2008 - %3, September

Bailout Update

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 1:03 PM PDT

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.

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The Tippin Point: A Big Oil Anthem

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:08 AM PDT

All the energy-policy watchers who are shaking their heads in disbelief over Congress' capitulation on offshore drilling can blame Newt Gingrich, John McCain, and Aaron Tippin.

Aaron who?

Ah. Well, remember Willie Nelson's character from Wag the Dog, the 1997 film wherein a presidential administration concocts a phony war to distract the public from its domestic scandals? Nelson plays a political operative who creates and circulates a stirring song to rally public emotion behind the president's stage-managed war effort.

In "realityville," that songwriter is Aaron Tippin, a country & western singer who is contributing his talents to the public relations cause of American Solutions for Winning the Future, Gingrich's new 527 organization.

Mission Creep Dispatch: John Lindsay-Poland

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:00 AM PDT

lindsay-poland.jpg

As part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)

The following dispatch comes from John Lindsay-Poland, author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the US in Panama and the Latin America program director for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Oakland, California.

Transforming Unaccountable Force

What impresses about the sprawl of US bases and its reconstitution since 2001 is the lack of accountability. The US military presence overseas serves as an implicit threat of intervention to host countries and neighbors, and so enables the United States to defy international law and other obligations to the global community. The bases are also themselves unaccountable, especially as polluters, purveyors of sexual violence, and sites for torture. For most nations, it is an exercise in frustration to use political, diplomatic, or judicial channels to address the United States' abuses or extralegal demands, because Washington's military stands ready for aggression.

Fundraising!

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 10:43 AM PDT

FUNDRAISING!....Among other casualties of John McCain's recent descent into mental breakdown, you can add the fundraising drive we were planning to hold this week. See, the plan was to make up a bingo card thingie with words and phrases you were likely to hear at Friday's debate — sort of a drinking game for politicals dorks — and invite everyone to go to our fundraising page and download it. Oh, and maybe throw a few bucks our way while you're there.

So what now? Well, the bingo card is already finished. And we still need money to support our (suprisingly expensive!) commitment to in-depth, original, up-to-the-minute reporting on the campaign. Real journalism ain't cheap, and we need your support to keep it up.

So click here to help us out and download your bingo card. After all, maybe everything will get resolved at the big 4 pm summit in the White House and St. John will deign to debate the issues Friday night after all. If that happens, we've got you covered.

Another Obama Ad Takes Very Serious Tone

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 10:01 AM PDT

The Obama campaign has released another long-form ad in which Obama speaks directly to the camera for the entire duration. It's below. As you probably know, they released a rare two-minute ad a little over a week ago; some said the serious tone was appropriate for the grave economic subject matter covered within, others said it was unwatchably boring. Two observations on the new ad:

(1) The Obama campaign obviously believes that the first ad worked. Their internal polling must show that, at the moment, Americans see Obama as the more steady and presidential of the two candidates. Don't expect any fireworks from Obama at the debate on Friday.

(2) This is what having $77.5 million on hand will do for you. You can move beyond the standard 30-second format in your advertising.

Gamesmanship

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 9:50 AM PDT

GAMESMANSHIP....OK, let me get this straight. (I think I'm going to be using that phrase a lot over the next few days.) Mr. Bipartisan Statesman rushed off to Washington because it was urgent to knock some heads and agree on some principles that would help get the bailout plan moving. So Barack Obama proposed a list of principles that includes oversight, taxpayer protection, CEO pay restrictions, help for homeowners, and no earmarks. These are all things McCain says he supports. President Bush says he supports them as well. But McCain refused to sign on:

So the question is: Why wouldn't McCain agree to a fairly innocuous, Mom and apple pie set of conditions for a bill?

Democrats fear this morning that McCain is setting up a scenario in which he will vote against the bill, rally conservatives to his side and, most importantly, distance himself from both President Bush and Congress before the election.

That's Taegan Goddard. But why would Democrats be so suspicious that they're about to be double crossed? John McCain is too honorable a man to do that, isn't he?

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Economy Continues to Suck

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 9:06 AM PDT

ECONOMY CONTINUES TO SUCK....The latest:

Orders for big ticket items from U.S. factories plummeted in August, new homes sales continued dropping and weekly jobless claims jumped to their highest level since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

...Factory orders in August dropping by 4.5 percent — twice the expected rate — and weekly applications for unemployment benefits jumping by 32,000, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 493,000.

[New] home sales, meanwhile, fell by 11.5 percent in August compared with the same month a year ago, signaling that the U.S. real estate market continues to slump. The inventory of unsold homes — one barometer of when the market might begin to turn around — rose to nearly 11 months, more than doubled the median supply in 2006.

The fall in durable goods orders included a 6 percent decline in purchases of machinery and a more than 8 percent decline in purchases of autos and auto parts.

More on the housing market here. There's little evidence that we're close to a bottom, which is bad news for the bailout bill, since its size depends very directly on just how much further housing prices have to fall.

More Torture Docs

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 8:55 AM PDT

MORE TORTURE DOCS....Unfortunately, this now falls into "dog bites man" territory, but the White House has released documents to Congress confirming that, yes, various torture techniques were discussed at meetings of very high level officials in early 2002:

Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents.

....The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials.

....The documents were provided to The New York Times by Senator Carl Levin....Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the new documents showed that top Bush administration officials were more actively engaged in the debate about the limits of lawful interrogation than the White House had previously acknowledged.

"So far, there has been little accountability at higher levels," Mr. Levin said. "Here you've got some evidence that there was discussion about those harsh techniques in the White House."

What further documents are left to be released? Probably plenty. Will we get to see them when a new administration takes office? Unfortunately, my guess is no.

Americans Search for Wizards, Cupcakes, and Sex Toys More Often Than "Financial Crisis"

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 8:10 AM PDT

This is a fun game you can play at home. Go to Google Trends and see what Americans are searching for online more frequently than the term "financial crisis." I have an example below, in which I set the time period to September 2008. Turns out "wizards," "cupcakes," and "sex toys" retain their popularity in times of national emergency.

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Several search terms dwarfed "financial crisis" so thoroughly that they made the chart unusable. They included:

"Bristol Palin": searched for 17.5 times more often than "financial crisis" in September
"Puppies": 24.4 times
"Vacation": 28.6 times
"Fashion": 44 times
"Fantasy Football": 44 times
"Baseball": 50.5 times
"Sex": 292 times

The Financial Wizardy of the Treasury Department

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 7:49 AM PDT

Halfway through a Forbes article about how doomed the Paulson bailout plan is, Think Progress found this little gem from Treasury:

...some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.
"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Awesome, guys. Way to inspire confidence.