You are currently viewing archive for November 2008
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Cleaning out my queue of unfinished drafts. From some time during the primary season:

For much of the pre-season phase (pre-Iowa and New Hampshire) of Decision 2008, the Okie Gardener gently admonished me to abandon the "horse race" aspect of the campaign and join him in his quest for substance.

Later, after I began to write critically of Barack Obama, advocates for "CHANGE" called on me to refrain from dwelling on his rhetoric, middle name, race, faith, lack of experience, and other matters apart from substance.

All of these questions and exhortations presume that we will pick our next president based on his or her collective stance on the issues--which is altogether logical.

Why have I virtually ignored "the issues" thus far (save for Iraq and the "war on terror")?

Simply, I do not believe that some slate of agreed-upon major issues that confront us an a nation actually will play a telling role in the fall. Undoubtedly, one or two key issues of concern will emerge between now and then--mostly depending on what seemingly crucial event might be the most ever-present in our minds at that particular moment: the economy? Likely. Iraq? This is already much less prevalent than most of us thought it would be.

If the summer proves uncharacteristically hot, perhaps we will be tuned into global warming? Will the news media and the Democratic nominee succeed in creating a sense of urgency over healthcare? Maybe. Or will something wholly unforeseen enter our consciousness between now and then that completely overshadows all other concerns?

What can I safely say will not be a major issue in the fall campaign? The future of American education or our impending crisis of structural debt, which includes social security, medicare, and other entitlements, [which] is not titillating enough to keep the attention of the electorate. The ultimate contradiction of our time? The desire for a low-tax, small government society in which all our needs are met by wise leadership and sound public institutions that protect us from ourselves. There is no political advantage in telling us that this combination is not possible; therefore, I bet the farm that this subject will not emerge in any of the televised debates.

Changes in the United States happen incrementally. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt and the "New Deal," revolutions in America have not happened at the ballot box. And in the case of FDR, the electorate was swept up in a national sense of crisis--panic, etc. For the record, few could have imagined the impending transformation based on Roosevelt's campaign rhetoric or the Democratic Party platform of 1932.

The United States of America is a big ship. Specific policy ideas and proposals from any one successful candidate during one election cycle generally does not have much impact on the course of American history. On the other hand, larger philosophical positions have a greater impact over time. Therefore, this raging debate within the Republican faithful over who we are and who best personifies that collective consciousness strikes me as much more meaningful. The problem, however, is that the current candidates seem disinclined to engage that internal maelstrom.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today, the House Democratic Caucus voted 137-122 to oust John Dingell as chair of the Energy and Commerce committee and replace him with Henry Waxman.

What does this mean?

You can read this informative news/analysis piece from The Hill for starters.

This quote from Nancy Pelosi says it all:

“Under his leadership, the committee and the entire caucus will make progress toward making America energy-independent, making healthcare available to all Americans, and addressing the greatest challenge of our time, global warming.”

As the Hill reports, Waxman will be a "liberal, aggressive, and activist chairman." Read this as a sign that Speaker Pelosi does not intend to lay low and/or capitulate in the face of a potentially common-sense oriented Obama administration. It is also some payback for Dingell, who had the temerity to resist the Speaker's proposed war on climate change.

Bottom Line: Nancy Pelosi and Left Coast liberalism are alive and well in the 111th Congress. Thank you very much.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I heard a fairly cantankerous interview with Barney Frank this morning.

In response to a request for clarification from the interviewer, Frank testily responded: "Right, I'm trying to explain to you how it works." Congressman Frank went on to chastise the reporter on several more occasions, continued to interrupt and talk over him incessantly, and then began his concluding statement by declaring: "you seem determined to kind of distort this."

Another encounter with Bill O'Reilly? No. This was an NPR segment with Steve Inskeep.

Barney Frank is a man so combative that he cannot even seem civil with NPR.

What are we going to do with this fellow now that he is in charge of overseeing our financial system?

The cranky exchange this morning concerned Frank's insistence that we bail out our struggling domestic automobile companies.

Frank is not bashful about telling you what he thinks:

--the car companies should be rescued to save workers and remedy the "white collar/blue collar divide,” fight against the rampant and systemic "anti-union activity," and attempt to address "income inequality in this country."

--we seem to be willing to spend "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions for a war that we never should have been in [Iraq], but we don't save an important industry and protect workers from having gains that they fought hard for taken away."

--we live in "a wealthy country. If we spend things well, we can spend them."

With the fundamental problems with labor and health care costs, is any of this even spending on the Big Three likely to help?

--the x factor seems to be health care. "if they have to stay with health care the way it is now, yeah, that's bleak. But what I am hoping is that we will get a change in the health care system that will reduce the burden that we put not just on the American auto industry, where it's more expensive to build a car in America than in Canada because of health care."

The Frank Plan:

1. Save the UAW at taxpayer expense.

2. Ditch Iraq and spend the peace dividend on reducing inequities.

3. Universal healthcare.

The Okie Gardener asserted earlier today that Barney Frank presents a real obstacle to Barack Obama's success as president. Finding a way to keep Barney in his cage will be an ongoing problem for the new administration. I wish them well.

I agree with the Gardener, the way the Auto Bail Out shakes out will tell us a lot.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Democratic caucus in the United States Senate voted 42 to 13 to retain Joe Lieberman as chair of the Homeland Security Committee.

This is an immensely gracious act. It is the right thing to do--but it would have been deliciously satisfying for a whole slew of irate Democrats to publicly humiliate the maverick senator from Connecticut.

But they did not.


They may need him. If the two outstanding elections in Minnesota and Georgia are settled in the Democrats favor, Joe Lieberman might make the difference in terms of a filibuster-proof super majority.

However, I tend to believe that the filibuster magic number is much less (and by that I mean MUCH LESS) important than most pundits like to imagine. President Obama will write his own ticket for the 111th Congress and will likely prove virtually unstoppable on any issue he pleases. His only governor will be his own restraint.

More compelling, President-elect Obama evidently threw his weight behind this act of forgiveness and reconciliation. Why? Perhaps he really is a scrupulous follower of Christ, who lives his life based on the tenets expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Or, perhaps he is an incredibly insightful politician who understands that an olive branch is often a wiser and more profitable weapon than the sledgehammer. Forgiving Lieberman and bringing him back into the fold affirms the image of Obama as a new Lincoln--and very likely obligates Joe to him for life. Either explanation (or, more likely, somewhere in between) pleases me.

Whether someone lives a good life because it is "the law," and/or the fear of Hell motivates them to follow the commands of God, or whether one embraces the spirit of Christ and does good in the world because his heart dictates such conduct, makes no great difference to me.

More pointedly, even if this is merely a political calculation, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is much preferable than doing the wrong thing with a conflicted heart or guilty conscience.

My reason for optimism: on the whole, I like this pattern of conduct. Specifically, we love Joe, and we are happy that President-elect Obama saw fit to offer him a place of honor in America's future.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Knights of Columbus national headquarters has received mysterious white powder in the mail, probably because of the KofC support for Proposition 8 in California. Story here. The powder apparently is harmless, but was disruptive.

Here is the text of Proposition 8 from the State of California Voter Guide.

This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the
provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.
This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by
adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are
printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.
SECTION 1. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage
Protection Act.”
SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution,
to read:
SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized
in California

Mormons also have been subjected to vandalism and white powder mailings. Story here.

Not only have several congregations been picketed, but an Assembly of God church in Michigan had its service disrupted. Story here.

Play by the rules guys. Campaigns. Advertising. Orderly marches. All fine. Vandalism. Fake anthrax attacks. Disrupting worship services. Not fine. In a democracy, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When you lose, continue to work within the system. Don't go Brownshirt.

I can even handle peaceful protests outside churches. Though ACT UP is known for its non-peaceful protests of Roman Catholic churches. Story here. Those actions described in this article did not approach the levels of the infamous 1989 ACT UP demonstrations.

Acting like fascists will not win friends and influence people.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton.

Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff.

I love it. Why?

Off the top of my head:

--Emanuel will be pro-Israel--something many of us have worried about in re an Obama administration.

--Emanuel is a can-do kind of guy--the sort every successful president needs. Tough as nails and hard-charging, he will complement the laid-back style of the President-elect.

--Compared to some of the other Clinton vets (thinking about Harold Ickes and John Podesta, for example), Emanuel is much less ideologically driven. He is a compromiser and a fixer.

An Aside: if it seems like I am talking about my own team, I am. Until Barack Obama demonstrates to me that he does not have the best interests of America at heart, I am going to assume he does.

--Emanuel is a strong counterweight to Nancy Pelosi (whom I do perceive as a serious threat to the best interests of America). She is also the person most likely to sink an Obama presidency--if not handled with care. Rahm Emanuel strikes me as the operator best equipped to tame the termagant Madame Speaker.

--Emanuel has a track record for political intelligence and vision. That is, he sees the big picture, which, in a nutshell, reveals that we are a center-right nation frustrated with Republicans in general and mad at George Bush in particular. The President-elect has a chance to begin an Era of Obama--but only if he appeals to the center-right good sense of Middle America. If he lurches to the left, he is finished. Emanuel understands this tightrope.

Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?

I love it. Why?

--Hillary is tough as nails. She is the closest thing to a hawk that this search is likely to produce.

--Hillary demonstrates that all that campaign claptrap about "change" and the other idealist imagery was not the whole story. Our president-elect seems less naive with each passing day.

--Hillary pushes out Joe Biden as the experienced foreign policy star. I continue to believe that Joe Biden for veep was the only egregious error from Team Obama in an otherwise almost flawless campaign. This is evidence that Obama understands that Biden lacks the capacity to play a major foreign policy role in any administration.

--Hillary pushes out John Kerry. See above (this is evidence that Obama understands that Kerry lacks the capacity to play a major foreign policy role in any administration).

--Hillary fits into the "Team of Rivals" template, which is a constructive concept (especially if the trope includes retaining Robert Gates and David Petraeus). And, in terms of obsessions, this president-elect could do a lot worse in terms of historical idols. Emulating Honest Abe is a high standard. Godspeed to him.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Today, the Okie Gardener continues his series voicing his misgivings concerning the presidency and character of Barack Obama.

The Gardener considers the revelation that Bill Ayres and President-elect Obama were evidently much closer than maintained during the campaign.

My thoughts.

True, Obama's denials were disingenuous. Were they egregiously so in terms of a politician running for president? Hard to say. Reasonable people will disagree.

Of course, the Gardener touches on our real crisis: a mainstream media no longer providing an honest check to power.

An Aside: I fear that the Gardener overlooks another critical problem we face: an alternative (conservative) media that is not very serious in the aggregate.

However, the outlandish and disturbing fact in the Ayres revelation is not that Obama dissembled. Politicians lie. Dogs bite. Credit Card Companies charge interest. Caveat emptor.

Of course, as the Gardener suggests, the real worry here is that the prObama press corps seems willing to run interference for this man regardless of the high toll on their own integrity and credibility—and our modern tradition of the Fourth Estate as a balancing agent.

Barack Obama is president, which I continue to believe is not necessarily a disastrous thing. While I will criticize him vociferously when he errs and/or pursues ill-conceived or deleterious policies, I reaffirm my pledge to lay off him when possible out of respect for the office and consistent with my belief that we need him to succeed more than we need him to fail.

However, the element that frightens me most is this fact of life: the only governor on a President Obama in this current atmosphere seems to be his own decency. And while he strikes me as a decent person, my sense of human nature (to echo Lord Acton) is that powerful leaders lose perspective fairly quickly--and, of course, leaders with absolutely no checks to their own power veer off into the bar ditch with alarming regularity.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This Week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean reaffirmed his intention to relinquish his position of party leadership when his term expires in January. No surprise there. A sitting president picks the national party chair, and Dean promised from the beginning to serve only one term in that capacity.

Dean's tenure was oftentimes tumultuous. In addition to providing an inviting target to conservative commentators, he famously fought with Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer over the allocation of resources in 2006 and faced down massive inside grumbling concerning the so-called fifty-state strategy in 2008.

However, from this vantage point, it is hard to argue with Dean's success. He presided over one of the most dramatic recoveries of political power in the history of our democratic-republic. Four years ago, his party was defeated, demoralized, and a disillusioned minority in both houses of Congress. Today a Democratic president-elect, overwhelmingly elected in a contest that turned the map blue, prepares to preside over comfortable majorities in the House and Senate.

Even more important than the fifty-state strategy, and a fact that goes overlooked way too often, is that Howard Dean the insurgent presidential candidate of 2004 provided the template for victory for Barack Obama in 2008. Obama understood well that Dean's strident anti-war stance provided the roadmap to winning the Democratic nomination four years later. As the only viable Democrat who could boast clean hands on Iraq, Obama expertly crafted the "nutroots" element of the party into a powerful base and endless source of financing.

Although the Dean juggernaut lost traction in the snows of Iowa, the Obama campaign went to school on their shortcomings and built on their successes. Best known for the "Dean Scream," which probably had very little to do with his overall defeat, Dr. Dean emerges today as one of the essential components of this amazing Democratic success.

Note to self: don't get too down about today's headlines.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.

Bottom Line: according to Rudyard Kipling’s definition, without question, Howard Dean is a man.

For a party reeling from setbacks, his example of fortitude is worth emulating.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
I am a regular reader of Roger Ebert's movie reviews. I first became aware of him over 25 years ago as half of the team on Public Television's movie review program.

Ebert is a modern liberal in his sympathies and beliefs, though I don't think he is on the lunatic fringe. Two of his recent postings reveal some of the assumptions made by the American left, strongly held in spite of, or against, the evidence.

Writing about the election of Obama.

Our long national nightmare is ending. America will not soon again start a war based on lies and propaganda. We will not torture. We will restore the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of privacy, and habeas corpus. We will enter at last in the struggle against environmental disaster. Our ideas will once again be more powerful than our weapons. During the last eight years, the beacon on the hill flickered out. Now the torch will shine again.

"Nightmare"? What nightmare? Since 9/11/01 we have had no major terrorist attacks on our soil. The economy has performed well, until recently (thank you Barney Frank, Barak Obama, and Christ Dodd, you weasels). "Start a war based on lies and propaganda." I assume he means Iraq. "Start." We have been in a state of war with Iraq since its invasion of Kuwait. Saddam regularly and deliberately violated agreements made in the cease-fire. His military frequently shot at Coalition planes doing reconnaissance. Saddam plotted to assassinate Bush 41. The terms of the cease-fire mandated that he not only dismantle his weapons programs, but prove to the world he had dismantled them; instead, he played a dangerous game of evasion with weapons inspectors. "Lies and propaganda." I assume he means that no recent weapons of mass destruction were found. See above on Saddam's responsibilities for dismantling his weapons programs. We know he had such weapons, he had used them on the Kurds and Iranians. And, weapons of mass destruction were only one of the reasons given for the invasion of Iraq under Bush 43. "We will not torture." Waterboarding is unpleasant, but not inhumane torture; neither is panties on the head. "Restore the rights of freedom of speech"? How many Bush-bashing journalists, bloggers, actors/actresses, academics, were hauled into re-education camps? None. Sheer hysteria. "Freedom of privacy." So, is he thinking that privacy is absolute? Is he asserting that Americans who communicate with individuals, groups, etc. of concern should not have conversations listened in on? Is he asserting that all of us have had our privacy invaded? Is he assuming that if we cannot conduct a perfect war against radical Islam we should conduct none at all? "Habeus corpus." Is he suggesting that fighting radical Islam is a matter of law enforcement rather than war? Is he asserting that enemy combantants, who do not qualify for Geneva Convention protection, should be given U.S. Constitutional protections?

Listening to, and reading liberals, makes me feel like I've entered Bizarro World.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
What Barack Obama said at his first press availability as president-elect:

When asked if he had spoken with any ex-presidents since his election on Tuesday, Obama responded that he had spoken to all former presidents "that are living."

When a few titters of laughter ensued at his awkward phrasing, the candidate attempted to recover with humor:

"I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances."

Why this is disturbing.

1. It is mean. Why go out of your way to slam a former first lady in her nineties?

2. It is wrong. Nancy Reagan never had any seances. She famously consulted an astrologer about her husband's schedule after the 1981 assassination attempt that almost claimed his life.

3. It is a disturbing conflation. He was probably confused about the allegations that Hillary Clinton used a spiritualist to communicate with the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt.

4. As good as he is in some facets of his public performance, he is often tongue-tied and extremely uncomfortable in other situations as a public speaker. This is a strange paradox that will plague his presidency and, undoubtedly, have some unexpected deleterious consequences.

Even more disturbing.

1. The Press laughed. If Obama "bagged" on an elderly woman, it must be pretty funny and appropriate.

2. The Press gave him a pass on the facts. No reporters challenged his erroneous assumption. He was wrong--and certainly there must have been some reporters who understood how wrong he was--but no one said anything. The coverage of the press availability generally ignored the comment. Of course, the right-wing media picked up on it and responded with outrage--but the mainstream papers are only now, and with palpable reluctance, reporting on the slight.

A Small Reason for Hope?

The best thing about this (and admittedly I may be grasping here), the president-elect has reportedly already called Nancy Reagan personally and apologized for his callous comment and his erroneous insinuation.

Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for that gesture of civility.
Category: Politics
Posted by: Martian Mariner
As I mentioned a few days ago, I'm a spatially-focused kind of guy, and a sucker for maps. I love the immediate interpretation of vast amounts of data that a map can show. So, for the election results, I've been going straight to the maps. We've all seen the state-by-state maps, and have probably noticed that the map seems to look pretty red, even though Obama cleaned house with Electoral college votes.

The obvious explanation is that the difference is due to population in these states, which, since we're looking at this spatially, corresponds to population density. Obama overwhelmingly carried densely-populated areas. Compare this population density map, shown by county, with this election results map, also by county (scroll down a bit).

A more unconventional way to show the population difference is with a population-scaled cartogram. [Aside: these weighted cartograms can end up showing some really neat stuff. Check out this site and browse.] Someone's been industrious overnight, and we've already got a weighted cartogram for the election results, here.

County-by-county maps can show startling results. For example, my state, Missouri, is still "too close to call." A map of election results by county shows that only 8 of 114 counties were carried by Obama! (Plus the city of St. Louis, not in a county.) Looking at these counties, though, shows that you've got Kansas City, St. Louis, and Columbia all going Obama. Of course, this county-by-county examination is not completely meaningful, since there is no state electoral college, and many of those red counties were 55-44 sorts of places, and those 44s add up.

As far as conclusions go, well, I generally avoid them. But in this case, especially looking at the population density map and county election results map in conjunction, there seems to be significant evidence for an Urban-Rural gap in this country. Voting for a president is only partially indicative of overall values and preferences, but it is a key indicator. Rural and Urban Americans seem to value different things.

[I know, that's not much of a new point. But I do like to see some empirical evidence to back this up, in addition to the anecdotal and assumptive evidence we've had so far. I'm a bit more into social sciences than Farmer and gardener, and I think this preference of mine is one of the main reasons.]
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
It is 9:36 pm CST. The networks have called Iowa for Obama now with about 15% of the votes reported. I am looking at the Iowa state map, county by county vote totals. I do not see an Obama clinch yet. We'll know in a couple of hours about Iowa. At 9:40 I am cautiously optimistic about Missouri for McCain, looking at the county by county maps.

I grew up in Missouri and lived there several years as an adult; I lived several years in Iowa.

Update: 10:10pm CST I now can see calling Iowa for Obama. I am very surprised at his strength in the rural counties of central Iowa outside Polk County (Des Moines). It will be interesting to see any data on why these Iowan voted as they did. The economy?
Category: Politics
Posted by: Martian Mariner
We'll forget about the Voting Paradox for a moment, and say instead: Vote.

There are many good reasons, but I'll save the professoring for the farmer and gardener; I'll just point the way:

I'm a sucker for maps, especially when they're searchable and applicable. Don't know where to vote? Just go to the above link, type in your address, and get a map showing you how to get to your polling place. Ain't technology grand?

I'll be riding my bike to my polling place at 7am and casting my vote for all federal, state, and local elections. Democracy rolls on.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
We need a man that is simple perfection
There's nothing that's harder to find
Someone to lead us protect us and feed us
And help us to make up our minds
We need a man that's sophisticated
Quiet and strong and well educated

Where to go what to do
Could it be somebody super like you

We need a man that can stand as a symbol
And symbols have got to be tall
Someone with taste and the tiniest waist
With his help would not life be a ball
If we had fun he would not restrain us
If we got caught he would just explain us

Where to go what to do
Could it be somebody super like you

We pledge allegiance to his
Gracefulness and charming manners
With a voice that's both sides choice
He'll bring us to our knees in admiration
He is king of all who see and hear his perfect pitch
And more surprises when his time is come a stallion rises

We need a man with a head on his shoulders
A nose that is simply divine
Hollywood smile and a perfect profile
And with eyes that would sparkle and shine
Long flowing hair for a crowning glory
There'd be a man who could tell our story

Where to go what to do
Could it be somebody super like you

We pledge allegiance to his
Gracefulness and charming manners
With a voice that's both sides choice
He'll bring us to our knees in admiration
He is king of all who see and hear his perfect pitch
And more surprises when his time is come a stallion rises
Rises... rises... rises

"Somebody Super Like You" by Paul Williams
Performance from Phantom of the Paradise

Liberty can be frightening. There really is an "Anxiety of Freedom." Therefore there always will be the tug toward The Strong Man, Someone to lead us protect us and feed us
And help us to make up our minds

We have seen a lot of that tendency this election. Mostly among Obama supporters, who have romantically, not rationally, chosen someone to make their lives better. The Obama movement this year has reminded me of Juan Peron in Argentina. And of Plato's prediction that the demogogue would be the end of democracy.

Be careful what you wish for.

This song is from The Phantom of the Paradise, lyrics by Paul Williams. Trailer. A great little movie combining Faust, The Phantom of the Opera, and Shock Rock. Early Brian De Palma.