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."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why the Rev. Jeremiah Wright "controversy" Gets Me Steamed

(1) My guess is that the overwhelming majority of pundits and others in this country who are self-righteously condeming Jeremiah Wright - or just those ordinary people urging that Obama "disown" him, whatever that means - are not regular churchgoers. I belong to a liberal church which is similar to the UCC, and I also have a black pastor who cut his teeth in the 1960s. We don't see eye to eye on everything political. I was taken aback when he compared Ward Connerly to the devil. But I was pleased when he said that if Jesus were alive, he would march in a gay pride parade, and that we, followers of Jesus, should do the same now. He opposes NAFTA; I do not. He has called Jesus a socialist. But His goal is to preach the gospel, not make political speeches. The role of politics in sermons is much like the role of religion in political speeches - it's about metaphor and context. My priest is not a leader of a megachurch like Jeremiah Wright, but that's not the issue. The point is that people who aren't church members don't understand pastoral relationships or the role of sermons on Sunday. We go to church to be part of a community and to fulfil a religious commitment to be faithful in prayers. The sermon is part of the service, but it is not a set of directives for the faithful to follow. Usually a sermon is an explication of the gospel passage appointed for the day along with commentary meant to make it somehow meaningful. This person married me and will baptize my daughter. Our relationship goes back more than a decade. I understand that a person is not responsible for his pastor's words in public. Hillary Clinton said that she would have walked out of the church ahd she heard those words. That indicates to me that she is not a church person. One might disaffiliate oneself over time and find another church, but you don't storm out during a sermon. The Right-wing fundamentalist christians who claim otherwise about Obama are not being honest about how churches work. They should know better. I also totally understand why Obama first said "I didn't hear that sermon." People don't talk about sermons much after church. If you didn't hear a sermon in person, you probably won't hear of it either. Obama probably doesn't go to church nearly as much as he might wish he did, or wish others to think he did.

(2) But there's more. Although I have no plans to run for office, I would consider it obnoxious if someone should take a few words out of one of my pastor's sermon and claim that those words define me. Of course, nobody would do that. I'm white. I'm not in need of definition among white people. I am beginning to understand the tone in my pastor's voice when he said to me of Obama's electoral chances that, "You're forgetting that, in the end, he's black." Jeremiah Wright was partly correct when he said that the attacks on him are an attack on "the black church." Religion is terribly segregated in America, and religious practices differ wildly on racial grounds. White people don't "get" black churches. They don't understand the role of black churches in black communities or the lives of black people. They certainly are confused by the role of militarism and anger in African-American discourse. And white people look at any black politician as some sort of a black box, an Unknown Quantity. Just as any young black man is feared before greeted in the street. This is why some white people see the Wright sermons and think some variant of "Aha! I knew he was connected with those scary inner city black people." For many people, the Wright sermon has the same effect as a rumor that Obama was seen with a crack pipe. It encases him in a set of scary stereotypes of the "other." That's what right-wing fundamentalists are doing when they respond so badly to Pastor-gate. It derives from racism.

(3) Contrast this situation to John McCain, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Falwell said publicly of 9/11: "Throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."" Now, this was not a sermon. It was not said in church in the context of explicating the gospel (however that could be). Rather, this outrageous crap was said on television as a political statement, for a political audience. Robertson said (in response on the air) that he totally concurred. Robertson has been more politician than pastor for 20 years. McCain has stood by both these men during his campaign and shook their hands. It is absolutely fair to say that McCain is approving of these outrageous views (far worse than what Wright ever said) by standing with these pastors-turned-politicians as politicians. Yet he gets a free pass! And all Republicans do, for standing by these creeps. White people get the luxury of context; black people get to be caricatures. The best thing Obama ever did was write two books about himself. If you want the context, it's there. We know nothing about Clinton in such detail.

(4) Obama has done well in avoiding the strong desires of many white people for Obama to react to Wright as they do. Obama won't do that. He won't denounce him as a racist or a bigot, because he doesn't think that's true despite the sermon. Rather, he waited until Wright became publicity-hungry and traded in on the fame that accrues to anyone prepared to say outrageous things. Then Obama condemned him, appropriately, for making a cheap spectacle of himself.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


I had never noticed the parallels between the Clinton campaign and the Iraq war effort before, but once it's pointed out to you, it's a bit spooky.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Money Changes Everything

In the 24 hours after the primary results were announced, the Clinton campaign received $10 Million in contributions--easily a one-day record for her campaign--and her haul consisted almost entirely of online donations, including funds from 70,000 new donors. No doubt we will soon learn that Obama also brought in millions in online donations yesterday as well. Even after the longest and by far the most expensive primary season in history, interest remains sky-high and money continues to pour in from voters all around the country.

Though we all have fears of a train wreck in Denver, I remain hopeful that the candidates and the party leaders will find a way to parlay this unprecedented excitement into electoral success across the board for Democrats this year. Even Barack Obama took pains today to say that the long campaign has been "good" for the Democratic party, and he advised voters not to worry about the Democrats being divided in November.

But even more astounding than the success of the Democratic party is the way campaign finance has shifted radically away from begging for big money from corporations and political action committees (PACs) and professional bundlers toward soliciting small contributions from literally millions of voters. Howard Dean's ill-fated campaign hinted at this back in 2004, but in 2008 Obama's campaign has blasted politics into a new orbit. (Clinton's campaign is finally catching up.) This may well be the year when the internet breaks the "iron triangle" of lobbyists and money and politics on which ironically only John McCain (who coined the phrase) still relies.


Democrats in the Fall

There was some very good but under-reported news out of Mississippi last night. Republican Congresscritter Roger Wicker was appointed to take Trent Lott's seat a couple months ago, from a district presumed to be reasonably safe for Republicans. A special election was held last night. There was no national focus on the race. It is technically nonpartisan for weird reasons, but everyone knows who the D and R candidates are. The Democrat got 49%, the Republican 47%, meaning there is a runoff on May 13th. The strong Democratic showing tells us that there is a real possibility of Democrats scoring more broad victories in the Fall even in red states, because of Republican mismanagement. This victory also means that the senate seat in Mississippi may be more competitive than previously thought.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Bitter Evening

On the same day that the RCP polling average reached an all-time high for Obama, with a 10.4% lead over Clinton, he lost Pennsylvania by a margin nearly as great (about 9.8%). What does this mean for the Democratic Party? Well, it means that the impasse is deepening. Delegate-wise, not much will happen. Whatever net delegate advantage Clinton gains from tonight's voting will be erased by Obama's likely victory in North Carolina in two weeks. But the superdelegates are getting mixed messages. The margin of victory - close to 10% but not quite - is smack dab in the middle between a good showing and a poor showing for Clinton. Good enough to keep on going, not good enough to claim that the voters are starting to turn away from Obama after flirting with him in February.

And that may be what matters. Clinton's only chance to persuade superdelegates to tip the balance to her over pledged delegates is if the superdelegates perceive that the ordinary Democratic voters (and perhaps the pledged delegates who represent them) are having a sense of "buyer's remorse" about Obama. It's not really happening. Instead, we have a situation where the Obama camp has a clear delegate lead but Clinton continues to win among traditional Democratic constituencies: union households, white women, and the elderly. The national polls (i.e., mostly those who already voted) have been trending inexorably toward Obama.

The situation within the party may have calcified. Obama will probably win North Carolina, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota; Clinton will probably win Kentucky, West Virginia, Puerto Rico, and Indiana. Nobody knows or cares about Guam (sorry Guamanians, but there are 4 delegates, and the chances of any split other than 2-2 are statistically negligible). Democrats will finish the primary season much as they stand now: with about 100 delegate lead for Obama, but still about 100 delegates short of victory, and 300 superdelegates left. I fear that Clinton is just weakening a party she cannot really hope to lead, sowing unhappiness among traditional Democratic voters without good purpose. Naturally, if Clinton or Obama do better than predicted above, the situation may be more fluid, but little of that seems likely. The only real possibility of a momentum-changer is in Indiana.

The reason for the stagnation, I believe, lays squarely with Obama. He has lost control of the message coming out of his campaign. Somehow, Clinton has been able to define herself as the insurgent. The message of Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe - that Obama's nomination is inevitable - sounds no better than when Clinton's campaign said it about her.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Why my baby is the median voter

So, as I have been fighting sleep deprivation, I have begun to think that my baby girl resembles the average voter in many respects.
1. She is asleep most of the time.
2. No matter what you think is good for her, it's not often a good idea to wake her up.
3. When she is awake, she is thinking about herself.
4. She is easily mesmerized by simple contrasts between black and white. Loves the shadows of Venetian blinds.
5. "No more tears" !?
6. My main reaction to her first unhappy noise is just to hope it will not happen again. Usually it does not. But I react to the second.
7. She doesn't know what she needs, beyond the fact that she is unhappy. When those needs are satisfied, she does not necessarily understand who did it or how. But then she's happy and usually gets sleepy again.
8. At the end of the day, her needs are simple and should not be overthought. She may look uncomfortable, hot, cold, angst-ridden, or to be suffering from terminal ennui, and one can analyze and overanalyze what she's thinking as the kicks and goes waaaah. Is she concerned about whether she's been characterized as bitter, or by comments made by my pastor, or by Mark Penn's lobbying? Does the credit crisis scare her? Global warming? Perhaps. But it's almost certainly gas. As a rule, she is either hungry, poopy, or gassy, or burpy, in no particular order. Diagnosis is a matter of insight or (no pun necessarily intended) a simple process of elimination. In short: punditry is overrated. It's the economy, stupid.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stop the Debates Now

I watched all of last night's "debate" between Obama and Clinton on ABC. It was a travesty. The co-hosts were Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous. Both were ill-prepared and interested only in trying to needle and embarrass the candidates with scandal-o'-the-week. Charlie Gibson said, in a preface to a question, that every time the capital gains tax is lowered, the government gets more money from the tax, and when it is raised, the government gets less. He said this was a historical fact, and twice threw it at Obama. You could see Obama seconds away from rolling his eyes or lashing out, something like "well, then, let's lower it all the way to zero and let the cash roll in." I thought Tim Russert was bad, but Charlie Gibson's "fact" that lowering capgains tax rates always and necessarily increases revenue was so idiotic. It was based on three tax cuts. Hillary Clinton was spared the brunt of that stupid question. Stephanopolous dug through the last few weeks of "scandals" and kept throwing them out. This all took the first half of the debate. No substance. They also tried to get a 'pledge' out of each candidate not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $200,000/year. They each said yes, then got confronted with the fact that any plan to fix social security probably means fiddling with the payroll tax or (Obama) raising the cap above $100,000. That was the closest we got to substance, but the moderators seemed more interested in trying to create a youtube moment than teasing out the diferences between them. Stephanopolous proved to be such a hack with his whiny little "gotcha" questions.

The audience was also ordered to be quiet, which begs the question of why there was an audience at all. The interaction works better with an audience. If they laugh at an answer, the candidate instantly knows he or she has to follow up. If they clap, the other one can respond on the fly. It's much better.

Now, I think Clinton did "better" than Obama in the debate. She's more sure on her feet in such settings. You can tell, basically, that she's the challenger. He knows he has more to lose than she does. Fortunately for Obama, I don't think anyone was interested in the debate after the first few minutes. I hope they just ditch these events in the future. A good interview would be much better.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bring in the Regualtors

RBR’s previous post got me thinking again about free trade. Both Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton have said that the key to free trade is to strengthen protections for workers, consumers, and the environment. Current trade deals do include these protections, but that they are not enforced. Both candidates have said as much. Obama at one point mentioned putting FDA inspectors on the ground in China. Good idea. But how about putting them on the ground here at home as well.

There are those who argue, usually in the business community and the Republican Party, that regulation hurts business by placing onerous burdens on them resulting in higher prices on consumers. Republicans are big on “voluntary standards”, which rarely work in the long term. Regulation may be a hassle, but the lack of regulation hurts everyone else.

This got be thinking about free trade and quality. I wonder if we haven’t reached a state of diminishing returns with free trade. Free trade has met the promise of lower prices and greater variety. But now, that I have all this stuff, I find that the relationship between quality and price seems skewed. I am paying more for lower quality. Why? Well one reason is that free trade has done its job by enriching emerging nations like India and China thus driving up demand on raw materials as well as finished goods. The need to meet demand results in lower quality goods more quickly produced and shipped. To compete, even our own companies are cutting costs, often at the expense of safety. Need proof? Just look at what has happened to Southwest and American Airlines.

The FAA, much to the chagrin of the thousands of stranded passengers, has successfully grounded 500+ aircraft. Southwest was flying aircraft with cracks and faulty fuselage panels! Had the FAA been doing its job properly all along, this wouldn’t have happened. Industry took over the regulators.

We have a government that uses security as an excuse for limiting our civil rights. Yet this same government fails to enforce regulations that are meant to protect Americans from our own greedy companies. The TSA is supposed to protect us from terrorists on planes, but yet who is protecting us from the terrorists in the boardrooms who fly damaged and aged aircraft? Everyone is worried about dirty bombs or poison in the food supply, but the FDA doesn’t even have enough field inspectors to catch a company abusing injured cattle and serving it up to school children. We are relying on whistle blowers, amateur videos on You Tube, and the court system to address such problems.

Free trade and the rush to comparative advantage coupled with the dismantling and weakening of our national regulatory agencies, such as the FAA, EPA, FDA, etc. as resulted poor quality goods and poor consumer protections while filling the pockets of big business. I say Obama is right. Let's keep free trade, but let’s bring back the regulators.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Lou Dobbs is an Asshole

Alternative title: Why Nationalism is Always Bad (Part II).

CNN's commentator, Lou Dobbs has found his niche. He's the populist jingoist who's not on Fox. From a business point of view I'm sure the CNN big wigs tell themselves he's part of their strategy to compete with Fox's Bill O'Reilly et al. I'm already on record bashing Fox but I haven't blogged about Lou Dobbs.

Dobbs is an asshole because he appeals to base nationalism. He's against free trade, blaming it - incorrectly - for all our country's economic woes. He's against immigrants (he saves his most vitriolic comments for "illegals" but his sentiments are clear just below the surface) - the human face of free trade and globalization. He rails about the "war on the middle class." He accuses politicians of being traitors because they won't erect a bigger wall along the Mexican border or because they favor this or that trade agreement.

He's against the war in Iraq but not because of any sense of outrage about the war itself or even because he opposed it from the start. Rather he opposes it only because of how it has played out. He not against invading countries for no good reason. He's against not winning. He's completely ignorant about the constitution but rails about Americans' "rights" and how we deserve a "government that works." He constantly confuses the policies he likes with objectively perfect policies that only a cynical crook or a traitor would oppose.

The Lou Dobbs variety of nationalism is particularly dangerous. While he doesn't have the animated flags waving all over his TV studio, he's appealing to the same base prejudices and hatreds as the Fox News flag wavers. At the same time, he encourages the kind of bitter resignation and frustration often expressed by US West. By so convincing intelligent people to give up, he leaves the country in the hands of the true cynics.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not His Best Interview, Alas.

Senator Barack Obama gave an exclusive interview to The Advocate yesterday. It was the first time Obama had spoken with an LGBT media outlet since September of last year. As he has before, Obama expressed strong support for gay rights. And while no one doubts his sincerity, the interview did little to assuage concerns in the gay community about the true strength of Obama's commitment.

When it came to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Obama said he had for a very long time been "interested" in its repeal, but he appeared to edge away from an earlier pledge to repeal the whole thing--a position he had previously touted. At the very least, Obama offered only the sort of non-specific answer that some of us find worrisome.

Advocate: Do you think it’s possible to get full repeal of DOMA? As you know, Senator Clinton is only looking at repealing the plank of DOMA that prohibits the federal government from recognizing state-sanctioned unions.

Obama: I don’t know. But my commitment is to try to make sure that we are moving in the direction of full equality, and I think the federal government historically has led on civil rights -- I’d like to see us lead here too.

Obama gave more strained answer when asked about homophobia in the African-American community. Earlier in the interview, Obama had pointed to his MLK Day speech as evidence of his commitment--but in this interview Obama was defensive of the African-American community, and seemed perhaps even to excuse such attitudes a little bit. Worse still, he ended up contradicting himself.

Advocate: There’s plenty of homophobia to go around, but you have a unique perspective into the African-American community. Is there a--

Obama: I don’t think it’s worse than in the white community. I think that the difference has to do with the fact that the African-American community is more churched and most African-American churches are still fairly traditional in their interpretations of Scripture. And so from the pulpit or in sermons you still hear homophobic attitudes expressed. And since African-American ministers are often the most prominent figures in the African-American community those attitudes get magnified or amplified a little bit more than in other communities.

When it came to the inevitable question on same-sex marriage, Obama began with supportive generalities but then went on to deliver an answer which--translated from his particular vernacular--means pretty much that he will not support gay marriage because he would lose the election if he did.

Obama: I strongly respect the right of same-sex couples to insist that even if we got complete equality in benefits, it still wouldn’t be equal because there’s a stigma associated with not having the same word, marriage, assigned to it. I understand that, but my perspective is also shaped by the broader political and historical context in which I’m operating. And I’ve said this before -- I’m the product of a mixed marriage that would have been illegal in 12 states when I was born. That doesn’t mean that had I been an adviser to Dr. King back then, I would have told him to lead with repealing an antimiscegenation law, because it just might not have been the best strategy in terms of moving broader equality forward.

Compare this to Hillary Clinton's answer to The Advocate when asked whether, despite her stated opposition, she privately harbored any desire for gay marriage:
Clinton: I don’t think that would be fair. Because, you know, I would tell you that. This is an issue -- I’m much older than you are -- and this is an issue that I’ve had very few years of my life to think about when you really look at it. When you compare it to a whole life span. I am where I am right now, and it is a position that I come to authentically. But it is also one that has enormous room and support both in my heart and in my work to try to move the agenda of equality and civil unions forward.

Aside from the tell-tale details of age and race, I think many people would have mistakenly reversed the attribution of these answers. Obama implies a political position that differs from his private views; Hillary speaks of personal values. It is a strange departure for Obama, who is usually so good at speaking to the heart, and it makes some of us wonder why it seems difficult for him in this context. Finally, when it came to questions of leadership, Obama boasted,

Obama: I’m ahead of the curve on these issues compared to 99% of most elected officials around the country on this issue. So I think I’ve shown leadership.

To me, this last claim suggests Obama may even be somewhat out of touch here. Obama may be ahead of 99% of the people he surrounds himself with, I suppose, but when it comes to gay rights Obama is certainly not in the forefront of his party, nor of America. (Neither is Hillary.)

Same-sex marriage is supported by 30-40% of the population, depending on your favorite survey, and the number of elected officials and candidates who support gay marriage is not trivial. The CA legislature has voted for it twice; the MA legislature voted overwhelmingly last year to defend the legality of same-sex marriage there; 49 state legislators in Maryland co-sponsored a bill to legalize same-sex marriage back in January; and support for same-sex marriage is officially part of the Democratic State party platforms in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Obama's overall tone and approach makes me worry that his deference to the religious community, and his commitment to compromise and mutual understanding, will take precedence over his commitment to fight for gay rights. Well, maybe it was a hostile interviewer, or maybe it was just a bad day. But all I can say is I read the interview with great hopes and it ended up just sticking in my craw. Whatever the reason, it was certainly a lackluster interview for Obama.


Open Palms, Iraq and the Con Job

The media have been running stories on the need to pull back funding in Iraq. An example is this from NPR.

Thank goodness someone is finally reporting on this. A recent book review in the Economist asked the following question:

Suppose that, five years ago, George Bush had asked every American household to stump up $25,000 to pay for an imminent war on Iraq. How would they have responded?
(The Three Trillion Dollar War, Stiglitz and Bilmes)

Good question. When I hear that Iraqis are asking for money to put sculptures in a park rather than to fix power lines, or when I hear that oil pipelines that have just been repaired are sabotaged by one insurgent group or another, it makes my blood boil. That is a con job if there ever was one. Somewhere, someone is saying, "let's bleed them dry!" Not only that, it is blatant corruption. Someone is lining their pockets with American money. That has been going on from the start.

When it costs $50 to put 13 gallons of gas in my tank, when children aren't getting health care, when the dollar is bottoming out, and I see inflation all around, when I feel the squeeze of the middle class, I blame this war. It is bankrupting us morally and financially. When I hear that Iraq has a budget surplus while we are making huge interest payments to China, I get angry. And I wonder if anyone really knows the cost. It's time for the candidates to start really pushing on the idea that for every school we build in Iraq, we deprive our own children of new books, or new teachers, etc. For every park we finance in Iraq, we deprive our own communities of public transportation funding.

It is time for Iraq to start paying its share. Bottom line is that in that part of the world, people have long come to expect someone else to pay for them. They will take us for granted, and they have. The Iraqi public is used to the government doing everything for them. And what Iraq is doing is running a huge con job on us. I really hope that Congress holds the line to limit US reconstruction funding. A little tough love is in order.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why Nationalism is Always a Bad Thing

Nationalism is always a bad thing, even if the folk costumes are pretty or we like the literature.

The 20th century was characterized by bloody warfare, economic dislocation and misery primarily for one reason: Nationalism.

Nationalism applied to social policy was at the root of ethnic cleansing and/or genocide in Turkey, Germany, Japan (in China), Cambodia, Rwanda, China (Tibet) and the former Yugoslavia.

Nationalism applied to economics led to wars over resources that would have been more efficiently traded for than conquered. Germany's invasion of Russia was largely motivated by the Nationalist/Autarkic view that trade was insecure and only through conquest could Germany assure access to needed resources. Japan had a similar motive for their invasions of neighboring countries.

Nationalism applied to competitive politics justifies an endless list of abuses of liberty and civil rights. That's why we are all so upset about Bush's "War on Terror" jive. It's also why Italians are upset about Berlusconi's cooptation and abuse of his countries media. And it's why we should be equally upset about Putin's actions in Russia which have included, in all likelihood, murder and attempted murder - even of the leader of a neighboring country.

Nationalism can also be appealed to for it's own sake. The claim that a people has a right to a "Place in the Sun" was the motive for Germany's (and the rest of Europe and the USA's) quest for imperial possessions in the run up to World War I.

Putin is championing a combination of economic and political nationalism and the "place in the sun" appeal. He's nationalized his country's gas/oil industry and now uses it like a diplomatic bludgeon to bully neighbors into falling into line. He's ordered the murder of dissidents and neighboring leaders. He's bullied the media almost to the point of taking it over outright and muzzled many of the most widely used news sources.

When cynical leaders use nationalist appeals to distract their populations from bad government, they are risking a return to those horrible experiences. Bush is wrong to do it in America. Chavez is wrong to do it in Venezuela. The Chinese Communist Party is wrong to do it in China. And Putin is wrong to do it in Russia.

LTG would have us praise Putin for raising Russian self esteem and establishing himself as a benevolent strong man. I say this is a tragically misguided point of view. Putin is no Stalin granted. But Russia would be better off with a corrupt, drunken oaf like Yeltsin than a sober tyrant like Putin - even if he does make the trains run on time.

Liberty is the key. Prosperity is the point. Long term, stable prosperity cannot be got through nationalism. Only through economic and social liberty can such national happiness be attained. Ask the Germans and the Japanese how far their nationalist experiements got them. Then ask them how things have gone since 1945.


Monday, April 07, 2008

The Kairos and Obama

I ran across a fascinating article in USA Today, comparing the Obama phenomenon to one of this nation's periodic religious revivals. Mary Zeiss Stange (professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Skidmore College) writes,

It has to do with two concepts that are deeply embedded in the Protestant theology... The first is kairos (in the biblical Greek), which refers to an "opening" in ordinary time, a historical moment when a collective sense of deeply meaningful change is in the air. The other is metanoia (another Greek term), which refers to a radical change of mind or consciousness... It might be this spirit--and I use that term intentionally--that Obama's audiences are picking up on.

Stange continues,
In 30 years of college teaching, I have never seen anything like it. It is truly, to use the student vernacular, awesome... And his followers are not just carried away by lofty rhetoric. They are actually, increasingly well-informed on the issues. They know what kind of world my boomer generation is bequeathing them. They have every reason not to hope, yet they're audacious enough to try.

This may help explain that sinking "wrong side of history" feeling I keep having about supporting Hillary. But it also may explain this atheist's uneasiness with the emotions surrounding Obama's remarkable movement. Anyway, I thought it was worth passing along. I rarely read such articles, so this may be old hat to all of you, but it was an eye-opener for me.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

America and Russia

Two things happened last week that got my attention. First, John McCain started babbling about "revanchist Russia." The other thing that happened is that while in the hospital after the birth of my daughter, I saw a little special about Fort Ross on television. I've been to Fort Ross before, but this reminded me of the long and special connection between Russia and America. During the US Civil War, for example, the only open ally of the Americans was the Tsar of Russia, who wintered his pacific fleet at San Francisco as a sign of support. Also, Alexander II freed Russia's serfs in 1861.

McCain's use of the term "revanchist" sent shivers down my spine. The term dates from the 1870s when certain French politicians became obsessed with revenge (revanche) to recover the territory (Alsace-Lorraine) lost to Germany in 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Since then, it was used to describe Germany in the 1930s (for the same piece of territory) and elsewhere for similar desires to reverse territorial losses. The easy equation of the USSR and Russia is too easy. John McCain is so old that all he knows - and worse, all he can imagine - is the Cold War. For him, demonizing Putin and Medvedev is familiar territory, as it is for many neocons as well. This is not how to be Ronald Reagan for the 21st century.

I know I'm the last Putin supporter in the USA, but hear me out. The situation in Russia is so much improved for the Russian people and for the US from what it was 25 years ago. Russia, unlike the USSR, has no worldwide strategy to challenge the US. Although Putin has proven hostile to opposition parties and opposition media, he has hardly abolished freedom of speech. Russia is not a totalitarian country anymore. People are free to express themselves to their friends and family without fear of reprisals or the gulag. They are free to worship as they please and to travel abroad. They are free to own property and engage in business. Democratic and constitutional forms are taking root. When Putin wished to continue his rule, he didn't change the constitution - he accepted the need to leave the Presidency and took another role (prime minister). This is real progress, people.

Putin is also genuinely popular in Russia. He makes Russians proud of themselves for the first time in a long time. When I studied abroad in Russia in 1992, I remember many Russians saying that "communism failed because we are failures." Recovering a sense of national pride without turning to Zhirinovsky or other right-wing clowns is a great development. Oil revenue has allowed the government to succeed with a low the tax load (income taxes around 10% flat tax). In Moscow and St. Petersburg, ambitious young men and women have opportunity to succeed outside government. Lenin was a revolutionary in part because his ambition was blocked; today he would be a "biznesmen." Bread lines are gone. While the countryside remains very poor, the cities are doing better. And the cities are open. Gone is the internal passport (dating back well into Tsarist times) that forbade country folk from migrating to the cities. Russians know in their bones, if not in their heads, that life in 2008 is the best it has ever been for them. Think about that for a while.

No, Russia is not a docile pal, but - compared with China - it is clearly in the Western camp , on the path to liberty and prosperity. So when I hear McCain flailing verbally against Russia, yet happy to engage with China, I shake my head. I don't want a cold war for my daughter, and we don't have to have one. But we need to elect someone who is not emotionally and intellectually trapped in a 1960s Vietnamese prison cell.


Friday, April 04, 2008

The New New Math

Assuming that Howard Dean, DNC Chairman, is right that delegations from Michigan and Florida will be seated (by agreement of the campaigns), the "magic number" of delegates needed to elect is no longer 2025, but 2208. The number of superdelegates is no longer 795, but 795+28(MI)+25 (FL) (note: MI has more superdelegates because it is has more Democratic officials) = 848 superdelegates. A majority of pledged delegates is no longer 1625, but 1785. The press has not started talking about the new numbers.

This is good news for Clinton. While Dean's move in stating that the DNC will seat MI and FL delegations may deprive Clinton of the outside bank-shot chance of winning new primaries, it does give her a great advantage. Obama has predicated his claim to the nomination on the idea that he will obtain a majority of the pledged delegates. How do we measure that now? I think these next states matter very much more than I had previously thought. It also turns out that Edwards' 31 delegates can go a long way to increasing or decreasing a claim to legitimacy.

The problem is that Obama labors under a handicap. The superdelegates will probably give the race to Clinton (out of loyalty, not with regard to merit) unless he wins the pledged delegate count by enough to shame them into not doing so. But if it's close - or even if it just gets much closer- she will claim momentum, victory, and will probably be crowned by her friends at the DNC. Obama can't just win, he must win convincingly. All she has to do is tie. We've heard as much on this blog. And she can do it by any means - whether it's changing the voting format in Puerto Rico at the last moment, monkeying with the rules on Michigan and Florida, or poaching pledged delegates from Obama, or whatever. This double standard infuriates those of us support Obama.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Say Anything

I'm pretty mad today. For the last few weeks, we have been treated to the spectacle of Clinton supporters demanding (usually surrogates on TV, but on this blog also) that Michigan and Florida voters not be disenfranchised. They must be allowed to select delegates to represent their voices at the convention! Otherwise, it's illegitimate! And so forth. That was the drumbeat in March.

Well, it didn't work. Dean has now said that delegates will be seated by agreement of the campaigns. Of course, this almost certainly means that Obama will retain a lead in delegates (any compromise between the two camps will be better than the "best case" Clinton scenario that she needs to win). So Clinton has changed her tack. She now says "there's no such thing as a pledged delegate." The delegates are selected in order to exercise their judgment to choose the better candidate - the voters be damned. So, if the delegates are not pledged to the voters in any way, I wonder why she wanted a revote in Michigan to choose new delegates? Or in Florida? So much for legitimacy. It's becoming destructive. One argument didn't work - let's say something else. Watch for what happens if, somehow, she should inch ahead by some measure in the popular vote (through some set of 60%+ victories) we will hear that superdelegates must follow the popular vote. The tune will change again.

What, exactly. is Clinton's pitch going to be to the no-longer-pledged delegates? I hear the echo of James Carville shouting "Judas!" to any Democrat who would dare disrespect Bill Clinton by not supporting his wife (that's almost how he put it). This has got to stop. If Clinton cannot set any principles by which she will contest this nomination, she doesn't have what it takes to be President. It's just disgraceful. Sorry to the Clinton supporters on this blog, but you've got to admit this is getting rank. Be honest, Hillary! Lay down a set of conditions that makes victory legitimate or not, and live by it. Be honorable and withdraw if you cannot meet it. Start thinking about the good of the party, not just yourself. Obama has done that (whoever gets the most pledged delegates under the DNC rules that all candidates agreed to - including HRC - should be the nominee). He would have withdrawn after Super Tuesday if she had taken a nearly insurmountable lead. Even the reverie of having the most beautiful baby girl in the whole world is not keeping me from getting really ticked off. I'm going to have to buy her an Obama onesie to assuage my anger.

Let me tell you what's next. The Clinton camp is saying that she should be the nominee because she has won all the big swing states that matter (by which she basically means Ohio). If she wins big in Puerto Rico, which is electorally irrelevant, she will claim it is so massively important that she has to be the nominee. Yaaaagh!


Seats and Bylaws

Politico reports that the DNC said on Tuesday that FL/MI representatives would be seated on three standing committees, including the Credentials Committee. (Despite the DNC announcement having been given on April 1st, Politico's article was published on April 2nd and treats the story as accurate.)

Apparently, both Clinton and Obama campaigns were caught off guard by the news, and many observers expressed surprise. Clinton advisor Harold Ickes was quoted as saying, "Intuitively, I would have thought that if members of the delegation are not seated it strikes me as a little odd that members of the standing committees are seated."

Politico estimates the breakdown of the committee to be as below. Note that seating FL/MI would at best bring Clinton even with Obama. Note also that it is as good as impossible now for either candidate to write the majority report without support from a fair number of the "super-members" appointed by Howard Dean.

Obama Delegates: 65
Clinton Delegates: 56
Still-to-be-chosen: 23
Appointed by Howard Dean: 25
FL + MI Delegates: 14
TOTAL: 183


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Gravel Goes Libertarian

Mike Gravel has joined the Libertarian Party and is now running for their nomination. Not that anyone ever cared... But perhaps now CNN and other sites reporting on the Democratic Presidential nomination contest will no longer feel any sense of journalistic obligation to show pictures of Mr. Also Ran next to Obama's and Clinton's.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Surging Violence in Iraq

Hi Everyone,

This is hardly "breaking news" but that's not really the forte of opinion blogs like this anyway.

I have some comments about the brief battle between the Iraqi government and the Medhi Army loyal to Ayatollah Al Sadr.

First, the fact that the battle was initiated by the Iraqi army on its own has a good news/bad news aspect to it. On the one hand, it suggests that the military preparedness of the Iraqi military has finally started to improve. And one thing that an emerging democracy absolutely must do is prove it can defend itself against armed anti-regime elements. This was the great failing of the Weimar Republic in Germany.

On the other hand, the way this latest battle played out raises some serious questions. It was widely reported that the Iraqi military is itself heavily penetrated by a primarily Shia militia that sees Sadr's militia as a rival for power in Shia areas. So it is not entirely clear that that we were watching the Iraqi government asserting itself rather than a battle between two armed political parties one of which happens to be in the government at the moment. Furthermore, it rapidly became clear that the Iraqi army could not win without the support of US forces and our folks were brought into the fight within days of it's beginning.

Second, the fight concluded when Sadr agreed to go back to a cease fire (essentially a return to the "status quo antebellum"). Guess who was instrumental in brokering the cease fire...Iran! It was our military that was called upon (again) to settle the fighting but it was Iran that is was needed to be the trusted arbitrator between the beligerants.

The Bush administration and their supporters (like McCain) are putting a very positive spin on this. But it's far from clear that this was a good sign at all. It might be but it could be a sign of some really nasty complications in the ongoing Iraqi civil war.

What do you all think?