see: An opportunity to make Indiana a Blue State!

If you have been wondering what you could do to help during this election, this is your opportunity. Will you work next weekend on turning out the vote in one segment of our community, so that we get as many Blue votes as possible?

Rhonda and I have volunteered to be Blue Team leaders for Barack Obama in one specific segment of South Bend. We will be staging our efforts in a home in Granger, and participating in something mysteriously called the "Houdini Project." This is a phenomenal Get Out the Vote operation that only a brilliant Community Organizer could have devised.

We will be given a list of Obama supporters (intelligent, friendly folks!) in our specific segment of the community, and it is our job to contact each person until we find out that that person has voted. We will need a phone bank of volunteers, and a group of canvassers willing to work in pairs. We will be calling these Obama voters and knocking on their doors to ask "Have you voted?" "Do you know where to go to vote?" "Do you know you can vote today?" "Do you need a ride?" No pressure or convincing... Just friendly reminders, and assistance, and "Can you believe this is happening in Indiana?"

When we find people who have voted... Abracadabra! They disappear from our list! Our Houdini project goal is to make our list of Obama supporters disappear by erasing those who have voted.

If you would like to work together with a bunch of SBE supporters who want to participate in some amazing community organizing, please join with us. We need volunteers on next Saturday and Sunday, for four hour shifts, to make phone calls or visit Obama supporters in specific neighborhoods (in pairs).

If you want to be part of this historic campaign, and help us turn Indiana Blue, just email me with times you are available, and I'll tell you how you can help! And feel free to bring a friend, or send this email to someone who might want to help.

Can you believe we have this opportunity in INDIANA???


Catherine M. Pittman
Associate Professor of Psychology
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Ron, Andy and Henry endorsement

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Our parent-teacher conference day

by Don Wheeler

Yesterday, Paddy and I met with Sarah's Kindergarten teacher. Though we'd had conferences with her St. Mary's Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) teachers in the past, this seemed more like the "big time".

Sarah is in a two and a half hour session, in a class of twenty kids. Pad and I were greatly impressed at the level of detail in her teacher's assessment of our daughter's progress.

Either the time slot after us had not been filled, or the parents were no-shows. In any case, this afforded me a chance to talk with Sarah's teacher about some broader issues. By the way, I didn't ask the teacher's permission to use his/her name - so I'm not going to. I'll just use "The Teacher".

The Teacher is a long serving, highly skilled, really impressive person. Not surprising to find at Hay School. The school has the highest percentage of "Highly Qualified Teachers" as determined by the National No Child Left Behind Act in the SBCSC. Hay pioneered the Wilson LiPS reading program in the SBCSC - which has been wildly successful. Everyone there is immensely proud that Hay has acheived Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals four years running.

But Hay has new challenges this year.

Nearby Hamiliton was converted to a Traditional Magnet program. I thought we'd researched our options pretty thoroughly, but we missed this one. At any rate, the enrollment was cut off earlier than many folks in the neighborhood expected - and their children were assigned to Hay. This has led to a weird situation of undersized classes at Hamilton and a lot of pissed off parents at Hay.

Additionally, many Monroe area parents opted to shift their children to Hay. Monroe is on probationary status, and their students will be shifted to Studebaker for the second semester. And Hay has an ongoing relationship with Wilson (on the west side) of accepting students from that district.

As a result, Hay was forced to create four new classes about a week into the school year. The school's plenty big enough - but there are other challenges.

So this has created a level of chaos this high functioning institution is unaccustomed to. The Teacher noted that discipline issues have really become prominent. One incident mentioned was a Kindergartner biting another child.

The Teacher mentioned that the school had responded by tightening its requirements for children's behavior. I was left with the impression that Hay School is up to the task.

I mentioned to The Teacher that I was highly sympathetic to the discomfort suffered by the academic professionals at Hay. On the other hand, I couldn't help thinking that dispersing hard to manage students into successful environments might be be a recipe for successful outcomes. It's a lot to ask, I know. But breaking up challenged groups into more promising situations could be just the thing.

PS.. The Teacher and I also discussed ways that the State is sabotaging good Kindergarten practices. More on that later.

FP roundup 10/24

Top Story

OPEC, meeting today in Vienna, agreed to cut oil production by at least 1.5 million barrels per day in the hopes of arresting a downward trend that has seen oil prices plunge toward $60 a barrel.

But as the Financial Times reported this morning, investors were already betting that any production cuts would not be enough to overcome the global slowdown in demand.

"I'm not convinced this cut will be enough to stop the slide," one analyst told Reuters.

The likely reason? Panic is again gripping financial markets around the world, spurred on by lousy third-quarter earnings reports and grim new macroeconomic data. Japan's Nikkei index slid another 9.6 percent Friday, while European markets fell by between 7 and 10 percent. U.S. stock futures, which fell to their lowest allowable levels, indicate a big selloff in New York today. "Something sinister is brewing," warned one market strategist.

Decision '08
In a shocking move, the editorial board of the New York Times endorsed Barack Obama for president.
Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin is guaranteeing victory in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, a new GOP ad in North Carolina appears to assume that Obama will win.
Politico says the McCain campaign has become a "circular firing squad."

Colombia's spy chief resigned after admitting her agency spied on President Alvaro Uribe's political opponents.
A trial in Miami is offering a fascinating window into the operating style of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
After seven months of delay, Mexico's Congress passed an energy-reform bill intended to stabilize the country's sagging oil production.

Amnesty International called on China to release Hu Jia, the dissident who won the European Parliament's most prestigious human rights award.
South Korea's economy is growing at its slowest clip in four years.
Pakistan's legislature passed a bill urging dialogue with tribal militants.

Middle East and Africa
Turkey's Consitutional Court published its reasoning for a July ruling in which it accused the country's prime minister of undermining secularism.
Newsweek's Kevin Peraino wonders if Dubai's real estate boom is going bust.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is rumored to be in ill health.

The Soyuz capsule carrying Richard Garriott landed safely. "What a great ride that was," the space tourist said.
Iceland's central bank governor says the country's meltdown isn't his fault.
The Guardian accuses a top British politician of misleading the press about his meeting with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Today's Agenda
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer meets with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington.

Truthout roundup 10/24

The New York Times Barack Obama for President
The New York Times, Editorial: "Hyperbole is the currency of presidential campaigns, but this year the nation's future truly hangs in the balance.... As tough as the times are, the selection of a new president is easy. After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States."

McCain Campaign Predicts Its Own Loss, Finger-Pointing Ensues
Jonathan Martin, Mike Allen and John F. Harris, The Politico: "With despair rising even among many of John McCain's own advisors, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering - much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely."

Camillo "Mac" Bica The Case Against the Escalation of the War in Afghanistan
Camillo "Mac" Bica, Truthout: "Despite some subtle nuances regarding a timetable for the phased withdrawal of at least a portion of the combat troops from Iraq, the positions of both John McCain and Barack Obama regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are quite similar. Under both their plans, American young men and women, despite their eventually being withdrawn from Iraq - 'with honor' for McCain, 'responsibly' for Obama - will not be returning home but, rather, redeployed to another battlefield upon which to continue to kill or be killed. Both candidates have promised a surge in Afghanistan, and a commitment to continue the 'war on terrorism' until our enemies, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, perhaps Iran, are defeated and Osama Bin Laden is killed or captured."

Special Counsel Bloch Resigns Under Pressure
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch resigned under pressure after meeting with White House officials yesterday, five months after the FBI raided his home and his government office as part of an ongoing obstruction of justice probe. Bloch had refused persistent demands from lawmakers and his own employees to leave before the end of the Bush administration, writing to the president on Monday that he would fulfill his five-year term and exit in January."

Veterans: Candidates Agree That VA Is Broken
Chris Adams, McClatchy Newspapers: "Even as the country heads into an era of tighter budgets, John McCain and Barack Obama are united on giving more help to the nation's veterans and overhauling the agency that cares for them.... And while veterans issues have come into the limelight only briefly during this election, the two campaigns have sparred over how best to improve access to the VA's health-care system."

Steve Weissman Spread the Wealth? Soak the Rich?
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "For those who voice doubts about Barack Obama and some of his less progressive policy advisers, please take heart from the way he has defended his plan to cut taxes for the vast majority while raising them for families making over $250,000. Who should pay what for the costs of government raises the most basic issues of fairness."

Justice Department Targets ACORN but Ignores GOP Voter Suppression
Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet: "Partisan considerations still appear to be contributing to the Department of Justice's actions when it comes to enforcing the nation's voting rights laws. With Election Day less than two weeks away, proponents of more tightly regulating the voting process - this time led by congressional Republicans - have gotten their desired response from the nation's guardian of civil rights' laws: a FBI investigation into ACORN, the low-income advocacy coalition that registered 1.3 million new voters in 2008."

New Polls Paint Bleak Battleground Map for McCain Campaign
Steven Thomma and Marc Caputo, McClatchy Newspapers: "A series of new polls released Thursday found a bleak outlook for John McCain, even in traditionally Republican states, and a potential landslide victory for Democrat Barack Obama on Nov. 4. The polls found McCain trailing Obama in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and suggest that he's behind even in solidly red states such as Indiana, and they also suggest that his talk about 'Joe the Plumber' has done little to help his cause."

Potentially Innocent Man Set for Execution on Monday
Daphne Eviatar, The Washington Independent: "At 7 p.m. Monday, Troy Anthony Davis is scheduled to be executed in Georgia. Even for those who support the death penalty, that's cause for concern. Davis was convicted in 1991 of murdering a Savannah, Ga., police officer based on witness testimony that, for the most part, has since been recanted."

Thousands of Iraqi, Afghan and Georgian Exiles Pour Into Graeco-Turkish Border
Guillaume Perrier, Le Monde: European countries ignore both Geneva and EU conventions concerning refugees as migrants from global conflicts pour into Greece.

On Dressing For Success, Part One, Or, How Much Is Armani, Anyway?

So you’re the Governor of a State...but the next thing you know, you’re running for Vice President. The boss says you gotta bling up the ol’ Governor clothes—and the next thing you know, you’re having to explain how you can be the common “hockey mom” from Wasilla and how you can be clothed in more than enough money to buy Joe The Plumber’s house...both at the same time.

In the interests of telling the story fairly, I decided to conduct my own online shopping experiment.

Let’s head over to Saks and Neiman’s...and Bergdorf and Goodman’s to boot...and let’s just find out exactly what you would need to spend to look fabulous—and what you should probably be avoiding if you really want to project that whole “woman of the people” kind of thing.

That’s right folks, today, we play “Joe The Personal Shopper” for Sarah Palin.

Now I’m not one to deny a person a bit of bling when they get the chance (even though I think a $150,000 clothing allowance might make more sense for a “Vice Beyoncé” than a Vice President); so let’s be nice and buy our hockey mom a nice outfit for each of the seven days of the week...and just to be sure we’ve covered all the bases, let’s buy her three evening dresses.

Let’s be really nice and give a decent budget...I’m thinkin’ $4000 for each of the “daily outfits”, and, what the heck, let’s give her $5000 for each of the fancy dancin’ dresses. Total: $43,000.

That’s 66% off the “McCain” price.

I realize this will require sacrifice. For example, we will have to keep the cost of a pair of shoes to under $1000...and I realize that means she will have to cut back to Jimmy Choos and Dolce&Gabbanas...but these are tough times, and we must do what we must do.

Can it be done?

Can we stay within our budget...and still put lipstick on...the delicate flower of femininity that is Our Dear Sarah?

I say we can—and I’ll prove it.

You know what looks great on a candidate?
Timeless, elegant, stylish?

Saks has a fabulous outfit to get us started: from the Armani Collezioni, the “Rose Taffeta” Jacket—a vision in dusky bronze with a large rose pattern, three buttons at the carefully topstitched waist...and a delightful ruffled collar. Saks has combined the jacket with a basic black “Techno Cady Skirt” (which creates a “wrap” effect, despite the fact that it zips...). Now I know this is polyester...and not silk...but the two, together, are a bargain at $1950. Combine them with a basic black pair of Jimmy Choo “Patent Pumps” from Bergdorf-Goodman (at only $650) and we are on our way to getting a great look going.

We still have $1500 left in our budget for this outfit—so let’s buy Sarah a purse.

Bergdorf’s has the lovely “Arad Convertible Leather Clutch” by Jimmy Choo...and at $1575, we are only 75 bucks over our $4000 outfit budget.

If you are dressing “Caribou Barbie”, there’s nothing wrong with an animal motif...and who doesn’t love Prada...and Neiman’s has just the thing: the Prada “Animal Texture Jacket and Skirt”, combined with the Prada “Ribbed Sweater” ($1465, $560, and $595 each, respectively). The skirt is short enough to raise the temperature of even the coldest Conservative, and the jacket’s double-zip front and big “funnel” collar should keep even Rush Limbaugh’s eyes “up here...”

The jacket and skirt are Italian made, from polyamide...the sweater is also Italian, and made of wool and cashmere.

Here’s where we get some money back. The same Jimmy Choos that she can wear with the Rose Taffeta Jacket are perfect for this outfit as well.

And since we saved on the shoes...we can afford to splurge for a nice how about the Jimmy Choo “Patent Tote”? It is nice, featuring a black iridescent finish, a very bling-y gold shoulder chain—and of course, that Jimmy Choo nameplate. At $1795 it’s a bit expensive (the ensemble’s total is $4415), so for the next outfit, we’ll need to save a bit of cash.

We are, just for the record, $490 over budget to this point.

Now here’s where we save some money....and we do it on evening wear. Sarah is wearing her hair down these days, suggesting a bare shoulder look will be perfect for her. Bergdorf’s has, for only $995, the “Metallic Tweed Dress” by Lela Rose. Lapis metallic thread, bare shoulders, a black belt creating an Empire waist, and a length that comes to just above the knee...the look is simple and exceptionally elegant.

Mated to the dress: the “Patent Trim Coat”, also by Lela Rose: it’s navy and black tweed, with a big fur collar that lays mostly flat. The coat falls to the same “just above the knee” length as the dress...and it’s, again, a bargain at $1495.

I found the best shoes, ever, for this outfit. Neiman’s has a delicious pair of Manolo Blahniks, the “Something Blue Satin Pump”. Cobalt in color, 4 ¼” heel...and there’s a crystal brooch on the front that exactly makes up for the lack of accessorizing on the rest of the ensemble. $945...and absolutely to die for.

The perfect bag? The Christian Louboutin “Patent Square Bow Clutch” at $875.
Just go see it and you’ll see I’m right.

Our total for this first of our three evening outfits?
$4410...which is $590 under our $5000 budget.

We were $490 over, we saved $590 as of now, we’re $100 under budget with 1/3 of our shopping done.

“There is no one left to dress”

--Attributed to Cristóbal Balenciaga

The next outfit mixes Dolce&Gabbana with Armani to great effect. We start with the D&G “Tartan Check Jacket” from Neiman’s ($2450). It’s a classic, with black on black tartan pattern, suit jacket style, and wool and nylon construction for a appropriately “close” fit...and perfect to mate with the D&G “Metallic Tank Top” in shimmery silver ($595, at Saks). Complete the look with Armani’s “Classic Flannel Pants” (from the Collezioni). They’re made of Angora, Italian wool, and Spandex...again for the great fit...and Saks is practically giving them away at $615.

Finish the look with D&G’s “Erin Wide Slingback” with its 4” heel, in black, imported from Italy...and only $395.

The Jimmy Choo Patent Tote is perfect for this outfit, which means we save big by not needing another bag.

The total? $4275...which means we are again $175 over budget.

This next outfit, from Neiman’s, is the best of all.

You could not look better showing up for your first day being in charge of the Senate than if you were wearing Oscar de la Renta; and this combination of the “Caribbean Ombré Cardigan” and “Silk Shantung Pants” is absolutely fall-tastic. ($2150 and $1190, each, at Saks.)

The cardigan mixes blue, gold, green and brown Italian cotton and silk, the slacks are Italian silk of shimmering gold; and a $250 Cognac “Skinny Leather Belt” (again, Saks...), also by Oscar de la Renta, finishes the look.

This outfit is perfectly suited for the blue-green D&G “Carla Leather Pump” (Neiman’s, $415)...and if you’re a woman with a...reputation...the perfect purse might be the Jalda “Python Original Clutch” (again, a steal from Saks at only $490).

At first glance, this purse seems to be an odd choice—but after a bit of reflection (pardon the pun), it’s easy to see how the metallic silver snakeskin finish (with an interior that perfectly matches the shoes) is the perfect “non-match match” to the shimmering gold silk slacks.

The total of all this is $4495...which means we are now $670 over budget, with half the shopping done.

So at this point, let’s recap where we are, and set up for part two:

The Republicans paid $150,000 to dress Caribou Barbie while at the same time McCain is telling us that he knows how to cut wasteful Government spending.

I think they could have been much smarter about how they spend their money, I think 7 outfits for daily wear, each valued at $4000, and three “evening wear” ensembles, each valued at $5000, would have done the job--and done it for less than 1/3 of what has been far.

We are halfway through the process of choosing those outfits, and we are $670 over budget.

With that money we have shopped for Prada, D&G, Oscar de la Renta, Jimmy Choo and Armani, Manolo Blahnik...even Christian Louboutin and that crazy Jalda Python Clutch—and so far, we’ve found fairly good value for the money.

We have three more $4000 and two more $5000 outfits remaining to buy, which means if we can come in an average of $140 under budget on each one we can meet the goal.

I have a lot of research to do to get ready for tomorrow, so if anybody needs me I’ll be having a look at some of the most impressive clothing available from an American atelier today.

Wish me luck...I’ll need it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Don Wheeler fails The United States of America

Find out how! Follow the link:

School Board candidates forum at IUSB

An At Large candidates night at Indiana University South Bend will be held on Thursday October 30. All citizens are encouraged to attend.

The At Large field is crowded with great posibilities and we want to give citizens every posibility to hear from them.

It will be held at the SAC, Student Activities Center and moderated by Mark Peterson, NewsCenter 16

· 5:30-6:00 p.m., light refreshments and registration
· 6:00-6:15, Brief opening statements from each candidate
· 6:15-until about 7:45 questions from panel
· 7:45-8:15, questions from audience
· 8:15-8:30 closing statements

Feel free to contact Nikki Hutchinson, Karen White, or me with any questions.

Charlotte D. Pfeifer, Director
The Office of Judicial Affairs
Indiana University South Bend
Phone: (574) 520-5524
Fax: (574) 520-5019

Truthout roundup 10/23

Obama Woos Virginia Before Heading to Visit Grandmother
Robert Barnes and Anne E. Kornblut, The Washington Post: "Democrat Barack Obama swept through Virginia yesterday trying to overturn nearly half a century of presidential history, continuing a march through red-state America before taking an unprecedented break from the campaign trail to visit the ailing grandmother who helped raise him."

McCain Is Faltering Among Hispanic Voters
Larry Rohter, The New York Times: "In the early days of the presidential campaign, Senator John McCain seemed to be in a good position to win support among Hispanic voters. He had sponsored legislation for comprehensive immigration overhaul in Congress, made a point of speaking warmly about the contributions of immigrants and was popular among Latinos in Arizona, his home state, which borders three battleground states here in the Southwest: New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. But less than two weeks before Election Day, those advantages appear to have evaporated."

GOP Pulls the Plug on Bachmann
The Associated Press: "National Republicans have yanked TV advertising for Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann's re-election bid after she suggested Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have 'anti-American' views and urged an investigation of unpatriotic lawmakers."

Antonia Juhasz Big Oil's Last Stand
Antonia Juhasz, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Without viable and accessible alternatives, entire economies suffer when increasing proportions of national budgets must be used to purchase oil. And on an individual level, families, facing the same lack of alternatives, forgo basic necessities when gasoline prices skyrocket.... And the political tyranny exercised by the masters of the oil industry corrupts democracy and destroys our ability to choose how much we will sacrifice in oil's name."

Pakistan Stares Into the Abyss
Andrew Buncombe, Anne Penketh and Omar Waraich, The Independent UK: "Pakistan was locked in crisis last night, with the government pressed by Washington to deepen its conflict with Islamic militants in the lawless regions on the Afghan border, and obliged to call in the International Monetary Fund to stave off financial catastrophe.... A new US intelligence estimate meanwhile has warned that the renewed insurgency, coupled with energy shortages and political infighting, means that Pakistan, which is the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, is 'on the edge.'"

FP roundup 10/23

The grim economic news just keeps coming as global stocks continue to fall. The U.S. job market is getting weaker in a hurry, and the White House is now considering spending $40 billion to prevent foreclosures.
Sweden and New Zealand, meanwhile, are cutting interest rates.

At least 45 letters containing a mysterious white powder have begun showing up at banks across the United States as well as the offices of the New York Times.
Mexican authorities arrested a man they say is a major drug cartel leader. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice remains in Mexico today to discuss the drug problem.
Markets are falling as the financial crisis plays out across Latin America.

Sri Lanka insists its military is minimizing civilian deaths as it tries to root the Tamil Tigers out of their headquarters.
Pakistan plans to equip tribal militias to fight growing militancy.
Thirty years after its economic reforms began, China is trying to cope with a slowdown in growth.

Middle East and Africa
Iraq's government criticized Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for saying that Iraq risked "major security losses" by not signing a troop agreement with the United States. Meanwhile, U.S. forces handed the "triangle of death" over to Iraqi control.
A European court has ruled against the EU's move to freeze the bank accounts of a major Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran.
Twenty-six African countries agreed to create a free-trade zone.

Europe and the Caucasus
Western countries pledged more than $4.5 billion in aid to Georgia.
The French economy is visibly slowing.
NATO is showing the flag and bolstering its defenses in the Baltic states.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The paranoids are after us

from the professionals at

FP roundup 10/22

OPEC is signaling that production cuts are on the way as oil prices fall below $70 a barrel.
Yesterday's glimmer of optimism was short-lived, with markets in Europe and Asia diving again Wednesday. The U.S. Treasury Department sees a recovery coming late next year.

FBI Director Robert Mueller intends to serve out his full 10-year term.
A Colombian cocaine ring has been financing Hezbollah, officials say.
Bolivia's legislature agreed to hold a national referendum on Evo Morales's new constitution.
An Oregon couple was brutally attacked in Ecuador.

India successfully launched its unmanned mission to the moon.
An angry Taiwanese crowd assaulted a Chinese envoy.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry says foreign troops killed nine Afghan soldiers.

Middle East and Africa
Palestinian leaders seem pleased that Israel is giving the Saudi peace initiative a second look.
Al Qaeda-affiliated Web sites are coming under a sustained cyber assault.
Senior Iranian officials are said to be pushing for preemptive strikes on Israel.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British PM Gordon Brown are seeing their reputations enhanced by their leadership on the financial crisis.
Sarkozy wants to see European countries set up sovereign wealth funds to protect key national industries.
Russia is considering creating an oil reserve to keep global prices high.

Today's Agenda
U.S. President George W. Bush hosts Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, his Liberian counterpart.
Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, is in Mexico to talk drugs.
Israel's interior minister meets with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Tokyo.
Europe's commissioner for development and humanitarian aid visits Cuba.

Truthout roundup 10/22

Tom Engelhardt F Is for Failure: The Bush Doctrine
Tom Engelhardt, "On the brief occasions when the President now appears in the Rose Garden to 'comfort' or 'reassure' a shock-and-awed nation, you can almost hear those legions of ducks quacking lamely in the background. Once upon a time, George W. Bush, along with his top officials and advisors, hoped to preside over a global Pax Americana and a domestic Pax Republicana - a legacy for the generations. More recently, their highest hope seems to have been to slip out of town in January before the you-know-what hits the fan. No such luck."

Obama's Tax Plan, Not Socialism
David Lightman and William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers: "'Make no mistake,' Republican activist John Hancock told a John McCain rally in this St. Louis suburb, 'this campaign is a referendum on socialism.' Republicans have been pounding that theme in recent days, even though Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama doesn't fit the definition of a socialist."

McCain Giving Up on Colorado, Reports Say
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian UK: "John McCain's path to the presidency narrowed further today with reports that the Republican was giving up on Colorado, a day after a campaign swing through the battleground state by his running mate, Sarah Palin. The signs of retrenchment for McCain came as a new poll showed Barack Obama steadily increasing his lead since mid-September."

Brian Katulis and Peter Juul Dealing With Iraq
Brian Katulis and Peter Juul, The Center for American Progress: "The Bush administration is engaged today in perhaps its last significant policy decision on Iraq before a new U.S. president and Congress are elected to office next month - negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that will determine how U.S. military forces operate in Iraq beginning in 2009. This is not a decision that should be left to a lame duck administration. The American people should be engaged in the debate every bit as much as the Iraqi people are today across their own country."

Enough Joe the Plumber; Here's to Kareem the Soldier
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "'Joe the Plumber' was only one of two Americans injected into the presidential election this past week. The other was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, whom former Secretary of State Colin Powell invoked in his endorsement Sunday of Barack Obama."

VIDEO Keith Olbermann on the Tone of the Presidential Race
Keith Olbermann discusses the tone of the presidential race and excoriates Sarah Palin for her description of "real America." Olbermann also examines the racism behind negative right-wing attacks on Colin Powell for his endorsement of Barack Obama.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Grasping At Straws, Or, We've Got Biden Right Where We Want Him

John McCain is all excited today, because, in his mind, Joe Biden has really Screwed It Up This Time by claiming that Obama will be tested by a foreign policy challenge, that Obama will act in a way we might not immediately trust, and that we should stand by him if it happens.

Oh My God You Have To Vote For Me, is the McCain response, because we can’t afford someone who will be tested in office.

As it turns out, Joe Biden is the smarter guy in this argument, a few calm words are in order...and I’m here today to offer a response that will set McCain’s foolishness right back on its heels.

So let’s get to it.

Let’s begin with the basics: what, exactly, did Biden say?

"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."

Biden goes on to suggest Obama’s “steel spine” will come through, to America’s advantage, as the challenge plays out.

These words, as we mentioned above, have set the Palin-McCain ticket into a momentary frenzy...

"Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America's new president," reads a memo from the McCain campaign. "We don't want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars. ...

"Senator Obama wont have the right response, and we know that because we've seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign. ... We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: hoping for our luck to change at home and abroad. We have to act. We need a new direction, and we have to fight for it," the statement said.

The background having been set, let’s offer a bit of recent history.

In the run up to the end of the Democratic primaries and just around the time of the Republican convention there was a great clamor, in Democratic circles, for Obama to become more toss a lot more “red meat” to the electorate

Many may recall that Pat Buchanan was an especially aggressive proponent of this point of view—and with all due respect to Buchanan, Hillary is not the nominee...and McCain is playing from well behind.

Many will also recall that the pages of “Daily Kos” were full of the same advice...and many will recall that Democrats were among the toughest on Obama in this regard.

I would suggest Obama did not choose the red meat approach, on the one hand, because he sees that the voting public is looking for a different, less “Rovian” form of politics...and on the other hand, because he is positioning himself not just to win the election—but to govern afterwards.

As it turns out, Obama is, at the moment, ahead...and it is starting to look as though his decision to be less aggressive was the right one—even though many of his own supporters did not think it was at the time.

And that’s what Biden is trying to tell us: Obama will make decisions that will seem unusual compared to what we have been used to these past several years, those who are still used to doing things as they have been recently will think the new approach is strange...and maybe even dangerous...we need to take the lessons of the Presidential elections and apply them to how Obama would govern...and we need to actively support smart thinking, even if it is unexpected, coming from a President.

Obama seems to rely upon Lincoln’s model of winning elections (the “out of nowhere” choice competing against far more likely choices, lots of organization, lots of “intelligence”, a restrained personal approach, and assertive surrogates); and I would encourage observers to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” for insight on how Obama might actually solve problems, should he take office.

Should Obama face such a test, by the way, he has Joe Biden right there, who personally knows the leaders of Pakistan, and Russia...and Palestine and Iran, to boot.

And who thinks McCain won’t also be tested early in his Administration?

Should McCain face such a test, Sarah Palin will have to move to India...because that way, she can see Pakistan from her house.

So let’s wrap all this up for today: Biden has uttered Truth, the McCain folks are again acting tactically by creating the “Outrage Du Jour”, an Obama Administration will act in ways that are unusual—especially compared to Mr. Bush’s—we should look to the primaries and this Presidential campaign for an example of how unusual thinking makes good sense...and we may have to actively remind voters of all these facts.

And of course, if McCain wins, we have to ask ourselves: in a time where we need to control Government spending, can we really afford a Vice Presidential residence in Kashmir?

Palin losin' it?

Truthout roundup 10/21

Bush Decides to Keep Guantanamo Open
Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times: "Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantanamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said."

McCain Employing GOP Operative Accused of Voter Registration Fraud
Sam Stein, The Huffington Post: "John McCain's campaign has directed $175,000 to the firm of a Republican operative accused of massive voter registration fraud in several states. According to campaign finance records, a joint committee of the McCain-Palin campaign, the RNC and the California Republican Party, made a $175,000 payment to the group Lincoln Strategy in June for purposes of 'registering voters.' The managing partner of that firm is Nathan Sproul, a renowned GOP operative who has been investigated on multiple occasions for suppressing Democratic voter turnout, throwing away registration forms and even, once, spearheading efforts to get Ralph Nader on ballots so as to hinder the Democratic ticket."

Expanded GI Bill Too Late for Some
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post: "The new GI Bill passed by Congress over the summer, which dramatically expands veterans benefits, was lauded as a sign that the country was looking after this generation of warriors. But don't extol its virtues to Grey Adkins, who served two tours with the Navy off the coast of Iraq, is $10,000 in debt and won't see a dime of the new benefits. Even though it is called the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the new legislation won't take effect until Aug. 1, 2009 - eight years after jets felled the twin towers and other planes crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. By then, Adkins will have graduated from Towson University. And because the bill is not retroactive, it won't help him at all."

Angry Attacks on Obama Have Many Roots
David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers: "An ugly line has been crossed in this presidential campaign, one in which some people don't mind calling Barack Obama a dangerous Muslim, a terrorist and worse. 'To me, this all feels much worse than we've seen in some time,' said Kathryn Kolbert, the president of People for the American Way, which monitors political speech. Experts agree on the reasons: Obama, the Democratic nominee, is different from any other major presidential candidate in history in many ways, and people often don't accept such change gracefully."

Bernanke Supports New Stimulus, Warns of Downturn
Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a qualified blessing Monday to congressional plans for a second economic stimulus, suggested more federal help for states and warned against raising taxes amid the economic turmoil. Bernanke went before the House Budget Committee to discuss recent efforts to reverse the global financial crisis. Coming only two weeks before national elections, most lawmakers' questions carried a political tone."

FP roundup 10/21

The New York Times reports that U.S. President George W. Bush never considered any plans to close the Guantánamo Bay prison. In a new piece for FP, Peter Bergen and Ken Ballen use new evidence to show why Gitmo was a terrible mistake.
Mexico is cracking down on Cubans trying to enter the United States.
Venezuela, along with Russia and Iran, faces a "reckoning" as oil prices collapse.

Taliban gunmen mowed down a British female aid worker on a Kabul street for "spreading Christianity."
Pakistan and India are reopening a trade route in Kashmir.
Thailand's Supreme Court found the country's ex-prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, guilty of corruption.

Middle East and Africa
Turkey's attempted trial of 86 alleged coup plotters was disrupted by protesters.
In a pre-dawn raid, Iraqi forces arrested the father and brother of a key Sunni "Awakening" leader in Diyala province. Watch for a backlash.
Botswana condemned Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe for excluding his rival from power-sharing talks in Swaziland.

Britain's conservative party is being accused of soliciting donations from a Russian billionaire.
Spain's new plan offers immigrants money to leave the country.
Europe's leadership on climate change could become a casualty of the financial crisis.
The rouble is under attack as Russians seek safety in dollars and euros.

Today's Agenda
India is preparing for its first unmanned mission to the moon.
President Bush hosts a summit on international development.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson speaks on China.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"We can do better" -JLT

Thanks, but no thanks, my man Mitch

Palin's Failin'

Peggy Noonan
Wall Street Journal

"Sometimes the leak is so bad that even a plumber can't fix it." This was the concise summation of a cable political strategist the other day, after the third and final presidential debate. That sounds about right, and yet the race in its final days retains a feeling of dynamism. I think it is going to burst open or tighten, not just mosey along. I can well imagine hearing, the day after Election Day, a lot of "You won't believe it but I was literally in line at the polling station when I decided."

John McCain won the debate, and he did it by making the case more effectively than he has in the past that Barack Obama will raise taxes, when "now, of all times in America, we need to cut people's taxes." He also scored Mr. Obama on his eloquence, using it against him more effectively than Hillary Clinton ever did. When she said he was "just words," it sounded like a bitter complaint. Mr. McCain made it a charge: Young man, you attempt to obscure truth with the mellifluous power of your words. From Mrs. Clinton it sounded jealous, but when Mr. McCain said it, you looked at Mr. Obama and wondered if you'd just heard something that was true. For the first time, Mr. Obama's unruffled demeanor didn't really work for him. His cool made him seem hidden.

There is now something infantilizing about this election. Mr. Obama continued to claim he will remove wasteful spending by sitting down with the federal budget and going through it "line by line." This is absurd, and he must know it. Mr. McCain continued to vow he will "balance the budget" in the next four years. Who believes that? Does even he?

More than ever on the campaign trail, the candidates are dropping their G's. Hardworkin' families are strainin' and tryin'a get ahead. It's not only Sarah Palin but Mr. McCain, too, occasionally Mr. Obama, and, of course, George W. Bush when he darts out like the bird in a cuckoo clock to tell us we are in crisis. All of the candidates say "mom and dad": "our moms and dads who are struggling." This is Mr. Bush's former communications adviser Karen Hughes's contribution to our democratic life, that you cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that's too austere and detached, snobby. No one can say mothers and fathers, it's all now the faux down-home, patronizing—and infantilizing—moms and dads. Do politicians ever remember that in a nation obsessed with politics, our children—sorry, our kids—look to political figures for a model as to how adults sound?

There has never been a second's debate among liberals, to use an old-fashioned word that may yet return to vogue, over Mrs. Palin: She was a dope and unqualified from the start. Conservatives and Republicans, on the other hand, continue to battle it out: Was her choice a success or a disaster? And if one holds negative views, should one say so? For conservatives in general, but certainly for writers, the answer is a variation on Edmund Burke: You owe your readers not your industry only but your judgment, and you betray instead of serve them if you sacrifice it to what may or may not be their opinion.

Here is a fact of life that is also a fact of politics: You have to hold open the possibility of magic. People can come from nowhere, with modest backgrounds and short résumés, and yet be individuals of real gifts, gifts that had previously been unseen, that had been gleaming quietly under a bushel, and are suddenly revealed. Mrs. Palin came, essentially, from nowhere. But there was a man who came from nowhere, the seeming tool of a political machine, a tidy, narrow, unsophisticated senator appointed to high office and then thrust into power by a careless Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose vanity told him he would live forever. And yet that limited little man was Harry S. Truman. Of the Marshall Plan, of containment. Little Harry was big. He had magic. You have to give people time to show what they have. Because maybe they have magic too.

But we have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I've listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite—a spender, to speak briefly, whose political decisions seem untethered to a political philosophy, and whose foreign policy is shaped by a certain emotionalism, or a conservative whose principles are rooted in philosophy, and whose foreign policy leans more toward what might be called romantic realism, and that is speak truth, know America, be America, move diplomatically, respect public opinion, and move within an awareness and appreciation of reality.

But it's unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn't think aloud. She just . . . says things.

Her supporters accuse her critics of snobbery: Maybe she's not a big "egghead" but she has brilliant instincts and inner toughness. But what instincts? "I'm Joe Six-Pack"? She does not speak seriously but attempts to excite sensation—"palling around with terrorists." If the Ayers case is a serious issue, treat it seriously. She is not as thoughtful or persuasive as Joe the Plumber, who in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made. In the past two weeks she has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.

I gather this week from conservative publications that those whose thoughts lead them to criticism in this area are to be shunned, and accused of the lowest motives. In one now-famous case, Christopher Buckley was shooed from the great magazine his father invented. In all this, the conservative intelligentsia are doing what they have done for five years. They bitterly attacked those who came to stand against the Bush administration. This was destructive. If they had stood for conservative principle and the full expression of views, instead of attempting to silence those who opposed mere party, their movement, and the party, would be in a better, and healthier, position.

At any rate, come and get me, copper.

The real plumbers of Ohio

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon made a remarkable marketing discovery. By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.

It was a winning formula. And the great thing was that the new packaging didn’t require any change in the product’s actual contents — in fact, the G.O.P. was able to keep winning elections even as its actual policies became more pro-plutocrat, and less favorable to working Americans, than ever.

John McCain’s strategy, in this final stretch, is based on the belief that the old formula still has life in it.

Thus we have Sarah Palin expressing her joy at visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country — yep, we’re all traitors here in central New Jersey. Meanwhile we’ve got Mr. McCain making Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber — who had confronted Barack Obama on the campaign trail, alleging that the Democratic candidate would raise his taxes — the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama’s economic proposals.

And when it turned out that the right’s new icon had a few issues, like not being licensed and comparing Mr. Obama to Sammy Davis Jr., conservatives played victim: see how much those snooty elitists hate the common man?

But what’s really happening to the plumbers of Ohio, and to working Americans in general?

First of all, they aren’t making a lot of money. You may recall that in one of the early Democratic debates Charles Gibson of ABC suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income. Tell that to Ohio plumbers: according to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of “plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters” in Ohio was $47,930.

Second, their real incomes have stagnated or fallen, even in supposedly good years. The Bush administration assured us that the economy was booming in 2007 — but the average Ohio plumber’s income in that 2007 report was only 15.5 percent higher than in the 2000 report, not enough to keep up with the 17.7 percent rise in consumer prices in the Midwest. As Ohio plumbers went, so went the nation: median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 2000.

Third, Ohio plumbers have been having growing trouble getting health insurance, especially if, like many craftsmen, they work for small firms. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2007 only 45 percent of companies with fewer than 10 employees offered health benefits, down from 57 percent in 2000.

And bear in mind that all these data pertain to 2007 — which was as good as it got in recent years. Now that the “Bush boom,” such as it was, is over, we can see that it achieved a dismal distinction: for the first time on record, an economic expansion failed to raise most Americans’ incomes above their previous peak.

Since then, of course, things have gone rapidly downhill, as millions of working Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. And all indicators suggest that things will get much worse in the months and years ahead.

So what does all this say about the candidates? Who’s really standing up for Ohio’s plumbers?

Mr. McCain claims that Mr. Obama’s policies would lead to economic disaster. But President Bush’s policies have already led to disaster — and whatever he may say, Mr. McCain proposes continuing Mr. Bush’s policies in all essential respects, and he shares Mr. Bush’s anti-government, anti-regulation philosophy.

What about the claim, based on Joe the Plumber’s complaint, that ordinary working Americans would face higher taxes under Mr. Obama? Well, Mr. Obama proposes raising rates on only the top two income tax brackets — and the second-highest bracket for a head of household starts at an income, after deductions, of $182,400 a year.

Maybe there are plumbers out there who earn that much, or who would end up suffering from Mr. Obama’s proposed modest increases in taxes on dividends and capital gains — America is a big country, and there’s probably a high-income plumber with a huge stock market portfolio out there somewhere. But the typical plumber would pay lower, not higher, taxes under an Obama administration, and would have a much better chance of getting health insurance.

I don’t want to suggest that everyone would be better off under the Obama tax plan. Joe the plumber would almost certainly be better off, but Richie the hedge fund manager would take a serious hit.

But that’s the point. Whatever today’s G.O.P. is, it isn’t the party of working Americans.

FP roundup 10/20

Mexican children are growing up scarred by drug-related violence.
The Shining Path guerrillas have returned to torment Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
Circuit City and Yahoo! are announcing layoffs.

Taliban militants attacked a bus in southern Afghanistan and killed some two dozen passengers, beheading several.
China announced its land-reform plan (for real this time).
China's official growth rate has slowed to 9 percent.
An expected "special announcement" from North Korea about Kim Jong Il's health has yet to happen.

Middle East and Africa
Iran is scrambling to deal with falling oil prices. For Iraq, there's a "silver lining."
Shiite politicians are holding up Iraq's troop agreement with the United States.
Israel is considering a non-aggression pact with Lebanon.

Credit for funerals is drying up in Britain, leaving bodies unburied.
Sweden is putting together a $205 billion bailout package.
Russia is flooding Europe with smuggled cigarettes.

Today's Agenda
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the Czech Republic.
Early voting gets underway in Florida and Colorado, two key swing states.
Obama is campaigning in Florida; McCain is in Missouri and Pennsylvania, while his running mate Sarah Palin is stumping in Colorado and Nevada.

Truthout roundup 10/20

Voters Say They Were Duped Into Registering as Republicans
Evan Halper and Michael Rothfeld, The Los Angeles Times: "Dozens of newly minted Republican voters say they were duped into joining the party by a GOP contractor with a trail of fraud complaints stretching across the country. Voters contacted by The Times said they were tricked into switching parties while signing what they believed were petitions for tougher penalties against child molesters. Some said they were told that they had to become Republicans to sign the petition, contrary to California initiative law. Others had no idea their registration was being changed."

Donation Record as Colin Powell Endorses Obama
Jeff Zeleny, International Herald Tribune: "Senator Barack Obama on Sunday captured a forceful endorsement from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and announced he had shattered campaign finance records in September, gaining an immense financial edge that will allow him to overwhelm Senator John McCain's efforts in every corner of the country. The description of Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, as a 'transformational figure' by Powell, a Republican who directed the first Iraq war, could lift Obama among some independents, moderates and Republicans and neutralize concerns about his experience."

Afghanistan's Emerging Antiwar Movement
Anand Gopal, The Christian Science Monitor: "In a musty room near the edge of town, a group of bearded men sit on the floor and heatedly discuss strategy. The men are in the planning stages of an event that they hope will impact Afghan politics - a peace jirga, or assembly, that will agitate for the end of the war between the Taliban and Afghan government by asking the two sides to come to a settlement. 'People are growing tired of the fighting,' says Bakhtar Aminzai of the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, an association of students, professors, lawyers, clerics, and others. 'We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns.'"

Iraq Wins Right to Prosecute Felonies by Off-Duty US Troops
Agence France-Presse: "Iraq has secured the right to prosecute US soldiers and civilians for crimes committed outside their bases and when off duty, in the latest draft of a security pact that will set the terms of their deployment beyond this year. The draft stipulates that the United States will have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over its soldiers and civilians if they commit a crime inside their facilities or when on missions, according to a copy obtained by AFP."

Republican Firm Paid by Freddie Mac to Kill Regulation
The Associated Press: "Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse."

Kennedy and Palast Block the Vote
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, Rolling Stone: "Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?"

Nick Turse The Rising Body Count on Main Street: The Human Fallout From the Financial Crisis
Nick Turse, "The fallout from the current subprime mortgage debacle and the economic one that followed has thrown lives into turmoil across the country. In recent days, the Associated Press, ABC News, and others have begun to address the burgeoning body count, especially suicides attributed to the financial crisis."

Pakistani Offensive Creates Refugee Crisis
Saeed Shah, The Globe and Mail: "A flood of internal refugees fleeing from fighting in Pakistan's tribal area now look as if they'll spend the biting winter in tents, in squalid conditions, and may be marooned for years. Around 190,000 people have streamed into the North-West Frontier Province from the neighbouring tribal territory of Bajaur, where, at the start of August, the Pakistani military launched perhaps its most serious offensive against Taliban extremists since Sept. 11, 2001."

Obama Assembles US's "Largest Law Firm" to Monitor Election
James Rowley, Bloomberg News: "Barack Obama and John McCain have a litigation game plan to accompany their election strategy. Both candidates have armies of volunteers to ring doorbells and get voters to the polls. They are also forming squadrons of lawyers who are filing challenges and preparing in case Election Day doesn't settle the contest for the White House."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Truthout roundup 10/19

Frank Rich He Just Can’t Quit W
Frank Rich, The New York Times: "McCain isnít, as he and his defenders keep protesting, a passive martyr to a catastrophic administration. He could have made separating himself from Bush the brave, central and even conservative focus of his campaign. Far from doing that, he embraced the Bush ethos - if not the incredible shrinking man himself - more tightly than ever."

McCain Campaign Launches Pre-Emptive Strike on NYT
Matthew Mosk, The Washington Post: "Senator John McCain's campaign reacted with fury early this morning to a New York Times profile of the senator's wife Cindy."

Deal on US Troops Faces Possibly Fatal Objections in Iraq
Corinne Reilly and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers: "A draft agreement by US and Iraqi negotiators that calls for withdrawing American troops by 2012 appears to be facing obstacles in Iraq that could kill the deal before it's implemented, lawmakers in Baghdad said."

Army to Probe Five Slayings Linked to Colorado Brigade
The Associated Press: "Fort Carson soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq are suspects in at least five slayings, and officials want to know why."

Republicans Rain Negative Automated Calls on Voters in Swing States
Patrick Healy and Jo Becker, The New York Times: "Voters in at least 10 swing states are receiving hundreds of thousands of automated telephone calls - uniformly negative and sometimes misleading - that the Republican Party and the McCain campaign are financing this week as they struggle to keep more states from drifting into the Democratic column."

From Truthout 10/19

BREAKING: Colin Powell Endorses Obama
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president. He called him a "transformational figure" who can lead a new generation.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

WUBS gets some free publicity

Debate fee irks some candidates
But others paid to participate in radio event.

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — The letter Don Wheeler received in the mail invited him to participate in a debate, with only one catch: a $100 entry fee.

Wheeler, an at-large candidate for school board, said that's "bizarre."

"I've never heard of a debate you paid to go to," he said.

WUBS, an FM radio station run by the Rev. Sylvester Williams, invited candidates for South Bend's school board to participate in the event, set to be broadcast live at 3 p.m. today. The station is at 89.7 FM.

Williams said seven or eight candidates have agreed to participate so far, and that the money raised will go to support the Wanda Williams Scholarship Fund, named for his wife, who died six years ago.

"For us, it's all about education. They want to get into education but are they willing to support people who want to help education?" he said. "We're trying to meet our needs here, too."

The letter inviting candidates to appear does not mention the scholarship fund. Wheeler responded with his own letter, telling the radio station he thought the pay-to-debate format was a bad idea and that he would not participate.

"I didn't hear anything from them, but I got basically a second copy of the same invitation a couple weeks later," he said. "I think the voters need to be aware that (candidates) had to pay to get there."

At-large candidate Dustin Saunders also voiced concerns about the entry fee, but in the end agreed to pay the $100, worried that his opponents would get on air, making those not participating look bad.

"I figured it was more beneficial to do it than not to," he said. "When it comes right down to it, it pretty much is a necessity. If you don't, it's going to make it a lot harder."

Former South Bend Mayor Roger Parent, also an at-large candidate who will participate in today's debate, said part of running for office is raising money, and the $100 is simply a campaign advertising expense.

"I didn't spend a whole lot of time philosophizing about it, simply because that's the way I see it," Parent said. "I know it's a little different because it's billed as a debate, but I don't know that the station has all the money to pay for these kinds of public affairs presentations."

Williams, of WUBS, said he doesn't think the fee is unfair to candidates because they all had an opportunity to participate in a free debate Thursday night at the Martin Luther King Center on Linden Avenue.

WUBS did not have plans to tape or air the Thursday night event, Williams said.

Still, the format is a bad idea, said Al Tompkins, who has written books on broadcasting ethics and teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism training organization.

The station should make it clear to listeners that candidates paid to participate, he said, although he's against charging at all.

"If you've got a great cause, and you've got a radio station, then do something about your cause if you want to," Tompkins said. "Do a show about why that cause is so good."

Truthout roundup 10/18

Michael Winship A Mighty Hoax From ACORN Grows
Michael Winship, Truthout: "You see, the ACORN 'election fraud' story is one of those urban legends, like fake moon landings and alligators in the sewers, and it appears three or four weeks before every recent national election with the regularity of the swallows returning to Capistrano."

Thousands Face Mix-Ups In Voter Registrations
Mary Pat Flaherty, The Washington Post: "The scramble to verify voter registrations is happening as states switch from locally managed lists of voters to statewide databases, a change required by federal law and hailed by many as a more efficient and accurate way to keep lists up to date."

The Torture Time Bomb
Philippe Sands, The Guardian UK: "The Bush administration allowed the US military and the CIA to embrace abusive techniques of interrogation - including waterboarding, in the case of the CIA - which violate the Geneva conventions and the 1984 UN torture convention. The torture issue's cancerous consequences go deep, and will cause headaches for the next president."

Leonard Pitts Jr. McCain Takes Dishonorable Turn
Leonard Pitts Jr., The McClatchy Newspapers: "Not to put too fine a point on it, but these are strange days. And it's difficult not to empathize with the Arizona senator, who has spent these last weeks flailing like a man trying to hit a fastball in the dark. His campaign has lurched about looking for ways to connect; the attempt to tie Barack Obama to Ayers, a onetime '60s radical, is among the most desperate and disappointing."

Bob Herbert Climbing Down the Ladder
Bob Herbert, The New York Times: "While the news media have been focusing on the banks, brokerage houses and mega-millionaires being buffeted by the ill winds of the financial crisis, the millions of lower- and middle-income Americans sinking toward the protracted hell of destitution are getting very little attention."

Wall Street Banks in $70 Billion Staff Payout
Simon Bowers, The Guardian UK: "Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70 billion (40 billion pounds), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, The Guardian has learned."

Friday, October 17, 2008

On Giant Loads Of Hooey, Or, You Should See My Inbox

The McCain campaign is beyond desperate, at this point, and as you might expect, the emails are full of things McCain supporters would like us to know.

I had one of those emails cross my inbox yesterday morning...and I thought to myself:
“Self...since the author of this email asked me to look up her facts, maybe I should.”

So I did.

Next thing I knew, I realized I was looking at a giant load of hooey.
Follow along, and I’ll show you what I mean.

There’s a lot of talk about Obama and Tony Rezko in this email.
That Rezko made some sort of special deal when Obama purchased his home.

Here’s Obama’s side of the story:

Barack Obama bought his home the same way everyone buys a home, by making the best offer the sellers had. The details are that of a normal, boring real estate transaction by a young family buying the house they expect to raise children in. A couple named the Wondisford's had two properties on the market, a house and an adjacent lot. Barack and Michelle Obama made the best offer on the house, which had been on the market for 8 months. Before the purchase, Obama asked Rezko, a local real estate developer, and for some advice on the purchase. While there, Rezko noticed the adjacent lot and decided to buy it. Neither got a break on the price, as confirmed by the Wondisford’s. The Wondisford's requested to close on the same day to minimize their hassle. You can download the PDF where the Wondisford’s confirm all of this here:

Later, Obama purchased a strip of the Rezko’s property to give his kids more room to play, and he paid more than double the assessed value to avoid any claims of impropriety. The Rezko’s later sold the lot to another couple who are building a house on it. And that’s it. The whole thing is remarkable only for its utter lack of any drama or scandal...

This is what the “Chicago Tribune” was reporting, back in January of 2008:

JAN. — Between Jan. 15 and Jan. 23, Obama submits three bids: $1.3 million on Jan. 15; $1.5 million on Jan. 21; and $1.65 million on Jan. 23. He told the Tribune that he does not recall when he learned that Rezko was interested in buying the side lot, or how Rezko learned of the sale. But Obama raised the possibility that he was the first to bring the lot to Rezko’s attention. The senator’s campaign provided a copy of a previously released e-mail from the sellers. In response to questions from the Obama campaign, the sellers agreed that they “did not offer or give the Obamas a ‘discount’ on the house price” because Rezko paid their asking price for the yard.

“[Quoting Obama:] Tony asked me during the course of one of these conversations why I might not be interested in buying the lot and keep the property intact. And I said that, you know, it wasn’t worth it to us to spend an extra $600,000 or so on a lot next door when Michelle and I were really interested in the house. So, he said, ‘Well, I might be interested in purchasing the lot.’ And my response was, ‘That would be fine.’

“And my thinking at the time, and this is just to sort of flag this, this is an area where I can see sort of a lapse in judgment. Where I could have said, ‘You know, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.’ But my view at the time when he expressed an interest was that he was a developer in this area that owned lots, that he thought it was going to be a good investment. And my interest, or my motivation was here’s somebody that I knew who, if this lot was being developed, it’d be better to have somebody who knew, who I knew, who you know would give me schedules, keep me apprised of what was taking place and so forth. So I didn’t object.”

The email then goes on to make implications that because Valerie Jarrett, who might be Obama’s number one advisor (after Michelle) was born in Iraq, she is somehow a threat to National Security, and, presumably, that Obama is either a terrorist for knowing her...or, somehow, under terrorist control...

Vogue” Magazine disagrees:

Jarrett's unlikely, unusual, unsumupable childhood began in Iran, where she was born in 1956. Not unlike Obama's being "from" Hawaii or "from" Indonesia, that fact in and of itself is more misleading than it is illuminating. Her parents, both of whom are in their 80s and still working and writing and who live a block away from Michelle and Barack, are academics. Her father, James Bowman, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and an internationally recognized geneticist and pathologist, is from Washington, D.C.; her mother, Barbara, an expert on early childhood development, has deep roots and a big extended family in Chicago's Hyde Park. In 1955, the couple moved to Shiraz, Iran, where they stayed for six years as part of a program that sent American doctors to developing nations. When Valerie, their only child, was five, they moved to London for a year and then resettled back in Hyde Park, a neighborhood that has historically been a bit hoity-toity and one to which the Obamas have now brought a whole new level of cachet and bragging rights.

More about Jarret’s “terrorist” past:

She comes from a long line of "firsts": Her maternal great-grandfather Robert Robinson Taylor was the first black person to graduate from M.I.T.; he became an architect and the vice principal of the Tuskegee Institute. Her mother's father, Robert Rochon Taylor, was a pioneer in public housing who was the first black man to head the Chicago Housing Authority, in the forties. Her father not only was the first black person to be given a residency at St. Luke's Hospital but also was the first to be tenured in his department at the University of Chicago. "Every summer my father did research in population genetics, which required him to study diversities of genetic-based diseases across the world, and so we would spend summer vacations traipsing across Africa," she says, as one of her two BlackBerrys vibrates on the granite-topped table we are sitting at with a delivered deli lunch. "One summer we went from Ghana to Nigeria to Ethiopia to Uganda to Egypt and then back to Iran. We would be out in the countryside visiting different tribes, and my father would draw blood and I would help get the syringes together. We spent a lot of time in Mexico, and then we'd go back to England. So it required me to be able to straddle a bunch of different cultures and worlds. It made me comfortable talking to anybody at a very young age, and because I was an only child I spent a lot of time with adults."

The email goes on to claim that “The Times” reported Obama advisor Robert Malley was “fired” because of his contacts with Hamas.

That story seems to be entirely wrong.
The actual facts?

Here’s what “The Washington Post” had to say back in May of 2008:

An informal Middle East adviser to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign resigned Friday after a newspaper reported on his regular meetings with members of the Hamas militant group.

Rob Malley said he wanted to stop being a distraction for the campaign after facing attacks from the blogosphere for months for allegedly being anti-Israel, a charge he denies. Malley is a former National Security Council aide to President Bill Clinton who is now with the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan conflict-resolution think tank.

Malley's departure comes at a sensitive time for Obama, who appears to be nearing the Democratic nomination but has struggled to win the support of Jewish and pro-Israel voters. Hamas, which won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, refuses to recognize Israel and is dedicated to its destruction.

In reporting analytic reports he wrote for ICG, Malley would interview Hamas officials, as well as Israeli, American, European and other Palestinian officials. The reports, which made clear he had met with Hamas, feature recommendations for key players in the peace process. Malley said he informed the State Department before he met with Hamas and then briefed State afterwards on what he had learned.

"To do my job, I have to meet with savory and unsavory people," he said.

But Malley said that after he fielded a call this morning from the Times of London, which asked about the Hamas meetings, he decided he had had enough. "This was a distraction for me; this was a distraction for them," he said Friday night. "It is absurd, but that is what this campaign is about." (The links were added to the story.)

Yes, folks, you heard that correctly.

In order to learn about Hamas, so that he could inform the State Department about how to develop smart policy to deal with Hamas, which was his job, Malley actually took the time and trouble to talk to people involved with Hamas...and then Obama actually asked him to tell him what he knows, from time to time, so that Obama would, you know, know what he’s talking about; and all of that is, apparently, frightening to the McCain campaign.

And yet what did McCain tell David Letterman just last evening? That part of what he would do to catch Osama Bin-Laden would be to improve our human intelligence capabilities in Middle Eastern countries.

My friends, I could go on and on about this for another 2000 words; but instead, I’ll offer you an allegorical story that makes the point for me.

Imagine that you are diagnosed with cancer.

Would you prefer an oncologist who is so offended at any scientist who looks into a microscope at cancer cells that he refuses to even associate with such an individual...or would you prefer an oncologist who calls up a researcher over at the National Cancer Institute to ask that world-renowned expert, who has offered advice to this oncologist before, what to do about your case?

I know who I would pick...and I bet a lot of you would make the same choice.

Truthout roundup 10/17

Ann Wright Murder of Military Women
Ann Wright, Truthout: "The October 14, 2008, editorial, 'Our View: Military Domestic Violence Needs More Aggressive Prevention,' by The Fayetteville Observer, focused on the murders of four military women in North Carolina and contained a startling comment: 'In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more bodies piling up at military bases all over this nation.' The Observer is the newspaper that serves Fort Bragg, one of the military's largest bases."

The Washington Post Barack Obama for President
The Washington Post: "The nominating process this year produced two unusually talented and qualified presidential candidates. There are few public figures we have respected more over the years than Sen. John McCain. Yet it is without ambivalence that we endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president."

Ohio Files Appeal to Supreme Court on Voter Registration Data L
Mary Pat Flaherty, The Washington Post: "Ohio's elections chief has asked the US Supreme Court to intervene in a dispute over whether the state is required to do more to help counties verify voter eligibility."

Aziz Huq How to Manage an Imperial Decline
Aziz Huq, "Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation? We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it's been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets - given the present liquidity crunch - have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence."

Top GOP Fund-Raiser Tied to Iraq Fuel Contract
James Glanz and Michael Luo, The New York Times: "The Democratic chairman of a House investigative committee presented documents to the Pentagon on Thursday alleging that a top Republican fund-raiser, Harry Sargeant III, has made tens of millions of dollars in profits over the last four years because his contracting company vastly overcharged for deliveries of fuel to American air bases in Iraq."

FP roundup 10/17

OPEC called for an emergency meeting as oil prices fell below $70 a barrel for the first time in more than a year. If, as many believe, prices stabilize at $80, that's "essentially a $275 billion stimulus package to the U.S. economy," in the words of one analyst quoted in the Wall Street Journal.
Two hedge funds are shutting down due to "unprecedented market volatility," NPR reports. (And in fact, hedge funds' troubles explain much of the recent slide in oil prices, as the WSJ makes clear.)

A gas pipeline in British Columbia, Canada, was bombed for a second time.
Shots were fired near the U.S. consulate in Monterrey, Mexico.
Striking police officers battled other police in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Human Rights Watch accuses Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of stonewalling investigations of right-wing militias.

Foreign journalists in China may soon see their Olympics-related freedoms expire.
Chinese appear to be cutting back on travel.
Pakistan is detaining a U.S. citizen who entered the Pashtun region without permission.
Bananas are the hot new diet fad in Tokyo.

Middle East and Africa
U.S. President George W. Bush offered to lean on Israel to give up the Golan Heights if Syria broke with Iran, according to an unconfirmed report in a Kuwaiti newspaper.
Iraq's bureaucracy is having trouble spending the country's oil windfall.
A British couple may be going to prison for having sex on a beach in Dubai.

Russia's billionaires are seeking a Kremlin bailout.
Hungary and Ukraine are seeking help from the International Monetary Fund.
Some European countries are trying to wriggle out of their climate-change commitments.
Europe is considering a trade agreement with Canada.

Weekend Agenda
French President Nicolas Sarkozy aims for nothing less than a "refoundation of capitalism" in his Saturday meeting with President Bush.
Bush is due to speak this morning before markets open.
The U.N. General Assembly votes Friday to choose the new Security Council members.

McCain's bare cupboard

By Eugene Robinson
The Washington Post

Grouchiness, twitchiness and haughtiness didn't help John McCain in Wednesday's debate, but what he said hurt him more than how he said it.

Why did polls and focus groups judge Barack Obama the clear winner of all three presidential debates? For one thing, demeanor and body language do count in these made-for-television encounters. In this area there was no contest; Obama came across as gracious and graceful, while McCain seemed angry and awkward. While McCain's relentless attacks may have fired up the Republican base, they couldn't have pleased independents who just wish all the politicians in Washington would stop their constant bickering and get to work.

But I think McCain lost ground in the debates mainly because of his threadbare ideas and solutions. People didn't hear John McCain the brave iconoclast; they heard John McCain the doctrinaire conservative Republican, circa 1964.

Wednesday's debate had hardly begun when McCain accused Obama of fomenting "class warfare" through his proposed tax policies. When is the last time anyone used such an archaic term to describe the principle, long established in our tax code, that the wealthy ought to pay taxes at a higher rate than the poor? What are the classes that McCain fears Obama will incite? Will the upper-middle class have to barricade its leafy suburbs against marauding middle-class Jacobins from less-leafy suburbs nearby?

McCain wouldn't let this point go. Returning far too often to the case of "Joe the plumber" -- a man named Joe Wurzelbacher, whom Obama encountered recently while campaigning in Ohio -- McCain charged that Obama's proposals would raise Joe's taxes. The way McCain put it was that Obama wanted to "take that money from him and spread the wealth around."

McCain apparently intended for the phrase "spread the wealth," which Obama had uttered in his conversation with Wurzelbacher, to strike fear in the hearts of right-thinking Americans. But it's nothing more than an accurate definition of taxation, which most human civilizations have long accepted. I guess McCain was reaching back to the days when the idea of redistributing wealth had socialist connotations, but socialism is dead -- except on Wall Street, where a huge chunk of the nation's financial system is now owned by the federal government.

The debate audience also heard McCain go after Obama on the "issue" of his associations. Most people probably knew what McCain was talking about when he mentioned William Ayers, the college professor who was a bomb-throwing Weatherman in the '60s, when Obama was in grade school; and most people probably scratched their heads or just tuned out when McCain went on about ACORN, the grass-roots community organization.

What came across, I think, was that on a day when the Dow Jones average fell 733 points, McCain wanted to talk about these obscure topics rather than the parlous state of the economy.

When moderator Bob Schieffer turned to health care, McCain turned once again to a familiar figure: "Now, my old buddy, Joe, Joe the plumber, is out there. Now Joe, Senator Obama's plan, if you're a small business and you are able -- and your -- the guy that sells to you will not have his capital gains tax increase, which Senator Obama wants, if you're out there, my friend, and you've got employees, and you've got kids, if you don't get -- adopt the health-care plan that Senator Obama mandates, he's going to fine you."

At that point, Obama interjected that his plan specifically exempts small businesses from any requirement to either provide health insurance or pay into an insurance pool (which is what McCain refers to as a fine). McCain responded by going back to those dire warnings of wealth-spreading.

The ugliest moment, by far, came when McCain lit into Obama for voting against a ban on "partial-birth" abortion because it did not specify an exception for cases in which the woman's life or health was endangered. McCain's voice oozed sarcasm as he gestured with his fingers to put air quotes around the word "health," as if it were nothing but a dodge employed by bloodthirsty baby-killers. I found it chilling, and I'll bet a lot of pro-choice independents did, too.

McCain's words hurt him more than his scowls. It's not just the man that people have qualms about, it's what he stands for.

Let's get fiscal

The New York Times

The Dow is surging! No, it’s plunging! No, it’s surging! No, it’s ...

Nevermind. While the manic-depressive stock market is dominating the headlines, the more important story is the grim news coming in about the real economy. It’s now clear that rescuing the banks is just the beginning: the nonfinancial economy is also in desperate need of help.

And to provide that help, we’re going to have to put some prejudices aside. It’s politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold.

Before I get there, let’s talk about the economic situation.

Just this week, we learned that retail sales have fallen off a cliff, and so has industrial production. Unemployment claims are at steep-recession levels, and the Philadelphia Fed’s manufacturing index is falling at the fastest pace in almost 20 years. All signs point to an economic slump that will be nasty, brutish — and long.

How nasty? The unemployment rate is already above 6 percent (and broader measures of underemployment are in double digits). It’s now virtually certain that the unemployment rate will go above 7 percent, and quite possibly above 8 percent, making this the worst recession in a quarter-century.

And how long? It could be very long indeed.

Think about what happened in the last recession, which followed the bursting of the late-1990s technology bubble. On the surface, the policy response to that recession looks like a success story. Although there were widespread fears that the United States would experience a Japanese-style “lost decade,” that didn’t happen: the Federal Reserve was able to engineer a recovery from that recession by cutting interest rates.

But the truth is that we were looking Japanese for quite a while: the Fed had a hard time getting traction. Despite repeated interest rate cuts, which eventually brought the federal funds rate down to just 1 percent, the unemployment rate just kept on rising; it was more than two years before the job picture started to improve. And when a convincing recovery finally did come, it was only because Alan Greenspan had managed to replace the technology bubble with a housing bubble.

Now the housing bubble has burst in turn, leaving the financial landscape strewn with wreckage. Even if the ongoing efforts to rescue the banking system and unfreeze the credit markets work — and while it’s early days yet, the initial results have been disappointing — it’s hard to see housing making a comeback any time soon. And if there’s another bubble waiting to happen, it’s not obvious. So the Fed will find it even harder to get traction this time.

In other words, there’s not much Ben Bernanke can do for the economy. He can and should cut interest rates even more — but nobody expects this to do more than provide a slight economic boost.

On the other hand, there’s a lot the federal government can do for the economy. It can provide extended benefits to the unemployed, which will both help distressed families cope and put money in the hands of people likely to spend it. It can provide emergency aid to state and local governments, so that they aren’t forced into steep spending cuts that both degrade public services and destroy jobs. It can buy up mortgages (but not at face value, as John McCain has proposed) and restructure the terms to help families stay in their homes.

And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.

Will the next administration do what’s needed to deal with the economic slump? Not if Mr. McCain pulls off an upset. What we need right now is more government spending — but when Mr. McCain was asked in one of the debates how he would deal with the economic crisis, he answered: “Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control.”

If Barack Obama becomes president, he won’t have the same knee-jerk opposition to spending. But he will face a chorus of inside-the-Beltway types telling him that he has to be responsible, that the big deficits the government will run next year if it does the right thing are unacceptable.

He should ignore that chorus. The responsible thing, right now, is to give the economy the help it needs. Now is not the time to worry about the deficit.

Thinking about Obama

The New York Times

We’ve been watching Barack Obama for two years now, and in all that time there hasn’t been a moment in which he has publicly lost his self-control. This has been a period of tumult, combat, exhaustion and crisis. And yet there hasn’t been a moment when he has displayed rage, resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, tears, ecstasy, self-pity or impulsiveness.

Some candidates are motivated by something they lack. For L.B.J., it was respect. For Bill Clinton, it was adoration. These politicians are motivated to fill that void. Their challenge once in office is self-regulation. How will they control the demons, insecurities and longings that fired their ambitions?

But other candidates are propelled by what some psychologists call self-efficacy, the placid assumption that they can handle whatever the future throws at them. Candidates in this mold, most heroically F.D.R. and Ronald Reagan, are driven upward by a desire to realize some capacity in their nature. They rise with an unshakable serenity that is inexplicable to their critics and infuriating to their foes.

Obama has the biography of the first group but the personality of the second. He grew up with an absent father and a peripatetic mother. “I learned long ago to distrust my childhood,” he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.” This is supposed to produce a politician with gaping personal needs and hidden wounds.

But over the past two years, Obama has never shown evidence of that. Instead, he has shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day.

There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious. Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity, and now he’s become a homeostasis machine.

When Bob Schieffer asked him tough questions during the debate Wednesday night, he would step back and describe the broader situation. When John McCain would hit him with some critique — even about fetuses being left to die on a table — he would smile in amusement at the political game they were playing. At every challenging moment, his instinct was to self-remove and establish an observer’s perspective.

Through the debate, he was reassuring and self-composed. McCain, an experienced old hand, would blink furiously over the tension of the moment, but Obama didn’t reveal even unconscious signs of nervousness. There was no hint of an unwanted feeling.

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner, seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

When Bill Clinton campaigned, he tried to seduce his audiences. But at Obama rallies, the candidate is the wooed not the wooer. He doesn’t seem to need the audience’s love. But they need his. The audiences hunger for his affection, while he is calm, appreciative and didactic.

He doesn’t have F.D.R.’s joyful nature or Reagan’s happy outlook, but he is analytical. That’s why this William Ayers business doesn’t stick. He may be liberal, but he is never wild. His family is bourgeois. His instinct is to flee the revolutionary gesture in favor of the six-point plan.

This was not evident back in the “fierce urgency of now” days, but it is now. And it is easy to sketch out a scenario in which he could be a great president. He would be untroubled by self-destructive demons or indiscipline. With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather — already has gathered — some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.

Of course, it’s also easy to imagine a scenario in which he is not an island of rationality in a sea of tumult, but simply an island. New presidents are often amazed by how much they are disobeyed, by how often passive-aggressiveness frustrates their plans.

It could be that Obama will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MLK Senior Men's Club forum

Remarks as prepared for the Martin Luther King Jr., Senior Men's Club School Board Candidate's Forum.

I became interested in running for School Board around the time we were looking into Kindergarten options for our daughter. One of those programs was Kennedy Academy.

The phrase “students ready to learn” was used many times in the presentation there. This is the key factor in admissions, and the fact it is stressed emphasizes that many children entering Kindergarten aren’t “ready to learn”.

Then I thought back to when I had mentored a fourth and then fifth grader at Eggleston Elementary. His teacher held after school sessions with what she called her “Homework Club”. The Club consisted of about a half dozen 5th graders who – while eager – weren’t ready to learn. They didn’t have the skills or the habits needed.

How can that be? More importantly, what can we do about it?

For one thing, two and one half hour long classes are not enough time for our children in Kindergarten – and they don’t work well with most family’s lives. Additionally, the state has created barriers to our success by allowing Kindergarten to be optional and by having the earliest age cut-off date for school admission in the nation. To top it all off, there is a popular practice of “redshirting” Kindergartners – holding them back beyond the legal entry date – that many school systems condone.

This combination of factors creates several negative outcomes and they are particularly onerous for children with disadvantaged backgrounds. I don’t have time to make the case here, but you’ll find my source materials – including a recent Harvard study – on my website .

But let me present this First Grade scenario: Some children will enter at age six with two years of high quality pre-school and a year of Kindergarten under their belts. In the same classroom, there may some seven year olds in their first formal education setting ever. Their teacher will have about twenty students. Does this level of disparity make any sense? Does it work towards positive outcomes? I don’t think so. And I'd add that, unless and until we can assure ourselves our children leave Primary Centers ready for the next step, it's awfully hard to properly evaluate any of our later programs.

We have made progress in our schools, but it’s clearly uneven. That’s why I’ve proposed a Teach for South Bend initiative – asking the business community to partner with us – to create a fund to reward teachers willing to take on the really tough assignments. And to create a robust mentoring program to ensure these efforts succeed.

Finally, the school board needs to form a new partnership with the community. Let’s return to having half the meetings in schools – at times it easier for people to attend. Let’s embrace community involvement and respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

As a business manager, it was my habit to urge my department heads to find the easiest way possible to do the job correctly. Identify barriers - and eliminate them.

That would be my approach as your Trustee.

Don Wheeler

FP roundup 10/16

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, joked Wednesday that "comrade" George W. Bush had become a fellow leftist.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson doesn't intend to stay past January.
Canadian PM Stephen Harper, just reelected, has a new economic plan.

Gen. David Petraeus is launching a review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran and other areas of his new command. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to see better coordination by NATO.
North Korea threatened to sever ties with the South.
China's promised land reform is still being debated, analysts believe.

Middle East and Africa
Al Qaeda in Iraq's No. 2 man is dead, U.S. officials say.
Sunni extremists are growing stronger in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
A new vaccine promises to end polio in Nigeria.

European leaders, meeting Wednesday in Brussels on the financial crisis, called for another meeting.
Has the European Union unwittingly helped the Bulgarian mafia?
The EU is delaying a decision on restarting partnership talks with Russia.

Today's Agenda
Obama is campaigning in New Hampshire and New York. McCain heads to Pennsylvania and New York, where he may face the wrath of David Letterman. Tellingly, his running mate Sarah Palin is stumping in Maine and North Carolina.
Today is World Food Day. The BBC has a new poll on the growing cost of food.
Iran and Japan are competing for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Truthout roundup 10/16

A More Aggressive McCain Lacked Game Changer
Cathleen Decker, The Los Angeles Times: "John McCain came into the third and final presidential debate needing to somehow wrestle the campaign out of Barack Obama's arms. He did not do it. There was no single moment that was likely to reverberate in the minds of American voters and change the course of an election that has moved dramatically toward Obama in the last several weeks."

Norman Solomon Requiem for the Bailout Storyline
Norman Solomon, Truthout: "It's mid-October, and the Wall Street bailout that was supposed to save the economy from collapse is a flop. Only two weeks ago, the media hype behind the $700 billion bailout was so intense that it sometimes verged on hysteria. More recent events should not be allowed to obscure the reality that the news media played a pivotal role in stampeding the country into a bailout that was unwise and unjust."

About 200,000 Ohio Voters Have Records Discrepancies
The Associated Press: "Close to one in every three newly registered Ohio voters will end up on court-ordered lists being sent to county election boards because they have some discrepancy in their records, an elections spokesman said Wednesday. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner estimated that an initial review found that about 200,000 newly registered voters reported information that did not match motor-vehicle or Social Security records, Brunner spokesman Kevin Kidder said."

Groups: ACORN Attacks Meant to Suppress Vote
Chris Good, The Hill: "Left-leaning groups Wednesday came to the defense of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), accusing Republicans of seeking to suppress voter turnout by attacking the group. 'This latest attack on ACORN follows a sorry pattern, played out in election after election,' said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, outlining what he called a history of voter suppression tactics by the Republican Party."

Report: Taxpayers Paid for GOP Politicking in 2006 Elections
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "The White House dispatched cabinet members and other agency officials to more than 300 events nationwide to help Republican candidates in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections, according to a House of Representatives committee report. Taxpayers paid for more than half of the events, the report said."

Tribune taken in by WUBS' infomercial

My letter to South Bend Tribune Publisher, David Ray

Dear Mr. Ray,

In today's newspaper, an event being held by WUBS this coming Saturday is described as a "Debate set for school candidates". I must strenuously object to this characterization.

In order to participate, WUBS required a $100 fee from a candidate. This makes the event an advertisement - not a debate. I have previously complained to WUBS and the South Bend Tribune about this matter. It is plain to me that WUBS has no intention of properly describing their program, but I had thought the Trib would not be a party to this deception. I am disappointed.

Donald W. Wheeler
SBCSC Board Candidate

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

State official confirms risky investments

INDIANAPOLIS - In a hastily convened Statehouse news conference, today Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock confirmed the factual claims made by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson regarding the nature of the state's investments on Wall Street under Governor Mitch Daniels.

According to records uncovered by Long Thompson's campaign, the state has invested more than $1 billion of the$3.8 billion generated from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road in questionable funds including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and bonds that are below investment grade.

In response, the Long Thompson campaign asked the Daniels administration to respond to the following questions:

Does a formal Investment Policy Statement exist for Major Moves funds? The
State Treasurer claimed that such a statement existed but did not produce it at
the press conference. It is apparently not publicly available. He at one point
referred to a "typo" in the state report noting the absence of such a policy,
but did not elaborate. He did not explain why the state's Deputy Treasurer told
the campaign that no such policy existed beyond the four sentences of state law.
And, at one point, he seemed to confirm that the state law was the only policy

Did the state invest in junk bonds? The Treasurer also appeared to
contradict his prior statement that "we do not invest in junk bonds," (Courier
Press, 10/15/08) admitting that almost 10 percent of the fund was in junk bonds,
also known as "high-yield" or "speculative" bonds. And, despite Governor
Daniels' claims at last night debate, corporate bonds are not guaranteed by the
federal government.

Are "high-yield" or "speculative" bonds really safe investments in today's
Treasurer Mourdock claimed that junk bonds default at a rate of 3
percent or less. However, according to an article published in Forbes (9/29/08)
"Moody's Investor Service thinks U.S. junk bond default rates could reach 14.4
percent in a year." Just this Monday another analyst at Forbes predicted that 50
percent of CCC bonds will fail "in the coming default wave" (10/13/08).
Isn't this like robbing Peter to pay Peter? Only because Congress decided to
bail out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, at taxpayer expense, can Governor Daniels
and Treasurer Mourdock claim these funds are safe.

"Indiana is this situation because Mitch Daniels put us there. Major Moves was his idea. He set the price. He wrote the legislation authorizing these investments. He pushed it through the legislature and signed it into law," said Long Thompson. "Despite all of these distractions, the simple fact remains that he put more than a billion dollars of Hoosier taxpayer dollars at risk - and he needs to respond to these questions immediately."

For more information about Jill Long Thompson, Dennie Oxley or their campaign to restore Indiana's promise, please visit or call 317-635-Jill.

Long Thompson calls for common sense investment strategies

$1 billion in Major Moves money invested in troubled Wall Street funds, junk bonds

INDIANAPOLIS - Questioning the security of the more than $1 billion of public funds invested on Wall Street, today Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson proposed a series of new measures to protect the Hoosier taxpayer's investments.

According to the state's most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, of the $3.8 billion generated from the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, more than $700 million has been invested in risky funds. A total of $388,662,985 was invested in Fannie Mae and another $332,046,023 was invested in Freddie Mac.

Records also show that the state invested nearly $300 million in junk bonds; bonds with ratings of BB, B, CCC, or below because of their high risk of default.

"When Mitch Daniels ran for Governor four years ago, he said he'd operate Indiana like a business - but he didn't tell us it would be a high-risk brokerage," said Long Thompson. "From the information we have been able to gather, it appears that Governor Daniels has engaged in a very risky strategy, and, given the current crisis on Wall Street, that raises serious concerns about safety of our investments."

"Because the Governor sold off the Toll Road for 75-years, we have to make that money last a long, long time and gambling it on Wall Street doesn't seem to be the most prudent, fiscally responsible option available," added Long Thompson.

Of additional concern is that, according to the state Treasurer's Office, no Investment Policy Statement exists to direct how Major Moves funds are invested. Large state funds typically have detailed, formal rules specifically outlining how the funds can be invested.

"The Major Moves funds contain an enormous amount of money. Comparable funds, like the Public Employees Retirement Fund, have 75-page documents outlining specifically how those funds can be invested," said Long Thompson. "However, there appears to be no such investment policy for the Major Moves funds and, in fact, the Treasurer's General Counsel has stated there is not one.

"Last night the Governor claimed there was one, but if it exists it's apparently not available to the public," added Long Thompson. "If the Governor is correct, then he needs to produce the formal Investment Policy Statement for Major Moves funds immediately so the public can get a better idea of where this money is and how the market shifts are impacting Indiana's transportation funding."

In addition to raising these concerns, Long Thompson is calling for new safeguards to ensure the Indiana State government is investing public funds appropriately. As Governor, Long Thompson said she would enact policies to:

Revise Indiana Code to require that Major Moves management be supervised by a board of directors whose meetings' minutes are made public, and require the board to issue a public Investment Policy Statement.
Create an Investment Policy Statement that will direct managers of the Major Moves Construction Fund and Next Generation Trust Fund to invest only in investment grade bonds (BBB or higher), not speculative or junk bonds.
Work with the State Treasurer to review all mortgage-backed investments and deliver a finding on whether undue risk has been taken with the Major Moves funds given both current and long-term realities in the housing market.
Appoint to the boards of the Public Employee Retirement Fund, Teacher Retirement Fund and other major state funds, members who have demonstrated an understanding of the caution required when investing public funds.
"If nothing else, the crisis we've seen on Wall Street these last few weeks should remind all public leaders of the responsibility that they have to ensure that all public funds are invested wisely and securely," said Long Thompson. "Can you imagine what would have happened to the Major Moves money had the federal government not bailed out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?"

Hoosiers could have lost a substantial sum of money - and that's why I think these reforms are necessary and why I think this is such an important issue in this campaign," added Long Thompson.

Following several weeks of research, Long Thompson first raised the issue in Tuesday's night gubernatorial debate in Bloomington. While Governor Daniels' did not dispute the information, he claimed that it was up to the State Treasurer to invest the money.

"What was most disappointing about all of this is how Governor Daniels is now is trying to distance himself from these investments and blame the State Treasurer," added Long Thompson. "Hoosiers know better. Mitch Daniels is responsible for Major Moves. He thought it up. He named it. He pushed it through the state legislature and up until recently, he has campaigned on what a great deal it was."

"For better or worse, Major Moves is Mitch Daniels' signature issue and he has to take responsibility for it," said Long Thompson. "This highlights to the difference between him and me. Governor Daniels is willing to risk public funds and gamble on the state's future, and I am not."

It all adds up

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Insurance Company Rules - (High Resolution)

Truthout roundup 10/15

Steve Weissman Welcome to the Revolution
Steve Weissman, Truthout: "With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States proclaimed itself the world's only super-power and hawked American-style capitalism as the only economic system worth considering. How the mighty have fallen. A needless war in Iraq now calls into question whether the American military can control the oil and natural gas of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, while the current financial chaos has driven the faith-based Bush administration to pray for government ownership in banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. No matter who becomes president, Obama or McCain, this double-barreled cock-up will force Washington to redefine the global role of the American military and the economic role of the US government."

Report: Bush Exceeded Power by Withholding Cheney Comments
Jeff Bliss, Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush overstepped his authority by withholding an FBI interview of Vice President Dick Cheney from a congressional panel probing the leak of a CIA agent's identity, a draft bipartisan House report said. The interview may shed light on who disclosed former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, the draft report said. The report was circulated by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, and Virginia Representative Tom Davis, the panel's senior Republican."

Poll Says Attacks Backfire on McCain
Michael Cooper and Megan Thee, The New York Times: "The McCain campaign’s recent angry tone and sharply personal attacks on Senator Barack Obama appear to have backfired and tarnished Senator John McCain more than their intended target, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found. Over all, the poll found that if the election were held today, 53 percent of those determined to be probable voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama and 39 percent said they would vote for Mr. McCain."

Federal Deficit Hits Record $455 Billion
Richard Simon, The Los Angeles Times: "Compounding terrible economic news, budget officials announced Tuesday that the federal deficit has soared to a record $455 billion, injecting new urgency into the closing days of the presidential campaign about spending in Washington, including efforts to stem the financial disaster. The final accounting for fiscal 2008 produced a larger shortfall than had been projected, reflecting the start of federal efforts to address the economic emergency. It is certain to become a significant issue in the campaign, confronting the candidates with new questions about their growing slate of proposals for new spending and tax cuts at a time when red ink is surging."

New Intelligence Report Says Pakistan Is "on the Edge"
Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, McClatchy Newspapers: "A growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army's reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America's key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment. A US official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as 'very bad.' Another official called the draft 'very bleak,' and said it describes Pakistan as being 'on the edge.'"

Olbermann: McCain, Latest Pander Plan
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown: "During the warm-up act by a Red Meat Congressional Candidate aptly named Chris Hackett, Hackett mentions Obama and a Palin audience member shouts 'Kill Him.' And Gov. Palin, as usual, does nothing about it says nothing to these thugs and psychos. She may not have heard this one. It is impossible to believe that by now she has not heard about the other ones. Her silence is deafening. Just as, Sen. McCain, you have done nothing when violence has been asserted. Correction. You have done one thing."

White House Memos Endorsed CIA Waterboarding
Joby Warrick, The Washington Post: "The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency's use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects -- documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public."

James Bamford: "The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America"
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!: "The Bush administration's wiretapping program has come under new scrutiny this week. Two influential congressional committees have opened probes into allegations US intelligence spied on the phone calls of American military personnel, journalists and aid workers in Iraq. We speak to James Bamford about the NSA's spying on Americans, the agency's failings pre-9/11 and the ties between NSA and the nation's telecommunications companies."

Mike Davis Can Obama See the Grand Canyon?
Mike Davis, "Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent. The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the US Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an 'awe that was almost painful to behold.' Ives's expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical. Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation."

Jean-Marcel Bougereau Europe Always Creates Itself in the Crucible of Crisis
Jean-Marcel Bougereau, Le Nouvel Observateur, postulates that Europe's bank rescue plan begins the creation of European economic governance.

VIDEO Olbermann: McCain, Latest Pander Plan
Keith Olbermann, MSNBC Countdown: "During the warm-up act by a Red Meat Congressional Candidate aptly named Chris Hackett, Hackett mentions Obama and a Palin audience member shouts 'Kill Him.' And Gov. Palin, as usual, does nothing about it says nothing to these thugs and psychos. She may not have heard this one. It is impossible to believe that by now she has not heard about the other ones. Her silence is deafening. Just as, Sen. McCain, you have done nothing when violence has been asserted. Correction. You have done one thing."

FP roundup 10/15

The Washington Post uncovered two White House memos explicitly endorsing waterboarding and other harsh interrogation measures.
Senior officials from Russia's Gazprom visited Alaska Monday (no joke).
Canadian voters reelected the Conservative Party government.
Drug addiction is on the rise in Mexico.

Skirmishes have broken out along the Thai-Cambodian border.
A North Korean "sex spy" has been sentenced to five years in a South Korean prison.
China's growth is slowing, according to Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto.
What ever happened to Chinese land reform?

Middle East and Africa
Zimbabwe's top generals are said to fear prosecution, complicating efforts share power between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition.
Veteran foreign fighters are continuing to leave Iraq for Afghanistan.
Iraq's aging pipelines might "rupture at any time, choking off the supply of oil from the region and devastating the country's economy," the FT reports.

Georgia and Russia have begun holding direct talks in Geneva.
British unemployment is rising at its fastest rate in 17 years as Europe faces recession.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists banks must "offer something in return" for participating in a $680 billion government bailout.

Today's Agenda
EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss the economic crisis.
U.S. Federal Reserve branches release their Beige Book, a report on economic conditions around the United States.
The leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa are meeting in New Delhi.
Azerbaijan holds a presidential election whose outcome is all but certain.
Frankfurt hosts the world's largest book fair. The theme? Turkey.
Today is the first Global Handwashing Day.

On Associations, Or, I'll See Your Ayers, And Raise You A Saddam

Barack Obama is a Threat To America, we are told, because he served on a board of directors and had other contacts with William Ayers, who, in the 1960s, was, or was not, involved in terrorist acts for which he was never convicted of any crimes.

So imagine how serious of a Threat To America we would have if, last month, one of the two candidates hired someone to lead their transition team—the person who would recommend who should be selected for every appointed office of the new Administration—who, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, actually worked for Saddam Hussein...and who ended up working for him for five years.

Well, one of the candidates did, and I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Obama.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to meet William E. Timmons, Sr.

Before we go further, the reason we’re talking about this today is because of a story posted by Murray Waas, over at the Huffington Post—but it’s a story that is, to some degree, independently verifiable, some of which I’ll do here.

Here’s the deal:

Samir Vincent, according to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, began illegal work as an unregistered lobbyist for the Government of Iraq in 1992, just after the First Gulf War, work he continued until 2003, just before the Second Gulf War.

His goal was to assist Saddam in either getting the sanctions the UN had placed on Iraq modified or removed. He planned on doing this by working with both US and UN officials at the highest levels.

The sanctions had resulted in the creation of the “Oil-For-Food” Program, which was being used by Saddam as a source of kickbacks (“I’ll sell you oil at below-market prices, you resell it...kick me back some as a bribe” is the way the scam worked)...and he was being personally given oil to resell (illegally, as it turns out) for his services.

The US Attorney’s charging sheet shows that Vincent’s company was allowed to purchase 9 million barrels of oil from 1997 to 2003 in violation of the UN sanctions by the Iraqi Government.

Murray Waas tells us that Vincent was able to get this job because, believe it or not, he was a “boyhood friend” of Tariq Aziz, Saddam’s Deputy Prime Minister (and the “eight of spades”), and Nizar Hamdoon, Saddam’s Foreign Minister.

Despite his influence back in Iraq, he needed someone who could reach up into the US and UN Administrations.

His business partner at the time, William E. Timmons, Sr. (you knew I would get to him eventually...), knew a guy. To be completely accurate, Timmons apparently knows everybody, which is why he was involved in this deal in the first place...and why he has been such a successful lobbyist for so long.

Tongsun Park, who was already famous from the “Koreagate” scandal, was enlisted to “gain access”, if you will, to those high-ranking officials.

In February of 1996, according to the Sealed Complaint the US Attorney (again, Southern District of New York) prepared in March of 2005 regarding Park’s criminal charges, Vincent made a trip to Baghdad to sign a deal to collect $15 million if they could get the sanctions removed. He returned with a $450,000 “down payment”, according to the US Attorney.

That money was to be divided between Vincent, Park...and Timmons.

Lots of money was also supposed to be used to bribe the US and UN officials; and the questions of exactly who did and did not bribe who is one of many elements of the abuse of the Oil-For-Food Program explored in exquisite detail by the UN’s Independent Inquiry Committee (the “Volker Report”).

For at least the next five years this pattern continued—trips to Iraq, deals to end sanctions that never bore fruit...notes passed between Timmons and Vincent and Tariq Aziz...and eventually, criminal prosecutions for serving as unregistered foreign representatives.

We need to have a full and complete cooperation on the part of the U.N. about this whole oil-for-food program, which stinks to high heaven. We're talking about billions and billions of dollars here that were diverted for many wrong purposes. And this is an example of corruption.

And by the way, it's an argument, maybe a small one, but maybe an argument that justifies our action in Iraq. Because clearly the sanctions and the framework of those sanctions was completely eroded.

--John McCain on 'FOX News Sunday', December 05, 2004

Vincent made a deal and became a “Cooperating Witness”, Park’s sentence was reduced to 37 months—and they made him pay back half of the $2.5 million he personally made (most of it in $100 bills).


Ummmm...he sort of walked away from all of this to continue a fabulous lobbying career that includes clients such as Freddie Mac, who paid him $180,000 in 2005, $190,000 in 2006, $200,000 in 2007 (inflation?), and, just this year, even as they slid below the waves, $100,000—and now, of course, he will be recommending to McCain who McCain should hire for that shiny new Administration he’s planning.

So when McCain tells you that serving on a board with a man who was never convicted of any crime is a Threat To America, keep in mind that the guy he is hopes will give him good advice on his Cabinet appointments used to work for Saddam Hussein--for half a decade or so.

And in the world of Debate ThreatDowns, just to keep things straight, from bottom to top, it’s: Chupacubra, Bears!, and Guy Who Used To Work For Saddam Hussein For Five Years Who Now Runs Your Transition Effort.

I hope that helped.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oh, this will make it OK

Here's an AP report displayed on America Online's small business page. I'd summarize it as disposable housing for disposable people.

Shipping Containers could be dream homes for thousands

CORRALES, New Mexico (AP) -- It was a side trip through a destitute, ramshackle neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, that detoured Brian McCarthy from building houses in Albuquerque to an idea to offer the very poor a chance to own a home.

His answer lies in a humble steel shipping container 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8½ feet tall.

McCarthy, 30, and three partners, Pablo Nava, 22; Kyle Annen, 23; and Mackenzie Bishop, 22, have made a prototype out of a standard shipping container that hauls goods worldwide -- a 320-square-foot home with a kitchen, bath with toilet, sleeping areas, windows and a bright blue door. The exterior is painted with a white epoxy coating that has light-reflecting properties to prevent the sun's heat from penetrating.

Each small house includes hookups for air conditioning, ventilation, electrical and water systems, and the units ideally could be set up in small communities to make accessing utilities more efficient.

The idea began to take shape several years ago, when McCarthy went to the Mexican border city on a field trip as part of an executive MBA program. He found himself impressed by the sophistication and rapid growth of industry in Juarez but shocked when the bus cut through a poor neighborhood on the way out of the city.

"We saw hundreds of homes that are made out of wood pallets and cardboard and scrap metal and scrap building material," McCarthy said. When he questioned the bus driver, "he said, 'Well, all the people who live here work in the places you just visited.'

"It was amazing to me that in an area where there was such growth and economic prosperity, that these employees of Fortune 1000 companies were living in such poor conditions."

With Juarez growing by 50,000 to 60,000 people a year and wages low, it was evident traditional homebuilding couldn't respond, said McCarthy, who'd worked in various facets of building homes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An idea began taking shape about a year and a half later, when he saw an article about a shipping container converted into guest quarters.

"They talked about the merits of the construction, how strong they are, how affordable they are and how plentiful they are," McCarthy said.

He called Nava, his cousin, with the low-cost home idea. A year later, Nava, then a junior at Notre Dame University, suggested entering the university's business plan competition.

Their initial three-quarter page concept expanded as they advanced in the contest. Along the way, Nava invited his roommate, Annen, to join. As the group's acknowledged computer graphics wiz, Annen added drawings to give the presentation more life.

Eventually, they won the contest with a 55-page document, illustrated by renderings and floor plans.

In July 2007, the partners formed PFNC Global Communities; PFNC stands for "Por Fin, Nuestra Casa," which roughly translates as "Finally, our own home."

They operate out of a back room in a Corrales realty firm but expect offices in Juarez or adjacent El Paso, Texas, and a Juarez plant to manufacture shipping container homes.

The house faces two constraints: designing in only 320 square feet and keeping the price to about $8,000 to be affordable for the average worker at maquiladoras, manufacturing plants in Mexico along the U.S. border, McCarthy said.

The partners looked at clever designs for small condos and lofts, travel trailers and even private jet planes, adapting ideas they felt would work.

"We started with a kitchen and bathroom because they're the most necessary and most basic ingredients of a home," McCarthy said.

They designed a galley-style kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator and dinette, and a 48-square-foot bathroom with a pedestal sink, shower and commode. Adjacent to the kitchen is a bunk area for children; separate sleeping quarters for the owners lie behind the bathroom wall.

The house may be sparse by U.S. standards, but Nava said it's a huge improvement in safety, security and health over where many now live.

When drawings and color pictures of the prototype were shown around a poor Juarez neighborhood, people said, "You know, it'd be like a dream to live in one of these," Nava said. "You know, just the thought of having nice fresh air ventilating through the house, a large bed ... a normal kitchen and a safe home that locks and closes each night was more than appealing."

Annen cites modern architectural design, with bare metal and piping. "This would fit right in any major city," he said.

The company has received a commitment for equity investment and is in the process of finishing details and closing its first round of funding. The partners anticipate starting production early next year, with the capacity to produce 3,000 homes in the first year and later ramping up.

They figure a half million people could benefit from such homes in Juarez alone.

PFNC doesn't intend just to build shelter. It wants to build communities, and McCarthy said the group expects to have the first pilot community on the ground late next year.

"That was our goal, more than just four walls and a roof but to kind of raise the standard of living in Juarez and other places," Nava said.

The shipping containers, which can be hauled by truck, rail or ship, are designed to stack. PFNC envisions a cluster arrangement, eight side by side and four high, with apartment-type balconies and staircases in the corners.

Clusters could be arranged into squares, creating "a safe little plaza in the middle where we hope to build a soccer field or a playground, some safe area for families to be," Nava said.

PFNC wants to set up programs with maquiladoras to offer housing as an employee benefit, helping cut the high rate of worker turnover, now between 7 percent and 10 percent a month, McCarthy said. The company is working with a Mexican law firm that has handled work-to-own housing programs.

"This is not a rental-type situation or free housing while you work here," McCarthy said. "Rather, the employer takes on some of the burden in setting up the financing program to transfer ownership to the employee."

That's important because PFNC needs large orders to keep costs down so low-wage workers can afford the home. The incentive for employers: Studies show housing for employees dramatically increases retention, and having more workers in a given area will reduce the number of buses maquiladoras run to take people to and from their jobs.

PFNC doesn't view its homes as the last stop.

"With our design and with our price point, we think we'll at least be able to take the first step of getting more families into more homes" and formal property ownership, McCarthy said.

"We fully anticipate that people will move into our homes, build up some equity, sell this home," he said. "We see this is a stepping stone to get into a bigger or more comfortable home."

Shame on you, local TV stations!

Don Wheeler

"I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!", declared the well-known philosopher, Popeye The Sailor Man.

Our South Bend television stations seem to be only vaguely aware that there is a spirited race for Governor of the State of Indiana underway. All our local stations took a pass on televising the first two debates, but I had this naive idea that they might televise the final one.

Not so, it turns out. The last debate is tonight at 7:00 - being held in Bloomington. And once again our local television stations are AWOL.

Those of us who think this decision actually matters can watch via this link:

Also, WVPE, your public radio station at 88.1 FM, has broadcast the first two. I haven't checked this out, but it seems reasonable to think they will broadcast this one too.

But gee, wouldn't it be nice for people who don't want to huddle around a computer screen (or don't have one), but care about this race, to watch on television?

I suggest we all send the station managers a can of spinach.

Truthout roundup 10/14

US Investing $250 Billion in Banks
Mark Landler, The New York Times: "The Treasury Department, in its boldest move yet, is expected to announce a plan on Tuesday to invest up to $250 billion in banks, according to officials. The United States is also expected to guarantee new debt issued by banks for three years - a measure meant to encourage the banks to resume lending to one another and to customers, officials said. And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will offer an unlimited guarantee on bank deposits in accounts that do not bear interest - typically those of businesses - bringing the United States in line with several European countries, which have adopted such blanket guarantees."

Private Sector Loans, Not Fannie or Freddie, Triggered Crisis
David Goldstein and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers: "As the economy worsens and Election Day approaches, a conservative campaign that blames the global financial crisis on a government push to make housing more affordable to lower-class Americans has taken off on talk radio and e-mail. Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems. Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis."

Obama Details Plan to Aid Victims of Fiscal Crisis
Jackie Calmes and Jeff Zeleny, The New York Times: "Senator Barack Obama proposed new steps on Monday to address the economic crisis, calling for temporary but costly new programs to help employers, automakers, homeowners, the unemployed, and state and local governments. In an address here, Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, proposed giving employers a $3,000 tax credit for each new hire to encourage job creation. He said he would seek to allow Americans of all ages to borrow from retirement savings without a tax penalty; to eliminate income taxes on unemployment benefits; and to double, to $50 billion, the government’s loan guarantees for automakers."

Tom Engelhardt My Depression - or Ours?
Tom Engelhardt, "Among my somewhat over-the-hill crowd - I'm 64 - there's one thing friends have said to me repeatedly since the stock market started to tumble, the global economic system began to melt down, and Iceland went from bank haven to bankrupt. They say, 'I'm just not looking. I don't want to know.' And they're not referring to the world situation, they're talking about their pension plans, or 401(k)s, or IRAs, or whatever they put their money into, so much of which is melting away in plain sight even as Iceland freezes up.... The point is: Why look? The news is going to be worse than you think, and it's way too late anyway. This is what crosses your mind when the ground under you starts to crumble. Don't look, not yet, not when the life you know, the one you took for granted, is vanishing, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it."

Iraqi VP: US, Iraq Won't Reach Accord on Troops This Year
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "Time's running out for reaching a security agreement with the U.S., and an accord is unlikely before the end of this year, Iraq's Sunni Muslim vice president said Monday. The United Nations mandate that authorizes the U.S. military presence in Iraq will expire on Dec. 31 and without a so-called status of forces agreement, it's questionable whether the U.S. will have a legitimate right to maintain its troops in Iraq, Vice President Tariq al Hashimi told McClatchy."

VIDEO Obama Proposes Immediate Fixes for the US Economy
Senator Barack Obama unveiled a plan to rescue the middle class today in Toledo, Ohio. Obama called for the plans to be enacted now - three weeks before the election - saying the nation has already lost three-quarters of a million jobs this year and unemployment is on the rise. "Today I'm proposing a number of steps that we should take immediately to stabilize our financial system, provide relief to families and communities and help struggling homeowners," said Obama, who is preparing for Wednesday night's debate with Republican nominee John McCain near Toledo. "It's a plan that begins with one word that's on everyone's mind, and it's spelled J-O-B-S."

Michigan to Combat Claims of Voter Suppression
Suzette Hackney and Kathleen Gray, The Free Press: "Even as voter turnout in the Nov. 4 presidential election is expected to reach record levels, fear - fed by rumor, innuendo and misinformation - is running high that droves of eligible voters in Michigan and other battleground states could be turned away or tricked into not voting."

Lacking an Accord on Troops, US and Iraq Seek a Plan B
Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post: "With time running out for the conclusion of an agreement governing American forces in Iraq, nervous negotiators have begun examining alternatives that would allow U.S. troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 deadline, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials."

Three NATO Soldiers, 16 Afghans Killed in Bomb Blasts
Amir Shah, The Associated Press: "In a demonstration of the increasingly deadly attacks [in Afghanistan], a roadside blast in the east where U.S. soldiers operate killed three NATO troops, while two separate roadside bombs in the south killed 16 Afghan civilians, officials said. In Afghanistan, militant attacks have turned deadlier and more sophisticated this year, part of the reason more U.S. and NATO troops have died there in 2008 than in any year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion."

Former Fed Chief Says US Now in Recession
Reuters: "Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said on Tuesday the U.S. housing sector faced more losses and the economy was in recession even as authorities moved to stabilize the financial system. Volcker said the priority for U.S. authorities in the credit crisis was to stabilize the financial system even though that meant heavy government intrusion."

Laurent Joffrin Reckoning
Laurent Joffrin, Liberation: "We still don't know how much the rescue plan discussed in a whirling water wheel of international meetings this weekend will cost. Even less do we know whether it will suffice to return confidence to a banking system totally incapable of saving itself and the leaders of which seem dissolved in their own panic. But we do know one thing ..."

FP roundup 10/14

Decision '08
The Washington Post's Dan Balz says it's time to ask tough questions of Barack Obama.
Politico's Roger Simon wonders who is in charge of John McCain's increasingly erratic campaign.
Slate's Christopher Hitchens endorses Obama.
The race ain't over yet, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney cautions.

President Bush signed a controversial anti-piracy law.
One industry remains untouched by the downturn: the funeral business.
Paraguayan peasants are at war with Brazil.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, his economy faltering, seeks aid from China.
Russia agreed to give 67 square miles of its territory back to China.
China is planning to build hydropower dams across Tibet.

Middle East and Africa
Syria established formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon. Also, Lebanese authorities arrested an alleged militant cell with al Qaeda ties.
U.S. and Iraqi officials, failing to agree on troops, are exploring alternative arrangements.
Israel's Kadima and Labor parties signed a draft agreement to form a new government. Next up? Bringing the ultra-Orthodox Shas on board.

A Russian spacecraft carrying U.S. millionaire Richard Garriott docked at the International Space Station.
Iceland's blue-chip stocks collapsed Tuesday, falling 76 percent as the country sought Russian financial assistance.
The financial crisis is British PM Gordon Brown's time to shine. More here.

Today's Agenda
Britain's Man Booker Prize will be announced.
Canada is holding snap elections. Follow the action here.
President Bush signs a bill authorizing the Pentagon budget for 2009.
Following Obama's lead, McCain unveils new economic proposals in Bluebell, Pennsylvania. Sarah Palin is stumping in Scranton and New York.
Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, campaign in Ohio.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Economic Recovery, Or, They Got The Bailout, So Why Aren't Things Better?

Every morning lately, we have turned anxiously to the news to see if financial markets are in freefall...and some days, they actually are.

Governments across the world have responded over the past two weeks--including a massive commitment by the United States Treasury that is, to say the least, highly controversial to the American voter.

As this is being written markets are opening in Asia. At the moment things are somewhat stable, and except for Shanghai and Taiwan, they’re heading upward. During the writing process, Europe has opened, and there are gains there today as well.

The US credit markets did not open today (although the stock markets did) because of the Columbus Day holiday—but anyone who recalls Mr. Dow’s Wild Ride last Friday is quite nervous ahead of the Tuesday opening.

Despite all that bailout stuff we’re hearing about, confidence doesn’t seem to be returning to the markets. Why?

Excellent question, Gentle Reader, and I have a few helpful answers.

So for those of you who want to avoid reading today’s entire story, here’s the extremely short and sweet (and overly simplistic) answer: asset holders are still having to sell into the market at historically low prices to meet their customer’s needs, virtually everyone who is managing assets is engaged in a “flight to safety”, and the Treasury, who has now been authorized by Congress to begin the bailout, has not yet made any actual asset purchases or capital injections.

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”

--Groucho Marx

“Counterparty Risk” is a phrase you may be hearing bandied about lately...and it’s a fancy way of saying: “I don’t want to do business with you because I’m afraid you’ll go broke and leave me hanging”.

The idea behind Treasury purchasing assets is to remove “risky” securities from the system, so that banks and other investors, who will no longer be holding the riskiest assets, can trust each other again (“counterparty risk is reduced” would be the fancy way to say it), and, hopefully, commercial lending can begin returning to a more “normal” state.

The thing is, this does not happen overnight. The US Treasury must first hire asset managers and a “custodial banker”.

Asset managers might advise Treasury on how to value individual assets they seek to purchase, they might advise on the purchase process itself, and in situations where case-by-case decisions need to be made, they’ll likely be the one working those problems. Treasury’s role here is likely to be a policy-setting and supervisory one, leaving the asset manager to...well, manage the assets.

Custodial bankers provide the “clearing” and “custodial” tasks associated with these types of purchases. They physically hold the securities certificates in a vault somewhere, they provide the services associated with receiving new assets and transferring sold assets to new buyers, and they provide information about the assets and their income streams.

How soon will all this happen? The Treasury wants us to know that...

Due to the paramount need for expeditious implementation of the Secretary's authorities under the Act, Treasury anticipates that a number of contracts will be awarded through other than full and open competition...

In other words, this is moving ahead at high speed...and the estimates I hear suggest the first asset purchases might occur as soon as November 1st.

This could be done in a couple of ways: buying the assets directly from the asset holders, or “reverse auctions” where Treasury buys assets at the lowest price offered, then keeps paying more until they reach the limit of what is to be spent in that auction.

Repeat the process over and over (buy $100 billion today, the same next week, and on and on) and pretty soon taxpayers own the assets, and, hopefully, things get better.

Another way to reduce counterparty risk: guarantee interbank lending. If JP Morgan lends $500,000,000 to Bank of America overnight, and either goes broke, Treasury would pay the other party. This is not likely to cost the taxpayer much—in fact, I can’t recall a situation ever where payment on these guarantees would have been required.

The goal of these guarantees is not to have to cover losses...instead, the goal is to make both parties more confident in each other, which would, hopefully, lower the all-important LIBOR rate that controls not just lending between banks, but also the rates you pay for your credit cards, adjustable rate mortgages, and personal and commercial lines of credit (which are all based on “LIBOR plus something”).

The Treasury is also authorized to buy stock in banks, and it looks as if they are preparing to do that as well. The reason they would do this is to provide immediate cash to banks that are today, essentially, broke. The US version of this program, for the moment, appears to be voluntary, and would presumably involve purchases of preferred stock, which may give Treasury a better position to get our money back if the banks fails—or it might not, particularly if a bank fails because they had a “run” on deposits (a “run” means everyone wants their money back all at once. Think “Miracle on 34th Street”).

This offer would come with some sort of restrictions on “executive compensation” and some degree of political risk—for example, how will Congress and the American public (of whom most are taxpayers, and a few are actually voters) feel about Treasury directly owning companies?

Greek philosophy seems to have met with something with which a good tragedy is not supposed to meet, namely, a dull ending.

--Karl Marx

The enormous unknown in all of this is what prices will be paid for these various assets. This could be a series of prudent investments that generate taxpayers a decent return over time...or it could become a giant process of rewarding friends and punishing enemies that does the taxpayer more harm than good.

Public vigilance is going to be mandatory going forward...and the willingness of Treasury, in the next Administration, to be open and transparent about this process will be crucial.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is authorized to raise the insurance limits on US bank deposits from $100,000 to $250,000...which means those of you with $100,001 to $249,999 in the bank will be sleeping better tonight. (This should actually help small businesses, to be fair, and it should be at very little cost to the taxpayer, as banks—up until today—have rarely failed without someone else taking over the deposit accounts.)

Next, a few words on forced asset sales. If you have a 401-K or other money market asset, you may have chosen to take your money out rather than chance losing it. Lots of others have made the same choice, all at once. These are companies that tend to have less cash and more “assets at work”. As a result, many of the companies in this business are being forced to sell some of those assets to pay you back your money.

Here’s a rule of markets: when you’re selling into a falling market, or you must sell today, no matter what the asset, you will get less than you wanted—and probably less than you need. Both have applied to many companies these past few weeks; and as they sell assets at bargain-basement prices, it drags down the Dow and the NASDAQ averages...along with averages all over the world.

Part of the idea of injecting assets onto the books of asset holders is to stop this forced selling (which may stop the Dow from falling 600 points daily)...but keep in mined that “injecting assets” means “buying stuff”; and all the cautions regarding pricing we talked about a few paragraphs ago directly apply to this conversation as well.

The “Money Market Guarantee Program” is also intended to help resolve this problem by providing temporary Federal insurance on those deposits.

Short selling, which allows you to make money off future declines in stock prices, has been blamed for exacerbating the problems of rapid price declines (rightly or wrongly, we don’t yet know), and is currently under restrictions in the US. Those restrictions, at some point, will end...and the effect on future prices is, today, unknown.

“Mark to market” rules require companies that are trading assets to mark them at some “fair value”—and in a time of frozen markets, those asset values might turn to zero. This has caused great pain for asset holders, who are trying as hard as they can to end the fair value requirements.

Those with a sense of history will recall that these rules were established because of abuses that led to the last Savings and Loan Scandal...and there will be a great fight over this issue, in this Congress and the next, as well as enormous lobbyist pressure on the next Administration.

So that’s where we are: the Dow is moving wildly according to how much risk is perceived to be out there, the credit markets, even more so.

Coordinated efforts over the weekend and over the next few weeks may have stabilized the situation...or at least that’s what today’s markets are telling us.

There will be asset purchases and direct investments made over the next few weeks—and the prices paid will determine whether this is a “taxpayer positive” deal or a giant taxpayer hustle.

When someone on CNBC or Bloomberg says “Treasury has to overpay for assets for this plan to work” your wallet. If that same someone wants us to pay “hold to maturity” values? Well, that is a virtual guarantee the taxpayer will not make money—and it probably means we won’t break even.

There will be efforts to change regulations. My personal opinion: short selling gets more abuse than it deserves, and mark to market the same. Keep ‘em both, but since they can both be abused, regulate ‘em carefully.

Finally, the most important question of all: will the credit markets begin to thaw?

Credit markets in the US open tomorrow, but today’s activity in the European and Asian markets (and the US equity market) suggests good news—and from a LIBOR perspective, things have been worse—but we’re a long way from the easy money of 2004...and that’s probably a good thing.

UPDATE: A quick thanks to pragprogress over at DailyKos, who reminds me that the short selling ban was lifted last Thursday; which has had a currently unknown effect.

Paul Krugman wins economics Nobel Prize

By Catherine Rampell
The New York Times

Paul Krugman, a professor at Princeton University and an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday.

“It’s been an extremely weird day, but weird in a positive way,” Mr. Krugman said in an interview on his way to a Washington meeting for the Group of Thirty, an international body from the public and private sectors that discusses international economics. He said he was mostly “preoccupied with the hassles” of trying to make all his scheduled meetings today and answer a constantly-ringing cell phone.

Mr. Krugman received the award for his work on international trade and economic geography. In particular, the prize committee lauded his work for “having shown the effects of economies of scale on trade patterns and on the location of economic activity.” He has developed models that explain observed patterns of trade between countries, as well as what goods are produced where and why. Traditional trade theory assumes that countries are different and will exchange different kinds of goods with each other; Mr. Krugman’s theories have explained why worldwide trade is dominated by a few countries that are similar to each other, and why some countries might import the same kinds of goods that it exports.

“There was something very beautiful about the old existing trade theory, and its ability to capture the world in a surprisingly simple conceptual framework,” Mr. Krugman said. “And then I realized that some of the new insights coming through in industrial organization could be applied to international trade.”

Mr. Krugman wrote his dissertation, however, on international finance, and credits his late MIT professor Rudiger Dornbusch for pushing him to study international trade.

“I went to visit him one snowy day in early 1978 and described to him what I’d been thinking about,” Mr. Krugman said. “He turned to me and said, ‘You’ve got to write about that.’”

Mr. Krugman has been an Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times since 1999. A collection of his recent columns can be found here.

“For economists, this is a validation but not news. We know what each other have been up to,” Mr. Krugman said. “For readers of the column, maybe they will read a little more carefully when I’m being economistic, or maybe have a little more tolerance when I’m being boring.”

He said that he does not expect his critics to let him off any easier because of his new accolade, though.

“I think we’ve learned this when we see Joe Stiglitz writing,” Mr. Krugman said, referring to the winner of the economics Nobel in 2001. “I haven’t noticed him getting an easy time. People just say, ‘Sure, he’s a great Nobel laureate and he’s very smart, but he still doesn’t know what he’s talking about in this situation.’ I’m sure I’ll get the same thing.”

In 1991 Mr. Krugman received the John Bates Clark medal, a prize given every two years to “that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge.”

Mr. Krugman follows a number of Clark medal recipients who have gone on to win a Nobel, including Mr. Stiglitz.

“To be absolutely, totally honest I thought this day might come someday, but I was absolutely convinced it wasn’t going to be this day,” Mr. Krugman said. “I know people who live their lives waiting for this call, and it’s not good for the soul. So I put it out of my mind and stopped thinking about it.”

He said he didn’t actually know which day the winner’s name would be released until a colleague told him last week.

Mr. Krugman continues to teach at Princeton. This semester Mr. Krugman is teaching a small graduate-level course on international monetary policy and theory, covering such timely subjects as international liquidity crises. In recent years he has also taught courses on the welfare state and international trade, as well as all-freshman seminars on various economic topics.

Monday’s award is the last of the six prizes and is not one of the original Nobels, but was created in 1968 by the Swedish central bank in Alfred Nobel’s memory. Mr. Krugman was the only winner of the award, which includes a prize of about $1.4 million.

Puckett steals a march on Donnelly at the annual TAP meeting

by Don Wheeler

Yesterday, the community group Transforming Action through Power (TAP) held it's second annual public meeting. The group, composed chiefly of fourteen area churches, met to review their progress and the tasks ahead. But mostly it was a celebration of community and reaffirmation.

As one of the South Bend School Board candidates, I attended - in part to reaffirm my commitment to TAP's educational agenda.

TAP is also highly concerned with issues facing our immigrant community. Since these are mostly federal issues, TAP asked Rep. Joe Donnelly and his challenger Luke Puckett three questions in advance of the event. These were roughly, Do you commit to comprehensive, practical and humane immigration policy reform? Will you advocate a moratorium on ICE raids in our community? Will you pledge to meet periodically with TAP leadership to hear their concerns?

Rep. Donnelly, who sent a representative to the meeting, had replied no, no and yes. And despite speaker Jesusa Rodriguez's admonition to "respond in silence to Mr. Donnelly's silence", the crowd applauded politely to Donnelly's single "yes" answer.

Mr. Puckett, who was in attendance, answered "Si! Si! Si!" He then addressed the gathering in fluent Spanish and earned a standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

Apparently, Rep. Donnelly's representative complained bitterly to TAP's President, Fr. Chris Cox, after the event. About what, I have no idea.

Well, many of us complain bitterly about Mr. Donnelly's claiming to be a Democrat.

Yesterday, Mr. Puckett was much more of a Democrat.

No offense, Luke.

State Unemployment Reserves Dangerously Low; Funds Drained by Bush/Daniels Job Slump


Normally we like to see Indiana in the national news, especially with the close campaign turning heads around the country this year. But today brought our state some national attention we could do without.

The demand for unemployment benefits across the country has put a strain on state unemployment funds, with such funds in at least 10 states facing insolvency in 2009, according to a policy group....With a weekly average of 474,000 new applicants in August, in a system already looking after about 3.5 million people each week, the growing rate of recipients has nearly depleted unemployment funds in several states.

The Indiana job loss spiral continues to get worse, and now it looks like the state will be one of a handful in America that can't afford to keep up their unemployment insurance commitments.

Months ago, Jill Long Thompson called on Governor Daniels to do something about this. Otherwise, the state will go into the red, have to borrow money from the federal government, and lose out on interest payments. As far as we can tell, the Governor hasn't acted.

We'll probably see a press release from RV1 soon, claiming that this is a federal issue and the governor has no responsibility. But according to the article, " Economists blame the situation on the failure of states to beef up their reserves when the economy was in better shape.

"More to the point, the economy shouldn't be in this shape. We shouldn't settle for the Bush/Daniels approach to jobs and economic growth. The verdict is in: it doesn't work.

For more information, please visit

Truthout roundup 10/13

John Cory The Moment
John Cory, Truthout: "Senator McCain. Was this the moment? The epiphany? The realization that stoking the flames of bigotry and fear had come home to roost? As I watched your town hall gathering, I wondered what was going through your mind when you came face to face with the incendiary results of your campaign tactics. What did you see and feel when that elderly woman said Obama was an Arab? Or the man who said he feared an Obama presidency? And all the others?"

Obama's Favorability Ratings Rising
Anne E. Kornblut and Jon Cohen, The Washington Post: "With just over three weeks until Election Day, the two presidential nominees appear to be on opposite trajectories, with Sen. Barack Obama gaining momentum and Sen. John McCain stalled or losing ground on a range of issues and personal traits, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Overall, Obama is leading 53 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, and for the first time in the general-election campaign, voters gave the Democrat a clear edge on tax policy and providing strong leadership."

Democrats Call for Wide-Ranging Stimulus Plan
David Lawder, Reuters: "The United States needs a new economic stimulus plan that pumps billions of dollars into infrastructure projects and budget relief for cash-strapped state and local governments, Democratic lawmakers said on Sunday. U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told ABC television he will put together an economic stimulus bill when Congress returns to Washington after the November 4 elections, while a key Republican said he would support an effort that 'makes sense.'"

Guantanamo Prosecutor Who Quit Had "Grave Misgivings" About Fairness
Josh Meyer, The Los Angeles Times: "Darrel J. Vandeveld was in despair. The hard-nosed lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a self-described conformist praised by his superiors for his bravery in Iraq, had lost faith in the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals in which he was a prosecutor. His work was top secret, making it impossible to talk to family or friends. So the devout Catholic -- working away from home -- contacted a priest online. Even if he had no doubt about the guilt of the accused, he wrote in an August e-mail, 'I am beginning to have grave misgivings about what I am doing, and what we are doing as a country....'"

Ohio Shooting Puts Face on Foreclosure Crisis
The Associated Press: "By the time deputies came to escort Addie Polk out of her home of 38 years, the 90-year-old had taken out her life insurance policy and placed it next to her pocketbook and keys in the neatly kept house. She shot herself in the chest Oct. 1 before she could be taken away from the foreclosed house, which was worth less than its mortgage from the day she took out the loan."

Dean Baker The Fannie/Freddie Flat Earth Theory
Dean Baker, Truthout: "For the last month, most of the world has been watching the Wall Street gang drowning in their own greed as they threaten to pull the rest of us down with them. However, while we have been distracted, the Flat Earth Society has developed its narrative to explain the crisis. In the Flat Earth version, the real villains in the story were the public/private mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.... While no one should shed any tears over the collapse of these two giants - the top management and shareholders got what they deserved - it is equally ridiculous to lay the blame for the financial crisis on the shoulders of Fannie and Freddie."

Europe Moves to Quell Financial Firestorm
Agence France-Presse: "European governments launched a multi-pronged attack to combat the financial crisis on Monday, approving hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and buying into banks in a move to end panic on the markets. Governments across the continent, rattled by the relentless downward spiral of shares, unveiled rescue packages after agreeing at a weekend summit to guarantee inter-bank lending and make state funds available to buy bank stocks."

Clintons Join Biden in Pennsylvania
Sam Youngman, The Hill: "Bill and Hillary Clinton joined Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden in Scranton, Pa., Sunday, as they sought to rally supporters considered a weakness for their party's ticket. The Clintons, whose depth of commitment to Democratic nominee Barack Obama was questioned after the long and bitter Democratic primary, joined Biden in using the faltering economy as a reason to vote for the Illinois senator next month."

Republican Leaders Break Ranks With McCain
Stephen Foley, The Independent UK: "Senior members of the Republican party are in open mutiny against John McCain's presidential campaign, after a disastrous period which has seen Barack Obama solidify his lead in the opinion polls.... From inside and outside his inner circle, Mr McCain is being told to settle on a coherent economic message and to tone down attacks on his rival which have sometimes whipped up a mob-like atmosphere at Republican rallies."

FP roundup 10/13

Democrats in the U.S. Congress are planning a new stimulus package.
Argentina is becoming America's meth lab.
A lottery scam targeting U.S. citizens is helping to arm gangs in Jamaica.

North Korea is set to resume dismantling its reactor after the United States removed it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Taliban tried, but failed to seize the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province.
Beijing, battling air pollution, is reintroducing the Olympic driving rules.

Middle East and Africa
Sudan claims that a Darfur militia leader wanted by the ICC is now in custody.
Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal plans to build the world's tallest building, while Abu Dhabi is building a giant media hub.
The United States is considering a "coalition of the willing" approach to sanctioning Iran.

Attacks on immigrants are sparking a national conversation on race in Italy.
Germany's car industry has been hit hard by the economic crisis.
In Russia, the financial crisis is threatening Vladimir Putin's legacy.
Nervous Icelanders are stocking up on groceries.

Today's Agenda
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is heading to Zimbabwe to salvage the power-sharing deal between Robert Mugabe and the opposition.
Today is Columbus Day in the United States.
The Nobel Prize in economics goes to Princeton economist Paul Krugman "for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity."
U.S. President George W. Bush hosts Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.
Assistant Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari gives a press conference on the rescue package that he has been tasked with executing.

FP Top Story 10/13

With just three weeks remaining before the big day, Barack Obama leads John McCain by 10 points in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll of likely voters. The poll's results suggest the McCain campaign's escalating rhetoric about the Democratic nominee and its failure to settle on a coherent economic narrative have backfired with voters.

Obama is also rumored to be set for another huge fundraising month, and his ground game looks to be superior to McCain's. With the caveat that a lot can happen in the next three weeks, and polls can be misleading, the race appears to be Obama's to lose at the moment.

"This is going to turn into a landslide," predicts Republican strategist Ed Rollins. A confident McCain still says he will "whip [Obama's] you-know-what" during Wednesday's debate (mercifully for viewers, it's the last one), but time appears to be running out for the Arizona senator.

William Kristol's solution for McCain? "Fire his campaign."


Over the weekend, the U.S. Federal Reserve led an international effort to shore up confidence in world markets after last week's global crash.

Britian committed more than $60 billion to save three banks, while the French and Germans introduced their own bailout measures. The news sent European and Asian markets back up today.

It's still likely that a nasty recession is coming, economists say.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Truthout roundup 10/12

John Lewis: McCain Sows Hatred
The Associated Press: "Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and veteran of the civil rights movement, says the negative tone of the Republican presidential campaign reminds him of the hateful atmosphere that segregationist Gov. George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s. Republican candidate John McCain on Saturday called Lewis' remarks 'shocking and beyond the pale.'"

Frank Rich The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama
Frank Rich, The New York Times: "If you think way back to the start of this marathon campaign, back when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender, then you remember the biggest fear about Barack Obama: a crazy person might take a shot at him. Some voters told reporters that they didn't want Obama to run, let alone win, should his very presence unleash the demons who have stalked America from Lincoln to King."

PART II: Detention Has a Wide, Destructive Impact in Iraq
Nick Mottern and Bill Rau, Truthout: "On August 5, 2008, Richard Rowley posted a video on the Web site of the Pulitzer Center, showing Iraqi families heading out into the desert of southern Iraq before dawn to visit relatives imprisoned by the US at Camp Bucca. The camp currently holds about 15,900 Iraqis, according to the US command in charge there."

White House Overhauling Rescue Plan
Edmund L. Andrews and Mark Landler, The New York Times: "As international leaders gathered here on Saturday to grapple with the global financial crisis, the Bush administration embarked on an overhaul of its own strategy for rescuing the foundering financial system. Two weeks after persuading Congress to let it spend $700 billion to buy distressed securities tied to mortgages, the Bush administration has put that idea aside in favor of a new approach that would have the government inject capital directly into the nation's banks - in effect, partially nationalizing the industry."

Peter W. Galbraith Is This a "Victory"?
Peter W. Galbraith, New York Review of Books: "John McCain has staked his presidential candidacy on his early advocacy of sending more troops to Iraq. He says he is for victory while Barack Obama is for surrender; and polls suggest that voters trust McCain more on Iraq than they do Obama. In 2006, dissatisfaction with the Iraq war ended Republican control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This year, in spite of being burdened with the gravest financial crisis since 1929 and the most unpopular president since the advent of polling, the Republican presidential nominee is running a competitive race."

FOCUS RFK Jr. : The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Huffington Post: "In 2004, America's malleable mainstream media allowed itself to be manipulated by artful Republican operatives into devoting weeks of broadcast attention and drums of ink to unfairly desecrating John Kerry's genuine Vietnam heroics while obligingly muzzling serious discussion of George W. Bush's shameful wartime record of evasion and cowardice. Last week found the American media once again boarding Republican swift boats against this season's Democratic candidate armed with unfair and hypocritical attacks artfully designed by GOP strategists to distract attention from the cataclysmic outcomes of Republican governance."

FOCUS Insider's Projects Drained Missile-Defense Millions
Eric Lipton, The New York Times: "They huddled in a quiet corner at the US Airways lounge at Ronald Reagan National Airport, sipping bottomless cups of coffee as they plotted to turn America's missile defense program into a personal cash machine. Michael Cantrell, an engineer at the Army Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters in Huntsville, Ala., along with his deputy, Doug Ennis, had lined up millions of dollars from Congress for defense companies. Now, Mr. Cantrell decided, it was time to take a cut."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Landslide, or, Palin, Palin, Failin'

by Don Wheeler

(sung to the tune of Rawhide!)

Palin, Palin, Palin...
Palin, Palin, Palin...
Palin, Palin, Palin...
Failin', Failin', Failin'...

Palin, Palin', failin'
John's campaign derailing
Looks to be clear sailing

John threw a deep "Hail Mary"
But states he needs to carry
Show margins becoming pretty wide

It seemed there was no danger
But he's become a stranger, and
Barack's on one heck of a ride

Show im up
Put 'im down
Move 'im out
Close 'im out
Shut 'im down
Close 'im out

Reel 'im in
Move him out,
Put 'im down
Shut 'im up
Close 'im out
Knock 'im out

Palin, Palin', failin',
Clear thinking she's impalin'
Republicans are bailin'

Her days are getting darker,
Though thought to be a sparker
Soon she'll be livin' high and wide

Hate's her biggest tactic
And not the least didactic
Head to Alaska and hide

Show em up
Put 'em down
Move 'em out
Close 'em out
Shut 'em up
Close 'em out

Reel 'em in
Move 'em out,
Put 'em down
Shut 'em up
Close 'em out
Knock 'em out

Waltons spend 27 times more on lobbying than 9 years ago

from Wal-Mart Watch

Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, always believed that his company should stay out of politics and stick to retailing.

Too bad his family didn't listen to him. Today, the Walton family sinks millions and millions of dollars into influencing politicians and manipulating the legislative process.

Wal-Mart Watch is proud to launch a new website - - that tracks and analyzes the Walton family's and Wal-Mart's growing influence on American politics.

Visit it now and see just how much power the Waltons and Wal-Mart have in Washington:

The Walton family and Wal-Mart spend millions of dollars every year to fund an extreme right-wing corporate agenda - one that is often in direct conflict with the interests of Wal-Mart's most needy workers and shoppers.
Wal-Mart has lobbied against increasing port security, providing Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on food products, raising the minimum wage, and implementing a Patients Bill of Rights.

Meanwhile, the Walton family spends tens of millions of dollars supporting legislation that would privatize Social Security, repeal the estate tax and create private school vouchers.

In August and October 2004 alone, Alice Walton gave $2.6 million to Progress for America, the Karl Rove-aligned 527 group largely credited for helping re-elect President Bush with vicious attack ads against John Kerry.

There's a lot more information out there - but you'll need to see it all to believe it. Take a few minutes to explore our new web site and then tell your friends, family and coworkers about it:

Wal-Mart wants us to believe that it's a family company - but the only family Wal-Mart cares about is the Waltons.

GOP senator: Democrats want to steal Indiana

from The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

WASHINGTON - The only way Barack Obama can win in Indiana is to cheat, one of John McCain's stand-ins said Thursday.

He said votes have already been cast by "people who don't exist" and that a national voter-registration effort is "trying to steal the election in Indiana."

In an interview before headlining the Indiana Republican Party's fund-raising dinner in Indianapolis Thursday night, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Hoosiers are too smart to vote for Obama.

Democrats, he said, "can't win fairly out here."

Asked if Democrats could win without cheating, Graham said, "No. They can't win fairly out here 'cause their agenda is so far removed from the average Hoosier.

full story:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Moment of truth

The New York Times

Last month, when the U.S. Treasury Department allowed Lehman Brothers to fail, I wrote that Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, was playing financial Russian roulette. Sure enough, there was a bullet in that chamber: Lehman’s failure caused the world financial crisis, already severe, to get much, much worse.

The consequences of Lehman’s fall were apparent within days, yet key policy players have largely wasted the past four weeks. Now they’ve reached a moment of truth: They’d better do something soon — in fact, they’d better announce a coordinated rescue plan this weekend — or the world economy may well experience its worst slump since the Great Depression.

Let’s talk about where we are right now.

The current crisis started with a burst housing bubble, which led to widespread mortgage defaults, and hence to large losses at many financial institutions. That initial shock was compounded by secondary effects, as lack of capital forced banks to pull back, leading to further declines in the prices of assets, leading to more losses, and so on — a vicious circle of “deleveraging.” Pervasive loss of trust in banks, including on the part of other banks, reinforced the vicious circle.

The downward spiral accelerated post-Lehman. Money markets, already troubled, effectively shut down — one line currently making the rounds is that the only things anyone wants to buy right now are Treasury bills and bottled water.

The response to this downward spiral on the part of the world’s two great monetary powers — the United States, on one side, and the 15 nations that use the euro, on the other — has been woefully inadequate.

Europe, lacking a common government, has literally been unable to get its act together; each country has been making up its own policy, with little coordination, and proposals for a unified response have gone nowhere.

The United States should have been in a much stronger position. And when Mr. Paulson announced his plan for a huge bailout, there was a temporary surge of optimism. But it soon became clear that the plan suffered from a fatal lack of intellectual clarity. Mr. Paulson proposed buying $700 billion worth of “troubled assets” — toxic mortgage-related securities — from banks, but he was never able to explain why this would resolve the crisis.

What he should have proposed instead, many economists agree, was direct injection of capital into financial firms: The U.S. government would provide financial institutions with the capital they need to do business, thereby halting the downward spiral, in return for partial ownership. When Congress modified the Paulson plan, it introduced provisions that made such a capital injection possible, but not mandatory. And until two days ago, Mr. Paulson remained resolutely opposed to doing the right thing.

But on Wednesday the British government, showing the kind of clear thinking that has been all too scarce on this side of the pond, announced a plan to provide banks with £50 billion in new capital — the equivalent, relative to the size of the economy, of a $500 billion program here — together with extensive guarantees for financial transactions between banks. And U.S. Treasury officials now say that they plan to do something similar, using the authority they didn’t want but Congress gave them anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

The class war before Palin

The New York Times

Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. Richard Weaver wrote a book called, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Russell Kirk placed Edmund Burke in an American context. William F. Buckley famously said he’d rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. But he didn’t believe those were the only two options. His entire life was a celebration of urbane values, sophistication and the rigorous and constant application of intellect.

Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.

Ronald Reagan was no intellectual, but he had an earnest faith in ideas and he spent decades working through them. He was rooted in the Midwest, but he also loved Hollywood. And for a time, it seemed the Republican Party would be a broad coalition — small-town values with coastal reach.

In 1976, in a close election, Gerald Ford won the entire West Coast along with northeastern states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine. In 1984, Reagan won every state but Minnesota.

But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.

George W. Bush restrained some of the populist excesses of his party — the anti-immigration fervor, the isolationism — but stylistically he fit right in. As Fred Barnes wrote in his book, “Rebel-in-Chief,” Bush “reflects the political views and cultural tastes of the vast majority of Americans who don’t live along the East or West Coast. He’s not a sophisticate and doesn’t spend his discretionary time with sophisticates. As First Lady Laura Bush once said, she and the president didn’t come to Washington to make new friends. And they haven’t.”

The political effects of this trend have been obvious. Republicans have alienated the highly educated regions — Silicon Valley, northern Virginia, the suburbs outside of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham. The West Coast and the Northeast are mostly gone.

The Republicans have alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1. It took talent for Republicans to lose the banking community.

Conservatives are as rare in elite universities and the mainstream media as they were 30 years ago. The smartest young Americans are now educated in an overwhelmingly liberal environment.

This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichés took control. Rudy Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” (Mitt Romney!) John McCain picked Sarah Palin.

Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite.

She is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.

And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.

Who is Barrack Obama?

from the DNC

Truthout roundup 10/10

Did US Government Snoop on Americans' Phone Calls?
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is examining allegations by two former U.S. military linguists that the super-secret National Security Agency routinely eavesdropped on the private telephone calls of American military officers, journalists and aid workers. NSA interceptors purportedly shared some intercepts of highly personal conversations, including 'phone sex.'"

Supreme Court Won't Block Troopergate Inquiry
Sean Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News: "The Alaska Supreme Court today rejected an attempt by a group of six Republican legislators to shut down the Legislature's investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin. The ruling means that Steve Branchflower, the investigator hired by the Legislative Council, will release his report as scheduled on Friday."

H. Bruce Franklin A Small Nuclear Blunder?
H. Bruce Franklin, Truthout: "McCain's position on nuclear proliferation two years ago is still his position today. Forget meaningful negotiations, ignore the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and rely on threats and force to keep nations such as Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. So it's not hard to understand how Sarah Palin, after her pre-debate crash course in talking points, could end up saying that Iran should not be allowed to have nuclear energy."

Appeals Court Blocks Release of Guantanamo Detainees
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers: "A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a day after a landmark decision required them to be shipped to the U.S. The move Wednesday night by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sets the stage for a protracted court battle over the fate of the men, who've been held for nearly seven years despite being cleared for release by the U.S. military."

Robert Kuttner Who Will Look After the Economy Until January?
Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect: "If that Barack Obama is our next president, the interregnum, now 'only' two-and-a-half months, will take on many of the morbid characteristics of the winter of 1932. George W. Bush is a spent force -- an irrelevance. On November 5, Barack Obama becomes the chief executive in-waiting, while the legal powers of office still belong to Bush. The Paulson plan, not even a week old, has been adjudged a failure by the world's financial markets. We are on the verge of a full blown depression, and time is of the essence."

FP roundup 10/10

U.S. state governments are slashing budgets and stopping big construction projects.
The notion that math is "uncool" is hurting U.S. competitiveness, according to a new study.
The U.N. Security Council is likely to approve peacekeeping troops in Haiti for another year, the AP reports.

The United States might remove North Korea from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism as early as today.
As Singapore enters a recession, China seems increasingly worried about the global financial crisis.
The Dalai Lama's gallstone-removal surgery was successful, a spokesman said.

Middle East and Africa
IAEA inspectors suspect a Russian scientist of helping Iran conduct nuclear weapons research.
In Abu Dhabi, newspapers are still a growth business.

Finland's former President Martti Ahtisaari wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
Montenegro and Macedonia recognised Kosovo.
British PM Gordon Brown is considering taking legal action against Iceland.

Today's Agenda
Drink heavily.

FP Top Story 10/10

Falling by more than 20 percent over seven straight trading days, the U.S. stock market's recent performance now meets the standard definition of a crash.

Investors have lost an estimated $8.4 trillion dollars so far this year, with the Dow Jones industrial average sinking another 678 points or 7.3 percent Thursday.

In this morning's trading, markets in Asia and Europe fell by a comparable amount.

Hoping to find ways to stem the panic, the U.S. government called an emergency meeting of global financial leaders, set for Saturday in Washington. Finance ministers and central bankers in town for the IMF and World Bank meetings
will also be discussing the situation at the Treasury Department today.

"They'd better announce a coordinated rescue plan this weekend," Paul Krugman argues, "or the world economy may well experience its worst slump since the Great Depression."

"The US and advanced economies' financial system is now headed towards a near-term systemic financial meltdown," warns Nouriel Roubini.

For the first time, the Wall Street Journal's panel of economists is predicting a downturn in economic activity for the next two quarters.

Yet somehow, Warren Buffett became $8 billion richer from Aug. 29 to Oct. 1.

McCain increases lead in Indiana

from Rasmussen Reports

John McCain has pulled to a solid seven-point lead over Barack Obama in Indiana. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state finds McCain leading 50% to 43%.

Last month, McCain had just a two-percentage-point lead in Indiana, which has been one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation. Parts of northwestern Indiana, however, are effectively suburbs of Chicago, Obama’s home base. During the Indiana Primary, strong turnout in this region almost enabled Obama to pull off an upset victory.

Nationally, Obama has been gaining ground in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll ever since the turmoil on Wall Street began dominating the news.

This month, McCain leads 43% to 39% among unaffiliated voters in Indiana. He also leads 55% to 37% among men. Obama has a modest 48% to 46% advantage among women in the state (Premium Members can view full demographic crosstabs.)

Full story:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

McCain in a Bear Market

By George F. Will
The Washington Post

Time was, the Baltimore Orioles' manager was Earl Weaver, a short, irascible, Napoleonic figure who, when cranky, as he frequently was, would shout at an umpire, "Are you going to get any better or is this it?" With, mercifully, only one debate to go, that is the question about John McCain's campaign.

In the closing days of his 10-year quest for the presidency, McCain finds it galling that Barack Obama is winning the first serious campaign he has ever run against a Republican. Before Tuesday night's uneventful event, gall was fueling what might be the McCain-Palin campaign's closing argument. It is less that Obama has bad ideas than that Obama is a bad person.

This, McCain and his female Sancho Panza say, is demonstrated by bad associations Obama had in Chicago, such as with William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist. But the McCain-Palin charges have come just as the Obama campaign is benefiting from a mass mailing it is not paying for. Many millions of American households are gingerly opening envelopes containing reports of the third-quarter losses in their 401(k) and other retirement accounts -- telling each household its portion of the nearly $2 trillion that Americans' accounts have recently shed. In this context, the McCain-Palin campaign's attempt to get Americans to focus on Obama's Chicago associations seems surreal -- or, as a British politician once said about criticism he was receiving, "like being savaged by a dead sheep."

Recently Obama noted -- perhaps to torment and provoke conservatives -- that McCain's rhetoric about Wall Street's "greed" and "casino culture" amounted to "talking like Jesse Jackson." What fun: one African American Chicago politician distancing himself from another African American Chicago politician by associating McCain with him.

After their enjoyable 2006 congressional elections, Democrats eagerly anticipated that 2008 would provide a second election in which a chaotic Iraq would be at the center of voters' minds. Today they are glad that has not happened. The success of the surge in Iraq, for which McCain justly claims much credit, is one reason why foreign policy has receded to the margins of the electorate's mind, thereby diminishing the subject with which McCain is most comfortable and which is Obama's largest vulnerability.

Tuesday night, McCain, seeking traction in inhospitable economic terrain, said that the $700 billion -- perhaps it is $800 billion, or more; one loses track of this fast-moving target -- bailout plan is too small. He proposes several hundred billions more for his American Homeownership Resurgence -- you cannot have too many surges -- Plan. Under it, the government would buy mortgages that homeowners cannot -- or perhaps would just rather not -- pay, and replace them with cheaper ones. When he proposed this, conservatives participating in MSNBC's "dial group" wrenched their dials in a wrist-spraining spasm of disapproval.

Still, it may be politically prudent for McCain to throw caution, and billions, to the wind. Obama is competitive in so many states that President Bush carried in 2004 -- including Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico -- it is not eccentric to think he could win at least 350 of the 538 electoral votes.

If that seems startling, that is only because the 2000 and 2004 elections were won with 271 and 286, respectively. In the 25 elections from 1900 to 1996, the winners averaged 402.6. This, even though the 1900 and 1904 elections -- before Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma attained statehood, and before the size of the House was fixed at 435 members in 1911 -- allocated only 447 and 476 electoral votes, respectively. The 12 elections from 1912 through 1956, before Hawaiian and Alaskan statehood, allocated only 531.

In the 25 20th-century elections, only three candidates won with fewer than 300 -- McKinley with 292 in 1900, Wilson with 277 in 1916 and Carter with 297 in 1976. President Harry Truman won 303 in 1948 even though Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat candidacy won 39 that otherwise would have gone to Truman. After John Kennedy won in 1960 with just 303, the average winning total in the next nine elections, up to the 2000 cliffhanger, was 421.4.

In 1987, on the eve of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's third victory, the head of her Conservative Party told a visiting columnist: "Someday, Labour will win an election. Our job is to hold on until they are sane." Republicans, winners of seven of the past 10 presidential elections, had better hope they have held on long enough.

Are you ready for change?

Jill Long Thompson at a rally for change in Indy

Truthout roundup 10/9

States' Purges of Voter Rolls Appear Illegal
Ian Urbina, The New York Times: "Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times. The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run. Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party's supporters disproportionately."

US May Take Ownership Stake in Banks
Edmund L. Andrews and Mark Landler, The New York Times: "Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials. Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks' balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones."

Obama Camp and Experts Warn of McCain Housing Aid Plan
Jonathan Allen, Congressional Quarterly: "Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama drew a sharp contrast with rival John McCain on government assistance for embattled homeowners on Wednesday, as a top Obama aide blasted McCain's proposal to pump $300 billion into buying troubled mortgages from lenders and renegotiating the terms for consumers. 'John McCain wants the government to massively overpay for mortgages in a plan that would guarantee taxpayers lose money, and put them at risk of losing even more if home values don't recover,' Obama's senior economic adviser, Jason Furman, said in a statement released by the campaign. 'The biggest beneficiaries of this plan will be the same financial institutions that got us into this mess, some of whom even committed fraud.'"

"Perfect Storm" Could Give Democrats "Magic 60" in Senate
Emily Sherman, CNN: "In the face of an economy in crisis and a deeply unpopular president, some analysts believe the situation is ripe to give Democrats a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in November. It's 'the perfect storm,' said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. 'You've got Republican voters angry at Republicans, many Americans just petrified about the future...wanting change. And right now change appears to be coming in the form of Democrats.'"

Rampant Violence Is Latin America's "Worst Epidemic"
Rory Carroll, The Guardian UK: "Violent crime in Latin America kills more people and wreaks more economic havoc than Aids, the head of the Organisation of American States warned this week. Drug trafficking, gang warfare, kidnapping and other crimes pose one of the gravest threats to the region's stability, said Jose Miguel Insulza. 'It is an epidemic, a plague on our continent that kills more people than Aids or any other known epidemic. It destroys more homes than any economic crisis.'"

In Reversal, Democrats Shelve Iran Resolution
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "Falling from shoo-in status to widely rejected legislation within the space of four months, a resolution that would have opened the door for a naval blockade on Iran was officially shelved at the end of September, after several of its cosponsors withdrew their support."

Robert B. Reich Saved by the Deficit?
Robert B. Reich, The New York Times: "Both presidential candidates have been criticized for failing - at Tuesday's debate and previously - to name any promises or plans they're going to have to scrap because of the bailout and the failing economy. That criticism is unwarranted."

US Study Is Said to Warn of Crisis in Afghanistan
Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, The New York Times: "A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a 'downward spiral' and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document."

Joe Klein The Obama Surge: Will It Last?
Joe Klein, TIME Magazine: "If Barack Obama is elected president of the United States on Nov. 4 - a prospect that is beginning to seem likely now - it may turn out that he closed the deal with a simple answer to a not-so-simple question posed by Tom Brokaw in the second presidential debate: 'Is health care in America a privilege, a right or a responsibility?' This is familiar territory for Democrats. The question was framed many years ago by Senator Ted Kennedy, who must have been smiling up on Cape Cod."

Les Echos The Ideological Bubble
The authors, writing as The Chronicles of Favilla for France's premier business paper, Les Echos: "No one yet knows the volume of the American real estate bubble or the volume of the Western financial bubble. They continue to remain partly hidden in the unfathomable slicing and dicing of securitization, which, by dint of securitizing the wind, harvest the whirlwind. On the other hand, the ideological bubble - in all its magnitude - appears in full light of day."

Taking a Hard New Look at the Greenspan Legacy
Peter S. Goodman, The New York Times: "George Soros, the prominent financier, avoids using the financial contracts known as derivatives 'because we don't really understand how they work.' Felix G. Rohatyn, the investment banker who saved New York from financial catastrophe in the 1970s, described derivatives as potential 'hydrogen bombs.'"

FP roundup 10/9

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, speaking Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation, said that Afghanistan is not quite Iraq.
Change of plans: A federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of 17 Uighurs from Guantanamo.
Hugo Chavez's information minister warned King Juan Carlos of Spain not to associate with Venezuela's opposition and independent media.

Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" that its central government is likely unable to reverse, according to a leaked U.S. intelligence report.
At least eight people were reportedly injured after a suicide attack on police headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan.
North Korea may be about to test more missiles.

Middle East and Africa
Riots broke out in Acre, Israel, after an Arab Israeli man drove into an area where Jews were observing Yom Kippur.
Zimbabwe's official inflation rate has reached 231,000,000 percent.
Somali pirates released some, but not all of their hostages.

Europe and the Caucasus
French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio has won the already-controversial 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko called snap elections for December.
Icelanders can't believe their country is going belly-up.
Central and Eastern Europe are avoiding the worst of the financial crisis.

FP Top story 10/9

With credit markets still largely frozen, the U.S. Treasury Department is considering a new strategy: taking direct equity stakes in struggling banks in the hopes that they will resume lending.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "No such moves are imminent," suggesting that Treasury is floating a trial balloon via the press.

The idea has been kicked around by many expert critics of the recently passed $700 billion bailout bill, which Treasury officials say gives them the authority to take part ownership of any banks that request it. It resembles Britain's own recently announced $87 bailout plan as well as the strategy employed successfully by Sweden in the 1990s.

"One thing we must recognize: Even with the new Treasury authorities, some financial institutions will fail," cautioned Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in comments alluding to the move.

The news came as the U.S. Federal Reserve authorized hobbled insurance giant AIG to receive another $38 billion.
Oil prices, meanwhile, are collapsing, leading OPEC to consider an emergency meeting.

Decision '08
The candidates are swinging -- and taking swings at each other -- through the Midwest. Today's schedule here.
Some Democratic strategists are predicting a landslide win for Barack Obama.
One of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry endorsed Obama.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A case for a new national anthem

This just in! (a contrarian view)

From the MANITOBA HERALD, Canada

A flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.
Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night.

'I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn,' said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota . The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. 'Not real effective,' he said. 'The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk.'

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. 'A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions,' an Ontario border patrolman said. 'I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. 'They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though.'

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot wolves from airplanes, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for the Rapture.

In recent days, liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the '50s.

'If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age,' an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies.

'I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them,' an Ottawa resident said. 'How many art-history and English majors does one country need?

-- Peter E. Leone, Ph.D.

Department of Special Education

University of Maryland

College Park, MD 20742-1161

If all else fails, Canada beckons

On Political Robots, Again, Or, Let's Visit Uncanny Valley

So the second debate is in the books, my friends, and it seems that McCain is not getting out the message as well as he might wish.

I have no doubt that some of the problem is related to McCain’s policies as he presents them...but to be completely honest, there may be an additional factor.

To put it as bluntly as possible: McCain looks a little...creepy.

And it’s not just me: The Girlfriend was mentioning how creepy he looked in the debate as we talked about it this morning. Ask around, and someone might describe him that way to you.

Why is that so, how is this observation going to affect McCain going forward; and most important of does this connect to the Burger King and the design of video game characters?

To help answer the question, let me introduce you to Dr. Masahiro Mori.

In the 1970s, Dr. Mori, a Japanese roboticist, used psychological research to develop a theory that has become known as the “Uncanny Valley”.

To make a long story short, Dr. Mori compared human emotional reactions to various human and cartoon characters...and corpses...and created charts to display the various intensities of reactions to the movement and appearance of the characters and the corpses.

As it turns out, Mori’s research suggests humans react in a similar emotional manner to near-realistic human representations and corpses. In both cases, the emotional response seems to be revulsion.

This research has practical applications: it is reported that ASIMO, the humanoid robot developed by Honda, is intentionally designed with a blank face in order to avoid the Uncanny Valley problem. The design of artificial limbs is also impacted by this phenomenon.

(Additional research published in 2007 in MIT’s journal “Presence” seems to confirm Mori’s conclusions.)

There are some who seek to break through the Uncanny Valley barrier, most notably Hanson Robotics, with their Eva, Jules, and Joey Chaos devices.

Sure enough, video game designers use this information in their work...and now that you think about it, hasn’t the Burger King always creeped you out?

Now you know why.

Which bring us to John McCain.

Last night’s debate seemed to demonstrate a challenge McCain faces that transcends the words he says: his physical movement. He does indeed move stiffly, and he had odd gestures that detract from what he says.

But beyond that, he seems to have that weird laugh that he deploys for his own jokes...and having spent time talking to an audience—successfully and unsuccessfully—I can tell you that if you are laughing at your own jokes, you better not be the only one in the room doing the laughing.

He (and Palin) also add an odd “breathiness” to their voices when they are trying to emphasize a point, that, at least in my house, seems to be unnatural and offputting.

There’s also that smile: it appears forced. He never seems to be so much smiling as grimacing...and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him appear genuinely happy.

And, my friends, when he gets nervous, my friends, he seems to say "my freinds" way too much--to the point where it's kind of...well, creepy.

So for today, a short story: McCain seems to be suffering from the same problem as the Burger King, and it’s not all his fault—but that having been said, it does seem to affect his ability to connect to a larger audience...and it may explain why Sarah Palin gets much better reactions—and larger crowds—when she goes out and delivers the same message to the same audiences.

Palin's kind of patriotism

The New York Times

Criticizing Sarah Palin is truly shooting fish in a barrel. But given the huge attention she is getting, you can’t just ignore what she has to say. And there was one thing she said in the debate with Joe Biden that really sticks in my craw. It was when she turned to Biden and declared: “You said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America, which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that’s not patriotic.”

What an awful statement. Palin defended the government’s $700 billion rescue plan. She defended the surge in Iraq, where her own son is now serving. She defended sending more troops to Afghanistan. And yet, at the same time, she declared that Americans who pay their fair share of taxes to support all those government-led endeavors should not be considered patriotic.

I only wish she had been asked: “Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed? If it isn’t from tax revenues, there are only two ways to pay for those big projects — printing more money or borrowing more money. Do you think borrowing money from China is more patriotic than raising it in taxes from Americans?” That is not putting America first. That is selling America first.

Sorry, I grew up in a very middle-class family in a very middle-class suburb of Minneapolis, and my parents taught me that paying taxes, while certainly no fun, was how we paid for the police and the Army, our public universities and local schools, scientific research and Medicare for the elderly. No one said it better than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”

I can understand someone saying that the government has no business bailing out the financial system, but I can’t understand someone arguing that we should do that but not pay for it with taxes. I can understand someone saying we have no business in Iraq, but I can’t understand someone who advocates staying in Iraq until “victory” declaring that paying taxes to fund that is not patriotic.

How in the world can conservative commentators write with a straight face that this woman should be vice president of the United States? Do these people understand what serious trouble our country is in right now?

We are in the middle of an economic perfect storm, and we don’t know how much worse it’s going to get. People all over the world are hoarding cash, and no bank feels that it can fully trust anyone it is doing business with anywhere in the world. Did you notice that the government of Iceland just seized the country’s second-largest bank and today is begging Russia for a $5 billion loan to stave off “national bankruptcy.” What does that say? It tells you that financial globalization has gone so much farther and faster than regulatory institutions could govern it. Our crisis could bankrupt Iceland! Who knew?

And we have not yet even felt the full economic brunt here. I fear we may be at that moment just before the tsunami hits — when the birds take flight and the insects stop chirping because their acute senses can feel what is coming before humans can. At this moment, only good governance can save us. I am not sure that this crisis will end without every government in every major economy guaranteeing the creditworthiness of every financial institution it regulates. That may be the only way to get lending going again. Organizing something that big and complex will take some really smart governance and seasoned leadership.

Whether or not I agree with John McCain, he is of presidential timber. But putting the country in the position where a total novice like Sarah Palin could be asked to steer us through possibly the most serious economic crisis of our lives is flat out reckless. It is the opposite of conservative.

And please don’t tell me she will hire smart advisers. What happens when her two smartest advisers disagree?

And please also don’t tell me she is an “energy expert.” She is an energy expert exactly the same way the king of Saudi Arabia is an energy expert — by accident of residence. Palin happens to be governor of the Saudi Arabia of America — Alaska — and the only energy expertise she has is the same as the king of Saudi Arabia’s. It’s about how the windfall profits from the oil in their respective kingdoms should be divided between the oil companies and the people.

At least the king of Saudi Arabia, in advocating “drill baby drill,” is serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. My problem with Palin is that she is also serving his country’s interests — by prolonging America’s dependence on oil. That’s not patriotic. Patriotic is offering a plan to build our economy — not by tax cuts or punching more holes in the ground, but by empowering more Americans to work in productive and innovative jobs. If Palin has that kind of a plan, I haven’t heard it.

I guess WUBS can't take a hint

by Don Wheeler

You may remember that I posted last month about an "an offer I shouldn't refuse" from WUBS. Despite my strong response (supported by many other candidates) I received a duplicate letter from them today. Let's reminisce......

WUBS has a different take on civic responsibility
by Don Wheeler

I get quite a few questionaires and meeting offers as an at-large cadidate for the South Bend School Board. It's not hyperbole to say that the one I got from WUBS 89.7 FM is unique. Here it is, verbatim:

Dear Candidate,

WUBS will hold a "School Board Debate" October 18, 2008. This Debate will be a great opportunity to showcase your ideas, views and tell the Michiana audience why they should vote for your campaign. This will be a great way to advertise.

We would love to have you apart of this event!Every candidate from each District is invited to participate. Don't Let This Opportunity Pass You By! The entry fee is only $100 payable by Oct. 11, 2008. This program will broadcast "live" on the air and will feature a "replay" before the General Election Nov. 4, 2008.To confirm your participation please contact Shane Williams at 574-287-4700 or .

Sometimes there's just no need to comment further.

Rest assured, Mr. Williams will hear from me.

Wheeler replies to WUBS

Dear Radio Guy,

I was pretty taken aback by your letter today. I'd suggest you have a detailed conversation with your legal counsel before proceeding with this idea. Unless you clearly and frequently indicate that what people are hearing is an advertisement rather than an event - you may well be putting the station's license in jeopardy. The confluence of election laws and broadcasting requirements is pretty tricky.

This is a very bad idea. If the station can't afford to put on an actual forum (completely understandable) you should restrict yourself to soliciting standard advertising. In any case, I won't be participating in your October 18th event as it is currently constructed.

Donald W. Wheeler
at-large SBCSC Board candidate

MSNBC focus group votes Obama the winner of debate

MSNBC focus group picks Obama
MSNBC focus group picks Obama

Here's the link to the complete debate itself:

Electoral College count update 10/8

from Rasmussen Reports

Electoral College: Obama 248 McCain 163
New state polling from Wisconsin has moved that state from "Leans Democratic" to "Likely Democratic" in the Rasmussen Reports Balance of Power Calculator. With this change, Obama leads in states with 248 Electoral College votes while McCain is ahead in states with 163 Electoral College votes. When "leaners" are included, it's Obama 300, McCain 174.

FP roundup 10/8

Two Americans and a Japanese scientist won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded Friday.
The Galapagos islands' booming tourist economy is attracting illegal migrants.
Tracy Wilkinson looks at the implications of the recent drug slaying of a Mexican mayor for the Los Angeles Times.

A U.S. federal judge ordered the release of 17 Uighurs who have been held at the Guantánamo Bay prison since 2002. China seems eager to have them.
The brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, accused Sunday of involvement in heroin trafficking, reportedly met with ex-Taliban leaders in Riyadh last month.
At least two people died and more than 350 were reportedly injured in yesterday's riots in Thailand.

Middle East and Africa
The United States is "close" to reaching a security arrangement with Iraq, according to the State Department.
An ally of former South African President Thabo Mbeki is threatening to splinter the ruling party, the African National Congress.
Zimbabwe's power-sharing arrangement is "close to disintegrating," Time reports.

Europe and the Caucasus
Russia has begun pulling out of its "buffer zone" around South Ossetia, or so it claims.
Russian strategic bombers made contact with Japanese fighter jets.
Germany's cabinet agreed to send an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Today's Agenda
Maldives is holding a historic presidential election.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in Europe for a series of meetings with defense ministers.
The IMF introduces Chapter 8 of its latest World Economic Outlook.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the 2008 annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.

FP Top story 10/8

In yet another unprecedented step in what is becoming an increasingly harrowing global financial crisis, central banks in the United States, Europe, and Canada announced a coordinated rate cut of half a percentage point.
The move comes after a tough day in the equity markets and follows the British government's announcement that it is partly nationalizing its banking system.

European shares rebounded on today's news as European finance ministers settled on a set of common principles for rescuing troubled banks.

Asian stocks? Not so much. Central banks in Asia are working furiously now to shore up their own countries' financial sectors, and Russia is pumping $37 billion into state institutions.

Iceland, meanwhile, appears to be imploding economically.

Decision '08

Last night's 90-minute, "town hall" style debate between the U.S. presidential candidates was a muted affair overshadowed by the economic crisis. The New York Times' Adam Nagourney characterizes it as "an often stifled encounter, largely absent of dramatic confrontations or the personal exchanges that dominated the campaign over the past several days."

Barack Obama was "the clear winner," according to post-debate polls and Slate's John Dickerson. "McCain loses by not winning," says Politico's Roger Simon. More reactions here.

Truthout roundup 10/8

Obama Gains, McCain Seeks Game-Changer
Liz Sidoti, The Associated Press: "Barack Obama made strides toward easing voters' concerns about his candidacy in Tuesday night's debate. John McCain, despite raising pointed questions about his rival's readiness, didn't create the game-changing moment he'll need between now and Election Day. There are still four weeks to go, but time is running out on McCain. Poised and confident, Obama directly confronted his greatest hurdle - and did it by turning the tables on McCain during a foreign policy question."

Military Admits Killing 30 Afghan Civilians
Eric Schmitt, The New York Times: "An investigation by the military has concluded that American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders there have acknowledged, according to two American military officials. The military investigator’s report found that more than 30 civilians - not 5 to 7 as the military has long insisted - died in the airstrikes against a suspected Taliban compound in Azizabad."

Global Markets Plunge
David Jolly, Bettina Wassener and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times: "Another wave of relentless selling washed over global markets Wednesday, with stocks plunging in Europe and Asia. The Tokyo market had its worst decline since the 1987 crash. The British government’s announcement of a plan to bail out the country’s foundering banks with about $88 billion of new capital did little to restore market confidence, with banks again leading indexes lower Wednesday after the Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.1 percent in New York Tuesday."

The New York Times Politics of Attack
The New York Times: "It is a sorry fact of American political life that campaigns get ugly, often in their final weeks. But Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have been running one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember. They have gone far beyond the usual fare of quotes taken out of context and distortions of an opponent’s record - into the dark territory of race-baiting and xenophobia. Senator Barack Obama has taken some cheap shots at Mr. McCain, but there is no comparison."

Florida Primary Recount Reveals Grave Voting Problems One Month Before Presidential Election
Kim Zetter, Wired: "A month of primary recounts in the election battleground of Palm Beach County, Florida, has twice flipped the winner in a local judicial race and revealed grave problems in the county's election infrastructure, including thousands of misplaced ballots and vote tabulation machines that are literally unable to produce the same results twice. Experts say the brew of administrative bungling and mysterious technological failures raises new and troubling questions about the county that played a crucial role in the 2000 presidential election debacle, and is one of a handful of counties considered pivotal in the upcoming presidential election. Voting advocates are fearful that problems here -- and perhaps in other election hot spots -- could trigger a replay of the disputed 2000 election."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stop! Hey, what's that sound?

At the recent Crosby, Stills and Nash concert at the Morris , Graham Nash sang a song that left the audience in stunned silence -- then, at the end, caused them to leap to their feet in a very loud standing ovation.

I'm pleased to present the original version, by the writer, Joel Rafael. I'd say "enjoy", but it's pretty painful in many ways.

Still...we can hope. We know we can do better.

This is my country


Then, a fan caught an impromptu performance by Graham Nash in Denver, CO during the Democratic Convention. Unfortunately, the video ends a bit early. Oh, well.

Health care destruction

The New York Times

Sarah Palin ended her debate performance last Thursday with a slightly garbled quote from Ronald Reagan about how, if we aren’t vigilant, we’ll end up “telling our children and our children’s children” about the days when America was free. It was a revealing choice.

You see, when Reagan said this he wasn’t warning about Soviet aggression. He was warning against legislation that would guarantee health care for older Americans — the program now known as Medicare.

Conservative Republicans still hate Medicare, and would kill it if they could — in fact, they tried to gut it during the Clinton years (that’s what the 1995 shutdown of the government was all about). But so far they haven’t been able to pull that off.

So John McCain wants to destroy the health insurance of nonelderly Americans instead.

Most Americans under 65 currently get health insurance through their employers. That’s largely because the tax code favors such insurance: your employer’s contribution to insurance premiums isn’t considered taxable income, as long as the employer’s health plan follows certain rules. In particular, the same plan has to be available to all employees, regardless of the size of their paycheck or the state of their health.

This system does a fairly effective job of protecting those it reaches, but it leaves many Americans out in the cold. Workers whose employers don’t offer coverage are forced to seek individual health insurance, often in vain. For one thing, insurance companies offering “nongroup” coverage generally refuse to cover anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. And individual insurance is very expensive, because insurers spend large sums weeding out “high-risk” applicants — that is, anyone who seems likely to actually need the insurance.

So what should be done? Barack Obama offers incremental reform: regulation of insurers to prevent discrimination against the less healthy, subsidies to help lower-income families buy insurance, and public insurance plans that compete with the private sector. His plan falls short of universal coverage, but it would sharply reduce the number of uninsured.

Mr. McCain, on the other hand, wants to blow up the current system, by eliminating the tax break for employer-provided insurance. And he doesn’t offer a workable alternative.

Without the tax break, many employers would drop their current health plans. Several recent nonpartisan studies estimate that under the McCain plan around 20 million Americans currently covered by their employers would lose their health insurance.

As compensation, the McCain plan would give people a tax credit — $2,500 for an individual, $5,000 for a family — that could be used to buy health insurance in the individual market. At the same time, Mr. McCain would deregulate insurance, leaving insurance companies free to deny coverage to those with health problems — and his proposal for a “high-risk pool” for hard cases would provide little help.

So what would happen?

The good news, such as it is, is that more people would buy individual insurance. Indeed, the total number of uninsured Americans might decline marginally under the McCain plan — although many more Americans would be without insurance than under the Obama plan.

But the people gaining insurance would be those who need it least: relatively healthy Americans with high incomes. Why? Because insurance companies want to cover only healthy people, and even among the healthy only those able to pay a lot in addition to their tax credit would be able to afford coverage (remember, it’s a $5,000 credit, but the average family policy actually costs more than $12,000).

Meanwhile, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most: lower-income workers who wouldn’t be able to afford individual insurance even with the tax credit, and Americans with health problems whom insurance companies won’t cover.

And in the process of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted, the McCain plan would also lead to a huge, expensive increase in bureaucracy: insurers selling individual health plans spend 29 percent of the premiums they receive on administration, largely because they employ so many people to screen applicants. This compares with costs of 12 percent for group plans and just 3 percent for Medicare.

In short, the McCain plan makes no sense at all, unless you have faith that the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. And Mr. McCain does: a much-quoted article published under his name declares that “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

I agree: the McCain plan would do for health care what deregulation has done for banking. And I’m terrified.

The testing time

The New York Times

Every few years, the world seems to face a new testing time. After Sept. 11, leaders had to figure out how to respond to Islamic extremism. Now we face another test. Today, leaders around the world have to figure out how to stabilize economies amid volatile global capital flows.

This test is rooted in a global shift in economic power. The rise of China, the vast wealth of the petro-powers and easy monetary policies created an ocean of excess savings that had no obvious place to go.

This money was entrusted to a few thousand traders who sloshed it around the world in search of the highest returns. These traders live in a high-tech version of Plato’s cave. They do not see reality directly. Instead they see the shadow of reality as it dances around in numbers on their computer screens. They form perceptions about other people’s perceptions of where the smart money is going next, so they’re three or four psychological levels removed from normal economic activity.

These traders are driven to take big risks because the glory goes to the biggest stars. And because they are human, they assuage their ensuing uncertainty with self-deceptions. They develop an excessive faith in “value at risk” computer models, which seem to calculate their exposure in soothingly rigorous terms. They adopt accounting techniques that tell them they’re on firm footing. They go in for complicated financial instruments that promise “riskless risk” by dispersing risk into a million small pieces and casting them into the ether.

The economists talk about “mispriced risk” and “illiquidity” in the system. But many economists are trained to downplay emotion, social psychology and moral norms, and so produce bloodless and incomplete descriptions of what’s going on. The truth is, decision-making is an inherently emotional process, and the traders in charge of these trillions become bipolar as a result of their uncertainty.

When things are going well, they don’t think they’re just lucky and riding a wave. They’re infused with a sense that they have it all figured out. When these traders are in their manic phase, they flood countries and economic sectors with capital. Without meaning to, they dissolve the moral fabric and spoil their own profit zones.

Easy money severs actions from their consequences. National leaders find they can run up huge deficits with no negative effects. Congressmen lean on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to acquire more and more risk. Highly regulated banks find they have money to lend far and wide, and everyone else finds credit is easy. Families decide they can afford homes and lifestyles beyond their means.

It all feels great until it doesn’t. Then when things go bad, the social contagion sweeps the other way (the computer risk models never quite get this). One minute there’s an ocean of credit, the next minute there’s barely a drop. Once ebullient traders become paranoid, realizing how little they know about their trading partners. They refuse to acknowledge the true value of their portfolios. Everything stops.

At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they’re coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater. In reality, they’re trying to cajole, bluff and calm their audience of global money-sloshers.

This is more than a mortgage problem. We live in a world in which trillions of dollars can move instantly, but they are in the hands of human beings who are, by nature, limited in knowledge, and subject to self-deceptions and social contagions. By one count, financial crises are twice as prevalent now as they were 100 years ago.

In his astonishingly prescient book, “The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy,” David M. Smick argues that we have inherited an impressive global economic system. It, with the U.S. as the hub, has produced unprecedented levels of global prosperity. But it has now spun wildly out of control. It can’t be fixed with the shock and awe of a $700 billion rescue package, Smick says. The fundamental architecture needs to be reformed.

It will take, he suggests, a global leadership class that can answer essential questions: How much leverage should be allowed? Can we preserve the development model in which certain nations pile up giant reserves and park them in the U.S.?

Until these and other issues are addressed, the global markets will lack confidence in asset values. Bankers will cower, afraid to lend. America’s role as the global hub will be threatened. Europeans will drift toward nationalization. Neomercantilists will fill the vacuum.

This is the test. This is the problem that will consume the next president. Meanwhile, the two candidates for that office are talking about Bill Ayers and Charles Keating.

Truthout roundup 10/7

The New York Times The Crisis Agenda
The New York Times, Editorial: "As stocks cratered on Monday and lending and borrowing remained frozen, the Bush administration rushed to implement the $700 billion bailout enacted on Friday. The Treasury Department said that it would soon post help-wanted ads on its Web site for asset managers to run the program and that because of the urgency, the hiring may be 'through other than full and open competition.' Is it any wonder that the markets lack confidence? One business day after the bailout was enacted, and it already had a tilting-at-windmills quality."

Congress Grills Lehman Boss Over $500 Million Wages
Agence France-Presse: "US lawmakers Monday grilled the head of Lehman Brothers demanding he justify some 500 million dollars he had earned since 2000, as well as huge bonuses sought for top executives even as the bank failed. Richard Fuld, the chief executive officer of the investment bank which fell prey in September to the credit crunch, was called to account by the House of Representatives oversight committee. The hearings are the start of a series of probes promised by Congress which on Friday passed an unprecedented 700-billion dollar rescue package to shore up Wall Street, amid the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s."

Obama Up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota
Christopher Stern, Bloomberg: "Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican presidential nominee John McCain in battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, according to new polls. Obama, an Illinois senator, leads 49 percent to 42 percent among Ohio voters, according to a Columbus Dispatch poll of 2,262 likely voters released yesterday."

Frank Says GOP Housing Attacks Racially Motivated
The Associated Press: "Rep. Barney Frank said Monday that Republican criticism of Democrats over the nation's housing crisis is a veiled attack on the poor that's racially motivated. The Massachusetts Democrat, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the GOP is appealing to its base by blaming the country's mortgage foreclosure problem on efforts to expand affordable housing through the Community Reinvestment Act."

UN Agrees Afghan War Cannot Be Won Militarily
Jonathon Burch, Reuters: "The war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and success is only possible through political means including dialogue among all relevant parties, the United Nation's top official in the country said on Monday. His comments come after Britain's military commander in Afghanistan said the war could not be won and that the goal was to reduce the insurgency to a level where it was no longer a strategic threat and could be dealt with by the Afghan army. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said if the Taliban were willing to talk, that might be 'precisely the sort of progress' needed to end the insurgency."
Ann Wright The Murder of Military Women Continues
Ann Wright, for Truthout, writes about the continuing violence against women in the US military.

Bailout Implementation: "It's Very Complicated"
Paul Waldie, The Globe and Mail: "Few people outside Washington have probably ever heard of Neel Kashkari. But Mr. Kashkari has just been handed one of the biggest jobs on the planet - managing the U.S. government's $700-billion (U.S.) financial rescue package. Yesterday U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson appointed him as interim assistant secretary of the Treasury for financial stability, to run the new Office of Financial Stability and administer the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program."

McCain Link to Private Group in Iran-Contra Case
Pete Yost, The Associated Press: "John McCain's campaign is criticizing Barack Obama for his ties to a former radical who engaged in violent acts four decades ago, but McCain himself was closely connected to a private group that supplied aid to rebels trying to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra affair. The U.S. Council for World Freedom was part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. The group was dedicated to stamping out communism around the globe."

Chalmers Johnson Voting the Fate of the Nation
Chalmers Johnson, "In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama called the forthcoming presidential election a 'defining moment' in this country's history. It is conceivable that he is right. There are precedents in American history for an election inaugurating a period of reform and political realignment."

Jean-Louis Andreani The Return of Economic Regulation?
Jean-Louis Andreani, Le Monde: "Beyond the immediate measures to contain the panic, a new battle is opening up. On one side, those who want to maintain the last thirty years' gains for dominant free-market neo-liberalism; on the other, those who take to dreaming that the crisis marks the end of a cycle that began in May 1979 with Margaret Thatcher's ascension to power in the United Kingdom."

FP roundup 10/7

In Brazil, wiretapping is becoming a tool of first resort.
Tijuana's notorious Arellano Felix drug cartel is being massacred. But by whom?

Even Burma is now warning its people to stay away from Chinese dairy products.
China is suspending military and diplomatic exchanges with the United States.
Thai police used tear gas at a mass rally against new PM Somchai Wongsawat.
A suicide bomber killed at least 20 people in Pakistan Monday.

Middle East and Africa
In Saudi-brokered talks, the Taliban is said to be severing its ties to al Qaeda.
The Arab League is dispatching an envoy to Iraq in a sign of warming relations.
Iran is building a car especially designed for women.

Europe and the Caucasus
Britain's climate-change watchdog wants the country to nearly end its use of fossil fuels for power in 20 years.
The U.S. military will remain in Kosovo through 2009.
Plucky Georgia is falling short when it comes to press freedoms.

Today's Agenda
U.S. President George W. Bush speaks on the economy at 1:45 p.m. ET.
The U.S. presidential candidates hold their second of three debates at 9 p.m. ET.
The boards of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund begin their annual joint meetings in Washington.
Yesterday, Lehman Brothers CEO John Fuld got an earful before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Today, it's former AIG chief Maurice R. Greenberg's turn.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Truthout roundup 10/6

Seven Palin Aides to Testify in Abuse-of-Power Probe
The Associated Press: "Seven aides to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have reversed course and agreed to testify in an investigation into whether the Republican vice presidential nominee abused her powers by firing a commissioner who refused to dismiss her former brother-in-law. There is no indication, however, that Palin or her husband will now agree to testify in the legislative inquiry, which has dogged her for the past several months and could hurt John McCain in the final weeks of the presidential race."

Obama to Preempt McCain Assault
Mike Allen, The Politico: "Branding his opponent as 'erratic in a crisis,' Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is preempting plans by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to portray him as having sinister connections to controversial Chicagoans. Obama officials call it political jujitsu - turning the attacks back on the attacker."

Frank Talk of Obama and Race in Virginia
Peter Wallsten, The Los Angeles Times: "The isolated towns of Virginia's Appalachian coal region are home to strong labor unions and Democratic political machines that date back generations. Yet voters here who eagerly pushed Democrats into the Senate and the governor's office are resisting Barack Obama."

Registration Gains Favor Democrats
Alec MacGillis and Alice Crites, The Washington Post: "As the deadline for voter registration arrives today in many states, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is poised to benefit from a wave of newcomers to the rolls in key states in numbers that far outweigh any gains made by Republicans. In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states -- 11 Obama targets that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 (Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico) plus Pennsylvania, the largest state carried by Sen. John F. Kerry that Sen. John McCain is targeting."

Eleven Iraqis Die as Bomber Strikes During US Raid
Mary Beth Sheridan, The Washington Post: "A man detonated a suicide vest inside a home in northern Iraq as U.S. forces were trading gunfire with its occupants, according to the American military. Eleven Iraqis were killed in the operation early Sunday.... At least five other Iraqis were killed Sunday in the city, which is about 240 miles north of Baghdad."

VIDEO AFL-CIO Leader Richard Trumka on Racism and Obama
Top AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka takes on the underlying racism that has been used to drive otherwise natural Democratic voters away from Senator Barack Obama.

FP roundup 10/6

Global Economy
As Europe's financial crisis deepens, Europe's top leaders are taking independent action to save major banks. Tyler Cowen comments.
The passage Friday of the U.S. bailout plan doesn't appear of have calmed the world's stock markets. Stocks plunged sharply today in Europe and Asia.

More U.S. bank failures are on the way.
Business is booming at a Mexico City boutique selling bulletproof clothing.
Brazil's local elections are a mixed bag for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Kim Jong Il appeared in public, according to the North Korean state press.
At least 33 people were killed in fighting in northeast India.
China is upset about the United States' selling $6 billion in weaponry to Taiwan.

Middle East and Africa
Michael Gordon looks at the U.S. presidential candidates' divergent goals in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia recently hosted peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Britain's top general in Afghanistan approves.
Sudan fires back at criticism from Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

Europe and the Caucasus
Russian troops have begun dismantling checkpoints in the buffer zone surrounding South Ossetia.
From 2010 to 2015, the United States will have to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to the International Space Station.
The credit crisis is hitting Iceland especially hard.

Today's Agenda
The U.S. Supreme Court begins its new term.
Three Europeans have won the Nobel Prize in medicine. Later this week: physics, chemistry, and peace.
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform holds a hearing on Lehman Brothers' collapse.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

On McCain's Negative Campaign, Or, Oh No You Didn't

Apparently feeling there’s no other way to win, the McCain campaign is now trying to “go negative” in an effort to make Obama unelectable.

Obama has tried to stay above that sort of thing...and while Obama may be a better human being than that...I’m not.

We will divert away from the usual high minded conversation about issues today—and we will instead lay out a few unpleasant facts John McCain would rather you forget about.

Some of today’s discussion reveals McCain’s financial corruption...then there’s McCain giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” back in his Vietnam days...and for those who may have forgotten, a few words about ugly divorces and near-bigamy and the ending of McCain’s friendship with Ronald Reagan.

“I was a U.S. airman engaged in the crimes against the Vietnamese country and people. I had bombed their cities, towns, and villages and caused more injury even death for the people of Vietnam. After I was captured I was taken from a hospital in (?Da Nang) where I received very good medical treatment. I was given an operation on my leg, which allowed me to walk again, and a cast for my right arm which was badly broken in three rpt three places. The doctors were very good and they knew a great deal about the practice of medicine. I remained in the hospital for some time, I regained much of my health and strength.”

--John McCain broadcasting from North Vietnam, June 2, 1969

John McCain wants you to know that his steely resolve and unwillingness to bend or break is why he would be a good President, and he points to his POW record as an example of that steely resolve.

Steely resolve?
Maybe not so much.

There are people who claim he was known as “Songbird” McCain by the North Vietnamese...and those who report he was never tortured, including a number of prominent Republicans, Congressman Bob Dornan among them...some of whom also report he received preferential treatment in exchange for his “confessions” while he was a prisoner.

Even McCain admits to his own bad behavior as a POW in an October 12, 1997 60 Minutes interview:

Sen. McCAIN: I m--made serious, serious mistakes and did things wrong when I was in prison, OK?

WALLACE: What did you do wrong in prison?

Sen. McCAIN: I wrote a confession. I was guilty of war crimes against the Vietnamese people. I intentionally bombed women and children...

Now to be fair, McCain was not admitting he was guilty of war crimes in that “60 Minutes” interview—what he was admitting was that he was remorseful because he made a confession in the first place...a confession that many other POWs never made, even if it cost them their lives.

But let’s move on...

So your personal political “Godfather” runs a savings and loan that is being investigated for violating rules relating to risky investments—and your wife has lots of money invested with that Godfather in a shopping center deal.

The right thing to do...the brave thing to do...the maverick thing to do...would be to let the regulators do their job—but just like in Vietnam, McCain did not have the courage to do the right thing when it really counted.

Instead, in the 1980s, he and four other Senators intervened to try to stop the investigation by holding meetings with Federal regulators. They had enough success in stopping the investigations that Lincoln Savings & Loan was eventually closed by those same regulators—roughly two years later than it should have been--costing the taxpayer over $3 billion...and lots of elderly investors their life savings.

"You're a liar," McCain said when a Republic reporter asked him about the business relationship between his wife and Keating.

"That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot," McCain said later in the same conversation. "You do understand English, don't you?"

He also belittled reporters when they asked about his wife's ties to Keating.

"It's up to you to find that out, kids."

--"The Arizona Republic", reporting on McCain’s initial reaction to the Keating Five scandal

The events of that time were responsible for creating a memorable set of “Savings and Loan Scandal” trading cards (one of which featured McCain’s image)—and for making Charles Keating (the big contributor) and the Five Senators forever famous in the lexicon of political dirt and sleaze.

“Now I am going to speak about my wife,” he says spontaneously, “she is not in the armed forces,” he added with a certain humor. “I saw her the last time in August of 1967. At that time I was on the aircraft carrier Forrestal when I fire broke out wich [sic] damaged it heavily and it had to be sent for repairs to the United States. At that time I miraculously escaped with my life because I was in my airplane and the two pilots on my left and the two on my right were killed.”

(How did that happen?)

“A plane caught fire and one of its rockets went off. This in turn caused other explosions. There were 135 deaths, almost all the airplanes were destroyed and the ship was seriously damaged. As a result of the fire I became famous on TV.”

(As one who miraculously escaped death, no?)

“Yes, but in addition I was able to see my family and stay there nearly a month. I then returned this time to the aircraft carrier Oriskany and 1 month later I was shot down.”

(You said that you were going to talk to me about your wife bout [sic] you continue on the subject of the war....)

... “She is very pretty. Before marrying me she was a model for magazines and on TV. We have a 3-year-old girl. When I saw her she was still a baby. She also has two children from a former marriage. She now returned to work as a model on TV.”

--John McCain, being interviewed in North Vietnam for the Cuban media, January 24, 1970

It’s not Cindy McCain he’s talking about in that Cuban’s Carol McCain, the wife who stood by him through the entire war.

In McCain’s book Faith of My Fathers he said this about her:

I had known and admired Carol since Academy days, when she was engaged to one of my classmates. ... She was attractive, clever, and kind, and I was instantly attracted to her, and delighted to discover that she was attracted to me.

The "London Daily Mail" describes the same events in this manner:

He first met Carol in the Fifties while he was at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was a privileged, but rebellious scion of one of America’s most distinguished military dynasties – his father and grandfather were both admirals.

But setting out to have a good time, the young McCain hung out with a group of young officers who called themselves the ‘Bad Bunch’.

His primary interest was women and his conquests ranged from a knife-wielding floozy nicknamed ‘Marie, the Flame of Florida’ to a tobacco heiress.

Unfortunately for Carol, she had a car accident during the time of his captivity. Luckily for McCain, he had no problem finding other women to sleep with—and again, I’ll let the "London Daily Mail" take up the story:

But already the McCains’ marriage had begun to fray. ‘John started carousing and running around with women,’ said Robert Timberg.

McCain has acknowledged that he had girlfriends during this time, without going into details. Some friends blame his dissatisfaction with Carol, but others give some credence to her theory of a mid-life crisis.

He was also fiercely ambitious, but it was clear he would never become an admiral like his illustrious father and grandfather and his thoughts were turning to politics.

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide.

‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost time.”’

The Reagans?
Yes, the Reagans.

By this time Ronald and Nancy Reagan were friends of the McCains' (along with Ross Perot)—and Nancy Reagan has never forgiven McCain, the “Los Angeles Times” reports, for the way he treated Carol. For that matter, neither has Perot.

The "Times" also reports that McCain was not yet divorced from Carol when he obtained his license to marry Cindy—in fact, despite what he said later, he wasn’t even legally separated at the time the license was granted, and had been dating Cindy for nine months before he and Carol separated.

So McCain marries Cindy...and except for that Keating Five thing, they apparently live as happily ever after as a couple could when the husband violently insults the wife in front of others (warning: link contains highly offensive language).

“I want the best kind of campaign and most positive kind of campaign”

--John McCain, on a campaign conference call in April, 2008

...One thing she said she will not give back, though, is negative campaigning. During McCain’s first run for president in the 2000 Republican primaries, he was hit by smear tactics, some of which were aimed at his adopted daughter, Bridget.

Mrs. McCain said that the upcoming campaign against either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton would not engage in negative tactics.

“We'd rather not win than to have to do that,” Mrs. McCain said. “That's not worth winning for. This is about being a leader and a person that can be a good example for our children, and a good role model. There's many, many, many more things to this job than just being the president. You are an example. You have to — you have to be better than that. You have to be.”

--From an MSNBC report on Cindy McCain’s Today Show interview by Ann Curry, May 8, 2008

So the guy who said he wanted to run the best kind of positive campaign apparently now thinks his best shot is to positively run the most negative campaign he can dredge up—even stooping to hire for the 2008 McCain Presidential campaign the very people George Bush hired to defame the 2000 McCain Presidential campaign.

To put it another way, the candidate who lives in somewhere between 7 and 11 glass houses now wants to throw stones at the candidate he couldn’t beat by claiming the economy is “fundamentally sound”.

Or to put it still another way: one candidate would rather not win than go negative...until that candidate is actually losing.

At that point it’s time to go with the Karl Rove plan: damn the stones, and full glass houses ahead!

Which brings us to the lesson for today: if 2000 you would campaign against 2008 you...and a lot of that is because of your negative campaigning...and you face a choice between your self-respect and trying to outrank your father at any cost...the smart move is to go for the self-respect.

Go positive, and risk losing with honor.
Go negative, and risk being crushed by your own ugly past—and your ugly future.

It’s a tough choice...but if you truly want to win: you’ll lose with honor.

Truthout roundup 10/5

Tim Dickinson Make-Believe Maverick
Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone: "This is the story of the real John McCain, the one who has been hiding in plain sight. It is the story of a man who has consistently put his own advancement above all else, a man willing to say and do anything to achieve his ultimate ambition: to become commander in chief, ascending to the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star father and grandfather. In its broad strokes, McCain's life story is oddly similar to that of the current occupant of the White House. John Sidney McCain III and George Walker Bush both represent the third generation of American dynasties. Both were born into positions of privilege against which they rebelled into mediocrity."

Springsteen Rocks Obama Rally in Philly
The Associated Press: "Bruce Springsteen called the Bush presidency 'a disaster' and said many Americans have 'justifiably lost faith' in the American dream. The legendary rocker interrupted a seven-song acoustic set at a voter-registration rally in Philadelphia on Saturday to praise Democrat Barack Obama and bemoan the crises facing the next president. Springsteen said that America remains a house of dreams for some, but that too many people have given up on the promise of fairness and equality."

Mike Lillis The Golden Parachute Survives
Mike Lillis,The Washington Independent: "For supporters of the Bush administration's $700-billion Wall Street bailout, it stands as a key selling point: a provision that limits pay packages for the heads of companies helped by the taxpayer-funded rescue program. There's just one problem: It would do little to cap executive pay or rein in the enormous retirement packages - the golden parachutes - that have come to symbolize corporate excess."

David Bacon Railroading Immigrants
David Bacon, The Nation: "A special Federal District court convenes every day at 1 pm in Tucson. All the benches, even the jury box, are filled with young people whose brown skin, black hair and indigenous features are common in a hundred tiny towns in Oaxaca or Guatemala. Their jeans, T-shirts and cheap tennis shoes show the dirt and wear from the long trek through northern Mexico, three days walking across the desert, and nights sleeping at the immigration detention center on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Presiding over one court session in June, Judge Jennifer Guerin called these defendants before her in groups of eight."

Reports Link Karzai's Brother to Heroin Trade
James Risen, The New York Times: "When Afghan security forces found an enormous cache of heroin hidden beneath concrete blocks in a tractor-trailer outside Kandahar in 2004, the local Afghan commander quickly impounded the truck and notified his boss. Before long, the commander, Habibullah Jan, received a telephone call from Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, asking him to release the vehicle and the drugs, Mr. Jan later told American investigators, according to notes from the debriefing obtained by The New York Times. He said he complied after getting a phone call from an aide to President Karzai directing him to release the truck."VIDEO IF ANY

FOCUS Trailing, McCain Prepares to Go Negative
Michael D. Shear, The Washington Post: "Senator John McCain and his Republican allies are readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations, several top Republicans said. With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls."

FOCUS New Polls Show Obama's Wider Road to White House
Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz, The Washington Post: "The faltering economy has left Sen. John McCain on the political defensive, altering the landscape in many of the most important battleground states and providing a series of avenues for Sen. Barack Obama to claim the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House in November, according to political strategists in both parties. Over the past two weeks, Obama has opened up leads both nationally and in the states likely to decide the outcome of the presidential election."

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Truthout roundup 10/4

GOP Strategists Fear Greater Losses in November
Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray, The Washington Post: "With the party already struggling to generate enthusiasm for its brand, Republican strategists fear that an outpouring of public anger generated by Congress's struggle to pass a rescue package for the financial industry may contribute to a disaster at the polls for the GOP in November. 'The crisis has affected the entire ticket,' said Jan van Lohuizen, a Republican consultant who handled the polling for President Bush's reelection campaign. 'The worse the state's economy, the greater the impact.'"

With No Plan B, House Reluctantly Passes Politically Risky Measure
Jonathan Weisman, David Cho and Paul Kane, The Washington Post: "'There is no joy,' said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), a rock-ribbed conservative who switched her 'no' vote to a 'yes' yesterday, even though a Democratic surge in North Carolina is making her once-easy district look increasingly dicey. 'I don't like the bill. I'm not going to defend the bill. . . . I had to do the right thing, even though, politically, it might kill me.' In some sense, the crisis atmosphere that has gripped Washington during its struggle to deal with the damage to world financial markets brought out the very worst in the city, precisely the chaotic, partisan atmosphere that voters seem so ready to punish next month at the polls."

Turkey: 15 Soldiers Killed by Kurd Rebels
The Associated Press: "Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army and air force in southern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents, the military said Saturday, in the deadliest battle between the long-time enemies this year. Friday's fighting involved a rebel attack on a military outpost in southeastern Turkey and Turkish warplanes, helicopters and artillery units pounding insurgent positions in northern Iraq, Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak, the military spokesman, said in a statement."

Poland Ends Iraq Mission
Amal Jayasinghe, Agence France Presse: "Poland ended its Iraq mission at a formal ceremony in the Shiite province of Diwaniyah on Saturday and said it will pull its 900 troops out of the country by the end of the month. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who came to power in October 2007, pledged a quick withdrawal from Iraq during his election campaign. The mandate of the 900 troops in the deployment was, however, subsequently extended to the end of October 2008."

Third Female Soldier Slain at Fort Bragg
The Associated Press: "For the third time in four months, a female soldier based at Fort Bragg is dead, and a husband or lover is charged with murder -- leading critics to demand the home base of the Army's elite soldiers exert 'control over their troops' and address domestic violence. Police on Friday charged Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, and Pfc. Mathew Kvapil, 18, with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder only days after Smith's wife was found stabbed to death in a pool of her own blood."

FOCUS Dean Baker: Bush Provokes Fear to Push for Bailout
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "This is the first time in the history of the United States that the president has sought to provoke a financial panic to get legislation through Congress. While this has proven to be a successful political strategy, it marks yet another low point in American politics. It was incredibly irresponsible for President Bush to tell the American people on national television that the country could be facing another Great Depression. By contrast, when we actually were in the Great Depression, President Roosevelt said that, 'we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.'

FOCUS In Florida's Economic Pain, Obama Gains Ground
Damien Cave, The New York Times: "Jim Piccillo lost his job as a bank vice president in August, applied for food stamps to support his two young daughters and swore off a life of loyalty to the Republican Party. He now volunteers here in Pasco County for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Madeline Aquanno's change of heart came more recently. Two weeks ago, she said, she had planned to vote for Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican, who impressed her with his knowledge of the world. But as the economy began to scare her more than terrorism, she reconsidered. 'Obama is more for the people,' she said, near the pool at her middle-class retirement community in Broward County. 'I'm worried about the jobs that are being lost, for my son, my daughter, my granddaughter. You have to look down the line.'"

Friday, October 3, 2008

FP roundup 10/3

Hundreds of penguins continue to wash up mysteriously on Brazilian shores.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon wants to decriminalize drugs under certain conditions.
California is seeking $7 billion in emergency funds.

China is allegedly spying on text messages in Skype.
The fighting in Pakistan's tribal belt is becoming a full-scale war. The families of U.N. staff have been ordered to leave Islamabad, the capital.
Asian markets fell Friday on gloomy U.S. economic news.

Middle East and Africa
The U.S. Defense Department is still paying contractors to produce pro-American publicity in Iraq.
Yesterday's mosque bombings in Baghdad suggest that sectarian reconciliation remains elusive.
The financial crisis is sparking a surge in anti-Semitism on the Internet.

The United States should no longer be a "megaregulator," says Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wants to slow Georgian and Ukraine's NATO bids.
European leaders are divided on what to do about the financial crisis.

Today's Agenda
The U.S. House of Representatives is due to vote on the revised bailout bill.
British PM Gordon Brown is expected to reshuffle his cabinet.

Obama building a lead in projected Electoral College vote

from Rasmussen Reports

New state polling from New Hampshire has moved that state from "Toss-up" to "Leans Democrat" in the Rasmussen Reports Balance of Power Calculator. In addition, changes in Rasmussen Markets have shifted Michigan from "Leans Democratic" to "Likely Democratic". With these changes, Obama leads in states with 217 Electoral College votes while McCain is ahead in states with 174 Electoral College votes. When “leaners” are included, it’s Obama 264, McCain 185.

Currently, states with 58 Electoral College votes are leaning slightly in one way or the other. Six states with a total of 89 votes -- North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia -- are pure toss-ups.
State-by-state rankings are summarized in the following table:

Truthout roundup 10/3

Dean Baker The Credit Squeeze Scare
Dean Baker, The Center for Economic and Policy Research: "While the story of the big Wall Street banks teetering and/or crashing may be unique to the current downturn, the stories we are hearing of the main street credit squeeze could be cut and pasted from the news coverage of the 1990-1991 recession. There is little reason to believe that the current tightness is any worse than what we have seen in prior recessions."

John Nichols Biden Teaches Palin the Meaning of "Maverick"
John Nichols, The Nation: "Biden and Palin both buffed their blue-collar credentials. They told stories of personal woe. Biden referenced tough times on streets of Scranton and Wilmington. Palin recalled going without health-care coverage. Biden's voice caught as he spoke of caring as a single parent for an injured child.... If they walked the same stylistic line when it came to trying to out-populist one another, however, the candidates divided on the issues. And that is how Biden prevailed."

Obama Opens Lead in Six of Seven Swing States, Two Polls Show
Jeff Bliss and Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News: "Barack Obama's lead widened over Republican rival John McCain in key swing states, including Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania, propelled by his debate performance and the worsening economy, two polls showed. The Democratic presidential nominee gained ground in seven battleground states and leads in six, according to two surveys conducted after he and McCain debated on Sept. 26 and as Congress haggled over a $700 billion plan to rescue financial markets."

Robert Kuttner What Comes After Senate Approval of the Bailout Bill?
Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect: "With the Senate's passage of the bailout bill, 74 to 25, Democrats in Congress need to begin preparing right now for a second package to do the job properly. They also need to begin the tightest possible monitoring of Secretary Paulson's actions and their effects on financial markets."

The New Yorker The Choice
The New Yorker: "Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching-that's the quadrennial cliche, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a Presidency has-at the levels of competence, vision, and integrity-undermined the country and its ideals?"

On The View From Egypt, Part One, Or, How Professionals Rig Elections

It is been but a few hours since Sarah Palin took the stage to have a conversation with Joe Biden, and of course the Nation has a ton of questions.

What will happen now?
How will we view all this in a few days?
How will it affect McCain and Obama?

I don’t know...and I’m not even going to try to figure it out right this minute.

Instead, we’re going to take a trip halfway across the world to a country that has been essential to understanding the Middle Eastern story, has been at the center of international conflicts time and time again...and has lessons to teach us that, if we learn them well, could make us a much smarter “Foreign Policy Nation” than we are today.

The country? Egypt.

So grab your virtual passport...and after we arrive, there are a few people I want you to meet.

This is part one of a bigger story, and over the next few days I’m going to try to give you some recent history (well, recent for a country with a history that goes back 7,000 years...), along with an explanation of how political factions are aligned some political factions aren’t even allowed to align...and a few words about the hazards of having an opinion in Egypt—even if it’s online.

Included will be a critical lesson: Democracy and Freedom, which we say we support, can lead to the election of people we don’t like...and that the true measure of a democracy is accepting—and sometimes even encouraging--those outcomes, even if we don’t like them.

So before we can talk about Egyptian politics, we have to talk about...Egyptian Politics.

The Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt has provisions that pretty much guarantee that there will be no meaningful political opposition. We’ll go right to the Constitution itself for an explanation of how it’s done (where it appears, emphasis was added by me):


Article 5
The political system of the Arab Republic of Egypt is a multiparty one, within the framework of the basic elements and principles of the Egyptian society as stipulated in the Constitution (Political parties are regulated by law).

Social and Moral Constituents

Article 7
Social solidarity is the basis of the society.


Article 47
Freedom of opinion is guaranteed.
Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally or in writing or by photography or by other means within the limits of the law.
Self-criticism and constructive criticism is the guarantee for the safety of the national structure.

Article 48
Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed.
Censorship on newspapers is forbidden as well as notifying, suspending or cancelling them by administrative methods.
In a state of emergency or in time of war a limited censorship may be imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or purposes of national security in accordance with the law.

The “State of Emergency” provision was invoked in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat—and it has been faithfully renewed by his successor, President Hosni Mubarak, every two years since, most recently in May of this year.

You may have noticed that political parties are regulated by law. Specifically, it’s Law 177/2005. Below is the important language (emphasis will again be added where I think it is needed):

Article 4:
For a political party to be established or maintained, it shall satisfy the following conditions:

ii: The party's principles, goals, platforms, policies or modalities of exercising its activities shall not contradict the Constitution or requirements of maintaining national unity, social peace and the democratic system.

iii: The party's platform shall constitute an addition to the political life according to specific methods and goals.

iv: In its principles or platforms or in practicing its activities or selecting its leaderships or members the party shall not be based on religious, class, sectarian, categorical, geographical grounds or on manipulating religious feelings or discrimination on account of origin or creed.

VI: The party shall not pose as a branch of a foreign party or political organization.

Article 7:
A notice in writing shall be submitted to the chairman of Political Parties Affairs Committee stipulated in Article 8 hereof as regards the establishment of the party signed by at least 1000 constituent members whose signatures shall be officially authenticated. The members shall be drawn from at least ten governorates with no less than fifty members from each....

Article 8:
The Political Parties Affairs Committee shall be composed as follows:
1- the Speaker of the Shura Council, as chairman;
2- Minister of Interior;
3- Minister for the People's Assembly Affairs;
4- three former heads or deputy heads of the judiciary bodies who are not affiliated to any political party; and
5-three public figures who are not affiliated to any political party, as members.
The selection of the members stipulated in Items 4&5 shall be made by a Presidential decree for three years renewable.
The Committee shall have the competence to examine and consider notices of the establishments of the parties according to the provisions of this law, let alone the other competencies stipulated therein...

We will continue with the text of Article 8 in a moment, but before we do, some explanations are in order.

The Shura Council is one of the two halves of Egypt’s Legislative Branch; and it serves a function somewhat similar to that of the United States Senate.

Because Egypt’s National Democratic Party (NDP) controls Parliament and the Presidency, the Political Parties Affairs Committee (PPAC), who grants the license you need to form a political party (and can revoke it as well...) consists of the Speaker of the Shura Council, (obviously, an NDP member), two members of the President’s Cabinet, and six people appointed by the President.

The obvious conflicts between this arrangement and what we would think of as a true multiparty system will be the focus of part two of this story...but for now, we return you to Article 8, already in progress:

...To exercise its competencies, the Committee may demand much documents, papers, data and clarifications at it deems as necessary, from the concerned parties as much time as it determines. It may also demand any documents, papers, data or information from any official or public body and it may conduct on its own or through a sub-committee of its own such research as it may deem appropriate. It may also commision [sic] any such official bodies as it may deem appropriate to conduct or study necessary to reach the truth about matters submitted thereto...

Article 9:
The party shall be a private judicial person...

Article 11:
The resources of the party shall consist in subscriptions of its members, financial support received from the State and the donations by Egyptian natural persons...

The party may not accept any contribution, privilege or benefit from any foreigner, any foreign or international body or from any judicial person type even if it enjoys Egyptian citizenship.

These clauses tell us that the Government’s PPAC can start it’s own investigations of any party—and that Parties are not allowed, by law, to align themselves together in coalitions.

I am often guilty of going too long in these let’s get to the end of part one.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the NDP have created an ongoing quarter-century “emergency situation” that allows them to decide who can be a political party, that allows them to revoke the license of a party that they feel violates the rules they create...and because of the Constitutional mandate to protect “National Unity”, any political party that says the NDP is doing anything wrong is potentially in violation of the law.

These rules create conditions that are impossible to satisfy, and as a result politicians, protesters...and even bloggers...are at risk for arrest and imprisonment. But that’s a story for another day—and to make the story better, when we get together next time we’ll be meeting one of those politicians in a very close-up and personal way.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The fourth segment - Sarah Palin

courtesy of SNL

John Edwards to speak at IU next month

Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards will speak about election results and answer questions during a lecture Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in the Indiana University Auditorium, the Indiana Memorial Union Board announced today.

His talk will focus on what the results mean for America’s political and economic future. The lecture is free and open to the public and will be followed by a question and answer session.

The lecture is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Residence Halls Association, IU College Democrats, and Young Democrats of Indiana, according to the union board.

For more information about the event contact Union Board Public Relations Director Nathan Click at or 855-4682.

Truthout roundup 10/2

Bernie Sanders Let the Rich Bail Them Out
Bernie Sanders, Senate floor speech: "This country faces many serious problems in the financial market, in the stock market, in our economy. We must act, but we must act in a way that improves the situation. We can do better than the legislation now before Congress."

Bailout Alternative Offered by House Democrats
Frank James, The Chicago Tribune: "You know the failed but still alive $700 billion bailout proposal has scrambled politics in the nation's capital when a fairly liberal member of Congress offers a solution to the financial-markets crisis that looks like something a Reagan Administration official created. Actually that's exactly who created it. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, took the ideas of William Isaac, who served as Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman during the Reagan Administration and created legislation meant to help the capsizing financial markets right themselves."

Economic Fears Driving Voters Into Obama Camp
John Ibbitson, The Globe and Mail: "Economic fears among voters have produced a seismic shift in the U.S. presidential election in key swing states. According to a spate of new polls, contests that for weeks seemed to be toss-ups, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Iowa, have swung solidly in favour of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. And several states that appeared to be safely in hand for Republican John McCain, including Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri and Nevada, have become the new battlegrounds."

Felon Laws Cloud Voting Rights
Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers: "States have barred 5.3 million Americans from voting because they have criminal records, but many of them have been wrongfully disenfranchised by county election officials who are confused or ill-informed about varying state laws on felons' voting rights, two civil-rights groups reported Wednesday."

Guard Families Fight War of Their Own
Michael Winerip, The New York Times: "Last month, 2,850 of New Jersey’s 6,000 National Guard citizen-soldiers left for Iraq, the largest combat deployment of the state’s Guard since World War II. And it is not just the soldiers doing hard duty. During the Vietnam War, the average soldier was 19. Today the average age for the active-duty Army is 27; 55.5 percent of Army soldiers are married, as are 45 percent of the National Guard, according to a 2007 Office of Army Demographics report. For every active duty Army soldier (518,000) there is nearly one child (493,484)."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Couric interview with Sarah Palin - part 3

Ask the candidates: Will you cut poverty in half?

from Half in Ten

Next Tuesday, October 7, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain will meet at Belmont University to answer questions from around the country in a town hall debate. Moderator Tom Brokaw will be accepting questions from the public through Thursday, October 2. This will be the only opportunity for the candidates to address the importance of fighting poverty in a public forum.

Urge Tom Brokaw to ask the candidates to commit to cutting poverty in half in the next decade, and to offer specific proposals to reach that goal. Not sure what to ask? We sent in this question:

Submit your question before Thursday, October 2 to make it into consideration for the town hall debate. By doing so, you will help keep the issue of fighting poverty and increasing opportunity on the table in this election.
Let us know what you ask: Send a copy of your questions to We’ll pick questions to feature on our upcoming redesigned Half in Ten website!

Thanks for all your support,
The Half in Ten Team

For more information on the Center for American Progress’ policies to fight poverty, as well as the Half in Ten campaign, please see:

From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half by the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty

Half in Ten: From Poverty to Prosperity


Here's my question:

More than 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line, and tens of millions more are having a hard time putting food on the table. Will you make a commitment to cut poverty in half in the next 10 years? What specific steps will you take?

Don W.

Truthout roundup 10/1

Maya Schenwar The Dream of an Obamaconomy
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "I began reading Robert Kuttner's latest book, 'Obama's Challenge,' three weeks ago. Then, amid the last two weeks' pandemonium - the plummeting stock market, the huge banks tumbling toward death - I put it aside. I finished it over the weekend. My timing was soberingly ironic. As I turned the final pages of 'Obama's Challenge,' Congressional leadership was cinching a deal on a $700 billion bailout plan for the country's wealthiest financial institutions - a plan that wallowed universes away from the innovative proposals put forward in Kuttner's book. Where Kuttner challenges Obama to utilize deficit spending to finance job-training programs, living wages, public works initiatives and - eventually - universal health care, the bailout plan would bypass low-income Americans. While Kuttner asks Obama to dip into debt to get Americans back on their feet from the bottom up, the bill cobbled together by Paulson and Congress would dip even deeper into the deficit in order to, for the most part, prop up the very top."

DOJ Report Implicates White House in US Attorney Firings
Carrie Johnson, The Washington Post: "In 18 months of searching, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility chief H. Marshall Jarrett have uncovered new e-mail messages hinting at heightened involvement of White House lawyers and political aides in the firings of nine federal prosecutors two years ago. But they could not probe much deeper because key officials declined to be interviewed and a critical timeline drafted by the White House was so heavily redacted that it was 'virtually worthless as an investigative tool,' the authorities said. 'We were unable to fully develop the facts regarding the removal of [David C.] Iglesias and several other US Attorneys because of the refusal by certain key witnesses to be interviewed by us, as well as the White House's decision not to provide ... internal documents to us,' the investigators concluded in their report."

Senate to Vote Wednesday on Bailout Plan
Carl Hulse and Robert Pear, The New York Times: "Senate leaders scheduled a vote Wednesday on a $700 billion financial bailout package after agreeing to add tax breaks and a higher limit for insured bank deposits in a bid to attract enough votes to reverse a shocking defeat in the House and send legislation to President Bush by the end of the week. After a day of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, lawmakers said the Senate proposal would include a tax package caught in a stalemate with the House as well as a plan endorsed Tuesday by both major presidential candidates and the Bush administration to raise government coverage for bank deposits."

The Cost of Boots on the Ground in Iraq
John Basil Utley, Foreign Policy in Focus: "It takes half a million dollars per year to maintain each sergeant in combat in Iraq. Thanks to a Senate committee inquiry, an authoritative government study finally details the costs of keeping boots on the ground. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in its report Contractors' Support of US Operations in Iraq, compared the costs of maintaining a Blackwater professional armed guard versus the US military providing such services itself. Both came in at about $500,000 per person per year. News reports of the study have largely focused on the total cost of US contractors. The 190,000 contractors in Iraq and neighboring countries, from cooks to truck drivers, have cost US taxpayers $100 billion from the start of the war through the end of 2008."

Surge Test: Will Iraq's Government Back Sunni Militias
Leila Fadel, McClatchy Newspapers: "'Even the friendly (US) troops could not liberate this area,' said Khaled Jamal al Qaisi, a colonel in Saddam Hussein's army and the commander of the Sunni militia in Fadl, as he proudly walked the streets of his neighborhood. On Wednesday, al Qaisi and 54,419 other men in Baghdad province will transition to Iraqi government control. That's more than half of the Sons of Iraq (SOI) who're now being paid by the US military to protect neighborhoods - and in some cases not to shoot at American troops."

FP roundup 10/1

Decision '08
Both Barack Obama and John McCain are urging the bailout bill's passage.
CBS has published the third part of Sarah Palin's interview with anchor Katie Couric.
Fred Thompson: Palin is qualified.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly intends to seek a third term.
Canada's prime minister has been accused of delivering a plagiarized speech in 2003.
Geraldine Baum explains what really goes on behind the scenes at the U.N. General Assembly.

North and South Korea are to hold military talks Thursday.
An alleged U.S. drone attack killed six people in North Waziristan, Pakistan.
Sales of Japanese automobiles are plunging as U.S. consumers feel the bite of the credit crunch.

Middle East and Africa
The number of Iraqi civilians killed in September is less than half that of a year ago.
Saad Hariri, the leading Sunni Lebanese politician, says Syria presents a "clear and direct threat" to his country.
Saudi women's plain black cloaks are getting blinged out.

Europe and the Caucasus
The credit crunch is threatening Moscow's real estate boom.
Spain arrested 121 people for Internet child pornography.
EU troops have begun patrolling the buffer zone surrounding South Ossetia.