Doonesbury and McCain's Wall Street Lobbyists: Day Three

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 9:53 AM EDT

As promised, here's yesterday's Doonesbury strip in which Garry Trudeau, bless his heart, keeps spreading the good word about John McCain's Wall Street lobbyists:

Doonesbury © 2008 G. B. Trudeau. Used by permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Today, Trudeau keeps listing lobbyist after lobbyist but throws in an acknowledgment that eventually this series, while worthwhile, could get boring. We'll carry that strip on MoJoBlog tomorrow, boring or not.

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Debate II - McCain Offers a Man; Obama Offers More

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:32 AM EDT

Last Thursday, during a McCain campaign town hall meeting in Denver, one participant stood up and challenged the GOP presidential candidate: "When are you going to take the gloves off?" His fellow McCain supporters in the downtown hotel roared with approval. "How about Tuesday night?" John McCain replied, referring to his second debate with Obama.

How about not? The McCain campaign in recent days has pumped up its effort to delegitimize Barack Obama, with its top strategist apparently calculating that McCain cannot vanquish Obama if the election is about issues. At a recent rally in a California suburb, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin declared, "Our someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." (This was a reference to Obama's past association with Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground radical who became an education expert). And on Monday, McCain delivered a blistering attack on Obama that was loaded with inaccuracies and distortions. So one expectation among the politerati was that McCain would continue swinging--or thrashing--at the second debate. Work in Bill Ayers. Refer to Jeremiah Wright. Depict Obama as shifty and untrustworthy.

That did not happen. McCain, trailing Obama in the polls, mainly trained his fire on policy matters. He did continue to hurl misrepresentations at Obama. (As the debate proceeded, I received 40 emails from the Obama campaign making this point.) For instance, McCain once again claimed that Obama has voted 94 times to raise taxes, a charge that has been widely debunked by various factchecking outfits. But there was no frontal assault on Obama's character--and only one or two slight digs on his qualifications. The debate was more high-minded than anticipated. But it demonstrated a tough reality for McCain: he is out of sync with his own campaign. He cannot pull the trigger, when his advisers seem to believe a machine gun blast is needed.

Obama and his campaign are fully integrated. He calls for a break from the past eight years on both domestic and foreign fronts and famously urges fundamental change. As a new face--and a black man--he sure does represent change. He is his message. And his campaign for over a year and a half has not had to go through any strategic lurches or had to reconfigure either its candidate or its core pitch. That's not true on the McCain side. His campaign has been nothing but lurches. And the most recent one--a turn toward even more negative campaigning--undercuts his old and now practically worn-out reputation as a straight-talking maverick. So come Debate II, McCain was confronting a tough choice: damned if he does (go negative) and stalled if he doesn't.

Deciding to forego the nasty stuff, McCain relied on policy differences to hammer Obama. The problem: Obama's policy prescriptions are not unpopular.


| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:01 AM EDT

MDvotingmachine.jpg Graduate and undergraduate students at Rice University are learning how easy it is to wreak havoc on today's voting machines. As part of an advanced computer science class, students do their best to rig a voting machine in the classroom.

Here's how it works: The class is split into two teams. In phase one, the teams play unscrupulous programmers at a voting machine company. Their task is to make subtle changes to the Hack-A-Vote's software that will alter the election's outcome but that can't be detected by election officials. In the second phase, the teams play software regulators who certify the code submitted by the hacking team.

The results prove it's easy to insert subtle changes to the voting machine. If someone has access and wants to do damage, it's a straightforward hack. The good news is the regulator team often find the hack. Often, but not always.

"That One": Condescending, Not Racist

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 10:51 PM EDT

Let me be the first to say that I do not think McCain's reference to Obama as "that one," which is already getting a ton of attention in the post-debate coverage, is a big deal. It is not the singular of "those people." McCain has always had a sharp tongue and an irreverent, almost cranky, sense of humor. You know, befitting an old uncle or grandpa.

I, for one, read no racism into the comment. Condescension, yes. Racism, no.

Update: The "That One" phenomenon is taking off. T-shirts and logos now available.

Debate Live Blog

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 9:06 PM EDT

Hello there! If you're the type of political junkie who wants to relive every minute of the debate (we know you're out there!), you've come to the right place. Kevin is liveblogging over at his place, and the whippersnappers of the DC bureau, Nick Baumann and Jonathan Stein, are holding it down here. Excessive? Only if you hate America. Enjoy!

9:14: The big news early on is John McCain's proposal to buy back home mortgages. This would be enormously expensive, obviously. More shortly. Reportedly, this is not new.

9:16: McCain refuses to say Phil Gramm is the next treasury secretary. That's right: foreclosure Phil. Who, we all know, will actually have the post. Instead, he suggests Meg Whitman, the eBay CEO.

9:18: Obama: I see you Meg Whitman and raise you Warren Buffet.

9:20: Did you know McCain suspended his campaign?

9:20: McCain attacks Obama for Fannie and Freddie, calling them the "match that started this forest fire". McCain has many Fannie/Freddie connections, as Mother Jones has documented. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, was paid by Freddie until August.

9:22: Check out the parallel live blog at Kevin Drum. He's on his game tonight.

9:23: Obama mentions that the national debt is now over $10 trillion. In related news, the national debt clock is broken.

9:25: Senator McCain works with Joe Lieberman! In related news, no one likes Joe Lieberman, not even his constituents.

9:27: $860 billion in spending will buy an awful lot of "overhead projector(s) at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois."

9:29: Health care, energy, entitlement reform: Brokaw says to rank 'em. McCain says do all three at once. Why is he able to do that? Because he's really old. He remembers Tip O'Neill. He also says he's "reached across the aisle" to work with Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold.

9:30: Obama acts like an adult and says "we have to prioritize." His answer: Energy is #1, Healthcare is #2, and Education is #3. Where is ending the war in Iraq?

9:31: Our first question from the internet. 78-year-olds know how to use the internet? Why can't John McCain? The question is essentially "What are you going to ask Americans to sacrifice?" McCain says spending programs. Also, "overhead projector" gets mentioned a second time. not on anyone's debate bingo card. What a shame.

9:32: McCain counterattacks against Obama's priority-setting, saying "yes we can" do all sorts of things at once.

9:33: Obama mentions 9/11, and talks about Bush's call for Americans to "Go out and shop." He calls for the development of "Clean Coal" technology. Ergh. Clean coal is often known by its real name, "coal".

Debate Liveblogging - 10.07.2008

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 8:59 PM EDT

DEBATE LIVEBLOGGING....Sure, it's going to be a townhall format, but is it a small town format? Because we all know that small town values are where it's at these days. Gentlemen, start your engines.

Wrapup – There was more tit-for-tat spatting this time than in the previous debate, but not really anything substantively new. They both had pretty much the same talking points as they did in Oxford, and neither one was especially sharp tonight.

Obama was not at his best, but his answers were mostly fairly clear and straightforward. He did OK. McCain struggled at first, then picked up a bit later, but overall seemed sort of testy and off his feed. And what was with his "that one" reference to Obama? That's not presidential, my friends.

On specific topics: McCain did poorly on energy; Obama did well. McCain did OK on the financial crisis; Obama did much better. McCain blew the "priorities" question; Obama handled it nicely and gets points for not completely accepting Tom Brokaw's framing. McCain did OK on entitlements; so did Obama. Healthcare was sort of a botch for both guys. Overall, a modest but definite victory for Obama.

UPDATE: The CNN insta-poll says Obama won 54%-30%. I'm not surprised Obama won, but I'm a little surprised he won so strongly. I suspect this has something to do with the increasing comfort level with Obama as the debates progress, and also with the steadiness he's demonstrated during the financial crisis. In any case, it's very, very bad news for McCain. Once the comfort level with Obama increases to this level, McCain is doomed.

UPDATE 2: CBS insta-poll of uncommitted voters says Obama won 39%-27%.

10:33 – McCain: "What I don't know is what the unexpected will be." Yogi Berra would be proud.

10:31 – "What don't you know and how will you learn it?" This is just a variation on the old "What's your greatest weakness?" chestnut. Jeers to Brokaw for asking it.

10:26 – Oh please, not preconditions again. Not the League of Democracies. Please. It's like a Kabuki play.

10:24 – OK, we finally have an issue that men care about more than women: Russian energy. Who knew? UPDATE: Iranian nukes too!

10:16 – By the way, didn't McCain sound kind of whiny a couple of minutes ago with his "If Obama gets more time then I want more time too" schtick?

10:15 – McCain once again says he knows how to get Osama but he's not going to tip his hand about how to do it. Sheesh.

10:11 – McCain is really struggling to make Obama sound like a warmonger for wanting to kill Osama if we find him in Pakistan. It's just too much of a stretch for him.

10:10 – Is there anything that men react to more strongly than women? Come on guys, get in touch with your feelings!

10:07 – Once again, McCain is noticeably more comfortable with national security issues than with domestic issues. In the first 40 minutes of the debate McCain tripped over his own words frequently and found himself struggling for words and ideas. Now that we're onto foreign policy, he's far more fluent.

10:05 – Obama is oddly tongue-tied on the subject of humanitarian interventions.

10:02 – McCain and Obama agree that America is the greatest nation on earth. Whew. I'm glad we got that cleared up.

9:58 – Obama: "It's important to crack down on insurance companies that are cheating you." The focus group has gone off the charts. Even the men (who don't react nearly as strong as women) reacted fairly strongly.

9:54 – McCain's "math" on healthcare is a total ramble. I wonder how many people have any idea what he's talking about?

9:52 – When the candidates attack their opponent's plan (as Obama is doing right now on healthcare), the focus group doesn't like it. But is that because they don't like attacks, or is it because they're agreeing that the stuff being attacked really is bad?

9:46 – Obama wants wind and solar. Much better! Everybody likes wind and solar.

9:44 – McCain gets a total softball on his environmental plans. But he's blowing it! Nuclear power is safe! We can reprocess all the toxic waste! Even if that's true, it's a bad answer. Then he follows up with a bit of incoherent rambling.

9:41 – McCain: "Social Security isn't that tough." Well, that's true enough. But on Medicare, McCain thinks the answer is a commission. Hmmm.

9:39 – Obama is getting pretty wonky about his tax plans. But the focus group loves it!

9:33 – McCain didn't seem anxious to mention his gigantic corporate tax cut.

9:28 – Obama hasn't said "John is right" yet. Is this deliberate?

9:27 – Obama says energy is priority #1, healthcare is #2, and education is #3. He refused to take Brokaw's bait and demagogue Social Security. Good for him.

9:24 – McCain wants "all of the above." Literally. He's in serious ramble mode on what his highest priority will be as president.

9:23 – No bear DNA yet, but McCain has a new one: Obama voted for "an overhead projector for a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois." Take that!

9:21 – Isn't Bill Ayers really the source of all our economic woes? Why hasn't McCain pointed that out yet?

9:20 – Obama keeps talking about George Bush and how he mishandled the economy. Why is he unwilling to say the words "Republican Party" instead?

9:18 – American workers are the best exporters and the best importers in the world? What is McCain talking about?

9:17 – Neither candidate wants to admit the obvious, namely that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. I guess I don't blame them.

9:15 – Obama, on the other hand, actually did a pretty good job of explaining how TARP might help ordinary workers. But now it's back to tit-for-tat against McCain.

9:12 – Oliver wants to know how the bailout bill is going to help people like him. McCain isn't even pretending to answer the question. Instead he's just attacking Obama and his "cronies" who supported Fannie Mae.

9:09 – Is McCain really serious about Meg Whitman as Secretary of the Treasury?

9:07 – I have no idea whether these "dial groups" that CNN monitors during the debate have any validity at all, but I'm fascinated by them regardless. And the dial group, against expectations, really didn't like McCain's idea of bailing out homeowners directly.

9:05 – Yes! Obama wants to fire all those AIG execs who took that $400,000 junket. The focus group goes wild!

9:01 – Wolf says there will be no rambling or filibustering tonight. Why? Because there's a clock. That really doesn't seem to have stopped rambling or filibustering before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.

8:59 – Everybody at CNN thinks that everyone else at CNN is absolutely right about everything they've just said.

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Reversing Course, California Gay Marriage Ban Ahead in the Polls

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 7:53 PM EDT

New polls show Proposition 8, the California ballot measure banning gay marriage, winning in November by a margin of four to five points. This is a dramatic shift from what they'd indicated in recent months and up to as late as a week ago, when one of the same polls showed Prop 8 losing by the same margin. Since then, Prop 8 backers have blanketed the state's airwaves with an ad featuring San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaiming in a speech that gay marriage will happen "whether you like it or not"--a comment that may play on unfounded fears of government intervention. Inexplicably, one poll attributed much of the recent shift to young voters, who have typically been the most stalwart supporters of gay rights. In what's shaping up to be one of the costliest ballot measures on a cultural issue in state history, Prop 8 backers complain that they're being outspent, with a significant amount of Prop 8 funding coming from the Mormon Church. As I've written in the past, the gay marriage issue poses little if any threat to Barack Obama this year. Even so, the recent movement in the polls indicates that support for gay rights remains disturbingly malleable.

The British Bailout

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 7:27 PM EDT

THE BRITISH BAILOUT....From the Guardian:

Gordon Brown will announce plans today to use up to £50bn of taxpayers' money to take major stakes in the high street banks in a last-ditch attempt to restore confidence in the financial system.

Adjusted for the size of our respective economies, this is about the equivalent of $500 billion. In other words, nearly as big as the Paulson bailout. In other words, big.

However, they're using their money to recapitalize banks, not to buy up troubled assets. Paul Krugman approves.

Why AIG Went Down

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 6:14 PM EDT


Documents released today by a congressional committee investigating the collapse of insurance giant American International Group (AIG) paint a picture of a company that sought to conceal the scope of its risky investments, despite warnings from regulators, auditors, and even its own employees that its financial disclosures were insufficient.

According to a letter (PDF) released Tuesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing on the firm's downfall, federal regulators warned AIG executives of a "material weakness" in the company's books five months before the insurance giant had to be rescued by an $85 billion government bailout. The federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) wrote AIG on March 10, 2008 that its asset valuations "lacked the accuracy and granularity necessary to understand the impact… on AIG's accounting and financial reporting."

AIG's auditor, Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PWC), also warned the insurance giant about its books. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) pointed to minutes (PDF) from an AIG audit committee meeting in March indicating the board was told that the "root cause" of AIG's problems was internal auditors' lack of "appropriate access" to the Financial Products division—the very division whose massive losses eventually necessitated the $85 billion government bailout.

And even AIG's own employees warned the company that it had no way of knowing how much risk it was exposed to. In a letter (PDF) to the committee, Joseph St. Denis, the firm's former vice president for accounting policy in AIG's Financial Products division, accused AIG executives of stymieing his attempts to make sure the company was properly reporting the liabilities stemming from its involvement in risky financial products, including the $62 billion credit derivative swap (CDS) market. St. Denis, who worked as a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement official before joining AIG, said Joseph Cassano, the head of the division, "took actions that I believed were intended to prevent me from performing the job duties for which I was hired."

Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant for the SEC who testified at the hearing, said he didn't see how AIG's financial disclosures could possibly be consistent with its exposure. "When you've got that sort of exposure, you owe it to me as an investor [to disclose it]. That's the disclosure I cannot find in these filings…. There's a question there as to why we didn't get that."

MP3: Brett Dennen - "Make You Crazy"

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 5:06 PM EDT

mojo-photo-dennen.jpgI've been doing pretty well this election season, emotional-stability-wise, but today, I'm starting to get really pissed. With the tacit encouragement of the candidates, McCain-Palin rallies are turning into lynch mobs, astonishing examples of the real consequences of pushing Rovian campaign tactics that far. Whether or not Obama is dominating in the polls, this kind of stuff makes me furious and terrified, and I'm not sure I'll be able to watch the debate tonight without being physically restrained, or my TV might end up out on the sidewalk.

Oakdale, California's Brett Dennen understands. His new album, Hope for the Hopeless (hey, that's me!) comes out October 21st; his label, Downtown, has a free mp3 of the first single, "Make You Crazy" (that's also me!), whose lyrics acknowledge that the "lies just to get you/spies just to get you" are "enough to make you go crazy." Thankfully, its sunny samba rhythms have the calming properties of a nice caipirinha—not too sweet, but tasty enough to help you forget why you were about to blow your top over some planted pseudo-redneck at a Palin rally. And is that Femi Kuti in the background? Why yes it is. Ahhh, that's better.

MP3: Brett Dennen – "Make You Crazy"