Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Bless You, Wes Clark

Somebody had to say it. He said that getting shot down in a fighter plane and being taken prisoner was not sufficient qualification to be Commander in Chief. Back in 2000, everyone thought it was Off Limits to say of GWBush "you don't vote for a nobody just because his Daddy was president, and not a very good one at that." If this had been said, people might have realized what a phony GWBush was. As it was, everyone treated such comments as Out of Bounds. Wes Clark has finally said that being a POW doesn't make McCain a military genius. Someone (not Obama) has to knock McCain off his carefully crafted pedestal. Who better than Wesley Clark? Now, of course, everyone is acting all mock-outraged over Wes Clark's comments. Once we get past the mock outrage, maybe it will start to stick. McCain is not a military genius or a war hero in the sense of being a great strategist. He suffered greatly for his country, but that hardly qualifies him to fight the War on Terror. What matters is that he can't tell Iraq from Iran from Al Qaeda.


Healthier Than Thou

I love food. I could be considered a "foodie" if I thought the term had much merit. It's rather like calling someone a "music fan" or an "artie." It is so generic a term that it betrays how little the user of the term appreciates or understands the arts of growing, producing, and cooking food. Since it's vaguely related to All Things Green, I thought I would blog about "healthy foods" (sometimes more gramatically correctly called "healthful foods.")

There's no such thing. For reasons probably related to our puritan ancestors, we in the English-speaking world (probably starting in the USA, but I don't know) have a habit of dividing foods into two groups: foods that are "good" for you or "healthy" and foods that are "bad" for you. The easy way to tell which is which is whether or not it is really delicious. If the latter, it must be "bad" for you. I got all riled up about this (and remain riled, I guess) a few summers ago when an intern told me that she put extra sliced garlic in her soups and things because garlic was good for you. I challenged her on what that meant. Others in the office joined to her defense.

They said: Garlic is good for you! So says Larry King. The Food Network is full of people ready to tell you what foods are healthier. Yes, there are studies that very vaguely correlate garlic intake to better heart health (these same studies, of course, relate a northern European diet of butter to poor heart health, which suggests causation issues all over the place). But let's think rationally for one moment, rather than in feel-good mode. What is garlic supposed to do for you? Fill in an allium deficiency? Do we require something found in garlic that can be found nowhere else? Obviously not. If some chemical in garlic has some positive effect on coronary disease, what is it? And why is garlic the necessary vehicle? And how much makes a difference? My intern just assumed -as do so many- that some is good, more is better. Some people take garlic tablets. The dosage is basically random.

I hear this all the time. Eggplant is good for you. Really? Not the way most people cook it. Red meat is bad for you. No, it's not poison. Vegetarianism has many justifications, but nutrition is not one of them: without the protein and other minerals from meat, vegetarians have to work hard to create a satisfactory diet. Man cannot live on salad alone. Excessive amounts of red meat are bad. Well, excess is always bad. What is excess in this context? The response of so many people that I see - to eschew red meat and eat chicken breasts instead - is absurd. Also, pork is ipso facto bad. Imagine if we divided the pharmacy into good drugs and bad drugs, then removed all quantity and scientific information and let Daytime TV tell us what to ingest. Oh wait, we do - it's called the herbal supplement market.

What I see is deliberate ignorance and food propaganda. In the 1980s, everything had to be low fat. Now it's low carb. I'm waiting for low-protein to set in. Or it's "good carbs" and "bad carbs." The moral judgment reserved for those who eat wrongly is symptomatic of real problems in our culture. Always, it is excess rather than moderation that is the result of such puritanical zeal. It's not "avoid Maggiano's troughs of pasta in bland sauce" but "no pasta at all." And it is always the newly-converted who are the most zealous apostles of the latest gastro-craze. Raw food is my favorite. Seriously, homo erectus got it wrong with fire?

Now everybody is hung up on childhood obesity. The causes are obvious: cheap fast food with large portions and a lack of physical activity. And the not-so-obvious: American demographics, particularly as it concerns live births, are weighted heavily towards new immigrant groups from ethnic stocks that store more fat. And the most troublesome: large amounts of greasy food (e.g., "comfort food") has become for many young people an affordable luxury that treats psychological ailments. The cartoon of the teenage girl who breaks up with her boyfriend, then binges on ice cream to reward herself, is an example of how this works. Then food gets locked up with guilt and cycles of self-loathing.

"Organic" food is another food gimmick that people use to act and feel virtuous. I hear people say "I only feed my child organic food." This is meant to be praiseworthy, and carry a hint of condemnation for those who might buy their vegetables from the "conventional" rack. Of course, this is snobbery: organic food is more expensive. Organic food is meant to avoid a set of chemical and biological agents - hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides - that are supposedly ruinous to your health. These claims for organic food are made totally without reference to: (a) what goes into 'conventional' food, (b) what, if any, of the chemicals are residual in the food, (c) whether any of these are actually harmful in such quantities, and (d) what is done instead to make organic food commercially profitable. Organic food is not about hardworking hippies lovingly plucking off caterpillars from the tomatoes, spraying paprika and lemon juice, and being in harmony with nature. Have you ever TRIED growing food without chemicals? I tell people that an organic farmer is only one infestation away from embracing science. The only way farming ever worked in the past was sheer volume - if you plant acres of veggies, you have some hope in heck of containing a hornworm outbreak (though picking the damned things off) before they destroy everything. In a smaller home garden, infestation = no harvest at all. Organic farming allows a set of approved chemicals derived from "natural" sources. Salmonella in tomatoes and spinach has come from organic farming, of late. Some foods absorb lots of chemicals like sponges and organic farming will, at least, reduce chemical intakes as advertised (whether or not that matters). Some really don't.

The problem with 'organic' is not that it's a sham. It's that we basically don't know whether it improves health outcomes AND people treat the word "organic" like a talisman. Then this new virtue of eating "only organic" can be lorded over those who (can't afford or won't pay for) organic food. Someone in my office suggested that if I fed my (non-organic) squash to my baby, that would be bad because it's not organic. I tartly informed him that: (1) the amount of chemicals I use is so much less than conventional farming it's silly, (2) the chemicals I can purchase are so much less potent than what farmers can use, and (3) the package itself says you can eat the vegetables three days after spraying, which they wouldn't dare say if there were any evidence at all that the chemicals remained. It's probably safe within hours (I usually wait at least 2 weeks, then wash the plants carefully not so much to avoid the chemicals as to avoid any bird shit or diseased insects that graced the veggies).

I grew up on non-organic foods post-green revolution. Didn't have an organic thing in my mouth until I was in my twenties. Both of my heads are fine. The point is, nobody bothers to figure out if organic food is worth the price - it is purchased reflexively. I go to Trader Joe's and figure out how much cruelty I want with my eggs (free range, veg-a-feed, etc.) and ponder whether "omega 3" eggs are either better for me or less cruel. Don't get me started on Omega 3. It's another anti-intellectual food fad.

We have a big problem as a nation with food and food production. Meat production is cruel and vegetables are produced for color and shelf-life rather than flavor. Both of these are the result of large industrial food production and a free market that has been conditioned to value low price above all other virtues. This is where our efforts should be as a society. Allow food in the market to be differentiated and sold based on locality and flavor rather than just price. Start regulating better food practices. Stop fixating on whether a child is chubby or not, and stop trying to make him or her feel worse than he or she already does in our body-conscious society. A child is fat because eats bad food. He's bad because he eats bad food. And mommy and daddy are bad for letting them. It's terrible. It drives them to eat.


Friday, June 27, 2008

CA Fires

If you all recall, there was a photo posted that showed how dry CA was. Well, thanks to weekend lightening storms that provided very little rain, some 1000 fires were started in CA with more expected this weekend.

The Central Valley is filled with smoke as the fires are all around the valley and the breezes are blowing the smoke into the valley where it sits. People are advised to stay indoors and avoid strenuous work. I can smell smoke this morning that is probably coming from the Big Sur fires. The expectation is that the Los Padres fire and the Basin fire will unite into a blze to beat all.

Here is a map showing the fires and their status if you are interested.

It is a perfect demonstration of how two relatively routine problems, a drought and heat wave can lead to another, fires.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Capitalism, World Trade and Poverty

Hi Guys,

Our recent argument in response to Bell Curve's inspiring post earlier has inspired me to start a new thread.

Leftists, liberals, and progressives are divided about what to do about world poverty and how to react to the steady increase in world trade since the mid 1980s. When we add environmental concerns to the mix we have quite the Gordian knot of problems. What causes poverty in developing countries? What prevents people in developing countries from improving their own situations? What impact will the increasing trade and prosperity in the world have on the environment?

We obviously won't be able to solve these problems here. But it might be interesting to discuss some of this. I'd like to start by suggesting some good readings.

One of the most interesting books I've read about economic development in the developing world is The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando De Soto, a Swiss trained Peruvian Economist. The short version of his answer to this question is "rule of law" - we have it, they don't. Essentially he argues that the poor in the developing world have an enormous amount of resources, far more resources than all the aid from all the rich countries and NGOs combined from all time. But they can't use those resources, like we do, to generate returns on investments (that is turn their resources into capital) because their local legal systems do not sufficiently protect property rights. For example, a peasant who "owns" his own farm in a place like Guatemala or Zambia etc cannot easily prove that he owns that farm. This prevents him from using it as collateral and so he can't borrow against the farm to improve it by say, enlarging his house, buying more livestock or equipment etc.

Another interesting book about trade and globalization is In Defense of Globalization by Jagdish Baghwati an Indian economist trained at Cambridge and MIT. Professor Baghwati discusses globalization and trade from the perspective of someone who grew up in Mumbai. Like De Soto, I think this gives him some credibility that most commentators on this issue don't have. Most of the debate about globalization goes on between left wing and right wing intellectuals who have lived most of their lives in the richest parts of the world. Baghwati has seen how the other 4/5 of the world lives.

Finally, I'd like to recommend the Copenhagen Consensus website to you all. This center gathers together interdisciplinary groups of researchers to determine global problems that can should be solved first. Their criteria isn't moral or ethical but rather, how much benefit would be generated for how much effort/cost. The main idea is that by solving problems that generate a lot of benefit for the least cost first, we put ourselves in a better position to solve the problems on down the list. It isn't an argument against solving some problems. Rather it is a question of walking before we run. In particular, I'd like to recommend the first Copenhagen consensus list from 2004. The top problem is the HIV/AIDS crisis (which is particularly nasty in Africa). They argue that HIV/AIDS is sapping Africa's already strained resources with devastating effects.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ralph Nader Has Flipped His Lid

The other day, Nader criticized Obama for trying to act white and then play off "white guilt" to get votes.

Ralph Nader is a pathetic, pathetic man. He should be ashamed of himself.

What is about Obama that provokes old bastions of the left spaz out like this? Bill did it, now Nader - of course we're all a lot less surprised by Nader flipping out. He's been a clownish caricature of himself for a while now.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How to Destroy the DOJ in Five Easy Lessons

Today, the news broke (or "broke" as I will explain) that the inspector general for the department of justice (the IG for the DOJ, in Beltspeak) has released a report slamming the Ashcroft and Gonzalez' terms as the Attorney General. Apparently they turned the Honors Program into a political game, where federalist society members got bids but (often better) students with some liberal or even moderate tendencies were politically screened out. This has never, ever been done before.

I just want to explain how outraged I am. The Honors Program is, by design, a very exclusive program. The DOJ does not have a lot of money, but they want the best lawyers. So they carefully, over decades really, created a special Honors Program to entice the best and brightest law students into spending at least 2-3 years at the DOJ - and perhaps longer. Thus, the DOJ was able to avoid what most pubic agencies suffer from: recruiting problems. I have indicated before that I went to a top-5 law school (in the 1990s), so I might have been able to apply, although I did not. Of the three in my class who I can think of that did, one clerked for a Supreme Court justice. So you get the idea. Brilliant people doing service for their country. Or at least that was the idea. Also, honest people. The legend of Robert Kennedy and others who fought the civil rights battles loomed large in the aura of the office. I would describe these colleagues of mine as the sort of people who, if they found a $5 bill on the street, would turn it in to the police station. In very many ways, by dint of hard work, the DOJ had established a stellar cadre with an equally stellar reputation. Sure, nothing's perfect, but when you see someone with US Attorney on their resume, it stands out. I mean, just listen to me. That's a lot of hard work to impress law students so much.

Well, not any more. Of course, the news really "broke" that two years ago. When we discovered that the people surrounding Gonzales went to such places as Liberty University or Regent University or Ave Maria University - all basically phoney right-wing madrasas. That was the first sign that the political appointees were bad eggs. But now we hear it went all the way down the line, even to the honors program. What a shame. Mukasey (the new AG) has fixed some of this, but he can't repair the damage so quickly. It will take a decade or more to make law students believe once again that the DOJ is about pure merit and public service.

Once more, the GOP has proven it is totally unfit to run any agency in this government.


Monday, June 23, 2008


I love Trader Joe's, which is why I had to write them a letter of complaint today. I hope you all will take the time to do the same.


Iran Again

I am growing more and more concerned about US policy toward Iran and the influence Israel may have over our decisions. The NYT ran an article on Friday about Israeli war games that were evidently aimed at practicing a potential bombing against Iranian nuclear sites.

Because of the nature of my work, I know that demand for Persian-Farsi linguists is very high now and it is growing very rapidly. McCain singing "Bomb Iran" rather than "Barbara Ann" and his hard line on the GI Bill, tells you what his mindset is. Some have said that the firing of Adm. Fallon was in party due to his reluctance to consider air strikes against Iran.

One parlor game that I like to play is to take various news stories and see if they might be linked. So I was quite interested when a spate of stories starting coming out over last couple of weeks about all the work Israel is suddenly willing to do to make peace with its rivals. Suddenly, thanks supposedly to Egypt, they are willing to talk to Hamas. They are is serious negotiations over the Golan. And they are cutting deals with Lebanon. Now, we know that Hamas is funded by Iran. We know that Hezbollah in Lebanon is funded my Iran. So is Israel suddenly interested in cleaning things up prior to launching some sort of attack on Iran? Is this the pre-work needed to make an attack more possible?

And we know that one reason violence is down in Iraq is because Iran has asked its proxies to agree to a cease fire. And we know that Iran really pulls the strings in southern Iraq. We also know that our refusal to talk to Iran means that other nations like China and India are free to cut oil and natural gas deal there.

So would Bush dare, in Dec or Jan, after elections to launch a war that his successor would have to deal with? Would he wait to see who won? If it was McCain, it is a go because McCain would keep it going? If it is Obama, would he do it just to force Obama into a bad situation or because he knows Obama wouldn't agree?

Any strike against Iran would be deadly and stupid. We have a population that is pro-American, even if they can't scream it at the top of their lungs. They may not like their government, but they love their country. Brute force will turn the population against us. If we are willing to take the long view, we might be able to gain the upper hand by Obama's method of talking and cutting deals, slowly integrating Iran into the global trading system.

We should just accept that they will have nukes. Non-proliferation needs to move away from containment to mutual agreement not to strike. The containment strategy is now dead. That may make illegal trade in nuclear arms and technology less lucrative and threatening.

Saber rattling against a country like Iran is a poor strategy. Through sheer stubbornness (Same method used by Saddam, mind you) Iran has managed to get the West to promise all sorts of things while maintaining their ability to say "no thanks" and giving up very little. Thus, they not us control the situation. It's an old negotiating technique that has been successful throughout history. They have turned what appears to be a weakness into a strength.

What do you all think?


Unwarranted Wiretapping

So, Congress has buckled to the President at last. Or rather, the President's pitch that he needs warrantless wiretapping to get "bad guys" has proven to politically potent to resist. The bottom line is that Democrats didn't want to give the GOP this weapon headed into the Fall election. It's cowardly and shows a lack of moral principle, but we've come to expect that in the war on terror from both sides. Most people will never understand why there should be judicial checks on the power of good cops to get bad guys, and Hollywood doesn't help.

The bill, at least, provides some minor safeguards. Before getting immunity, a phone company must prove that it received a statement from the executive branch in writing that cooperation would be lawful. A federal district court must review the documents to see if they fit the bill. As a matter of legal doctrine (estoppel) that's not a terrible law. According to CBS the new law requires the following:

-Require FISA court permission to wiretap Americans who are overseas.

-Prohibit targeting a foreigner to secretly eavesdrop on an American's calls or e-mails without court approval.

-Require the government to protect American information or conversations that are collected when in communications with targeted foreigners.

-Allow the FISA court 30 days to review existing but expiring surveillance orders before renewing them.

-Allow eavesdropping in emergencies without court approval, provided the government files required papers within a week.

-Prohibits the president from superseding surveillance rules in the future.

The latter point is the critical one. It sets the record straight that the President must use this FISA process. I know, I know - the amnesty provision for his previous violation neuters this. But it's a start. I'm still upset, but not so much now that Bush is going away. Under an Obama administration they can fix this.


Hooray for free speech

... and for a comedy pioneer. This video is not for people scared of foul language.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Talking to Hostile Governments

We've blogged about an earlier poll that said something similar to this but I like this one too. I especially like how the question is set up to make clear the pros and cons of each option. This is from an ABC/Washington Post poll that I found on Polling Report.Com.

America's Role in World Affairs
ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 12-15, 2008. N=1,125 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3. Fieldwork by TNS.
"Some people say a president should NOT meet with leaders of foreign countries that are hostile toward the United States, because it could reward their behavior and make the U.S. look weak. Others say a president SHOULD be willing to meet with leaders of foreign countries that are hostile toward the United States because talking can improve relations and avoid confrontation. Which of these views comes closer to your own?"

Should Not Meet: 27%
Should Be Willing to Meet: 77%
Unsure: 3%

That's pretty bad news for McCain. He was hoping to be able to beat Obama on the head with his "naive" approach to diplomacy. But it looks like most Americans already agree with Obama. We're all just so sick of the way Bush has represented us to the world!


Friday, June 20, 2008

I agree with this

Here is Billy Connolly's (the world famous Scottish comedian) take on religion.

Fockin hilarious....


American Ancestry

We had a long discussion of ancestry in America and such down below. It was a neat discussion. For additional perspective, here's a map showing the largest ancestry (self-reported) by county. Note a few things:
1. German ancestry is much more common than most people realize.
2. "English" ancestry would be more common except that, in the south, people of Scots-Irish and English ancestry call themselves "American." It is worth noting that these people are most likely to think of themeselves as "white" in contradistinction to being "black" - since they live in the area of the country with the most African-Americans. Add up the English and "Americans" and you get a large, large number.
3. Most Mormons claim "English" ancestry.
4. In New Mexico, Spanish but not Mexican is large.

Here's a map of religion by state:


A New Era

Sen. Barack Obama's decision to opt out of public financing for his campaign--the first candidate ever to do so for the general election--is more than just an astute political move: It signals a new era in American politics. Pundits are falling over themselves to guess how much more Obama might be able to raise on his own--Is it $300 million? Could it be $500 million?--while Sen. John McCain will be "limited" to the $80 million public financing provides.

Who would have imagined it would be the Democrats who would be able to raise so much more money than the Republicans? Obama raised over $250 million during the primary campaign, the vast majority of which was from online donations: he raised a quarter of a billion dollars without lobbyists, political action committees, or thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had been a master at traditional fundraising, was able (belatedly) to follow Obama's lead and switch over--her final total was also over $200 million, and close to half of that was from the internet. Even Ron Paul raised $6 million in a single day. Meanwhile McCain--who has access to the same series of tubes as everyone else--is struggling.

For the first time, public enthusiasm has become the real currency, not big money corporate lobbyists. True campaign finance reform has finally arrived. This is a triumph of the bottom-up, free-market approach. By providing instant transactions with minimal effort and offering near-universal availability in the home or local library, the internet has created an efficient political market in which everyone can participate. The internet has created a level playing field for candidates--a wide open forum where the public can vote with their Visas and Mastercards.

This idea is reaching down to all levels of government. Websites like ActBlue have raised tens of millions of dollars for local and Congressional candidates around the country, all without a single traditional political finance program. Ron Paul's surprising success suggests that independent and third-party candidates may be able to leverage this in the future, breaking the duopoly that has ruled American politics since the Civil War. Three cheers for Tim Berners-Lee, the most unlikely revolutionary in history.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Electoral Predictions

Check out the map today. It has Obama at 344, McCain at 194. I believe the November election results will look exactly like that map. I am not saying this map is *evidence* of what will happen - just that it happens to look exactly like what I'm expecting given historical trends, etc.


Some Ads Going After McCain

Here are some ads that are starting to appear either online or on TV or both that attack John McCain in various ways. I think a discussion of their effectiveness (both in terms of our own perceptions and how we think they'll influence others) would be interesting. Do we think they are fair charges? Are they overly negative? Slimy? Disingenuous?

1) This one is the newest I think. It shows a young mother saying that McCain can't have her infant son for his 100 year war in Iraq. I think this is devastating for McCain. I think it will slam the door on him for the Clinton supporters who were going to cast a spite vote for McCain. I've seen this online and on TV.

2) This one has been around for a while. It's a parody of the pro-Obama ad "Yes We Can" that's been around since Iowa. It directly contrasts McCain's positions with Obama's. It squarely portrays McCain as the "Anti-change" candidate. I think this one will have traction with young liberals but not really anyone else. I haven't seen it on TV. I think it's a little unfair because it implies that Obama is in favor of equal marriage rights for Gay couples and he's actually hedging awkwardly on that one (along with most high profile Democrats).

3) Here is what I think of as the Gen X ad. It features John Cusack linking McCain to Bush. I think many of the people on this blog will remember Cusack's films about being a teenager in the 80s or an alienated young adult in the 90s. Haven't seen it on TV but I think its target demographic is mostly online anyway.

4) Here is one that is more traditional that is from the DNC. This one hits McCain on the economy. I think this one will see A LOT of air time and really hit McCain in swing states like Ohio and Missouri. The ultimate question, "Do you feel better off?" Followed by the statement, "because John McCain thinks you are."


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How much will more drilling get us?

I heard on the news today someone put the idea out there that people might be willing to allow more drilling in places like ANWAR in response to high gas prices. But how much will drilling in ANWAR really lower prices?

I saw some stuff online (like at fact that suggested that ANWAR at most would only increase our domestic oil supply by about 5%. Since our domestic supply doesn't come close to meeting our demand, a small increase in domestic supply won't help prices much.

I get the impression we are stuck with these prices. Would some of the more scientifically inclined members of our group care to elaborate on how increased domestic drilling might influence our gas prices?


California Drought

RBR mentioned the coming food crisis due to flooding in the midwest. He implied that the media isn't doing its job in reporting. Spotted Hand Fish mentioned the drought in Australia. Well another under-reported crisis is the drought in California. It isn't sexy because it creeps very slowly, a drought. It isn't as dramatic looking as say big floods in Iowa. And renown universities don't get directly affected. However, this drought will threaten the nation's fruit, vegetables, nuts, and even dairy supplies (cows need water and alfalfa as well as corn). For the cash receipt value of California's agricultural production, see the pie chart below.

I recently drove past the San Luis Reservoir that supplies a large amount of the water flowing in the California Aqueduct (that silly little canal system that sends water all over the state). This is what it looked like a years ago.

Here it is today.

So before the "Coastal Elites" get slammed too hard by RBR for failing to show adequate concern over Midwestern floods, one should consider that we all have our problems. Would it be at all possible to pump some of that excess water in Iowa to California? Sounds like a win-win to me.


Monday, June 16, 2008

This is what's wrong with the media

Late last week there was a lot going on in the world. Large parts of several Midwestern states (Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois) are being devastated by the worst flooding in the historical record. 24,000 people were forced from their homes in Cedar Rapids, IA alone. These states make up the bulk of the US corn crop so this flood will likely exacerbate the global food crisis (something the US media is under reporting anyway). Before you coastal elite types say "who cares?" think of this: everything you eat is made of corn: beef, chicken and pork are raised on feed made from corn, so are dairy cattle (hell, I'd be shocked if farm raised salmon weren't fed with stuff that contains corn), and corn syrup is an ingredient in most processed food. And lets not forget how ethanol nonsense has already disrupted the corn markets. If you can manage to care about things that affect others not just yourselves, entire towns in Iowa and Indiana have been virtually washed away. In Iowa 83 of the 99 counties are designated as disaster areas by the governor and the Feds have declared 24 of those counties as federal disaster areas. I live in Iowa. Although my home and place of work are not directly affected by the floods, I live close enough to Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the University of Iowa to know how devastating these floods are. I've driven through these areas a fair amount and this is a huge deal. Cedar Rapids has about 200,000 people in it. Iowa City and its suburb, Coralville, has about 100,000. Waterloo/Cedar Falls have another 100,000 or so. Together they are the economic and cultural centers for about a half of the state.

Also, Irish voters voted "No" on the EU's latest amendment to its founding treaty. This is somewhat surprising because Ireland is one of the greatest beneficiaries of European integration and has long been among the most pro-integration populations in the EU.

And over in Afghanistan, the Taleban staged a dramatic jail break and set 1000 prisoners free.

Against this backdrop of a rather full news cycle the 24 news services broke away for at least a day to eulogize one of their own. In their minds none of the above was as important to report as the sudden death of NBC/MSNBC commentator Tim Russert. NBC actually made Russert their top story for most of the weekend. This is what is wrong with the media. To them, the most important thing to report is what's going on in their lives. To them, THEY are the story. To them, Tim Russert has had such a HUGE impact on American life that his death overshadows floods, war and political strife abroad.

Of course even when they were reporting on the flood, they were getting the basic facts wrong. First they couldn't get Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids straight. They would give a report on events in Cedar Falls or Waterloo all while standing in front of a picture or map of Cedar Rapids. I heard one network refer to Iowa Governor Chet Culver repeatedly as the governor of Ohio.

I understand that American education systems have problems. I understand that the errors I saw on the TV news are the kind of errors we hear about all the time in the wider population. However, it is the news media's job to be better informed than the rest of us and to pass that information along to us. If all they do is present video clips and photo-montages with error filled commentary, they could just as easily not bother and just let us look it all up online.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


So some news on the John McCain front, if you haven't heard it. It seems McCain was feeling the heat for having a fundraiser at the home of a wealthy Texas oilman who had once made a tasteless joke about rape. So he canceled the fundraiser. "Good for him," you say, except that he went on to say that he would not be returning the gentleman's money. Also, later on, he decided the fundraiser was not going to be canceled, just postponed. No surprises there.

But I bring this up to highlight the press treatment of McCain. This joke by oilman Clayton Williams was made in 1990; quite some time ago. Every news story I've seen about this has reprinted the joke in full. You might be thinking that this makes sense; we'd want to know what the joke was to get the full story.

Well, let me relate this story to you. John McCain made the following joke in 1998:

Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
Because Janet Reno is her father.
This is a pretty nasty joke, possibly career-ending for some. But as Salon detailed, there was practically a media blackout on printing the joke. Why the double standard? It is not worse (in my opinion) that this oilman's joke. Why shield John McCain by not printing it? And why not bring it up now, with this oilman making a similarly crude joke?

The press is in the pocket of John McCain, and it's sickening. It's going to be a long election. Strap in.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

McCain debates himself


I am so happy Stephen Colbert decided to run this green screen contest.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Again the Court Speaks. Will Anyone Listen?

Once again, the Supreme Court has rebuked the Bush administration re Guantánamo. In a 5-4 ruling, the court threw out the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. Again the court reinstated Habeus Corpus, the fundamental constitutional protection that Bush and the Republican Congress have tried to strip away time after time.

"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," wrote Justice Kennedy. (Incidentally, Scalia's dissent, where he claimed this decision would "certainly get more Americans killed" was insulting beyond belief. The next Congress should seriously consider impeaching that nasty little man.)

But the Bush administration has flouted the Supreme Court repeatedly--on this issue and many others--and surely will do so again. The Bush administration will complain, spin, quibble, and mostly just keep stalling. It has been over six yeas since this travesty began. Is there anything the Supreme Court can do to make them listen? Is there anything the new Democratic Congress can do? What does the "balance of powers" doctrine mean anymore if a rogue executive can effectively ignore the other two branches?


And the press were worried about Democratic unity?

If it weren't bad enough that long time social conservative Republican, Bob Barr is running as a Libertarian and specifically targeting disaffected Republicans, now we hear that Ron Paul (R-TX) is going to have a rival convention for his supporters in Minneapolis-St. Paul and on the same days as the Republican convention. Apparently the Paulistas are outraged because Ron Paul isn't getting an invitation to speak at the GOP convention.

McCain is going to be playing whack-a-mole with high profile party defections for the next several months. With right wing voters having at least two options (Barr and McCain) and with Ron Paul seemingly doing everything he can to undercut his party's nominee, McCain is going to be real trouble. If Ron Paul announces a run as an Independent, I'll throw a party. If he does that it MIGHT even put Texas in play!


The new EV-Com Maps

I am feeling pretty vindicated right now as the maps are starting to look as I predicted they would once Obama got his "being a winner" boost. States like Kentucky, and WV where Clinton had been the only campaigner are, now that the GOP has returned to the airwaives, pretty solidly red. Michigan has come back to the blue column, where it and PA will remain. Ohio is moving there for good. The tossups are, as previously expected, Nevada, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, New Mexico. All of these are "gravy" states for Democrats if they win Ohio.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Barack Obama's Political Philosophy

In this month's New Republic (online), Bruce Bartlett writes that Obama is considered by many to be a closet conservative. Since I happen to have a friend who is connected to the Obama campaign and shares that view, I thought I would blog about it. The thesis is twofold. First, Obama professes to believe in very gradual change. As he was criticized for in his health care proposal, he is an incrementalist. The author suggests that, tempermentally, Obama believes rapid political and social changes are not possible. Hold onto that thought. Second, Obama does not share the Lefist/Rousseauian view that the elected leader should express and implement the popular will. Rather, Obama's inclination is to use big(ger) government where necesary to implement specific policy changes to produce specific outcomes.

I do not find the first point to be credible, but I think it's the lynchpin to a deeper insight. Obama surely does believe that major social and political change is possible. His own biography is such that he must believe it. However, I do not think Obama believes he is an agent of radical political and social changes, such as we saw in the mid 20th century (1950s and 1960s). Rather, I think he sees him role as cementing and perfecting those social and political changes. He's not a revolutionary. That, I would agree, is a conservative (small "c") view - but it is absolutely NOT a Burkean view, as Bartlett suggests.

This observation about Obama's non-radical agenda is echoed by pundits who ask on television, given all the excitement surrounding Obama, particularly from young people, what exactly does Obama promise them? What do they think he offers? Notably, it's not the liberalism of the 1960s, with its radical change and almost unattainable aspirations (be the change you want to see in the world...). Nor is it putting the Great Society agenda back on track, the populism and progressivism of the 1930s-1960s revisited, a philosophy that is Marxian in inspiration inasmuch as it is both materialist and classist.

I think young people in particular are drawn to Obama because he paints an image of a post-racial, post-conflict America that is at peace with itself and the world. It is the Quaker image of Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom.

This is not a Burkean or Hobbesian view because it is radically affirming of the goodness of human nature. It is more Lockean and Madisonian (sorry to use these name shorthands) in the clear belief that factionalism and unchecked power are the primary obstacles to progressing to the good society that Obama believes is possible. It is not Marxian, to be sure, beause Obama does not see class enemies as the obstacles to be overcome - indeed, his preferred policy position is always to put all stakeholders at the table.

Now this view can have a tinge of Messianism to it, and it is open (as was Edwards Hicks' painting) to the charges of naivete and over-simplicity. But it is, I think, profoundly resonant with the yearning for normalcy in a post-9/11 world. This philosophy is also not communitarian; it is compatible with a libertarian worldview. Indeed, there is an interesting affinity between Obama's worldview and libertarian visions of the good world without government. It's not a synonymy, but a resonance. By contrast, McCain is the one playing the role of Burke -- who says that progress and change are not possible, or, if possible, not desirable. McCain views war as a necessary evil; Obama views war as something we can learn to do without. McCain believes the philosophy that Bush acts out (but does not understand). This is, I believe, a profoundly philosophical election.

Any thoughts?



I'm still trying to figure out why I find these so disturbing. "Jewish American?" And why have a special button for the disabled? Is there a special button in big type for the elderly?


Tuesday, June 10, 2008


So first of all, the website of the old white guy running for President has this menu bar running across the top, and this is not made up (go check it out yourself):

Yeah. "Golf Gear." Can you believe it?

But better than that are the customer reviews for the golf gear. Go to this site and read the customer reviews for McCain's golf gear before they wise up. It is the best thing that has happened to me today.

Late Update: Yep, they're gone now. Luckily, John Cole made a copy we all can see. Enjoy!


This Man Must Be Stopped! reports that McCain wants to "veto every beer." Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot sit back and allow John McCain to sap and impurify all of our precious hoppy fluids!

Lager Pilsner Bitter Stout! McCain hates beer let's kick him out!


Mr. Kucinich Goes to Washington

I saw it first on Le Monde who was quoting Daily Kos! Denis Kucinich introduced no fewer than 35 articles of Impeachment against George Bush with all the supporting evidence yesterday on the House Floor. It took him four hours and forty minutes to complete his case. Thanks to USA TODAY, we have a complete transcript of his comments.

This isn't the first time. In 2007, he introduced a measure to impeach Cheney and had 24 cosponsors, but it went nowhere.

Back in January, he planned to try again, this time against Bush, but was convinced by the leadership to back off so that the judiciary committee could consider it. In other words, Pelosi told him not to embarrass the party.

Pelosi has already said that impeachment was out of the question. And as many times as we have all called for impeachment on this blog, at this rather late stage in the game, it probably won't be the best idea with elections and all. How unfortunate that no one has had the balls to move on this. How unfortunate that politics trumps statesmanship.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Sexism and Racism

Starting with the South Carolina primary, the Clinton campaign was making the argument that a Black candidate can't win in a general election. On the flip side, I'm still seeing interviews on CNN et al with Clinton surrogates that Hillary lost primarily because of rampant sexism directed against her. Do either of these views of American voters hold water? The videos posted earlier by Bell Curve show that the press coverage was full of misogyny especially but not exclusively on Fox News. But did sexism, as defined as voters who make their decision to support or oppose Hillary Clinton based on her gender, hurt her more than it helped her?

Looking at the CNN exit poll for Wisconsin, a state in which Hillary got clobbered even in the working class voters she later did well among we see some clues. First, 58% of the Democratic primary voters were women. Obama won 67% of the men and split among the women 50-50. About 28% of the voters were men who voted for Obama. This might suggest, an AHA! moment. But what if it is the even vote among women rather than the lopsided vote among men that was the anomaly? 12% of Wisconsin Democrats said that the gender of the candidate was one of several important factors in their decision. Among that group, 62% of them voted for Hillary. So 7.4% of Wisconsin Democrats were people who voted for Hillary because she is a woman. Conversely, about 4.6% of the voters voted against Hillary in large part because she is woman. Unfortunately, the poll is not reported in sufficient detail to determine the gender of these voters. If we can trust the self reporting about who votes based on gender at all, it would suggest that Hillary got more votes than she otherwise would have (about 2.8% of the vote) because she is a woman. I suspect that these polls probably over represent pro-Hillary sexism as women might be less embarrassed about saying that they'd vote for Hillary because of her gender than men would be about saying they'd vote against her for the same reason. But we have to wonder about how far off that bias drives the numbers. It could be quite significant and the gender issue would still be more or less a wash for Hillary.

What about racism? Racist remarks were far less common on TV news but there were a series of thinly veiled comments about race from the Clinton campaign - from Bill Clinton, from Geraldine Ferraro, not to mention the Clinton volunteer (later repudiated by Clinton) who sent mass emails to people saying that Barack Obama was a Muslim. But did it work any better than the misogynist attacks in the news media? 8% of Wisconsin voters were African American. 91% of them voted for Obama. So about 7.2% of Wisconsin voters were African Americans who voted for Obama. 10% of the voters said that the race of the candidate was one of several factors in the voting decision. Of those 53% voted for Obama. So 5.3% of Wisconsin voters voted for Obama because of his race. 4.7% voted against him because of his race. Obama was ahead on this issue by about .6% or less than 7000 voters. In Wisconsin, a largely white state, the race issue seems to have been a wash for Obama. It worked similarly to the gender issue for Hillary - albeit a little bit more negatively for Obama than gender was for Hillary.

So in Wisconsin the cynical view that American voters are bunch of sexists and racists doesn't seem to hold much water. But what about West Virginia?

Women: 53%
Black: 3%
Clinton: 67%
Obama: 26%
Saying gender an important factor: 11%
Gender voters voting for Clinton: 77%
Gender voters voting for Obama: 18%
Saying race most important factor: 8%
Race most important voters voting for Clinton: 86%
Race most important voters voting for Obama: 10%
Saying race one of several factors: 14%
Race voters voting for Clinton: 80%
Race voters voting for Obama: 13%

Interestingly, the West Virginia poll reports gender in more detail. 8% of voters in WVA were men who said gender was important. Among them, 64% voted FOR Hillary. 21% of WVA voters were Whites who said race was important to them. 84% of them voted AGAINST Obama. 17.6% of the vote went against Obama because of his race.

I take two things from this. Sexism and racism vary greatly by region in this country. Second, with an "n" of two (so huge caveats here) and using CNN's polls (more caveats), it appears as if sexist voting was far more likely to help Clinton than hurt her even in states where she lost. Racist voting was more complicated. In Wisconsin (a Midwestern swing state with very left wing pockets), it helped Obama. In West Virginia is was devastating.

So the claims by die hard Clinton supporters that she lost because of misogyny are probably invalid. At the same time, the claims that Obama can't win White voters are also not necessarily valid. That said, it probably is the case that Obama's race forces him to work from a different electoral map. He won't do well in places like West Virginia where the Clintons have a successful history. But he can compensate by doing better in the Midwest or in states with large numbers of heretofore untapped Black voters.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Primary Primer

OK, there are several non-Americans who are friends of the blog. Spotted Handfish expressed some understandable confusion about what all the fuss has been about here in the "States" for the last few months. And one might be excused for wondering how it is that Barack Obama just won the majority of delegates generated by 57 state (and territory) elections and still has to win a majority of delegates from another 51 state elections before he's the President.

I'm not an expert on political party development in the US so some may quibble with what I'm about to say but I think this is a more or less reasonable take on how we got where we are. What just happened was that our two national political parties held a series of local elections to determine their nominees for the Presidential election coming up this fall. This was not always the means by which parties did this. It used to be that American parties chose their national candidates through the consensus of their elites. Of course, the US being obsessed with federalism the leaders of the parties from the individual states plaid a big role in this.

But in the 1960s, the race issue split the Democratic party. Southern Democrats refused to allow African-American participation in their state delegations. When the majority of the party leadership stood up for civil rights, these Southern, White Democrats fled for the Republican Party where their attitudes towards race have been tolerated and even exploited. But part of the fight that emerged as this extreme-right wing of the Democratic Party was expelled, involved who would control the nomination of the Presidential candidate - would it be voters or an entrenched party elite that was dominated by older, white Southern politicians. The voters won and the primary system is the result.

Then in the 1970s Watergate and its political fallout, rocked the Republicans. They eventually adopted a similar approach.

In many other democracies, when voters are upset with the dominant parties, they simply set up a new party. This happened in a number of democracies in the late 60s and into the 70s. The Dutch liberal party Democrats 66 emerged in this period. The Belgian political parties split along ethnic lines in the 60s and 70s. In the 1970s, the number of parties represented in the Danish parliament doubled. This kind of thing happened in many democracies. The 70s saw the rise of the German Greens too.

But the US electoral system is very unfriendly to new parties so the best option was to change the way the parties were run. Primaries were part of it. Another part of this was changes in the way the Democratic members of Congress allocated committee chairmanships and leadership positions like party whip and majority leader.

Non Americans may find our system puzzling but it is an important part of how an otherwise rigid two party system can still be accountable to the voters and continue to renew itself from time to time.


What Clinton Didn't Say

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton declared her full support for Barack Obama. Her words were emphatic and helpful. However, while Clinton congratulated Obama on his victory, she still could not bring herself to do what she really needed to do - admit defeat. I wanted Clinton to begin her speech with four simple words, "The people have spoken." Instead, she spoke of glass ceiling with "18 million cracks in it." And she repeatedly referred to her accomplishments. She conceded that he was the nominee but not that she lost. Her message was, basically, we have to support him because he's a Democrat, and, well, he's the next best thing to me. Obama has been incredibly gracious in praising Clinton, but I believe he expected, and deserved, to have Clinton admit that she lost. The people have spoken, and they chose Barack Obama.

Clinton just could not bring herself to give a real concession speech. So for all her words, she did not tell her supporters what they really needed to hear: that she lost, fair and square. That is crucial. To go through the stages of grief - we've been through anger, bargaining, and denial - you need to get to acceptance. Clinton isn't there yet. She believes that she "really" won because of the popular vote, and lost due to the delegate math, and she nurtures feelings of being cheated among her supporters.

Of course that's not true. Not only did Obama win the popular vote by any fair measure, but the popular vote itself is not a fair measure. Caucus states have, on average, 1/3 to 1/4 of the voter participation rate of primary states. So if you only count the actual # of votes, a victory in Kentucky is "worth" two or three times a similarly-sized victory in similarly-sized Minnesota. Yes, Clinton does better if you systematically devalue states that choose to hold caucuses rather than
primaries - but that's not fair and it's not the Democratic party. National polls have, not surprisingly, consistently showed Obama ahead since Febraury.

Clinton should have said "the people have spoken, and they chose Barack Obama." Then she should have invited her husband to join her on stage and endorse Obama. Until all this comes to pass, it will be hard for Obama to win all of the votes of Democrats who were in the minority of their party.


Friday, June 06, 2008

These Killed Me

I was a little bummed this week at how quickly Obama folded to AIPAC. I imagine that a guy has to do what a guy has to do. But I felt better after laughing at it all with this clip from Jon Stewart!

And this one killed me as well! Both are worth a viewing!


Thursday, June 05, 2008


The California Supreme Court refused to stay its own ruling on same-sex marriage yesterday. In response, the Kern County Clerk's office (Bakersfield) announced that they would stop solemnizing weddings altogether next week. They will still issue marriage licenses, as the law requires. And life goes on.


Brian Schweitzer for VP

Who is Brian Schweitzer? He's the Democratic Governor of Montana. He's also, it seems very educated, earthy, and enjoys a 70% popularity rate in a state that also now has two Democratic senators, and voted 56% for Obama in the primary, although it's normally thought of as ruby red.

Here's a long quote from the LA Times on 9/30/07:

"Perhaps no one is more of a poster child for that success than Montana's colorful governor, Brian Schweitzer. Three years ago, Schweitzer became the darling of Democratic politicos when he swaggered into office with a dog and a pair of cowboy boots.

Schweitzer, a cattle rancher and the grandson of homesteaders, is no Democrat in name only. He is a proponent of energy conservation and environmental regulation. He favors abortion rights. And while the Bush administration was pushing to expand surveillance powers with the Patriot Act, Schweitzer pardoned 78 Montanans, most of them German immigrants, who had been convicted of sedition during World War I.

He also champions gun rights and coal -- a major Montana export -- positions that reflect clear differences from the Democratic Party's coastal wings.

"There are two kinds of people in Montana," Schweitzer joked in a recent telephone interview. "Those who are for gun control, and those who run for public office."

Schweitzer doesn't bring much foreign policy experience, but he did work in Saudi Arabia for seven years and he speaks Arabic, among other languages. His website just says he has "communicated in several languages." Seems that is the most cosmopolitan you want to appear in Bozeman. And he guarantees a fair fight for the West. With Schweitzer on the ticket, I think NM, CO, and probably NV are a lock.
That's something to ponder.

He's also not a pretty boy. (Not by a long shot). What do you all think? Is it possible that what Obama needs is not a Party Elder, or Senior Statesman, but another fresh face?

Maybe I just worry about the sound of an O-Schweitz ticket...

Update by Bell Curve: Here's some video of Schweitzer in action, on Colbert. He certainly is a good speaker.


What if Obama and Hillary Played Poker?

So with all the shenanigans going on this week, I’ve been wondering what it would be like if Hillary and Obama played poker. Apologies to the Clinton folks out there but I come up with good jokes so rarely, I couldn't resist.

Hillary: I bet $50.
Obama: I’ll see your $50 and raise you $25.
Hillary: I’ll see your raise and raise you another $50.
Obama: Call (lays down a full house)
Hillary: (lays down a flush) I’ll raise you another $50.
Obama: I just called your bet and you lost.
Hillary: Don’t push me! How about if I raise you $25?
Obama: OK, I’m just going to take these chips here…
Hillary: THIEF!...That does it! I raise you another $50!
Obama: (gets up and starts to walk out) Hey Michelle, let’s go get some dinner. Let’s go somewhere nice, I just won some money.
Hillary: OK, we’ll split the pot.


Democratic Unification

It appears as if many of the constituencies that Hillary claims (via her surrogates) Obama cannot win without her on the ticket are moving to Obama with or without her. Here are the numbers:

According to CNN's 2004 exit poll, John Kerry won among women 51% to 48%. In the latest Survey USA poll, Obama wins among women 51% to 40% with 9% undecided (so Obama will out perform Kerry if only 1/10 of the undecideds break for him - it will probably be better than half for him). Interestingly, Obama's advantage among women dissapears if he nominates Kathleen Sebelius or Clinton booster Ed Rendell as his running mate but actually grows if he nominates Edwards. Figuring that one out will take some thought.

John Kerry won among Hispanics/Latinos 53% to 44%. Survey USA has Obama winning among that group 64% to 32% with 4% undecided.

John Kerry won among Independents 49% to 48% (basically a tie). Survey USA has Obama winning among Independents 45% to 41% with 14% undecided (again, Obama outperforms Kerry even if undecided Independents break overwhelmingly for McCain).

So among those three groups, Obama is already outperforming Kerry who came very close to beating Bush.

Here is Obama's secret weapon: Kerry got only 6% of Republicans to vote for him. Obama currently polls at 17% among Republicans. Bush got about 11% of Democrats to vote for him and right now, McCain is polling about 10% among Democrats. So McCain has no more appeal among Democrats than Bush did and Obama has about triple the appeal among Republicans that Kerry did. What's more according to the CNN exit poll for 2004, 37% of the voters were Democrats and 37% were Republicans. But according to Survey USA, Democrats now outnumber Republicans among respondents (registered voters) 41% to 33%. So, McCain is having trouble maintaining party loyalty at the same time as his party is demobilizing.

What does this mean? Two things. Most importantly it means that Obama is looking like he is in great shape to beat McCain in November. Second, it means that Hillary would be well advised to get on the Obama train before it leaves the station. Her constituents are already starting to move on without her. The longer she prevaricates about throwing her full support behind Obama (witness the last several days of alternating announcements of concession and vows to keep going), the less influence she will have. The longer she waits the weaker and less decisive she looks and the less credible are her claims to leadership among critical constituencies. Indeed, she may already have missed her chance to really use the leverage she gained in the close primary contest.


John McCain Wants To Destroy America

OK, maybe that title is a bit of an exaggeration but there are enough people affiliated with this blog who know about California's woes to understand how devastating this proposal from John McCain is:

On McCain's website he has this statement: "John McCain believes it should require a 3/5 majority vote in Congress to raise taxes."

And this at a time when our deficit and debt problems are dragging our economy down the drain! When McCain said in the primaries that economics wasn't really his thing he wasn't kidding was he!

California already has a similar rule in place and the fiscal dysfunction that has hit that state is truly shameful given how many economic advantages the state naturally has.

Leaving aside the fact that the Senate, an institution one would think McCain had some passing familiarity with (he's been in the Senate for over 20 years!), already has a supermajoritarian requirement for everything (it's called the cloture rule), this is just stupid. Imposing such a rule at the national level would be an unmitigated disaster!

The real motive for this proposal is that the Republicans reckon on losing HUGE in the Congressional elections this fall. Only through imposing yet another supermajoritarian requirement can the Republicans maintain influence over policy.

Why would it be stupid? Because right now we have some of the lowest tax rates among any industrialized democracies and in our own modern history. If we set up institutions that lock those tax rates in place, we'll find it very difficult to pay for the war we're currently in not to mention the massive chorus of "I'm old! Gimme gimme gimme!" that we'll hear when the Baby Boomers retire.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Beware of Voting Irregularities in the Fall

Obama as the nominee is going to do some really strange things to the likely voter models. African American turnout is likely to spike. This will mean that some voting precincts that never had high turnout before will suddenly find themselves inundated.

Democrats around the country need to start calling their local officials NOW and asking them about what they plan to do to accommodate the coming flood of voters in November. What we cannot have is another situation like we had in 2004 where Republican leaning districts had more voting stations than they needed and minority districts had long lines in the rain. Part of the get out the vote campaign needs to be not only registering new voters but working far in advance to make sure that the infrastructure is in place for those new voters to actually exercise their franchise.

I know some of the Citizens have worked as polling place volunteers and/or have personal or technical experience with voting technology. What kinds of questions should local Democrats ask about the November election and which level of government should they ask (i.e. city, county or state)?


Historic Candidacy

Barack Obama has won enough delegates to be the nominee of the Democratic Party for the Presidency of the United States. Sit and think about that for a minute. A man of mixed racial heritage, raised in a less than prosperous houshold, worked his way into scholarships to top schools, was elected to the Illinois State Senate and later the US Senate. Now, he is the presumed nominee of a major party to be the President of the United States. This guy is Horatio Alger on steroids!

What's more, he secured the nomination in an amazing upset win over one of the most effective political operations of the last 30 years. People seem to forget now that less than a year ago, Hillary Clinton was proclaimed the "inevitable" nominee. She started the primary season with a 20 point lead over the rest of the Democratic field - including Obama. She herself said that the campaign would be over by February 5th. In pulling off this amazing upset, he perfected the internet fund raising techniques pioneered by Howard Dean in 2004. His victory dependended in part on his victories in states with minimal African American populations - states like Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, North Dakota and Montana.

And consider this as well. The candidate he narrowly defeated was the most successful woman candidate in history.

This is a very important day in American history. So hear's to you Barack Obama!


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Tale of Three Speeches

I saw three speeches tonight.

McCain gave a tired and befuddled performance in what looked like a conference room at a hotel out by the airport - safely far from any "undesirables" in New Orleans proper.

Hillary gave a speech clearly gauged to carry on the fight against her supporters' most hated enemy...Barack Obama. The speech was delivered far better than McCain's. The venue was much larger than McCain's too. There were easily hundreds of people there. It really made McCain's event look pathetic. However, it was in a basement two levels below street level. And, given the classless refusal to recognize Obama's victory tonight, I'm moved to point out that perhaps given the jokes going around on youtube, Hillary's team could have picked a slightly less bunker-like venue for her latest refusal-to-concede speech.

And then there was Barack Obama. First, he chose to give his speech in exactly the large stadium that the GOP will hold their convention in this summer - the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN. The Minneapolis Star Tribune puts the crowd at about 17,000. His speech began by congratulating the other Democratic candidates especially Hillary Clinton who he said made him a better candidate and from whom he said he learned a great deal. The crowd cheer for Clinton (remember that the mood at Clinton's event was anti-Obama). Then he reached out to those people who voted for Clinton. He reminded Democrats that they didn't work for the candidates of their choice for the personal benefit of the candidate but for the issues. The speech was very good. The enormous crowd was really rocking.

From all this I take away the following. First, McCain is a confused old man who now that the media will be focusing more on him and less on the intraparty fights in the Democratic party, will see his image deteriorate rapidly. Second, both Hillary and Obama are infinitely better candidates than McCain. They both have better operations, better staffs and they're better speakers. And Obama has way more funds available. What's more the issues on their side.

It's too early to find Obama's speech on youtube. But if didn't see it live, I really encourage you to find it on youtube.


In Praise of Debra Bowen

Bowen is the Secretary of State for California and runs the elections process. In 2006 and 2007, she made people very upset by decertifying all sorts of voting machines and insisting on better ones. Today, I got to experience what a better voting machine is like, and I'm in awe.

As usual in CA, the primary election today was a seven page ballot that, even to a politico like me, was full of crap. Specifically, page after page of mostly uncontested judicial elections. The good stuff was on page one and page seven. I showed up primarily to vote against Prop 88 and against Bernard Parks for supervisor. Anyhoo, when I submitted my ballot, they told me to place it directly in a machine slot. I did so. The machine beeped and rejected my ballot, displayed a red light. I joked that I must have voted for the wrong people. As I was joking, a paper receipt printed out saying "overvote." Turns out I had voted for both judges in one of the few contested elections. So they voided the ballot and gave me a new one. I then went back and fixed it. Judge Ralph Dau, be happy for the extra vote you otherwise would have lost. When I submitted the new ballot, it put up a green light. All good.

If they had had such machines in Florida in 2000, Gore would have been president and tens of thousands of people would still be alive in Iraq, including thousands of American soldiers. America would be a much safer place, and more prosperous to boot. I'm very pleased to know that we can do better.

Hooray for Secretary Bowen!


Issues For November Part II (Foreign Policy)

McCain and Clinton agree on just one thing. They both disagree with Obama's stated intention to meet face to face with leaders from countries that are currently enemies like Iran. They have been badgering Obama about it. Granted, Clinton backed off somewhat on that issue after the California debates which just shows that she's smarter than McCain. Why?

Here is a Gallup poll that shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Obama's general approach. The highlights: 70%-80% of Democrats and Independents think meeting with enemies is a good idea. 48% of Republicans do too! These majorities largely hold even when Iran is specifically mentioned.

These numbers suggest that Obama might be ill advised to adopt Hillary Clinton's foreign policy stance. First, it would appear like he was flip flopping. Second, given these numbers there is real reason to be concerned that it might lose more votes than it would gain.

This is very bad news for McCain who needs a hawkish atmosphere to the campaign to win. He's a war hero candidate running in a campaign about the economy and, secondarily, ending a war and certainly not starting any new ones. But as I pointed out in the previous post, McCain's best issue is Iraq. Even though he only really has marginal advantage or a tie on that overall issue, it's a better issue for him than the economy, health care, or reformist sentiments.

McCain wants the debates to be about who would be the best Commander in Chief and who has the most foreign policy experience. Obama said right from the start that this is a debate none of the Democratic candidates would win. Obama's position on diplomacy is in line with the main stream American sentiment on an issue that - quite frankly - most don't think is the highest priority right now.

In short, he's not likely to be that vulnerable here. He can do exactly what he did this week. When McCain attacked Obama's "naive" approach, Obama simply restated his position, and said McCain was distorting it to distract people from the Economy. There's one for the Clinton fans out there..."It's the Economy Stupid!"


The Issues for November

Obama is about to win Montana and South Dakota and the Super Delegates are already starting to line up to be the one that puts him over the top. The talking heads are talking about VP possibilities. But their conversation is dominated by the so called "dream ticket." But I think Obama will be picking a running mate based on who he is comfortable with that will be likely to bring more positives than negatives.

Here are some poll numbers that may inform his decision:

Issue (Percent saying very important for their decision in the fall):

Economy (88%)
Education (78%)
Jobs (78%)
Health Care (78%)
Energy (77%)
War in Iraq (72%)
Budget Deficit (69%)
Taxes (68%)
Abortion (40%)
Gay Marriage (28%)

What I think is interesting here is how the old standby issues of the GOP are just not registering among voters this time around. Guns, Gays and God just won't be a winning strategy this time.

What's really bad news for McCain is that voters trust Obama more than McCain on the biggest issues and on the issues you would expect McCain to clean up with, they are tied. Even on the "who do you think is a strong leader" question, McCain only beats Obama 46% to 42%. And on "who do you think has the better temperment to be president" Obama beats McCain 56% to 32%. Finally, on "who will bring change" and "vision for the future" Obama beats McCain.

And the killer: When asked "who understands the problems of people like you" Obama beats McCain 54% to 35%. This last one is important because the Clinton campaign has been saying that she won in Appalachia by campaigning against Obama the Elitist. This poll number suggests that McCain (a third generation Naval Academy grad and the son and grandson of Admirals) won't be able to make that stick.

Now, back to running mate issues. As I see it, Obama has two broad choices. He can play to his strengths by picking someone who polls well on the economic and change/vision issues (like Edwards, Sebelius or even Clinton or someone similar). Or he can try to compensate for his disadvantages on "experience" in which case he could go for someone with real experience like former Defense Secretary William Cohen or former Senator Sam Nunn. Sam Nunn would be particularly welcome to the Clintons because he's so old that he'd be unlikely to challenge Hillary in a primary after Obama leaves the White House.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Why Clinton Supporters Should Support Obama in November

In the wake of the Rules Committee decision there has been a flurry of threats from some Clinton supporters about a floor fight or abandoning the Democratic party to vote for McCain. I hope this is just a burst of frustration and not a reflection of long term divisions.

At some point, the case will be made for why people who voted for Clinton in primaries and caucuses should transfer their support to Barack Obama. Here are some of my first clumsy attempts at making that case.

If you look at the issues, Obama and Clinton are MUCH closer to each other than are Clinton and McCain. Most of the following comparisons are based largely on information from

Overall Positions: According that website's metrics, both Obama and Clinton are 80% liberal on social issues and 20% conservative on economic issues. In contrast, McCain is 20% liberal on social issues and 75% conservative on economic issues (almost the mirror image of the two Democrats).

Looking at some specific issues that might be presumed to be a particular concern to Clinton voters Obama, again, is much more in line with what they want than is McCain.

On abortion: Both Clinton and Obama are rated with a 100% pro-choice voting records by NARAL. McCain's voting record is rated as 0% by NARAL.

On civil rights for Homosexuals: Both Clinton and Obama are rated with 89% pro-equal rights voting records by HRC. McCain on the other hand, has a voting record rated at 33% pro-equal rights - sadly that's a fairly tolerant voting record by the standards of McCain's party.

On civil rights for racial minorities: Obama has a 100% pro-civil rights voting record according to the NAACP. Clinton has a 96% pro-civil rights voting record. McCain has a 7% pro-civil rights voting record.

On general civil liberties issues: Clinton has a 60% pro-civil rights voting record rating by the ACLU. Obama has an 89% pro-civil rights voting record rating by the ACLU. McCain has a 0% pro-civil rights rating by the ACLU. So, even if you voted for Clinton instead of Obama because you want a more moderate position on civil liberties, Obama's more orthodox approach to the issues the ACLU cares about is still half as distant from Hillary's position as McCain's position is. Of course, if you were indifferent between Clinton and McCain on civil liberties, chances are, you usually vote Republican anyway.

On Free Trade: According to the ultra-orthodox libertarian group The CATO Institute. Obama has voted against trade barriers 36% of the time and against subsidies 0% of the time (0/2). Clinton has voted against trade barriers 31% of the time and against subsidies 13% of the time (4/41). John McCain has voted against trade barriers 88% of the time and against subsides 80% of the time.

There are many other issues (health care, support for families, etc etc) but I couldn't find an easily communicable metric of comparison for the three candidates. However, if you look at the stated policies and individual votes of these three, you'll see the same pattern. Obama and Clinton are very similar and McCain is the odd one out.

Finally, with regard to the War in Iraq. Both Obama and Clinton (currently) favor some form of phased withdrawal to begin sooner rather than later. McCain is famously in favor of staying in Iraq indefinitely. The one area where Clinton and McCain are alike in their opposition to Obama is where Obama favors direct diplomatic contacts with our enemies (like Iran, like Hamas etc) and both Clinton and McCain oppose that.


Danish Embassy in Pakistan Bombed

A suicide bomber attacked the Danish Embassy in Pakistan (please note: that's Pakistan, not Iran or North Korea). Danish news sources report that "at least" eight are dead and 24 wounded. So far it appears as if none of the dead are Danes. However, two of the victims were Pakistani security guards.

The pictures look pretty bad. This was a BIG bomb. BBC News online has a video clip and links to photos here.

The Norwegian embassy has evacuated.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Obama Caves on Trinity

Senator Barack Obama, who famously said he could no more disown Rev. Jeremiah Wright than disown his own grandmother, has now disowned not only the pastor but his entire church. I can only assume this was a difficult, perhaps even heart-rending decision made under great pressure... But even so I fear it is a great mistake. It suggests to me that Obama is letting his fears govern his decisions, not his hopes. If Obama imagines this will end the problem, I think that is sadly mistaken: it will only make him appear weak.

This feels to me like exactly the sort of thing Bill Clinton did in his first term that so angered me I did not vote for him in 1996: he cast aside his embattled friends in the face of pressure from conservatives, hoping that would fix the problem... but of course it did no such thing. No matter what you say about George W. Bush, he does not abandon his friends when they prove inconvenient--and for that he earns grudging respect from many Independent voters.

It is too late for Obama to change his mind--one does not want to waffle on matters like this. But I hope he senses this is the wrong decision and learns from it. I want a President who will stand by his friends when they are attacked and misused by the media and the right-wingers. And it is very sad that Obama feels he must leave his spiritual home to gain temporal power. He struck exactly the right tone in his great speech on race relations. I wish he would stick to that. Because if any man were capable of bridging these disparate worlds, I had hoped it would be Obama.