Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let Obama and McCain make their cases standing alone before skeptical audiences

Sure, it would be great if Obama and McCain could break their impasse and agree on some joint campaign confrontations -- whether they're all forums (McCain's preference) or a combination of debates and forums (Obama's preference).

But why not single-candidate appearances before groups whose views are 180 degrees opposite?

Wouldn't it be interesting to see how McCain would fare before advocates of an accelerated U.S. troop pullout from Iraq, or before a group of working-class Americans who make less than the median income of $32,140?

Wouldn't it be just as interesting to see how Obama would do before opponents of an accelerated Iraq pullout, or maybe entrepreneurs who think his tax plan would punish them for being successful?

Confrontations between candidates occasionally become moments of history -- like the Kennedy and Nixon debate in 1960 -- but most of the time they end up being forgettable.

Let's see McCain and Obama make their cases alone in front of an audience of questioning, skeptical Americans. That's not likely to be forgettable.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama and the inequities of payroll taxes

Obama is under fire for his plan to raise FICA payroll taxes on high earners -- by former Bush economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey here and former Bill Clinton speech writer and current New York Post columnist Dick Morris here.

The present income cutoff for the 6.2% Social Security tax and the 1.45% Medicare tax is $102,000. Obama's plan would keep the ceiling on those who earn between $102,000 and $250,000 and re-impose it on incomes above $250,000 (about 3% of all wage earners).

The debate over Obama's plan should open up a wider discussion about the basic fairness of payroll taxes. They hurt low wage earners most. A worker who earns less than the median income of $32,140 gets $2,456 lopped off the top of his wages. That could be as much as he pays in income taxes. Add the employer's share of payrolls taxes, and the total could be double what the worker pays in income taxes.

Matthew J. Slaughter, who was on President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2005 to 2007, thinks payroll taxes should be eliminated for workers making less than the median income, with the gap closed by raising the current $102,000 ceiling. Slaughter says such a move would put an average of $3,800 in the pockets of the 67 million low wage earners -- much more than the tax breaks proposed by Obama.

Present payroll taxes also punish entrepreneurs, who have to pay both employee and employer payroll taxes -- for a total of 15.3% on income up to $102,000. Under Obama's plan, they would be punished more. They'd have to pay that 15.3% on all additional income above $250,000. And that would be on top of other tax hikes Obama proposes for the top 3% earners. Raise the cap on payroll taxes, but do it without punishing entrepreneurs more, and make it a true "cap" by setting a taxable income ceiling.

Obama has changed his mind about his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (he has condemned his views), and public financing of presidential campaigns (he has opted for no-limit private financing because the public system is "broken"). He should look hard at the inequities of payroll taxes, and modify his tax plan accordingly.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Did Obama sell out in backing the surveillance compromise?

Obama is taking heat from the Democratic left for supporting the compromise anti-terrorist surveillance bill passed by the House last Friday.

Nut graf from LA Times editorial:

Critics of the bill (HR 6304) complain that it would give the executive branch broad license to spy on U.S. residents without a warrant. Any phone call or e-mail with targets in other countries could be intercepted without prior court approval if the administration claimed it necessary in an emergency.

But the compromise bill, which 105 Democrats supported (against the 128 who opposed it), contains new safeguards against over-zealous surveillance, including that the White House must bind itself to mandatory oversight.

In language that was attacked by critics, the bill grants retroactive immunity to telcoms against suits charging invasion of privacy when the firms released phone records at the behest of the White House without a warrant. Obama addressed that issue in his statement on the compromise:

Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The editorialists vs. Obama: To the barricades!

OMG! What will these editorial board members -- most of them middle-aged white males -- do next? Picket the next Obama rally? If someone will bring them double lattes and croissants, maybe.

Public financing: a 20th century tool for running for President in 2008

This New York Times piece on Obama's 50-state strategy explains why public financing -- the way its constructed and (under)funded today -- won't work.

Nut graf:
“To have these enormous resources [without the limitations of public financing] just gives you so many strategic options,” said Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Mr. Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “If John Kerry had these resources and had stayed outside the system of public funding, I believe he’d be president today.”

Friday, June 20, 2008

Obama's no to public financing: So?

There's been a lot of huffing and puffing about Obama's decision not to use public financing for his presidential campaign. But the law that created public financing is indeed broken, as Obama said in his video statement Thursday explaining his decision. The $85 million spending limit for each presidential candidate between the end of August (when the national conventions are held) and Election Day on Nov. 4 is a joke. In the Democratic primaries, Obama spent nearly $220 million in the Democratic primaries. The spending lid imposed by public financing does not cover "soft" money or what the national political parties can spend. The Republican National Committee has a war chest of $41 million to support McCain's presidential campaign, while the Democratic National Committee has a paltry $5 million.

Among the broken pieces of public financing is the Federal Election Commission, which is charged with regulating federal finance laws. In this hot political season, there's a stack of thorny campaign-related issues waiting on decision by the FEC. It's supposed to have six commissioners, but because of various maneuvering, involving both major political parties, there are only two sitting commissioners.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama as both winner and loser

Obama could win the popular vote by 2 or 3 percentage points, but McCain could become President by patching together an Electoral College majority, Politico theorizes. It could happen if the Democrat rolls up bigger margins in blue states and also captures Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia, but McCain wins all the Southern states that Bush claimed in 2004, except for Virginia, and also takes battleground states Michigan (won by Kerry in 2004) and New Hampshire (Bush in 2004).

Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by about half a percentage point, but, of course, Bush won the Electoral College vote, 271 to 266, when the Supreme Court kept Florida in his column.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Facts behind Russert's death starting to come out

Finally, we're starting to get questions answered regarding Tim Russert's sudden death last Friday. A story in the New York Times notes that while Russert was "significantly overweight," in the words of his internist and had thicked heart muscle, his doctors did not choose to make invasive tests, such as an angiogram, which could have detected the extent of the artery blockages that caused his death.

More facts behind Russert and his "asymptomatic" coronary artery disease could be a lifesaver for some of the 310,000 Americans, male and female, who die of cardiac arrest annually -- like him, without warning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How many degrees separate Obama and 'Friends of Angelo'?

Some of Barack Obama's big (and early) endorsers in the Senate, like Sen. Chris Dodd from Connecticut and Kent Conrad from North Dakota, are among the "Friends of Angelo." That would be Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, who arranged VIP mortgage financing for his concentric circles of friends nationwide. If you were a VIP, and even if you were worth millions -- such as friends like Jim Johnson, the former Fannie Mae CEO who had to give up leading Obama's VP search committee after his relationship was disclosed -- you became eligible for mortgage financing that might include a lower rate or forgiveness of expensive interest "points" that wouldn't be available to Countrywide's other customers. Some of those other customers, you might recall, had bad credit ratings and didn't make enough money to afford the loans that Countrywide gave them (and then sold in the secondary market, including Fannie Mae, so it wouldn't itself get stiffed).

Chris Dodd tells the Washington Post that he didn't know the VIP status Countrywide conferred on him gave him any special deal. Dodd, of course, is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over mortgage-industry-related legislation.

Did I read somewhere that Obama wants to end the back-door dealings between lobbyists and the federal government? I guess maybe "Friends of Angelo" wouldn't be included among Obama's targets because Angelo Mozilo is no lobbyist -- he is the big corporate enchilada himself

Obama offers more details on his economic plan

He holds out the possibility of a cut in corporate taxes. He also says the economies of old industrials cities -- he cites Flint, MI -- have to be rebuilt: "We've got to make sure that we are putting in place the kinds of structures that will allow us to compete [globally] long term. Excerpts from his Wall Street Journal interview.

Behind Obama's slim lead over McCain in Washington Post-ABC News Poll

The new Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows Obama holding an inconclusive lead over McCain -- 49 to 45 among registered voters. But on other interesting questions, the results are firmer.

The economy/jobs has clearly surpassed the Iraq war as the dominant issue. Obama stands to benefit from this trend more than McCain because the Democratic nominee's tax plan offers more for lower-middle-income workers than McCain's. But with Iraq a receding issue, that could help McCain, who, in contrast to Obama, opposes a quick pullout of U.S. troops.

The poll's results on "most imortant issue":

Most Important Isssue  ------------ 2008 -------------   ------ 2007 -----
6/15 5/11 4/13 2/1 1/12 12/9 11/1 9/7
Economy/Jobs 33 36 41 39 29 24 14 11
Iraq/War in Iraq 19 21 18 19 20 23 29 35
Health care 8 6 7 8 10 10 13 13
Gas/Oil prices/Energy 6 2 1 * 1 0 0 0
security 4 4 5 5 4 9 5 6
Obama is even with McCain as "stronger leader," but way ahead of him regarding other values:

Regardless of who you may support, who do you think [ITEM] - (Obama) or (McCain)?

6/15/08 - Summary Table
                                           Both    Neither     No
Obama McCain (vol.) (vol.) opinion
a. is the stronger leader 46 46 3 1 4
b. would do more to bring
needed change to Washington 60 26 1 8 4
c. better represents your own
personal values 51 38 2 5 3
d. better understands the
problems of people like you 53 35 1 7 4
e. would do more to stand up to
lobbyists and special interest
groups 51 36 2 6 5
Obama has generated far more enthusiasm:

Thinking about his candidacy for president so far, how enthusiastic

are you about [NAME] - very enthusiastic, fairly enthusiastic, not

too enthusiastic, or not enthusiastic at all?

        --- Enthusiastic --   ---- Not Enthusiastic ----     
NET Very Fairly NET Not too Not at all No opinion
a. Obama 55 28 27 44 18 26 1
b. McCain 42 9 33 57 28 29 1

Obama has a confidence problem:

Thinking of who you may support, do you think Barack Obama does or does
not have the kind of experience it takes to serve effectively as president?
       Does    Does not    No opinion
6/15/08 50 46 4
3/2/08 49 45 6

McCain is not seen as an agent of change by a decisive majority:

If McCain were elected president, do you think he'd (mainly lead the
country in a new direction), or (mainly continue in George W. Bush's
direction)? If McCain were elected president, do you think he'd (mainly
lead the country in a new direction), or (mainly continue in George
W. Bush's direction)?
           New        Same         No
direction direction opinion
6/15/08 38 57 5

Monday, June 16, 2008

Asked to head 'Meet the Press,' Russert saw himself as 'too ugy'

Why Tim Russert stood out among his many talented news media peers is explained in this Newsweek Q & A with Jack Hurley, a 30-year veteran of broadcast news. Hurley is now deputy director of the recently opened Newseum in Washington, the "interactive museum of news."

Hurley talks about Russert's richly varied background. He earned a law degree, but went to work in politics for two New York legislative legends --first for senator Daniel Moynihan and then governor Mario Cuomo -- before he joined NBC. At the network he was a guy who chose to stay behind a desk in the newsroom before being tapped -- against his will because he thought he was "too ugly" -- by then NBC News President Michael Gartner to moderate "Meet the Press," a legacy Sunday public affairs program that, in its fifth decade, was going nowhere against its morning competition, led by "This Week With David Brinkley" on ABC. (It hurt, of course, that Brinkley earned his network news chops at NBC as the wry half of the "Huntley-Brinkley" evening news program.)

The TV news person who may come closest to Russert in political pedigree is ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who was communications director for President Bill Clinton. Stephanapoulos has gained a lot of news cred over the past several years, moderating "This Week," serving as the network's chief Washington correspondent, regularly appearing on various ABC venues and wearing out a lot of shoe leather on the hustings. In this political year, Stephanapoulos has an opportunity to exploit his double background -- as Tim Russert did so well.

Obama: 'They've got to have daddy rootin' for them too'

Obama's Father's Day speech at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago -- watch it.

CEO Barack Obama: He keeps his eye on the big picture

Obama as his campaign's CEO. Nut graf from New York Times story:

"As the chief executive officer of Obama for America, a concern of nearly 1,000 employees and a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Obama is more inclined to focus on the big picture over the day-to-day whirl."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What was the NY Times trying to say with its story on a 1974 McCain paper about POWs?

The New York Times has a lengthy story about a 34-year-old paper that John McCain wrote about the Code of Conduct for members of the U.S. armed forces and how it may continue to shape his views about foreign conflicts to this day. The Times succeeded in getting the paper made public through a Freedom of Information request.

McCain wrote the paper for the National War College when he was still a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and likely headed for a top naval leadership post like his father and grandfather before him. It was largely based on his experiences as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for five years, during which time he was repeatedly tortured and punished.

To help American prisoners of war avoid becoming propaganda pawns -- as some did in the Vietnam war -- McCain recommended in his paper that "all members of the Armed Forces should be informed of the nature of United States foreign policy if he is expected to risk his life in defense of it."

“The biggest factor in a man’s ability to perform credibly as a prisoner of war is a strong belief in the correctness of his nation’s foreign policy," he wrote.

But foreign policy can change, big time. It did several times during the Vietnam war -- under the administrations of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. It's proving just as fluid during the Iraq war, and who knows what it will be after the November election?

The military Code of Conduct of today and when McCain was a POW makes no mention of foreign policy. It is written as if from commander to subordinate. It talks about "the principles which made my country free," and wisely stops there.

This is how Articles 5 and 6 read:


When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.


I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Try adding something like "and complete support of U.S. foreign policy" to either article, and what do you get? A hash that could put an even heavier burden on American POWs, wherever they are being held.

It's not totally clear from the Times article whether, and how, McCain today thinks foreign policy should be incorporated in the Code of Conduct. But in his email response to the reporter who wrote the story, McCain does not choose to modify his 1974 views.

On its website Sunday, the Times bumped the story from its homepage, where, originally, it had prominent placement from the night before. Maybe it decided the story was just too mucky. If so, good choice. I'll bet McCain agrees.

Nagging questions about Russert’s sudden death

The sudden death of Tim Russert from cardiac arrest raises questions that aren't being answered or asked with enough urgency:

  • Why wasn't Russert's enlarged heart -- which his internist said was discovered during the autopsy -- detected while he was alive? Enlarged heart is not necessarily a symptom of coronary artery disease -- which led to the cardiac arrest that killed Russert -- but it is a potential danger sign. It can be picked up with a test as simple as an X-ray.
  • Did the exercise stress test that Russert took in April include either a nuclear scan or stress echocardiography? The scan can reveal “cold spots” on the patient’s heart resulting from diminished blood flow during peak exercise – a potential sign of the kind of arterial blockage that struck Russert’s heart. Echocardiography can detect – again during peak exercise – reduced contractions of heart muscle resulting from blocked blood flow to the left ventricle due to coronary artery disease.

    If Russert's enlarged heart
    had been detected while he was alive, that condition might have prompted more sophisticated tests to determine whether he had serious -- as opposed to "asymptomatic" -- coronary artery disease that would acquire aggressive intervention. One such test is coronary angiography in which a dye is injected in the major arteries. Angiograms can accurately pinpoint arterial blockages like the serious one that triggered Russert's cardiac arrest.
  • Would it have been a sensible precaution for the NBC Studios in Washington, where Russert collapsed in his office, to have a portable defibrillator that might have shocked his heart back to its normal beat?

Dr. Douglas Zipes, past president of the American College of Cardiology and distinguished professor of medicine at Indiana University, said Russert had a classic profile for ventircular fibrillation: "male, age 58, slightly but not terribly overweight," according to WebMed.

Zipes told WebMed that "AEDs [portable defibrillators] should be as common as fire extinguishers."

Defibrillation must be administered within 10 minutes of cardiac arrest -- or it's too late. Russert collapsed shortly after 1:30 p.m. last Friday afternoon. An EMS unit arrived at 1:44 p.m. -- apparently past the 10-minute deadline -- and tried unsuccessfully to defibrillate Russert's heart three times. Further life-saving action at the hospital to which he was rushed also proved fruitless.

The average life for an American white male is 76 years (as of 2006) – 18 years longer than Russert lived. That average includes many males who don’t have the resources to take good care of their health or the will to do so. Russert had access to the best medical and health resources and, judging from his regular exercise regime, was mindful of his health.

Perhaps in coming days, after the shock of Russert's death recedes, there will be attempts to answer the nagging questions. The answers perhaps could be a lifesaver for thousands of males and females who die the same death as Russert did. "Sudden cardiac arrest accounts for 310,000 deaths in America every year, or 850 a day -- more than those caused by breast cancer, lung cancer, stroke and AIDS combined," according to Newsweek.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Obama's disconnect with rural and blue-collar voters

problem with rural and blue-collar voters is pinpointed in this Washington Post piece on his 2004 Democratic primary and general election races for U.S. senator. Obama, of course, won both but he did abysmally in southern Illinois, which abounds in rural and blue-collar voters. But the results of the 2004 primary may not be a totally accurate guide to what will happen in the November presidential election. As this Almanac of American Politics story (updated Dec. 5, 2007) points out, Obama's two major primary opponents got off to strong early campaign starts. Still, while Obama is mounting a well-financed 50-state campaign, money and organization may not be enough to capture the respectable chunks of rural and blue-collar voters he needs to win the 270 Electoral Votes that will put him in the White House. Sure, he'll win Illinois easily even if he loses downstate, but to take the must-win states of Ohio and Pennsylvania he has to do better with blue-collar voters than he did against Hillary Clinton, who won both states handily in their spring party primaries.

Obama is in danger of losing Ohio, if not Pennsylvania with his present messages. To improve his chances, he's got to connect with the economically cheated people who, so far, have been the losers in globalization. Even when America's economy was supposedly humming, Ohio was a net loser of jobs -- has been since the 1970s. A new Brookings Institution report on America's older industrial cities -- where blue-collar jobs are concentrated -- identifies six states with a total of 35 struggling cities. Two of those states -- Ohio and Pennsylvania -- Obama must win. If he wins Pennsylvania -- where his chances are better -- and loses Ohio, then he has to capture Michigan -- another of the six states with failing cities in the Brookings report. Polls show McCain leading in Michigan.

Calling for job-training programs and Nafta tweaks is fine, but that's not enough for Obama. What about workers who have jobs, but make less than the $32,140 median income? FICA payroll taxes lop off an average of $3,800 of their salaries. The government grabs that amount from each worker regardless of how little he or she pays in income taxes.

There's a way to take this burden off the back of workers making less than $32,140 -- spelled out in this earlier post. Obama's economic plan doesn't do enough for those workers. If Obama doesn't show how he'd do more, he may lose Ohio. And even Pennsylvania. If he doesn't win both, he remains the junior senator from Illinois, with less seniority than the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert, a life lived large

The sudden death of Tim Russert is being prominently featured across Web sites and on TV. What's especially interesting about the coverage is how much it's dominated by Tim Russert the man, husband, father, son, philanthropist and Catholic. His journalistic achievements -- preeminently the longest-appearing host on the longest-running program ever on network television -- were detailed. But what competitor colleagues, politicos and others often stressed more was the Russert who lived a rich and full life miles away from the red eye of the TV camera. Russert, who was 58, never forgot he came from Buffalo, NY (the "frozen buckle of the Rust Belt"), and that he was the son of a sanitation worker and (after his shift ended) evening newspaper deliverer -- "Big Russ" in his affectionate memoir, "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life." He was also a proud Catholic, among whose biggest life experiences were his audiences with Pope John Paul II and, more recently, Pope Benedict XVI, on his trip to Washington in April. Eulogizers also remembered Russert as a family man, married to Vanity Fair magazine writer Maureen Orth. Russert and Orth had just returned with their son Luke from a trip in Rome to celebrate Luke's graduation from Boston College.

Here's Russert's bio on My Space.

If journalists want to be thought of more positively -- or at least less contemptuously -- they will certainly want to look at the example of Tim Russert -- as fair as he was tough -- but they may also want to look at his large life beyond TV newsrooms and studio sets.

Eulogies -- and comments from his viewers.

Behind Russert's extraordinary impact as a political journalist.

Where does Obama really stand on education reform?

David Brooks in his New York Times column asks the question about Obama that's becoming a mantra: "Is Barack Obama really a force for change, or is he just a traditional Democrat with a patina of postpartisan rhetoric?"

Brooks' particular issue is education. He says there's the "status quo camp," which takes the conventional approach calling for smaller classes, better instruction and better teacher training, and the "reformist camp," which calls for major structural change that includes more accountability both from students and teachers.

So far, Brooks says, Obama seems to be straddling both camps. In the education section of his campaign website, Obama has a paragraph on the the dropout crisis. His proposals: "...legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school - strategies such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time."

All the proposals sound good. But I hope Obama will talk -- in detail and straightforwardly -- about parent involvement. This is especially important for minority kids. While the dropout rate for white students is 6 percent, 10.4 percent of black students quit school and 22.4 percent of Hispanic students quit.

How forum format could hurt and help McCain

McCain likes the informality of town forums, compared to speeches. The forum format plays to his style, which is more conversational than Ciceronian, and lets him unload the trademark cracks that reinforce his maverick image. But forums with Obama will include audiences ready to pounce on either candidate.

It will be interesting to see how McCain will handle questioners who grill him on his tax plan, which favors the affluent and corporations over the working class, and which will run up the national debt by as much as $5.7 trillion over 10 years, according to some estimates. If a questioner starts off, "I make $30,000 a year -- tell me how your tax plan will help me as much as someone who makes $200,000," how will an informal McCain respond? Certainly not with a wisecrack (I hope).

On the other hand, McCain might be able to use the forum format to strengthen his case against a swift pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. The surge -- which he totally supported -- worked, as even some critics say, and the Maliki governmenti is taking forceful action against insurgents, regardless of their religious or clan affiliation. If violence in Iraq continues to recede in the coming months, Obama -- who wants a swift pullout -- will be in a more vulnerable position than McCain.

McCain as Old America, Obama as the New

Peggy Noonan in her Wall Street Journal column says John McCain represents Old America and Barack Obama the New, but while she says "America is always looking forward, not back," she's got mixed feelings about inevitable change.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Please send pro-McCain stuff my way

One reason I started this blog was to track the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain. I guess by putting Obama first I reveal my preference. OK. But I am frustrated by not being able to find enough pro-McCain stuff to present a counter-balance to my Obama leanings. I tried with my riff on Rick Davis, McCain's manager, but his "briefing" on the status of his candidate's campaign, while it made some good points, pushed the spin button too often and made claims in states -- e.g., California and Connecticut -- that were fanciful. My browsings of the Web aren't turning up much that I can use. McCain's economic proposal appears to be GOP-speak squared -- keep lowering taxes on the affluent, ignore those who earn less than the median income, and, in the bargain, continue to bust the budget.

The McCain website.

Al Gore as Obama's veep?

LA Times political blogger Andrew Malcolm adds some nuances to James Carville's suggestion that Obama make Al Gore his running mate.

Obama has narrow lead in Electoral votes, but McCain is shaky in four states

RealClear Politics has Obama leading McCain 272 to 266 in Electoral votes, based on polling. But McCain is winning four states with a total of 45 Electoral votes (Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and Virginia) by just 2 points or less. Obama's only tight margin is in Ohio (20 Electoral votes), where he's ahead 44 to 42.7.


If you disagree, build your own Electoral College vote on this interactive map from the Los Angeles Times.

McCain's tax plan benefits affluent, Obama's helps low- and middle-income

For a good comparison of the Obama and McCain tax, plans, check out this "preliminary analysis" by the Tax Policy Center sponsored by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.

Nut graf:
"The two candidates' plans would have sharply different distributional effects. Senator McCain's tax cuts would primarily benefit those with very high incomes, almost all of whom would receive large tax cuts that would, on average, raise their after-tax incomes by more than twice the average for all households. Many fewer households at the bottom of the income distribution would get tax cuts and those whose taxes fall would, on average, see their after-tax income rise much less. In marked contrast, Senator Obama offers much larger tax breaks to low- and middle-income taxpayers and would increase taxes on high-income taxpayers. The largest tax cuts, as a share of income, would go to those at the bottom of the income distribution, while taxpayers with the highest income would see their taxes rise."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jim Johnson steps down

It's over.

After Jeremiah Wright, after Jim Johnson, has Obama finally learned a lesson?

Obama's leading, but he has a lot of work to do

So, the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll gives Obama a 47 to 41 lead over McCain. The Journal is right to point out that Obama's lead is way below voter sentiment when the question is which party is preferred to win the White House. The choice then is 51 to 35 for Democrats over Republicans.

"...Sen. Obama continues to do poorly among white male voters, according to the poll. More ominous is his weakness among white women, particularly suburbanites, who generally are open to Democratic candidates and whose votes could be decisive."
-- WSJ/NBC News Poll

Obama has a lot of work to do to win more white voters. He has to do that not just by talking -- how he won in the Democratic primaries against early big favorite Hillary Clinton -- but by doing. Obviously he can't do things that a sitting President can. But he can say, "This is what I will do." Like getting rid of the terribly regressive FICA tax for the 67 million workers who make less than the median income of $32,140. That would put an average of $3,800 in each worker's pockets -- money they could spend on education, home improvements, whatever, to build a better life for themselves. More details, and how the proposal would be funded, below.

As the first black candidate for President, Obama should also do something big and dramatic about improving race relations in America. He made a step in that direction in his "More Perfect Union" speech in Philadelphia in March. But that was a response to his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s racial rants. Obama needs to go beyond Wright -- who will be a historical footnote -- and engage both white and black citizens with action. Obviously that would include proposals to confront the stubborn gap in the academic results of black students compared to white ones. It would also include tackling crime and other big problems in low-income black neighborhoods. Here, Obama should be able to use his experiences from his early efforts organizing in tough Chicago neighborhoods.

Obama and his Jim Johnson problem

Slate's John Dickerson looks at Obama's Jim Johnson flap, and offers this suggestion:

"... it would be great if Obama could show us the instructions for how his new kind of politics works on this front."
The Wall Street Journal has reported that Johnson, the former Fannie Mae CEO (1991-1998) who is on Obama's vice president search team, received favorably priced real estate loans totaling at least several million from Countrywide Financial Corp., whose anything-goes easy credit helped trigger the subprime mortgage crisis. The loans were part of a "friends of Angelo" arrangement initiated by Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, and which also included another former Fannie Mae CEO, Franklin Raines. Fannie Mae is one of the biggest buyers of Countrywide mortgages in the secondary market, and that relationship is one reason eyebrows are being raised.

But the Journal story pinpoints only one "friends of Angelo" loan to Johnson while he was Fannie Mae's CEO. The others occurred later, when Johnson had a consulting contract with Fannie Mae.

For the one mortgage loan he received from Countrywide while he was CEO -- for $392,950, according to the Journal -- Johnson paid 6.375% interest, which was actually above the prevailing average national rate of 6.2%. For at least some of his subsequent loans from Countrywide -- which altogether totaled more than $7 million -- Johnson got interest rates lower than the national range at the time, the Journal said. But it's not clear to what extent he got the lower rates for any other reason than because of his income and other factors that lenders use to determine how much to charge individual borrowers. The Journal article says "it's impossible to tell for sure from public documents" whether Johnson got preferential treatment that other borrowers -- who weren't "friends of Angelo" -- didn't receive.

While nobody has found any wrongdoing by Johnson, Slate's Dickerson says: "...the Obama standard isn't wrongdoing. It's mere connection to the company [Countrywide]. By that standard, this is bad news."

A separate issue -- hard to nail down, with every necessary detail -- is Johnson's role in the corporate culture of Fannie Mae, which was scathingly attacked by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight in a report in May 2006. The report singled out the leadership of CEO Franklin Raines, who succeeded Johnson in 1999. It said the conduct of Raines and his "inner circle" was "inconsistent with the values of responsibility, accountability and integrity." While Johnson continued to have high-level relationships with Fannie Mae after he resigned as CEO -- first as a director and later as a consultant -- the OFHEO report does not name him with those executives it singled as as part of Raines' inner circle. Johnson was the beneficiary of a $1,932,000 bonus that the report said was based on financial results favorably distorted by accounting manipulations -- but the bonus was awarded during Raines' tenure as CEO. The report cited a number of executive bonuses that it said were also given based on tricky accounting. In April of this year, the OFHEO issue consent orders settling its cases against Raines and two other former Fannie Mae executives. Raines agreed to pay back $24.7 million and the other executives, $6.675 million. Johnson was not involved in these actions because he was never charged by OFHEO.

In responding to the Johnson-Countrywide issue, Obama, once again, is trying to talk his way out of a problem. "Well, look ... first of all, I am not vetting my vice presidential search committee for their mortgages," Obama said at a press conference in St. Louis. "I mean this is a game that can be played -- everybody you know who is anybody who is tangentially related to our campaign I think is going to have a whole host of relationships."

Dickerson may be setting an excessively high standard for Obama by saying Johnson's "mere connection" to Countrywide is "bad news." But unless Johnson can show, categorically, that he didn't receive preferential treatment -- that he got his low-interest loans because of criteria he met as a borrower, not as a "friend of Angelo" -- Obama should do something besides brush off the issue.

Obama as 'the brightest, quickest, most articulate guy'

"He strikes me as a super-successful graduate student: the brightest, quickest, most articulate guy in the seminar. In his career, he has advanced mainly by talking and writing -- not doing -- and may harbor a delusion common to the well-educated: that he can argue and explain his way around any problem."
That's Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson sizing up Barack Obama. Maybe too dismissive, but it zeroes in on the Democratic presidential candidate's main weakness. I worry about the "not doing." In my first posting, I said Obama missed a perfect opportunity to do something about the crisis in his Trinity United Christian Church congregation. Instead, he talked, and talked, and talked some more. When all the talking didn't accomplish anything, he quit the church where he'd worshipped for 20 years. Well, I guess he finally did do something.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama's economic plan: Does it go far enough?

In his speech in Raleigh, NC, Monday, Barack Obama outlines how he would make the U.S. more competitive in the global economy and help working-class families who often wind up being hurt when jobs migrate from industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania to China and other low-wage countries. Obama also skewers John McCain's economies policies, saying they'd add $5.7 trillion to the national debt, while his own are "pay-as-you-go."

Obama's proposed tax relief for working-class families -- $1,000 -- is something. But it doesn't deal with the equity issue nearly as boldly and structurally as Kenneth F. Scheve and Matthew J. Slaughter did in their "A New Deal for Globalization" article in Foreign Affairs last year. They called for elimination of the terribly regressive FICA payroll tax for the 67 million workers who earn less than the median income of $32,140. That would give back to those workers an average of about $3,800 that now gets lopped off the top of their wages annually. The $256 billion cost of the payback could be covered by raising the $94,200 cap on payroll taxes or the rate of those taxes, or a combination, Scheve and Slaughter say.

A radical, leftist idea? Well, remember that Slaughter served on President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers from 2005 to 2007.

Monday, June 9, 2008

McCain's manager sizes up his guy's chances

I like the "Strategy Briefing" video that John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, has put up on the McCain site. It's well produced, and Davis offers some good, honest analysis of his candidate's strengths and weaknesses compared to Obama's. It is a stretch, though, to say say that California should be watched "closely." According to Clear Politics's survey of five California polls, McCain is behind Obama 50.8 to 38.2. And, as the Los Angeles Times noted -- thank you, Mickey Kaus -- Obama is beating McCain 62 to 29 among registered Latinos in California, based on a new Gallup Poll summary of surveys. Davis is also reaching when he says Connecticut shows a "strong potential to become an upset state." With three polls between February and May giving Obama a 51.3 to 37.7 lead, where's the potential? Yes, Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman has endorsed McCain, but it's fanciful to think that Lieberman, who soundly beat a Democrat in 2006, can produce a halo effect in this year's presidential race.

While we're talking about the McCain site, it's trying to make hay out of Obama's appointment of Jim Johnson, former CEO of Fannie Mae, to lead his vice presidential search committee, suggesting Johnson is tied up in the subprime mortgage mess through connections with poster-boy bad lender Countrywide. But Mark Halperin, in his The Page on the Time magazine site, knocks that suggestion down as "overblown."

Come to think of it, not so long ago Rick Davis was being tar-brushed for, according to a Washington Post story, helping to "arrange an introduction in 2006 between McCain and a Russian billionaire whose suspected links to anti-democratic and organized-crime figures are so controversial that the U.S. government revoked his visa."

A blue Ohio would put Obama in the White House

If Barack Obama’s election strategy includes trying to flip some decidedly red states – as detailed in this New York Times story today -- he won’t get far enough to make a crucial difference, says electoral expert Stuart Rothenberg. The nut graf: “There will be changes, but don't expect the 2008 presidential map to look wildly different from those of 2000 and 2004.” But the 2008 map wouldn’t have to look wildly different to put Obama in the White House. In 2004 George Bush won four states by a percentage margin of about 2 percent or less – Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio. If Obama captures just Ohio from the Republicans – and holds all the states John Kerry won in 2004 – he wins an Electoral College majority, 271 to 266 Conversely, Rothenburg sees McCain having a chance in three states that went Democratic in 2004 – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But polling to date shows Obama winning more big battleground states that went Republican in 2004 than McCain would take from the Democrats. Poll averages show Obama winning Colorado, Iowa, and Ohio – 36 Electoral votes – with McCain taking only Michigan – 17 Electoral College votes. The net result, if the election mirrors current polling, would be Obama winning the Electoral College 270 to 267. For what it’s worth, a composite of eights recent polls shows Obama ahead of McCain in the popular vote 47.1 to 44.

Possible wild card: If Obama selects Sen. James Webb as his running mate, that could put Virginia 13 Electoral College votes in play. While Virginia has been reliably Republican in presidential elections since Nixon, shifting demographics (more suburbs, less rural) are mostly helping Democrats. They own the governership and, former Democratic governor Mark Warner is heavily favored to capture the Senate seat being given up by retiring Republican John W. Warner.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hillary's Mark Antony moment

Just caught Michael Goodwin's piece in the New York Daily News -- "Hillary held her nose & did her job" -- on Clinton's toneless endorsement of Obama. It'll be interesting to see where and how often she's deployed during the campaign.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

If Clinton joins the Obama campaign, will she bring the baggage that defeated her?

Despite all the gooey media coverage about how Hillary Clinton threw her support so completely to Barack Obama in her sayonara speech on Saturday, I don't buy that take. The Sunday New York Times story, already on the paper's website -- "The Long Road to a Clinton Exit" -- confirms for me that there's such a long trail of blunders, feuding and regrets in the Clinton campaign that Hillary might well prove to be counter-productive in winning votes for Obama. The co-author of this devastating story is Peter Baker, making his first appearance in the Times since he recently left the Washington Post as its White House correspondent in protest against the Post removing his wife, Susan Glasser, as assistant managing editor for national news because of her sharp elbows in managing her staff.

If Clinton is going to lug the bad-karma baggage of her own campaign into the Obama effort, how would that help the Democratic nominee in what the polls are showing is a dead-heat race against Republican John McCain? Obama has enough problems of his own -- the Rev. Wright history, his fumbling over the status of Jerusalem in Israeli-Palestinan negotiations, his inexperience in foreign affairs even compared to Bill Clinton in 1992. Would Clinton -- never mind her hair-trigger husband -- end up being one more addition to Obama's gallery of "bitter" people?

Clinton's Obama endorsement: The right words, but...

Barack Obama at the National Building Museum in Washington, Hillary Clinton said the right words --"I endorse him and throw my full support behind him" -- but the way the words came out -- tonelessly -- it was as if they were shrink-wrapped in Cellophane. In contrast, there was unmistakable passion in her voice when she talked about her historic and now-ended presidential campaign. She proudly noted that she was the first woman to go so far -- and that she got the support of 18 million voters. At this moment, she dropped the conversational tone she had used minutes before for her Obama endorsement. Now she spoke from the heart, and her words rang through the cavernous space filled with her supporters (including husband Bill, daughter Chelsea and mother, Dorothy Rodham): "If we can blast 50 women into space, we will some day launch a woman into the White House."

There wasn't the slightest hint in her remarks about the vice presidency, perhaps because Clinton knows -- has been told? -- that she's not in the picture as the selection process gets underway. Several times she raised an oratorical shield toward the junior senator from Illinois who came from behind to defeat her ("I will work my heart out to make sure Sen. Obama is our next president"), but overall it sounded as if she was giving a valedictory.

Clinton is not a quitter. But perseverance isn't the strength she'll have to summon to carry out her commitment to help elect Obama.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why did Obama blink during Trinity's 'sacred conversation on race'?

De facto Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has said he would talk with the leaders of Iran and Cuba. That willingness to explore a more engaged foreign policy won Obama a lot of support (and, of course, some critics). But why didn't he show show such boldness closer to home – by using his eloquent, and persuasive, voice to help solve the festering crisis that has gripped his church in Chicago?

He had the perfect opportunity when Trinity United Church of Christ and other UCC congregations began a “sacred conversation on race” on Sunday, May 18.

UCC started the conversation partially in response to the controversy that erupted over the byte-sized racial remarks made by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., during the years when he was pastor of Obama’s church.

Obama could have made up for his fumbling responses to Wright by going before his besieged congregation and making the case – a strong one – for social and racial justice guided by the spirit of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King. King sometimes lambasted the then totally white controlled power structure. But, even when he was put behind bars, he did not engage in the kind of vituperative, divisive ranting that marked some of Wright’s sermons and his recent appearance at the National Press Club.

Obama found the time to sub for ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and deliver a commencement address at Wesleyan University on May 25. Why couldn’t he have spoke to his congregation the following Sunday? Or, if he was too busy campaigning, have his wife, Michelle, also a Trinity congregant, deliver a joint message?

But Obama passed up the opportunity. Seizing it instead was the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a radical Catholic priest in Chicago who used the Trinity pulpit during the sacred conversation to out-Wright Wright.

Instead of being subjected to Pfleger’s rant – which he has subsequently apologized for – Trinity’s congregants could have heard a message from Obama stressing conciliation – a message that’s echoed from many UCC pulpits around the nation during the sacred conversation.

In the wake of Pfleger, Obama finally responded to the crisis in his congregation – but it’s not what you’d expect from the man who calls for a new way of doing things. He resigned from Trinity. His limply worded letter to Trinity’s new pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, provided no guidance to fellow congregants who have been buffeted by a controversy that won’t go away.

Obama’s campaign mantra is “Change we can believe in.” But when he walks away from a big issue so close to home, what’s there to believe in?