2008 - %3, September

Somali Pirates Capture Shipment of Russian Tanks

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

109875276_ba38176827.jpg

In the market for a T-72 battle tank? Well, there are some folks in Somalia who are standing by to take your order. Yesterday, a band of pirates in speedboats, armed with AK-47s and RPGs, attacked a Ukrainian cargo ship passing through the Gulf of Aden. The ship carried a crew of 21, bound for Mombasa, Kenya. It also carried—to the pirates' surprise and delight, one should think—a cargo of 33 Russian battle tanks, large amounts of ammunition, and assorted parts for armored personnel carriers.

The shipment's intended final destination remains unknown (reports indicate Kenya or South Sudan), but it has probably been secreted to Eyl, a town in Somalia's Puntland region, a haven for pirates that has, says the BBC, "a flourishing local industry" based on ransoming stolen ships and cargoes back to their rightful owners.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

McCain's Adjustable Debate Standard

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

"We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved," John McCain said on Wednesday, explaining his decision to suspend his campaign and not participate in the first presidential debate. A McCain aide told Reuters, "If the package is reached and the country is saved, there will be a debate. But if there's no deal, how can you get on a plane...for a debate?"

On Friday morning, McCain's campaign released this statement:

He is optimistic that there has been significant progress toward a bipartisan agreement now that there is a framework for all parties to be represented in negotiations, including Representative Blunt as a designated negotiator for House Republicans. The McCain campaign is resuming all activities and the Senator will travel to the debate this afternoon.

Note the adjustment in standards. First, the McCain camp said deal or no debate. Two days later, the position was, negotiations are under way so let's debate. Was this change an act of decisive leadership or a necessary political flip-flop? Maybe Jim Lehrer, the moderator of Friday night's debate, can ask him that.

What Should John McCain's Next Campaign Stunt Be?

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 12:34 PM EDT

Barney Frank said of John McCain's campaign (non-)suspension, "It's the longest Hail Mary pass in the history of either football or Marys." Should the suspension and these bailout shenanigans not lift his poll numbers — just like Sarah Palin, the ultimate campaign Hail Mary, ultimately failed to — what stunt does John McCain turn to next? Slate has 10 guesses, a couple I'll reproduce here:

- Returns to Vietnam and jails himself.
- Offers the post of "vice vice president" to Warren Buffett.
- Challenges Obama to suspend campaign so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore.
- Learns to use computer.

Slate wants to know if you have any good ones to add. And speaking of play-along-at-home Slate features, they recently created a list of Bush Administration executive orders that need to go — they highlighted the worst nine out of Bush's 262 EOs and want to know if you can think of a tenth.

Pass the Bill

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 12:26 PM EDT

PASS THE BILL....Can I say something? Thank you.

I understand that John McCain wants to rescue his drowning campaign and thinks a dramatic moment as Savior of the Financial System might be just what he needs. I understand that House Republicans are right-wing lunatics who probably think we could solve all our problems if we just went back on the gold standard. I understand that congressional Democrats don't want to pass a bailout bill unless they have political cover from across the aisle. I understand that Henry Paulson is not the most credible messenger and that his original rescue proposal was a joke. I'm very happy that Chris Dodd and others have added oversight, equity shares, CEO compensation limits, and funding tranches to the Paulson bill. It's still not perfect, but at this point it's not a bad job from the sausage factory either.

Now: will you just pass the fucking thing? We've been flailing around with enormous, unprecedented, ad hoc rescue attempts for over a year, and they haven't worked. Despite what lunatic Republicans think, despite what the public thinks, despite what even some of the reality-based blogosphere apparently thinks, our financial system really does seem to be on the verge of seizing up. This is not just a scam cooked up by George Bush and Ben Bernanke and a sinister cabal of GOP machers.

We're already fated to suffer through at least a moderate recession whether we like it or not, but I, for one, would like to avoid a massive one. I would like to do this even if the price includes saving a few rich people from having to sell their second yachts. We can settle their hash later. I would even like to do this despite the fact that I don't know with absolute certainty that everything in the current bill is either necessary or sufficient. It's true that a few more days of discussion probably won't hurt, but that doesn't mean it's OK to waste time assuaging the egos and political careers of grandstanding presidential candidates and the economic illiterates who man the GOP House caucus. For chrissake, people, just pass the bill.

Now go read Steven Pearlstein.

Question re: Debate & Bailout

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

Question. Now that House Republicans, with the quasi-backing of John McCain, have derailed the bailout's progress, can't Democrats in both chambers intentionally stall a final solution until tomorrow, thereby forcing McCain into a corner with respect to the debate? He would have to decide if he is going to make good on his claim that he won't show if a deal isn't done. Consensus opinion says that Barack Obama on stage by himself tonight for 90 minutes (in primetime!) is a disaster for McCain. Do Democrats have the power to make that happen? Sure looks like it.

Bailout Blowup

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 9:58 AM EDT

More from my Hill friend about what happened last night:

Let's be clear about what happened. I heard David Wessel on NPR talking about typical "Congressional gridlock." That is not it at all. The most conservative faction of Republicans - the faction whose extreme ideology helped get us here and that dominates the party - blew up the deal at the last moment, with the help of their equally irresponsible presidential candidate. I thought House speaker Nancy Pelosi was in for a nasty surprise when she tried to take the plan to a vote with the Democratic caucus. But Democratic opponents had no seat at the table in crafting the plan, and have made their dissatisfaction well known. The conservatives have captured the Republican party and were represented in the negotiations. Yet they waited until the last moment and then blew it up. In the name of a ridiculous sketchy alternative that doubles down on their discredited "ideas." ... The Republican Study Group (Hensarling, Cantor, Ryan, the lot of em) are clowns. They had a seat at the table and they conducted themselves in the most irresponsible manner possible. Let their beloved market give them all the credit that is due them.

More along these lines from John Judis: "Putting Country Last."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bush: "This Sucker Could Go Down"

| Fri Sep. 26, 2008 1:59 AM EDT

Some things have to be read in the Gray Lady to be believed.

And by "this sucker," Mr. President, you mean... the economy? The country? The last smidgen of a remnant of a chance that someone who's been under a rock these past eight years might not consider this the Worst. Administration. Ever? But really, it's a measure of how cracked the world seems right now that I'm almost prepared to believe that the president has a point on this one. It sure would be a first.

So Here's What We Know About the Status of the Bailout...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

The Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and House Democrats spent the week negotiating with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and the White House. Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans announced this morning that they had agreed on key principles. In a White House meeting this afternoon with all parties, including Barack Obama and John McCain, House Republicans hijacked the process by submitting an entirely new plan that no one had seen before. John McCain hasn't made his position clear, but has reportedly been huddling with House Republicans and places his sympathies with their plan, which can be found here.

It actually says, "Instead of injecting taxpayer capital into the market to produce liquidity, private capital can be drawn into the market by removing regulatory and tax barriers that are currently blocking private capital formation." That is, more deregulation.

While Democrats and Republicans are fighting about whether or not House Republicans stalled the bailout's progress so John McCain could be seen as a key player in a solution tomorrow or over the weekend, no one seems to be disputing that House Republicans are the reason a week's worth of work is in jeopardy. Here's an ABC report of a frantic Paulson after the unsuccessful White House meeting:

Paulson walked into the room where Democrats were caucusing after today's meeting at the White House and pleaded with them, "Please don't blow this up."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chair of the House Financial Services Committee was livid saying, "Don't say that to us after all we've been through!"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "We're not the ones trying to blow this up; it's the House Republicans."
"I know, I know," Paulson replied.

Really interesting theorizing in Laura's post below, and you can get Kevin's take here.

Bailout Still in Trouble

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:27 PM EDT

As my Hill friend said yesterday, the bailout seems to be in more trouble than some earlier reports indicated. My two cent summary of his take, which is worth reading, was that there is a seriously underestimated gap between the White House and Congressional leadership on one side, and the Congressional rank and file on the other; and that the media reports suggesting a deal was imminent by and large were being informed by the former, who are more committed to a quick deal; while the Congressional rank and file is more informed by being overwhelmed with thousands of calls from screaming constituents who are truly outraged over the prospect of a bailout of Wall Street fat cats. Vulnerable incumbents may not feel they can vote for anything resembling a bailout until after the election.

Here's his latest:

My take is that the politics are way more scrambled than anyone can get a handle on. Basically, Bush and the congressional Democratic leaders have a straightforward objective and agenda - getting a modified Paulson plan cobbled together and then, via consensus, passed and made law. Apart from that, though, there are many actors with many different objectives - both policy-wise and purely politically - and these cannot be arrayed along any single dimension, or even in any easy way at all. There are just many cross-cutting objectives, forces and circumstances, so the whole situation is probably too complex to strategize about, apart from the first group who have a strategy for achieving their objective. I don't think McCain has a clear sense of what his strategy is, and he is not trying to manipulate the situation - or not successfully - because he does not have any mastery of it (not because he doesn't want to). (Probably worth adding in that it is doubtful McCain has any policy convictions at all on this set of issues, at least in this context, since his historical positions are simply unacceptable in the current debate.).
Let me add that yet another peculiarity of the situation is that while, on the one hand, the House Republicans' alternative plan is laughable as a matter of policy - just laughable - they are alone in tapping into the widespread rage out there at the very idea of a gigantic bailout for Wall Street malefactors. Many House Democrats are feeling the same, but they have no representation at the table. So the House Republicans are, in some funny sense, sitting pretty politically.
And finally, watching the coverage remains quite weird, because there is this enduring assumption that a deal is going to be done, that it will be, fundamentally, Paulson's plan with modifications, and that that is the right thing. That may partly reflect the fact that everyone realizes we are at a dangerous moment. But I can't help but think it also reflects the fact that by and large the class of people in and driving the press coverage is completely disconnected from the perspective of people who are overwhelming, in a completely uncoordinated way, virtually every congressional office.
So it is a very very weird moment.

All the World's a Game

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 10:00 PM EDT

ALL THE WORLD'S A GAME....Well, it appears that John McCain has succeeded in his plan to torpedo the bailout negotiations for a while so that he can swoop in and pretend to be their savior tomorrow. On CNN, Stephen Hayes says he'll get away with it because most people don't pay much attention to politics. "All they'll see is that that McCain suspended his campaign, flew to Washington, banged a few heads, and then we got an agreement. And that's a win for him." Sadly, he might be right.

There really seems to be no end to McCain's preening self-regard and stunt-of-the-week campaigning strategy these days, nor any end to his lack of regard for caring about what's actually best for the country. If this stuff were a game with no real-world consequences, I'd admire his gamesmanship. Since it's not, I'm just disgusted.

But if it's bread and circuses we're going to get, I might as well get the real thing: USC vs. Oregon State in Corvallis tonight. So that's where I'll be for the rest of the evening: watching a game that's supposed to be a game. I'll be back in a few hours.

UPDATE: Well, that was a bummer. Sort of like the rest of the week.