Blogs

Campaigning in Wonderland

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 1:02 PM EDT

CAMPAIGNING IN WONDERLAND....Yesterday — or was it the day before? It's getting hard to keep track — Sarah Palin told a fib about the teleprompter breaking down during her acceptance speech. Megan McArdle comments:

What I don't get about this lie is the pointlessness. I expect politicians to lie. But I expect them to tell the standard sort of lies about how they will give us all $5 solar cars by 2010, and never, ever sleep with their staff. This seems like some sort of bizarre compulsive disorder.

There was a period during Bush's first term when his administration acted the same way. I don't mean the big lies, I mean the drumbeat of minor misrepresentations about almost everything. I remember there were times when I'd listen to something one of them said and think, the truth would have actually served them better. But for some reason they made up a less effective lie instead. It was like a reflex with them.

The same thing is starting to happen with the McCain campaign. Most of his lies are easy to understand. But now they've drifted into this kind of pointless stuff that doesn't even seem to provide any real benefit. I guess they're just creating their own reality.

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History of Russia

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 12:31 PM EDT

HISTORY OF RUSSIA....American conservatives have been complaining for years about the teaching of American history to our impressionable youth. We should make our kids proud of America, not fill their heads with the Trail of Tears and Jim Crow and whatnot.

Apparently Vladimir Putin feels the same way about the teaching of modern Russian history and has endorsed a new textbook that emphasizes Russian greatness. Don't like it? Pavel Danilin, who wrote one of the chapters, has this to say:

"You may ooze bile but you will teach the children by those books that you will be given and in the way that is needed by Russia. And as to the noble nonsense that you carry in your misshapen goateed heads, either it will be ventilated out of them or you yourself will be ventilated out of teaching.... It is impossible to let some Russophobe shit-stinker (govnyuk), or just any amoral type, teach Russian history. It is necessary to clear the filth, and if it does not work, then clear it by force."

Sounds like a man of action. It's nice to know that Russian pedagogy is in such good hands.

McCain Attacks Wall Street Greed - While 83 Wall Street Lobbyists Work for His Campaign

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 12:25 PM EDT

In the past few days, as the economic crisis has deepened, Senator John McCain has been decrying the excesses of Wall Street. At a campaign rally in Tampa on Tuesday, he vowed that he and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, if elected, "are going to put an end to the reckless conduct, corruption, and unbridled greed that have caused a crisis on Wall Street." He noted that the "foundation of our economy...has been put at risk by the greed and mismanagement of Wall Street and Washington."

He blasted CEOs who "seem to escape the consequences." He denounced Wall Streeters who "dreamed up investment schemes that they themselves don't even understand" and who used "derivatives, credit default swaps, and mortgage-backed securities" to try "to make their own rules." He excoriated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for gaming the system. And he slammed financial industry lobbyists for misguiding members of Congress. "I can promise you the days of dealing and special favors will soon be over in Washington." On Wednesday morning, after the federal government committed $85 billion to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG) insurance conglomerate, McCain again assailed irresponsible corporate executives. "We need to change the way Washington and Wall Street does business," he proclaimed.

McCain has been quick with fiery, populist-tinged speeches. But one thing has been missing: any acknowledgment that McCain's own campaign has been loaded with the type of people he's been denouncing. (The McCain campaign did not respond to a request for comment; we will update the post if they do.) As Mother Jones previously reported, former Senator Phil Gramm, McCain's onetime campaign chairman, used a backroom maneuver in late 2000 to slip into law a bill that kept credit default swaps unregulated. These financial instruments greased the way to the subprime meltdown that has led to today's economic crisis. Several of McCain's most senior campaign aides have lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And the Democratic National Committee, using publicly available records, has identified 177 lobbyists working for the McCain campaign as either aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers.

Of those 177 lobbyists, according to a Mother Jones review of Senate and House records, at least 83 have in recent years lobbied for the financial industry McCain now attacks. These are high-paid influence-peddlers who have been working the corridors of the nation's capital to win favors and special treatment for investment banks, securities firms, hedge funds, accounting outfits, and insurance companies. Their clients have included AIG, the newest symbol of corporate excess; Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday sending the stock market into a tailspin; Merrill Lynch, which was bought out by Bank of America this week; and Washington Mutual, the banking giant that could be the next to fall. Among these 83 lobbyists are McCain's chief political adviser, Charlie Black (JP Morgan, Washington Mutual Bank, Freddie Mac, Mortgage Bankers Association of America); McCain's national finance co-chairman, Wayne Berman (AIG, Blackstone, Credit Suisse, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac); the campaign's congressional liaison, John Green (Carlyle Group, Citigroup, Icahn Associates, Fannie Mae); McCain's veep vetter, Arthur Culvahouse (Fannie Mae); and McCain's transition planning chief, William Timmons Sr. (Citigroup, Freddie Mac, Vanguard Group).

When cable news shows air footage of McCain railing against greedy execs and the lobbyists who rig the rules for the benefit of Wall Street dealmakers, there ought to be a crawl beneath him listing these lobbyists. (Talk about a fair and balanced presentation.) Short of that, here's the list of the McCain aides and bundlers who have worked for the high-finance greed-mongers McCain has pledged to take on. So far, it seems, none of them have been cast out of the campaign. If McCain were serious about his outrage, he might throw these money-changers out of his own temple.

What Does Deregulation Beget?

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 12:09 PM EDT

The fact that a conservative approach to Wall Street — down with regulations! down with oversight! — has led to America's financial mess appears to be sinking in. But don't forget that deregulation has screwed up much more than Wall Street. The conservative hands-off approach has neutered nearly every science-based agency in the federal government these last eight years. That's the point of Chris Mooney's "Return of the Geeks." Check it out. No surprise, Bush Administration hacks prioritized deregulation of industry over science and oversight, to disastrous results.

Conservatives love to slam "big government." But the lack of effective regulation and oversight has led to problems in a number of areas, many of which Mother Jones has covered. Check out "The Ungreening of America: How the Bush Administration Is Rolling Back 30 Years of Environmental Progress." Also, you can read about the pernicious effects of deregulation in the areas of airline safety, food safety, the telecom industry, the FDA and food imports, mining, and nuclear garbage and nuclear safety.

Maybe it's time for regulation to make a comeback.

McCain, Champion Deregulator

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 10:59 AM EDT

Listen up. Yesterday I called bullshit on John McCain's brand-spanking-new zeal for regulation. Why should we believe a life-long deregulator when he says he's the man to bring tight, effective controls and safeguards to Wall Street? Why should we believe a man who voted consistently against accountability in the financial sector when he says stuff like, "In my administration, we're going to hold people on Wall Street responsible. And we're going to enact and enforce reforms"?

Answer: we shouldn't.

I want to make it as clear as possible that what John McCain is advocating in the face of these new developments in the economy is completely antithetical to his actual beliefs.

Here's McCain speaking to the Wall Street Journal in May 2007:

"You are interviewing the greatest free trader you will ever interview, and the greatest deregulator you will ever interview."

Here's McCain addressing the housing crisis in March 2008:

"Our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital."

And here he is speaking again to the Wall Street Journal, apparently a receptive audience for regulation-bashing, in March 2008:

"I'm always for less regulation. But I am aware of the view that there is a need for government oversight. I think we found this in the subprime lending crisis -- that there are people that game the system and if not outright broke the law, they certainly engaged in unethical conduct which made this problem worse. So I do believe that there is role for oversight.
"As far as a need for additional regulations are concerned, I think that depends on the legislative agenda and what the Congress does to some degree, but I am a fundamentally a deregulator. I'd like to see a lot of the unnecessary government regulations eliminated, not just a moratorium."

You see where that got us.

Obama Releases Two-Minute Ad on Financial Meltdown

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 10:39 AM EDT

Apparently the Obama people think the financial turmoil of the last few days is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people worth breaking the bank for. They've put an extremely rare two-minute advertisement on the air "nationally and in battleground states around the country," according to the campaign.

It is everything Obama has been criticized for being on the stump these past several weeks: thoughtful, measured, and post-partisan. It takes no jabs at John McCain or George W. Bush. In the last few days, though, Obama and his ads have hit harder; obviously the campaign felt the content of this ad is too serious to be presented in that style. Key question: Does it hold your attention?

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The Meltdown

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 2:33 AM EDT

THE MELTDOWN....OK, this is probably sort of a dumb question, but: Has anyone figured out yet how America's financial giants all managed to misprice the risk of the subprime mortgage market so spectacularly? Yes, I know bankers have been doing this forever. Centuries of experience tell us that they have the impulse control of five-year-olds. And yes, the rating agencies screwed up in a big (and possibly fraudulent) way. That certainly helped things along.

Still: it's not as if the bubbly nature of the U.S. housing market was a secret or something. It's been a hot topic of conversation for years. Everyone knew that there was at least a decent chance that the bubble would burst at some point. Even if you were an optimist, you'd concede the possibility.

So what happened? I don't buy the "black swan" theory. What happened wasn't that unusual or that unlikely. Anyone with access to a Case-Shiller chart and even a vague notion of what was going on in the mortgage market knew that a bursting of the bubble was a distinct possibility. So why did bankers get into a frenzy bidding each other down on the size of that possibility? Were their risk managers all out to lunch? Or did they all get overruled by the suits in mahogany row? What's the deal?

Tough Day at the Office

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 12:30 AM EDT

TOUGH DAY AT THE OFFICE....First she gets fired from HP, now Carly Fiorina has been fired from the McCain campaign. Maybe the Fed should hire her to run AIG next?

Beam It Down, Scotty

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 10:07 PM EDT

CoronaSolar.gif Want solar without all the hassle of clouds and night? Beam it down from space. John Mankins of Space Power Association ran the first technical test on this old idea and announced the new results last week, reports Nature.

For less than $1 million and only 4 months of prep, Mankins transmitted microwaves from Maui to the neighboring island of Hawaii—proving that energy can be transmitted all the way through the atmosphere.

Here's the deal: Even on a sunny day, the atmosphere absorbs and scatters half the Sun's rays. Panels in orbit could collect it all, daytime, nighttime, and every time in between. Beam the energy via microwaves to the surface. The microwaves will pass unhindered through our 60-mile-thick atmosphere. Presto. 100-proof solar fuel.

So many solutions. But so many Galvestonians standing dumbfast as the storm approaches. Can we get moving? Please?

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

Can't Afford Solar? Paint It White

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 9:26 PM EDT

B9a_agra700.jpg Your roof, that is. A new study calculates that installing white roofs in the world's cities could offset 1.5 years of manmade carbon emissions, reports AAAS.

Light-colored roofs cool the planet in two ways. They reflect radiation back into space. And they keep your house cooler so you use less air conditioning.

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the state of California estimated the global number of roofs and asphalt surfaces in cities and conservatively estimated they comprise 1 percent of Earth's surface. They then found that using light-colored concrete, or applying white glazes to buildings, could increase the reflectivity of urban surfaces by 10 percent, effectively negating 44 gigatons of CO2. In comparison, halting deforestation of tropical forests would eliminate about 7 gigatons of emissions.

Total global annual emissions from fossil fuels are currently running at about 28 gigatons.

The new snow: paint.

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