Saturday, October 18, 2008

Some Lighter Notes


Hale and hearty congratulations to Joe and his wife, Megan, who gave birth to a healthy boy, Spencer Graham Joplin-Wack, on Friday. The kid's a seven pound blob of cute. Good health and godspeed.

Nearly 28 years after entering the realm of newspaper comic strips, Berkeley Breathed is calling it quits for the third and final time; one gets the sense that this will truly be it. Breathed's run on Bloom County during the 80s provided an influential satirical and political voice for those not served, due to youth or preference, by Garry Trudeau's dry wit on Doonesbury. While Outland and Opus, Breathed's follow up comic strip creations, were still fertile and humorous playgrounds, neither would come to match the brilliance of County's earlier run.

Alas, it seems the polarized, aggressive, yet still hyper-sensitive nature of current political discourse have finally gotten to Breathed, as he describes himself going to darker and darker places with both his view of our nation's society and his iconic penguin.

And so, adieu to Opus, Milo, Binkley, Binkley's dad, Bobbi Harlow, Steve Dallas, Cutter John, Lola Granola, Oliver Wendell Jones Sr. and Jr., the Banana Jr. 6000, Portnoy, Hodge-Podge, Rosebud the Basselope, and Bill "Oop, Ack" the Cat. We haven't seen most of you in a while, but with Opus gone, our bridge to your universe grows a bit weaker. Your correspondent now goes to listen to his Billy and the Boingers maxi-single.

Read: Berkely Breathed's Interview with Salon

Breathed has a point, true humor is a precious commodity these days. So, it is heartening to see the two presidential candidates in a rare display of mutual jocularity, trading barbs and lacerating themselves on occasion. Those who worry that Obama has no humor to speak of will be quite pleasantly surprised; he lands some solid barbs against Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and ends with a touching tribute to Tim Russert. Rachel Maddow provides the context of this joint appearance.

[McCain roasts - 0m00s
Obama introduced - 7m45s
Obama roasts - 11m00s]

It's not redistribution, its re-redistribution

I caught a McCain clip from a late-week rally on AirAmerica yesterday.

"My friends, he wants to redistribute your income."


Yes, the is the latest McCain meme, and he's going to ride it for all it's worth. When Obama used the term in the last debate, McCain's eyes lit up like a Nike exec watching that slow-motion logo-roll of Tiger's putt.

But, it's horseshit. A progressive tax system isn't redistribution of wealth. It's a re-redistribution. It's a correction of economic policies that drive money upward, that have been making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and eroding the middle-class. This from the San Francisco Chronicle in September, based on Census Bureau data:

The rich-poor gap also widened with the nation's top one percent now collecting 23 percent of total income, the biggest disparity since 1928, according to the Economic Policy Institute. One side statistic supplied by the IRS: there are now 47,000 Americans worth $20 million or more, an all-time high.

The rich have been feeding off the blood of the working-class, feeling somehow entitled to it all the while. The reality is that it has less to do with the dazzling brilliance of the nation's economic elite than it does the Right's need to dole out endless handjobs.

And, the thing that kills me, and for which the Republicans should be ashamed (in that they actually bank on the ignorance of their base when crafting campaign rhetoric), is that for the vast majority of the people attending McCain's rallies, this isn't even vaguely true. Most would do better under Obama's tax system than McCain's.

And McCain knows all of this and will keep spouting his bullshit, commie-baiting line anyway.

It's a hell of a trick the GOP has pulled off, getting millions to rabidly act in contradiction of their own best interest.

San Francisco Chronicle: Census shows widening wealth gap in U.S.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Encouraging News

Looks like if the Republicans want to win the White House they'll have to do it the old fashioned way, unlike 2000 and 2004, by actually winning instead of disenfranchising voters.

High court rejects GOP bid in Ohio voting dispute

McCain Moves To A New Table

McCain shot the dice and didn't pass at the Angry Candidate table; the table ran hot and cold, but now it was dead. McCain needed to head back to the ATM and see if he had anything left in the account. He was in luck.

Booking Letterman the night after the third debate was a good idea. Going on the show and facing Dave's frontal attack would allow McCain a chance to reach the undecideds that were driven away by the debates, hi-jinks and hyper-negativity of the last month and a half.

After weeks of Letterman's much discussed needling, there was a sense of anticipation going into the segment. McCain made sure to get there this time, going so far as to hire a helicopter to get to New York, after a 2 hr. storm delay kept his Straight Talk Airplane grounded in Philly. Keith Olbermann was on standby again for at least a couple of laughs.

From the moment he walked on, it was a different McCain on stage, the one the press kept going on and on about a few months ago. He stuck to the talking points, but did so with an unrelenting Letterman going after him. Letterman did not softball him, in the same way he didn't softball Obama; he kept pushing until McCain gave on a number of different topics.

The topics included, but were not limited to: The now thoroughly debunked "Joe the Plumber" (here's hoping he enjoyed his 15 minutes); the copious negative campaigning including McCain's accusation of Obama crowds yelling offensive things at rallies ( know, I've yet to hear of a specific example of this happening, this might fall under the "just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it's not there" NeoCon strategy); ending with the comparison between William Ayers and G. Gordon Liddy (thanks, Dave).

Letterman's most impressive set of volleys centered around the picking of Palin as VP, he took McCain to task for likely not thinking of what's best for the country in picking someone this inexperienced. Pressed, McCain probably uttered the closest he'll ever get to the truth on the matter, "I didn't know her extensively, but I knew her reputation as a reformer and as the most popular governor of the country." Not surprisingly, he didn't credit Bill Kristol for this bit o intelligence.

McCain was the most magnetic we've seen him in some time. He was obviously relaxed in this atmosphere, as he's been on Letterman numerous times in the past. He took the needling with none of the bitterness or snip we've seen him exhibit lately. With this performance he likely managed to stanch the bleeding a bit.

It's hard to nit-pick, though I wish the robo-calls story had reached full bloom by the time taping started, would've loved to see McCain handle that bit of news. And I was personally annoyed at the naked pandering to the Religious Bloc McCain did on Palin's behalf, calling her an "inspiration to Americans."

McCain is rolling for points before trying to leave big by hitting the yo.

We have likely seen the new McCain approach to the last 18 days of campaigning before the election day. It could be named the "Hey, McCain's Not Completely Irrational" stage of the Presidential race. Expect a lot more media appearances from both of their candidates (Palin is supposedly on Saturday Night Live this week). Expect for the surrogates to do the yeoman's share of the dirty work for them (though she will continue to be a pitbull). Expect the kind of press access the reporters on the Express haven't seen in a while, the renewed friendship possibly leading to more positive coverage.

Vigilance. No time to get complacent. We still have Troopergate, with Troopergate2 on the horizon. We have Rick Davis and William Timmon. We have the continued collapse of Wall Street. We have a plethora of topics to discuss, and keep bringing to light.

The media needs to stop pondering if it's too late for McCain's dramatic reversal, and continue demanding that their candidates be interviewed by real reporters. Have Palin go on The View.

Most importantly, we must start turning out the vote.

Watch: McCain Visits Letterman

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nobody said "Kill him!"

This according to the Secret Service, as reported in Salon's War Room. I'm inclined to agree with Koppelman - when it comes to threats against government officials, the Secret Service don't play.

I think we have to take this to heart, and back completely from that claim lest we collectively become a bit too shrill. That we were willing to believe it was understandable, but also says as much about us as about McCain.

And while it doesn't excuse the shouts of "terrorist" one bit, it does perhaps shift the context of Lewis' remarks and McCain's response to them.

I say all of this because I think we are entering the most dangerous part of the campaign. The debates are over - there won't be anyone across the stage from McCain debunking the bogus claims he now gets to shout ad infinitum at his supporters. McCain is stumbling and bumbling, losing three straight debates, saddled with a ditzy running mate, visibly seething. Wounded underdogs aren't to be taken lightly.

And we have to be careful not to over-reach, leaving our belly open for retaliation. We should take an example from the man we would make leader, and remain calm, confident and defiant, defusing bombs, not lobbing them.

Mr. McCain, you are running a campaign designed to tap into negative emotion, caring little for how close to race-baiting it runs. But I, personally, apologize for being so willing to believe that your rallies had, already, devolved into actual lynch mobs.

Yes, I am familiar with the phrase "damn with faint praise." Why do you ask?

Gambler Doubles Down on Anger...And Loses

During McCain's admittedly winning zinger last night ("I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago.") I wondered about that 90% voting consistency with Dubya and why Obama didn't bring it up to refute the quip. No matter. We've seen time and time again Obama's dogged resistance to being suckered into a tit-for-tat campaign and instead focus on the issues. Last night Obama's plan conjured up shades of Ali's sneaky rope-a-dope strateg(er)y. It worked. The old man was fuming and bursting with condescension much of the ninety minutes he was on display.

McCain's reliance on negative attacks and personal smears has backfired to an exponential degree, with the poll numbers to prove it. So what does an old, admitted maverick gambler do? Like the typical degenerate slumping over the velvet table at 3 a.m., sipping on watered down seven-and-sevens, he doubles down on a losing hand---anger. Last night McCain came across meaner and angrier than ever before. There were times when some of us thought he was going to break out the Uncle Tom-speak to go along with his contemptuous jingoism and Biblical, misogynistic inclinations (his wife Cindy always walks five steps behind him, hands clasped firmly behind her back. She might as well wear a $500,000 burka.).

Last night's debate was an entertaining parade of reaction shots, guffaws, and strained, condescending sighs from the old, wounded dog. McCain's reactions were so intense, so frequent, and so irritating, they've been turned into a YouTube video. He was frantic, all over the place, and somewhere around half an hour into the debate, he altogether stopped making sense, mixing gibberish with talking points and frequent eye-rolling. By the time sixty minutes had elapsed, he was completely in La-La land, personally addressing Joe Plumber "If you're out there my friend..." and invoking Sarah Palin's expertise on autism---a point which struck me as quite odd, as Palin's son Trig is afflicted with Down's Syndrome, but that's for Jenny McCarthy to take up on Oprah.

Obama shut the door last night by promising to "work every single day, tirelessly, on your behalf." McCain finished by looking haggard, irritated, angry, and...old. He was clearly exhausted by the vitriol and needed his nap. The old gambler was finished. All he got was a coupon for a complimentary soft drink from the kind-hearted pit boss who was looking to end his shift and go home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WTF Is Joe The Plumber?

Though later lost in an attempt at creating a mythical archetype along the lines of Joe Sixpack, McCain did mention at the beginning of the debate a certain Joe Wurzelbacher, a plumber from Toledo, OH. Yes, the man does exist, and, as per usual, McCain greatly oversimplifies the situation (from MSNBC's First Read blog).

Joe Plumber, it turns out, is successful businessman who showed up at an Obama rally and engaged the Democratic candidate with a question. He is thinking about purchasing a small business that would, in the end, net him over $250k/year; he'll end up paying higher taxes, won't he?

What followed is a lengthy discussion where Obama explains his decision on raising taxes for that bracket, in a manner that's both engaging, understandable and populist. Paraphrasing: After talking about the fact that he himself belongs in that tax bracket , he says he doesn't mind paying higher taxes than a wage slave, because "I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."

This is what McCain and company have been jumping on since Sunday, the notion that if the lower classes is healthy, so will the upper classes.

Not debate related, but something of an inspiring entry from Salon's Glenn Greenwald. No amount of encapsulation will do the piece justice, so here's a quote:

I honestly don't know of any "progressive bloggers" who blindly support Democrats. I think the strategy of the blogosphere has always been two-pronged -- (1) remove the hideous right-wing beast from power and (2) change the Democratic Party in order to make step (1) worth doing. Those are EQUALLY IMPORTANT goals.

Step (1) is merely a pre-requisite (an absolute one) to achieving anything worthwhile. But without step (2), step (1) is mostly (though not entirely) worthless, because the Democratic Party as currently constituted at its core is a wretched and status-quo-perpetuating institution.


Also, from Monday, proof that whenever you add Jon Stewart and discussion of McCain campaign tactics, the result will always equal funny ouch:

SEI Introduces MomentOfChoice

Going to skip the preliminaries and just get right to business:

We're happy to announce that MomentOfChoice (aka - MOC) has decided to join the SEI team.

No, it wasn't part of a package deal, MOC legitimately broke through the SEI glass ceiling based on her strong eye for research and way with distilling items down to a succinct point.

From US' Great White Northern neighbor attempting to adapt to our goofy yankee ways, she'll bring another unique progressive voice to the SEI universe.

Thanks for joining us, MOC.

Voter Suppression Efforts Continue

This is just sad. Voting almost completely along party lines, the 6th Circuit court sided with Republicans to force the Ohio secretary of state to give a list the names of people with (sometimes really small) discrepancies on their voter-registration to the local election officials so partisan party hacks can challenge their right to vote.

This could lead to the disenfranchisement of up to 200,000 voters. And it does nothing to stop voter fraud, as there is no evidence there is any attempt at fraud going on.

The GOP knows no shame when it comes to trying to take away the right of citizens to vote.

At least this year, unlike 2004, there is a secretary of state in Ohio who wants to try to allow as many people to vote as possible. What a concept the Republicans don't seem to like.

Obama v. McCain III: Revenge of the Sith


Truth About The "Projector"

There is an article about the refurbishing of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago by the Chicago Tribune that explains how stupid McCain's $3 million "overhead projector" slam against Obama is.

The Adler Planetarium is where Chicago schoolkids go to learn astronomy, it is 78-years-old and in really bad shape. They need $10 million to bring it up to date, including the 40-year-old projection system.

The article is here.

Pre-Debate Notes

Hello SEI Faithful,

We're doing something different for tonight's debate. The Live-Blogging you've grown accustomed to will still be taking place, just on a separate page. Click on the "Watch Now!" link on the Live-Blogging announcement on the right panel, and it should take you to that page.

While that's happening, there should be some regularly updated entries happening on the SEI front page, so depending on your level of interest, there should be something that suits your needs happening on the site.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links to occupy your pre-debate viewing time:

Andrew Sullivan shows a video of a couple of Alaskan women proving that not all of their citizens are loopy.

Then, here's a report filed to Al Jazeera, a news organization demonized by the White House during the early years of the current Middle East conflict, though in reality, a pretty fair channel. The report is on how Ohioans in the Southwest corner of the State view Obama.

Right-Wing Myths About ACORN & CRA

As the economy tanks and our country hemorrhages jobs, the Republicans have retreated to their tried and true tactics once known as the Southern Strategy.

The strategy? Blame the minorities and the poor for the country's problems.

The conservative crowd has decided to baselessly blame the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) for the country's mortgage crisis, despite all evidence to the contrary.

There are a lot of people a ton smarter than me to explain this (here, here, here, here, here) so I will just put out there a few basic facts that people should know and you'll need to have when you are trying to debate your crazy relative who keeps screaming that this whole mess is due to the CRA and liberals forcing banks to make risky loans.

First of all, the CRA does not force banks to make loans to people who can't pay them back. It made banks stop "redlining" minority neighborhoods and making it harder for people in those communities to get loans. The CRA has been chiefly responsible for creating whole new communities of home owners and responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households.

Second, it is estimated that only 20% or less of the sub-prime mortgages out there are ones covered under the CRA. Not only that, but most banks say that CRA loans have had a low default rate.

Third, related to the above, the vast majority of sub-prime mortgages have been made by brokers not covered by the CRA or any real regulation. Many of these predatory lenders knowingly made loans to people they knew wouldn't be able to keep up with the payments and the high rates. But it didn't matter to them because they were going to sell the loans to Wall Street as mortgage-backed securities. Brokers make their money and take on none of the risk.

I even read somewhere (I don't remember the source) that an ongoing review of the sub-prime mortgages has found that maybe up to half the people that were given these high rate loans were really eligible for normal rate loans that they nay have been able to pay. There was some major fraud going on by the greedy brokers who sold these loans.

Anyway, there is more and it makes the brain hurt to learn all of this stuff. Check out those links I put in there for more complete info about this mess and the conservative lies about it.

And then there is the recent turning of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) into the new bogeyman of the election. Conservatives are accusing them of the serious crime of voter fraud.

ACORN is a pretty damn good organization overall and they have registered millions of minority and poor people to vote. The issue that has the right-wing all fired up is that there were a bunch of voter registration cards filled out by paid workers who filled in the names of fake people, people from the phone book and celebrities.

Is this a not-so-good-a-thing to see? Sure. Is it voter fraud? Not even close.

At best it would be voter registration fraud, which won't do one thing to effect the outcome of the election.

They are trying to make it sound as if ACORN is knowingly turning in fraudulent voter registration cards. This ignores two things:

One, ACORN pulled aside the fakes they caught and pointed them out to the various election commissions themselves.

And two, in most of the states ACORN was working in they can't discard the fake registration forms. They are required by law to turn them in.

This happens to all organizations that try to register voters by using paid workers. Not a big deal.

But the GOP will do their best to use this as an excuse to purge voter rolls in places where poor people and minorities will vote. Voter suppression is the name of this game.

There is also an attempt to pain Obama as some sort of ACORN stooge. Maybe that's what McCain was setting up when he referred to Obama's "cronies" in the last debate.

Just another blatant attempt to paint as evil anything Obama has ever touched and then exaggerate his connection to said person/organization.

Obama worked on their behalf when they were party to a lawsuit to force the state of Illinois to implement the Motor Voter registration, which was required by federal law. The League of Women Voters and the Justice Department were also plaintiffs in that suit.

Just another red herring for the Republicans.

And somehow in the minds of the kind of people that attend McCain-Palin rallies ACORN and CRA are the same exact thing and are to blame for our housing and financial crises.

I don't even want to get started on the preposterous claim that ACORN is so powerful they were able to force all those corporate banks into making bad loans.

As my Jewish friends like to say: Oy.

A Little Pre-Debate Music In Honor Of W

With less than 100 days to go in his presidency I thought we should pause and honor W with a song before the final debate between the two guys that want his mean job.

This is from one of my faves, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, a song I first saw her perform opening for Billy Bragg in Boston back in 2006. Not commercially released and she posted it for free download on her website. I tried to post just the audio track but I couldn't figure that out, so here is a video that someone made and posted on YouTube that isn't very good. Just listen to the track.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pre-Debate Thoughts

Heading into the final debate, we know that according to recent polls, Obama's ahead by either eight (Bloomberg/LA Times) or fourteen points (CBS/NYT).

We also know that after weeks of the most erratic campaign tactics this side of Daffy Duck '48, McCain has become the Angry Fuck candidate. McCain said in a radio interview that he will mention Ayers during the debate, and we'll see if that happens.

It will be interesting to see how Obama responds to whichever John McCain shows up. Does he bring up Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager and lobbyist for Fannie and Freddie*? Or does he bring up William Timmons, McCain's Transition Chief and lobbyist for SADDAM "FREAKIN'" HUSSEIN**!

Or does he do neither and just handle it smoothly?

Tune in tonight to find out.

Live Blogging tonight, 5:45pm Pacific, sign up for a reminder on the right.

More to come.

*All right, he owned the lobbyist firm that Fannie and Freddie paid for doing nothing.

**All right, former lobbyist.

Don't Believe The Hype---Polls and the Bradley Effect

Last week, banging out similar political ideas and issues (read: commiserating) with a colleague during a break, we hit upon an "A-ha!" moment of truth which, I fear, will play a major, albeit covert role in the '08 election, possibly blowing away all indications of an Obama lead in current polls, but which no one will talk about or admit to. Voters' dirty little secret; their prrrrecious!

My colleague, a forty-something African-American woman of southern heritage and southerly, sunny disposition, took me aside to a remote café table, sat me down with some mild force applied to the elbow, and honestly decreed: "Look. I'm gonna tell you how it really went down. This is what happened to all those white Hillary supporters who all of a sudden, in a hissy fit, decided to swing their votes McCain's way. They shut the doors, closed the windows, sat down at their dining room tables and quietly, among themselves and their families decided: 'I'm not voting for some n#*%er for president. If I can't have a woman, I'm gonna go for the default: the old, outdated WHITE guy Washington insider. Anything but a black man in the White House." Her words, not even paraphrased (I have a good memory).

Having been brought up and lived in a majority African-American county outside of Washington D.C. in the 80s and 90s, I'd been privy to a child's handful of similar "A-ha!" moments---frank, honest, tough talk by members of the black community regarding racial issues and underlying, covert bias by the white majority toward anyone of color. And so not only did I believe my colleague when she laid it down with brutal honesty, I agreed with her. Because, being white (an immigrant, but still white), I have been spectator to those private, racially-divisive, dinner table conversations; some initiated by my own, conservative family.

There is some reason to worry. Throughout recent political history we've seen the jarring loss of voter support for a black candidate on Election Day, despite positive indications from the polls predicting otherwise; because no voter would willingly admit his/her racial bias when asked his/her preference by the Frank Luntzes or Celinda Lakes of the business.

Since 1982, people have talked about this "Bradley Effect," (named for Tom Bradley, former mayor of Los Angeles) where even last-minute polls predict a wide margin of victory for the black candidate, yet he goes on to lose. Bradley, then mayor, lost his race for governor despite large leads in the polls---the assumption being that voters lied to pollsters about their support for an African-American.

But pollsters and political scientists say concern about a Bradley effect is misplaced. It obfuscates what they argue is the more important point: there are several ways that race complicates polling. For example, Barack Obama could theoretically score a landslide in the southern states, based on positive, but withheld polled opinion of his ethnicity. And then there's the reverse Bradley Effect in which support for a black candidate is understated particularly in regions where it's socially acceptable to exhibit distrust of blacks. Factor in also those voters who are not captured by the polls.

Scott Keeter, Pew Research Center's director of survey research, says pollsters historically have a harder time reaching voters with lower levels of education. Less-educated whites are the kind Mr. Obama has been courting in this election. Conversely, young people are more likely to answer surveys, and they tend to favor Mr. Obama. The race of the questioner, as well, affects the poll and what those surveyed are willing to say or not say to a white or black pollster. (As does, of course, the way in which one frames the question.) It's not a coincidence that both camps employ their own survey-taking foot soldiers. These are the kinds of basic intangibles we Bachelor's Degreed elitists learn in your basic Stat 100 class.

There is plenty of hand-wringing for Obama supporters and fretters yet to be done--remember, the exit polls in 2004 predicted President Kerry. A majority of polls indicate the Obama/Biden ticket is leading by 6-8%---numbers within the usual sampling error allowed in most polls.

However, many insiders argue that race does not play a huge role in the election this year, because the economy has emerged as such a gargantuan issue, and Mr. Obama is not primarily identified by his race...according to polls. So then, what are we to make of all these numbers?

Ask Flava Flav. He'll tell you.

SEI Introduces (S)wine

The simple facts:

- The founding members of SEI are busy in general. Not a complaint (I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed adding this project to the mix), just a matter of fact. Life is going to get exponentially busier for one of our team in the very near future.

- The news cycle is not going to slow down anytime soon, as issues and news items will continue to pop up on nearly an hourly basis.

The problem comes in ensuring continued coverage of these same issues while keeping track of new ones.

The answer: Get help.

And so we did.

In the course of the last month, we've been blessed from the beginning with the support of friends and others who arrived at our address somehow, joined in the discourse and helped our numbers grow. It is from this field that we looked for a simpatico voice to add to our team, people who added to the general font of knowledge and thought with the experiences they brought to bear...

Today, I am happy to announce that (S)wine has agreed to join the SEI team. An author, a father, and a former member of the media elite (behind-the-scenes branch), we look forward to what he will bring to the table.

Please join us in welcoming him.

The Ayers Issue Is So Silly

Well despite all of the talk about toning down the attacks on Obama, there doesn't seem to be an end to the "palling around with terrorist" nonsense. McCain, in an interview on CNN on Sunday, called Ayers "A person who still wants to destroy America."

What the fuck?

Has McCain fallen so far down the rabbit hole that he cannot climb out? He is now promising to bring up the Ayers-Obama "connection" at the debate.

I swear at this point I feel like I'm watching a movie like Bob Roberts instead of a real presidential campaign.

Some of the best perspective on the Ayers thing has been written by Eric Zorn, one of my favorite newspaper columnists in the Chicago Tribune. Today he came out with this piece, which is something of a summary of some earlier blogs he wrote about it. Check out those two posts, called What the meaning of `is' is and Question for Ayers alarmists: Where were you in the 1990s? Eric also does a great job of engaging those who leave comments on his blog and keeping everything levelheaded, reasonable, intellectual and fact-based. He's great and slapping down people's arguments by using facts and his brain, two things sorely missing from the dialogue in so many other outlets.

His blog at the Trib is great and he posts constantly.

Also see's write-up on the McCain ads about Ayers for info you might need when trying to talk down your moderate or right-leaning family member.

I'm hoping that this backfires on McCain, and I suspect that it will. Any other time this may get some traction. But I think even the stupid people in this country don't want to hear about some old hippy when our economy is tanking and we are bleeding jobs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain-Palin Emission

I received an email from a friend on Friday titled "Watch McCain Lose The Presidency, Before Your Very Eyes." Found within was a link to the viral video of McCain turning the charming sneer onto a couple of members of his even more charming base.

This, combined with Frank Schaeffer's editorial on Friday and Rep. John Lewis' words on Saturday, gave me the impression that while Palin and Mrs. McCain would be free to continue their rabid act, McCain himself would attempt to put a lid on the thinly-disguised stoking of the hornet's nest.

Not so. In fact, after demanding that Obama repudiate Rep. Lewis' comment, he went on to suggest, during a CNN interview, that it was Lewis who transgressed common decency by comparing shouts of "terrorist" and "kill him" during modern day Republican rallies to George Wallace's fomenting of the atmosphere responsible for the Alabama church bombings during the early-60s.

Claiming his base is merely expressing its anger along with calling expressions of caution and disgust over the overtly-hateful rhetoric his campaign has been peddling "over the line" is the only option remaining that allows McCain to continue running and not lose dignity in the short run. What a maverick.

I'm not saying any criticism of Obama is racist (gods no, there are a couple things I bristle about) just as I'm not saying McCain himself is racist (though you couldn't tell from the company he's been catering to lately). I look at his reaction to the first "kill him" incident and see an honest WTF look come across his face. I was willing to say that the main problem was that his camp took too long to try to rectify the storm they were brewing. But now?

Now I read the Patrick Healy's piece in Sunday's NYT and wonder if suppressed racism, while a major ingredient in this election cycle so far, will become its October Surprise as well, simply because McCain decided it was a way to win.

Maybe I should go to Rednecks for Obama again.

This piece from the New Yorker should be sent to any left-leaning undecided centrists. It greatly discusses Obama's platforms on a number of issues, while comparing them to what we know of McCain's proposals to same. Namely, not much.

Or have them compare some of the details behind Obama's latest economic proposal with the fact that McCain decided not to come out with one of his own.

The same fellow who sent the email above and I were talking on Sunday, when he mused "do I start being able to hope? Are the signs pointing to an Obama victory?" I replied that I have been hopeful, but I simply cannot stop being vigilant.

I leave you with the first chorus to Hank Williams Jr.'s latest country song "McCain-Palin Tradition". You could read further lyrics and hear the song at Salon.

John N Sarah tell ya
Just what they think
And they’re not gonna blink
They don't have terrorist friends
To whom their careers are linked
Yes John is his own man
And Sarah fixed Alaska’s broken condition
They’re gonna go just fine
We’re headed for better times
It’s a McCain–Palin tradition

Fish & Teachers & Buttons, Oh My!

Stanley Fish is a favorite of liberal arts grad students, so maybe this only intrigues me, but I was drawn to his column about free speech in two separate cases, one a public school ban and the other a university ban on teachers wearing political buttons or even placing political bumper stickers on cars that will be parked in faculty lots, or attending political rallies.

Fish does his usual thorough and critical job of sussing out the real issues at hand. He points out that the injunctions against bumper stickers are ridiculous, especially given the size of the university in question. He also makes clear distinctions between teachers’ conduct in those areas that can reasonably called a workplace (the classroom) and those that can’t (walking across a campus). And he honors the long-held standard on student and teacher free speech, namely that administrators have a prevailing interest in maintaining order at their institution, which can trump free speech right on campuses.

And, I have to say I end up generally agreeing with Fish. I can’t support the injunctions against bumper stickers or attendance at rallies. But, I know that when I was a teacher (ENG101, or freshman composition, at a large state university), any intrusion of my own political views into the classroom had consequences.

We talked about this a lot in pedagogy classes and workshops, especially given our department’s general encouragement of critical pedagogies, which place high importance on the political realities of students and teachers and encourage reflection on both. My stance had been full disclosure, reasoning that the only way to empower my students to examine and feel free to disregard my own political bent was to be completely open with them, and to vocally acknowledge their power to disagree.

As much as I still feel that approach has merit, it did create problems. If there was a point of disagreement with a student, the openness pf my political views became a source of friction. I can think of one student in particular, a 27-year-old non-traditional student majoring in science who had just transferred from a Montana land grant school. He had absolute faith in his own analytical reasoning, and could neither except it when I pointed out where his rhetoric didn’t and couldn’t support his position nor when I encouraged him to embrace some degree of uncertainty in his writing. By the end of that term, he was calling me a communist in class and going on back-row diatribes about how it might be fine for the humanities to embrace uncertainty, but the sciences dealt in rational fact, which rendered the class useless to him.

Maybe I would have lost this student anyway (he did manage to get into arguments with several of my colleagues when he stopped by my shared office after my office hours, and his attempt to get me in trouble with the department chair had to be headed off by our Composition Director, who had already had numerous frustrating interactions with the student). But, without a doubt, the fracture between us was accelerated by his interpretation of my political views.

And yet, I do feel a hesitancy here, mainly because it feels like these rules will more directly impact Obama supporters. Maybe this is only true in public schools, as the Democrats have long counted the teachers’ union as a supporter; there seems, and I have no reason to believe this than my own experiences on a handful of campuses, to be a wider range of political belief within college faculties.

It’s a tricky line to walk. As much as I can understand the reasons, it bothers me that schools are not seen as a place where students can learn how to be active, engaged and respectful citizens, with their teachers as examples not of ideology but conduct. Perhaps it is just one more sign of the fractured, divisive nature of our political system that political engagement and public support for a candidate or movement or organization is seen more as potential cause for disruption than an opportunity for instruction.

McCain Campaign, You're Fired

You’ve got to admire the doe-eyed optimism of William Kristol. Okay, maybe not so much admire it as get a well-deserved chuckle out of it.

Kristol wrote an op-ed of advice for the McCain campaign today. It recommends he completely re-tool his approach, fire his campaign and send them to work on local voter drives, start shooting from the hip with real and difficult honesty, and stop attacking Obama (not because that is the right thing to do but only because the attacks have been ineffectual). Kristol claims that McCain and Palin are affable, competent campaigners that are being held back by their campaign’s strategy.

I think what Kristol is failing to acknowledge is the difference between McCain’s carefully-crafted image and his essential character. He wants McCain to run as a happy, confident leader. While Kristol acknowledges that there are reason for that lack of confidence that McCain would have to overlook, he completely misses that fact that McCain is in fact not a happy man. He is and always has been an angry, bitter man. His outbursts of temper are legendary; he called his second wife a “cunt” in public, an action I’m sure would have me looking for a second wife were I ever to try it with my first. Happy people are at peace, but the uber-hawkish McCain doesn’t give two tugs of a dead dog’s dick about peace. He wants to bomb Iran, stay in Iraq forever, and maybe go back to Southeast Asia to finish the job.

That’s not a happy man. Neither is McCain the kind of honest man that could take up Kristol’s suggestions for rhetorical stance.

I suppose the real reason I’m posting Kristol’s column is just as an example of the movement-wide myopia of the Right. Call it strength or weakness, because it has certainly acted as both, but Democrats have always been able to recognize the very real shortcomings of their candidates, to view them in a realistic, if optimistic, light. But the Right seems intent on having only heroic figures for leaders, paragons of perfection, even if that means they have to cut these images from whole cloth.

Kristol’s column reads as folksy, tough-love wisdom, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a public declaration by a leading voice on the Right that he, and the rest of his party, are unwilling and unable to see the reality of the candidates they endorse.

Fair or not, a candidate is his campaign. Trying to blame the campaign for the failings of the candidate is just an attempt to detach McCain’s agency, to absolve him of responsibility for his slide. A classic move to “mistakes were made,” ignoring that mistakes don’t happen on their own, that they are committed by an agent of action.

And the agent’s name is John McCain.