"All the news that gives me fits"


After enjoying the luxury of minding my own business for eight years under President Clinton, the 2000 election fiasco of George W. Bush shocked me to attention; and when his first acts in office included abandoning landmark environmental and arms control treaties, my repoliticization was complete. Now I'm a news junkie; Norm Chomsky gives me the goosebumps; and I've become one of those people who can't resist a good political debate even when decorum advises against it. I finally built this site so I can spare my friends and spout off to everyone, or no one, as the case may be.

If you've found this site, keep an open mind while you read my opinions in the middle column; then explore the links to the right and form some opinions of your own. Cheers!

© 2004-2010 Arlo Leach, all rights reserved.


One Week Later

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 12:30 pm
Category: Politics

Well, Obama has been in office for a week now, and it's still exciting to hear the phrase "President Obama" on the news.

The first big battle of his administration has already begun, however -- the proposed economic stimulus package. Obama wants a mixture of tax cuts and spending, citing the advice of every economist he's consulted. Republicans want all tax cuts, citing ... well, citing nothing, and relying on their political dogma.

It's interesting that in his inauguration speech, Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place" in decisionmaking. That was probably meant as a reference to global warming, but it looks like it could apply to economics, too. Not that I think much about macroeconomics is scientifically provable, but I do prefer a policy based on expert advice rather than a policy based on "just because."

Happy Inauguration Day!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 8:30 am
Category: Politics

I don't remember Inauguration Day ever being such a big deal before, but people sure are excited about Obama. My wife and I flew home from a trip to Portland, Oregon last weekend and both the Portland and L.A. airports were full of people migrating to D.C. for the event. Junior high students who had never flown before, high school students working on their travel blogs during the layover, and two or three generations of black families traveling together ... we even saw Jack Black lining up for an overbooked flight to Dulles.

Then yesterday on the way to work, my wife witnessed this crazy conversation:

I was waiting in a 3-sided bus shelter with a heat lamp inside. With me, there were several people and several pigeons huddled together. A woman walked into the shelter and started sprinkling crumbs for the pigeons. "You're not supposed to feed the pigeons!" a man in the shelter scolded her. "Mind your own business," she said. This started an argument:
"It's illegal!"
"Stop disrespecting me!"
"Talk to the police!"
"Don't you threaten me!"
Their argument continued even after the bus came and we all got onboard. He sat in the back and continued shouting at her; she sat in the front and shouted back.
Suddenly, she took a deep breath.
She said softly to herself, "Barack Obama in the White House...." Then, more loudly, "Sir, if I've said anything to offend you, I apologize."
Argument over.

Let's keep this good feeling! Happy Inauguration Day, everyone!

G-Rod, what an A-hole

Friday, December 12, 2008 at 8:30 am
Category: People

For the second day this week, I'm getting really distracted from my web development work, because I live a half mile from Rod Blagojevich, and the window of my home office has a perfect view of the news helicopters hovering over his house. I keep thinking something has happened (a resignation, perhaps?) and checking the Chicago Tribune website to find out. Argh.

I did skim through the 76-page criminal complaint on Tuesday, after the complete document was posted online. You all know the allegations that it contained. All I can add is, what an a--hole!

The new Democratic party

Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7:30 am
Category: Politics

With Obama's nomination of Bill Richardson for Secretary of Commerce, that makes three of his former rivals for the presidential nomination added to his administration. Back on June 2 I wrote here about how nice it would be to capture more of the talent of this party, rather than just choosing one candidate and letting the rest fall by the wayside, and for the most part that's what's happened. But when are we going to hear about Kucinich's role in the Obama adminstration? Could he head up the Department of Vegan Affairs, perhaps?

Yes We Did!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 7:00 am
Category: Politics

We did it. Woohoooooo!!! Eight years of Bush/Cheney is coming to an end; Barack Obama will be our next president; the Democrats will control the White House and both houses of Congress; we saw the highest voter turnout since 1908; and we will have the first non-white president in our history.

Thank you, New England; thank you, Upper Midwest; thank you, West Coast; and thank you, blue swing states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia and Florida!

I watched TV from 6 pm to midnight last night, and two images stood out. First, the deep engagement of so many Americans, symbolized in part by crowds in Rockefeller Plaza, NYC filling in the results on their electoral maps as the states were called. Second, the catharsis of Black Americans, who clearly have been holding "a Black president in my lifetime" as a critical benchmark toward racial equality. It was an extraordinary evening.

I have to say I'm a little disappointed that Obama seems to have won based on our current economic turmoil. Exit polls show that 62% of voters named the economy as their biggest concern, with Iraq, health care and the environment trailing in single digits. This bothers me because the link between the president and the economy is tenuous, and because Obama has shown great potential in tackling these other issues, as well. With such great opportunities for progress in so many areas, it's disheartening to see Americans just fall back on their pocketbooks.

On the other hand, Democrats have tried to keep expectations low and avoid disappointment for so long that we can now be thankful for all the things that didn't go wrong. There were no major voting issues, no contested results, no Supreme Court intervention, no significant defection from Hillary Clinton supporters, and no Bradley/Wilder effect. Obama has led the polls for months and everything went according to plan. Thank goodness.

And congratulations, Senator Obama! I think you're going to do a great job!

Election Day

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 4:00 pm
Category: Politics

It's finally here! I've been counting down the days and then the hours for the last week. Sally and I were at our polling place at 6:05 and found a fair-sized line, but we were done by 6:55. I came home and worked for a few hours, then went out for a bike ride -- it's sunny and 75 today! And we have a date to watch the returns on TV tonight.

I was thinking during my ride about my favorite qualities in people. I've been aware for a while now that enthusiasm is one of my favorite qualities, for example. But today for the first time, inspired by the last year of Republican campaigning, I started thinking about my least favorite qualities. The first one is easily pretension. After that would be hypocrisy. And rounding out the bottom three would be -- I don't know if there's a word for this -- getting hung up on low-priority issues.

With all the polls in Obama's favor lately, I keep finding myself assuming he will win, and I sure hope we're not disappointed. Hopefully by the end of the night, we will know!

The Post-Reagan Era

Friday, October 31, 2008 at 11:15 am
Category: Big thoughts

When Obama first started emerging as a front-runner in this presidential election, and resisted attempts to focus his candidacy on race issues, some people described him as our first "post-racial" leader. But since McCain brought "Joe the Plumber" and "class warfare" to the forefront of the campaign, and Obama has hit right back, I've been wondering if Obama's bigger contribution is to be "post-Reagan." For decades now our public debates have assumed that cutting taxes stimulates the economy, and that government the problem rather than the solution. Obama has not only questioned, but swept aside those assumptions with new rhetoric about giving the middle class a fighting chance, and revoking tax breaks for those who don't need them. It will be interesting to see how far this reorientation toward a productive view of government can go, and how long it will last!


Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 4:15 pm
Category: Politics

McCain has been harping on Obama's "spread the wealth around" comment since the third debate, also labeling Obama as a "socialist," apparently without any irony. As this editorial points out, Republicans used to have to call Democrats "liberals" to discredit them; now it takes much stronger language:

I found the discussion about Bush's economic tax bailout and Palin's oil revenue distribution program in light of these "socialist" charges interesting as well.

Debate #3 Follow-Up

Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 4:00 pm
Category: Politics

I didn't get around to writing about the third debate until now. I came home from teaching my music class, rewound the VCR (someone in my class laughed at me for still having a VCR!) and sat down with my wife to watch from the beginning. It was late and we were tired, and that made John McCain's stumbling, fumbling non-sequiturs and fixation on gossipy issues seem downright surreal. We just kept looking at each other and thinking, "Did he really say that?"

A commenter on another blog summed it up pretty well the next day: "I was watching and hoping for some signs of life from Senator McCain. With all due respect, I saw a man who seemed desperate, frail, unfocused, cynical and actually sort of looked like a corpse. He's not the right leader for the future of this country. That debate helped make up a lot of undecided minds."

I found an even funnier summary here:

Debate #3 Preview

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 10:30 am
Category: Politics

For those of you, like me, who will not be able to watch the third presidential debate live tonight, I offer two excerpts of what you will surely hear:

Excerpt 1:
Sen. McCain: My friends, Senator Obama wants to raise your taxes!
Sen. Obama: Actually, in my tax plan, 95% of Americans who make less than $250,000 will not see a penny of tax increase, and Americans who make less than $200,000 will see a tax cut.
Sen. McCain: But he wants to raise taxes on small businesses!
Sen. Obama: Actually, the majority of small businesses make less than $200,000, so they will also receive a tax cut.
(Sen. McCain changes the subject)

Excerpt 2:
Sen. Obama: John is so out of touch that two weeks ago he said the fundamentals of our economy were strong!
Sen. McCain: When I said the fundamentals of our economy were strong, I was referring to the American worker, the most productive, committed worker in the world.
(Sen. Obama changes the subject)

Hmm, maybe there will be some new stuff, too!

Hypocrisy, Contradiction and Outright Racism

Sunday, October 12, 2008 at 4:00 pm
Category: Politics

It seems like McCain/Palin campaign is becoming the definition of hypocrisy lately, since every one of their character smears against Obama has a corresponding charge within their own party. Let's see:

- Obama is friendly with former terrorist Bill Ayers. But the Bush family is friendly with the bin Ladens and that's okay.

- Obama has worked with corrupt politico Tony Rezko. But Sarah Palin is being investigated for corruption herself, and that's also okay.

- Obama lives in a million-dollar mansion. But McCain has seven homes, and that's okay.

- Obama hates America; I can't actually tell where this comes from, unless it's from Michelle Obama's comment about being proud of America for the first time. Anyway, Palin's husband belongs to the anti-American, Alaskan Independence movement. It would seem that his ongoing activity says more than a single, off-the-cuff comment, but somehow that's also okay.

Even worse than this hypocrisy are the obvious contradictions in the anti-Obama rhetoric. For example:

- Obama doesn't have any political experience. And he's the ultimate party insider.

- Obama is a radical Muslim. And a Marxist.

But perhaps the worst criticisms are the ones that are just plain racist. The latest line of attack from Palin, for example, is that Obama is motivated by political ambition. Why, because he's running for president? If I recall, about 15 other Democrats and Republicans ran for president in this election cycle and I don't remember any of them being accused of having political ambition. Is Palin really saying that he needs to stay in his place? Disgusting.

Election Maps

Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 8:30 am
Category: Big thoughts

I've been taking an interest in the electoral college maps published by several news organizations, including CNN:

The idea is that with our electoral college system, a simple national poll would not indicate the election winner ... you have to poll each state individually, then add their resulting electoral votes.

It has struck me, especially after reading the Clay Shirky quote I posted earlier, that this map looks an awful lot like a population distribution map. Here that is, from the 2000 census:

From these images, it would appear that two factors are paramount in determining whether it leans liberal or conservative: 1) whether it has a high or low population density, and 2) whether or not it's in the south.


Your Choice is Clear

Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 8:25 am
Category: Conservatives

Sarah Palin said in an election rally yesterday that we have a clear choice in this election: "Between a politician who puts his trust in government, and a leader who puts his trust in you." Aside from that clever politician/leader dichotomy, I think this statement says a lot about this liberal/conservative philosophical divide I've been struggling with. However, a liberal would make the same statement differently: "Between someone who believes in working together as a nation to improve our lives, and someone who believes in every man -- and powerful corporation -- for himself."

As I've said before, liberals do value civil society, not just the chance for individual profit.

Debate #2 Follow-Up

Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 8:15 am
Category: Politics

We watched the second presidential debate Tuesday night, and my takeaway from this one was how limited John McCain's outlook is. He seemed to just be stuck on military, military, military all night. Foreign policy problems demand military solutions ... we can pass health care legislation the same way we passed base closure legislation (?!) ... and America is a place where, in tough times, your comrades pick you up and get you back on the battlefield.

More generally, McCain seemed to jump on easy solutions without thinking them through. Global climate change? Build nuclear reactors -- "a whole bunch of 'em." Budget deficit? Freeze all (except military) spending. Economic crisis? Lower taxes. I don't get the impression that he's either looking at the big picture, or thinking through the consequences of these options. But that was clear from the war in Iraq, right?

One of the commentators said that the takeaway for most people from this debate was getting used to the idea of "President Obama." I agree that Obama showed a poise and grace under pressure, not to mention a much more thoughtful consideration of the issues, that made me excited again. If other people have not noticed that yet, I hope they were watching closely!

Were You For It Before You Were Against It?

Friday, October 3, 2008 at 8:40 am
Category: Politics

Sarah Palin last night criticized Joe Biden for flip-flopping on the war in Iraq -- having voted for the war resolution in the first place -- and, frankly, I think it's a fair criticism. In fact, most of the leading Democrats have had to backtrack on this in one way or another. But saying they were wrong about that vote is not the same as saying the war is a good idea and should be continued, as Palin implies. I think that Democrats could take another approach to explaining this position. I'd say something like this:

"Yes, I voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002, because I wanted to protect America from the dire threats that the Bush administration presented as the alternative. But once we learned that these threats were overblown, if not completely falsified by the administration, I started working to reverse the damage of this terrible mistake. The Bush administration would rather continue a war that has already cost 4000 American lives and $600 billion than admit they were wrong. But that's not patriotic, that's stubborn and selfish and I won't stand for it."

VP Debate Follow-Up

Friday, October 3, 2008 at 8:30 am
Category: Politics

I was able to watch the Vice Presidential debate between Palin and Biden last night, and neither one seemed to stand out to me. Actually, each stayed so close to their party lines that it felt more like a debate between the competing philosophies of conservatism and liberalism. Based on this event, I would summarize what each side stands for as follows:

- lower taxes
- smaller government
- war
- oil
- status quo

- fairer taxes
- better education and healthcare
- diplomacy
- renewable energy
- progress

Well, the choice is clear for me! Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's probably just as clear for those on the other side, too.

Debate #1 Follow-Up

Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 8:45 am
Category: Politics

Well all right then! Last night's debate wasn't all that exciting on the surface, but it gave me a lot to think about.

I was relieved that Obama didn't talk about "change" or "Washington is broken" and that McCain only mentioned his POW experience once. On the other hand, new cliches like "from Wall Street to Main Street," "reach across the aisle" and "my opponent just doesn't understand" started getting tiresome already.

I thought it was interesting how each candidate injected certain things into the debate that wouldn't have been there otherwise. For McCain that included reducing spending and lowering taxes; for Obama it included restoring our standing in the world, solving climate change, addressing the rise of China and acknowledging the casualties of war.

I also thought one trait of each candidate stood out as they argued back and forth. It seemed to me that Obama repeatedly took an idea of McCain's and enlarged it, bringing in more factors to consider, and showing a broader range of understanding. For example, after McCain argued for lower business taxes, Obama pointed out that they were already effectively low due to tax loopholes. And after McCain warned about the dangers of Iran, Obama reminded us that Iran's rise in stature owes a lot to our Iraq policy. Despite this impressive grasp of foreign affairs, McCain's most noticeable trait was a tendency to condescend to Obama -- I counted him saying that he "didn't understand" the issues six times.

But perhaps my bottom line summary is that this really seemed like a choice between looking back and looking forward. McCain clearly would like to continue the "trickle down" economic policies of Reagan and Bush -- his emphasis on upper-class and business tax cuts, defense increases and freezes or cuts in other spending seems especially outdated given this week's financial crisis. And on the foreign policy front, he only seemed really knowledgeable when talking about the Soviet/Afghanistan war and the former Soviet republics. Obama, on the other hand, was well aware of current and future threats, from terrorism to climate change to shifts in international alliances to economic sustainability.

Over the last eight years, I've often been struck by the anachronisms of the Bush administration, from former Reagan staff like Cheney and Wolfowitz to missile defense. Do we really need even -more- of these 1980's politics? Go, Obama!

Life in the City

Friday, September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Category: Big thoughts

Actually, this is a little thought, but it could have a big affect on my thinking about what makes liberals and conservatives so opposed to each others' ideas. I just finished reading Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody (in the context of my web development work) and a passage toward the end of the book jumped out at me:

As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." In the physical domain cities tend to have more rules that address the vagaries of group life than rural areas do, simply because the number of ways urban life can create social intersections among people is much larger than in rural life. This connection between social density and complexity of bargain is true of technologically mediated groups as well; the more members have to interact with one another, and the more they have to agree to act in concert, the more complex the rules governing their relations have to be.

This fits right in with my curiosity about the stark urban/rural divide in recent elections, where urban areas vote strongly liberal and rural areas vote strongly conservative. Could this divide be the result of urban dwellers wanting more regulations and more coordinated, group efforts, simply because they live closer together?

In that case, a state-by-state political system doesn't make much sense since most states consist of both urban and rural areas. A more localized system would be more representative, or a system that works in layers rather than geographical silos. In any case, I suppose this is a boon for liberals in the long term since I imagine cities are growing faster than rural areas.

Politics vs. Business

Friday, September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Category: Politics

Politics are so funny, especially when you compare them to business. Can you imagine going to a job interview and spending the entire time disparaging the company's current leaders and saying the company is "broken," even if you have no experience performing the job you're applying for? But that's the way you get a job in politics, I guess.

Feeling Down on the Candidates

Friday, September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Category: Politics

I was thinking recently about how excited I was about Obama's campaign, for a while there, back in March or so. I still support him, but it feels more like dragging an old wagon rather than flying in a jet. Perhaps this is the "election fatigue" that reporters talk about, but I think it has more to do with everyone in politics putting everyone else down constantly. After listening to that for six months, it's hard to feel positive about anyone, and that's just sad.

Maybe as we reach the final stretch I'll have to read Audacity of Hope again. That gave me a pretty good buzz the first time.

Assessing the Surge

Friday, September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Category: Politics

Before the economy took center stage, a few weeks ago, there was a lot of talk about Iraq, with McCain and other conservatives claiming credit for a successful "surge" strategy. I can't help thinking, though, that this perspective is off. The question is not whether one military strategy works better than another; the question is whether we were right to invade and occupy Iraq. In other words, the method is largely irrelevant if the goal is undefined (or under debate).

Tonight's Debate

Friday, September 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Category: Politics

In perhaps the most memorable episode of this long presidential campaign, McCain suspended his campaign two days ago and announced he would skip the first debate until an economic bailout package was negotiated in Washington. Then he continued campaigning, more or less, and a package hasn't really been negotiated, but now he's planning to attend the debate after all. Well, that's good news for me as I've had it on my calendar all week! So I'm going to take a little time to post some thoughts I've had lately, then cook up some dinner, and fire up the old (literally) TV to take a look.

McCain's voice mail to Sarah Palin

Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 11:30 am
Category: Politics

Aw yeah ... we need more of this stuff:

Taking Things for Granted

Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 4:45 pm
Category: Big thoughts

I think a lot about the big disagreements we seem to keep debating in our country, and I'm especially interested in the fundamental differences that keep liberals and conservatives at odds. One thing I've noticed in the political debate lately is that conservatives seem to be taking for granted values and assumptions that I as a liberal simply don't share. Here are a few examples:

- Conservatives are afraid of government power; this position underlies many traditional conservative policies. But liberals generally too afraid of corporate power to worry much about government power. (Wouldn't it be great if we could see the similarities and join forces keep both in check?)

- Conservatives don't think it's the government's, or more broadly society's, role to provide services like education or healthcare. But liberals -want- these services to be provided by and for the larger community. It's not that we're standing idly by while government sneakily expands to provide these services ... the idea of a comprehensive, national effort to solve problems actually appeals to us.

- Conservatives assume that money is the ultimate deciding factor in any policy. If it protects the environment, creates stronger communities, or improves our lives, but costs more, we don't want it, right? Actually, liberals don't necessarily mind paying for good things. Nobody wants to waste money, but it's not the be all and end all, either.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it could be a nice cheat sheet for conservative politicians trying to appeal to liberals. If they thought about it, they might even realize that liberals aren't lacking in values ... rather, we're trying to build a society based on our own values of freedom, cooperation and quality of life.

Defining the Problem

Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 4:35 pm
Category: Politics

A few weeks back, there were some spats in Congress about an oil company windfall tax ... where the government would tax some of the oil companies' record profits and use the money to fund alternative energy research. One angry Republican (sorry, I didn't bookmark this at the time) said something to the effect of, "A windfall tax does not solve the problem because it will not result in any more oil being produced."

Excuse me? I didn't think the problem was not enough oil production ... I thought it was too much energy consumption, or conversely, not enough energy supply. If you look at the problem either of those ways, more solutions become evident ... like renewable energy sources and increased efficiency, respectively. And given the environmental impact of oil consumption, that is not the best of the solutions.

This is a great example of framing the debate, or defining the problem ... you won't get a good solution if you define the problem too narrowly.

Remembering George W. Bush

Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 4:30 pm
Category: People

I've been meaning for a while to write about a few of the current President's most important, but still underreported legacies, including:

- Making no apparent effort to bring Osama bin Laden to justice
- Watching gas prices rise by 250%
- Approving the largest budget deficits in U.S. history

But nobody seems to even care about the President anymore, so never mind.

Nader, Nader, go away!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 8:15 am
Category: People

I went to Ralph Nader's Chicago "super rally" before the 2000 election. He talked about how Bush and Gore were the same and that it was impossible to have a real choice in our elections with an electoral system that effectively shuts out third parties. He promised that if he did not succeed in this election, he would fight on to change the electoral system to support instant run-off voting or other mechanisms that would allow third-party candidates to participate without acting as spoilers.

I voted for Nader. By some accounts, he did spoil the 2000 election. And as we can see now, Bush and Gore are very dramatically not the same. But my biggest beef with Nader is that he hasn't done squat to change the electoral process. Instead, he has continued to put his name on the ballot, in 2004 and again in 2008.

If Nader made his point in 2000, now he needs to follow through on his promise of electoral reform. He does not need to continue acting as a spoiler year after year. This is extremely counterproductive. Hey Ralph, listen, the only way you'll get my vote again is if you accomplish the electoral changes you promised eight years ago. Got it?

Campaign comparisons

Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 9:00 am
Category: Politics

Of the leadership of their campaigns is any indication, Obama is more qualified to be a leader than Clinton. Let's compare:

1) Obama's campaign studied the electoral rules, created a strategy, and then carried it through to victory. Clinton, when her initial strategy failed, showed a lack of backup plans as she attempted one long-shot after another.

2) Obama comes out of the primaries with the same dedicated staff that he went in with. Clinton fell out with and replaced her staff at least once along the way.

3) Obama's campaign has more money than any other candidate. Clinton's campaign has run in the red for some time and ends in the red.

Good planning, organizing people, and managing money ... sounds like a big part of the job description to me.

He did it

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 9:00 am
Category: Politics

Barack Obama reached the required number of delegates last night to become the democratic nominee for president. It doesn't feel settled yet, with Hillary Clinton pondering her "next move" despite her defeat, and her advisors pushing Obama to offer her the VP position. But here's a nice summary of the campaign ... it was actually published a few hours before the fact and made my heart race for a few moments as I followed the news yesterday afternoon!

Dear Senator Clinton, please stop lying

Monday, June 2, 2008 at 6:00 pm
Category: Politics

Hillary Clinton's latest campaign slogan is that she has received more popular votes than any primary candidate in history, including Obama:

In fact, this claim is only true if you DO count the Michigan primary where Obama's name was not on the ballot, and DON'T count the results from four state caucuses, three of which Obama won.

This is extremely misleading at best. Considering what is at stake, I would go so far as to call it a bald-faced lie. I sure wish she'd stop that.

The Obama administration

Monday, June 2, 2008 at 9:30 am
Category: Politics

During the first Democratic primary debate, I was thinking it was a shame that only one candidate could become president, while the rest would likely fade into relative anonymity. There seemed to be a lot of talent on the stage and I wished our system were more oriented toward building a team rather than picking a winner. For example, I'd love to see Joe Biden as secretary of state, John Edwards as attorney general, and even Dennis Kucinich in his proposed "department of peace."

It seems that the Obama campaign is thinking along the same lines, with the added idea of offering Hillary Clinton a leadership role in health care reform:

After eight years of the likes of Ashcroft/Gonzales and Dick Cheney, it would feel so good to have people like these in charge!


Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 9:35 am
Category: International affairs

I don't know about my fellow Americans, but at least this editorial from Canada agrees with Obama's disposition toward diplomacy:

Here are two quotes:

"Should the U.S. talk to enemies? Of course. Diplomacy is one of three primary tools of statecraft along with military and economic power. Only arrant fools do not make use of it.... To whom does one negotiate if not with one's enemies and rivals?"

"McCain should be reminded that hysteria is not a viable foreign policy, even if it is election silly season. He is wrong to keep promoting the image of America as a spinster atop a chair, screaming in fear of a Muslim mouse called Iran. This is unworthy of the great United States."

Fuzzy math

Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 9:30 am
Category: Media

Virtually every news report I read about the election now is filled with statistics about Hillary Clinton's draw among various demographic groups. Since she leads Obama among lower-income voters, women and Latinos, the story goes, she may be more electable. But if Obama is leading in the overall popular vote, then the groups that favor him must either be larger, or favor him more strongly. Yet nobody talks about Hillary trailing among Blacks, college-educated people, or city dwellers. What am I missing here?

Sexism and other -isms

Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 11:00 am
Category: Big thoughts

I heard some commentators yesterday discussing how sexism was the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination, while comparing the obstacles that Obama and Clinton have both had to overcome in the presidential nominating contest. I would agree that sexist comments are more likely to get a pass than racist comments these days, but I'm not sure that women in general have tougher obstacles than blacks. The lingering impacts of slavery and Jim Crow still seem more destructive than those of historical sexual discrimination.

In any case, I think it's optimistic to say that any form of discrimination is the "last" one. Gay-bashing is not generally permitted in the media, but it's frighteningly common among average Americans, and we still have the whole gay marriage standoff to contend with. Immigrants are also in the middle of legislative and cultural battles. And what about animal rights? Yes, I'm a vegan, I haven't seen any candidates apologizing for their Iowa steak fries or Philly cheese steaks. Even a progressive icon like Michael Moore is on record telling PETA members, "You're wasting your lives."

Clearly we have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, so it's not particularly helpful for any group to claim it worse than the others.

Clinton campaign autopsy

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 1:55 pm
Category: Politics

The Clinton campaign is saying this week that she is losing the primary because the media treated her unfairly. Based on my own experience as an early Clinton supporter who gradually aligned with Obama, I would counter that she is losing because her message has not been as sincere, positive or inspiring as Obama's. While Obama's message has been, since day 1, "I can restore a spirit of collaboration to our government," Clinton's message has been, with variations from week to week, "I should be the president." I just can't get excited about such a self-serving message and I think that's the simple reason for her impending defeat.

Barack Black Eagle

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 8:50 am
Category: People

Barack Obama was adopted by the Crow Nation in a ceremony in Montana yesterday. He was given a rather complicated nickname, but a simpler one based on the family name seems appropriate: Barack Black Eagle. What a perfect name for the first black president!

Foreign policy

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 at 8:00 am
Category: Conservatives

I mentioned McCain beating the drum about "raising taxes" yesterday, but the other emerging campaign theme is Obama's "recklessness" about foreign policy, since he has said he would talk with the Iranian president. I think that this one really is a true difference, and I'm definitely on the side of Obama here. If there's one thing I've learned as I've grown into adulthood, it's that you can reduce a lot of tensions and solve a lot of problems if you talk clearly and directly with those you disagree with. "I'm not talking to him," sounds so teenagerish in comparison. But that's the essence of the Bush/McCain foreign policy.

This is particularly sad since the belligerence of our foreign policy most likely creates more threats than it discourages. It definitely makes us a choicer target, and diminishes our moral authority. And it just doesn't seem practical ... what did North Korea do during the years we wouldn't talk with them? Built a nuclear weapon. What did they do when we started talking with them? Suspend their nuclear program. And we want to follow the same policy with Iran? Duh.

By the way, after hearing Republicans effectively insert catch phrases into the media over the past few years (e.g., tax relief, flip flopper), it's nice to hear that the Obama campaign is succeeding at the same game. Their current message, which I've heard consistently in every article I've read, is that McCain will continue Bush policies ... it's now the "Bush/McCain policy," or "Bush's third term." You guys are on the right track -- keep it up!

The Audacity of Hope

Monday, May 19, 2008 at 5:15 pm
Category: People

I was thinking about buying some Obama buttons to hand out to people who compliment me on mine, and then I realized that I don't know THAT much about the man and perhaps I should learn more. So, I picked up his book Audacity of Hope at the local bookstore and dove in.

The first part of the book is basically Obama's history of American politics, written in an overarching style that seems suspicious in its simplicity. He does go out of his way to balance his critique of the left and right, which ultimately is what could make him a great leader.

Anyway, one interesting idea of picked up so far is the extent to which our government was designed to diffuse power. After revolting against a monarchy, the Founding Fathers created a system whereby it was virtually impossible for any one person or entity to take full control of the state. The legacy of this system is that it's really hard to get stuff done. So when people criticize the government or Congress for being slow to act on issues, I wish they'd consider that this is our governmental system doing its job ... making sure that no law gets passed unless we're REALLY sure we want it!

Raising taxes

Monday, May 19, 2008 at 5:00 pm
Category: Conservatives

McCain has come back into the news a bit as Hillary's presence has waned, and it seems that his main attack against Democrats so far is that they want to raise taxes. If the fear of terrorists won't get 'em, then the fear of taxes will!

Meanwhile, everything I've heard from Obama is that he wants to cut a variety of different taxes for wage earners, while maintaining taxes on investments and inheritances among the very wealthy (e.g., those with annual incomes greater than $5 million). But I think what McCain is talking about is the major Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, which were passed as temporary cuts and are due for renewal. Apparently letting a temporary tax cut expire at its due date constitutes raising taxes? I could almost see McCain's point, if it weren't for the fact that the Bush administration irresponsibly approved record-setting budget deficits in conjunction with its tax cuts ... and if this language weren't so darn misleading.

The voice of the people

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 8:20 am
Category: Politics

If Hillary Clinton is so concerned that "the voices of all voters are heard," as she keep saying about Florida and Michigan voters as well as the remaining primary voters, then why is she pushing so hard for superdelegates to overturn a national majority in the popular vote and choose her over Obama? That's an astounding degree of hypocrisy!

Primary update

Sunday, May 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm
Category: Politics

I've been reading some news articles about the primary process today, and in their ever-changing strategy, the Clinton campaign is now pushing hard about Florida and Michigan. In addition to the usual fuss about making those voters' voices heard, they're now using the delegate totals that include those states as their targets. Come on, people ... you can't change the rules in the middle of the game. And generating doubt about the validity of the nomination process is possibly the worst thing they could do to divide the party.

In other news, some voters are getting excited about an Obama/McCain matchup. One blog commenter wrote, "I think the Obama fastbreak will leave John McCain holding his athletic supporter and wondering how did he do that. GameOn." Ha!

Come together

Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 1:00 am
Category: Big thoughts

We've seen a lot of political gridlock since Bush (who promised to "work with Republicans and Democrats") took office. When I learned about our founding fathers, a constant theme was "compromise," but now politicians seem to take extreme views that cause paralysis. For example, Congress couldn't agree on adding timelines to the Iraq war funding last year. While the timelines were too restrictive for conservatives who wanted to give the President a blank check, they were too generous for liberals who wanted to end the war immediately.

In my work, there's always more to do than I have time for, so I focus on projects I know I can get done. When I'm working with others, this means focusing on initiatives where we share common ground. Couldn't our political leaders do the same thing? Aren't there certain givens they can focus on, saving trickier topics until they've had some successes? For example, I think everyone agrees that...

- All Americans should have access to education and participate meaningfully in our democracy
- Intellectual freedom and innovation are among our nation's greatest strengths
- The government should not create an unsustainable level of debt

Sadly, as I write this, I can think of just as many areas where liberals and conservatives might agree on goals but can't agree on tactics. For example...

- Liberals believe that regulation can control costs (such as health care costs) while conservatives believe the free market can control costs
- Liberals believe that civil liberties should not be sacrificed for national security while conservatives believe that this sacrifice is necessary
- Liberals believe that cutting taxes means reducing government revenues, while conservatives believe that cutting taxes can create increased government revenues

And then we have strong traditional differences that will take a sea change to overcome. For example...

- Liberals tend to care about the well-being of everyone in the world while conservatives tend to care only about the well-being of Americans
- Liberals believe that corporate power is the biggest threat to personal freedom while conservatives believe that government power is the biggest threat
- Liberals are concerned about protecting the environment while conservatives don't believe that environmental problems exist

I guess it's to be expected that hardly anything is accomplished with these differences. But still, I'd focus on whatever common ground is there, and get something done, then build trust to tackle bigger challenges.

Wanted: conservative insults

Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 12:30 am
Category: Conservatives

I was thinking this week about how effectively conservatives can cut down liberal values with a few widely accepted epithets. For example, a person who wants to help the poor or disadvantaged is a "bleeding heart" (even though it was okay for Bush to run in 2000 on a platform of "compassionate conservatism"). A highly-educated person is an "elitist" or an "egghead." And a person committed to improving our future through personal sacrifice is "smug" or "sanctimonious."

When are we liberals going to come up with a set of zingers to counter these? We can describe a person who avoided military duty but advocates sending others to war as a "chickenhawk," that's a start. How about someone who talks about the American dream while allowing more jobs to move overseas? Or someone who appeals to working-class voters while enacting policies that primarily benefit the wealthy? Or who cuts domestic programs while achieving record budget deficits with other spending? Someone who advocates for states' rights until a state passes a progressive law, then sues the state? Or who supports some dictatorial regimes while attempting to topple others? Can we have words for those people, please?

Superficial patriotism

Friday, May 9, 2008 at 11:50 pm
Category: Big thoughts

Mark Twain once defined a patriot as "the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about." So, our president beats his drum about supporting the troops while increasing the lengths of their tours and cutting their benefits and is considered a great patriot. But Barack Obama's loyalty is suspect because he doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel. We've reached the point where lip service is valued more than actual service to our country. Hillary Clinton branded herself as a friend of the American people because she supports a gas tax holiday, even though she has no authority to create one and there is no movement among the relevant authorities to create one. The idea is literally moot, but people feel that she's watching out for them because of the way she hollered about it.

It seems like political suicide to point out a problem in our country, whether it be a problem with race relations, progress in the war, or our nation's moral authority abroad. Anyone who does so is immediately attacked for not being patriotic. But do we really want our leaders to be nothing more than yes-men to an unquestioning public? Surely that's not how we should define patriotism.

Clinton vs. Obama

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 8:40 am
Category: Politics

It's the day after the Pennsylvania primary, and I'm going to kick this off with a few thoughts about why I'd rather see Obama take the Democratic nomination than Clinton:

1) Negative campaigning. Every time Clinton does it, her delegate count goes up, and my hope for a better political future goes down.

2) Honesty. Clinton's campaign message has changed almost every week based on whatever Obama is doing. She started out as the candidate with experience, then after Obama won Iowa with his message of change, she started talking about her "experience working for change." Now every time Obama makes a misstep, Clinton focuses her message on that. This is leadership? I can't tell what she stands for, other than winning at all costs.

3) Experience. Speaking of experience, Clinton ran her attack ads this week showing images of Osama bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina, and Pearl Harbor, and implying that she was better suited to challenges like these than Obama. But I seem to be missing something ... how exactly does Clinton have experience with these things? Has she fought terrorists, managed a natural disaster, or defended the country in a world war? Her claims of experience are vague at best, so it's a curious choice to focus on.

4) New party members. In Pennsylvania, like previous states, thousands of new voters joined the Democratic party so they could vote for Obama. Our general elections have been so close in recent years that this surge in new voters could blow McCain away. Clinton says Obama can't win without the mainstream, working-class white voters, but I say he can't lose with all the new support he's bringing to the party.

So there you have it, my amateur analysis!

P.S. This was inspired in part by some posts on the comments page after last night's primary. For example:

"Negative campaigning works and the Clinton camp are masters of it."

"I am so sick of Hillary Clinton. She's negative, she lies and she can't manage the finances of her own campaign because she's always running out of money."

"Hillary is trying to destroy the Democractic Party by hoping that the superdelagates overturn the will of the people."

"Sorry but we don't need a fighter. We need a leader."


CNN – Relatively unbiased for the mainstream…

BBC – …but there's nothing like getting outside of your own country for a bigger picture.

Michael Moore – His "must read" section is pretty addictive.

Truthout – A good collection of dissident journalism. – The Republicans are trying to shut them up, but this is a truly democratic organization.

Northern Sun Merchandising – Wear your values on your sleeve! Or jacket or backpack.

Mark Fiore – The "Who's On First" animation is brilliant. And creepy.

Noam Chomsky – Give him an hour and he'll change the way you see the world.