Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Election 2008: The State Of The Game

With Election Day five weeks away, here is the state of the game in the presidential race:

* Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey is more qualified to face Joe Biden in Thursday's vice-presidential debate than Sarah Palin.

* Some six percent of voters tell pollsters that they will not vote for Obama because of his skin color, but the number probably is higher.

John McCain needs a game changer but has painted himself into a very tight corner because he continues to run a campaign that is based on tactics and not substance.

* Absent televised coverage a Bristol Palin shotgun wedding or some other notable distraction, Barack Obama will begin scoring double-digit leads in the national polls.

* The collapsing economy is being credited with Obama's widening lead, but it has as much or more to do with McCain's foundering campaign.

* Neither candidate has really stepped up to the plate during the ongoing economic crisis.

* If it works for John McCain, then why not us? That seems to be what Obama is saying as his TV ads also take liberties with the truth.

* Hillary who?

* Unsurprisingly, Obama is turning out to be far more hawkish on foreign-policy issues than was during the primary season.

* McCain's impulsiveness and penchant for gambling keeps backfiring on him, most notably with the unvetted Palin and his suspended-campaign theatrics. Will he continue to roll the dice?

* While Obama seems to be firmly in control of his campaign and its message, McCain seems anything but.

* McCain's gibberish quotient has always been on the high side, but he seems to make less sense with every passing day when not reading from a Teleprompter. Example:
"I am for keeping taxes low. I am for whatever steps we think we need to be taking right now."

* Obama hasn't been successful in linking McCain to George Bush, while McCain hasn't been successful in arguing that he isn't attached at the hip with the deeply unpopular president.

* McCain cannot win a protracted war with the news media. Palin cannot continue to hide from the news media.

* Obama's coattails are proving to be considerable longer than McCain's.

* The most effective McCain-Republican meme has been that Obama lacks experience. But that has been brilliantly undercut by . . . you guessed it, Palin.

Humpty Dumpty Does A Star Turn

As I and other folks who weren't born yesterday have already written, there is a very different feeling to this economic crisis.

Perhaps the last eight years of deregulation, rampant greed and an epidemic of book cooking has diminished my faith in our financial institutions to such a point that I can't see straight. But what is happening on Wall Street and happened yesterday in Congress in the single most profound smackdown of a sitting president in memory just doesn't have the feel of the 1987 crash, the dot-com bubble kaboom or the post-9/11 plop.

In each of those instances it felt like the ship would right itself, and it did. But this time I get the feeling that things won't ever be quite the same again and whatever adjustment occurs will be as inadequate as Washington's flailing efforts to plug the gaping holes in the ship's hull while not even beginning to deal with the underlying causes.

* * * * *
While the parallels with the waning years of British Empire are uneven, I keep getting the feeling that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the American Empire.

John Gray of The Guardian wrote before the bailout vote yesterday that successive American administrations have lectured, among others, Indonesia, Thailand, Argentinas and especially China on the prudence of sound financial policies; which is to say policies on the U.S. model.

China has pretty more ignored this hectoring and now it is China that is ascendant while the U.S. that is looking for all the world like a dottering old man.

* * * * *
I have written around the economic crisis because as relatively thorough as my knowledge of economics and the markets may be, we're in uncharted territory here.
I still can't figure out why AIG was not allowed to fail but Lehman Brothers was. Or why shareholders allowed once conservative bankers, seduced by the scent of easy money, manage their institutions like a bunch of hedge fund managers? I am on shaky ground when it comes to derivatives, and trying to fathom credit-default swaps brings tears to my eyes.

So my hopes for the next few days are modest.

I'm not even sure that House Democrats, whose leadership is at least less shaky than that of The Decider and Treasury Secretary Paulson, can get a revised bailout bill passed that contains what I want -- less taxpayer money and more taxpayer protections.

That will be a Herculean task because Republicans are at this point either in a full panic as they run around trying to put the
Humpty Dumpty of the Good Old Days back together again or in a full dander because they just don't see the crisis in apocalyptic terms and sense that Main Street is fed up with Wall Street.

In that I am quite sure they are correct.

For other voices on the economic crisis, check out
today's Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere.

Justice: Different Day, Same Old Spit

Hampered by the refusal of the White House to make available documents and key officials for questioning in the U.S. attorney scandal, Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed a special prosecutor. Who will be hampered by the refusal of the White House to make available documents and key officials for questioning.

The decision by Mukasey, who has proven himself to be a reliable Bush administration lap dog in all things, followed an internal Justice Department investigation which concluded yesterday that political pressure drove the firings of several federal prosecutors.

The New York Times reports that:
"The 356-page report, prepared by the department’s inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility, provides the fullest picture to date of an episode that opened the Bush administration up to charges of politicizing the justice system. The firings of nine federal prosecutors, and the Congressional hearings they generated, ultimately led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalzes last September.

"The investigation, which uncovered White House e-mail messages not previously made public, offered a blistering critique of Mr. Gonzales's management of the department. It called Mr. Gonzales 'remarkably unengaged' in overseeing an unprecedented personnel review, and said that he 'abdicated' his administrative responsibilities, leaving those duties to his chief of staff. It said that the process for deciding which prosecutors were fired was 'fundamentally flawed.'

"More troubling, the investigation concluded that, despite the denials of the administration at the time of the controversy, political considerations played a part in the firings of at least four of the nine prosecutors."

The report concluded that the most serious case was the firing of David Iglesias, the former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, who had locked horns with two of his state’s leading Republican lawmakers, Senator Pete Domenici and Representative Heather A. Wilson.

Mukasey appointed Nora Dannehy (photo), the acting U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, to continue the inquiry and determine whether anyone should be prosecuted.

Yeah, right.

'Days Drip Slowly On The Page'

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it's pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you live too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

I've proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip's worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And every one was taken in
Hours chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage

I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything

All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing
It's as if the thing were written
In the constitution of the age
Sooner or later you'll wind up
Pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can't see what's round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage.
Pacing the cage.
Pacing the cage.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Wink

Quotes From Around Yon Bailoutosphere

The collapse of the proposed rescue plan for the teetering financial system was the product of a larger failure — of political leadership in Washington — at a moment when the world was looking to the United States to contain the cascading economic crisis.

From the White House to Congress to the presidential campaign trail, the principal players did not rally the votes they needed in the House. They appeared not to comprehend or address in a convincing way an intense strain of opposition to the deal among voters. They allowed partisan politics to flare at sensitive moments.

If there was any doubt that President Bush had been left politically impotent by his travails over the last few years and his lame-duck status, it was erased on Monday when, despite his personal pleas, more than two-thirds of the Republicans in the House abandoned the plan.


Let’s see, if markets around the world are capitalized at about $50 trillion and they declined, say, 5 percent on average as a result of Congress’s vote, then about $2.5 trillion of wealth vanished. . . . For the United States alone, the loss is about $800 billion. Even by Congress’s standards, this is impressive.


Now, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, middle-class taxpayers are going to be forced to bail out the Democrats' two most important constituent groups: rich Wall Street bankers and welfare recipients.

Political correctness had already ruined education, sports, science and entertainment. But it took a Democratic president with a Democratic congress for political correctness to wreck the financial industry.

The house always wins, gamblers are warned, and the U.S. House made John McCain pay Monday for his politically risky, high-profile involvement in a financial rescue plan that came crashing down, mainly at the hands of his fellow Republicans.


Economic freedom means the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail.

The decision to give the federal government the ability to nationalize almost every bad mortgage in America interrupts this basic truth of our free market economy.


What so-called conservatives like [Michelle] Malkin forget is that right-wingers have an ideology, but true conservatives have principles.

With leadership — and elites — so aggressively behind the bill, the massive defections suggest that congressmen are sensing a towering populist outrage. Like on the immigration bill, the opposition did not fear their party but their voters. The implication here is that the politics of the bailout are much more intense than most currently recognize.
I've heard lots of phony stories. Much of the country's political and economic leadership has been running around raising the prospect of the Great Depression and a breakdown in the banking system (I actually had taken the latter seriously). These stories are absolutely not true.

There is no plausible scenario under which the no bailout scenario gives us a Great Depression. There is a more plausible scenario (but highly unlikely) that the bailout will give us a Great Depression.


There’s one giant paternal elephant in the room that has slipped notice: how illegal immigration, crime-enabling banks, and open-borders Bush policies fueled the mortgage crisis.

It’s no coincidence that most of the areas hardest hit by the foreclosure wave — Loudoun County, Va., California’s Inland Empire, Stockton and San Joaquin Valley, and Las Vegas and Phoenix, for starters — also happen to be some of the nation’s largest illegal-alien sanctuaries. Half of the mortgages to Hispanics are subprime (the accursed species of loan to borrowers with the shadiest credit histories). A quarter of all those subprime loans are in default and foreclosure.

[T]his bill would not have been agreed to had it not been for John McCain. . . . But, you know, this is a bipartisan accomplishment, a bipartisan success. And if people want to get something done in Washington, they just watch John McCain.

Franklin D. Roosevelt started his tenure by telling Americans, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In a new century, when the new president came to office, political prophets should have told us, "The only thing we have to fear is Bush himself."

Even the most diehard horror-movie lovers will find eight years of being terrified too much. For the next White House movie, they will be looking for a new theme. Hope, perhaps.

Two weeks ago, Wall Street titans and the government's most powerful economic stewards made a fateful choice: Rather than propping up another failing financial institution, they let 158-year-old Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapse.

Now, the consequences of that decision look more dire than almost anyone imagined.

So a third of the country thinks we're in a depression and expect taxes to go up. Yet they're ready to give the Democrats control of the White House, Congress and the Senate simultaneously, which likely will fulfill their prophecy.

Now that the wizards of Wall Street have destroyed all hope for your future economic security, it's time to start eating like a pauper! That's the new ad strategy that our nation's largest food companies are pursuing, reasoning that the fancy Pepperidge Farm cookies and "vegetables" are going to be the first thing that shoppers slash from their budgets in these lean times. Why not try some grilled cheese and tomato soup? Shiny apples for a nickel! But this nutritional depression has an upside: Hey, Kool-Aid!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout & Playing The Blame Game

It comes as no surprise that there was a steady drumbeat of partisan politics in the drafting of the $700 billion financial bailout plan that was defeated this afternoon largely because of defiant House Republicans. But both parties turned up the vitriol in the wake of the stunning no-confidence vote in President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and global markets dutifully reacted. As one leading economic light wrote "Yes, Virginia, this is a crash."

As the following summary of the plan that lost by a 228-205 vote shows, the Democratic leadership more or less prevailed before vote, while Bush and Paulson didn't do so hot. Oh, and John McCain had zip to do with the outcome although he was quick to pin the blame on Barack Obama. Pray tell? Will McCain "suspend" his campaign again?

The summary:

* A new congressional panel would have oversight power and the Treasury secretary would report regularly to lawmakers as part of a multi-level oversight apparatus.

* If the Treasury takes a stake in a company, the top five executives would be subject to compensation limits.

* Executives hired after a financial company offloads more than $300 million in assets via auction to the government will not be eligible for "golden parachutes."

* The Federal Reserve would begin paying interest on bank reserves on October 1, giving it another tool for easing credit strains.

* A study would be undertaken to determine the impact of the mark-to-market accounting standards that critics blame for a downward spiral in the valuation of assets on corporate balance sheets.

* The federal government may stall foreclosure proceedings on home loans purchased under the plan.

* Along with the plan to buy securities outright, the Treasury will develop an alternative insurance program that would underwrite troubled loans and be paid for by participating companies.

* If the government has taken losses five years into the program, the Treasury will draft a plan to tax the companies that took part to recoup taxpayer losses.

An analysis by Swing State Project showed that among 38 incumbent congressmen in races rated as "toss up" or "lean," just eight voted for the bailout as opposed to 30 against. The vote maong congressfolks who didn't have as much to worry about was nearly even: 197 for and 198 against.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came in for extra helpings of Republican scorn after the vote for speaking the truth about the staggering $700 billion price tag beforehand:

"It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration's failed economic policies -- policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system."
Meanwhile, there has been a lot of blame gaming over the roots of the financial meltdown, but none as insidious than the canard that minorities are responsible for the whole mess because they bought houses on which they couldn't keep up the payments.

The bogeymen are those damned libruls and their Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to lend to low-income borrowers. Among the problems with blaming the CRA is that subprime loans weren't required and many more subprime loans were written during the irrational exuberance of the housing bubble.

The truth is much less convenient: While people of all colors who had no business buying houses are a factor, mortgage companies and banks saw subprime loans as "free money."

When the economy started tanking, the bubble burst and borrowers started defaulting at a record pace, many of these lenders didn't have the legs to ride out the storm despite an "anything goes" deregulatory environment that had been gift wrapped for them by congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.

Oh, and even though it played well at the time in the hustings, letting Lehman Brothers fail doesn't look like it was such a hot idea anymore.

No matter the eventual fate of the bailout bill, and no one has a clue as to whether it will work when it eventually clears Congress -- and it will eventually clear Congress -- the Democrats will be blamed for any perceived shortcomings although they had the sense to realize that no bill would pass without bipartisan support and have taken a goodly number of their partisan must-haves off the table while leaving some of the Republicans' on.

Celebrating The Freedom To Read

This is Banned Book Week, an annual event that takes on an additional pungency this year because of the woman who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

While the evidence that Sarah Palin tried to get books banned from the Wasilla, Alaska, public library when she was mayor is circumstantial, it is nevertheless compelling. As The New York Times reported:
"The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

'People would bring books back censored,' recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin's predecessor. 'Pages would get marked up or torn out.'

"Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

"But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book Daddy's Roommate on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

" 'Sarah said she didn't need to read that stuff,' Ms. Chase said. 'It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it.'

" 'I'm still proud of Sarah,' she added, 'but she scares the bejeebers out of me.' "
The American Library Association, which sponsors Banned Book Week, lists these 10 books as the most frequently challenged:
(1.) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell. Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

(2.) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

(3.) Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes. Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

(4.) The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Reasons: Religious Viewpoint.

(5.) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Reasons: Racism.

(6.) The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.

(7.) TTYL by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.

(8.) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Reasons: Sexually Explicit.

(9.) It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit.

(10.) The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group.

The Wall Street Bailout For Dummies

How did we get to the point where Washington is about to shovel $700 billion of our money into the coffers of Wall Street giants?

Barry Rithholtz at The Big Picture translates and summarizes a wonkish Brookings Institution analysis:
(1.) The bubble in home prices, fueled by the ready availability of credit, resulted in an underestimate of the risks of residential real estate.

(2.) The peaking of residential home prices in 2006, combined with lax lending standards were followed by a very high rate of delinquencies on subprime mortgages in 2007 and a rising rate of delinquencies on prime mortgages.

(3.) Losses thereafter on the complex "Collateralized Debt Obligations" (CDOs) that were backed by these mortgages.

(4.) Increased liabilities by the many financial institutions (banks, investment banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds) that issued "credit default swaps" contracts (CDS) that insured the CDOs.

(5.) Losses suffered by financial institutions that held CDOs and/or that issued CDSs.

(6.) Cutbacks in credit extended by highly leveraged lenders that suffered these losses.
Thanks, Barry.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

A Celebrity Shotgun Wedding?


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

ROANOKE, Va. — Two weeks ago, Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign gleefully publicized a spate of news reports about misleading and untruthful statements in the advertisements of his rival, Senator John McCain. Asked by a voter in New Hampshire if he would respond in kind, Mr. Obama said, “I just have a different philosophy, I’m going to respond with the truth,” adding, “I’m not going to start making up lies about John McCain.”

Yet as Mr. McCain’s misleading advertisements became fodder on shows like "The View" and "Saturday Night Live," Mr. Obama began his own run of advertisements on radio and television that have matched the dubious nature of Mr. McCain’s more questionable spots.

A radio advertisement running in Wisconsin and other contested states misleadingly reports that Mr. McCain "has stood in the way of" federal financing for stem cell research; Mr. McCain did once oppose such federally supported research but broke with President Bush to consistently support it starting in 2001 (his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, does not support it).

A commercial running here on Thursday morning highlighting Mr. McCain's votes against incentives for alternative energy misleadingly asserts he supports tax breaks for "one source of energy: oil companies." Mr. McCain’s proposed corporate tax break would cover all companies, including those developing new sources of power.

A new television advertisement playing in areas with high concentrations of elderly voters and emphasizing Mr. McCain’s support for President Bush’s failed plan for private Social Security accounts misleadingly implies Mr. McCain supported "cutting benefits in half" — an analysis of Mr. Bush’s plan that would have applied to upper-income Americans retiring in the year 2075.


It's going to be fascinating to see how John McCain plans to campaign with a hidden running mate.


McCain has more than 40 top advisers and fundraisers who have lobbied or worked for gambling interests. Several of McCain's closest personal friends are casino executives. He receives more money from the gambling industry than almost any member of Congress, especially those outside Nevada and New Jersey. And he loves heading to casinos, traveling to Las Vegas regularly for "weekend betting marathons," overruling aides who've asked him to consider the appearances -- not only of a man who gambles too much, but also of a senator who has enormous oversight responsibilities of the gaming industry.


There is no evidence of Sarah Palin conducting any trade missions with Russia.


The Palin pick was the most crassest, most bigoted decision that I've seen in national electoral politics, in my--admittedly short--lifetime. There can be no doubt that they picked Palin strictly as a stick to drum up the victimhood narrative -- small town, hunters, big families and most importantly, women. Had Barack Obama picked Hillary Clinton, there simply is no way they would have picked Sarah Palin. To the McCain camp, Palin isn't important as a politician, or even as a person. Her moose-hunting, her sprawling fam, her hockey momdom, her impending grandmother status are a symbol of some vague, possibly endangered American thing, one last chance to yell from the rafters "We wuz robbed." Line up all your instances of national politicians using white victimhood to get into offices -- Willie Horton, White Hands, Sista Souljah, Reagan in Philadelphia etc. -- they were all awful no doubt. But I have never seen a politician subject an alleged ally to something like this.


How extraordinary to find that, for two straight days, the American media would preoccupy themselves with the question of who had the greater right—in a debate over foreign-policy "experience," of all things—to quote Henry Kissinger. And how even more extraordinary that it should be the allegedly anti-war Democratic candidate who cited Kissinger with the most deference and, it even seems, the greater accuracy.


Mr. McCain's lead-with-the-chin approach to Russia reflects the same pugnacity that resulted in obscenity-laced dust-ups with fellow Republican senators, but it's less endearing when the risk is nuclear war. Do we really want to risk an exchange of nuclear warheads over Abkhazia or South Ossetia? The Spanish prime minister, José Zapatero, told me a few days ago that what he fears most under a McCain administration is a revival of the cold war with Russia. . . .

All in all, it’s astonishing that Mr. McCain seems determined to return to Mr. Bush's first-term policies that have been utterly discredited even within the administration. Judging from Mr. McCain's own positions, on foreign policy he could well end up more Bush than Bush.


Would it really be fair to go on with the election when Obama has been campaigning the whole time McCain has been fixing America’s problems? And I don’t think most Americans would mind letting George Bush stay in office a little longer, which will give us a little more time to steel ourselves and get ready for all the changes John McCain has in store for us when he does get elected. Electing McCain in November might not give Americans enough time to adjust to such a radical transformation from the last eight years. I think Americans would welcome a bit of a breather first.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

'You're Not The Same Woman Now'

The first of Paul Newman's extraordinary 10 Academy Award nominations was for his superb portrayal of Brick Pollitt, the alcoholic former football star and underperforming husband, in the screen version of Tennessee William's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

I hadn't realized until Newman's passing at age 83 on Friday that of his many roles, this had become my favorite over the years, in part because of the powerful interplay between Brick and wife Maggie "The Cat" Pollitt, played by Elizabeth Taylor. But there is another reason, as well: I am deeply fond of Williams' dramatic works and have spent many hours reading the typescripts of the original Broadway play.

The manuscripts are annotated in the playright's own hand. Williams, who was notorious for rewrites of his plays, was making changes to his story of a day in the life of a dysfunctional Southern family in crisis on the evening of its Broadway opening. It is especially fascinating to see how the turbulent relationship of Brick and Maggie -- destinated to be played by Newman and Taylor -- developed and took wing.

Not surprisingly, Williams hated the film version of Cat because MGM Studios removed all references to homosexuality, as well as all four-letter words, and changed the ending.

Following is a snippet of dialogue between Brick and Maggie:
MAGGIE: Why are you looking at me like that?

BRICK: Like what?

MAGGIE: Like you were just looking.

BRICK: I wasn't conscious of looking at you.

MAGGIE: I was conscious of it. If you were thinking the same thing.

BRICK: No, Maggie!

MAGGIE: Why not?

BRICK: Will you please keep your voice down?


BRICK: I hope you know better than you think.

MAGGIE: I've seen that look before and I know what it used to mean. And it still means the same thing now.

BRICK: You're not the same woman now, Maggie.

MAGGIE: Don't you think I know that? Don 't you think I know?

BRICK: Know what, Maggie?

MAGGIE: That I've gone through this horrible transformation. I've become hard and frantic and cruel.

BRICK: Are you planning on meeting Big Daddy's plane?

MAGGIE: I get so lonely.

BRICK: Everybody gets that.

MAGGIE: Living with someone you love can be lonelier than living entirely alone when the one you love doesn't love you. You can't even stand drinking out of the same glass, can you? Would you like to live alone?

BRICK: No! No, I wouldn't.

MAGGIE: Why can't you lose your good looks, Brick? Most drinking men lose theirs. Why can't you? I think you've even gotten better looking since you went on the bottle. You were such a wonderful lover.

BRICK: You'll be late!

MAGGIE: You were so exciting to be in love with. Mostly, I guess, because you were. If I thought you'd never make love to me again I'd find the longest, sharpest knife and stick it straight into my heart. I'd do that.

BRICK: How long does this have to go on, this punishment? Haven't I served my term? Can I get a pardon? Your finishing-school voice sounds like you were running upstairs to say, "Fire!" Is it any wonder?

MAGGIE: You know what I feel like? I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof.

BRICK: Then jump off the roof, Maggie.
The film, one of the top 10 box-office hits in 1958, received five other major Academy Award nominations in addition to Newman's for Best Actor: Best Actress (Taylor), Best Director (Richard Brooks), Best Adapted Screenplay (Brooks and James Poe), and Best Cinematography (William H. Daniels), but failed to win any awards.

Burl Ives was nominated and won an Oscar in 1958 as Best Supporting Actor in The Big Country rather than for his powerful performance as Big Daddy in Cat.

The Greatest Double Play Since Forever


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Duel In Da Delta: Win, Lose, Draw & Spin

I had forgotten about how much I dislike campaign debates.

Not because they aren't important. Last night's certainly was because it was a "crucial face off" minus only a drum-roll intro between an experienced political icon about whom we know so much and a relative newcomer about whom we know so little.

(The same certainly will be true of the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate if Sarah Palin doesn't announce that she is suspending campaigning to rush back to Juneau because of some crisis. Ha!)

No, I don't like debates because our expectations are too high, too low, too unrealistic and too unfair, the pronouncements that follow these clashes from the punditocracy are deeply subjective and the post-debate spin, as one commentator notes below, sometimes overshadows the debate itself. That being the case, John McCain will be more adept at polishing is own apple.

That so noted, I think that Barack Obama "won" the Mississippi debate by a nose. A majority of voters responding to overnight polls seemed to believe that he did even better, and relatively few pundits believed that McCain won outright.

The highlight of the debate came toward the end when McCain delivered the closest thing to a zinger in insisting that:

"I honestly don't believe that Senator Obama has the knowledge or experience, and has made the wrong judgments in a number of areas," but if you view the debate as a mini-laboratory to test that assertion, Obama more than held his own. He spoke knowledgeably and with ease about foreign affairs, although he was less confident when it came to the economy. But to no one's surprise, so was McCain.

Anyhow, that's it for me. And so in lieu of today's Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere, here is a sampling of other debate reax:

Mark Halperin of Time magazine:

McCain was McCain — evocative, intense, and at times emotional, but also vague, elliptical, and atonal. Failed to deliver his "country first versus Obama first" message cleanly, even when offered several opportunities. Surprisingly, did not talk much about "change," virtually ceding the dominant issue of the race. Overall grade: B-

[Obama] went for a solid, consistent performance to introduce himself to the country. He did not seem nervous, tentative, or intimidated by the event, and avoided mistakes from his weak debate performances during nomination season (a professorial tone and long winded answers). Standing comfortably on the stage with his rival, he showed he belonged — evocative of Reagan, circa 1980. He was so confident by the end that he reminded his biggest audience yet that his father was from Kenya. Two more performances like that and he will be very tough to beat on Election Day. Overall grade: A-

Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard:
Winning isn't enough. To gain from a presidential debate, there must be sound bites that appear on TV day after day and show your opponent in an unfavorable or embarrassing light. John McCain was better than Barack Obama in their first presidential debate last night. But the debate produced no knockout sound bites--none I noticed anyway--that might harm Obama's campaign. So McCain's win isn't likely to affect the presidential race.

. . . It wasn't a commanding performance, but it was a pretty good one for McCain. However, Obama had an easier task, a lower threshold to meet. He has a small but significant lead over McCain. To protect his lead, all he had to do was not make a serious mistake usable for sound bite purposes. Obama managed that task quite well.
Will Bunch at Attytood:
To me, the biggest disappontment was the economy -- I don't think either one addressed the real problem or what needs to be done -- at least they'll have two more cracks at it. You would think that Wall Street greed would have been an easy target for either one of them. I think both McCain and Obama pretty much showed American who they are -- as noted earlier, it might be helpful for Obama to have a zinger or some Reaganesque self-depreciation, but that's not who he is.

I expect that polls may show McCain a slight winner, but in 48 hours we'll be back to dealing with the diastrous consequences of McCain's ally George W. Bush. Which is why McCain can't afford to win on points. He needs a knockout.

He didn't get it tonight

Alex Massie at The Debatable Land:
McCain can't pronounce Ahmadinejad. Calls him "Armada Dinner Jacket". Since the bearded wonder doesn't control Iranian nuclear or foreign policy this doesn't matter so much. Woo! Obama points this out. Then suggests McCain is no Henry Kissinger. That may not be a bad thing of course. (Admittedly, Obama is talking about Iran.) Admits his Iranian policy "may not work". A welcome breath of realism . . .
Ross Douthat at Atlantic.com:
A win for McCain. That's my insta-verdict, at least. Obama had quite a few effective moments: On middle-class tax cuts, on health care, and on the original decision to invade Iraq, he made points that went unrebutted, and sometimes I thought McCain laid it on a little thick with his lists of countries visited, shout-outs to ancient legislation he supported, and so forth. But the spectre of fiscal calamity blunted Obama's edge on domestic policy, and on foreign affairs McCain set the tempo and kept his rival on the defensive almost throughout, I thought: The Democratic nominee found himself alternating between me-tooism and defensiveness, albeit without making any serious missteps. The Obama camp's spin is that McCain talked endlessly about the past, and Americans want the election to be about the future - which is a fair point, in a sense, and if Obama ends up with a bounce in the polls from this debate, McCain's insistence on invoking his record and his experience at every opportunity won't look like a good strategy. But in the moment, in a debate that focused on foreign policy, I thought it wore well: Obama seemed smooth enough but also somewhat callow, and McCain just seemed like someone who's, well, "ready to lead," as all his campaign ads have it.
Cernig at Newshoggers:
Well, the first debate just ended and Barack Obama put himself firmly in the Democratic hawk tradition. Other than the Iraq withdrawal - to which he's too firmly committed to backtrack - and the "negotiate with our enemies" which is standard Democratic fare even for hawks, he took a decidely belligerent line
Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots:
John McCain spent 90 minutes tonight telling voters Barack Obama "doesn’t understand" what America is facing, as Obama demonstrated a broad grasp of the 21st century issues besetting the economy and national security.

Body language was revealing in McCain's tight grin that occasionally morphed into a smirk under criticism, while Obama featured a relaxed smile and at least half a dozen times responded with a generous "John is right, but . . . "

Behind the difference in demeanor was the familiar clash of experience vs. change that is at the heart of the contest, with McCain distancing himself from Bush-Cheney and impressively name-dropping world leaders (but getting wrong the new president of Pakistan) to persuade voters that Obama is too naïve to deal with a dangerous world.

Michael Stickings at The Reaction:

In general, I thought, McCain looked and sounded bitter, vindictive, and small. While Obama was presidential throughout, agreeing with McCain on occasion, exuding generosity and expansiveness and, above all, presenting a substantive articulation of his policies and positions, McCain dismissed him repeatedly as "naive," turning much of the debate into an ad hominem assault. He never even looked at Obama.

Which is not to say that Obama won, let alone won easily. I"d say it was roughly a draw, with McCain doing well at times, notably in presenting himself, however inaccurately, as a long-time maverick with tons of experience. As well, Obama could have done better connecting McCain to Bush on issues like tax cuts for the wealthy and Iraq, and pointing out just how wrong McCain has been on those and other issues.
Daniel Larison at Eunomia:
If [McCain] cannot scare the public into thinking that Obama is a lightweight McGovernite who loves dictators, he has absolutely nothing left to offer as an alternative. Obama has already locked himself into a certain set of hawkish positions, and there is now little advantage in becoming less hawkish. He has already changed enough positions for one year, and if there is one constant it is that Obama never changes his views to adopt a more anti-establishmentarian or marginal position. As long as people keep perpetuating the idea, or the hope, that he is some kind of dove who represents some significantly different vision of America's role in the world there will continue to be this shock and dismay when he restates the views he has held all along. Meanwhile, it will be possible for McCain and his backers to frame Obama as copying and following McCain, when the unfortunate truth is that Obama came to many of these terrible positions all on his own long before the election season.
Ron Dreher at Crunchy Con:
Well, I think Obama has to be judged the winner. Nobody's mind will be changed by this debate, but Obama seemed loose and confident and not intimidate by McCain. McCain seemed growly and tense, though more focused than usual. Because McCain didn't beat Obama, and because Obama is ahead right now, Obama wins a narrow victory.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:
Am I off base, or was this one of the most soporific presidential debates in a while? Frankly, I didn't think either one of them did very well. There was way too much rambling, and way too few sharp points. Overall, McCain was more lively than Obama, but if the point of the debate was for Obama to show that he could hold his own on national security, then count it a win for Obama. I wouldn't call him a big winner, but he certainly did at least as well as McCain, and that might have been all he needed.
Michael Tomasky at Comment Is Free: America:
I admit it. I've never been quite this confused about a debate in a long time. I think this may be one of those cases where the post-debate debate, the next 48 to 72 hours, is far more crucial than usual. . . .

The polling the rest of us do know about supports the view that Obama "won". A CBS poll of 500 uncommitted voters who watched found this: 40% said Obama won, 38% said it was a draw, and 22% called McCain the winner. CNN had Obama winning 51-38% overall, winning on the economy 58-37%, and even winning on Iraq 52-47%.

But let's watch what happens over the next two or three days. The McCain campaign, as I've written a hundred times, is geared toward winning news cycles. They will see the above numbers and go into overdrive to counter-spin. I don't think Obama's win, if that's what it was, was so decisive that the McCain team can't reverse spin it. It's McCain who's behind, and it's McCain who needs to change minds here.

Photograph by Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press

The Real Sarah Palin: Worrying To Caring Americans, Crushing To Proud Alaskans

This really is pathetic. . . . Anyone who has been to high school immediately recognizes the terror of facing a pop quiz or an oral exam when you just have no idea what you're talking about.
The estimable Mr. Fallows does not choose his words lightly and he may have spent more time in Alaska than I have. But being of proximate ages, we both surely have met our share of people who behind their attractive and earnest exteriors are lightweights. People who are out of their league in anything they do that involves knowledge, sophistication and most importantly, a sound sense of judgment.

That Sarah Palin has proven herself to be such a person during three television interviews that required little heavy lifting and yet could be heartbeat away from the presidency has to be not merely worrying to people deeply concerned about the future of an America overwhelmed with problems, but crushing to many a proud Alaskan as the cheers that followed her surprise selection as John McCain's running mate turn to scorn.

Palin's unexpected star turn was a golden opportunity for denizens of the northland to strut Alaska's stuff as a vast and wild place of incredible beauty and rugged individualism. Well, I can personally attest that it is vast, wild and beautiful, and there doesn't seem to be any shortage of rugged individualists.

But what Palin has shown is that she is a lightweight who happens to be from a marvelous place. She also is a hack who wears her extreme religious and social views on her sleeve, didn't know or care about national or international affairs before she was annointed, has a closet full of skeletons as a mayor and governor, and despite weeks of tutoring by policy experts still comes off as being incoherent.

I and other left-of-center commentators inveigled against Palin from the jump, but the proof of what a disaster her selection is comes from the very people who were her most enthusiastic supporters.

Kathleen Parker, a conservative stalwart at National Review Online, does not mince words and even tells Palin that it is time to bail:
"If at one time women were considered heretical for swimming upstream against feminist orthodoxy, they now face condemnation for swimming downstream — away from Sarah Palin.

"To express reservations about her qualifications to be vice president — and possibly president — is to risk being labeled anti-woman.

"Or, as I am guilty of charging her early critics, supporting only a certain kind of woman.

"Some of the passionately feminist critics of Palin who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received. But circumstances have changed since Palin was introduced as just a hockey mom with lipstick — what a difference a financial crisis makes — and a more complicated picture has emerged.

"As we've seen and heard more from John McCain's running mate, it is increasingly clear that Palin is a problem. Quick study or not, she doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin should conditions warrant her promotion. . . .

"What to do?

"McCain can't repudiate his choice for running mate. He not only risks the wrath of the GOP’s unforgiving base, but he invites others to second-guess his executive decision-making ability. Barack Obama faces the same problem with Biden.

"Only Palin can save McCain, her party, and the country she loves. She can bow out for personal reasons, perhaps because she wants to spend more time with her newborn. No one would criticize a mother who puts her family first.

"Do it for your country."
And for your fellow Alaskans, Ms. Palin, to whom your sudden appearance on the national stage seemed like a golden opportunity to steal some bragging rights from the Lower 48.

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

Photograph by Demmie Todd/HBO

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Dragan Jovancevic

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cynical Ride-To-The-Rescue Strategy Flops As McCain Campaign Continues To Implode

Blaming Barack Obama and Congress, in other words everyone but himself for the failure of his latest and boldest attempt to game voters, John McCain has announced that he will be in Mississippi tonight for the first presidential debate.

McCain reversed field after having declared that he couldn’t face off against Barack Obama unless a deal was reached on the Wall Street financial aid bailout. A campaign spokesman cited progress in bailout negotiations as the reason McCain had relented, but as of this writing no progress has been reported.

* * * * *
How many days like Thursday must pass before it becomes obvious that John McCain has peaked as a political force and is an increasingly addled and cynical old man who isn't even able to figure out what his own message is at a time when Americans are crying out for decisive leadership.

McCain declared on Wednesday that he was throwing down the gauntlet: He would suspend campaigning, pull TV advertising and ride Holy Crusader-like to the rescue of the foundering $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan. And would not appear at tonight's inaugural presidential debate, as well.

The upshot was that McCain continued to campaign and the ads continued to run, but the debate is still off.

When McCain did arrive in Washington, his knight's armor tarnished after weeks of slash-and-burn politics that along with the unmasking of Sarah Palin as a resume without a woman had sent the ticket's poll ratings spiraling southward, he sat like a lump on a log at an hour-long White House meeting with President Bush, Barack Obama and congressional leaders, and when he finally did speak offered only bromides about the financial crisis.

As the sun came up this morning . . . oh, sorry, it was raining in Washington and throughout most of the Northeast . . . the big question was why McCain had made such a big deal of pretending to step away from the campaign trail when he had nothing to offer when push came to shove. The obvious answer: The entire affair was a cynical ploy to distract attention from his imploding campaign.

The presence of McCain in Washington -- and Obama as well after Bush extended an invitation to him -- had the effect of doing exactly what the Democratic challenger had warned after McCain's surprise announcement:

"What I've found," Obama said, "And I think it was confirmed today, is that when you inject presidential politics into delicate negotiations, it's not necessarily as helpful as it needs to be. Just because there is a lot of glare of the spotlight, there's the potential for posturing or suspicions. When you're not worrying about who's getting credit, or who's getting blamed, then things tend to move forward a little more constructively."

McCain, in turn, offered gibberish like this:

"I understand how important this debate is, and I'm very hopeful. But I also have to put the country first."

Perhaps he was unable to be more coherent because he hadn't even read a summary of the bailout plan until Tuesday, four days after it was released to congressfolk, and even then wasn't able to grasp what it was all about.

With bailout plan negotiations now in turmoil, McCain -- or rather his handlers -- have outsmarted themselves at what is shaping up to be the most crucial juncture in the most important presidential election in decades. This unintended consequence is entirely of McCain campaign's own making, yet another cheap fabrication that collapses under the most cursory scrutiny.

McCain has sustained a deeply embarrassing injury. It's as if he punched himself in his groin. Hard.

He has hurt himself not because of Obama or events that demanded that he make a bold gesture, but because of an infamous compulsiveness that led to the selection of Palin, who remains wildly popular among Republicans for her surface glamour but has become a drag on the ticket in its quest to draw in other voters as she keeps flubbing the few appearances that she makes.

(An aside: Could someone please tell Palin that saying "Yeah" is okay when you've just shot a defenseless animal from a helicopter, as in "Yeah, I got that bugger right between the ears." But it is not appropriate in chatting up world leaders or responding to questions from the rare interviewer. It is not merely un-presidential. It's un-vice presidential. And further reveals Palin to be not a work in progress, as her handlers would like to belive, but is just crude and hopelessly unrefined.)

McCain, a champion of the very financial deregulation that is a core cause of the financial meltdown, has tried to be all things to all voters during the campaign He now finds himself between a very big rock and a very hard place as the scorching reviews roll in on the backfire from his decision to get all leadershippy on Wednesday and then fail to deliver on Thursday.

The conservative Republicans who make up McCain's political base have found their voices. They are vehemently opposed to the Bush/Henry Paulson bailout package because of the obscene amounts of money that it throws at big financial institutions. The White House, as well as many Democrats and some Republicans, insist that the package has to be passed quickly and with few restrictions if the U.S. isn't to sink deeper into a recession and possibly worse.

Where does McCain stand? Beats me. And I suspect he himself is at a loss as to where he stands as well.

McCain seems to have difficulty doing even one thing well, let alone multitasking. (God, how I hate that word). Obama correctly noted after McCain's own bailout on Wednesday that a president has to do many things simultaneously, and the notion of shuttling to Washington for deliberations, preparing for a debate and campaigning at the same time should not be daunting.

But it is daunting for the septuagenarian McCain, or at least he has worked hard to create that appearance. With more than two-thirds of voters telling pollsters that they intend to watch the debate tonight, he has further done his dash by insisting that he cannot face Obama while the bailout package that he has done nothing to move along remains in limbo.

My guess is that McCain may yet relent because the alternative is 90 minutes of prime-time Obama face time with Jim Lehrer of PBS's "News Hour." But even if he does the fact remains that his wounds are self inflicted. Washington may be broken, but so is the McCain-Palin campaign.

Photograph by Rich Lipski/The Associated Press