Monday, November 10, 2008

Who's next in line for bailouts?

It's Bailout, Baby, Bailout.

First we saw $168 billion stimulus package giving tax rebates, then $29 billion to J.P. Morgan Chase, a $300 billion "housing rescue" in July, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taken over in September, the AIG $85 billion bailout, then finally the enormous $850B "stimulus package". Now we have the auto makers snuggling up to the government teet.

These have been called only the tip of the iceberg. So who's next on this list? Here's a few of my guesses:

  1. Telecommunications companies: These are totally debt-based businesses. And if the politicians can argue that GM is "too big to fail" they certainly won't let the phones go dead (or the Internet stop working). They will fork over the cash when told by the new Ma Bell.
  2. Commercial real estate: The focus so far has been on residential real estate and to be fair, it probably is the primary culprit behind the banking mess. However, the amount of commercial properties taken over by banks through foreclosures is up and banks are becoming more aware of the magnitude of the trouble in commercial real estate loans.
  3. Insurance companies: AIG is not the only insurance company in trouble. The entire industry is imploding. Questions continue over capital adequacy, credit downgrades, uncertainty on future portfolio write-downs, and potential cash calls on CDS and other obligations.
  4. States: With big budget shortfalls, some states (such as California looking at a $22 billion dollar shortfall) will certainly try to play the "too big to fail" card and take their seat at the federal trough.
  5. Satellite radio: Hey why not. This is of course a terrible idea. But when has that ever stopped politicians? And as long as Uncle Sam is handing out cash...

There are probably countless other industries that will try to get while the getting is good and jump on the bailout bandwagon. Who knows how far it will go? Who can blame them for not wanting a share of the bailout pie?

It's like paying off one credit card with another credit card. And of course propping up failing companies like GM and Ford who can't compete naturally, shows the world how strong America is, right?

We need to put an end to it, but you already knew I was going say that. The far better strategy is to let them fail (or recover) on their own.

Friday, November 7, 2008

GOP Job Number one: address hypocrisy

Republicans obviously have not cornered the market on cynicism and hypocrisy in politics. I certainly wouldn't be foolish enough to state that Democrats or liberals or other parties are perfect. But over the last couple of decades the GOP has simply gone over the deep end.

A couple of examples include the "Patriot Act" and probably the most insidious "No child left behind." A few other examples follow:

Support the Troops: They embrace slogans like "Support the Troops" and then treat soldiers like crap in reality, failing to provide adequate armor, facilities, food, and so on. Remember Walter Reed, keeping troops in IRAQ indefinitely (in violation of both the 2008 Defense Appropriations Act and the 2008 Defense Authorization Act), inadequate help and support for soldiers suffering from war-related psychological injuries, the whole Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch affairs, and the list goes on.

Big Government: This is a good one. Republicans tell us they are against "Big Government" and against "Government Spending" - things that sound really good to a lot of Americans. But Republicans have become the party of big government now. Government grew faster in two years of Bush than it did in all eight of Clinton. Spending has been out of control under Republican leadership. They want to insinuate the federal government in all manner of peoples lives. It's Republicans who want to tell us all how to live, who to marry, who to sleep with, what to do with our bodies, and what god we should pray to. How can they cry for less government control and then insist on enforcing control in areas of peoples' lives the government should have no part of?

Ethics and Corruption: There are plenty of individual cases of corruption and illegal activies from all sides. The big difference is, it always seems to be the Republicans who love to sanctimoniously lecture everyone else about ethics and morality. They tell us they are the party to fix corruption in government, but then overlook some of the worst offenders from their own party. The list here is so long, there's no way I can put it in a single blog post. You might want to check out this site. Perhaps a good proxy for this category of hypocrisy would be the Department of Justice's partisan abuses of power:

Attorney General Michael Mukasey named a prosecutor yesterday [Septempber 29, 2008] to investigate whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, other Bush administration officials or Republicans in Congress should face criminal charges in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

The above are just a few examples, but this is I think one of the biggest areas the GOP must address. Here's what Forbes writer Tom Coburn says in an article today:

The election also was a measure not just of the excellence of Obama's field operation but of the level of disgust with a decade of Republican hypocrisy. Voters expect Democrats to talk the conservative talk and backtrack, but they expect Republicans to do what they say in terms of enacting conservative policies. In many respects, the 2008 election was a continuation of the 2006 punishment voters exacted on Republicans who were saying one thing but doing another.

Republicans recently are all about do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. They often live in the biggest glass house, yet throw the largest stones. This kind of "kissing babies" politics is nothing new, but the GOP needs to clean it up. They need to have their actions match their words much more closely if they expect anyone but the hardcore to listen to them and, more importantly for them, to vote for them. The Republican brand rests in the balance.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Long GOP knives for Palin are distressing

So today we're told that McCain staffers were concerned about Sarah Palin's lacking the "degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, and a heartbeat away from the presidency," or so they told Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Carl Cameron.

She didn't know what countries that were in NAFTA (US, Canada, and Mexico) nor did she understand that Africa is a continent and not a country in itself.

Cameron told Bill O'Reilly that McCain aides were truly "shocked" at the lack of knowledge Sarah Palin displayed. She did not know many of the basics of civics and local/state/national duties. Beyond being so ignorant, she also utterly lacked self-awareness and wanted to be allowed to speak out freely despite her knowledge limitations. They say she refused coaching before the Katie Couric interviews.

They also speak of temper tanrums and tirades, although I doubt she would be the first candidate with that particular habit:

in the closing week or so... she took to yelling and screaming at aides over her press clippings, even "tossing papers" around.

So the truth appears to be that she was not "attacked by the liberal media" but in fact is what she appears to be. This is not coming from the "liberal media" - this is Fox News throwing her under the bus. That might say something about her chances for 2012.

Steve Schmidt (who reportedly picked Palin as VP) would not let her speak on election night.

For Sarah Palin haters, this is going to be fun to watch. However, what's really disturbing about this is that John McCain and his campaign, and the RNC, apparently knew Palin was clueless, but did nothing about it. So much for "Country First." To think that up until 24 hours ago, she was within striking distance of the white house. It's an absolute outrage! Even Republicans should be angry about it.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan on this same topic:

You know: I took a lot of grief for my pretty instant realization back in August that the Palin candidacy was a total farce. But when you cop to the fact that the McCain peeps knew most of that too very early on after their world-historical screw-up, you've got to respect and be terrified by their cynicism. I mean: country first?

And they only lost by a few points?

Does this election signal a "mandate" - fall of the Republican party?

If Democrats interpret this election as a mandate for Democratic policies, they will be in for a surprise.

Before the election was even over, people were already recalling how the Clinton administration's overreach on health care played a large role in a Republican majority in Congress just two years later.

Likewise, those counting out the Republican party and policies as a whole are overstating it. The party may have some real concerns, in particular that younger people, and non-whites, the fastest growing segments of the electorate, are not going their way. At the end of the day, however, things can turn fast. We saw George HW Bush help usher in Clinton, who then sparked a Republican sweep into Congress and eventually George W. Bush, who eventually led to Democrats sweeping back into Congress in 2006 and who played a major part in Barack Obama winning the presidency last night.

However, only dyed in the wool Republicans can rationalize how IRAQ, Guantanamo, Spying on Americans without warrants, or a $9.1 trillion National Debt on their watch is somehow the fault of the Democrats. Just as these election swings toward Democrats were driven in large part by these and other failings attributed to Republicans, the Democrats will be judged not by winning the election, but by how they now govern - if there is to be any "mandate" for the Democrats, it must be earned.

Barack Obama turned a number of red states blue and with that one may argue "mandate" - but if indeed there is a mandate, it is Obama's alone, and not that of the Democratic party, and Nancy Pelosi had better bear that in mind.

McCain Campaign Quick Takes

Pundits and others will be analyzing John McCain's campaign to death over the next weeks and months. Here are my quick takes, before being influenced by any of them.

First, I think he did an amazing job. I was surprised it was as close as it was. It tells you how much people dislike Democrats. Sure, there are die-hard Democratic supporters, but a lot of this loss has to do with repudiation of George W. Bush mostly, and the Republican leadership to a lesser degree.

"McCain Version 2008" was not a very powerful candidate, so it is pretty impressive he did as well as he did, especially after being counted out back in the primaries. I'm personally repulsed by the almost exclusive focus on negative campaigning that he did, but looking at the numbers only, we have to say he did pretty well, given the cards he drew. It's unlikely any other Republican candidate would have done any better. This election was probably more the democrat's to lose, and with Barack Obama's skillful campaign, they were able to stay out of their own way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beware Exit Polls- VOTE

Exit polls are notoriously inaccurate at predicting the winner of elections, as devastated Democrats know from the 2004 and 2000 elections. In 2004, exit polling showed John Kerry winning. In 2000, networks first announced Al Gore the winner, then Bush, and then at 4 a.m. then declared it was “too close to call” all based on exit polls.

There are many reasons for it, but one of the main ones is that, for some reason, Republicans are at least twice as likely as Democrats to refuse to be surveyed for an exit poll. One of those in charge of the 2004 polling fiasco later claimed that the discrepancy was because “Kerry voters were more anxious to participate in our exit polls than the Bush voters.” I could see the same thing happening this election.

So we have to do our best to wait until tomorrow morning to see where things stand. And, for heavens sake, do not let any early exit poll reports dissuade you from voting - GET OUT THERE AND CAST YOUR VOTE, regardless of who you're voting for.