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Will It Work?

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September 29, 2008

This is the question on everyone’s mind as they ponder the new “bailout bill”, officially known as the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.  It is available for everyone to read on the Internet (all 110 pages of it), but most people are looking for answers to the most important questions:  Will it pass and will it work?

Just after midnight on Monday morning, David Rogers, of Politico.com, reported that the bill (which goes to the House floor on Monday and the Senate floor on Wednesday) was still facing resistance from both the right and the left, despite the support voiced by both Presidential candidates.  Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut was quoted in the article as saying that:  “For this to pass, a lot of people are going to have to change their minds”.  The following passage provided more light on the view of this bill from those House Republicans providing resistance to the measure:

Yet a closed-door party meeting Sunday night illustrated all the problems anew.  The session ran for hours, and while Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he would vote for the bill, he could not predict the number of votes he would have for it, and he famously referred to the measure as a “crap sandwich” before his rank and file.

Jackie Kucinich reported for TheHill.com that earlier in the day, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana had sent out a letter to his fellow Republicans in opposition to this bill:

The decision to give the federal government the ability to nationalize almost every bad mortgage in America interrupts this basic truth of our free market economy …  Republicans improved this bill but it remains the largest corporate bailout in American history, forever changes the relationship between government and the financial sector, and passes the cost along to the American people.  I cannot support it.

The opposition to the bill from the Democratic side was discussed in another Politico.com article:  this one by Ryan Grimm.  Grimm’s article discussed an “intense” Democratic Caucus meeting.  He quoted Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar as describing resistance to the bill coming from across the complete spectrum of Democratic opinion, from liberal to conservative.  California Congressman Brad Sherman had met with Republican Darrell Issa before the meeting.  Sherman’s contribution to the Caucus discussion was described this way by Ryan Grimm:

Sherman spoke out against the bill during the caucus meeting, arguing that billions of dollars would flow to foreign investors, that oversight was lax and that limits on executive compensation were too weak.   Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) said he was leaning toward a no vote, too.

The House vote on the bill is scheduled to take place after a four-hour debate, beginning at 8 a.m. on Monday.

Whether or not this bill will ultimately “work” is another question.  Paul Krugman, Economics Professor at Princeton University, wrote in the Sunday New York Times:

The bailout plan released yesterday is a lot better than the proposal Henry Paulson first put out — sufficiently so to be worth passing.  But it’s not what you’d actually call a good plan, and it won’t end the crisis.  The odds are that the next president will have to deal with some major financial emergencies.

Steve Lohr’s report from the Sunday New York Times, discussed the outlook for this plan, as voiced by Robert E. Hall, an economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative research group at Stanford.  Lohr observed:

There was no assurance that the bailout plan would work as intended to ease financial turmoil and economic uncertainty.

Lohr’s article then focused on the opinion of Nouriel Roubini, an economist at the Stern School of Business at New York University:

The $350 billion to $400 billion in bad credit reported by the banks so far could eventually exceed $1.5 trillion, he estimated, as banks are forced to write off more bad loans, not only on more housing-related debt, but also for corporate lending, consumer loans, credit cards and student loans.

The rescue package, if successful, would make the recognition of losses and the inevitable winnowing of the banking system more an orderly retreat than a collapse. Yet that pruning of the banking industry must take place, economists say, and it is the government’s role to move it along instead of coddling the banks if the financial system is going to return to health.

A more unpleasant perspective appeared in an editorial published in the September 25 edition of The Economist:

If the economics of Mr Paulson’s plan are broadly correct, the politics are fiendish.  You are lavishing money on the people who got you into this mess. Sensible intervention cannot even buy long-term relief:  the plan cannot stop house prices falling and the bloated financial sector shrinking. Although the economic risk is that the plan fails, the political risk is that the plan succeeds.  Voters will scarcely notice a depression that never happened.  But even as they lose their houses and their jobs, they will see Wall Street once again making millions.

Whatever your definition of “success” might be for this plan, the experts agree that things aren’t going to return to “normal” for a long time, if ever.

The Real Republicans Stand Up

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September 25, 2008

On Monday, September 22, the real Republicans in Congress stood up to the “bailout” plan, written by the Bush Administration and ratified by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.  As I wrote in my last posting, there has been a serious question as to whether the Democrats in Congress had the cajones to stand up to the Bush Administration’s proposed Seven Hundred Billion – to One Trillion Dollar bailout of those financial institutions holding fuzzy mortgages and mortgage-based securities.  The Administration’s plan, as originally written, gave autocratic authority to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for administration of this plan, without oversight by the Courts or Congress.  At this point in the 2008 campaign, it has become time to give the well-deserved recognition to those Republican and/or conservative members of Congress as well as those conservative pundits, who put philosophy ahead of political allegiance and who spoke out for what they felt was right on this issue.  The Congressional Democrats alone, would have backed down and simpered away from a fight with the “lame duck” Bush Administration on this proposal.  Were it not for the intestinal fortitude and existential authenticity of the following individuals, Congress would have, once again, provided the “rubber stamp” for yet another, despotic Bush plan.

Before I congratulate them by name, let’s take a look back to the words of a great patriot, Thomas Paine.  This passage was the opening to an article called The Crisis, written on December 23, 1776.  His words are as important now as they were then:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Accordingly, the following Republican members of Congress should be given their due congratulations for rising above political loyalty on this monumental issue:

House Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) who expressed skepticism about the Treasury Department’s proposal (last) Friday, saying he was “unconvinced that this is the proper remedy for our nation at this time.”  (This was reported by Jackie Kucinich and Alexander Bolton for TheHill.com on September 22.)

The article by Kucinich and Bolton also disclosed that:

In a statement Saturday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a former RSC chairman, came out against the idea of a government bailout.  “Congress must not hastily embrace a cure that may do more harm to our economy than the disease of bad debt,” he said.

The Kucinich/Bolton article went on to describe the action taken by Republican Congressman Scott Garrett of New Jersey:

In a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated on Monday, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) attached three articles written by economists at the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and the University of Chicago that all offer alternatives to the administration’s plan.

“As in most cases, there is not just one solution to a public policy problem,” Garrett wrote.   “It is my hope that the ideas below will provide some interesting analysis to the problems faced by the U.S. financial markets and generate thoughtful debate as we consider this monumental legislative proposal.”

Last, but not least, was Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida, who took time out to chat with Rachael Maddow on Wednesday night.  Kucinich and Bolton noted how:

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns also criticized the proposal, which would allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to buy mortgage-based assets from private firms.

“Bailout after bailout is not a strategy,” said Stearns, who said that taxpayers could be left with a huge bill.

Were it not for the integrity of these individuals, the Democratic Party’s opponents of the original Bush Plan would not have enjoyed a chance at challenging the Administration’s original draft bailout proposal.

While we’re at it  …  let’s give a pat on the back to one of  those bold conservatives, motivated by philosophy, rather than the televangelist lobby or the neocon trend:  George Will.  He has always been on my blogroll for a reason:  his opinions are often philosophy – based, rather than party – based.  Here’s what he had to say about the bailout plan in the Jewish World Review on September 23:

Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism. Does McCain have qualms about this, or only quarrels?

What is the real motivation behind the McCain campaign’s proposed “time out”?  Is it because McCain’s campaign manager, (Jeffrey Dahmer look-alike) Rick Davis, as corporate Director and Treasurer of his lobbying firm: Davis Manafort, had been monthly collecting $15,000 from the vilified Freddie Mack, up until August?  Or is it because Sarah Palin had been caught on video, going through some strange ritual with avowed “witch hunter” Bishop Thomas Muthee at the Wasilla Assembly of God church?  I suspect it’s because McCain is lost in the woods without a compass, moral or otherwise.

Here We Go Again

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September 22, 2008

Exactly one year ago, we saw the release of Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  Klein’s book explained how unpopular laws were enacted in a number of countries around the world, as a result of shock from disasters or upheavals.  She went on to suggest that some of these events were deliberately orchestrated with the intent of passing repugnant laws in the wake of crisis.  She made an analogy to shock therapy, wherein the patient’s mind is electrically reformatted to become a “blank slate”.  Klein described how advocates of “the shock doctrine” seek a cataclysmic destruction of economic order to create their own “blank slate” upon which to create their vision of a “free market economy”.   She described the 2003 Iraq war as the most thorough utilization of the shock doctrine in history.  Remember that this book was released a year before the crisis we are going through now.

You may recall former Senator Phil Gramm’s recent appearance in the news for calling the United States a “nation of whiners” and positing that the only recession going on in the United States these days is a “mental recession”.  Gramm is a longtime buddy and mentor to a certain individual named John McCain.  Gramm is the architect of the so called “Enron Loophole” allowing speculators to drive the price of oil to absurd heights.  (Gramm’s wife, Wendy, was a former member of Enron’s Board of Directors.)  Gramm was most notorious for his successes in the deregulation of Wall Street (with the help of McCain) that facilitated the “mortgage crisis” as well as the current economic meltdown.  He sponsored the 1999 bill that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act.  The repeal of that law allowed “commercial” and “investment” banks to consolidate.  Gramm’s face appears in many campaign videos with McCain, taken earlier this year.  As a result of the outrage generated by Gramm’s remarks, McCain formally dismissed Gramm as his campaign’s economic advisor.  Despite the fact that Gramm no longer has a formal role in the McCain campaign, many believe that he would be McCain’s choice for Secretary of the Treasury in the event that McCain should win the Presidential election.  On September 21, MSNBC’s David Shuster grilled McCain campaign spokesman, Tucker Bounds, about the possibility that McCain is planning to appoint Phil Gramm as his Secretary of the Treasury, should McCain win.  Tucker Bounds squirmed all over the place, employing his usual tactic of deflecting the subject of the current economic crisis back to the Obama campaign.  Most noticeably, Mr. Bounds never made any attempt to deny that McCain plans to put Gramm in charge of the Treasury.

Our current Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, is on the covers of this week’s newsmagazines, pushing for uncritical acceptance of his (and hence, the Bush Administration’s) solution to the current economic crisis.  This basically amounts to a three-page “bailout” plan for banks and other financial intuitions holding mortgages of questionable value, at a price to the taxpayers of anywhere from $700 billion to One Trillion Dollars.  The Democrats are providing some “pushback” to this plan.  Barack Obama was quoted by Carrie Brown of Politico.com as saying that the Bush Administration has “offered a concept with a staggering price tag, not a plan”.  Obama went on to insist that the “American people must be assured that the deal reflects the basic principles of transparency, fairness and reform”.

As reported by Stephen Labaton in the September 21 New York Times, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that:

… the administration’s proposal did “not include the necessary safeguards. Democrats believe a responsible solution should include independent oversight, protections for homeowners and constraints on excessive executive compensation.

Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut was quoted in that article as saying:  “We need to offer some assurance to the American taxpayer that Congress is watching.”  Dodd went on to explain:

One of the things that got us into this mess was the lack of accountability and the lack of oversight that was occurring, and I don’t think we want to repeat those mistakes with a program of this magnitude.

The Times article then focused on the point emphasized by Republican Senator Arlen Specter:

I realize there is considerable pressure for the Congress to adjourn by the end of next week  . . .   But I think we must take the necessary time to conduct hearings, analyze the administration’s proposed legislation, and demonstrate to the American people that any response is thoughtful, thoroughly considered and appropriate.

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Paulson made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to advocate pushing this bailout through quickly, without the safeguards and deliberation suggested by the Democrats and Senator Specter.  As Zachary Goldfarb reported in the September 21 Washington Post:

Paulson urged Congress not to load up the legislation with controversial provisions. “We need this to be clean and quick,” he said.

“Clean and quick”  . . .   Is that anything like “Shock and Awe”?  As usual, there is concern about whether Congressional Democrats will have the spine to resist the “full court press” by the Bush Administration to get this plan approved by Congress and on the President’s desk for signature.  As Robert Kuttner reported in The Huffington Post:

One senior Congressional Democrat told me, “They have a gun to our heads.” Paulson behaved as if he held all the cards, but in fact the Democrats have a lot of cards, too. The question is whether they have the nerve to challenge major flaws in Paulson’s plan as a condition of enacting it.

Here we go again.  Will the Democrats “grow a pair” in time to prevent “the shock doctrine” from being implemented once again?  If not, will we eventually see the day when Treasury Secretary Phil Gramm basks in glory, while presiding over his own manifestation of economic utopia?

This Should Have Happened Last Year

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September 18, 2008

I’m sorry.  What is happening in the financial markets right now, should have happened at this time, last year.  I put my money where my mouth was, in the belief that a laissez-faire Republican government would have let market conditions run their course.  That strategy caused me to lose money for the past year.  When precious metals should have been going up, they were going down.  Something “stinky” was happening.  At this time, last year, Jon Markman of msn.com was discussing the “duct tape and pixie dust” being used to hold the economy together.  In hindsight, I suspect that there may have been an effort to keep the ca-ca from hitting the fan until after Election Day (November 4).  Time will tell whether there was some skullduggery involved in such an effort.  Do you think that the “oil speculators” realized, at some point, that they could manipulate the prices of the small handful of stocks (30) that comprise the Dow Jones Industrials, by manipulating the price of oil?  Are these same “oil speculators” on “good behavior” right now, out of fear that the “Enron Loophole” could be doomed?

I apologize because I have been making (back) lots of money this week, while many people have seen their retirement plans crash and burn.  I stuck to my belief that the emperor was not really wearing any clothes.  It cost me money to adhere to that opinion, although it is now “payback time”.  To no surprise, the Carly Fiorinas of this nosedive will walk away with their golden parachutes intact.  However, will AIG still be free to make crucial decisions about which lawsuits to litigate?  Do they have a right to make those (and other) decisions as they used to, now that you and I own eighty percent of that company?

Meanwhile, John “Keating Five” McCain claims that he will champion the interests of those suckers who vote for him, by bringing “The Good Old Boys of Wall Street” to Alaskan frontier justice.  Why would anyone believe this?  Based on his record, McCain could not expect the voters to consider him as the advocate of the downtrodden.  For some reason, the Obama campaign has expressed an unwillingness to use the “Keating Five” episode of McCain’s life, as fodder for negative ads.  (They may find themselves thinking more clearly in late October.)

Let’s take a look back at the “glory days” of The Keating Five, from what is available on Wikipedia.org:

The Keating Five scandal was prompted by the activities of one particular savings and loan: Lincoln Savings and Loan Association of Irvine, California. Lincoln’s chairman was Charles Keating, who ultimately served five years in prison for his corrupt mismanagement of Lincoln.  In the four years since Keating’s American Continental Corporation (ACC) had purchased Lincoln in 1984, Lincoln’s assets had increased from $1.1 billion to $5.5 billion.  Such savings and loan associations had been deregulated in the early 1980s, allowing them to make highly risky investments with their depositors’ money, a change of which Keating took advantage.  Lincoln’s investments took the form of buying land, taking equity positions in real estate development projects, and buying high-yield junk bonds.

*   *   *

The core allegation of the Keating Five affair is that Keating had made contributions of about $1.3 million to various U.S. Senators, and he called on those Senators to help him resist regulators. The regulators backed off, to later disastrous consequences.

*   *   *

(f)ive senators, Alan Cranston (D-CA), Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), John Glenn (D-OH), John McCain (R-AZ), and Donald W. Riegle (D-MI), were accused of improperly aiding Charles H. Keating, Jr., chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was the target of an investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB).

*   *   *

After a lengthy investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee determined in 1991 that Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, and Donald Riegle had substantially and improperly interfered with the FHLBB in its investigation of Lincoln Savings. Senators John Glenn and John McCain were cleared of having acted improperly but were criticized for having exercised “poor judgment”.  All five of the senators involved served out their terms. Only Glenn and McCain ran for re-election, and they were both re-elected.

*   *   *

McCain and Keating had become personal friends following their initial contacts in 1981, and McCain was the closest socially to Keating of the five senators. Like DeConcini, McCain considered Keating a constituent as he lived in Arizona. Between 1982 and 1987, McCain had received $112,000 in political contributions from Keating and his associates. In addition, McCain’s wife Cindy McCain and her father Jim Hensley had invested $359,100 in a Keating shopping center in April 1986, a year before McCain met with the regulators. McCain, his family, and their baby-sitter had made nine trips at Keating’s expense, sometimes aboard Keating’s jet. Three of the trips were made during vacations to Keating’s opulent Bahamas retreat at Cat Cay. McCain did not pay Keating (in the amount of $13,433) for some of the trips until years after they were taken, when he learned that Keating was in trouble over Lincoln. On his Keating Five experience, McCain has said: “The appearance of it was wrong. It’s a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do.”

So where is the Obama ad using “Poor Judgment” as its theme?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see that phrase repeated under a picture of Sarah Palin?

Stupidity As A Virtue

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September 15, 2008

The initial interview Charlie Gibson had with Sarah “The Gumball” Palin, televised on Thursday, September 11, displayed her ability to rattle off scripted answers to Gibson’s questions.  At times, I wondered whether there might have been a “handler” on the set, giving Palin signals as to what answer to recite.  Perhaps by running his hand through his hair and patting his stomach after one of Gibson’s questions, such a handler may have given Palin the signal:  Answer #6.  Later in the interview, when Gibson asked her about a possible invasion of Iran by Israel to bomb nuclear facilities, the “handler” may have scratched his ear and rubbed his right eye: a signal to use answer #4.  After Gibson pressed for a real answer to that question, the handler may have placed his hand to his forehead, palm out, with four fingers extended, meaning:  Repeat answer #4.  When Gibson pressed on for an answer to his question, the hand would have risen in front of the forehead once again, with the four fingers extended.  Although The Gumball may have been able to decide for herself, which question required which answer number, she was obviously reciting canned responses prepared by McCain’s strategists.  Curiously, there was no answer praising the merits of the “Bush doctrine” of pre-emptive warfare.  After the interview, Palin’s apologists explained away The Gumball’s ignorance about the issue, as confusion resulting from some sort of trick question.

In this Presidential campaign, the word “elite” has become a code word for “smart”.  Hillary Clinton used that word to describe Barack Obama, probably because he made Law Review while attending law school, although she never made law review.  (She did serve on the editorial board of a publication called Yale Review of Law and Social Action, which existed only while she was there.)  Obama not only made Law Review at Harvard; he was the President of the Harvard Law Review – an executive position Sarah Palin could never achieve in this or any other lifetime.  The term “elite” is continuously used by McCain supporters in reference to (smart) politicians, news outlets (that employ only smart people), publications (requiring that one be credentialed as “smart” to write for them), as well as educational institutions that would never admit the likes of Sarah Palin or John McCain.  John McCain graduated sixth from the bottom of his class at Annapolis.  He was accepted there because both his father and grandfather graduated from the Naval Academy.  If that doesn’t sound like a familiar pattern, you may want to do some reading about a man named Prescott Bush.

There is an apparent attempt by the McCain camp to manipulate as much of the voting public as possible, into believing that anyone who is “smart” is an “elite” and therefore, somehow “bad”.  This is an easy sell to those who feel jealous of, and intimidated by, people they believe to be smarter than themselves.  The question is:  are there enough of those people out there for this strategy to work?  In twelve years, have we gone from Beavis and Butthead Do America to Beavis and Butthead are America?  The lobbyists who run the McCain campaign are counting on it.  Meanwhile, Palin can continue to say dumb things (including the lie about Iraq as responsible for the attacks of September 11) and McCain can say even dumber things.  In a Portland, Maine TV interview, McCain was asked to explain what experience Palin had in the area of national security.  McCain responded:  “Energy.  Sarah Palin knows more about energy than anyone else in the United States of America.”  Part of McCain’s comfort about saying something so inane, is based on his failure to realize that in the age of YouTube.com, he will be accountable for this statement to a world-wide audience.  Second, he probably lacks the insight to realize what a bombastic claim that was.  Finally, his campaign strategists probably realize that such stupidity will actually endear McCain to a large number of voters. This makes me wonder whether they actually instructed The Gumball to deliberately mispronounce the word “nuclear” based on similar strategy.

The important point to keep in mind is that a significant percentage of American voters do not base their Presidential preferences on any rational thought process.  They decide “from their gut”.  McCain’s campaign staff knows this, because it’s how George W. Bush got elected.  If the Obama campaign wants to stay in this fight, they are going to have to tailor a message that will reach this population.  One way to accomplish this would be to base their ads on proven, successful, commercial TV ad campaign themes.  Obama will never “dumb down” to the level of McCain, Bush or Palin to win over the hearts of mindless voters.  Nevertheless, he should not overlook an appeal to the consensual mentality of that large population, referred to as “the masses”.  He should always remember that sage advice from comedy movie legend, Stan Laurel:  “You can lead a horse to water … but a pencil has to be lead.”

From St. Paul to Ron Paul

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September 11, 2008

The first time I ever voted in a Presidential election was when I decided to vote for the Libertarian candidate, Roger MacBride.  I agreed with the principles of the Libertarian Party.  They had good writers, putting their message together in a way that could gain the enthusiasm of those not electrified by “Oatmeal Man” Gerald Ford, or by the tranquil Jimmy Carter.  Although they have not managed to get many charismatic candidates to act as their standard-bearers, the Libertarians finally have one this year.  Bob Barr served in Congress as the Representative for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.  In Congress, he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as a member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.  Although he was a harshly partisan antagonist of Bill Clinton during the impeachment promotion, he subsequently took on a relaxed, charming demeanor, winning over the usually “cold room” for conservatives on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.  In 2004, he left the Republican Party to join the Libertarian Party.

Bob Barr is now running for President, as the candidate of the Libertarian Party.  In 1988, Ron Paul was the Libertarian Party’s Presidential candidate.  You may remember Ron Paul from the 2008 Republican primaries, occasionally beating Rudy Giuliani and the other “also-rans” of this past spring.

On September 10, Barr’s campaign manager, Bob Varney, issued a press release, disclosing that Bob Barr has invited GOP Congressman Ron Paul to be his running mate in the upcoming Presidential election.  The press release disclosed that:

In a letter sent to Paul, Barr called Paul one of the “few American patriots” who exist in today’s society, and asked him to “seriously consider this final offer as an opportunity to show true, lasting leadership beyond party politics”.

Wayne Allyn Root, who has been Barr’s running mate in this election, was quoted in the press release as expressing support for the selection of Ron Paul as Barr’s new running mate:

Understanding Dr. Ron Paul’s reputation and name recognition in the freedom movement, I am willing to step aside as Libertarian vice presidential candidate if he would be willing to take my place.  I will pledge to work day and night, just as I have as the vice presidential nominee, to support Dr. Paul.  I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for the Libertarian and freedom movements.  I encourage Dr. Paul to accept Congressman Barr’s offer.

Many might consider this entire idea as the daydream of some “fringe” political group.  Nevertheless, you may want to look down the road (as the Libertarians obviously are) to a scenario wherein Sarah Palin, for whatever reason, alienates the centrist Republicans and independents, who may have otherwise voted for McCain.  These people might then vote for Bob Barr.  Add to the mix, those not currently enthusiastic about a McCain Presidency, who just can’t get motivated to vote for Barack Obama (for whatever reason).  With Ron Paul on his ticket, Barr has the possibility of winning enough electoral votes to prevent McCain or Obama from winning a majority of Electors as a result of the general election, in the event that “wild card” Palin turns out to be a disaster.  If that happens and no single candidate has a majority of Electors in the Electoral College, the Twelfth Amendment requires that the Presidential election shall be decided in the House of Representatives.  Since Bob Barr and Ron Paul both served in the House, unlike Barack Obama, there is a chance that Barr could win the Presidency.  The mere fact that the Democrats have a majority in the House is of no consequence.   The Twelfth Amendment requires that each State shall vote in the House as a single delegation, with each State having only one vote.  That vote would be determined by the majority of a State’s Representatives voting for a particular candidate.  He who has 26 States, wins.  (The Vice-President is elected by the Senate, making a  McCain/Paul administration  possible.)  With Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate, a Barr/Paul Libertarian ticket could get some breathing room.  If there is enough breath to carry that ticket out of the Electoral College, we could be in for some wild times.

The Secret Candidate

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September 8, 2008

They’re out there … all around you.  You just don’t know who they are yet.  Right now, all across America, they’re out shopping for those Kawasaki eyeglass frames … trying to re-style their hair into that half-beehive/half-mullet look.  They’re the Sarah Palin wanna-bes — forcing their sons to join hockey teams – each hoping to earn that coveted title for herself:  “Hockey Mom” — a ticket to success in today’s America.  There is no question that Sarah Palin will be the most popular Halloween costume subject for 2008.  Beyond that, there are many thousands of American women, currently adapting their lives to accommodate Sarah Palin as their new role model.

The rest of us just aren’t sure we know who Sarah Palin is yet.  The McCain campaign is obviously training her on the difficult subject of interviews with journalists.  As of this time, there are no Palin interviews scheduled, other than the rumored possibility of an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.  As I write this, McCain campaign CEO, Rick Davis, is holding out for “ground rules”.  I suspect that if the campaign’s senior strategist, Steve Schmidt, were to have his way, any such interviews would be tightly scripted and choreographed, with all questions and answers written in advance by Schmidt.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden appeared on the September 6 edition of Meet The Press.  Biden had to answer at least one question with:

I don’t know what Governor Palin’s position on this issue is, because I haven’t heard it yet.  I have to assume that her position will be the same as Senator McCain’s.

When asked about the impending federal government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Biden pointed out that he had just discussed the subject with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the previous evening.  I could not help but wonder what the hell Sarah Palin would have said in answer to that question   …  “Freddie Mac cracked a lot of sexist jokes at an Obama rally.  Didn’t he die recently?”

Nevertheless, we are beginning to obtain information about Palin for ourselves by using our computers over the Internet.  The mainstream media have nothing for us, other than the superficial biography offered by the Republican National Committee.  What we have initially learned is that Sarah Palin spent six years working toward her Bachelor’s Degree, while attending five different schools in that effort.  Many consider this as evidence that she may be significantly dumber than our current President.  Although I refer to Governor Palin as “The Gumball”, I don’t consider her six-year college tour as a justifiable basis for criticizing her.  Many of us who attended college either made school transfers ourselves, or had friends who did so  — at the cost of lost course credits.  For someone to change colleges five different times, yet graduate in only six years, is quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations, Sarah!

Additional information about Palin has been provided by David Hullen in the September 4 edition of the Anchorage Daily News.  Hullen quoted an e-mail written by Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin was formerly mayor.  Ms. Kilkenny was described by Hullen as a “stay-at-home mom, letter-to-the-editor writer and longtime watcher of Valley politics.”  This article and e-mail are essential reading for anyone with more than a nanobyte of curiosity about who Sarah Palin really is.  Before I quote a passage from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail … let’s revisit The Gumball’s quip about Barack Obama, included in her acceptance speech, as written by Matt Scully:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

Ms. Kilkenny of Wasilla informed us about the consequences for Sarah Palin’s failure to fulfill those responsibilities:

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She (Palin) had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

In other words, Palin’s duties as “mayor of a small town” had to be “outsourced” to someone else, because Palin was in over her head and on the verge of being recalled.  Was this administrator from Bangalore, India, by any chance?

As we learn more about The Gumball, we are repeatedly reminded of our current President.  Here’s another remark about Palin, from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail:

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise.  As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

If you thought that John McCain was becoming a lot more like President Bush, Sarah Palin appears to have a head start.  No wonder she is being kept under wraps!

Many have criticized the mainstream media for “not doing their job” during the run-up to the Iraq war.  Those same news sources appear to be well on the way toward repeating that performance, as we enter the run-up to the Presidential election.

A Base Hit

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September 4, 2008

Throughout John McCain’s Presidential campaign, he had been unable to enlist the support of the coveted Republican “base”.  His choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, appears to have been a big hit with those people.  At the Republican Convention, she received an adoring response from the audience.  Perhaps Jay Leno had it best when he said:  “As an Alaskan, she must have felt right at home there.  She could look out from the podium, over an endless sea of white.”

Sarah Palin has indeed won the hearts of the “hard right” Republican voters and politicians.  At this point, the only obstacle to the acceptance of her as the candidate, seems to be: getting everyone familiar with her name (literally).  Geriatric Jo Ann Davidson, Co-Chair of the Republican National Committee, referred to the Vice-Presidential candidate as “Sarah Pawlenty” before the Convention audience.  This provided Jon Stewart with yet another “Moment of Zen”.

As reported by Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes in the September 3 Washington Post, Palin’s acceptance speech was written by Matt Scully:

An initial version of the address, which speechwriter Matthew Scully started crafting a week ago for an unnamed male vice presidential pick, included plenty of attacks aimed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama along with ample praise for McCain, aides said.

It is ironic to observe that Matt Scully (a former speechwriter for George W. Bush) is an outspoken defender of the rights of those animals considered prey by human hunters.  The “Annie Oakley” image of Sarah Palin as a moose hunter, seems to make her the kind of person Scully wouldn’t @font-face { font-family: “Calisto MT”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }necessarily like.  She’s lucky Scully wrote that speech before he knew she would be the one delivering it.  Worse yet, Palin’s pleasant persona will likely result in the targeting of Scully for the factual misrepresentations contained in the speech (i.e. that Obama will raise taxes for all Americans).  Rather than “shoot” the charismatic messenger, critics may choose to level their attacks at Scully himself, as the author of the speech.  It would serve him right for not going along on the moose hunt!

It remains to be seen whether McCain’s secondary strategy in choosing Palin (to win the support of the disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton) will work.  Susan Page and Martha Moore of USA Today have been following this subject and how it is playing out in the polls.  Page and Moore reported:

In USA TODAY polls, McCain’s standing among women didn’t budge with the pick of Palin. He was backed by 42% of women in a poll taken before the convention, another on the day of her announcement and a third taken Saturday and Sunday.

Whether these numbers hold as the campaign progresses, will be another matter.  In the mean time, the Democrats cannot afford to be pulling their punches as Palin establishes her own style of pugilism on the stump.  Time will tell whether she can live up to the expectations and the enthusiasm of the Convention crowd, the Republican base and the McCain team itself.  Her most likely problems (aside from the “abuse of power” scandal) will result from the video clips of her saying things inconsistent with the message du jour.   There will be plenty of opportunities ahead for negative campaign ads, especially as Republican luminaries continue to get caught, on the record, disclosing their low regard for McCain’s selection of Palin.  Over an open microphone during a commercial break on MSNBC, Peggy Noonan expressed dismay that the McCain camp “…  went for this – excuse me – political bullshit about narratives.”  Noonan later defined the term “narrative” as:  “The story the campaign wishes to tell about itself and communicate to others.”  Is that really it?  Or, is the “narrative” in this case, Palin’s life story, which is supposed to endear her to us.  Noonan is promoting that bullshit herself, so it’s hard to imagine her objecting to it.  Peggy Noonan also complained about how Republican leaders believe that “whatever the base of the Republican Party thinks is what America thinks”.  At this point, Sarah Palin is doing fine with the Republican base.  Meanwhile, the rest of America will be reading about Palin’s track record on “earmarks”, the unfolding “abuse of power” saga, as well as whatever important information the McCain camp never read in the local Alaska newspapers.  Whether we admit it or not, we will all be anxious to see if the National Enquirer can outdo its John Edwards exclusive with its juicy tale involving this new darling of “the base”.

Palin Comparison

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September 1, 2008

In a perfect world, there would be a floor fight to take Sarah Palin off the ticket at the Republican Convention. It would make for some good TV this week.  On the Friday, August 29 program, Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), National Public Radio’s Michel Martin made the strident claim that those who criticize Sarah Palin “do so at their peril”.  Sarah Palin is a Gumball.   There.  I will say it again, as well.  Although I would agree that anyone who resorts to sexist criticism of Palin does so at their own peril, there is plenty of room for reasoned dismay at McCain’s choice.  Meanwhile, Michel Martin’s claim that Palin’s experience is analogous to Tim Kaine’s experience, should have been made at Martin’s peril.  Actually, it was.  Tim Kaine is the Governor of a state that just happens to be next door to our nation’s Capitol.  Virginia’s population is 7,702,091 people.  The population of Alaska is less than one tenth of that at 683,478.  Although Kaine’s time served as Governor of Virginia is equivalent to the time served by Palin as Governor of Alaska, Kaine previously served four years as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia  — a job with similar day-to-day duties as those of the Vice-President of the United States.  You see, both the Lieutenant Governor and the Vice-President preside over a body called “the Senate”. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the State Senate and the Vice-President presides over the United States Senate.  The Gumball made the mistake of asking the question, into a TV camera, of what the everyday duties of the Vice-President might be.  Tim Kane learned the answer by presiding over the Virginia Senate for four years.  In case The Gumball doesn’t know (and she doesn’t, by her own admission) Kane’s duties as Lieutenant Governor matched those of the Vice President of the United States.  Michel Martin must be aware of this … she just might not want anyone else to be so aware.  Before Tim Kaine was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, he was the Mayor of Richmond Virginia for four years.  Two years ago, The Gumball was the mayor of her home town:  Wasilla, Alaska (population 9,000).  Tim Kaine was the mayor of a city with a population over twenty times the size of Wasilla, Alaska, at 200,123 people.  Tim Kaine went to law school (Georgetown).  The Gumball didn’t, nor did John McCain.

The stupidity of this episode is “off the charts”.  On the heels of an outrageously successful Democratic Convention, McCain has made a desperate reach for those disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton.  At the same time, with his choice of The Gumball, McCain has sold out to the televangelist lobby in the hope of connecting with that ever-elusive Republican “base”.  The term “desperate” has been used by many commentators.  Jonathan Alter of Newsweek was kind enough to analogize the selection of Palin to a “Hail Mary” or “Hail Sarah” pass at the end of a close football game.  McCain’s media sycophants claim that McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate, reinforces his “maverick” persona.  To the contrary, if McCain really were a maverick, he would be standing up to the televangelist lobby, rather than sucking up to it, as he is with this choice.

Sarah Palin (a/k/a “The Gumball”) is a “wing nut” who wants creationism to be taught in public schools and who refuses to believe that global warming has been caused by human activity.  To her credit, Palin went to term with a baby known to have Down Syndrome, based on her anti-abortion stance.  Her ability to do the anti-abortion walk as well as the anti-abortion talk will give her some degree of “street cred” with a limited population.

Nevertheless, with his choice of Palin, McCain has alienated his own “base” – the independents, moderate Republicans and centrists who believed that once elected President, McCain would tear off the rubber mask and return to his old self.  As Arianna Huffington said a while ago:  “The John McCain of 2000 is not a candidate in this election.”  McCain’s choice of The Gumball just drove that message home.

The fact that The Gumball was not adequately vetted, has become glaringly obvious to many Republicans.  She hasn’t been Governor of Alaska for two years and yet, she is already in trouble there. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate her activity.  She has been accused of “abuse of power”.  Our current Vice-President has that as his middle name.  This situation should make life easy for those writing the negative ads about the Republican ticket.

As long as Michel Martin has directed our attention to Tim Kaine, let’s remember where he was born:  a city named St. Paul, Minnesota.  If you want to find out what life is like there now, with the Republican Convention taking place, read Lindsay Beyerstein’s article, “Inside an RNC Raid” at Firedoglake.com.  It will make you sick, with reports of warrantless searches at homes — even one owned by a former military police officer.  When a woman staying at the house discussed in the story asked for a warrant, she was detained.  Local police were blended with apparent “contractors” or private Gestapo-for-hire.  Of course, this is all completely illegal in the United States where we have lived for all our lives.  Those in control of the 2008 Republican Party don’t care about the rule of law.  They make a point of promoting “leaders” who know nothing about it, either.  The reasons for this are obvious.