2008 - %3, September

All the World's a Game

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 9:00 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.

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Remember the S&L Bailout? John McCain Hopes You Don't

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 8:31 PM EDT

This afternoon, John McCain joined in a summit with his rival Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, after "suspending" his campaign and rushing back to Washington to help rescue the American economy. As pundits and the public argue over whether this is the patriotic act of a true statesman or the desperate stunt of a political operator, McCain hopes they will forget what it really is for him: pure deja vu. McCain has already been here and done this, back in the roaring eighties, when he was in the thick of another financial meltdown that yielded a huge government bailout—and the worst scandal of his own political career.

The savings and loan crisis developed along lines remarkably similar to the current sub-prime crisis: A flurry of deregulation gave S&Ls the capabilities of major commercial banks without the corresponding oversight and regulation. S&Ls proceeded to make high-risk investments, including thousands of unsound mortgages during a housing boom. The government looked away—until the bottom fell out and the S&Ls started to fall like dominoes. Then it stepped in with a bailout of then-unprecedented levels, which added to ballooning deficits and ushered in years of recession.

When the S&L scandal unfolded, Barack Obama was working as a community organizer in Chicago, and George W. Bush was busy running a series of failed oil ventures and managing his baseball team in Texas. But John McCain was already in Congress—and in the S&L mess up to his neck.

Cement Plant Powered by Huggies

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 6:31 PM EDT

Here's an idea that gives new meaning to waste management: to help produce energy, the Devil's Slide Cement plant in Morgan, Utah burns surplus diapers.

By mixing leftover Huggies with traditional sources, the company cuts coal consumption by 30 percent and prevents the disposables from clogging landfills. Only catch? Unused nappies only, please.

—Nikki Gloudeman

Sarah Palin Unplugged

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 5:57 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN UNPLUGGED....Look, this is just getting scary. I don't care how partisan you are, you can't watch this clip from Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric without wondering if she's completely cracked under the pressure of running for vice president. The question is a simple softball about the bailout — something she's had weeks to bone up on — but her answer is incoherent. Not just the usual platitudes politicians offer when they don't feel like answering a tough query, but completely incoherent. Hell, it's barely even in English.

I don't even feel right making snarky jokes about this stuff anymore. This campaign has gone seriously off the rails. I've never seen anything like it, but everyone is still nattering on as if this is business as usual. If it is, though, we've already entered the world of Idiocracy and we might as well all just give up and enjoy our super-size Slurpees while we can.

IAEA's Syrian Contact Assassinated, Stalling Nuclear Probe

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 5:44 PM EDT

At a closed door meeting in Vienna today, UN International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that the reason the group's investigation into whether Syria was pursuing a nuclear program has been delayed is that its main Syrian contact has turned up assassinated.

"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board. A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

ElBaradei apparently did not provide any details on the circumstances of the murder of the group's liaison, nor on his identity. But the AFP cites various Arab media reports noting the assassination of Brig. Gen. Mohammed Sleiman (or Mohamed Suleiman) in the northern port town of Tartus in early August, describing him as a military advisor to Syrian president Bashar al Assad and Syria's liaison to Hezbollah. The LAT says intelligence experts have long suspected Suleiman was in charge of Syria's alleged nuclear and chemical weapons programs.

Iraqi Election Update

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 5:21 PM EDT

IRAQI ELECTION UPDATE....A reader writes:

I hate to be a "why aren't you blogging about this" critic, but any reason you decided not to post about the passage yesterday of the Provincial Elections law in Iraq? It's the sort of thing you and others would usually mention, and when I saw the story in the NYTimes I expected it to be a big topic of discussion, even with the bail-out and campaign antics taking up media attention. But instead, it got no mention at all on any blog I regularly read.

Say what? They finally passed an election law? Seriously? I had no idea. Marc Lynch provides some commentary:

Today it appears that the impasse has finally been broken as the Parliament overwhelmingly passed a new provincial elections law based on a compromise on Kirkuk engineered by the tireless UN envoy Staffan de Mistura....What's more, they have agreed to push back the deadline for voting until January 31, 2009 (in the non-KRG provinces and Tamim province with Kirkuk). This will allow enough time for the Iraqi High Elections Commission (which will determine the exact date) to adequately prepare and organize and for the various political blocs to mobilize for the campaign.

....UPDATE: The Iraqi Parliament has released a detailed report, if not the actual text, of the law. Among the crucial details, beyond the elaborate compromise on Kirkuk: the vote will be open list, women's quota but no minorities quota, can use symbols of non-candidates except for religious figures (so no Sistani? Is Sadr "religious" figure?), and some limitations on use of mosques and other places of worship for campaigning. All in all looks pretty good - the open list is key, and goes against the preferences of what the ruling coalition, plus a way was found to accomodate the women's quota.

In my defense, it appears that even Juan Cole missed the news during the rush of events yesterday. Just goes to show what financial collapse combined with a day of world class political grandstanding will do.

The "compromise" on Kirkuk, by the way, is to go ahead and hold elections everywhere else while a commission convenes to cogitate for a while over the fate of Kirkuk. In other words, they're just kicking the can down the road. Still, this is good news regardless.

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Sarah Palin and the Russians

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 3:34 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan posted this gem from CBS News regarding Palin's foreign policy credentials: Some things you just have to see to believe.

Is Bob Barr A Spoiler?

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 3:28 PM EDT

Chris Kromm over at Facing South thinks he might be. After looking at polling data in North Carolina, Kromm realized that that when the Libertarian candidate is included in polls, John McCain's double-digit lead in the state narrows to just six percent or even a dead heat with Obama, depending on the poll. Kromm thinks the Barr factor might explain why both candidates are now pouring money into a state not previously thought to be a close battleground. He writes:

"the fact that the Tarheel State is turning into a fierce battleground, with both sides investing precious time, energy and resources, is historic alone. And the result might be closer than any of us thought."

Video: Sarah Silverman Will Blame the Jews If Obama Loses

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 3:14 PM EDT

Sarah Silverman is so convinced Florida's Jewish vote will tip the election in Barack Obama's favor that she's joined a campaign called "The Great Schlep." The campaign pushes young Heebs to visit their grandparents in Florida and educate them about the Democratic candidate, thereby saving the country from another Broward County nightmare, a la 2000.

Silverman outlines all the reasons Jews should vote for Obama in the video below, including the fact that "Barack" means "lightning" in Hebrew, while "John" is just another word for toilet:

Bailout Update

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

BAILOUT UPDATE....The New York Times reports that both Democratic and Republican leaders have reached "general agreement" on a bailout bill:

One plan under consideration would release $250 billion immediately, with another $100 billion available at the discretion of the president.

[Lawmakers] also said that there would be limits on pay packages for executives whose firms seek assistance from the government and a mechanism for the government to be given an equity stake in some firms so that taxpayers have a chance to profit if the companies prosper in the months and years ahead.

The Wall Street Journal says mortgage relief is still up in the air:

Still unresolved is whether or not to include changes to bankruptcy law that would give judges the right to change the terms of mortgages. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois made a plea for it to be included, even though many lawmakers and the White House are hotly opposed.

There still aren't many details, and I guess the main question now is whether McCain and Obama will sign on. McCain, of course, has a pretty big incentive to continue playing politics since this all happened before he could dramatically swoop in and take credit for some bold leadership, and in any case agreeing to it would allow tomorrow's debate to go forward. So I imagine he'll find something to object to. Obama's motives are a little murkier, so it's harder to guess what he'll do. Homeowner protection was one of his five core demands for the bill, however, so it seems unlikely he'll sign on unless there's at least something along those lines in the bill.

Beyond that, who knows? McCain is so unbalanced these days that there's really no telling what's going to happen next. In the meantime, I'm going to go eat lunch.