Mojo - October 2008

This Campaign Could Get Really Fun...

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

This photo restores some of the faith in mankind's creativity that I lost on Monday. Props to Kos for catching it.

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And, frankly, the signage isn't far off. Late last night, CNN flashed a poll that said not only did debate-viewers prefer Obama on the economy by double digits, they preferred him on Iraq by about four or five points. That has to signal the beginning of the end for McCain, doesn't it? Iraq is supposed to be the one issue he will always own; the fact that it's drifting away from him suggests that more and more Americans are talking themselves into a President Obama and his ability to handle all the tough issues.

For what it's worth, Obama won just about every category in last night's polls. Numbers here. I'm guessing Sarah Palin is really going to regret her brief excursion into national politics in a month or so.

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Elect Conservatives to Limit the Power of Incompetent (Conservative) Government!

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 12:35 PM EDT

Tom Frank has a delightful line in his Washington Post column today. I'll provide the setup. The line I'm referring to is in bold.

Friedman on the Patriotism of Taxes

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 11:57 AM EDT

We go back and forth on Tom Friedman here at MoJoBlog, but we have to give him props for standing up for the basic civic function of paying taxes. He mentions that Sarah Palin dismissed paying taxes as "not patriotic" and has some follow up questions.

Governor Palin, if paying taxes is not considered patriotic in your neighborhood, who is going to pay for the body armor that will protect your son in Iraq? Who is going to pay for the bailout you endorsed?

And he's just getting warmed up.

Sorry, I grew up in a very middle-class family in a very middle-class suburb of Minneapolis, and my parents taught me that paying taxes, while certainly no fun, was how we paid for the police and the Army, our public universities and local schools, scientific research and Medicare for the elderly....
I can understand someone saying that the government has no business bailing out the financial system, but I can't understand someone arguing that we should do that but not pay for it with taxes. I can understand someone saying we have no business in Iraq, but I can't understand someone who advocates staying in Iraq until "victory" declaring that paying taxes to fund that is not patriotic.

Preach, brother! Look, here's what people like Sarah Palin do not understand, or pretend to not understand. If we could achieve our necessary public policy goals without taxing American citizens, we would obviously do it. But we can't. Taxes are the building blocks of a healthy, functioning society that protects its citizens are provides them with an opportunity for a brighter future. Conservatives argue that the American people built America into what it is. I would argue that the American people and the taxes they pay have built America. And they can rebuild America. How is that not the very definition of patriotic?

Doonesbury and McCain's Wall Street Lobbyists: Day Three

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 10:53 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:

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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.

Debate II - McCain Offers a Man; Obama Offers More

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:32 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 opponent...is 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.

"That One": Condescending, Not Racist

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 11:51 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.

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Debate Live Blog

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 10:06 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".

Reversing Course, California Gay Marriage Ban Ahead in the Polls

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 8:53 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.

Why AIG Went Down

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

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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."

Palin's (Functional Equivalent of an) Email Cover-up

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

no-email250x200.jpg By using at least one private email account for state business, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has virtually guaranteed that most of the emails she sent as governor--which are subject to the state's Open Records Act--will not be publicly released before Election Day.

After Senator John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, picked Palin to be his running mate, a number of news organizations, including Mother Jones filed Open Records Act requests for copies of emails Palin had received or sent. (For a comprehensive list of all the requests received by Palin's office, see here.)On September 22, in response to the Mother Jones request, Palin's office replied that it would cost $2,249.46 to conduct a search of her official email account. This did not include copying fees. The fee was later reduced to $590.06. But money was not the issue.

Palin has used at least two private email accounts in addition to her state account. That posed a serious challenge to the record-keepers in her office: how to find the emails to and from these accounts. The information managers had easy access to the emails she generated and received with her official account. But they did not have access to a Yahoo account she used for official communications and another private account she might have used for state business.