10/31/2008 6:17:49 PM
Former president Bill Clinton drew some 4,000 people to the Minneapolis convention center last night to stump for Barack Obama and longtime friend Al Franken, who is battling Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in a must-watch U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. Franken has called on both Clintons for support as he vies for the hotly contested seat. A roundup of recent polls shows a four to six point lead in either candidate’s favor according to Talking Points Memo.
Also in the rally lineup were local mayors, Representative Keith Ellison, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former vice president Walter Mondale. The speakers made repeated cries for door knocking, and reminders to fight complacency in the home stretch, and nearly everyone mentioned grassroots hero and former Senator Paul Wellstone, who occupied Coleman’s seat before he was killed in a plane crash in 2002.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak drew lots of applause when he briefly diverted from the Franken love fest and encouraged everyone to do what they can to oust Representative Michele Bachmann, who has occasionally thrust Minnesota politics into the spotlight during her term with her fondness for President Bush and more recently, her Hardball appearance—which even led to a call for her to be censured.
Clinton did not disappoint when took command of the hall and praised Franken for running a more serious campaign than his opponent—despite being a comedian. He also stressed that an Obama win wouldn’t be enough without Democratic support in the Senate, but he emoted and sang Obama’s praises as the candidate who can execute and turn “good intentions into real changes.” Then he called for America to do better in this election by taking a quick dig at his successor by saying: “So we gotta pick us a good decider.”
Image by Elizabeth Ryan
10/31/2008 5:53:28 PM
From my observation perch in Stanford, California, an English European turned 24/7-cablenews-Webcast junkie, I notice that many Americans still suffer from a touching delusion that this is their election. How curious. Don't they understand? This is our election. The world's election. Our future depends on it, and we live it as intensely as Americans do. All we lack is the vote.
That’s historian Timothy Garton Ash writing in a roundup of election eve observations from the New York Review of Books.
The sentiment is backed up in numbers with this interactive global poll at Foreign Policy, which shows Obama with a commanding lead in world opinion.
Americans, meanwhile, are heading to the polls with visions of Great Depression II dancing in their heads. Domestic economic woes rule the polls as the top voter issue. And that might give fretters like Ash the feeling that Americans aren’t too worried about views beyond our shores.
Of course, the economic focus is good news for anyone pulling for Obama. But as another note of perhaps premature assurance, I’ll mention one thing that struck me during the presidential debates, though it didn’t register among the punditry at the time. The conventional wisdom is that the Republican ticket owns foreign policy, and if national security—not the economy—were Americans' top concern then people wouldn’t be selling their souls on Craigslist for tickets to Obama’s Grant Park would-be victory rally.
But every time Obama talked about restoring America’s standing in the world during those debates, that little CNN widget tracking independent voters’ sentiments spiked. It may not be the issue in the forefront of voters’ minds, but it’s one they do seem, at long last, to care about.
10/31/2008 4:43:48 PM
Tickets and plus-one privileges to Barack Obama’s election night rally in Chicago’s Grant Park are a hot commodity on Craigslist, even though no tickets have been issued yet. Rally-goers had to sign up for free tickets to the event online and were promptly notified by email that they were either waitlisted or would receive their ticket, with the option to bring one guest. Tickets are supposed to land in in-boxes some time before Tuesday.
Hopeless, waitlisted supporters and opportunistic likely ticket holders have both made their way to Craigslist to hawk and bid on the yet to materialize goods. Some are simply selling the tickets they expect to receive for as much as $400, while others are offering more creative swaps, like these:
“I am offering to bring as my guest to the Obama rally anyone who can offer any sort of real, prospective employment, internship, and/or networking opportunities.”
“Will trade my soul, slightly used with some tarnish, for 2 tickets to the Obama rally.”
“I am willing to trade notre dame football tickets (in the student section which is really fun) for the last two games.”
"Get free ticket when you abandon Christianity or any other faith and become atheist/agnostic ... If you are already atheist/agnostic or if you are not going to abandon your faith please, bid $350+ for the ticket. Proceeds will go to non profit."
Among the singles set, some Craigslist users are hoping ticket-trading will spark a romantic connection:
“Looking for a super hot chick to be my date to the Obama event. I have no problem pulling hot girls in general so since I have Obama tickets you have to be not just hot but like super model hot, or if you look like Eva Longoria.”
Don’t fret nerdy girls, there are Obama men looking for you too:
“I'm looking for a frumpy and/or nerdy girl to go as my +1 to the Obama event. Short girls preferred. Must not be evil … I am average, at best.”
10/29/2008 3:55:12 PM
This November 4, voters aren’t just deciding which candidates to elect. People will also vote on ballot initiatives, many of which have far-reaching repercussions. In California, for instance, voters choose whether to pass Proposition 8, an amendment that “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” Unfortunately, in the media hype surrounding individual candidates, people tend to be woefully under-informed about ballot measures.
The website TransparentDemocracy is trying to change that, allowing netizens a sneak peak at their ballots before they enter the voting booth. Outside organizations are also encouraged to register their opinions on ballot measures, allowing voters to see who supports which initiatives.
The site is currently in its beta form, so there are still a lot of bugs to be worked out. And some of the ballots on the site were misleading. On the Minnesota ballot, for example, the amendment called “Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage, and Natural Areas,” also known as Vote Yes, was simply called “Sales Tax Increase.”
Glitches aside, the idea of giving voters a place where they can easily view their ballots before they enter the booth seems laudable. Rather than forcing people to form an opinion on ballot initiatives while standing inside the voting booth, TransparentDemocracy could help create a more informed electorate.
10/29/2008 1:40:20 PM
There’s a steady feed of anxiety buzzing across the airwaves and blogosphere about Barack Obama falling short on Election Day.
First, there’s the infomercial gamble.
Then there’s the incessant stream of bad news about voter suppression. And the potential of a Florida redux.
And where to begin with the polls? Nate Silver’s soothing graphics and heady analysis can’t even stave the fear that the polls are way off. The New Republic and Washington Post have some scary bedtime reading on that front. But what about the impact of Obama’s perceived lead? Will it keep would-be Obama voters at home? Will it convince hard lefters to go Green Party? How anyone in a post-Bush v. Gore world could succumb to such a line seems inconceivable, but my colleagues Julie and Danielle kindled such irrational fears in me yesterday by reporting that Green Party nitwits at Minneapolis’ trendiest co-op are handing out fliers for Cynthia McKinney with the chant, “Obama’s up 14 points.”
As if this glut of fear weren’t enough, some folks are spinning some hypothetical nightmare scenarios with all the care of horror film scriptwriters.
Newseek’s Jonathan Alter was kind enough to spin this Halloween-esque yarn about “Why McCain Won”:
Obama shifted New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada from red to blue. But there was a reason Virginia hadn't gone Democratic since 1964. The transformation of the northern part of the state couldn't overcome a huge McCain margin among whites farther south. They weren't the racists of their parents' generation, but they weren't quite ready to vote for the unthinkable, either.
Obama had wired every college campus in the country, and he enjoyed great enthusiasm among politically engaged young people. But less-engaged students told reporters the day after the election that they had meant to vote for Obama but were "too busy." History held: young people once again voted in lower percentages than their elders. Waiting for them turned out to be like waiting for Godot.
And then there’s this personalized bit of horror that’s making the rounds from MoveOn.org. (I thank my big brother for sending it to me after I rattled on a little too long about recurring nightmares of McCain taking Pennsylvania.)
So what’s a nervous wreck to do, outside of hitting the bottle or the Xanax?
Normally, I wouldn’t turn to Larry David for advice about anxiety, but he does offer one option that, I suspect, many others are taking:
The one concession I’ve made to maintain some form of sanity is that I've taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being.
Of course, there’s always yoga. The Huffington Post’s Tara Stiles has some election-timed tips in this video.
The Associated Press has a few suggestions as well:
Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising. You'll feel better while recognizing those things you can control, says Wilmette, Ill.-based psychologist Nancy Molitor.
Realize that no candidate is as good — or as bad — as you might imagine, Molitor says.
When all else fails, change the subject, says Lisa Miller, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College in New York. "Turn to those things which are more eternal and more important, such as nature and family," she says. "It's a great time to go into nature. Go camping."
Unfortunately, these tips seem about as realistically helpful as the fantastical prescriptions the Stranger came up with last month, such as Palium, which “[i]nduces a Valium-like calm with respect to all things Sarah Palin.”
In truth, the best plan is to either tune out until November 5th or white-knuckle it until the results are in (really in).
10/29/2008 9:21:39 AM
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens may serve jail time because of his ill-begotten home renovations, but how much is the Senate going to pay him for his troubles? Stevens will continue to receive a check for some $10,000 each month from the government, Ken Silverstein writes for Harper’s, a pension that Stevens will keep even if he goes to jail.
10/28/2008 6:03:22 PM
As election day nears, new stories of voter suppression and improper voter purges continue to come to light. The polls that pundits tend to focus on may not mean much, as huge numbers of voters will likely be unable to vote on November 4.
States have purged some 13 million voters from the voter rolls since 2004, Joe Rothstein reports for U.S. Politics Today. According to Rothstein, 17 percent of registered voters in the vital swing state of Colorado have been dropped from the rolls, and 10 percent of voters have been dropped in Missouri. CNN reports that 50,000 people have had their voter registrations “flagged,” calling the viability of their votes into question, and “4,500 of those people are having their citizenship questioned and the burden is on them to prove eligibility to vote.”
Even if people manage to get on the voter rolls, some states may not be ready for the massive influx of voters on election day. The Virginia NAACP recently sued Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, claiming that the state has failed to prepare for all the voters, the Associated Press reports. The complaint points out that many polling stations were overwhelmed in the February primaries, with some precincts resorting to makeshift ballots that were later thrown out. The NAACP believes November 4th could be even worse, warning that current preparation could “result in a meltdown on Election Day.”
North Carolina residents who don’t have their votes counted likely will be in good company. More than 1.6 million votes weren’t counted in 2004, according to Robert F. Kenney and Greg Palast writing for Rolling Stone, and the tactics used to suppress those votes could get worse this year. Kennedy and Palast outline six ways that people are going to try and steal votes, including obstructing of voter registration drives, illegitimate voter purges, and challenging and rejecting provisional and “spoiled” ballots.
The groundwork for this voter suppression has been laid by GOP operatives over the past few election cycles, Andrew Gumble writes for the Nation. Barack Obama’s commanding lead in the polls won’t make the illegal and undemocratic efforts to steal people’s votes go away, it just makes them more desperate.
The best way to stop the election from being stolen is to make the election into a blowout, Robert Lovato writes for New America Media. That way, manipulated and stolen votes won’t matter as much. If that doesn’t work, Lovato floats the idea of a general strike, protests, office-takeovers, and other non-violent protest demonstrations.
One of the organizations trying to make sure the vote goes as smoothly as possible is the Video the Vote project, an organization profiled by the New York Times that is supplying volunteers with video cameras to document any election misconduct. The Times also points to the Voter Suppression Wiki and the Election Protection Wiki as user-generated efforts to protect people’s votes on election day.
Image by Ceridwen, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/28/2008 12:43:43 PM
Talk of assassination during this presidential election has been a taboo violated in a few notorious instances. But yesterday’s discovery of a disturbing, if far-fetched, neo-Nazi plot to assassinate Barack Obama has renewed anxiety about various worst-case scenarios that many people think about but few mention aloud.
Yesterday’s revelation is only the latest resurgence of the A-word. There was Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate RFK gaffe last spring. There are jokes made by Fox pundits. There are websites created by insane people. And then there are the sentiments of those at Sarah Palin’s rallies, who have shouted “Kill him!” on more than one occasion.
Blog chatter among those sympathetic to the candidate is marked by anxiety. After Gawker ran a photo of Obama addressing a crowd of 100,000 in St Louis, some commenters fretted about him appearing in such wide-open spaces. “I was going to say something about how much this looked like a Kennedy or MLK Jr. rally, then I remembered how that panned out for them,” wrote one. “I just want to fast forward to November 5, if only so I can stop holding my breath.”
Another worried: “This sort of open air speech setting seems almost [to be] defying history to me. It's as if Obama is thumbing his nose at common sense.”
This comment was met with a sound rebuttal: “You either have to just get out there and give your speeches and assume God or Fate is on your side, or frankly, you probably don’t have much business trying to be president, particularly in these times.”
This last suggestion seems to be the one Obama has taken to heart on the campaign trail, thumbing his nose not so much at common sense but at the cynicism, hatred, and fear-mongering that has been too much the norm of late.
10/27/2008 3:12:19 PM
The election might still be a week away, but why not start mulling over who should be the next president’s “dream team” of international strategists? That’s what Foreign Policy did with a poll of luminaries like Nation editor/publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and conservative icon Grover Norquist.
There are some intriguing ideas in here. Bill Bradley or Richard Holbrooke for secretary of state? Michael Bloomberg or Warren Buffett for treasury secretary?
And some amusing ones, too: Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, uses his bonus pick to nominate Sarah Palin as the ambassador to Russia. And Norquist keeps it in the family by giving David Norquist the nod for director of national intelligence: “He’s my brother and he’s good.”
You can jump into the fray with your own submissions. Foreign Policy has set up a page where you can select among their experts' options and add your own.
10/27/2008 1:14:20 PM
With only eight days left till the big day, John McCain and Barack Obama are beginning to make their final pitch to voters.
Obama will do that on a national stage Wednesday, when his half-hour infomercial is set to air on network TV. But he’s making his closing argument from the stump in swing states starting today and, not surprisingly, “change” is his core message. Politico has this excerpt from Obama’s prepared remarks, to be delivered in Canton, Ohio:
[A]s I’ve said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn’t just about new programs and policies. It’s about a new politics – a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another.
Obama went on to say that we lost "our sense of common purpose" during the Bush years. "And that's what we need to restore right now," he said.
Also in Ohio, McCain delivered what the Washington Post calls a “surprise economic speech” Monday morning. He continued to push the idea that Obama will raise taxes and go on a lavish government spending spree, and promised that he “will never be the one who sits on the sidelines waiting for things to get better,” according to the Post. McCain also called a theoretical President Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a “dangerous threesome,” and argued that the election should turn on how voters expect to see their money spent: “Do you want to keep it and invest it in your future, or have it taken by the most liberal person to ever run for the presidency?”
10/24/2008 9:44:40 AM
John McCain's campaign tries on new messages like Paris Hilton tries on new shoes. But since Sarah Palin entered the race, they've managed to deliver at least one consistent rallying cry: We are the ticket of small-town values.
Small-town mythology has become the cornerstone of Palin’s pitch to voters. She spoke about “Main Streeters like me” in the vice presidential debate and talked up “Joe six-pack.” In her speech before the Republican National Convention, she told the audience that the nation grows “good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.”
Palin’s speech channeled Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to a friend in 1785, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” But the Jeffersonian portrait she sketched of rural America doesn’t tell the whole story.
Palin didn’t touch on the fact that small towns are hemorrhaging young people, who grow up and leave in search of opportunity. She didn’t mention that hope is scarce in some towns, as a 2008 survey (pdf) of rural Midwesterners completed by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute found. Only 15 percent of those asked to forecast the future of their communities believed life there would be better in 10 years. Palin didn’t explain to the nation that small towns have fallen on hard times. Nor did she promise rural Americans that a Palin vice presidency would mean a better future was on its way.
Because that wasn’t really the point. Palin peddles small-town nostalgia and an outdated image of the “average American” to cast shadows of doubt on her enemies, not to offer solutions to her friends. The Wasilla gal is George Bush, the guy you’d like to swill beer with, in fierce pumps and trendy glasses. She embodies the same everyman appeal that Bush did and uses it to stoke the kind of fear and division that made Karl Rove a household name. But at a time when the country is fighting two wars abroad and trying to piece the economy back together at home, can the politics of cultural resentment still turn the election for Republicans?
To understand why, take a look back at the Republican National Convention, when McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told the Washington Post, “This election is not about issues.” If it was, the McCain camp looked to be fighting a losing battle as the campaign entered the home stretch: An ABC News / Washington Post poll released Oct. 13 reported that 68 percent of likely voters preferred Obama’s positions on the issues, with only 29 percent preferring McCain’s. But the poll found those voters favored McCain’s personal qualities over Obama’s 61 percent to 34 percent. The takeaway? McCain’s best shot at the White House was to make the campaign a referendum on character.
You might think that would mean we’d be hearing a lot about McCain’s dark days in Vietnam in these final weeks. But instead, the campaign has shaped its character attacks almost singularly around the image of Sarah Palin. They’ve deployed Palin’s small-town biography to tell the story of a fabled “real America” that the terrorist-friendly Obama, as Palin and others paint him, isn’t a part of. At an Oct. 16 fundraiser in Greensboro, North Carolina, Palin declared that, “the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America.” She went on that in these “pro-America areas of this great nation…we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans.”
“I bet bin Laden feels like a real asshole now,” Daily Show host Jon Stewart responded on the following Tuesday’s show. “What?! I bombed the wrong America?!” Stewart skewered Palin further saying, “I guess if you’re from New York City and you signed up to fight in Iraq and you died, I guess it doesn’t count.” Palin’s comments didn’t play much better beyond the Daily Show, either, and Palin eventually issued a half-hearted apology. The fact is, most folks don’t live in Palin’s “real America”; according to the New Republic, 84 percent of Americans live in the country’s metro areas.
It's true that rural voters play a disproportionate role in national elections. Just look at in Ohio in 2004, where they ignored pocketbook issues and handed George Bush the presidency because of his stances on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Palin’s job is to make sure rural voters put their values above their wallets again in 2008. But will they?
Small-town America no longer looks like a place Republicans can easily clinch by devoting a little airtime to their opponent’s Godless positions on abortion or gay marriage. Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, told National Public Radio that those two hot-button wedges of 2004 aren’t even among religious voters’ top five concerns this year. With social issues taking a back seat to the economy, Republican dominance in rural areas is waning. A late September poll by the Center for Rural Strategies showed McCain with a 10-point lead over Obama in rural America. The center's newest poll, however, shows a dramatic shift. Conducted in the first three weeks of October, the poll reports Obama leading McCain 46 percent to 45 percent among rural voters in 13 swing states.
Unlike past Democratic candidates, Obama has made a point of showing up in historically unfriendly territory, making sure rural swing voters hear his message. Explaining to New York Times Magazine reporter Matt Bai how he won rural Nevada in the Democratic primary, Obama said, “a lot of it just had to do with the fact that folks thought: Man, the guy is showing up. He’s set up an office. He’s doing real organizing. He’s talking to people.” According to Bai, Obama has 50 campaign offices in Virginia, 42 in Indiana, and 45 in North Carolina, all states his party usually writes off in national campaigns.
When he shows up, Obama appeals to rural voters with an economic message he's been hitting for some time. In July, for instance, he swung through rural Missouri on an economic tour, giving particular attention to his vision for the green economy of the future. The McCain campaign, by comparison, has delivered a shaky economic message at best. The economy simply isn’t what they want to talk about. McCain adviser Greg Strimple told the Washington Post in early October, “We are looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis." But the page has not turned on our economic woes, and unfortunately for McCain, voters are interested in talking about it.
Nevertheless, McCain and Palin continue to push a campaign that celebrates the common man in lore more than substance. Joe the Plumber, who has recently eclipsed Palin as the campaign’s “average” sensation, is McCain’s symbol du jour of the further economic pain a President Obama would impose on the country. Yet Joe, at his current income level, would fare better under Obama’s tax plan than McCain’s, exposing deep imperfections in the relationship between McCain's message and his policy.
McCain seized upon Joe without vetting just as he seized upon Sarah, out of a belief that symbolism could trump candor. Sarah Palin is indeed a powerful embodiment of a certain American story that has a tight hold on our imagination. America was born as a nation of small towns, and we tend to celebrate presidential stories that originate there. But that is no longer the America in which we live. In 2008, it's a mistake to believe that there is only one quintessential American story or that Sarah’s is any more American than Barack’s.
Photo by cmaccubbin, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/23/2008 2:37:06 PM
Finally, voters can put the media’s constant barrage of election conjecture to good use. Boston Review is offering a $500 prize to anyone who can best their experts at predicting the outcomes in seven key swing states in the presidential election.
Contestants must also guess the presidential race results by total electoral votes and the popular vote, and include an estimate of how the new Congress will split between Democrats and Republicans.
The magazine shows the educated guesses of four political scientists (Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard; Robert Erikson of Columbia; Gary Jacobson of UC, San Diego; and David Mayhew of Yale) alongside each category. Can you, Joe the Voter, outdo them? If you need a little help, take a look at prediction sites like Intrade.com, which offers a real-time forecast of electoral votes state by state.
Entries are due by November 1, so start crunching those numbers!
10/22/2008 2:02:55 PM
Wordsmith.org, whose “Word.A.Day” emails dispatch daily doses of rare vocabulary, has taken up the election as its theme this week. Specifically, creator Anu Garg is featuring words that contain the candidates’ names.
These words have been on the books since long before this never-ending campaign began, but let’s see if we can force some creative connections and use each in a candidate-related sentence.
Here’s the list so far:
noun: A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem.
From Greek palinoidia, from palin (again) + oide (song). It's the same palin that shows up in the word palindrome.
Please use the word in a sentence:
If Sarah Palin had apologized for her recent bilious musings on the “Real America” in poem form, rather than as a hypothetical hedging, it would have been a Palin palinode. (For Palin-inspired poetry, check out the submissions to our Great Writing Salon.)
adjective: Having two teeth or toothlike parts.
From Latin bi- (two) + dens (tooth).
Please use the word in a sentence:
One wanting to caricature Biden’s latest campaign-trail gaffe might show him as a bucktoothed, bidentate goofball.
verb intr.: To walk about.
From Latin ob- (towards, against) + ambulare (to walk). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ambhi- (around) that is also the source of ambulance, alley, preamble, and bivouac. The first print citation of the word is from 1614.
Please use the word in a sentence:
This one’s too easy. Any candidate can obambulate a stage at a rally, so: Obama will certainly ombambulate in Richmond, Virginia, today. Perhaps it’s a more fitting word, though, to describe his opponents’ wanderings during their second, townhall debate. (You can relive those moments with The Daily Show video below, starting around 7:20.)
Check in tomorrow or Friday with Wordsmith for the McCain edition.
10/17/2008 11:58:06 AM
Election day is almost here and questions still remain about the security of the voting process. A lot of attention has been paid to accusations of voter fraud and the McCain campaign’s attacks on the community organizing group ACORN. What has been largely ignored is the rampant misinformation that’s already being spread in low-income and minority communities, and the unjust voter disenfranchisement that’s likely to occur.
For this episode of the UtneCast, I spoke with Rachel Bloom and Nancy Abudu, organizers from the American Civil Liberties Union who are working to make sure that every legal vote is counted. We talked about race, fraud, and the organization’s efforts to protect people’s votes in 2008.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
ACLU on Voter Suppression: Play Now
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10/16/2008 7:55:30 AM
The last debate of the presidential election wrapped last night. The clear winner? “Joe the Plumber”—the latest Joe archetype to merit the candidates’ hyperfocused courting. But, to borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin, Who is the real Joe?
Well, he’s Joseph Wurzelbacher from Holland, Ohio—apparently the state’s only swing voter. Katie Couric scored another big interview by catching up with him post-debate on CBS’s webcast. And after listening to him, I wish we could return to the heady days of targeting the elusive Joe Six Pack, whose alcoholic haze must make him a tad more fun to chat with. Better yet, the campaigns could drop the Joe meme altogether. After all, the name is getting less popular.
As for the debate’s non-Joe content, Obama kept his cool under McCain’s battery of kitchen sinks. Bill Ayers! John Lewis hurt my feelings! Obama’s a baby killer! McCain didn’t manage so well in the split screens—at one point mockingly raising his eyebrows when Obama suggested that, when negotiating a trade agreement with Colombia, we should be concerned about the country's labor leaders being assassinated. Perhaps my favorite moment of the night, though, was seeing McCain sarcastically dismiss the “health” of the mother—yes, he even used air quotes—as a reason for allowing third-trimester abortions. Now that’s pro-life!
10/15/2008 4:07:03 PM
Corruption is one of the major roadblocks to fighting global poverty. Too often, money meant for the world’s poorest people ends up in the hands of corrupt regimes. One reason corruption persists is that it's notoriously difficult to track. Politicians don’t often answer truthfully when asked, “How much of your income last year came from bribes?”
There are, however, some innovative economic strategies that can be used to measure corruption, Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel write for Foreign Policy (excerpt only available online), some of which could help reduce the graft and bribery that hinders global development.
Construction, according to Fishman and Miguel, is one area where corruption can have a measurable effect. A classic example of mafia-style graft is when a construction company buys cheaper-than-reported materials to build bridges and roads and splits the left over money with corrupt officials. By using engineers to test which companies used cheaper-than-reported materials, economists could find out which companies were engaging in corruption.
From there, preventing corruption becomes a simple exercise in experimentation. “Just as medical scientists experiment with different ways of treating human diseases,” Fishman and Miguel write, “policy makers can experiment with different solutions to social problems.” Governments should toy with stricter punishments, greater transparency, and other methods in verifiable ways using control groups and basic scientific principles to figure out how best to tackle corruption. The idea won’t end corruption and poverty tomorrow, but it could make global funds for development a little bit safer.
For more alt-press dispatches from Blog Action Day, click
10/15/2008 11:55:57 AM
Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event that taps thousands of bloggers across the globe to tackle a single pressing issue. This year, the focus is on poverty. We’ll be spotlighting excellent alternative press coverage of poverty throughout the day here. Let’s get started with this rallying call to progressives from In These Times:
One of the finest traditions of the American left has been its historic commitment to solidarity with the oppressed and poverty-stricken peoples of the world.
In the last few years, however, the progressive movement has become far too insular. As a result, we have too often neglected our internationalist responsibilities–especially when it comes to confronting the ravages of world poverty.
Ken Brociner argues that while other concerns have understandably drawn progressives’ focus—namely, the war in Iraq and electoral politics—the movement is in danger of succumbing to a deadly domestic myopia.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 18 million people die each year due to poverty-related causes. This staggering figure represents about one third of all deaths that occur throughout the world on an annual basis. And these are deaths that could be easily prevented through better nutrition, safe drinking water, and adequate vaccines, antibiotics and other medicines.
It’s a point that’s proved particularly salient in the last few weeks, as headlines warming of Great Depression II have Americans gnashing their teeth over their disappearing retirement funds. As folks see their budgets increasingly squeezed, it’s easy to ignore the dire needs of those abroad. This dismissal has infected the campaign trail as well, with both presidential candidates confessing that the economic crisis likely will force them to roll back their foreign aid plans.
Which is all the more reason why, as Brociner notes, progressives must not lose sight of their internationalist obligations. Because if they don’t keep global poverty on the U.S. agenda, then who will?
For more alt-press dispatches from Blog Action Day, click
10/14/2008 3:30:55 PM
A wiry thirtysomething guy bikes out of the Whole Foods parking lot, a pannier of organic produce strapped to his rack. He’s on his way home to make dinner after a couple of hours volunteering at the local Obama campaign headquarters. He inches down the driveway, waiting for an opportunity to turn right into the busy rush-hour traffic.
He sees an opening and jumps into the lane, pedaling quickly. But he’s not moving fast enough for a hulking SUV whose impatient driver doesn’t want to change lanes. She tailgates him for several yards, laying on the horn, then swerves into the other lane and tears past him, yelling something about getting on the sidewalk. The cyclist gives her a one-fingered salute, then notices a McCain-Palin sticker on her bumper.
We are all guilty of certain prejudices. In the escalating (and increasingly dangerous) tensions between car commuters and bicycle riders, battle lines are drawn. As an avid cyclist leaning fairly hard to port, I had very little reason to interrogate the stereotypes embodied in the scenario above. But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?
On the Internet, of course.
“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”
And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy. “I do not care about gas prices or the environment. I care about fun and getting where I am quickly,” wrote Old Scratch. “I’m a Libertarian,” wrote Charly17201. “I am extremely conservative, but definitely NOT a GOPer. … I ride my bike because it provides me the opportunity to save even more money for my pleasures now and my retirement in the future (and my retirement fund is NOT the responsibility of the government).”
The more liberal bikers in the forums repeated some variation of this formulation: “Drive to the ride = conservative; bike to the ride = liberal.” In other words, conservatives load bikes onto SUVs and drive them to a riding trail, while liberals incorporate their bikes into every aspect of their personal transportation, whether utilitarian or recreational. For moneyed conservatives with a large portion of their income budgeted for recreation, high-end bikes and gear have taken their place along golf as a rich man’s leisure activity.
But there are conservatives who integrate bikes into their lifestyle just as thoroughly as their liberal counterparts. Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”
Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”
The impression that bikers are liberal is reinforced, Berg feels, by the most vocal and political members of bike culture. These are the folks who corner the media's spotlight (and draw drivers' resentment) with high-profile events like Critical Mass, a group ride that floods downtown streets in many cities at the end of each month as riders zealously reassert their rights to the paths normally traveled by cars. Similarly, when the price of gas climbed to $4 over the summer, the media couldn’t run enough stories about the unprecedented popularity of bike commuting. Activist bikers leveraged the newfound media attention to promote certain messages: that bicycling is an inherently political activity; that cyclists care about traditionally progressive causes like environmental protection; that more tax money should be allocated for bike paths and a transportation infrastructure that takes vehicles other than cars into account.
“The faction of bikers that is fundamentally political has done a good job of tying [bikes and politics] together,” Berg says. “The Green Party has wrapped itself around the bicycle.” But for many, biking is political because everything is political: “You need a public infrastructure to [bike],” wrote Cyclezealot, on Bike Forums. “So, cycling will always be affected by politics, like it or not.”
When politics does bleed into cycling, does it create tensions? I asked Berg if he ever feels outnumbered on group rides dominated by liberals, and if those differences ever come to the fore. “Of course,” he replied, “On several levels. I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in man-made global warming. I’m biking for reasons that are partly personal and partly capitalistic; I don’t want to pay $4 for gas.” But he has made liberal friends based on a common love of cycling. So has William Bain, a retired Naval officer living in the Pacific Northwest whose bike commute is a 43-mile round trip. “Cycling is the common bond I have with my liberal friends,” said Bain. “We can get in a heated passionate argument about politics and then go out and try to ride each other into the ground. Good clean fun.”
Berg and Bain have allies in the government who see bicycle advocacy as a nonpartisan issue. Take Republican Greg Brophy, a Colorado state senator and an avid cyclist who competes in road bike marathons and uses his mountain bike to haul farm equipment. Brophy worked with Bicycle Colorado to pass Safe Routes to School and is supporting a “Green Lanes” bill to give bicyclists safer routes through metro areas.
Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son's baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn't give a rip.”
Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads—before issuing a call to arms: “The people with the 2,000-pound vehicle need to start fighting back.” Lewis’ comments seem especially reckless in light of recent events: In September alone, four Twin Cities cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. One conservative blogger celebrates bike fatalities and gleefully anticipates more. “Keep it up,” he tells cyclists, “and the law of averages says we’ll have a few less Obama voters in November.”
While such critics tap into right-wing rage at all things liberal, conservative bikers appeal to a saner tenet of their political tradition: the free market's invisible hand. “Let the market roam free,” Berg exclaimed. “The higher gas goes, the more people will try biking.” And where there’s money to be made, bikes and bike-share programs will emerge. When the Republican National Convention came to the Twin Cities in September, for example, a bike-share program was there to greet it. Humana and Bikes Belong made 1,000 bikes available for rental during the convention, with 70 bikes staying behind as part of a permanent rental program.
Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual. What's more, they represent not just the abandonment of tired clichés, but more bikes on the road—something all of us on two wheels, regardless of our political idiosyncrasies, can agree is a good thing.
, licensed by
10/14/2008 2:38:16 PM
Having already won over some Republicans and most of the under-25 set, Barack Obama recently conquered another narrow but inspirational voter demographic: the oldest American voter. Sister Cecilia Gaudette, 106, was born in New Hampshire but moved to her Roman convent 50 years ago, BBC News reports. The last president she voted for? Eisenhower, in 1952. After a 56-year hiatus, she has cast her absentee ballot for Obama, a candidate whom she feels fills the presidential requirements of being “a good straight man... honest, politically able to govern.” You can watch the CBS report on her here.
10/13/2008 4:27:06 PM
At the beginning of this month, something quite extraordinary occurred in the United States, something that—despite its clearly controversial nature—went almost entirely unaddressed by mainstream media outlets. On October 1, the U.S. military assigned the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division to the United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM). This means that U.S. soldiers will be operating on U.S. soil, seemingly in direct contradiction of federal law.
The Army Times broke the story early in September, reporting that the unit “may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack....” Since the story ran, NORTHCOM officials have backed off from the “crowd control” and “civil unrest” purposes. As Col. Michael Boatner told Amy Goodman on the Oct. 7 episode of Democracy Now!, “We’re proud to be able to provide this capability. It’s all about saving lives, relieving suffering, mitigating great property damage to infrastructure and things like that, and frankly, restoring public confidence in the aftermath of an event like this.”
Questions remain, however. Why here and why now? With Homeland Security funding already helping to militarize police forces throughout the United States, what additional purpose would a U.S. military unit serve? Well, consider this possibility: The country is facing its most frightening economic crisis since the Great Depression, and civil unrest is more than a looming threat for the government. Then there's the question of whether the maneuver is even legal. Critics of the unit assignment—including Glenn Greenwald at Salon, Amy Goodman, and author Naomi Wolf—cite a longstanding law that appears to be violated by the Pentagon’s recent assignment.
The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878 following Reconstruction, prohibits federal military personnel from acting in a law enforcement capacity in the United States, except if authorized by constitutional amendment or Congress. Also important to note is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which authorizes the president to deploy federal troops to quell lawlessness, insurrection, or rebellion, yet seriously limits his powers by indicating that a state government must first request assistance.
In 2007, Congress amended the act to include the authority to deploy troops in the instances of a natural disaster, epidemic, public health emergency, terrorist attack, or “other condition”—a vague phrase leaving open the possibility of wide-ranging interpretation. Although Congress repealed the amendment via the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, President Bush attached a signing statement essentially claiming his constitutional authority would allow him to act as he saw fit.
Since September 11, 2001, the executive branch has been slowly chipping away at civilian protections against martial law, possibly rendering both Posse Comitatus and the Insurrection Acts impotent. For example, as noted in 2005 on the Balkanization blog, a footnote in the 2005 book Torture Papers references a memo written by federal judge Jay Bybee in 2001 indicating his (and apparently Alberto Gonzalez’s and John Yoo’s) interpretation of the Posse Comitatus Act as not forbidding the use of military force for the purpose of preventing or deterring terrorism within the United States.
There's also National Security Presidential Directive 51, an executive order issued in May 2007 that defines the president’s unilateral authority to maintain continuity of the government in the instance of a “catastrophic emergency.” In the directive, a “catastrophic emergency” is defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government function.” As Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive, points out, by using the word “or,” the directive could read “any incident... that results in extraordinary levels of... disruption severely affecting the U.S.... economy.” Sounds like a “catastrophic emergency” could be declared today, with a domestic military unit at President Bush’s disposal.
Although Wolf and others go so far as to argue that President Bush has executed a coup and should be arrested or that he could potentially call off the election in the name of an emergency, the chances that we’ll be living in a full-fledged military dictatorship anytime soon are probably slim. It isn’t that the soldiers will suddenly begin patrolling polling stations or shooting fellow citizens; it’s that this action and dramatic expansions of presidential power set a dangerous precedent that could be exploited through hazily legal means.
Because President Bush defined the whole world as a battlefield in the “War on Terror,” the United States is a battlefield, too. And as commander-in-chief, the president’s orders to the domestic military unit could theoretically supersede the law of the land. Whether a president with ill intentions would act on this authority remains to be seen, but even though it hasn’t occurred, we shouldn’t be any less frightened about the possibility of it occurring at any moment. And we should make sure our laws protect against such abuses of power.
Image by Army.mil, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/8/2008 1:55:11 PM
Was it a “game-changer”? Did McCain “take the gloves off”? Did “Main Street” rule over “Wall Street”? Is there another hackneyed expression we could judge this debate by? Here’s some cliché-free post-debate analysis rounded up from the blogosphere.
First, here are the numbers on who "won" from CNN and CBS News. Now, let’s move onto actual policy matters.
’s Matt Welch is not pleased with McCain’s new and rather vague mortgage buy-up plan:
"I would order the Secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those homes and let people make those, be able to make those payments and stay in their homes," McCain said. "Is it expensive? Yes."
Is it yet another McCain Hail Mary pass in a campaign that will soon be remembered for nothing but? Also, yes. And it was the latest indication in a grim season for free marketeers that there is no corner of American life that leading politicians aren't eagerly lining up to nationalize.
The plan has been latched onto by pundits as the freshest policy proposal from last night’s debate, but as Rooflines notes, FactCheck.org explains why it’s actually pretty stale (as in Obama and the bailout have both been there already):
McCain proposed to write down the amount owed by over-mortgaged homeowners and claimed the idea as his own: “It’s my proposal, it's not Sen. Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal.” But the idea isn’t new. Obama had endorsed something similar two weeks earlier, and authority for the treasury secretary to grant such relief was included in the recently passed $700 billion financial rescue package.
Meanwhile, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, writing over at New America Media, wonders if we’ll ever get to hear from the candidates about some other issues:
Okay, we now know for the umpteenth time that Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain will cut taxes, provide affordable health care to everyone, drill for more oil, expand nuclear power use, end global warming, rein in the Wall Street fast buck artists, take out Osama Bin Laden, and end the war in Iraq either by withdrawal or victory. And yes we know that both have had a tough family upbringing, and therefore they know what working people have to go through.
These themes have been rehashed and reworked so many times that we can recite them in our sleep. But what we don’t know and certainly haven’t heard in the debates is what Obama and McCain will do about failing urban public schools, the HIV-AIDS pandemic, their view of the death penalty, the drug crisis, how they’ll combat hate crimes, shore up crumbling and deteriorating urban transportation systems, and what type of judges they will appoint to the federal judiciary and to the Supreme Court....
The result is that the only thing the 50 to 60 million viewers who have tuned into the two debates know about these equally vital public policy concerns can only be gleaned from canned snippets from their speeches on the campaign trail, or more likely by going to their campaign Web sites. For most, that’s not going to happen.
Indeed, probably not. But why bother with such matters when there’s the “that one” hubbub to delve into. I think a commenter on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ live blog captures the appropriate response rather succinctly:
Oh, no he didn't == "That one"????
Ezra Klein at the American Prospect parses it a wee bit further:
I didn't think the moment came off as racist. Rather, it was tone deaf. It was Grandpa Simpson. It was cranky. Which fits it into a narrative connecting the first two debates. In both, McCain's most memorable tics were exhibitions of contempt for Barack Obama. in the first encounter, he couldn't bear to look at Obama, and he used "What Senator Obama doesn't understand" the way other people use "um." In the second, he dismissed him in the language a busy mother uses for her third child, as if he couldn't be bothered to recall the youngster's name. But the youngster is the leading candidate for President of the United States. And McCain is doing himself no favors by acting unable to treat his opponent with respect. It's bad form in general, but it's particularly unhelpful for McCain, who has put a lot of energy and political capital into developing a reputation as respectful towards his political competitors.
And speaking of Homer’s elder, Andrew Sullivan had some good advice via his live blog of the debate:
Memo to McCain: don't talk about Herbert Hoover. The Abraham Simpson problem.
I’d add a few more off-limits geezer flags to that list: his need for hair transplants or arcane terminology like “tillers.” I’m not taking shots at the guy for being old, but I am saying that any undecideds out there who are a wee bit wary of Sarah Palin ruling the country don’t want to be reminded of the fact that McCain is getting on in years—a fact driven home most glaringly last night by the visual of McCain pacing aimlessly about the floor during some of Obama’s answers.
To wrap things up, Josh Marshall captured my debate mood best on his live blog when, half-an-hour in, he noted:
This debate's so boring I don't even know what to tell the staff to upload to youtube.
Even if I weren’t an Obama supporter, I would be thanking the man for shunning McCain’s proposal to do ten townhall debates. I can’t imagine anyone sitting through one, let alone ten, reruns of last night. Thank heavens there’s just one more debate to go.
10/7/2008 3:25:05 PM
Jerome Corsi, author of the controversial book The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, was detained and will be deported by authorities in Kenya, the BBC reports. Corsi, who previously authored the notorious book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry in 2004, was in Africa to promote his book in the lead up to the election.
Days before his run-in with the Kenyan authorities, Corsi spoke with Jane Hamsher of the progressive political website Firedoglake. The discussion got contentious quickly, with Hamsher at one point asking him, “Do you use drugs or alcohol yourself?” She then makes the "drinky drinky motion" during his answer and even holds up a sign that says “Lying.”
You can watch that interview below:
10/6/2008 6:43:05 PM
With less than a month to go until Election Day, Barack Obama and John McCain are pegging their hopes on two very different campaign strategies. Obama is waging a ground war to get out the vote, while McCain is lobbing grenades at his opponent’s character. Which tack wins in November will say as much about Americans as it does about the two candidates.
The two camps’ approaches have come into stark relief over the last few days. On Saturday, Greg Strimple, a top adviser to McCain, dimwittedly announced to the Washington Post that “We are looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis and getting back to discussing Mr. Obama's aggressively liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans.” Then the surrogates were unleashed on the Sunday talk-show circuit to stoke the fear about Obama’s association with Weather Underground cofounder Bill Ayers. Here’s a quick-and-dirty video roundup from the weekend smearfest by TPM:
Sarah Palin has beaten the same drum on the stump, saying Obama was “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.” And in Bill Kristol’s column in the New York Times today, she resurrected—at the conservative shill’s prodding—the specter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
I pointed out that Obama surely had a closer connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright than to Ayers — and so, I asked, if Ayers is a legitimate issue, what about Reverend Wright?
She didn’t hesitate: “To tell you the truth, Bill, I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up.”
And in advance of Tuesday’s debate, McCain unleashed his own vitriol. “Who is the real Barack Obama?” McCain asked a cheering crowd in Albuquerque, tipping his hand to show what will surely be the strategy from now until November 4: Scare people away from this Barack (Hussein) Obama.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Obama’s key strategy came center stage as the deadline for registering new voters in several states hit. The Washington Post parsed the preliminary numbers, and things do not look good for McCain:
In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states -- 11 Obama targets that were carried by George W. Bush in 2004 (Ohio, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico) plus Pennsylvania, the largest state carried by Sen. John F. Kerry that Sen. John McCain is targeting.
In Florida, Democratic registration gains this year are more than double those made by Republicans; in Colorado and Nevada the ratio is 4 to 1, and in North Carolina it is 6 to 1. Even in states with nonpartisan registration, the trend is clear -- of the 310,000 new voters in Virginia, a disproportionate share live in Democratic strongholds.
(USA Today has a handy chart showing the two sides’ gains in battleground states. And to read a great account of what this effort looks like on the ground, read FiveThirtyEight’s dispatch yesterday from Tippecanoe County, Indiana.)
And so as McCain, Palin, & Co. rumble in the muck, the Obama team is still steadily hitting the pavement, reaching out to new voters in an attempt to remake the electoral map. (For an excellent dissection of Obama’s long-term strategy, read the American Prospect’s September cover story, “It’s His Party.”)
Now, that’s not to say the Obama campaign hasn’t launched its own negative assault. Today, they unveiled their Keating Economics documentary and website. But, as Utne.com’s Jake Mohan notes, “it remains to be seen whether anyone besides the die-hard wonks will sit through a 13-minute video about the economy—and how well Obama’s attack will stick” amidst the McCain camp’s sharper jabs.
Then there’s the qualitative difference between the two negative tacks. The Keating punches are based in criticisms of policy, while McCain’s assaults are meant to question Obama’s character. If Obama wanted to take that lower road, he could, of course, run ad after ad showing Palin being blessed by a witch hunter who wants to ensure she’s elected so she can put God back into the public schools. Or, as Democratic strategist Paul Begala noted on Meet the Press, the Obama campaign could start hammering McCain for sitting on the board of the U.S. Council for World Freedom. Begala explains:
You know, you can go back, I have written a book about McCain, I had a dozen researchers go through him, I didn’t even put this in the book. But John McCain sat on the board of a very right-wing organization, it was the U.S. Council for World Freedom, it was chaired by a guy named John Singlaub, who wound up involved in the Iran contra scandal. It was an ultra conservative, right-wing group. The Anti-Defamation League, in 1981 when McCain was on the board, said this about this organization. It was affiliated with the World Anti-Communist League – the parent organization – which ADL said “has increasingly become a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-Semites.”
Now, that's not John McCain, I don't think he is that. But you know, the problem is that a lot of people know John McCain’s record better than Governor Palin. And he does not want to play guilt by association or this thing could blow up in his face.
Bye, bye, Florida.
Instead, though, Obama seems focused on the ground war, a strategy that tends to make Dems fret about not swinging back hard enough (see Kerry, Swift Boat). And the nervous Nellies could prove to be right, though I can’t help but think back to 2000, when Bush’s evangelical get-out-the-vote effort stealthily won the day.
It all depends on whether American voters opt to open their hearts to seedy fear-mongering, and, if they do, whether a crop of newly franchised voters outnumber their weaker fellow citizens. In that way, this election seems more a test of Americans than of John McCain or Barack Obama.
Adapted from image by
, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/6/2008 3:56:45 PM
This summer, President Bush reauthorized PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The bill allocates up to $39 billion for AIDS prevention, treatment, and education in 114 countries worldwide, including much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In order to qualify for the emergency funding, every participating nation must adopt a set of strategic principles, known as the Three Ones: “one national plan, one national coordinating authority, and one national monitoring and evaluation system in each of the host countries in which organizations work.” In other words, they need what’s referred to as a “national AIDS strategy” to see any cash.
But ironically, the United States lacks a unifying AIDS strategy of its own and has allowed funding for domestic AIDS programs to slip. This August the CDC revealed that America’s AIDS infection rates were up 40 percent from their previous estimate. This translates to at least 56,000 new infections each year. John McCain recently voiced his support for a national AIDS strategy, while Barack Obama gave his endorsement last fall. But a mere endorsement is not enough. POZ magazine has put forth seven specific steps to battle AIDS in America, to be executed by the next president during his crucial first 100 days in office.
The steps are straightforward and packed with information, insistent but not preachy or angry. They remind us that while socioeconomic status, gender, geography, and sexual orientation often come into play, AIDS infects indiscriminately. It must be addressed as an epidemic, and every American should have equal access to treatment and education resources.
HIV/AIDS issues may take a back seat to the economic crisis and foreign policy, at least for the time being, but the urgency of the domestic AIDS crisis can’t be ignore for much longer.
For more on Bush's bumbling AIDS policies, both domestic and foreign, read Utne Reader librarian Danielle Maestretti's Shelf Life column, "Bush: The AIDS President?", from our July-August issue.
10/6/2008 2:08:00 PM
One perversely positive outcome of our recent economic meltdown might be that the imminent presidential election could turn on something as consequential and substantive as the nation’s economy—rather than, say, red herrings like the Swift Boat campaign or which candidate would make a better drinking buddy.
The contours of this battleground were further solidified today by the Obama campaign’s relatively epic 13-minute documentary about John McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five Scandal in the 1980s. The video drives home the point that the savings and loan collapse not only precipitated the recession of the early 1990s, but is “eerily similar” to today’s credit crisis.
By elucidating the complex machinations of the Keating scandal, Obama’s video deals a powerful blow to McCain where he is perhaps most vulnerable—his troubled history with the economy and lackluster response to its latest downturn. But it remains to be seen whether anyone besides the die-hard wonks will sit through a 13-minute video about the economy—and how well Obama’s attack will stick as the opposition accuses him of “palling around with terrorists.”
For those too busy or campaign-weary to watch the entire video, its 30-second trailer (yes, apparently even campaign videos have trailers now) might prove more manageable.
10/6/2008 11:01:49 AM
After the reality of our dismal economic situation hit with full force, the New Republic turned to “some of the most thoughtful people” they know for insight on how the troubled economy will change the country. The short essays bring a big picture perspective to the financial crisis, which is particularly useful to those of us struggling to understand what numbers like $700 billion mean for the future.
Our current situation is being widely compared to the Great Depression, but Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College and New Republic contributing editor, says it’s not likely to have the same effect on our political culture:
Too much about the United States has changed over the past few decades for history to come anywhere close to repeating itself. The most important of those changes is that the anger that greeted the Great Depression is of very different quality than the anger apparent now. Seemingly like the 1930s, Americans are denouncing Wall Street. But their hostility is too diffuse and incoherent to help them channel it constructively. The past eight years have seen the enactment of public policies that time after time rewarded lobbyists, increased the wealth and power of the already best off, and redistributed income away from ordinary Americans. Yet by and large Americans accepted all this without protest. Now, all of a sudden, they are speaking like Populists of old, attacking greed and calling for regulation. Their protest, alas, is more symbolic than concrete. As such, we are unlikely to witness blame assigned where it belongs; nor are we apt to see the passage of serious reforms dealing with long-term structural changes in the economy or any diminution of lobbyist influence. A scary economic moment will transform itself back to politics as usual in the blink of an eye.
But Andrew Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, believes the downturn holds important lessons about politics as usual, particularly during the Bush years:
When it comes to statecraft, the chief lessons of the Bush era are these: Arrogance and hubris have revealed the very real limits of American global leadership; recklessness and ineptitude have revealed the limits of American military power; a foolish and self-indulgent unwillingness to live within our means has now made clear the limits--and the fragility--of American prosperity. We may choose to ignore these lessons--neoconservatives will insist upon it--but the consequences of doing so will be severe.
A season of reckoning is upon us. To say that is not to imply that the United States is now condemned to an irreversible downward spiral. It's not. It is, however, time for us to clean up our act and to put our own house in order. When it comes to foreign policy, that means restoring a balance between our commitments and the means that we have at hand to meet those commitments.
... Realism and modesty must become our watchwords.
Lastly, Columbia University provost and history professor Alan Brinkley thinks we could see important, though not fundamental, changes in American politics:
Is this the end of the "end of big government?" Will the right fade into obscurity to be replaced by the long-awaited revival of liberalism or progressivism? I doubt that we will see such a fundamental shift in the polity. But I think it is realistic to hope that the highly ideological politics that have driven our public life now for several decades will give way to a somewhat more pragmatic and realistic approach to our problems.
Look for continuing contributions to this series, which are being posted on the New Republic's blog, the Plank.
10/2/2008 4:43:26 PM
Right now, Congress is negotiating a $700 billion bailout plan for Wall Street. For most people, $700 billion is an inconceivable figure. “The mind boggles,” Joel Best writes in his new book, Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data. “We may be able to wrap our heads around a million, but billions and trillions are almost unimaginably big numbers.”
During campaign seasons, confusing statistics and unimaginably large numbers are commonplace. For the latest episode of the UtneCast, I spoke with Best about how regular people can make sense of statistics, polls, and the $700 bailout.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
Understanding Statistics and the Bailout with Joel Best: Play Now
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