Election Update

30 April 2008

With all the talk about Obama's former pastor lately, two things seem to have gone largely unnoticed. First, it looks like somebody has been using taxpayer money to buy votes and influence:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has requested nearly $2.3 billion in federal earmarks for 2009, almost three times the largest amount received by a single senator this year.
Second, it looks like somebody else has been calling for an expulsion of Russia from G8:

Amid the din of the dueling Democrats, people seem to have forgotten about that other guy in the presidential race-you know, John McCain. McCain is said to be benefiting from this politically because his rivals are tearing each other apart. In fact, few people are paying much attention to what the Republican nominee is saying, or subjecting it to any serious scrutiny.

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil-but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama's suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain's proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous-that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

In the grand scheme of things, aren't these both far more important?

UPDATE: Also, it looks like NBC is giving priority to Hannah Montana over a recent Supreme Court decision on voter ID cards (which will actually have a greater effect on the upcoming presidential election than Hannah Montana).

Obama on Rev. Wright

29 April 2008

In other election news, the Obama campaign responds to the pro-Clinton 527 American Leadership Project's new ad in Indiana, in which they insinuate that he doesn't have an economic plan (even though it's available online here, and has received better ratings from - among other people - former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich).

UPDATE: Clinton has yet another misleading ad out, this time accusing Obama of not wanting to stop foreclosures or something.

Brian Williams Responds to Criticism

As I wrote the other day, Elizabeth Edwards wrote a great critique of television journalism the other day, which was printed in The New York Times. In it, she points out that journalists tend to obsess over trivial issues like bowling scores and haircuts, and generally omit any in-depth analysis of major issues such as health care (which voters themselves identify as the #3 most important issue they care about - right behind the economy and the war).

Brian Williams of ABC responds (at his blog) by making fun of the lower circulation of The New York Times and heaping praise on an inane article by Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal, in which she argues that Barack Obama maybe isn't patriotic enough to be President. He goes so far as to say that Noonan should be awarded a Pulitzer prize for writing things like this:

Main thought. Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men's Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter's Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills? There's gold in that history.

John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa's knee. Mrs. Clinton learned at least its importance in her long slog through Arkansas, circa 1977-92.

Mr. Obama? What does he think about all that history? Which is another way of saying: What does he think of America? That's why people talk about the flag pin absent from the lapel. They wonder if it means something. Not that the presence of the pin proves love of country -- any cynic can wear a pin, and many cynics do. But what about Obama and America? Who would have taught him to love it, and what did he learn was loveable, and what does he think about it all?

Another challenge. Snooty lefties get angry when you ask them to talk about these things. They get resentful. Who are you to question my patriotism? But no one is questioning his patriotism, they're questioning its content, its fullness. Gate 14 has a right to hear this. They'd lean forward to hear.

This is exactly what's wrong with journalism today. It obsesses over speculation into the candidates' personalities and deep-seated feelings, rather than on actual policy and substance. Just to remind everybody, we're fighting two wars, the country is $9 trillion in debt, social security and tax policy still have to be addressed, health care costs are rising, people are losing their homes, Congress is debating farm policy, we're dependent upon increasingly expensive foreign oil, etc. And we're spending our time arguing over who gets more misty-eyed when they think about the Wright brothers building airplanes?
(h/t Glenn Greenwald)

UPDATE: Of course The New York Times itself isn't immune from criticism, as Brian Williams points out, but why does he go to the travel, style, an restaurant sections for examples of non-substantive news coverage? And why does he gloss over the main point of the Edwards article?

UPDATE II: Just to be clear, I don't watch Brian Williams's show on NBC, and my criticisms aren't directed at his show. I'd have to look at his past schedule to tell if he's been obsessing over these same inane issues. Rather, I've seen a definite trend towards that kind of coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. I've also seen that obsession spill over into ABC News. What bothers me in this blog entry of his is how Williams brushes off that criticism of television news generally (which I think needs to be seriously addressed), and holds up that awful Peggy Noonan column as an example of good journalism.

UPDATE III: You can read more about NBC's coverage here, at PEJ's annual State of the Media report.

UPDATE IV: Picking up on "UPDATE I," Maureen Dowd at The New York Times is one of worst when it comes to this kind of trashy, mind-reading, speculative journalism.

UPDATE V: With regard to Williams's remarks about The New York Times losing circulation, Glenn Greenwald notes that network news has also seen its ratings plummet, losing about 1 million viewers per year for the last 26 years. Greenwald also notes that Williams is an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh, for what it's worth.

UPDATE VI: Even though he hasn't covered the Pentagon pundits story that The New York Times broke, Brian Williams has seen fit to cover Hannah Montana on his Nightly News program.

Paul Krugman on John McCain's "Fiscal Double-Talk"

28 April 2008

You can read it here. This point is particularly important for people to understand:

. . . the McCain tax plan would leave the federal government with far too little revenue to cover its expenses, leading to huge budget deficits unless there were deep cuts in spending.

And Mr. McCain has said nothing realistic about how he would close the giant budget gap his tax cuts would produce — a gap so large that eliminating it would require cutting Social Security benefits by three-quarters, eliminating Medicare, or something equivalently drastic. Talking, as Mr. Holtz-Eakin does, about fighting waste and reforming procurement doesn’t cut it.

One of the things that drives me crazy is how McCain brushes off this crucial criticism, time and again, by simply waving his hands and saying something about "pork-barrel spending."

Elizabeth Edwards Gets It

27 April 2008

I highly recommend that everyone read these two articles by Elizabeth Edwards: (1) "Bowling 1, Health Care 0," and (2) "This is Not a Cheap Shot; It is Potentially Life-and-Death."

The Most Trusted Name in News

26 April 2008

Regular readers here know that I've been critical of the three big cable news channels for some time now. Particularly in the past week or two, they have passed over two major stories: (1) a new report showing political interference in the E.P.A., and (2) the Pentagon's use of seemingly neutral retired military officials to pass along their talking points to the cable news networks. But to put things in perspective, let's take a look at one of the issues that they did cover. On CNN the other day, they brought on a "Consumer Expert" to discuss "How to Save Money at the Grocery Store." This is from the transcript:

LEMON: All right, looking to save some money in this economy? Of course you are. Who isn't? Well, give us couple of minutes now. We'll save you some bucks. Our simple solution to the rising cost of food.

Here's a trip to the grocery store with a consumer expert and CNN's T.J. Holmes.


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: We haven't made it to a single item, no groceries at all, no food, but still, we need to be working right now and be mindful of what's going on, what's happening here.

ROBYN SPIZMAN, CONSUMER EXPERT: Exactly, before you put your foot in the door, you want to check out the stores.

The first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to look at the store circulars, see if there's any manufacturer coupons. And already, I've hit the big one. Just pages and pages of coupons right here, ready for me to use. And then, I might look to see how long they're good for, which this says all month. So, now I know if I don't have time to use them now, I can use them later.

HOLMES: One of the first things you often see when you come into the store are ...


HOLMES: Deals, the signs. They often have these very kiosks like this set up. And you look through them, buy one, get one free, two for this, two for that. These are important to stop at always -- why?

SPIZMAN: Why, because first of all, take a look at them, take a second. It doesn't mean spend all day.

HOLMES: Right.

SPIZMAN: I'm going to spend just a few minutes. But for example, this vinegar, it's two for $4, it's a name brand that I use all the time. And I'm saving $2.38 on buying two.

HOLMES: A lot of people pantries are full of stuff -- we don't even know what's in there.

SPIZMAN: I promise you that most -- and most women in particularly, like we have 10 bottles of salad dressing. Not all of us, but some of us. And so, you want to start looking at what are you really using and running out of, so you don't have to run out every time.

The rule is to look high and to look low because store brands and manufacturers of popular brands often will pay more for what's called a slotting fee. And according to the grocers that I've spoken to, they say that's why, you know, there's these brands in the middle. They paid for that right.

Seasonal is so important because one, that means the price is going to be better. And then, it also means that the product is in season, so it's going to be juicier. You're going to get the value.

I think the goal is to be a conscious society and also, we can save money in the interim by buying smart, sometimes buying less and knowing what you're buying. And there's great power in that because you only have to learn it once. And once you know, you're ready to go.
As Digby points out, this segment has taught us (1) to think about what we need before we start to shop, (2) that "seasonal" means a product is in season, (3) that ladies love salad dressing, and (4) to try to buy items that are "on sale" (which means that they cost less than they normally do).

From this, we can only conclude that either (1) CNN is run by morons, or (2) CNN thinks that we're a bunch of morons.

The McCain Quiz

Even though there are more important issues than temperament this election season, I recommend that you try taking this New Yorker quiz on John McCain (R-AZ), "Senator Hothead: The McCain Quiz."

To whom did McCain say what?

8. Edward Kennedy.

9. John Cornyn.

10. Charles Grassley.

(a) “Shut up.”

(b) “Fucking jerk.”

(c) “Fuck you.”

Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldiers

Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldiers With Great Prices On Tools

This reminds me of when CNN held a coal-industry sponsored Democratic presidential debate, and the only energy policy questions centered around the problems that come with nuclear power (waste, storage, etc.).

Stein's Propaganda

Ben Stein is a former Nixon speech-writer, a psychiatric patient who cannot stand to lose (seriously), and a frequent user of Godwin's law (see here and here). Unfortunately, he is also now a documentary film maker. But despite the fact that his new anti-evolutionary film is riddled with errors, Chris Mooney warns us that we shouldn't be too cavalier about his new propaganda venture.

Who knows how much money Expelled will make, or how many minds it will influence. I suspect its strong opening will create additional buzz and attention, but even if not, this horrible but also damaging film ought to serve as a massive wake-up call to all who care about science in this media age. From Michael Crichton’s State of Fear to Stein’s Expelled, there is nothing to prevent the most awful, misleading drivel from reaching and influencing mass audiences. There are no standards. There is no filter. And the truth is not just automatically going to win in the competition of ideas when the playing field tilts against it.

The important point here is that "the truth is not just automatically going to win in the competition of ideas when the playing field tilts against it." When Stein is speaking to an American public that is more likely to believe in the devil than Darwin, and he is speaking through a one-sided uncontrolled medium, you can bet that he'll have a real influence on some people. So it becomes necessary to push back on these kinds of things. You can't just brush this stuff off, and you can't just preach to the choir about how ignorant Stein's film is.

It's not entirely clear to me what form popular science education should take going forward, but it at least helps to understand what the problem is.

UPDATE: Check out Expelled Exposed.

UPDATE II: For more on Stein's film, check this out.
Part I: Ben Stein misrepresents Guillermo Gonzalez's denial of tenure
Part II: Ben Stein misleads his interviewees
Part III: Ben Stein misrepresents the Sternberg affair
Part IV: Ben Stein compares evolutionary theory to Naziism
Part V: Ben Stein appears on the O'Reilly Factor to compare creationism to relativity theory
Part VI: Ben Stein compares evolutionary scientists to Nazis

Political Interference in the E.P.A. - Again

25 April 2008

From The Los Angeles Times:

More than half of the scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency who responded to a survey said they had experienced political interference in their work.

The survey results show "an agency under siege from political pressures," said the Union of Concerned Scientists report, which was released Wednesday and sent to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.
You can read the full report here (pdf).

This really should be a big story, but MSNBC is busy covering campaign strategy and FOX News is busy covering the candidates' appearances on WWE.

UPDATE: In any other administration, this would be a huge scandal. So would the earlier New York Times story about "Message Force Multipliers." Since when is it acceptable to doctor scientific information under the guise of an objective administrative organization? Since when is it acceptable to make false and misleading statements under the guise of seemingly objective retired generals? But above all, why do our journalists just not care anymore? Is it scandal-fatigue?

UPDATE II: Remember this?

No Intelligence Allowed

Ben Stein lies about Sternberg. Again.

Obama Memo on Electability

24 April 2008

TO: Superdelegates

FR: Obama Campaign

RE: The strongest candidate to face John McCain

DA: April 24, 2008

Who's the strongest candidate to take on John McCain?

After 45 contests, Senator Obama has won more delegates, twice as many states and territories, and more of the popular vote. He's won in every part of the country, and has scored victories among every segment of electorate. He's inspired Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, building an unprecedented coalition of more than 1.4 million contributors. And when it comes to head-to-head match-ups versus John McCain, Obama performs better than Clinton in key states and shows the potential to put new states in play for Democrats up and down the ballot.

Polling data from across the country, from large states and small, reflects the advantage Senator Obama would bring in a race this fall. His ability to expand the Democratic base, and his ability to capture the crucial Independent vote, make him a stronger candidate than Senator Clinton, who would enter the fall campaign with the highest unfavorable ratings of any nominee in half a century.

Big States

California: Obama beats McCain by 27, Clinton beats him by 23. (SurveyUSA, 2/23)

New York: A February poll of Clinton's home state shows her beating McCain by 11, while Obama beats McCain by 10. (Quinnipiac, 3/18)

New Jersey: Obama and Clinton both beat McCain by 5. (Farleigh Dickinson, 3/30)

Illinois: Obama beats McCain by 29 in his home state, while Clinton wins by 9. (SurveyUSA, 2/28)

Traditional Battlegrounds

Iowa: Obama up 7, Clinton down 6. (SurveyUSA, 4/17),
Among Independents: Obama up 9, Clinton down 31. (Rasmussen, 3/31)

North Carolina: Clinton trails McCain by 11, Obama ties him. (Rasmussen, 4/10)
Among Independents: Obama up 8, Clinton down 16. (Rasmussen, 4/10)

Oregon: Obama up 9, Clinton up only 1 (SurveyUSA, 4/17) A march poll showed Obama up 6 and Clinton down 6 (Rasmussen, 3/26)
Among Independents: Obama up 11, Clinton up 4. (Rasmussen, 3/26)

Wisconsin: Obama up 5 while Clinton ties. (SurveyUSA, 4/17) A March poll showed Obama up 4 and Clinton down 4. (WPR, 3/26)
Among Independents: Obama up 17, Clinton up 2. (Rasmussen, 3/26)

Michigan: Obama trailing by 1, Clinton trailing by 3. (Rasmussen, 3/25) A February poll showed Obama up 8 and Clinton tied. (Rasmussen, 2/17)

New Mexico: Obama up by 3, Clinton down by 3. (Rasmussen, 4/8)
Among Independents: Obama up 8, Clinton down 5. (Rasmussen, 4/8)

Nevada: Obama leads by 4, Clinton leads by 1. (Rasmussen 3/19)

Minnesota: Obama up 14, Clinton up 5. (Rasmussen, 4/22)
Among Independents: Obama up 9, Clinton down 14. (Rasmussen 3/19)

Pennsylvania: Clinton up 9, Obama up 8 (Rasmussen, 4/9)
Among Independents: Obama down 1, Clinton down 19. (Rasmussen, 4/9)

Making new states competitive

Colorado: Obama up 3, Clinton down 14. (Rasmussen, 4/19) A February poll showed up Obama up 9 and Clinton down 6. (SurveyUSA, 2/28)
Among Independents: Obama up 9, Clinton down 13. (Rasmussen, 3/17)

North Dakota: Obama up 4, Clinton down 19. (SurveyUSA, 2/28)
Among Independents: Obama up 9, Clinton down 29. (Survey USA, 2/28)

Virginia: Obama down 8, Clinton down 16. (SurveyUSA, 4/17)
Among Independents: Obama up 10, Clinton down 8. (SurveyUSA, 3/16)

Montana: Obama down 5, Clinton down 18 (Rasmussen, 4/6)
Obama down 2, Clinton down 12 (Rasmussen, 4/6)

Texas: Obama down only 1, Clinton down 7 (SurveyUSA, 2/28)

"Message Force Multipliers"

You can read the New York Times story here, and watch The Daily Show's coverage here. Sadly, the cable news networks didn't really pick up on this story. I guess that MSNBC's Scarborough was too busy covering J Lo, and Dan Abrams was too busy covering Star Jones. I guess that CNN was busy covering that Zebra-on-college story we all care so much about, and obsessing over what white working class voters are looking for in a candidate (without analyzing how the candidates' plans would actually respond to those concerns).

UPDATE: Amy Goodman interviews Col. Sam Gardiner here.

UPDATE II: Glenn Greenwald has more here.

Lawrence Lessig at FCC Hearing in Stanford

23 April 2008

Hillary Clinton's Bad Telecommunications Plan

22 April 2008

If you ever hear Sen. Clinton describe her telecommunications plan, you'll surely hear the "private-public partnership" buzz words. But you probably won't hear much about this. Basically, her broadband policy is modeled after a really poor lobbyist-driven plan from Kentucky.

If you're concerned about all the really poor journalism we've been seeing lately, and the growing influence of singular figures in the area of journalism, you should also be worried about the potential for even more media consolidation in the next administration (particularly if McCain is elected). Ever since the 1996 Telecommunications Act (signed into law by a certain other President), we've seen a growing trend in this direction. I should point out that Sen. Clinton's rhetoric and record in this area has been good, but there is also an enormous conflict of interest on the horizon. She's received a whole lot of contributions from telecommunications lobbyists such as Jamie Gorelick and Thomas Donilon. Not to mention the fact that she has received more donations from the telecommunications sector than any other member of Congress.

The regular readers of this blog probably already know where my sympathies lie, but I'd like to say once again that Obama's technology plan (available here) is really good - and it's the only one with the Lawrence Lessig seal of approval.

UPDATE: She also missed the telecom immunity vote.

UPDATE II: In other news, Newscorps looks like it's about to purchase Newsday.

McCain Will Put Us Deeper in Debt

(via The Wall Street Journal)

Everyone should read this article from The Wall Street Journal, titled "McCain Tax Cuts Would Bloat Deficit Or Take Huge Spending Curbs" (ouch). Despite his ridiculous claims that he is a "deficit hawk," McCain's economic advisers have made it very clear and explicit that McCain will expand the deficit ("It will make deficits expand") and put our country deeper in debt at a time when we're already $9 trillion in the hole. Just to be clear, the fastest growing expense right now is interest on our massive $9 trillion debt (mostly to China and Japan). John McCain's plan will just keep on borrowing money to pay for his programs, and result in much higher taxes in the future.

UPDATE: The Center for American Progress has more info on McCain's proposed program cuts.

UPDATE II: In contrast, even The Wall Street Journal acknowledges that Obama's plan balances the books.

New Study From the Journal of Roommate Research

Study: Nearly 80 Percent Of Roommates Got So Drunk Last Night

9 Minutes of FOX News

Why I Voted For Obama

[With the Pennsylvania primaries going on today, I just wanted to re-post this brief explanation of why I voted for Obama instead of Clinton. I've updated a few things since I wrote this before Super Tuesday.]

Transparency and Accountability:

  • For me, government transparency is one of the most important issues of the 2008 election. A secretive government is generally bad for a democracy. A transparent government, on the other hand, sets up a check against corrupting influences and brings in an element of accountability. Furthermore, opening up ideas and decisions to public comment allows for the making of better decisions insofar as it allows for a wider range of input.
  • As promised in his Ethics proposals (available online here and in his Blueprint For Change here), Obama will broadcast cabinet meetings on C-SPAN and on the Internet.
  • Obama will connect government agencies to the Internet to open up public comment on important issues.
  • Obama is responsible for creating the Federal Spending Database, so you can now go online and see where the government is spending your money.
  • Obama has pledged not to take contributions from federal lobbyists, and to disclose bundlers working on his campaign. Of course this doesn't completely insulate Obama from undue influence. Anybody else who donates to his campaign could ultimately end up asking the government for a favor somewhere down the line. But this pledge does eliminate the most open and obvious conflict, and it shows a commitment to transparency and accountability.
  • Clinton, on the other hand, put together her Health Care plan in the 90s behind closed doors, where not even the people involved knew how the decisions were made. Some of the papers still have not been released to the public (which President Clinton has lawfully withheld under the Presidential Records Act). Of course this was ten years ago, but I still think that it goes to show how Sen. Clinton goes about making decisions, and it doesn't speak well to her commitment to transparency.
  • Regarding lobbyists, Clinton has made no similar pledge, and has even defended the role of lobbyist contributions at one of the debates. According to Clinton, she is simply not influenced by them at all. We all just have to take her at her word on that. It should be noted, however, that Clinton has by far raised the most money from lobbyists of anyone in the United States Congress. She also frequently uses earmarks to insert funds into appropriations bills. At the very least, one has to admit that this is a systematic problem that is wide open to conflicts of interest. For example, it should be an obvious problem that Clinton earmarks funds to benefit the lobbyists who have donated to her campaign. I'm not accusing her of engaging in any direct quid pro quo, but it is a serious conflict of interests and it is one that I'd like the next President to address.
  • When Obama passed an ethics reform bill, Clinton opposed a measure that would have revealed all of the proposed earmarks, not just the ones that made it to the final bill.
  • Sen. Clinton twice opposed a measure supported by Sen. Obama that would create an independent commission to investigate ethics violations.
  • I think that it's very significant that Clinton, to this day, refuses to release her tax returns for the past eight years. When selecting a President, full disclosure is very important. This is particularly the case when the candidate has contributed $5 million to her own campaign. If there is any kind of conflict of interest, we should know sooner rather than later.[UPDATE: Clinton has now released her tax returns, and they are available here.]
  • This point doesn't directly relate to Hillary Clinton, but the Clinton presidential library is, to this day, withholding thousands of papers relating to the pardons Bill Clinton granted at the very end of his presidency. Again, I'm not accusing the Clintons of any direct quid pro quo, but there certainly appears to be a conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety when a president pardons someone who donated half a million dollars to the Clinton presidential library and $1.1 million to the Democratic party. If you're going to pardon someone in this position, you had better have an extremely compelling reason, and you had better be as open and candid as possible. Otherwise, as a citizen, it looks like you're selling presidential favors.
  • Obama has actively sponsored legislation in this arena, both in Illinois and in the U.S. Senate. I recommend combing through the Library of Congress web page to see for yourself the legislation he has sponsored and the amendments he has proposed.
  • You can watch Obama giving a speech on ethics reform here (Part I, Part II, Part III). He really seems to see (and articulate) the big picture better than anyone else in the race.
  • You can read Obama's ethics proposals here.
The First Amendment:
  • Another important issue for me is respect for freedom of speech. On this issue as well, I find Sen. Obama to be the best candidate in the field.
  • Clinton proposed legally restricting the sale of violent video games.
  • Obama has emphasized the role of parents and cautioned against pushing unconstitutional restrictions on speech.
  • Clinton pushed a ban on flag burning.
  • Obama opposed such a restriction on speech.
  • Obama was a professor of Constitutional Law at one of the nation's top law schools. I suspect that he understands First Amendment issues, since that's a part of the job.
  • When evaluating experience, I find two things to be particularly persuasive: (1) public service, and (2) executive experience (generally as a governor). At this point, all of the three remaining viable candidates are Senators. Executive experience just isn't on the menu this year. Therefore, it really comes down to a showing of commitment to public service.
  • Obama has the right kind of experience. He was a Civil Rights attorney, a Constitutional Law professor, a state legislator, and a community organizer. This shows a commitment to public service, standing up for the weak and powerless, organizational skills, negotiation skills, and competence.
  • Clinton's work for the Children's Defense Fund is admirable as well. But her choice of work afterwards does not show the same level of commitment to public service as Obama. I don't begrudge her the fact that she went on to corporate practice for 15 years, or that she served on the board of Wal-Mart. Everybody has to make a living, and this does show a general degree of competence on her part. She even continued to do pro bono work on the side, which is admirable. But in comparison, I'd prefer to pick a president who fought for voting rights to one who defended a corporate entity when it accidentally put a rat's ass in a can of pork and beans.
  • I have heard Sen. Clinton constantly tout her "35 years of experience" as an "agent of change." Fifteen years of corporate practice does not count as time "making change." Working on the corporate board of Wal-Mart and TCBY does not count as time "making change." Being first lady of Arkansas does not count as time "making change." Being first lady of the United States does not count as time "making change." Being a United States Senator does qualify, but I don't exactly know what change she has made during her time in the Senate.
  • Clinton has repeatedly inflated and exaggerated her foreign policy experience. For example, she claims to have been "intimately involved" in the Ireland peace process of the 1990s. In reality, she made a total of 6 trips there (4 of them accompanying her husband, 2 on her own). George Mitchell, the Clinton administration's leading Northern Ireland peace negotiator, says that Hillary Clinton was "not involved directly" in the process. She also embarrassingly claimed to have been involved in the Bosnia accords (video here). For more, see here and here. It should also be noted that Clinton did not have national security clearance as First Lady, and did not attend national security meetings. [UPDATE: Since this writing, Sen. Clinton's Bosnia lies have been exposed, and she contemptuously dismissed the whole thing by just saying something along the lines of "it just shows that I'm human - which is a revelation to some people who think that I'm super-human."]
Civil Liberties:
  • Clinton voted for the original PATRIOT Act.
  • Once joining the Senate, Obama fought to reform the original PATRIOT Act, and was able to work in more judicial oversight. Although the final compromise bill might not have been perfect, or as good as the one he had pushed, he at least worked to improve it.
  • In the Illinois State Senate, Obama was able to unanimously pass civil lbierties reforms, such as mandating the videotaping of confessions in capital cases.
  • For what it's worth, the ACLU rates Obama higher than Hillary Clinton, and Obama is being supported by the Guantanamo Bay detainees' attorneys.
  • Clinton wants to change the Democratic primary rules halfway into the election. When Michigan and Florida violated DNC rules and moved up their primaries, the DNC stripped them of their delegates. One could have argued at the time that this was too harsh, but all of the candidates accepted the decision and explicitly pledged not to "campaign or participate" in those two states. For some reason, Clinton left her name on the Michigan ballot and won an essentially uncontested election. Now that she has won a victory without any competition, she suddenly has a change of heart and wants those delegates to count. Her appeals to electoral fairness are self-serving, insincere, and transparent. I'm surprised that there is not more outrage over this, because it really doesn't speak well to her character for her honesty and her commitment to fairness.
  • The Clinton campaign distributed flyers to their precinct captains in Nevada instructing them to shut the doors 30 minutes early, and generally instructing them that "It's not illegal unless they tell you so." These kinds of tactics are underhanded and reprehensible. It's not clear how high within the campaign these instructions went, and the Obama campaign has called for an investigation, but a disciplined organization such as the Clinton campaign should have been on guard to make sure that such instructions did not appear under its name and from its employees.
  • When the DNC approved of at-large precincts in Nevada, Clinton did not say a word for months. But within days of the Nevada caucuses, as soon as the Culinary Union endorsed Barack Obama and it looked like those precincts might go his way, Clinton supported a lawsuit to completely shut those precincts down. Clinton and her husband dubiously argued that the at-large precinct were illegal because those votes would allegedly count five times as much as other voters', under the apportionment rules. The judge thought otherwise and dismissed the suit.
  • Obama, on the other hand, was a Civil Rights attorney who actively worked for electoral fairness. He has stood by his pledge not to “campaign or participate” in Michigan and Florida, and he formally filed a complaint against the Clinton campaign's practices in Nevada. I would prefer a president who keeps his word, and doesn’t simply change his positions when it becomes politically advantageous.

  • First, and most obviously, Clinton polls more poorly against McCain than Obama does.
  • Clinton has run on her "experience" throughout the primary process. I don't find that argument very persuasive, but that argument certainly wouldn't cut it in a general election against John McCain. On the other hand, if Obama were the nominee, McCain's "experience" argument could be turned around into a "we need change from your kind of experience" argument. It's hard to say the same about Clinton.
  • Clinton will find it difficult, if not impossible, to argue forcefully on the issue of Iraq. The obvious retort from McCain is, "Well you voted for it, too."
  • Clinton cannot argue against the role of special interests and lobbyists since she has taken more money from them than anybody else in the entire Congress.
  • Clinton cannot argue forcefully against No Child Left Behind since she voted for it herself.
  • McCain will likely bring up wasteful spending, and make it a centerpiece of his campaign. In that regard, he will point to the $1 million Clinton tried to earmark for a Woodstock museum. I think that was a rather boneheaded move on her part, and it doesn't speak well for her fiscal responsibility.
  • With respect to honesty, McCain has a reputation as a straight-talker whereas Clinton has a reputation for spinning. Whether or not that characterization is accurate, it certainly won't help Clinton in the general election.
  • Clinton has enormous negative ratings, and has trouble getting Independent voters and cross-over Republicans.
  • [UPDATE: Since this first writing, it has also become increasingly clear that Clinton cannot even win the national popular vote, let alone the pledged delegates.]
So there you have it.

Related Reading:
20 Minute Video: Why I Support Barack Obama (Lawrence Lessig)
I Refuse To Buy Into The Obama Hype
Obama's Senate Accomplishments

The FOX Is Wrong

21 April 2008

One of the most annoying things of this campaign season has been how Obama's Pakistan comments were willfully misrepresented by the people at FOX (as well as by Clinton, McCain and Bush) and twisted into sound bytes about how he wants to bomb our ally. Even though that particular meme will likely die out (particularly since we did exactly what Obama suggested back in January), there will probably be another one that eventually takes its place, and then another after that. It will keep on going until the press stops reading so much Drudge and Politico, and starts doing its job.

UPDATE: There's something about running on a treadmill that puts things in perspective. I switched to Rookie of the Year instead of Major League, though.

Charles Gibson: Wrong on Capital Gains Question

At the ABC debate, in between questions about flag pins, Charles Gibson made some eyebrow-raising claims about the capital gains tax and how he thinks it leads to increases in revenue. However, his claims were highly misleading. This is what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found:

Cutting capital gains rates reduces revenues over the long run. That’s the conclusion of the federal government’s official revenue-estimating agencies, as well as outside experts and the Bush Administration’s own Treasury Department.

  • The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation have estimated that extending the capital gains tax cut enacted in 2003 would cost $100 billion over the next decade. The Administration’s Office of Management and Budget included a similar estimate in the President’s budget.
  • After reviewing numerous studies of how investors respond to capital gains tax cuts, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service concluded that cutting capital gains taxes loses revenue over the long run.
  • The Bush Administration Treasury Department examined the economic effects of extending the capital gains and dividend tax cuts. Even under the Treasury’s most optimistic scenario about the economic effects of these tax cuts, the tax cuts would not generate anywhere close to enough added economic growth to pay for themselves — and would thus lose money.

Gibson's claim was highly misleading, since the spike in revenue is only the short-term effect of investors reacting to a sudden change in tax rates:

While a capital gains tax cut can lead investors to rush to “cash in” their capital gains when the lower rate first takes effect, it does not raise revenue over the long run.

  • Especially when a capital gains cut is temporary, like the 2003 tax cut that Gibson cited, investors have a strong incentive to sell stocks and other assets in order to realize their capital gains before the capital gains tax rate increases. This can cause a short-term increase in capital gains tax revenues, as happened after the 2003 tax cut.
  • Capital gains revenues also increased after 2003 because the stock market went up. But the stock market increase was not a result of the 2003 tax cut, as a study by Federal Reserve economists found. European stocks, which did not benefit from the U.S. capital gains tax cut, performed as well as stocks in the U.S. market in the period following the tax cut.
  • To raise revenue over the long run, capital gains tax cuts would need to have extraordinary huge, positive effects on saving, investment, and economic growth that virtually no respected expert or institution believes they have. In fact, experts are not even sure that the long-term economic effects of these capital gains tax cuts are positive rather then negative.

    One reason is that preferential tax rates for capital gains encourage tax sheltering, by creating incentives for taxpayers to take often-convoluted steps to reclassify ordinary income as capital gains. This is economically unproductive and wastes resources. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center’s director Leonard Burman, one of the nation’s leading tax experts, has explained, “shelter investments are invariably lousy, unproductive ventures that would never exist but for tax benefits.” Burman has concluded that, “capital gains tax cuts are as likely to depress the economy as to stimulate it.”

So in the end, ABC's questions were either trivial scandal-issues, or based on false premises. This is the journalism we have to put up with.

UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan points out that John McCain and The Wall Street Journal make the same claims.

Let me state that again. Once again, the supply-side argument has been undercut by the administration's own economists.

Of course, that didn't stop John McCain, who has frequently claimed that tax cuts increase revenue, from making the same argument on ABC's This Week today:

MCCAIN: And [Barack Obama] obviously doesn't understand the economy, because history shows every time you have cut capital gains taxes, revenues have increased, going back to Jack Kennedy.

The Wall Street Journal also made the same claim in an editorial Friday (subscription required). It's sad to see the mainstream media giving life to this kind of supply-side foolishness.

New DNC Ad Against McCain

"I spoiled Pat Robertson’s birthday"

20 April 2008

The Virginia Quarterly Review has a good (and long) write-up about Pat Robertson here.

Bill Moyers: Farm Subsidies


Debate Club

19 April 2008

John McCain and the Economy

Robert Reich Endorses Obama

18 April 2008

Former labor secretary (during the Clinton administration) Robert Reich just formally announced his support for Obama:

Although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so. His plans for reforming Social Security and health care have a better chance of succeeding. His approaches to the housing crisis and the failures of our financial markets are sounder than hers. His ideas for improving our public schools and confronting the problems of poverty and inequality are more coherent and compelling. He has put forward the more enlightened foreign policy and the more thoughtful plan for controlling global warming.

He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades. He has spoken about the most difficult problems our society faces, such as race, without spinning or simplifying. He has rightly identified the armies of lawyers and lobbyists that have commandeered our democracy, and pointed the way toward taking it back.

Lawrence Lessig at the FCC

Watch the pre-hearing interview here and read Wired's write-up of the hearing here.


17 April 2008

Danny Evans of Dormant, PA has this to say on the debate:

That was no debate--it was a rerun of Access Hollywood. If we Pennsylvanians should be bitter about anything, it's that our state debate was turned into a sort of media carnival, rather than dealing with the real issues facing our region, and the American people.

Still, if I had to find a silver lining? I admired the restraint Obama showed in NOT diving headlong into the fray. Though it did seem to frustrate him that over half the debate had nothing to do with substance, he held his tongue in check, defended his opponent on one occasion, and even said "she could win" without so much as batting an eye.

Hillary seemed to enjoy wallowing in ABC's mud just a little too much for my tastes. Especially since she still hasn't given a straight answer on her Bosnia lie, or how she can reconcile taking 800 thousand dollars from the Columbian government while campaigning AGAINST the Columbian Free Trade Agreement. All in all, I saw in Barack Obama a frustrated (yet honest) commitment to trying to stay away from the political pie-slicing that has paralyzed our country and silenced OUR voices for far too long, now.

As bad as it was to watch, what we did see (pay attention PA) is that we, as voters, need to seek out as much information as we can, not just what the networks and cable shows think we want to hear. Barack Obama didn't have his best night, yet carried himself with grace and dignity in the face of farce. That's my kind of President. Because NOT wallowing, NOT changing, means he really does stand for HOPE in ways we've not seen in a long, long time.

Danny Evans, Dormont

(h/t xpostfactoid)

Here is Brian Lehrer (who didn't watch the debate) on the debate:

The last eight minutes with Jared Bernstein are the best.

UPDATE: The Internet is quick.

UPDATE II: Obama responds

Tim Russert Gets His Facts Backwards

Why do people respect this guy so much?

ABC Debate

Let ABC know what you thought about last night's debate. Send them an email here, or leave a comment here (13051 and counting).

UPDATE: Isn't it odd that abc would choose a former Clinton official (Stephanopolous) as one of its moderators?

McCain "Disagrees With the Experts"

16 April 2008

It's official. This guy has no clue. What bothers me the most is that McCain has the balls to call himself "a deficit hawk" when his top economic adviser freely admits that his plan "will make the deficit expand." I guess he disagrees with that expert, too.

UPDATE: Even Mitt Romney knows it:

ROMNEY: [McCain] doesn’t want to talk about the economy, because frankly, he has pointed out time and again that he doesn’t understand how the economy works. And right now, that’s the biggest issue that voters here in Florida are concerned about, and they want somebody who does understand the economy. And having him time and again say, I don’t understand how the economy works, I’ve got to get a V.P. that will show me how it works, that’s a real problem for him.

MSNBC Gets Its Facts Wrong on McCain

Things like this worry me:

On MSNBC Live, Mika Brzezinski said that Sen. John McCain "wants to eliminate the federal gas tax -- that's about 20 percent of the cost." Later, Monica Novotny said McCain is "proposing suspending the federal gas tax for the summer, potentially cutting prices by nearly 20 percent." In fact, the federal gas tax -- 18.4 cents per gallon -- comprises only 5.4 percent of the current average cost of regular gasoline.

Particularly since the press corps attends John McCain's birthday parties (seriously) and goes to informal barbecues at his house (watch the video).

In reality, McCain's plan will save the average family only $23, yet MSNBC is portraying it as some sort of miracle fix, with no mention of any down-side (we have to either cut funding to our already troubled infrastructure, or borrow billions from China and add to our already enormous national debt).

Another Bad Idea From John McCain

John McCain recently proposed a holiday on the federal gas tax. Wired explores the wisdom (or lack thereof) of this idea:

The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.38, and it could hit $3.50 or even $4 before long. Cutting the cost by 18 cents amounts to a 5 percent reduction. The Arizona Republic - McCain's hometown paper - says the average Phoenix commuter will save $23 under McCain's proposal. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says the average American will save $28.

On the other hand, the Republic found, suspending the gas tax for three months would free up $88.36 million in consumer spending throughout the greater Phoenix area. And companies like FedEx that are losing their shirts to high fuel prices could use some relief.

But McCain's proposal could cost the government some $9 billion dollars - and more than 300,000 jobs.

The tax supports the federal Highway Trust Fund, which finances road projects nationwide and is already facing a $3.4 billion shortfall, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says. The American Society of Civil Engineers says every dollar invested in highway infrastructure generates $5.40 in economic benefits through reduced delays, improved safety and lower vehicle operating costs. And the federal transportation department says every $1 billion in highway spending creates 34,779 jobs.

A McCain spokesman told MSNBC the senator favors transferring money from the general fund to make up for the lost gas tax revenue. That, of course, would add to the deficit.

More deficit spending and more loans from China and Japan. We're $9 trillion in debt already, and McCain's top economic adviser is calling for a plan that "makes the deficit expand," and is saying things like this: “I would like the next president not to talk about deficit reduction.” You can't just borrow money forever.

It's also worth noting that repeal of the gas tax has been proposed and has failed at least six times times since 2000. Dole proposed the same thing, but ended up dropping the idea a few months later.

You Encountered McCain!

Human Events

15 April 2008

Conservative magazine Human Events on Barack Obama: "His complicity with rappers dates back to at least 2006." Oh no! Hide your children!

(h/t TPM)

Top McCain Adviser: "I Would Like The Next President Not To Talk About Deficit Reduction"

Things like this really worry me. Our country is $9 trillion in debt, and it looks like McCain's economic plan will just "make deficits expand," as his top economic adviser admits. This is bad news for the rest of us, who will eventually have to pay that massive debt off, plus interest.

Watch FRONTLINE Tomorrow

14 April 2008

If you can't catch it when it first airs tomorrow (check listings here), then you can still watch it online.

UPDATE: You can also watch Glenn Greenwald discuss his new book on Democracy Now tomorrow at 8:40 am. It seems particularly relevant this week, in light of the ridiculous media coverage of "bitter-gate," and the attempts to use orange juice and bowling scores to cast Obama as an "elitist."

Network News, In a Nutshell

13 April 2008

In other news, we're fighting two wars, the country is $9 trillion in debt, we're facing recession, food riots are breaking out across the world, the United States Congress is debating and discussing farm policies, our trade deficits are expanding, the justice department wrote memos justifying the use of torture by the executive branch, and our surveillance laws and policies are up in the air. But hey - look at that beard!