Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Bailout: The Really Small Print Is Really, Really Scary

Assuming that the Bush-Paulson Wall St. bailout gets changed drastically by the time it’s passed, we can all tip our hat to Mother Jones. With everyone on the Hill screaming about the power grab Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is trying to engineer, the magazine’s Nomi Prins deserves a deep thanks for noticing the really, really, teeny tiny, fine print in what Treasury sent to the House and Senate.

Prins alone seems to have discovered that the barely-discussed Sec. 6 of the newly-named Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, creates a never-ending bailout with the key phrase, "The Secretary's authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time." (Italics added)

What “at any one time” means when it’s not raining is simply this: If whatever the taxpayers buy turns out to be worth zero, nada, nothing, zip, then Ol’ Hank, Wall Street’s best friend in Washington, can buy up another $700-billion worth of junk to give the banks a second helping at the public trough. And so on ad nauseum until the public is left holding an expensive, empty sack while banks, insurance companies and other bailed out lenders profit from the crème de la crème they keep in their portfolio.

I’d love such a sweet deal! Who wouldn’t? No wonder financial services lobbyists – never shy before in publicly pleading for Congressional relief from this or that – have kept their mouth shut on the bailout.

Know something?

The TARP they’re trying to cover us with is misnamed; it should be called HAPASWEAT, short for the Hank Paulson Sweater because he wants to give us a warm and cozy feeling as he pulls the wool over our eyes.

Oh! Bama. Economy Propels Obama to 53%-42% Lead Over McCain.

A new ABC/Washington Post poll is reporting this morning that Barack Obama has seized the reins of economic discontent, vaulting over John McCain's convention gains by persuading voters he both better understands their economic troubles and can better address them.

Economic concerns, plus an Obama lead among those worried about their well-being, spells a lead for the Democrat: In a head-to-head-match-up he's now supported 52% to 43% among likely voters, the first significant advantage for either candidate among likely voters in ABC/Post polls.

The contest has shifted from a 49%-47% McCain-Obama race Immediately after the Republican convention, McCain led Obama by 49%-42%. But the bounce, on individual issues and attributes as well as in overall preference, is gone.

Fully 53% of registered voters in the ABC /WaPo study call the economy the single most important issue in the election, up 12 points in two weeks to an extraordinary level of agreement.

The public is cool to the bailout itself, underscoring economic uncertainty.

Eight in 10 are worried about the economy's future, with 50% saying they’re “very worried.” Personal concern runs high as well: 60% are worried about their family's finances. And 83% say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, back within a point of its record high – set just this June – in polls dating to early 1970s.

All these work for Obama.

He's recovered to a 14% lead over McCain in trust to handle the economy, and leads by 13% specifically in trust to deal with the meltdown of major financial institutions.

Obama leads by more, 57%-33%, in better understanding the public's economic problems.

Tellingly, after trailing by 17 points, he's pulled even with McCain in trust to handle a major crisis. And Obama holds wide margins in preference among likely voters most concerned about the economy.

Attention to the contest, meanwhile, is remarkable. Fully 91% of registered voters are following it closely and 55% "very" closely – both highs in ABC/Post polls dating to the 1988 presidential election.

The number of McCain supporters who describe themselves as "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy plunged to 34%, down from 46% after the Republican convention. A steady and far greater number of Obama's supporters remain very enthusiastic about their candidate, 62%.

In a related challenge, concern about the candidates' age is up: 48%, a new high, call it an important factor in their vote, and it hurts McCain: Those who call it important favor Obama by 2-1, 63%-32%.

Then there are white women. They're back to a dead heat now, precisely where they were in mid-July and a dramatic turnaround from June when they backed McCain by 16-points.

Shifts in other key swing groups are also striking.

• White Catholics have shifted from a broad post-convention preference for McCain, 57-38 percent, to a dead heat.
• Independents, likewise, went from +10 for McCain two weeks ago to +14 for Obama now. And married women, +11 for McCain on Sept. 7, are +5 for Obama now.
• Among other changes, there’s been a major swing to Obama in the Midwest. He’s now up there, 53%-40%, almost a complete turnaround from the 54%-43% McCain advantage on Sept. 7.

The shift toward Obama is not limited to economic issues: While he's gained the upper hand on the pre-eminent factor, others have moved along as well. McCain had led by 10 points in trust to handle the Iraq war; now Obama is +4. McCain's 20-point lead on terrorism is now an insignificant 4 points, the closest of the campaign.

And they're now even in trust to handle international affairs, back to July's result.

On personal attributes, Obama's turned a scant 6-point deficit on honesty and trustworthiness into an 11-point advantage.

Data and facts from ABC News.