2008 - %3, September

Too Personal?

| Sat Sep. 27, 2008 12:44 AM EDT

TOO PERSONAL?....The CNN folks are saying that all the snap polls show Obama the winner of tonight's debate. There's nothing too surprising about that, but I'd sure like to know why. I've heard all this stuff so many times before that it's almost impossible for me to have a genuine reaction to either guy, so I can only guess what average viewers were reacting to. Best guess is that they thought McCain was too snarky and took a few too many personal shots. That's not presidential.

UPDATE: For the record, CNN's poll has Obama winning 51%-38%. CBS has Obama winning 39%-25%.

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Strength or Condescension?

| Sat Sep. 27, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

STRENGTH OR CONDESCENSION?....So the big question appears to be this: When McCain kept telling Obama that he was "naive" or that he "didn't understand," was this a show of strength, or was it a show of condescension from an old man? I'd guess that most moderates would see it as condescension, especially since Obama pretty clearly did seem to understand the issues every bit as well as McCain.

Regardless, though, that seems likely to be the main pundit topic.

Debate Liveblogging

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 9:59 PM EDT

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING....Here it is. The main event. Obama vs. McCain. Is your skin tingling? Are you drunk yet?

Wrapup – 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.

Of course, within a few minutes I expect conservatives will all be telling us that McCain was simply brilliant tonight. Absolutely masterful. I expect many repetitions of McCain's talking point about Obama being naive. If they say it often enough, they figure eventually everyone will agree with them.

10:36 – McCain says directly that he thinks Obama is unprepared to be president. Was that a good move? Or too much?

10:32 – Why does Obama keep starting to make a good point and then suddenly veer off to something else? He was about to make a good point about the danger of overfocusing on Iraq, but suddenly he's off on China, then healthcare, then the economy, then veterans affairs. Shouldn't he instead drill home a point about winning in Iraq requiring that Iraqis themselves take responsibility for their own security? Or something. But finish the point, in any case.

10:29 – Obama supports missile defense? I didn't know that.

10:24 – Todd Gitlin notes that Obama looks at McCain and reacts to him, but McCain stares rigidly ahead and refuses to make eye contact with Obama. Weird.

10:22 – McCain is really driving home two themes: (1) He's visited everywhere and met everyone, and (2) the world is full of threats, threats, threats. Will his constant repetition of these things wear on people? Not sure.

10:17 – Obama had some opportunities to drive home his point on preconditions, but I'm not sure he did. Conversely, McCain's little burlesque about sitting across the table from Ahmadinejad while he insults Israel was demagogic, but it might have been effective.

10:07 – Obama says the Iraq war has made Iran stronger. That's a good point, and maybe one that a lot of viewers don't understand. But he didn't really make the sale.

10:04 – According to the audience-o-meter, even Republicans didn't react to McCain's reference to "existential threat" and "second Holocaust."

9:52 – Decent answer from Obama about what we need to do in Afghanistan in Pakistan. Things are picking up a little bit.

9:39 – McCain: I hate President Bush. I'm a maverick!

9:34 – How did we get on nuclear power plants? Wasn't the question about what programs they'd cut because of the cost of the Wall Street bailout?

9:31 – This is just excruciatingly boring.

9:27 – Obama just said we have to free ourselves from dependence on Mideastern oil. I think that's one of our bingo squares. Hooray!

9:25 – McCain is kinda rambling now.

9:22 – If the audience-o-meter is any indication, these guys are putting the entire country to sleep.

9:20 – Hmmm. Obama has decided to refer to McCain as "John," not "Senator McCain." Good idea? Or bad?

9:19 – McCain: Spending is bad. Earmarks are evil. Gateway drug. DNA of bears. Yada yada yada. Obama: Senator McCain is absolutely right. But....tax cuts for the wealthy. CEOs! 95%! McCain: Earmarks! I'm the sheriff! Sigh.

9:13 – Come on, guys. Let's pick up the pace. So far this isn't even as interesting as a stump speech.

9:08 – Wow. McCain actually had the balls to say that House Republicans "decided to be part of the solution to our problem"? That's chutzpah.

9:07 – John McCain is feeling better tonight. Why? Because Republicans and Democrats are sitting down together to work on our financial crisis. You could have fooled me....

9:05 – What is that weird line at the bottom of the CNN screen? Instant audience reaction, it seems. Is that really necessary?

9:02 – Ah. "National security" includes the global financial crisis. Glad to get that cleared up.

8:59 – Apparently the French conduct better debates than us. Sheesh. We're losing our global lead in everything.

GAO Slams Carbon Offsets

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 8:47 PM EDT

The GAO is soon to publish a report faulting the credibility of the carbon offset market. It suggests that Congress think carefully before letting companies use offsets to comply with climate change legislation. Everyone has known that offsets can be sketchy for a long time, but my article in the July/August issue of Mother Jones was the first to explore how leading offset companies have partnered with oil companies and anti-regulatory lobbying firms in an effort to carve out a huge new market for themselves through climate legislation. These are the same guys to whom well-intentioned enviros have paid millions to offset car trips and airline flights. The financial meltdown has been bad enough. Let's hope it won't take a polar meltdown for Congress to realize that a laissez-faire carbon market won't save us.

Arctic Speed-Melt Record

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 8:15 PM EDT

Although 2008 did not set a record for minimum sea ice it did set a record for speed melting. Arctic sea ice declined at a rate of 32,700 square miles a day in August. That's about the size of Maine. Every day. And that's compared to 24,400 square miles a day lost in August 2007—the record holder for minimum sea ice.

The 2008 results were surprising, says NASA, because last winter had near-normal ice cover. "We saw a lot of cooling in the Arctic that we believe was associated with La Niña," says Joey Comiso of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. "Sea ice in Canada had recovered and even expanded in the Bering Sea and Baffin Bay. Overall, sea ice recovered to almost average levels. That was a good sign that this year might not be as bad as last year."

But alas the sprint in August—the fastest-ever melt—undid the gains of the winter. Here's what it looked like:

Five Alternative Bailout Plans

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 6:42 PM EDT

The Bush administration is pushing its bailout plan by claiming the only way to save the economy is by having the federal government buy $700 billion worth of bad paper from big financial firms that screwed up. Conservatives should hate this because it is a massive federal intervention in the market. Liberals should hate this because it's a handout to the richest people and companies in America. But the Bush administration and Wall Street are insisting it's the end of the world and this is the only choice. Well, is it this or nothing? Many on Capitol Hill—especially Democrats—are buying the general premise of the White House plan but insisting on lipstick-on-a-pig modifications involving CEO compensation, taxpayer protection, and oversight and transparency. But are there other approaches to the problem besides putting the Treasury in charge of a $700 billion fire sale? Yup. Here's a quick roundup.

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Lehman Brothers Records Discarded?

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 5:58 PM EDT

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) just sent a letter to Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld, who's scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on October 6, to follow up on a previous document request. Among other things, the committee had sought e-mails and other documents that had been sent or received by Fuld over the past six months. According to Waxman, Lehman blew [PDF] Thursday's deadline to produce the records. And Fuld's counsel has apparently told the committee that he doesn't expect to have much to turn over.

In conversations with Committee staff, your counsel stated that he and his team are working on collecting your e-mails from this time period, but they expect to produce relatively few to the Committee because you were an infrequent user of e-mail.

Your counsel and his team have also informed Committee staff that they do not currently plan to produce any documents sent, received, or reviewed by you during the past six months that are nonelectronic, such as internal memoranda from company officials, assessments of the company's potential liabilities, or warnings of the company's impending collapse. According to your counsel, although these documents did exist at one time, they were typically "discarded."

Ad Addressing McCain Health Issues Banned by CNN, MSNBC

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 5:56 PM EDT

The ad below was created by Brave New PAC and Democracy for America. CNN refused to run it and MSNBC is pulling it off air after one day, claiming it has received viewer complaints. Bill O'Reilly was slamming NBC for running it, which may have added motivation. What say you? Outside the bounds?

Racist Jokes Tarnish Ricky Gervais Film, Ghost Town

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

Ghost175.jpgGhost Town (watch the trailer here) may not be original, but it is amusing. The romantic comedy starring Ricky Gervais (of Britain's "The Office") trails the life of an aloof dentist who can see dead people after a botched colonoscopy. Haunted by NYC ghosts pleading for help with their unfinished business, he proves heartless until the widow (Téa Leoni) of one cheating spirit (Greg Kinnear) perks up his otherwise lonely life.

The film clings to clichés and wastes screen time on some flat characters, but still manages to glide along on Gervais' dry, charming humor. Devoid of gore and messy back stories, the ghost story stays lighthearted, aside from a tearjerker montage near the end.

It is doubly shocking, then, when Gervais' character twice whips out racist humor that seems both unexplained and excessive. In the first instance, Leoni and Gervais are holding back giggles from her fuddy-duddy human rights lawyer boyfriend when Gervais peeps out that the Chinese are the only ones different from the rest of the human population. Refusing to stop there, he continues by mocking names like "Pong." Later he targets his Indian colleague for tips on how to torture a patient for information (after asking his religion, of course).

Gervais' character is selfish and socially-awkward, for sure, but the racial comments seem contrived and tossed in for cheap laughs. See the film yourself and let us know what you think about movies with racial implications.

—Brittney Andres

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 September 2008

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 4:24 PM EDT

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Good news: the debate is back on! Hooray! As you can tell, Domino and Inkblot are almost rapt already. They desperately want to know the candidates' plans for bailing out the cat food industry and preventing mass feline panic. The other good news is that it means our bingo card drinking game is once again the must-have accompaniment for your evening. Click the link, download a card, and have a drink anytime one of the candidates repeats a phrase in one of the squares. And while you're there, donate a few dollars to help Mother Jones continue to produce great progressive journalism. The drunker you get, the more money you should donate!

I'll be liveblogging the debate, of course — assuming my brain hasn't turned into tapioca by then — so come on back and follow along. I'm hoping McCain staggers on stage in a rumpled, ill-fitting suit with mismatched socks just to show how hard at work he's been trying to save our nation's economy. "Didn't have time to change," he'll blurt out melodramatically, and Jim Lehrer will nod along knowingly. Or something.

Finally, in other cat news, you'll be glad to hear that after years of negotiations with the USDA, Ernest Hemingway's six-toed cats are once again safe from evil government bureaucrats. "The cats have been living on the grounds for years, and we're not a zoo, carnival or amusement park," said the president of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in the Florida Keys. And that's exactly where they'll stay.