Thursday, October 23, 2008

The gloves come off!

AP reports:

McCain says Obama will 'say anything' to win

Wow.

(I am tempted to mention the pot calling the kettle black, but that's too obvious.)

The race is tightening! The sky is falling!

The horse race meme is still alive.

You probably saw that the AP published a poll yesterday that showed Barack Obama up by only one point over John McCain. Well, I've got news for you--and for Sen. McCain: The poll is bogus. Or, as the Car Talk Guys would put it, BO-OH-GUS!

One key is in the poll's sample of "likely voters," which is the figure that was reported. (You can see the poll itself here.) The problem lies in figuring out who are the people likely to vote. From all respondents, Obama has a 10 point lead. But among "likely voters," as interpreted by the poll, that margin comes down to a single point. Why? We don't know, because we don't know how "likely voters" were culled from all of those who responded. But we do know that the results are substantially different from other polls.

The factor most often used by pollsters to measure "likely" voters is past voting behavior. But as we know, millions of new voters have registered. Not all of them will vote. But many of them have registered because of their enthusiasm over the race this year. And the lion's share of those voters are going to show up and pull the lever (or, more likely, mark the little circle or fill in the blank) for Barack Obama. So polls of "likely" voters are suspect to begin with.

There is also a significant error on page 24 of the poll, where it is related that 45 percent of respondents said they were evangelical Christians. To begin with, only 55 percent of respondents identified themselves as Christian (54 if you are one of those who doesn't count Mormons as Christians). Even if the percentage of evangelicals is 45 percent of 55 percent, that is 24.5% of the sample, more than there are in the nation (some polls said that 23 percent of voters in 2004 were evangelicals, but in fact evangelicals comprise only about 16 percent of the population, and do not vote at a rate 1 1/2 times that of other groups).

Then, too, the percentage of Jews in the sample is only 1 percent; Jews constitute approximately 3 percent of the population. The percentage of Muslims in the sample is too small to be noted; while Muslims are not a large percentage of voters, they are a measurable fraction.

The AP poll is, at best, an outlier. Very likely it was influenced, albeit unconsciously, by the desire to keep the horse race story plausible.

Block the vote

From Rolling Stone:
On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas [NM].
From our friends at TPM:
A judge weighing whether to close down early voting sites in Lake County's Democratic strongholds questioned local officials about the absentee voting process during visits to the disputed sites.

Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias-Schneider toured the Gary, Hammond and East Chicago satellite voting sites Monday and heard hours of testimony and arguments on whether they are legal and fair.

...

When Kavadias-Schneider asked, "What of those who have already voted?" R. Lawrence Steele, a GOP lawyer, replied, "Maybe those votes should be discarded."
So much for democracy.

Your editor will be putting his legal training and license to practice to good use. He's heading for the Sunshine State next week to help keep the bad guys from stealing the election. You can help, too. Many states can use poll watchers or people on phone banks to help voters--even if they are not an attorneys. Or just work for the candidate of your choice on the street or on the phone. If the margins are large enough, they won't be able to steal the vote.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What he really said

Here's the full version of Barack Obama's chat with the famous Joe the Plumber. I know you are tired of hearing about Joe, but because the McCain campaign has continued to use, and misuse, what went on between the Democratic nominee and the world's most famous plumber's helper, we thought it would be useful to take a look at what Obama REALLY said to Joe. You'll notice that he did NOT suggest spreading money around. (You'll also note that Obama appears to think that Joe actually owns a plumbing business, and that he nets more than $250,000 per year. Where did these mistaken impressions come from? The only source I can think of is Joe himself.)


Telllng you where to go (vote, that is)

Do you know where to vote on November 4th? Google helps you find out.

(If your address were 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you'd vote at The Smiths Center--80's Room at George Washington University, 600 22nd St. N.W., Washington, D.C. And after voting, you could go home and start packing.)

Al Qaeda-linked web site supports McCain

The AP reports:
Al-Qaida supporters suggested in a Web site message this week they would welcome a pre-election terror attack on the U.S. as a way to usher in a McCain presidency.

The message, posted Monday on the password-protected al-Hesbah Web site, said if al-Qaida wants to exhaust the United States militarily and economically, "impetuous" Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain is the better choice because he is more likely to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Don't you hate when that happens?

As you've probably heard, Rep. John Murtha (D.PA) put his foot all the way down his throat by saying that Barack Obama will suffer, because Western Pennsylvania (including the area he represents) is "a racist area." Good thing for the Congressman that he brings home all that pork. So there was John McCain in Western Pennsylvania yesterday, with Murtha (and by extension, Obama) all lined up in his sights:



Oh, well, it's been a LONG campaign.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Even Palin wouldn't stoop that low

Obama on the McCain robocalls and other sleazy shenanigans:


Truth hurts

The McCain campaign has spent a lot of time and a few million dollars trying to convince voters that Barack Obama is responsible for the sub-prime loan crisis through his ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now, that is simply untrue. To begin with, those companies--though by no means blameless--were bit players in the greed-fest that put us where we are today.

Oh, and it wasn't Obama that Fannie and Freddie were trying to influence. The AP reports:
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.

In the cross hairs of the campaign carried out by DCI of Washington were Republican senators and a regulatory overhaul bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. DCI's chief executive is Doug Goodyear, whom John McCain's campaign later hired to manage the GOP convention in September.


Cat-blogging

Sassafras (Sassy) is ready for her bath.


Of course, she was really just resting.





A remedy for cynicism


The New York Times tells the story a school teacher in rural Colombia who is dedicated to bringing books to people in the countryside around the small town where he lives, with his own efforts and two burros.

Small steps.

$150 million!

As you've no doubt heard, Barack Obama raised $150 million in September. Even more significant, the campaign reports that more than a half-million new donors, and that the average contribution is only $86.00. True, there are large donors out there, but they are swamped by the number of ordinary Americans (3 million people have contributed) giving hard-earned dollars to change the way Washington works.

McCain may be right that Obama has broken the system of public financing, although it is much more likely that his campaign has shown conclusively that it is broken. McCain may also be accurate in saying that it will take a scandal to bring us to revive the estimable idea that campaigns should be financed by the whole nation. But Obama has shown that the interests cannot compete with the people when the people are aroused.

Another thought about the Powell endorsement

Whether or not Powell's endorsement convinces undecided voters, it has to be one more piece of dispiriting news for McCain supporters. I heard a cut from McCain in Ohio yesterday, assuring his audience that the race is even. Having his long-time friend and fellow Republican Colin Powell reject his candidacy and his campaign must be a blow to his morale and to that of his followers. In the home stretch of the race, such factors can be important, undermining the energy that McCain would need to mount a last-minute drive.

Tough questions

How bad is it for John McCain? He's getting hard cross-examination from Fox News. Unfortunately, this is not because McCain is showing the kind of honorable conservatism that made him notable at one point. Far from it. Take a look:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It ain't over til.....

Josh Marshall examines McCain's slime campaign and warns against complacency. I'm not sure he's right, but he is acute, especially when he points out that the repeated references to Bill Ayers have nothing to do with his years with the Weathermen and everything to do with the opportunity to mention Obama and "terrorist" in the same sentence. Take a look.

Powell endorses Obama

I'm not sure how much it will help, but it certainly can't hurt that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama on Meet the Press this morning. I happened to be watching, courtesy of a crick in my back that came when I reached into the back of the car for a roll of duct tape yesterday. I was very impressed, not with the fact of the endorsement, but the way Powell expressed himself. In particular, Powell not only criticized and rebutted the slur that Obama is a Muslim, but went on to say what too many of us have omitted: "and what difference should it make if he were?" Powell's appearance did a lot to restore the respect that he forfeited (in my estimation) as W's Secretary of State. Take a look:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Can't win for losing

That's John McCain (and, last time I looked, the Red Sox). Kevin Drum found this priceless still from last night's debate:





Who won?

Who won the third (and last) debate last night? I don't know. but I know who won the media war of political spots based on the debate:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shame

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to review the conviction of Troy Davis, the Georgia man who's execution was stayed three weeks ago, two hours before he was scheduled to die. The state is now free to set a new date for the execution and, unless the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons has a sudden (and unlikely change of heart), Davis will be put to death soon.

You may recall that there is no forensic or physical evidence against Davis, and seven of nine eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony. If he were given a new trial, there would be no realistic chance of a conviction.

Davis' lawyers took the bold position that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment prohibits the execution of the innocent. (I have not read the briefs and therefore I do not know if they also argued that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process is offended by the legalized killing of an innocent person; that seems to me--without the benefit of several years of thought about the matter that counsel have--more logical.)

If you are not a lawyer, the proposition that innocence should prevent execution is probably so obvious that you cannot conceive of how the law could rule otherwise. It shames us to know that our legal system could permit a result such as the Supreme Court has ordained.

And it shames us even more that not one of the justices of the Supreme Court dissented from the refusal to hear Troy Davis' appeal.

The noblest figure in this sad tale is Davis himself. According to the NY Times, his sister quotes him as saying, 'Even if they succeed in killing me, it will dismantle the death penalty system in Georgia because people are tired of injustice.'

Monday, October 13, 2008

My god's bigger than your god

Rev. Arnold Conrad delivers the invocation at a McCain rally in Davenport, Iowa.

Bizarre.


A mystery explained

I consider myself a reasonably well-informed person, although like John McCain business and finance aren't my strong points. Still, I thought I had a general handle on the esoteric instruments that seem to be at the heart of the financial crisis. But as I was driving yesterday, I heard an episode of This American Life (apparently first broadcast late in September) that explained one part of it about which, as it turned out, I was wholly ignorant. That is the credit default swap.

Turns out that the credit default swap started as an instrument that was pretty much what you might think from its name: For a fee, someone would insure a security (say one of those mortgage-backed securities that we've hard so much about) against default. Given how over-rated those bonds turned out to be, the issuance of insurance on them would have been bad enough, leaving the insurers open to huge claims. But that doesn't begin to tell the story. Some few years ago, people started writing swaps (that is, insurance contracts) for bonds that the purchasers did not even own. In other words, purchasers would pay good money to cover the chance that the issuer of a security they didn't have in their portfolios would go belly up.

There's a name for that kind of contract: A bet. It's the kind of wager that you'd expect from Sky Masterson, the high-flying gambler in Guys and Dolls, not from supposedly respectable financial institutions. And, apparently, there are 50 or 60 trillion dollars or more of these things out there--ten or twelve times the value of the mortgage-backed securities that are out there.

Now you can get some idea of why the crisis is so bad. Indeed, with trillions and trillions of dollars in actual or potential liabilities out there, the rescue that has received so much publicity looks like a shot in the dark.

And, as you've probably heard, these swaps are not regulated. Indeed, federal law (thanks to John McCain's good friend and financial adviser former Sen. Phil Gramm) forbids regulating them. Even the insurance aspect is not regulated. (State insurance regulators--for reasons I won't go into here, the federal government has never regulated insurance--would normally impose minimum capital requirements on such contracts.)

Remember that a few months ago, credit default swaps were considered to be cutting-edge finance, the most sophisticated aspect of a new kind of capitalism, too advanced for ordinary human beings to understand.

Not for the first time, the smart guys turn out to be incredibly dumb. Unfortunately, when the smart guys control huge amounts of money, their stupidity winds up costing the rest of us.

Thinking about this, I realized that I--like almost everyone--bought into the idea that the end of the Cold War was the triumph of capitalism, that for all its idealism, socialism had proved to be unworkable. I still believe that the market is the best way to allocate resources and set prices, but how supremely ironic that capitalism's great failure has ushered in a new era of socialism!



Interesting numbers

If you've been watching the polls, numbers like this aren't a surprise:

Obama: 51%

McCain: 43%

But in MISSOURI??????

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another bloc heard from

You've heard about Barack Obama's appeal to the young. But what about his appeal to the old? Not only the old, but the Old Nun Vote. Yep. Indeed, the very old nun vote.

Reason to change?

Do you see any reason why a voter would change his or her mind to vote for John McCain? Even the latest change--to tone down the hostility that has been so marked at McCain rallies--is not going to convince any undecided voter that McCain should be President.

Not that McCain has been helped by the administration's shifting positions on the economic crisis. As of today, it appears that Secretary Paulson has embraced the idea of "injecting capital" into banks, i.e., having the government purchase stock. This is an approach that many economists have favored, but that was rejected by the administration just a week or so ago. To make matters worse for McCain, the idea is anathema to that part of his base that views such a step as socialism.

Still, you would think that there are enough professional operatives in McCain's campaign that they would be able to present some argument for their candidate. But no. If McCain dials back on the fear appeal, there's nothing left.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Elephants sending text messages, and other news

How do they use those little keyboards with those big feet of theirs? Well, it's not exactly like that.

An interesting instance of high-tech helping to save a small part of the planet.

Here's another one, from NBC:

Some wisdom on obscure financial instruments

From Kevin Drum, formerly of Washington Monthly, but lately at Mother Jones. One of the clearest thoughts I've seen lately about what we could do to prevent future instances of the chaos we're now experiencing.

The wisdom of crowds

I've noted before, I believe, that the letters page of the NY Times is a fount of wisdom. A couple of gems worth noting appeared in yesterday's paper.

William C Ibershof noted:

As the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s (I was then chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of Michigan and took over the Weathermen prosecution in 1972), I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Although I dearly wanted to obtain convictions against all the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, I am very pleased to learn that he has become a responsible citizen.

Because Senator Obama recently served on a board of a charitable organization with Mr. Ayers cannot possibly link the senator to acts perpetrated by Mr. Ayers so many years ago.

Doyle Stevick wrote in to comment on John McCain's oft-repeated claim to be a maverick:

The debate about whether John McCain is a maverick misses the point.

Senator McCain embraces the image, but what is a maverick? Not a follower, but not a leader either. If people followed him, he would, by definition, be a leader, not a maverick.

The presidency is an executive position. Do we want leadership, or a ticket proud of wandering off on its own?




Report from the Northwest

As I mentioned last week, TONE was off to visit family in Portland (OR, not ME) last weekend. I am happy to report that there are more Obama signs, bumperstickers and buttons in Portland than even in Boston. We did make a trip to Mt. Angel, a Benedictine abbey about 40 miles south of Portland, and in the small town at the base of the mount McCain/Palin signs were thick as .... But it's clear that Oregon and Washington are not swing states.

We met a couple of women--one perhaps in her 40's, the other probably her mother, from Northern Virginia who described themselves as Obamacans--former Republicans backing Obama and not sure where they go from here. In the absence of some increasingly-improbable event that turns this race upside down, Obama looks likely to re-draw the political map the way FDR did in 1933 and Regan in 1980--that we'll be hearing about Obama Republicans, or some such term, for the next decade or so.

By the way, Portland--which is a very nice city on its own--has a priceless asset in its proximity to the Columbia River Gorge, which runs east from near the city past Bonneville Dam and Mt. Hood. It is a magnificent area, easily accessible from the city. If you find yourself in Portland, take a day and drive up the gorge. If the weather is good, go to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood (it is actually on the treeline) and wander back on some of the side roads.

Speaking of driving, it may not be much comfort to GM, but I was impressed by the Chevy Cobalt that we rented. Even with an automatic, it gave decent response to the throttle (I didn't push it), the handling seemed tight and responsive and it rode well. In the few days we had the car--mostly in the care of the hotel's valet parking--I noticed no defects in the build. If I were looking for a new car (I'm not) and willing to look beyond hybrids, I might check out a Cobalt (with manual transmission, of course). I'm not saying I'd buy one, but for me even to consider a Big-3 product means that either American manufacturers have finally changed or I have.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Off to Portland

TONE will not feature new posts for the next few days, as the lovely Diane and I are off to visit family in Oregon. We'll be back in time for Tuesday's debate. Best wishes for a lovely weekend.

End note

I'm not going to comment on what went on during last night's VP debate. You probably saw it, and if you didn't you've heard about it. But I made one observation that I have not heard comments about in the media: After the thing was over, the candidates shook hands and the families came on stage in what has become the norm. And there were a lot of people up there ,with the Palin family and her father (maybe her mom, too), and Biden's wife, children and grandchildren. But as I went to turn of the TV before I imbibed much of the post-debate commentary, I noticed that Palin and Biden were standing in the center of the stage, surrounded by the families, chatting. Not just a quick hello/goodbye, but they looked like they were actually talking to each other.

A real contrast with the way McCain treated Obama after their debate. I wonder how many other people caught it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Which side are you on?

Best news I've heard in a LONG time:

In Blacksville, West Virginia, 440 miners closed their mine by staying home. Why? Because a film crew from the National Rifle Association showed up and tried to get them to say bad things about Barack Obama.

Think about that for a moment. Miners in West Virginia closing the mine and missing a day's pay, because they wouldn't say bad things about a black candidate to a film crew from the NRA. Something new is happening in the nation--or maybe something old is happening again.
Come all of you good workers
Good news to you I'll tell,
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Chorus:
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there.
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H.Blair

Chorus

My daddy was a miner
And I'm a miner's son
And I'll stick with the union
Till ev'ry battle's won.

Chorus

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Chorus

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize.

Which Side Are You On?
Florence Reece



Food for thought

From TPM:
REALIZATION

We're debating whether being part-time mayor of a small town in Alaska qualifies you to be president.
Josh Marshall

Speaking from the heart

Barack Obama, in Michigan this morning, departing from the prepared text:

A regrettable development

From today's NYT's account of last night's Senate session on the bailout--or "fiscal stability," as I think it's been renamed:
The political tension was clear as Senator Barack Obama walked to the Republican side of the aisle to greet Senator John McCain, who offered a chilly look and a brief return handshake.
This reminds me of the documentary film version--they didn't have videotape back then--of Teddy White's great The Making of the President 1960. There was one scene when the TV people were doing lighting checks for the first presidential debate (which was, literally, the first). Kennedy and Nixon were together at center stage for a few moments, as the technicians scurried around them. Underneath the noise of the preparations, you can hear the two men chatting--one says, "I hear you had a big crowd in Cleveland" or something like that, and the other responds, "Yes, and I heard that you did well in....."

From everything I've read--I'm no scholar on the era--JFK and Nixon were never close, not even casual friends, and certainly they were not political allies. But for a few seconds they could forget the politics, forget that they were competing for the most important job they would ever have, the most important on Earth, and chat like any other Americans.

We seem to have lost much of that. Sad. Sad for the participants. And sad for us.

Tonight's debate

If Sarah Palin is still upright, and still on the ticket, at the end of tonight's debate, she'll be counted as the winner.

Fortunately, the people for whom the debate matters--those who are still working on who to vote for--will not score the debate like a baseball game. They will watch it to figure out which ticket to support. Which, as we might easily forget, is the purpose of the exercise.

A friend suggests that he'd like the candidates--principally Palin, of course, to be asked, "Apart from the Bible, what books do you find meaningful?" I hope that question is asked.

I'd like Palin to be asked if she's actually seen Russia and, if so, what that has done for her understanding of the world. Biden, who has actually done a lot of travelling, might be asked what the hell good it does to touch down in a country for a day or two, to be feted by its leaders and taken on a guided tour.

I'd like the candidates to be asked this question (again, it focuses more on Palin than Biden, but there is relevance to both): If the person at the head of your ticket were to die or become incapacitated on January 20, 2009, you would immediately become President. Have you given any thought to what you would do in such a situation? In particular, each of you has differed on some issues with the candidate who heads your ticket. Would you continue the policies of the man elected president this year, even though you have disagreed with them in the past, or do you believe that your succession to the office would justify taking up different policies?

Finally, the question that I'd REALLY like to be asked--although more to the presidential than the vice-presidential candidates. It is not of my devising, but comes from Fr. Guido Sarducci, a/k/a Don Novello, who was asked in 1976 0r 1980 by, I think, Tom Brokaw, what he would ask if he were on the debate panel. In his inimitable fashion (which I am about to imitate, without apology), Fr. Sarducci replied, "I'd aska de candidates, 'Iffa you coulda be an animal, whata kinda animal woulda you be?'"

Are you smiling, maybe a little? I suggest that that would actually be a very good question to ask, precisely because it is so outlandish that it would cut through the preparation and the talking points to give us a glimpse, however brief, of the real person behind the candidate.

Our comment line is open for your ideas about questions.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Another view

Comments from JB, a friend, about Sarah Palin:
Yesterday, I was excited to watch the VP debate (in much the same way I would be excited to be in a live studio audience for a sitcom -- pure entertainment value). No more. Last night I watched a clip of Katie Couric's interview with Sarah "Psychobabble" Palin, and am now beyond terrified.

Really? She's read ALL magazines? If by "read" you mean "shared space with them while in the checkout line at the supermarket" and by "all" you mean "Woman's Day, Cosmo, and Cooking Light," then sure, I GUESS that statement could have some truth to it.

I am horrified by her complete and utter ignorance of anything remotely intellectual (or intelligent). I am even more horrified by the fact that she's absolutely clueless as to her own cluelessness. And I am most horrified at the idea that she could actually, one day, be president. But, hey, she can see Russia from her house!

I keep hoping for a Harriet Miers situation, whereby Palin realizes how totally over her head she is that she steps down from her starring role in Legally Brunette: The White House Years. The big difference, though, is that in the end Miers was brought down by her own party, whereas here the Fundies love Palin. LOVE her.

If McCain actually wins this election, Canada will not be able to build a wall fast enough to prevent a mass exodus of disillusioned ex-pats.


It's unanimous

You'll find this a lot more fun than tomorrow's debate, I'll wager: