Friday, August 29, 2008

And now the real story

I thought Obama's speech was incredible.

If you're not one of the nearly 40 million people who watched it live (that's a stunning number; it's actually the highest ever for a political convention), do yourself a favor and watch it for yourself now.

The thing I love about Barack Obama is that he seems to understand that, while he's uniquely positioned to be the face of this movement--attractive, telegenic candidate, different at a glance from the hacks who've been destroying the country, brilliant orator with a background as a community organizer--it isn't actually about him. We cheer for Obama not to feed his ego and not because we think he'll solve everything by himself. We cheer for Obama because he's the face of a movement of millions of us who have had enough.

We want government to work for us, not just line rich people's pockets. We're sick of being fed shit sandwiches and told by the government and the media alike why it's good for us. And Obama laid out a vision last night, in front of 70,000 live listeners and 40 million on television, of what America could look like.

The argument that Obama is some kind of empty suit running on vagueries and his own personality has always been nonsense. Anyone who has been to is drowning in policy specifics. And anyone who watched Obama's speech last night could only conclude that Obama is trying to sell the country on his actual policy agenda. I suppose he's betting that people mean what they say when they tell pollsters they actually want liberal policies (like progressive taxation, environmental protection, affordable and universal health care, reproductive rights, etc.).

George W. Bush, by contrast, ran two campaigns in which he did everything he could to obscure his real agenda, and thus he had no mandate to enact it. Which is why in his second term, when people noticed his policies other than bombing the shit out of brown people (and noticed that that wasn't really working out in any case), everyone started hating him. They hadn't actually voted for gutting social security, using the full force of the government to keep a brain-dead woman alive despite the wishes of her family, and doing nothing about hurricanes. Or endless war, either. At least, they didn't think they had.

And that's what's different about Obama. He made the case last night that you should vote for him because his policies are the ones you believe in, while John McCain will just continue the ones you hate.

As Kevin Drum put it, if this works, "he'll not only win, he'll win with a public behind him that's actively sold on a genuinely liberal agenda. This is why conservatives have so far been apoplectic about his speech tonight: if he continues down this road, and wins, they know that he'll leave movement conservatism in tatters. He is, at least potentially, the most dangerous politician they've ever faced."

I believe. You can watch it for yourself.

Dan Quayle with breasts?

So McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. I guess it's actually not shocking he didn't pick someone obvious. Nobody much cared about McCain's running mate choice when everybody thought he was going to pick Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. And we all knew he really couldn't pick Lieberman.

So basically he picked an obscure governor who, prior to getting elected governor of Alaska in 2006, was mayor of a town of 9000 people. He picked her because she claims to be a reformer (although that's apparently mostly bullshit--remember, George W. Bush ran as a "reformer with results" in 2000), and because her youth--she's three years younger than Barack Obama--he apparently hopes will offset his own age. And I suppose he decided he couldn't beat Obama with a two-old-white-guys ticket.

Basically McCain has apparently decided to chuck the "experience" argument entirely and try to out-"reform" and out-"change" the Democratic ticket. Good luck. (Palin also has zero foreign policy experience--on that score she really does make Barack Obama look like, well, Joe Biden.)

It's a desperate and weird gamble and I'm actually not particularly worried that it will work. It does change the dynamic of the coming Biden-Palin debate, though. Biden will mop the floor with her, but it won't matter. If Biden is really good (and that's why Barack picked him, after all), he'll beat Palin by demolishing John McCain.

The funniest thing about this one is that apparently, she delivers her home state of Alaska to the Republican column. Has it come to this? No Democrat has carried Alaska since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and McCain had to pick the governor of the place to be assured of winning it?

EDIT: Bonus. Palin says "nookyoolar" too. Does anyone besides me get the feeling that this selection might become a punchline very soon, and have the effect of making the Democratic ticket look serious and the Republican ticket look laughable and desperate?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's not a hard question.

Define 'honor,' Senator McCain.
JM: Read it in my books.

Time: I've read your books.
JM: No, I'm not going to define it.

Time: But honor in politics?
JM: I defined it in five books. Read my books.

Going down to brass tacks, this is probably the result of the campaign (that John McCain does not speak for) having words with John McCain to start speaking for it. Thus, McCain takes no chances now, and is clearly irritated by that.

But how hard is it to define "honor"? If he really knew what it meant, and if he believed in it as more than a nice decorative ribbon atop his former Prisoner of War status, he would have no trouble defining it. The trouble is that his campaign has not taken an honorable stance as anyone could possibly see it, and so he knows that if he goes that route, he'll be trapped into categorizing his campaign's tone.

As the campaign creaks onward, John McCain is going to be more and more limited in his responses. No one on his side wants another "houses" fluff (which was ironically made because he probably felt he had to defer to his staff on everything). Thus, I'm sure McCain is going to become crankier and crankier as he's caught between what he wants to say and what he thinks his campaign wants him to say. He won't have the acuity to stay on message and speak off the cuff at the same time. I'll be very surprised if we don't see some minor meltdown at the debates, even if all the questions are framed in his favor.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The light at the end of the tunnel

I was driving earlier and I tuned in to Air America's live broadcast of the Democratic National Convention.

I was just in time to hear Hillary Clinton move that Barack Obama be declared the nominee by acclamation.

And Speaker Pelosi asked if anyone seconded the motion, and the crowd erupted like thunder.

And I found myself crying.

Before Trinity, there was the B Reactor

A few days ago, the Hanford B Reactor, near Richland, Washington, was designated a National Historic Landmark. The eventual goal is to turn the building into a museum; the reactor has been shut down and defueled for 40 years, and many areas, including the control room and the reactor front face, are decontaminated and safe for the public to view.

This was the world's first industrial-scale nuclear reactor. Built quickly and under heavy secrecy during World War II, the B Reactor and its associated processing plants produced the plutonium for the first atomic bomb test at the Trinity Site, and later for the "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Enrico Fermi himself oversaw its initial startup.

Understandably, the site's new status has provoked some dismay from letter writers, including one who felt "that designation honors the birthplace of the most devastating weapon of war ever created," and another who asked, "Is having unleashed the nuclear demon ... something about which we should boast?" This prompted me to write the following letter to the editor, which I thought I would also share here.
I read the two letters to the editor on Wednesday that expressed dismay about the Hanford B Reactor's new status as a national historic landmark. I thought I'd give a slightly different perspective.

Two years ago I had the privilege of seeing the B Reactor in person, thanks to getting a slot on one of the rare public tours of the Hanford Site. It was impressive, sobering, and thought-provoking. Standing there, I found it impossible to forget that what went on inside that hastily-constructed cinderblock building changed history. A new era dawned when the world's first atomic bomb, built with material produced by that reactor, was detonated. As a nation we may still be debating whether this was a step we should have taken, but we owe it to future generations to preserve the B Reactor Building as part of the context for that debate. It's an incredibly important part of history and it deserves its landmark status.

The dawn of the atomic age, and the Cold War that followed, have left very few public landmarks for people to look at and contemplate. I feel strongly that it's important to preserve what we can from that era -- not necessarily because we're proud of what transpired, but because those events changed the world.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama's poll numbers

Obama's poll numbers are dropping. He's roughly even with McCain in the popular vote, and has an insignificant lead in the electoral college, right now. The negative ads the McCain campaign has launched against him are apparently working; this is somewhat reminiscent of what happened to Kerry after the Swift Boat attacks.

Resist the temptation to panic.

Obama is, in my opinion, a cannier campaigner than Kerry. My suspicion is has campaign has been holding back, keeping their powder dry. Going negative when you already have a lead is usually a bad strategy, but my guess is now you'll start to see some pushback from the Obama campaign. Also, unlike Kerry, he has plenty of time before November to stage a comeback. Finally, we're about to enter the convention season, which tends to shake everything up; we won't know where things really stand until a week or two after the conventions, when the initial convention bounce has settled down.

Obama's gaffe

Some of Obama's answers at the Saddleback Presidential Forum are being portrayed as gaffes. Now that I've had a chance to browse the transcript, I think his biggest mistake was showing up at all.

In a general sense, there was no way that allowing a pastor to give him and McCain a series of religious litmus tests could go well for him. I also think having the first debate be a theological one is bad symbolism for a secular political race.

More specifically, though, many of the questions were clearly loaded towards the conservative view; they were questions that conservatives have glib bumper-sticker slogans for, but progressives find more nuanced. In my opinion Obama was being set up; the goal was clearly to get him to say something that could be used as a damaging sound byte. Questions like, " what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?" were clearly designed to provoke a big applause line from McCain and a lot of dithering from Obama.

The worst example, though, was this question:
Does evil exist? And if it does, do we ignore it? Do we negotiate with it? Do we contain it? Do we defeat it?
The very premise of this question is based on an oversimplified, neoconservative view of the world — a cartoon universe where people divide neatly into good guys and bad guys. G.I. Joe and Cobra. It's really more complicated than that, and it's destructive to think of the world that way, but there's no way of saying so without creating a wishy-washy sounding sound byte. McCain, of course, fully embraces that view, so he was able to simply say "defeat it," and then promise to follow bin Laden "to the gates of hell" if necessary. Big applause, good sound byte for his ads.

I hope Obama doesn't fall for any more McCain campaign events disguised as debates.

Monday, August 18, 2008

McCain's extreme stand on abortion and contraception

I'll confess I skipped the forum on faith that represented the first general election meeting between Obama and McCain. Questions of faith have become so ritualized in our political system that I didn't expect any major revelations. McCain, however, provided one when asked about the abortion issue:
McCain won a roar of approval when Warren asked him at what point a human being gets human rights: "At the moment of conception," McCain replied.
Now, that McCain opposes abortion is not a surprise, although polls show many voters are still unaware of it. This, however, is a much more extreme stance that could result in banning many forms of contraception. It also raises a whole raft of legal questions. It's hard to see how in-vitro fertilization could be legal, for example; surely if embryos have human rights, the rights of those that aren't implanted are being violated. There are also many activities that increase the risk of early miscarriages, including exercise and drinking beverages containing caffeine; if a woman experiences a miscarriage after engaging in one of these, is she guilty of manslaughter?

McCain's answer should firm up his support among the Republican base, but may hurt him with independents; a poll back in July found that only 45% of voters were aware of McCain's anti-abortion position. Now that he's clarified it in a big way, some of them may rethink their support.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A green anti-tip

I feel strongly that energy conservation is important. For that reason, it bothers me when I see bad advice passed off as "green tips." One I've seen frequently is the suggestion that you should buy a power strip with a switch and plug your cell phone charger into it, so you can turn it off when you aren't charging the phone. It sounds logical, but in most cases it won't save any noticeable amount of power.

Modern wall chargers are usually very efficient and draw almost no power when they're not actually charging a device. I did an experiment with my own cell phone charger by plugging it into a wattmeter, a device that measures power consumption. It used less than one watt with the phone disconnected, too little to even show on the wattmeter's display. I plugged a power strip into the wattmeter and plugged in all three of the chargers I normally use — phone, laptop, and camera — and found that all together they still drew less than 1 watt. This represents less than $1 per year at the current average U.S. electricity rate; compared to the rest of the power used in your house it's completely lost in the noise.

A simple check to see if your charger is of the newer, more efficient type is to feel its case after it's been plugged in but not in use for a while. If it feels warm to the touch, you'll save at least a little power by disconnecting it. If it's cool to the touch, you might as well leave it plugged in.

You could argue that disconnecting cell phone chargers when they aren't in use doesn't really hurt anything. I feel, though, that if we're going to ask people to invest time and money into conservation, we ought to make sure we're only asking them to do so when it will actually make a difference.

Screw life on earth

Just when you thought Bush couldn't get any worse, now he's out to gut the Endangered Species Act.

The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants.

New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft first obtained by The Associated Press.

Once again, self-regulation is the answer. Apparently Bush had seen too many of those Chevron "People Do" ads and wondered why, in that case, the government did.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.

Read that again. The Bush Administration wants to destroy any rationale for halting global warming. And they admit it. They're basically saying "Oh, no, you're not going to impede the corrosion of our planet's ecosystem that easily. We'll just stop protecting other animals!"

I don't even know where to begin with this. We knew neocons had no value for the lives of cannon fodder, let alone for any non-hominid life form, but it's a little hard to fathom that they're willing to drive their own futures off a cliff as well. What's more, in an age where most people see global warming as a threat to our future, it's astonishing that the Administration would bluntly put the short-sighted interests of Big Business out there as a casus belli against the rest of life on Earth.

January 20, 2009 can't come fast enough (assuming Obama is elected). We need to get these psychotic destructionists out of office.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday cat blogging

o/~ I'm just a cat in the box... o/~

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Sketched This

political cartoon

The Wrecking Crew

Thomas Frank, the author of What's the Matter with Kansas?, has a new book out called The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. He points out something I've noticed as well — that conservatives, who don't believe government can work, create a self-fulfilling prophesy by doing everything they can to damage the machinery of government once they're elected. His interview on Fresh Air is well worth a listen.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Best of the Worst of the 2008 Washington State Primary

Well, it's primary season again, and that means a new voters' pamphlet. This really is some of the most entertaining mail I get all year. Here are the strangest and most amusing of this years' candidates.

The candidate statements are available online if you'd like to read more about any of these folks.

U.S. Congressional District 7:

Goodspaceguy Nelson
(Democratic Party)

Family: "The life of Spaceship Earth is his family."

Experience: "Trying to understand the universe, Goodspaceguy became an amateur jack-of-all-trades and astronomer and economist and wants to advance rejuvenation and medical technology and wants tall buildings and more movies to be made in Washington State."

Platform: Space colonization. His blog exhorts us to "Beam Goodspaceguy Up to Spaceship Congress."

Note: Ran for Senate as Michael Goodspaceguy Nelson in 2006 — did he change his name?

Al Schaefer
(No party preference)

Previous elected experience: "Student Council President - HS; Pres. Cancer Victors and Friends; Program Chairman for same"

Platform: Requiring judges to inform jurors about Jury Nullification. Requiring the IRS to eliminate wages from taxable income. Believes the income tax is voluntary. Wants to pass a bill requiring the documentary 9/11 Press For Truth reviewed, but doesn't say by whom.

Note: What on earth is he wearing on his head in his picture?

U.S. Congressional District 8:

Keith Arnold
(Democratic Party)

Platform: Wants Congress to strip the Supreme Court's power, then eliminate the Supreme Court entirely through a constitutional amendment.


Will Baker
(Reform Party)

Platform: Believes the 2004 primary voters' pamphlet was cancelled specifically to censor him. Believes "State Governor Christine 'The Cover-Up Queen' Gregoire" [sic] has paid off whisteblowers to cover up scandals.

Asks readers to visit his website, then call "60 Minutes."

Duff Badgley
(Green Party)

Platform: Among other things, wants Boeing diverted to the manufacture of solar and wind power equipment.

Javier O. Lopez
(Republican Party)

Experience: "I have invented an air engine that has the power to operate an automobile while relying on air as its fuel source."

Platform: Eliminating waste and fraud, $30 car license tabs, limiting spending, protecting children from sexual abuse by educators.

I should note that this is the first year for a "top two" primary that was instated by voter initiative. Candidates are identified by their party preference, but are not required to be members of, or endorsed by, those parties. The top two vote-getters for each position go to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Some candidates seemed a little unsure of the name of the party they were running for, or perhaps had trouble filling out the form. Party preferences included the "G.O.P. Party" (Grand Old Party Party?), "Democrat Party," "Party of Commons Party," and the "Cut Taxes G.O.P. Party."

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