Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel was many things to many people. He was an oral historian, cultural chronicler, and journalist.

For me, he was a model of listening, and a reminder that all people, big and small, from all walks of life, have stories worth telling and worth hearing.

In high school, one of my fonder memories was being in a production based on the musical Working, which contained many of the interviews from Terkel's work, as well as others, presented as monologues or set to music. Together, they wove a tapestry that expressed the variety that was and is America. (I played Joe, the retired guy.) The opening number borrowed from Walt Whitman..."I hear...America singing/I hear.../The varied carols, I hear...America singing." [I remember how excited Mary, our pianist was, when I finally came in on key.]

There were and are other great lines in various numbers, great because they were born from the truth of real interviews with real people.

"Millwork ain't easy/millwork ain't hard/millwork is most often times...a god-damn awful boring job."

"It's an art, it's an art to be a fine waitress, each evening I treasure the test..."

"Un mejor dia vendra/cuando dios de los pobres, un lugar dara"

"All I am is someone's mother/All I am is someone's wife/All of which seems/Unimportant/All it is is just my life."

"If I could've done what I could've done
I could've done big things
With some luck to do what I wanted to.
I would've done big things
Swam a few rivers,
Climbed a few hills,
Paid all my bills..."

There were some of the acting persuasion who, I'm pretty sure didn't like Working as a show because it had no signature show stopper and hence wasn't really a star (nor a star making) piece. But every piece was strong, and real, and poignant, because every piece was grounded in listening and letting the words of real people convey the human drama better than some scripted sentiment.

Studs Terkel was 96. He will be missed.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Okay, Here's Something that Annoys Me About the Obama Campaign

I doubt it should come as any surprise to anyone who reads this blog when I say that I sent $20 to Barack Obama's campaign. Earlier I had volunteered some time and canvassed my neighborhood to get out information about early voting, but I hadn't given any money, and on the heels of the $4 million dollar infomercial, I figured that every little bit helps.

It took approximately 30 seconds for me to receive an e-mail confirmation and thanks for my contribution:

From the beginning, this campaign has been built and funded by supporters like you giving only what they can afford.
It took less than 2 hours for me to receive a request for further donations:

Kenneth --

I'm the Chief Financial Officer for Barack Obama's campaign. I track the donations coming in and the expenses going out.

I asked for the opportunity to write to you directly so that I could try to explain what's happening right now.

This organization has thousands of employees and spends millions of dollars a day -- and at the moment we're doing it without a safety net.

Our spending plans have been stretched by John McCain's negative attacks and the overwhelming resources of the Republican National Committee.

As of October 15th, John McCain and the RNC together had nearly $20 million more in cash than the combined total of Obama for America and the DNC. And just this week, we're facing new and unexpected spending against us in Montana and West Virginia.

Your incredible generosity has gotten us this far. But right now we need your help more than ever to get this campaign across the finish line.

Please donate $25 or whatever you can afford right now

That's not really what's bothering me though. John McCain and the RNC have 20 million more than they do? Really? What about this at CNN (not exactly a McCain shill):

"It's evidence, if you needed any, that the Obama campaign has more money than there is ad time left to buy," said Evan Tracey, director of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. "This is flexing the muscles."


The Obama campaign reported last week that it had raised a record-shattering $150 million in September.

Obama has outspent McCain by a huge margin, according to CNN's consultant on ad spending.

Between the time the two candidates clinched their party's nominations in the spring and October 25, Obama spent more than $205 million on TV ads. McCain spent more than $119 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Believe me, I'm the wrong one for McCain to approach with the Obama lied about taking campaign financing argument. If he can raise more money through contributions than through public financing, God bless. But don't try to have your cake and eat it, too. Don't turn down public financing because you can raise more money without it, outspend your opponents by a wide margin and then complain that they have so much more money than you do.

Believe you me, I'd happily drop another $20 if it could guarantee I didn't ever have to hear the words "President McCain" (and maybe another hundred if I could be assured of never, ever hearing the words "Vice-anything Palin"). I might begrudgingly drop a few if I thought it was really needed. But by being disingenuous in its appeals, the Obama campaign keeps itself from being able to make me believe them when they make the most effective appeal. I'm not saying they are the boy that cried wolf, exactly, but I am saying if it walks like a boy that cries wolf, and quacks like a boy that cried wolf...

How John McCain Will Win

I guess since Homer was the one who finally killed James Bond, it shouldn't be surprising that he got John McCain elected:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What I Am Concerned About...

Last weekend, I was talking to my friend Peter and to my sister-in-law Laura, and I opined that I wasn't much worried about the "Bradley" effect. When Peter asked me to assess the confidence points I had behind my pick, I said "14."

Still, nothing is over till it's over. So, in ascending order, here are the things I'm most worried about still.

6) Barack Obama lets slip that he is a Duke fan while speaking in Raleigh tomorrow. (I don't know if he is, but I just hope one of his handlers makes clear how fanatical and illogical UNC fans are.)

5) Frivolous Lawsuits.
Honestly, I think we still don't know who won Florida in 2000. The documentary Hacking Democracy said that Kerry had lawyers in place to challenge results in New Mexico. In both places the democratic candidates chose structural integrity over prolonged or continued legal battles. If John McCain were to lose the election by less than four states, do you really see him doing the same? Neither do I. [Reason this isn't higher is because I don't think he will be close enough to matter and so won't pursue it.]

4) Block the Vote.
Remember that lawsuit last year where Indiana wanted to demand photo identification and the Supreme Court said no? Well, Indiana is (in some polls) back to being a toss up, and now, after the Supreme Court backed the Ohio elections chief in the GOP's attempt to get newly registered voters purged, will Indiana be deterred from asking for the same thing? Of course not.

We all understand that the reason ACORN handed in registration cards that they themselves flagged as fraudulent or suspicious is because they are required to do so by law, right? And we all understand the reason that law is in place is because the Republicans have a long and storied tradition of purging legally registered voters? Hey, it worked in Florida in '00, why not give it another run?

3) Optical Scanners in New Mexico
The film Hacking Democracy demonstrates how easy it is to hack and fix memory cards on Diebold voting machines. According to one witness in the same film, John Kerry noted that every precinct in New Mexico that had optical scanning machines came back for Bush, and he carried the state by a close margin. New Mexico has been in the solid blue camp on most electoral maps for quite some time now...based on polling. I don't trust those Diebold machines, and I find it unfathomable that public elections are cloaked in proprietary secrets from compaines whose CEOs, board members, and runners are often big contributors to the GOP.

2) The weather.
Good turnout is supposed to favor Obama, particularly in states like Georgia where the best chance of a Democratic victory would be a strong turnout by new voters. Most weather reports I've seen predict rain in key battleground states including Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Dems seem to be voting early, but will voter turnout be hurt by the weather?

1) The unexpected
What's new in this election? Massive turnouts. If lines are hours long for early voting, what sorts of turnouts will we have on election day? Historically, enthusiasm in early voting usually crests with enthusiasm for turnout on election day rather than less voters on election day. Will some precinct(s) in key states have machine malfunctions, sufficient paper ballots, run out? Will people in line be turned away? Will lines still be several hours long when precincts close? If so, will people be voting well into the night?

How to Bilk the Consumer

So, in response to a temporary heating outage, I went to the local Dollar General Store to get a portable space heater for my office. I bought a Comfort Zone Radiant Heater Model CZ500 for $18.

Only problem--it didn't work. It ran for about two minutes and shut off. I checked the manual and it said if it did this to unplug the unit, wait twenty minutes and plug it in a different outlet. I did. Same problem. Figuring the thermostat was broken, I took it back with the receipt, exchanged it for another unit, brought it home. Same problem.

I perused the instruction manual in further detail. It said:

"If you still notice the same defect above mentioned, remove the plug from the socket and call the customer service department."

I called the customer service department and got voice mail for "The Howard Berger Company." I connected with customer service and told them that the manual told me to call customer service. They told me to take it back to the store and exchange it for another unit or ask for a refund.

Okay, here's a couple of points.

--The wording and placement of this in the instruction manual would seem to indicate that this is a common problem. Rather than fix it or do a recall or test the units, Comfort Zone and Howard Berger no doubt did a cost benefit analysis and figured it would be cheaper to send out all the units and tell people if it didn't work to return it to the store. Nice.

--It's probably not a coincidence that they also place the units in Dollar General stores, i.e. venues that are more known for servicing lower income customers...that is, exactly the sorts of customers that may not have as much freedom to call a non-toll free number between 8-5 on a work day only to get the instructions to take it back to the store (assuming they have the receipt). It sure seems like part of the cost benefit analysis was that Comfort Zone and Howard Berger figured (hoped) that some people would just take the write off either for the nuisance value or because it's hard to go to the store three different times and deal with all the delays when you are trying to get something like heat.

I googled The Howard Berger Company and found this message on their web site:

The corporate mission of Howard Berger Company is to provide our customers with quality merchandise at the lowest prices available in the industry. We are a value source that sells basic products appealing to broad segments of the population. All of our products have high sales and turnover potential. The best of the best.

Yeah, right.

According to the web site, the company was founded by Howard Berger. Howard, if you are reading this, you should be ashamed that the company that bears your name is bilking the weakest consumers out of hard earned dollars for products that don't work.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Voters are Fickle

No, not political voters, who are also fickle.

I mean sports fans.

I bring this up because ESPN.Com has a feature that allows fans to give approval ratings to the head coach of their favorite football team. I noted today that Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher has an 89% approval rating. Not bad, huh?

Fisher, of course, is coach of the last undefeated team in the NFL. The Titans are a perfect 6-0. Fisher has lost approval points each of the last three weeks, despite winning. Crazy voters in Tennessee, huh? No wonder they are voting for McCain.

Friday, October 24, 2008

D.L. Hughley Breaks the "News"??

Okay, I've been pretty critical of the conservative notion that the American media is biased. And I've been pretty critical of Governor Palin's false eschewing of labels when she in fact indulgences in labels and stereotypes all the time.

So I had to cringe when CNN's newest show was D.L. Hughley Breaks the News.

Hughley, on a cable news network, gave a monologue that included such gems as were Obama to have a place for Colin Powell in his administration, it would be the first time two black people were in the White House "since Thomas Jefferson had a three-way" and then went on to say the Election had somehow influenced the world series because the reason the Boston Red Sox lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was that the were "all white." Of course, no monologue would be complete without some reference to John McCain's age; Hughley opined that McCain was especially disappointed that a 106 year-old nun recently endorsed Obama because "they used to date" (he somehow didn't realize or care that this may be insulting to the nun, making light of her vows, as it was of McCain). He also suggested that McCain's legacy would be historically tarnished if he lost because he would be forever known as the guy who couldn't even beat a black man. Oh yeah, and in riffing about Obama's cholestrol level, Hughley trotted out the old ethnic stereotypes about eating fatty foods. It was all positively cringe worthy.

There are, I suppose, a lot of comments one could make about this. It's hard to call out Hughley for cheap remarks when the GOP and McCain's follows are full of them, but, "They started it" is hardly a convincing disavowal.

Really, though, the main thing that jumps out to me is why the heck was this on CNN? If Hughley had given the same monologue on Comedy Central, or Fox (hah, fat chance) or the WB, or NBC (like, say on SNL), I'd still find it offensive, but I wouldn't find it disingenuous. This show was on CNN, though, and the clip above was linked not to the "Entertainment" page on CNN but to the "Politics" page on CNN. This isn't news and reporting, it is a showcase on a major news network for a "comedian" to engage in partisan satire. Whatever credibility CNN has as a respected news network just took a big hit.

Sarah Palin and Labels

Sarah Palin can't decide whether or not she is a feminist. When asked if she considers herself a feminist by Katie Couric, she said "I do." When asked if she was a feminist by Brian Williams, she said:

"I'm not gonna label myself anything, Brian. And I think that's what annoys a lot of Americans, especially in a political campaign, is to start trying to label different parts of America different, different backgrounds, different … I'm not going to put a label on myself. "

Yeah, that really annoys a lot of Americans when you start trying to label different parts of America different. Like when you call some parts the "real America." She's not going to put a label on herself, but she doesn't mind throwing around labels, like, oh, terrorist, socialist, elitist, liberal, ultra-liberal, and "real" America.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Vote is Cast

The North Carolina Votes Early precinct at Fuquay-Varina opened today (others in Wake County opened last week) so I went by to cast my vote so that if anything happens to me between now and election day, I'll have gotten my vote in. I was voter number 339 for the day at that location, which had been open from about 7 to Noon. It was about a 10 minute wait, with a steady stream of people.

Okay, I've done my part. Now the wait begins.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

GOP Spends 150 K of Donations on Palin Clothes and Make Up

In the wake of an unpopular financial bailout bill, candidates made hay out of the fact that AIG continued business as usual by sponsoring a rewards junket for top sellers.

In response to growing deficits, Senator McCain has repeatedly cast himself as a pork and perk eliminator, suggesting that the best way to get control of deficits is to cut spending, and saying that he and his party have the discipline and principles to freeze spending enough to reduce deficits without rolling back the Bush tax loopholes for corporations or the so-called "super-rich."

This just in: The McCain campaign has spent approximately $150,000 of campaign contributions on make-up, hair styling, clothing, and "accessories" for Sarah Palin.

I'm tempted to let it go at that because this one spins itself, but...oh, I can't help myself.

The reformers that will "fight" for me and stand up to free-wheeling liberals could think of nothing better to do with the campaign contributions that "real America"ns send them than to send Sarah Palin to Neiman Marcus with a charge card and then off to the Tresame hair salon. [Given her recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, can a guest spot on Project Runway be far behind? I can just see Hedi Klum now..."The winning look will actually be worn by Governor Palin at a rally where she explains why none of you can get married because you're all gay--all of you, if she is elected, will be out...]

The linked AP report about notes that:
Federal campaign finance law prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal
use, but it defines personal use as any expense "that would exist
irrespective of the candidate's campaign or duties as a federal

The Republican campaign argues that spending this campaign money (whether via individual donors or publicly-financed allocations, does not constitute a preach of campaign finance law. (Remember when John McCain was actually one of the guys that wanted to reform campaign finance abuse?)

I guess then that this legal argument boils down to the claim that Sarah Palin would not need a whole new wardbrode and public fund financed makeover if she wasn't a campaign member. I don't know, personally, I tend to think that, you know, being CLOTHED is a personal expense that exists for all of us, not just those of us traveling to real America to sniff about elites.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McCain Campaign Concedes Colorado, New Mexico

According to John King at CNN, the McCain campaign has quietly and privately conceded New Mexico (no big surprise there)Iowa, and Colorado. Take all non-attributed reports with a grain of salt, but CNN was right about the GOP conceding Michigan.

Why is that so significant? Because if Senator Obama wins every state that John Kerry won plus Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado, he would win the election--even if Senator McCain were to pull out wins in Florida, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, and Nevada.

Everyone assumed that the McCain campaign would have to put Virginia back in the Red column at some point, but it looks like the demographic change in that state has made that unlikely. Now, if the McCain campaign has essentially conceded Colorado and Iowa, even that would not be enough. Instead, their new strategy seems to be to fight for wins in Nevada (still neck and and neck), Florida, and Ohio and to try to flip Pennsylvania instead.

Pennsylvania has been in the "leaning" Obama to solid Obama in most projections. CNN's poll of polls shows Obama with a thirteen point lead there. Even were McCain to somehow flip Pennsylvania, win Ohio and Florida, but lose Virginia, he would still have to sweep Missouri and Nevada to eke out an electoral win.

Why Pennslyvania instead of Virginia? The story doesn't say but I suspect two reasons:

--Some polling data suggests that Colorado voters raised John McCain's "negatives" because they felt he was running a negative campaign. I suspect the GOP believes that it would have a greater possibility of success with a negative campaign in Pennsylvania than Virginia, where the Northern Virginia demographic (educated, middle to upper class, politically informed) has grown and helped tip the state AND doesn't like negative campaigning. [Does that sound "elitist"? Yes, just as the Republican strategy seems to pander to a reverse elitism--because we are willing to listen to smear campaigns we are the "real America" and hence better than those informed voters.]

--Senator Obama, of course, was beaten badly in the Pennsylvania primary by Senator Clinton, despite campaigning heavily in that state. It was that primary that led Senator Clinton to make the argument that Senator Obama could not win white, working class voters and carry the states needed to win the electoral college. Obama proved otherwise, but prepare for the GOP to resurrect that argument. Also Senator Obama's self-proclaimed biggest campaign gaffe was the infamous "cling to guns and religion" comment, which was taken out of context to reinforce the stereotype that he was an elite. I would expect the GOP to run that quote over and over in robocalls and ads in Pennsylvania.

On the one hand, this news depresses me because its more of the cynical same from the McCain camp. On the other hand, I suppose one can argue that if the other side is throwing a "hail mary" that means they are behind and getting increasingly desperate.

Monday, October 20, 2008

"We're Going to Have an International Crisis..."

I'm sure these speeches of politicians are vetted, sound bite test, test grouped, and purposeful, but after reading the substance of Joe Biden's most recent remarks, all I could think of was...WTF??

I'm operating on some basic assumptions here:
1) The game ain't over 'til it's over.
2) The purpose of a campaign speech is to encourage people to vote for you.

Biden said that within six months of an Obama administration there would be a "generated crisis" to "test the mettle" of Obama.

What the heck is a "generated" crisis? This appears to mean either manufactured in some sense, like an October surprise, hinting that political opponents might try to generate a know, some scenario out of Thirteen Days or some such. Either that or he's suggesting that the world community will think America is weak and be more likely to attack or press some political advantage because it believe Obama doesn't have the "mettle" to stand up to the world.

Both sound like something that would be coming out of John McCain's mouth--did Biden read the wrong teleprompter?

More strange still, Biden didn't exactly use this gloomy scenario to say that such a notion would be foolish. Instead he seemed to suggest cynically that Obama's popularity would take a hit in office because the American people wouldn't be able to distinguish between what is right and what is popular:

"I promise you, you all are going to be sitting here a year from now going, 'Oh my God, why are they there in the polls, why is the polling so down, why is this thing so tough?' We're going have to make some incredibly tough decisions in the first two years," said Biden. "I'm asking you now, be prepared to stick with us. Remember the faith you had at this point because you're going to have to reinforce us."
I like Biden, and it's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I intend to vote for Senator Obama on the first day of early voting in my precinct, but...well, this sure read like a colossal gaffe to me. One it borders on arrogance, assuming the election is already won, after his own running mate cautioned against getty cocky. Two, it bizzarely seems to concede that an international crisis is more likely under an Obama presidency than a McCain one. This plays right into the "too risky" strategy of the Republicans. If I were on the McCain campaign--well, first I would kill myself by drowning in a sea of self-loating, but after that--I would make sure that Biden's clip was in just about every ad I ran between now and the election.

I honestly have no idea what the heck Biden is getting at. I assume that he is trying to lay the groundwork for a public relations war should Senator Obama be elected, but it seems like a strange, strange, strange campaign strategy, telling other people that if your running mate is elected an international crisis will happen within six months.

Said Biden, "I promise you it will occur" and "I promise you, you all are going to be sitting here a year from now going, 'Oh my God, why are they there in the polls, why is the polling so down, why is this thing so tough?"

The timing is atrocious, too, as it takes the news cycle voluntarily away from the Colin Powell endorsement and effectively negates the argument of, "See, even their guy [Republican] thinks he is better for foreign affairs." Now the Republicans can counter with, "See even their guy [VP] thinks an Obama presidency will spur an international crisis."

Expect to hear the latter from now until election day. "Why is this thing so tough"??? Senator McCain couldn't have asked for a better gift.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

B. J. Lawson vs. David Price -- NC 4th

One side effect of having such an obvious and clear choice in this year's presidential election is that I haven't paid much mind to some of the other, local races.

That changed last week when I got a mailer from Lawson for Congress.

First off, I guess I'll say, I'm no huge fan of David Price. I wrote his office a couple years ago asking him to support some legislation that was relevant to my family. Neither he nor anyone in his office ever replied. (Incidentally, neither, this year, did anyone in Elizabeth Dole's office when I e-mailed her asking for information about her stand on the federal bailout of the financial system; Price's office did reply to that e-mail.)

I was strongly put off by Lawson's mailer, mostly because I felt it rather disingenuously tried to imply to the casual reader that he was running as a Democrat. The first page read "Our grassroots campaign is as diverse as our district--Democrats, Unaffiliated, Republicans, Libertarians..." [Emphasis in the original]. The second page said "Are you voting for Change on November 4th" and "Be the Change." So, in marketing terms, he was trying to run as a Republican under the marketing campaign of the Democratic ticket. In fact, nowhere other than on the last page, in small print under a sample ballot, did the mailer say that he was running as a Republican. From a campaign that claims "I'm a big believer in transparency in government," the mailer struck me as rather disingenuous.

That said, the flier did articulate a position on military intervention that is closer to my own than that of either the current administration or the Democratic party. I think it is misleading to say, as Lawson does, that "David Price has consistently voted for war throughout his Congressional career." In response to my request (at the website) for documentation of this claim, I was directered to this page, which acknowledges that Price voted against H.J. Res 114 (2002) [War in Iraq] and H.J. Res 77 (1991) [Gulf War]. I actually agree with Lawson's larger point that the more damning vote was probably H.J. Res 64, which authorized the president to "attack" any nation "believed" to be involved in 9/11. This isn't quite the same as voting for war, though. I believe the Constitutional requirement that Congress vote for war is important, and the move towards the executive branch having that power is and was a serious abdication of the moral responsbility of the elected officials. Price's war votes more recently have reflected the "timetables" argument, which is that he voted for appropriations tied to timetables--which were defeated by filibuster by Republicans who used funding the troops to hold the other party hostage to funding. While I sympathize with candidates like Price who argue that it would be wrong to withhold funding for troops that are there, even if we don't want them there, and that it is the Republicans who are playing a massive and immoral game of political "chicken" by putting the troops in the way of a straight up vote that reflects the will of the people, I also agree that it was the lack of political courage or conviction in the wake of 9/11 that put the Dems in a position of being afraid to stand up for the rule of law in the face of the rhetoric of fear.

Lawson is a Ron Paul disciple (I don't mean the term disparingly), so he is, obviously against the recent federal bailout. I hated the bailout, but almost everyone I know and/or respect with a knowledge of economics said it was the right thing to do. In the Lawson-Price debate at UNC, Price said he opposed the initial "2 page" bill submited by Chairman Paulson and fought for modifications (along the lines articulated by Obama--no CEO bonuses, tax-payer stakes in companies propped up with federal money, some regulation or oversight). Lawson says in his mailer, "David Price voted for the administration's $850 billion Wall Street bailout, despite evidence that it will not reduce foreclosures or ease the credit crisis." [Empahsis in the original.] I think Price would be right to object that "the administration's" seems to imply that he was in favor of the original Paulson plan, and he voted for the modified plan. I personally am surprised by the use of the word "evidence" attached to a future state, with the claim it "will not reduce [...] or ease."

To sum up:

Things I like about the Lawson campaign:

--It seems to better reflect the ideology that the Congressman should represent the people and not the party interests.
--It articulates a clear, underlying ideology, which, in my experience is generally a better gauge of direction than a stance on any one current issue.
--It rightly takes both parties to task for making military intervention a decision of the executive branch rather than taking the easier (i.e. more popular way out) of only focusing on the Iraq war as an unpopular war.
--It rightly condemns the passage of the PATRIOT Act [where's George Orwell when you need him?], which David Price voted for.
--The "One Subject at a Time Act" that would limit legislation to one subject per bill would definitely, in my opinion, make it harder for candidates to trade votes, swap votes, or spin votes and lead to more transparency in government. I'm sick to death of all the, "Well, I was agaisnt THAT PART of the bill, but I had to vote for it in order to not be against THAT OTHER PART of the bill."
--As a physician, I am particularly appalled by our treating drug abuse as a criminal offense rather than an individual medical problem. A particularly egregious byproduct of federal drug prohibition is our inherently unjust way of prosecuting these "crimes" and administering sentences, as rates of drug abuse and incarceration provide ample evidence for institutionalized racism. I reject the idea of incarcerating potentially productive individuals for making choices that hurt only themselves.

Things I don't like:
--I felt its mailer was at worst, deceptive, at best misleading.
--I felt like he has mischaracterized David Price's record in places in order to score political points. [While I certainly agree that Lawson is closer to my own ideology on some than Price is, I'm always concerend about a campaign that focuses so much on the other guy and runs on an "I'm not him" platform. A candidate's ethos and truthfulness is the glue that holds any platform together.]
--I'm not convinced that his bailout opposition is the right position to hold, and I worry that he is running under the umbrella of a party that used public opposition of the bill to get "sweeteners" rather than to stand on principled opposition.
--Finally, while I think the "Read the Bills" and "Write the Laws Act" are relatively benign, the central focus they hold in his platform strikes me as a bit naive.
--No mention from an MD and libertarian on the mailer or "issues" section about Abortion rights?

I'm still undecided about this race, but I do appreciate that Lawson does not appear to be a typical hawkish Neocon and I sent a small donation to his campaign, because I think the only way to have accountability in government is to have representatives like David Price be held accountable for their votes, views, and ideology.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What is the "Real America"?

Republican candidate for vice-president, Sarah Palin, has been enjoying her campaign trek through what she calls "real America."

Senator Joe Biden has rightfully chastised her for the implication that some parts of America are more American than others, and now polling site makes the following observation about Palin's remarks:

Since her coming out in Dayton, Ohio on August, 29th, Palin has held (or is scheduled to hold) public events in 44 cities according to the candidate tracker. [....]

[...] the racial composition of voting-age (18+) population in these 44 cities as according to the 2000 census.** They are, on average, 83.3 percent non-Hispanic white, 7.5 percent black, 5.2 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent "other". By comparison, the US 18+ population in 2000 was 72.0 percent white, 11.2 percent black, 11.0 percent Hispanic, and 5.9 percent other. Thirty-four of Palin's 44 cities were whiter than the US average.
So, what is a "wonderful little pocket [....] of the real America"? Sounds like to the GOP it is those places where they can try to pander to white voters by telling us that we are the real America.

And You Think The Financial Meltdown has Hurt You?

CNN reports that retired Republican Senator John Danforth has told the New York Times:

"This is a year where everything that could go in Obama's favor is going in Obama's favor. Everything that could go against McCain is against him. It's absolutely the worst kind of perfect storm."
But hey, enough about Main Street, let's talk about how things have affected John McCain! Well, turns out that by hurting main street, the financial meltdown has made them look at who they think might actually help them.

Danforth's statement ranks right up there with Phil Gramm's soon to be infamous "nation of whiners" response to the meltdown and McCain's previously blogged "because life is not fair" remark (when asked why he thought polls were going Obama's way).

You know, this financial crisis is terrible not because it exploded the deficit, saddled children with debt, cost jobs and homes but because it came at the worst possible time for John McCain.

Republican Senator Slams McCain Campaign.

Well there's coattails, no coattails, and then there's "please don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Maine Senator Susan Collins has called on the McCain campaign to stop its campaigning in her state, saying, "These kind of tactics have no place in Maine politics."

Let me rephrase that...

REPUBLICAN Senator Susan Collins has called on the McCain campaign to stop its campaigning in her state "immediately."

Well, not all campaigning, but to stop the campaigning it is doing, which is using robocalls trying to link Senator Barack Obama to William Ayers.

Collins joins Florida Governor Charlie Crist as incumbent Republicans who are running away from the McCain campaign.

Ironically, it looks like John McCain has finally demonstrated that he can "reach across the aisle" and get members of both parties to agree on something.

Unfortunately, what he is getting them to agree on is that John McCain is running a sleazy, ineffectual, negative campaign.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts...."

Senator John McCain gave this doozy of a statement in Florida today:

"The next president won't have time to get used to the office. He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts. He will have to act immediately."

Well, I submit that whichever candidate is elected, he will have the same amount of (non) time to get used to the office, because as Senator McCain (finally) figured out in the last debate, he's not George Bush. Which also means, he doesn't have any experience in the office of president.

But that's not my real point, rather it is this...

"He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts."

When, exactly, did becoming informed about decisions become a "luxury"? Since when is "act[ing] immediately" before learning about the issues a preferable trait to trying to become informed about the decisions one has to make?

Yes, I know, that he was trying to say not that he acts without thinking or being informed, but that's sure what it looks and sounds like. Certainly Senator McCain is right that the office of President may be accelerated--professional athletes, particularly football players, often talk about the speed of action the higher one rises--but this sound bite makes it sound like the only substitute for speed is to eliminate preparation. In fact, if anything, the Bush administration has shown that simply going by your gut is a pretty good way to run things into the ground.

Two other points. As far as the idea that one needs to be prepared rather than learn on the job, I think it has been Senator Obama and his campaign that has been more efficient, specific, and otherwise indicative of a readiness to begin to implement ideas rather than trying to figure out what to do. The second point is that the acceleration of pace of office makes stamina important (so, yes, age is an issue) and (more importantly) means that staffing is important as well. It is precisely because the president can't learn everything about everything that he or she needs to be surrounded by a staff that is capable of advising, briefing, challenging, and otherwise working with him. Senator McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as a running mate, along with his insistence that she is ready to be president should anything happens to him, not only evidences questionable judgment but gives a powerful clue to the sorts of people he would surround himself with and what he sees as their function and value.

When All Else Fails, Race Bait...

A GOP (Republican) newsletter sent out last week, contained a fake food stamp, with Barack Obama in donkey ears, surrounded by images of fried chicken, watermelon, and ribs.

When the Republican who sent it out was asked why he didn't think it was racist, he asked the reporter why she thought it was. When informed that the watermelon and fried chicken reference negative stereotypes of African-Americans, he gave that most wonderful of all GOP responses, "Says who?"

Later in the same story, his daughter also defended the newsletter, saying "I eat fried chicken."

Meanwhile, Republican candidate John McCain admits, "I screwed up." His error? Picking Sarah Palin? Turning his campaign virtually 100% negative? No, it was canceling an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. The strange thing about this comment is that McCain's stated reason for canceling the appearance was that he has "suspended" his campaign so that he could try to work on the first iteration of the bailout bill (which was defeated, mostly due to House Republicans). He claimed at the time that it would be inappropriate for him to appear on a comedy show during a time of crisis. Fair enough. But now he says he "screwed up" in making that decision? Huh? Is he now saying it would have been appropriate and he should have gone on the show? Or is this a Freudian slip that perhaps reveals that the "screw up" was actually the ill-received non-suspension suspension that people largely saw as what it was--political grandstanding and an attempt to use the business of politics to score campaign points?

Fred Clark over at Slacktivist has some choice words about the turn towards race-baiting that the GOP has taken:

What scares me now is this: I don't think they're done yet. Just because I can't imagine how McCain and his surrogates could sink any deeper into the sleaze and the race-baiting muck doesn't mean that his strategists -- odious professional liars like Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis -- have reached the limits of their imagination. Each time one of their previous strategies has failed to gain traction, they have responded as though it would have worked had it only been more dishonest and just a bit sleazier. So they roll out the next plan and drag their campaign even lower and John McCain approves of the newest ugly message and Sarah Palin enthusiastically embraces the next inflammatory lie and Obama's lead in the polls gets even bigger.

Fred's always insightful and eloquent (and since when, by the way, John McCain, did the ability to speak eloquently and articulately become a character flaw?), but the thing that struck me was how many of the comments contained messages from people who said, "You know the most disappointing thing about this election is that I used to like/think well of John McCain...." I really believe that. It is amazing to me how over the course of a few months, I've heard many people who favored Obama or Clinton go from saying, "Well, I hope the [Obama/Clinton] wins, but either one [McCain or Democrat] would be better than Bush" to "I can't believe I used to respect John McCain." The most amazing thing about this election is how quickly and carelessly McCain squandered his good name and good reputation among Democrats and Independents by using all the smear tactics against Obama that Rove, Bush, Cheney and company used against him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

McCain Calls His Supporters "Fringe Element"

It's not often that a candidate calls his own supporters a "fringe element." Usually that sort of characterization is reserved for the other side.

Just to clarify, Senator John McCain was not talking about democrats when he said, "There is always the fringe element in American politics." He was asked to respond to the claim that there has been anger at his rallies.

So remember, all you John McCain supporters...if you went to a McCain rally and expressed anger, you are not one of the "decent and patriotic" Americans that McCain covets--you are a "fringe element" and John McCain is embarrassed by and for you.

Then, again, in the same article, McCain said of being down in the polls, "We're happy with where we're at," so it's hard to take anything seriously coming from the GOP camp. Sort of like when Sarah Palin responds to a bipartisan report saying she broke the law and abused power by saying she was happy the commission cleared her of any wrong doing.

Ummm, excuse me Governor Palin, you keep using those words...I don't think they mean what you think they mean.

Heard in Passing

Q: Know what the difference is between a Sarah Palin speech and a Ku Klux Klan rally?

A: Lipstick.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What Worries Me...

Yes, we're inundated with headlines about the global markets/credit crisis that have some variation of why we should be worried or how worried we should be.

And, yes, I feel a sense of dread when I bring up CNN about what will be the latest process story trying to contextualize just how bad it is.

But those stories are not the ones that make me feel the most dread about the future or the state of America.

The ones that make me feel the most dread are the ones where I hear about Sarah Palin saying that Barack Obama "pals around" with terrorists or that he isn't "one of us" (literally/Conservative Republican; code: White). Is it any surprise then that the tenor of Republican rallies has turned not just angry but ugly? That Republicans crowds have begun yelling "kill him" when Obama's name is mentioned at rallies? Is this just rhetoric? I don't think so. When people start treating a major party candidate as someone who is "not one of us" and who is "taking over our country [emphasis added]," I begin to worry that Sinclair Lewis was right when he wrote that anyone who thinks "It Can't Happen Here" is naive.

There's been smatterings of growing concern that a close election could spark "race riots" but isn't that code for "Black riots" in the media? Is anyone besides me concerned about "racist riots"? Because really, what I hear is a ratcheting of of the language of dehumanization, the use of words that help prepare for violence and incite violence by breaking down whatever innate psychological or spiritual deterrents against it there are and making it easier to contemplate by feeding the lie that its purported object isn't human (or one of us, or is a criminal or a terrorist) and therefore not deserving of the same basic human protections and freedoms we all are.

I don't support Senator John McCain or Governor Sarah Palin, but I would like to hope that they are honorable people who are appalled by some of their supporters' racist and fascist views rather than crass and desperate politicians who will justify them while standing behind a banner that says "Country First."

Over and over again, when reading or hearing my friends or acquaintances who support John McCain, I hear the word "honorable" attached to him and his service.

CNN reports:
And at a McCain rally in New Mexico on Monday, one supporter yelled out "terrorist" when McCain asked, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" McCain didn't respond.
Could you imagine if there were a predominantly African-American audience that screamed out that John McCain was a terrorist or yelled "kill her" when Sarah Palin was mentioned? And were Obama at such a rally and did not denounce it?

David Gergen said at CNN:

"There is this free floating sort of whipping around anger that could really lead to some violence. I think we're not far from that," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday. "I really worry when we get people -- when you get the kind of rhetoric that you're getting at these rallies now. I think it's really imperative that the candidates try to calm people down."

If we've learned anything from the world politics of the last 100 years, it's that any two bit dictator can whip a crowd into a frenzy, but it takes a true leader of stature to talk back to his base and party when he disagrees with what they are doing.

Senator McCain, I implore you, for the good of the country we both love, to answer Gergen's call.

Put country first.

Act presidential--whether or not you get elected president.

Later edit...three sound bites on CNN showed McCain saying "you don't have to be scared," of an Obama presidency, McCain saying "no ma'am" to the woman who says Obama is an Arab, and saying that they need to be more respectful of Obama.

Good for him.

Yes, there is some inconsistency in stirring the pot with one hand (the ads) and calling for calm in the other, but overall I am grateful for Senator McCain doing the honorable thing in response to some of the rhetoric on the campaign trail getting out of hand.

And thanks to CNN for showing those clips and not just the earlier ones of McCain not responding. To see McCain booed at his own party rally for saying he admires Obama and respects his accomplishments shows he knows the political cost of doing the right thing and is doing it any way.

Well, not so fast.

This guy calls Obama a "hooligan" and McCain says "he's right."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

Polls and Media Bias

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1984, meaning I grew up in the heyday of the New Right, morning in America, the Christian Coalition and all that.

Perhaps no axiom was presented more on faith back then, and since, than the notion that the "media" (that monolithic entity) had a liberal bias.

Puhleeeze. Not sure it was true then. But now? Fox News is clearly pro-Republican (but only as a corrective! they shout, as though two wrongs make a professional argument), and everyone else is so afraid of the accusation of bias that they bend over backwards to not appear to be so. The problem with this is that it means distorting the truth--because sometimes the truth is not what the GOP wants to hear.

If you go to just about any site that gives you raw polling numbers (like this one)(or this one), you will see that Barack Obama has been making steady gains since the first debate and the economic crisis, is well ahead in most swing states, and--were elections held today--would win heartily. Polling shows he is ahead in 10 of 12 "swing" states, in several cases by double digits. The polling data was so disheartening to the McCain campaign that earlier this week they decided to pull out of Michigan, basically conceeding defeat in that state.

Yet, remarkably, as of today, nearly a week after the GOP has pulled out of that state, The Los Angeles Times has it listed as a "toss up" and the Washington Post still has Michigan "leaning" Obama, but by less than 10%.

Let me repeat that. The polls were so bad that the Republican party QUIT THE STATE, and a week later the LA Times says, "Eh, too close to call."

The Washington Post says that 174 electoral votes are from states "leaning" Republican and only 168 "leaning" Democrat, implying through the headlines not only that the race is close but that John McCain has a slight lead. The Times not only lists Florida and Ohio (where recent polls show Obama up by 8% points) as "toss ups" but also New Mexico, Oregon, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. By contrast, Virginia, a state where the most recent polling shows Obama ahead by as few as 2 points (in Republican friendly polling) and as many as 10 (in some network polls) is not a "toss up" but squarely in the McCain column! CNN finally got around to putting Michigan in the "leaning Obama" category, and continues to list New Mexico as only "leaning Obama." Meanwhile, North Carolina, a state in which most Public Policy Polling data has shown Obama up by six points is listed as "leaning McCain" while Florida, which shows Obama ahead by a margin outside the margin of error and Ohio which currently shows Obama with a lead four times as great at the one McCain is alleged to have in the best NC polls are both shown as "toss ups."

I suppose one might argue that after the 2000 debacle where major media outlets called Florida for Gore based on exit polls that the media is reluctant to project a winner. But that's not quite the same thing as projecting a leader.

I really think the main reason is that the idea of a "close" election is a better story. It gives people reasons to tune in and drives ratings up. Who cares if it is true? Who cares if the media increasingly shapes the story by creating the impression that things are what they aren't and then wringing their hands about how strange it is that it is so close...creating a perception that Americans are more skeptical of Obama than the numbers say we are.

The second link above shows that even when taking the most McCain friendly polls (Rassmussen, aka Fox news), that show Virginia within the margin of error rather than a double digit Obama lead and Ohio being a tie rather than a 5-6 point Obama edge, that even the most McCain friendly polls show Obama winnign by about 130 electoral votes.

I'm reminded of the old 80s joke about how an American and a Soviet were in a marathon. The American won by 12 minutes. The next day Pravda reported: "In an international footrace, the Soviet runner finished second. The American runner was next to last."

The LA Times would probably just say, "The results were too close to call."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nick Reynolds

I was saddened to read today that Nick Reynolds, one of the co-founders of The Kingston Trio, passed away this week.

I spent countless hours growing up listening to the group, playing my parents' version of Live from the Hungry I over and over.

Their cover of Terry Jacks's "Seasons in the Sun" always puts a not in my throat, and I learned the months of the year from listening to their Christmas album. ("What month was my Jesus born in? Last month of the year...") I used to love how that album had non-traditional Christmas carols from around the world.

The Trio's best known hit was, of course, "Tom Dooley," an elegiac little narrative that probably paved my way to becoming a Johnny Cash fan in the way that it left unexplained the darker impulses of human nature and saw the true conflict being the conflict within, with ourselves.

There was even something cathartic about the "damn" in "Greenback Dollar."

I don't suppose Nick Reynolds's passing will get the attention of, say, Paul Newman's. I make no claim to the notion that The Kingston Trio revolutionized music or changed the industry. But they didn't brighten my life with their music, and that's not a bad legacy.

Postscript: Here's a YouTube of Reynolds and company singing "MTA" (kudos to Beth Rambo for the link):

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Vice Presidential Debate

I'm not sure if Monty Python and The Search for The Holy Grail is a great movie or not, but I do know it's one of the most quotable ones. As I was watching the Vice Presidential Debate last night, I saw Governor Sarah Palin's lips moving, but the voice I kept hearing was that of the King of Swamp Castle, who is forced into the unenviable position of trying to defend the reckless and chagrined Sir Lancelot:

"Friends, this is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who..."

Several times during the debate, Senator Joe Biden scored points by tying John McCain's record to the policies and practices of the Bush administration, policies that Governor Palin herself admitted were "mistakes."

Governor Palin's standard response was to (try to) chide Senator Biden for "looking back" rather than looking forward. As I reflected on why that response seemed so lame, I realized it was not merely because it was a standard evasion, but also because in evading rather than rebutting, she left the impression unchallenged that the substantive characterization was true. Like the lord of Swamp Castle, who knows he cannot claim that Lancelot didn't kill the wedding guests and so must only assert that it is poor manners to bring it up, Senator Palin shaped her response not to answer the substantive charge but only to say, in essence, "Let's not talk about that, okay?"

Of course, the bad thing about Monty Python and the Holy Grail is that once it's in your head, you can't just do one bit. So, I guess we'll have to make Senator Biden the guy who refuses to let King Arthur get away with pretending he is doing something just by saying he is:

"That's not an economic plan! You've got two halves of coconuts and you're banging them together!"

Life's Not Fair

In a recent interview on Fox News, Senator John McCain was asked why he thought, given his claim that he suspended his campaign to work on finance crisis, so many polls show Senator Barack Obama gaining ground since it happened.

His reply?

"Because life's not fair."

Then he--and the announcers--have a good laugh.

Yes, it's tough being John McCain. Not only do you have to remember how many houses you own to ward off all those pesky journalists playing "gotcha" journalism, but your job security is dependent upon ignorant slobs (I mean voters), many of whom admit outright that they don't share your values and who--in infuriating maverick-like fashion--insist upon doing what they think is right rather than what you tell them to do.

Yes, life has not been fair to John McCain. It is increasingly looking like he will not get to be the supreme leader of the land...

...because he had the tragic misfortune...

...of being born into a democracy.