Friday, February 29, 2008

Universal Health Care Is a Right

In times past fire protection was available only to those who could afford to pay for it. Insurance companies organized private fire brigades that would only fight fires at building the companies insured. If your home was uninsured it was allowed to burn. "Socialized" firefighting began in France in 1733, this is the first instance where government firefighters put out fires free of charge. Fire, like disease, is a risk to the whole community, not just an individual. It is the responsibility of society as a whole, through government, to fight fires.

Here, my friends at Socrates' Academy make their case against Universal Health Care. Simply stated, they make the classic conservative argument that the only rights are those things the government is not allowed to take away. This is a fun game I learn while reading William F. Buckley in my youth. I can play it with police protection, education, sewage treatment, road construction, even zoning laws.

The Case Against a Right of Universal Fire Protection
  • Rights are things you already have, not things provided to you by government.
  • You are free to own a hose.
  • Private fire brigades are available to anyone willing to pay for them.
  • While the government cannot take away your life, liberty, or property without due process it is not the government's responsibility to protect these things for you. (For example, the government is not responsible for sewing up holes in your breeches to keep coins from falling out.)
  • You do not have the right to the free use of someone else's labor.
  • Ergo, the government has no responsibility to provide fire protection; it is the individual's responsibility to provide his own. Reductio ad Absurdum
The fatal flaw of the conservative logic is that government is a separate entity from society, from The People. But, government is nothing other than the people acting as a community. Fire, crime, transportation, pollution, and disease are all community concerns as they affect everyone within the community.

Universal health care is not a right, it is a responsibility. Disease does not always inquire into ones social status before invading a body. The social contract that doctors had with the public defined by the Hippocratic Oath is breaking down in this era of Corporatized Medicine. As a result, diseases that require a reservoir of untreated souls, such as tuberculosis, are making a comeback. My health improves when everyone else is healthy.

Universal health care is a responsibility that society has towards itself for the well-being of all. It is no different than police protection or education. Government, as the instrument of society, is the tool society uses to serve itself.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The American Police State

New Report via the Washington Post.
  • One percent of the adult population of the United States, a record 2.3 million people, is held in captivity by the government.
  • Since there are 10 males in prison for every female, this means nearly two percent of the adult male population of the United States is behind bars.
  • Eleven percent of black males between 20-34 years of age are prisoners.
If this were China or Russia or Iran these numbers would be cause for international outrage. The silence regarding this ongoing crime against humanity is sickening.

The Magnitude of Failure

This started as something else but I can't write about why Hillary Clinton should not be Barack Obama's Vice-President unless I first write about why she lost.

There is no way Hillary Clinton should be losing the Democratic nomination right now. That is not to disparage Hillary herself as a candidate. Were it not for her personal acumen she would not have hung on as long as she has. She is losing, has lost, because the Clinton Campaign is the most throughly incompetent staff in the last quarter century of major league politics.

Last August Hillary had everything. A huge lead in the polls, more money than God, the backing of every significant branch of the party, and an air of inevitability. All she had to do was win the first two votes, or even just two of the first three, and the rest would have been a coronation. There is nothing Barack Obama or John Edwards could have done to stop her.

The key to Hillary defeat was Mark "Microtrends" Penn. Penn's philosophy, stripped of its jargon, is that the world is divided into scores of tiny little sub-groupings. There is no common thread that binds these sub-groupings together; they are distinct packets of people, each with their own separate issues. You make a majority by gathering together these little sub-groupings like picking flowers in a meadow.

In Penn's world true mass movements are impossible; the polyglot support surrounding Obama is impossible. Even the very idea of "organized labor" is an oxymoron. Workers belong to any number of unique sub-groupings and have no common cause motivating them.

Hillary's campaign in August was a mass of humanity dedicated to finding the strongest possible candidate to end Republican rule. Penn proceeded to break that mass into tiny cohorts, targeting each group with different, often contradictory, messages. Hence, free trade was sold to Hillary's New York financial supporters while "NAFTA Bad" was pitched to the Rust Belt. The problem was that the modern media mashed the various messages together. Not a flip-flopper (someone who holds to a clear position and changes it), Hillary began to appear to be someone who held every possible opinion about every possible issue simultaneously. As the debates began, this trait became apparent because debates, by their nature, cannot be microfocused. Consider how badly botched the driver's licenses for illegal aliens issue was.

Penn's campaign strategy was to weave a patchwork quilt of some sub-groups, called "firewalls," while ignoring other sub-groups. Therefore, Barack Obama's supporters could be dismissed as unimportant as they were part of the wrong sub-groups. The problem was that the quilt had holes in it. There were too many unimportant voters and calling them unimportant didn't make them go away. Also, the firewalls themselves started to unravel. They didn't always behave like the polling models dictated. Hispanics, according to the charts, were supposed to back Hillary but occasionally, as in Virginia, they didn't. Women were peeling away to Obama in numbers unsupported by the models. Confident that the polling models were flawless, it was concluded that some outside, evil, force was effecting the outcome. The Media.

The polling models had predicted that the campaign would end on Super Tuesday. When it didn't, Penn was faced with a dilemma - believe his own data or believe the facts on the ground. His data could never be wrong, it must be the facts that are in error. The Clinton Campaign wasted the entire month of February trying to twist reality so it would fit into their blueprint.

There was more to Clinton's loss that Penn's philosophical myopia but much can be laid at his feet. For example, Clinton's poor field operations in Iowa was wholly because of Penn's conviction that certain classes of people do not vote in caucuses and therefore no effort should be made to contact them. Penn made the pool of potential Hillary voters too small. And so it was, way back in Iowa, the meme that the "wrong people" were voting was born.

The truth is that Hillary Clinton would have won if she had Barack Obama's B-team. Her team lost it and still doesn't understand why they lost it. The worst thing Obama can do is pick Clinton as his Vice-President and bring her squad of screw-ups onto his team.

Ezra Klein's article on Penn's Microtrends written in September, 2007.

His Presidential Motto

...which seemed like a good idea at the time... ~ George Bush, today's presser
He was talking about the recently passed economic stimulus package, but he could have been referring to everything this country has done under his leadership.

Neverending Iraq War - seemed like a good idea at the time.
Federally mandated school testing that has totally fucked public education - seemed...
Incomprehensible North Korea policy - seemed like an idea...
A tax policy that rewards wealthy indolence and punishes workers - seemed like time...
"Let's hate Europe because they won't fight in our war" foreign policy - seemed like a good time...

I could go on. You can boil the Bush Jr. presidency down to this single phrase. It is an impulse driven government, unencumbered by the thought process. Just do whatever seems like a good idea at the time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interpreting Post-Debate Actions

I don't actually bother watching political debates since they are designed by the networks to showcase their on-air talent. Little useful can be drawn from watching them. I will read transcripts, but mostly I focus on the candidates actions the day after important debates.

Signs a Candidate Won
~ The candidate goes about his/her business, ignoring the previous nights events. This is a sign of confidence, it shows the candidate thinks he/she did well.
~ The candidate quotes her/himself on a policy point. Another positive sign. This shows the candidate fell in love with a pithy turn of phrase and thinks it hit the mark.

Signs a Candidate Lost
~ The candidate quotes him/herself attacking the opponent. This is always negative. It shows the candidate thinks the attacks didn't stick and that he/she has to pick up the mud and throw it again. (Simply put: Quoting self on policy, good. Quoting self attacking, bad)
~ The candidate (and surrogates) invests the entire newscycle correcting statements made in the debate. One or two corrections are okay, but if the entire day is consumed making corrections it is a sign the candidate figures she/he really screwed up.
~ The candidate disappears the next day. Planned events are canceled. The candidate goes into a shell for several hours or all day. This shows the candidate is either depressed or trying to reshape the whole campaign on the fly. It could also mean the candidate caught a cold. So watch out for the simpler health explanation.

Remember my axiom: It is far easier to lose a candidate debate than it is to win. The best outcome is a draw. This means that the more a candidate seems focused on the previous night's debate the worse he/she did. Winners move on; losers dwell on the past.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

McCain Hoisted by His Own Petard

A petard is a old, small explosive devise, sort of medieval IED (below). It is that thing someone builds that blows up in his face.John McCain crafted the campaign financing laws as part of his longterm strategy for the White House. He built in loopholes that benefited senators (i.e. him) running for the presidency. He wrote the law so that a candidate couldn't use federal matching funds as collateral for a loan and then not accept those funds later. He included rules that makes it easier for matching fund candidates to qualify for state ballots.

But, St. John McCain believes that laws are meant only to stop evildoers. The law, therefore, should never apply to him. Pity St. John of the Endless War. Some are demanding that the law apply to St. John as well. The sacrilege of it. The delicious irony of it.

Sprinter v. Miler

The Democratic presidential campaign looks like a footrace between a sprinter and a miler.

The sprinter puts on this dazzling display of speed - arms and legs flaying, she is the epitome of frantic action. For a couple hundred yards. No human can keep up that pace and, even if she can, nobody else can watch that kind of frenzy for very long. The miler keeps to his firm, steady pace - arms tight into the body, legs rhythmic pistons. He looks like he can keep to this pace forever and, damn it, he can.

The sprinter, after those 200 yards of fervor, has to slow, put her hands on her knees, and gasp for oxygen. The miler, seemingly effortlessly, passes her by. The sprinter curses. "How can he beat me!" she screams. "I am so much faster than he is!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Clinton Campaigning For McCain?

She [Hillary] and John McCain are very close. They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other. ~ Bill Clinton, Jan. 25, 2008
Obviously, such civility does not extend to colleagues on the same side of the aisle. In the last week, Hillary Clinton's campaigning has gotten as vile as any primary race in Democratic Party history. It is not the kind of campaign someone engages in if she hopes unite the party. It is more like she doesn't care if she wins as long as Obama loses. It is as if Hillary is trying to throw the election to her good friend John McCain.

Consider this evidence. In January, when Bill made the above statement, the office of Burson-Marsteller was riding high. Their CEO, Mark Penn, was running Hillary's campaign and she was still odds on favorite to gain the Democratic nomination. The chairman of Burson-Marsteller subsidiary BKSH, one Charlie Black, was high up in the McCain camp and McCain was surging. However the election turned out the corporation of Burson-Marsteller stood to be the declared king-maker; their business would boom. Clients like Saudi Arabia and BlackwaterUSA would know their PR firm had the ear of whoever became president while new clients would be lining up to hire the one company guaranteed to have a key to the back door of the White House.

Fast forward to late February. McCain is polling dismally against Barack Obama and the polls don't show the utter lack of excitement in McCain's weak speaking style. Hillary is hanging on by her fingernails and the polls in Texas indicate a probable lose there. All of a sudden, Burson-Marsteller's prospects are looking shitty. The Saudis are wondering why they are spending millions on a company that will likely be shut out come November 4.

A wise corporate executive would remember that no client is more important than the company. He would consider sacrificing one client to promote the interests of another. Thereby hoping to salvage the Burson-Marsteller's prospects.

The PR Plan
Send Hillary Clinton out as an attack dog. Let McCain reiterate the attacks but always make him seem the more reasonable of the two. Be unrelenting, be imaginative, be loathsome. It doesn't matter if Hillary looks like a harpy, a racist, or worse. Her loss is certain; her reputation meaningless. Let her destroy herself in the public eye as long as she damaged Obama in the process. If it also distracts from Iseman-gate, so much better. Hillary Clinton is meaningless now. She is sacrificing herself to the greater glory of Burson-Marsteller.

Is Hillary taking this tack deliberately or is she being duped by Mark Penn? I suspect the latter. While Penn will probably throw a few million dollars Bill Clinton's way to compensate them for their sacrifice, I doubt that Hillary would choose to destroy her reputation and career just so Mark Penn can profit. I do believe that Penn is wily enough to convince Hillary to take this insane path. In the emotions of an ongoing campaign, especially one where the candidate had convinced herself that victory was inevitable and now sees that slipping away, it is easy to lure a candidate into behaving like an idiot.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Exxon Valdez Has Passed into a Joke

Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it. It has been death to many, but it is a joke in the profession. ~ Bleak House, Charles Dickens
It has been 19 years since the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, fouling the fisheries and killing countless animals. It has been 14 years since a jury order the Exxon Mobil Corporation to pay over $5 billion in actual and punitive damages. The Chugach Native American group was forced into bankruptcy due to the destruction of marine life in the Sound. In 2002, a judge reduced the damages verdict to $4 billion. In 2006 the 9th Circuit reduced the verdict to $2.5 billion. The suit is still unsettled.

During this time fully 20% of the fishermen, Native Americans, and cannery workers whose lives and livelihoods were destroyed that day and who had won that lawsuit in 1994 have died. During this time Exxon has not paid a penny of the damages awarded. There is still oil on the beaches of Prince William Sound. The suit continues unsettled.

At the time of the lawsuit, $5 billion equaled Exxon's profits for one year. Today it amounts to less than two weeks of profits. It is a fraction of the $31 billion Exxon holds as cash on their balance sheet.

The suit continues and will be heard by the Supreme Court sometime this year. In keeping with the tradition of this case, I predict that the Supreme Court will refer the case back to the lower courts and start the cycle anew.
The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere fills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery-land; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless. ~ Bleak House
Were I king (you still with me?) there would be a law requiring corporations to pay 10% of a settlement, nonrefundable, upon the filing of any appeal and an additional 5% each year the appeal continues. If a company and her legion of attorneys wish to pursue endless appeals they should pay for the privilege.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sometimes It Sucks to Be Me

Sinusitis so severe I haven't slept for two days...
Bronchitis, of course, but not too bad this time.

I am 56, my father is 96 and I swear he is healthier than I am.

Still, as sucky as it is to be me at times like this, at least I don't live in the Iraq molded by George Bush. Turks killing Kurds; Shi'ites killing Sunnis and the reverse; and hovering over it all the mighty American colonial occupation army insuring that while death is a common occurrence, liberty is just a pipe dream.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lobbyists Have Two Beds [Updated]

Whether St. John McCain shared a bed, in the carnal sense, with lobbyist Vicki Iseman is a titillating question. Whether St. John shared a bed with her, in the venal sense, is beyond question.

Lobbying is the business of peddling influence. Iseman marketed her connections to McCain.
Three telecom lobbyists and a former McCain aide, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Iseman spoke up regularly at meetings of telecom lobbyists in Washington, extolling her connections to McCain and his office. She would regularly volunteer at those meetings to be the point person for the telecom industry in dealing with McCain's office. ~ Washington Post, Feb. 21
The list of her clients includes several, most prominently Paxson Communications, who have significantly benefited from McCain's actions on the Communications Committee. McCain, in turn, has benefited from the relationship. Tit for tat.

Their relationship is meaningful whether or not McCain and Iseman got around to interlocking groins. Their relationship goes to the heart of the lobbyist-politician saturnalia that has perverted national commerce, the tax code, and even the very the concept of war and peace. Their relationship is part of the debauchery influencing every aspect of Washington business as usual.

Update: An update in lieu of a new post because my sinuses have decided to simulate waterboarding on me. It looks like St. John's blanket denial is more holey than holy; more hobo's bindle than Shroud of Turin.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It Is Decision Time for Hillary

There are two weeks until the next primary vote, time enough for Hillary Clinton to sit down and have a good think about her goals and what she wants to do. She has reached to point where the Democratic Party presidential nomination is beyond her reach. She needs to decide if her dreams for the presidency are greater than her dreams for the country.

1. 'I'm Bigger Than Any Party'
One rumor that has begun circulation in the comments sections of some blogs is that Clinton will pull a Lieberman if the Democratic Party convention nominates Obama, she would bolt the party and run as a third-party candidate. The idea is that half of the Democratic Party will split with her and, with independent white women, she will walk into the White House. This theory has its origins from Lanny Davis telling Fox News that Obama is like Ned Lamont while Clinton is like Joe Lieberman (i.e. Obama is too liberal to be the Democratic nominee and Clinton has massive crossover appeal). The result would be to give the election to McCain; think John Anderson in 1980.

2. 'If I Can't Have It, No Dem Will'
Aptly dubbed the "Scorched Earth" strategy by several bloggers. This plan would see independent pro-Hillary 527 groups attacking Obama relentlessly while Bill and Hillary use every underhanded trick in the book (and even invent a few new ones) to steal, bribe, or coerce enough delegates to gain her the nomination. If Obama wins, the Democratic Party will have been hopelessly shattered and his reputation tattered; McCain wins in a walk. If Clinton gains the nomination, well she'll worry about that shattered party problem later.

3. 'Fight the Good Fight'
Clinton can accept her loss is inevitable and stay in the fight as Obama's sparring partner. No cheap attacks, no hitting below the belt, but Clinton can stay in the race to push Obama on the issues, forcing him to hone the policy side of his campaign. She can train him for the coming general election without destroying his reputation, her reputation, or the party.

4. 'Be Graceful'
Accept reality and bow out gracefully.

If Hillary Clinton is in this campaign for herself alone, if the party and the country mean nothing to her, she will selfishly choose one of the first two paths. If she truly cares about the policies she shares with Obama and the whole of the Democratic Party, she will choose one of the latter two paths. The next two weeks will explain with clarity just what sort of person Hillary Clinton is.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hillary's Campaign Blabber Mouths

During WWII there was a slogan - "Loose Lips Sink Ships." The Russian version at the left was "Don't Blab!" I just don't understand the Clinton campaign's habit of chatting up reporters on their campaign and convention strategies that common sense suggests be kept secret.
  • They had a strategy of focusing their campaigning on Hispanics as a "firewall." Objectively, that was a good idea - until they started bragging about it. Since then, her Latino support has been bleeding away.
  • They had a strategy of aiming for big wins in Texas and Ohio while sacrificing Wisconsin. I don't think it was a sound strategy, but at least it was a plan. They blabbed about it. Dissing the Badger State like that was risking getting blown out, so they had to abandon their plan and commit both money and Hillary to the state. Meanwhile, Obama's campaign hurried up their organizing in Texas and Ohio. The loose lips squandered any chance of gaining an organizational head start in those two states. Both Clinton and Obama have six field offices in Texas now; Obama has 17 offices in Ohio to Clinton's four.
  • They had a strategy of overcoming any Obama lead in pledged delegates by copping a huge majority of the superdelegates. This is a plan best kept secret. It wasn't. Oh Boy! Was it ever not kept secret. Clinton staffers were falling over themselves talking up the plan. When the plan became widely known those superdelegates, notoriously risk-adverse politicians, disavowed any participation. There has been no cavalcade of superdelegates joining Clinton after the plan was publicized. Indeed, there have been a slow trickle of defectors from her camp. Chatting up the plan doomed it.
  • Their latest strategy is to persuade pledged Obama delegates to switch sides. Setting aside the morality of this strategy, this is a plan that absolutely had to be kept top secret. Publicly announcing a plan to subvert election results at the convention is insane.
The Clinton campaign can't seem to keep their collective mouths shut. I am a advocate of open government but a little wisdom is required. For example, you don't chat up reporters about a good looking CIA chick whose running a network keeping an eye on Iran. Hillary's campaign staff is setting records for idle prattle. Clinton's staffers are drowning out the candidate with their mania for revealing secrets. Six months ago I wrote that Clinton had a well-run campaign. I was wrong. McCain will make mincemeat of this bunch of flibbertigibbets.

Note #1: I deliberately avoided words with sexist connotations. This is not a gender question, it is a matter of a campaign being sunk by its own amateurish, uncontrolled leakage.

Note #2: Yes, I know flibbertigibbet can mean "chattering gossip, flighty woman" but, come on, who knows that? I just think it is a damn, fine word.

Note #3: DailyKos discovered another amateur failure of the Clinton campaign. Her campaign failed to file a full slate of delegates for the Pennsylvania primary. Pennsylvania is supposed to be one of her firewall states and they pull an unnecessary blunder like this? Is it a bad time to remember that Clinton's new campaign manager, Maggie Williams, is a close personal friend of Hillary who has never run a campaign before in her life? Shows much?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thoughts on the Attractiveness
of Barack Obama

I don't want to feel hate....
I don't want to feel hopeless....
I don't want to feel depressed....
I don't want to wage war....
I don't want to torture people....

I'm tired of living in a nation despised by the world,
... with good reason....
I'm bored with politicians telling me to be terrified....
I'm disgusted by the politics of destruction,
... the politics of corruption,
... the politics of greed....

I refuse to be afraid....
I refuse to be angry....
I refuse to hate....

I want to feel good about being an American.
Is that so wrong?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Best Advertising Is Word of Mouth (of the gun)

Apparently, the same guy who sold the guns to the Virginia Tech shooter last year, also sold guns to the guy who killed people at Northern Illinois University last week. (At left is the 31 round magazine he sells for people who don't want to bother with reloading their glock). Wannabe college shootists know where to go.

Because I'm feeling generous I shall offer (for free) an advertising slogan he can use in the future.
Proven Effective! Any gun can maim. Our guns are field-tested lethal!!
No need to thank me.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Who Needs al-Qaeda?

When we have a surfeit of home-grown terrorists.
How can a ragtag group of Arabs hope to compete with all the neo-Nazi, Christian Identity, and white supremacist terrorists spread throughout the country? Why, there are more hate groups in the United States than al-Qaeda has members. Add in the occasional wacko who decides to shoot up his school because he got bad grades or couldn't get a date. Al-Qaeda might be trying a terrorist attack every week and we wouldn't even notice what with all the hate crimes Americans are committing on ourselves.

Map found at the University of Oklahoma; originally sourced to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dreams and Nightmares

More objectivity than I thought I was capable of.

Best Case Scenario
One of the two remaining Democratic candidates wins an absolute majority of the standard delegates, absent those stripped from Michigan and Florida. A sufficient number of super delegates endorse this candidate giving him/her enough for the nomination. Only then are Michigan and Florida delegates seated and the party has an undisputed champion.

Worst Case Scenario
One of the two remaining Democratic candidates fails to gain a majority of the standard delegates but uses some combination of the following to game the system: use political muscle to seat Michigan and Florida delegations committed to her (or him), uses backroom maneuvering at state conventions to take away delegates pledged to the other candidate at party caucuses, and relies on the super delegates to eke out a narrow victory contrary to the will of the Democratic voters.

The first case will result in disappointment among the loser's supporters but there will be a general feeling that the system work and the party will be able to go forth as a single party.

The second case will rend the party. The losing side will be outraged at what will be perceived as theft. The likelihood of a viable third party campaign (or even a fourth if religious conservatives bolt the Republicans) will make winning the Democratic nomination a Pyrrhic victory.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why Did Clinton Effectively Sit Out the Potomac Primaries?

And why is she only now beginning to campaign in Wisconsin?

#1: It is taking too long
Everything in the Clinton campaign was towards Super Tuesday being the deciding point of the campaign. The campaign's entire structure - where field offices were opened, where TV advertising time was booked, vendor scheduling, even when staff vacations were planned - was built around the belief that February 5 would be the end of the active campaign season. The Clinton team was unprepared for it to be only the beginning.

#2: It is costing too much
Campaign consultants love spending other peoples money. Lavishly. There has been much written elsewhere about the Clinton campaign spending $500,000 on parking last year. It isn't just how much is spent (Obama has spent about as much as Clinton on marketing and advertising consultants) as the quality of the results. On the local level, where I have a little experience, consultants will pad their expenses if you let them. I've studied the Clinton and Obama expense reports. As a general rule, Clinton tends more towards caviar. Her consultants see her as a cash cow and have milked her dry.

#3: Shock and awe
The Clinton team began to believe their own public relations message that her nomination was inevitable. While her third-place finish in Iowa and huge defeat in South Carolina were shocking they convinced themselves each was just a one-off. They believed that the Obama team had to be in the same situation as they were after Super Tuesday, depleted and exhausted. They were wrong.

The Clinton campaign is scrambling to compete in states they didn't believe would matter. They are way behind. Her campaign website still doesn't have an address for their Wisconsin field office, just a phone number. Obama has three offices operating in the state. There is too little time for the Clinton campaign to gear up an operation in Wisconsin that can compete with Obama's. Clinton can only hope to jump in swinging and pray for a miracle or stay away and call the state meaningless.

And that is why the Clinton campaign keeps talking about Texas and Ohio like they were the Holy Grail. They hope by then to have their campaign organization repaired. If they can defeat Obama in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania they will try to convince the super delegates that is proof they can beat Obama head-to-head and the February losses are the result of Barack cheating by running campaigns in states Clinton wasn't trying in.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

San Andreas Is Stirring

In the last three days there have been over 200 earth- quakes centered along the San Andreas Fault between Mexicali and Guadalupe Victoria. Most have been minor, magnitudes between 2 and 4, but there have been two moderate sized tremors.

Earthquake swarms like these are not uncommon, they happen somewhere along the San Andreas every couple of years, and they are not normally predictive of a super-quake. Still, it is sobering when the San Andreas Fault gets particularly feisty.

California is weirder than most people know. The whole of North America is on one tectonic plate, aptly enough named the North American Plate. All, that is, except for a narrow strip of land stretching from San Francisco to the tip of Baja California; we got a different tectonic plate. While the rest of the continent is moving in one direction, we here in California are stubbornly going the exact opposite direction.
Day after day, more people come to L.A.
Ssh! Don't you tell anybody the whole place is slipping away.
Where can we go when there's no San Francisco?
Ssh! Better get ready to tie up the boat in Idaho. ~ Day After Day, Shango, 1968 (sung to a calypso beat)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Two Viral Videos

One for Barack Obama that is inspiring:

And one telling how John McCain promises to burden the nation (Gonna be other wars) - a brilliant parody of the first video:

via AmericaBlog, and because I'm feeling lazy this morning.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why the Clinton Staff Shake-up?

Hillary Clinton is replacing the person (Patty Solis Doyle) who was the campaign manager for both her senatorial campaigns as well as, until now, her presidential race. Replacing Doyle is Margaret "Maggie" Williams, a longtime close personal friend and confidant of Hillary Clinton.

A typical campaign structure sees the campaign manager supervising the daily operations, the tone and messages the campaign sends, while the candidate concentrates on her public appearances. It requires a mix of management skills unlike and in either the public or private sectors. You can tell a lot about how well a president will govern by how skillfully she or he chooses the campaign staff.

From my research, Margaret Williams is a highly successful manager with experience in business, foundation, and political staff management. As far as I can tell, she has never run a political campaign in her life. While this may be the biggest operation she has ever managed, I suspect Williams will be excellent at managing the mechanics of the campaign, the ebbs and flows of money and staff. However, she has no experience managing the ambiance of a campaign.

This suggests to me that Hillary Clinton is taking upon herself the duel role of candidate and her own campaign manager. This is dangerous for a campaign. A campaign needs people who are emotionally detached steering it. As Bill Clinton proved in South Carolina, you cannot allow a campaign to become clouded by anger, fear, pride, or excess exuberance.

Williams also brings heavy baggage to a general election campaign. She was Chief-of-Staff to Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady and was an assistant on Bill Clinton's White House staff. In that position she was involved in one of the lesser scandals of the time, the Johnny Chung case. Arianna Huffington today remembered those times.

Anyhow, to answer the question I posed above, the staff shake-up is a sign of reasoned panic. The reasoned part is, if the campaign continues along its current path she shall lose the nomination. Something had to be done to change the path. The panic part is leaning excessively upon people whose most prominent qualification is personal friendship. It is a sign of paranoia, of distrust in the staff you hired.

Huckabee Beats McCain

Looks like "buyer's remorse" is kicking in early for Republicans this year. Even in the state that McCain won, Washington, 74% of the caucus-goers voted for someone other than the presumptive nominee.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Iraq War: The Candidates Positions

Barack Obama: Consistently opposed the war.
That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics....I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars. ~ Speech in Chicago, October 26, 2002 (source)

Hillary Clinton: Supported the war but not as executed.
If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us....for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option....If we get the [UN] resolution [President Bush seeks ] and Saddam does not comply, then we can attack him with far more support and legitimacy than we would have otherwise....This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make...but I cast it with conviction....I want this President, or any future President, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war....A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him - use these powers wisely and as a last resort. ~ Speech in the US Senate on the vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, October 10, 2002 (source)

when Chuck Hagel, who helped to draft the resolution said, 'It was not a vote for war,' What I was told directly by the White House in response to my question, 'If you are given this authority, will you put the inspectors in and permit them to finish their job,' I was told that's exactly what we intended to do.
~ defense by Clinton of this vote on Meet the Press, January 13, 2008 (source)

John McCain: Supports the war but surprised it wasn't easy.
But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily. That does not mean we won't experience the tragedy of the loss of some American lives. ~ CNN interview, January 22, 2003 (source)

But it won't be long. It will be a fairly short period of time, but this happens in wars. I'm confident that once they are confident the area is no longer a threat to the Marines and to our army troops that they'll start imposing discipline. In the meantime, we'll have a short period of chaos.
~ ABC Good Morning America, April 8, 2003 (source)

When asked, in a townhall meeting in Derry, NH, about US troops staying in Iraq for 50 years McCain said, "Make it a would be fine with me." (source)

Mike Huckabee: Loves the war.
Was "thrilled" by the war in March, 2003 (source). In April, 2007, said the United States should do whatever it takes to win (source).

Friday, February 08, 2008

Torture: The Candidates Positions

Barack Obama: Opposes all torture.
The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security....Torture is how you set back America’s standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It’s time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. (source)

Hillary Clinton: Opposes most torture.
Has opposed the general use of torture but has stated her approval of torture for the "ticking time bomb" scenario and when the use of torture is approved by the President. (source)
In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the President, and the President must be held accountable. (source)

John McCain: Opposed but not fanatical.
Has made something of a name for himself by opposing the torture of prisoners held by the United States. Supported S. 3930 which included provisions indemnifying CIA interrogators who have tortured prisoners. Thinks waterboarding is funny. (source).

Mike Huckabee: Opposes only for humans.
Has stated opposition of the torture of humans but has supported the torture of animals. (source)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Seems Like I Was Right All Along

Way, way back, December 2006, I wrote about St. John McCain:
Benefits from the Republican habit of nominating the “guy who’s earned it” whether he deserves it or not. See Bob Dole in 1996. He is hated by the rightwing activists who vote in primaries.
While I overestimated the strength of the wingnuts (so did they), I was right that McCain would get the nomination because he was the "next in line." Reading through the exit polls the last two days has given me no understanding of what his base is.

Regionally, he is weaker in counties where Republicans usually win and stronger where Republicans are losers - that means he is strongest among Republicans who have grown used to minority status and weakest among Republicans used to getting their own way. Even though he has said he wants the Iraq War to continue for 100 years, he is weakest among Republicans who love the war and strongest among those who hate it. There is no unified structure to his voters and, I sense, no passion. His only true strength is with the old guy vote (white males over 60).

On the Democratic side, back in December 2006, I was calling it a coin toss between Hillary and Barack (and Brian Schweitzer) back when everyone else was fashioning a crown for Clinton. Now, if I can figure out how to bottle and sell this skill....

There Are So Many Ways to Circumvent Campaign Financing Laws

Take these two stories.

Story #1: For five years, Bill Clinton played the role of glorified handshaker for billionaire Ron Burkle. As the Wall Street Journal reported last month, Clinton was severing the relationship for a $20 million buyout. No one is quite sure what Clinton did to earn that money.

Story #2: Hillary Clinton loans her campaign $5 million. Where is the money coming from?

There are many ways to circumvent campaign financing laws. Many are illegal, some are not. One of the legal ways is to "hire" a spouse and pay him an insane amount of money to do pretty much nothing. Make no mistake, Ron Burkle is making a perfectly legal $5 million campaign donation to Hillary Clinton with enough extra added to allow the Clintons to pay their taxes and keep a bit for their troubles.

This is just another of the dirty little secrets of the American political system.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

60 Thousand Votes

Over 14 million Americans voted in the Democratic primaries on Tuesday. The difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was a whopping 60,000 - 0.4%. Clinton's lead in New Mexico, as of now, is 117 votes with over 16,000 provisional ballots uncounted.

Clinton's camp is spinning this as "tremendous victories" (Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake called Tuesday a "devastating loss" for Obama). Obama is slightly more subdued, he is only claiming that he "won." The truth is, it was a tie, a draw, a wash, a dead heat. No one won; no one lost. The fighters took a mutual standing eight count and will go on to the next round.

Early Tuesday Muses

New Mexico Dems
Still "to close to call" this morning despite an electorate that is one-third Hispanic. CNN's exit poll say that Obama got over 40% of Hispanic votes under 60. Evidence to me that Clinton's "Latino Firewall" is breachable.

Huckabee-McCain Tag Team
The overt assistance Huckabee's campaign has give to McCain is a sure predictor. Huckabee will be McCain's Veep, heir-apparent, and link to the conservative wing of the party.

Missouri Breaks
McCain (33%), Huckabee (32%), and Romney (29%) are tied yet St. John collects all of the marbles. Such is the weirdness of winner-take-all elections.

Reproductive Organs Seems to Matter
The Gender Gap is huge. Take CNN's Georgia exit polls for example. Women were 63% of the Democratic voters and only 46% of the Republican voters. Clinton won big with white women (60% to 37%) and Obama still won the state easily.

Georgia On My Mind
Georgia is a Red State. Bush got almost 2 million votes (58%) in the 2004 election. All of the Republican candidates, all nine of them, totaled only 945,027 - not even half of Bush's vote. The Democrats combined for over 1 million votes; Obama alone got more votes than both Huckabee and McCain combined.

Aside: Such a political junkie am I, I am blowing off my regular Wednesday yoga session to study the exit polls. I'm an addict! I need help!!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Who Cut the Cables?

My maxim is there is no such thing as a coincidence. When something happens once, that is an accident. When it happens a second time, that is curious. When it happens for a third and fourth time, that is deliberate.

Two underwater optic Internet cables serving the Middle East were cut in the Mediterranean last week. The effect of that was to bottleneck traffic to nations from Syria to India. Two more cables were severed in the Persian Gulf this weekend. Adding in these last two have cut off all Internet access to Iran. Oddly, Israel and Iraq are unaffected.

Theories have been offered ranging from ships dragging their anchors to the United States blocking communications to prevent a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl or as a prelude to war. There is also a theory that it was an act of vengeance by a militant band of sea creatures.

The most likely cause is sabotage by the United States and/or Israel to restrict Iranian communications to 1) provide cover for an ongoing spying operation, 2) direct Iranian communications through unsecured paths to facilitate eavesdropping, or 3) to attack Iran's economy. Less likely is sabotage to test Iran's defenses or preparing for an immediate attack. Other possibilities like corporate sabotage or clumsy al Qaeda divers cutting the wrong lines, are far fetched. As for it being just several accidents all happening is the same week, I will believe in terrorist dolphins before I believe this is a coincidence.

Election Update: Super Tuesday voting today means that almost half the nation will be relieved of the burden of support the polling industry, at least for a while. It is time for Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to bear their fair share of Zogby and Gallup dinnertime phone calls.

Monday, February 04, 2008

More Clinton Tears

The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made. ~ George Burns
A presidential candidate tearing up once on the eve of an election, that can be the emotions of the moment. But when it happens a second time, again on the eve of another election, I have to question if it is just a stage performance.

Clinton has herself credited her victory in New Hampshire to her tears prior to that vote. She ran as a tough guy in South Carolina and lost big. So, here we are on the eve of Super Tuesday and the waterworks are flowing again. If her tears work again I must give Clinton props for finding an effective strategy.

I am, however, concerned that these crying jags are going to handicap an entire generation of female politicians. If displaying "womanly vapors" becomes a staple of the campaign consultant's handbook we shall see office seekers trying to sob and swoon their way to victory across the country. It will set back women in politics by 100 years.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Divination by Polls

We are drowning in polls this weekend. Each poll is being breathlessly touted over at DailyKos by one side or the other as holy writ.

Polls as Divination
Polls are a method of divination. For thousands of years human societies have sought ways to predict the future. Polls may be more accurate than reading tea leaves or studying entrails (although I have not seen any scientific studies to prove this), but their intent is the same. Scholars use arcane methods to tell the unlettered masses what shall happen in the future.

Polling is a Science
So is astrology. Polling is divination masquerading as science. One of the dirty little secrets of scientific polling is that you can manipulate the results using subtle changes in wording, lead up questions designed to direct the respondent to the desired answer (push polling), or just changing the order of the questions.

Polling Accuracy
In 1936, the Literary Digest ran a postcard poll with a sampling size of 2 million, a margin of error of under 1%. The poll predicted Alf Landon defeating FDR 57% to 43%. The actual result gave Roosevelt a 61% victory.

The most recent Field Poll in California has Clinton (36%), Obama (34%), and undecided (18%) with a 4.5% margin of error. Throwing in the undecideds it is predicting the Clinton vote will be anywhere between 60% and 32%; Obama between 57% and 30%. I am confident this will be true. It is also a meaningless prediction.

This is the range predicted for the Republican California vote.
McCain: 56% to 28%
Romney: 50% to 20%
Huckabee: 39% to 9%
Paul: 25% to 5%
The only thing one can say with certainty is that McCain will beat Paul on Tuesday. While it is most likely the actual results will fall near the middle of those ranges (the Bell Curve principle), it is not guaranteed.

Of course, the range is never included in reporting on polling results. Ranges make for less exciting reportage and diminish the occult status pollsters seek. Pollsters want to appear prescient; publishing the ranges makes them appear what they are, educated guessers. Undecideds are ignored or divided up in some fashion to make the range disappear.

Cell Phones and Caller ID
Pollsters always claim they have a "random sampling." Sometimes they achieve this "randomness" by overweighting some of the results to compensate for "biased samples" (i.e. the lack of randomness in their random sampling). People (mostly young renters) with only cell phones are never polled. People who screen their calls with Caller ID are seldom reached. People, like me, who hang up on pollsters or, if we are feeling puckish, lie to the pollsters can screw up the results.

Compensating Errors and Polls of Polls
Pollsters really count on the accounting principle of compensating errors. They have to believe that the people they miss, or the people who screw with them, are just like the people they reach. In the end, they hope, that all of the things that screw up their random samplings will balance each other out.

The phenomena of compiling polls into some kind of grand total, like at Real Clear Politics, relies on the theory that the inherent errors in random polls are, themselves, random. If you average a collection of flawed polls the resulting total is, magically, not flawed.

I like reading polls. I also like ghost hunting television programs and stories about vampires. It amuses me to believe them but it is foolish to make decisions based upon them.

Friday, February 01, 2008

They Just Can't Help It

It looked last night, for a few moments, that the Clinton campaign had stopped its scorched earth election tactics. But, they just can't stop themselves from wading in the shit.

Today, the Clinton campaign held a press conference call to attack Obama's policy on mandatory health insurance (fair game). During the presser, Clinton ally Len Nichols said Obama's position was the same as Nazis marching through Skokie.

Ah, hello, "Nazis?" Really? Got a whole lot of irrational hatred going there, don't you Lenny? The sweet thing is that a Clinton spokesman opined the he didn't think the Nazi reference was appropriate but that it was understandable. Another one of those soft, not quite apologies I find as disgusting as the original slurs.

It seems the Clinton camp just can't go an entire news cycle without taking a big mouthful of shit and spitting it in the direction of the Sen. Obama. And, yes Hillary, I'm keeping track. A leader is responsible for the acts of her subordinates.

California Politics

I'm not going to try predicting Super-duper Tuesday results except for my home state, there are too many variables. Absentee voting favors Clinton; momentum favors Obama. The balance between the two will dictate the results.

In California, the habit of campaign organizers is to push your supporters to vote by mail - lock in their votes before they change their minds. Clinton's campaign people are experienced enough to know this. It is possible that Obama may win among those voting on Tuesday and still lose the state by a significant margin.

One thing that struck me is that I haven't heard squat from the Clinton campaign. No phone calls (not even a robo-call), not a stitch of mail. As a Democrat, over 50, and a consistent voter, you would think I'd be on some contact list. If their database is extra detailed they would know I belong to the Sierra Club and ACLU, and am a man. Either Clinton is not operating a phone outreach effort (most likely) or they have tagged me as an undesirable voter because of my gender.

Obama's campaign is a different story. I received several fund raising calls from them last year that didn't squeeze any money out of me. This week, I have been called twice. The first was to identify potential supporters; the second was to lock down my vote. It is a very efficient and effective strategy. These last two callers were, in my opinion, volunteers. (I've worked with both. Vols tend to be intelligent, cheerful, and personable - the pros stiff and scripted. If you are smart and personable you can usually find a better job than being a phone bank temp.) And not one single robo-call from the Obama team, bless 'em.

I have been very impressed with the Obama campaign effort in California, their personal outreach and the efficiency of that outreach. Win or lose, this has been a well run operation.