Mojo - September 2008

Did Swing District Congressmen Doom the Bailout?

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 4:45 PM EDT

Numbers maven Nate Silver looks at how electoral prospects affected votes on the bailout:

Among 38 incumbent congressmen in races rated as "toss-up" or "lean" by Swing State Project, just 8 voted for the bailout as opposed to 30 against: a batting average of .211.
By comparison, the vote among congressmen who don't have as much to worry about was essentially even: 197 for, 198 against.
...among 26 congressmen NOT running for re-election (almost all of whom are Republicans), 23 voted in favor of the bill, as opposed to 2 against and one abstaining.

There's a huge chance the bailout doesn't work; there's very little chance it makes everything better. As a result it's way, way safer for Congressmen in tight races to vote against the thing.

That said, I do believe there was genuine ideological opposition to the bailout on the left of the Democratic Party and the right of the Republican Party. A host on CNBC postulated that this was a revolt of the Republican rank-and-file who had been told, for many years, that their desire for fiscal conservativism would have to take a back seat to the GOP leadership's spending priorities. I think there's some real truth to that.

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After $700 Billion Bailout Collapses in the House, GOP Mounts an Absurd Blame Game

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 4:08 PM EDT

It took only a few minutes for the blame game to begin. Moments after the House failed to pass the $700 billion bailout plan, the Republican leaders--who could not produce the expected number of Republican votes for the legislation--came before the cameras with an explanation for the bill's collapse: a speech Nancy Pelosi gave.

House minority leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that prior to the 228-to-205 vote everything was hunky-dory. Then the House Speaker delivered a "partisan speech" before the floor vote began. This, Boehner said, "poisoned our conference and caused a number of members we thought we could get to go south." Representative Eric Cantor, a member of the Republican leadership, held up a transcript of Pelosi's speech and decried her "failure to lead."

What did Pelosi say that was so heinous? Here are some portions from the text that was issued by her office:

Mission Creep Dispatch: Catherine Lutz

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 3:14 PM EDT

lutz.jpg As part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)

The following dispatch comes from Catherine Lutz, anthropologist at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, author of Homefront: A Military City and the American Twentieth Century, and editor of the upcoming book The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against US Military Posts.


Welcome to Guam, USA

"Guam, USA" is the tagline on the western Pacific island's license plates. It resonates with the fact that fully one-third of Guam's territory is occupied by US military installations, from the giant Anderson Air Force Base in the north, to the Naval Magazine, where deadly ordnance is stored, in the south. For there is nothing more American, in many ways, unfortunately, than a place bristling with weapons and soldiers.

McCain the Patriot: "Country First or Obama First"

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 1:46 PM EDT

John McCain put the choice rather directly during a campaign rally on Monday afternoon when he declared, "Country first or Obama first." In other words, there is only one way a true patriot can vote--and Obama does not love his country as much as McCain does. Anyone care to argue that such an argument is not a scoundrel's refuge?

Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out of West Bank

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

In a remarkable development and transformation from his former Likud days, outgoing Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has given an interview to an Israeli newspaper in which he says Israel should pull out of the West Bank, and more broadly, rethink its strategic defense doctrine from one that is so heavily military-based.

In an unusually frank and soul-searching interview granted after he resigned to fight corruption charges — he remains interim prime minister until a new government is sworn in — Mr. Olmert discarded longstanding Israeli defense doctrine and called for radical new thinking in words that are sure to stir controversy as his expected successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, tries to build a coalition.
"What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me," Mr. Olmert told Yediot Aharonot newspaper in the interview to mark the Jewish new year that runs from Monday night till Wednesday night. "The time has come to say these things."
He said traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 Independence War. "With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop," he said. "All these things are worthless."
He added, "Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel's basic security?"

Biden vs. Palin: Who Can Shut Up More?

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

Next door, Kevin says that Biden's path to victory in Thursday's debate against Sarah Palin has gotten easier in recent days as Palin's confidence has fractured: "Biden just needs to show up, talk normally, and wait for her to implode."

That's easier said than done, of course, especially for Joe Biden. This debate will not be a test of his knowledge; it'll be a test of his restraint. He will likely win if he shuts up, stops trying to prove how much he knows, and simply gives Palin enough rope/time to hang herself.

His advisers and handlers know this. That means Biden will likely come into the debate with a strategy of saying as little as possible. And due to her plethora of recent gaffes, Palin will come into the debate the strategy of... saying as little as possible. Can you imagine Gwen Ifill's position? "Senator? Governor? You both have one minute and thirty seconds left. Would anyone like to speak?"

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Palin Reportedly Said Humans and Dinosaurs Coexisted

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

A Wasilla-based music teacher and liberal political blogger is claiming that then-Mayor Sarah Palin told him after a 1997 commencement address for home-schooled students that "dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth at the same time."

Young Earth Creationism is a relatively common strain of Christian evangelicalism. It believes God created the earth over the course of six days roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It has always struggled with dinosaurs. The scientific establishment says dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago and have fossils to prove it. YEC believers are often forced into the argument that the Devil planted the fossils to fool faithless humans, or that human footprints can be found alongside preserved dinosaur tracks.

Which explains why, on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle.

Whoever does the next Palin interview — and since Katie Couric proved to be too tough an interrogator, I have to assume it'll be Regis and Kelly — needs to ask if Palin believes in Young Earth Creationism and what her views are dinosaurs are. Matt Damon wants to know!

Mayor of SC Town "Just Curious" if Obama is the Antichrist

| Mon Sep. 29, 2008 11:51 AM EDT

When PolitiFact did a fact-check of the "Is Obama the Antichrist?" question back in April, I thought it was a touch ridiculous. They got multiple professors of religious studies to chime in and did a serious examination of the text of Revelation. They found that not only is Obama not the Antichrist (stunning!), the chain email that suggests he is has no familiarity with the Bible and is a pretty pathetic piece of work, even for a smear email.

But that's not a surprise, right? This is an email claiming a prominent American politician is the Antichrist. Of course it's insane. No one needs a fact-check to prove that. Right?

Oops. The mayor of a South Carolina town apparently does. He forwarded the email after receiving it and when called on the fact that he was perpetuating a smear, he said, "I was just curious if there was any validity to it. I was trying to get documentation if there was any scripture to back it up."

I'm going to start sending out emails claiming that this man is a half-wit. I'm just curious if there is any validity to it.

McCain: No, Palin Did Not Mean That

| Sun Sep. 28, 2008 2:49 PM EDT

If you watched the debate, you know John McCain attacked Barack Obama's position on Pakistan. Here's how Obama articulates it: "If the United States has al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out."

McCain said at the debate that it was unwise to "threaten" Pakistan in this way, and that Obama's position was a product of his inexperience. "You don't say that out loud," McCain said. "If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government."

But there's a problem. On a recent campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Sarah Palin was asked by a voter if American forces should move from Afghanistan into Pakistan to pursue terrorists. Palin responded, "If that's what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should."

Whoops. That's Obama's position. So today McCain was in the painful position of having to retract his vice presidential pick's statement:

"She would not…she understands and has stated repeatedly that we're not going to do anything except in America's national security interest. In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that's—that's a person's position… This is a free country, but I don't think most Americans think that that's a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin."

Translation: Just because my candidate for vice president said something into a microphone doesn't mean it should be taken seriously or that she actually believes it.

The First Obama-McCain Debate: Not as Telling as Real Life

| Sat Sep. 27, 2008 1:25 AM EDT

No memorable exchanges. No historic zingers. No gotchas. The much-anticipated first face-off between Barack Obama and John McCain resolved little. Neither candidate strayed from their usual briefing books. The talking points were recycled. McCain blasted Obama for being a rookie in the ways of national security. Obama questioned McCain's judgment, notably his initial support for the Iraq war.

They both played it safe. Especially when it came to the hot topic of the night: the $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street. It was no surprise that moderator Jim Lehrer would lead off with the issue, even though the focus of this debate was supposed to be foreign policy. And in his first question, Lehrer asked each candidate to state where he stands on the "financial recovery plan." Neither would get specific. Obama cited the need to move "swiftly" and "wisely." He called for effective oversight of the plan, taxpayer protections, and guarantees the money spent would not reach the pockets of CEOs. He pointed to the current meltdown as evidence of the failure of economic policies supported these past eight years by George W. Bush and McCain. It was standard fare.

McCain noted he was heartened by the bipartisan negotiations under way in Washington. He, too, cited the need for accountability. He mentioned the possibility of adding a provision to the package that would allow the federal government to offer loans to troubled institutions rather than buy their bad paper. Neither one, though, fully endorsed the plan--or raised any objections. Asked if he would vote for it, McCain said, "I hope so." It was a strong signal he would not be mounting any from-the-right populist crusade against the proposal.

But each candidate exploited the bailout queries. Obama tried to tie McCain to Bushonomics. McCain hailed his own efforts to curtail pork-barrel spending on Capitol Hill. Obama slapped him for focusing on $18 billion in earmarks while supporting $300 billion in tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. McCain accused Obama of being a tax-hiker. Obama countered--correctly--that his tax plan provides far more relief for taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year than does McCain's proposal.

It was as if they were eager to talk about any economic issue other than the details of a gargantuan bailout that may or may not work and that may or may not be popular come Election Day.