Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama becomes first African-American President of the United States

And so you know, I feel like I need to start foamulating my comment for November 5 when you post something about Obama winning the election. Do you think you could give me a sneak peek as to what that post might look like so I can start working on it now?

So Travis, that's how it's going to start... unless a completely unlikely catastrophe happens in the next 12 days, we'll have a historic end to this year's presidential election. In the immortal words of James Brown,
Hey, country
Didn't say what you meant
Just changed
Brand new funky President

I wait with bated breath to see what he will come up with large majorities in the Senate and House. We can expect a pragmatic liberal agenda.

One thing I think is getting lost in the foofaraw about the economic crisis is that the next president's challenge will not be to tighten the budget during a deep recession. Like was asked in all three debates, I think, "Dontcha wish your economy was hot like ME? Dontcha wish you didn't have to cutcha domestic agenda like ME? DONTCHA? DONTCHA?" That's not the function of government, as Hoover demonstrated with disastrous consequences during the Great Depression.

The next president will have to find creative ways to stimulate the economy. We do that by spending in lean times and saving in fat times. I read the other day that there's fairly strong evidence that we've been in a recession for a year now. FDR did it by creating massive public works projects, employing people and strengthening the fabric of the nation. I look at Obama's clean energy agenda as a similar win-win, a de-facto stimulus in an area that our country and the world as a whole desperately needs. The next president should have long-term goals to cut the deficit and start paying down the debt, just not right away. (This is a "fundamental difference" between the candidates: hint, one of them proposed "a spending freeze".)

There is little chance that McCain will be president. He has to run the table in a number of states where he is behind by double digits. A lot of people have already voted in early voting, in historic numbers, so he can't flip them. I keep saying it's over, but it's OVER. You can follow the electoral projections in mind-numbing statistical detail at and But it's over.

On the lighter side of the news... I did see Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. I heard from several people who only watched the cold open, where, in a Hamlet-like recursion of scenes, we watched Sarah Palin watching Sarah Palin give a press conference. Instead of feeling the ironic distance between Fey and Palin, like Hamlet's murderous uncle, we are meant to feel the essential identity between Fey's portrayal and Palin. Alec Baldwin's bit where he mistakes Palin for Fey pushes them even closer together.

But what you really just gotta, gotta see, is the second Palin segment. She's on Weekend Update with Seth Meyers, and she demurs, again, from doing her planned segment (in the script; she said something similar about not wanting to do the SNL press conference). So Amy Poehler busts out the Palin Gangsta Rap, which is like a greatest hits compilation:

She had a very passive role in everything that was being done to her. I agree that she was a good sport about being pilloried yet again, but wasn't the point to show a different side of Sarah Palin? And yet we didn't see much of one...

I don't think you balance a ticket by starting with a qualified candidate and balancing with an unqualified one. And McCain's flat-out lie on Don Imus does not make me confident about his judgment of her: "I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president." This is totally off the wall.

More qualified than Biden? He's been a Senator for over three decades and chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

More qualified than Al Gore, a Congressman and Senator for sixteen years before he became VP? (He went on to win the popular vote in 2000 and the Nobel Peace Prize, but it would be unfair to compare that record to Palin's while she still has a chance to go on to accomplish those things.)

More qualified than Jack Kemp of Dole/Kemp, who was a Congressman for the better part of twenty years, then Housing Secretary under the first president Bush?

More qualified than DICK CHENEY (Evil as he is)?

Stanford professor Larry Lessig did a video about a month ago comparing Palin's experience to every serving vice president in history. It makes this question of experience eminently obvious.

So why did McCain lie?

I'm being called away to The Office, more on your more substantive points later...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Let me get this in right before the debate. There was a question in the last presidential debate about whether health care should be a privilege, a responsibility, or a right. That is, should it be up to each person to do what they have to do to get health care or not, or should everyone be entitled to health care? (There's not actually much difference between calling it a privilege and calling it a responsibility. A privileged person explains that you don't have a privilege because you were irresponsible.)

This boils down again to the partisan divide on systems. A staunch Republican will say that we have set up a health care system that basically functions like a market. Over time, the system will derive appropriate health care costs. If you can't pay your health care costs under the system, the Republican finds fault with you, not with the system.

John McCain's health care plan revolves around you making even more decisions in the market, essentially driving a wedge between you and your employer-provided health care, cutting you loose with five grand to pay for an individual health plan. And if you can't do it because he didn't give you enough money, don't come crying to John McCain.

A Democrat like me would point out that the health care system we have has gotten stuck in a local maximum.

A free market functions well when consumer choices are real and varied. The choice of a consumer for one provider or another puts pressure on the other providers to improve value. But a free market breaks down in the face of an oligopoly, a market where there are few choices. An oligopoly, or monopoly, has strong incentives to lower value and raise prices because there is no competitive pressure. History abounds with examples.

Ask yourself whether we have a competitive health care market.

That's just one among many reasons that people can't pay the costs of health care. Democrats see that as a failure of the system, not a failure of the people. So first, we have to fix the system. An interesting way to do that might be to open the government health plan, the one that John McCain is on right now, to anyone who wants to join.

Making health care a right is a way of saying a few things: "We guarantee that the system will not chew you up and spit you out. We guarantee that you won't have to go bankrupt because of necessary medical care. We guarantee that you won't have to choose between food and prescriptions." And we're also saying that an America where any of those things can happen to you is not an America we can countenance.

My dad used to tell us about evangelizing in the inner city. He said they would hand out tracts wrapped around sandwiches. The idea was that there are needs more urgent than religion. Maybe sandwiches are not as important in the long run, but they certainly are in the short run.

Health care is like the sandwich. There's little point in talk about high-minded ideals like freedom of speech, religion, and press for people who do not have basic access to doctors and health services.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Troopergate explodes

I have been chewing over Tina's latest comment and I promise I actually have something constructive. But first:

On July 11, Ms. Palin fired Mr. Monegan, setting off a politically charged scandal that has become vastly more so since Ms. Palin became the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

By now, the outlines of the matter have been widely reported. Mr. Monegan believes he was ousted because he would not bow to pressure to dismiss Trooper Wooten. The Alaska Legislature is investigating the firing and whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta. Its report is due Friday.

Ms. Palin has denied that anyone told Mr. Monegan to dismiss Trooper Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with him. But an examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it.

In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show.

“To all of us, it was a campaign to get rid of him as a trooper and, at the very least, to smear the guy and give him a desk job somewhere,” said Kim Peterson, Mr. Monegan’s special assistant, who like several other aides spoke publicly about the matter for the first time.

Ms. Peterson, a 31-year veteran of state government who retired 10 days before Mr. Monegan’s firing, said she received about a dozen calls herself. “It was very clear that someone from the governor’s office wanted him watched,” she said.

Nor did that interest end with Mr. Monegan, the examination shows. His successor, Chuck Kopp, recalled that in an exploratory phone call and then a job interview, Ms. Palin’s aides mentioned the governor’s concerns about Trooper Wooten. None of the 280 other troopers were discussed, Mr. Kopp said.

NY Times, in the first of many many articles to come. This issue will dominate the headlines for the rest of the election.

Palin has more executive experience than McCain. Unfortunately, it was experience in abuse of power and politically motivating firing, then shifting stories and lies in the media, then a massive stonewall from Palin, then several attempts to quash by the McCain campaign.

I don't see how anyone could, in the cold light of reason, vote for this ticket.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Slice of life

One thing I actually retained from a class in French cinema about ten years ago was this: when film exploded, the early cameras, cinematographs, only had a short amount of film (46 seconds), so you could only do so much with your reel. A lot of those films were actualités, short slices of life, like a lot of blogs.

Here's what happened. I was out at the mall with Sarah, Alex, and a couple of grandparents. We had finished our swing through the department stores and were on our way out. Sarah's dad decided to duck into Eddie Bauer, which is right in front of a wishing well. I stayed with the stroller and helped Alex check it out without falling in. It's pretty, especially when the koi are in there. I didn't see them tonight.

While I was holding Alex, I noticed a couple of teens dressed in what I assume is the à la mode slacker/stoner fashion. I did not witness them doing drugs, but they might have earlier. It would explain a lot.

The one with long messy hair was fishing around in the fountain stealing coins, and picking them off the rocks. What happens to a wish deferred? I remember throwing coins into the same fountain (the part without the koi) when I visited for interviews, and later with Sarah on our house-hunting trip. The bleached blond dude might have been a lookout, but he wasn't doing much of a job.

I almost said something to the guys. Instead I stood there and thought about the example they were setting for my son. I didn't feel like they injured my sense of community... more like offended my sense of propriety. The nerve! I don't think Alex really understood though. No harm done.

Near the end, the guy stealing coins rolled up his sleeve at one point to put his arm way down in the muck. He looked through them for a second, then shook out the water and rolled the sleeve back down. Shortly thereafter, him and his friend headed towards Eddie Bauer.

From behind my left, two police officers appeared, following them, and motioned to three others coming from the right. They caught up with the kids right at the entrance. I didn't see or hear much of the conversation after that, but I did see them cuffing the blond kid as we left. I was surprised that it escalated to that level over what is basically pocket change. Maybe they were repeat offenders.

The part of the story that doesn't make sense to me is why in heaven's name they thought they would get away with it. If you can rely on people like me not to make an issue of it, that's one thing. But the fountain sits in the nerve center of the mall. It has 360 degrees of visibility on the floor and you can see it 360 degrees from the banistered walkways on the next floor up. It is next to the elevator to the food court. There is a lot of foot traffic.

Were they high? Maybe the blond kid got cuffed for possession?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

VP Debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin

For those who didn't get a chance, here is the debate on Google Video, and here is the transcript.

Joe Biden, debate word cloud:

Sarah Palin, debate word cloud:

I had some minor trouble watching the VP debate, as I suspected. Also, Palin's mannerisms and wordsmithing drove me up the wall. Also, probably the first use of "shout-out" in presidential election debate history. Also, those were little things. Well, at least they were to me. Also. As for conservative columnist Rich Lowry:

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.

Palin does not seem to be as effective as some other treatments for this little problem, which promise to let you choose the moment that is right for you. But her presence in the McCain campaign now seems to be explained. Even justified. Demanded!

Ok, ok, enough jokes about the still-feisty, surely virile McCain, who despite his 72 years is as rambunctious and impulsive as ever. The real problems I had with Palin were never that she seemed incapable of stringing English sentences together, or wasn't winking enough.

The real problem with Palin on the issues is that when she was taken off her talking points into the details, or asked to give a nuanced judgment of an issue, she crashed and burned. And she didn't crash and burn because she was providing too much information. She crashed and burned because she had no context for the things she was talking about.

As Mr Willems was so fond of saying, meaning is contextual. When an idea, incident or word appears, it plays in the foreground against the contextual background. It locates itself among the nodes of a web of concepts. It means something because everything else means something.

That's why it was so brazen for Palin to say, early in the debate,

I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.

What she said was that she wasn't interested in maintaining a conversation. She would be responsive if she chose. And when necessary, she would disregard the context and launch into stream-of-consciousness mini-essays on American life. Okay, she didn't say that in so many words, but...

Here is one of the most bald-faced examples. Gwen Ifill began with the question to Biden, what would your administration look like if you were forced into the Presidency? Biden explained that he would carry Obama's torch, essentially, by focusing on the middle class, doing health care and clean energy, restoring a foreign policy focused on diplomacy and cooperation.

But this question is perhaps the key question about Palin, the one that matters more than any other. If we had a President Palin, what could we expect? Could she cut it? Rather than answer this question, Palin avoided it almost entirely, and none too smoothly veered off into the economy. I'll italicize the point when she really went off the rails. We begin a little into Palin's answer, without omitting much of the point:

PALIN: ... What I would do also, if that were to ever happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.

I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C.

PALIN: So that people there can understand how the average working class family is viewing bureaucracy in the federal government and Congress and inaction of Congress.

Just everyday working class Americans saying, you know, government, just get out of my way. If you're going to do any harm and mandate more things on me and take more of my money and income tax and business taxes, you're going to have a choice in just a few weeks here on either supporting a ticket that wants to create jobs and bolster our economy and win the war or you're going to be supporting a ticket that wants to increase taxes, which ultimately kills jobs, and is going to hurt our economy.

BIDEN: Can I respond? Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of time and you ask anybody in there whether or not the economic and foreign policy of this administration has made them better off in the last eight years. And then ask them whether there's a single major initiative that John McCain differs with the president on. On taxes, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on the whole question of how to help education, on the dealing with health care.

Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it. They get it. They know they've been getting the short end of the stick. So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my old neighborhood in Claymont, an old steel town or go up to Scranton with me. These people know the middle class has gotten the short end. The wealthy have done very well. Corporate America has been rewarded. It's time we change it. Barack Obama will change it.

IFILL: Governor?

PALIN: Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It's not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart. I'm very, very concerned about where we're going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

Yes, there was a moment later where Biden got emotional that was really raw and human, a great moment, and Palin kind of just talked over it. But for me, this was one of the bigger moments in the debate.

I don't know how much of it to unpack, so let me just summarize this way. A Palin presidency would, according to Palin, be a small-government presidency, engaged in eliminating greed and corruption from Wall Street with a little Main Street elbow grease. Biden points out that the Bush presidency wasn't good for Main Street, and John McCain didn't disagree with him much over the course of that presidency. Palin clearly struggles to respond, first saying that the past doesn't matter about as clumsily as possible, then seizing on one word in Biden's point to launch into another issue wholly removed from the preceding context, again about as clumsily as possible.

Why did she have so much trouble? Maybe because Biden was telling the truth in a way that is pretty hard to argue, at least without seeming completely out of touch. (McCain's agreement with Bush was positive for the country! Main Street is doing just fine! Main Street doesn't understand how great things are!) But also, I think, because Palin can't articulate the difference between the McCain vision and the Bush vision, and what McCain will do for the middle class that George Bush wouldn't, and how she might disagree with the policies of the last eight years, as a dyed-in-the-wool Washington outsider.

She couldn't hook into the last eight years, because she hasn't been plugged in for the last eight years. Her populist rhetoric ran dry pretty fast in the debate. Imagine how fast it would run dry in a four-year presidency.

I'm not saying Biden or Obama were perfect in their debates. But if you watch them fairly, you can definitely see their concerns playing out against their ideologies of support for the middle class, clean energy, and a responsible foreign policy. And for all that I disagree with McCain's trickle-down, belligerent alternative viewpoint, at least he has a viewpoint to speak of. And then there's Palin.

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Arcade Fire

I tape Austin City Limits on PBS and go through them when I have a chance. I've seen some really great ones. Recently, The Decemberists, Ray Davies, Van Morrison, The Raconteurs. Watch them yourself whenever you get a chance. Sometimes it's the best of new music, sometimes it's legendary acts like Bob Dylan.

I saw another band, new to me, about a week ago and it just blew me away: Arcade Fire. They're a seven-piece-plus band out of Montreal that plays all kinds of instruments and sings songs about those fundamental things: life and death, love, religion, culture. Their show was epic, and not just because they had a horn section, violins, and a gigantic pipe organ.

They sing and play with fiery passion. There were about ten people on stage playing their hearts out, then switching instruments between songs. They would sing even when they weren't next to a microphone.

I found all their albums at the library, so they've been getting a lot of listens lately. The Arcade Fire EP, Funeral, and Neon Bible. Highly recommended.