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Stuff Some Money In Your Mattress, Just In Case

| Wed Mar. 26, 2008 10:03 AM EDT

abandoned-bank.jpgMore troubling news for the economy: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is staffing up in preparation for a rash of projected bank failures:

Gerard Cassidy, managing director of bank equity research at RBC Capital Markets, projects 150 bank failures over the next three years, with the highest concentration coming from states such as California and Florida where an overheated real estate market is in a fast freeze.

According to the AP, that's a whole lot more than the usual six banks that go belly up in a good year, but perhaps not very surprising given how few Americans these days actually have any savings in their passbook accounts. Federal deposit insurance will hopefully prevent panicked depositors from making a run on the banks, but the image of banks closing up shop doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in the future of the economy, regardless of how optimistic the president is about it.

Photo by Flickr user teseap used under a Creative Commons license.

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One Superdelegate Who Gets It

| Wed Mar. 26, 2008 8:32 AM EDT

cantwell.jpg Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Clinton supporter, has announced that she will cast her superdelegate vote for whichever candidate wins the pledged delegate count. From The Columbian, via The Stranger:

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, one of Washington's 17 Democratic superdelegates, isn't ready to shift her allegiance from Sen. Hillary Clinton to Sen. Barack Obama — yet.
But in an interview with The Columbian's editorial board Monday, she said the candidate with the most pledged delegates at the end of the primary season in late June will have the strongest claim to the party's presidential nomination.
"I definitely don't want the superdelegates to be the deciding factor," she said.

Expelled: An Intelligently Designed Creationist PR Campaign?

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 11:57 PM EDT
ben_stein_expelled.jpg

Nice! I just received a package full of swag for the hottest new documentary on the Internets. That would be Expelled, a new film narrated by Ben Stein that claims to expose how "Big Science has expelled smart new ideas from the classroom." In this case, Big Science is evolutionary science and those "smart new ideas" means intelligent design, a.k.a. creationism in a lab coat. It's a little funny to think of creationism as a new idea, since it's been around for 3,000-plus years. Oh well. The makers of Expelled don't seem to be big on nuance. The reason they're already getting press for the film, scheduled for release in three weeks, is that they barred —actually, expelled—a evolutionary biologist who appears in the film from a recent screening. But Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, made it past security and reported that the film not only took his on-screen quotes out of context but is "drearily boring" to boot.

Having watched the film's trailer, I have to agree with Dawkins that Stein's nasally monotone is hard to endure. Disappointingly, Stein doesn't wear his Angus Young get-up (right) but he does reprise his Ferris Bueller "Anyone? Anyone?" shtick. Unfortunately, I didn't receive a screener in my swag package, so I can't really say more about the film except that it looks unapologetically creationist. However, I did get an official Expelled t-shirt, a baseball hat, a backpack, and a luggage tag emblazoned with the film's unintentionally yet tellingly anti-intellectual slogan, "No Intelligence Allowed." Usually, documentary makers are eager to get copies of their films into the hands of the press and have no money for tchotchkes. The backwards-seeming media campaign for Expelled suggests that either the filmmakers don't want advance reviews and/or are more interested in buzz than substance. But who am I to say what the creators' master plan is?

McCain Has No Money; Obama Has No Debt: Weighing the Candidates' Campaign Coffers

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 9:05 PM EDT

Last Thursday was the deadline for the presidential candidates to file their latest fundraising numbers with the FEC. As we await the updates, it's worth taking a look at their most current numbers, and what they may portend for the general election.

With the media focused exclusively on the battle between Clinton and Obama, Republican nominee John McCain has been spending his time shoring up support for his candidacy—and, presumably, fundraising. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he really, really needs to: In the month of February, he raised just under $11 million, compared to $34 million for Clinton and $55 million for Obama.The numbers get worse when you look at the whole election cycle: in total, McCain has raised just $64 million, less than half of Clinton's $170 million, and a third of Obama's $193 million.

But what's most striking is the debt. The Clinton campaign has amassed a staggering $8.7 million worth, double McCain's $4.3 million. Obama, on the other hand, owes only $625,000. By campaign standards, he's debt free.

What to make of this? If it were only about cash on hand, either Clinton or Obama could trounce McCain in the general election. But Clinton's campaign spent nearly as much as it raised in February, while Obama's used only about 80%. The combination of more funds to use and less debt to pay down would give Obama an unquestionable advantage in the general election. On the flip side, however, McCain's getting a free ride right now. As long as the Democratic infighting continues, he may not need that much money to make his case. But once the general really gets underway, he'll need to compete with an already-daunting cash lead and a horde of enthusiastic donors. If dollars are what count, McCain loses.

—Casey Miner

In Which I Will Become Labeled an Anti-Semite

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 6:22 PM EDT

God help us, Marty Peretz posted some thoughts from someone who overlapped with, but did not know, Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the 50's when they attended the same Philadelphia high school. It's on The New Republic blog this week, where this someone, Morton Klein, helpfully points out that the good Rev. was raised "in privilege, not poverty." And his point is.....?

It would be so easy to find TNR articles destroying the played-out notion of affluent, functional blacks as inauthentic that I refuse to dignify the exercise by undertaking it. So, now I'm just gonna tell y'all what his point is, the one for which he used the coincidence of a shared home town as a pathetic cover up. First, his nut graf:

McCain on the Housing Crisis: Quick, Do Nothing!

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 5:47 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Don't just do something, stand there! And wait for somebody else to suggest a course of action.

That appears to be John McCain's approach to the housing credit crisis. On Tuesday, he delivered what his campaign billed as a major address on the housing crisis. What made it notable was that it contained nothing notable.

McCain started off stating the obvious: there was a housing bubble: "speculators move into markets, and these players begin to suspend the normal rules of risk and assume that prices can only move up -- but never down....The normal market forces of people buying and selling their homes were overwhelmed by rampant speculation. Our system of market checks and balances did not correct this until the bubble burst." Lenders went wild and some Americans bought homes they could not afford. And, he added, "the housing bubble was made worse by a series of complex, interconnected financial bets that were not transparent or fully understood....Because managers did not fully understand the complex financial instruments and because there was insufficient transparency when they did try to learn, the initial losses spawned a crisis of confidence in the markets."

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Harry Reid on the Democratic Race

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 5:05 PM EDT

harry-reid.jpg Harry Reid is making vague promises of his rainmaking power, so I went to his communications shop to find out what he thinks about the Democratic primary.

I asked Jon Summers, Reid's communications director, what the Senate Majority Leader meant when he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he has spoken to Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean and that "things are being done" to bring the Democratic primary to a close. "As the top elected democrat in the country," said Summers, "Senator Reid talks to Governor Dean and other leaders in the party about how to move forward. He's hopeful it will be taken care of soon. At the end of the day though, like every other Democrat, he's excited we have two good candidates, candidates that Democrats across the board are excited about."

On the question of whether the Democratic nominee would be better positioned against John McCain if he or she was able to turn his or her attention to the general election sooner rather than later, Summers admitted, "If you have more time to run a general election campaign, that is helpful." He said he wasn't aware of the specific plans Governor Dean and Senator Reid have, if any, to bring an end to the race.

Justice Department Approves XM-Sirius Merger

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 3:39 PM EDT

mojo-photo-xmsirius.gifIn the latest example of two wrongs desperately hoping to make a right, satellite radio rivals XM and Sirius are one step closer to blissful orbital matrimony as the Justice Department has approved the companies' merger. It still has to get past the FCC, but Justice accepted the networks' argument that HD radio, iPods and, uh, player pianos constitute adequate competition in the face of what sure looks like a monopoly to anyone with eyes. Assistant attorney general Thomas O. Barnett laughs off your suspicions, though:

In several important segments of their business, with or without the merger, the parties simply do not compete today and therefore the merger would not be eliminating any competition between them.

Right, so can Apple and Microsoft merge, because people can just use typewriters and read magazines? Hooray!

The Clinton Campaign's Path to the Nomination, In Its Own Words

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

I've spent a fair amount of time recently discussing how the Clinton campaign is using spin to keep its prospects alive, despite a tremendously difficult path to the nomination. And though I've criticized the type of journalism that gives both sides a say and calls that objectivity, I'm going to let the campaign explain how it plans to traverse that path.

Here's Clinton's delegate counter, Harold Ickes, from a conference call earlier today. Note that the Clinton campaign refers to superdelegates as "automatic delegates."

The unvarnished facts are that neither one of these candidates will be able to achieve the nomination — whether with the lower amount [of delegates], 2024, without Florida and Michigan, or whether with the higher amount, 2208 — neither candidate can achieve the nomination solely with pledged delegates because they're split damn near right down the middle.
Thus, either candidate is going to have to have a very substantial number of automatic delegates to reach the nomination. As we look down towards the end of [the primary campaign], we think that both candidates are going to be within a hair of each other by the time the last states vote, which will be Montana and South Dakota. And assuming that the remaining unpledged automatic delegates generally stay where they are — unpledged as they watch this race unfold, as they see new information being developed, particularly about Sen. Obama — at the end of this process, neither candidate will have the nomination and each candidate is going to have to depend on the remaining automatic delegates to make their decisions, and that applies to Sen. Obama as well as Sen. Clinton.

In a word: superdelegates.

Ickes mentioned at a different point in the call that the Clinton campaign is still holding out hope for revotes in Michigan and Florida.

What Ickes doesn't acknowledge is that while Obama and Clinton will both need superdelegates to push them over the top, the Obama campaign has the pledged delegate lead and the popular vote lead, which lends credibility to its pitch to the undecided party honchos who will ultimately decide this thing.

Clinton on the Possibility of Pledged Delegates Flipping (Again)

| Tue Mar. 25, 2008 12:43 PM EDT

From time to time, someone in the Clinton campaign will reference the possibility of pledged delegates won by Obama flipping for Clinton before or at the convention. Pledged delegates from a particular state are supposed to vote for the candidate who "won" them in that state's primary or caucus, but they are not bound by party rules to do so. It's generally viewed as over-the-line for a candidate to try and flip a pledged delegate because doing so means subverting the will of the voters. That's why the Clinton campaign has always responded to these mini-snafus with strong statements. "We have not, are not, and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama," said Clinton's communication director Howard Wolfson in one such instance.

So how to explain Hillary Clinton's statement yesterday to the Philadelphia Daily News?

"And also remember that pledged delegates in most states are not pledged. You know there is no requirement that anybody vote for anybody. They're just like superdelegates."

I second Chris Orr's endorsement of Josh Marshall's "fog of nonsense" theory. The idea is that Clinton has an incentive to keep everyone confused about the status of the delegate count, because it hides how difficult the math currently makes it for her to get the nomination. She doesn't have to suggest she'll pursue pledged delegates, just remind everyone that the pledged delegate count is not a hard-and-fast number. I think that's right. Every time her campaign floats something like this, the media has another reason to keep the back-and-forth of the campaign in the headlines for another day or two, creating the perception that Obama and Clinton are equally matched opponents.

And if she's waiting for Obama to make a catastrophic mistake or for the superdelegates to swing her way, she needs that time.