Posts Tagged ‘obama’

plato called it

November 12, 2008

very funny though perhaps actually quite depressing video behind the scenes at the daily show, on interviewing voters in this election. It’s further reminder that these systems don’t work not because of some particular disorder regarding the method or implementation or dynamic of power, but simply the force of that power itself, the intelligence of human beings. Hopefully we will muddle through with all our checks and balances 🙂


The undecided voter

October 21, 2008

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama is being given a lot of attention as a powerful move, a thoughtful speech, and a painful jab to the right wing. But one thing that struck me about it was the fact that Powell basically admitted to being one of those many undecided voters the media has been chastising and the comedy shows have been mocking. He said on Meet the Press that he’d been watching carefully these last few weeks and finally chose Obama. But he apparently wasn’t sure until just over two weeks to the election, when voting has already begun in some states. Yet the press still respected and adored him.

He didn’t say he had to decide whether to come out and state publicly that he would vote for Obama; he said he had to decide for himself whether to vote for Obama. He personally just wasn’t sure what to do until he had had time to watch them in action this fall. Does that mean we should think less of Powell or more of undecided voters? Well – that’s up to you. I’m just pointing out the overlap.

what you never know

October 19, 2008

I always try to keep in mind that life in the real world is hard to predict, but like everyone I also find myself turning to previous cases that are similar enough to this one, to try to predict anyway. Six months ago I thought McCain had a real chance, and after the RNC I was sure it would be a close race. It was only last week when the polls seemed to just keep getting tougher for him, and Obama just kept cruising along, that I finally felt like maybe we didn’t have to worry that much. But after that last debate and a few positive pop culture appearances for McCain and Palin (Letterman, the Alfred E Smith show, SNL) I could see McCain just being the easy going nice guy underdog, not worrying about it, and Obama trying too hard and irritating everyone with his constant barrage of boring politician-ads. I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter what happened last time or how things go in what percentage of times. All that matters is what is happening right now and how things are going this time.

So it’s a false sense of security to look at 95% likelihood of winning… That site is based on a baseball stat model, which is hardly based on beliefs and psychology at all, and mostly on facts and abilities. BUt politics is all about opinions and group tendencies. It’s a whole different ball game, so to speak. Also, teams actually win and lose multiple times a week, whereas in politics it’s just polls multiple times a week that are providing numbers – the actual “game” only happens once, and could be totally misrepresented by polls the whole time, for a whole host of reasons.

I know the Tribune endorsed him, and that overall more newspapers have gone with Obama. Plus today Colin Powell endorsed Obama. But this is all for people who are following politics on purpose, not for people who just catch sight of things here or there. And Colin is sort of part of the old school anyway. So even with all this I feel like things are less secure now than they were, that McCain has found more of his groove, talking anti-socialism and being a fun guy. Not that it will work, but I think it will be closer.

last debate

October 16, 2008

Finally, a little action! Was that the demur Mr Schieffer directing conversation, a roundtable creating the right environment, or just some form of repressed campaign energy necessarily finding its release? Whatever it was, the third debate was certainly the best of the three (go NYC?). From my perspective, McCain started off stronger, but wandered into points of confusion along the way, and by the end seemed to have failed to present a fully coherent picture of his vision. However, he did manage to throw some doubts about Obama out there, especially regarding taxes and health care. On the other hand, in a time of economic crisis, I don’t know if people will care as much about the fears of ‘great society’ governing.

For his part, Obama seemed tired and even a little bored to start with. He managed to be clear and deflect things and sound smart, but he sounded like he was going to go back into talking points at the start, and I never saw the spark in the eye the way you used to see with Bill Clinton when he’d do these things, that showed he loved explaining it. Near the end, when the issues turned to more personal things and he could talk about common ground and what we’re all looking for, I felt like I could see a little bit of hope in him. I think it’s just he doesn’t like arguments and debates that much; he’d rather do speeches and orations where he can talk about shared humanity… A lover not a fighter, sort of thing.

… Not to say he’s not a fighter, by the way. If you haven’t seen the Frontline special on Obama & McCain you really should watch it, as it gives a good & I think very fair background on both of them – it’s a bit brief once the campaigns get going but useful to get a feel for their lives leading up the 2008 run. Both are cast in quite favorable lights, I would say, although one diluted scandal each is discussed. But I do think it’s the sort of thing where you can draw your own conclusion.

Anyway, 538 is saying the post-debate numbers are giving it to Obama once again, which I’m relieved to hear as I wouldn’t have been surprised this time to see a shift. But it really just looks like America has made up its mind. Yes, McCain is not BUsh, but Bush is only getting like 25% approval right now, so McCain’s doing a lot better than that! Reagan changed things at the last moment, but he didn’t get his debate until the last moment – it seemed like the voters wanted change but were hesitant to trust the new guy until they’d seen him in action, which is the same thing that’s happened this time, except that we had three debates and they happened earlier in the cycle. But Obama got thumbs up from every debate, even when the media thought the performance was basically even, and I think it’s because the citizenry just wants confirmation that he can handle it.

McCain did his best yet last night, and we’ll see if it has any effect on polls – it might close the gap a little here or there, just to make things interesting.

And keep trackof the facts.

MccAin’t Happening

October 13, 2008

Election Projection shows Obama up by 200 electoral votes, and all the changes this week in Obama’s favor. 538 has slightly less on the electoral numbers, but still says an almost 94% likelihood of an Obama win. According to electoral-vote, on this day in ’04, Bush was already ahead by more than 50 electoral votes. Yes, there’s one more debate, and yes anything could happen. But it sure ain’t happening for him now, and it would take a dramatic turn of events.

A few days ago, Pat Buchanan apparently thought the problem was McCain was being too soft on Obama, and the commenters there, unsurprisingly, agreed – probably the same sort of supporters seen here
But McCain backed down, trying to appear at least somewhat respectable, rather than rile up the mob.
But can he change the tone? Even his own find it hard to see how this could turn around.

There are conspiracy theories, of course, and I will admit to being prone to taking these perhaps a little too seriously. I think it’s because I grew up in a NY, lefty household and so basically have never trusted the government – they are always a bunch of crooks and liars, by definition. Sooo, watching this video did get me a little paranoid.

But I thought she was really vague about the election stuff: did she think Bush was going to claim a third term / dictatorial powers? Did she think McCain was going to somehow steal the election and continue Bush’s policies? Or did she think it simply didn’t matter who went into office next, that Obama too would turn into the next fascist leader?

I think that’s how she gets away with getting people paranoid and riled up in unison, because people can project their own fantasy of what dystopia would come about: right wing paranoid freaks would imagine evil Obama, left wing super-paranoid freaks would imagine evil Bush becoming Hitler, and left wing moderate-paranoid freaks would imagine Bush helping McCain steal the election through some kind of last minute terrorism scare. Sells more books, anyway.

I will say, though, that if McCain were to somehow win at this point, it would definitely raise questions about racism or corruption.

the right / responsibility of voting

October 9, 2008

I mentioned that Rich Lowry piece the other day about Sarah Palin’s winks knocking his socks off, and came across this possibly comparable piece by a female writer the other day, about how pictures of male candidates holding babies just makes her melt. She admits pretty much without hesitation that her rational concerns are no longer the point; it’s the look on the little boy’s face.

I tend to be a somewhat overly analytic person. To me, Sarah Palin’s winks were kinda cute in a funny way, but completely inappropriate to the context, so sort of surreal and hilarious and just bizarre. They did not make me like her more, though they didn’t necessarily make me dislike her more. They just made me feel like “what the fuck is going on in this ridiculous country?”

As for that picture of Obama and the gleeful little boy, to me it is very sweet, but that’s the end of it – if not for all the commentary, it would have been an “aww” moment, and then I’d forget about it. I guess if you are already really into Obama it is probably more deeply affecting, but even so, I’m surprised how intensely people seemed to react to it (though I wonder if that’s just the immediacy of the internet, and if they’d even remember it the next day).

All of this reminds me a bit of an article that was in the New Yorker this week; only the abstract is online, but Jill Lepore wrote a piece about the history of voting in America, and how much it has changed in the last couple centuries. In the first election, only 6% of the US population had voting rights – only property-owning men were entrusted with not voting for their own personal gain, but only for the common good – and the entire population of the country was smaller than a lot of contemporary cities. They voted in public, by raising hands or saying names in the town hall, and later by handing in hand-written ballots. This ended up being dangerous as people would attempt to stop each other from getting to polling places, so in the mid-late 19th century, after the vote had been widened to those without property and the freed slaves, we switched to secret ballots…

But things still went through the Electoral College, which was a safety measure that kept the polloi from directly choosing the president. Now we still have the EC but it’s not really meaningful anymore, as we are trying to encourage the polloi to please choose the president. Unfortunately we aren’t encouraging them to become more interested or more educated or more thoughtful when making the choice, and it seems as if a lot of candidates are all too aware of how to use various gimmicks to manipulate them.

Consider how upset FOX news was when an unretouched close-up of Sarah Palin was published by Newsweek: if Ms Palin became Ms Plain, she’d lose her whole draw. But it’s not as if the same thing isn’t going on on Obama’s side… Image is … well, a lot.

debate #2

October 8, 2008

I found the debate last night pretty boring. It seemed like pretty much standard talking points the whole way through, and even when questions were mildly interesting, the candidates managed to ignore them and just deliver their stump speeches, which if you’ve been paying any attention, you’ve heard a hundred times already.

I was surprised this morning to find that a bunch of people found Obama’s answer to the question on health care to be one of the best parts because that was one part that I found extremely irritating, since I actually thought the question was interesting and he skipped it to give his standard spiel. The question was about whether it’s okay for health care to be a commodity but he didn’t even acknowledge that he was going to ignore it or anything, just went into robot mode and described his health care plan (which of course still allows health care to be a commodity, not to say that’s wrong, but he never took up that aspect of the question – do we want competition or security & care in our health care – it’s a tough area, really…)

Basically, what came across to me is that undecideds are just people who don’t care about the election. This has been going on two years already; if you don’t already know Obama’s health care plan, you obviously don’t care about the election. This should be a time when we get to ask about details, like, for instance, why have a commodity based health care plan instead of one like Clinton proposed that was government backed? That could have been an interesting discussion about how industry affects medicine, treatment, preventative care; about if government slows things down and gets red tape in the way; about where in the scheme of infrastructure health care belongs. But Americans are just too stupid for that high level of a debate. Instead, it was back to a talking point he’s been repeating since 2006, a little spiel about “this is what I’d do”, and on to the next one.

For me, this is like Al Gore vs. Bob Dole. How can either of them win? I mean, yeah, I’ll take Al Gore and I’m pretty sure America will too but god is it boring to watch. I liked Tom Brokaw’s little slip-up, “If either of you win the presidency…”


October 5, 2008

I’m not an economist. I have a dad who teaches economics, but who I don’t always agree with, a sister who studies economics, but who I usually disagree with, two half brothers who are in the private sector and have some practical familiarity with how economics works, but who I don’t talk to that often, and I’ve read stuff here or there that might count as economics, but nothing too technical. I am really trying to understand what is going on at the moment, but it seems as if very few people have much of a clue, to be honest.

This article actually seemed to hit the nail on the head, for me. The problem is we don’t really know what kind of economy we’re in anymore. It’s not really free market capitalism as we envisioned it ideally at some point in the past. But it’s not socialism or communism or the other end of that false dichotomy either. And it’s not fascism or something either.

The thing is that so-called “free market capitalism” has hardly really existed, at least not on a large scale; it was an ideal that didn’t actually play out in the real world – well, maybe Marx was kinda right about that at least; it -was- too turbulent, but that didn’t result in a revolution or a communist state, but just regulation and restructuring. We started printing money that was government-backed in the 30s; that isn’t the free-market capitalism that 19th century economists were talking about anymore, it’s already something else, although what exactly isn’t clear. And ever since then we’ve been reconfiguring the economy in a variety of ways.

So this market freeze up – not a market collapse, by the way, but a lack of liquidity – came about because of a series of decisions made over the last number of years that have resulted in a more homogenous market. According to a lecture I attended a couple weeks ago, the answer ought to have been fairly simple – transparency is a bad idea (it’s basically allowing banks to know how they’re being judged before they’re assessed, so they can sort of cheat the test, so to speak); we should always target leverage for regulation, equally in all markets; and we should have contra-cyclical provisions, since there will always be some natural cycles. This sounds a little different than the bill that got passed, so I dunno what the lecturer I heard would have said about the bail-out, and I would have loved to have heard debates over it.

Instead I just heard Obama / Biden make some bullet point lists and McCain say he was a hero for goin’ to Washington and Palin ??? …yeah anyway. Bill Clinton did talk a little bit when he did the talk show circuit but never with someone who understood what he was saying enough to have a real back and forth.. There were a few politicians on other news shows (like brian lehrer) who got into a little detail, including Hillary Clinton, who were a little more coherent, but usually to promote the passage of the bill, so about the consequences of doing nothing rather than about doing something different. I didn’t hear any economists argue for doing nothing, only people online who had a sense of righteousness but not necessarily a sense of rational understanding.

The idea that putting $700billion into the economy through wall street now is just a favor to wall street and we’re basically helping out rich folks and screwing decent regular people who have to pay for it seems to misunderstand the interconnectedness of everything. If the banking industry falls apart, then universities with endowments will have less money (since endowments are usually invested), so your school won’t be able to offer as much financial aid to you next year, or build that new science lab; and hospitals with endowments will have the same problem – fire some nurses or drop the MS research or the free clinic – something’s gotta give. These things will reverberate as people who would have been employed, educated or assisted aren’t any longer… While non-profits that rely on endowment funds usually invest very safely, looking to the long term, they will still feel the pain if things go south, and if the entire banking industry were to implode, it would implode on us…

Now, if that’s what you want – if you’re hoping for capitalism to fall apart to see what happens next, that’s one thing. But if you’re just hoping for some bankers to learn their lessons and for you to be fine, that’s another. I don’t know that capitalism would fall apart -it would probably just morph into some kind of plutocracy or new kind of capitalism, as it’s been doing for the last century, since, like I said, and that article linked above laid out, it hasn’t really been straightforward laissez-faire capitalism for a long time, if such a thing ever really existed. Even Wikipedia agrees that capitalism is “confined to theory” and only “mixed economies” really exist.

As for those who believe the market will just start itself up again because it’s the market and that’s what it does, perhaps it would eventually. But if everyone is in debt and left to be in debt, with no new money pumped in by an outside source (and the government, by the power of the people, is the creator of money – which is why taxes are important), what will get things moving again? Basically, I imagine things would get moving again when they get low enough that it will be a good enough deal for someone to feel as if they can afford to make an investment (if they still had the money). That means that the market will get moving again when things get bad enough for someone to make money off it… So is it fair to let real people suffer through all the pain of the difficult times if we could possibly do something to prevent or lessen it? That could be a long time, and very real to those whose lives it affects. Or I guess eventually China could buy us out or something…


September 27, 2008

I don’t think anyone really won any votes with that debate. It seemed to me that the best anyone could have done was retain votes – swing voters who were considering switching sides might have been convinced to stay with the guy they were leaning toward, because both guys sort of did well enough if you were sort of inclined toward them to start with. But I don’t think either side did well enough to reach out to pull someone across from the opposing side, to swing voters who really didn’t know which side they were going for, or swing voters leaning one way to switch to the other way. So I think it was a wash, ultimately.

Basically, no one was inspiring. I thought Obama was marginally better, but I’m biased toward Obama’s views to begin with, so I can hardly count that as an objective perspective. His manner was still a bit too Gore-bot, and somehow he didn’t seem to really get into the material, excited or interested in explaining it, but rather just listed answers and told tired stories (that bracelet war was pathetic). McCain was meaner and generally more simplistic, which didn’t win any points with me, and his repetition of the “maverick” and “miss congeniality” stuff was stupid. His condescending attitude and refusal to even look at Obama bothered me, but could be a useful strategy among some voters, I suppose.

But it seems as if Obama could have responded a little more sharply and energetically at times – like, McCain used Madelaine Albright as an example of how we send the Secretary of State to negotiate with axis of evil states – that’s the Clinton administration, pre-no-tolerance position – the question is whether Colin or Condoleeza has met with these guys. Or on the economy and overspending, why did Obama not bring up how much the war has cost us, and how much bad strategy and poor military planning have cost us overall? He could have framed that in a way that wouldn’t just have been “liberal peacenik”, if that’s what he was trying to avoid. It seemed like he wasn’t in the moment, but just turning to parts of his speeches. I liked that Jim Lehrer tried to get them to go at it, but overall the whole thing felt tired… It got a little better toward the end, and it did seem as if they were sort of warming up, so maybe future debates will be more interesting, but I’m not impressed.

You want an energetic debate, by the way: check out NYPL: Zizek v Levy, e.g., reminds you of what it’s like when people who actually care about topics, and think deeply about them, talk to people they disagree with. What a completely different world that is from presidential debates…

rumors, impressions

September 26, 2008

This claims that rape kit rumor has been debunked, and points out that journalists have been really unreliable in this election cycle… Unfortunately it’s unclear how reliable they’ve been all along, but it’s the bloggers who debunk, because there’s enough of them that at least a few care about the accusations being made, and look into them, and since information is so readily available these days, the truth can be found…

Perhaps the trouble is just that there is so much information in every direction that journalists don’t have time to investigate every single rumor that crops up – I just heard on the radio someone who had looked into this same story and couldn’t come up with a definitive answer on it, though he came up with nothing to support the rumor (seems pretty debunked, actually, since she’s denied it, but he left it at “unknown” – which honestly seems unfair, like “who can say if he’s a muslim”…)

(I watched All the President’s Men on an airplane a month or so ago, and couldn’t help comparing how different research was at the time, and how innocent it seemed to be – reporters always honestly calling and stating they were reporters and asking for statements, and writing things down, all very straightforward. I’m sure in order to get the quotes they had to say who they were, but it really struck me as a whole ‘nother world)

Regarding McCain’s break from debates and so on, as Brian Lehrer pointed out this morning, in a supposed attempt to get away from partisan politics and the presidential race so that real work could be done, McCain only increased attention on partisan politics and the presidential race, by bringing it with him to Washington. He could have let Congress work on the bill in peace, but by focusing attention on it, making the time it gets finished symbolic for both democrats and republicans, there’s now a whole lot of silliness focused on it what wouldn’t otherwise be a deadline (well, not to the same degree, anyway). He’s not helping the situation, and clearly could have provided his input from the road… But this may still give the impression to some americans that he is hard at work while Obama is off campaigning. I hope that isn’t the outcome, but it isn’t the details that get remembered.