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Paulson's Con

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 10:58 AM EDT

The natural result of the federal government response that emerged over the weekend around the Lehman Brothers catastrophe is to place the venerable Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government institution that insures the bank deposits of hundreds of millions of Americans, in grave jeopardy. While Treasury secretary Henry Paulson and others talk about not sinking taxpayers' funds into saving Lehman, the real, unstated policy is just the opposite.

It is going to work like this: As it did with Merrill Lynch, the government's approach to the crisis will force commercial banks to swallow troubled Wall Street investment companies, flooding the commercial banks with the lousy junk bonds and faulty mortgages that the investment companies own, and that started this mess to begin with. More and more commercial banks will find themselves on the edge, and they will turn to the FDIC. But the FDIC can't possibly shoulder the growing burden. At that point, Congress will have to step in and shore up the FDIC. The deal doubtless will include some version of the S&L bailout, with the creation of a Resolution Trust Company type institution into which the banks can dump the sub-prime mortgages, junk bonds, and the like.

In other words, the public will end up paying for Wall Street's financial binge. And the leaders of the financial community who got us into this expensive mess? They'll get the traditional golden parachutes and lavish pension arrangements--huge payoffs for screwing the public.

It's worth noting that Sheila Bair, a longtime Treasury Department official who is now head of the FDIC, was one of only a handful of people in Washington who repeatedly warned then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan about the dangers of unregulated banking in general, and the growing housing bubble in particular--warnings that Greenspan roundly ignored. As French economist said of Greenspan last year, "He created four major crises: savings and loans, LTCM [Long-Term Capital Management], new-technology shares, and subprime mortgages," and then won praise for his handling of these crises. "He's congratulated for his role as fireman," said Artus, "but he's the one who started the fire." Now its U.S. taxpayers who will get burned, through the very institution--the FDIC--that FDR created 75 years ago to protect them.


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Vote McCain, Lose Your Health Insurance

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 2:47 AM EDT

VOTE McCAIN, LOSE YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE....Bob Herbert provides a preview of a new paper that analyzes the effects of John McCain's healthcare proposals:

A study coming out Tuesday from scholars at Columbia, Harvard, Purdue and Michigan projects that 20 million Americans who have employment-based health insurance would lose it under the McCain plan.

....According to the study: "The McCain plan will force millions of Americans into the weakest segment of the private insurance system — the nongroup market — where cost-sharing is high, covered services are limited and people will lose access to benefits they have now."

The net effect of the plan, the study said, "almost certainly will be to increase family costs for medical care."

Remember: this is a feature, not a bug. Republicans think Americans use too much healthcare, and they figure that the best way to fix this is to make it more expensive. So that's what McCain's plan does. It's a pretty typical specimen of the "more skin in the game" plan beloved of conservative think tanks.

French Pique-nique Tax

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 9:39 PM EDT

758px-Manet%2C_Edouard_-_Le_D%E9jeuner_sur_l%27Herbe_%28The_Picnic%29_%281%29.jpg It's about time. The French, those pique-nique-aholics, are about to tax non-recyclable throwaway plates and cutlery. The tax would apply to non-recyclable cardboard but not plastic tableware. (Pourquoi pas?) It's part of a wider move to encourage people to use more eco-friendly products. Including (maybe) consumer electronics.

Reuters reports that France has already introduced the bonus-malus system for cars—taxing the most heavily polluting vehicles while giving tax breaks to greener ones. Le Figaro reports on a possible list of new taxable items: fridges, washing machines, televisions, batteries, and wooden furniture.

Sacré bleu. You mean while we've been dissing them with freedom fries and whatnot they've been trying to address some of the real terrors on planet Earth? FYI, I've been carrying two sets of plastic cutlery in my messenger bag for a couple of years now. Picnic-ready (toujours, n'est pas?) and trying to minimize my own trail of waste.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Meet the Religious Right Duo Behind "Obama Waffles"

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 6:56 PM EDT

At the annual Washington gathering of the Christian right sponsored by the political arm of the Family Research Council, the Republican Party's emissaries have come in past years to bow before some 2000 right-wing foot-soldiers and the leaders who command them. However, this year's Values Voter Summit, a bit light on GOP dignitaries, made less news for its speaker line-up than it did for the sale of a breakfast food.

In the far corner of the exhibit hall at the conference, two entrepreneurs hawked "Obama Waffles," a product they described as "political satire." On sale for $10 apiece, the boxes of waffle mix were emblazoned with a cartoon image of a bug-eyed, toothy, dark-lipped Barack Obama eying a plate of waffles. A pat of butter on the waffles is stamped "2008." On the top flap, the Obama cartoon appears in a turban, next to an arrow printed with the text: "Point box toward Mecca for tastier waffles."

Gullible?

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 6:49 PM EDT

GULLIBLE?....Mickey Kaus thinks, perhaps correctly, that trying to brand McCain as a liar is a losing strategy for Obama. Instead, he has a few other ideas, including this one:

6. There must be some way to disillusion the conservative base with McCain, at least a bit. I know the CW — Palin has locked in the base, freeing McCain to move left. But jeez, McCain isn't moving to the left just on immigration, and he isn't moving subtly. Listen to this new radio ad, which might as well be titled "Stem Cell Research, Stem Cell Research, Stem Cell Research, Stem Cell Research." That's how often the phrase is repeated. How much more Screw-You-I'm-Taking-You-for-Granted can McCain get? Are conservatives complete suckers?

As near as I can tell, yes they are. At the very least, they're certainly very cheap dates.

Joe Biden Speaks

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 6:20 PM EDT

JOE BIDEN SPEAKS....Here's something interesting. A couple of days ago I was noodling, as we political junkies are wont to do, about what kind of ads Barack Obama ought to be running. I didn't bother posting about it, though, because we amateurs are forever thinking we have brilliant ideas along these lines and we amateurs are almost always wrong.

So imagine my surprise when I saw my imaginary ad basically being narrated by Joe Biden in a speech this morning at St. Clair Shores, Michigan:

Eight years ago, a man ran for President who claimed he was different, not a typical Republican. He called himself a reformer. He admitted that his Party, the Republican Party, had been wrong about things from time to time. He promised to work with Democrats and said he'd been doing that for a long time.

That candidate was George W. Bush. Remember that? Remember the promise to reach across the aisle? To change the tone? To restore honor and dignity to the White House?

....Eight years later, we have another Republican nominee who's telling us the exact same thing: This time it will be different, it really will. This time he's going to put country before party, to change the tone, reach across the aisle, change the Republican Party, change the way Washington works.

We've seen this movie before, folks. But as everyone knows, the sequel is always worse than the original.

The fact that this approach seems effective to me is probably a bad sign. Still: this approach seems effective to me. Basically, you run an ad that uses lots of hot button imagery to plausibly pin the blame for some problem or another (economic meltdown, Jack Abramoff, Katrina, our inability to capture Osama bin Laden, etc.) on "the usual Republican approach" or some such, and then close with, "Now John McCain is running for president. He says he's a different kind of Republican. Do you believe him?" Add creepy music, grainy black-and-white images, or whatever else the current state of the art in attack ads calls for, and you're off to the races.

Eh. Probably wouldn't focus group well or something, I suppose, and besides, it might piss off too many moderate Republicans who might otherwise vote for Obama. Plus it's pretty ordinary stuff that wouldn't generate any media outrage. In the end, who knows? We all think we're marketing geniuses, don't we?

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Photographer Jill Greenberg Won't Be Working For the Atlantic Again Any Time Soon

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 4:35 PM EDT

mojo-photo-monstermccain.jpgJill Greenberg's portrait of John McCain for the October cover of the Atlantic (see below) is either a bit gnarly or respectably granitic, depending on your perspective: all of McCain's "experience" is etched in the deep, harshly-lit lines on his face. But in case you were wondering what Greenberg's perspective is, she's made things abundantly clear on her web site, the aptly-named Manipulator, taking some of the more unflattering (and sneakily-executed) pictures from the shoot, adding some grody Photoshoppery, and posting the results. As Boing Boing points out, the elaborate Flash-filled site means one can't link directly to the pictures, but you can see one to the right, and Gawker has a couple more posted.

Oh Snap! Whitehouse on Offshore Drilling

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 4:19 PM EDT

There's been a lot of hemming and hawing about offshore drilling lately, but none so succinct and pithy as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's (D-RI) neat little dressing down of the idea, caught on YouTube:


The Backfire Effect

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 3:22 PM EDT

THE BACKFIRE EFFECT....What happens when you tell people that someone has made a false claim? Shankar Vedantam reports:

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar "backfire effect" also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue.

Italics mine. Nyhan and Reifler found this "backfire" effect only among conservatives. Refutations had little effect on liberals, but it didn't cause them to actively believe the misleading information even more strongly.

Why? Reifler suggests it's because conservatives are more rigid than liberals. Maybe so. If I had to guess, though, I'd say it's because right-wing talkers have spent so many years deriding "so-called experts" that they now have negative credibility with many conservatives. The very fact that an expert says a conservative claim is wrong is taken as a good reason to believe the claim. This could probably be tested by doing a study of factual information outside the realm of politics and seeing if conservatives react the same way. If they do, maybe that's support for the generic rigidity theory. If not, it's support for the theory that conservatives simply distrust political elites.

For more, here is Reifler's online Q&A at the Washington Post this morning.

UPDATE: I should add that these weren't the only two questions Nyhan and Reifler asked. They also asked a question about stem cell research in which it was liberals who might be expected to resist the truth. They didn't find any backfire effect there either, though.

UPDATE: The full paper is here. Via email, Nyhan tells me that they tried to test my proposition that conservatives don't trust elite experts by varying the source of the refutations. Sometimes it was the New York Times, other times it was Fox News. "Surprisingly," he says, "it had little effect."

McCain Campaign: SNL Portrayal of Palin Was Sexist

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 3:21 PM EDT

Most people have seen the opening sketch of the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live — the one featuring Tina Fey's dead-on impersonation of Sarah Palin. (Video here.)

Now, Fey's Palin is a bit empty-headed. She's portrayed as a superficial and illegitimate usurper of the role Hillary Clinton (played by Amy Poehler in the sketch) ought to rightfully play.

It would be pretty hard to label a sketch as sexist if it portrays one woman as intelligent and capable and another as shallow and untested. In fact, comparing two people on their merits, with no regard to their sex, would appear to be the opposite of sexism. Right?

Not during an election year. Everything is a potential talking point. Here is John McCain's favorite CEO and sexism-crier-in-chief, Carly Fiorina, trying her best to attack the sketch on MSNBC:

"I think that [the sketch] continues the line of argument [against Palin] that is disrespectful in the extreme and, yes, I would say, sexist. In the sense that just because Sarah Palin has different views than Hillary Clinton does not mean that she lacks substance. She has a lot of substance."

WTF does that even mean? Criticizing a woman for having less substance than another woman is sexist? Criticizing a woman for having different views than another woman is sexist? Disagreeing with a woman's views and thus portraying her as having less substance as another woman is sexist?

Or is the correct answer that anything that attacks Sarah Palin effectively is sexist?