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Economy Continues to Suck

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...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 12:06 PM EDT

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.

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More Torture Docs

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...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:55 AM EDT

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"

This is a fun game you can play at home. Go to Google Trends and see what Americans are searching...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 11:10 AM EDT

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.

financial_crisis_google_search.jpg

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

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

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

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.

Two NRA Lobbyists Violating the McCain Campaign's Conflict Rules?

Have two lobbyists who work for John McCain's campaign—one as national finance co-chairman, the other as co-chairman of the...

| Thu Sep. 25, 2008 9:27 AM EDT

mccain-nra-meeting-250x200.jpg

Have two lobbyists who work for John McCain's campaign—one as national finance co-chairman, the other as co-chairman of the campaign's Sportsmen for McCain committee—violated the campaign's conflict of interest policy?

In May, when the campaign was being hit by one news story after another about lobbyists working on its staff, campaign manager Rick Davis (who is now on leave from his own influential lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, and under fire for his past connections to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) issued conflict rules that banned any active lobbyist or foreign agent from being a paid employee of the campaign. Lobbyists and foreign agents, though, could work for the campaign as part-time volunteers, as long as they did not participate in policy-making regarding the matters on which they lobby. Another provision declared that "no person with a McCain Campaign title or position may participate in a 527 [campaign committee] or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate."

That rule that may cause trouble for the campaign and two of its prominent supporters, Wayne Berman and James Jay Baker, who are lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, for the NRA recently began airing harsh attack-ads against Barack Obama.

John McCain, Hero of Wall Street

JOHN McCAIN, HERO OF WALL STREET....Katie Couric interviews Sarah Palin about reforming the finance industry:COURIC: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two...

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 8:42 PM EDT

JOHN McCAIN, HERO OF WALL STREET....Katie Couric interviews Sarah Palin about reforming the finance industry:

COURIC: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?

PALIN: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie — that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

COURIC: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

PALIN: He's also known as the maverick though. Taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about — the need to reform government.

COURIC: I'm just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation?

PALIN: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

How dare Couric ask the question three times in an effort to elicit an actual answer? She has obviously become a tool of the Obama campaign and is hereby banned from further contact with the McCain campaign on the grounds of insufficient deference.

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Cynicism Watch

CYNICISM WATCH....A couple of hours ago I suggested that maybe John McCain would try to postpone the first debate to October 2nd because that would then eliminate the vice presidential debate. (So sad....) I thought I was just being hackishly...

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 7:52 PM EDT

CYNICISM WATCH....A couple of hours ago I suggested that maybe John McCain would try to postpone the first debate to October 2nd because that would then eliminate the vice presidential debate. (So sad....) I thought I was just being hackishly cynical when I said that, but no: according to CNN, that's exactly what McCain is proposing. The VP debate would then be "rescheduled." (Perhaps to November 5th, joked Dana Milbank.)

My lesson for the day: No matter how hackishly cynical you think you are, you're no match for the hackish cynicism of the McCain campaign.

Ambinder on the Money

I have to say, I think Marc Ambinder has the best response to John McCain's call to suspend the campaign...

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 7:44 PM EDT

I have to say, I think Marc Ambinder has the best response to John McCain's call to suspend the campaign due to his falling poll numbers the economic crisis. This is exactly when the public needs to see the candidates express and defend the policies they would use to get us out of this mess. This is exactly when we need to see who has the knowledge, intelligence, and fortitude to handle tough problems. In short, this is exactly when we need a debate.

Here's Marc:

This is the time when politics matters the most, not the least. When the philosophical differences that each party organizes around are put to the test of reality. When conflict builds consensus, not by ignoring conflict. When the public craves answers and debate from their politicians. When the stakes of the presidential election could not be more acute. Comparative advantage: the best thing the presidential candidates can do now is to practice their politics honestly, not to abandon politics altogether -- itself, of course, a political move. Suspending your campaign basically says: all that over the past sixteen months? It wasn't important. Ignore what I said or did. Too late. The tough thing here for McCain is that nobody in Washington asked him to come back; nobody seems to need him to come back; and that Democrats simply do not trust John McCain's motives.

This whole thing thing did get Rick Davis off the front pages though, didn't it?

Stunt Fatigue

STUNT FATIGUE....Over at The Corner, even Kathryn Jean Lopez thinks Barack Obama sounds more sensible today than John McCain. Jason Zengerle comments:That's how a McCain supporter is reacting to all of this. You do wonder if stunt fatigue is simply...

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 6:31 PM EDT

STUNT FATIGUE....Over at The Corner, even Kathryn Jean Lopez thinks Barack Obama sounds more sensible today than John McCain. Jason Zengerle comments:

That's how a McCain supporter is reacting to all of this. You do wonder if stunt fatigue is simply setting in. First there was the Palin pick. Then there was the jihad against the Times. At a certain point McCain's "bold" moves start to seem a little stale and predictable, don't they?

The McCain campaign is running on fumes at this point. They've been all over the map on the financial crisis. Both McCain and Palin are afraid to meet with reporters and answer actual questions. Even their prepared statements barely make sense anymore. They're completely at sea.

And now this. Obama calls McCain to privately work out a genuinely bipartisan statement about the bailout bill, and McCain immediately panics and runs off to the TV cameras to offer up a faux public one instead (and then leaves without taking questions, of course). A joint statement? Hah! Too puny. I dare Senator Obama to suspend our campaigns, sequester ourselves from the American public, and hold photo ops on Capitol Hill instead! In fact, I double dare him!

Sheesh. It's time for the Drama King to take his bows and exit stage right. Enough.

China's September Surprise: Tainted Formula Sickens 53,000 Infants

The Chinese government managed to keep its latest disaster under wraps last month when Beijing was all the world's stage: it's top formula-brand, and 21 others, have been tainted with melamine, the industrial chemical that led to more than 100 recalls of Chinese-made pet food here in the US and has been blamed for thousands of pet deaths. What started out as a notification...

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 6:12 PM EDT

The Chinese government managed to keep its latest disaster under wraps last month when Beijing was all the world's stage: it's top formula-brand, and 21 others, have been tainted with melamine, the industrial chemical that led to more than 100 recalls of Chinese-made pet food here in the US and has been blamed for thousands of pet deaths.

What started out as a notification that one company was affected ballooned to 22 and now the government is admitting that the tainted milk has led to the deaths of at least four infants and has sickened another 53,000. Unlike seafood (and everything else), the US doesn't allow dairy imports from China, so no formula in the US is at risk, though the FDA has stepped up testing of candies and other desserts made of dairy products in China.

Cases started cropping up several months ago but the government was slow to respond and even slower to notify the public of the potential that the formula they were using was unsafe. Children are showing signs of incontinence, vomiting, and kidney trouble. Melamine is used to artificially boost protein content, a move seen as a way to cut corners in a Chinese production market where suppliers are forbidden from boosting prices.

Investigators are suggesting that the government knew about the tainted formula as far back as March, and a bad-news ban leading up to the Olympics put the health of thousands of children at risk.