Friday, October 31, 2008

The Final Days ...

Nail Biting Time: In the immortal words of Chick Hearn, the greatest basketball announcer of all time, "It's nervous time at the Forum." This presidential marathon race is about to end Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or maybe Thanksgiving. Depends upon whom you believe. All of the polls show the race tightening as it goes into the final weekend. Don't worry, caution Democratic pundits. Happens in every presidential race. Perhaps a day late and millions of dollars short, John McCain's message has found a target. He's the underdog, a crafty veteran who refuses to quit. Americans admire underdogs. Remember the lovable Mets? He says a vote for his opponent is a vote for higher taxes at precisely the wrong time as our economy flounders. He touts fear -- not that crap about Bill Ayers, socialism and Joe the Plumber -- but an unchecked Democratic Congress run by the leaders we've heard hissed and booed at Sarah Palin campaign rallies. You know, those liberal elites Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and Charlie Rangel. Meanwhile, Mr. cool and confident Barack Obama remains unflappable, returning to his initial formula that after eight years of failed policy it is time for change. He calls it bottom-up politics. Change Washington and mute the lobbyists. Obama has every reason to look presidential while exuding confidence. Defying tradition since Watergate by rejecting federal campaign financing, Obama has become the best president money can buy. He outspends McCain by twice to four times in selected markets. The latest was Wednesday's prime time buy on seven networks costing about $5 million and reaching about 30 million viewers. The lavish production was geared to the common folks to make them feel comfortable with the possibility of a black man running our country. Smart politics. Compare that to McCain's negative ads which, on further review, are milquetoast compared to the Republican National Committee's TV ad in North Carolina calling Sen. Elizabeth Dole's opponent godless. While Democrats may feel giddy that victory is within its grasp, beware of a financial reform backlash. The New York Times in its lead editorial Friday said the two presidential campaigns will raise nearly $2 billion, an obscene amount that begs for fixing the system. The Obama campaign has raised about $3 million from 632,000 small donations averaging $87 from the Internet but also has grabbed up to $500,000 each from 300 fat-cat bundlers. Another report said Obama last week was spending $232,000 per hour on television and campaign staff. Once the heat of the election cools down, sober heads must prevail and bring sanity to the system. Of course, what if McCain wins? If you thought Hillary Clinton's supporters were sore losers to Obama, the National Guard will be called in to quell the Obamaniacs. The last week of presidential elections invariable are chockful of paranoia, buyer's remorse and unbelievably stupid behavior on the part of the candidates and their supporters. This one's no different.

Oh, That Sneaky Bush: The Bush administration is quietly reducing federal regulations protecting consumers and environmentalists before they leave office on Jan. 20. It is common practice among departing presidents but the Bush people are exceptionally gifted at this. By getting an early start, most of the deregulation edicts will go into effect making them difficult to change once the new president is sworn in. To do so would require special review hearings at every level of government. Most presidents such as Bill Clinton start the process too late. On Jan. 20, 2001, the Bush people killed 294 regulatory edicts Clinton favored because their effective dates for enactment extended past the inauguration date. Some of the Bush deregulatory steps would lift constraints on power plants, mines and farms. Others would clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease control on pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking water standards and lift a key restriction on mountain-top coal mining. "They want these rules to continue to have an impact long after they leave office," said Matthew Madia of OMB Watch, a non-profit group critical of Bush's penchant for deregulations in areas industry wants more freedom. About 90 new regulations are expected to be adopted before Jan. 20. Among others are changes for family medical leave, lower standards for preventing oil spills and a simplified process for settling real estate transactions. The problem with this accepted executive office process is it is too political. Lobbyists play an instrumental role in writing the rules. It handicaps future presidential administrations should they oppose the new regulations. Bush has taken another presidential prerogative to extremes. That is attaching lax enforcement comments on bills he signs into law. Power is omnipresent in the Oval Office. It's been abused. For shame.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Series Needs Warm Weather Juice

True Confessions: Baseball is the greatest game ever invented but its popularity is waning because all its components move in slow motion in a jet-age culture. The hierarchy of Major League Baseball is the biggest offender: Last to tackle steroids and performance enhancing drugs; Reluctant to enact rule changes to speed up the game; Last to install the most innovative technological changes reviewing home run calls on instant replay; pawns of television networks, and blind stubbornness to hold its showcase, the World Series, in warm weather or domed stadiums. And, they wonder why they are losing television ratings. The damned games don't start until 9 p.m. EST and rarely end before 1 a.m. Children, the most important element to grow fan support, are or should be asleep before a Series game reaches the second inning. Too often the Series is played in weather unfit for a Polar bear as was the case Monday night when the Phillies-Rays game was called in the 6th inning tied at 2-2. Commissioner Bud Selig said the game will resume in Philadelphia even if it takes until Thanksgiving. That could occur as long as it doesn't interfere with Fox's regular television programming schedule. One Series already has played into November. That's ridiculous and an insult to the integrity of the game itself. Baseball is a fair weather game, played best in late spring, through the dog days of August and into the first week of fall. Last season, because of television scheduling and sweeping the two playoff series, the National League champion Colorado Rockies waited 11 days to play the Series opener in Boston. Rusty for lack of games, the Rockies lost their timing and momentum succumbing in four to the Red Sox in the frigid Rocky Mountain air. That wasn't baseball. It was a hockey game played with a round ice puck. The two and one-half games played in Philly were cold, windy and muddy. Baseball should play the Series in domed or warm weather stadiums: Seattle, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay, Arlington, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix. The Series should be a 2-3-2 schedule with one day off between travel dates. One park would be selected for National League home games and another for the American League home games. It is a format the National Football League has followed for more than 43 years in scheduling the Super Bowl. If that's uneconomical and inconvenient for fans of World Series teams, then hold the best of seven games in one park alternating the 2-3-2 and off-day schedules between home and visiting clubs. At least we'll be entitled to watch baseball the way it was designed to be played. And, what's wrong with playing day games? My memory stretches back many years to the 1946 Red Sox-Cardinals Series on radio; Thompson's historic home run to beat the Dodgers in the 1951 playoffs, and Larsen's perfect game against Brooklyn. Furthermore, I remember where I was on those momentous occasions. They were the forces that drove my love for the game that continues to this day. The fervor rises and falls slightly if my favorite team is in the Series. That's happened twice with the 1984 and 1996 versions of the San Diego Padres. Even that's better than Cubs fans who have waited impatiently more than a century.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Syria Raid a PR Pickle

Scooped Again: The Pentagon Monday confirmed reports that U.S. special operation forces raided a small village inside Syria over the weekend. That's all the spokesman, who insisted his name be withheld, announced. At least eight persons were killed, according to Syrian newspaper accounts. The Bush administration's strategy to attack terrorist targets on the Iraqi and Afghanistan border is both sound and logical. Foreign terrorists use the safe havens to enter the two countries and kill our soldiers. The problem is it takes the military weeks, if not months, to report details of the strikes. Meanwhile, Americans learn only what our allies and enemies in the Middle East report in their newspapers and television broadcasts. The Syrian raid is the latest example. While the U.S. is telegraphing its message it will not tolerate foreign terrorists entering the two countries from neighboring borders, cries of civilian deaths, aggression and crimes against invaded sovereign nations are voiced throughout the Middle East. One Syrian from the attacked village of Sukkariyeh said women and children were killed in the raid at a construction site. An AP reporter said he counted only eight male bodies at the mock funeral site Monday. The timing of the raid comes at an inopportune period. The Iraqi parliament is considering its government's approval with the U.S. for a troop security and withdrawal pact. Syria is working with Iraq, Lebanon and Israel for peace and trade agreements. Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has complained for more than a year that U.S. military air strikes in his country be curtailed because they are killing too many innocent civilians. The new government in Pakistan echoes the same complaints. War is hell. There is bound to be collateral damage. The Pentagon has not been transparent. The U.S. may be winning the war against al-Quada but losing the propaganda war for the minds and hearts of the Middle East as a result. You can't win one without the other. The next U.S. president must correct that imbalance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Full Court Press vs. Palin

Palintology: Except for Troopergate which is still pending, the vetting by the media of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president is in its final gasps. The results are not flattering for the hockey mom turned reformist. Nor are they reassuring. What we have learned since John McCain shocked the political world by tapping her as his running mate is she's -- heaven's to Betsy-- an old school politician. Some people may cringe at her religious leanings: from Catholic to evangelical (influenced perhaps by a minister who dabbles in witchcraft) and an unshakable stand against abortion. Her style of governance -- which strikes at the heart of the ethics violation an independent prosecutor and legislative panel determined in her firing of the state public safety director in Troopergate -- is reminiscent of the good-old-boy oil and Republican network she so proudly toppled. As governor she appointed friends and supporters to state government positions, according to an investigative report in the Los Angeles Times Saturday. At least one was forced to resign because of a sexual harassment verdict against him. Another half dozen or so failed to meet minimum qualifications to perform their appointed jobs yet remain on the state payroll. Earlier investigations reported she filed per diem expenses and reimbursements while living in her own home. And before that, stories debunked her claim she sold a state plane on Ebay and told Congress no thanks for earmarks for the bridge to nowhere which she actually accepted and spent for related projects. Again, with the exception of Troopergate, the news vetting process portrayed a politician who fibs and fabricates on occasion, crosses the line of ethics for personal vengeance and cheats a little on her expense accounts. One may ask, what politician doesn't? At worse, she is a hypocrite. At best, she's hounded by a pack of media wolves looking for dirt and finding a few gritty morsels.

Pipeline Pipe Dream: Sarah Palin's signature achievement boasted during her debate with Sen. Joe Biden was negotiating a contract to build a 1,715-mile pipeline to deliver natural gas to the lower 48 states. Now we learn from an investigative report by The Associated Press the bidding process was rigged in favor of a contractor with ties to the Palin administration in Alaska. Among the findings: a) Instead of a bidding process to attract many builders, Palin slanted the terms away from the three giant oil conglomerates who own the drilling rights. b) Despite promises and legal guidance not to talk directly with any potential bidder, Palin telephoned or held meeting with all parties, including TransCanada which eventually was the winning bidder. (c The leader of Palin's pipeline team was a former partner of a lobby retained by TransCanada; the woman's former business partner at the lobby was lead lobbyist for TransCanada for the pipeline team, and a former executive of TransCanada served as a consultant for Palin's pipeline team. d) Four years earlier under different rules, TransCanada submitted a bid without a state subsidy; under the Palin administration, TransCanada would receive a maximum $500 million subsidy. Building such a pipeline has been a dream for years by Alaska and energy executives. Now with rising energy prices and as oil reserves on the North Slope diminish, the rush to build is reaching the critical stage. The former TransCanada lobbyist was appointed after Palin passed new ethic laws which banned lobbyists' from state government for one year following employment as a lobbyist. Palin's staff said there was no impropriety. Her critics, including Republican Sen. Lyda Green, told the AP the presence of TransCanada's past and current employees involved in the negotiating process was wrong and why she voted against the contract. "Every time it (the apparent conflict of interest) was mentioned to the governor," Green said, "it was like 'how could you question such a wonderful person.'" Five companies submitted bids for the pipeline. Four were rejected because they failed to meet the bidding requirements. That left TransCanada as the lone bidder. The company now faces environmental and other government regulations to hurdle. The AP said it does not have the funds or the credit to borrow the $40 billion required to start the pipeline for at least 10 years. That's not exactly the picture Palin painted in her Oct. 2 debate and on the campaign trail. What's worth noting is that it is the media and not the McCain campaign which thoroughly has vetted the candidate who could become our next president. Little wonder even the staunchest Republican conservatives reject Palin as not ready for national office.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greenspan's Mea Culpa

Model of Imperfection: For the 18 years he served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, politicians and investors hung on every word uttered by Alan Greenspan. He was lord of the economy. He was a genius. He kept inflationary spirals under control. His utterances excited the stock exchanges. Now in retirement and testifying before Congress, Greenspan said he screwed up by failing to acknowledge the greed and avarice of the nation's money managers. It was a fundamental flaw in his model that the private sector of the financial markets would act responsibly. Hell, anyone who watched Oliver Stone's movie "Wall Street" knows that. As Fed chairman, Greenspan opposed regulations on how home mortgages are packaged into larger and more complex securities, the central corp of the current financial meltdown. As a result, Greenspan told the House Government Oversight Committee Thursday the United States is heading for a "significant rise in layoffs and unemployment" and a continued downturn in home prices that is "broader than anything I could have imagined." Calling the current crises a "once in a lifetime credit tsunami," Greenspan said he remained in a state of "shock and disbelief" that banks and credit firms did not do a better job of analyzing the risks involved in home loans at subprime rates extended to less than creditworthy borrowers. Greenspan as Fed chairman oversaw a period of low interest rates that inadvertently encouraged loose lending practices. He told Congress his model assumption was that sophisticated analysts of banks, investment firms and hedge funds would properly account for the risks involved and price the investments accordingly. They didn't and sold the packaged assets on the world market for profiteering. "There are additional regulatory changes that this breakdown of the central pillar of competitive markets require in order to return to stability," he said. The problem with geniuses is they lack a basic understanding of human behavior. Greenspan should have listened to the fictional Gordon Glecko: Greed is good.

Equal Protection: California's Proposition 8 ballot measure on Nov. 4 would ban same-sex marriages. The state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in May, ruling the constitutional ban decided by voters in 2000 violated equal protection rights to gays and lesbians afforded to heterosexual couples. Would you believe opposing campaigns have spent more than $53 million promoting their arguments? The spending is about evenly split. I know many fathers who would kill for a tiny fraction of that dough they fork out on their daughter's wedding. The question boils down to this: Are you really threatened by a same-sex married couple? For straights, it may be repulsive to their sensibilities and religious scruples but nothing else. Really. That is not a reason for discrimination as it wouldn't be for neighbors whether they are black, Muslim, Asian, Filipino or Jews. When the issue is equal protection, the majority loses its right to impose its views on the minority. If you don't like it, ignore them. Recommendation: No on Prop. 8.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

California's $$$ Ballot Measures

Indentured Servants: California voters will decide Nov. 4 the fate of three new general obligation bonds totalling $16.8 billion which costs about twice that to pay off in interest and principal over the next 30 years. The state's current bond debt is $53 billion with another $68 billion unsold that will add to the debt. If the three measures -- Propositions 1, 3 and 10 -- are authorized, it would siphon $1 billion annually from the state's general fund once all these newer bonds are sold. The service debt/ratio would peak in 2010 to 6.2% of the state's operating budget. The Oct. 1 ratio was 4.4% for infrastructure bond repayment. The state's financial woes are reflected in its low credit rating which increases borrowing costs. Moody's, S&P and Fitch attached "A" ratings on the state, a category described as upper medium ability of adequate security to pay off the money it borrows. The state reports 4% interest on $2.005 million in sold bonds for 2009 and a projected 5.125% interest on $10.835 million in 2020. A Triple-A rating would allow the state to borrow a percentage fraction above what U.S. Treasury notes bring. Bond issuance is the common practice of paying for the state's road and bridge improvements, part of the infrastructure package referred to by politicians and bureaucrats. At the same time, with a state Republican-controlled legislature demanding to hold the line on higher taxes, mandatory repayment of these bonds takes money away from other programs such as Medi-Caid and state employee benefits. On top of all this, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is asking the U.S. Treasury for an immediate short-term loan of $7 billion to meet an expected shortfall in government expenses. The money would be repaid by next June. The three propositions do have merit. Prop. 1 would authorized $9.95 billion for high-speed rail, primarily to continue plans and construction from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Prop. 3 is $980 million for capital improvement projects at children's hospitals. Prop. 10 is $5 billion for renewable energy and rebates to buyers of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. One wonders if voters are looking at the big picture in these times of economic stress. The beauty of these bond issues is they don't cost taxpayers out-of-pocket coin. But they can reduce the services a state is expected to provide.

Recommendations: No on Prop. 1. Some $58 billion already has been spent on planning for the Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed rail with no end in sight. It should be rewritten to improve and add on rail connectors within the cities. When that is achieved, then go for the 'Frisco link to LA. No on Prop. 3. Nothing against kids. These are private hospitals and should expand without taxpayer funding. No on Prop. 10. Rewrite it without the rebates and it's the best renewable energy proposal ever written. If rebates are needed to sell the vehicles, let the automakers and energy producers subsidize the program. Personally, I would like nothing better than to vote in favor of all three props. But, the timing is terrible.

McCain Surges: The Associated Press Poll released Wednesday has John McCain surging within one percentage point of Barack Obama among likely voters. The poll is the first in several weeks in which McCain picked up valuable support, especially among white voters earning $50,000 or less. An NBC poll had Obama leading by 11 points as late as Tuesday. The AP poll interviewed 1,100 adults: Obama led 47-37 among all adults; he led by 5% among registered adult voters and 1% among those likely to vote. The margin of error is 3.5%. One reason given for the McCain surge was a large number of voters for the first time were interviewed on their cell phones rather than landlines. Since the last AP poll in late September, McCain trails Obama by 4 points compared to 24% among voters earning less than $50,000; among rural voters, an 18 point lead compared to 4; now leads by 20 points among whites with no college education; improved to a 24-point lead over married whites; modest gains among whites of both gender, now leading by 22 among white men and 7 among white women. On the question of whom voters trust most on the economy, Obama led by 6%, down from 15% in the last survey. Voters were skitterish over Obama raising taxes in a economic recession. One McCain surrogate called it "The Revenge of Joe the Plumber Strikes Back." This sucker is one close knock down, drag out fight to the finish.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Joe

"Truthiness" Windbag: When vice presidential candidate Joe Biden guaranteed an international crises in the first six months of an Obama administration, my first reaction was yeah, he's probably right. Visions of 9/11 and Cold War games played by the Soviet Union danced through my mind. Dummy me, I neglected the political implications what the senator from Delaware said. His remarks 16 days before an election although historically plausible were politically dumb. Sure enough, John McCain took the hand off and scorched his rival that even his vice presidential running mate admits Obama is a blank slate in the face of coming national security threats. "Watch, we're gonna have an international crises, a generated crises, to test the mettle of this guy," Biden said. "And, he's gonna have to make some really tough -- I don't know what the decision's gonna be -- but I promise you it will occur." He said Obama's challengers "will find out this guy's got steel in his spine" when he is tested. The remarks were delivered on a silver platter allowing the McCain campaign to change the subject and grab their strongest issue, foreign policy. Reads a McCain campaign memo: "We don't need a president who invites testing from the world at a time our economy is in crises and Americans are fighting two wars..." Countered the Obama campaign: "We know that we need steady leadership in tumultuous times, not the erratic lurching and stubborn ideology of John McCain." We doubt this story has legs. It went unmentioned by MSNBC commentators but received considerable play on Fox. No surprise there. Let's keep our fingers crossed Biden doesn't dive into historical "truthiness," as Stephen Colbert would say, on the chances of an assassination attempt on Obama's life.

Rush to Judgment: Rush Limbaugh, the monarch of right wing talk radio, said, repeated himself, refused to back down -- that Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was racial. Limbaugh questioned why the Republican would desert ranks and endorse a fellow black man. Mt. Rushmore was unimpressed with Powell's reasons ditching the GOP faithful. Said Powell: "If my endorsement of Barack Obama had been based on race only, I would have announced my decision much earlier in the campaign." Limbaugh's ideology blinds his normally good judgment. Several years ago, Limbaugh was fired as an NFL pregame analyst for one of the TV networks for making disparaging remarks about Donavan McNabb, a black quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. He claimed McNabb was hailed as one of the league's top players only because he was black. Despite his stature in the media, it is difficult to cut any swath for Limbaugh because of his heritage and warped cultural views incubated as a child growing up in the South. His fans have forgiven him as an admitted drug addict. To blame race by an American icon is unforgivable.

Joe The Plumber Revisited: The Obama media fan club humiliated Joe the Plumber, John McCain's favorite Middle Class example, for having no plumber's license, owing back taxes and financially incapable of buying his boss's company. All that for asking Obama a simple question on a Toledo, Ohio, rope line. Joe Wurlzelbacher asked Obama why he had to pay additional taxes under the Obama tax plan. The Democratic presidential candidate essentially answered "to spread the wealth." Obama's concept is that in America "one person's struggles is all of our struggles." In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama replaced the idea of an American dream with the century-old progressive pitch of "America's promise." But as Jonah Goldberg in an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, pointed out: "The two visions are in opposition. The former is individualistic; the latter collectivist." In America, Goldberg writes, "that's fine because the pursuit of happiness is an individual, not a collective, right." Obama's explanation to Joe the Plumber is a clear and significant expression of his world view, with roots stretching back to his religion and his days as a community organizer. Goldberg says millions of Americans don't share that view. They don't begrudge the wealthy. They want the same opportunity. And, there folks, you have another example of the yawning gap between the ideologies of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Beware of Media Lemmings

Front Runners: Media critic Howard Kurtz is the best in the business. He warns in Monday's Washington Post political reporters and commentators are addicted to following the polls and invariably hitch a ride on the back of the front runners. "For all the complaints over the media swoon over (Barack) Obama," he writes, "journalists ultimately are driven by electoral math. If (John) McCain were to make a comeback in the almighty polls, the narrative would abruptly change. If the numbers don't move, the chatter about an Obama presidency will grow louder, perhaps drowning out the campaign's final days." Kurtz cites numerous examples. Following retired Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement Sunday of Obama, Democrat and leftwing supporters said Powell sealed the deal for Obama's presidency. Meanwhile, "You got people on the right side of the political equation," he quotes CBS's political analyst Jeff Greenfield, "saying the McCain campaign's screwed up and he's picked a running make who is unqualified." Such opinions reflect a sinking ship. Adds Kurtz: "But the theater-criticism aspect of modern journalism is a factor as well. After McCain's most aggressive performance in the final debate, much of the media focus was not on his specific attacks but whether he looked angry or exasperated while Obama stayed calm and collected. Is criticism valid only if it makes your opponent whine or tear up?" Political reporters are people, too, and expose their human frailties of a losing candidate like sharks circling the waters for a kill. Remember the press declaring McCain dead last November? Recall the anguish in MSNBC's election central when Hillary Clinton soared past Obama in the final day of the New Hampshire primary? Smart reporters are hedging their bets on Obama because of the much ballyhooed yet unknown race factor in this election. Recent history constantly reminds us that we are a nation in which the political pendulum rarely swings more than one or two points of the 50-50 divisional standard. Whether that applies in this historic race, time will tell. But events on the ground indicate the forces are in Obama's favor. Be aware of what you hear from the candidates, their surrogates and the media. They are lemmings following their own political agendas.

Monday Morning Quarterback: The greatest feel good story of the year is the Tampa Bay Rays winning the American League championship. For nine of the past 10 years of their sorry existence, they finished in the toilet of the toughest division in baseball, the American League East. This is a small market team ranked 29th out of 32 teams in payroll. Finishing so many seasons as the worst in baseball, an enlightened management and judicious first round drafting, the Rays picked and groomed outstanding young players they fielded into a first-rate team. It is a remarkable task considering the economics of Major League Baseball. Their path to victory was patterned after "Money Ball" developed initially by another small market team, the Oakland A's. The Athletics under that format reached the playoffs often enough but never the World Series. Despite their unexpected rush to prominence, the Rays only drew an average of 12,000 fans to their home games in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Stadium. It will improve next year whether they win or lose the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. But, not by much. Their neighbor to the south, the National League's Florida Marlins, proved that even though they won two World Series in five years. It doesn't matter. America's eroding baseball fans adore a lovable loser turned awesome. Fox, which will televise the World Series, certainly hopes so. Network executives said they may break even if the Series goes only four games. They would have preferred big market teams such as the Dodgers, Cubs or Red Sox. Like a fine wine, the Tampa Bay Rays may have been rushed to glory too fast for the public to appreciate its taste. Meanwhile, my two faves in football played to form over the weekend. USC blanked hapless Washington State and the fumbling, bungling Chargers were short-circuited by Buffalo. What's significant is if San Diego fails to make the playoffs, chances to win an election to build a new stadium dim leaving ownership no recourse but to relocate to another market, probably Los Angeles.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Powell Endorsement

Party Pooper: Retired Gen. Colin Powell's endorsement of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama Sunday is a slap at the Republican Party and not an indictment of its standard bearer John McCain. Powell told NBC's Tom Brokaw on "Meet The Press" he was "troubled" by Republicans' false implications Obama was a Muslim and the recent focus on Obama's relationship with William Ayers, an underground radical in the 1960s. "I look at these approaches to the campaign and they trouble me," Powell said. "Over the past seven weeks, the approach by the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower." Powell, a registered Republican, lauded McCain and said both candidates would make great presidents. However, he felt McCain vascillated in his approach addressing the financial market crises and used questionable judgment. Meanwhile, he said Obama exhibited a cerebral coolness and understanding. He said Obama was the better option to improve relations with our allies overseas. Powell was critical of McCain's judgment in his nomimation of Sarah Palin as vice president, saying she was not ready to serve while Obama's choice of Sen. Joe Biden would be ready on Day One. The former Secretary of State said at the beginning of his remarks that he was not voting for Obama simply because he was a black man. He added he would not campaign for Obama nor was he interested unless asked to serve in an Obama administration.

What It Means: The endorsement will be the buzz in the media and perhaps some voters the next several days but as history proves will likely be forgotten come election day. However, it could resonate in large active and retired military populations in North Carolina, Florida and San Diego. Powell is believed to be well revered by the military. He is best remembered as the architect for the Powell Doctrine as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon during the Bush I administration. The Powell Doctrine was if the U.S. goes to war, it must wield overwhelming force and have an exit strategy. The endorsement also annoints Obama with credibility in his role as commander-in-chief, closing the ominous gap enjoyed by McCain's war and senate record. "I've always admired and respected Gen. Powell," McCain said on the Sunday Fox News show. He cited endorsements of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, James Baker and Lawrence Eagleberger. "We have a respectful disagreement." The Powell endorsement is just another in a long series of daggers stuck in the heart of the McCain campaign.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Taxpayers Assume All the Risks

United Government: Yesterday we rued the fear expressed by Republicans that the Democrats' control of Congress and the White House would jam pet projects down our throats and further exacerbate the nation's economic meltdown. At the current rate of spending by the government and programs proposed by the two presidential candidates, the budget could reach $1 trillion deficit -- spending over income -- in fiscal 2009. The latest move this past week by Treasury plunked $250 million in banks in return for shares making the government -- i.e., the taxpayers -- new owners and the most powerful player in the financial banking system and the only one at risk. If conditions worsen, Treasury may be forced to throw more money into banks, states, businesses and consumers. Call it creeping socialism on a time clock until the economy shows signs of recovery. The problem is history. It shows us government intervention in the banking system can carry its own dangers with money channeled to political favorites rather than an economy's innovators. "The logic of intervention is that the more ownership a government has," said Robert E. Litan, an economist at the Brookings Institute," the greater the regulation and management control." Most economists agree government intervention in the current crises is necessary. "My major concern has been not getting the government sufficiently involved," said Robert E. Hall, an economist of the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University. "We're on the right track now." In theory, taxpayers money committed for everything from the bailouts of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and those of the Wall Street firm Bear Stearns and insurance giant AIG to the $700 billion financial rescue package approved by Congress to providing guarantees to selected financial markets could amount to an unheard of and mind-boggling $5.1 trillion. It represents more than a third of the nation's economy. The government's moves so far are twofold. 1) The lending and loan guarantees are meant to get normal lending for businesses and consumers flowing again. 2) Government investments in the banking system is intended to steady the system by adding capital. Bank asset values, shrinking rapidly because of the housing market collapse primarily, when stabilized will in theory increase lending activity. Eventually, Congress will impose new regulatory reforms on the banking system to prevent future meltdowns from reoccurring. Meanwhile, Treasury now has the power of a quiet partner in banking activity and bankers will be forced to consult on such issues as sale of soured mortgages. Says Litan of the Brookings Institute, "I think the government will be a risk manager extraordinaire. They're not going to tell banks where to lend. But in high-risk kinds of things, they have the role of saying no, no, not there." Memo to Congress: Leave your politics at the door in your attempts to cure the nation's economic miseries. Fat chance.

Must See: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appears tonight on Saturday Night Live in a guest appearance as the Republican vice presidential nominee. Here's a convoluted quote from Palin before the show sounding more like her SNL impersonator Tina Fey: "The Opportunity to show American television watchers anyway that you get to have a sense of humor through all of this or even this just this really would be wear'n tear'n on you so an opportunity to show that sense of humor and all that side of all this I look forward to it." You betcha, Sarah. Wink. Wink. Meanwhile, in a more serious venue, retired Gen. Colin Powell who was Secretary of State in the first George W. Bush administration, appears on Meet The Press. Democrats are gushy in speculating Powell will announce his endorsement of Barack Obama. Powell quit the Bush administration feeling he was manipulated. Believed to be a registered Republican, Powell's support of a fellow black leader would be a major coup. The reality is, political endorsements rarely swing voters to one candidate or another.

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCain's Only Chance

Better Late Than Never: With 2 1/2 weeks from election day and a touchdown behind in the polls, John McCain should hone his campaign strategy and zero in like a laser what moderates and independent voters fear most. That is a Barack Obama presidency too meek to counter the legislative agenda of the two most liberal Democratic leaders in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. With an expected super majority of Democrats in Congress, only a McCain veto stamp can slow the liberal avalanche of spending programs, many of which are proven losers. The accumulative effect is prolonging an economic recession, assuming, of course, it doesn't totally tank into a global depression. Yes, the strategy is predicated on fear, not fear based on character assassination, but on policy. McCain should argue our government works constitutionally on a checks and balance system and he's the great counter balancer to a runaway Congress. Independents and moderates will decide the election. So far, he's perceived by this group as an angry old man intent on diminishing his opponent's character for past associations with crooks, bigots and domestic terrorists. That fires up his base but his base won't win him the election.

McCain's Conundrum: No question that the third and final debate Wednesday McCain turned in his best performance. "I'm not President Bush," he scolded Obama who continually refers to McCain as voting 95% of the time for Bush policy programs. "If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago." Despite his feisty demeanor, instant polls after the debate indicated preference for Obama by a wide margin. Although the McCain campaign has been all over the map unsuccessfully trying to define Obama as an empty suit, the problem he has is not of his making. It's the financial markets meltdown that trumps everything else in this campaign season. The debate was not a game changer. McCain continues to stoke the flames of his conservative base without convincing independents to move in his direction. Democrat analyst Simon Rosenberg said "In the past few weeks, the American people have ... decided they see a future president in Sen. Obama. In Sen. McCain, they see an admirable but aging politician who seems out of step with the moment."

Fact Check: Both candidates distorted and exaggerated the truth. Obama said 100% of McCain's television ads were negative. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers did say nearly 100% of McCain's ads the first week in October were negative. However, over the course of the campaign, 73% of McCain's ads were negative compared to 61% from the Obama campaign. McCain said 45 new nuclear plants could be built right away. Although applications for 24 new reactors are pending, it would take until 2015 for the first to go on line. Current economic conditions with tight money credit likely would prevent nuclear construction estimated at $9 billion per plant. Other repeated charges have been reported and clarified in earlier debate postings.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Joe, the plumber, Wurzelbacher of suburban Toledo, Ohio, was mentioned 25 times during the Wednesday debate. McCain, who never met the 34-year-old Republican, epitomized him as a victim of Obama's tax plan. He said Joe was poised to buy his employer's plumbing business but couldn't afford the extra taxes because the company earned more than $250,000 per year. Turns out Joe doesn't have a plumber's license and could be sanctioned by the city's plumbing control board. Turns out, Joe's income last year was $40,000 and unlikely to buy the company. Turns out, Joe's boss filed income tax reported earnings of only $100,000 last year and would not be subject to a tax increase under either an Obama or McCain tax plan. Analysts calculated even if Joe bought the company and earned more than $250,000 the increase in taxes from a 35% to 39% rate would be offset by credits for a employee health benefit plan and elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses. A sublimed Joe Wurzelbacher said Thursday he regretted opening his big mouth and never intended to be subjected to the national limelight. Another McCain miscue.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How About a Thank You from Wall St.?

Arrogance and Stupidity: Less than a week after we bailed out insurance giant AIG, executives threw a $400,000 party for its minions at a posh Monarch Bay resort in Southern California. Minutes after leaving a meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Monday, executives of Wall Street's major banks escaped out the back door and rushed to their waiting limousines with nary a word to reporters. Industry apologists said we should be grateful for the nine major banks volunteering to accept additional capital from Treasury along with a government guarantee for newly issued bank debt by accepting a dilution of shares and a few harmless restrictions on their operations. Well, excuse me, Mr. Big Shot. Your culpability helped foster the economic crises. If Wall Street was serious that we're all in this together, their executives should have promised not to cut lines of credit to long-standing business customers who have paid their bills on time. They would have pledged not to foreclose on any homeowner who is able to refinance into a government-guaranteed fixed rate mortgage set at 85% current market value. They would have promised not to advise clients to hold on to their investments while they quietly dumped whatever they can from their own portfolios and shorting every security in sight. The leadership role by politicians addressing the financial crises -- despite all the pratfalls that still may happen -- is commendable. The absence of leadership from Wall Street is disgraceful. In the paraphrased words of President Kennedy, ask not what your government can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

The American Dream: For decades, home ownership has been the only sure-fire way for the Middle Class to gain prosperity. It was based on escalating home values until the bubble burst two years ago. Government policies encouraged home ownership allowing people to deduct the mortgage interest from their income taxes. More recently, government policies lowered borrowing standards to almost nothing in effort to attract additional wage earners into the ownership game to achieve the American Dream. Now that it has backfired, economists are waging a debate among themselves. One argument is when government makes residential investment more attractive, it diminishes investment in other areas that would enhance economic growth. The opposing argument of subsides and tax credits allows more Americans to own homes. They recognize the problem that 95 million are paying far more than 30% of their income for their households and 42% of all Americans cannot afford home ownership. The unrelenting push to slash government regulation necessary for a good mortgage market unfortunately has been replaced by private market "products" and mortgage companies leading us into the current meltdown. The winning argument in this debate falls somewhere in between. As one economist put it: The U.S. will remain a mix between a totally free open market such as Hong Kong where economic growth is unimpeded and France where regulations have stagnated growth and disposable income.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What If Dems Win It All?

Consider This: We don't have to turn back the pages of history very far to vision how one political party rules when it owns the presidency and both houses of Congress. The first six years of the Bush administration, maligned mostly by 9/11, saw a budget surplus plunge to a multi billion dollar deficit, revenue spending a drunken frenzy, lobbyists writing our energy policy and Congressional oversight virtually abandoned. Some of the most obscene laws shoved down our throats by the Republican-controlled executive and legislative branches was the violation of constitutional rights in the Patriot Act, domestic anti-terrorist surveillance and the Farm Subsidy Relief Act. The moderate-to-liberal U.S. Supreme Court was stacked by a moderate-to-conservative chief justice and an ultra-conservative associate justice. As the political tide appears now, voters on Nov. 4 could elect a Democrat president and veto-proof Democrat House and filibuster-proof Democrat Senate. Our leadership would be passed to Barack Obama, voted the most or second most liberal in the Senate by conservative watchdog groups, and the two bonafide liberals in Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The tag liberal does not translate into a socialistic republic which is the major fear of conservative idealists. It does mean a growing role our government plays in our lives. There is a fine line between government as the peoples' benefactor and government as an intrusive, fumbling despot.

A New World Order: With the global financial markets in the tank, an Obama administration inherits never-before seen direct government partnership in our major financial institutions in which a failed policy could bankrupt taxpayers. It's a risky policy aimed at the short-term goal of infusing cash to banks to unfreeze credit and longer-term gamble to stabilize housing prices. Obama is in the process of spelling out how he will tweak the process now being instituted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Several moves are apparent. Democrats will pass another economic stimulus package, ask bankruptcy judges to renegotiate home mortgage rates with lenders and extend unemployment benefits. How Obama will prioritize his domestic spending programs remains a mystery. Without tax increases, his options are limited. What can be expected is a new energy policy strong on renewable and clean air programs, matching funds for rebuilding roads, bridges, sewers and electrical grid transmission lines and college loans in exchange for two years of public service. A national health care program will be introduced but not pushed seriously until the economy improves but still sometime during the first four years of the Obama administration. Defense spending could take a hit if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq. Although more troops will be reassigned to Afghanistan, Obama has said during the campaign that more emphasis will be placed on diplomatic than military force in dealing with the Middle East problems. It all really depends on how far and how long the economy is submerged in a recession if not global depression.

McCain's Misguidance: John McCain's strategy to play the underdog may fit his maverick image but it is not resonating with voters. He's all over the map trying unsuccessfully to portray Obama as an unknown liberal with character flaws of judgment based on his lack of experience and naivety. The daily news of a tanking economy is overwhelming his every move with even conservatives scratching their heads wondering why he's spending so much time attacking Obama over his relationship with former domestic terrorist William Ayers. The guilt-by-association attacks didn't work for Hillary Clinton and they're equally ineffective for McCain and his campy running mate Sarah Palin. What they should focus on is an Obama presidency with the unpopular Pelosi and Reid as his chief lieutenants carrying his water bucket in Congress. That is a scary scenario even in the minds of many moderates.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Palin's Unethical Family Value

Personal Vendetta: A special prosecutor concludes Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin violated state ethics standards by firing her public safety director although the sacking was legal. What we have is a draw in the so-called TrooperGate case. The bipartisan state Legislature committee which paid the prosecutor $100,000 filed the report with no comment. The state Personnel Board, all Palin appointees in her good graces, is continuing its investigation but not expected to rule until after the Nov. 4 election in which Palin is now Republican John McCain's vice presidential running mate. In reading the entire 114-page report by Stephen Branchflower there is little doubt Palin, husband Todd and the governor's staff applied undue pressure on safety director Walter Monegan to fire state Trooper Mike Wooten involved in a bitter divorce battle with Palin's sister Molly. Monegan refused and ultimately was fired by what Palin contends were differences over budget issues. Monegan and the state trooper in charge of Wooten's classified personnel disciplinary hearing were both contacted by the governor and Todd that the findings against Wooten amounted only to a "slap on the wrist." Wooten had been accused of unlawfully killing a moose, drinking a beer in his patrol car, tasering his stepson and threatening the life of Palin's father. He received a five-day suspension. The Palin's believed Wooten was unfit for duty, according to Branchflower's report, half of it remaining classified because of privacy issues involving state employees. The case was a local matter until Palin was tapped for the national ticket by McCain. It then immediately developed into a political tinderbox. If McCain wins the presidential election, the investigation becomes moot. If they lose, Palin will face the music if the song plays out. The findings in the prosecutor's report blemish Palin's reform platform she highlights on the campaign trail. It's throwing a sour lemon into the sweet smelling success of her beating Alaskan oil barons and the corrupt state Republican leadership en route to the upset gubernatorial victory she relished two years ago. Still, this condemning report is mild compared to those accomplishments. It reflects more style of governance than criminal activity. It reflects pettiness and immaturity for someone who thirsts for power the vice president and president's offices represent. Is it any less damning than Barack Obama's 20-year association with the un-American vile spewed by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? A game changer it is not.

McCain Pushes Back

Chill Out: A woman at a McCain rally in Wisconsin Friday said she was scared to death of Barack Obama because he was an Arab. "No, no," John McCain said, quickly taking the microphone from the woman. "Sen. Obama is a good, honest citizen...a good family man." Amid a chorus of boos, McCain said "I just think I would make a better president." At an earlier rally Friday, McCain found himself defending Obama among jeers of "traitor" and "treason." A riled, vengeful Republican right wing base is venting its anger triggered by a storm of negative ads and rally calls by the McCain campaign and particularly vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin. In the heat of an election in which Republicans sense McCain is falling way behind Obama in the polls, chants of "liar," "terrorist," "off with his head" and "kill him" are becoming commonplace. Palin leads the attacks on Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers she calls a "domestic terrorist." McCain himself links Obama to the financial markets collapse because of financial donations and political advisory positions his campaign has received from former CEO's of bailed out financial giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The result is Godzilla. It forced McCain Friday to push back. "We want to fight," he said. "I want to fight. But we must remain respectful." At one rally, he said Obama "is a decent person and a person you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States." What we are observing is the two faces of John McCain. One is the veteran senator, a self-proclaimed maverick, who is honest and filled with integrity almost to a fault. The other is candidate McCain heeding direction from advisers who are casting him into positions of which he is extremely uncomfortable. The real John McCain stood up Friday. One must sympathize with McCain's frustration. The nation's economic meltdown is killing him and fellow Republicans down ticket. Trying to expose Obama's programs and policies, he said at the last debate, "is like trying to nail jello to a wall."

The Arab Connection: One can only guess where the woman who voiced fear Obama was an Arab where she got that impression. Perhaps, it came from the writings of Jack Wheeler. He was the author of President Reagan's strategy to break the back of the Soviet Union with the star wars race. He later wrote a weekly column on government intelligence activities. Here are excerpts on Obama from a recent email: "The O-Man, Barack Hussein Obama, is an eloquently tailored empty suit. No resume, no accomplishments, no experience, no original ideas, no understanding of how the economy works, no understanding of how the world works, no balls, nothing but abstract empty rhetoric of real substance." Fair enough. Then, he wallows in to the race card. "He has no real identity. He is half-white, which he rejects. The rest of him is mostly Arab, which he hides but is disclosed by his non-African Arabic surname and his Arabic first and middle names as a way to triply proclaim his Arabic percentage to people in Kenya. Only a small part of him is African black from his Luo grandmother, which he pretends he is exclusively." Wait one moment. Since when has Obama rejected his white mother? Never. Wheeler continues: "What he isn't, not a genetic drop of, is "African-American," the descendant of enslaved Africans brought to America chained in slave ships. He hasn't a single ancestor who was a slave. Instead, his Arab ancestors were slave owners...Thus he makes the perfect Liberal Messiah." That seems a disconnect, like saying two plus two equals five. But Wheeler is just warming to the task. "Obamamania is beyond politics and reason," he writes. "It is true religious cult, whose adherents reject Christianity yet still believe in Original Sin, transferring it from the evil of being human to the evil of being white." Now, voters who support Obama are anti-Christ. Really? "Thus Obama has become the white liberals' Christ, offering absolution from the Sin of Being White," Wheeler writes. "The absurdity of Hypocrisy Clothed in Human Flesh being their Savior is all the more cause for liberals to worship him...Thank heavens that the voting majority of Americans remain Christian and are in no desperate need of a phony savior." What Wheeler is saying is that it's okay to be black but not a black slaveholder and white guilt is why white liberals support Obama, something good Christians should avoid. Sounds like Wheeler is advocating ethnic and religious cleansing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How Israel Sees Us

Best Buddies: During the U.S. presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain play the oneupsmanship game on how much they love Israel. Both vow continued military, economic and diplomatic support in efforts to win the Jewish vote stateside. But, is that mutual admiration actually shared by Israelis? Yes and no. They cherish the American people because of family ties and tourist revenue. They disdain our government, considering it leaderless. They view the presidential race as the angry old guy (McCain), the nitwit (Gov. Sarah Palin), versus the untried new guy (Obama) and the windbag (Sen. Joe Biden). Many Israelis question our system if this is the best we can muster. They are not impressed. In the narrow focus of Israelis, there major concerns are: Will Iran develop nuclear warheads; Should Israel attack those arsenals; Will Hamas take over the rest of the Palestinian territory; Will Hezbollah and Israel go back to war; Will Syria make peace with Israel, and will Israel and Fatah continue the Palestinian peace process? Martin Fletcher, NBC correspondent based in Tel Aviv, reports Israeli government leaders understand U.S. support is a given. But a loud minority believe unflinching American support is harmful to their country's future. Without such support, this minority opinion believes its leaders would be more inclined to compromise and reach accords with Palestinian leaders and Syria. Israel and its neighbors, Fletcher says from his Middle East sources, there is a need for strong, stable, smart American leadership. What it sees in the presidential campaigns and debates is mind-dulling talking points. "It appears to be a weak, dumb, uninvolved stumbling giant," he wrote, citing government officials and editorials and letters among the raucous newspaper accounts. Apparently, George Bush is as unpopular in Israel as he is at home. And the prospects of an Obama or McCain presidency is also unflattering in the land of shalom.
My Senior Moment: One of the most substantive issues in Tuesday's presidential debate fell below the radar in print and broadcast coverage. That was the question whether health insurance coverage was a right or a privilege. Obama said it was a right. McCain said it was a responsibility of the individual and family. Their answers reflect a fundamental gap between the two. Obama is correct on this one. In our society, we think nothing of paying taxes to our cities and counties for police and fire protection and other public services for the common good. Cops and firemen don't discriminate and drive away if you can't afford their assistance. They are guardians of our public welfare. Our welfare also includes our health. What is the difference between the cops chasing down a robber and a physician diagnosing and treating a disease? They're both the same in my book. The only difference is the former is accepted societal behavior and the latter not. Police and fire protection is constrained by budgets. Why not universal health care based on an individual's affordability to pay the premiums? It's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Who Won? "That One"

Dysfunctional Debate: Voters who base their decision on whom does best in the presidential debates might be scrambling for a write-in choice today. Neither Democrat Barack Obama nor Republican John McCain strayed far from their campaign talking points Tuesday night. Neither offered reassurance how they would tackle the economic crises. Both fibbed on the other's record and policies. The debate's Town Hall forum and rules both campaigns agreed upon left voters to fend for themselves. It boiled down to which candidate appeared more presidential. In that regard, Obama won by a landslide except on foreign policy questions where they battled to a draw. Going into the debate, political junkies including both campaign zealots agreed McCain had to perform extraordinary to turn the tide of the election. He didn't. The CBS and CNN instant polls, although not all that reliable, crushed the notion that the debate would be a game changer. For one thing, Obama's efforts to explain questions from the audience were more direct and crisp than McCain's on how the financial markets crash would effect their pocketbooks. McCain's responses wandered the spectrum from vague to weird. If elected, McCain said he would order the Treasury Secretary to buy troubled home mortgages and renegotiate new loans reflecting the diminished value. "We're going to have to do something about home values," he said. "Is it expensive? Yes." He did not elaborate. The program is one favored by many Democrats in Congress and would cost an estimated $300 billion. Such proposals drive the conservative Republican base nuts. On energy issues, McCain posed a question to the audience. He asked which of the candidates voted in favor of the Bush/Cheney energy package "loaded with all kinds of goodies." Not me, he said, and then pointed to Obama. "That one." Post debate pundits who are Obama cheerleaders agreed the reference was weird. Howard Fineman of Newsweek compared it to a grandfather pointing out an offending grandchild as "that one" who spilled the cookie jar. Yes, on stage McCain appeared a grumpy old man compared to his younger, cooler and calculating opponent.
Fact Check: McCain repeated his assertion that the U.S. spends $700 billion to purchase foreign oil from countries who do not like us. Actually, a third of that expenditure goes to allies such as Canada and Mexico. Obama said Bush policies supported by McCain stripped regulations on the markets and consumers leading to the financial collapse. Although McCain supports deregulation, he advocated reforms for financial mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years before they were bailed out by the feds. McCain said the last time a president raised taxes -- a jab at Obama -- during an economic recession was Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression. Not true. Although the recessions were not as severe as during Hoover's presidency, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton raised taxes leading to economic recoveries. Obama said McCain's $5,000 tax credit in exchange for treating employers' health insurance contributions as taxable wages amounts to "what one hand giveth, the other taketh away." McCain's proposal in the first years of the system would amount to a savings since the credit would exceed the amount of the tax. Over 10 years as premiums rise, the costs would increase the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion mainly because it would mean less revenue and thereby a true tax break overall. Obama said the cuts in federal spending he envisions would cover the costs of his ambitious domestic spending agenda for such programs as education, renewable energy and health care. His specifics do not bear that out.
Sacrificial Lambs: Neither candidate enunciated the extreme sacrifices facing Americans in this time of economic chaos. They had their chance and blew it in a direct question from moderator Tom Brokaw. Hate to use this tired phrase, but they tried to apply lipstick to a pig. Well, the pig raised its ugly head today in a report from the International Monetary Fund that a global recession is near and likely to continue well into 2009. The IMF's projection came before the Federal Reserve joined by central banks around the world slashed interest rates to stall the financial meltdown. The U.S. bailout is aimed at thawing the credit freeze by buying mortgage-related bad debt from the financial institutions. It will work only if banks lend between themselves to keep businesses operating and consumers gain confidence in the economic future. Credit availability is likely to remain constrained through next year, the IMF said. The IMF projected growth down to 1.8% in Germany, o.8% in France, 1% in Great Britain, 0.7% in Canada and Japan and drops -- for the first time in five years -- to 9.7% in China and 7.9% in India. Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke all have poorly articulated the severity of the crises that consumers can understand. The ball soon will shift to one of the candidate's court. One will inherit this mess. None of us has a clue how he will handle it. There is one more debate between Obama and McCain. It's time for both to stop playing defense and speak the truth. Fat chance.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Articles of Mass Distraction

Issues vs. Character: Imagine you're in John McCain's $500 shoes. Less than a month from election day, polls tell you the discouraging news. You are losing to Barack Obama. In your heart, you know you're right. Tough on foreign policy. Faith in a free market system. Cut taxes. Lower spending. Country first. All ingredients for a successful recipe to win the White House in normal times. But, these are not normal times. Less than a third of the voters care Iran is building nuclear warheads. Most fear what's happening to their pocket books. The me first is paramount as fears of a prolonged recession begin strangling the life blood of our souls. So, for the umpteenth time, you succumb to your advisers and develop an offensive strategy that changes the subject from how to address the nation's economic problems to planting seeds of doubt in the character of your opponent. Against your better judgment, you and your surrogates go for the jugular. McCain delivered a speech Monday asking "Who is Barack Obama?" He elaborated: "Whatever the question, whatever the issue, there's always a back story with Sen. Obama... My opponent's touchiness every time he is questioned about his record should only make us more concerned." McCain then repeated the disputed claim Obama supports raising taxes for persons with $42,000 annual income. McCain's running mate Gov. Sarah Palin has taken a more direct attack by saying Obama "pals around with known terrorists" in reference to Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers whose underground group bombed the Pentagon when Obama was 8 years old. Now, Palin is drawing large crowds which are terrific for television audiences appearances but are misleading as hell. She's appearing only before the basest of the Republican base and providing them with red meat and absolutely no effort to win over undecided voters who will decide the outcome of the election. The Obama campaign has countered attack ads with some of their own while Obama himself has taken a higher road. "I can't imagine talking about anything more important than the economic crises," he said on the campaign trail in North Carolina Monday.

Voter Backlash? The McCain swiftboating approach could work as it did four years ago for George Bush against John Kerry. Hillary Clinton nearly beat Obama late in the primary campaign with a series of negative ads. Clinton started too late and McCain could experience the same results. Here's the canard: Voters tell pollsters they despise negative campaigning. Political pols know they work and have the data to prove it. But, these are not normal times. Imagine the serious voter trying to decide upon the candidates and hear no solutions to their problems but prattle about the evils of the other guy. There is considerable speculation that McCain will carry his personal attack message into tonight's debate. That should make an entertaining evening but is it too risky even for such an addicted gambler as McCain?

My Take: Both McCain and Obama share the same problem of becoming too specific on how to solve the economic crises. The groundwork is set in concrete with the $700 billion rescue bill signed into law last Friday by President Bush. They both are stuck with it and perhaps even Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson administering it. Remember President Clinton campaigned on a specific economic program in 1992. After looking at the books, he had to ditch his program and go a different route after taking office. Still, both candidates need to weigh in on the economic crises and not Obama's guilt by association relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and McCain's hot temperament and involvement in the Keating savings and loan scandal. I want to hear more on the policy differences in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. More details on tax cuts and tax increases. More on differences in their health care reforms. More on what areas to cut spending. More on energy and clean air proposals. More on keeping Social Security solvent. More on the criteria needed for appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court. In short, cut the crap and go for the gold.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday Morning Blues

No Fun Day: Years ago teenager Brenda Spencer fired shots into a nearby school playground and while holed up in her home answered the telephone call from one of my colleagues on the San Diego Evening Tribune. "I hate Mondays, don't you?" she said. The quote made international news. A popular song was written based on that quotation from a very troubled girl. Today's news reminded me of Brenda Spencer's lament. The Dow Jones Industrial average dropped below 10,000 joined by double digit losses in the Nasdaq and S&P exchanges. The credit market remained frozen. Investors panicked searching for safe havens. President Bush's signing of the $700 billion market rescue plan may take a month to implement and many more to determine any impact on stalling or even stabilizing the home mortgage meltdown. Jobs fell. Factory orders continued to fade. More banks failed in Europe. Retirees saw their 401(k) retirement nest eggs dwindle. Working families saw their credit limits shrink. Even news in the fun and games department stunk. The jinxed Chicago Cubs, with 100 years of futility on their backs, saw their best chance in decades to reach the World Series evaporate by not winning a game in the first round of the playoffs. That was followed by my Chargers losing to Miami in the worst game they played this season. Of minor consequence, USC defeated Oregon in its 100-1 shot reaching a national championship BCS game.

A Ray of Hope: A search for positive news found only a Washington Post report on voter registration ranks swelled significantly that could change the Nov. 4 election in favor of the Democrats -- if they turn out to vote. In the past year, voter registration rolls have increased by 4 million in a dozen battleground states, 11 of which Barack Obama is targeting that President Bush won in 2004 and 2000. Democrats have attracted twice the number of new voters in Florida, outgained Republicans by a 4-1 margin in Colorado and Nevada and by a 6-1 cushion in North Carolina. Democratic registration in Florida now exceeds Republicans by a half-million. In North Carolina, Democrats have added 208,000 voters compared to 34,000 by the GOP. In Nevada, which Bush carried by 21,000 votes in 2004, Democrats have added 94,000 and Republicans 22,000. Republicans now trail Democrats by 81,000 in the Silver State. In Pennsylvania, a state John McCain is trying to snatch, Democrats have registered in the past year 474,000 new voters while the Republicans have lost 38,000. The Obama campaign projects that for every new voter they register, 80% will vote Democrat and 75% turn out. Although the voter registration drives may assist the Obama campaign, the overall impact of luring millions of new voters into our electoral process is good news. For all the chest-pounding Americans ballyhoo as champions of the democratic process, they are notoriously lax in exercising that right. A 50% voter turnout is considered good. Anything more than a 60% turnout in a presidential election is phenomenal. Such low expectations do not bode well in my book. If you don't vote, don't bitch.
Financing Fraud: Don't be surprised if the Federal Election Practices Commission launches an investigation into possible financial contribution irregularities involving the Obama campaign. Michael Isikoff in Newsweek reports thousands are contributing $200 each under phony names which indicates many may be exceeding the $2,300 maximum any one individual can contribute to a major political campaign. In one case, a donor identified himself as Good Will and place of employment at a Goodwill Charities branch in Georgia. The Obama campaign sent thank you notes to Goodwill Industries for months before the charity repsonded they were unaware of any contributions from its employees in addition to the fact such donations would be illegal from a non-profit group. The Obama campaign has raised the bulk of their contributions through the Internet from individual donors. Campaigns are not required to report donations $200 or less by names, addresses and occupations. Instead, they are lumped together for reporting purposes. Seems nothing escapes gaming the system.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Credit Palin With a Save

Raising The Bar: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin exceeded low expectations in her Thursday night debate with Sen. Joe Biden, providing Republican supporters a great sigh of relief. Her performance in the vice presidential face-off reignited the dying flames of the John McCain campaign after two weeks of stumbles and U-turns. "She hit it out of the park," gushed Sean Hannity and fellow Republican rooters. Not bad for a rookie .200 hitter. Palin came to the forum well prepared and coached and, most importantly, she delivered. Poor Joe Biden. A former Clinton campaign advisor declared Biden turned in his best debate performance ever. Yet, Palin stole the show. She won the expectations game spiced with two seminal zinging moments. One was Barack Obama's plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq in 16 months she equated to "raising a white flag." She said Biden flip-flopped after initially supporting the Iraq war resolution. "It's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider and someone not used to the ways you guys operate because you voted for the war and then you voted against it," she said. Palin's performance benefited from the debate rules with time restrictions on answers and little chance of follow-up questions. It's those second and third questions that Palin floundered in recent television interviews. If Palin didn't like the question, she simply diverted it uncontested to a topic she was more comfortable with, usually energy. So much for expectations.
Veep Stakes: One of the more revealing segments of the debate focused on the role each would play as vice president. Biden said he would be Obama's front man driving the administration's programs through Congress as well as Obama's close confidant and advisor. Palin said she wished she had more constitutional and Senate institutional powers than simply on the rare occasions casting a tie-breaking vote. She said McCain has promised her a strong role in pushing his energy program, advocacy for women's equality and for parents of handicapped children.
Fact Check: Palin said Obama voted 94 times to increase taxes or against tax reductions. It was 11 times but only for those earning more than $1 million. Biden complained deregulation of the Bush administration led to the current financial market collapse. Biden voted for the 1999 deregulation bill. Palin said McCain led a movement to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel authored the bill which McCain sponsored but was killed in committee. Palin said she beat the oil industry in Alaska with a windfall profits tax that went directly to the state's citizens. At the same time, she sided with Big Oil on anti-environmental measures as well as supporting drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge which McCain opposes. Biden said McCain supports an additional $4 billion tax cut for the oil industry. McCain's plan would provide tax cuts to all corporations, including Big Oil. Palin said Alaska is building a $40 billion natural gas pipeline through Canada to the states. A license for seed money was awarded to one contractor but construction won't start for six years. "It's not a done deal," Palin said in August. Bottom Line: No major hits, runs or errors.
My Take: Close your eyes, filter out the expectations game and return to the real world. Biden won the debate if not on points certainly on the reassurance of his experience. Instant polls by CNN reflects that edge. The debate was not a game changer. It may push McCain up a few points but only for several days. Hillary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, offered an analogy which matched mine while watching the debate. Rosen projected a scenario of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with Palin sitting in the war room forced to make life and death commander-in-chief decisions. Just can't see that happening. Palin's performance was programmed and borderline robotic. There's no there there. Like Mrs. Clinton told Obama: Wait your turn after you grow up.

No Control Zone: Did you see Bill O'Reilly go ballistic on Rep. Barney Frank? O'Reilly yelled, screamed, taunted, bullied and cast personal insults at Frank who heads the House Banking Committee and spearheaded the Congressional negotiations for a rescue plan of the financial markets. No matter what Frank tried to say about his role involving failed reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, O'Reilly shouted him down. I think I know why. Bill's ego is the size of an inflated hot air balloon. When the segment began, Frank, who can be as nasty as a cornered bantam rooster, was reading the newspaper. His eyes down and continued reading while O'Reilly asked his first question. Finally, Frank slowly raised his head and faced the camera, telling O'Reilly he disagreed with Bill's assertion that Frank was to blame for the bailout of the two financial giants. Frank's demeanor dissed O'Reilly's pompous view of himself and Bill got pissed. The episode is a can't miss Number One on the U-Tube charts. O'Reilly's behavior was disgusting, even by entertainment standards let alone a thrashing of journalistic ethics. Yet, O'Reilly remains and will remain the top-rated news opinionator on cable television. Disgraceful, shameful but not shocking on all counts.
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

They Did WHAT?

Artificial Sweeteners: The Senate, in its infinite wisdom (Yuk Yuk), applied lipstick to the financial markets bailout (ah, pardon the profanity) rescue package that includes a series of tax credit incentives to businesses, nine of which manufacture toy bows and arrows. The bill which carried 75-29 was designed to add sweeteners to swing 12 votes in the House whose members voted down the $700 billion package by that margin Monday. Other beneficiaries in line for tax breaks include the film and television industry, motor speedways, horse thoroughbred owners, wool producers, charities, children, teachers and more. None of these sweeteners -- all shifted from Congress' tax provision bills -- would have an immediate impact on stabilizing the immediate crises in the financial, credit and housing markets. More important tax and credit extensions involved the R&D credit for states without income taxes to deduct various forms of state and local sales taxes, a deduction for higher education costs, charitable giving incentives and an expansion of child credits. Western states with large amounts of non-producing revenue of government lands would receive an extension of an additional $3.3 billion over 10 years paid directly to rural towns and counties. Still other provisions are targeted to help Alaskan fishermen who suffered losses as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill more than 20 years ago, American Samoa economic development and American Indian employment. The Senate approved most other features contained in the original House bill including raising FDIC insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 for individual accounts. Senate Republicans made it clear they would vote against any House bill that increased taxes. While Congress fiddles, the stock market remained volatile with continuing sour news. The financial sector lost 111,200 jobs in September and businesses laid off 95,000 workers. Factory orders dropped 4% between July and August, the highest two-month down scale in two years. Home mortgage applications continued to decrease, dropping 23% this past week from the previous one. Not only is the administration and Congress leaderless, they continue to march to a different drummer than the rest of us.

Gaffe Central: One can't help but chuckle over all the hype leading up to tonight's vice presidential debate. The Republicans have set such a low expectations standard for Gov. Sarah Palin that she wins just by showing up. They are even attacking Gwyn Iffel, the PBS debate moderator, for having a vested interest in an Obama victory because she has written a book scheduled for publication in November on the rising importance of blacks in American politics. Dennis Miller cracked Palin should pull out the book's galley sheet at the beginning of the debate and ask for Iffel's autograph. Democrats equally are squirmishing over the prospects of Sen. Joe Biden continuing his cavalcade of gaffes which have shadowed him his entire political career. How does he handle a woman, they ask. If he's too condescending, he's male chauvinistic toast, they fear. Viewers will watch with interest much like racecar fans hoping for a spectacular accident on the NASCAR tracks.
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