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Another Cartoon For The Bernank To Hate

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Those of us who found it necessary to explain quantitative easing during the course of a blog posting, have struggled with creating our own definitions of the term.  On October 18, 2010, I started using this one:

Quantitative easing involves the Federal Reserve’s purchase of Treasury securities as well as mortgage-backed securities from those privileged, too-big-to-fail banks.

What I failed to include in that description was the fact that the Fed was printing money to make those purchases.  I eventually resorted to simply linking the term to the definition of quantitative easing at Wikipedia.org.

Suddenly, in November of 2010, a cartoon – posted on YouTube – became an overnight sensation.  It was a 6-minute discussion between two little bears, which explained how “The Ben Bernank” was trying to fix a broken economy by breaking it more.

We eventually learned a few things about the cartoon’s creator, Omid Malekan, who produced the clip for free on the xtranormal.com website.  Kevin Depew, the Editor-in-Chief of Minyanville, interviewed Malekan within days of the cartoon’s debut.  Malekan expressed his disgust with what he described as “the Washington-Wall Street Complex” and the revolving door between the financial industry and those agencies tasked to regulate it.  David Weigel of Slate interviewed Malekan on November 22, 2010 (eleven days after the cartoon was made).  At that point, we learned a bit about the political views of the 30-year-old, former stock trader-turned-real estate manager:

I’m all over the map.  Socially, I’m pretty liberal.  Economically, I’m fairly free-market oriented.  I generally prefer to vote third party, because it’s just good for the country if we get another voice in there.  To me none of this is really partisan because things are the same under both parties.  Ben Bernanke was appointed by Bush and re-appointed by Obama, so they both have basically the same policies.  The problem, really, is that monetary policy is now removed from people in general.  People like Bernanke don’t have to get elected.  There’s a disconnect between them and the people their decisions are affecting.

One month later, Malekan was interviewed by “Evan” of The Point Blog at the Sam Adams Alliance.  On this occasion, the animator explained his decision to put “the” in front of so many proper names, as well as his reference to Ben Bernanke as “The Bernank”.  Malekan had this to say about the popularity of the cartoon:

To be fully honest, I had no idea this would get the wide audience that it did.  Initially when I made it, it was to explain it to a select group of friends of mine.  And any other straggler that happened to see it, and I never thought that would be over 3 million people.  But, the main reason was cause I think monetary policy is important to everybody because it’s monetary policy.  Unlike fiscal policy or regulation, monetary policy, because of the way it impacts interest rates and the dollar, impacts every single person that buys and sells and earns dollars.  So I think it’s something that everybody should be paying attention to, but most people don’t because it’s not ever presented to them in a way they could hope to understand it.

Omid Malekan produced another helpful cartoon on January 28.  The new six-minute clip, “Bank Bailouts Explained” provides the viewer with an understanding of what many of us know as Maiden Lane III – as well as how the other “backdoor bailouts” work, including the true cost of Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) to the taxpayers.  This cartoon is important because it can disabuse people of the propaganda based on the claim that the Wall Street megabanks – particularly Goldman Sachs – owe the American taxpayers nothing because they repaid the TARP bailouts.  I discussed this obfuscation back on November 26, 2009:

For whatever reason, a number of commentators have chosen to help defend Goldman Sachs against what they consider to be unfair criticism.  A recent example came to us from James Stewart of The New Yorker.  Stewart had previously written a 25-page essay for that magazine, entitled “Eight Days” — a dramatic chronology of the financial crisis as it unfolded during September of 2008.  Last week, Stewart seized upon the release of the recent SIGTARP report to defend Goldman with a blog posting which characterized the report as supportive of the argument that Goldman owes the taxpayers nothing as a result of the government bailouts resulting from that near-meltdown.  (In case you don’t know, a former Assistant U.S. District Attorney from New York named Neil Barofsky was nominated by President Bush as the Special Investigator General of the TARP program.  The acronym for that job title is SIGTARP.)   In his blog posting, James Stewart began by characterizing Goldman’s detractors as “conspiracy theorists”.  That was a pretty weak start.  Stewart went on to imply that the SIGTARP report refuted the claims by critics that, despite Goldman’s repayment of the TARP bailout, it did not repay the government the billions it received as a counterparty to AIG’s collateralized debt obligations.  Stewart referred to language in the SIGTARP report to support the spin that because “Goldman was fully hedged on its exposure both to a failure by A.I.G. and to the deterioration of value in its collateralized debt obligations” and that “(i)t repaid its TARP loans with interest, bought back the government’s warrants at a nice profit to the Treasury” Goldman therefore owes the government nothing — other than “a special debt of gratitude”.  One important passage from page 22 of the SIGTARP report that Stewart conveniently ignored, concerned the money received by Goldman Sachs as an AIG counterparty by way of Maiden Lane III, at which point those credit default obligations (of questionable value) were purchased at an excessive price by the government.  Here’s that passage from the SIGTARP report:

When FRBNY authorized the creation of Maiden Lane III in November 2008, it lent approximately $24.6 billion to the newly formed limited liability company, and AIG provided Maiden Lane III approximately $5 billion in equity.  These funds were used to purchase CDOs from AIG counterparties worth an estimated fair value of $29.6 billion at the time of the purchases, which were done in three stages on November 25, 2008, December 18, 2008, and December 22, 2008.  AIGFP’s counterparties were paid $27.1 billion, and AIGFP was paid $2.5 billion per an agreement between AIGFP and FRBNY.  The $2.5 billion represented the amount of collateral that AIGFP had previously paid to the counterparties that was in excess of the actual decline in the fair value as of October 31, 2008.

FRBNY’s loan to Maiden Lane III is secured by the CDOs as the underlying assets.  After the loan has been repaid in full plus interest, and, to the extent that there are sufficient remaining cash proceeds, AIG will be entitled to repayment of the $5 billion that the company contributed in equity, plus accrued interest.  After repayment in full of the loan and the equity contribution (each including accrued interest), any remaining proceeds will be split 67 percent to FRBNY and 33 percent to AIG.

The end result was a $12.9 billion gift to “The Goldman Sachs”.

Thanks to Mr. Malekan, we now have a cartoon that explains how all of AIG’s counterparties were bailed out at taxpayer expense, along with an informative discourse about the other “backdoor bailouts”.

Omid Malekan has his own website here.  You should make a point of regularly checking in on it, so you can catch his next cartoon before someone takes the opportunity to spoil all of the jokes for you.  Enjoy!


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2010 Jackass Of The Year Award

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Once again, the moment has arrived for TheCenterLane.com to present its Jackass of The Year Award.  Our 2010 recipient is Alaska’s Senatorial candidate, Joe Miller.

Joe Miller’s campaign to defeat Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s 2010 Republican Primary got a big boost when Governor Sarah Palin decided to leave office to become a full-time celebrity.  Palin’s decision was immediately criticized by Senator Murkowski.  Palin responded to the criticism by endorsing Murkowski’s opponent in the Republican Primary:  Joe Miller.  Miller then won the support of the Tea Party Express, who – according to The Washington Post – spent more than $150,000 on pro-Miller television and radio ads during the week before the primary.  In addition to the mobilization of the Tea Party activists, Miller benefited from an initiative on the Alaska Republican Primary ballot requiring parental consent before a girl aged 17 or younger could receive an abortion.  Alaska’s most conservative voters were out in force on Primary Day.  The Washington Post article highlighted some of Miller’s positions that helped him curry favor with Alaska’s “hard right” voters:

He has called for phasing out Medicare and Social Security, as well as eliminating the Education Department because it is not mandated in the Constitution.

Never mind the fact that neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security has been mandated by the Constitution.  The “lack of a Constitutional mandate” litmus test is only applied to those bureaucracies considered repugnant to Joe Miller.

Because the deadline for filing as an “Independent” candidate on Alaska’s November (general election) ballot had already expired by the August 24 primary, it was necessary for Lisa Murkowski to run as a “write-in” candidate in order to retain her Senate seat.

During the course of the ensuing campaign, Miller’s foolishness provided the news media with plenty of entertainment.  Despite Miller’s rhetoric, which called for limited government and fiscal restraint, Anne Applebaum of Slate recalled that Miller’s background became an issue in the campaign, since it was so inconsistent with that of a Tea Party hero:

During the course of the campaign, it also emerged that he had once collected farm subsidies; that his wife had once collected unemployment benefits; and that his family had received state health benefits.

Upon hearing that Murkowski would not abandon her quest to retain her Senate seat after her Republican Primary defeat, Mr. Miller immediately made a foolish statement, which he attempted to blame on an unidentified staffer.  Jim Carlton of the Washington Wire blog provided this quote of the now-infamous message sent out from Joe Miller’s Twitter account:

“What’s the difference between selling out your party’s values and the world’s oldest profession?” said the message under Mr. Miller’s Twitter address early Friday.

Mr. Miller said the tweet was sent by a staffer who was temporarily manning his account.  He added that the remark was aimed not at the senator herself, but at suggestions that Alaska’s Libertarian Party might allow Ms. Murkowski to run under its banner in November if she ends up losing to him in a final count of absentee ballots.

He blamed the tweet on “poor judgment” by the unidentified staffer, who he “relieved of his duties.”  He said he quickly removed the message from his Twitter feed.

If  Miller had not already done enough to alienate female voters — his Halloween-themed campaign ad, likening Lisa Murkowski to a witch, immediately drew the ire of the New Agenda website, which embedded a YouTube feed of the ad in this posting.

The most infamous event of Miller’s campaign occurred on October 17, when Tony Hopfinger, editor of the Alaska Dispatch website was handcuffed by Miller’s private security guards, when he attempted to interview the candidate at the conclusion of a “town hall” meeting at the Central Middle School in Anchorage.  The incident caused Miller to become the butt of many jokes on national television.

Hopfinger was attempting to question Miller about an incident that had become the subject of an e-mail that had originated a few days earlier from Mike Rostad, a Republican activist in Kodiak, Alaska, based on a discussion between Rostad and Miller’s father, Rex Miller.  The Anchorage Daily News provided this report:

Joe Miller was a part-time Fairbanks North Star Borough attorney in 2008 when he led an attempt to oust state Republican Party chief Randy Ruedrich.  Rostad wrote in the email that Rex Miller told him there was a poll being conducted during that effort against Ruedrich.  Rostad wrote that Rex Miller told him what happened:

“One noon hour, on his own time at the borough, Joe participated in an online poll voting against Randy.  He used four office computers in the office to do it, thinking this was his chance to boost numbers to get rid of Randy.  He emptied the cache files on the computers so the users wouldn’t know what he had done.  When the users asked what had happened to their caches, (Miller) admitted to what he did.  He was reprimanded and docked in pay for several days, but was not suspended or fired.

Miller’s improper computer use as a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough has been an ongoing controversy, which was the subject of this December 31 article from the Anchorage Daily News.

The handcuffing of Tony Hopfinger was not the only misstep by Joe Miller’s campaign on October 17.  Shira Toplitz of Politico reported on October 29 that the Murkowski campaign was running an ad, critical of two October 17 blunders:

The same night as the incident with the journalist, Miller told an audience that if “East Germany could, we could” secure the borders of the country — a controversial statement that Murkowski also uses in the new spot.

“Joe Miller’s answer to illegal immigration:  Use East Germany as an example,” continues the narrator.  “Exactly what kind of America does Joe Miller live in?  . . .”

Miller had nobody else to blame for his stupid remark exalting East Germany as a model for border security.

Once it became obvious that Lisa Murkowski made history as the first write-in candidate to win a Senate election since Strom Thurmond in 1954, Joe Miller took his battle to the courts.  He initially filed an action in Federal Court, although U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline stayed proceedings pending resolution of the dispute in the State court, where the action should have been brought.  Once the case was filed in the State Court, Judge William Carey dismissed the suit and it was appealed directly to the Alaska Supreme Court.  U.S. News reported that when the ballots were still being counted, the Miller camp was determined to turn the election into a spelling bee:

Shortly after the second day of write-in ballot counting began on Thursday, a Miller observer challenged a vote for Murkowski that appeared to have her name spelled and printed correctly, though the “L” in “Lisa” was in cursive handwriting.  Later, at least 10 ballots in which Murkowski’s name appeared readable were challenged, including one in which the vote read:  “Lisa Murkowski Republican.”

Miller’s campaign said observers are simply challenging votes that don’t meet the strict letter of the law — including those with minor misspellings of Murkowski’s name or those with legibility or penmanship issues.

In addition to the “spelling bee” demand, Miller also attempted to pursue a claim of misconduct by election officials amounting to election fraud.  The Christian Science Monitor provided this report on Judge Carey’s dismissal of that count:

“Nowhere does Miller provide facts showing a genuine issue of fraud or election official misfeasance,” Carey wrote.  “Instead, the majority of the problematic statements included in the affidavits are inadmissible hearsay, speculation, and occasional complaints of sarcasm expressed by [elections] workers.  Nothing rises to the level showing genuine material facts of fraud.”

The stupidity of Miller’s “spelling bee” requirement became more apparent once the Alaska Supreme Court was asked to reverse the dismissal of that claim.  During oral arguments, Justice Dana Fabe directed a Why are you here? question to Miller’s attorneys.  Here’s how that moment was described by KTUU News:

With unofficial results showing Miller behind Murkowski by 10,328 votes, or 2,169 when ballots challenged by Miller observers are excluded, Justice Dana Fabe asked Miller’s legal team what — if any — impact the court’s decision would have on the outcome of the election.

“Even if you win on this argument and every one of the challenged ballots is set aside, it makes no difference in this count, and it makes no difference in the outcome of this election unless you win on one of your other counts — isn’t that correct?” Fabe said.

In other words:  even if the contested ballots were not counted in accordance with the guidelines advanced by Miller’s legal team – Miller still would have lost by over two thousand votes!

So seriously:  What was the point of filing suit?  Was Miller hoping to get some sort of deal from the Republican Party for conceding defeat?  His lawsuit was as idiotic as his entire campaign had been.  As late as December 27, Miller was vowing to continue his battle in the Federal Court to contest the election result.  Nevertheless, as Miller should have learned at Yale Law School, the pursuit of such a specious claim in a Federal Court, would likely result in rather expensive sanctions against Miller and his attorneys under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, once his case was inevitably dismissed.  If that concern had not been enough to motivate Miller to abandon his Federal suit, it should have been enough to convince Miller’s attorneys that the game was finally over.  Miller ultimately conceded his defeat in the election on December 30, although he never made a concession call to Lisa Murkowski.  He explained that he had not made the call because he did not have Murkowski’s phone number.

Joe Miller may not have won the election to the United States Senate —  but he did win the 2010 Jackass of The Year Award from TheCenterLane.com.  Congratulations, Jackass!



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More Heat For The Federal Reserve

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October 5, 2009

On Thursday, October 1, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee.  That event demonstrated how the Fed has fallen into the crosshairs of critics from both ends of the political spectrum.  A report in Friday’s Los Angeles Times by Jim Puzzanghera began with the point that the Obama administration has proposed controversial legislation that would expand the Fed’s authority, despite bipartisan opposition in a Congress that is more interested in restricting the Fed’s influence:

Worried about the increased power of the complex and mysterious Fed, and upset it did not do more to prevent the deep recession, Capitol Hill has focused its anger over the financial crisis and its aftermath on the central bank.  The Fed finds itself at the center of a collision of traditional political concerns – conservatives’ fears of heavy-handed government intervention in free markets, and liberals’ complaints of regulators who favor corporate executives over average Americans.

More than two-thirds of the House of Representatives has signed on to a bill that would subject the central bank to increased congressional oversight through expanded audits.  A key senator wants to strip the Fed of its authority to regulate banks.  And the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee wants to rein in the Fed’s emergency lending power, which it used to help engineer the sale of Bear Stearns Cos. and bailout American International Group Inc.

The article noted the observation of Jaret Seiberg, a financial policy analyst with Concept Capital’s Washington Research Group:

“The Fed is running into unprecedented opposition on Capitol Hill,” he said.

“In the Senate, there’s open hostility toward any expansion of the Federal Reserve’s authority.  And in the House, you certainly have Republicans looking to focus the Fed solely on monetary policy and strip it of any larger role in financial regulation.”

Mr. Puzzanghera’s report underscored how the Fed’s interventions in the economy during the past year, which involved making loans (of unspecified amounts) and backing commercial transactions, have drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle.  The idea of expanding the Fed’s authority to the extent that it would become a “systemic risk regulator” has been criticized both in Congress and by a former member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors:

House Republicans want to scale back the Fed’s power so the bank focuses on monetary policy.  And many have opposed the administration’s proposal to give the Fed the new role of supervising large financial institutions, such as AIG, that are not traditional banks but pose a risk to the economy if they fail.

“I’m not alone with my concerns about the Fed as a systemic regulator,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.).  Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has similar concerns, as do others on his panel.  In fact, Dodd has proposed stripping the Fed of all of its bank oversight functions as part of his plan for creating a single banking regulatory agency.

Former Fed Gov. Alice M. Rivlin also said it would be a mistake to increase the Fed’s regulatory powers because it would distract from the central bank’s monetary policy role.

“Do we want to augment the regulatory authority of the Fed?      . . .  My answer is no,” said Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  “My sense is many people would be nervous about that augmentation.”

The colorful Democratic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, recently published a report card on the committee’s website, criticizing the Fed’s poor record on consumer protection.  The report card contrasted what Congressional Democrats had done to address various issues (categorized under the heading:  “Democrats Act”) with what the Fed has or has or has not done in dealing with those same problems.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, is making the rounds, promoting his new book:  End The Fed.  A recent posting at The Daily Bail website includes a YouTube video of Ron Paul at a book signing in New York, which resulted in a small parade over to the New York Fed.  Although the Daily Bail piece reported that Paul’s book had broken into the top ten on Amazon’s list of bestsellers — as I write this, End The Fed is number 15.  I would like to see that book continue to gain popularity.  Perhaps next time Chairman Bernanke testifies before a committee, he will know that something more than his own job is on the line.  It would be nice to see him make history as the last Chairman of the Federal Reserve.



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CNNFail

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June 15, 2009

Back on January 16, 1991, it seemed as though anyone with cable TV was glued to their set, watching the beginning of Operation Desert Storm.  As the coalition forces began their aerial assault on Baghdad, most American reporters were pinned down at the Al-Rashid Hotel.  As it turned out, CNN was the only news service able to communicate with the rest of the world during that time.  Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett gained instant fame as CNN’s “Boys of Baghdad”, providing non-stop coverage of the invasion from Room 906 of the Al-Rashid.  The event helped establish CNN as a “top tier” news organization.  CNN’s coverage of this event became the subject of a documentary film by HBO, entitled Live From Baghdad.

On Friday June 12, many of the world’s news services focused their attention on Iran’s presidential election.  Incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was being faced with a serious challenge by Mir Hussein Mousavi, one of three other contenders for the post.  Mousavi’s supporters were highly organized and energetic.  They adopted the color green as their symbol and they began calling for a “green revolution”.  Al Jazeera reported that Yadollah Javani, political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, had issued a warning from his website that any such revolution would be “nipped in the bud”.  This should have been a tip that the Revolutionary Guard had every intention of subverting the public will.

On Saturday, June 13, Iran’s state-owned news service, Fars, declared incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner, with nearly two-thirds of the vote.  A landslide of such proportions was completely unexpected, given the large turnout at rallies in support of the leading challenger, Mir Hussein Mousavi, as well as the recent poll, indicating that Ahmadinejad was leading his three challengers with only 34 percent of the vote.  As a result, many expected that a runoff election between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi would have been necessary.  Because of this claimed “landslide” victory, it immediately became obvious that the election had been stolen.  Juan Cole, President of the Global Americana Institute, wrote the following on his blog, Informed Comment:

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning.  Mousavi’s spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi’s camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable.  And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The public reaction on the streets of Tehran was documented for Slate by Jason Rezaian:

A feeling of dejection hung in the air for most of Saturday. Spontaneous street demonstrations early in the day were small and were quickly broken up by riot police on motorcycles.

As reality set in, people began taking to the streets en masse. Around 5 p.m. on the approach to Fatemi Square, where the Interior Ministry is located, I could see that the entire traffic circle had been closed to car traffic. About 200 riot police waited in the middle of the square. I headed down an alley, just steps away, where protesters had created a blockade of flaming garbage cans.

The demonstrators pushed aside a garbage can, opening a path, and rushed forward. Simultaneously, baton-wielding police charged. The protesters hurled rocks, and the police responded by beating everyone who couldn’t escape into one of the connecting alleys.

Citizens, nearly all on the side of the protesters, left their front gates open just a little to offer those of us fleeing the police an escape route.

The ensuing riots resulted in phone cam videos posted to YouTube.  Messages were sent out over Twitter under the hashtags: #IranElection and #Iran Election.

Many mainstream media news outlets had reporters “on the ground” in Tehran.  ABC News had Jim Sciutto there.  Mr. Sciutto sent a message out over Twitter at 9:20 on Saturday morning:

police confiscated our camera and videotapes.  We are shooting protests and police violence on our cell phones

Sciutto and other reporters whose equipment had been confiscated, began shooting riot videos on their phone cams.  Many networks, including ABC, MSNBC and Fox News began to broadcast these  …  but not CNN.  Many Twitter users, following the Iranian violence became outraged over CNN’s failure to cover the rioting.  As a result, they started a new discussion thread, using the hashtag:  #CNNFail.  Many of these postings criticized the quality of CNN’s limited reporting on these events.

Here were some of the messages I found on CNNFail:

Shazzy919 — ChristianeAmanpour:  “No indication of curfew or further forceful action” really????

ahockley — There’s currently a story on CNN titled “Do journalists Twitter too much?”

charlieprofit —  CNN just ran the same report aired earlier where they call some Iranian protesters Vigilantes

Robot117 —  My animosity toward CNN for their utter incompetence in reporting this news is growing

georgedick — CNN still referring to “The landslide win of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”.   WTF.

In fact, ABC’s Jim Sciutto made the following comment on Twitter concerning CNN’s fiasco:

Did CNN Intl really just air pix of a water-skiing squirrel?  Anyone remember ‘Ron Burgundy’? 12:14 AM Jun 14th from web

A review of CNN’s website reveals that some of their coverage seemed like an attempt to legitimize Ahmadinejad’s “victory”:

The landslide defeat of Ahmadinejad’s leading opponent, Mir Hossein Moussavi, who some analysts predicted would win the election, triggered angry protests in Iran and other cities around the world.

*    *    *

Moussavi’s supporters say the election was rigged. But the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad’s victory speech Sunday leaves no doubt that the president carries plenty of support.

For all the ridicule directed against Twitter and its users, the CNNFail event will become an historical milestone for the moment when this communication medium finally earned some respect.

The Narrowing

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October 20, 2008

Halloween is less than two weeks away.  The theme of the perfect horror film for 2008 becomes increasingly apparent as I type this.  We can rely only on the YouTube medium to get this year’s best spooky thriller before the public in time.  Right now, the trees in our nation’s capitol are manifesting the multi-colored transition to autumn.  The time to shoot this movie is right now.  The time to get it before the public is right now.  The Narrowing has the potential to be the “fright film” of the decade.

The horror depicted in this movie is most troubling for the moderate Republicans.  On Sunday, October 19, millions of Americans watched former Secretary of State, Republican Colin Powell, a retired Army General, endorse Democratic nominee Barack Obama for the Presidency.  Among the reasons given by General Powell for his endorsement of Obama included what he described as “the narrowing” of the Republican Party during the course of this campaign.  On that same television program, NBC’s Meet The Press, conservative commentator David Brooks expressed his concern about “the narrowing” of the Republican Party throughout the current election cycle.  In his analysis of General Powell’s rationale for the Obama endorsement, Mr. Brooks said:

He (Powell) was attacking the Republican Party and the key word there was: “narrowing”.  The party is narrowing and leaving a lot of people out – people like Colin Powell.    . . .  They have to ask themselves:  “Why are we narrowing?”

*    *    *

A lot of people who were Republicans, feel like they have been left out  — not by McCain but by the party.  And if McCain has any blame, it is in the beginning of this campaign.  He didn’t say:  “I’m different.”  He didn’t break with the party.  He got sucked up (beautiful Freudian slip) – sucked in at least halfway into the orthodoxy of the party.  That’s narrowing.

As a movie, The Narrowing would feature mobs of “talk radio” – entranced people, wandering through the streets of our nation’s small towns and big cities.  There would be elderly men with racist-attired Curious George dolls.  They would speak with strange little voices, using the Curious George dolls as puppets to complain about how our nation’s public schools would be serving pigs’ feet and black-eyed peas to “red-blooded American children” for lunch.  The movie would depict elderly, white-trash women with “bed head”, repeating the rumor that Barack Obama is uncircumcised.  (It was actually Bill Maher who started this rumor.  In the movie, he would remind these women to include the aspect concerning the scent of curry.)  There would be pit bulls wearing lipstick with small “beehive wigs” and ersatz Kawasaki eyeglass frames, brought to animal shelters and veterinary emergency rooms after horrible maulings and other injuries.  These events would not have been caused from abuse by humans – but from attacks by irate Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies.  Mobs carrying torches would be chasing after Peggy Noonan and Chris Buckley, yelling: “Traitor!”  John McCain would attempt to transform himself into “the old McCain of 2000” but it would be too late.

The film’s most scary moments would take place on Election Day.  Throngs of screaming people would be seen, running from polling places.  The Sarah Palin “wanna-bes” would show up to vote, not having washed their hairdos or having changed their clothes since Halloween.  The gasping exiles from the voting booths would complain of the overwhelming “homeless smell” carried into the polls by these over-ripe Palin impersonators.

At the conclusion of the film, the vanquished, moderate Republicans would be forced in retreat to the shelter of big cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and (gasp!) San Francisco.  They would form “cells” and organize plots to undo “the narrowing” and hopefully live to fight another day.

Meanwhile, here in “the real world”, The Narrowing is upon us.  It has become painfully obvious to the more astute members of the Republican Party and the conservative community.  If the GOP is to have a future, it must develop an immunosuppressive response to The Narrowing.

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.”

Bye, Bayh!

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August 14, 2008

Rumors abound concerning the potential Vice-Presidential choices of both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 Presidential campaign.  Recently, many prognosticators have been voicing their opinions that Obama will choose Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as his running mate.  (Bayh’s real name is Birch Evans Bayh, III.)  As this speculation heated up, so did the tempers of many Democrats.  These Democrats recalled that not only did Bayh vote in favor of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq, he co-sponsored it with John McCain and was part of the cozy, Rose Garden ceremony on October 2, 2002 when President Bush thanked Bayh and McCain for co-sponsoring the Resolution.  The rationale supporting Bayh’s viability as VP choice is based on his reputation for being a “centrist” Democrat and therefore, a good selection as Obama’s running mate.

On August 13, Ari Melber reported for The Washington Independent that a man named Steve Clemons, described by Melber as “a former Democratic Senate aide who sometimes traffics in Washington rumors”, provided this insider’s assessment of the outlook for an Obama – Bayh ticket:

Word has reached me that at Barack Obama’s Hawaii retreat, Evan Bayh’s chances to find himself the next Democratic VP candidate have moved to better than 50/50.

(Steve Clemons is actually the Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and he is the publisher of the political blog, The Washington Note.)  Ari Melber also pointed out that Mr. Clemons opposed the choice of Bayh and that Clemons “urged Democratic voters to contact the Obama campaign with their views on the potential pick”.  This wasn’t the first rumor making the rounds concerning the dreaded announcement that Bayh would get the nod to share the Democratic ticket.  As Melber reported:  “apprehension over the feared choice of Bayh has resulted in a new Facebook group called ‘100,000 Strong Against Evan Bayh for VP’”.

We often hear pundits recite the Cardinal Rule for Presidential candidates, in selecting their Vice-Presidential nominee, as: “Do No Harm”.  In other words:  Don’t screw up your campaign by choosing a controversial running mate.  It has become obvious that Obama would severely damage his campaign with the choice of Bayh as his VP.

Obama’s biggest campaign hurdle is his popularity with Independent voters, since they are more likely to scrutinize a candidate’s authenticity, due to the fact that they have no party allegiance.  When Obama voted in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill to avoid looking “weak” on national security, he shot himself right in the authenticity.  When the time came to take a stand on the issue of offshore drilling (to increase the supply of oil ten years from now, when we won’t need it) he repeated the same mistake.  The choice of Evan Bayh would be “Strike Three”.  Such a misstep would alienate the Democratic “base” and dilute whatever perceived measure of authenticity he has remaining, from the standpoint of Independent voters.

A crucial “negative” in considering Bayh as Obama’s running mate is Bayh’s wife:  Susan Breshears Bayh.  Four years before Evan followed in the footsteps of his father, Birch Bayh, to pursue a seat in the United States Senate, Susan launched a career sitting as a director on the boards of fourteen different corporations.  These corporations are involved in the pharmaceutical, broadcast, insurance, food-distribution and finance industries. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported on December 16, 2007 that Mrs. Bayh earns approximately one million dollars per year in director’s fees.  That article by Sylvia Smith, went on point out that as Senator, Evan Bayh cast many votes “on issues of keen interest” to those very industries.

Any Presidential candidate, whose campaign is based on the theme of “Change”, would degrade his authenticity with the selection of such a “second generation” Senator as his running mate.  As I have said before (on July 14): In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  For Obama, the choice of Evan Bayh as his running mate would be Barack’s third strike against his own authenticity.  Should Obama go that route, it would be time to say “Bye – Bayh!” to his chances of living in The White House.

The Race Tightens

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July 14, 2008

Jonathan Darman’s July 11 article for Newsweek discusses that magazine’s latest poll, showing Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by only 3 percentage points.  Since this is probably within the poll’s margin of error (not discussed in the article) the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.   This is in sharp contrast with last month’s Newsweek poll, showing Obama with a 15-percent lead over McCain (51 to 36).  The July 13 Rasmussen poll showed each candidate with 46 percent.  Darman and other commentators struggled with this shift in popular opinion.  Darman noted:

But perhaps most puzzling is how McCain could have gained traction in the past month.  To date, direct engagement with Obama has not seemed to favor the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the explanation for McCain’s popularity bump is evident in the preceding text of Mr. Darman’s article, discussing Obama’s controversial position favoring the new FISA law.  Civil libertarians and the more liberal-leaning Democrats were outraged by Obama’s support for this bill.  The Obama camp believed that this disappointment would be short-lived, since those factions had no other alternative than to support Barack.  What these wizards failed to consider was the effect this betrayal would have on independent voters.  Hillary Clinton paid a high political price for her support of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It was that same fear of appearing weak on national security that drove Obama and other Democrats to vote in favor of the new FISA law.

In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  A politician’s denial of having made a statement (or of having played golf recently) can be easily rebutted with an audio-visual presentation of that politician’s own words or acts.  The lack of authenticity is perceived as a measure of dishonesty.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness. Obama’s support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution, had he been a member of United States Senate at the time.  Hillary Clinton learned her lesson from the Iraq Resolution controversy and voted against the FISA bill.  Nevertheless, had she been the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, would she have voted the same way?

The information obtained from the recent Newsweek poll suggests that authenticity may have played a role in the popular opinion shift.  As Jonathan Darman pointed out:

In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

What may have come as a surprise to Obama’s advisors, was that the Democrat has lost popularity among independent voters.  Although these voters may not have been as heartbroken as the members of MoveOn.org, over Obama’s support for the FISA legislation, they may have detected the strong odors of weakness and inauthenticity.  As Mr. Darman observed:

In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

In other words, Obama lost his 12-point lead among independent voters and he now trails McCain among independents by 7 points.  McCain has apparently taken a page from the Bush playbook by deliberately making gaffes in order to appear less polished – and hence, more authentic to the voters.  (One example of this was his repeated conflation of the activities of Iranian operatives and those of Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.)  McCain is appearing as “likeably” less articulate than his opponent, reinforcing the aura of authenticity.  The only way for the Obama camp to stay in this fight is to keep McCain’s own “flip-flops” in the public eye.  Taking “the high road” at this point appears to be political suicide.  Although it doesn’t make for a good slogan:  “Less of a flip-flopper than McCain” should become the theme for the Obama campaign.