Thursday, October 02, 2008

More debate toons

Tonight's debate is must-see teevee

"It used to be you'd ask your buddy, 'Where are you watching the game?' " said Armando Walle, Democratic state representative candidate in District 140. "Now it's, 'Where are you going to watch the debate?' " ...

(Last) Friday, an estimated 52.4 million Americans tuned in to watch the McCain-Obama debate — and Thursday night's crowd could be larger.

Traditionally, Thursday is a good night to watch TV; Friday is not. Besides, last week, nobody but McCain knew if he was even going to show up. Also, there's the allure of seeing a potential train wreck.

Ah yes. Train wreck or smackdown. Possibly both, and potentially for either player.

It may be the ugly side of human nature, but regular Americans, political pundits and academics who make their living dissecting just such media events can hardly wait.

"There was some underestimation of how much this election will become the mini-series of the season," said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's been the most exciting TV on, from the beginning of year till now."

He figures Palin will try to get through the debate by memorizing eight or nine mini-speeches. If she can do that successfully, he said, the 90 minutes will be as boring as some people deemed last Friday's debate. "The only chance for anything interesting is if the moderator, Gwen Ifill, can ask her questions that can't be answered with a push of the button and recitation," Thompson said.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said he's heard Palin's debate preparations haven't gone so well.

"It's asking a tremendous amount from a former mayor of Wasilla and a governor of less than two years to get up to speed on foreign and domestic policies," Jillson said. "Even if she is really talented."

Thompson will be glued to his TV set, but with low expectations.

"Is Palin even competent to run for this office?" he asked. "She is making (former vice president) Dan Quayle sound like a Rhodes scholar."

The only thing that reverses the slide and gets the GOP back in the game is a gaffe-free Palin and a gaffe-filled Biden. What are the odds of that occurence?

And what do our locals have to say?

City Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck will be rooting for Palin.

"I think she's terrific, and I'm real excited about her," Clutterbuck said. "She's been involved and successful in local government, and I recognize the dedication and hard work that goes into that. ... You don't have to be in Washington all your career to be a competent leader."

Peggy Hamric, a former GOP state representative, will be rooting for Palin, too.

"She's just a breath of fresh air," Hamric said. "Palin's a typical American woman. She's Main Street."

Political scientists doubt Democratic women, even disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters, will cross party lines to vote for Palin.

While Clutterbuck and Hamric hope they're wrong, Sissy Farenthold, a lifelong feminist, says she won't be voting her gender. She thinks not only that Palin has poor judgment, but that McCain exhibited poor judgment in selecting her as his VP. "He wanted to invigorate the conservative base, and he thought he might appeal to women," Farenthold said. "All I can believe is that he's not thinking about governance, he's not thinking about the issues. The whole thing is just amazing to me."

We're going out to watch it with a large group of people somewhere. I like to gauge the reaction of others, even those with whom I am simpatico. Last week I was increasingly incensed as Obama played nice to McLame's nasty, complimenting him, saying "Senator McCain is exactly right about ..." about four times too many, and generally not doing what I thought he should do, which was bust the old man in the mouth. He threw a few elbows and a couple of left jabs, yeah, but not nearly enough counter-punching to suit me. Turns out I was mistaken about how that would be perceived by the majority, however.

Biden cannot do anything aggressive at all toward his overmatched counterpart. He must be direct, deferential, keep the focus on the Republican standard-bearer's shortcomings, and when Ms. Palin trips and falls, stand quietly. Hell, maybe he should even help her up.

I just hope there aren't too many cringe-worthy moments. For either person.

Bailout Burger, extra bacon, cut the taxes

The new bill, which is over 400 pages, is full of random tax cuts (e.g., property tax deductions for people who don't itemize), which is sure to please some conservative House Republicans and infuriate Democrats who think cutting taxes without cutting spending is irresponsible. It is also full of pork designed to please both Democrats (requiring insurance companies to cover mental health) and Republicans ($3 billion for rural schools). It is likely that the number of Republicans gained in the House vote will exceed the number of Democrats lost by more than 13 and the bill will probably pass the House tomorrow. Everybody was too busy adding pork to question the basic premise of whether giving former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson $250 billion immediately to help out his friends on Wall St. as he sees fit is a good idea.

So with public sentiment running so strongly against it, will tenuous Republican Senators on the ballot next month -- like John Cornhole, Saxby Chambliss, Norm Coleman, Ted Stevens and John Sununu -- pay a price for their support of the bill?

Update: Indeed he is losing the wingnuts. More at the LST here and here (read the comments).

What 2 Watch 4 in Da House: how many Blue Dogs jump off the bus. Pay particularly close attention to those in tight races, like Nick Lampson for example. And if endangered GOP Congresscritters like John Cumbersome vote for the bill, I say that would be the final nail in his coffin. (He won't.)

Update II: The Blue Dogs get the shaft. Ha ha.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Congress chats, markets take off

Not the credit markets, though.

On Monday, the Dow Jones index plunged 778 points but yesterday it soared 485 points even though nothing changed. One of the fundamental concepts of economic theory is that markets accurately reflect the actual value of the item being traded. But it is hard to believe that the true value of companies as solid as Boeing, Disney, Pfizer, and Wal-Mart can change by nearly 10% in a few hours.

The Senate is likely to vote on a revised bailout bill today. It will probably have sweeteners for various groups, such as an expanded FDIC limit to protect depositors and make them less likely to cause a run on a bank. Such a bill, however, may draw new opposition in the House. Didn't Abraham Lincoln say something like: "You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time"? This bill is definitely not going to please all of the people. It is being microscopically crafted to please 51 senators (or 50 senators plus Dick Cheney) and 218 representatives. But other plans are being circulated. For example, billionaire George Soros is floating a plan in which the treasury would recapitalize the failing banks by having them issue new stock that the government would buy at the market price. This scheme means that the stockholders of failing banks would have their stock watered down but the stockholders in banks that don't need assistance would be unaffected. Various alternative plans are also being suggested and opposition to it is still strong among conservatives.

A pretty fair assessment by The Votemaster there. While Congress dithers, the economy burns. Here's an observation from one sector, automobile sales: people with good credit scores are being offered car loans at 9 and 10 percent, while nearly no one else is getting financed at all:

“It frankly has become a nightmare for dealers and consumers who need a vehicle,” said Art Spinella, CNW’s president. “This is the worst we have seen it since we’ve been tracking it since 1984.” ...

But Mark LaNeve, head of North American sales for General Motors, estimates that G.M. is losing 10,000 to 12,000 sales a month because of tighter lending practices.

“It’s a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gas,” said James Press, a Chrysler vice chairman. “We have buyers coming in, but they can’t get a loan.”

Detroit is bracing for particularly bad sales numbers for September. According to estimates from, Chrysler sales may be down as much as 36 percent, G.M.’s may drop 23 percent, and Ford Motor Company sales could be down 25 percent.

Even Japanese automakers, which specialize in fuel-efficient smaller cars, are expected to record a rough month, with Toyota projected to be down by 17 percent and Nissan by 11 percent.

Last week the largest association of Chevrolet dealers in the country, Bill Heard Enterprises, shuttered its dealerships including its 7th-largest-in-the-nation Landmark Chevrolet in Houston.

And we all look forward to what October -- one of the historically worst months for the markets, and business overall -- will bring.