Sunday, September 28, 2008

Analysis: What does each candidate have to do to win the Vice Presidential debate on Oct. 2?

One of my favorite moments (38 seconds) from the primary debates. Keep in mind that Biden has a reputation for droning on and on in his answers. Enjoy.

Opinion: Who won the presidential debate on Friday?

By Tom ShalesSaturday, September 27, 2008; Page C01
John McCain wore the more presidential tie -- that much can be said for him -- but Barack Obama displayed the more presidential temperament, or the kind of demeanor people presumably would want in a president, when the two candidates met at the University of Mississippi last night for their first debate of the campaign.

Both men seemed well equipped in terms of facts and figures -- especially, as one would expect, dollar figures -- and neither made an outrageous blunder, although McCain did misidentify the new president of Pakistan. More critically, he came across as condescending and even rude to his opponent, a bit of bad behavior especially evident because Obama may have overdone the fair-minded bit in many of his remarks and answers.

Imperiously enough, McCain -- who had threatened not to show up for the debate because of America's financial crisis -- seemed determined to avoid even looking at Obama as the debate went on, although they did shake hands at the beginning and end. Many of McCain's answers were preceded with belittling references to Obama as if he were talking to a college freshman way out of his depth: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy," was one typical remark.

Obama supporters must have been displeased, then, to hear their candidate keep agreeing with McCain, a case perhaps of sportsmanlike conduct run amok. Doesn't Obama want to win?

On the matter of congressional earmarks and wasteful spending, Obama began one answer with, "Well, Senator McCain is absolutely right . . ." and later, on an issue related to the Iraq war: "Senator McCain is absolutely right . . ." etc., etc.

After all the nice-guy stuff from Obama, which may have reached self-defeating levels, it's perhaps not surprising that the most, perhaps only, electrifying moment of the debate was when he finally told McCain he was wrong -- three times in quick and effective succession. This was during debate about the origins of the war in Iraq. "You were wrong" about saying the war would be quick and easy, Obama charged, his voice rising. "You were wrong" about finding weapons of mass destruction, he continued. And there was one more "you were wrong" for good measure.

Obama was showing something that his personal appearances have too often lacked: passion. There was strong conviction behind his words, whether one agreed with them or not, and a welcome assertiveness. "You were wrong" was an effectively simple declarative sentence, not bogged down in qualifiers the way some of his sentences tend to be. "We've got to look at bringing that war to a close," he said of Iraq; why not just, "We've got to end that war"?

Although Obama was "crisper" than usual, as one commentator noted after the debate, he still may not have been crisp enough. His oratorical skills when giving speeches in vast venues have been amply demonstrated. But in debates and conversations, when he ad-libs, he sometimes seems to be weighing his answers almost too carefully, defusing his own remarks by diffusing them.

Democrat Paul Begala, one of CNN's army of pundits, criticized both candidates for the way they handled questions on the economy. The whole debate was supposed to deal with foreign policy, but as the economy shuddered and crumbled during the week, it was wisely decided to devote about a third of the debate to that crisis. But as Begala said, a stranger to this planet tuning in the debate wouldn't have known from the candidates' answers and attitudes that America is in the midst of what has been called the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

Instead their answers were on the theoretical side, with no real sense of urgency. The folks out there in television land, losing their homes to foreclosure or seeing their retirement nest eggs obliterated, deserved more thoughtful and heartfelt answers.

The debate was moderated by public television's Jim Lehrer, who did a very accomplished job, willing to interrupt or challenge the candidates when they danced around an issue rather than addressing it. His first question was "Where do you stand on the financial recovery plan" now being debated in Washington. Both candidates merely reiterated economic policies from past speeches, with McCain preceding his response with a self-serving salute to Ted Kennedy, who was hospitalized earlier in the day.

Obama began his response with the usual bromide about America being "at a defining moment in our history." Yes yes, but how will we pay the mortgage when the interest rate goes up for the umpteenth time next month?

Lehrer took control. After the meandering palaver from the two men he said pointedly, "Let's go back to my question" and repeated it.

Since all three networks had access to the same basic pool video, some networks tried to dress up the picture with identifying decoration. NBC and CNN both had annoying animated graphics in the lower right-hand corners of the screen, just the thing for people who want to watch letters dance or globes spin around, distracting to everyone else. CNN had mercifully ditched its ticker-tape of fun facts, but replaced it with a chart that supposedly showed reactions from a sample group to the candidates' performances. The chart was hard to read and essentially useless.

CBS armed a test group of viewer-voters with "joy sticks" to measure their responses to various moments of the debate, but this gimmick also proved to be of little help. A CBS reporter interviewed one man sitting in the room; the man said he thought McCain looked "stressed."

And that was that. The research measurement was done by Nielsen Media Research, it was pointed out, the same people who rate television shows. That raised the discomforting specter of equating presidential candidates with sitcoms, soap operas and reality junk.

This was reality -- the realest kind of reality -- and the debate was, for the most part, encouragingly civilized and not flawed with frivolous name-calling. As NBC's able Chuck Todd put it, "no lipstick on a pig" nonsense. If McCain had been more civil, and Obama were more combative and fervent, it would have been better still.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Analysis: Is the economy broken? Is the economy in a downward cycle? or Is the economy OK?

Treasury's Paulson Urges Quick Action on Bailout Plan
Rescue Plan Grows to $700 Billion; Similar Measures Urged Overseas

By Lori Montgomery and David ChoWashington Post Staff Writers Sunday, September 21, 2008; 10:00 AM

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. today urged Congress to move quickly to approve the Bush administration's emergency plan to revive the U.S. financial system, a proposal that officials said yesterday would cost up to $700 billion as it relieved crippled financial institutions of their mortgage-based assets.

Paulson, who was making the rounds of Sunday morning news talk shows explaining the administration's plan, said lawmakers need to reassure credit markets and Wall Street quickly and should not slow the process down by adding proposals onto the emergency bill.

"The credit markets are still very fragile right now and frozen," Paulson said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press. "We need to deal with this and deal with it quickly."

Senior administration officials meanwhile yesterday pressed their counterparts in Japan, Germany, Britain and elsewhere to establish similar programs to rescue their own troubled firms in what would be an unprecedented bailout of the worldwide financial system. The move comes in recognition that complex interconnections among financial institutions have created a global crisis that the United States cannot solve alone.

As part of his television interviews today, Paulson said foreign banks would be eligible for assistance under the U.S. rescue plan because "if a financial institution has business operations in the United States, hires people in the United States, if they are clogged with illiquid assets, they have the same impact on the American people as any other institution."

Congressional leaders responded positively to the administration's rescue plan, though the price tag they received yesterday was $200 billion higher than they had been told to expect just three days ago. But House Democrats said they would push to include a number of contentious provisions that could make it difficult to pass the plan quickly, including limits on executive compensation for firms that unload their bad assets on the government and new powers for bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences.

Democrats also want President Bush to drop his opposition to a second round of federal spending aimed at stimulating the economy. While the administration's bailout plan would insure the money market funds of millions of ordinary Americans and help prop up the mortgage market, some Democrats worry that it will primarily be viewed as a bailout for big Wall Street firms.

"Obviously, this is of direct benefit to some people in the financial industry," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said of the rescue plan. "We need to be talking about direct benefits to people who are not in the private sector."

Bush, speaking to reporters during a White House appearance yesterday with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, urged Democrats to set aside those demands. In talks with congressional leaders, Bush said he "found a common understanding of how severe the problem is" and the need for urgent action. "We need to get this done quickly and, you know, the cleaner the better,'' he said.

Bush also defended the size of the request, saying drastic action was needed because of the magnitude of the financial crisis, a cataclysm that started with nontraditional mortgage loans to U.S. homeowners, spread to the banking and financial services industry and now is enveloping markets around the world.

"This is a big package because it's a big problem," Bush said. "The risk of doing nothing far outweighs the risk of the package."

Bush, who campaigned as the nation's first MBA president and a free-market advocate, also appeared to address complaints from conservatives that the plan inserts the government too much into the economy.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Analysis: Will the bailout help the political futures of incumbents or a particular political party?

Who the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout is really supposed to help.
By Daniel GrossPosted Monday, Sept. 8, 2008
On Sunday, the Treasury Department announced that it would effectively take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the critically wounded government-sponsored mortgage behemoths. (This landing page at the Treasury Department has the details.)

Generally speaking, the federal government has been content merely to watch the failures stemming from the real-estate/housing-credit bubble. If individuals default on their mortgages and get foreclosed on, that's their proper comeuppance. If subprime lenders go out of business, that's capitalism's creative destruction. If banks start to fail, as they're now doing at a rate of one per week, no big deal.

But Washington reacted with alacrity when a second-tier investment bank, Bear Stearns, threatened to take the plunge. And the case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a rare example of Washington regulators being slightly ahead of the curve. Of course, Fannie and Freddie are bigger and more significant than any of the financial firms that have failed thus far. But the reason for the fevered weekend rescue activity has less to do with the companies' size than with their scope.

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