Thing One: Details, Details: Tonight's presidential debate will be an endurance contest: Which candidate can go the longest without offering any specifics about his plans for the future?
Republican Mitt Romney faces perhaps the steepest challenge in this contest, having endured weeks of doubt about the math behind his tax plan, which does not appear to, in the words of that famous old mathematician Archimedes, "add up" -- at least not without raising the deficit or raising taxes on the middle class. It remains to be seen whether debate moderator Jim Lehrer will accept the Paul Ryan excuse, that it would simply take too much time to explain the math to simple human brains. It's a 90-minute debate, after all, and Lehrer probably has the patience. And the Washington Post's Ezra Klein points out that it takes no time at all to do the math on Romney's plan anyway. "[T]he problem isn’t that the math on their plan takes too long to detail. It’s that the math on their plan can’t be done. Or, it can be done, but when you do it, you get answers the Romney campaign doesn’t like," Klein writes.
Ahead of the debate, Romney did let one specific slip yesterday: He's toying with the idea of capping all deductions at $17,000 per taxpayer or household. That's helpful, but it might only raise up to $2 trillion -- still not closing the $5 trillion hole Romney's tax cuts propose, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center (via Klein again). It would also seem to raise some taxes on the group of people Romney describes as "middle class," those making $200,000 or less. But maybe a crunchy-sounding number like "17,000" will be enough to throw Lehrer off the trail?
But Dear Leader is not off the hook, either. He may be asked about Vice President Joe Biden's latest gaffe, a remark that the middle class has been "buried" the past four years. His point was that Bush-administration policies had buried the middle class, but Lehrer may think it a fair question to ask why President Obama's policies haven't prevented more of said burying. The president may also be asked to hang some numbers on the extraordinarily vague promises he made in his convention speech (which was not unlike Romney's convention speech in that way). And he may be asked about his so-far halting efforts to help the housing market, which The New York Times points out remains a scarred wasteland in the part of Nevada where Obama is doing his debate prep.
But Obama's challenge is made easier by the fact that voters already believe he has more of a plan for the next four years than Romney does, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll: "A large majority, 65%, said Mr. Obama knows what he plans to do, compared with 52% who said that of Mr. Romney. The president also outpaced Mr. Romney on which candidate is seen as better prepared to lead over the next four years." And 57 percent of poll respondents say the economy is improving, with just 13 percent saying the economy will get worse in the next four years. Those numbers will probably have a bigger impact on the election than tonight's debate.
Thing Two: Car, Beer Sales Up: Another hopeful sign for Obama: Auto sales in September reached their highest level in more than four years. Sales of cars and light trucks hit an annualized pace of 14.9 million units, the highest since February 2008, The New York Times writes. Mortgage lending may be tight, but auto lending is back to the subprime glory days: If you can fog a mirror, you can get a new car. This may well end in tears, and U.S. auto makers fared less well in September than foreign auto makers. But for now it gives Obama a strong debating weapon. Something he might not tout in the debate, but still another good sign: Beer sales are up in the first eight months of this year, after three straight years of falling sales, the Wall Street Journal writes. USA! USA!
Thing Three: Insider Trading Crackdown: U.S. officials may not have done all that much about the fraud that led to the financial crisis, but they are making up for it by going nuts on insider trading, in "the biggest crackdown since the 1980s," the Financial Times writes: "Since 2009, criminal charges have been filed against 72 hedge fund traders, company insiders and consultants by Manhattan prosecutors alone." The government's great unblinking eye has turned to secretive hedge fund SAC, where one former analyst has pleaded guilty to insider-trading charges, and his former boss has been placed on leave.
Thing Four: More MBS Cases Coming: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit against Bear Stearns is just the beginning of a string of cases that could cost the financial industry billions of dollars, writes Bloomberg. The case may cost Bear Stearns parent JPMorgan Chase $2 or $3 billion, according to one analyst. Recall, that is less than half the cost of the bank's London Whale trading loss, which the bank shook off like a summer cold. Let us hope the coming lawsuits are not bizarrely timed cut-and-paste jobs like the Bear Stearns suit, which has not exactly helped Schneiderman counter charges of political opportunism.
Thing Five: Telephone Tie-Up: The fourth-largest wireless carrier in the U.S., T-Mobile, plans to merge with MetroPCS, a deal that would still leave it as the fourth-largest wireless carrier, well behind Sprint, The New York Times writes. But at least it would also deny Sprint a merger partner to help it compete with the ginormous industry leaders AT&T and Verizon.
Thing Six: Not So Fast, Freddie: Ed DeMarco strikes again: His Federal Housing Finance Agency is standing in the way of a Freddie Mac plan to help investors buy up foreclosed homes and rent them out, the Wall Street Journal writes. Who benefits from the FHFA's blockage? Why, the banks, which want to buy the houses themselves and milk them for profits and fees.
Thing Seven: Coming Soon, A Smaller iPad: Look, shiny object! Apple's Asian parts suppliers are working overtime to produce a smaller version of the iPad tablet, the Wall Street Journal reports, to compete with Google and Amazon: "Two of the people said the smaller tablet will have a 7.85-inch liquid-crystal display with a lower resolution compared with the latest iPad model that came out in March."
Thing Seven And One Half: Mad Magazine Vs. Apple Maps: Via BuzzFeed, here's Mad magazine's re-imagining of a classic New Yorker cover, based on Apple Maps.
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Calendar Du Jour:
8:15 a.m. ET: ADP Employment Report for September
10:00 a.m. ET: ISM Service Sector Index for September
Before Market Open:
After Market Close:
Heard On The Tweets:
@EddyElfenbein: I'm at the Momentum Investing Congress. There are no speakers. We're just reading the twitter feed from the VIC.
@jbarro: Dude on FB says he has $50k+ in deductions & Romney plan will kill him. News flash: if you have $50k+ in deductions, you can afford more tax
@AdamSerwer: Creed Frontman wants an "FDR or a Reagan" thus confirming all political science about swing voters
@Mobute: Combined wicker-woven bacon strips, Taco Bell meat, and ranch sauce to make a pizza called "Taste of Internet." #MacArthurGeniusGrant
@jasonWSJ: One week ago, at this very moment, our nation was gripped by a mad frenzy over substitute football refs. Wow, that was time well spent!
And you can follow me on Twitter, too: @markgongloff
Also on HuffPost:
Prosecution For Financial Fraud Hit A 20-Year Low During The Obama Administration
Despite Obama's <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/06/why-can-t-obama-bring-wall-street-to-justice.html" target="_hplink">promises to crack down</a> on Wall Street, federal prosecutions of financial fraud hit a 20-year low last year, according to a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/financial-fraud-prosecution_n_1095933.html" target="_hplink">November study from a watchdog group</a>. The number of these types of prosecutions has been falling every year since 1999 -- in other words, there were more prosecutions during every year of George W. Bush's presidency than during every year of Obama's.
Income Inequality Is Worse Under Obama Than Under Bush
The rich took home a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/income-inequality-obama-bush_n_1419008.html" target="_hplink">greater share of America's income pie</a> from 2009 to 2010 than they did between 2002 and 2007, according to an April analysis from Emmanuel Saez, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That means the gap between the rich and the poor was more pronounced under Obama's presidency than under George W. Bush's.
Obama Wants To Lower The Corporate Tax Rate
Some of America's most profitable companies used a variety of loopholes to pay <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/major-corporations-tax-subsidies_n_1073548.html" target="_hplink">less than zero in taxes</a> between 2008 and 2010, according to a November 2011 report by the Citizens for Tax Justice. But the Obama administration wants to make it even easier for corporations to have a smaller tax bill; Obama proposed a tax overhaul that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/barack-obama-proposing-to_n_1292939.html" target="_hplink">cut the corporate tax rate</a> from 35 percent to 28 percent.
Health Care Reform Won't Make Health Care Cheaper For Most Americans
Once the health care law takes effect, insurance companies will be footing the bill for millions of previously uninsured Americans and for those who were denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. And health insurance companies will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/20/health-care-costs-rise_n_1440584.html" target="_hplink">likely pass on to consumers the cost</a> of insuring the new patients. After Massachusetts enacted a similar health care plan in 2006, premiums for an individual plan in the state <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/health-insurance-ruling-supreme-court-costs_n_1634555.html" target="_hplink">rose 18 percent</a> over three years.
Obama's Housing Programs Have Largely Been A Failure
In 2009, Obama announced the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, promising to help 3 to 4 million borrowers, but as of January -- more than three years into the program -- HAMP had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/hamp-loan-modification-expands_n_1237169.html" target="_hplink">only reached 1 million borrowers</a>. In an aim to give the program legs, administration <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/hamp-loan-modification-expands_n_1237169.html" target="_hplink">officials changed the rules</a> in January to make more borrowers eligible. Still, the fixes were likely too little too late, experts said at the time.
Homeowners Haven't Seen Much Out Of That Huge Mortgage Deal
The Obama Administration touted the $25 billion mortgage deal it reached with 49 states and the big banks to settle allegations that banks mishandled mortgages. As part of the settlement, banks said they would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/national-mortgage-settlement-_n_1589499.html" target="_hplink">offer at least $10 billion</a> in loan forgiveness to homeowners. But months after the deal was inked, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/debt-relief-mortgage-settlement_n_1839923.html" target="_hplink">banks have been slow</a> to hand out the money.
Democrats Have Received Lots Of Campaign Cash From Bain Employees
The Democratic National Convention will feature <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/03/bain-capital_n_1852302.html" target="_hplink">employees of firms run by Bain Capital</a> -- the private equity firm where Mitt Romney was formerly CEO -- likely in an aim to raise questions about Romney's tenure at the now-controversial company. But Democratic candidates and committees had <a href="http://articles.boston.com/2012-05-23/nation/31814221_1_obama-campaign-mitt-romney-romney-claims" target="_hplink">actually netted double the amount of campaign cash from Bain workers</a> as of May than their Republican counterparts since 2008, according to the <em>Boston Globe</em>. Now, Republicans are beating their Democratic colleagues in Bain cash, with <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/overview/topcontribs.php" target="_hplink">58 percent of donations from Bain</a> employees going to Republican candidates and parties, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. <strong>CORRECTION:</strong><em> An earlier version of this slide misstated that Democrats were receiving more donations from Bain employees than Republicans. That was the case in May. As of September Republicans are receiving more donations from Bain employees.</em>
Goldman And Other Wall St. Firms Have Largely Escaped Punishment For Their Role In The Financial Crisis
The announcement last month that the Justice Department wouldn't be prosecuting Goldman Sachs over allegations surrounding the financial crisis was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/matt-taibbi-eric-holder_n_1784167.html" target="_hplink">a reminder for many</a> that the Obama Administration has largely let banks off the hook for their role in the meltdown. And regulators and officials may be running out of time; <a href="http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/08/09/goldman-says-sec-has-ended-mortgage-investigation/?ref=business" target="_hplink">the statute of limitations</a> for crimes related to the financial crisis is fast approaching, according to <em>The New York Times</em>.
The Revolving Door Is Alive And Well In Obama Administration
Many current and former members of the Obama Administration have ties to Wall Street. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/wall-street-washington_n_1842517.html" target="_hplink">list includes</a> the president's current and former chiefs of staff -- Jacob Lew and Bill Daley, respectively -- as well as his former budget director, Peter Orszag, and others.
Too Big To Fail Banks Have Grown Under Obama
At the end of 2011, five big banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, held <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-16/obama-bid-to-end-too-big-to-fail-undercut-as-banks-grow.html" target="_hplink">56 percent of the U.S. economy</a>, according to Bloomberg, compared to 43 percent five years earlier. That's right, the too-big-to-fail banks have actually gotten bigger.
The U.S. Has Gained A Lot Of Low-Wage Jobs During The Recovery
Welcome to the U.S. of Low-Wage America. Most of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle wages, while most of those <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/31/low-wage-jobs_n_1846733.html" target="_hplink">gained during the recovery were low-wage jobs</a>, according to a recent study from the National Employment Law Project.
Incomes Declined More During The Recovery Than The Recession
Median <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/us/recession-officially-over-us-incomes-kept-falling.html" target="_hplink">household income fell 6.7 percent</a> between June 2009, when the recession technically ended, and June 2011, according to a Census Bureau study cited by <em>The New York Times</em>. That's more than the 3.2 percent incomes fell during the recession, between 2007 and 2009.
Payroll Tax Cut May Expire On Obama's Watch
Last December, congressional Democrats managed to save the payroll tax cut for one more year, giving 122 million workers a few extra bucks each paycheck, but now that <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444130304577561410867407728.html" target="_hplink">boost may quietly disappear</a>, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. That's because the White House won't be pushing for another payroll tax cut extension this year.
Many Top Obama Donors Are Employees Of Major Corporations
Of the top 10 companies with employees donating money to Obama's campaign, three are big banks: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, according to <a href="http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/contrib.php?cid=N00009638" target="_hplink">the Center for Responsive Politics</a>. Some of Obama's other major contributors include employees from big companies such as Microsoft and Google.