S. 190: It Has Attained Myth Status

September 30, 2008

McCain spent months during the nomination process trying to convince us he was against all government regulation.  “I’m always for less regulation,” Wall Street Journal quotes him saying six months ago. He added: “I’d like to see a lot of the unnecessary government regulations eliminated.”  He now is now suggesting that he has been championing legislation that would have created regulations sufficient to have avoided the present crisis.  I have not seen McCain explicitly make such a far-fetched claim, but certainly many of his supporters seem to believe this.

McCain has pointed to his sponsorship of S. 190 in 2006 to show that he is not as hard line as he presented himself earlier.  His supplicants seem to have picked up this ball and run right out of the stadium with it.

Some people have actually claimed that the present crisis would have been averted if “McCain’s bill” had passed.  We have to stop right there.  McCain did not even believe that the scope of the bill could have such an effect when he endorsed it.  The bill was written in response to an accounting scandal that rocked Freddie Mack and Fannie Mae. In the best of all circumstances the bill would have helped avert (this is hotly contested) the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack, but that had happened before the current crisis.

In his speech in which he announced his sponsorship a year and a quarter after the bill was introduced, he said”

Mr. President, this week Fannie Mae’s regulator reported that the company’s quarterly reports of profit growth over the past few years were “illusions deliberately and systematically created” by the company’s senior management, which resulted in a $10.6 billion accounting scandal.

He does in his concluding sentence allude to problems for the economy if effective regulations are not implemented but this was not the focus of the speech at all.

At this point in time some form of the bill was on the floor of the Senate and it was capable of being voted on but it was entirely ignored had would never be voted on.  An amended form of the bill came out of the committee but to my knowledge there is no record of the bill as was when it emerged from the committee.  There is only the notation that it was changed.  Significantly omitted from McCain’s four minute speech is any encouragement that it be voted on, whatever it was.

Many people say that the Democrats filibustered this bill to prevent the Republicans from passing it.  There is simply no record of that at all.  Others say that it was the threat of a Democratic filibuster that prevented the bill’s passage and I have been unable to turn up any hint of that either.

The truth is that a significant number of Republicans opposed the bill.  The American Enterprise Institute was against it.  It is hard to imagine that this opposition was not reflected in the attitude of the majority of Republican senators.  Furthermore one of the most prominent lobbying groups for deregulation was opposed to it.  In this light it is easy to see why no Republicans were championing the bill at all.  Nor to my knowledge were any Democrats in the Republican-controlled senate.

Because the bill was fated to wither on the legislative vine and die unvoted upon in a few months, McCain vote was entirely safe.  He could create the appearance of a record without doing anything or even voting against the Republican “base.” The proof of the political purpose of his sponsorship, as opposed to substantive support, is that the bill was reintroduced in 2007 without McCain sponsorship or support.

The sole remaining deviation from McCain’s record of voting to deregulate Wall Street and the financial community was with respect to the Sarbanes-Onley bill, which in the wake of corporate accounting scandals required enhanced reporting.  After passage this fell on harsh criticism from corporate executives and McCain said that he regretted voting for it.

Other than these two minor deviations, I believe that McCain until now has been an ardent proponent of deregulation.


CBS News Says Obama Won by a Wide Margin Among Uncommitted Voters

September 30, 2008

CBS says that Obama won, although the polls do not seem to show a bump after the debate.  This may be because there were so many things happening last week, including last week’s declaration by McCain of “Mission Accomplished” with respect to the bailout. It was only this week that this was shown to be as illusory as previously accomplished missions.

McCain’s seizing the headlines last week and his efforts to portray himself as leader of the congressional bailout coalition no doubt caused expectations for his performance in the debate to rise, particularly when foreign policy, his acknowledged strength, was the focus of the debate.  Higher expectations may have contributed to the perception that he lost the debate.

I got the impression that he was betting the house when he “suspended” his campaign to demonstrate his leadership ability with the bailout legislation.  He of course did not suspend anything except his own public appearances and arguably the television time he got for this gesture exceeded anything that he would have received had he continued to make scheduled public appearances.  Once again though he took a short term gain — the appearance of leadership in crisis — and risked a long term loss.  Once again, as with the vice presidential decision, it looks like the long term loss will outweigh the immediate gains.  For all the broohaha last week, this week McCain looks ineffective.  His white horse seems to have charged in the wrong direction.

The vice presidential debate could given the recent downward direction of the polls momentum.  I shudder to think what episode awaits us to curb that event if it occurs.


Nagging Questions About the Bailout

September 30, 2008

Here’s an interesting bit of information from the New York Times. Democrats who voted for the bailout received appreciably more money form Wall Street than the Democrats who voted against it.

This once again brings to mind that the political division is not between Republicans and Democrats but between politicians serving corporations and those who are unaffiliated in that sense.

I do not understand the situation enough to be for or against the bailout but it is noteworthy that in this time of crisis there is a correlation between votes and campaign contributions.

I’m still struggling with understanding how at-risk home mortgages which total — according to everyone I know of — $112 billion can require $700 billion to remedy and the remedy as far as I can understand has nothing to do with making good on the mortgages that are supposedly the root of the problem.


McCain’s High Wire Act

September 30, 2008

McCain once again has hoisted himself by his own petard.  McCain’s effort to reverse the downward trend in the polls last week seems to have backfired.  His highly publicized return to Washington risked hindering those negotiations by turning them into a political spectacle.

He seemed to minimize the risk of derailing the negotiations by not taking an active part in them.  Instead he seems to have limited his participation to contacting members of congress to encourage them to pass the bailout bill, focusing on the doubting Republicans in the House.  His efforts got him into the news and stopped the chatter about his deregulation policies creating the crisis.

At the end of the week, when people believed that the bailout bill would pass, he was taking credit for solving the problem.  With the bill’s spectacular failure, McCain finds himself in a worse situation than the one last week.  Instead of diverting discussion from how we got into this difficulty and receiving accolades for averting disaster, he finds himself ducking the ricochets of his own salvos.

The man who claims to embody the best leadership qualities could not lead his own party in a time of crisis.  The intense degree of attention McCain called to this matter puts the failure of his efforts in sharpest relief. Increasingly his judgment appears to be somewhat superficial and geared to public realtions rather than substance.

The polls indicate that McCain is suffering the most erosion of support among older voters.  These people are generally regarded as a more knowledgeable group of voters.  My guess is that McCain’s predilection toward snap judgments, and willingness to take serious risks are causes of diminishing support from this quarter.  His record shows him voting almost entirely for deregulation and he has boasted about it consistently until very recently.  There is nothing in his recent activity to show insight and judgment sufficient to separate him from his record.


Medical Malpractice Does not Apply to Vets in Washington

September 29, 2008

The case Sherman v. Kissinger was just published by the Court of Appeals today.  It represents a fairly good overview of a pet owner’s rights against a vet in Washington.  This case involved a dog which died after being left at a clinic for a urine sample.  A much more intrusive method of collecting the sample was taken than the one described to the pet owner, a method that led promptly to the dog’s death.

Suit was brought under several theories, including the medical malpractice statute, chapter 7.70 RCW, claiming lack of consent to the procedure.  The Court reversed the trial judge and held that the medical malpractice  statute could not be invoked against a vet.

The owners must treat a pet under Washington law like they would a television set that was taken in for repair.  Under the law a pet is just like any other personal property.  The informed consent statute therefore cannot apply to the treatment of pets.  (Claims that apply to appliance repair such as misrepresentation and negligence can apply to claims involving a pet taken to a vet.)

The reason that this sort of issue does not come before the Court of Appeals very ofter is that damages are only narrowly allowed.  The general rule is that the owner is entitled to the market vlaue of the dead pet.

Emotional distress and similar damages cannot typically be obtained for the loss of a pet.  There are no damages for loss of companionship with a pet.  Only if the cause of death was malicious injury can emotion distress damages be obtained.  This of course would not be available in a typical claim against a vet.

There is also something called “intrinsic value” of a pet that can be a measure of damages.  The idea here is to award the value of the pet to the owner, as opposed to the market value.  This is a very poorly developed concept in Washington and one of at least uncertain utility to an aggrieved pet owner.


McCain’s Failed Media Manipulation

September 29, 2008

The Washington Post described McCain’s attempts to manipulate the media into seeing him as a savior of the economy last week.  The effort failed but it is a relief to see the media reporting on efforts to manipulate reporting instead of the mindless dictation that we have grown accustomed to seeing.

With the vigilance shown by internet reporters it is harder to get away with easy verbal tricks.  McCain “suspended” his campaign so that he could go to Washington to take care of matters, saying that this is not the sort of thing that you can do by phone.  Today he said that he is handling the bailout by phone.  From the looks of things neither approach has worked for him.

McCain was apparently taking credit for achieving the bailout, at least until the vote failed.  The House Republicans were the group that he specifically targeted in his trip to Washington but they seem to be the ones who torpedoed that bill today.  He faulted Obama for being on the sidelines, when I am unable to discern the slightest positive impact of his theatrics.


The Storm is Part of Seattle’s Community

September 29, 2008

I thought I’d mention Seattle’s WNBA team, the Storm, which seems to have been embraced by the community. Seattle owes the team an expression of thanks and gratitude for their efforts.

I could not go to the last game in the L.A. series because I had a long standing commitment to attend the Mariners game. The Thursday game was a good baseball game with the Mariners coming out victors against the Angels, a rare feat this season or for that matter in recent seasons.

I was on the second level where they have areas with food and drink concessions, along with tables and lots of televisions. During the game one of the televisions was turned to the channel showing the Storm game and there was a cluster of people leaning forward at the tables anxiously watching the game. A small group of people stood behind them and vendors were craning their necks to get a view.

The viewers were mostly men but women were well represented as well. They cheered as the team came back then grew silernt as L.A. held off the Storm at the end of the game. The disappointment was obvious but the folks watching the games expressed appreciation for theteam and the effort at the end. There was no grousing about the coaches or players; everyone seemed to really like the team and to be proud of it.

This authentic warmth struck as rather unique these days when we tend to dismiss anything but complete success and are quick to find fault with players and coaches. I go to my share of games in different sports and do not often see the love of the sport and the appreciation of the athletes as I do among Storm fans.

The players have not been corrupted by staggering contracts and bring a refreshing sense of sportsmanship to their game; these days it seems almost innocent. I think to some degree the Storm fans are people who miss the innocence of sports, rooting for your team through good and bad times, players who truly are people like you’d like your children to become, people who love their sport and do not imagine that it somehow separates them from others.


McCain’s Plan to Deregulate Insurance

September 29, 2008

When McCain was saying that there was no problem with the financial industry, he really meant it. His blinders were so effective that he published this piece after the market went haywire this month. On the second page he actually recommends his insurance deregulation plan based on the successful deregulation of the banking industry. I hope that his published enthusiasms do not track his stock selection decisions.


The First Debate: Body Language

September 27, 2008

After all the theater preceding the debate, I was surprised to see such cautious, measured talks at the debate.  They were both nervous particularly at the beginning. There is a video and complete script of the debate here.

McCain, while seeming like a tight spring, maintained a reserve that seemed to be broken only by dismissive comments toward Obama.  Obama on the other hand seemed more relaxed but at times struggled for the right word and slid into his habit of saying “a-a-a-a” as filler while he searched for the next word.

Does anyone else see Nixon in McCain’s style of talking? They have that same hunched-over delivery and a similar gravamen.  Nixon had a more “presidential” manner when he spoke, geturing more broadly and varying the tone and meter of his speech a little more, when he was at his best.

Obama’s reserve came across clearly enough with him more or less declining the invitation to look at McCain (who never turned from the audience).  Obama’s response to the moderator’s invitation to talk to McCain was interesting.  He started mixing up his pronouns, alternating between second and third person when talking about McCain and would only glance at him.  He seemed particularly forceful later the few times he actually turned and spoke to McCain.  When he did that however he did not vary his somewhat professorial tone.

They both seemed rather grave which no doubt was appropriate.  Obama has a great smile which was caught on camera occasionally when there was a shot of him looking at McCain while McCain spoke.  It did not seem mean spirited or anything of the sort.  McCain’s smile on the other hand seemed like a cheek muscle exercise.  When he smiled to reveal his sharp little teeth, he conveyed more malice than mirth.

In the candidates’ interaction with the moderator, Obama took the lead.  McCain strangely had almost no interaction with him, but followed Obama’s lead.  This created a sense of poise in Obama that was not present throughout the evening.  McCain, staying hunched over and looking straight ahead, conveyed at these times a brittleness of manner, something that he is trying to avoid.

Obama’s loose limbed lankiness served to promote a sense of comfort, which contrasted with McCain’s rigid hunched over posture.  His smile when they met on stage at the beginning of the debate, combined with his manner, seemed authentically gracious.  McCain’s smile and manner seemed uncomfortable and perfunctory.  That struck met as unexpected as McCain is billing himself as the sage leader and Obama as the young neophyte.


Where is the Money Going, Part 2

September 26, 2008

I do not think that anyone knows where the money is going.  The Democrats do not seem ready to undertake that analysis, bending to the administration’s cries of urgency.  I myself am not prepared to surrender reason to threats of disaster just yet.  The Washington Mutual takeover after was conducted by the administration the moment it unexplained plan bogged down.  The timing is not above suspicion, but unquestionably WaMu was in serious trouble.

Congress has put restraints on this massive corporate welfare program by insisting that the money be paid in installments (almost entirely to corporations who claim they are in trouble because home loans are not being paid, so why not help with those payments instead?) and with Congressional oversight.  Still nobody knows where the money is going which seems to have become a theme of this administration since the Iraq invasion.

Marie Cantwell and Joe Lieberman issued this press release quoted below.

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) sent the following letter to Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Representative Boehner, Senator Dodd, Senator Shelby, Representative Frank, and Representative Bachus, asking them to ensure there are clear mechanisms for long-term transparency, accountability, and reform in the current financial recovery package.
“Any financial recovery package that Congress enacts must put transparency and tough rules in place to make sure consumers are protected,”said Cantwell. “While the financial markets need emergency surgery today their long-term health is dependent on prevention. We need to establish a robust regulatory regime capable of overseeing today’s complex global marketplace.  We also need to determine what went wrong, hold bad actors accountable and apply the lessons learned to prevent future financial market meltdowns.
In addition to protecting homeowners and taxpayers and holding Wall Street executives accountable, it is critical that the financial rescue package jumpstart the process of fundamental reform of our financial markets so that we never again find ourselves in this position.  Under our proposal, in four months, the National Commission for Financial Regulatory Reform will provide Congress with a specific plan for comprehensive reform of the financial system that will strengthen the stability of our financial infrastructure and protect the long-term interests of American taxpayers, investors, and businesses.  With the Commission recommendations in hand, the next Congress will be able to immediately begin moving forward with the fundamental reforms we desperately need,” said Lieberman.
This does nothing to explain where the money is going and admits that we do not know how we got here.  There being no explanation of where “here” is it appears that Congress may be almost as much in the dark as we are.
It remains unclear why just paying off the $112 billion of troubled home mortgages, or loaning enough to keep them current, would not solve the problem.