Posts containing my opinion of the race.


Eric Massa has joined the chorus of those complaining about AIG bonuses. While I'm as angry as anyone about this, there are a few reasons to think that the ultimate result will be a lot of noise and not much action.

First, it looks like the derivative technicians at AIG made the delivery of their bonuses a condition of the derivative contracts themselves. Here's one explanation of how that works.

Second, the AIG derivative group is based in London. Taxing AIG trader bonuses at 100% sounds like a clever way to get around contractual obligations, but I wonder if those traders pay US taxes.

The final, and most important point is that the noise over bonuses obscures the real news about AIG: the release of their counterparties list. This is the group of institutions who AIG "insured" and who were paid billions when AIG's credit rating dropped. The list includes a number of foreign banks, and has huge ($12 bln) payments to Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. The AIG bailout was more than just the rescue of a big insurer -- it was also indirect bailout of a list of national and international financial institutions.


Chris Bowers, one of the founders of Open Left and a major voice in the netroots community, lets Eric Massa have it with both barrels over Massa's recent vote against the recent housing bill. Bowers thinks that Massa's explanation, which is that the bill disproportionately benefits mortgage holders in other states, is "borderline unpatriotic" and notes that "Someone who thinks like this should not be in Congress."

Bowers' typically overheated prose shouldn't surprise anyone who visits his blog even semi-regularly. Still, I think his post is worth careful study by netroots supporters under the mis-impression that he's part of a serious political movement.

Bowers' post, coming barely two months into the Massa's term, implies that one "wrong" vote will cause the netroots to throw their elected candidates under the bus. If that's true, then the strategy for a challenger is simple:

  1. Before you're elected, cultivate the netroots assiduously so you can get plenty of that easy ActBlue cash. Write some blog posts, attend netroots conventions and support the netroots pet causes.
  2. After you're elected, forget that the netroots existed, because you'll inevitably vote in ways that will anger them, and incumbents can finance their campaigns without ActBlue cash.

Of course, this reasoning presupposes that Bowers' threat to withhold ActBlue money is worth anything. I'm sure it isn't, because there are a number of pragmatic ActBlue supporters who realize that a Democrat needs to make a few compromises to stay in office in a district like NY-29. Those supporters will probably throw a few bucks Massa's way in 2010.

Bowers's final threat, which is "to submit a modified version of this blog post as an op-ed to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle" is perhaps the most vacuous of all. Eric Massa would like nothing more than to define himself in contrast to members of the "far left", and if the D&C bothered to post his op-ed, Massa would have a field day defending himself.

Chris Bowers might know a lot about building a blogging and fundraising community, but he's out to sea when it comes to influencing a sitting Member of Congress.

Stupid Single-Issue Advocacy, Chapter 727 in a Continuing Series

Evan Dawson takes a another crack at the issue of Kirsten Gillibrand's position on gun control. As I mentioned earlier, she's getting some heat because she removed support from a measure favored by gun groups.

What's interesting about Evan's piece is the quotes from Ken Mathison, a spokesman for gun advocacy group SCOPE, who sounds like a Daily Show caricature. Here's a taste:

Well, that's like putting a gun to the head of any gun owner in New York state.

And right at this moment, she's in trouble. She's going to lose her next election at this rate. She might as well move to New York City and forget her conservative friends from upstate if she won't retract this statement.

Mathison might have held his breath and stomped his feet, but Evan doesn't include that detail.

New York is a fairly blue state that, overall, seems to be comfortable with gun control. Kirsten Gillibrand is probably going to be re-elected, and even if she has a tough race, it's doubtful that a Republican courting downstate votes will ardently oppose gun control. In that context, SCOPE's threats are just empty rhetoric. Mathison's red-faced tactics might play well with his constituents, but they aren't going to get him any closer to Gillibrand's office.

SCOPE members need to think about what's achievable with Gillibrand, a gun owner who was sympathetic to SCOPE's agenda in the past. SCOPE might not be able to get Gillibrand to vote against the "big stuff", but they might convince her to back off at the margins. They could get her to change positions on a borderline committee vote, or get her to vote against some obscure amendment they oppose. Instead, after one month, they've decided to go medieval on her.

The political landscape is littered with SCOPE-like groups. They find a single issue, develop a mailing list of supporters, and keep them happy by being quoted in the media spouting the harshest possible rhetoric. That might be an effective fundraising tactic, but it sure isn't effective lobbying.

Train Research

Tuesday's meeting on high-speed rail is still getting some press coverage. WGRZ in Buffalo had a train story in last night's broadcast.

The only high-speed rail line running on standard tracks in the US is Amtrak's Acela Express. Reading through the Wikipedia entry for that train, a few facts stand out:

  • Acela runs between cities (DC, New York and Boston), that have excellent mass-transit facilities which connect directly to the rail stations. The upstate cities where high-speed rail is planned have mediocre mass transit. Someone wanting to travel from, say, Orchard Park to Pittsford, is probably going to have to drive their car at one end and take a cab at the other.
  • Acela's equipment doesn't run at 150 MPH for much of the route, mostly due to track restrictions related to track width and quality. I wonder if the right-of-way for the new track will be wide enough to let high-speed rail run at full throttle here.
  • Acela trains are a joint venture between Bombardier and Alstom. Alstom has a big presence in the 29th, so that explains a lot of why Eric Massa would be gung-ho for this project, and it also explains how it could stimulate the 29th's economy.

The End of Pelosi Derangement?

Reader Tom sends this Politico story. According to Politico, Republicans have given up on painting horns and a tail on Nancy Pelosi, and are focusing instead directly on President Obama.

A Whole New World

Eric Massa seems to be learning about the difference between candidate and Congressman the hard way. When you're a candidate, the media's attention is divided between you and your opponent, and your opponent's supporters must concentrate on supporting him as well as attacking you.

As soon as the election's over, being the Congressman means that all attention is on you, for good or ill. Issues that might have escaped notice when you were a candidate will inevitably be discovered by local media or the other party.

The only viable strategy to deal with this reality is to get out in front of controversial news. When the media hears it first from one of your press releases, at least they don't think you're trying to hide something. And, more importantly, the first thing they internalize is your spin on the facts.

The Allen Stanford contribution is a good example. In general, making a big deal of old contributions from newly-outed crooks is a stupid ritual. That said, when the donation comes from a banker/swindler in the midst of a banking crisis, it's a ritual best initiated by the politician who took the money.

Charlie Rangel understands this, and he reported his intention to return donations from Stanford more than a week ago. Massa could have sent out a release indicating that he, too, planned to do the right thing after consulting with his lawyers. Now, as was the case with his decision to take corporate donations, it looks like he was trying to hide something.

What Could Have Been

The American Prospect has a piece about netroots darling Darcy Burner. Burner lost the WA-8 race in '06 and '08 by almost identical margins, even though she received large donations from Act Blue, the netroots donation aggregator, and was mentioned constantly on the big netroots blogs.

Burner's race is an good study for those interested in the NY-29 race. WA-8 has a PVI of D+2, compared to NY-29's R+5, so Burner should have had an easier win than Massa.

Reading the piece, it's clear that Burner lost for three reasons:

Gun Control

Evan Dawson at 13-WHAM quotes Eric Massa in a story about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's change of position on release of weapons trace information. Unlike Gillibrand, Massa's position hasn't changed.

Gillibrand has been labeled a "flip flopper" for her choice to vote against the Tiahrt Amendment in the Senate, even though she recently co-sponsored a bill in the House to make it permanent. That amendment tightly limits the release of data from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) firearms database.

This is a classic urban/rural issue. A coalition of urban mayors, which includes the mayors of New York City, Rochester, Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, want that amendment repealed. Michael Bloomberg, for example, believes that the law "obstructs" law-enforcement. The NRA view is that even the current restrictions lead to "too many disclosures of sensitive information."

When Gillibrand represented NY-20, her support of this amendment was consistent with the desires of her rural/suburban constituency (as is Massa's). Now that she represents the whole state, a majority of her constituents probably want the amendment repealed.

This seems fairly basic and undramatic to me, and if guns weren't such a hot-button issue, Gillibrand's decision would have escaped notice.

High-Speed Rail

The D&C reports that plans for high-speed rail between Buffalo and Albany are moving forward. Eric Massa is one member of the upstate delegation who will meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday to ask for a slice of the $8 billion of stimulus targeted at rail development.

If that $8 billion number sounds familiar, that's because it's a widely-used talking point. In Governor Jindal's appearance Tuesday night, he called out one possible use of funds, a maglev train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, as a train from "Las Vegas to Disneyland".

I'm trying to think of some clever way to refer to our new train. Unfortunately, having one big casino nearby doesn't make Buffalo our version of Vegas, and even though there's plenty of Mickey Mouse in Albany, it's no Disneyland.

More Evidence of a Business/Republican Rift

Here's some more evidence that the recent lovefest between the Chamber of Commerce and a Democratic Member of Congress is apparently no accident. MonroeRising, the local conservative blog of record, has decided to make fun of Paetec, a local communications company. Because of Paetec's recent woes, they're portraying the new headquarters building as a shack on the prairie.

Paetec is a local company that employs close to a thousand people. They took advantage of some tax breaks and other incentives, and they plan to move their headquarters downtown. They are having a tough time because of the recession, so they've been downsizing their plans.

I didn't realize that pointing and laughing was the "conservative" response to a company that's having a hard time, but I guess we're living in a new era.

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