Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain’s Gerald Ford Moment

Looking back on 1976, many historians and casual observers alike will tell you that if President Gerald Ford ever had a chance against challenger Jimmy Carter, that chance disappeared when, during a debate, the president forcefully declared, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

Ford was given a chance to correct his assertion in a follow-up, but he stuck to his guns, even underscoring the point by saying that Yugoslavia, Romania, and Poland were “independent” and “autonomous.”

Here’s what Time magazine had to say about what they called “The Blooper Heard Round the World” back in October of 1976:

Thus, in his second debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford made what could well be the most damaging statement of his career. For any politician, calling Eastern Europe free would be an amazing gaffe. For a President, especially one who is running partly on a campaign theme of experience in foreign policy, the mistake reawakened many voters' suspicions that Ford is a bumbier [sic].

Fast-forward 32 years, and a candidate who is, yes, “running partly on a campaign theme of experience in foreign policy” makes a mistake that is possibly a bigger fo-pol faux pas than Ford’s.

You heard that right, John McCain called the Pakistan of the late 1990s a “failed state.” To quote Max Bergmann, that is simply “not true.”

McCain just badly misstated the history of Pakistan. For someone claiming extensive foreign policy knowledge, this is simply not acceptable.

[emphasis added]

Darn, if that don’t sound familiar. Here (again, courtesy of Bergmann) is what really happened:

Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999 when he deposed Nawaz Sharif - who recently participated in the latest election. The coup followed the 1999 war in Kashmir with India and was due to a power struggle with Sharif, not due to Pakistan being a "failed state." The United States did not welcome the Musharraf coup. Instead the government of the United States imposed sanctions against this action.

Remember Pakistan had nuclear weapons in 1999. Did McCain believe that there was a failed state that possessed nuclear weapons? If he did he showed no concern at the time.

And I do think that McCain’s blunder is bigger than Ford’s. While Gerald Ford made the mistake of garbling his talking points on whether the Soviets had gotten the better of a 1975 trade pact—and then, rather than correcting his error, tried instead to look more sure and presidential—John McCain seemed to believe his contention that Pakistan was a failed state prior to the military coup that elevated General Pervez Musharraf.

Either that, or McCain was just vamping—which, given the import of the office he seeks and the delicate nature of US-Pakistani relations, is probably worse.

One might say that such behavior is erratic or unstable. To paraphrase Time: it might even have reawakened many voters’ suspicions that McCain is dangerous.

Will such a dangerous gaffe hurt McCain the way Ford’s big-league bumble derailed his campaign? Claiming that Poland was not under Soviet control is thought to have swung votes in crucial northern states with large Polish-American populations. Whether Pakistani-Americans in this cycle’s swing states will take similar offense at McCain’s slight (or whether voters of any stripe will be more basically appalled) remains to be seen.

(h/t Rachel Maddow)

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Moose lips sink ships: Palin’s morning “availability” clues us to McCain’s plan to disrupt bailout talks

Earlier today, I took a peek at this tape of Republican veep wannabe Sarah Palin’s “press availability” near the sight of the 9/11/01 attacks in lower Manhattan. . .

After viewing, I wrote to some friends:

She doesn't support the bailout until "the provisions that John McCain has offered" are incorporated into the bill??? What provisions?

It was BHO that offered the four points; McAsshole would only agree to the generic preamble.

Indeed, as noted here yesterday, Barack Obama tried to negotiate a joint statement on the financial crisis with John McCain. McCain left the Obama folks hanging all day while he hobnobbed with a wealthy benefactor and crafted a plan (and talking points) to pretend suspend his campaign. Late in the day, after all of McCain’s histrionics, McCain and Obama jointly released the most generic of statements:

The American people are facing a moment of economic crisis. No matter how this began, we all have a responsibility to work through it and restore confidence in our economy. The jobs, savings, and prosperity of the American people are at stake.

Now is a time to come together – Democrats and Republicans – in a spirit of cooperation for the sake of the American people. The plan that has been submitted to Congress by the Bush Administration is flawed, but the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.

This is a time to rise above politics for the good of the country. We cannot risk an economic catastrophe. Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country.

There are no proposals in that statement—not in the “joint” part, anyway. Obama went on to add a five-point amendment to the statement when it was posted on his campaign’s website. McCain, too busy not appearing on David Letterman, issued no additional points, recommendations, guidelines, or proposals.

And it doesn’t seem he privately phoned in any suggestions, either. Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd, appearing late last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, said that he had “never heard from McCain on the issue” of the economic crisis. Ranking Republicans involved in the negotiations also stated that they had not spoken with McCain.

Cut to today, Thursday. After spending the previous night in New York City and making a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in the morning, McCain finally got on his plane and flew down to DC, arriving after Congressional negotiators had already announced a deal in principle.

McCain went to the planned afternoon meeting at the White House that included Congressional leaders, President Bush, and Hank Paulson, and, according to reports, then started pitching a new plan:

During the White House meeting, it appears that Sen. John McCain had an agenda He brought up alternative proposals, surprising and angering Democrats. He did not, according to someone briefed on the meeting, provide specifics.

One the proposals -- favored by House Republicans -- would relax regulation and temporarily get rid of certain taxes in order to lure private industry into the market for these distressed assets.

That approach has been rejected by Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and, to this point, the White House. During the meeting, according to someone briefed on it, Sec. Henry Paulson told those assembled that the approach was not workable.

Members of the House Republican caucus, never happy with the prospect of large-scale government intervention in the markets, sided with McCain, and the deal unraveled. Negotiations broke down, and the air of bipartisanship that seemed to pervade Washington talk most of the week has dissipated.

Democratic leaders are clearly angered. Chairman Dodd, appearing on CNN, said that if Republicans had an alternative plan, they should have offered it at the beginning of the week, at the beginning of negotiations, not at the White House photo op organized to announce a deal. “Instead of being a rescue plan for the economy,” decried an exasperated Dodd, “it became a rescue plan for John McCain. . . . I didn’t quite understand what was going on down there [at the White House] except political theater.”

Now, we can clearly see that this McCain campaign bailout plan was premeditated. We suspected this before, and now, thanks to Sarah Palin’s loose lips, we have proof. Palin’s mention of not supporting a compromise bailout plan until it included McCain’s proposals—hours before McCain had actually made any proposals—revealed the McCain camp’s politics first, country second strategy.

As Barack Obama stated after talks broke up, “What I found and I think was confirmed today when you inject presidential politics into delicate negotiations it is not necessarily as helpful as it could be.”

That all depends on who you were planning to help, Senator, the American people, or John McCain.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

I have suspended posting to my blog. . .

. . . so that I can work on fixing the economy.

There are, however, a couple of non-posts over on guy2k that are totally not about not posting.

Thank you, my friends.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain would rather tank the markets than lose an election

You know, the top paragraph on the CBS website sets it up just fine, so let’s dive in:

After Sen. John McCain announced he would suspend his campaign in order to focus on his congressional work ironing out the $700 billion bailout package - and proposed delaying the first presidential debate - he came to the CBS News broadcast center to explain the politics of the situation to CBS News Anchor Katie Couric.

Katie Couric: Sen. McCain, why is it necessary for you to take this extraordinary step of suspending your campaign?

John McCain: 'Cause these are extraordinary times. The financial crisis is on the verge of a very, very serious, most serious crisis since the end of World War II. That's according to Mr. Bernanke, Secretary Paulson and others. Any expert. This is a most serious situation. And it could … not only be United States markets, but world markets as well.

McCain continued with his hyperbolic fright-speak, saying: “I don't know anyone that doesn't believe that this crisis is of such enormous proportions that it has the possibility. . . of wrecking the economy in ways that we've never contemplated.”

Couric, who had earlier talked with the equally hyperbolic Sarah Palin, asked Palin's supposed number one about what the Alaska governor said:

Couric: Earlier today, senator, I spoke with your running mate, Sarah Palin, and she told me that if action is not taken a Great Depression is, quote, "The road that America may find itself on." Do you agree with that assessment?

McCain: I don't know … if it's exactly the Depression. But I know of no expert, including Mr. Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, and our secretary of treasury, and the outside observers ... every respected economist … in this country is saying, "You better address this problem, and you better do it now, or the consequences, obviously, of inaction are of the utmost seriousness." So I agree … with Gov. Palin. There's so much at stake here. That's why I am confident that we'll sit down and work together on this thing.

Couric: But isn't so much of this, Sen. McCain, about consumer confidence?

McCain: Sure.

Couric: And using rhetoric like the "Great Depression," is that the kind of language Americans need to hear right now?

McCain: Well, listen, I've heard language from respected people: "oh, we're staring at the abyss." I've heard all kinds of things from people. I don't think we need to scare people. But I certainly think we need to tell them the truth. And tell them what's at stake here.

All of this from the same guy that, just ten days ago, told us “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.

Listen, no self-respecting pol should sugarcoat what is going on with the economy, but there is a difference between honesty and fearmongering. It is not just proper, but essential for people in positions of power, people whose words all by themselves can provoke market action, to be very measured and careful when talking about developing financial events. John McCain’s statements to Couric—just like Palin’s earlier—were not the least bit measured, they were borderline hysterical. McCain, Palin, and, with his speech late Wednesday, President Bush, have all chosen to risk provoking additional, severe market panic in order to further their political objectives.

And there is now no doubt that McCain’s moves Wednesday were politically motivated. A McCain aid accidentally e-mailed the campaign’s internal talking points on suspension to their entire press list.

Add this to last week’s off-the-cuff call for the firing of SEC head Chris Cox, and today’s campaign “suspension” and the call for a delay of Friday’s presidential debate, and you can see why John McCain might not be presidential timber.

And it’s not just those of us on the left who’ve noticed. This is none other Republican graybeard George Will, writing this week in the Washington Post:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. . . .

In any case, McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are "corrupt" or "betray the public's trust," two categories that seem to be exhaustive -- there are no other people.

. . . .

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

Now, with the Arizona senator’s latest irresponsible proclamations on the financial crisis (one he helped create with his 26 years of anti-regulation votes), it seems McCain isn’t just “not suited to the presidency,” he’s not even suited to campaign for it.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Damn Yankees

Even though I am anything but a Yankees fan (I am the fan of two teams, to paraphrase a quote the provenance of which I can’t remember, I am a fan of the Dodgers, and I am a fan of whichever team is playing the Yankees), I could not help but watch the ESPN broadcast of the final baseball game to be played at Yankee Stadium with a heavy heart. Simply known as “The Stadium” in metropolitan New York, it is—or was, I should now say—a living piece of history, a working facility that could provide present enjoyment alongside a palpable link to the past. Even with the terrible mid-Seventies remodel, seeing a game at Yankee Stadium still felt like spending a few hours in another era. You could look around and recognize tableaus from old newsreels and videotapes; you could feel like you were part of the history, not just of baseball, but of American popular culture.

Listening, however, to the broadcasters detail that history, not just of the stadium and the Yankees, but of the team’s majority owner, George Steinbrenner, I grew not only heavy of heart, but also sick of stomach. Talking about the Yankees’ marketing might without talking about what it has done to the economics of baseball is absurd; talking about “The Boss” (as Steinbrenner is unaffectionately known) without talking about the crimes he has committed—against individuals, baseball, and the United States of America—is offensive.

There is much to be said about Steinbrenner’s authoritarian, bullying management style that could still be dismissed as a subjective evaluation, but here is a point that is inarguable fact: George Steinbrenner is a crook.

In 1974, Steinbrenner was indicted on fourteen counts relating to his large, illegal under-the-table contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. General George copped a plea—guilty of an illegal campaign contribution and guilty of obstruction of justice—and got off with a five-figure fine. Then Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn banned Steinbrenner from the game for two years—later cutting that penalty to 15 months. Ronald Reagan did Kuhn one better, granting Steinbrenner a full presidential pardon in the waning hours of the Reagan Administration.

Around about the same time as the pardon, George Steinbrenner grew weary of his all-star outfielder Dave Winfield, a player he had signed after the 1980 season to a ten-year, $23 million contract (the largest in the sport to that point). Or, more accurately, Steinbrenner got cheap. Having reneged on a contractual obligation to donate $300,000 to Winfield’s charity for poor, inner-city youth, The Boss was sued by Winfield. Steinbrenner’s response was to pay $40,000 to known gambler and all-around slime-ball Howard Spira in exchange for dirt on Winfield that could be used to derail the lawsuit.

This move got Georgie banned from baseball “for life.” In 1993, Fay Vincent, that era’s baseball commissioner, decided “life” meant “three years.”

I’m telling you this now; the good folks at ESPN mentioned none of it. Instead, they talked about Steinbrenner’s inevitable induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. They’re probably right, but considering there are poor players who were banned from baseball for being caught hosting small-change crap games in their hotel rooms, and others that have been kept from the Hall for taking tiny bribes to supplement slavish salaries, Steinbrenner’s induction would make a mockery of the institution.

But all of this would just be inside baseball, as they say (well, except that he violated federal election laws, but, gosh, he was pardoned for that), were it not for the cause of Sunday’s lamentations and celebrations. Across the street from the old House that Ruth Built now rises the New Yankee Stadium. The old one will be torn down before next season to make room for a parking lot.

The Yankees didn’t really need a new stadium. The historic old one was more than serviceable, and has in recent years drawn over 4 million visitors a season. But in the last decade or so, as the Yankees were winning title after title, leveraging their brand, and increasing their revenue even faster than their payroll (much, much faster, really), George Steinbrenner neglected The Stadium, allowing for some very visible cracks and crumbles, making minimal repairs, and complaining about his plight all the way to the bank.

Steinbrenner demanded a fresh stadium. He threatened the city. He wanted a new ballpark, and better access roads for suburban commuters, and more space for parking, or else he’d take the New York Yankees out of New York.

New York City, faced with this manufactured crisis, eventually gave in. . . and gave in big, issuing hundreds of millions in tax exempt bonds to finance construction of the new stadium, along with pledging city funds to improve transportation and infrastructure around the area, seizing park land by imminent domain to make way for more parking, and over-valuing the land under the new stadium in order to facilitate a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement.

Negligence, a manufactured crisis, a gunless holdup, greed and corruption at every turn—sound familiar? You and I are not the only ones who think so. I was surprised and impressed to hear Bill Moyers close the Friday broadcast of his weekly show with an essay making some of the same observations—and doing so in harsh terms:

This last couple of weeks, ordinary mortals below could almost hear the ripcords of golden parachutes being pulled as the divinities on high prepared for soft, safe landings. All this while tossing their workers into the purgatory of unemployment, like sacrificial lambs.

. . . .

But let's change our metaphor for a moment. Let's go to our sports desk. Because if religion is no longer the soul of capitalism, we have to look somewhere else to understand this new gilded age. And there it is, just a few miles north of Wall Street, the "House that Ruth Built". . . . Yankee Stadium, as fabled a place to Americans as Ilium was to the Greeks.

But believe it or not, this Sunday — weather permitting — the Yankees will play their last game here. The stadium's being demolished, to be replaced next year with a brand new one. What a history to disappear down the memory hole.

. . . .

[Yankees] owner, George Steinbrenner, is one of the country's richest tycoons, among the Forbes 400. But when it came to paying for the new pleasure dome costing $1.3 billion, the millionaires on the field and King Midas in the skybox came up with some razzle-dazzle plays to finance their wealth machine. Tax-free bonds, requiring ordinary citizens to subsidize the construction, and hundreds of millions more for new parking garages, a train station and parks. Those parks, by the way, will supposedly replace the ones seized by the city to make room for the new stadium. The little league games that used to flourish on sandlots just outside the old ball park have been moved miles away, sent down to the minors on a long road trip.

That's okay, you may think, there will be plenty of room for the tax-paying public to come root, root, root for the home team — even the coliseum in ancient Rome had bleachers, for the commoners. But in fact there will be 5,000 fewer seats in the new stands.

And while the Yankees reportedly have promised that half of what's left will cost $45 apiece or less, those seats that used to cost $250, right behind the dugout, will cost you $850. And if you want to be near home plate, you'll have to cough up $2,500...per game.

Meanwhile, there will be more luxury suites and party rooms where the fat cats gather, safely removed from the sweaty masses. Corporations and wealthy individuals will be able to rent the luxury suites for anywhere from $600,000 to $850,000 tax deductible dollars a year, assuming they haven't filed for bankruptcy this week.

. . . .

Why aren't the fans and tax payers giving the Yankees a Bronx Cheer? They are. But city officials rolled over them while making sure local politicians stay in the line up. The pols are getting their own luxury suite at the new stadium for free and first shot at buying the best available seats.

And so this Sunday evening we will bid farewell to dear old Yankee Stadium, and await the new colossus to rise from its ruins. It will cast its majestic shadow across one of the country's poorest neighborhoods, whose residents will watch from the outside as suburban drivers avail themselves of 9,000 new or refurbished parking spaces. Never mind all the exhaust, even though in this part of town respiratory disease is already so high they call it "asthma alley."

Not that the well-to-do in the infield seats will have to hear that wheezing. They'll have access to a private club, a private entrance and a private elevator. Totems of this Gilded Age. Let the games begin.

Moyers is wonderfully on point, but as hard-hitting as this commentary is, it actually misses the chance to land an additional punch. . . or two. Perhaps Moyers didn’t realize, or perhaps he just had to edit for time, but missing from Friday’s story was an even more direct link between the meltdown on Wall Street, and the teardown in the Bronx.

Almost all Yankees games are broadcast in New York on the YES Network, a cable station formed after the Yankees and the NBA’s New Jersey Nets got into a pissing match with their previous television home and some of that station’s owners. The Nets have since landed in the pocket of wealthy real estate mogul Bruce Ratner, but the Yankees restructured the company with a new partner and kept YES a growing concern. Today, the television network is believed to be worth $1.5 billion (about $200 million more than the Yankees themselves).

Oh, that new partner in the YES Network? That would be Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs is one of the last two of the once “big five” independent investment banks. . . wait, what’s that? Goldman Sachs is now not an investment bank? This just in: Sunday night, during that Yankees game, or there abouts, Goldman and its only remaining rival, Morgan Stanley, sought and got permission to change themselves into full-service banks. They will argue that this makes them more competitive in these new tough times, but, in point of fact, they did this today because it will mean that they can partake of a much larger slice of the pending federal bailout. But, I digress. . .

Goldman Sachs, majority owner of the YES Network, is also the institution that gave us current Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (as well as Clinton Treas-Sec Robert Rubin). Paulson is the architect of the proposed financial sector bailout—a bailout that is an even better example of the shock doctrine than the New Yankee Stadium.

Paulson’s substantial portfolio is now in a blind trust, but it is more than possible that it still contains plenty of shares of both Goldman and YES. Inside baseball, indeed.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Bush on econ crisis: I got nothin’

With the US economy in crisis and the markets in something close to freefall Wednesday, the White House let it be known that President Bush would deliver an important statement come Thursday morning. At about a quarter after 10am yesterday, Bush stepped to a lectern placed in the Oval Colonnade and read the following:

The American people are concerned about the situation in our financial markets and our economy, and I share their concerns.

I've canceled my travel today to stay in Washington, where I will continue to closely monitor the situation in our financial markets and consult with my economic advisors. I spoke to Secretary Paulson this morning, and I will meet with him later on today.

In recent weeks, the federal government has taken extraordinary measures to address the challenges confronting our financial markets. We've taken control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- the home finance agencies -- to help promote market stability and to ensure they can continue to play a role in helping our housing market recover. This week, the Federal Reserve acted to prevent the disorderly failure of the insurance company AIG -- a development that could have caused a severe disruption in our financial markets and threatened other sectors of the economy. Yesterday, the Security and Exchange Commission took action to strengthen investor protections and step up its enforcement actions against illegal market manipulation. Last night, the Federal Reserve, in coordination with central banks around the world, took a substantial step to provide additional liquidity to the U.S. financial system.

These actions are necessary, and they're important. And the markets are adjusting to them. Our financial markets continue to deal with serious challenges. As our recent actions demonstrate, my administration is focused on meeting these challenges. The American people can be sure we will continue to act to strengthen and stabilize our financial markets and improve investor confidence.

Thank you.

And that was it. Bush took no questions, and submitted no supplementary materials.

This, of course, is not an important statement—it is a recap. There are no proposals or directions here, no new policies, not even a hint that the president might have a next step up his sleeve. Nothing.

Needless to say, this statement did nothing to calm the markets. What, you say, but the markets rebounded on Thursday—the Dow had its biggest one-day gain in years.

True, but that gain is even more impressive considering that after Bush made his remarks, the Dow had actually continued to fall another 200 points. The late day rally of some 600 points was not because of the US president’s words, but because there was a rumor circulating that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke were close to announcing a plan of their own.

Paulson and Bernanke, along with the recently unpopular SEC head Chris Cox, did meet with Congressional leaders from both parties on Thursday night, but they emerged several hours later with no plan to announce.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he expected a proposal from the Administration not in days, but “in a matter of hours,” but, as of this writing, there is still nothing to report.

Asian markets are as of now holding their own based on the continuing belief that Treasury and Congress will craft a deal. . . a deal to bail out the multitude of troubled financial institutions.

Should Paulson, Bernanke, et al. disappoint, however, expect to start next week with another round of financial panic.

The problems here are myriad, but let me just focus on one: what are we doing hanging on every word from a disengaged, incurious, and uncaring president; what are we doing betting the house (no pun intended) on a last-minute deal for another stopgap government bailout?

This crisis is not a surprise—none of it. The Bear Stearns collapse was in March; the subprime mortgage bubble burst last year. And yet, the current administration—the CEO President (remember that boast?) and his pro-business brain trust—did nothing to reform the system; they didn’t even do anything to minimize the risk to the system.

Instead, we get the continued privatization of wealth hand-in-hand with the continued socialization of risk. The upper echelons of bank/investment house/insurance industry management continue to be rewarded for pushing financial instruments designed to skirt regulations and maximize short-term gain; when those schemes fail, the government must attempt to walk a lose-lose line between public expenditure and global economic fallout.

President Bush, as evidenced by his “important statement,” has offered zero leadership and zero desire to reform the system. The man who wants to continue his Republican economic policies, John McCain, has looked just as ridiculous. He opposed the AIG bridge loan before he was for it, he proposed a “9/11-style commission” to examine the roots of the crisis while almost simultaneously bragging that, as head of the Senate Commerce Committee, he had a hand in every aspect of this economy, and he claimed he would, if elected, fire SEC Chair Cox, even though he helped confirm him, can’t legally fire him, and won’t get the chance to try because Cox has made it clear he leaves with the current administration—and that was just this week.

It would be amusing if it weren’t so terribly real. Jobs will be lost, life savings will disappear, homes will have to be abandoned. Bush has personal wealth and a federal pension, Wall Street CEOs have gargantuan compensation packages and golden parachutes, and John McCain has his twelve houses and Cindy’s beer money. But American workers (you know, the “strong fundamentals” of the American economy), what do they have?

In too many cases, after decades of market deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and Republican class warfare, they have what Bush had on Thursday morning—nothing.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Roasting an old chestnut

On September 17th, 1787, some 221 years ago today, a bunch of guys got together to sign their names to a little ditty that started something like this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Yeah, spelling and punctuation was kind of quaint back then, but the rest of the thing holds up pretty well. . . or at least did for about 214 years or so. It was ‘round about then that the current vice president decided that he could form an even more perfect union—a union of his self-serving and paranoid worldview with virtually every aspect of American power and governance.

From drafting an “energy policy” all by his lonesome to manufacturing intelligence and lying the country into a war for oil, from kidnapping people abroad and disappearing them to torturing citizens in the basement of the White House, from abandoning the Geneva Conventions to abrogating the Fourth Amendment, Dick Cheney, with the blessings of his incurious regent patron, unitarily set about to edit away about two-thirds of the United States Constitution.

Well, not quite. As much as the biggest proponent of the unitary executive “theory” would like to think he did it alone, he couldn’t have really made his solo performance hum as well as he has without the cooperation of a furtive and feckless legislature. That the leadership of Congress changed hands two years ago has been of little consequence when it comes to these grand matters, and so, with Cheney due to relinquish his official control in just four short months, the 221-year-old Constitution is in more peril today than ever.

That point might seem odd to some—surely the menace has been two terms of rapacious Republican rule, and with that soon over, so, too, the threat, no?

No. For after eight years of complicity and codification, the current imbalance of power runs the risk of being passed on to another executive with little done to restore the equilibrium between the branches that is required by the Constitution, and nothing done to punish those that disregarded those constraints. That the next administration might be a Democratic one is of little consolation. Perhaps Barack Obama, who was, as we are oft reminded, a teacher of Constitutional law, will govern with a greater respect for the checks and balances envisioned by the founders, but his behavior in the recent battle over FISA revisions proves that such deference cannot be assumed. And without action by the Congress to reveal the Bush Administration’s transgressions, explain them to a distracted America, and hold responsible Cheney, Bush, and their minions, a restoration of the balance of power is most certainly not assured.

For without explanation of how harmful this has been to our Union, there will be little incentive for the next president to behave more in line with the provisions of Articles I, II, III, and, for that matter, IV and V, too, and without penalties assessed against those currently in violation, there will be no disincentive to behaving in much the same way. As has been noted before, there are few that would voluntarily choose to give up some of their power. A belief that this power might be used for good instead of evil makes that prognosis all the more certain. . . and grim.

America’s greatest strength these 221 Constitutionally governed years has been the openness that comes with a deliberative democracy. The push, pull, and pace may often be infuriating, but the informed debate is what keeps a country honest. It allows for a confident dissent and the contributions of a diverse population. It should, in theory, prevent wars of ego and choice, and guard against crony capitalism, selective prosecution, environmental exploitation, and a host of initiatives that benefit the friends of the current executive at the expense of the national interest.

In theory. The history of the US Constitution is littered with its failures, for sure, but those failures tend toward its misapplications or instances where it is not applied at all. Which brings to mind Article II, section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

If there were ever a day to revisit those words, it would be today; if there were ever a time to honor them, it would be now.

To that end, there are some in Congress who are trying—Democratic Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Robert Wexler come to mind. And, today, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D), as Chair of the Senate Judiciary’s Constitution Subcommittee, will host a celebrity roast, of sorts, in honor of the star document’s birthday. Titled “Restoring the Rule of Law.” Feingold introduced these hearings yesterday:

“Tomorrow, September 17, is the 221st anniversary of the day in 1787 when 39 members of the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia," said Feingold in opening the hearings this morning. "It is a sad fact as we approach that anniversary that for the past seven and a half years, and especially since 9/11, the Bush Administration has treated the Constitution and the rule of law with a disrespect never before seen in the history of this country."

Calling the Bush-Cheney shredding of our national creed "a shameful legacy that will haunt our country for years to come," Feingold addressed the difficulty that a new Congress will have in rectifying this administration's actions as the public and even Washington become numb to what Bush has made standard practice since September 11.

Feingold, to my mind, sells short the disrespect that the Bush-Cheney Administration had for the Constitution before 9/11/01, but the Senator fully recognizes the difficulties that lie ahead, especially considering how little support his and likeminded efforts have received from his own party’s leadership. Given that sorry state of affairs, and given the noise of the presidential election and the needs of a failing economy, I am not expecting much to come of Feingold’s hearings.

And that is a shame (and I mean that in the most condemnatory tone), for it will be harder to make the aggressive, long term changes to our financial markets, or our economy writ large, our energy policy, our national infrastructure, or our foreign policy, without the structures and strictures put in place 221 years ago. Not that it will be easy with them, but without the balance that has modernized and energized this Republic for two centuries, the rule of law is reduced to the whims of men and women. Any of those leaders will prove to be imperfect—even those that embody the hopes and good will of the majority are susceptible to the corrupting influences of power, the recalcitrance of institutions, the blindness of certitude, and the sway the interested few. It is the Constitution that protects the general welfare against misguided whims, that gives mere mortals the counterweight to politicized pressure, that gives the imperfect a means by which to become more perfect.

It is a 221-year-old idea—the idea of three co-equal branches each asserting their power equally and in the open—that gives a large and aging country the tools to make the change we need.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Friday, September 12, 2008

I’m John McCain, and I Approve of Lying

You know the adorable old guy or gal that seems so sweet and folksy on the surface but is always ready with a mean or nasty comment as soon as he or she thinks no one is paying attention? Sure you do—if you don’t have someone like this in your family, then you’ve seen the character on a sitcom at some point in the last, oh, thirty years. . . .

But you don’t have to think that hard, we have an example of the two-faced, nasty-at-his-core old man right here, right now, on TV practically every hour of the day: His name is John McCain.

Presidential wannabe McCain loves to step out of his “straight talk express” and talk about what a decent and honorable campaign he wants to run; all the while, his team of Karl Rove protégés (oh, and, Karl Rove, himself) issue sleazier and sleazier campaign ads filled with the kind of lies and innuendo that make that old Willie Horton ad look like a Sesame Street commercial for the letter “H.”

This week, while the entire presidential campaign has been lost in the lipstick vogue (stupid and false in its own right), Team McCain rolled out an ad that basically accused Barack Obama of being a pedophile. It was bad enough to offend even establishment sensibilities:

"This is a deliberately misleading accusation." [McClatchy, 9/9/08]

"The claim is simply false..." [, 9/10/08]

"[The] accusations… seriously distort the record. … In referring to the sex-education bill, the McCain campaign is largely recycling old and discredited accusations..." [New York Times, 9/11/08]

"[McCain] is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I've ever seen in presidential politics, so sleazy that I won't abet its spread by linking to it…." [Joe Klein, Time Magazine, 9/10/08]

"The most disheartening aspect of a scurrilous Republican ad falsely accusing Barack Obama of promoting sex education for kindergarten children is its closing line: 'I'm John McCain, and I approved this message.' This from that straight-talker of yore, who fervidly denounced the 2004 Bush campaign's Swift Boat character attacks on John Kerry's military record." [Editorial, New York Times, 9/12/08]

That little bit of federally required legalese—“I’m John McCain, and I approve this message”—should be enough to tie candidate McCain to his campaign’s gutter tactics, but Sweet John has carried on, maintaining some unspecified distance between his angelic self and the messy stuff of political sausage-making. He’s above that sort of thing, golly gosh [forced smile, creepy laugh].

And, McCain has largely managed to maintain this distance—I guess no one was around to call the old coot on his under-the-table insults. . . until this morning.

JOY BEHAR: "There are ads running from your campaign, one of them is saying that Obama, when he said you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig, was talking about Sarah. There's another ad that says that Obama was interested in teaching sex education to kindergarteners. Now, we know that those two ads are untrue, they're lies. And yet you at the end of it say I approve these messages. Do you really approve them?"

JOHN MCCAIN: "Actually, they are not lies." [ABC, "The View," 9/12/08]

Yes, that’s the tough political team at The View nailing John McCain on his lying ads—or rather, that’s The View nailing John McCain TO his lying ads.

From where I come from, when a guy approves of a lying statement—and seconds it, even—that makes him a liar. It is now pretty much universally agreed that both the lipstick and child sex ads were lies, and John McCain has chosen to stand by those lies. That would make the self-anointed above-it-all straight talker a common, down-in-the-gutter, liar.

Say it with me, everyone: John McCain is a liar.

Now, I know that’s not as funny as an episode of The Golden Girls (if only just barely), but Betty White wasn’t running for president.

John McCain is. . . and he approves of lying.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

So, what, it’s 9/11 week now?

I first noticed it on Sunday night. . . that would be Sunday, 9/7. . . and have seen it every following night this week. Here is my photo from September 10th, 2008.

I have generally been a supporter of this “Tribute in Light,” as it is called. I like the concept, even if the execution looks a bit half-assed (the columns are too thin and too close together, and they move around a bit from year to year, rather than consistently approximating the position of the World Trade Center in the New York skyline). And, questions about what kind of fuel is used to generate the electricity needed for that long night’s journey into day do leave me with an uneasy feeling about the lights being a symbol of some of the problems that lead to the attacks as much as it is a tribute to the victims. But, all that aside, I thought the lights were a relatively elegant and fairly solemn commemoration of the attacks and the lives lost on 9/11/2001.

Relatively elegant and fairly solemn compared to so much of the political opportunism and grand guignol that typically surround remembrances of the attacks; relatively elegant and fairly solemn if the columns of light appear on 9/11, on the exact anniversary, and are not trotted out every now and then, popping up here and there, until they become little more than Vegas-style spectacle, stripped of the majority of their meaning.

Which is why seeing the towers of light on September 7th. . . and 8th. . . and 9th. . . and 10th disturbs me.

It has, obviously, been the case that our country’s “leadership” has used the memory and images of the attacks for personal and political gain almost form the very second of impact, but it was somewhat heartening to believe that New York, and New Yorkers, having felt the impact of the attacks more personally, having lost friends and colleagues, having inhaled and tasted the dust of the collapsed towers, still considered the events of the day, and the day itself, basically sacrosanct.

But, living as I do in New York, I am beginning to see a shift. “Nine-eleven,” the event, and “ground zero,” the scene of the event, have become, for better or worse, a kind of tourist attraction—and I think that New York City, the government entity (rather than the community), has noticed.

Seven years removed from the carnage of 2001, people still come from every part of the country and every corner of the globe to catch a glimpse of “ground zero” (or, these days, to catch a glimpse of the fence around the construction site that used to be ground zero). I am sure that many of those that visit do so with the utmost respect, but one need only take a gander at the tee-shirts, crystal figurines, and snow globes sold all around lower Manhattan to know that something other than solemn tribute is also at play here.

As a resident, I shouldn’t complain about tourists coming to my city and spending money—and generally, I don’t—but ground zero isn’t the Statue of Liberty or the Bronx Zoo, and 9/11 isn’t President’s Day or the Fourth of July. There is nothing fun about gazing on the site where thousands died, and the anniversary of the attack is nothing to celebrate.

But the city has trotted out some extra World Trade Center artifacts this week, and a pair of rusted beams from the destroyed towers are on display today and tomorrow in Battery Park (visitors are being allowed to sign these beams or write their own tributes—make of that what you will)—and now the Tribute in Light is a weeklong feature in the night sky. Can it be long before “9/11 weekend” is a blackout day for the airlines, travel agents offer ground zero package tours, or Macy’s offers special September 11th savings?

Someday (someday, and I am not holding my breath, nor am I really in any hurry) New York will have a permanent 9/11 memorial structured around the original WTC footprint. And that memorial will be surrounded by overly tall and mostly ugly buildings that will likely require so much security as to render the entire area less a place of remembrance and quiet contemplation than a zone of tedious inconvenience and harried hurly-burly. Until then, especially in this electoral year where we have the chance to cast out the opportunistic leaders that have dishonored the memories of the 9/11 dead, perhaps we can use this day to contemplate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve managed to accomplish in seven years. . .

. . . uh, yeah, well, on second thought, those columns of light sure do look pretty cool out there.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hey, McCain, get the hell off my junior high school’s lawn!

I’ll admit that I missed it, mesmerized as I was by the soaring rhetoric that Republican Senator John McCain used to inspire the thousands of mostly male white people assembled in the Xcell Energy Center last Thursday night; apparently, there was some talk about the background.

Oh, who am I kidding? With McSame’s speech as empty as it was plodding, the eerie green (and then blue) glow that threatened to consume the candidate was practically all that I could think about! In fact, while fixated on the chroma key close-ups of McCain that made up the lion’s share of the TV coverage, I failed to take a good look at the building that served as the backdrop for the first eight minutes of the speech. It looked like a big old mansion with a great lawn—one of McCain’s twelve houses, I mused.

Later I heard some TV commentator say that it was the US Navel Academy. God knows where that idea came from. I mean, yes, that would have made some sense, McCain having followed his father and grandfather through Annapolis, but the image shown in St. Paul bore little resemblance to any of the iconic buildings of Canoe U.

It was only about 24 hours later that I heard the image was of what is now called Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA—AKA my junior high!

Looking at that picture now, it’s possible to see the name, right at the top of the building, that the school had back when I went there, Walter Reed Junior High School, but perhaps it was the recent restoration and the fresh paint that kept me from spotting the place where I spent three years of my life. And maybe it was the extra planters and fancy landscaping that kept me from recognizing the very patch of grass where I ruled the roost as DJ for the “ninth grade lawn” (still one of my crowning achievements). However, had I recognized my alma mater, it’s hard to imagine how I could have been much more perplexed than I already was. . . but more on that in a minute.

First, let me talk about Walter Reed’s reaction.

Principal Donna Tobin declined to comment because she was too busy with the first week of instruction, aides said. Later, however, she issued a statement declaring that "permission to use the front of our school for the Republican National Convention was not given by our school nor is the use of our school's picture an endorsement of any party or view."

By late afternoon, McCain's campaign was characterizing the use of the picture as a way of illustrating the candidate's call "for public education reforms that empower parents and students before bureaucrats and labor unions," as spokesman Tucker Bounds put it.

But Tamar Galatzan, who represents the North Hollywood area on the Los Angeles Board of Education, was having none of that. She said she was "flattered that Sen. McCain chose to use a school from my district as backdrop to his remarks" but that more federal resources for education seems "not a priority for the McCain/Palin ticket."

Using the school to illustrate McCain’s education reforms? Puh-lease! The emptiness of those so-called proposals was pathetic enough, can you not insult us further by asking us to believe that this building, familiar as a school to only the giant-screened, TiVo-maniacal few, was intentionally chosen as a symbol.

I expect, as many do, that some resident genius at the RNC went a-googling for an image of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and, having paid as little attention to this facility as McCain and his Bush Administration allies have over the past seven years, just assumed that this nice old school building was the federal facility.

(As a side note, this “old” middle school building was built in 1939—making it three years younger than John McCain!)

“Internet blogger” (you know, as opposed to the other kinds of bloggers) Lee Stranhan, a figure in the LA Times story about the screw up, has an alternate theory:

Stranhan, of Burbank, speculated that McCain's image of the school was borrowed from the TV series "West Wing." Actor Jimmy Smits' character announced his candidacy on the show with the middle school as a backdrop.

Of course, that theory sort of assumes that the folks that put together the Republicans’ dog and pony show knew something about television production—a hypothesis that pretty much falls apart when you watch the production debacle already nicknamed Green Screen of Death II.

As already mentioned, I was left slack-jawed by the singularly crappy quality of the production at last week’s RNC. The set looked cheap and unimaginative. The high polish of the stage floor made participants appear to be walking on water (OK, maybe that wasn’t an accident), or on shiny, shiny, black, patent leather (taste the whip!). And the interstitial film segments felt like they were the result of a random shuffle of images rather than edited to a well-crafted narrative script. (Here’s an image, and something about a Republican, and here’s something else, and now something from 15 years earlier, and here’s a staged battle scene, and a stock photo of some people. . . “country first.”)

And, of course, there were those video backdrops. Maybe (maybe) they were interesting inside the hall, but on TV, especially when rendered in close-up, they were black, green, or blue holes, threatening to devour everything within their gravitational pull. Inexcusable in any setting, but especially unfathomable in a made-for-TV event occurring in a campaign that had already seen other McCain backdrop fiascos and Stephen Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge. Criminy, isn’t stagecraft what these guys do best?!? I mean, they can’t run a government (or a war) to save their lives, but they are supposed to be the superior showmen. . . right?

It was as if somebody gave the Republican National Convention Committee a big tax refund, and, not knowing what the hell else to do with the money, they just went out and bought the biggest freaking foreign-made TV they could find (in this case, a 716 incher!) and called it an investment in our future.

Which is perhaps as close as the RNC ever got to understanding the plight of most working Americans.

I have yet to hear any McCain campaign official respond to the complaints about the unauthorized use of the picture of my junior high school—I certainly haven’t received an apology—nor have I seen any media reports that go to the heart of the authorized use issue.

While asking the school principle for her reaction was a good addition to the story, the LA Times didn’t go the logical next step. Walter Reed Middle School is a public institution; the authority for using its image rests not with the school, but with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). As best I can tell from the LAUSD’s website, use and/or photography of a school property without express written permission is prohibited. Maybe the broadcast of a stock shot of Walter Reed isn’t covered by that policy, but it would sure be great if someone asked the LAUSD.

And maybe, if the McCain team continues to insist that the use of the picture of the school was intentional, then someone might want to ask them if they inquired about permission themselves.

Until then, Johnny, get off of my ninth grade lawn!

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain trots out laundry list; America prepares to get taken to the cleaners

I thought it was the worst speech by a nominee that I've heard since Jimmy Carter in 1980. I thought it was disorganized, I thought it was it was theme-less, I thought it was very, very boring. . . I personally cannot remember a single policy proposal that he made because they had nothing connecting them. I found it shockingly bad.

That was Jeffrey Toobin, speaking on CNN, just after John Bush, er, um, John McCain delivered his tedious, uninspired, disjointed, hackneyed laundry list of standard Bush-era Republican talking points in place of the bold acceptance speech we were all told to expect by Team McCain’s spin doctors. Normally, I take vocal aim at the establishment punditocracy—of which Toobin is most definitely a part—but such a sizeable number of them, from across what passes for a spectrum in this arena, saw what I saw, I am reduced to quoting liberally.

Take Michael Gerson, one-time George W. Bush speechwriter, who spoke from the floor of the Xcel Center soon after McCain’s confetti canons were set to “stun”:

The policy was the problem, the policy in the speech was rather typical for a Republican, pretty disappointing. It didn't do a lot of outreach to moderates and independents on the issues that they care about. It talked about issues like drilling and school choice, which was really speaking to the converted. I think that was a missed opportunity. Many Americans needed to hear from this speech something they've never heard from Republicans before, and in reality a lot of the policy they've heard from Republicans before.

Or, how about one-time Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton advisor David Gergen:

I did not think that the substantive part of the speech worked very well. It was mostly a rerun, retread of a lot of old Republican ideas that have brought us to where we are now. I think the country is looking for fresh answers. It's hard to separate yourself out from President Bush when you essentially have the same economic policies as President Bush. I thought that the policy presentation was a little thin.

Stunning, but maybe you are thinking, Wait, if the right is so upset with the speech, maybe there was something good here. Cue left-of-center soon-to-be-host of her own MSNBC show Rachel Maddow:

Honestly it was sort of like a long term paper about Bush Republican economics. . . But people aren't mad at Barack Obama about the economy, people are mad at George Bush about the economy, and [John McCain] just proposed a lot of Bush's economic ideas.

And, Maddow’s more “centrist” colleague, David Gregory:

I am however surprised. . . that there is not more of a blueprint of an appeal to independent and swing voters on policy issues that they will work off of. . . When [McCain] talks about education, he talks about it being a civil right for the new century; that is a George W. Bush line from the year 2000 when he called education the new civil right. It's a carbon copy.

In fact, the more inaccurate (and absurd) evaluations of Senator McCain’s ramble came from print reporters that seemed to be nowhere in range of Johnny Mac’s awkwardly mis-modulated voice, and from some of the TV correspondents unfortunate enough to have been on the floor of the convention as the mother of all balloon drops buffeted them about the head.

Take, for example, Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper of the New York Times. Their story, comically titled “To G.O.P., McCain Issues Call for Change,” was actually published over half an hour before McCain had finished his speech.

Standing in the center of an arena here, surrounded by thousands of cheering Republican delegates, Mr. McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Mr. Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party’s nomination.

. . . .

With his speech, Mr. McCain laid out the broad outlines of his general election campaign. He sought to move from a convention marked by an intense effort to reassure the party base to an appeal to a broader general election electorate that polling suggests has turned sharply on Republicans and President Bush.

To that end, Mr. McCain returned to what has been his signature theme as a presidential candidate, including in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign: that he is a politician prepared to defy his own party.

Now, I understand that candidates release texts of their speeches to journalists in advance of delivery—it’s a useful courtesy—but wouldn’t it have been courteous to their readers if AdNags and Cooper had waited to actually hear McCain deliver that text, hear what he emphasized and what he glossed over, hear what got rabid applause and what provoked deathly silence?

And maybe it would have been worth a minute or two of their time to listen closely for something other than McCain’s self-assessment of his “mavrick” status. Were there any actual proposals in the speech? Anything a President McCain might do to change course after eight years of Bush-Cheney misrule? The Times twosome might have read that McCain would state, “Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president,” but did they look or listen for any specific fixes, any specific plans?

If they had, they would have discovered that there were none.


Beyond his calling for pretty much a total elimination of foreign aid (stupid, counterproductive, and a fiscal drop in the bucket), McCain did not say anything that could be confused with a proposal or even a roadmap for a different course.

Instead, all that the America actually listening got was a recitation from the standard-issue Republican hymnal: lower taxes, smaller government, school vouchers, a judiciary free of “activist” judges. . . and McSame read it with all the zest and zeal one would reserve for a “honey-do” list.

The tedium was contagious, and so, when the television reporters stationed on the convention floor were forced to give their instant “analysis” (read: summary) of the speech, they could only seem to remember the last ten minutes.

Those final passages, to no one’s amazement, were about John McCain’s time in a North Vietnamese prison, about how he was severely injured, brutally tortured, and coerced into betraying his country (no, he didn’t quite put it that way—McCain said that he eventually “broke” under torture). Like practically every other speaker at the RNC, McCain lingered on the gory details of his time as a POW. The fetishization of the torture and violence was squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable.

But that is not really a surprise. For several months now, many have joked that McCain’s speeches and interviews had become “a noun, a verb, and POW.” The surprise here was that floor reporters (Kelley O’Donnell and Andrea Mitchell come to mind) decided that this was the first time that John McCain had “opened up” about his POW experience.

What??? I really have no way to even analyze that. Were they paying no attention? Was it just the pressures of the TV format, requiring that they make some broad declaration to justify their airtime? Did they just turn to the only memorable narrative from the entire 45-minute speech? (Was it head trauma caused by the balloons?)

And it is the only narrative—memorable or otherwise—that McCain has to tell. “Maverick” has been reduced to a buzzword, a stand-in for an idea that has no substantive underpinning. Senator McCain has spent the last six years cozying up to the Bush agenda (need I remind anyone that he has voted with Bush 95% of the time?), and he has spent this lengthy campaign season pandering to the rightwing Republican base deemed essential for Johnny Mac to realize his burning ambition. He is no more the maverick than any of the other Bush-Cheney apologists that took to the Xcel stage. . . even if most of them scrupulously avoided any mention of their party’s leaders, Republican President George W. Bush and Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

But, if it is the case that most people tuned out (or never tuned in), and they get their talking points from the New York Times (or from an AP wire story that is even more absurdly off base), and they somehow find themselves voting for this non-non-partisan, hobbyhorse maverick, then they will get exactly what John McCain promised in Thursday’s acceptance speech: Nothing.

Nothing but more of the same, anyway.

(cross-posted on The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin: More of McSame

Many suspected it, and Wednesday night served as proof; John McCain picked a running mate that is able to do something that he can’t: read a teleprompter.

The bar was set very low for the small-town mayor turned small-state governor turned last-minute Republican VP pick, so it should surprise no one that Sarah Palin was able to meet and in some ways exceed expectations. Still, Palin, who is reported to have practiced this speech for over six hours, was an impressive mouthpiece for a litany of Republican attacks—especially impressive when you consider that the McCain team wrote most of the speech for someone else.

And since the speech was supposedly drafted for another mouth, it is not surprising that Palin’s primetime coming out party did little to introduce the McVeep to American voters. (And why would you want to spend any more time talking about a woman, Palin, under investigation for possible abuse of gubernatorial power, a woman with close ties to oil lobbyists and to indicted Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, a woman who has fought hard for the boondoggle earmarks that McCain says he’s against, a woman that is opposed to reproductive choice, even in cases of rape and incest, a woman who has ties to a party that advocates Alaskan secession—through violence, if necessary—a woman who demanded personal loyalty oaths from public officials, tried to ban books from the public library, and raised taxes as mayor and as governor?) It did, however, remind all of us why the last decade of Republican domination has been such an abject failure.

For Sarah Palin chose neither to provide a substantive defense of the Bush-Cheney policies that she and McCain plan to continue, or offer any examples of what another four years of Republican “leadership” might do differently. Instead, Palin offered better than a half-hour of partisan, Karl Rove-style attacks—as rife with flat-out lies as they were with snide, cynical jokes.

Palin lied about her support for the “Bridge to Nowhere” (she was for it before she was against it). Palin lied about Obama’s record as a legislator (Obama has authored or helped pass ethics reform, healthcare expansion, aid for wounded vets, incentives for alternative energy, safeguards against “loose nukes,” and a system to put federal funding details in a searchable database). And Palin joined with other Republican speakers on Wednesday night to belittle the hard and important work of community organizers everywhere (community organizing is not only noble work, often for no or low pay, that requires a day-in-day-out connection with people not privileged enough to have private jets to sell on eBay, community organizing was hailed by none other than President George H.W. Bush).

Indeed, it was perhaps most stunning that a woman billed (ad nauseam) as a “Hockey Mom” and as “relate-able” spent so much time acting just like all the other millionaires and billionaires who took the Xcel Center stage before her. (The combined worth of Meg Whitman, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, and Rudolph Giuliani currently tops $4 billion—more than the gross national product of any of over a third of the world’s countries.) For, while Palin’s choreographed sniping might have won her cheers from the diehard Republicans inside the hall, it only helped accentuate the distance between her and the America she hopes to help govern. Wednesday night thus served to demonstrate not that Sarah Palin is fit to lead us into the future, but that she, like her soul mate, John McCain, is closely aligned with the failed Bush-era politics of division and destruction. Sarah, like John, is more of McSame.

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that Palin did such a good job mouthing Republican insiders’ boilerplate rhetoric. No surprise at all.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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