Friday, October 31, 2008

An Endorsement that Means Something

After performing an in-depth analysis of each candidate's stance on scientific issues back in September – to which Obama responded thoughtfully and at length while McCain did not respond at all – the science journal/publication company Nature endorsed Barack Obama for president of the United States. To give you an idea of how big of a deal this is, a list of Nature journals can be found here. Suffice it to say that the title "Nature" would be audacious if they weren't one of the premier sources of information for practically every scientific field.

This is, I believe, their first political endorsement of all time. As such, and because of the fact that these are scientists, the editorial reads somewhat differently from most endorsements. Rather than pressing any particular issue, it focuses directly on the intellectual abilities of the candidates by comparing their decision-making styles to scientific practice:

But science is bound by, and committed to, a set of normative values — values that have application to political questions. Placing a disinterested view of the world as it is ahead of our views of how it should be; recognizing that ideas should be tested in as systematic a way as possible; appreciating that there are experts whose views and criticisms need to be taken seriously: these are all attributes of good science that can be usefully applied when making decisions about the world of which science is but a part. Writ larger, the core values of science are those of open debate within a free society that have come down to us from the Enlightenment in many forms, not the least of which is the constitution of the United States.

While they (perhaps wrongly) laud McCain's stances on carbon emissions and (again, questionably) praise Obama's choice of advisors, the overall stress is on Obama's tendency to seek a wide range of alternative views before making his own decision:

On a range of topics, science included, Obama has surrounded himself with a wider and more able cadre of advisers than McCain. This is not a panacea. Some of the policies Obama supports — continued subsidies for corn ethanol, for example — seem misguided. The advice of experts is all the more valuable when it is diverse: 'groupthink' is a problem in any job. Obama seems to understands this. He tends to seek a range of opinions and analyses to ensure that his own opinion, when reached, has been well considered and exposed to alternatives. He also exhibits pragmatism — for example in his proposals for health-care reform — that suggests a keen sense for the tests reality can bring to bear on policy.

Some will find strengths in McCain that they value more highly than the commitment to reasoned assessment that appeals in Obama. But all the signs are that the former seeks a narrower range of advice. Equally worrying is that he fails to educate himself on crucial matters; the attitude he has taken to economic policy over many years is at issue here.

And then, just like practically every other endorsement from an unexpected source, they get around to our old friend Bible Spice:

Either as a result of poor advice, or of advice inadequately considered, he frequently makes decisions that seem capricious or erratic. The most notable of these is his ill-considered choice of Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, as running mate. Palin lacks the experience, and any outward sign of the capacity, to face the rigours of the presidency.

That is, for the record, about as damning a statement as I've ever seen in a formal publication. I will miss her. Or, at least, her effect on this election.


Also, Stephen Colbert endorsed Barack the other night. Sort of.

SSFS: 2008 PVAC Men's Soccer Tournament Champs!

Congrats to Sandy Spring for winning the 2008 PVAC Soccer Tournament! Ok, so my brother is captain of the team and I played there in my high school days... so what, I'm gonna shamelessly promote this solely for that reason!

The fourth-seeded Wildebeests dispatched of #5 Jewish Day School and #1 Field (apologies to 6.54) before defeating #2 Washington International School 2-2 (4-3 in penalty kicks) en route to the school's ninth championship in 13 years. Now that's tradition!

SSFS's NCAA Division I goalkeeping prospect Sam Schneider was named tournament MVP.

And the battle for Obama's soul politcal capital begins...

Update: Obama's response:

COLUMBIA, MO--Barack Obama was asked Thursday night about an AP report that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) has been approached to be a chief of staff in an Obama White House.

On the tarmac after landing, Washington Times reporter Christina Bellantoni asked Obama about a possible Emanuel appointment.

"I'm trying to win an election..." Obama said.

Is that a no?

"Plouffe is my chief of staff," Obama said, a reference to his campaign chief of staff, David Plouffe.

And I changed the title to reflect what was a sarcasm fail. Soul... Halloween...

Barack Obama's campaign has approached Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel about possibly serving as White House chief of staff, officials said Thursday, looking ahead as the marathon presidential race entered its final, frenzied stretch with a Democratic tilt.
That's Rahm "At the right time we will have a position on the war" Emanuel, the only two time recipient of the Train of Thought's Joe Buck Disgusting Act of the Week award. This is days after a Wall Street Journal article that discusses how the two main factions within the democratic party are vying for favor with Obama, hoping that their priorities will be at the top of his political agenda:
Democratic leaders, aides and Obama advisers say such conversations remain friendly. But some tension exists in an eclectic circle that includes Wall Streeters, labor leaders and liberal think-tank denizens.

Sen. Obama's economic brain trust dialed in two weeks ago to a conference call with the candidate to discuss how the Wall Street bailout was working when a split emerged over how hard the government should lean on the banks. Some advisers said it would be politically and economically disastrous if the billions of taxpayer dollars injected into ailing financial institutions just sat in vaults. Robert Rubin, who served as President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary between stints on Wall Street, pushed back. Leaving the money in the banks would help stabilize them and prevent further turmoil in the credit markets, even if the money wasn't loaned out, the Citigroup Inc. executive said.


Rep. Rangel argues that a President Obama would face a narrow window after the election to move on those big items, as well as his tax plan. That would raise the top two income-tax rates, raise capital-gains and dividend tax rates on upper-income families, and cut taxes on the middle class. Democrats need to have faith that a strong showing in the election indicates broad political backing, Rep. Rangel said. They should be emboldened by the $700 billion Wall Street bailout that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson secured. And he doesn't want to hear talk of containing the deficit.

"For God's sake," he said, "don't ask me where the money will come from. I'm going to the same place Paulson went."

A second faction of more-conservative Democrats is focusing on fiscal discipline. With this fiscal year's deficit potentially approaching $1 trillion, these Democrats say the money for Sen. Obama's ambitious agenda simply isn't there. One of the first acts of the next Congress should be approving a bipartisan commission to tackle the deficit and the growth of entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, argue the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who say they will have the numbers to make the demands.

Earlier this month, Sen. Obama called three prominent Blue Dogs, including Rep. Ross, to reassure them of his commitment to pay-as-you-go rules, which hold that any spending increases or tax cuts must be offset by equivalent spending cuts or tax increases. He also pledged to meet with the Blue Dog leadership shortly after the election.

Senior Obama advisers say the senator has given no commitments to any of the camps. Without a chief of staff, without a formal policy apparatus to make such decisions, he can only take in the different arguments and await Election Day, they say.
Obama has left the door wide open on his priorities after the election. Ending the Iraq war comes first, but that can be done from the executive branch. What domestic agenda he choses next and more importantly who he chooses to do it with will decide whether were get another new deal or more triangulation.

The battle to stop the bleeding ends on November 4th.

The battle for real change starts on November 5th.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rep. Don Young objects to colonial justice

Rep Don Young, on the conviction of crotchety old man and (soon to be former) Senator Ted Stevens: (via DCist)
"You have to understand that this was not a jury of his peers. It was in Washington, D.C. , which most people in Washington, D.C., don't look very favorably on the Congress because we run them. I don't know why anybody didn't bring that out. They're not a self-governing city like they say they are. We actually make decisions for them. Makes us very, very suspicious."
Frankly Don, I've been wondering why no one has "brought this out" for a very long time.

In fairness, he could have just been in a bad mood. Maybe his wife got mad that the computers were making noises noise again. Or that you got her sunflower seeds when she meant pumpkin seeds. Or that you didn't open the door for him even though he didn't make it clear where he was going. Or another revelations from one of the funniest things ever leaked to the internets.

Hope: Overrated

With Obama holding his lead over McCain as the clock runs down, one might be almost overwhelmed by the sheer stench of hope in the air. Change is also becoming an increasingly good bet, with recent polls exposing a large number of imperiled Republican seats nationwide. Want something to ground yourself with, something dreadful to cleanse your palate? The news from Tibet is crushingly depressing. Let’s check it out!

Last March riots erupted in Tibet proper and ethnically Tibetan areas across China. The cause was the same as that in the riots in Burma from the year before: Tibetan and Burmese citizens don’t like seeing the government hassle/arrest/torture/kill their monks, which for some reason the Chinese Communist Party and the Myanmar junta can’t help but to do. It’s like they would like to stop, but then they see a red-robed old man crossing the street and go mad with rage. Anyway, drowning in bad press and with their torch relay continually disrupted by protests the P.R.C. agreed to hold new talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

This would have been a great time for good-natured outsiders from any number of places to make a serious impression on the Chinese government that the talks better go well. Instead, however, the global community collectively avoided eye contact with the Chinese, choosing to stare at their shoes and check the time instead. I would have found that pretty dispiriting if I were the Dalai Lama, but he’s got decades of experience of being bullshat by Western leaders and international organizations. What’s that Darfur, your pleas for help have been largely ignored by Bush? Wow, I’m sure that’ll really impress the Dalai Lama, whose letters to the West in the 1940’s I paraphrase below:
DL: Hey guys, it’s me, the young leader of Tibet. If anyone could lend me a hand I’d really appreciate it. I don’t even need you to militarily reinforce me, I could just use someone to officially acknowledge that Tibet is a sovereign nation, it would probably take ten minutes and you’d be saving the Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhism itself from hostile foreign occupation. Everyone loves talking about how they champion freedom and democracy so… can I get a hand here?
FDR: Uh, right, I just have to… go see… that thing. Back later… much later.
England: We acknowledged your status as a nation back when we forced you to give some land to India, but right now we’re simply too busy. Keep your chin up, don’t let the coming decades of needless oppression get you down!
(For the sake of brevity I’ve omitted the part where every other nation on Earth does the exact same thing)
DL: …Fuck.
I’ve mentioned this in a past update, but it’s worth repeating: at around this time Chinese plans to invade Mongolia were scuttled after the Soviet Union reiterated that Mongolia was a free and independent country. They then got to spend a few decades as a crappy Soviet satellite, but today they’re on the map. In less time than it’s taken me to write this, any number of pre-invasion world leaders could have averted the Tibet problem.

Coming back to the present, two days ago the Dalai Lama announced that he was giving up on diplomacy with the Chinese. That isn’t me paraphrasing; it’s exactly what he said:
"I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach in dealing with China for a long time now but there hasn't been any positive response from the Chinese side," he said in Tibetan at a public function Saturday in Dharmsala, the north Indian town that is home to Tibet's government-in-exile.

"As far as I'm concerned I have given up."
Later he revealed that a special conference has been scheduled in November, when every major Tibetan organization will come together and decide a future course of action. Can they come up with something better than the “middle way” of diplomacy? Given that the Chinese have made increasingly ridiculous demands with each attempted negotiation, and that their policy is very openly built around waiting until the Dalai Lama dies and then muddying the waters* in the search for his successor, I’ll go ahead and say they might have to get dramatic. Several prominent exiled Tibetans called for a march back from India into Tibet during the Olympics- at this point the exile community is hundreds of thousands strong, so that would certainly qualify as dramatic.

In response the Chinese government has claimed that it will indeed talk to envoys of the Dalai Lama, but that path doesn’t seem very promising given that Chinese preconditions for previous talks have involved Tibetans effectively giving up all claims to Tibet; more or less saying they didn’t want the place anyway. For now we’ll just have to wait until the Tibetan Congress announces its next move.

You may now return to your previously scheduled hope-based posting.

*And given that they’ve shown themselves perfectly willing to abduct/murder (how about this, China: you give me proof that the boy is still alive, and I’ll stop accusing you of killing him) religious leaders, I think we can assume that the Dalai Lama line of reincarnation/succession (which runs back to 1391) will indeed be broken when the current Dalai Lama dies.

The Wire and American Stories

JJ already mentioned the Wire event, but here's a video the cast made:

Also, what'd y'all think of the Obama infomercial last night? I'm inclined to think that the "stories of ordinary people" are usually just boring, so I was pretty skeptical at first. But watching it just now, I was impressed: it's really difficult not to like him. And at the very least, it's awesome that no one has done anything like this before.

In case you missed it:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Irving Kristol, Bill Kristol, and Affirmative Action

I came across this brilliant story and thought it was worth passing on. It shows both conservative non-understanding of the word "meritocracy", and answers the age old question: "How does someone as consistently wrong and mind-numbingly stupid as Bill Kristol still have a job?"
I remember back in the late '90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers.

Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. "I oppose it", Irving replied. "It subverts meritocracy."
Count it.

Oh great, we're 6-2: Why Redskins fans should start panicking now

The Washington Redskins are 6-2. Ok, let me try saying that again; the Skins are 6-2. As in, six wins against two losses. Eight games into the 16-game regular season, that puts us on pace to finish 12-4 (highly unlikely, though still true). I, like most other Skins fans, was not very optimistic heading into this season with a new coach who had never even been a coordinator, in the toughest division in the NFL. So 6-2 wildly exceeds my pre-season expectations for where we would be at the midway point.

Then why do I feel so worried?

It's simple. Two words: Detroit Lions.

No, I'm not referring to our anything-but-convincing 25-17 victory over one of the league's worst teams this past Sunday. Wanna take a guess at the Lions' record last year through eight games? Yep, 6-2. They finished last season 7-9 and out of the playoffs.

Let's not get carried away here, Redskins fans.

One of the most painful memories of my childhood was the entire 1996 NFL season. That year actually saw the Skins go 7-1 through the first half. Inexplicably, we finished the year 9-7 and missed the playoffs. So I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that in my short lifetime as a Redskins fans, I'VE SEEN IT ALL. I'VE SEEN US FUCK UP THINGS THAT YOU'D THINK WERE IMPOSSIBLE TO FUCK UP.

I don't want to be the messenger of doom and gloom, I just want to impart that our remaining schedule features numerous pitfalls. Winning those two road games in the division at Dallas & Philly back-to-back was amazing, unexpected and helped us tremendously. However, the flipside of that is that we still have to face the Giants again, as well as C*wb*ys and Eagles teams that will be hungrier than ever to return the favor to us. None of these games are a gimmie, not even at home.

My high school soccer coach used to always tell us that anything you do in one half can be done to you. In that case, he was referring to the first half of a game but the same is true for the first half of this season. Sheeeit, I've seen it happen!

If anything were to happen to Jason Campbell, Clinton Portis or Santana Moss right now, we would be in serious... well, see above... and our second half would take on a whole different outlook. Don't get me wrong; I would ALWAYS choose to be in this position rather than to dig a hole to have to climb out of, as we've done the last few years we've made the playoffs. Improbable late season winning streaks (5 in a row in 2005 and 4 straight last year) to end the year are certainly fun, but it would be more fun to enter the playoffs comfortably and at a reasonable pace.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who'll come into town bitter after laying an egg against the defending champs. Ladies and Gentlemen, we may be 6-2 but we still have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A friend either found or made this, I'm not sure which. It's both hilarious and depressing, and clearly illustrates why I vote in Connecticut. Aside from, you know, the lack of congressional representation:

EDIT: Ha! Like basically everything else that's political, statistical and on the internet, it's got Nate Silver's name on it. The paper is linked to from here and is by Andrew Gelman, Nate Silver and Aaron Edlin. Red arrow added by my friend.

Awesome Beer of the Week: Oskar Blues's Dale's Pale Ale

Dale's Pale Ale by Oskar Blues is a really straightforward beer. It's simple, it's sweet, it's malty, it's hoppy. There's no pussyfooting around with anything else. And it comes in a can.

It's also totally delicious. Despite all cultural indications to the contrary, it's probably better for beers to be in cans: beer is sensitive to both light and air, and bottles (though brown is better than green) let in more of both.

So here's to Dale, whoever he is. Seems he's on to something.

Early Voting Update

CNN has unveiled an early voting map, which keeps track of numbers by state (where information is available). Usually, my critique of CNN's graphics is that they look better than anyone else's but have less information and are updated more slowly. This one seems better than their primary season graphics, but I've only been looking at these numbers for like ten minutes and have already found two fuck-ups: they've switched Louisiana's Republican and Democrat numbers and colored Virginia "not early voting" instead of "statistics not available".

George Mason professor Michael McDonald's United States Election Project is probably more useful, as it includes a regularly-updated summary of early voting numbers across the nation with more demographic information than CNN. It doesn't come with a map, but it does have readily clickable source links (usually government websites), so you can go and check out where the information is coming from and see what he didn't include. Also, he updates more quickly than CNN and is an academic so is less prone to messing up the numbers.

The long and short of it is, we're kicking ass. If the election was based solely on these numbers, we'd win every single state that could possibly have any bearing on the outcome. North Carolina and New Mexico would go for Obama by a 2:1 margin. We'd win Georgia. Hell, we'd Louisiana.

The great thing is, even though there are plenty more votes to be cast, these are votes, not polls. In fact, these are a lot of votes: NC and NM are both just short of 40% of the total turnout from 2004, with fully six days left. Furthermore, NC and GA are both posting enormous surges in the number of African American voters – something that is not always represented in the polls, which often assume a relatively static mix. Granted, Obama will probably not win Georgia in the end. But my guess is that it'll be closer than you'd think, and could even go blue.

On the downside, Colorado remains deadlocked and Florida is within 5%. And god, I wish Virginia would release their early voting numbers. This ain't over yet, especially since CO is the third most important state in the election after Pennsylvania and Virginia.

PS: Arizona doesn't do EV, so it's not directly relevant to this post. But if it was, I'd point out that AZ is now within the striking range of a Get Out The Vote movement as awesome as Obama's, as three polls show McCain at +5% or under.

UN Report: Inequality in US soars due to trade liberalization, could lead to unrest

A new UN report includes two major bombshells:

Growing inequality in US cities could lead to widespread social unrest and increased mortality, says a new United Nations report on the urban environment.

In a survey of 120 major cities, New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya Abidjan and Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognised acceptable "alert" line used to warn governments.

"High levels of inequality can lead to negative social, economic and political consequences that have a destabilising effect on societies," said the report. "[They] create social and political fractures that can develop into social unrest and insecurity."
So the UN thinks the United States' levels of inequality are high enough that they could create "social and political fractures that can develop into social unrest and insecurity." Maybe no bombshell there, but shouldn't it be newsworthy that the UN officially warned us in the same breath as the Ivory Coast, a country which has been in and out of civil war for the past 6 years? Then, the report touches on racial inequality, and assesses blame for these problems.
According to the annual State of the World's cities report from UN-Habitat, race is one of the most important factors determining levels of inequality in the US and Canada.

"In western New York state nearly 40% of the black, Hispanic and mixed-race households earned less than $15,000 compared with 15% of white households. The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India, despite the fact that the US is far richer than the other two countries," it said.

Disparities of wealth were measured on the "Gini co-efficient", an internationally recognised measure usually only applied to the wealth of countries. The higher the level, the more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer people.

"It is clear that social tension comes from inequality. The trickle down theory [that wealth starts with the rich] has not delivered. Inequality is not good for anybody," said Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN-Habitat, in London yesterday.

The report found that India was becoming more unequal as a direct result of economic liberalisation and globalisation, and that the most unequal cities were in South Africa and Namibia and Latin America. "The cumulative effect of unequal distribution [of wealth] has been a deep and lasting division between rich and poor. Trade liberalisation did not bring about the expected benefits."
So, directly from the UN, you have a direct repudiation of Neo-liberal economics. It's amazing that in our presidential race the candidates have to fall over each other to prove that they believe in "free" trade to be considered serious, yet the UN can release a report essentially blaming that economic philosophy for the massive increase in income inequality to no press attention, whatsoever.

Nnooooo! Not DC!

Oh my god, I hate everything:

Metro officials yesterday announced plans to immediately begin random searches of backpacks, purses and other bags in a move they say will protect riders and also guard their privacy and minimize delays.

The program is modeled after one begun three years ago in New York that has withstood legal challenges. However, experts said it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of such searches, beyond assuring the public that police are being vigilant. New York officials declined to say what they have found in their searches; none of the other transit systems conducting random searches have found any explosives, officials said.

Cool that they're "doing something" in the pre-election DANGER ZONE TIME, but why exactly do they think random bag searches will guard riders' privacy or minimize delays? That statement is straight out of 1984.

I will now be traveling with bondage gear and a metal copy of the bill or rights everywhere I go in DC.

Ted Stevens’ Wallet, Part Two: Ted Stevens’ House Is Not a Dump Truck

When last we left this saga, erstwhile Senator Stevens had succumbed to a vicious cabal of wealthy Alaskans scheming to give money to Stevens in order to change his behavior, and make it look like a bribe. As 6.54 noted last night, the verdict has been delivered: Ted Stevens has been found guilty. After reviewing statements from the trial it isn’t clear how they could have reached this decision, given airtight defenses such as:

"He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift," Stevens said. "He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift. We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us."

This is probably the most profound statement Stevens has ever made, even considering his masterful summary of two random objects that the internet is and is not like. The chair is the least of Stevens’ worries, however. Sources close to the investigation have passed on more information, making this another Train of Thought exclusive:

Claim: Shortly after Stevens told a representative of the telecom companies that he would help “crush the unions with [his] own two fists,” he received an unspeakably large high-definition plasma television. The report notes that the television was so large that the first investigator who saw it inside Stevens house “went mad and killed himself.”
Defense: “Well, yes, that is an enormous tv. And you do have to be careful when viewing it, don’t want to be driven mad with eldritch horror by its size. But the guys who brought it over? Friends. We were palling around, they gave me a huge tv, I tried to regift it to them, they regifted it to me, you know how it goes! Oh and in the meantime I declared war on the unions for other, unrelated reasons.”

Claim: An investigator passing through Stevens’ garage discovered it to be a cavernous facility stretching back towards the horizon, overflowing with expensive cars*. A desk on the 15th floor of the garage contained unsent thank-you notes to oil companies, revealing Stevens to be not only corrupt but impolite.
Defense: “I really did mean to get back to them, just drop a quick line expressing my appreciation… What’s that, the cars themselves? Right, right, I have lots of cars in my garage that don’t belong to me. Other people drive them over, I refuse to take them, they give me the keys and park the car in my garage and leave and then I drive the cars around. They aren’t mine though.”

Claim: Needing a break from cataloguing Stevens’ ill-gotten possessions, a pair of investigators headed to the bathroom only to find a diamond-encrusted golden toilet with a seat made of fine ivory, which flushes only with the most expensive brandy. Additionally, investigators noted that it uses dozens of gallons of brandy per flush, well over the EPA limit allowed even for toilets merely using common water.
Defense: “I had to do something with all the brandy I had from deals with various liquor consortiums, so getting a bribe from the ‘diamond-encrusted golden toilet with a seat made of fine ivory that only flushes with the most expensive brandy’ industry just seemed like the smart thing to do. This is just common sense guys.”

Claim: Finally, an authentic Faberge egg was found in Stevens’ bedroom. The Senator appears to have written “PROPERTY OF TAD” [sic] in red crayon on the side, obscuring a miniature portrait of Czar Nicholas the 3rd.
Defense: “Well the egg is certainly technically within the confines of my house, and it does appear to be emblazoned with a misspelling of my name, but I think everyone is blowing this way out of proportion. What days are these when a simple senator can’t own and deface a Faberge egg without suspicions of bribery? Sure, I pal around with a lot of businesses. So what if they brought a Faberge egg and left it here? Doesn't mean it's mine.”

There you have it. Good luck Senator, the entire Train writers board is pulling for you!

*Experts noted that many of the cars were stuffed with trash, casting doubt as to whether Ted Stevens understands exactly what does and does not qualify as a dump truck.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coolest. Shit. Ever.

Via wb, who heard about this on CBC radio:

Tomorrow, members of the cast of the Peabody Award-winning drama series The Wire will attend a Backyard Brunch for Barack in Raleigh. Seven of the show's cast members will visit the Tarheel State in support of the change Barack Obama will bring across the country and in North Carolina.

Chad Coleman (who plays Dennis "Cutty" Wise), Deidre Lovejoy (who plays Rhonda Pearlman), Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield), Clarke Peters (Detective Lester Freamon), Sonja Sohn (Detective Shakima "Kima" Greggs), Seth Gilliam (Sergeant Ellis Carver), and Gbenga Akinnagbe (Chris Partlow) will all appear at the backyard brunch on Sunday.

On Monday, Chad Coleman, Deidre Lovejoy, and Jamie Hector will visit UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University to encourage students to vote early. Early voting in North Carolina started October 16 and November 1 is the last day voters may take advantage of early voting.

Too fucking awesome. If Marlo or Chris told me to vote, I wouldn't ask any questions.

Oh, Ted Stevens

A friend brought this to my attention today:

"And the chair is still at your house?" prosecutor Brenda Morris asked.

"Yes," Stevens said.

"How is that not a gift?"

"He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift," Stevens said. "He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift. We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us."

EDIT: Aaaaand, he's guilty guilty guilty. Who'd a thunk it?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Yahoo Election Center, You’re Awesome

Maryland and DC residents are used to being passed over by presidential-level campaigns. The only thing representing a more hilarious waste of money for a Republican candidate than purchasing air time in Maryland would be purchasing air time in DC. While everyone else gets to spend multiple hours every day watching the contenders blast each other with scurrilous charges and overheated rhetoric, we have to pretend that catching the greatest hits versions on YouTube is the same thing. I wasn’t quite prepared for this, though, courtesy of the YAHOO SERIOUS BUSINESS (WE’RE AN ACTUAL NEWS SITE WE SWEAR) ELECTION CENTER:

Apparently the guys at Yahoo haven’t been able to tear themselves away from monitoring second-by-second results from swing states or confusing search engine results with news or hosting Q&A sessions with what might actually be the stupidest people on the internet to take the approximately 7.03 seconds it would take to color Maryland and DC blue. I understand that acting like you’re part of the media is a time-consuming activity, but maybe there’s an intern or something that they could ask to guess about which way the vote might go? Last time I heard DC went 93% Democratic or something outrageous like that, I don’t think anyone would challenge you even if your sample size was solely comprised of one crazy guy from the street corner, a stray cat, and a family of tourists from Wichita (note: Wichita is a city in Kansas, not Canada as I had previously imagined. Knowledge is power.) whose answers you don’t even listen to.

It’s time for people to take notice of Maryland and the District. Maryland is a great state! We gave you Mike Rowe, we were kind enough to shoot Governor George “I will never be outniggered again” Wallace for you, and we were repeatedly referenced in Pulp Fiction or Wedding Crashers or something! Meanwhile DC is forced to play host to even the crappiest politicians- the jerks you guys elected and sent our way. Believe me, if we had the power to banish these people to the other side of the country using just our votes, we would. So here’s the deal: we’ll continue to house your terrible political choices, provide quality voice-acting talent, and shoot your racist governors, if you’ll just promise to air an attack ad or two here and color us in on the damn map.


She's Against Studying Fruit Flies? Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

After blogging about how Sarah Palin doesn't understand causation, I'd sort of assumed she couldn't stoop any lower on the staggering ignorance of basic scientific knowledge front. Well, I was wrong. Here she is, supposedly railing against wasteful earmarks and congressional pet projects:

Congress spends some $18 Billion for earmarks on their political pet projects. And that, right there, is more than the shortfall to fully fund [autism legislation] IDEA. Where does that earmark money end up, anyway? You guys have heard some of the examples about where these dollars go. You've heard about the bridges, you've heard about, um, some of these pet projects that really don't make a lot of sense. Sometimes these dollars go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research, in Paris France. I kid you not."

Let's set aside the fact that her prioritization of Autism is the very definition of a pet project, even if it's a good one. And let's also ignore the fact that fruit flies have been used to study autism, so her "argument" isn't even internally consistent.

The problem here is that "fruit fly research" and "modern Biology" are basically synonymous. Famously so. Fruit flies are the single most studied organism ever, the paradigmatic "model organism" in genetics and evolutionary and developmental biology because of a combination of historical circumstance and legitimate scientific reasoning. To dismiss "fruit fly research" is to dismiss Biology. Period. Hell, they're used in such a vast variety of research that I'm not sure what it would mean to condemn their use wholesale.

She seriously could not have chosen a stupider example if she was trying. It's so stupid that the most charitable way to read her position would be as an honest attack on the theory of evolution and science in general, since the evolutionary synthesis would not have been possible without Theodosius Dobzhansky's pioneering work with fruit flies. But yeah, no, there's no way that she knows that. She’s just an idiot who wants to cut funding for fundamental research without even the most basic understanding of what she's talking about.

Even if it hadn't gotten personal, there would be no doubt in my mind: Sarah Palin can never hold national office. Never, ever, ever. Kudos to JJ for getting the vote out in SoVa. I'll be phonebanking on Sunday, but it's no substitute for going to talk to voters in an important state. Let's build a little more of this.

EDIT: Alright, that pollster chart I originally had here isn't workin that well, which is too bad because it's a beautiful picture today. That "tightening" of the polls we've been hearing about? Not so much.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Live from VA...

I'm in Virginia, where ain't shit to do but... get out the vote for Obama. A few quick notes from the southern part of the state, where I was fortunate enough get time off to do campaign work (yet another advantage of working for organized labor):

-The GOP has succeeded at getting the "terrorist" frame out there. One precinct leaders at the council explained it like this: "Each year, there's a smear to fight back. It's been gay marriage in 2004, when they we trying to elect Tim Kaine it was the smear that he'd take their guns. In this election, the major pushback we get against Obama is that he's a terrorist, a Muslim, or that people don't trust him because he's black."

-Best response going door to door: "Yeah, I'm leaning towards Obama, but I'd be willing to hear more about the other guy. I'd listen to him, but he don't talk nice. So I don't."

-Also awesome was the story of a woman whose Obama sign was stolen, and went to his HQ the next day for two replacements. She informed us that she planned on protecting the replacements by having her husband rig an electric charge to the metal on the signs. Judging by the detail in her description, there's about a 90% chance she was being serious.

-If you don't watch it for a while, it's easy to forget just how biased Fox news is. It's worth a check every couple of months to remind yourself why media matters is an essential part of the progressive infrastructure.

-I've done some traveling in other much more geographically southern parts of the country, but southwest Virginia has a much more southern feel than it's longitude implies. Proof:

It's been a great time down here, the people could not be nicer and the scenery is beautiful. Back in DC late tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to a couple more trips before the election.

Sarah Palin Determined To Strike Future Republican Ballots

I suspect I’m not alone in my admiration of Sarah Palin. Her addition to the ticket was a very significant moment in the campaign collapse that now leaves McCain little time to pull ahead. While she initially took the country by storm, McCain appears to have done no contingency planning for what he must have assumed was a far-fetched scenario: “What if America doesn’t like Sarah Palin?” After the initial bounce it’s been an almost uninterrupted downward slide. Chalk it up to her total ignorance of national-level topics, or to her tendency to throw hate rallies that leave most Americans appalled, or maybe even to her inability to answer the simplest questions possible- if asking what newspapers you read leaves you utterly bewildered, it’s time to rethink your career in politics. Hell, she still doesn't even know what the VP does.

One would assume that the GOP would be anxious to bench Palin before she becomes any more of a laughingstock, but now it appears we might see the opposite: Newsweek writer Andrew Romano speculates that Palin might be positioning herself for a 2012 run. For President. Of the United States. Of America.

Take a moment to consider that, and I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion I did: if this happens, Obama is winning 8 years in November, instead of the usual 4. Palin already has extremely limited appeal, and given how many Republicans are going to hold grudges against her for contributing to the destruction of the McCain ’08 campaign, she isn’t going to be any more popular then than she is now. The far-right cultural conservatives might still be completely enamored of her, but if they manage to carry her through the Republican primary she’ll be almost without hope in the general election.

I say ‘almost’ because there is one demographic that might save her. I’m talking about people who would vote for her ironically*, something which I’m proud to admit I would love to do. I see it as a win-win situation: if she loses, hey, I’ll have the novelty of being able to say I voted for the worst** candidate in American history. If she wins, I’ll have helped troll all of America and, ultimately, the entire world. As others write furiously about the impending age of darkness, I’ll be able to contentedly sit back and admire the electoral equivalent of forcing every man, woman, and child on Earth to stare at goatse- for four years.

To help encourage her I’m looking into starting yet another political action committee: Party Enmity My Ass, or PEMA. We’ll set out to prove that people with wildly different beliefs can occasionally come together to support a candidate, albeit for wildly different reasons. After spending several months yelling and crying with excitement at PEMA headquarters*** I’ll be proud to walk into the voting booth and do my part to help ruin America, Palin-style. I hope you’ll join me, too.

* “Blah blah blah that isn’t what irony means”
** I’m trying to think of anyone who could be considered a worse candidate, and coming up empty-handed. If you think you know of one, congratulations, I don’t care.
*** Burnt-out shack on the side of the highway. Still, as long as you don’t require any evidence I’m going to insist on claiming that I have billions of dollars and innumerable supporters.

The Train of Thought Lounge: Quincy Jones feat. Ray Charles and Chaka Kahn

Happy Friday...I found this gem at 3 in the morning a few days ago playing on some lost channel with poor sound quality. Nothing says 80's like those jumpsuits and sweet synthesized beats. So please, take a drink, sit back, close your eyes and be transported away from your desk into a worry free existence.

And, as a bonus for the upcoming Halloween Week, which we here at The Train of Thought take VERY SERIOUSLY is a simple fall classic:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The flyest hockey mom in all of Wasilla

This is definitely not elitist behavior:
The Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 to clothe and accessorize vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family since her surprise pick by John McCain in late August.

According to financial disclosure records, the accessorizing began in early September and included bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

The records also document a couple of big-time shopping trips to Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

The RNC also spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September after reporting no such costs in August.

The cash expenditures immediately raised questions among campaign finance experts about their legality under the Federal Election Commission's long-standing advisory opinions on using campaign cash to purchase items for personal use.
What would Joe the Plumber think? (WWJTPT?) With money like that, she could start her own plumbing business... or at least pay Joe's back taxes.

It may have cost $150,000, but it least it won some voters:

Ladies and gentlemen, your third entry for best photo of the 2008 campaign!

Why we win the election

In addition to the great breakdown by 6.54 earlier, there were two articles today that further showed why Obama will win, and possibly win big.
On one side:

[O]ne of the wall lists that adorn every Obama office [has] positions like "Data Trainer," "Phonebank Captain," "Master Trainer," and so forth, with names, numbers and shift times filling the wall sheets. As Peyser managed "runners," those volunteers responsible for going back and forth from the Hub Director team to the GOTV staging locations with information, literature refills, and any other items needing to be shuttled, she told us about the GOTV shift plans.

On Election Day, beginning at midnight until 3 am, Obama canvassers will quietly drop literature at the houses of sporadic voters who commute long distances beginning as early as 4 am. A small reminder piece of literature about Election Day needs to hit those voters at a precisely-timed moment: before they begin their long workdays. Another canvassing shift goes from 5-8 am, another no-knocking lit drop, but timed to voters who would be ideally caught at their cars and met with a smile and a reminder about which voting location is his or hers.

Remember, these are highly targeted GOTV-universe voters, ones that have been identified through the massive voter contact effort and/or profiled with Catalist, the Obama team's advanced datamining tool, so these are voters the campaign thinks will vote their way, provided they go vote. Actual knocking on doors will likely begin at 10 am on Election Day. Peyser said that the average canvasser will do a three-hour canvassing shift and be given turf with 30-40 doors, depending on the compactness of the turf. High-density turf will likely have more doors. Turf with more doors will be given to the better, more efficient longtime canvass volunteers. ...

"There is no ground game," Joe Scarborough responded. Todd agreed, adding that Democrats were already doing better in early voting, based on ballot requests. "The ground game, it is just absent from the McCain campaign ... At this point, the only state that I feel good about for McCain is Ohio." He posited that McCain could win that state but lose the election, which would be "very frustrating to Republicans."
The better ground game wins the election. One campaign is highly organized with plenty of volunteers, the other just can't match the organization or the grassroots support. This ain't Bush. This is John McCain, someone that the GOP base has hated for years while they may get some of the votes, they just can't match the 8 years of built up passion moving voters on the other side. I'm not getting cocky, and I'll still be out there for 2 more weeks volunteering, but this could very well be a slaughter.

Election Strategy

I. McCain's Strategy:

After some erratic reports, it looks like McCain is, in fact, moving resources out of several states – Colorado, Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire and Maine – and putting the money into Pennsylvania. Given that Colorado was going to be the swing state this election, at least before Obama's big surge, I couldn't figure out what the hell he was thinking for a while. Particularly since Obama is up by 11.4 points in the Real Clear Politics composite and by 15.3% at Pollster, which are leads so large that overcoming them would indicate a McCain landslide.

But the fact is, he has no choice. Chris Bowers and OpenLeft commenters have laid out the strategic situation in a brilliant diary. It breaks down like this:

First of all, it isn't quite as extreme as totally pulling out of Colorado or the other states, though Obama's money advantage means that any slackening is a small white flag there. Second, McCain's got to target a large state to cut into Obama's 7-state advantage. Third, the plan rests on the assumption that any lead that will let him win Pennsylvania will give him Florida, West Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio too. While probably true, given how much it'd take to win Pennsylvania, this is a pretty big assumption – I have a lot of faith about North Carolina, in particular (see part II of this post).

But really, fourth: Pennsylvania doesn't have early voting, while Virginia does. Virginia is really the more logical state go to for, given that its natural Republican lean in recent years adds a fragility to any Democratic lead, and Obama only leads by about 8 points rather than more than 10. But Virginia was the very first state to start voting this year, more than a month ago now, and as much as 30% of the state may have already cast their votes. If that's the case, then Obama's practically already won it, short of a massive McCain windfall – and at any rate, coming back from an 8-point deficit with only 70% of the electorate to work with is way harder than coming back from a 12-point deficit with 3% in (just absentees). So, PA it is.

This is McCain's victory map under this strategy:

It'd give him the narrowest victory, something like 273-265, and means that he's also got to win a number of states in which Obama leads right now: Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, and either Virginia or Missouri. Nevada's a bit of a wildcard: depending on how the rest of the country goes, it could decide the election or be entirely irrelevant.

In short, McCain is betting everything on coming back from a 10 point lead in a state that went for both Gore and Kerry, and it doesn't even cut into Obama's "many roads to victory" approach all that much. Certainly conceivable, but this is an awesome place for the race to be with less than two weeks before the election.

By the way, this map helps to give an idea of just how Pennsylvania works.

II. Some Early Voting Stats:

It's all over the place:

First, the states that would capture the presidency for Obama pretty much no matter where the rest of the country stands:

-North Carolina is holding steady and is overwhelmingly Democrat: 56%D 27%R 16%I. Furthermore, both the margin and the number of votes vastly exceeded expectations.
-Ohio is also fantastic news: 46%D 24%R 30%I.

-Florida is less fun, as the breakdown is 47%R 39%D 11%I, with 785,000 ballots cast. Also, Republicans have requested around 100,000 more absentee ballots than Democrats. Not as nice, but, again, just one of many paths.

-Whoops! According to Nate Silver at 538 (who I trust more than any person alive to get this right) the NYTimes was wrong, and included the aforementioned absentee ballots. OpenLeft user fwiffo has tabulated the results posted on the Florida Secretary of State website and found 54.7%D 30.7%R 14.7%I. In other words, that's more fuckin' like it, my friends.

Among the states that matter less:

-Colorado is about even, 38%D 40%R. EDIT: With Florida switched over to our side, CO is the only state to post any positive margin for McCain.
-And, predictably, Obama is dominating New Mexico (55%D 35%R 11%I) and Iowa (52%D 20%R, with 200,000 votes in).

III. Terr'rism:

In other news, Al Queda has endorsed McCain. No, no joke, though it doesn't come from bin Laden himself and might not have been meant for public ears. They also say that a terrorist attack would likely increase his chances of winning, which is something I've worried about both in terms of, you know, there being a terrorist attack, and in terms of the election. This is probably the time of greatest risk in the near future, and while I'm not about to cancel my trip to NYC this weekend over it, if there's ever cause for concern then it'd probably be now. But as far as the election goes, I've started to think that Obama's dominating calm and McCain's erratic instincts could actually push people towards Obama in the event of the worst.

Still, it's odd that Al Qaeda would, in practice, chose to endorse the more diplomatic candidate. Unless it just wasn't something they meant to do publicly, it makes me wonder whether they know something about Obama that we don't. Their endorsement of Kerry could well have given Bush the election in 2004, after all, and was predicated on precisely this notion of "exhausting America" with unwinnable conflicts.

On the plus side, with the way the map is looking, we'll probably find out precisely how Obama's plans for the country (and world) will pan out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Daily Show Does Real America

In general, I agree with Phil that the Daily show's offensiveness often outweighs its truth-telling ability, especially when compared with the Colbert Report. This clip doesn't disabuse me of that impression, but/and it does put a funnier face on what I'm talking about here, here, and here.

EDIT: Hulu seems to be down. Here's the Daily Show's version:

EDIT II: Jed L. is calling this the best daily show ever on the frontpage of Daily Kos. For whatever that's worth.

Smart People

From the McCain campaign office in Pompano Beach, Florida:

Yeah, you know who else wanted to change things? HITLER.

Flawless logic.

You also gotta love any poster that ends with "Are you nuts?"

Sorry old guys sleeping with McCain signs, I think I have a new favorite campaign picture.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Credit Where Credit's Due, Part 3

Awesome Beer of the Week: Brauerei Heller-Trum's Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen

Alright, first, about that name...

Brauerei Heller-Trum is a German brewery in Bamberg, Bavaria attached to the Schlenkerla brewpub. Aecht just means "authentic" or "original," so they're claiming the history that goes along with the brewpub and its beers – and since Schlenkerla has been in operation since 1405 in some sense or another, that's a claim worth making. Marzen is one of three different variations on the Rauchbier style.

Now, about Rauchbiers. Clear the decks for this one: if beer is an acquired taste, Rauchbiers are a compelled one. Chances are, you either like them or you don't, and many people don't. To put the situation succinctly, Rauchbier means "Smoked Beer." As one of my friends described them, they taste like "liquid smoked bacon," and this kept him from even considering a whole pint of Victory's concoction. Still, as with any unusual food or beverage, it's easy to confuse dislike and surprise, and this beer has a lot more than mere uniqueness going for it.

As a vegetarian for more than ten years now, I'm not sure I'm qualified to judge the meaty qualities, but at the very least the description isn't out of touch: Schlenkerla Marzen is certainly smoky, though not overpoweringly so, with a wooded, not-quite-chocolatey quality. The surprising and wonderful thing is, it's also extremely refreshing: light, palate-cleansing and as smooth as water – everything that's great about Pilsners without the skunkiness that for some reason I can't stand. I'd go so far as to say that aside from the unusual taste, this is about as drinkable as beer gets. Something everyone should try at least once, and it could end up being one of your favorite styles.

As you might expect, given this description, the beer is a deep but clear reddish brown.

Fun with your money

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government's cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.
None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

Many critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions. One source said: "That's a fair question - and it may well be that by the end of the year the banks start review the situation."
Photo Credit: Matt Stoller

It really speaks for itself

Via the Sports Bog:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Free Speech and Hate Speech in the Course of Presidential Campaigns

This was probably inevitable, though that doesn't make it any less shocking. But this post is not so much a repeat of last week's discussion of racist mobs as it is an opportunity to talk about the free speech issues raised by this extraordinary political campaign.

As Kos commenter Lorelei points out in Tariq Nelson's recced post on the subject, the openly racist activity showcased in the above video is protected speech under the First Amendment. Interestingly enough, the circumstances that gave rise to the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio bear an eerie resemblance to this incident, as it was about a Ku Klux Klan member, in Ohio, preaching racism and antisemitism in the presence of a television crew.

In the most significant piece of the ruling, SCOTUS overturned the Ohio law that allowed Brandenburg's conviction: "Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." So there must be a threat of imminent action and specific direction towards that action for something a citizen says to be illegal. Otherwise it's just (mere) hateful speech.

That's a very powerful, and very specific, ruling. It places the question of the legality of speech outside the bounds of the speech itself, and forces us to ask in each instance: where is that line between (mere) hateful speech and hateful speech designed to incite someone to action? It's probably somewhere beyond both this and this, but you do have to wonder about the degree of McCain and Palin's responsibility for their supporters' actions. Legally, they're safe: the link between "Obama pals around with terrorists," "Obama is a terrorist" and "kill terrorists!", for example, has not been made explicit. This is particularly true because there's no way to know the severity of the threat to Obama's life – it isn't the sort of question that gets answered until it's too late.

But just because a line of reasoning isn't explicit doesn't mean that its purveyor is not responsible for its consequences, and the force of the argument behind outlawing rabblerousing hate speech absolutely applies to this instance. Members of the press, after all, were physically and verbally attacked by McCain/Palin supporters shortly after the campaign charged the media with bias detrimental to McCain's image. Furthermore, it's important to note that presidential candidates are, by definition, the leaders of the country (or the parts of it they represent). As such, their actions have far greater potential to incite, empower and implicitly condone the actions of their followers, and they must be extraordinarily careful with their message. If they are to follow the spirit and not the letter of the law, then, they are bound by a higher moral burden than the ordinary citizen.

This is precisely why McCain and Palin's refusal to explicitly denounce the racists among their supporters is disgustingly political enough to transcend politics. No, they didn't ask that man to hang "Obama's Ghost," and I'm sure they'd be disgusted with the display. But they can't claim that this campaign isn't about race, either – there's no "race card," there's just the situation. Pressing back hard against the racism here, rather than encouraging it, would lose them supporters. But it would the right thing to do at a time when the choice has real consequences.

Now, I'm not running a political campaign, and lack this influence to affect change in the republican base. But nor am I standing in front of the Supreme Court, and I am not bound by the government's responsibility to impartially uphold a legal decision. I'm perfectly free to call that man – Mike Lunsford of Fairfield, Ohio – a despicable human being whose disgusting beliefs have led him to take deplorable action. He should be ashamed of himself, and I am ashamed by the fact that racism is so unrepentantly present in my home country.

I'm also saddened by John McCain's inability to overcome his political situation, and scared by Sarah Palin's penchant for tapping into the darkest passions of her followers. Both of them are failing in their moral responsibilities as leaders of the United States. It hardly matters whether it's because of ignorance or intentional manipulation. America deserves better.

(In what may be the coolest bit of legal trivia I've ever seen, by the way, Brandenburg was defended in part by DC’s own Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was the assistant legal director of the ACLU at the time. Aside from reminding me of this old Onion article, the image of her standing up in front of the Supreme Court in the late '60s on that particular case is some mad poetic justice.)

DC Residents are UnAmerican. Who knew?

Feel free to call me crazy on this one, but I can't help but read Sarah Palin's recent statement about the "best of America" as applying, more than is usual for politician-speak, to DC residents rather than just the federal government:
"We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. We believe" -- here the audience interrupted Palin with applause and cheers -- "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation."

I agree with her that there's something really great about American small towns, when they're not just strip-malls. But there's something just as real and just as great about growing up in DC. Furthermore, just because a place (or a person) overwhelmingly refuses to vote for you doesn't mean that they're unamerican. With all due respect, my natural patriotic inclinations probably outstrip Palin's. I mean, hell, I was enough of a nerdy pro-America kid to force my parents to hang a flag outside our house in the early '90s, and memorize all four verses of the Star Spangled Banner. The notion that I'm somehow less American than someone else because of where I happened to grow up isn't just insulting, it's stupid. It's bad politics.

Colin Powell's Endorsement

Regardless of what you think about Colin Powell, and there's reason to think rather poorly of him after his work within the Bush administration, his statement of endorsement presents one of the single most articulate arguments for voting for Barack Obama available. It's worth watching in its entirety if you haven't already, as it takes on the heart of the issues behind this presidential campaign:

And outside the studio, with some of the gloves off:

What the fuck?

What. The. Fuck?

The Train Strikes Again...

First: I'm proud to announce that we are officially being repped here in China. At a hostel in Xi'an they encourage people to deface their walls, so deface I did! I found someone apparently trying to turn Xi'an into Scarborough country, and figured that would be a good place to spread the word:

On the other hand, I have some bad news too: I can now officially confirm that we're blocked in China. Apparently this isn't always the case for blogger and blogspot sites, though, which means it might actually have been caused by some jerk criticizing the Chinese government on a nearly daily basis. So, uh... my bad.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

McCain and Letterman

I dunno if y'all followed any of the controversy caused by McCain's cancellation of a planned visit with David Letterman during his "campaign suspension," but Letterman was pretty pissed about is in a funny way. Here's his triumphant return, in which Letterman is nicer than he could have been but certainly not all that happy to see him:

My favorite part of this is the very last exchange, just after McCain openly claims that Obama actually does "pal around with terrorists." Letterman's response: well, sure, but what about people like G. Gordon Liddy?

David Letterman: You will also admit that we cannot really control who we interact with in our lives 100%.

John McCain: For how we interact and how long we interact with them – But the point is, the point, in this campaign is the economy –

L: Did you not have a relationship with Gordon Liddy?

M: I've met him.

L: Did you attend a fundraiser at his house?

M: [utterly confused] Gordon Liddy's...

L: Hahaha. We'll be right back here with Senator McCain.

Golden. McCain's confusion is really the story there, for me. It really highlights the degradation of meaningful words in politics, along precisely the lines that Orwell worried about. As I've argued since November, 2001, terrorism is not a feature of ideology, it's a feature of action. Oliver North would have been a better figure to mention than G. Gordon Liddy, but breaking into the DNC headquarters will do for the purposes of national television. The fact that someone would turn the notion of association with borderline terrorists around on him is totally out of the realm of possibility in McCain's mind.

It shouldn't be.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More Credit Where Credit's Due

In one of the most intelligent decisions of its eight-year run, The Bush White House today declined to include Sarah Palin in a briefing about Iraq. I think the AP put it really well:
John McCain got a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on the phone to Barack Obama, and to his Democratic running mate, Joe Biden. Nobody called Sarah Palin.

Their reasoning?
"Senator Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee and, obviously, is an important political figure in the United States," McCormack said. "(Either) one of Senator McCain or Senator Obama are going to be president come January. And so just in terms of the courtesy and protocol aspects of this and the practical aspects of this, we thought it was appropriate to make those calls."

Absolutely. I couldn't have said it better myself. Sarah Palin is not an important political figure in the United States, nor does she have any intellectual or political influence on people who are not insane. She therefore does not deserve the privileges of "courtesy and protocol" at a national scale.

It's on us to keep it that way, and ensure that she never, ever, ever holds national office.

Obama & McCain at the Al Smith Dinner

Favorite line definitely goes to Obama: “Rupert the other day, Fox news, accused me of fathering two African American children in wedlock. By the way, John, I’m just curious, is Fox News included in the media?”

McCain was pretty funny too, though, and kinder than usual towards Obama: "But if you know where to look, there are signs of hope. Even in the most unexpected places. Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats, I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary. Where's Bill, by the way?"

All in all, I'm glad this exists.

Obama Part 1:

Obama Part 2:

McCain Part 1:

McCain Part 2:

BONUS: Batman Debates the Penguin. Funny how they get it so right...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The debate, moving to the "center" and the final stretch

Well, it looks like I was wrong again in guessing who won the debate. Out of the three debates, I thought that last night went against Barack worse than the others, which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see that the polls seem to think it was his best debate by far. That's why no one's paying me to do this, I guess.

At times McCain took lying to new heights: (Ayers, ACORN, his ads), but at times I was amazed by his honesty. He actually defended lowering taxes for the rich, showed complete indifference about the murders of union leaders, ridiculed the exemption for the life of the mother, strongly defended the crowds at his rallies. He went for the vote of the hard right. It was pretty shocking to watch, but almost refreshing in a strange way. The public doesn't usually get to hear the uncensored beliefs of the conservative movement, so that might have something to do with how much Obama crushed the debate. Playing to the base is smart electoral strategy, and it won Bush 2 terms. But the fundamental numbers in those elections were somewhat close, and this time around we could be running Hillary Clinton a friendly looking cardboard cutout and still pull it off.

As for our Barack, I thought his performance was a mixed bag. His high point by far was condemning McCain's rallies, and it's only my hope that a few curious people looked up those youtubes after hearing Obama bring it up. It wasn't "a few" people, it was a mob atmosphere, and the more those videos are seen the better. Also, when talking about the economy, Obama's rhetoric is still cautious, but is more effective than it used to be. Bringing up how the Wall Street Bailout was a first step was a good way of leading into a middle class bailout, which puts him in a stark contrast with McCain. He did a good job of simply restating his policies when McCain started to strongly defend conservative economics without being prompted.

One thing I truly don't understand about him, is that this man once had extremely progressive stands on quite a few issues. Maybe a more die-hard Obama backer than myself can explain this, but I just don't see the need throw progressive policies under the bus while advocating your own. Like I said last night, I know that Obama has been told that he needs to move to the "center" to win, but why attack the more progressive ideas in the process? We know why McCain does that: Conservative ideas are unpopular! But progressive ideas on health care, trade, energy, foreign policy and the economy ARE popular! This goes back to the argument last night over who could piss off their party more. McCain makes that argument because the approval ratings for his party are in the teens. Why Obama goes out of his way to prove how much he can disagree with a popular political party is beyond me.

Also, I'd like these debates to be canonized as a case study for future democrats, when they think they need to "move to the center" in order to win elections.

-Remember when the Democrats caved on FISA so that the issue was "off the table"?

-Remember when the Democrats refused to play hardball on the Iraq war because they would be seen as "not supporting the troops"?

-Remember when the Democrats changed their position on drilling so that the couldn't be attacked on the issue?

Obama went along with all three of those caves to solely better his chances in moments just like this. In the first debate McCain hammered him for opposing the FISA bill, in the second debate he and Palin attacked him for not funding the troops and in the third debate he was ridiculed for not supporting drilling. There have also been countless stump speeches and adds attacking him on all three.

A message to all Democrats: The Republicans don't care that you caved, and they'll call you a dirty commie liberal no matter how you vote. So since they'll attack you anyway, you might as well stop being cowards and stand up for the positions that you supposedly believe in.

Will they learn this lesson? I doubt it, and in fact I'd say it's more likely that the opposite happens than that more candidates run decrying partisanship and running to the center because of its supposed success in this race. Obama has run a smart campaign, and has the best ground game in the history of modern elections, but implying that he's winning the election by shifting to the center is as big of a causation/correlation fallacy as you can get.

Obama's campaign vs John McCain has had the luxury of running a prevent defense for 4 quarters. It isn't a bad campaign strategy for Obama in this unique situation, in fact it's a smart one. But in the future I doubt any candidate will have all the voting trends this overwhelmingly in their favor ever again, which combined with Obama's phenomenal ground game is a sort of perfect storm.

There's a little less than 3 weeks till the election. Volunteer if you can, it isn't over yet. But looking at how the winds are blowing, we can help make this thing a landslide with a mandate. You know, a real one.