Archive for May, 2008

Can we please just keep the preachers out of this?

Friday, May 30th, 2008

I lost my father a year-and-a-half ago at the ripe old age of 84. Although, as an aside, there’s no age that’s “ripe” enough when it’s your own father, is there?

For a good portion of his life, Dad was an active minister in the United Church of Christ. Eventually he grew weary of church politics, went back to school for his doctorate and became a sociology professor (where he then, of course, had to put up with academic politics, but that’s a different story). During the last 40 plus years of his life, while he remained an ordained minister and would on occasion fill in on a Sunday, he was never again a church pastor.

So I was a bit surprised when, during his final illness, it became obvious to me that while he was certainly proud of his years spent teaching, at the end of the day he considered himself first and foremost a minister of the United Church of Christ.

It was part of his essence.

And I’m pretty sure I know what Dad’s response would have been, were he still here, to the words of Jeremiah Wright and, per the latest dustup, Father Michael Pfleger: he would have dismissed the whole issue as stupid and insisted that what they say at the pulpit is between them and their congregations and denominations.

Simply put: it’s nobody else’s damn business.

And, no, Dad, though liberal, never said anything nearly as controversial as the now famous words of Rev. Wright or the increasingly famous words of Father Pfleger: his was a subtler approach.
He did, however, occasionally say things capable of causing a stir. One time, in the middle 1960s, for example, he offered a very mild comment on the Vietnam War during a sermon, causing our next door neighbor to storm out of the church in protest (they remained on friendly terms afterwards).
But most of the arguably controversial things — and there weren’t that many of them — Dad said from the pulpit were Scriptural in origin. The Christian faith, after all, has some fairly revolutionary beliefs — things right wing Bible-thumpers often try to ignore (although some are now doing better). Things, for example, having to do with the duty the materially comfortable owe to the poor.

There is very little in our current “greed is good” culture, after all, that can easily be squared with the teachings of Jesus Christ, whatever Rolex wearing televangelists may from time to time claim.
So speaking as a PK (preacher’s kid), let me let you in on a little secret. Getting under people’s skin — sometimes even saying “outrageous” things — is part of a minister’s job. Sermons are supposed to get people thinking, shake them up a little. They can be freewheeling, filled with spontaneous expression. On occasion they can even be over the top and offensive. The idea, of course, is to shake us out of our complacency.

Political correctness and preaching have very little in common.


Does Obama have superdelegates stashed?

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

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I was wrong about gay marriage

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Confession is good for the soul, they say. And, yes, it would be nice if George W. Bush gave it a try once in awhile. On the other hand, I suppose, listening to him blather on incoherently for days on end — as would be required for him to confess to all of his political and constitutional sins — could prove a bit dreary.

So back to the real world, where I think it’s time for me to confess to the sin of timidity on the subject of gay marriage. Here’s what I wrote a year-and-a-half ago in response to the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution required a “marriage equivalent,” such as civil unions, for gays and lesbians, but did not require the use of the word marriage:

Maybe the word marriage can wait

Let me admit up front that as hard as I may try to be empathetic, as a heterosexual I can probably never fully fulfill Atticus Finch’s condition that “you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them” on this issue.  But I still have to say that from the standpoint of political reality, the actual state of the nation as opposed to the one we would like, there is much to commend the compromise reached today by the New Jersey Supreme Court on gay marriage.

My concern, obviously, was that by demanding gay marriage, in the face of widespread popular opposition, the gay community was empowering the Religious Right. And this remains a valid concern today. In many states, opposition to “gay marriage” has led to the adoption of constitutional amendments that not only bar gay marriage, but also civil unions.

This is particularly unfortunate when we remember that the concept of civil unions, giving gay and lesbian couples the legal protections of marriage without the name, has much greater public support than does full gay marriage. Civil union initiatives might well pass in many states if presented on their own merits. Instead, the Religious Right has been able to foreclose this possibility by wrapping the entire issue together under the heading of marriage.

My thought, therefore, was why not start out with civil unions, understanding that over time the transformation to full gay marriage would be inevitable.

But it turns out I was wrong. The popular response to the recent California Supreme Court decision mandating gay marriage proves it.

California voters favor same-sex marriage!   

Wow. I was startled, this morning, to see the new Field Poll* numbers on California’s response to its Supreme Court’s marriage decision:

The poll found 51 percent of registered voters favor the idea of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, while 42 percent disapprove.

Never before have I seen such a polling result outside Massachusetts–and in Massachusetts, we got majority approval only *after* same-sex couples had been marrying for awhile, and after the shock of the court decision had worn off.

Now, to be honest, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see a constitutional ban on gay marriage adopted by referendum in California, notwithstanding this polling. Further, whatever California does, gay marriage is not going to be politically possible in the majority of states for some time to come.

Still, it’s clear that public attitudes are changing. And this is only happening because gay rights advocates refused to be satisfied with second class citizenship.

So more power to them.

Update: And the news keeps coming:

Gay rights advocates score wins in NY, Calif.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gay rights advocates had reason to celebrate on both coasts Thursday, with New York set to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and California preparing to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on June 17.

Hours after California issued a directive Wednesday authorizing that date, word came that New York Gov. David Paterson instructed state agencies — including those governing insurance and health care — to immediately change policies and regulations to recognize gay marriages.


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Maybe we should be nicer to Scott McClellan

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

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Maybe it had to be Obama

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Call me a flip-flopper, but it occurs to me that I’ve come a very long way on Barack Obama. At first, I was deeply suspicious of the wisdom of his candidacy. Then I was undecided. Finally, I became a supporter.

But “finally becoming a supporter” actually wasn’t the “final” step of my transformation: I’ve also gradually become convinced that Obama isn’t just the best available candidate. He’s something more.
I don’t believe in fate. I’m really more of a dumb luck man. In fact, about the only good thing I can say about George W. Bush is that his life’s “successes” provide incontrovertible proof of the transcendent power of dumb luck (and cronyism). 
Or is there still someone left in the greater Milky Way galaxy prepared to claim that Bush’s rise was a product of a meritocracy?
Still, looking back, I find it hard to shake the sense that there was something, if not inevitable, at least necessary, about Barack Obama’s success. It has to do, I suppose, with this country’s desperate need for a new generation of progressive activism. And it’s also about the inspiration that may help to bring that into being.
Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has doubtlessly inspired many young women, but her generally huge lead among white women is significantly lower within the young college-educated demographic (the demographic that tends to produce most political leaders). And all of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s impressive talents notwithstanding, at the end of the day they remain DLC poll-driven pragmatists — hardly the folks likely to inspire a new wave of public-spirited political activism. That just isn’t what they’re about.
In retrospect, I wonder if even my own personal political heartthrob, Al Gore, could have pulled it off. Without a doubt, he has all the makings of a great president (as does Hillary), but it’s hard to see him generating anything close to the kind of excitement Obama has among the young.
Progressive change is hard stuff. It can mean working your ass off — or at least paying a few bucks more in taxes — in furtherance of the public interest, instead of one’s personal concerns.
There’s no question, at least in my mind, that Americans possess the necessary generosity of spirit; we’ve seen it at work in years past and it remains on display in many ways today. But to take this undeniable touch of human nobility and turn it into concerted action requires something more — it takes the spark of inspiration.


Hillary Clinton and the audacity of spin

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

At long last we’re down to just three remaining primaries, South Dakota and Montana (where Barack Obama is favored to win) and Puerto Rico (where Hillary Clinton is expected to win).

And, surprise, surprise, according to the Clinton campaign, Puerto Rico is the crucial contest.

Why? Well, you see, there are a lot of Hispanic voters in Puerto Rico and winning Hispanic votes is apparently almost as important as winning the votes of “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.” This must be distinguished, of course, from winning the votes of well educated, young and black voters who aren’t nearly as important.

Confused? If so, you need to remember the Seventh Commandment (as modified) in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Take that you latte drinkers!

And while we’re at it, some states, such as West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are, of course, simply more important than other states, such as Oregon, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The first group, after all, are the ones that will decide the election, as opposed to the second group which will be counted, but won’t decide the election because . . . well, just because they won’t.

Puerto Rico, which won’t even get to vote in the general election, is, nevertheless, also critically important because it is populated by people who are in certain respects similar to people in other states that are important. South Dakota and Montana, states which will be counted in the general election, on the other hand, aren’t important (unless Hillary scores an upset in which case they’ll become important) because not only are the states themselves not important, but they are also populated by people who are like people in other states that aren’t important. 

Oh, audacity of spin, I do love you so!  

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton, while campaigning in South Dakota a couple days ago, angrily asserted that he has “never seen a candidate treated so disrespectfully just for running.” He went on to denounce the “frantic effort to push her out,” claiming that no one had ever tried to push prior losing Democratic candidates out early, which would be absolutely true if it weren’t for the fact that it isn’t as his own actions in 1992 establish.

And another indisputable fact is that Hillary has actually won the most popular votes, assuming, of course, that only the right sorts of votes are counted.

And, as we all know, this is still an extremely close contest, assuming you disregard the trifling fact that Obama has for all intents and purposes already won it.

All of which leads up to one question: just how far can Hillary push the spin? At what point does she stop being the scrappy fighter who refuses to surrender and become Mohammed Saeed, the infamous Iraqi Information Minister who declared one Iraqi victory after another as American tanks continued to roll across Iraq?

Sadly, it’s looking as though time will have to tell.

Endnote: I still respect Hillary Clinton and certainly honor her supporters’ decision. But if you’re going to stay in a contest long after you’ve lost it (doing harm in the process) and claiming all the while that you’re actually still in the ballgame, you can’t complain when people point the truth out (whatever my hero Paul Krugman thinks about it).

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There will be no 2012 for Hillary Clinton

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

As I said recently, trying to read Hillary Clinton’s mind — and that of her famous husband — has become the new favorite parlor game of American politics. But then, why wouldn’t it be? It’s the question of the hour, after all: why is she still campaigning (and running up debt) when, from the standpoint of delegate statistics, she stands no chance of winning the nomination?

One widely held theory suggests a dark and devious motive: according to this view, Clinton wants Obama to lose so that the path will be open for her to run in 2012.

Personally, I don’t buy it: my guess is that living in the cocoon that encompasses all major campaigns, surrounded by adoring fans, she still believes she has a fighting chance at winning the nomination. As to what other, if any, less praiseworthy thoughts may invade her consciousness late at night, I prefer not to speculate.

The fears that give rise to such suspicions of skullduggery are, however, anything but illusory. By pushing forward with her campaign, Clinton is unquestionably harming Obama’s chances in November, at least to some degree. Although, in fairness, I should note that this too is controversial: many seemingly sentient observers insist that the ongoing bloodletting is actually just what the doctor ordered for Obama, by helping him to prepare for the coming GOP onslaught.

The problem with this cheery prognosis, I’m afraid, is that it underestimates the bitterness the race is engendering. Exit poll results continue to show an extraordinarily large number of Clinton supporters who at least claim they will refuse to vote for Obama.  

For awhile, the so-called ceasefire that’s been in effect since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, with Clinton reducing the severity of her attacks on Obama, has muted these concerns. Unfortunately, it appears that declarations of the dawning of an era of universal Democratic brotherhood and sisterhood may have been premature.

As Josh Marshall notes in a post aptly titled “Toxic,” Clinton is again heightening the intraparty anger by upping the emotional ante on the Florida and Michigan delegations:

For the last week it’s seemed that Sens. Clinton and Obama were adhering to their tacit truce, continuing the primary campaign but avoiding the harsh exchanges that make later party unity a dimmer and dimmer prospect. Clinton particularly had deescalated her rhetoric. Then we have a speech like Sen. Clinton’s yesterday in Florida in which she compared the controversy over seating the Florida and Michigan delegates to the Florida recount debacle and many of the great voting and civil rights battles of the 20th century. She is of course also claiming that whatever the delegate count, she leads in the popular vote and that that is what really counts. Never mind of course that even if you count Michigan and Florida she’s still not ahead in the popular vote without resorting to tendentious methods of counting.

So, refusing to seat the Michigan and Florida delegates — something Hillary and her campaign team didn’t care a wit about until it proved beneficial to her — has now been elevated to the level of the great civil rights struggles of the last century and the theft of the presidency in 2000.

I guess we should be glad she didn’t throw in the persecution of the Israelites by the Pharaoh.


My whites are better than your whites

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Has there ever been a political debate that has been oversimplfied more – if you want to dignify it with the word debate — than the punditocracy’s current Obama versus white voters storyline?

Barack Obama has a white working class problem, we’re told, except, of course, in Oregon, Wisconsin and a bunch of other places. But, according to that great oracle, Pat Buchanan, speaking on MSNBC last night, Oregon doesn’t count because it’s one of those weird latte drinking states.

Wisconsin also doesn’t count, I suppose, because eating a lot of cheese warps people’s minds.

Now, at least according to Buchanan, West Virginia and Kentucky do count, since, as we all know (or at least presume), they have the lowest per capita latte consumption in the western hemisphere.

And what better way to define “real Americans?”

All silliness aside, there’s no question Obama has an Appalachian problem. So does the entire Democratic Party, at least in terms of presidential elections. No Democrat is going to win West Virginia or Kentucky this year. The trending in both states is very much in the opposite direction. And there are a lot of other states neither Obama nor Clinton will win, including Kansas, where Obama smoked Clinton, and Texas, where Clinton beat Obama (in the primary).

The truth is that the Democratic Party is taking a chance this year with Obama. We’re betting that America is ready to elect an African American president. I believe we’ll win that bet, but it’s still only a bet. If we had chosen Hillary, we would have been making a different sort of bet, of course — one involving a female candidate. For what it’s worth, I think we probably would have won that bet as well, but it also would still have been only a bet.

The Democratic Party, for better or worse, passed on its one realistic chance for a “safe candidate” this year when it gave thumbs down to that (very good) white guy from North Carolina with the good hair and the well polished teeth.

Undoubtedly, Obama will lose some white votes based upon race that would have gone to, say, John Edwards, or even Hillary Clinton: on the other hand, Obama will likely pick up other votes — including many from new voters — that might not have fallen to a more traditional candidate due to other unique qualities he brings to the table.

And around and around the wheel will spin and where it will stop nobody knows.

That’s why they call it gambling — and democracy.

I would like that campaign very much

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

From the movie An American President (1995):

President Andrew Shepherd: If we had to go through a character debate three years ago, would we have won?

A.J.: I don’t know. But I would have liked that campaign. If my friend Andy Shepherd had shown up, I would have liked that campaign very much.

*  *  *

I got a small taste yesterday — let’s call it a tantalizing morsel — of the type of 2008 presidential campaign I would very much like to see. It came from a video TPM posted, which combines John McCain’s recent ridicule of Barack Obama for supposedly minimizing the threat posed by Iran with Obama’s counterattack against McCain and Bush.
If you haven’t watched it, take a few minutes to do so.
I hope it’s a preview of the election to come.
I will admit that there is one ignoble and hyperpartisan aspect to my feeling this way, which relates to my satisfaction with the pathetic quality of McCain’s general appearance and demeanor on the video. He comes across like a caricature of a grumpy old man. As you watch him, it’s remarkably easy to form the mental image of McCain standing on his front porch yelling at children playing across the street: “You damn kids stop making so much noise over there or I’ll call the police on you!”
That’s a John McCain I wouldn’t mind seeing every day for the rest of the campaign.
But it isn’t just McCain’s demeanor that comes across as old and dried out in the clip — it’s the substance of what he has to say. He really does want to preside over George W. Bush’s third term. The same old tired rhetoric of fear. The same old empty tough talk.
Compared to McCain’s prune like performance, the Obama portion of the video is the clichéd breath of fresh air. I’m no Obama groupie. He’s a politician — and, as such, his stands on political issues are often something less than courageous.
But on the immensely important issue of breaking America’s addiction to a simplistic tough guy “shooting first is always best” view of foreign affairs, his words are almost breathtaking. This is something radical — not in terms of the policy views themselves which are consistent with the consensus among experts — but in terms of political calculation.
For over a generation now, the political conventional wisdom has followed Bill Clinton’s famous words, “When people are insecure, they’d rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who’s weak and right.” Obama now proposes to turn this dictum on its head — not by embracing weakness, of course — but by embracing smartness in the form of an openness to dialog.

Part of being smart, Barack Obama challenges us, is the willingness to talk, not just to our friends, but also to our bitterest enemies.
That’s a position that scares a lot of Democratic politicos who worry that the GOP may yet succeed in painting Obama as weak. Hell, it scares me a little. But my gut (and a lot of polling) tells me that the American people are willing to listen to a candidate who preaches a return to diplomacy, instead of more of the same old Bush-style reflexive bullying.  
But either way, I would like that campaign. I would like that campaign very much

The Obama-McCain excitement gap

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Did you hear the one about Barack Obama throwing a party and 75,000 people coming?

Well, it really happened.

(NYT) Obama Draws Record Crowd in Oregon

An estimated 75,000 gathered on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland on Sunday to see Barack Obama.

“Wow! Wow! Wow!” were his first words, as he surveyed the multitude, which included people in kayaks and small pleasure craft on the river.

Now, close your eyes and try — try as hard as you can — to imagine John McCain drawing a crowd of this size. You can’t do it, can you? I can’t either.

As much as he is loved by the major media, McCain will never generate that kind of excitement among the public — not even close.

This year’s presidential election may well end up being very close in votes.  But in terms of excitement, it’s going to be Obama in a blowout — which is a good thing on any number of counts. Excitement means booming fundraising, record breaking voter turnout and lots and lots of grassroots work.

And it’s also fun.

Democrats have largely lost sight of the fun part of politics in recent national elections (we’ve been too consumed with the desperate desire to win). It would be good to get it back.

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In April 2007 top rocky ringtones Federal Communications Commission officially grounded the idea of allowing passengers to use phones during a flight.

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Some book shops, libraries, bathrooms, cinemas, doctors’ offices and places of worship prohibiting their use, so that other patrons will not be disturbed by conversations.

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This law goes into effect on July 1, 2008 with set 3 ringtone sidekick contact fine for the first offense and $50 fines for each subsequent conviction.

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This had nothing to do with ringtone glo soul ringing that was used on party line.

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A working group made up of Finnish telephone companies, public transport operators and communications authorities has launched ringtones sunshine to remind ringtones sunshine users of courtesy, especially when using mass transit—what to talk about on the phone, and how to.

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Men who use teen buzz ringtones s on teen buzz ringtones basis lose about 30 percent of their active sperm cells.

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In ringtone show tv emergency in 2000 it was claimed that recordings of ringtone show tv emergency conversations made on the day of the Omagh bombing were crucial to the police investigation.