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September 30, 2008

Why the Bailout Bill Really Failed

    All sorts of notions have been put forward as to why the bailout bill failed, with fingers pointed just about everywhere. But the real reason is a rather simple one. Under our constitutional scheme, Congress isn't designed to act that fast -- with the exception of a declaration of war. The idea that a Treasury Secretary could announce a crisis that no one can yet really see, come up with a plan that would largely give him enormous and unpreceented power to solve it, and that Congress would go along immediately was crazy. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a system where Congress would act deliberately, if at all. The remarkable thing wasn't that the bailout bill didn't pass; it's that it got 205 votes and almost did become law. That's not to say there isn't a real credit crunch that demands a solution. It's only that our system, for better or worse, isn't supposed to work in the way the proponents of this legislation wanted it to work. And, in fact, it didn't.                                                                                                            








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by Steven Stark | with 1 comment(s)
September 29, 2008

No Deal and Market Tanks Which Means More Bad News for McCain

      As long as the economy remains center focus, the McCain effort marches backwards. And the failure of the bill to pass does make one wonder how many arms he was able to twist while taking his celebrated break from the campaign.

       The hunch here is that there will eventually be a bill. But probably not fast enough to rescue McCain, who now really needs a stalwart performance from Sarah Palin Thursday to begin to change the tide. Good luck!


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by Steven Stark | with 1 comment(s)
September 26, 2008

No Surprises in the Debate Probably Means Good News for Obama

Briefly, Barack Obama was composed and presidential throughout and may have convinced some voters concerned about his inexperience that he's prepared for the presidency. John McCain had a lackluster start -- when the topic was the economy -- but got better as the debate progressed when the topics turned to foreign policy and he could argue Obama was too naive and untested to be president. Interestingly, McCain usually seemed animated only when he could discuss military policy, though he had Obama on the defensive in the last 30 minutes on issues such as Iran and Russia. To the extent there was a key difference voters may remember, it will be each candidate's respective position on Iraq, and McCain has to hope that the electorate agrees with him.

All in all, there were few memorable moments and it's hard to see how this debate changed much in the dynamic of the race. Which, given Obama's current lead, is likely good news for his campaign.


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by Steven Stark | with no comments
September 26, 2008

Simply Put, McCain Needs A Clear-Cut Better Performance Than Obama Tonight to Remain Viable

     The McCain campaign is in trouble. The economy's woes have hit his efforts badly -- as voters have simply revolted against anything that reminds them of the incumbent -- and his impulsive behavior over the past week, while it can be defended, could well raise the question in many voters' minds whether McCain even has the right temperament to be president. Simply put, in a crisis Barack Obama has been far more presidential.

     What's just as bad is that Sarah Palin is doing him no favors on the stump -- so much so that conservative columnist Kathleen Parker today asked for her to resign for the good of the ticket.

     So McCain must be more than the equal of Obama tonight to get his campaign back on track. Then Palin must do the same on Thursday. Otherwise, McCain is looking at a campaign that could well be lost with a month to go before Election Day.

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by Steven Stark | with no comments
September 26, 2008

Guest Host Blogger Jennifer Lorenzo: More on the Debates (Additions to Odium at the Podium)

How the candidates address one another.  Michael Dukakis, in his 1988 debates with George H. W. Bush, almost always referred to the latter as "Mr. Vice President" while Bush referred to Dukakis only as "my opponent."  Can't recall Bush addressing Dukakis by his name or his title as governor.  Dukakis, while socially correct, inadvertently reminded the viewer of Bush having something of an exalted title.  Bush intentionally belittled Dukakis as being virtually nameless.

Undue familiarity.  Joe Biden is using Kathleen Sebelius as a stand-in for Sarah Palin during his debate prep.  How will Joe's tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures toward Sarah come across to the viewer?  Will he talk down to her as many maintained George H. W. Bush did to Geraldine Ferraro in their 1984 VP debate?  Will he let fly a "You're likable enough, Hillary" -type comment as Barack Obama lobbed to Hillary Clinton during a debate?  With Biden's tendency to meander, could be interesting.  Mondale and Ferraro hardly touched one another throughout the 1984 campaign.  If memory serves, at the conclusion, Walter hugged Geraldine.

Body language.  Bush and Dukakis again.  Bush appeared more animated and relaxed than Dukakis whose most animated gesture would be to extend his fingers in some sort of mini-hand chop.

Body language - hands.  John F. Kennedy has retired the title as being the most effective hand chop user out there.

Podium height.  John Kerry, at 6'4," was significantly taller than George W. Bush, height estimated at 5'9" or thereabouts.  While Kerry looked fine at the podium height used for their first 2004 debate, Bush appeared dwarfed.  The podium heights were adjusted for subsequent debates.

Helping out the other guy.  Dukakis and Bush, again.  As I recall, their first debate was held on September 7, 1988.  Bush began his remarks by referencing Pearl Harbor Day (December 7).  Dukakis politely corrected him about the date. Bush proceeded without acknowledging Dukakis.  Can't recall whether Carter was so disposed to help Ford when, as noted in your column, he misidentified Poland's government.

So-o-o-o, we await the '08 debates.  Provided, of course, that Johnny Mac has a note from Mr. Paulson that he can come out and play.

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by Steven Stark | with no comments
September 25, 2008

Is McCain's Campaign Moratorium Working?

The answer, at least for now, appears to be yes, as the polls have begun to move back the other way. Maybe it's just the natural ebb and flow of public opinion. Maybe it's because a financial deal looks close and fear may be subsiding.

Or maybe McCain has impressed enough members of the public (say 1 in a 100) to move the polls back in his direction a little. 

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by Steven Stark | with no comments
September 25, 2008

The Economic Crisis Pushes Obama Into Strong Lead in the Polls

    Right now, the polls are showing blow-out numbers for Barack Obama, with leads even in states such as North Carolina. If it holds up, he wins big. John McCain essentially has to change the dynamic of the race now -- both by hoping the economic situation settles down considerably over the next three weeks and through his debate performances.

     If we could switch the odds in the paper as of today, we would, Obama is the current favorite.

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by Steven Stark | with 1 comment(s)
September 24, 2008

Guest Host Blogger Matthew Sawh: Chattering Class and Campaigns Finally Forced to Meet the Main Street Meltdown?

 Last week's financial fright-fest has forced the punditocracy to realize and to discuss what most Americans have felt for a long time.  Long before these past two weeks, Gallup did a poll about the differing perceptions of the economy sorted by state. Daniel Brook's (highly-recommended) book The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take All America details the coarsening of our culture through economics in painful, frustrating, and furious detail. In particular, a striking quote comes from Margaret Thatcher. She said, 'economics are the method; the object is to change the soul. ‘ Although she meant it very differently, we need to cleanse our souls.  
Many Americans have come to resent the moral poverty borne out of the unbalanced job market. These choices have come out of the vast economic changes of the past generation. Some, like globalization were quite unstoppable. Others like off-shoring for shareholders and refund checks were the crudest examples of our cultural excess. I have no problem with tax cuts, I have a problem with the federal government passing the buck (or six-hundred) to shrug its shoulders and proclaim impotence.   
We have a real public-sector crisis, in so many words (and as Brook demonstrates). Public-sector professional salaries of teachers (for example) have declined relative to those of lawyers and investment bankers (who perform a necessary, important and valuable function).   Obama's discussion of Main Street regarding foreclosures is nice. McCain's comments about Chairman Cox are troubling. But both are missing the real, existential point of this crisis and, the corresponding opportunity to lead.
John Edwards embodies the trouble with leading. First, he was a phony. As a Senator, he opposed nearly everything he later supported as a presidential candidate. This most centrist of the DLC Senate Democrats prioritized  posture over policy.
Yet, some of his hollowness serves as an apt metaphor for the defects of our politics. In order to have the money to have a platform to push for populism, Edwards needed the clout and connections from being a trial lawyer. Once he tried to be a populist, critics pointed to this difference between his rhetoric and his biography. One must do well before doing good these days (a point made by Brook). To his credit, the economic populism debate he invited the elites to join also helped pave the way for GOP populist Mike Huckabee in and beyond Iowa.    

Both candidates of economic populism have failed in this cycle.  What does this mean for Obama and McCain?

There is a real opening for a very important debate about American identity in this economy: What do we as society want to promote?  We may have separation of church and state, but, even now, in this jaundiced and jaded age, politicians are still our high priests.   

We desperately need to talk about American values and,where we are going to invest as a society. 
We need to discuss how people can harness their specialized talents towards a public or non-profit good. We need to discuss how people can better connect their faith to their everyday lives. We need to discuss how folks feel when they have to take jobs they hate or, don't believe in, to get by.
McCain wants to talk about patriotism? Where is the US Public Service Academy? Obama wants to talk about Main Street? Where is his plan for the people who have been gutted by this economy? What about the people who have lost their guaranteed pension plan and, didn't know about 401k plans?
The Mainstream Media is reading the symptoms well, but, they are failing to diagnose the real issue at play: the spiritual crisis which underwrote and underlined the financial crisis.
The Bush Years have been marked by a set of values crises: What does it mean to be an American after 9/11?; what marks a patriot?; what defines 'success,' be it in terms of a career or, in Iraq; How to be a mother and a career woman?  
Many of these questions are not new, but they require new solutions. What brackets these crises together is that at no point in the past seven years did President Bush succeed in narrowing the dividing line between left and right on these issues. That is where all Americans wanted him to most succeed and where he failed most miserably. It is where the next president needs to begin.  
Most important, though, the balance between corporate profits and corporate responsibility is a defining issue --just like the difference in compensation between the public and private sectors.  
We never resolved this after the 2002 Enron debacle. Six years later, Wall Street has been caught again. We need to have a serious conversation including all ideological viewpoints and constituents to try to come to some sort of redefining and restructuring of America's capitalist economy.  Sure, iit will be about how to fit manufacturing sector employees elsewhere, but, it also needs to be about so much more than that.
We need a worker's bill of rights. We need a set of corporate duties and obligations which are not just legal, but, ethically-minded. We need a shift from 'this won't be punished' to, 'this will be positively encouraged.” I applaud the corporate social responsibility leaders on this front.

We need to better value the public sector vis-à-vis the private sector. We need the private sector to better reward ethical and managerial excellence over sheer performance.
The media is busy dramatizing the crisis but n so doing, it misses the crucial point. Our economy is demonstrating (now for white-collar workers) the limits of Reaganomic capitalism. (The drawbacks for blue-collar workers were long since shown.) 
As evidenced by numerous polls, the American people are spiritually and materially frustrated with its rigidity as well.
We need this message to be received by the presidential campaigns. Then, we will see who is listening to us, even if they are not leading us.

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by Steven Stark | with 3 comment(s)
September 24, 2008

McCain Becomes the Statesman

      Yesterday, we posted an item, urging the candidates to take a step away from their political roles and deal with the financial crisis as true leaders. One of the candidates is doing that. Unfortunately (and we write this as an Obama partisan), it's John McCain who has suspended his campaign and headed to Washington, even asking that Friday night's debate be postponed. (Obama refused.)

      This isn't only good statesmanship; it's great politics. In a year in which both candidates are claiming that they will govern in a new fashion, "above politics," this week it's McCain who's not only talking the talk, but, well, you know the rest. It also conveniently lowers his  expectations for Friday (he didn't have time to practice!) and has the potential to change the whole dynamic of the debate. Stay tuned.


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by Steven Stark | with 2 comment(s)
September 23, 2008

The Tote Board on WFNX

 An analysis of the race by the Tote Board.

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by Steven Stark | with 1 comment(s)
September 23, 2008

In A Crisis, Both Candidates Are Failing to Meet the Leadership Test

     The financial crisis has completely pushed the presidential campaign to the sidelines. But a lot of that is due to the failure of both candidates to address the situation adequately. As Congress debates a bill that will radically change the way the economy is structured -- and the extent to which the next president will be able to achieve even a portion of his goals -- both candidates continue to attack each other over trivialities. It's a pathetic sight.

    The proper thing for both John McCain and Barack Obama to do would be to suspend their campaigns and head to Washington to lead their parties and the nation in forging a solution. Instead, they head south for debate prep.

     Some leadership.

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by Steven Stark | with 2 comment(s)
September 22, 2008

Guest Host Blogger Jennifer Lorenzo on Sarah Palin and Religion

Isn't Sarah a bit of a hypocrite?  She claims to be a devout Christian yet her 17 years old daughter is  preggers.  Most young daughters of devout parents tend not to stray from their  parents' teachings and prohibitions.

The Alaska state legislature struggled  for some time with legalizing pot.  Finally permitted was the presence in the home of 4 ounces or less of marijuana.  A strong moral person would most likely object to any personal use and possession of a drug that is outlawed in most if not all the other 49 states.  Palin, as a mayor and as a governor, has been silent on this issue.

Where is the respect for animals when someone, such as Palin, takes to hunting and shooting wolves while riding in a plane?

I am not questioning her faith.  I am questioning her using her faith to manipulate approval and political support from the evangelical Christian community

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by Steven Stark | with 3 comment(s)
September 17, 2008

A Column Worth Reading

    This piece more than any other I've read in the last couple of weeks captures what I think has happened to the race and to Barack Obama's campaign. Here's hoping he gets the message.

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by Steven Stark | with 2 comment(s)
September 16, 2008

Guest Host Blogger Matthew Sawh: Barack's Opportunity Knocks


The total collapse of Lehman Brothers and, Bear Stearns and the near-collapse of AIG have brought the economy to the center of the national stage. This presents a wonderful opportunity for Hillary, Bill and Barack all at once.

Senator Obama should ask the Clintons to appear in an ad together on his behalf.  I have tried to capture the verbal tics of each Clinton in this suggested script focusing on the economy:

Obama Ad Suggestion: 'Sense on Cents'

[Sitting around a kitchen table while the old music reminiscent of the 1994 Harry and Louise ads plays in the background as a slightly aged kitsch couple; Bill and Hillary are sitting at their kitchen table]

Bill: You may not have liked everything I did in the Nineties

Hill: Even I didn't like *everything*, Bill [nudging the camera slyly, hinting about Monica]

Bill: But, you know, one thing almost everybody liked about my administration was that we had a great economy. That was because we had the courage to change from the failed trickle-down policies of Republicans like George Bush. Now we've heard that word 'change' being bandied about in this campaign a lot.   We've done it.  
Hillary: If John McCain were really the change candidate, where was he in 2006 and 2007 when we needed him on crucial votes like health care for children? As I remember the past two years, things did change, but, not for the better.
 You know, I believe very strongly that we need an experienced president. But, as Bill said in 1992, you need the right kind of experience.   Senator Obama has fought for the same ideals and ideas which I have committed my life to and, Senator McCain has consistently fought for the Bush agenda.

Bill: John McCain is ten years older than I am. Now, I'm still young, but, how much change can a seventy-two year old who has spent 26 years in Washington bring?   How can the man who can't even check his e-mail lead the global economy?
Bill and Hillary: Take it from the two people who know what it takes to clean up after a Bush: Vote for Barack

Bill:  He'll bring us back to Hope.  

Hill: Bill, don't push it

How this helps Bill: This bolsters Bill's credentials in the face of critics who believe he played the race card in discussing his candidacy after South Carolina and, it would be quite a fence-mender to the African-American community. Concurrently, he would get to talk about his well-deserved record of economic growth in the nineties and, in-so doing, polish his legacy a bit.

How this helps Hillary: This elevates Hillary Clinton as heir to the Clinton legacy. The link which was asserted by Team Hillary was never conclusively sold to the public.  More importantly, it extends the Clinton legacy as a single entity into the future. In other words, it positions her extremely well to be both the change that people are seeking and, to be the voice of reasoned and tempered experience. That's why that last line is so key. It re-establishes her as the voice of reasoned experience as she was in the primary. It fortifies her against blowback from the GOP quoting her primary speeches and, it is an olive branch to the Obamicans.  

How this helps Obama: The fact is that only one president most Americans remember has the standing to make an effective ad.  George W. Bush has no standing to do so. There is no GOP counterpunch here.  The race then becomes one about a former president rebuking a current presidential candidate. There will be some tongue wagging from the Broderites, but it will work.  How better to make this about the economy and McCain's lack of economic preparation?

The reason the Paris and Britney ads were so effective was because it was a novel concept and, it raised the specter of the two subjects the media most loves: celebrities and, a political fight. A sizable percentage of journalists don't have the policy expertise to walk the American people through the issues so, they walk them through the fights.  We also know that the corporate media is always concerned with ratings. How better to play to both factors?

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by Steven Stark | with 5 comment(s)
September 05, 2008

39 Million Watched McCain Last Night, Exceeding Obama's Total

     John McCain's speech last night drew an audience of 39 million, surpassing Barack Obama's tremendous audience of the week before by about a million. As noted earlier, we didn't give the speech particularly high marks and undoubtedly, an NFL lead-in on NBC helped the totals.

    But 39 million is a lot of people. Look for a McCain bounce over the next few days that could well put him in the lead in the polls for the first time in a long time.

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by Steven Stark | with 38 comment(s)
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