Friday, October 31, 2008

Fright Night and the Polls.

Whoever decided that election day should be held in the first week of November had a very cynical sense of humor. If the prospect of change in the political realm isn't frightening enough for many people, the celebration of the darker side of life that occurs on the weekend before the polls open should help raise anxiety levels. I have always loved Halloween. The holiday is the one throwback to the wild Pagan festivals that history suggests were so much fun. From early childhood I have learned to expect the offering of either tricks or treats. There is the sense that anything is possible. The same dynamic applies to politics. Strong opinions abound, and some will find their hopes met, while others will find them thwarted.

So in the spirit of this special day, I'd like to ask the reader about what they fear most on this coming Tuesday. It should come as no surprise that voters all along the spectrum have plenty of nightmare scenarios to choose from. Obviously they range from the realistic to the perverse. For some reason this cycle has presented us with an inordinate amount of speculation regarding worst-case situations, regardless of who wins the presidency. From my biased position, I would suggest that the McCain campaign has worked harder to stoke fears on their side. Like it or not, he occupies the establishment position during this contest, and so he has been forced to paint his opposition as the manifestation of particularly scary change.

Some of the predictions emanating from the Far Right are so breathless that they seem absurd. I've seen and heard multiple accounts of how Barack Obama will change the United States into a Socialist Republic. He'll make rich people cede their wealth to welfare recipients, and no one will have any incentive to make money anymore. Among the Christian Right, a common sentiment is that the Senator from Illinois will reveal his secretly-held devotion to Islam and make Christianity illegal forever hereafter. The Christian Reformationist Dr. James Dobson (founder and leader of Focus on the Family) predicts "hardship," "persecution" and "suffering" for Christians if Obama becomes president.

Interestingly, religious leaders have also been enflaming the fears of Jews who are still undecided about who to vote for. They have made repeated attempts to link Obama to supposed "associates" who have been perceived as vehemently anti-Israel. No matter how many times the candidate has reasserted his support for our Middle Eastern ally, wingnuts like "Joe the (Tax-Dodging) Plumber" continue to issue grave and unfounded warnings. Obviously such tools of the Republican Party get their marching orders from the top. John McCain's fear-based politics have been intentionally crafted to bring out the very worst paranoid delusions in his followers. I could fill up at least a hundred posts with more examples.

Even if John McCain were to mount an increasingly unlikely comeback, some of his supporters fear a widespread uprising and riots among African-Americans. On the opposite side, McCain's detractors worry that the Arizona senator might die in office, leaving the nation in the hands of his singularly unqualified running mate. Others are afraid that he will signal his approval for Israeli air attacks on Iran, which would likely lead to World War III. My own horror involves McCain prevailing and giving an acceptance speech that culminates with him tearing his own leathery face off, only to reveal that he is actually George W. Bush. Finally, the only prospect of an Obama presidency that provokes my anxiety is the small minority that may wish him harm.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

John McCain's Last Narrative: The Obstructionist.

This past Sunday, New York Times Magazine featured an article by Robert Draper entitled "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain." It examined the various narratives that the Arizona senator's campaign staff has tried to attach to its candidate over the last year-and-a-half. Terry Gross got to sit down with Draper on Tuesday, and I was lucky enough to catch that segment of Fresh Air. I marveled at the litany of identities that McCain has assumed. He's been The War Hero, The Agent of Change, The Wise Elder, The Bipartisan Deal Maker, and The Maverick. During the chaotic course of the race, he has often needed to change his story mid-step, and that has caused a fair amount of confusion out on the stump.

So what mask is John McCain wearing in this last week before the election? I've often felt that people tend to choose a Halloween costume that subconsciously reveals their inner desires and complex relationships with their inner selves. In this case I feel that insight holds true. McCain has finally exposed his true nature. He is The Obstructionist. This is the final message his handlers are selling the American Public. What convincing argument are they left with to get people to pick John McCain over his opponent? They are warning that if Barack Obama becomes president, he will have an overwhelming Democratic advantage in Congress to work with. He will be able to push through his agenda with relative ease. And McCain doesn't want to let that happen.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see this latest face of John McCain. After all, we saw it just a few long weeks ago when the senior politician suspended his campaign and rushed back to Washington DC to "rescue" the Wall Street Bailout bill. We were told that the "Do-Nothing Gang" in Washington needed his expert guidance. After a stop at the Katie Couric studios, and a visit to his old friend Bill Clinton, McCain dropped into the Capitol for one last mission. Despite the fact that his senate colleagues had difficulty recognizing their long-lost friend, he assured them (and the nation) that he would save the day. But what did he actually contribute? Sources at the scene reported that he scuttled a deal that was already on the table, without offering any fresh ideas.

McCain's approach to "solving the economy" is much like his overall strategy of leadership- "Talk loudly and drag your feet." He's got a hell of a reputation for taking on unpopular issues, but by the time his initiatives gain traction, he has already abandoned them. What would this nation be like today if John McCain had stuck to his convictions about lobbyist corruption, reasoned and deliberate military policy, positive dialog in political campaigns, or opposition to the Bush tax cuts? Where would he be if he had moved ahead with his plan to enlist an actual moderate of substantial qualifications (Joe Lieberman or Michael Bloomberg) as his running mate? What would his reception have been if he actually tried to fulfill his promise that "Change is Coming"?

When it comes down to it, all John McCain represents now is a place-marker. He's basically just running interference for a political party that has no idea what to do next. Virtually every move the GOP has made during the last eight years has proved to be a failure. With the potential of an ignoble defeat facing Republicans on November 4th, its leadership has directed its attention inward. But can the American people wait while the GOP tries to figure out whether it wants to become the populist (and anti-intellectual) party of social conservatives like Sarah Palin, or return to values like fiscal conservatism, cautious foreign policy, and political accountability? Thomas Paine notably said, "That government is best which governs least", but we have to ask ourselves if we can actually afford that approach in these fragile times.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Palin: Policy on the Stump.

Apparently Palin loyalists within the McCain campaign have finally gotten to whoever has been calling the shots. The past week-and-a-half saw the VP candidate deliver her very first policy proposals on the stump. On Oct. 24th she spoke about her ticket's support for children with special needs. This should have been one of her easiest missions to date, as not even the harshest of critics could summon enough vitriol to attack the extension of aid to disabled kids. But nonetheless she managed to screw up the pitch. While she was able to appear especially compassionate and forthright in her new-found dedication to the less fortunate, those who paid close attention found an empty core at the center of her expansive speech.

Just what exactly have McCain and Palin offered on this issue? Specifically, they have pledged to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act*. They are "exempting " programs to assist those with disabilities from their proposed across-the-board federal spending freeze (no details here), and they want to provide school vouchers. That last suggestion is simply a repeat of their plan to dissemble public education, and would offer only marginal (at best) benefits for parents of special needs children. So there's not much meat on that plate. One could be forgiven for being underwhelmed by the ticket's commitment, simply on the basis of what they are promising. But her chronic bungling of the issue belies her fundamental lack of interest in it.

How would Palin suggest funding IDEA? Well, she believes that the money can come from what the administration would save by cutting "unnecessary" earmarks. Here the Alaskan Governor actually got specific- she would target "projects having little or nothing to do with the public good -- things like fruit fly research in Paris, France" (that's a direct quote from her speech). While some might admire such frugality, scientists couldn't keep themselves from identifying Palin's deep ignorance. That "useless" research with fruit flies has led to valuable discoveries that have boosted autism research. One might answer that Palin only knows about Down's Syndrome babies... if one didn't hear her talking about her 13-year old nephew with autism in this very same speech.

Instead of reining Ms. Palin back in after that notable gaffe, her handlers pressed to have her deliver another policy speech on the trail. This time she was in Toledo, Ohio talking about the McCain/Palin energy plan. Naturally the Alaskan native (and wife of a longstanding employee of BP) framed the situation by talking about reliance on "foreign oil". She pointed out (in an odd moment of rationality) the dangers of depending on fuel supplies from the Middle East. She even identified the increased risks of providing obvious targets like oil industry infrastructure to terrorists. So what did she offer as a solution to this "national security" concern? "Drill, Baby, Drill!" Rely on Alaskan oil instead!**

Surely any new oil rigs built in the Last Frontier will be immune from terrorist attacks. They've got "Real American" hunters there (as well as a vibrant secessionist movement). I guess in Palin's mind it doesn't matter that the reserves there are not nearly sufficient to make a substantial dent in our reliance on overseas oil. Luckily, the Pork Queen's got an answer for that as well- build lots and lots of nuclear plants... because those facilities are uniquely safe from sabotage, and present a "clean" energy with no risks to Americans. And unlike on the subject of disabilities, this "Hockey Mom" is an expert on energy. As John McCain said, Sarah Palin "knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America" (link).

* However, a Palin aide has admitted that a McCain/Palin administration would ask for only $45 billion over 5 years for IDEA, which would be $30 billion short of the amount necessary for full funding. Furthermore, support for the program is back-loaded, with only $3 billion put aside for the first year.

**This particular message was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, since Toledo's civic leaders are banking on the future of solar technology to revive the city's struggling economy.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bush and His Legacy: Incursions Into Syria.

As the election draws ever near, the words "October Surprise" linger on the periphery of the national consciousness. Of course, as the days pass by, the prospect of a game-changing external event becomes increasingly attractive to McCain supporters. Obviously those who back the frontrunner look upon that possibility with dread. While too transparent a move by the current president will draw widespread suspicions of a desire to change the outcome at the polls, subtle actions can have an effect that last a lot longer. Such is the case with George W. Bush's decision to cross the Iraqi-Syrian border to mount an attack on "foreign insurgents" who support opposition to the American occupation.

On Monday, the US military used helicopters and a small team of special forces soldiers to assault a "senior Al Qaeda operative" named Abu Ghadiyah. Apparently the operation was successful. Ghadiyah, who has been suspected of funnelling fighters, cash and weapons into Iraq, was reportedly killed. The Mosul native was thought to be an imprtant aide of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006. Seven other people also died during the raid on the village of Sukkariyeh, a mere five miles from the Iraqi border. Witnesses at the scene report that two additional men were taken into custody, and spirited away by air. Obviously this operation did nothing to further ongoing relations between the Syrian, Iraqi and American governments.

From what US authorities say, Syria is currently the only direction from which foreign support for the Iraqi resistance has been arriving (an odd assertion given the repeated accusations that Iran has been supporting the insurgency). They claim that such activities could only continue with the full knowledge of Syrian intelligence. Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Majeed denies such charges. Syrian leaders point out that they have their own difficulties with Baathist Sunni extremists, and are loathe to provoke enmity by backing "terrorists". But while Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem characterized the American operation as an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression", military retaliation is not expected.

What consequences could arise from this raid? Well, for one thing, some observers say that it will make Iran assume a more oppositional attitude toward cooperation between Baghdad and Washington. It may increase their hostility to an Iraqi-US Status of Forces Agreement that they believe gives American troops "free rein to stage military operations wherever and whenever they deem necessary, without consulting the Iraqi government." Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said "We actually condemn any attack which violates national sovereignty of countries and leads to the killing of innocent people. Such invasions are unacceptable". Meanwhile a spokesman for Nouri al-Maliki's government says that Iraq rejects the raid, even if the US claims it was legitimate.

Any agreement between the Bush Administration and the Iraqis could be forestalled by what much of the Middle East perceives as an aggressive action. The Iraqi Parliament is increasingly giving signals that there must be substantial change in the Status of Forces Agreement before it approves it. While it may make perfect sense for Bush to strike out against perceived enemies in the waning days of his presidency, his choices may indeed make his successor's job much more difficult come January. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is calling for a united Middle Eastern response to the strike, and suggesting that Bush intends to boost McCain in his election campaign. We can only wait and see how this develops.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

GOP in Crisis.

As the prospect of a John McCain presidency looks less and less likely to many people, the trickle of conservatives distancing themselves from the GOP ticket has turned into a steady stream. Over the last few weeks we've heard of prominent Republicans turning their back on the McCain/Palin ticket. It must be noted that there was no consensus candidate for the party during the primaries. The coalition that coalesced under the Bush banner began to show fissures as early as 2007. Christian Conservatives looked at the field with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, as one after another of their hopefuls fell away. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family and arguably the leader of his faction, expressed his unwillingness to back the horses that seemed to be running strong.

Meanwhile the Neoconservative Movement, which had seen its cabal rise to power behind the scenes of the Bush Administration, increasingly saw its policy recommendations maligned and discredited by real-world consequences. The nation had seemed to lose its stomach for "spreading democracy" with a strategy of forceful aggression. Finally, fiscal conservatives began to wonder what happened to their approach to governance. They wondered who was representing the old school values of their fathers' GOP. Gradually John McCain reemerged from the bankruptcy of his campaign and began to challenge seriously for the nomination. While he didn't inspire genuine excitement, he seemed like the most acceptable compromise candidate.

McCain was in the odd position of being the only high-profile Republican who was seen as both a genuine counterbalance to George W. Bush (whose administration had sunk to its lowest approval ratings in seven plus years), and at the same time experienced enough to be trusted to carry the Red State banner. The only problem was that he had alienated the Christian Right in his bid for the presidency in 2000, a minority group that consistently generated the energy believed necessary to capture the nation's top office. The solution to that problem was generated by influential Neocon Bill Kristol and a Karl Rove-protégé named Steve Schmidt. They urged McCain to select a little-known socially conservative governor from Alaska named Sarah Palin.

As is patently clear by now, Palin was able to fire up a crucial part of the Right-wing base. Out of what now appears to have been an increasing sense of desperation, they billed this newcomer on the national political scene as The Future of the Republican Party. It was a hell of a gamble, and at first (in the wake of an effective RNC Convention speech) seemed to pay off dividends. But quite obviously that pivotal decision looks to have been short-sighted. Palin did not live up to her initial hype, and many within the GOP appear to be experiencing "buyer's remorse". The single most frequently-cited reason by prominent conservative figures for abandoning McCain is his ill-advised choice of a running mate.

While it would be too simplistic to lay the responsibility for the crisis that the GOP is facing solely at Palin's feet (she is simply the manifestation of forces that have been at play for the last thirty years), it's no secret that she has become a symbol for the displeasure that so many lifelong Republicans have recently expressed. She is not the unifying figure that the party needs to consolidate the power it has generated over the last several decades. I don't believe I am alone in this assessment either. If you have doubts, just ask Colin Powell, William Weld, Charles Fried, Kenneth Adelman, Scott McClellan, Susan Collins, Senator Chuck Hagel, Lilibet Hagel, Jim Leach, Lincoln Chafee, Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, Larry Pressler, Lowell Weicker, Matthew Dowd, Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens, Susan Eisenhower, Arne Carlson, Francis Fukuyama, Bill Ruckelshaus, Jeffrey Hart, Linwood Holton, Jackson M. Andrews, Rita Hauser, Mike Murphy, Douglas Kmiec, Peggy Noonan, Michael Smerconish, Larry Hunter, Jim Whitaker, Wick Allison, Andrew J. Bacevich, or the host of "ordinary" Americans who want a change.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who is Hal Turner?

My friends continue to send me intriguing YouTube videos that alternatively make me laugh, prompt feelings of nausea and disgust, or add just a hint of extra anxiety to my life. Among these little nuggets of the American mental landscape was a short featuring a man named Hal Turner, who is convinced that our government is planning to introduce a new currency. Turner claims that the "Amero" will replace the US dollar sometime in the next six months. This substitution, he claims, will be a significant step toward a consolidation of the North American Union, which will include the United States, Mexico and Canada. Turner's message seems to be assisted in its perpetuation by the current crisis on Wall Street.

But who is Hal Turner? Wikipedia characterizes him as a white supremacist, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, Holocaust denier, who is dedicated to promoting far Right "conservatism" and "libertarianism" through various radio and web-based information outlets. He was a "warrior-host" of the airwaves during the limited run of the program The Right Perspective. Sean Hannity regularly used him on his program, and used to consider him a friend until being forced to denounce him after Turner's extreme beliefs were exposed by "New Black Panther" Malik Zulu Shabazz. In 2006, Turner advocated for the assassination of candidates running in a state election. He's also called for violence against a Massachusetts school superintendent.

I feel comfortable in pronouncing Hal Turner a despicable man. Still, some of his supporters might suggest that the government has prosecuted a "black ops"-type campaign to discredit him. Others, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have seemed to suggest that Turner is a paid FBI informant. But regardless of the truth, does the type of man Turner is disqualify what he says about the Amero? Truthfully, I'll admit that it makes me resistant to believe anything that he says. However, I still want to investigate any claims that the feds plan on introducing a currency to replace the current one. The main piece of evidence Turner uses to advance that accusation is a gold coin he presents in his video.

When I watched his clip, I wondered why Turner would attempt to back up his position with a coin he asserted was diverted from its path to the Chinese Government. It was particularly telling that the "Amero" he held out for the viewer was blurred to the extent that all of its details were obscured. Was Turner really that technologically incompetent, or was he trying to fool those who are naturally suspicious of anything the government does? Perhaps this site could suggest an alternative source for Turner's hazy coin. The problem is that there is so much stuff to pay attention to nowadays that few have the time to look for alternative explanations. If you are generally distrustful of the national government, then you are more likely to accept Turner and his arguments at face value.

I understand why my fellow citizens would believe that our leaders are deceptive, manipulative, and self-serving. The proof is all around us. No one seems to truly know what is happening with our economy. The majority of Americans felt like fools (or should have) when they finally realized that they had been taken in by the Bush Administration's strident warnings that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was tied to Islamic terrorism, and that it was a threat to the United States. But in our cynicism, we shouldn't fall prey to those who would exploit that quality within us. Everyone has an agenda, and that includes people that are not agents of the government. Take the time to learn about those delivering the message.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Who Will Make Our Nation Healthy?

It's pretty tough to determine how many people currently lack health coverage in the United States. Most estimates that I've seen hover in the 40-45 million range. That number is large enough to place health care front-and-center as a major issue in this presidential race. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have rolled out plans to address this problem. The difficulty is seeing through the negative campaigning and the murk obscuring the issues. And even after we determine where these candidates actually stand on health care, it may be folly to predict that their approaches will yield results come January. What is most likely is that a Democratic Congress will shape the basics of any program next year.

Of course the political makeup of the legislative branch favors Obama's prospective plan, and it's doubtful that anything John McCain suggests will ever see the light of say. Still it's useful to see what he might push for, should he prevail in November. His approach to the issue is to bundle it together with his general tax plan. If McCain's strategy was adopted, for the first time in US history, health benefits would be taxed. This would have an obviously negative effect on any Middle Class workers who get insurance through their jobs. In fact some experts suspect that it would be the beginning of the end of employer-provided health benefits. Nobel Prize-award-winning economist Paul Krugman has written an interesting explanation of how this would happen, and I won't try to summarize his logic here.

McCain expects to "offset" these new taxes with a tax credit of $2500 for any individual (or $5000 per family) purchasing their own health insurance plan. The average cost of a family policy is $12,100 ($4400 for an individual). But when people start being removed (or removing themselves) from employer -based health plans, funding for these credits will have to come from somewhere else. Another problem with this setup is that it is virtually impossible to get insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition. While McCain's advisers claim that his tax restructuring of health benefits will allow an additional 27.5 million folks to purchase their own health care, independent analysts have determined that his plan will actually make the amount of uninsured citizens grow by 5 million in the first five years.

Additionally McCain seeks to open up the health insurance industry, so that people can purchase out-of-state plans. The problem there is that every state has different consumer protections, and undermining those state laws will lead to the classic deregulatory "race-to-the-bottom". This is something Barack Obama has stood adamantly against. He's calling for the standardization of benefits and premiums, and for requiring insurers to accept all applicants. He would require plans to cover preventive, maternity and mental health care (unlike McCain). He wants to make insurance currently offered to government employees available to the public through a federally sponsored health plan.

In order to preserve the employer-based insurance system, Obama would make it mandatory for employers to contribute "meaningful coverage" or pay into a government fund that would do so for the uninsured. Small businesses would receive a subsidy to cover this expense. Apparently the costs of Obama's plan would be largely financed by the suspension of the current Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% of Americans. The Tax Policy Center reports that Obama's reforms will cost $1.6 trillion over the next ten years, and they estimate that McCain's program will clock in at $1.3 trilion. While the $30 billion/year difference seems substantial, it is significantly less than we are spending in Iraq every three months.

Furthermore the Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain would only reduce the number of the uninsured by 2 million, while Obama's changes would cover an additional 34 million folks that currently lack coverage. It seems to me that if you can benefit 32 million more Americans under Obama's plan for just $30 billion more per year, then it's an easy decision. And if you consider the increased quality assurances of insurance policies regulated under Obama's plan, it seems that everyone will come out ahead.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

More Race-Baiting From the GOP?

On the way home from work yesterday I tuned into Sean Hannity on FM 104.7 (mostly because I wasn't interested in the topic on Fresh Air). I remembered that he was going to be in Pittsburgh to cover the most important "battleground state", as identified by the McCain/Palin campaign. Around 3:45PM he interrupted his usual blather with breaking news from Matt Drudge- " MCCAIN VOLUNTEER 'ATTACKED AND MUTILATED' IN PITTSBURGH". Hannity promised to try to get further details. He couldn't believe his luck. After all, he was in town and all-the-way live! More information trickled in, and the blowhard pundit delivered the tale of how a young woman (from Texas) named Ashley Todd (who works at a McCain call center) was mugged at an ATM, and had the letter "B" carved into her face by the hateful perpetrator.

Supposedly the 6'4" black man, who used a knife at her throat to take $60, was walking away when he saw "McCain for President" stickers on her car. He came back and said he was going to "teach (her) a lesson!". Then he mutilated her. It sounds absolutely horrid. And of course the Far Right echo chamber was sent into a frenzy of melodrama and race-baiting. Obama hasn't even lost yet and already black people are rioting! What is society going to be like under an authoritarian, with his jack-booted thugs beating and mutilating dissenters? One blog I visited even compared the incident to what the Nazis did to the Jews. And then the picture was released of the victim. My bullshit meter started to vacillate wildly.

I decided I'd hit some of the blogs and join the dialog. I chipped in with this response: "Call me a cynic… but if I’m going to rob a woman at knife-point in front of an ATM on the busiest street in Bloomfield (which happens to be the almost-entirely-white Little Italy section of town), I’m not going to stick around afterwards to see what bumper stickers she has on her car, and then double-back to carefully scratch (it was certainly not “carved” as some would have it) a very neat backwards (or upside-down) “B” into her cheek (therefore making a political statement), and tell her I’m “teaching her a lesson”. Especially if I know that Sean Hannity just happens to be in town the next day."

As the hours passed more information became available that cast serious doubt on her story. The independent media began to ask questions. We started learning about some contextual information about Ashley Todd. Her profile quote on her MySpace page (now removed, but cached before she had the chance) was especially telling, grammatical errors and all- "Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths off, but its better if you do." Then we found out that Ashley had a twitter page (also removed but cached), and it sure seemed like she was laying the foundations for the story ahead of time. Apparently she had a blackberry (not stolen) in her car (not stolen)... and she thought everyone should know ahead of time that she was looking for an ATM and that she was "pretty sure she (was) on the wrong side of town" (only an outsider could think Bloomfield meets that qualification).

The Pittsburgh Police are evidently suspicious of Todd's account of the "incident". The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting this morning that "her statements about the attack conflict with evidence from the Citizens Bank ATM where she claims the incident occurred". Considering that this is the Richard Scaife-owned conservative rag that originally presented the story in town, this is a substantial development. While any allegations of supposed "hate-crimes" must be taken seriously, investigations by the proper authorities must precede judgment. I'm really not concerned about how this might affect the election (I don't think it will either way), but I am very protective of my hometown. This entire incident could give a "black eye" to a region that has already become a focal point in the last days before the election... and I resent that.

UPDATE: Apparently local talk radio host Marty Griffin (KDKA 1020) isn't buying it either. He's reporting that Ms. Todd called the McCain campaign office before reporting this incident to the police.

UPDATE: Ashley Todd has changed her story. She's now claiming that she was sexually assaulted as well.

UPDATE: Ashley Todd has confessed to making up the whole thing. Police are trying to figure out what charges she will face (Thanks to Ian for the heads-up).

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Worst Endorsement of All.

In 2004, a couple of weeks before the presidential election, John Kerry was edging ahead in the national polls. It looked for a moment like he might be able to unseat the sitting president, who was coming under continuous fire over his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. But then the unthinkable happened and the race tipped in Bush's favor. A "new" video appeared featuring the figure that was then still the national bogeyman- Osama bin Laden. The historical narrative says that this interruption in US politics made voters reconsider their decisions by reminding them of Bush's "War on Terror". I'm not completely sure I buy that (I think the Swift-boating had just as much to do with Kerry's defeat), but John Kerry himself blames the video release for his loss.

There is some reason to believe that the concerted efforts of Bush supporters working to tie Kerry to the terrorists had an effect on the 2004 election outcome. Shortly before November of that year, Republican stalwart Orrin Hatch memorably claimed that the terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry." Speaker of the House Denny Hastert reinforced those sentiments: "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another, [but] I would think they would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops." Even the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage chimed in with his assertion that Iraqi "terrorists" were "trying to influence the election against President Bush."

Naturally bloggers followed the example of their elected officials and provided an echo chamber for these scandalous accusations. Back then a young Bush spokesman (and disciple of Karl Rove) named Steve Schmidt seemed to encourage such attacks: "Those statements speak to the great concern many people have about John Kerry's consistent vacillation under political pressure on the most significant issues the nation faces with regard to the war on terror." It's ironic that Steve Schmidt (now John McCain's chief campaign strategist) has been going back to the well, and using similar tactics to tie his latest opponent to terrorism. In fact that is what his entire focus has been over the last few weeks, with his repeated references to Bil Ayers.

Once again amateur online pundits are following Schmidt's lead, and they are employing the most divisive rhetoric imaginable. They have been quick to report the words of President Ahmadinejad, Hamas and Muammar Qaddafi, seeking to tie Obama to "terrorism". But interestingly, they have been notably quiet about the most recent endorsement coming from actual terrorists. It turns out that Al Qaeda is supporting McCain for president. The McCain campaign has been tripping all over itself, trying to distance themselves from this particular nod. The most awkward rationalization they've developed so far is that Al Qaeda is using "reverse psychology" to affect American electoral politics. One has to wonder why they didn't come up with that when Hamas made its "endorsement".

Of course I'm getting a bit of amusement watching this story play out. There are many US security experts that remain unsurprised about Al Qaeda's pick. Some have been expecting the terrorists to "vote" before the election by executing a high-profile attack, which would likely flip the polls in favor of McCain. It's really pretty obvious (to those that are actually well-informed) why Al Qaeda would prefer the pro-war GOP (neocon) rule, because that party consistently plays into its hands by destabilizing the Middle East with its aggressive and ham-handed foreign policy. Al Qaeda* is made up of Sunni Muslims who would be threatened by Obama's strategy of negotiating with Shi'ites such as those who rule Iran. They would much rather see Israel (or the US Armed Forces) bomb that nation with McCain's support.

* According to Al Qaeda ideology, the four biggest "enemies of Islam" are Israel, America, Heretics, and the Shia. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq) called Shi'ites "the most evil of mankind . . . the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom". It reminds me of the charges the Republicans have leveled against the Democrats lately.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Socialism" Vs. Progressive Taxation.

In my earlier post about "Joe the Plumber", I wrote about how his elevation (by the McCain campaign and the Right Wing media) to the status of "middle class everyman" obscured the very real arguments being made about taxation in America. Apparently the majority of Americans are secretly seething about Obama's proposal to suspend the Bush tax cuts to the very wealthy. We are supposed to believe that 95% of America thinks that the richest 5% is overburdened by progressive taxation. Evidently no one realizes that we have reached the point where the interest on our national debt is approaching the amount we spend on our federal budget. How we are supposed to finance the government is increasingly an underexamined question.

We are in the midst of a financial crisis that is about to hit the American middle class with the force of a category 5 hurricane, and the GOP and its cronies have been trying to make the "socialist" brand stick to Barack Obama and his fiscal and domestic policy platform. I think that (once again) it's time to get our definitions straight. "Socialism" is "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods". Progressive taxation obviously doesn't fall within the parameters of the definition. But this is what the extreme Right is referring to when it talks about its opponent's "socialist" policies.

Republicans would have you believe that the core principal of Socialism is income redistribution- "Take from the haves to give to the have nots." Not only is this crudely simplistic, but it is a Cold War-based lie that's been repeated since Ronald Reagan's presidency. Perhaps that's why the GOP is running on an anti-intellectual and anti-academic platform- because careful analysis exposes their argument for what it is. The US has been traditionally referred to as a "Capitalist" country. It is therefore illuminating that the vast majority of American economists (81%) support progressive taxation (SOURCE) and Obama's policy positions (SOURCE). But why should you bother listening to the experts when you have "your own" strong opinions?

What does a study of history tell us? If you are dead-set in changing the definition of the word "socialism" to include progressive taxation, then you have to accept that the USA has been socialist since 1862, when the first progressive income tax was passed in this nation (SOURCE). It is therefore an AMERICAN VALUE that has carried us through the years and helped us become a superpower. If you are against this tax policy, the case can be made that you are ANTI-AMERICAN. Naturally a "free market" idealogue is going to attempt to fight this conclusion using any means necessary. But the reality is that their alternative is a fantasy- "free markets" have never existed anywhere except in theory. It's a grand "utopian" fairy tale that wealthy people (and sycophants) have used to put the masses to sleep.

You often hear the "free market" dictum that “wealth creates wealth”. It’s not that there’s no merit to this argument. That’s why I don’t necessarily support “socialism”. But on the other hand, entrenched wealth creates obstacles to competition and innovation. The ideas that make men wealthy eventually become outdated with the changes in the environment. Yet wealthy men often have little incentive to adapt to those changes, because they risk losing their competitive advantage. They are more motivated to protect their wealth artificially by working to maintain the status quo. They have the resources to set the conditions to attain that end. Progressive taxation works against that stagnation.

Thomas Jefferson said, “"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." I’m not in favor of class warfare or anarchic revolution. I believe in incremental social change. By shifting the tax burden on to the wealthy, you free up the middle class to provide new ideas to adapt to a changing society (and to put their own money behind these ideas)- something that the entrenched wealth of the upper classes has proved itself incapable of. Entrenched wealth stifles innovation and competition the same way ruling classes have in so-called "socialist" nations. Progressive taxation doesn't "punish" achievement. That's a ridiculous notion. It fosters enhanced economic class mobility, which is crucially necessary in encouraging the adaptation necessary over the long run.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nathan Sproul and Lincoln Strategy Group.

By now it seems that every American has heard of ACORN, a community organization started decades ago to assist the poverty-stricken. The GOP is waging an all-out attack on that group, hoping that if it can't beat Obama, at least it can vanquish a bunch of "liberal" community organizers. So it's seized on some apparently fraudulent voter registration forms that ACORN was required by law to submit to elections boards, and provoked investigations by various state authorities and the FBI. But behind the Republicans' assault on so-called "Democrat"-run voter fraud, they are waging war on another front in order to gain themselves an advantage in the coming election. And with that in mind, I give you Nathan Sproul and Lincoln Strategy Group.

Exactly who is this Nathan Sproul? He is a graduate of the Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, and a Republican political consultant and strategist with ties to the Arizona GOP and the Christian Coalition. Early in his career he worked tirelessly to end sex education in his state. In 2004, he was instrumental in the nearly successful efforts to remove the Arizona Clean Elections Law. Sproul also set up a voter registration drive in 2004 called "America Votes", which just so happened to have the same name as a progressive group trying to expand the electorate. His intention was to register as many new Republicans as possible. This in itself is not illegal, but the methods that Sproul and Company used to do so were highly suspect.

Sproul and his group have been repeatedly investigated for voter fraud. His own employees have alleged that they were specifically instructed only to register Republicans, and told to shred thousands of forms submitted by people wanting to become new Democrats. Yet even with his terrible track record, and the small amount of local media attention he has drawn to himself and his company, Nathan Sproul remains a trusted operative of the GOP. During this very presidential race, John McCain has directed $175,000 worth of funds to Sproul's Lincoln Strategy Group for get-out-the-vote efforts. Meanwhile the Republican National Committee has diverted $37,000 to the Lincoln Group during this cycle, explicitly for registering voters.

What makes all of this especially problematic is how vocal Sproul has always been in support of McCain and the Far Right Wing of the Republican Party. He's given the McCain campaign $30,000 of his own money for this election. He is absolutely dedicated to winning at any cost, and I believe characterizations of him as "Arizona's Karl Rove" are unfair to Sproul, as he is quite obviously more of an idealogue. While it's true one could make the case that ACORN leans politically left, there is a big difference, as Republican Congressman Chris Cannon noted in May of this year: "The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn't throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out."

It is widely believed that Sproul will do anything possible to advance his political agenda. Since 2004, Democrats in Congress have been aware of both his objectives and methods. In fact, in October of 2007 Representative John Conyers complained that the Bush Administration Justice Department had refused to closely scrutinize the activities of Sproul and the Lincoln Strategy Group. Given the ample assistance Sproul provided to Bush in the 2004 presidential race, I guess that's not surprising. But what is surprising is that the mainstream press has remained mum about this fraud, especially if you believe that the corporate-owned media has a "liberal bias" (as many on the Right maintain). Why aren't Sproul and his Lincoln Strategy Group household names, like ACORN? I guess you'll have to decide that one for yourself.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Rush Limbaugh IS a Racist? Who would have ever guessed?

Former Bush Administration Secretary of State Colin Powell has announced his endorsement (read the transcript of his appearance on "Meet the Press") for presidential candidate Barack Obama. Powell is one of the most revered American figures in the political landscape. He is broadly respected across party lines. His public image was tarnished only by the false message he delivered in front of the United Nations during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion and occupation. But despite the fact that we now know that George W. Bush and his cronies knew that the information they sent through Powell was unreliable and likely false, conventional wisdom suggests that they had convinced Powell of its veracity. That's a clear indicator of just how trusted Colin Powell is by the American people. He remains unsullied, even by Bush.

It is for these reasons that the Powell endorsement is so meaningful to so many. The nation has been patiently waiting for his considered judgment since he told the media he would wait to make his pick until after the last debate. No doubt that this was out of deference to his friend of 25 years, John McCain. Perhaps in his heart Powell was hoping that the former "maverick" would convince him that he had not lost his much-vaunted integrity. Still the signs were already inscribed on the wall. McCain has been moving steadily toward the positions and philosophy of George W. Bush for the past four years. He has run a dishonorable campaign. It would have been difficult for Powell to support a man who has succumbed to the most extreme wing of his party, as evidenced by his choice of Sarah Palin for the VP slot.

Naturally many on the Right have bemoaned Powell's decision. Powell didn't just make a short comment about Obama, but rather implicated the entire GOP for its increased divisiveness. Certain high profile pundits have taken an almost violent exception to his words. George Will did not shrink away from suggesting that Obama benefits from his race. But the most appalling accusations came from (not unexpectedly) the wingnut Rush Limbaugh. As soon as he heard about Powell's endorsement, he couldn't stop himself from dashing off an e-mail message to the Politico website. Right from the start he questioned Powell's assertion that his endorsement was not about race.

Limbaugh said he would be doing research to find out what other "inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates" Powell had supported in the past. Of course all three of those qualities have been attributed to Obama by Limbaugh (and the like) in the past. Yet it was that last adjective that loomed so large within that sentence. Racism is (most appropriately) the elephant in the room for the GOP's propaganda machine. It's been entertaining to see them biting their lips and trying to contain it for these long months. Now it's out of the bag. Limbaugh has shown his true color(s). From his perspective, how could racial identity NOT be an issue when an observer considers the worth of a politician (especially if they are thought of as "black"). Apparently that's completely unthinkable for this pill-popping freak.

However, what I found most problematic in Limbaugh's message was not the obviously racist sentiment. It was the embedded revelation contained in a later part of his e-mail: "I guess he (Powell) also regrets Reagan and Bush making him a four-star [general] and secretary of state and appointing his son to head the FCC. Yes, let's hear it for transformational figures." From these words it is plainly evident that Limbaugh has ALWAYS considered Colin Powell the token Republican affirmative action case. In Limbaugh's mind, Powell didn't EARN these distinctions, but rather they were generously bestowed on him, as "a person of color". And now Powell is being ungrateful for the lavish gifts he has received. This is truly a disgusting insinuation, and I believe that "conservatives" everywhere should be pressured to denounce Rush Limbaugh.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

What IS in the Bailout Bill?

It's remarkable how quickly coverage of the bailout bill (HR 1424) was removed from the news cycle. After a couple of weeks of intense scrutiny and conflict, the legislation was quickly passed and entered the vast repository of history. One might think that either the government or the mainstream media would make substantial efforts to break down the components of the compromise and present them to the American public that they purportedly serve. But apparently the powers-that-be think that the populace is either too dull to understand the details, or simply disinterested. While these assumptions may apply to a certain segment of reality-television viewers and slavish consumers, I find them extremely offensive.

So I set out on my own to find out what was added to the bill that the president signed into law. The press referred to these additions as "sweeteners", suggesting that many of our legislators would have oppossed the bailout if they were left out. In the process the bill swelled from its original length to a behemoth consisting of 451 pages. It's only natural to wonder how much of the final product was actually examined by the full Congress. Were they only aware of particular sections that would appeal to them and their constituents? If that is so, what little poison pills were inserted and overlooked in the rush to judgment? Do we have a series of nasty surprises coming down the line?

One big alteration involved "temporarily" raising the amount of bank deposits the FDIC insures from $100K to $250K. This was widely publicized, and seemed to garner bipartisan support. Similarly an expanded exemption of middle class earners from the alternative minimum tax seemed to be popular with both sides. As the LA Times reports, "The new law also has tax relief provisions for disaster victims; research and development tax credits; a hybrid car tax credit; and tax breaks for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies." I was particularly pleased to learn that companies seeking to invest in solar and wind power technologies were among those getting tax credits. John McCain and the GOP had been adamantly opposed to allowing those breaks before the presidential election.

Of course there were plenty of House Republicans glomming on to the GOP focus on "pork barrel" and decrying the nearly $150 billion in spending added to the bill (but no substantial opposition from McCain, who has identified this as the major reform of his prospective administration). It didn't matter that there were so many tax breaks and credits included. This was largely a Democratic product, and opponents had to distance themselves from it (even when they voted "yes" to pass it). Naturally it was a bit of deregulation (and a buttload of tax cuts) that successfully wooed the free market loyalists- the Securities and Exchange Commission promised to ease rules forcing companies to value on–balance sheet assets according to their current market prices (source). Obviously holding financial companies to certain standards of transparency was not in the game plan for these laissez faire activists.

While oversight was defined a bit more than in Paulson's original proposal, the bailout did leave a lot of discretion to the Treasury, with the creation of a new " Office of Financial Stability" (to be overseen by a 35-year old former VP at Goldman Sachs). The $700 billion will be released in installments for the Treasury Secretary to buy assets and hold them until (or if) the taxpayer money can be recouped. Who knows whether or not HR 1424 will significantly ameliorate the effects of decades of diminishing governmental regulation and oversight in the economy? Will our leaders make a fundamental commitment to keep abreast of developing financial crises and scandals? I would hope that the feds have more in store that would establish rules that will keep this situation from continually repeating itself.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

What is ACORN and Why do Republicans Hate it?

Now that John McCain's attack ads on Barack Obama's character and "associations" have mostly been exposed as signs of impotence in an increasingly desperate campaign, the McCain/Palin has implemented a new strategy. No, it doesn't have to do with presenting a broad platform to address the growing economic concerns of the middle class. Nor is it a bold new program seeking to stabilize our financial markets. It's not even a new strategy to contain Iran or to track down al Qaeda in Pakistan. To the contrary, it has little to do with anything that will occur after the first week of November. John McCain's staff has decided to to attack the Obama campaign with accusations of "cheating", and they mean to cast doubt on the results of the coming election.

The recent GOP disinformation blitz has to do with ACORN- which stands for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN was founded in Arkansas in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado. Its broad mission has always been to advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, health care, and other social issues. Its activities have included programs to address better housing and wages for the poor, more community development investment from banks and governments, and better public schools. ACORN has generally been aligned with the Democrats, due to their focus on helping segments of society that are less advantaged.

The current "controversy" revolving around ACORN is its voter registration drive. Since 2004, they have been the target of investigations in a small number of the many locations in which they have been active. These challenges to its existence have been overwhelmingly initiated by conservative politicians, free market advocacy groups, and the rightwing media. The latest charges accuse ACORN of systematically engaging in and encouraging the practice of submitting fraudulent voter registration forms. Yet the organization has been quick to point out that they have consistently demonstrated full cooperation and public support for the investigations of rogue employees, and has fired them when found guilty of voter fraud.

Duriong this election cycle the McCain/Palin campaign has attempted to make its case against ACORN by "revealing" that its employees turn in forms that are later discovered to be ineligible. What they (and their "Conservative" operatives in the mediasphere) fail to mention is that workers involved in most voter registration drives are mandated by state law to turn in every form they collect, without alteration. It is left solely to the discrimination of state election boards to determine the eligibility of these prospective voters. Defenders of ACORN have rightfully pointed out that the only reason fraudulent forms have been brought to public attention is because its employees are in the practice of flagging those that are suspect.

But none of this matters in the brutal political climate that the GOP has fostered. Regardless of the reality of the situation, the Republicans are determined to follow up on Sarah Palin's Convention speech slurs against community organizers. The Mccain/Palin ticket is no longer trying to claim that the profession has no "real responsibilities". They are attempting to place Obama in a supposed conspiracy plot. They have accused their opponent of being a community organizer for ACORN in the early 90's. This is patently false. In his capacity as an attorney, Barack once represented ACORN in a successful lawsuit alongside the U.S. Department of Justice against the state of Illinois to force state compliance with a federal voting access law.

Meanwhile, it turns out that John McCain was "associated" with ACORN as recently as 2006, when he appeared at a rally to address immigration reform. I guess in his mind it's OK as long as his own "maverick" political ends are being achieved.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Who is “Joe the Plumber”, Really?

A few days ago the American citizenry was introduced to a new political figure. He's a man named Samuel Joeseph Wurzelbacher, and he lives somewhere in Lucas County, outside of Toledo, Ohio. He came to national attention via an interaction he had with Barack Obama over the weekend. The candidate was canvassing door-to-door in Wurzelbacher's neighborhood on Sunday, when the two fell into a discussion about Obama's economic policy. "Joe" asked the Illinois senator if he believed in the "American Dream", and started peppering him with questions about taxes. A FOX News crew was there to record the entire exchange, and it was soon spread throughout the web.

When John Mccain's campaign learned of the footage, they apparently scrambled to integrate a narrative about "Joe the Plumber" into their debate strategy. A strange version of Wurzelbacher's "story" was introduced by John McCain right from the start. He portrayed "Joe" as someone who wanted to buy a small plumbing business, and was concerned that Obama's proposed tax structure would hurt him. McCain kept returning to "Joe" throughout the 90-minute contest, at one point exclaiming maniacally, "Congratulations Joe. You're rich!! You're rich". The Arizona senator made a point of pulling out a quote from the Obama/"Joe" recorded dialog that suggested that his opponent wanted to "spread the wealth around" in America*.

In the process, "Joe the Plumber" became a talking point and a minor celebrity. But it quickly became apparent after the debate that Samuel Joeseph Wurzelbacher wasn't exactly what he had at first seemed. To begin with, it turns out that "Joe" really isn't a plumber at all. He's neither licensed nor registered in the profession, and consequently not supposed to be practicing plumbing in Lucas County. Additionally he makes around $40,000 per year, and is in no position (as a divorced father) to buy the company he works for, or any other company for that matter. In fact he has several outstanding liens against his house, including one for neglecting to pay his property taxes.

"Joe the Plumber" is in a heap of trouble, and he has sacrificed his privacy for fifteen minutes on the national stage. He's been used by John McCain and the GOP, and is quickly replacing Sarah Palin as America's Greatest Joke. Rather than an entrepreneurial hero, it appears that Samuel Joeseph Wurzelbacher is merely yet another partisan tool to be exploited in the Republican's desperate attempt to hold onto political power. The ironic thing is that "Joe" would in fact benefit under Barack Obama's tax structure. When Barack Obama talks about "spreading the wealth", he's not talking about handouts. He's talking about shifting the very real tax burden of this nation on to the wealthiest members of society.

The entire "socialist" meme being pushed by the McCain/Palin ticket is a red herring. The reality is that there won't be any broad new social programs, no matter who is elected. The difficulty lies in financing the obligations that our society has already accrued. Our government is over $10 trillion in debt (when we include the money to be spent in the bailout), and the interest on that sum is astronomical. This is eroding international confidence in our currency. What "Joe the plumber" really represents is the large contingent of middle class schmucks that wouldn't recognize their enlightened self-interest if it bit them on their collective ass. People like Wurzelbacher, who still believe in realizing the "American Dream" through the "free market system" are drinking the Kool-Aid that is destroying our country.

* To really understand what transpired between Obama and Wurzelbacher, you have to see the complete video and/or read the trancript. You can do that HERE.

NOTE: If you didn't see it in the above link, you can find out how the McCain and Obama tax plans will affect you HERE.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama vs. McCain. The Conclusion.

Last night's event concluded this election cycle's series of four presidential (and VP) debates. Its reception followed a pattern that was established during the first one, and continued throughout. I was happy with the performances of Barack Obama and Joe Biden in each of the installments. Still, after each contest, pundits consistently insisted that they were draws. But a strange thing happened when the viewing public was consulted- American voters (both decided and uncommitted) overwhelmingly reported a clean sweep for Obama. I'd like to say that the corporate media's refusal to choose a winner in this series will finally put to rest the oft-repeated rightwing notion that the press has a liberal bias. However, I'm not nearly so naïve as to believe that this pattern will be widely acknowledged.

Regardless, as I've said before, the debates really aren't about "winning and losing". They are about meeting expectations. In this case the objectives of each candidate were well known. Both the McCain campaign and the candidate himself promised that the Arizona senator would come out especially aggressive. Conventional wisdom said that this was his last chance to change the momentum of the race. We heard that McCain would finally bring up Obama's "suspect associations" with Ayers and ACORN, and we waited to see whether he would follow through. Moderator (and CBS anchor) Bob Schieffer left him with no other option when he asked the rivals to address the perceived negativity flowing through the race.

So John McCain came out swinging hard, the way Mike Tyson used to do before he tried to bite off Evander Holyfield's ear. For the first half hour of the debate, he looked feistier than we have seen him look at any time since 2004. He attempted to make populist appeals, using "Joe the Plumber" as a prop. He tried to pin the big-spending tail on the donkey. And he trotted out the timeworn "class warfare" red herring. But then (apparently) his advanced age and flagging endurance made him stumble, and from there on out Obama looked in control of the match. Ironically the turning point occurred with his introduction of Ayers, a subject Republican extremists insisted he include in the debate.

The absolutely unflappable Obama laid out, in the very simplest terms, the facts about his "association" with Bill Ayers. Not only did he convey absolute sincerity, but he even turned the narrative on its head, pointing out that the educational reform panel that he sat on with Professor Ayers contained folks like the "the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, (and) the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican- leaning newspaper." Then he put the nail in the coffin of the McCain/Palin attack ads by saying that his campaign has no connection to ACORN- an organization he represented (in the early 90's) only as an attorney working with the US Justice Department to ensure that the state of Illinois complied with the motor voter law.

After that turnaround, McCain was completely incapable of sustaining any momentum, and clumsily returned again and again to his "Joe the Plumber" gimmick. It was clear that John had "jumped the shark" when he began talking directly to the unseen "Joe", and congratulating him for being "rich". I think he realized too that he had blown his "last best chance". His eyes started flittering back and forth like he was lost and scared, and he began to make the faces that have been the source of so much speculation regarding his temperament and stability. By the end of the night, it was clear that Obama had succeeded from the first to the last in his mission to prove himself presidential. Meanwhile McCain was left to pick up the pieces of his shattered campaign, which has run nothing but attack ads for the last few weeks.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The McCain/Palin Campaign Embraces "Agents of Intolerance". Part 3.


When Sarah Palin suggests that Jeremiah Wright should be returned to the political dialog in this ever-intensifying presidential race, she is not-so-subtly underscoring an important message- religion matters in the political sphere. Palin knows that many Americans felt threatened by what they interpreted as Wright's radical approach to Christianity. In this respect Palin is very well-informed, as I'll prove later in this post. She knows exactly how high the stakes are in this election. She is also well aware that she was chosen to be John McCain's partner because he would otherwise have had significant difficulty getting support from the Christian Right. It is patently clear to many political observers that the GOP is using Palin as a tool.

Unfortunately for the Republican leadership, its selection of Palin as the future of the party carries with it great risks of backlash from the more moderate segments of the base. For as clearly as Sarah Palin appeals to the Evangelical Christian Movement, she also has the potential to turn off voters who choose to make their voting decisions based upon economic and foreign policy. But that's not all... the McCain campaign must make sure that religion remains the unspoken subtext of this contest, rather than rising to the surface of mainstream consciousness. The Arizona Senator has notably declared religion (and as an extension, Jeremiah Wright) as off-the-table within the larger political discourse.

Many of Sarah Palin's most fervent supporters (which include the Christian Right and many Neocons) have bemoaned McCain's resistance to attacking Obama for his past connections to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But what they don't seem to understand is that such an assault could lead to even more dangerous territory than the subject of William Ayers. Not only is John McCain's personal faith less than convincing, but Sarah Palin's religious associations are downright radical. It's clear that McCain's more cautious advisers envision a net loss if these subjects are explored in the mainstream media. While they may be able to whip up the spirits of those who have already proclaimed their unwavering support, they would be at great risk of alienating the remaining undecided voters.

From the evidence so far, I'd say that the moderates on the McCain staff are correct in their assumptions about this issue. Obviously the Fundies have received the message... they are not going to flip in favor of Obama. And should more information come out about Palin's Pentacostal roots, McCain can only lose. A few weeks ago there was a YouTube video depicting an "Assembly of God" bishop named Thomas Muthee blessing Sarah Palin in preparation for her run for the Alaskan governorship. It wouldn't have been all that startling, except for the inclusion of an invocation intended to protect Palin from "witchcraft". This is not the ordinary experience of the vast majority of Christians in this nation. Instead, most rational modern citizens see witches more as fun holiday imagery with which to decorate their front porches.

What was less emphasized about that video is that Muthee was also asking God to bring Palin campaign contributions. While a lot of Americans may be able to relate to this type of prayer, it's doubtful that they will be especially comfortable with a Vice President that believes in speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands, and prophesy. These are all modern day Pentacostal beliefs taught in the churches Palin has attended for years. Additionally, some of her preachers have been intolerant. Ed Kalnins was the senior head of Palin's church in Wasilla. Among his highlights* are sermons during which he preached that those who criticize George W. Bush are doomed to hell. That's not the type of revelation likely to counter the Obama campaign's assertion that McCain/Palin will essentially be a repreat of the Bush/Cheney years.

* Kalnins has questioned if people who voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004 would be accepted in heaven, has characterized the 9/11 terrorist attacks and war in Iraq as part of a great worldwide struggle about Christian faith, and said that Jesus “operated from that position of war mode". Most frightening perhaps is that he believes that Palin's political ascent is decreed by God, and that the "Biblical End Times" are near (link). How he relates these two "prophesied" events is pretty clear.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The McCain/Palin Campaign Embraces "Agents of Intolerance". Part 2.


Shortly after John McCain's Christian Outreach team returned from its inaugural road trip in Ohio, the Christian Conservative Movement began to coalesce behind him. At a subsequent meeting in Denver, 100 Evangelical leaders announced their commitment to unite in an effort to beat Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The figures at this influential conclave included Christian luminaries like Phyllis Schlafly, Steve Strang, Phil Burress, David Barton, and Donald Hodel. While some of these leaders hinted that they were ambivalent in their support for McCain as an individual, they were clear in their opposition to the Democratic challenger. According to Burress, "The stakes are too high. And if Obama wins I need to be able to get up on November 5th, look at myself in the mirror, and when I pray, say, ‘Lord, I did all that I could.’” (source).

As summer wore on, it was increasingly obvious that the McCain campaign had been successful in courting the Christian Right*, but it was still a bit of a mystery as to how these folks had been convinced of McCain's sincerity. After all, despite evidence to the contrary, John McCain had recently announced his church affiliation as "Baptist". But as confusing as his denominational loyalties might be, even more potentially problematic were suspicions that McCain is an atheist. So it was vitally important for the candidate to put his money where his mouth was. Many among the faithful, unconvinced by the pronouncements of their pastors and other church leaders, waited for God's Hand to be revealed. Lo and behold, it was.

On August 29th, John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his choice for running mate on his ticket. It was at this point that things became clear to Christians and non-Christians alike. The Religious Right would not be abandoned during the election season of 2008. Almost immediately a flood of support flowed forth into the McCain campaign. The women he sought to elevate to the #2 position in the executive branch was a rabid social conservative. Not only did she work against extending same-sex rights as governor of Alaska, but she opposed abortion- even in cases where the impregnated woman had been raped or involved (willingly or unwillingly) in incestuous relations.

Palin was obviously "the Right girl" for the righteous. Although she made feeble attempts to reassure moderates that she did not seek to impose her personal religious beliefs on the nation, she continued to give all the proper signals to her constituency. They knew what her intentions were. They understood the embedded codes in her language in the same way they had with the current "Born Again" president. There was no mistaking Palin's allegiances. And despite the lukewarm feelings that the Christian Coalition has for the noted "War Hero", it has agreed to put their energy (and money) behind the McCain/Palin ticket. In fact, for the first time in this contest, clergy began to endorse McCain from the pulpit.

Under federal law, it is illegal for tax exempt organizations to endorse or oppose a political candidate by name. But now there is an organized effort by the Alliance Defense Fund to defy the first amendment protection of separation of church and state. This nonprofit organization has been notably linked to efforts to excoriate homosexuals, and are unwavering in their belief that pastors should be involved in politics. In receiving this sort of assistance without inconvenient questions of ethical propriety, John McCain has clearly abandoned any remnant of secular soul he had retained until a few months ago. Whether or not his alliances have been forced upon him, he should be held accountable for his associates.

* Figures like Rod Parsley (a Pentacostal Diminionist), McCain's self-admitted spiritual guide, who remains adamant that there is no separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution . He has called upon Christians to wage a "war" against the "false religion" of Islam with the aim of destroying it.

Or John Hagee (pastor of a "non-denominational" charismatic church in Texas, and leader of a media empire), the founder and National Chairman of the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel. When McCain learned that he had earned Hagee's endorsement, he said, "I'm very proud to have Pastor Hagee's support". Hagee strongly and vocally supports an American-Israeli pre-emptive military strike on Iran. He predicts that Russia and the Islamic states will invade Israel and will be destroyed by God. He denies global warming and has claimed that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for New Orleans after the city allowed a gay pride parade to take place.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

The McCain/Palin Campaign Embraces "Agents of Intolerance". Part 1.

John McCain has offered signals that he is about to tone down his focused strategy of character attacks, and get back on the subjects and challenges that most citizens are concerned about. Still his campaign chairman Rick Davis (a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac former lobbyist) defends his continuing advertising strategy, while leveling character assassination charges against David Axelrod (Davis' counterpart on Obama's side). Apparently Axelrod's been accusing Davis of selling access to his chief. Meanwhile Davis is out on the stump trying to put forth the case that VP candidate Sarah Palin has done nothing wrong in the "Troopergate" Scandal, despite last Friday's announcement that the Alaskan Legislature had found her guilty of an ethics violation.

Does anybody really think that these chaotic politics are going to subside during the last three weeks heading into the election? I certainly don't. In fact, Sarah Palin is trying to shake things up even more with her calls to revisit the Jeremiah Wright flap that hit the media months ago. It's understandable that she would want to change the subject from her abuse of power tactics in Alaska, but her method of altering the dialog may result in a more careful analysis of some of the figures that have shaped her own thinking. John McCain has been adamant about not wanting to inject a discussion of religion into the race. I can empathize with this view, since I've been sick of the conflation of faith and policy for the last eight years.

In 2000, John McCain spoke eloquently about the developing rifts in the American scene. He notably bemoaned the "corrupting influences of religion and politics", and even went as far as suggesting that portions of the religious right were divisive and un-American*. He specifically identified Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance". He also directed his criticism at his primary rival George W. Bush for giving a speech at the "Conservative Christian" Bob Jones University without addressing the institution's ban on interracial dating. What McCain did in the run-up to that election, not even a decade past, was truly a "maverick" move and likely cost him a primary victory.

My, how things have changed since then. In 2006, while McCain prepared to enter the current presidential race, the Arizona Senator decided to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University. That school was actually founded by "intolerance agent" Jerry Falwell, who since McCain's earlier denunciation of him "has said that Jews can't go to heaven unless they accept Christ, that the Prophet Mohammed was a terrorist, and that gays and feminists bore responsibility for 9/11" (source). While McCain claimed ,"I'm not trying to make up to anyone, either liberal or conservative or anyone else", it was clear that Falwell got the message. He replied, "I do think, like any wise politician moving toward a presidential election, he is trying to build alliances".

And perhaps it was necessary for a wizened politician seeking the GOP nomination for the presidency to embrace a group that makes up a large proportion of the most loyal base of the party. There's no doubt that McCain realized that he had to compromise his formerly-expressed values in order to have a chance at winning. This past summer McCain put together a nine-member Christian Outreach Team to travel to battleground states. In early July, he sent his exploratory committee to its first destination, where they met with the Ohio Christian Alliance. Apparently it was clear from that meeting that Evangelical Christians had specific demands that had to be met in order for Mccain to gain their support. It soon became quite clear what these demands entailed.


*"The political tactics of division and slander are not our values," Mr. McCain said. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country" (link).

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

The McCain/Palin Commitment to The Bush Doctrine.

What an amazing day John McCain had Friday. He finally confronted a couple of his (or Sarah Palin's?) rabid followers at a "Town Hall" style rally in Minnesota. Surely you've seen the video by now? He's officially set the record straight. For one thing, he finally admitted that his opponent is not an "Arab". That is remarkable. Now all he has to do is share that information with his staff. Apparently they haven't been sure about Obama. Is he some kind of "Manchurian Candidate"? Is he a "socialist"? Does he "pal around with terrorists"? Those have been the messages for (at least) the last week, and it was starting to get really ugly among the "faithful". The secret service even had to investigate a possible threat against Obama's life.

Now we don't have to ask ourselves "Who is Obama?" anymore. Because John McCain has found one of the last vestiges of honor and dignity buried beneath his capitulation to the basest elements of the GOP. If anyone brings up Barack Obama's character to you, you can simply quote McCain: "I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States." You know, if McCain wasn't running against Obama for president, I'd have to say that this was an endorsement. Or... how about "I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments"? That sounds unequivocal. Even when he got back on the attack, he sounded kind of moderate- "He's a decent family man, a citizen who I just happen to have serious differences with on fundamental questions."

But what you have to ask yourself is why did McCain wait so long to tell the truth? Why did he give in to the tactics of Karl Rove-protégé Steve Schmidt? Did he forget what he famously said about negative ads during his failed bid for the presidency in 2000? Why did he hire the exact same folks that smeared him with ungodly rumors eight years ago? Maybe he made a Faustian bargain. This is undoubtedly his last shot at his most coveted dream, and he's seeing it slowly slipping away. If he is honest with himself he's probably wondering how the hell he got the nod from the Republican Party in the first place. Somehow the neocon wing of the party took control of the maverick, and we are seeing the results. It's an open secret that the cabal's head "intellectual" picked Sarah Palin as his running mate.

So what does that mean in terms of philosophy for the McCain/Palin team? Consider these now famous words:

"We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

-George W. Bush, September 20, 2001 address to the United States Congress.

I think that all the political observers that accused Sarah Palin of not knowing about the Bush Doctrine need to reassess their beliefs. She may not have been able to communicate the principles intelligibly, but she has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she has internalized an understanding of the tactics that the approach involves. The McCain/Palin ticket is simply applying the Bush Doctrine to its political opponent. The accusations that Palin and McCain have made by insinuation (and in some cases quite directly) have very real consequences, and they need to be held accountable for them.

So if John McCain really wants to retain his "maverick" status, he needs to do what the 2000-era McCain would have done- jettison Sarah Palin*, Steve Schmidt, and the rest of their cronies. If McCain was truly uncomfortable with going negative (as some pundits have suggested), he needs to realize that he was forced to buy into a losing strategy. It's probably too late to turn the race around, but it would be an incredible move that would restore the faith a lot of people used to have in McCain's decency. It would be a game-changer, and not just a transient one. It might also go a long way in rehabilitating the dishonored Republican party. At this point, it looks like the old war hero has very little to lose by throwing one last "Hail Mary". Hell, maybe he can ask Hillary if she's available.

* Now that Sarah Palin has officially been found guilty of an "Abuse of Power" ethics violation by the Alaskan legislature, McCain has the perfect excuse to get rid of her. After all, he is the "reform candidate".

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