Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why bother voting?

Often I hear the complaint that it's not worth voting, that because of the Electoral College, my vote won't make a difference. While it's true that your vote probably won't alter the way your state's electors vote—particularly if you live in a state that has a chronically lopsided outcome like Massachusetts, New York, Texas or Idaho—all votes still count for something. The electors are the ones who officially make the decision, yes, but the voices of the 130,000,000 or so voters do count. After all, while a president can lose the popular vote and still win the presidency, it sure doesn't look good when that president gets into office that way.

Say we Obama supporters were to lose the electoral college but win the popular vote. That would put a dent in McCain's claim on a "mandate." Bush still went crazy in that situation when he lost the popular vote but got the electoral vote awarded to him by the Supreme Court, but it still affects popular opinion.

If there's an electoral college tie then it's settled by a vote in the House of Representatives. They will probably settle it for Obama, since the Democrats control more state delegations than the Republicans do, and that's probably not going to change with this year's elections. But if McCain wins the popular vote in that situation, it'd be a harder sell for the House to vote for Obama.

Of course, if we win both the popular vote and the electoral vote, the greater our popular vote is, the better Obama looks. The fact is that while most Americans know the rules of the Electoral College, on some level it doesn't feel fair that the candidate who got the most votes doesn't get to be president. That's the rule for every election in this country except for the presidential one, so there's a certain visceral resentment toward the notion that the number-two candidate can snag job number one.

So you see, there's always a reason to vote, even if your state (like mine) isn't likely to be anywhere near close. And it goes without saying that we all have a duty as citizens to participate in this process which is the backbone of our system of government. Maybe it's just the civics nerd inside me talking, but I maintain that that's important.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Deregulation fever wrecked the American economy

I've been saying for years that the deregulation fever that broke out during the Reagan administration would eat this country alive one day, and here those chickens are coming home to roost. Deregulation was blunted by a Democratic-controlled Congress in the 1980s, but when the Republicans took over in 1994, things got way out of control.

Is it really fair to blame President Clinton in part for all this mess? Sure is. Congressional Republicans pushed for excessive deregulation, and President Clinton was morally obliged to veto those bad bills. Things got bad in the 1990s. Of course, when President Bush took over, things got worse. And when President Bush got a Republican House and Senate to play with in 2003, things got far, far worse.

We've had a string of conservative presidents: Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. They all pushed for more deregulation. I watched it from inside the financial industry, where I used to work, but jumped that ship when it became all too apparent it was taking on water. I don't enjoy saying that I told you so, since the wreck of the markets and our economy has hurt us all and will continue to do so, but there it is.

What we're seeing is the fallout of conservative economic philosophy. Blame can largely be placed at the foot of the Republicans, but the conservative Democrats who played ball with the Reaganites and their disciples are just as guilty.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lady Forester de Rothschild on... elitism?

Okay, so we've heard charges from millionaire Republicans like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity that Democrats are elitists. It's a favorite canard of theirs, and they've gotten a lot of phony-populist mileage out of it. You have to wonder how far this kind of chutzpah can stretch.

Frankly, I still have to wonder, because they seem to be stretching it pretty far already. Recently, none other than Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, wife of the multibillionaire international banker Sir Evelyn Rothschild, whom she was introduced to by none other than Henry Kissinger, is disparaging Senator Barack Obama as... an elitist. No, really! I have video! Check it out:

As Lady de Rothschild explains in the video, she was a supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton's White House bid, and was even a member of the Democratic National Committee until very recently. (Obviously, she felt compelled to step down when she decided to endorse Senator John McCain for president.)

I suppose that's all well and good. As an Obama supporter, there's something nice about watching the McCain campaign squirm at a member of the elite hypocritically referring to the child of a single mother who worked his way up in life as an "elitist." But what's Lady de Rothschild's complaint all about? Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's policy views aren't that different, while both are very different from John McCain's. In the interview with Campbell Brown earlier this week, Lady de Rothschild doesn't seem to have a clear explanation as to what this is all about. So what's going on?

At the risk of adding just one more Rothschild-related conspiracy theory to the towering heap already out there, I offer mine. Lady de Rothschild supported Hillary Clinton for the nomination as a strategic move to put the weaker Democrat in power, making it easier for the Republicans to retain the White House this year. Having failed at that, she's moving toward the next-best strategy, which is to support John McCain outright, with money and everything. But that's where my theory falls apart. If Lady de Rothschild really supported John McCain, would she actually go on TV, demonstrating herself to be an out-of-touch, vapid denizen of the upper-upper-crust, giving no solid reason to support John McCain in the first place, and making McCain look like an elitist by merit of her jumping on board his ship?

It could be that there's no conspiracy, and that Lady de Rothschild is as myopic as she comes across. This just leaves one question unanswered: is Lady de Rothschild a millstone for McCain, or an albatross?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Drill, baby, drill!

Japan is counting on us!

And there you have it: the Bush administration and the McCain/Palin campaign are insisting that we need to drill more in order to get us out of our energy crunch, because the stuff is so scarce. So what do they do? They let Alaska sell 98.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas to Japan, even though the price of natural gas is supposed to rise by 22% this winter. Of course, the Governor of Alaska approved the sale. I guess this is what's known as "taking on big oil companies," huh?

Can we all finally agree that drilling for more oil and gas won't end the energy crisis? That it will only serve to put more oil and gas on the international market, doing nothing to affect the price of the stuff one whit? Or are we just going to see more lying about it on the part of the McCain campaign and other Republicans in Congress?

Lies, you say? Well, if that's what you want to do, okay. But it won't help, just so you know.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

McCain: Mayors and governors lack experience

I guess John McCain was against insufficient experience before he was for it:

The above clip is 32 seconds long—the perfect length for a Barack Obama campaign commercial...

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Liddy Dole: an untested campaigner

Elizabeth Dole is up against Kay Hagan, fighting for her second term. It's not going to be the easiest race for the Democrats this year, but it's one that's in striking range. Elizabeth Dole does carry a certain amount of gravitas, but that's more due to her more famous husband, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, than her own record. She did run the Red Cross adequately, and did some pro-seatbelt commercials back in the early 1980s. I remember those commercials, and they're probably responsible for my having adopted the seatbelt habit at age twelve or so, which saved my life in a car crash when I was fifteen. However, Elizabeth Dole, for all the good she did back in the 1980s, has had a lackluster career since, and could very well be unemployed early next year. Seeing how she's roughly John McCain's age, that sounds like a desirable course for her to take.

Her presidential campaign in 2000 failed early and hard. In 2002 she went after Jesse Helms' seat, which Helms was vacating. She was challenged by Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, Erskine Bowles. A couple of factors worked against Bowles: 1) 2002 was a bad year for Democrats and 2) North Carolina and Utah spent that year fighting over who was going to pick up another seat in Congress because of population changes in the last census. North Carolina eventually won that fight, but the result was that the North Carolina primaries had to be delayed. Dole had only token opposition while Bowles was up against state Democratic Leader Dan Blue, and the prolonged primary contest allowed Dole to get it together while Bowles and Blue tore each other apart. I wouldn't say that Bowles would necessarily have won that election in better conditions, but it sure didn't test Dole very well.

Now Dole's a one-term incumbent, facing a tough challenger in a year that's not as good for Republicans as 2002 was. She's still leading Hagan in the polls, but this thing ain't over. Dole's crashing failure as the lead recruiter of Republican candidates during the 2006 elections, when the Republicans lost six Senate seats and picked up exactly zero, hasn't earned her a lot of good will from her Republican colleagues. They aren't willing to come 'round and try to put lipstick on *that* pig.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: a quick glance

While John McCain has been rising in the polls due to his recent pick of a running mate, the state-by-state numbers tell a different story. After all, for all the benefit that Sarah Palin brings to John McCain in Alabama, it doesn't make a heck of a lot of difference, since that's not a state that Barack Obama was terribly likely to win anyway. Since the Electoral College remains winner-take-all, John McCain winning Alabama by 20% is the same result as if he won Alabama by 5%.

MSNBC's Chuck Todd figures that Obama's got 260 electoral votes more or less safely in his column. I figure Obama has 264 reliable electoral votes. The only difference between what Chuck Todd and I think is that I don't see New Hampshire as that vulnerable.

The way I get 264 is that I figure Obama's going to win all the states John Kerry won (252 electoral votes) plus Iowa (7 electoral votes) and New Mexico (5 electoral votes.) Since I figure Obama's got New Hampshire's 4 electoral votes fairly secure, there are only five more to go.

Obama will need to win one more state in addition to what I predict in order to pull off a squeaker. That would be most likely one of the following:

Ohio (20)
Indiana (11)
Virginia (13)
Florida (27)
Colorado (9)

There are other Bush 2004 states that could go Republican again but also might flip Democratic. Those are states like North Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Montana, and North Dakota. However, I don't see those states flipping Democratic without one of the five states I listed above also going Democratic, so those states are gravy, though definitely worth campaigning in. (The Obama campaign was once hopeful of winning Georgia but recently pulled up stakes there. I suspect this is the Sarah Palin effect, but I don't know. Before Palin was selected, I would have also added Alaska to this maybe list, but not anymore.)

The only Kerry state that I see McCain having a real shot at peeling away is Michigan. At 17 electoral votes, that would be a big prize, and would leave the Democrats scrambling to make up the difference. For my part, I'm keeping an eye on Michigan as a true bellwether in this campaign. I figure that it McCain is winning in Michigan, that means he'll most likely take Ohio, as well. But if Obama is winning in Michigan, that doesn't necessarily mean the same thing for him. Sure, Obama could very well win Ohio and Michigan both, but Ohio without Michigan, too? Not at all likely.

State by state, it's a better picture for Obama, but I wouldn't say this thing's over yet.

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Sarah Palin, petty crook

So apparently John McCain's poorly-vetted running mate Sarah Palin has been charging Alaska taxpayers a per diem for nights she spent at home. The state allows for travel expenses to be billed to the taxpayer, but this is not what the framers of the Alaska constitution had in mind.

If you're traveling on state business, sure, you should be allowed to bill the taxpayers. That part of your job. But there's a term for the money they give you for when you stay home and don't travel. That kind of money is called "salary." Since Palin was already drawing a salary, this per diem for ferrying her family between Juneau and Wasilla is what we call "stealing."

Sarah Palin is a petty crook. If I charged my employer for family trips to my original hometown (which, as it happens, is also 600 miles away from where I live now,) I'd be fired, and rightfully so.

More of that famous conservative "fiscal discipline" we hear so much about. Who but a Republican could charge the American people $60 a night to spend the night in her own bed and still manage to get to sleep?

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Who's Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin? Who is this Sarah Palin? Well, as a Democrat, I've got mixed feelings about this choice. I thought McCain was going to choose a lousy candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, but he actually found a worse one.

What's so bad about her? Well, a few things. For one, with the McCain camp hitting Obama on experience issues, it doesn't look too good for them to have the vice president be someone who's only been governor of a small state for about a year and a half. Probably worse is the trouble Palin is in. The short story is that she pressured Alaska's Public Safety Commissioner to fire a state trooper who happened to be her ex-brother-in-law. The trooper hadn't done anything wrong except get into a messy divorce case with Sarah Palin's sister. The Public Safety Commissioner refused to fire the guy--so Palin got a new Public Safety Commissioner who fired the trooper for her. This has recently come to light in Alaska, which caused Governor Palin's approval rating to drop. Granted, her approval was already in the high 80s, so she's still pretty popular in Alaska, but does John McCain really want a running mate who's under a serious ethics investigation? It's bizarre.

The only thing I can think of is that he chose Palin in order to peel away disaffected Clinton supporters. His reasoning is that there are enough women out there who'd vote for a ticket just because it has a female vice president on it, abandoning Barack Obama. This is, frankly, lousy reasoning. It already has a number of conservatives freaking out, throwing their arms up in the air, bellowing, "What the hell is McCain doing? What the hell is he doing?"

So maybe this is a Hail Mary pass. Considering McCain's other choices, he didn't have a lot going for him. McCain could have chosen:

Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA)--A Mormon who would alienate Evangelicals.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee (AR)--An Evangelical who would alienate moderates and Catholics in the Northeast.
Former Congressman Rob Portman (OH)--Who?
Governor Tim Pawlenty (MN)--Again: who?
Former Governor Tom Ridge (PA)--A Catholic who supports abortion rights, who would alienate Evangelicals everywhere, though he'd help among moderates.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA)--A dream running mate for McCain, but ineligible, since he was born in Austria. He'd probably alienate conservatives, too, though he'd stand a chance of attracting enough Democrats to the ticket, if only he could run.
Senator Joe Lieberman (CT)--Lieberman's an old friend of McCain and the best thing to happen to conservatives since Benedict Arnold joined them. However, Lieberman's voting record is still fairly moderate, which would have pleased the evangelicals not at all. And Lieberman's Jewish, which is also a turn-off for evangelicals, who largely don't even view Roman Catholics as Christians. Sure, Ben Stein believes in intelligent design, but I don't think Joe Lieberman follows suit.

Could McCain be thinking that there are enough Hillary Clinton supporters who'd be drawn to a ticket like this? Maybe. But that theory seems too obvious to be correct. Still, why else would he pick such a risky candidate?

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Rachel Maddow's new show.

I recommend that you check out Rachel Maddow's new show on MSNBC. She's got a good take on politics and issues. She doesn't skimp on the important stuff, but she's a spoonful of sugar to make the hard issues easier to take. She makes no bones about her liberal viewpoint, but at the same time, she's fair. We all have biases, but it's still important to be fair. It premiered last night, and I really enjoyed it.

Oddly, my favorite segment of the inaugural show was toward the end, when she talked with Pat Buchanan (announcing with a witty little note on the bottom of the screen, "It's Pat!") I've long been aware of Pat Buchanan, and I find his politics galling, and I tend to feel a little dispeptic whenever I know he's about to speak. And I felt no different when he came on Rachel's show.

See, for the past couple of decades I've been listening to political commentators. I started in the late 1980s, when Rush Limbaugh was still a hot property and new on the scene. I of course never liked him and still don't. But Rush's show was a smash hit, where his brash, thuggish style would frequently stomp all over liberals and moderates, claiming to be part of a balanced debate where no such thing was going on.

Through the 1990s, liberals got sucker-punched all the time. This kept happening in the media until Keith Olbermann came along. Sure, old liberal war horses like Phil Donahue were still around, and while I like Donahue's measured, thoughtful manner, the fact is that Donahue was a harp seal at a time when the waters were filling up with sharks. The tougher, scrappier liberals like Dick Cavett and Gore Vidal were either old or dead, and not able to command audiences on the national scene anymore.

So whenever it happens that a conservative or a wing nut is getting ready to make a vicious and outlandish claim, I figure we liberals are going to feel the beatdown again, so I might as well brace myself. Whenever I see Pat Buchanan talking, I seem to find myself screaming, "You! Mika! Eugene! Whoever! Hit that rat bastard back! Don't take this crap!" I felt that same old feeling tonight on Rachel's show, but with one major difference: when Pat made the ridiculous statements, I clenched up, but Rachel punched back deftly, poised like a martial artist ballerina with a pouch full of throwing stars in reserve. She made it clear that she was up for a conversation, but also that she was not up for taking any crap from Pat Buchanan without properly vetting it, and that she'd likely treat any other frothy-mouthed culture warrior the same way.

God bless you, Rachel Maddow. If Pat declares that there have to be culture wars, I'm glad you and I are in the same corner—and I'm gladder still that you can throw a punch a hell of a lot better than I can.

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Where have you been, Kurt?

I've been getting questions as to why I stopped blogging. I'll spare you the gorey details, but I went through a rough time brought on by a family tragedy earlier this year, and the fallout from it finally hit me, and has interfered with my writing. So has my boring job, which demands a lot of my time.

But no more! Things are perfect again! Well, okay, they're not perfect, but they're better. Or, at least, I'm going to start writing again. So thanks to all of you who wrote, asking about why the blog is down. It's live again, and I intend to keep you updated through this election season, which is getting pretty damned intense.

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