Sunday, August 31, 2008

Academics agree

Yesterday, I wrote about John McSame’s choice of a runningmate who’s unqualified to be president, and so, she’s not qualified to be vice president. Presidential scholars agree.

Politico reports that scholars are “stunned” at the choice. Matthew Dallek, a presidential historian, said, “I think she is the most inexperienced person on a major party ticket in modern history… It would be one thing if she had only been governor for a year and a half, but prior to that she had not had major experience in public life. The fact that (McCain) would have to go to somebody who is clearly unqualified to be president makes Obama look like an elder statesman.”

Predictably, the McCain campaign’s still trying to spin this awful decision. One Republican strategist said, “Here’s a governor who may have served two years, but her accomplishments are worth eight… She’s got as much experience for being vice president as Barack does to be president.”

But Politico points out that “If elected vice president, Palin would appear to have the least amount of experience in federal office or as a governor since John W. Kern, Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s 1908 running mate, who had served for four years in the Indiana state Senate and then four more as city solicitor of Indianapolis.”

After the article was posted, the McCain campaign responded with a typically dismissive attempt to shift focus. They noted that the scholars quoted all had donated to Democrats, some specifically to Obama. The Republicans end by sniffing that, “This is not a story about scholars questioning Governor Palin's credentials so much as partisan Democrats who would find a reason to disqualify or discount any nominee put forward by Senator McCain."

McCain and his campaign attack dogs just don’t get it. The fact that the scholars quoted may or may not have contributed to Democrats is beside the point because it doesn’t change one essential fact: Palin is NOT qualified and, in fact, she’s spectacularly unqualified.

I have no idea what McCain was thinking when he made this awful choice. Many say it was a ploy to win over Hillary Clinton’s supporters. If so, what made him think that simply putting any woman on the ticket would do that? Palin’s positions on nearly every issue are the opposite of Hillary Clinton’s. Did McCain think that Clinton’s supporters would care about nothing other than the gender of the running mate? Does he really have that much contempt for the intelligence of Clinton’s supporters? Actually, I think he does.

Or maybe McCain thought this was somehow daring, rather than foolhardy. Palin is a typical Republican in pretty much every way and, with McCain, would offer Americans four more years of Bush-Cheney’s failures. What’s so “daring” about that? How does offering up more of the same make McCain a “maverick”? The answers are, nothing and it doesn’t.

John “More of the Same” McCain has broken his promise to run a campaign based on issues. He’s changed his position on many, many issues in order to get the support of the far right of his own party. And now, in his first truly important decision, he picked a truly awful vice presidential candidate. With such a bad track record in this campaign, and now a demonstrated inability to make sound decisions, could McCain be trusted to be president? No, McCain can’t.

I think there’s never been a time in my life when I’ve been more adamantly committed to and election outcome than I am to electing as President Barack Obama, and as Vice President Joe Biden. This time, we really can change America.

And you don’t need a scholar of any sort to tell you that.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain’s choice

When I heard that John McCain had picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, my first reaction was, “Is he serious?” Well, actually, my first reaction was, “who?!”

Like most Americans, I’d never heard of Palin. Alaska is the largest state in the US with lowest population density. It has only some 680,000 people, give or take, making the population smaller than any major city, including Auckland. Because of its huge revenues from oil, the state also is one of America’s wealthiest states in terms of income per capita.

Palin was a council member then Mayor of her small town, then lost a bid for Lieutenant Governor in 2002. In 2006, she ran for governor and won. And this is the first point where I thought McCain was having a big joke on us all.

For months McCain and the Republicans have been relentlessly attacking Barack Obama, claiming that he’s “not experienced” enough to be President. And then McCain picks someone with zero national experience.

Don’t get me wrong, serving as part for your town’s government is important. Someone has to make sure burned-out streetlights are replaced, that the rubbish is collected and potholes are filled. But that’s not very helpful in running a superpower. Neither is being a governor of a rich state for only two years.

McCain says she does have relevant experience because, as governor, she was commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard. Riiiiiiiiiiight. McCain and his campaign handlers have tried to spin her as being a “mainstrteam Republican”. That, of course, means America doesn’t need her.

The biggest spin from the Republicans is that she’s running only for Vice President, so her lack of experience doesn’t matter. Give me a break. McCain is 72 years old, which would make him the oldest person ever elected to a first term. His health is not good, so he has a better than usual chance of dying in office and if that happens, the neophyte Palin would become President.

Palin is a typical Republican in many respects. She backed a 1998 amendment to the Alaska Constitution to outlaw marriage equality. When the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the state must provide benefits to same-sex partners, she vetoed a measure passed by the Republican legislature to overturn the decision. Her apologists (like the Log Cabinettes) say that means she’s “gay friendly,” but, at best, it means she took her constitutional responsibilities seriously—and that, I’ll admit is very, very different from the Bush-Cheney regime. But she did so despite believing that Alaska shouldn’t provide such benefits (like insurance and pensions).

She opposes designating the polar bear an endangered species. Why? Well, the right wing feels this would allow “liberals” to somehow use the animals to stop “progress”, by which they mean business interests, primarily for the oil and gas industry. Coincidentally or not, Palin was heavily involved in the state’s industry agency before becoming Governor. And, of course, McCain has accepted millions of dollars in contributions from the oil and gas industry. I don’t know if there’s a connection in all this. But if it walks like a duck, it’s probably not a cow.

Palin is also being investigated for allegedly firing Alaska’s Commissioner of Public Safety for refusing to fire a state trooper who had gone through a bitter divorce from Palin’s sister.

Taken together, this shows she’s a pretty typical Republican as far as I can tell. I haven’t yet found out what her position is on choice and women’s rights, but it’s doubtful that she’d deviate from official Republican Party policy.

So, you have John McCain who promises four more years of the failed Bush-Cheney regime picking as a vice presidential candidate an inexperienced person who’s totally unqualified to be president, should that be necessary. That’s a risk that’s just too great to take.

Fortunately, we have Barack Obama and Joe Biden who together have the experience and temperament to bring the change the country so desperately wants—and needs. And Joe Biden could be president, if the worst should happen.

Add it all up, and the choice is clearer now than ever: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will bring the change and security America needs and wants. John “More of the Same” McCain can’t.

Update 02/09/08: In an interview in People Magazine (via Joe.My.God), McCain said that what made him choose Palin was "I think the important thing was that she's a reformer. She's taken on special interests since she ran for the PTA and the city council and mayor." Yep, taking on the PTA will help her take on the nation's problems. If McCain's serious, it's little wonder he can't remember how many houses he has: He's short a few brain cells.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How to put this

I watched Barack Obama’s speech—twice. The first was live, and the second was with Nigel and his sister. I was impressed both times.

I thought that Barack was speaking not just to Democrats, but beyond to the Republicans and Independents he needs to win over in order to win in November. He described exactly what he’ll do, and in the process completely demolished the negative campaign of John McCain and the Republicans.

I also saw some of the Republican “response” in which the automaton-like commentators repeated the empty talking points of McCain and the Republicans. They do that, of course, because with nothing to offer, they have to resort to negativity and attacks

But none of that was on my mind. Instead, I thought about how I never expected in my lifetime to see an African American become the nominee of either party. I also remembered Dr. King. And, to be direct, I also remembered the inherent racism in my own family and community. I remember the names they called Dr. King before he was killed, and the similar names used in 1988 when Jesse Jackson was running for president.

I wish I could say that I was born as an evolved being, that I was pure and beyond racism or prejudice of any kind. That’s not the case. Like most people, I was the product of my upbringing, my family, friends, school, church and community. I struggled against what I was in order to become what I could be.

I like to think that maybe, just maybe, the groundwork that Dr. King laid down 45 years ago led not just to the reality of Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee, but also for ordinary white boys from the suburbs like me to so strongly embrace Barack’s campaign. It was Dr. King’s dream that we could all join together one day; should it really be so surprising when we see it?

So to me Barack becoming the Democratic nominee is more than just the obvious historical advance that everyone talks about. For me, it represents not just how far America has come, but how far I have come, too. Maybe Dr. King would be happy with both, but I’m not. There’s still work to be done.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

History again

It’s not every day you get to witness something truly historic, but today was one of those days. Today Barack Obama officially became the nominee of the Democratic Party to be the next president of the United States. He’s the first African American to win a major party nomination, and he did so after his chief rival for the nomination—who, if successful, would’ve been the first woman to be nominated—move to make it by acclamation.

It was at the beginning of June when I last wrote about witnessing history being made, but this feels even bigger. It wasn’t that long ago that some states were openly and officially doing everything in their power to prevent African Americans from voting. It was just forty-five years ago tomorrow that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared, “I have a dream”. Today we saw a bit of that dream fulfilled.

I’m often critical of my homeland’s government, and certainly the past seven years have given me plenty to be critical about. I’ve also been critical of the man who next week will become the nominee of the Republican Party, because all he promises is four more years of the same Bush-Cheney failures I’ve criticised.

But there are times that transcend all the truly horrible things done to America, not just by this administration, but also by bad people going all the way back to the nation’s founding. At transcendent moments like this, many of those wounds are healed. I’m proud of my party, and I’m proud that despite the best efforts of the enemies of freedom overseas and within America, good things like this nomination can still happen.

There’s still much work to be done, not just to win the election, but to finish restoring freedom and democracy to America. When he takes that oath of office as President, Barack Obama will move America one giant leap forward. And we know that John “More of the Same” McCain can’t.

That work can pause for one day, though, as we savour the feeling of history being made.

Hate in a god’s name

A shocking article in Newsweek has documented how gay people in Iraq actually had it better under Saddam Hussein than the current US-backed regime. The reason? Religious fanatics, self-appointed morality police and good old-fashioned hatred and bigotry all rolled into one seething cesspool. Hussein kept the fanatics under control, but the current regime in that country can’t and wouldn’t if it could.

According to the article, there’s a deeply and widely held bigotry in Iraq, where no one considers the human rights of gay people to be important or worth protecting. Even supposedly well-educated Iraqis share the zealots’ contempt for gay people:

"These people are not welcome in the society because they are against the social, natural and religious rules," said one well educated Iraqi who did not want to be identified more closely… A handful of gay men told NEWSWEEK harrowing stories about being cast out of their homes or savagely attacked by the storm troopers of virtue: Shia extremists among Badr Corps operatives (many of whom are now in the Iraqi Security Forces) or groups like the Mahdi Army, and sometimes both. But when told of such atrocities one Iraqi acquaintance blamed the victims, calling them "the lowest humans."

We in stable, peaceful Western democracies often get smug about such things, suggesting that Islamic states are uniquely brutal in their zeal to impose religion. That’s a gross delusion. The world over, gay people have been victims of violence from religious zealots of all kinds: By Hindus in India, by Jews in Israel and by Christians in the US and Europe. Add property crimes to the list and there’s barely a country anywhere in the West where gay people haven’t been singled out by religious extremists.

We can try and comfort ourselves by nodding in agreement at the thought, “Yes, but those are the acts of extremists, not the mainstream.” Try telling that to the victims of violence in the name of religion.

Rational people of faith have a choice. They can remain silent in the face of anti-gay bigotry, or they can stand up for what they know is right. Not many heterosexual Christians will do that, apart from the handful trying to promote progressive Christianity. How many ordinary, church-going Christians would be willing to challenge their church pastor when he or she goes too far? How many will object when a co-worker makes an anti-gay joke or slur? How many will donate time or money in support of gay people (like in the California campaign for marriage equality) or to a pro-gay politician? Some will, and some do, but the vast majority remain silent on all counts.

I haven’t talked about this before, but it’s that silence that ultimately drove me from religion. I advocated strongly for the rights of religious people (including those with whom I sharply disagreed), only to find that even supposedly liberal Christians wouldn’t stand up for me and my community when we needed it most.

See, I can deal with christianist extremists: I know they hate me, and many will tell me so to my face. What I can’t deal with are those who profess to be Christian and hate me behind my back while pretending to be supportive.

We get the same thing in the secular world, of course: Supposedly liberal politicians feign support, then, once in power with our votes and campaign help, they tell us to “be patient” and “the time isn’t right”. So, hypocrisy and dishonesty aren’t unique to the religious.

But I expect more from the religious folk I used to call friends. There’s a continuum that leads from an individual mainstream preacher making an anti-gay sermon, through to frothing fundamentalists crusading against us and on to those who would attack or kill us in the name of their god. And that’s why I keep exhorting rational mainstream Christians to do something—anything—to stand up to bigotry. As Edmund Burke observed, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

For the love of your God, do something. The alternative is, ultimately, the evil like that in Iraq. If good people don’t choose, the extremists will choose for them. It really is that simple.

AmeriNZ 110 is now available

AmeriNZ 110 - Poltical Chat - Conventions Begin is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page, or on the right-hand side of this blog.

Please leave a comment at http://amerinzpodcast.com/, send an email to arthur{at]amerinzpodcast.com, or ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Electrifying moments

I didn’t expect much from the Democratic National Convention. The conventions for both parties are usually virtual infomercials, though the Democratic Convention at least has speeches that can inspire me, something no infomercial can do.

So imagine my surprise to find moments in this convention that have been more than just inspiring, they’ve been positively electrifying. Last night, it was that lion of the Democratic Party, Teddy Kennedy. Then the heartfelt words of Michelle Obama.

Then came tonight.

Hilary Clinton gave what was in many ways the speech of her life. She gave a strong and resounding endorsement of Barack Obama and Joe Biden—and the principles of the Democratic Party. She put into clear focus what the fight against John McSame is all about.

And there was one more thing: She said something no media pundit has ever thought of when she asked her supporters to consider if they were in the campaign just for her, or for the causes she championed. The answer for the vast majority of her supporters is as clear to them as it was for Hillary Clinton herself: Electing Barack Obama President is the only way to achieve what she championed.

The media, of course, is still obsessed with the roughly one quarter of Clinton supporters who in polls claim they’ll vote for John McCain (the anti-Clinton, you could say). However, full credit to CNN for finally stating what no other media outlet I’m aware of has acknowledged: According to polls, perhaps 20 percent of Republicans say they won’t vote for McCain and will vote for Barack Obama instead. When it comes to disaffected supporters, both parties have their share.

There’s a lot yet to come in this convention. I know that Barack Obama’s speech will be great, and I suspect that some of tomorrow’s may be, too. In the meantime, I’m just thrilled that what I thought would be a fairly routine event has had the power to inspire and thrill me, even from this far away.

the Closet

If you're not moved by this video, you have no soul. If you don't get the message, you have no brain. Let's leave homophobia in the past.

(found via ArcherRadio)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Grasping McCain campaign

Proving that the John McCain campaign is the same as Bush-Cheney-Rove in negative nonsense, a new campaign ad from the Republican has attacked Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Why? Apparently because he’s not Hillary Clinton.

You have to hand it to McCain’s campaign for their sheer chutzpah in this. They use footage of Hillary criticising Barack, and yet the commercial somehow failed to mention that McCain opposes the change that Both Hillary and Barack champion. Funny, that. It’s ironic the campaign should do this, considering McCain himself praised Biden as a "wise selection"—or is John McCain not in control of his own campaign?

Obviously, McCain would have released an attack ad no matter who Barack had selected. Negative campaigning is apparently all they know how to do. But America deserves better than four more years of the same as Bush-Cheney. Obama-Biden will deliver that change. McCain can’t.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My first YouTube video

This video, “My New Zealand”, is the first video I've posted to YouTube. It's also the first video I posted to my podcast, so that technically makes it my first video podcast, even though it’s really just a slide show. You can download a better version from my podcast site, where you can also subscribe to future podcasts and videos.

I met Joe Biden

A very, very long time ago, I met Joe Biden.

It was at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where I was a student. He met with interested students in a small area of the Student Center. And that’s about all I can tell you about it.

I don’t even remember exactly when it was, but I think he was still a new US Senator. An announcement of the meeting was made in one of my political science classes, and I thought I might as well go because how many times do you get to have a sit-down with a Senator?

I don’t think there were more than four of us, maybe six. We sat on the sofas and chairs (I seem to remember that I was sitting on the same sofa as Biden). But I have no idea what he talked about since, after all, this all happened nearly 30 years ago. I think I remember that he seemed tired, and that he did all of the talking (well, politicians do that…).

In 1980, I also met George Bush the first when the older Bush was running for president against Reagan and others. And, of course, I was later in the same room with Bush 1 when he was president, but that’s another story.

For now, I just like knowing that I’ve met two men before they became Vice President.

New Gay Hero

It was great to see out Australian diver Matthew Mitcham win gold for Australia. Amid all the usual nationalist nonsense at the games, I was happy to see someone win who can be a role model for young gay guys the world over. That’s a great thing. Pity, though, that out of 10,708 atheletes, only 10 are publicly gay, lesbian or bi, according to Outsports. Imagine how much good could be done if more athletes came out.

But for now, it’s good to see Matthew Mitcham succeed as an out-gay athlete.

AmeriNZ 109 is now available

AmeriNZ 109 – Marriage Equality is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Complete shownotes and descriptions are available at the new site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Smacking reason

Fundamentalist christianists along with other right wing groups have succeeded in getting their pro-smacking referendum approved. The only question is when and how the referendum will be held.

The Chief Electoral Officer is urging that the vote be held as a postal ballot because two ballot referenda held at the time of the 1999 general election dramatically delayed the announcement of the results from that election. The betting right now is that the referendum will be conducted by postal ballot in the middle of next year.

The main proponent of the referendum is a fundamentalist-christianist aligned group called “Family First NZ”. The group is also anti-gay and opposed to HPV vaccinations to guard against cervical cancer (the latter because they think it will lead to females having sex outside marriage). They and other right wing groups with a strong anti-Labour bias and have been pushing the referendum for the coming general election because they know it would cause problems for Labour seeking re-election.

However, National also backed the Anti-Smacking Bill, and still does. The party’s leader hammered out compromise language with Prime Minister Helen Clark, and that led to the bill being adopted by a vote of 113 to 8.

Despite the multi-party support for the bill, despite the police indicating that the law is working and despite the fact that both Labour and National say the law is working, the fundamentalists insist it isn’t. Because they, of course, know best.

The question will read "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" I predict that “No” will win by a huge margin, partly because the question is deliberately worded to get that answer, and partly because the most passionate conservatives will vote, while the vast majority who are frankly well and truly over the whole issue won’t bother.

But no matter how Family First tries to frame the issue, they’re still promoting violence against children. Their innocent-sounding wording hides a darker agenda. Fortunately for rational people, this is an advisory referendum only, so whether Labour or National wins the election this referendum will be completely ignored, as it deserves to be.

All of which means that this is an exercise in futility for everyone. The issue is over. I just wish the right wing would get that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Elitist McCain

For weeks John McCain has been trying to portray Barack Obama as an elitist, and himself as an ordinary man of the people. He’s lying.

Asked recently how many houses he owns, McCain had no idea:

"I think—I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told Politico in Las Cruces, N.M. "It's condominiums where—I'll have them get to you."

Later staff said it was “at least four” in Arizona, California and Virginia, though Newsweek says he and his wife own seven properties. The man who wears $500 shoes is also from among the richest families in his state. His wife alone is estimated to be worth $100 million. But McCain, he doesn’t think he’s rich:

“I define rich in other ways besides income. Some people are wealthy and rich in their lives and their children and their ability to educate them. Others are poor if they’re billionaires.”

That’s a completely disingenuous answer on every level. The common word for it is “bullshit”, and McCain’s starting to pile it up really deep.

Does it matter? Any other time, I’d say no. In fact, I don’t care how stinking rich he is, and I wouldn’t care if he was just moderately rich like the average politician. McCain’s problem is his dishonesty—pretending not to be the out-of-touch elitist he is while trying to demonise Barack Obama.

McCain has demonstrated what he already admitted: He has no understanding of economics. While thousands of Americans face foreclosure on their homes, McCain has no idea how many homes he has and he thinks the economy is fine.

America cannot afford four more years of the same failed policies—America cannot afford John McSame.

Tip of the hat to Joe.My.God for pointing me to the story.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

AmeriNZ 108 is now available

Episode 108 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Complete shownotes and descriptions are available at the new site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Pacific solution

One year ago, the Pacific Forum failed to put any pressure on Fiji’s dictator, leaving New Zealand and Australia alone in demanding that Fiji return to democracy. A year passed, a year filled with repression of freedom for the people of Fiji, but worse, a complete deterioration in things like healthcare. The people of Fiji suffered while most of the leaders in the Pacific did nothing.

Now, however, the Pacific leaders have given Fiji a final warning that it must return to democracy or face suspension from the Forum at a special meeting of the leaders at the end of this year. If that happens, Fiji will lose pretty much all foreign aid. TV One News reported that the decision was unanimous.

What changed? Mainly, it was the fact that the Fiji dictator decided to stay in power and cancelled plans for elections in March. I suspect that Pacific leaders will now insist on concrete proof of a return to democracy, because the Fiji dictator’s word is obviously worthless.

The Fiji dictator is reported to be furious. I could not possibly care less what he thinks or feels about anything—he must go. The suffering of the people of Fiji is there for anyone who cares to look, and he’s directly responsible. If he has even a gram of humanity in his huffing and puffing body, he should do the right thing and resign now. He won’t. The Pacific leaders will be forced to suspend Fiji.

And the people of Fiji will continue to suffer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

McCain chose

When John McCain took his campaign negative, despite promising that he wouldn’t, it was everyone else’s fault but his. That’s the inevitable conclusion you get from reading David Brooks’ Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Blame bloggers and journalists who are too young to know what they’re doing. Blame the news media’s supposed love affair with Barack Obama. Blame traditional Republican strategy. Blame everybody, in fact, except McCain.

Brooks points out that McCain used to ridicule the “Message of the Day” talking points that Republican Senators were all supposed to use so they could stay “on message”. He then goes on to document how McCain once held utter disdain for traditional partisan politics. But he ends up suggesting that McCain had no choice but to go negative, thanks to bloggers, indifferent journalists and the Republican political machine.

That, of course, is the most odoriferous kind of bovine excrement.

Writing on CBS News.com, Kevin Drum demolishes Brooks’ nonsense:

Bloggers are somehow responsible for McCain running juvenile ads comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? A bored press is responsible for McCain claiming that Obama puts personal interest ahead of country? The conservative establishment prevented McCain from calling out Jerome Corsi's book for the vile trash that it is? The system forced McCain to hire one of Karl Rove's disciples as his campaign manager?

McCain, in fact, chose to conduct his campaign this way. Brooks actually revealed the real reason McCain is running a traditional Republican negative campaign: “As… McCain’s campaign has become more conventional, his political prospects have soared.”

McCain had a choice. He could’ve run a campaign based on the different kind of politics that he promised. Instead, he chose to break his promise. Instead, he chose to follow the example set by Karl Rove and the Bush/Cheney campaigns. In doing so, John McCain proved he really is just like George Bush.

There’s no chance that McCain will reform himself or his campaign, so he certainly would never reform Washington. It’s increasingly obvious now that he really is running for George Bush’s “third term”. His negative campaign proves it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Super Vision

Yesterday I went and had my final check-up following my Intra-Lase Custom LASIK eye surgery (I mention the whole name because apparently there are different kinds). The results: I have better than normal vision, basically 20/15.

To put this into some perspective, before surgery my eyes were roughly -7.5. My right eye was weaker, my left stronger, so this is just an approximation. The point is to show how big the correction was.

Put another way, the entire world was a complete blur to me without contact lenses (or at least my glasses, bad as they were). Without lenses of some sort, I couldn’t really see anything farther than about 20cm from my face.

So now I see normally, possibly for the first time in my life, certainly for the first time since I was eight or even younger. If I have to get up in the middle of the night, there’s no fumbling for glasses. There’s also no more taking care of contact lenses, so if I want to take a nap, I can now just go to sleep for the first time since before I first got contact lenses in 1980 (and I’ve been trying out that new freedom). I can also go to bed at night and get going in the morning faster than I used to be able to do, without the contact lens rituals.

Calling this a miracle is a bit extreme, but the results for me have been pretty miraculous because it’s so dramatic. In fact, it feels like I’ve now gained a super power—Super Vision!

I was a big coward about doing this, and probably wouldn’t have if Nigel hadn’t made the appointment for the initial consultation on my behalf. Once there, things just proceeded along to the surgery itself and to the much better place I now find myself. So, you could say that it turned out to be the best decision I never made. Super, indeed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beijing in Northcote

The Auckland region is a diverse region. Just north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge is North Shore City, where we live. Perhaps the most diverse area in the city is Northcote—part Asian, part Maori and Pacific Island and part Pakeha.

At the heart of Northcote is the main shopping area, Northcote Town Centre, probably the largest, most open shopping area in that part of North Shore City. When I moved to New Zealand in 1995, the area was mostly “old” New Zealand—mostly European in terms of businesses, especially. It’s now mostly Asian, especially Chinese. But the shopping area has become a vibrant area with people of all races and cultures mixing and mingling. Plus, there’s some good Asian food to be had there.

So, with such a large concentration of Chinese there, it was probably an obvious choice of location for a large screen for watching the Olympics, sponsored by North Shore City. They’ve held large public events there in the past, usually related to something in Asian culture.

Today I was over there to pick up some Thai takeaway food for lunch. While they prepared it, I wandered out and snapped the photo above. The place was mostly deserted, partly because there was nothing being broadcast at the time, and also because of the Auckland winter weather—rain, in other words.

The photo below is of some people sensibly under cover (the chairs are for people to use out in the open, when it wasn’t raining…). I left before the coverage of the Olympics resumed, so I have no idea whether more people turned out to watch.

The weird part for me was that I was walking from the car and heard some music: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was blaring over that (mostly empty) plaza. Apparently a medal ceremony was in progress. So even there, in the midst of a mostly Asian shopping area in New Zealand, as a I walked to get some Thai food I heard my homeland’s national anthem.

I love living here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where’s the diversity?

The conservative New Zealand National Party has released the list of candidates who will make up the Party List in the upcoming general election. Crowing about the people selected, the party’s president, Judy Kirk, declared, "The diversity and individual strengths of the candidates is outstanding. It is a list that truly blends experience with new talent."

All of National’s returning MPs (those who are not retiring) are ranked in the top 50, pretty much guaranteeing them election to Parliament, even if they lose the electorate seat they’re running for, if any. One pundit has looked at current polling and worked out that even with a relatively conservative (so to speak) estimate of election results, National might have 29% female MPs, 11% Maori, along with 1 Pacific Island and 3 Asian MPs.

Despite some appearances, the List isn’t all that diverse. Easily two-thirds of the List is made up of existing National MPs, some of whom are clearly dead-weight (and that’s actually not a slap at National—no major party can have a caucus of 100% excellent MPs). Too many of the returning MPs have been in Parliament since the neo-conservative heyday of the 1990s. Several were also closely aligned with the Party’s disgraced ex-Leader, Don Brash.

Chief among the new additions to the List is the party’s campaign manager, Steven Joyce. It’s been documented that he met several times with the extreme-right fringe religious group Exclusive Brethren, who in 2005 spent more than $1 million in a campaign to smear the Labour and Green Parties in an effort to elect National. It’s alleged that Joyce coordinated the message of various right-wing groups to better assist the National Party’s campaign theme, and it’s further alleged that he provided input to the EB’s advertising smear materials.

So, most of the National Party List is made up of hacks and neo-cons whose agenda is very different from the few policies that the National Party has announced so far. And, of course, the neo-cons' agenda is also at odds with what ordinary New Zealanders want.

What of the newcomers? There’s a TV show presenter, a member of the right-wing bloc on the Auckland City Council, some consultants and various other political activists. On the plus side, several are under 40.

However, there are apparently no openly gay or lesbian candidates apart from the party’s only “openly gay” MP, Chris Finlayson. However, Finlayson is not listed or identified in any way, directly or indirectly, as gay on his official National Party website page. In fact, the only place I’ve seen Findlayson called “openly gay” is on gay news websites. Finlayson is also a List MP, and doesn’t represent an electorate.

We can’t yet say how Labour’s List will compare, since it hasn’t been released, but the party has several gay and lesbian MPs, both Electorate and List. It also has several Maori and Pacific Island MPs. This suggests that Labour is more open and accepting of true diversity than National is.

Many people have apparently been swayed by the “charm offensive” of the National Party’s leader, John Key. He seems like a nice enough fellow, but what, exactly, does he stand for? Policies released so far haven't made it clear, nor has his ham-handed defence of his vote against the Civil Union bill.

Given how much I still don’t know about Key and his agenda, I’m sceptical. Given what I do know about the neo-conservative old-timers still in Parliament, I’m suspicious. The Party List does nothing to relieve either that scepticism or that suspicion.

Maybe I’m too demanding, but it would take a lot more than them simply not being Labour for me to give my vote to them. There’s still too much at risk.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A little convenient

John McCain found himself in deep trouble with fundamentalist Christians. He had the unmitigated gall to suggest that a pro-choice vice presidential candidate (like Tom Ridge) might be okay. Sure, he said a pro-gay VP (like Michael Bloomberg) wouldn’t be okay, but the extreme cares more about stopping all abortion than persecuting gay and lesbian people, if only just.

So it struck me as very, very convenient that today the Chicago Tribune published an “exclusive” interview with McCain in which he talked about his religious faith. But it was more than that: The article detailed how McCain says he led worship services as a POW, and how he prayed “for another minute to keep going”.

The non-religious, or not very religious, may roll their eyes at several parts of the story, but they’re not the intended audience. The people who want to hear about someone suffering for their faith are, and there’s plenty of that in the article—plenty to make McCain sound downright holy.

The Tribune has become a bit weird ever since tycoon Sam Zell bought the paper, but I have no idea if he’s using his paper to promote McCain, or to avoid the appearance of slighting him. I know nothing at all about the reporter, Jill Zuckman, so I’m not suggesting she has a political bias. And maybe I’m being just a bit too suspicious about this, too cynical. But given the tone and direction of the McCain campaign, it’s only natural to think like this.

However, the clincher for me came at the end:

McCain's friends say they believe God had a plan for him, allowing him to survive to put him on the cusp of the presidency. He, too, acknowledges that idea, though cautiously. "I can't help but feel like that to some extent, and I'm not a fatalist," said McCain. "I think it's remarkable that I've been able to survive so much and to have the opportunity to do the right thing. I do think we make our own choices, but certainly I think I was meant to serve a cause greater than my self-interest."

Does that sound familiar? George Bush and his supporters said much the same thing, although Bush more directly claimed a divine mandate than McCain did. And that humility, of sorts, may actually work as well for McCain as Bush’s chutzpah did for him.

So, yeah, I think this article was too convenient to have been an accident or a coincidence, especially since it was published the day before McCain and Obama have a joint appearance at a California megachurch.

What troubles me about all this is that, as the article put it, “polling suggests voters view faith as an essential ingredient in a president.” That sounds like a de facto religious test for office, something the US Constitution forbids. That’s a topic in itself, but I wonder if this religious test has evolved more because voters truly think it’s important, or if they think it’s important because the media tell them it is. Articles like this make me think the latter is at least a factor.

AmeriNZ 107 is now available

Episode 107 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Complete shownotes and descriptions are available at the new site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Friday, August 15, 2008

Swift boats set sail

This was inevitable: A swift boater has launched a smear campaign against Barack Obama.

Jerome Corsi, one of the instigators of 2004’s infamous “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” smear campaign against then-Democratic candidate John Kerry, has published a book filled with lies, smears and distortions to attack Barack Obama. His book, which is expected to debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list, is already being denounced for its lack of truth, distortions and downright sloppiness.

The book is part of a larger effort by the far right, including the managers of John McCain’s campaign, to define Barack Obama, and to demonise him. They can’t do that by telling the truth, so they’re using lies, smears and distortions instead, just like they did on behalf of Bush-Cheney. There’s been some mainstream media attention given to the falsehoods in this piece of trash, but not enough.

Corsi himself is at the extreme fringes of the Republican Party. He believes that Bush has been working to create a “North American Union” from Canada, the US and Mexico, and he blames NAFTA for the collapse of the Minnesota bridge. He also believes that there’s unlimited oil beneath the earth’s surface. And yet, he’ll be treated as credible by some in the mainstream newsmedia.

I’ve pledged that I’ll do my part to expose and refute the lies, smears and distortions that Republicans—official or unofficial—will use in this campaign. But for a multi-point demolition of the outright lies in this book, you can download a PDF (called “Unfit For Publication”) from the Democrats here, or to simply read more, you can go the FightTheSmears page dealing with the book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

McCain IS ignorant

Remember how last week I said John McCain was grumpy and ignorant? It was basically because McCain belittled the fuel conservation suggestions of Barack Obama, even though those common-sense suggestions are backed by all sensible Republicans.

On today’s ABC (US) Word News, host Charlie Gibson interviewed ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson. The story on ABC’s website said, “Tillerson's suggestions for energy efficiency echoed recommendations by presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, who called for tire-inflation and proper car tuneups to provide relief to distressed voters.”

To me, what Tillerson was describing in the entire interview seemed to be beyond the comprehension of McCain, who has no real energy policy apart from “drill everywhere!” and “more nukes!” So McCain isn’t just out of step with his own party, nor is he just out of step with ordinary Americans, he’s also apparently out of step with reality. Unless it’s all because he’s just ignorant and proud of it.

Double trouble, double standard?

Two champion university wrestlers have been dismissed, and their NCAA eligibility threatened, because they appeared naked on a website catering to gay men. The two men, who are legally of age, used pseudonyms and apparently were photographed alone.

In a statement, the coach said that the wrestlers “have been permanently dismissed from our wrestling program. The history of behavior of these men, including the current matter, does not reflect the standard of excellence we aspire to on and off the mat." He didn’t elaborate on what “the history of behavior” meant.

First and foremost, there’s a generational clash here. Younger people just aren’t as weird about sexuality or their bodies as older people are. The two men probably just saw a way to make some money.

But to me there’s a whiff of homophobia in this. I have a tough time believing that the university would have been as harsh if the photos had appeared on a heterosexual site (presumably for women). However, the photos were on a gay-oriented site and reportedly showed the men “in various states of sexual arousal”, and that would have caused problems for the wrestling industry.

Wrestling is a very homoerotic sport—everyone knows it, but no one admits it. So maybe the coach was oversensitive because the photos were on a gay-oriented site. Maybe he had to “prove” there’s nothing gay about wrestling. Yeah, well, this over-reaction won’t do that.

There’s an even bigger issue here, and that’s that a scandal muckraking website apparently went to the university with this, and someone leaked the two men’s real names. Had this not happened, neither the university nor anyone else would have known who the two men really were, so they couldn’t possibly embarrass the coach or the other sensitive souls at the university. Sounds like a suspect agenda to me.

I have no problem with nude photographs or pornography involving consenting adults. I do have a problem with the university’s gross over-reaction, however. I also hope that this is as bad as the story gets.

Booby prize 2

It’s almost time for Auckland’s “Boobs on Bikes” parade down Queen Street, but the right wing majority on the Auckland City Council has decided to try and stop it.

As I wrote last year, the parade is held to publicise the adults-only Erotica Expo. In 2006, Former Mayor Dick Hubbard called it “morally repugnant” and in 2007 he called it “Auckland’s day of shame”. If he’d worried a bit more about Auckland and a little less about “Boobs on Bikes,” he might still be mayor, but I digress.

The elections installed a right wing mayor and majority on the City Council. The majority decided to seek a court injunction to block the parade (thank goodness they’ve solved all Auckland’s many other problems so they can waste use ratepayer money for this legal manoeuvre!).

It’s not illegal for a woman to expose her breasts in public, depending on the circumstances, and this parade is thoroughly promoted so those who are offended by the female breast can avoid the spectacle. It’s hard to see what legal justification the Auckland politicians could point to in support of their crusade.

One Councillor, Cathy Casey, was indirectly quoted as saying the parade “is just free advertising for a porn show, and the council finds the parade offensive.” It’s not a porn show, as she ought to know; in fact, it’s an adult show that features sexually related products (like toys, lubricants, etc.), as well as totally non-sexual, expensive consumer goods. Or, so I gather from the news: Like Ms. Casey, apparently, I’ve never been to the show.

Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Ms Casey or any other Councillor finds the parade “offensive”. Plenty of Aucklanders don’t, and it’s probably fair to say that the majority don’t really care about it at all.

But no one needs Nanny Auckland City Council politicians to be the moral guardians of the city. They should stick to their business—running the city—and leave moral judgements to the people themselves. As adults they’re perfectly capable of making adult decisions, regardless of the offended sensibilities of the majority of the Council.

Update 15/08/08: GayNZ.com reports concern that the actions of Auckland City Council’s politicians may endanger the resurrection of the GLBT HERO Parade in 2010. The politicians recently enacted a bylaw saying that the Council can withhold consent for events like a parade if there is any “objectively justifiable and reasonable grounds for declining consent—for example that the event will be or is likely to be offensive." Whether the politicians’ dictates would prevent the HERO Parade will depend on the outcome of the current court action. But it’s a certainty that at least some among the right-wing politicians on the current council would want the HERO Parade banned.

Update 2, 19/08/08: The Auckland District Court rejected the bid by Auckland City Council politicians to stop the “Boobs on Bikes” parade. The judge said, correctly, I think, that the parade couldn’t be legally classified as “offensive”, as the politicians had claimed. Clearly even tacky events are protected by the Bill of Rights Act.

However, when Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast found out that the organiser planned a similar parade in the Capital, she reportedly said through a spokesperson, "I'm not sure how it fits with our reputation for being the sophisticated arts and culture capital." I wonder if she can spell the words “elitist snob”?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AmeriNZ 106 is now available

Episode 106 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Complete shownotes and descriptions are available at the new site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Is McCain a liar like Bush?

I’ve been among the people who’ve been wondering what happened to John McCain: What made him break his promise to raise the tone of the campaign and to run on the issues? Why did he descend into the gutter? Is he really just like George Bush, running a campaign based on lies and deception, or is that he can’t control his own campaign? Neither alternative is very appealing.

In any case, McCain has again been called out for running ads using deliberate deception, this time attacking Barack Obama's tax policies. The new ads contain “multiple false and misleading claims about Obama's tax proposals,” the experts say. “False claims” is just a polite way of saying “lies”, and increasingly McCain and his campaign are using lies and distortions to try and fool people into voting for McCain.

Will it work? George Bush and Karl Rove were experts at using lies, distortions and smears, and won elections with their divisive gutter strategy. In 2004 and, to a lesser extent, 2000, a compliant media, and a Democratic candidate and campaign that were completely unwilling to challenge the Republicans on their campaign of deceit, helped the Republicans win.

This year, things are different: Barack Obama’s campaign has shown itself ready to fight the smears and lies. The mainstream newsmedia has also shown more interest in pointing out McCain’s deception. I’ll continue to do my small part by posting rebuttals to McCain’s lies, smears and distortions, and I encourage other bloggers to do the same.

This time, we can’t let the divisive politics of George Bush/Karl Rove and John McCain win.

Thanks again to blogging buddy Dawn for pointing me to the Factcheck.org story.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fact Check: More Tax Deception

The McCain campaign has been lying about Barack Obama’s tax plan, but this video from the campaign debunks all of McCain’s lies and deception. It’s not a campaign ad, but a point-by-point demolition of McCain. Unfortunately, I bet there’ll be a need for more of these.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weekend diversion

This weekend we had a much-needed diversion when we went to Hamilton to visit family. We left Saturday afternoon and came home this afternoon. It was a very nice time.

Hamilton is colder in winter and hotter in summer than Auckland is, and Saturday night was among the coldest nights I’ve experienced in New Zealand. Locals told us it was exceptionally cold, and one even talked about breaking off huge icicles this morning. Nice. Jake spent the entire night wedged in between us for warmth.

But the time together was nice, as always, and it made for a good break from everything. Tomorrow it’s back to that “everything”.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The tyranny of distance

This was supposed to be an upbeat, or maybe even offbeat, post about 08-08-08, one of those weird annual convergences that happen four more years this century. I like those kinds of convergences. I guess I’m just funny like that.

But my plans, and mood, were changed when I read an email from my brother telling me that last night my sister and brother-in-law were in a car accident. They were turning on a green arrow when someone ran a red light and hit them broadside. My sister had some broken ribs and internal bleeding, for which they’re keeping her in the hospital for a few days. My brother-in-law was badly shaken, as you’d expect, but otherwise pretty much okay.

Fortunately for them, a cop from another town happened to be at the intersection and witnessed it, and that it wasn’t their fault. But it also meant there was someone there who knew what to do and how to summon the emergency services. Who says there’s never a cop around when you need one?

I rang my sister and spoke with her for a little. She was groggy from the painkillers, of course, but in good spirits. But I felt worse after speaking with her.

I was keenly aware at that moment that I’m more than 13,000 kilometres away (around 8200 US miles). I can’t get there without spending several days and several thousand dollars. I know that there’s no real reason why I have to be there, but if I lived there, of course I’d go see her. By any practical measure, doing so from this far away is impossible.

Anyone who ends up living far away from their original home is inevitably faced with situations like this, as my buddy Dawn recently was. These situations tend to become an exercise in evaluation—trying to determine if the situation is “bad enough” (whatever that means) to justify the expense and difficulty of a trip. The greater the distance, the more that money comes into that evaluation; it’d be dishonest to say it doesn’t.

I suppose for me, and probably other expats, the fact that we have to go through such evaluations is the hardest part. It creates frustration on top of whatever other emotions are going on. I hate it.

Obviously expats know—or ought to—that this kind of situation will happen and it pays to have at least a vague idea of how they’ll handle it (I keep current passports and an available balance on my credit card). But having a plan doesn’t make it any easier when situations arise.

Without a doubt, this tyranny of distance is the worst part about being an expat, even though it’s often an integral part of the experience. It’s the one thing that modern technology can’t yet completely overcome.

Oh and someone tell me why, exactly, Chinese think “8” is such a lucky number…

Update 12 August: My sister's on the mend, and is due home soon. They've had a lot of offers of help, especially from their church. This makes me feel better about not being able to be there myself to help out. Special thanks to everyone who left kind words here, privately or through Twitter. I appreciate your support and kindness.

Where on Earth will YOU vote?

This video is an attempt by Democrats Abroad (part of the Democratic Party) to find and mobilise the hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters who live outside the United States. In what promises to be a very close election, every single Democratic vote—wherever in the world it may come from—will matter.

United States citizens living overseas are entitled to vote, but must go through a process. Fortunately, it’s easy. For more information, or to begin the process, go to the VoteFromAbroad.org site.

This year, let’s make sure all our voices are heard.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Grumpy AND ignorant

John McCain is now adding another label to the growing list of adjectives to describe him: Ignorant. The McCain campaign has been belittling Barrack Obama for daring to point out that people should keep tyres properly inflated and engines properly tuned to help save energy and cut the country's petroleum use.

Who else says that helps? The Bush Administration does—Republicans, of course, and they estimate that it could save in one year more than new offshore drilling could produce in four years. California Governor Schwarzenegger (a Republican) and Florida Governor Charlie Crist (a Republican and possible vice presidential candidate for McCain) also agree. NASCAR (often portrayed as being filled with Republican supporters) has been promoting this for a long time. In fact, John McCain seems to be the only Republican who doesn’t know how much these two simple things will help.

The point of McCain’s grumpy, Rove-like attacks is that his campaign is trying to portray Barrack Obama as elitist and out of touch. But it’s McCain who’s so thoroughly out of touch—including with his own party—that he thinks mocking common-sense good advice is smart. It’s not. It just makes McCain look like he’s ignorant and proud of it. Is he?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Paris Hilton for President

Memo to Grumpy McSame: THIS is how you do satire.

The next Dick Cheney?

As John McCain scrambles to find someone to be his running mate, most media attention has been on the alleged electoral benefit that various candidates could bring to the Republican ticket. Very little attention, so far, has been paid to what those candidates stand for.

America made the same mistake in 2000. No one paid much attention to Dick Cheney when he, apparently, selected himself as Bush’s running mate. Yet had anyone looked into his record dating back to the Nixon years, it would’ve been obvious that he’d turn into a disaster. With a demonstrated contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law, it was evident how bad Cheney would be for America, if only we’d bothered to look.

Now the Democratic Party is helping us to avoid making that mistake again. Sure, they have a partisan interest in slamming Republican candidates, but who else is going to tell us the uncomfortable truths about them? So far, the mainstream media has shown no interest in critical analysis of the potential candidates.

So the Democrats created a site, The Next Cheney, to reveal some of those uncomfortable truths about McCain’s potential running mates. The problems run from the mundane—campaign finance irregularities—to the expected—taking positions on issues that the majority of Americans would never support. On McCain’s list we see political opportunists, “slash and burn” corporate leaders aggressively pursuing self-interest and, like McCain himself, a group marching in virtual lock-step with George Bush.

Back in 2001, McCain said to Cheney, "With a little more luck, I might have been able to ask you to be my Vice-President." We need to know what McCain’s Dick Cheney really stands for, and the Democrats' site is an important first step.

Monday, August 04, 2008

AmeriNZ 105 is now available

Episode 105 is now available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page.

Complete shownotes and descriptions are available at the new site.

Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Sunday, August 03, 2008

What’s with Sen. Grumpy?

John McCain promised to be different, he promised to raise the tone of political debate and campaigning. This week, his campaign went seriously off the rails, and into the gutter, as it adopted the negative campaign style of George Bush and Karl Rove.

Many critics have warned of McCain’s legendary and ferocious quick temper. I always thought it was irrelevant, but given McCain’s increasingly grumpy and irascible behaviour lately, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe they aren’t right, maybe we ought to be worried about giving someone with such a quick temper the keys to America’s military might.

Clearly McCain has nothing new to offer America. His campaign is based solely on the solutions of the past, mostly a continuation of the failed policies of George Bush. McCain’s few non-Bush policies are just same old, same old.

If a grumpy John McCain is going to continue to use demonstrable falsehoods and other Bush-Rove Republican negative campaign methods, he deserves to lose in a landslide. We don’t need more of Bush’s playbook, John McSame: Been there, done that.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Big business takes aim

So far, the US presidential campaign has focused on the two candidates, with most of the other attention going to Republican fringe elements, like James Dobson. But now, Big Business is flexing its muscle on behalf of McCain and the Republicans.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that “In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.” While Wal-Mart is savvy enough not to directly tell employees how to vote, they “make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states,” the paper reported.

Pushing specific candidates to its executives, shareholders and salaried managers is legal, but it’s illegal to do that to hourly employees. Store managers are salaried, but department supervisors—who were at these meetings—are hourly workers. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri is quoted as saying.

Wal-Mart, the USA’s largest employer, is notoriously anti-union, with allegations of intimidation and retaliation against pro-union employees. The WSJ noted:

On June 30 the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Wal-Mart illegally fired an employee in Kingman, Ariz., who supported the UFCW and illegally threatened to freeze merit-pay increases if employees voted for union representation. The decision came eight years after the organizing campaign failed, and four years after the case was originally heard.

Wal-Mart and Big Business generally are especially worried about the pro-union “Employee Free Choice Act” now before Congress, and are trying to get it defeated. Somewhat dishonestly, Big Business is trying to portray itself as the underdog in the battle, arguing that unions will outspend them. This ignores, of course, the contributions coming from wealthy business owners and senior executives.

Maybe most telling, though, was a chart with the WSJ story showing the percentage of federal campaign contributions given by Wal-Mart’s political action committee over the past five election cycles. In 2000, the paper reports, 85% of the company’s contributions went to Republicans; so far this year, only 52% has. Do they see a pro-Democratic result coming? After all, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, Big Business didn’t get to be “big” by being stupid, did they?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hitting back at McSame’s attack ad

This ad is in response to John McSame’s taking the low road in campaign advertising, despite promising that he wouldn’t use attack ads and negative campaigning. The Karl Rove-style ad misleads people about Barack's energy plan and even mocks his ability to inspire voters and bring Americans back into the political process.

The response includes some of the criticism levelled at McSame over his attempted distortion and sets the record straight.

I’m pleased to see that the Barack's campaign is responding directly to the negative campaigning by John McSame and the Republicans.

Update 03/08/08: Newsweek reprinted Factcheck.org's demolition of the McSame "celebrity" attack ad against Barack Obama. (Thanks to Dawn for sending me the link).

Shoes and slips and selling works

The blogosphere was burning up over John McSame’s campaign’s latest attacks trying to brand Barack Obama as an effete elitist, culminating in one of the dumbest TV ads I’ve ever seen, clearly a slip-up in their campaign.

Then came the revelation that McSame wears Ferragamo loafers that cost about $520—and here I thought they were just cheap, ugly shoes. Liberal bloggers started posting about the shoes. Most stuck to the main point, that Republicans are hypocrites calling Obama an elitist when their candidate wears $520 shoes. The shoes weren’t the issue, nor the cost, but how McSame has no right to call Obama an elitist when he wears $520 shoes.

Ultimately, it’s futile to try and make McSame’s shoes an issue, and for two reasons. First, the Republicans are experts at character assassination, negative politics and Orwellian Doublespeak. They can make buying a bottle of Diet Coke sound elitist when a Democrat is doing it—while they guzzle their own bottles.

The other reason focusing on the shoes will probably fail is that most ordinary people aspire, if only secretly, to be able to afford $520 shoes (or equivalent). By attacking the shoes, one is attacking the secret aspirations of millions of ordinary people, especially after the Republicans have framed Democrats as being effete, elitist snobs who want to take things away from ordinary people, or prevent them from getting the stuff in the first place.

So, if a Democrat has $520 shoes it's bad and elitist, if a Republican does, it's a reward for hard work. Double standard? You bet. But Republicans know what sells and how to sell it.

To their credit, the Obama campaign has responded appropriately, and on point, as their response ad shows. It looks like the Obama campaign won’t do a John Kerry and let McSame and the Republicans get away with their party’s usual tricks and smears. This is a very good development.