Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Chris Dodd knows how to play Chicken

by Ken Houghton

I had the same reaction to his “we have to do something” comments on Sunday as Dr. Black. But we both, clearly, forgot the game that was being played.

Monday is a day of work, and Dodd has clearly prepared well:

Sec. 1. Short title; table of contents.
Sec. 2. Authority to purchase troubled assets.
Sec. 3. Considerations.
Sec. 4. Oversight.
Sec. 5. Rights; management; sale of troubled assets.
Sec. 6. Maximum amount of authorized purchases.
Sec. 7. Funding.
Sec. 8. Limits on review.
Sec. 9. Assistance to homeowners and localities.
Sec. 10. Maintaining insurance parity.
Sec. 11. Minimizing foreclosures.
Sec. 12. Termination of authority.
Sec. 13. Increase in statutory limit on the public debt.
Sec. 14. Credit reform.
Sec. 15. Annual financial reports and audits.
Sec. 16. Conflicts of interest.
Sec. 17. Executive compensation.
Sec. 18. Studies and reports.
Sec. 19. Disclosures on exercise of loan authority.
Sec. 20. Special inspector general for the troubled asset program.
Sec. 21. Definitions.

Dodd, having played along with the “this is urgent” call has now presented the “if this is so urgent, show us what it’s really worth to you” card.

All the players may not yet be ready to go all-in, but the stakes are getting higher, and the planned abstention from the McCain campaign may soon look as if it is lack of leadership.

So I’ll end on a sad note. As Brad DeLong said in an earlier post:

Dodd looks like a plan I can get behind–a serious attempt to solve the problem, preserve accountability, and balance the equities. Too bad he isn’t the VP nominee.

But someone who opposed the bastardisation of FISA would have energized the base, and we can’t have that in Democratic politics.

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The Safest Senator

When calling Congresscritters tomorrow, especially for those in NY State, please feel free to remind Senator Schumer’s office that he and Barack Obama were the two people [in contested elections] who finished with the widest margin of victory in 20062004 [h/t to my Loyal Reader and Kohole in comments]—about a 50% margin in both cases.

A few fewer dollars from Hank Paulson’s brethren four years from now aren’t going to cost him anything but bragging rights.

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While some liberals have a problem with Obama/Biden…

…how are people who, eight years ago, were proudly displaying “Sore/Loserman” bumper stickers going to react if/when McCain announces Loserman as his pick for VP?*

UPDATE: Otoh, if the NYT and Reuters are correct, any claim that Obama is “too inexperienced to be President” just went out the window.

*This is not necessarily going to happen, not to go all NYPost, but the word is that McCain’s campaign schedule has been cleared between the announcement at the UD arena today and 7:00pm Saturday.

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Polling Margins: The Myth of "Double-Digits"

There is a strange meme in the blogsphere—most recently made in comments here by Movie Guy—that Obama “should have a double-digit lead over McCain at this stage as has been the case with previous presidential primaries.” So I went searching for double-digit leads among two-person Presidential races in the past several elections.

August 2004 (Bush [I] v Kerry):

Not a double-digit lead among them. How about 2000?

Bush v Gore, per Gallup:

A severe outlier early, and another slight outlier (almost ten points, but not quite) later on, but still no sustained double-digit leads. Maybe 1996?

Clinton [I] v Dole, Gallup Poll Trends:

A-HA! There is it; the source of the belief that one should have “double-digit” leads. A popular, incumbent president (“longest peace-time economic expansion in history”) running for re-election against a man who doesn’t even seem to be trying hard. (Ask “Hideo Nomo of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”)

But, oops. It’s also not the whole story. The whole story for 1996 runs more like Clinton (I) v Dole and Perot:

Again, Clinton is a popular, incumbent President (all things Obama is not) running against a man who is increasingly making it clear he doesn’t want the job (and a man whose candidacy was widely seen as equivalent to a “protest vote” against, e.g., NAFTA). So it seems reasonable to assume that many of the “undecideds” were not going to break his way and were deciding which protest vote was more reasonable.

But MG may suggest that I am politically naive to suggest that all of the Undecideds would break away from Clinton, and he’s probably correct. But it similarly seems reasonable to assume that a notable majority would break that way—say, 75% of the undecideds.

So even a popular incumbent cannot sustain a double-digit lead (though the negatives would still, of course, leave him winning with a large plurality of the vote—which is what happened). And the only times we see a convincing double-digit lead is when a substantial third-party candidate is excluded from the polling, and one of the candidates is a popular Incumbent.

Don’t get me wrong; I agree with Paul Krugman (contra lerxst) that Obama’s campaign isn’t so appealing as it could and should be. But in a two-party race* with neither candidate being the Incumbent,** expectations of a sustained double-digit lead, even over a short period of time, are absurd.

*Pending evidence of a large groundswell for Bob Barr and One of Obama’s Classmates on the Libertarian line or a rally amongst pro-Prohibition forces in the face of the Amethyst Initiative.
**In name, at least.

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Andrew Samwick ponders The Ancestral Party

On days like this, I wonder if I’m still a Republican.

I gave up on the Party long ago; I gave up hope when a (very) distant relative wrote an op-ed for the NYT on why he would not support impeachment in 1998, and was attacked by the party for the next few years, before he chose not to run for re-election in 2004. But if this is really the platform of a Republican Presidential candidate:

1. Energy Independence.
2. Tax Reform.
3. Border Security.
4. Life.
5. Defending Marriage.

then I’m around to agreeing with Brad DeLong: Shut it down. See if you can build something sane.

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It’s All About the Governors

Roger Ailes notes that Tim Kaine (D-VA) is the frontrunner for Dem VP, while KathyG (whose post on Cass Sunstein is a must-read) notes that Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appears likely to be McCain’s choice, likely ensuring one ovation at the Minneapolis convention.

Hmm. The man who presides over his state being described as “the state where “a child is most likely to have a successful life (Education Week 2007)’” or the man who “vetoed a highway bill that would have provided funding to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure — including, yes, that Interstate 35W bridge” and may have lied about the status of the bridge in public.

Such difficult choices.

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Trying to Short Joe Biden

So the good news yesterday (h/t Felix) is that, even as he was voting to eviscerate the Fourth Amendment, Barack Obama urged a change to bankruptcy law. The devil is in the details (the “median cost” of a home in NY State won’t keep anyone living in their house in Westchester or even Rockland County, let alone PGLville), but it’s a nice start, as Elizabeth Warren notes:

Obama has history. He voted against the bankruptcy bill. He voted in favor of the amendments that would have eased the effects of the amendments. But his real history is deeper. He was a community organizer who saw first-hand the effects of aggressive lending. He was a state legislator who felt the impact of federal pre-emption on his ability to protect the citizens he represented.

…McCain also has a history. McCain has voted in favor of financial institutions since he first went to Washington. He voted over and over for the bankruptcy bill, and he voted against the amendments to give medical bankrupts a means test exemption, against a uniform minimim homestead for older Americans, against limiting recovery for lenders who violate Truth-in-Lending laws. After Katrina, McCain opposed an amendment to make procedures easier for victims of natual disasters. The list is long….

The deteriorating economy make bankruptcy a more urgent national issues. Bankruptcy and consumer finance are issues where the money and power is all on one side and the middle class families are on the other. It is also an area where both candidates have an on-the-record history. Senator Obama has now thrust bankruptcy issue into the national spotlight.

Now, my immediate reaction was to attempt to go short the possibility that Obsidian Wings-favorite Vice Presidential candidate, Joe Biden (D-BofA [nee MBNA]) would be chosen.* But I can’t find the contract on intrade, and the CNN “political market” just notes a drop of “the field” and HRC** with most of the support going to John Edwards (and some to Bill Richardson).***

So there probably isn’t a way to directly profit on the Good News from ObamaNation yesterday, but eliminating Joe Biden from the list of possible VP nominees is certainly a Public Good.

*If that does happen, after yesterday’s speech, I’m voting for McCain, since it will then be truly impossible to take anything Obama says seriously.

*Must be her FISA vote.

***The positive interpretation is that something like 5.5% of those in the CNN political market really believed that Biden would or should be the VP nominee. The negative interpretation would be that around 5.5% of those registered believed that Joe Biden would be a good VP choice in the first place.

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One in 300, or the Only one in Government?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong lists some of the Usual Suspects who are Not in the Line-up.

John McCain’s 300 economists who support his Jobs for America Plan (via Tyler Cowen, non-sociopath, who provides an appropriate context for the list) includes one person, an Ike Brannon, whose affiliation is listed as “Department of the Treasury” and who, per this site, is “Senior Advisor to the [Tax Policy] Assistant Secretary,” one Eric Solomon.

My initial suspicion was that this might be a violation of the Hatch Act. But that appears not to be necessarily true:

These federal and D.C. employees may-

* express opinions about candidates and issues
* contribute money to political organizations
* attend political fundraising functions
* attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
* join and be an active member of a political party or club
* sign nominating petitions
* campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
* make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
* distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
* hold office in political clubs or parties

So as long as Mr. Brannon didn’t sign the petition while “on duty [or] in a government office [or] using a government vehicle,” it appears he is clearly permitted to sign the petition.

Now, generally, these petitions are circulated through personal connections. So presumably someone knows Mr. Brannon and forwarded it to him at his personal e-mail address. And one would assume that Mr. Brannon, if he were enthusiastic about the petition, would forward it—in a manner not to violate the Hatch Act—to others, including co-workers.

And presumably those others would know that, so long as the contact was of a personal nature, they, too, could sign on to “support of John McCain’s Jobs for America economic plan.”

The silence from the rest of the Treasury Department is deafening.

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