September 2008 Archives

The Bailout Plan version 2.0

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CNN Money has posted a very simple plain English summary of the new version of the bill for those who aren't up to reading the original.

Economists Paul Krugman and Brad Delong provide some assessment of the new 100+ page long plan. Krugman weighed in with this evaluation initially.

Section 113, MINIMIZATION OF LONG-TERM COSTS AND MAXIMIZATION OF BENEFITS FOR TAXPAYERS, is where the rubber meets the road -- it's where the plan says something about how the deals will be done.

As I read it, Treasury can
(1) conduct reverse auctions and suchlike
(2) buy directly -- but only if it gets equity warrants or, in companies that don't issue stock, senior debt

My view is that (1) will be ineffective but also not a bad deal for taxpayers -- firms that can afford to will dump their toxic waste at low prices, the way some already have on the private market, and taxpayers may end up making money in the end. Firms in big trouble will probably stay away from the auctions. The plan's real traction, if any, is in (2), which is a backdoor way to provide troubled firms with equity -- and the bill seems to say that taxpayers have to own this equity, although I wish it was clearer how much equity will be judged sufficient.

Not a good plan. But sufficiently not-awful, I think, to be above the line; and hopefully the whole thing can be fixed next year.

After being informed that the version he looked at wasn't the most recent, Krugman said he'd update his comments after reviewing the correct one. In the end, there evidently wasn't that much difference between the two he reviewed as he said, "I don't, in the end, have much more to say about the plan. It passes my test of no equity, no deal; that, plus the danger of financial panic if it doesn't go through, makes it worth passing, though celebration is not in order."

Krugman posted a followup this morning noting that he's being approached with 2 main questions:

(1) Was it really necessary? (2) Shouldn't Dems have tossed the whole Paulson approach out the window and done something completely different?

His answers are: 1 - yes with some explanation of why and 2 - this is more complicated but I understand why the Dems did what they did. Starting over from scratch probably wasn't realistic at this point.

Brad Delong follows along with Paul Krugman noting that it's better than a jab in the eye with a Lawn-Dart. From there he moves onto highlighting a piece by Larry Summers with these two questions.

How Much Will This Cost? How Does This Constrain the Policy of an Obama-Biden Administration?

Larry Summers's answers are "not much" and "not at all." I agree.

The Financial Times published the column "Taxpayers can still benefit from a bail-out" by Larry Summers. The whole column is worth reading but I thought this paragraph was worthy of note:

In the meantime, it is necessary to consider the impact of the bail-out and the conditions necessitating it on federal budget policy. The idea seems to have taken hold in recent days that because of the unfortunate need to bail out the financial sector, the nation will have to scale back its aspirations in other areas such as healthcare, energy, education and tax relief. This is more wrong than right. We have here the unusual case where economic analysis actually suggests that dismal conclusions are unwarranted and the events of the last weeks suggest that for the near term, government should do more, not less.

Summer's point is in contrast with the conservative non-economists who have decided to jump on the rightwing bandwagon placing all the blame for the current crisis on the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. Matt Yglesias has addressed this bit of wingnuttery.

I've linked to Robert Gordon's debunking of this point several times, but now let me add this other debunking from Ellen Seidman that I hadn't seen before. And, again, recall that not only is it false to say that CRA caused the bad lending, but completely irrespective of who or what caused the bad lending absolutely nobody forced financial firms to make large, highly leveraged bets on the loans. It was conservatives who blocked regulation of credit default swaps. It was conservatives who watched as the housing bubble developed and it was conservatives who blocked any action to try to ensure a soft landing once the bubble popped. It was conservatives who said we had to make the taxes of the ultra-rich individuals who brought this problem upon us as low as possible. It was conservatives who blocked efforts to curb predatory lending and it was conservatives who blocked efforts to investigate fraud more robustly.

Bonddad aka Hale Stewart also addressed this point along with some of the other theories that are being floated by the chattering classes about the origin of the crisis. He then goes onto lay out the sequence of events as documented by some very reputable publications. It's worth some time if you want a relatively jargon-free explanation of why this free-fall in the finance world occurred.

The First Debate

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If you missed it, has uploaded it to youtube in segments and collected them all in this post. CNN has the full transcript. UPDATE: CSPAN has uploaded the complete debate to youtube.

Here is one of the more memorable salvos that Obama delivered.

In general, the quick polls and focus groups identify Obama as the winner though the punditry splits on the point. Steve Benen has a round-up of the polls and focus groups and how they viewed the debate results.

The Obama campaign chose this excerpt from the debate for the first post-debate ad which is already out.


It certainly draws a focus to the point Nate Silver made in his analysis of the polling and the pundits at TNR.

My other annoyance with the punditry is that they seem to weight all segments of the debate equally. There were eight segments in this debate: bailout, economy, spending, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, terrorism. The pundit consensus seems to be that Obama won the segments on the bailout, the economy, and Iraq, drew the segment on Afghanistan, and lost the other four. So, McCain wins 4-3, right? Except that, voters don't weight these issues anywhere near evenly. In Peter Hart's recent poll for NBC, 43 percent of voters listed the economy or the financial crisis as their top priority, 12 percent as Iraq, and 13 percent terrorism or other foreign policy issues. What happens if we give Obama two out of three economic voters (corresponding to the fact that he won two out of the three segments on the economy), and the Iraq voters, but give McCain all the "other foreign policy" voters?

  Issue        Priority      Obama     McCain
Economy 43 --> 29 14
Iraq 12 --> 12 0
Foreign Policy 13 --> 0 13
Total 41 27

By this measure, Obama "won" by 14 points, which almost exactly his margin in the CNN poll.

McCain's essential problem is that his fundamental strength - his experience -- is specifically not viewed by voters as carrying over to the economy. And the economy is pretty much all that voters care about these days.

EDIT: The CBS poll of undecideds has more confirmatory detail. Obama went from a +18 on "understanding your needs and problems" before the debate to a +56 (!) afterward. And he went from a -9 on "prepared to be president" to a +21.

Nate's analysis underscores why the viewer polls all clearly give Obama the win for the evening.

From the foreign policy perspective, Fred Kaplan of Slate declares "Judged on the substantive issues, especially on which candidate has the more realistic view of the world, Obama won hands down." Joe Biden certainly delivered that message as well in his appearance on CNN.

As an aside, Wolf Blitzer was finally forced to respond to emails and comments on why the Republican VP candidate was not interviewed by saying that they would have been more than happy to interview Sarah Palin if she had been available. It seems she was being booed (video) on the streets of Philly before the debate began. [via WGRZ]

Back to Joe though. He was in fine form last night.

Yes, Joe. Obama certainly did well.

And McCain didn't help himself with his refusal to look at Obama, his obvious looks of annoyance and anger, and his moments of foreign policy brilliance like this one ... comparing the height of North Koreans to South Koreans. Really.

What on earth was that about? McCain was stuck in history, inarticulate at many points, an angry old man and it showed.

Obama was a little stiff in the beginning but came out with a strong opening statement, concisely made, and once he got going, he was on. He demonstrated skills on multiple levels, how he deals with a cantankerous opponent, his concern for the middle class, his grasp of economic realities, his strategic view of the US's role in the world, his awareness of the need to balance multiple roles/needs of the US including economic, environmental and diplomatic requirements. He did well.

A Law Professor's View of the Bailout

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On September 24th, Steven Ramirez, a professor of law at Loyola University Chicago, gave a very interesting presentation called "The Subprime Debacle & Subprime Bailouts: Subprime Enforcement, Subprime Accountability, & Subprime Responsibility."  

Professor Ramirez kindly wrote down his thoughts and sent me a copy of what he has to say about the mess and his proposed solutions for resolving it.  After you read this, you'll know more than McCain.

If you agree with his solution, please pass this information on to others and contact your senators/representatives.

A Law Professor's View of the Bailout

by Steven Ramirez

Published in its entirety with his permission

The single most remarkable fact regarding the subprime debacle is the breathtaking recklessness of the lenders that now seek the most massive public bailout in the history of the US.  

As shown below, the default rates on loans originated in 2006 and 2007 exceeds 30 percent.  These loans never should have been made and no bank can survive these kinds of default rates-the losses implied from these default rates will wipe out the interest paid on the entire underlying portfolio and much bank capital.  Further, because billions of dollars of such loans were made, their rapid default destroyed the nation's real estate market.


Since 2007 It's Even Worse...

  • "At the end of June, 5.35 percent of prime loans were past due or in foreclosure, up from 4.93 in March. By contrast, 30.48 percent of subprime loans were past due or in foreclosure, up from 29.53 percent."  NY TIMES, 9/5/08

  • Overall, delinquencies on 2007 prime jumbo loans rose to 3.22 percent in July, while Alt-A loan delinquencies increased to 14.56 percent. . . .Defaults on subprime loans from last year hit 31.25 percent."  Reuters - 8/22/08

The line between recklessness and intentional wrongdoing is often thin.  Recklessness may include inexplicable stupidity, but sometimes inexplicable stupidity may be explained by following money.  

Economists provide some material worth thinking about

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Here is some grist for the thought-mill from economists who are responding to the situation in our financial markets and economy and to Sec. Paulson's proposed plan.

The first is James K. Galbraith who has a column in the Washington Post today. His points are well-made.

The second is a discussion with Paul Krugman, Eugene Ludwig and Alan Meltzer on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. The video and transcript of the discussion is here. Click on the streaming video link - you get much more from that than from the transcript. Krugman is a centrist who leans left on some points. Meltzer is a conservative. Ludwig appears to be centrist.

Their discussion is enlightening.

Then finally there's this letter posted on the University of Chicago website signed by 200 economists


As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers' expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

See the website for the list of signatures

She's making Quayle look good

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Remember this? The veep nominee who couldn't spell potato.

Well, it's hard to believe but she's making him look good. Here's the second segment of the Sarah Palin - Katie Couric interview. It's on foreign policy.

Add that to yesterday's interview and her performance in the Q&A session done during her tour of Ground Zero and ouch. National Journal's Hotline blog has the transcript.

No wonder they won't let the press ask her any questions.

What McCain really communicated by his campaign suspension

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First, we have the obvious conclusions. Josh Marshall goes on a little rant about John McCain's campaign suspension and potential attempt to get out of the debate. It's good though David Letterman really does take the prize on this one.

But as funny in a biting sort of way as those two are, there is a serious consequence to McCain's action and interactions yesterday, including his making time to meet with Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild and Katie Couric. It is clear how he's prioritizing his activities and they having nothing to do with the good of the country and the economy and everything to do with the health or lack therein of his campaign.

Ahem, John McCain. What do you think all the world leaders think? You've just given them two examples of how your word cannot be trusted inside of 24 hours: 1 - lying to Letterman and 2 - stiffing Obama on the joint statement in order to make the campaign suspension announcement. Both are highly visible examples that you cannot be trusted, that your word is worthless.

Looks like you're just another cowboy whose word is no good. Not what the world wants. Not what we want.

Obama: Debate is 'More Important Than Ever'

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Obama's press conference this afternoon in Florida concerning the current activity in Congress on the bailout bill and coordination with John McCain.

His points on being able to do more than one thing at once and the difficulties inherent in bringing two presidential nominees into a delicate negotiating process that needs a bipartisan approach were very well made.

It is evident that he is focused on doing the best for the nation and emphasized repeatedly his and McCain's development of common ground on addressing the Wall St. bailout issues. He also demonstrates the ability to handle multiple issues simultaneously, calmly and without histrionics. Calm, cool, steady, thoughtful. Sounds like characteristics we need in our next president in great contrast to McCain's bombastic and scattershot, panicked approach to his campaign.

There is speculation that McCain chose the debate delay option in an attempt to deliberately delay the VP debate and possibly end up failing to reschedule it. And after seeing the first portion of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric, it's completely understandable why McCain is hitting the panic button.

And it's this point in particular in the interview that is just cringe-inducing.

COURIC: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

PALIN: He's also known as the maverick, though. Taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about -- the need to reform government.

COURIC: I'm just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation?

PALIN: I'll try to find you some, and I'll bring them to you.

Actually there was more than one cringe-inducing moment but that's the one that stands out. There will be more segments of the interview released over the next few days per CBS. "Tomorrow's (25) portion of the interview will focus on international affairs. As previously announced, Couric's extended interview with Gov. Palin from the campaign trail will be broadcast on the CBS EVENING NEWS next Monday (29) and Tuesday (30)."

I think that sign from the Alaska Women's Rally said it best.

McCain / Palin
Unstable / Unable

Ben Smith has the complete transcript of the first segment of the Palin-Couric interview.

Being "Uppity" and the destruction of black Wall Street

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Sometimes you find nuggets in the most unexpected places. The genesis of this particular nugget is a thoughtful and important op-ed by Brent Staples in the New York Times titled Barack Obama, John McCain and the Language of Race. In it he discusses the word "uppity" and its use in our nation's history and politics.

Deoliver47 at Daily Kos took the opportunity to add some historical background to Staples' essay in a most viscerally powerful diary about the destruction of the "black Wall Street", Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Deoliver47 is an African-American woman of either late 40's or early 50's age (she's said - I just can't remember which) who has been a powerful contributor to the Daily Kos community ever since she joined. I've learned to watch for her posts.

As she points out in her post, the Tulsa riots were likely the most deadly set of race riots that we've ever had in this country but they're not even listed when historians recount the list of race riots. The video that accompanies her diary is remarkable. And it adds such poignancy to her conclusion.

There are times here at Dkos when I want to cry out to you, that you don't understand why Barack cannot ever slip out of control, why he walks so carefully and speaks so thoughtfully.  He knows the history.  He has studied it, and has run up against it, even if he did not live through those times.  He knows.  I know.  We as black people know.  The penalty for uppity is often death - even today. You who rant at him to become more fierce, to get more tough, know not what you are asking.  This is a subtle dance we dance as black folks.  

Staples concurs in his conclusion:

Mr. Obama seems to understand that he is always an utterance away from a statement -- or a phrase -- that could transform him in a campaign ad from the affable, rational and racially ambiguous candidate into the archetypical angry black man who scares off the white vote. His caution is evident from the way he sifts and searches the language as he speaks, stepping around words that might push him into the danger zone.

These maneuvers are often painful to watch. The troubling part is that they are necessary.

So on a day that we watch more headlines about Wall Street and Main Street, the election, Barack Obama and John McCain - please remember the history of Black Wall Street.

Those who forget are often doomed to repeat.

I trust that we will build a different future, for all of us - black, white, brown, yellow, and red.  A future where "uppity" will no longer be a call to violence.

It sheds a whole new light on Obama's path and his accomplishment. I must admit that I was ignorant of Greenwood and the Tulsa riots. I add my wish to build a different future to Deoliver47's wish.

Do go read both the NYT essay and Deoliver47's diary. You'll find them time well spent in learning something that probably didn't show up in your history book yet has relevance to today's world.

Attention Journalists: Questions that Must be Asked

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TPM pointed out this post by David Cay Johnston, "the former NYT reporter who won a Pulitzer for his reporting on tax policy". He addresses journalists but his points are equally applicable to any following what's going on in Congress and on Wall Street.

Mr. Johnston starts with this point:

In covering the proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street don't repeat the failed lapdog practices that so damaged our reputations in the rush to war in Iraq and the adoption of the Patriot Act. Don't assume that Congress must act instantly, as so many news stories state as if it was an immutable fact. Don't assume there is a case just because officials say there is.

The coverage of the Paulson plan focuses on the edges, on the details. The focus should be on the premise. And be skeptical of what gullible Congressional leaders, most of them up before the voters in a few weeks, say after being given a closed-door meeting on supposed horrors.

The Administration has scared the markets and some key legislative leaders, but it has not laid out a coherent, specific and compelling need for this enormous proposal, which is the equivalent of a one-time 55 percent income tax surcharge. (Instead the money will be borrowed, so ask from whom and how this much can be raised so quickly if the credit markets are nearly seized up with fear.)

Ask this question -- are the credit markets really about to seize up?

He goes onto to outline how available credit appears to be to business people of his acquaintance as well as the continued offers for credit that he's receiving personally. He asks a lot of good questions about why banks aren't renegotiating loans with people who can afford their current loan rates but not the new rates that they are about to balloon up to. He asks why ridiculous loan packages are still being offered on the internet. He asks why banks aren't working with landlords and small business owners.

Then he asks why journalists aren't asking these questions. He points out that the media appears to be going along with the administration's urging to rush through and do something.

George Will: McCain Loses His Head

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Well, John McCain is losing conservative support right and left. First, it was Susan Eisenhower, Jim Leach, and then this last week it was Wick Allison.

On Sunday's This Week's Roundtable, George Will dismissed McCain's behavior last week as "not presidential". The whole discussion is interesting. The McCain campaign must have been furious.

But today, George Will lays it out plain and simple.

McCain Loses His Head

"The queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said without even looking around."

-- "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

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

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journal to editorialize that "McCain untethered" -- disconnected from knowledge and principle -- had made a "false and deeply unfair" attack on Cox that was "unpresidential" and demonstrated that McCain "doesn't understand what's happening on Wall Street any better than Barack Obama does."

To read the Journal's details about the depths of McCain's shallowness on the subject of Cox's chairmanship, see "McCain's Scapegoat" (Sept. 19, Page A22). Then consider McCain's characteristic accusation that Cox "has betrayed the public's trust."

I think that McCain's 'quick - here's a scapegoat' reaction really ticked off George. He's repeated it twice now on This Week and in his WaPo column. Something tells me that Will may be voting for Obama in November.

Take a look at his conclusion of today's column:

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

The answer is, of course, "No, George. It can't." What's surprising is just how long it took you and others in the media and out of it to figure McCain out. The top honchos in the Republican party are now wondering how they ended up with such a loose cannon as their presidential nominee. It will be interesting to see how they advise other Republican candidates running this year.

Here's the worrisome bit

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Atrios is so good at locating the nugget of importance in all the words. And he's done so this time. Here's the worrisome bit:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Here's a draft of the complete proposal courtesy of CalculatedRisk.

It pretty much has the sound of "The secretary can do anything he damn well pleases regardless of what the law says and no one will be able to review it or reverse it. So there."

What he said...

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You can ignore my prior post and go read Devilstower's latest about which Markos said:

If there was a Pulitzer for blog writing, this piece by Devilstower, explaining how we got into this financial mess, would be a shoo-in winner for 2008.

It's likely the single best piece of writing ever to grace this site.

It's good. It's very good.

Okay, don't ignore Stirling and the other economists. Their assessments are worth reading as well. You will feel as if you've had a intensive seminar in economics, financial and bank management, and the legal and constitutional implications when you're done.

But making informed decisions is what being a good citizen is all about.

Stirling Newberry on the economy, the Constitution and the bailout

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This is one of those topics where any person not an economist or a Wall Street trader feels at a loss to discuss intelligently though all have opinions. Something must be done. But the inside word on Secretary Paulson's proposal is that it puts all the power in the hands of the Treasury Secretary with no oversight or regulation. New Deal Democrat rounded up the economists that write columns or blog in this post. Take the time to click through and read their original pieces and the message comes through pretty clearly. What's been proposed by the Bush administration is not good for our country.

It reminds one of Brownie aka Michael Brown of FEMA / Katrina fame or Monica Goodling or Alberto Gonzales. We cannot afford to place so much power in the hands of one individual with the hope that someone knowledgeable and competent is nominated for the position.

A story that someone out canvassing in northern Virginia this weekend told makes the point most clearly:

"Are you the Obama folks who just left the literature at my door?" asked the women walking purposefully down the sidewalk. [...]

"I need to tell you how I feel," said the woman as she came up to us. "I'm a Republican... well I was a Republican. I've always voted Republican in the past... but not anymore. We need to clean house. I'm voting for Obama... you need to know that. This country needs to know that!!! I've had enough!!!!!!"

"So, you're voting for a total Democratic slate?" I asked, hesitantly.

"Yes," she replied. "I work in a small government agency, and after 7 years, I've come to the conclusion after trying to deal with these Republican appointees that there are just very few of them that are competent or care a thing about what they are doing. In fact, if they screw things up, it just confirms their beliefs, since they don't believe in government. They simply need to be sent packing."

"OK, would you say you have historically voted Republican, but are going to now vote for all Democrats," said my wife as she filled out the canvass sheet. "How would you describe yourself then, a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?"

The woman thought for a few seconds, and then finally replied, "I can't describe myself as a Democrat yet... but there's no way I'm a Republican anymore. They are bankrupt. I guess I have to say that I am now an Independent."

We cannot afford to turn over so much authority to the executive branch without any oversight or supervision.

Barack Obama on the Economy - UPDATED

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Obama delivered a thoughtful speech on what's happening in our economy yesterday in Golden, CO. What I found reassuring in the speech were the specific references that indicated that he's been aware of this oncoming crisis for a long time and has acted accordingly.

My approach has been to try to prevent this turmoil.

In February of 2006, I introduced legislation to stop mortgage transactions that promoted fraud, risk or abuse. A year later, before the crisis hit, I warned Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke about the risks of mounting foreclosures and urged them to bring together all the stakeholders to find solutions to the subprime mortgage meltdown. Senator McCain did nothing.

Last September, I stood up at NASDAQ and said it's time to realize that we are in this together - that there is no dividing line between Wall Street and Main Street - and warned of a growing loss of trust in our capital markets. Months later, Senator McCain told a newspaper that he'd love to give them a solution to the mortgage crisis, "but" - he said - "I don't know one."

In January, I outlined a plan to help revive our faltering economy, which formed the basis for a bipartisan stimulus package that passed the Congress. Senator McCain used the crisis as an excuse to push a so-called stimulus plan that offered another huge and permanent corporate tax cut, including $4 billion for the big oil companies, but no immediate help for workers.

This March, in the wake of the Bear Stearns bailout, I called for a new, 21st century regulatory framework to restore accountability, transparency, and trust in our financial markets. Just a few weeks earlier, Senator McCain made it clear where he stands: "I'm always for less regulation," he said, and referred to himself as "fundamentally a deregulator."

Obama did not react to this week's news as McCain did -- calling for a commission to study the problem -- a move meant to buy him some time to avoid saying anything specific what's going on and what he's going to do to address the issues and underlying causes of the meltdown.

Here's video of the entire speech. The full text of Obama's prepared remarks is below the fold.

Obama's website focuses on the economy here as well as in his Blueprint for Change. The Economists for Obama website has more useful information And yesterday's WSJ article on Obama's health plan contrasted with Hunter's reminder of what Sen. McCain and his pal, former Sen. Phil Gramm, did on health care certainly focus the choice on that count.

Just imagine what the news stories would be like today if Bush 43 and his buddy McCain had succeeded in privatizing Social Security, putting grandma's financial security into the hands of the essentially unregulated (thanks to McCain's advisor Phil Gramm) financial masters of the universe on Wall Street.


Obama has just released a 2-minute ad that will be running nationally and in selected battleground states. Steven Benen has the transcript.

Robinson and Cohen agree with Alaska women

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Alaskan women held a protest rally this weekend and it turned out to be the largest protest rally Alaska has ever seen. The pictures of all the hand-lettered signs are great including this one, courtesy of frsbdg. Mudflats blog has even more pictures.

The sentiment expresses in 2 words what Richard Cohen and Eugene Robinson take a few more well-chosen words to say in their columns today.

Gallup versus R2K / DKos Daily Tracking

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Nate Silver laid out the pitfalls in Gallup's approach to their Likely Voter poll numbers in an early August 2008 post. In short, the 18-29 age range voters are likely under-reported in the LV poll by as much as 100%. Gallup counts them as 10% of the LV poll. Nate points out:

By contrast, teens and twentysomethings represented somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of the electorate in 2004. And that number is likely to go up rather than down this time around, as youth turnout in the primaries increased by 52 percent as a share of the Democratic electorate.

That should give us all pause in looking at the Gallup numbers. Why would they so significantly under-represent young voters? How would that change the poll results? Who benefits?

From what Nate points out, it's pretty obvious that it benefits the McCain campaign in presenting it as more viable than it actually is which in turn assists them in their fund-raising. So the first caution that must be stated is that in looking at Gallup polls, one must always ask is it an LV poll or an RV poll, and who was under-represented in the poll this time versus in the last iterations of the poll?

Gallup moved from the RV numbers to the LV numbers again right after the RNC convention on September 8th. It was a highly touted poll which showed a bump up in McCain's favor when contrasted against the previous RV-based polls. There was no discussion of the under-lying numbers or why they switched from emphasizing the RV numbers to the LV numbers. Of course, most Americans don't dig into the underlying numbers and how they're gathered or even the real difference between LV and RV numbers. They just hear Gallup and who's up or down.

And a poll purporting to show a big change in momentum can in fact probably help generate some of that momentum itself by its influence on the media and the chattering class on television. Which is, of course, what happened on September 8th and in the subsequent discussions.

As diarist Dick Diver pointed out, Gallup has just admitted their role in manipulating the coverage of the poll and the campaigns, and ultimately, the election. It goes like this.

On Friday, Gallup published this report discussing the differences between registered and likely voters.  Perhaps unintentionally, Frank Newport, the head of Gallup, made a huge admission that bears directly on the September 8th likely voter poll:

Second, we are at this point reporting likely voter estimates on only an occasional basis. We feel that the trends among registered voters give us the best way to track election preferences in our daily poll, in part because many voters are not yet in a position to accurately estimate their chances of voting on Election Day. But from time to time, we do estimate (and report) likely voter results to give us a feel for the potential difference turnout could make in November. So far this summer, there have been occasions when -- as was the case this past weekend after the GOP convention -- likely voters were decidedly more Republican. But there have also been occasions when there was little difference between the vote patterns of likely voters and those of registered voters.

In other words, Gallup is admitting the following:

  1.  At the time it released the September 8th poll (showing McCain up by 10), it believed institutionally that likely voter results were less accurate than registered voter results.
  1.  Likely voter results have only occasionally diverged from the registered voter results.
  1.  Despite these facts, Gallup deliberately chose to release, to the widest fanfare possible, a poll using an admittedly less accurate method (the likely voter method) at the time of McCain's maximum convention bounce, knowing that it would show a large divergence (+10 for McCain vs. only +4 with registered voters) based on the likely voter method, even though such a divergence is not often present.
  1.  In short, they combined all possible factors in McCain's favor to make his lead seem as big as possible -- and the media went wild with it.

The Gallup organization basically lays out its manipulation of the numbers and their presentation. It's a pretty damning admission that their numbers cannot be relied on at face value. One must always dig for the underlying information and hope that Gallup decided to release it.

How is a citizen to get reliable information consistently? Well, it's Daily Kos to the rescue. Actually, it's Markos Moulitsas to the rescue. He's decided to devote a portion of the dkos site income to paying for a non-partisan polling firm to run a tracking poll from September through to the election. And all the underlying numbers will be available every day for examination. DD summed it up:

This is why DailyKos's tracking poll is such an important service to the country, and indeed to the world.  Markos cannot be thanked enough for giving the world its one true "people's poll."  It is the people's poll not because it favors Democrats -- it doesn't.  It is the people's poll because it is transparent.  It releases the internals every day.

Instead of just setting forth party ID "targets," as Rasmussen does, the DailyKos poll simply tells the reader for each sample, exactly what proportion of Ds, Rs, and Is, were polled.  And unlike Gallup, it doesn't switch from registered to likely voter models at opportune times to get attention and reshape the race.

The polling firm doing the daily tracking survey is Research 2000 and the results are all viewable here. Click on each individual day to see the internal numbers for that day's result.

Markos has discussed the poll and the underlying approach in a couple of posts:

--  Daily Kos polling through election day

--  Third-party candidates in the Daily Kos tracking poll

So when you're looking for reliable numbers to view, don't forget to check out the R2k daily tracking numbers, courtesy of Daily Kos. And take Gallup's numbers with a whole handful of salt. Their self-admitted manipulation deeply tarnishes a supposedly independent polling organization.

Proximity Foreign Policy and A Really Bad Plan

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Cross-posted from

I saw the moon last night. Can I be an astronaut now?

It's disturbing that Gov. Palin's 'truth issues' are getting to be a regular occurrence. And by 'truth issues', I'm not saying she's lying, exactly, but that she has a habit of stretching the truth to its furthest limits and (I have to assume) hoping it doesn't snap back and hit her in the face.

Maybe if she hadn't sold the plane on e-bay, which she actually didn't, she might be able to see Russia from Alaskan airspace, because you can't see it from the mainland, despite what Gov. Palin suggests.

Video Credit: goodboydc

Even Cindy got the memo. Alaska, as most fifth graders can tell you, is close to Russia.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

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Craig Ferguson, host of The Late, Late Show and a new American citizen delivers the word to the media and the citizens of this country. This is the epitome of a righteous rant to which we all must say. Amen brother, preach it. [via]

The second half of Craig's admonition:

Bill O'Reilly v. Barack Obama

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Obama appeared on the O'Reilly show last Thursday during the last night of the RNC convention. It was just a short appearance and only a portion of a longer interview that O'Reilly planned to air this week. I missed this week's segments until arodb's analysis of the interview brought it back to my attention.

After watching the video clips in sequence, it must be said that Obama did well. Based on his comments introducing each segment and a wrap-up interview that he did with Shepard Smith, O'Reilly seems to have been impressed with Obama. Arodb put it this way:

Although the interview took place over one half hour period, its being spread over a period of six days gives an illusion of a developing .....friendship, is the only word that comes to mind. [...]

Obama went toe to toe with O'Reilly. When he saw a mis-perception he pointed it out and O'Reilly listened. "No, you are wrong when you say I oppose nuclear power." "No, it's not true that I will raise taxes." and, "I have acknowledged that the surge has lessened violence." [...]

7 Years Later

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Roger Cohen writes a column unlike any I've seen. It's powerful, especially for those who spent many hours in Sunday School and church listening to the scripture from the King James version.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought.

For the wreckage begat greed; and it came to pass that while America's young men and women fought, other Americans enriched themselves. Beguiling the innocent, they did backdate options, and they did package toxic mortgage securities and they did reprice risk on the basis that it no more existed than famine in a fertile land.

Thereby did the masters of the universe prosper, with gold, with silver shekels, with land rich in cattle and fowl, with illegal manservants and maids, with jewels and silk, and with Gulfstream V business jets; yet the whole land did not prosper with them. And it came to pass, when the housing bubble burst, that Main Street had to pay for the Wall Street party.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did neglect husbandry.

And he took his nation into desert wars and mountain wars, but, lo, he thought not to impose taxation, not one heifer nor sheep nor ox did Bush demand of the rich. And it came to pass that the nation fell into debt as boundless as the wickedness of Sodom. For everyone, Lehman not least, was maxed out. [...]

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought -- but not how the damage would be undone.

Do go read the whole piece. It's powerful. You may also appreciate TeacherKen's thoughts on the column.

What have we wrought?

New heights of stupidity

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No one could do any better than Glenn Greenwald in describing the inanity of the current focus of the McCain campaign, the trad media and the chattering classes.

Just for the record, here's the complete Obama statement which has been twisted by the McCain campaign. I won't go into the history of how many times McCain and Obama, much less other politicians, have used the same phrase in discussing various policies and issues over the last 2 years.

John McCain says he's about change too, and so I guess his whole angle is, 'Watch out George Bush -- except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy and Karl Rove-style politics -- we're really going to shake things up in Washington.

That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing something different. You know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You know you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough of the same old thing.

Here's the video. It seems Andrew Romano of Newsweek's The Stumper blog agrees.

Political Facts of Life

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It's another viral email that unfortunately has more truth in it than many would like to admit. It definitely skewers the media, old and new. [via]

  • If you're a minority and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "token hire."
  • If you're a conservative and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "game changer."
  • Black teen pregnancies? A "crisis" in black America .
  • White teen pregnancies? A "blessed event."
  • If you grow up in Hawaii you're "exotic."
  • Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, you're the quintessential "American story."
  • Similarly, if you name your kid Barack you're "unpatriotic."
  • Name your kid Track, you're "colorful."
  • If you spend 3 years as a community organizer growing your organization from a staff of 1 to 13 and your budget from $70,000 to $400,000, then become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new African Amerian voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, then spend nearly 8 more years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, becoming chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, then spend nearly 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of nearly 13 million people, sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you are woefully inexperienced.
  • If you spend 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, then spend 20 months as the governor of a state with 650,000 people, then you've got the most executive experience of anyone on either ticket, are the Commander in Chief of the Alaska military and are well qualified to lead the nation should you be called upon to do so because your state is the closest state to Russia.

WSJ, Newsweek, NYT, WaPo, AP, NPR, even Fox: McCain/Palin Lie to American People

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The trad media seems to have figured it out. John McCain and Sarah Palin are lying about the signature item they're using in all their stump speeches. That Bridge to Nowhere -- Sarah Palin fully supported it. And when she realized that it wasn't going to happen -- that Congress was killing it -- she still took the money and used it elsewhere.

Here's how the Wall Street Journal reported it.

She endorsed the multimillion dollar project during her gubernatorial race in 2006. And while she did take part in stopping the project after it became a national scandal, she did not return the federal money. She just allocated it elsewhere.

"We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge," Gov. Palin said in August 2006, according to the local newspaper, "and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative." The bridge would have linked Ketchikan to the airport on Gravina Island. Travelers from Ketchikan (pop. 7,500) now rely on ferries.

A year ago, the governor issued a press release that the money for the project was being "redirected."

TPM points out in Meme Taking Hold?:

The Rhetoric and the Reality

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McCain said during his convention speech:

"I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them."

Per the New York Times, the reality is this:

This drastically simplifies what the candidates' tax plans would do. Mr. McCain would preserve all of the Bush tax cuts, while Mr. Obama would let them expire for those making more than $250,000 a year. Mr. McCain would also double the child tax exemption to $7,000 and reduce business taxes. Mr. Obama would reduce income taxes and provide credits for people earning less than $250,000 a year.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that Mr. Obama's plan would amount to a tax cut for 81 percent of all households, or 95.5 percent of those with children. The center calculated that by 2012 the Obama plan would let middle-income taxpayers keep about 5 percent more income on average, or nearly $2,200 a year, while Mr. McCain would give them an average 3 percent break, or about $1,400. The richest 1 percent would pay an average $19,000 more in taxes each year under Mr. Obama's plan but see a tax cut of more than $125,000 under Mr. McCain.

The repetition of outright lies and misrepresentations by the Republican nominees is astounding.

NPR mentioned it in their coverage of the Republican nominees' campaign speeches for today. Don Gonyea noted that she's repeating her lie about opposing the Bridge to Nowhere word for word. The Wall Street Journal mentions it although they don't manage to call it a lie.

How is it that the Republican nominees can stand up in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people and outright lie and no one calls them on it? What does that say for their honesty? Their strength of character? Nothing good.

TPM puts it this way and they did a damn good job of it.


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When Saakashvili ordered Georgian troops to fire on Tskhinvali, he initiated the next major evolutionary step in Russia's relationship with other countries.

The question is did anyone in the US government think ahead to what would be the likely outcome if they failed to pay attention to any of Russia's warnings about Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

This news report from Fox News highlights the ripple effect and it's not comforting news.

It does provide incontrovertible proof that we cannot afford to have as president someone who leaps into an aggressive posture without thinking through all the likely implications and outcomes.

The Guardian has a commentary by Jonathan Steele and a response by Robert Parsons which attempt to frame the Georgia - South Ossetia - Abkhazia - Russia discussion in pro-Russia vs. pro-Georgia viewpoints.

It seems evident that a more forthright narrative would include elements from both commentaries.and that it would acknowledge a lesson that we humans have had multiple examples from which to learn in the last 100 years. When ethnicity is revered above nationality in regions where national borders have been drawn without regard to ethnic groups and tribes, a fertile field for conflict develops.

What you MUST know about Sarah Palin - UPDATED

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Here's what you need to know about the person that the 72-year-old, cancer survivor nominee of the Republican party, John McCain, has picked for his VP. This was taped in June 2008 for their "Masters Commission" graduates who are people who have completed a training program the church runs whose ultimate goal is to evangelize non-believers in Alaska. [via]

The Sarah Palin Church Video Part One

The Sarah Palin Church Video Part Two

As my family includes missionaries and pastors and others deeply involved with their churches and in living their lives as they believe God wants them to do, I am deeply sympathetic to Sarah Palin's obvious pride and love for her church family. However, her inability to separate her personal faith from her role as governor of all the people of Alaska is disturbing.

I've written before about the separation of church and state and how important it is to our country. I think that Governor Palin missed that lesson about Thomas Jefferson and the First Amendment. When I combine that with the other deficiencies in her resume including a complete lack of foreign policy experience or even evidence of basic knowledge, I can only say that her selection profoundly underscores John McCain's reckless decision making which puts our country's national security at risk.

We do not need someone ready to start a war based on her interpretation of the end times described in the Bible one heartbeat away from the presidency. And if she is an active believer in the Assemblies of God churches, then she believes in Revelations.

UPDATE: NPR's All Things Considered just aired a segment on these videos along with more background. Please do check it out as well.

UPDATE #2: Huffington Post has more background on Sarah Palin's churches and points out that they are part of "a resurgent movement that was declared heretical by the Assemblies of God in 1949. This is the same 'Spiritual Warfare' movement that was featured in the award winning movie, "Jesus Camp," which showed young children being trained to do battle for the Lord. At least three of four of Palin's churches are involved with major organizations and leaders of this movement, which is referred to as The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit or the New Apostolic Reformation. The movement is training a young "Joel's Army" to take dominion over the United States and the world."

Talk2Action has the complete post which HuffPo excerpted along with a lot more reference information.

Republicans step way over the line

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The RNC has a problem. First they used fake soldiers in a video supposedly honoring them. But last night they leaped right over that line of disrespect and right into callous insult to anyone impacted by the events of 9/11.

You may have missed it. If you did, you can watch it now.

If you did see it, you already know why people are so angry about the RNC's video last night. A fear and hate-mongering mashup of epic proportions which callously used extended video of 9/11 to create the proper atmosphere of fear and hate at the Republican Convention.

Keith Olbermann was certainly angry about it. So is eshfemme at DU.

But here's the message I'd like to share with you.

plf515 at dkos was in the Twin Towers when they were hit on 9/11. He has a message that he asked us to share far and wide. It's a message for all those who would so callously use other people's loss and grief for their own personal advantage. Get angry with him.

OK, I've not been watching the RNC. But they have apparently pulled something about a 'tribute' to 9/11. And they are going to have McCain start his speech at 9:11 Central time

UPDATE McCain started at 9:11

I am outraged. ...

I'm a victim of 9/11. I was in the building when the plane hit.

About experience ... Obama's resume

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I ran into another place where someone said that Obama had no experience running a business and this time I decided to respond. And here's what I said.

During his tenure as director at the Developing Communities Project in Chicago from 1985-1988, he grew the DCP staff from 1 to 13 and their budget from $70,000 to $400,000. [1]

When he returned to Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law, he organized and directed the Illinois Project Vote organization from April-November 1992. He recruited and managed 10 paid staff and 700 volunteers; helped raise $200,000 for the project; coordinated a companion multi-media campaign; established office and reporting systems. Resulted in approximately 150,000 newly registered voters in the 1992 Presidential election. [1]

His current campaign organization has been in existence for over 2 years, now has over 2500 employees and a budget of many millions per month. [2]

They may not be the epitome of commercial small businesses but as far as meeting a payroll, hiring and firing, worrying about office space and supplies and insurance and filing government forms. He's done that. That's all included in the two words that Sarah Palin used as an epithet last night -- community organizer.

But in digging for that information, I found several versions of resumes for him, each not quite complete. Being a former executive recruiter, I decided to put together a complete resume for him.


There's definitely some executive experience in there though it is associated with non-profit organizations. But in the end, it comes down to judgment, temperament, values, and goals. I want someone who thinks things through, who's calm and cool, who looks for information before making decisions. Obama's amply demonstrated those qualities and he puts McCain to shame.

I don't want a 'last in his class', bullying hothead who got where he is because his dad and grand-dad's positions pretty much guaranteed he wouldn't get kicked out of the airman program for mediocre performance (5 crashed planes - the first 3 of which would have gotten someone else kicked out of the program) and bad behavior. Someone who's still known for being mean and vicious and hotheaded on the floor of the Senate today. Of whom other Republican senators have expressed concern that he might have his finger on the button. And now that he's nominated a governor who just slid into that position a year and a half ago from being the mayor of a town of 5000, he's really confirmed just how reckless his judgment is.

Reading through Obama's resume just confirms he's the real deal and the right choice in November.

Reason #1 or the most important reason why your vote matters

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In the 2000 election, one line often heard was that there was no real difference between voting for the Democrat versus voting for the Republican and many voted for Nader to vote their protest. It was fallacious reasoning and I can but hope most of those who voted for Nader have come to appreciate how much damage they did to our country and the world.

But that was then, this is now. And Thomas Friedman reminds of the huge difference between the two candidates despite McCain's attempt to wrap himself in "green".

With his choice of Sarah Palin -- the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change -- for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.

He did try to wrap himself in "green language" while ducking all the votes in the Senate supporting renewable energy source development but his actions in the last few days have shown his true colors. Carl Pope of the Sierra Club has a unique way of putting it.

"Back in June, the Republican Party had a round-up. ... One of the unbranded cattle -- a wizened old maverick name John McCain -- finally got roped. Then they branded him with a big 'Lazy O' -- George Bush's brand, where the O stands for oil. No more maverick.

"One of McCain's last independent policies putting him at odds with Bush was his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," added Pope, "yet he has now picked a running mate who has opposed holding big oil accountable and been dismissive of alternative energy while focusing her work on more oil drilling in a wildlife refuge and off of our coasts. While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, 'The jury is still out on global warming.' She's the one hanging the jury -- and John McCain is going to let her."

So in a way, we should be thankful that McCain picked Palin because in doing so, he's declared his true colors. He is most definitely not serious about climate change, energy independence and renewable energy resources and technology. Thomas points out the important part:

By constantly pounding into voters that his energy focus is to "drill, drill, drill," McCain is diverting attention from what should be one of the central issues in this election: who has the better plan to promote massive innovation around clean power technologies and energy efficiency.

Why? Because renewable energy technologies -- what I call "E.T." -- are going to constitute the next great global industry. They will rival and probably surpass "I.T." -- information technology. The country that spawns the most E.T. companies will enjoy more economic power, strategic advantage and rising standards of living. We need to make sure that is America. Big oil and OPEC want to make sure it is not.

That's part of reason #1 to vote for Obama. Our country's security and prosperity depend on leadership that will take us into the E.T. future. The other, of course, is the survival of life as we know it on this planet. Both are motivations for Americans to pay attention. Others certainly are.

This anecdote that Friedman quotes brings the point home in a different way. The rest of the globe is waiting to see if we screw ourselves or not.

Palin's nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness "reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attach├ęs," global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. "After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia."

So, ... don't let anyone tell you that on the issue of green, this election is not important. It is vitally important, and the alternatives could not be more black and white.

This is reason #1. Our future, our children's future, our country's future, our world's future depends on getting this one right. And Thomas is right this time. The alternatives could not be more different.

Please ... choose green. Vote Obama. For reason #1.

Who's better for the Economy? The Great Partisan Divides

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Alan Blinder, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, has written up a history lesson for us all in the New York Times. And it blows the old canard about Republicans being better for the economy and taxes, all to hell.

Check this out:

"... few are aware of two important facts about the post-World War II era, both of which are brilliantly delineated in a new book, "Unequal Democracy," by Larry M. Bartels, a professor of political science at Princeton. ... I call the first fact the Great Partisan Growth Divide. Simply put, the United States economy has grown faster, on average, under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.

He explains that from 1948 to 2007 Republicans held the White House for 34 years while the Dems held it for 26 years. During those periods, the average annual growth of real GNP was 1.64% per capita under Repubs vs. 2.78% under Democrats.

What does that really mean?

Obama: Quiet Storms

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Time's Jay Newton-Small has covered Obama for 19 months and was there during his appearance last night with a rally of union workers. Jay writes "I have heard him deliver more speeches than I can count. I know when he's tired he goes long - like 90 minutes long - rambling through oft-repeated points and stories. ... And after a while you become immune to his prose and tune in only to new wrinkles."

Evidently last night was different. Whether it was the impact of hurricane Gustav in light of the impact of Katrina or the shortened speech or both, Obama hit home. Jay noted "...tonight, in front of a Milwaukee audience of 14,000, invoking both the Bible and Thoreau, he was as good as I've ever heard him. He spoke for just over 14 minutes but he left the audience roaring."

And why were they roaring?

Roughing up the RNC protesters, Beijing style

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Funny how much St. Paul this week looks like Beijing in the last month or so. Police intimidating peaceful people because they're afraid they may present the wrong image. It's yet another RNC convention whose organizers and supporters so fear the presence of any who might present messages contrary to their own that they are willing to violate, or have violated on their behalf, the First Amendment rights and civil liberties of American citizens.

It's just like Philly in 2000 or NYC in 2004. The Philly 2000 story by dengre provides a highly revealing look into how these actions come about and I strongly encourage you to start with it. The comprehensive NY Times report on just how extensively the police infiltrated and spied prior to the convention, issued in March 2007, gives some clue as to what is happening now. The Wikipedia summary of the police actions at the 2004 RNC convention gives an idea of the scope of the activities they viewed as suspicious.