Sunday, September 28, 2008

Israelis for Obama Video

Jewish people need to know that Barack Obama enjoys significant support not just from Jews here in America, but from Israelis themselves. This short video, recently sent to me by a community leader in South Florida, was created by the group "Israelis For Obama," and features testimonials from a wide range of Israelis, from politicians and army officials to ordinary citizens, liberal and conservative, young and old, about why they hope Barack Obama will be elected the next president of the United States. These Israelis know that Obama is committed to Israel's security, and that he will work to bring all the parties together in the interest of creating peace in the region.

Watch the Video here!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day of Action for National Service: This Saturday!

Tomorrow, September 27th, people across the country will be coming together "to demonstrate the impact that service has – and could have - upon our country and the power of citizens to create large scale change." There will be 2700 events in all 50 states. I can think of no better way to realize the values I wrote of in my last post then to take a few hours out of your day on Saturday to stand up for service and be a part of the movement that is transforming the way people think about government and giving millions of Americans an opportunity to give back to the country that has given them so much.

I am currently on my way to Washington, DC where I will be participating in the Day of Action at Freedom Plaza tomorrow from 6-8 pm. This event, titled "ignite the Fire for Service," will be from 6-8 p.m. and promises to be entertaining, informative, and inspiring. My best friend, Joshua Kaller, has been organizing this event for the past five months, and I know he has done an amazing job to put together a day of action that will be powerful. I'll be helping out onstage during the festivities, so keep a lookout for me!

Please go to to find out more about this and the hundreds of other events that are going on tomorrow all over the country. Hopefully, I'll see you there!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Small Town Values: They're Not What You Think They Are

"She's from a small town with small-town values." — Fred Thompson, convention speech

We keep hearing a lot about “small town values” in this campaign. At the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago, you could hardly go more than a few minutes without someone referring to those “small town values” that make America great and that are embodied by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. As I’ve reflected on this phenomenon this week, I have been asking myself, “what exactly do we mean by ‘small town values?’” What are these values, and are they somehow different from, and superior to, “big town” or “city” values, their seemingly obvious counterpart? It may come to surprise you that I’ve come to the conclusion that small town values are the values that make America great, but not in the way you might expect.

During the RNC, the Daily Show sent its correspondents down to the convention floor to ask delegates to explain what exactly they meant by “small town values.” The response was mostly a meaningless mash of platitudes with little real meaning: small town values were described as “common sense,” and "real values;" delegates offered up "fishing," "1950's America," and perhaps the only substantive issues were "church" and "traditional marriage." Small town values have become part of the Republican rallying point for their renewal of the culture wars that have dominated our politics since the 1960s and which Barack Obama threatens to cast aside once and for all. By changing the discussion of this election from one about issues, the future, and the great challenges we face as a people, the Republicans spent their time trying to recast the election in the same comfortable terms they have used to win election and after election. Small town values became a flash point for this cultural divide, which is why it is all the more important that we closely examine this concept for what it is really worth.

To define small town values, I first want to talk about all the things they aren't, or shouldn't be. They aren't a cover word for racism, intolerance and homophobia. Too often, I believe "small town values" are meant to connote homogeneity. What people really mean when they talk about "small town values" is they desire a return to an idealized past when all people in the community looked the same, went to the same church, did the same things on the weekends; in short, an America defined not by its diversity, but by its conformity; a consumer driven, cookie cutter, segregated country of neatly manicured lawns and white picket fences. In this idealized world, communities are free from the terrors of crime, drugs, and moral failure. People know their roles and accept them.

If there is a set of values behind this idealized world, they are not the values that define modern America. Nowhere in this set of values is there room for diversity, religious freedom, racial equality, or freedom of conscience. In this small town, everyone accepts the same "common sense," meaning that which the majority deems is correct. Minorities and their views are rendered invisible and intolerable. This conception of small town values is small and mean. It demeans the true character of small town values by making them about judgment, conformity and control. It debases the true meaning of small town values by using them as a wedge to drive people apart rather than a basis for coming together.

In my view, "small town values" means the values of a community of individuals that are aware of the challenges and struggles of their neighbors, and come together in good faith and compassion to assure that they are cared for to the best extent that the community can provide. My model for small town values is not the artificial world of "Leave it to Beaver" but the small shtetl's of my Jewish ancestors in Eastern Europe, or at least the idealized version of them. Obviously using this model has its deficiencies, for it uses as an example a homogenous social group that doesn't share the stresses and tensions of a diverse and multicultural society. Yet putting these concerns aside, it still has much to teach us. In the shtetl, it would be intolerable for a community member to lack the basics they need to survive. No matter their social class, the community would see to it that they be given an education from a young age and that they had food to eat and a place to sleep at night. If they were sick, the community would find a way to get them health care.

Small town values are values that recognize the value, integrity and importance of the life of every member of the community by virtue of the fact that they are a neighbor. In the small town, the duty to care for one another stems from a strong sense of community and of belonging to one place that is shared intimately by its members. They are values that do not allow us to turn away our eyes from hunger and homelessness in our streets. They implore us to be involved members of our communities, working to make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizen.

It is these values stressing faith and compassion in each other, shared purpose and shared responsibility, a sense of ourselves not simply as Jews or Christians of Muslims, or Whites or Blacks or Hispanics, but as Americans, as citizens of a one nation. It is a great nation and a large nation of nearly 300 million people, and yet it must be governed by small town values; values that focus on our connection with each other, that turn us all into neighbors in this great small town we call America. You can be born in a small town but lack "small town values" if you are brought up to care only about yourself, your narrow interests, and your bottom line. And you can grow up in the biggest city in the country, but if you have compassion for and faith in your fellow citizen and a sense of shared responsibility for your country, you may possess better "small town values" than a person from the nation's tiniest hamlet. Growing up in a small town doesn't show you have small town values. Most significantly, it is by serving your community that you show how much care and devotion you have to real "small town values."

When Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama for being a community organizer, in effect she was mocking the small town values that she herself claims to represent. Barack Obama is running for president on a campaign that represents the real small town values that should be guiding our nation forward - with policies that will strengthen working families and companies that create jobs in America, fight for health care for every American and recognize our responsibilities to each other and by extension the rest of the world. When Barack Obama worked in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago helping people find jobs and services to help them take care of themselves and their families, he embodied the small town values that do make America great - and he did it in one of the biggest cities in America. Small town values aren't only for small towns. They can exist anywhere, because they are values that inform a politics and worldview that transcends the narrow confines of the small town, and they MUST do that if America is to grow stronger, united and more peaceful in the years to come.

So thank you, Sarah Palin, for reminding us that small town values are crucially important in this election. But let us now realize that it is the Democratic party, led by Barack Obama, that promises to actually use real small town values to improve our nation, our communities, and our world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Polls! Obama UP

Today's Washington Post has Obama up by nine points nationwide with 52% of people saying they will vote for him in the presidential elections. It will be very interesting to see what effect the debate has on these numbers next week. In the meantime, it looks like the economy is taking its toll on John McCain, whose naked hypocrisy on issues like deregulation is making voters realize he is not the man to lead our country through this economic crisis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cash for Trash

I think Congress needs to take a deep breath and really more closely analyze this $700 billion Bush Bailout plan before they vote to give away so much taxpayer money. Krugman makes a fine argument for why this is the case in this article in yesterday's New York Times. I happen to agree; what do you think?

September 22, 2008
Cash for Trash

Some skeptics are calling Henry Paulson’s $700 billion rescue plan for the U.S. financial system “cash for trash.” Others are calling the proposed legislation the Authorization for Use of Financial Force, after the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the infamous bill that gave the Bush administration the green light to invade Iraq.

There’s justice in the gibes. Everyone agrees that something major must be done. But Mr. Paulson is demanding extraordinary power for himself — and for his successor — to deploy taxpayers’ money on behalf of a plan that, as far as I can see, doesn’t make sense.

Some are saying that we should simply trust Mr. Paulson, because he’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing. But that’s only half true: he is a smart guy, but what, exactly, in the experience of the past year and a half — a period during which Mr. Paulson repeatedly declared the financial crisis “contained,” and then offered a series of unsuccessful fixes — justifies the belief that he knows what he’s doing? He’s making it up as he goes along, just like the rest of us.

So let’s try to think this through for ourselves. I have a four-step view of the financial crisis:

1. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to a surge in defaults and foreclosures, which in turn has led to a plunge in the prices of mortgage-backed securities — assets whose value ultimately comes from mortgage payments.

2. These financial losses have left many financial institutions with too little capital — too few assets compared with their debt. This problem is especially severe because everyone took on so much debt during the bubble years.

3. Because financial institutions have too little capital relative to their debt, they haven’t been able or willing to provide the credit the economy needs.

4. Financial institutions have been trying to pay down their debt by selling assets, including those mortgage-backed securities, but this drives asset prices down and makes their financial position even worse. This vicious circle is what some call the “paradox of deleveraging.”

The Paulson plan calls for the federal government to buy up $700 billion worth of troubled assets, mainly mortgage-backed securities. How does this resolve the crisis?

Well, it might — might — break the vicious circle of deleveraging, step 4 in my capsule description. Even that isn’t clear: the prices of many assets, not just those the Treasury proposes to buy, are under pressure. And even if the vicious circle is limited, the financial system will still be crippled by inadequate capital.

Or rather, it will be crippled by inadequate capital unless the federal government hugely overpays for the assets it buys, giving financial firms — and their stockholders and executives — a giant windfall at taxpayer expense. Did I mention that I’m not happy with this plan?

The logic of the crisis seems to call for an intervention, not at step 4, but at step 2: the financial system needs more capital. And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to — a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

That’s what happened in the savings and loan crisis: the feds took over ownership of the bad banks, not just their bad assets. It’s also what happened with Fannie and Freddie. (And by the way, that rescue has done what it was supposed to. Mortgage interest rates have come down sharply since the federal takeover.)

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a “clean” plan. “Clean,” in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached — no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review “by any court of law or any administrative agency,” and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.

I’m aware that Congress is under enormous pressure to agree to the Paulson plan in the next few days, with at most a few modifications that make it slightly less bad. Basically, after having spent a year and a half telling everyone that things were under control, the Bush administration says that the sky is falling, and that to save the world we have to do exactly what it says now now now.

But I’d urge Congress to pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and try to seriously rework the structure of the plan, making it a plan that addresses the real problem. Don’t let yourself be railroaded — if this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Monday, September 22, 2008

How We Got Into This Mess

The lead story at at The Nation today is a revelatory article that examines the pattern of Republican-led deregulation of the financial markets over the last 20 odd years, and how it has led directly to the current crisis we are now facing. I believe this is an important read for anyone trying to get an understanding of what is happening to our economy, and why.

Three Times is Enemy Action
by Mark Sumner

Sun Sep 21, 2008

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action."
-- Auric Goldfinger

James Bond's wealthy nemesis may have had an obsession with gold, but he judged, quite correctly, that if people keep putting your plans awry, that was likely their intent.

In 1982, the same year John McCain entered the Senate, a bill was put forward that would substantially deregulate the Savings and Loan industry. The Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act was an initiative of the Reagan administration, and was largely authored by lobbyists for the S&L industry -- including John McCain's warm-up speaker at the convention, Fred Thompson. The official description of the bill was "An act to revitalize the housing industry by strengthening the financial stability of home mortgage lending institutions and ensuring the availability of home mortgage loans." Considering where things stand in 2008, that may sound dubious. It should.

Seven years later, the S&L industry was collapsing. What was the cause? Garn-St. Germain handed the S&Ls a greatly expanded range of capabilities, allowing them to go head to head with full service banks, but it didn't give them the bank's regulations. Left to operate in an anarchistic gray area, S&Ls chased profits, indulged in amazing extravagances, and cranked out enough cheap mortgages to fuel a real estate boom. They also experimented with lots of complex, creative -- and risky -- investments, even though they didn't have the economic models to really determine the worth of the things they were buying. The result was a mountain of bad debts and worthless "assets." Does any of that sound eerily (or nauseatingly) familiar?

It wasn't a foregone conclusion. In 1985, three years after the deregulation of the S&Ls, the chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board saw that the situation was already looking shaky, with the potential to become much worse. He instituted a rule to limit the amounts and types of investments S&Ls could carry on their books in an effort to head off disaster. However, many savings and loans -- among them Lincoln Savings & Loan Association of Irvine, CA, which was headed by a fellow named Charles Keating -- promptly ignored these rules.

Now enters a familiar cast of characters. First to pop up was the universally beloved Fed-chief-to-be, Alan Greenspan. Greenspan argued against the loan board's new rules, and persuaded Reagan to appoint one of Keating's pals to the board to blunt the requirements. A quintet of senators, among them John McCain, began having meetings with both the management at Lincoln and the regulators at the loan board. ] Alan Greenspan also helped out with a letter to the regulators, asking that Lincoln be exempt from the new rules. With their help of Greenspan and their pet senators, Lincoln was able to stay in business an additional two years, at the end of which they failed -- taking the life savings of 21,000, mostly elderly, investors with them.

How involved was John McCain? McCain and Keating had known each other since 1981 and had become fast friends. Of all the "Keating Five," it was McCain who moved into the life of the Lincoln S&L chief. The two men vacationed together multiple times, with the whole McCain clan (babysitter included) heading out for Keating's private Caribbean property on Keating's private jet. McCain didn't think to actually report these trips, or pay for them, until the investigators were breathing down his neck. And McCain took his payment in the form of more than just vacations. Keating and other members of Lincoln's parent company padded McCain's pockets with $112,000 in campaign contributions.

In John McCain's biography, he called his meetings with Keating and regulators "the worst mistake of my life," though from the text you'd think this was a spur of the moment decision, not something that McCain did repeatedly over a space of years. Still, you might think that a "worst mistake" would stay fresh in his memory.

It certainly didn't fade quickly for the country. Following the S&L crisis, the Resolution Trust Company was formed to swallow up the debt of Lincoln and 746 other S&Ls gone wild, and taxpayers were left with the $125 billion bill. The resulting budget deficit forced cutbacks in other programs. The artificial real estate boom collapsed and housing starts fell to their lowest levels in decades. Finally, the whole nation settled in for a period nasty enough that three years later someone could still campaign around the idea "It's the economy, stupid."

Even so, by 1999 Phil Gramm -- who had entered the Senate two years after McCain and quickly become the economic guru of the Keating Five maverick -- put forward the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This Act passed out of the Senate on a party line vote with 100% Republican support, including that of John McCain. (To be fair, the bill eventually passed again with a wide margin following revisions in the House.)

This act repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act. This may sound like a bunch of Congressperson soup, but the gist of it is that Glass-Steagall was put in place in 1933 to control the rampant speculation that had helped cause the collapse of banking at the outset of the depression, and to prevent such consolidation of the banks that the nation had all its eggs in one fiscal basket.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley reversed those rules, allowing not only more bank mergers, but for banks to become directly involved in the stock market, bonds, and insurance. Remember the bit about how S&Ls failed because they didn't have the regulations that protected banks? After Gramm-Leach-Bliley, banks didn't have that protection either.

Gramm wasn't done. The next year he was back with the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which was slipped into a "must pass" spending bill on the last day of the 106th Congress. This Act greatly expanded the scope of futures trading, created new vehicles for speculation, and sheltered several investments from regulation.

As with both Gramm-Leach-Bliley and Garn-St. Germain, large parts of this bill were written by industry lobbyists. This famously included the "Enron Loophole" that exempted energy trading from regulation and was written by (big suprise) Enron Lobbyists working with Gramm. Not coincidentally, Senator Gramm, the second largest recipient of campaign contributions from Enron, was also key to legislating the deregulation of California's energy commodity trading.

Thanks to this fortunate trifecta of Gramm-crafted legislation, Enron was able to create "EnronOnline" and trade electricity in California with absolutely no oversight or transparency. They quickly worked out how to game the system. Previously, there had been only one Stage 3 rolling blackout in the history of California. Within months, the system had been manipulated by traders to generate 38 such blackouts and wholesale electrical prices had gone up more than 3000%. Despite production capacity equal to four times the demand during winter, energy traders even engineered a blackout in mid-January.

During the confusion of these deliberate "shortages" and "price spikes," the California administration of Gray Davis -- blind to speculator manipulations because of the walls erected by Gramm's legislation -- was forced to sign energy contracts at enormous rates. There was little choice, because most of California's public utilities were on the brink of bankruptcy from the rising wholesale prices.

In a single year, Gramm's legislation allowed speculators to bring the state to its knees. Enron alone looted California of $11 billion. The manipulations of the energy market were also a major factor in Davis getting the hook, helped usher the governator into power, and they still have repercussions in California's budget battles today. By the end of that year, the depth of Enron's deception could no longer be hidden, and the whole company came crashing down in the largest bankruptcy in history -- at the time. This brought more billions lost in mutual funds and pension funds across the country, and played a major role in the economic downturn of 2001.

But that was only the second act. The combination of Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was a toxic cocktail whose total damage was greater than the sum of its parts.

The first Act promoted bank buyouts and mergers that reached such an insane pitch that the average consumer could only keep up by tracking the changing names on their checks and credit cards. Mercantile buys Ameribanc and Mark Twain. Firstar buys Federated and First Colonial. US Bancorp buys Mercantile and Firstar. And, because it allowed brokerages and insurance companies to mingle with banks, the Act cemented a trend that was already (and illegally) underway in which all those terms had become rather quaint. Is Wachovia a savings bank, an investment bank, a brokerage, or an insurance provider? The answer is "yes."

In allowing financial institutions to grow to Godzilla-sized proportions, Gramm-Leach-Bliley helped ensure that we would have financial entities that were "too big to fail." Rather than choosing to enforce rules that kept these institutions apart, the deregulators chose to create monster bankeragasurances whose downfall (and existence) was enough to threaten the whole system.

But if Gramm-Leach-Bliley removed the limits on size and scope, these new institutions still needed fuel. With many financial transactions operating on razor thin margins, and increasing automation sapping the profits from trading of all sorts, they needed a new way to generate the funds required to swallow their brethren in the merged fiscal corporation pond. For that, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was a godsend.

Among those instruments which the CFMA sheltered from regulatory scrutiny was something called the "credit default swap." A kind of insurance one bank could exchange with another, credit default swaps supposedly made it safe for banks to take on ever riskier forms of debt. The Act didn't invent these swaps, though they were relatively new. Instead, by placing them in a state where they were not only unregulated but almost perfectly opaque, credit default swaps were turned into the perfect vehicle to fuel a Wall Street revolution. No one had any idea what these things were actually worth, they were traded "over the counter" without being administered by any exchange, and even the SEC could monitor their existence only indirectly.

Who would cheer for a new kind of financial instrument that was difficult to understand, invisible to regulators, and impossible for even the whizziest of Wall Street whiz kids to value? Guess.

More recently, instruments that are more complex and less transparent--such as credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and credit-linked notes--have been developed and their use has grown very rapidly in recent years. The result? Improved credit-risk management together with more and better risk-management tools appear to have significantly reduced loan concentrations in telecommunications and, indeed, other areas and the associated stress on banks and other financial institutions.
--Alan Greenspan, 2002

Get that? Greenspan loved credit default swaps. He opined again and again that such instruments would be the salvation of the industry by spreading around risks. To the mighty Greenspan, both their complexity and their lack of transparency were good things, since swaps would only be handled by the big boys who knew how to play with fire.

When questioned about his support of Gramm's legislation, John McCain called his friend (and by then, campaign co-chair) Gramm "one of the smartest people in the world on the economy" and pointed out that Greenspan also favored the acts Gramm and his coalition of lobbyists had authored. If both Gramm and Greenspan were on his side, McCain couldn't possibly be in the wrong.

Except, of course, that he could.

From the beginning, there were plenty of people in the financial community whose opinion of these unregulated credit swaps was not as rosy as that of Gramm, Greenspan, and McCain. Chief among those speaking in opposition was SEC Chairman, Arthur Levitt. Levitt argued that what the industry needed was more transparency, especially when it came to complex instruments like default swaps, and he testified to this before Gramm's Senate Banking Committee,.

"In my judgment, the risk of this regulatory approach is simply unacceptable for America's investors."
--Arthur Levitt, 1999

Gramm paid no attention.

Credit default swaps did allow the banks to share risks. So much so, that banks raced each other in an effort to find more risks. They made it possible for the down payment on homes to become 3%, 1%, 0%. Skip the credit check, avoid the employment requirements, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! We've got a credit default swap, we can do anything!

The encouragement and "safety" that credit default swaps provided made the sub-prime mortgage market possible. Just as with the deregulation of S&Ls in the 1980s, the market was suddenly flooded with easy credit. The result was a real estate boom, soaring home prices, and a plague of "Flip that House!" shows on cable.

As the banks piled up crappy mortgages, they heaped on ever more of the credit default swaps -- and they still had no idea how to value the things. Worse, they began to trade the swaps themselves as if they were an investment, treating them like something worth holding instead of a big bundle of cartoon bombs whose fuses were already lit. Since very few loans were falling into default at the time, owning a default swap seemed like a way to collect fees without ever paying out. Banks wanted more, and more, and more.

A secondary market for trading swaps exploded into existence, and swaps were traded with absolutely no consideration for the nature or quality of the underlying investment. Swaps changed hands a dozen or more times, growing in "value" as they went. Worse still, no one regulated who could buy a swap, so it was (and is) perfectly possible for a company to acquire swaps that theoretically cover billions of dollars in loans, even if that company doesn't have a red cent on hand to cover those swaps should the loans default.

How big did this market become? Here's business correspondent Bob Moon and host Kai Ryssdal on American Public Media's Marketplace from back in the spring.

BOB MOON: OK, I'm about to unload some numbers on you here, so I'll speak slowly so you can follow this.

The value of the entire U.S. Treasuries market: $4.5 trillion.

The value of the entire mortgage market: $7 trillion.

The size of the U.S. stock market: $22 trillion.

OK, you ready?

The size of the credit default swap market last year: $45 trillion.

KAI RYSSDAL: That's a lot of money, Bob.

As in three times the whole US gross domestic product, Bob. And the truth is that Moon probably underestimated. The unregulated and poorly reported credit default swaps may have actually passed $70 trillion last year, or about $5 trillion more than the GDP of the entire world.

So, are you starting to get an idea of just how big a genie Phil Gramm and his pals unleashed?

With some regularity over the last eight years, fiscal whistle blowers have tried to raise their hands and register a protest. Um, sirs? Is it altogether a good idea to run up debts exceeding all the assets it's even possible to hold? But so long as no one actually had to pay off on the swaps, the party went on. Even usually conservative (in the fiscal sense) companies like AIG started to worry that they were being left behind and leapt headlong into the swap pool.

Shortly after Greenspan's departure in 2006, the Federal Reserve took the unusual step of issued a joint statement along with the SEC to warn about the risks associated with credit default swaps. But by that point, the damage was already severe. If swaps lost their value, most of those who had played the game would find their giant firms abruptly valued in pocket change. The only solution was to cover the problem with still more swaps and keep moving.

Then a funny thing happened. After years in which banks had handed out loans willy-nilly, guarded by the indestructible swap, people and companies started to really default on those loans. Credit slowed, home prices fell, and the whole snake started to eat itself tail first. Suddenly, credit default swaps were not sources of limitless cash. It turns out that an insurance policy -- even a secret, unregulated policy -- is occasionally expected to pay. Speculators started to look at the paper they were holding and for the first time realized it could all be worthless. Worse, it could (and did) represent a massive debt; one that no one had the funds to cover.

When Bear Stearns fell apart last March, it was only suspected that a big part of the effort in saving the giant investment bank was keeping their holdings in credit default swaps from unraveling and spreading to other institutions. Naturally, part of solving this problem involved creating a new credit default swap to cover Bear Stearn's potential debt. But the all-purpose swap was starting to lose its power. Shortly after Bear Stearns went belly up, AIG reported the largest quarterly loss in the company's history, taking a $11 billion hit on revaluing its holdings of swaps. The party was definitely coming to a close.

When AIG finally collapsed this week, there was no doubt about the primary cause of its failure. The previously well grounded company had "gotten itself involved with something called credit default swaps." Point of irony alert: Arthur Levitt now serves on the AIG board... or at least he did until the government had to take over most of AIG to salvage the company from the very idiocy Levitt had warned of in 1999.

This week, the Bush administration announced the beginnings of a plan to salvage what remains of the financial markets. At first glance, it appears that the plan will consist mainly of creating a kind of "garbage pit," a fund or group of funds -- cousins of the Resolution Trust that was created during the S&L crisis -- into which those people who have dabbled in bad debts can toss their problems. Only this time the cost to the taxpayers is at least $700 billion... and a big bite out of representative democracy.

The expansion of unregulated Savings and Loans in the 1980s brought on the collapse of that industry, a crippling of the economy, and left taxpayers holding the bag. Maybe that was only happenstance. Those pushing for the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act may not have known what they were doing.

The deregulation of the California electricity market, along with the protections provided to Enron through Phil Gramm's lobbyist-written legislation brought blackouts, fiscal and political chaos, and left taxpayers holding the bag. But the people who engineered that event -- people like Gramm and Greenspan -- had already seen what happened with the S&Ls. They should have known better. Still, perhaps that was only coincidence.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that has not only come so close to utterly destroying the markets, but has ruined the value of many people's homes and left millions with mortgages they can't pay, was also the outcome of the deregulation created by these men. The very predictable outcome. When taxpayers are left holding the bag for $1 trillion this time around, it's hard to believe it's any sort of accident.

This is enemy action. This is a bullet deliberately fired into the economy by men willing to exercise their ideology regardless of the cost to taxpayers. Men who have every expectation that they can plunder the system again and again, while the public picks up the tab. John McCain may not have had his finger directly on the trigger, but he was there. He assisted. These were his personal friends and philosophical comrades. He may not be the high priest, but he has been a loyal acolyte in the cult of deregulation.

It may come as a surprise to the champions of deregulation, but nobody likes regulation. The restrictions that were placed on banks, S&Ls, and other institutions in the 1930s weren't put there because someone thought it would be fun. They were put in place because they addressed problems that had just been clearly and painfully revealed. They were put in place because they were necessary.

It's bad enough if John McCain didn't know that. It's far worse if he did.

Mark Your Calendar: Presidential Debates Coming Up

It's Monday, September 22nd, and we begin the week with a dramatic new financial landscape then existed just a few weeks ago. Lehman Brothers is gone; the government has bought out AIG Insurance, and the last two free-standing investment banking firms, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, have become bank holding companies subject to government regulation.

I won't pretend to know what the government should do about the financial crisis. I'm not an economist, and I possess no great expertise in this field. What I do know, however, is that there is a definite sense that Americans are looking for answers and solutions. That is why the upcoming debates between Obama and McCain will be so pivotal in the weeks to come.

This Friday, Obama and McCain will square off in the first of three debates in this electoral season. I am posting the debate schedule here so my readers can stay tuned and watch them live if they want.

September 26, 2008: Presidential debate with foreign policy focus, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS

October 2, 2008: Vice Presidential debate, Washington University, St. Louis, MO

October 7, 2008: Presidential debate in a town hall format, Belmont University, Nashville, TN

October 15, 2008: Presidential debate with domestic policy focus, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

Each debate will begin at 9pm eastern, 6pm pacific time and last for 90 minutes. They will be aired on every major broadcast network such as CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX. They will also be aired on cable outlets such as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and many others.

I encourage people to watch these debates, and to please come back and post your thoughts once they're done. I'll try to post my own analysis post-debates, but I am eager to hear what people out there are thinking.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WOOHOO! Fins Spank the Pats!!!

Oh man Oh man! I am pretty pumped. Now you'll notice I don't usually post about Sports, but this story is just so happiness inducing for me that it MUST be posted. Tonight, your Miami Dolphins have snapped the New England Patriots 21 regular season winning streak with a decisive win! My Dolphins did it baby! And they said it couldn't be done. New England Fans, I have only one thing to say to you: HA!

Posted on Sun, Sep. 21, 2008
Miami Dolphins upset Patriots on the road

The game plan was brilliant. The execution was flawless. And the result was stunning.
Arguably the greatest upset in team history, the Dolphins pounded the Patriots 38-13 on Sunday with an innovative offense and a suffocating defense that snapped New England's 21-game regular-season winning streak.

''I've never felt better,'' said owner Steven Ross, who acquired half ownership of the Dolphins this offseason from Wayne Huizenga. ``Nothing has felt better. You've got to get the first win. Hopefully, it's the first of many. They played so great.''

Running back Ronnie Brown was ferocious as he set a team record with four rushing touchdowns in the game, capitalizing on a plan that called for several direct snaps to Brown with Ricky Williams also in the game.

The unit looked more like a finely tuned spread offense of the collegiate sorts Sunday, as Brown even completed a touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano in the second half.

While Brown battered the Patriots' defense, quarterback Chad Pennington methodically picked away at New England's secondary, providing textbook offensive balance.

Pennington was precise and calculated. He completed 17 of his 20 passes for 226 yards.

On the defensive side of the football, the Dolphins were equally impressive. Linebacker Joey Porter, who said earlier this week that Miami would attack Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel as often as possible, led the storm of pressure.

Porter had two sacks in the first half, while rookie Phillip Merling added one. Defensive tackle Randy Starks also intercepted a pass that led to the Dolphins' first touchdown drive of the game.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Obama: Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace," says next-door neighbor Rabbi Wolfe

In continuing with yesterday's Israel theme, I present an article I read several months ago which was recently forwarded to me again by a person anxious to convince Jewish voters that Obama will be a great leader for the Jewish people and for Israel. The article is by Rabbi Wolfe, a neighbor of Obama's and a major leader of the Jewish community in Chicago and in New Haven where he served as the rabbi for Yale. You can see that the article comes from the leader of the Jewish Congregation across the street from Barak Obama's home in Chicago by checking out the website it came from. For those who say that they cannot vote for Barak because of his policies on Jews and Israel, here is one more example of how you are being misled by Internet lies. Please, if you are up to it, forward this to all your Jewish friends and acquaintances who oppose Barak Obama because they believe he is antisemitic, anti Israel and anti Zionism.

Also, on a personal note, today the blog went over its 2000th hit. Very exciting! Please make yourselves heard by commenting in comments sections after posts; I would love to hear what my readers think about the articles I post and the issues I raise.

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf
Special to the Jewish Week
Not everyone can claim to be the neighbor of a Presidential candidate - I can, though, because I am.

Barack Obama's Chicago home is across the street from KAM Isaiah Israel, the Hyde Park synagogue at which I've served for 27 years. He spoke to our congregation as an Illinois state senator; more recently, his Secret Service agents have made use of our, shall we say, facilities.

But it 's not neighborly instinct that's led me to support the Obama
candidacy: I support Barack Obama because he stands for what I believe, what our tradition demands.

We sometimes forget, but an integral part of that tradition is dialogue and a willingness to disagree. Certainly many who call me their rabbi have taken political positions far from mine - just as Barack Obama's opinions have differed from those of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

On March 18, the candidate gave a speech that made abundantly clear that he and Wright often disagree. Obama condemned Wright's "incendiary language," and "views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation."

Of course, race is only one issue on which Wright has stepped beyond the bounds of civil discourse. He's frequently made statements regarding Israel and the Jewish community that I find troubling. But to limit our understanding of Obama to the ill-conceived comments of the man who once led his church is dishonest and self-defeating.

Obama's strong positions on poverty and the climate, his early and
consistent opposition to the Iraq War, his commitment to ending the Darfur genocide - all these speak directly to Jewish concerns. If we're sidetracked by Wright's words, we'll be working against these interests. After all, a preacher speaks to a congregation, not for the congregation.

Many people remain concerned that Obama isn't committed to Israel . Some want him to fall in line behind the intransigent, conservative thinking that has silenced Jewish debate on Israeli policy and enabled the Bush Administration's criminal neglect of the diplomatic process.

Clearly, though, anyone who thinks Obama waffles on Israel hasn't been paying attention. In 2007, he spoke to AIPAC about "a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel ." Today, his website states clearly that America 's "first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel ."

For my part, I've sometimes found Obama too cautious on Israel . He, like all our polits, knows he mustn't stray too far from the conventional line, and that can be disappointing. But unlike anyone else on the stump, Obama has also made it clear that he'll broaden the dialogue. He knows what peace entails.

Speaking recently before a Jewish audience in Cleveland , Obama did the unthinkable - he challenged the room. He talked about the need to ask "difficult questions" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "I sat down with the head of Israeli security forces," he said "and his view of the
Palestinians was incredibly nuancedâ?&brkbar;. There's good and there's bad, and he was willing to say sometimes we make mistakesâ?&brkbar; and if we're just pressing down on the se folks constantly, without giving them some prospects for hope, that's not good for our security."

Yet, in spite of all of Obama's strengths, we've been loathe to admit a
difficult truth: Among some American Jews, race plays a key role in the
hesitation to support the Obama candidacy. We've forgotten that Black and Jewish America once shared a common vision. In the civil rights era, I and many in our community stood shoulder to shoulder with the giants of our generation, demanding freedom for all Americans.

Obama himself doesn't share our amnesia, however. "I would not be sitting here," he said in Cleveland , "if it were not for a whole host of Jewish Americans." That was literal truth, but not everyone remembers it.

I've worked with Obama for more than a decade, as has my son, a lawyer who represents children and people with disabilities. He has admired Obama's dedication and skill as he worked on issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Obama is no anti-Semite. He is not anti-Israel. He is one of our own, the one figure on the political scene who remembers our past, and has a real vision for repairing our present.

Barack Obama is brilliant and open-hearted; he is wiser and more thoughtful than his former minister. He offers what America , Israel , and the Jewish community need: a US President willing to ask hard questions, and grapple with difficult answer s.

I am very proud to be his neighbor. I hope someday to visit him in the White House.

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf is rabbi emeritus at Chicago 's KAM Isaiah Israel, Illinois 's oldest Jewish congregation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Kadima Elects Israel's Second Female Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni

Taking a (little) break from the presidential race for a moment, there is some other news that I think we all need to pay attention to.

In Israel, Ariel Sharon's Kadima party has chosen Tzipi Livni to be its second female prime-minister. Ms. Livni was the defense minister in the last government and was engaged in negotiations with the Palestinian leadership over the terms of a final peace agreement. Her election breathes some new life into the Israeli government and wipes away the cloud of corruption charges that spread a dark gloom over the last month's of her predecessor's administration. Hopefully, with Barack Obama as president, America and Israel will once again work closely to try and find a solution to the complicated issue that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Livni's victory as head of the ruling party help cut the despair among Israelis.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board
from the September 19, 2008 edition

With peace prospects in poor shape, Israelis might be ready for a new type of leader. Tzipi Livni, who was elected Wednesday to head Israel's ruling party, has led negotiations with the Palestinians. If anything, her optimism and an eagerness to clean up Israeli politics could cut the somber mood in the Middle East.

Like the stalemate itself between Israel and the Palestinians, Ms. Livni has a thin reed on which to build peace. She won the contest to head the Kadima party by a slim margin. Only about half of eligible voters cast ballots. In order to become prime minister, she must cobble together a coalition with other parties that hold very different ideas of Israel's future.

Not to pile on bad news, but there's also a cloud over her party. Is Kadima, which means forward in Hebrew, really committed to an independent Palestinian state?

Founded three years ago by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party split off from the right-wing Likud party over a recognition that Israel could not hold onto the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To keep a grip on a Palestinian population that would eventually outnumber Israelis was to accept a demographic time bomb and face a strategic disaster if more Arab states don't accept Israel. It would be better, the party reasoned, to let the Palestinians fend for themselves in limbo, build a border wall, and cope with any suicide bombers who slip through.

The first step in Kadima's new approach was withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. That backfired when the Islamic militant group Hamas took over, leaving the government on the West Bank, led by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, as a weak negotiating partner.

Compounding the problem was the political fragility of the current prime minister, Ehud Olmert. He bungled the 2006 war with Lebanon and is dogged by corruption charges. Under United States pressure, he revived talks for a two-state solution, trying to build on the failed Oslo accords of 1993.

The imperative for a peace deal remains even if both sides are in despair. Iran looms as a threat if it acquires nuclear-bomb capability. And Iran's friends – Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria – are in front-line positions to hurt Israel. The US is also eager for a Palestinian state to eliminate one more excuse for Al Qaeda to recruit terrorists.

Any of Israel's enemies might be quick to test Livni. She is cut from a different cloth than many past leaders, including the first female prime minister, Golda Meir. She comes from a super-nationalist family, served in the Army and as an intelligence agent, and then worked as a lawyer before entering politics in 1999. She's most admired for espousing clean politics.

Her popularity is needed to reengage Israelis in a search for peace and to find a new balance in Israel's splintered politics. As foreign minister, she's also been a serious negotiator with the Palestinians for more than a year. Her first goal if she becomes prime minister should be to achieve a consensus over compromises needed to cement peace. The Oslo Accords fell apart because they lacked wide support among Israelis and Palestinians.

Regional threats to Israel remain and Palestinians still deserve a homeland. Despite slim support, Livni brings hope of progress.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smears Lead to Smiles, As Supporters Unite!

A few days ago, my grandmother forwarded me another of the endless stream of inaccurate, lie filled email that have been circulating the internet regarding Barack Obama. She sends me this stuff when she gets it so I can be aware of what is being said and stay informed. This was a particularly egregious email, which claimed to be an article by Maureen Dowd. It accused Obama of, among other things, violating campaign contribution laws and significantly getting much if not most of his money from muslims in Saudia Arabia, Iran and the like.

Of course, I couldn't take this sitting down. I immediately drafted a letter clearing up the inaccuracies and setting the record straight (text below). I took the liberty of sending it out to the hundred or so email addresses it had gone to before reaching me.

I didn't expect a response, but almost immediately I received several emails from different people thanking me for putting things right and making sure people don't get these kind of smears without a response. One individual, a man from Colorado, was so kind in his remarks that I had to respond with a request for him to get more involved in the Obama Campaign. He assured me he is quite involved, and shared with me a story that I think you will find very inspiring.

I am taking the liberty of publishing this little exchange here on my blog because I believe it demonstrates the power of this campaign and how it really is fundamentally changing the way we interact with our government for the better.

His amazing story

Dear Adam,

Thanks for you kind and encouraging words. I too am a volunteer for Sen Obama and have contributed as much as I am able to his campaign, and work as hard as I can for him. Here in Colorado, Democrats realize our importance as a swing state In the upcoming election. I truly believe the turnout of Democrats on election day in our state will be enormous. Quickly I would like to share an interesting story. We are a caucus state here in Colorado and the night they were held was really amazing. I have been active in Democratic politics here my whole life and witnessed something that night that I have never seen before. My caucus was to start that night at 6:30 pm. I tried to be prudent and arrived about 45 minutes early and as I drove up I couldn't believe what I saw! A line that stretched at least 2 miles around the an enormous auditorium of a local community college and well on down the street. We couldn't get the caucus started till 10:00 pm because that's how long it took to get all the people checked in and into the building. The caucus goers attending were 10-1 in favor of Senator Obama. I have been to every caucus since my father would take me as a small boy in the late 60's and have never seen a turnout remotely close to that night. Having talked to friends who were at other caucuses , it was an identical situation. There is every reason to expect the same turnout for the general election. Colorado will come thru, of that I have no doubt. Thanks again for all your hard work and lets hope it all pays off on November 4th.

My response:

Wow! What an amazing story. You see, despite all the smears and negativity going around, it is moments like this, when Americans come together to show their patriotism and passion for democracy, when we transcend states and bridge generations, that I feel proud to be an American. I am a 23 year old law student, so while I have been very involved in politics also since a young age, I did not witness the struggles of your generation, and my parents generation. It feels really incredible that across boundaries of class, race, age, sex, sexual orientation, even party affiliation, Americans have a campaign they can come together around and feel proud to be a part of.

The original email, in response to the lying smear email:

Dear Friends,

Unsurprisingly, this email is blatantly false on several counts. I encourage you to try and find this particular article by Maureen Dowd on the NY Times Website. You won't... because it doesn't exist. Ms. Dowd never wrote this article, and with good reason: its claims are 100% untrue.

By law, only citizens of the United States are allowed to make donations to political campaigns. It is illegal and impossible for Muslim extremists from other countries to be making contributions to Obama's campaign, and if it were true you better believe it would be on the cover of every newspaper in the country.

Obama's campaign raised the largest amount of money ever this past month - $66 million - including contributions from 500,000 new donors. His campaign has received individual donations from over TWO MILLION american citizens. This is a stunning and revolutionary achievement in campaign financing. Instead of being beholden to the ultra rich and Political Action Committees and lobbyists- the people underwriting John McCain's campaign - Barack Obama is powered by the diffuse interests of ordinary Americans. The average campaign contribution to his campaign is only $68. Even poor people are giving $5 or $10 to this campaign because they know Barack Obama is a different kind of candidate who is going to represent US, the American People, and not the Special Interests in Washington DC.

I encourage people to be active participants in our democracy and not just believe every lie-filled email that comes their way.

Adam Schwartzbaum

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poll Numbers Looking Healthy Again for BO

Gallup Daily Tracking Poll: Obama 48, McCain 46
CBS/NYT: Obama 49, McCain 44
Daily Kos Daily Tracking Poll: Obama 48, McCain 44
Real Clear Politics: 45.7 - 45.7

September 18, 2008
Poll Finds McCain, in Tight Race, Is Still Tied to Bush

WASHINGTON — Despite an intense effort to distance himself from the way his party has done business in Washington, Senator John McCain is seen by voters as far less likely to bring change to Washington than Senator Barack Obama. Mr. McCain is widely viewed as a “typical Republican” who would continue or expand President Bush’s policies, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Polls taken after the Republican convention suggested that Mr. McCain had enjoyed a surge of support — particularly among white women after his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate — but the latest poll indicates “the Palin effect” was, at least so far, a limited burst of interest.

The contest appears to be roughly where it was before the two conventions and before the vice presidential selections: Mr. Obama has the support of 48 percent of registered voters, compared with 43 percent for Mr. McCain, a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error, and statistically unchanged from the tally in the last New York Times/CBS News Poll in mid-August.

The poll showed Mr. McCain had some enduring strengths, including a substantial advantage over Mr. Obama as a potential commander in chief. And it found that for the first time, 50 percent of those surveyed in the Times/CBS News Poll said they considered the troop buildup in Iraq — a policy that Mr. McCain championed from the start — has made things better there.

The poll also underlined the extent to which Mr. McCain’s convention — and his selection of Ms. Palin — had excited Republican base voters about his candidacy, a development that is no small thing in a contest that continues to be so tight: 47 percent of Mr. McCain’s supporters described themselves as enthused about the Republican party’s presidential ticket, almost twice what it was before the conventions. As often happens at this time of year, partisans are coalescing around their party’s nominees and independents are increasingly the battleground.

But the Times/CBS News poll suggested that Ms. Palin’s selection has, to date, helped Mr. McCain only among Republican base voters; there was no evidence of significantly increased support for him among female voters in general. White women are evenly divided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama; before the conventions, Mr. McCain led Mr. Obama among white women by a margin of 44 percent to 37 percent.

By contrast, at this point in the 2004 campaign, President Bush was leading Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic challenger, by 56 percent to 37 percent among white women.

The latest Times/CBS nationwide telephone poll was taken Friday through Tuesday with 1,133 adults, including 1,004 registered voters. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents and for registered voters. Among other groups, Mr. Obama had a slight edge among independents, and a 16 percentage-point lead among voters aged 18 to 44. Mr. McCain was leading by 17 points among white men and by the same margin among voters 65 and over. Before the convention, voters aged 65 and older were closely divided. In the latest poll, middle-aged voters — 45 to 64 — were almost evenly divided between the two.

The poll was taken during a period of extraordinary turmoil on Wall Street. By overwhelming numbers, Americans said the economy was the top issue affecting their vote decision and they continued to express deep pessimism about the nation’s economic future. They continued to express greater confidence in Mr. Obama’s ability to manage the economy, even as Mr. McCain has aggressively sought to raise doubts about it.

This poll found evidence of concern about Ms. Palin’s qualifications to be president, particularly compared to those of Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Mr. Obama’s choice for a running mate. More than 6 in 10 of those surveyed said they would be concerned if Mr. McCain could not finish his term and Ms. Palin had to take over. In contrast, two-thirds of voters surveyed said Mr. Biden would be qualified to take over for Mr. Obama, a figure that cut across party lines.

And 75 percent said they thought Mr. McCain had picked Mrs. Palin more to help him win the election, rather than because he thought that she was well-qualified to be president. By contrast, 31 percent said they thought that Mr. Obama picked Mr. Biden more to help him win the election, while 57 percent said it was because he thought Mr. Biden was well-qualified for the job.

This poll was the taken right after Mrs. Palin sat down for a series of high-profile interviews with Charles Gibson on ABC News.

Over the last two weeks, Mr. McCain has increasingly tried to distance himself from his party and President Bush, running as an outsider against Washington. The poll suggested the urgency of Mr. McCain’s task: The percentage of Americans who disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is conducting his job, 68 percent, is as high as it has been for any sitting president in the history of polling by The New York Times. And 81 percent said the country is heading in the wrong direction.

The poll found that 46 percent of voters thought Mr. McCain would continue Mr. Bush’s policies, while 22 percent said he would be more conservative than Mr. Bush. (About one quarter said a McCain presidency would be less conservative than Mr. Bush’s.) And at a time when Mr. McCain has tried to appeal to independent voters by separating himself from his party, notably with his convention speech, 57 percent of all voters said they viewed him as a typical Republican, compared with 40 percent who said he was a different kind of Republican.

“From everything I’ve heard that he plans to do if elected, McCain doesn’t sound different from Bush to me,” said Susan Bearman, 47, an independent and writer from Evanston, Ill., in a follow-up interview.

Although nearly half of voters also described Mr. Obama as a typical Democrat, the party’s brand is not as diminished as the Republicans; the Democratic Party had a favorability rating of 50 percent in August, compared with 37 percent for the Republicans, a fairly consistent trend in the Times/CBS News poll since 2006, and part of the general political landscape that many political analysts believe favors the Democrats.

In one of the sharpest differences highlighted in the poll, 37 percent said Mr. McCain would bring change to Washington, up from 28 percent before the two parties’ conventions. But 65 percent of those polled said Mr. Obama would bring real change to Washington.

Despite weeks of fierce Republican attacks, Mr. Obama has maintained an edge on several key measures of presidential leadership, including economic stewardship. Sixty percent of voters said they were confident in his ability to make the right decisions on the economy, compared with 53 percent who felt that way about Mr. McCain. Sixty percent also said Mr. Obama understood the needs and problems “of people like yourself,” compared with 48 percent who said that of Mr. McCain.

And more than twice as many said an Obama presidency would improve the United States’ image around the world — 55 percent — compared with those who believed a McCain presidency would do so. Mr. Obama also gets high marks for “sharing the values most Americans try to live by,” despite concerted Republican efforts to portray him as elite and out-of-touch with average voters. Sixty-six percent said Mr. Obama shared their values, compared with 61 percent who said that about Mr. McCain.

Mr. McCain, however, is maintaining some core advantages, particularly on preparedness to be president and ability to serve as commander in chief. Forty-eight percent said Mr. Obama was prepared enough to be president, compared with 71 percent who rated Mr. McCain as adequately prepared.

Fifty-two percent said it was “very likely” that Mr. McCain would be an effective commander in chief — twice as many as felt that way about Mr. Obama. “The main thing I’m concerned about is he doesn’t really understand the military,” said Juanita Sellers, a 67-year-old insurance agent from Scooba, Miss. “He hasn’t been in service.“

But the two men received similar rankings when voters were asked about what had long been perceived as a McCain strength: the ability to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq. Fifty-two percent said they were “very” or “somewhat“ confident in Mr. Obama’s ability on this front; 56 percent said they felt that way about Mr. McCain.

One Republican argument against Mr. Obama appears to be resonating: 49 percent said they believed their taxes would go up if the Democrat is elected, even though Mr. Obama has promised that the middle class will get tax cuts, not tax increases, under his administration.

In general, Mrs. Palin was viewed more favorably (40 percent) than unfavorably (30 percent). She was particularly popular among fellow Republicans, conservatives and white voters who describe themselves as evangelical Christians, and this explains her energizing effect on the Republican base. Nearly 70 percent of Mr. McCain’s supporters said they were enthusiastic about the selection of Mrs. Palin; in contrast, 27 percent of Mr. Obama’s supporters said they were enthusiastic about the selection of Mr. Biden.

When asked who they think will win in November, 45 percent said Mr. Obama and 38 percent said Mr. McCain.

Reporting was contributed by Marjorie Connelly, Marina Stefan, Dalia Sussman and Megan Thee.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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On How to Move America Forward, No One Says It Better Than Barack

Barack's two minute address to the American people is turning the old 30 second sound bite brand of political advertising on its head. Finally, a leader willing to substantively address the American people about the great issues facing us, and offering practical and timely solutions to meet those great challenges.

Watch it now:

Full text of the speech:

In the past few weeks, Wall Street’s been rocked as banks closed and markets tumbled. But for many of you – the people I’ve met in town halls, backyards and diners across America – our troubled economy isn’t news. 600,000 Americans have lost their jobs since January. Paychecks are flat and home values are falling. It’s hard to pay for gas and groceries and if you put it on a credit card they’ve probably raised your rates. You’re paying more than ever for health insurance that covers less and less.

This isn’t just a string of bad luck. The truth is that while you’ve been living up to your responsibilities Washington has not. That’s why we need change. Real change. This is no ordinary time and it shouldn’t be an ordinary election. But much of this campaign has been consumed by petty attacks and distractions that have nothing to do with you or how we get America back on track.

Here’s what I believe we need to do. Reform our tax system to give a $1,000 tax break to the middle class instead of showering more on oil companies and corporations that outsource our jobs. End the ‘anything goes’ culture on Wall Street with real regulation that protects your investments and pensions. Fast track a plan for energy ‘made-in-America’ that will free us from our dependence on mid-east oil in 10 years and put millions of Americans to work. Crack down on lobbyists – once and for all — so their back-room deal-making no longer drowns out the voices of the middle class and undermines our common interests as Americans.

And yes, bring a responsible end to this war in Iraq so we stop spending billions each month rebuilding their country when we should be rebuilding ours. Doing these things won’t be easy. But we’re Americans. We’ve met tough challenges before. And we can again. I’m Barack Obama. I hope you’ll read my economic plan. I approved this message because bitter, partisan fights and outworn ideas of the left and the right won’t solve the problems we face today. But a new spirit of unity and shared responsibility will.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain Redux: "The Fundamentals of Our Economy Are Strong."

Today John McCain went on a lot of news shows to try and show that he is ready to take on the great economic challenges of the moment... appointing a "9/11 Commission" style group to "analyze" the problems and come up with solutions to be implemented later.

Barack Obama has a plan for our economy that he's been pressing for years now that cuts taxes for the middle class, enacts a meaningful regulatory scheme for our out of control investment banking sector, and protect homeownership while cracking down on mortgage fraud. His detailed plans for the economy (which I strongly urge you to read for yourself if you want more information) stand in stark contrast to John McCain, who continues to toe the Bush line on the economy while admitting as recently as a few months ago that he doesn't know much about the economy.

We need a president who is in touch with the problems our country is facing, not more of McSame.

State of the Race - My Perspective

As Obama slowly gains back ground in the polls, I'd like to take an opportunity to reflect on the state of the race as I see it and where we are headed as we approach October.

With the pick of Sarah Palin, John McCain cynically selected a politician who he knew would give an instant charge to the evangelical extremist base of his party. Seeing his chances of winning ever-dwindling, he chose a woman who he hoped would re-ignite the culture wars, divert attention away from the big issues (like the war and the economy), and distract the American people from McCain's own inadequacies as a candidate. For a week or two, it worked; most Americans didn't know Sarah Palin, and as we oft tend to do here in America, judged the book by its cover and deemed it attractive and good humored. Subsequently, we saw McCain's stock rise, taking his first real lead in this race basically since it has started.

A few weeks out of the RNC, however, things are slowly coming back to Obama's favor. Sarah Palin's fav/unfav continue slide (45/44 today, 52/35 on 9/11) and even conservatives are turning on her. Some polls showing Obama coming back in the polls (and he is within a point or two on nearly every major aggregate, from to What's going on?

Americans woke up to the collapse of the financial system yesterday only to turn on the television to hear John McCain repeating for the umpteenth time that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." After a barrage of smears and lies, the media has finally woken up and taken the McCain campaign to task for its reckless disregard for the truth. The Obama campaign has hit back hard, refuting illegitimate claims with sensibility and good humor, as well as continuing to press it's positive message of change.

I don't think we're out of the water yet, and I won't be comfortable until Barack Obama takes the electoral college on November 4th. But I do think we've hit an important turning point in the race, where the Obama Campaign has an opening to seize the economic message, steer the conversation back to the big issues, and once again make this campaign about Obama versus McCain and not about Palin, hockey moms, lipstick, moose, and the like.

I also think that most of the polls we are seeing are significantly underestimating Obama's advantages. Let me briefly explain why. These polls are usually of "likely voters." That means they are calling people who have voted in elections before. However, the Democratic Party has out-registered Republicans going into this cycle by about 11 million voters. These new voters on the rolls are not going to be counted until they show up on election day, and their turnout could make the difference in this campaign. Furthermore, these polls only call land lines. That means young people like myself, many if not most of whom only use cell phones, are never polled. Ditto for lower income people who do not have phones. By most estimates, both of these groups are going to show up in historic numbers at the polls in November, and again may give Obama a significant advantage unreflected in current polling trends.

Finally, it was encouraging to note that in the month of August, Obama's campaign raised the largest amount of money in one month, ever - $66 million - including contributions from 500,000 new donors. His campaign has received individual donations from over 2.5 Million American citizens. This is a stunning and revolutionary achievement in campaign financing. Instead of being beholden to the ultra rich and Political Action Committees and lobbyists- the people underwriting John McCain's campaign - Barack Obama is powered by the diffuse interests of ordinary Americans. The average campaign contribution to his campaign is only about $68. Even poor people are giving $5 or $10 to this campaign because they know Barack Obama is a different kind of candidate who is going to represent us, the American People, and not the Special Interests in Washington DC.

There is a lot of work to be done between now and November 4th. I hope that if you are on the fence, you are beginning to understand why John McCain is unfit to be commander in chief, and why Barack Obama is offering the change we need. If you are an Obama supporter, I urge you to please get more involved, by reaching out to your friends and family and making sure they are well informed and registered to vote, and by volunteering for the campaign in your local community, whether by fund raising, going door to door, or making phone calls. Every single American has the ability to own a part of this campaign and become a part of this historic movement for change. I encourage you to stand up and make your voice heard!

Have a wonderful day, and God Bless.

Monday, September 15, 2008


In the wake of this financial meltdown on wall street, I know a lot of you are scratching your heads and wondering how this all came to be. This morning, Joe Klein has written an article that begins to answer some of these questions, and puts the blame squarely where it belongs: on the Republican orthodoxy, taken to its ideological extreme in the Bush Administration and supported nearly completely by John McCain, to destroy all reasonable regulations on the market in order to allow the "free hand of the market" to have its way. These policies have led directly to the collapse of historic financial institutions like Bear Stearns and today Lehman (the largest bankruptcy in history. period.) AND YET, just today John McCain repeated the same canard that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." This all begs the question of what planet John McCain is on, and should send chills down the spine of anyone thinking about electing him president of the united states.

Their Brand is Collapse
Posted by Joe Klein

John McCain is up with an ad touting his "experience" to deal with the financial crisis. But no specific experience is cited--which is attributable to the fact that McCain has been a happily orthodox Republican when it comes to financial regulation these past 26 years. He's against it. He's against Washington telling you how to run your business. The unseen hand of the market and all that...

This has been the long-standing Republican bait and switch--scaring small businesses with the threat of new regulations if the Democrats win, commiserating with larger businesses about the evils of environmental and plant safety rules, while lifting as many regulations as possible governing the financial titans whose credit should be at the heart of new economic development. But that hasn't been happening: the financial titans have been going for the quick buck rather than the sound one. Money and creativity have been redirected during the Reagan-Bush era away from substantive loans to real businesses into a Ponzi scheme of borrowing by investment bankers, so they could engage in the most irresponsible, if lucrative (for them) speculative lending imaginable...In this sense, the mortgage crisis was a perfect metaphor for Republican financial governance: Investment banks like Lehman--R.I.P.--took loans to invest money in...bad loans. In this case, the loans were bad mortgages. This is called throwing good money after bad.

Actually, John McCain has excellent experience--a ringside seat--in the vagaries of this experiment in greed and anarchy. He was a member of the Keating Five. This was the signature scandal of the Savings and Loan crisis, twenty years ago. It concerned the insider help that five Senators gave Charles Keating and his Lincoln Savings and Loan, in return for contributions and gifts. The deregulation of S&Ls--community banks dedicated to local mortgages (like George Bailey's bank in "It's A Wonderful Life")--enabled slick operators like Keating to make reckless loans in new areas where they had no expertise. The final tab to the taxpayers was $165 billion.

McCain wasn't the worst offender in the scandal. He was included in the Five to make it bipartisan (the other four were Democrats). But he knew Keating, partied with him, made inquiries on his behalf. He once told me that his role in the scandal was harder on him, in some ways, than being a prisoner of war "Because my honor was called into question."

After an experience like that, you might think Senator Honorable would have devoted himself to preventing other such crises--to making sure the Big Wall Street Casino was operating according to rules that wouldn't screw the small investors and, more to the point, the taxpayers. But he walked the anti-regulatory party line, with only occasional exceptions...and tried to lay down a smokescreen of righteousness by campaigning against small potato[e!]s like legislative earmarks--money to study the mating habits of, uh, crabs, in, uh, Alaska (proposed by Governor Honorable).

What we are seeing on Wall Street today is the result of an ideology gone amok. There was call to loosen and change the antiquated regulations governing investment back in 1980. But the Republican era has seen that loosening go to the point of near-cataclysm. Banks are failing, markets dropping. We are in the midst of a slow-motion economic crash. What happens next is an economic contraction: loans aren't available, so businesses can't expand. A crash comes at the beginning of a period of economic trouble.

John McCain, after his political near-death experience, could have made the responsible regulation of markets one of his great causes. He didn't. And today he said, once again, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." I hope he's right, but it's entirely possible that he knows as much about our economy as Sarah Palin knows about The Bush Doctrine.

McCain: "The Fundamentals of Our Economy Are Strong"

As our financial system undergoes one of the worst meltdowns in recent history , the Democratic National Committee has released this ad- their first of the primary season - in the swing state of Michigan. The fact of the matter is that John McCain is offering more of the same when it comes to financial markets. His policies will be an extension of the Bush agenda that gives tax cuts to companies that ship jobs overseas, big tax breaks to oil companies, and keeps taxes low on the ultra rich while doing little for the average working family. Watch the ad below:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Former McCain Supporter Rips Into John's Integrity

In this short but compelling article, conservative writer and former John McCain supporter Andrew Sullivan takes on McCain's lack of honor and integrity as he capitulates to the Christianist base of the Republican party and uses dirty, lying tricks to try and destroy his opponent in the final days of this election. Again, for people on the fence, it is clear from McCain's actions that he has lost the one characteristic that used to distinguish him from other politicians: the courage to do what is right and act from one's moral conscience.

Remember, It's John McCain that's at the top of the ticket; not Sarah Palin.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

by: Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

For me, this surreal moment - like the entire surrealism of the past ten days - is not really about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or pigs or fish or lipstick. It's about John McCain. The one thing I always thought I knew about him is that he is a decent and honest person. When he knows, as every sane person must, that Obama did not in any conceivable sense mean that Sarah Palin is a pig, what did he do? Did he come out and say so and end this charade? Or did he acquiesce in and thereby enable the mindless Rovianism that is now the core feature of his campaign?

So far, he has let us all down. My guess is he will continue to do so. And that decision, for my part, ends whatever respect I once had for him. On core moral issues, where this man knew what the right thing was, and had to pick between good and evil, he chose evil. When he knew that George W. Bush's war in Iraq was a fiasco and catastrophe, and before Donald Rumsfeld quit, McCain endorsed George W. Bush against his fellow Vietnam vet, John Kerry in 2004. By that decision, McCain lost any credibility that he can ever put country first. He put party first and his own career first ahead of what he knew was best for the country.

And when the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to condemn and end the torture regime of Bush and Cheney in 2006, McCain again had a clear choice between good and evil, and chose evil.

He capitulated and enshrined torture as the policy of the United States, by allowing the CIA to use techniques as bad as and worse than the torture inflicted on him in Vietnam. He gave the war criminals in the White House retroactive immunity against the prosecution they so richly deserve. The enormity of this moral betrayal, this betrayal of his country's honor, has yet to sink in. But for my part, it now makes much more sense. He is not the man I thought he was.

And when he had the chance to engage in a real and substantive debate against the most talented politician of the next generation in a fall campaign where vital issues are at stake, what did McCain do? He began his general campaign with a series of grotesque, trivial and absurd MTV-style attacks on Obama's virtues and implied disgusting things about his opponent's patriotism.

And then, because he could see he was going to lose, ten days ago, he threw caution to the wind and with no vetting whatsoever, picked a woman who, by her decision to endure her own eight-month pregnancy of a Down Syndrome child in public, that he was going to reignite the culture war as a last stand against Obama. That's all that is happening right now: a massive bump in the enthusiasm of the Christianist base. This is pure Rove.

Yes, McCain made a decision that revealed many appalling things about him. In the end, his final concern is not national security. No one who cares about national security would pick as vice-president someone who knows nothing about it as his replacement. No one who cares about this country's safety would gamble the security of the world on a total unknown because she polled well with the Christianist base. No person who truly believed that the surge was integral to this country's national security would pick as his veep candidate a woman who, so far as we can tell anything, opposed it at the time.

McCain has demonstrated in the last two months that he does not have the character to be president of the United States. And that is why it is more important than ever to ensure that Barack Obama is the next president. The alternative is now unthinkable. And McCain - no one else - has proved it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

McCain and Palin Face Off... Against Each Other!!

This one comes courtesy of Daily Kos, and it is so good that I just have to post it verbatim. It is amazing to read quotes in which McCain and Palin so effectively eviscerate the other's most fundamental argument for why each is prepared to lead the country.

"Prepare yourself for the greatest ideological match-up of the century! No, it's not Obama versus McCain, it's McCain versus Palin. Let's get ready to ruuummmbbbllle...

This was John McCain, late last year on why he was qualified to be the president:

I am prepared. I need no on-the-job training. I wasn't a mayor for a short period of time. I wasn't a governor for a short period of time.

And here is Sarah Palin last night on why she is ready to be a 72-year old heartbeat away from the presidency:

Charlie, again, we've got to remember what the desire is in this nation at this time. It is for no more politics as usual and somebody's big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yes, they've had opportunities to meet heads of state.

So there you have it. The ultimate he said, she said. John McCain explained why Sarah Palin isn't qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, and Sarah Palin explained why John McCain doesn't represent change, just more of the same old politics as usual."

Gloria Steinem Speaks Out on Palin

I know this is a little late - the article came out over a week ago - but for those of you who haven't read it, it is a dead on summation from one of the world's most famous feminists on why Sarah Palin's nomination is actually an insult to women and a further strengthening of the GOP's domination by the radical, fundamentalist conservative evangelical wing of their party. A must read for former Clinton Supporters, moderate independents, and those who care about electing the right people to office this November.

Palin: Wrong Woman, Wrong Message
Thursday 04 September 2008

by: Gloria Steinem, The Los Angeles Times
Gloria Steinem speaks out. (Photo:

Sarah Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.

Here's the good news: Women have become so politically powerful that even the anti-feminist right wing - the folks with a headlock on the Republican Party - are trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice president. We owe this to women - and to many men too - who have picketed, gone on hunger strikes or confronted violence at the polls so women can vote. We owe it to Shirley Chisholm, who first took the 'white-male-only' sign off the White House, and to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who hung in there through ridicule and misogyny to win 18 million votes.

But here is even better news: It won't work. This isn't the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most other women want and need. Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie.

Selecting Sarah Palin, who was touted all summer by Rush Limbaugh, is no way to attract most women, including die-hard Clinton supporters. Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton. Her down-home, divisive and deceptive speech did nothing to cosmeticize a Republican convention that has more than twice as many male delegates as female, a presidential candidate who is owned and operated by the right wing and a platform that opposes pretty much everything Clinton's candidacy stood for - and that Barack Obama's still does. To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, 'Somebody stole my shoes, so I'll amputate my legs.'

This is not to beat up on Palin. I defend her right to be wrong, even on issues that matter most to me. I regret that people say she can't do the job because she has children in need of care, especially if they wouldn't say the same about a father. I get no pleasure from imagining her in the spotlight on national and foreign policy issues about which she has zero background, with one month to learn to compete with Sen. Joe Biden's 37 years' experience.

Palin has been honest about what she doesn't know. When asked last month about the vice presidency, she said, 'I still can't answer that question until someone answers for me: What is it exactly that the VP does every day?' When asked about Iraq, she said, 'I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq.'

She was elected governor largely because the incumbent was unpopular, and she's won over Alaskans mostly by using unprecedented oil wealth to give a $1,200 rebate to every resident. Now she is being praised by McCain's campaign as a tax cutter, despite the fact that Alaska has no state income or sales tax. Perhaps McCain has opposed affirmative action for so long that he doesn't know it's about inviting more people to meet standards, not lowering them. Or perhaps McCain is following the Bush administration habit, as in the Justice Department, of putting a job candidate's views on 'God, guns and gays' ahead of competence. The difference is that McCain is filling a job one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency.

So let's be clear: The culprit is John McCain. He may have chosen Palin out of change-envy, or a belief that women can't tell the difference between form and content, but the main motive was to please right-wing ideologues; the same ones who nixed anyone who is now or ever has been a supporter of reproductive freedom. If that were not the case, McCain could have chosen a woman who knows what a vice president does and who has thought about Iraq; someone like Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. McCain could have taken a baby step away from right-wing patriarchs who determine his actions, right down to opposing the Violence Against Women Act.

Palin's value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves 'abstinence-only' programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.

I don't doubt her sincerity. As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., she doesn't just support killing animals from helicopters, she does it herself. She doesn't just talk about increasing the use of fossil fuels but puts a coal-burning power plant in her own small town. She doesn't just echo McCain's pledge to criminalize abortion by overturning Roe vs. Wade, she says that if one of her daughters were impregnated by rape or incest, she should bear the child. She not only opposes reproductive freedom as a human right but implies that it dictates abortion, without saying that it also protects the right to have a child.

So far, the major new McCain supporter that Palin has attracted is James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Of course, for Dobson, 'women are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership,' so he may be voting for Palin's husband.

Being a hope-a-holic, however, I can see two long-term bipartisan gains from this contest.

Republicans may learn they can't appeal to right-wing patriarchs and most women at the same time. A loss in November could cause the centrist majority of Republicans to take back their party, which was the first to support the Equal Rights Amendment and should be the last to want to invite government into the wombs of women.

And American women, who suffer more because of having two full-time jobs than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national stage from male leaders who know that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are campaigning on their belief that men should be, can be and want to be at home for their children.

This could be huge.

Gloria Steinem is an author, feminist organizer and co-founder of the Women's Media Center. She supported Hillary Clinton and is now supporting Barack Obama.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Barack Responds Powerfully to McCain Smear Attacks

This morning, Barack Obama responded powerfully and intelligently to the recent distractions from the McCain campaign. McCain's own campaign managers have said that this election "is not about the issues." They want to turn this into a character driven slime fest so they can divide and conquer. Citizens who care about the future and direction of this country and our world cannot allow John McCain to win playing this tired old game. Watch Barack's powerful remarks, and see what a real leader sounds like responding to bullshit politics; in this clip, you will see the wisdom of the next president of the United States.

Having trouble with the embed, check it out here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shameless, Disgusting Lies

It's no small wonder that John McCain couldn't come up with a definition for "honor" when prompted to do so a few weeks ago; indeed, as his campaign has shown, he is willing to say and do anything, including running ads full of outright lies, to advance his political agenda. His new Vice-Presidential pick, Sarah Palin, is no different. Just today, the McCain campaign is running two ads based on total lies.

The first is an ad attacking Obama for supporting legislation to "teach sex-ed to five year olds." Tough stuff that makes Obama look like some sort of perverse sex crazed liberal - and it would be politically damaging IF it were true. The trouble is that it is totally, completely untrue. The legislation on question which Obama voted for was to teach children how to be able to identify sexual predators and sexually predatory behavior, so that children can be protected from sexual deviants and sexual abuse. It is really sad and sickening to know that John McCain is running this kind of campaign and should give everyone pause when they think about how he will govern if he is God forbid elected President.

The next lying ad claims that Sarah Palin is a reformer because she "said no to the bridge to nowhere." Palin has now said this at least six or seven times in campaign speeches in the last couple of days. The trouble is, Palin was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it, and actually lobbied successfully for the largest per-capita amount of earmarks for her city of Wasilla of ANY MAYOR IN THE COUNTRY. Of course, as our good friend Jon Stewart showed us in my last post, the best way for us to expose the hypocrisy of conservatives like Palin is simply to run video of their contradictory statements side by side, and let voters be the judge. I submit the following video for your consideration. It's almost hard to believe that such brazen lying could still fly as thoughtful political discourse in our country, but I guess after 8 years of George W. Bush, we shouldn't be surprised by how low Republicans can - and do - go.

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