10/03/2012 07:58 am ET

Viva Las Vagueness! Seven And A Half Things To Know

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:

Economic Data:

8:15 a.m. ET: ADP Employment Report for September

10:00 a.m. ET: ISM Service Sector Index for September

Corporate Earnings:

Before Market Open:

Family Dollar


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



14 Facts Obama Doesn't Want You To Know