}

Monday, September 29, 2008

Holidays

It's school holidays in New Zealand, and we're hosting our young nieces. That means trips to the park, the zoo, and even McDonald's, but little time for blog posts. So, if I'm absent for awhile, that's why.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

AmeriNZ Podcast episodes available



Several AmeriNZ Podcast episodes are available, and they’re free no matter where you get them from. You can listen to them or download them through the player at the top of each post listed below, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed).

AmeriNZ 114 – 1 guy, 2 elections

AmeriNZ 115 – How NZ votes

AmeriNZ 116 – A Canadian Mark

The site also has links to some ArcherRadio episodes I was on.

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.


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The worm turns

We watched the first US presidential debate on CNN, but I have to admit, my attention was drawn by the worm—the real-time indicator of how the audience reacted to what a speaker was saying. It was kind of fascinating.

Republicans tended to like what McCain said and didn’t like what Obama said. Democrats liked Obama and not McCain. No surprises there. But watching the independents—universally considered an important swing group—McCain got very little favourable reaction; he got the odd positive blip, but mostly the line tracked close to the neutral line.

But things were very different when McCain went negative: Whenever McCain used fear-mongering, the worm turned negative. When McCain adopted a smug and condescending attitude to say that Obama “doesn’t understand” something, the worm turned negative. Whenever McCain focused on Iraq, the worm was, at best, neutral, but more often negative.

Obama, on the other hand, had an almost always positive worm. Sometimes, it was dramatically positive, reaching heights that McCain never even came close to.

So, what does this tell us? First, the McCain campaign and Republican apologists will savage the use of the worm, claiming all sorts of evil-doing. My bet is that they’ll claim it was the result of a Democratic plot. Losers do that sort of desperate thing.

But the main thing we saw was that Independents simply weren’t buying what McCain was selling. At the very best, they were neutral to what he was saying, at worst, they reacted strongly against it.

And one of McCain’s biggest negative drops? That happened when he mentioned Sarah Palin. Clearly the independents thought even less of her.

Personally, I don’t think that the debate illuminated anything. I’m sure that neither Republicans nor Democrats minds were changed. Independents? Too soon to tell, but they couldn’t have been impressed by McCain. You don’t need a worm to tell you that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain’s stunt

In the most crass, cynical and ultimately stupid political stunt I’ve seen in my lifetime, John McCain announced he was suspending his campaign to return to Washington to deal with the financial crisis. He also wants to cancel the first debate between him and Barack Obama.

I don’t know which part of this stunt is the funniest: That as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee McCain championed legislation to remove regulation on the banking and finance industries—you know, the sort of things that made this crisis possible, so now he is trying to make it sound like he can undo what he did. Or maybe it’s just the fact that he thinks the other Senators need his help to fix something he helped break.

McCain has been plummeting in the polls, being pushed down by the economic crisis he helped lay the foundation for, and by a running mate who’s plagued by continuing scandals and—let’s be honest here—a rather obvious lack of qualification for the job she’s seeking.

So it looks to me like McCain is looking for an excuse to get out of the debate with Obama. Although the topic was meant to be foreign policy, he knows that the economic crisis will come up and he’ll look bad because of it. His team has to keep Palin a mile away from the media because every time she speaks to them, she sounds like a blithering idiot.

So, faced with a crisis he helped create, that was bound to come up in the debates, and a running mate who has been found sorely lacking, McCain decides to suspend his campaign until he figures out a new tactic. I don’t know how long he’ll keep up this charade, but there’s no way that Palin will debate Joe Biden.

I’m just hoping that now Bush, Cheney, Rove and McCain aren’t plotting some way to suspend the election, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

DUH!!!!

Despite being so bloody obvious, this "news" will get Americans going all kinds of crazy. In fact, they’ve already started. Some wingnut reactions: “Another talentless poofer [sic].” “Sad situation for the baby, family and society.” “What a creep using his baby has [sic] a shield, no it’s not ok that he is gay just because he had a baby. Why didn’t he do what gays ususlly [sic] do and just get a puppy and try to pretend to be normal that way. It’s just wrong to use your bqby [sic] like that.” “He has no business having a baby if he’s not interested in women, it’s not right, it’s twisted.” “What about his baby growing up in Hell on Earth? Or the damage to society and the family?” “Oh please.. homosexuals should NEVER be allowed access to children, let alone to ‘breed’.”

And the winning wingnut: “He’s done his part to further damage the foundations of society by giving his baby an extremely bad start in life from which the little one may not recover, giving impressionable young minds [the idea] that the mental illness he’s suffering is normal and something to be celebrated and emulated, which leads to further breakdown and decay to marriage, parenthood and the health of society at large... he’s decided to promote this abomination on the covers of numerous celebrity rags around the world...”

Not surprisingly, these people think that the sun rises and sets on Palin/McCain.

Speaking truth to power



US Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo, OH) manages in 5:35 to sum up everything that stinks about the Republicans’ bailout of Wall Street greed, but also what should happen. I doubt her colleagues were listening.

The supreme irony of the Bush-Cheney bailouts is that it’s socialism. When government nationalises capital, it controls capitalism. The Bush-Cheney regime’s plans for state ownership of these assets rewards the greed of the barons of Wall Street, but offers nothing to the hard working ordinary Americans who will pay for it. It’s a total fraud.

Monday, September 22, 2008

700 BILLION reasons

There are now 700 billion reasons to defeat John McSame and the Republicans in November. That’s the initial amount that the Bush-Cheney regime is setting aside to try and fix the financial mess that they, McCain and the Republicans have created. It’s a mere down payment, and Americans will be paying for this for generations.

Let’s back-up for a second: The Bush-Cheney regime did everything in its power to remove regulation of the finance industry. The regulations they couldn’t get rid of, they simply ignored. The Republican Congress, meanwhile, used no oversight whatsoever, not of the financial industry they were supposed to regulate, nor of the Bush-Cheney regime who were sworn to uphold the law—including regulations. McCain was for most of that time in a position to exercise oversight, and he failed to do so. In fact, he aided and abetted Bush-Cheney and the Republicans in removing regulations that would have helped prevent this crisis.

So when McCain and the Republicans now talk about cleaning up the mess—which they created—we cannot believe them for a second. In fact, this looks like a plan only to help their rich friends.

They’re proposing $700 billion to cover bad debts in banks. They’re selling this as a way to prop up the banking industry. Yet the FDIC, which insures ordinary Americans’ bank accounts, has only $50 billion in assets to cover $1 trillion in deposits. Put another way, the Bush-Cheney-McCain imperative is to protect banking corporations’ profits, not the savings or homes of ordinary Americans.

When this began with the mortgage crisis, Bush-Cheney-McCain and the Republicans were all talking about “personal responsibility”, suggesting that the ordinary Americans who were facing foreclosure were solely and personally responsible for their situation. Their tune changed only when their attitude threatened to unleash voter wrath.

But isn’t there a double standard here? Ordinary Americans get into trouble—often at the express direction of banks who pressured them into loans they couldn’t afford—and it’s the ordinary person’s fault and responsibility to solve on their own. Politically-connected corporations get into financial trouble that was clearly their fault, and Bush-Cheney-McCain and the Republicans start tripping all over themselves to help. As my friend Jason put it:

Free markets, personal responsibility, less government. I guess that only applies to the average person.

When rich people are about to loose their shirt all that stuff goes out the window.

And will there be any consequences on these people who got us in this position? As far as I can tell, absolutely none. If I had my way, we round these bastards up and have them drawn and quartered and then have all their assets sold off to help pay for what they've done. But I'm pretty sure that won't happen.

He’s absolutely right: The greed and irresponsibility that led to this will never be punished. The corporate elitists who are facing ruin will be saved, and their personal wealth preserved. The politicians who created this disaster or failed to prevent it will suffer no legal penalty. There will be no consequences.

Ordinary Americans, however, will be paying for this for generations: The billions and billions—trillions, probably—that will be spent on this financial bailout is money that can’t be spent on anything else. Not one cent will be left for healthcare, to reduce poverty, for education, for infrastructure (like bridges, so they don’t collapse). Where will the money for researching alternative sources of energy come from now?

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans are losing their homes at the rate of 9800 per day, while corporate elitists have their wealth protected by Bush-Cheney-McCain. McCain promises billions in tax cuts for corporations—including the ones who created this mess—and for the rich who stood to lose some money if Bush-Cheney-McCain had refused to bail them out. Some, like Naomi Klein, suggest that if McSame wins the election, he'd use this as an excuse to gut Medicare and Social Security.

This situation must change. The financial disaster cannot be fixed by turning to the same people who created it. We can’t take more of the same from McCain, we need change, and only Barack Obama and the Democrats can deliver that change and truly clean-up this mess. Ordinary Americans have 700 billion reasons to make sure we get the change we need.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheney loses one

In a victory for the US Constitution and the rule of law, Dick Cheney has been ordered to preserve any records his office has kept. It was widely expected that Cheney would destroy all or most of his records, rather than turning them over to the National Archives as outgoing presidential administrations do.

No stranger to bizarre interpretations of the Constitution, Cheney and his staff argued that the office of Vice President isn’t part of the Executive Branch because the sole constitutional duty for the vice president (apart from hanging around in case the president dies) is to preside over the US Senate. But, Cheney and his minions further argued, it’s not really part of the Legislative Branch either, so they don’t have oversight power. Put another way, the vice president is above and beyond the reach of law or government.

Not surprisingly, there were plenty of legal and constitutional experts who didn’t share Cheney’s rather creative interpretations. Now, there’s a ruling to back up their side and to strike down Cheney’s.

This will likely go to the US Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Roberts was installed specifically because he helped Cheney keep his work secret by ruling against open government with respect to Cheney’s secret meetings with energy industry executives and lobbyists while Cheney was forming the “Bush” Administration’s energy policy. Alito, also appointed by Bush, and the far right Scalia and lightweight Thomas will all certainly side with the Bush-Cheney regime, meaning the outcome isn’t certain.

This all matters because if Cheney gets his way, American citizens will never know what Cheney did in their name. Even if it turns out he didn’t commit any crimes, he definitely did things that ordinary citizens would never have approved of, and they have the right to know that. Ultimately it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide if Cheney wins, or the American people, whether the Constitution triumphs or the special interests. This ruling is only the first step, but this time the people won.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s Sarah hiding?

Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! Mail account was “hacked” allowing an unauthorised person to access her emails. Given her now high status, the FBI is investigating. But there’s more to this story, like something straight out of the Bush-Cheney regime.

It turns out that Palin began using her Yahoo account for at least some official state business because, as the AP reported, emails sent through official Alaska government email accounts “could possibly be released to the public under Alaska's Open Records Act.” Why would that mater? The AP goes on: “At the time, critics of Palin's administration were poring over official e-mails they had obtained from the governor's office looking for evidence of improper political activity.”

So it appears that Palin and her administration were deliberately hiding at least some of their activities from public view. Sound familiar? The Bush-Cheney regime used email accounts at the Republican National Committee for exactly the same reason. Cheney also ordered that most memos, especially on sensitive subjects, be delivered in handwritten form so there’d be no electronic version anywhere. Some information may even have been given to him only verbally.

Why the secrecy? When politicians go to such lengths to hide what they’re doing, it’s usually because they have something to hide, something they don’t want anyone to know about. The Bush-Cheney regime could always declare information classified, but that isn’t certain protection because it won’t necessarily remain secret forever. The Alaska governor obviously doesn’t have the power to declare things classified. So, Bush-Cheney and Palin instead resorted to other ways to keep their activities secret.

I’m not trying to suggest that Bush-Cheney and Palin were trying to cover-up criminal activity. It could simply be they were trying to cover-up activities that might be politically embarrassing if the public knew about it. But deliberately covering-up activities conducted in the course of official duties is never good in what’s supposed to be an open democracy.

So, what are these Republicans trying to hide? One thing we do know: Clearly Palin is also more of the same, and just like Bush-Cheney.

Update 5PM: Apparently, Sarah does have something to hide. After saying she welcomed an ethics investigation by the Alaska Legislature, Palin is now not cooperating. Her husband has refused to testify, facing a possible $500 fine and six months in jail. All of this is at the direction of John McCain's campaign, which dispatched lawyers to Alaska to take over the legal manoeuvres. The McCain campaign has tried to paint the investigation as "illegitimate", by which they apparently mean, "inconvenient". Mainly, the McCain campaign is trying to make it impossible for the report to be completed before the election.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bankruptcy of McCain

The recent financial crises have shown in the harsh light of reality exactly why McCain/Plain can’t be trusted with the economy: They don’t understand the economy’s broken, much less how to fix it.

We saw the federal government take over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and then Lehman Brothers when they failed. Then, Merrill Lynch sold itself in a fire sale to avoid bankruptcy. The government then organised a federal bailout of AIG because it was too big to be allowed to fail. McCain opposed the AIG bailout, but when the government did it, McCain flip-flopped and said that the bailout was okay.

Amid all the turmoil, John McCain declared, echoing his disgraced economic adviser, Phil Gramm, that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong”. And his running mate? She declared there was some “fixin’ and changin’” needed in Washington. These people don’t have a clue.

McCain cannot claim to be a reformer on banking when he helped create this mess by strongly backing his buddy Phil Gramm’s bill to remove regulations keeping banking, insurance and investment companies completely separate, regulations put in during the Great Depression to prevent the sort of thing we’re seeing right now. McCain has admitted he doesn’t understand economics and turned to Gramm as an adviser. Gramm of course had to step down—officially, at least—as a McCain adviser after he said America was a “nation of whiners” and implied that ordinary Americans who were hurting from the Bush-Cheney regime’s economic policies were crazy. That stupidity didn’t play well, and I commented on it, too.

The economic news will get much worse. Right now, I could easily name a dozen Americans I know who are facing “downsizing” or who have already lost their jobs. Given a little time, I could probably come up with a few dozen more in the same situation. More that 600,000 jobs have been lost in America, and foreclosures are running at 9,800 per day. The US economy is in a dire situation and all John McCain offers is more of the same failed policies that got the country into this mess in the first place.

“The fundamentals of our economy are strong,” John McCain? How can you fix it if you don’t understand it’s broken?

AmeriNZ Video 2 is available



AmeriNZ Video 2 – Voting Overseas is available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can watch it or download it through the player at the top of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). This video will not be available through the old, Podomatic, feed because they downsample dramatically.

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.


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Constitution Day

September 17 is Constitution Day in the US, marking the signing of the US Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. That document has provided the structure—and source of arguments—for America ever since.

Fellow blogger Roger Green recently wrote a terrific blog post about the Constitution. Roger asked people what Article One of the US Constitution does. None of the people he asked knew the answer. I frankly wasn’t surprised: Few Americans know what’s in their Constitution—and it is their constitution, despite what the Bush-Cheney regime might claim.

There have been numerous social experiments in which Americans are asked to sign a petition with nothing but the Bill of Rights in it. Most people refuse. There have been other experiments using the Declaration of Independence, and Americans similarly refused to endorse it.

Americans’ ignorance of their foundation document isn’t necessarily unique: Many people in New Zealand have no idea what the Treaty of Waitangi says, for example, and I bet you’d find similar results in most countries. But having citizens not knowing their country’s foundation document is downright dangerous. How can a person be an informed citizen if they don’t even know what the whole nation is built on?

Roger provided some evidence for this, I think, when he pointed out that the fact that Article One establishes the US Congress means that the “Founding Fathers” clearly intended for the primacy of Congress in the US system. That system was undermined by the Imperial Presidency, which really started growing rapidly, as Roger notes, under Truman before being temporarily reigned-in after the crimes of Watergate. Every president since then has tried to claim back some power, with the greatest success to date coming under the Bush-Cheney regime: They’ve claimed that the presidency has dictatorial powers (using historically and legally absurd interpretations of the “unitary executive theory” and “inherent powers” doctrine).

How can anyone understand what Bush-Cheney and the Republicans have done to the Constitution if they don’t understand what it actually says? Despite what the Bush-Cheney regime implies, it’s not that hard: Read the Constitution and maybe the Federalist Papers, among other things.

To help with understanding, Roger offered to give away 100 copies of the Constitution with additional background. That’s a terrific idea. Maybe Americans should commemorate Constitution Day with a Random Act of Civic Kindness: Give a copy of the Constitution to a fellow citizen.

If more American citizens read and understood the US Constitution, there’s no way that Bush-Cheney would be in power now, and no way that McCain-Palin would be anything more than a huge irrelevant joke. But most Americans don’t know their own Constitution. So maybe you should take up Roger on his offer, or read it at any number of online sites, but read it in any case—while you still can.

Honour



This is the first strong and direct ad against McCain that the Obama campaign has put out. After McCain used lies and deception over and over again, the Obama campaign had no choice. So, for that reason, I’m glad to see this ad, though if John McCain would just stop his trashy ads, then maybe all ads could be positive. Fat chance. What I also find interesting is how this ad starts with basically the same question I blogged about recently.

Even Bush’s Machiavellian strategist, Karl Rove, has said that McCain’s gone too far. Emboldened, McCain and the Republicans now even lie about crowd size: They recently said a rally with Sarah Palin had 23,000 people when it actually had only a third that many people.

McCain’s strategy seems to be to distract people with nonsense, like claiming to be a “reformer”. He’s had 177 lobbyists on his campaign staff, and now he’s hired a Washington “super lobbyist” to fill positions in a potential McCain-Palin White House. It hardly seems likely that McCain could be a “reformer” if he’s relying on Washington lobbyists so much. Letting them choose potential regulators? Hardly reform.

Meanwhile, the folks over at Talking Points Memo have issued a video effectively exposing the deception of McCain’s running mate who still makes the claim that she stopped the “bridge to nowhere” when, in fact, she fully supported it until it became a national joke. Making a claim in her acceptance speech, even though the claim was wrong, is one thing. Repeating that false claim when it’s been exposed as untrue is another. Continuing to repeat an untruth—as she did just yesterday—when the fact she’s doing it has also been exposed makes her either reckless or a deliberate liar.

Could it be that McCain, Palin and the Republicans have subscribed to the old truism that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it’s the truth? McCain/Palin’s campaign tactics are just more of the same culture of dishonesty and division that the Bush-Cheney regime has used for the last eight years. We don’t need more of the same.

I subscribe to the YouTube Channels for Barack Obama and TPM, but I only occasionally post their videos here. The way things are going, I may have to do it more often.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Financial meltdown

World credit is continuing in crisis mode, prompted by the ongoing financial meltdown in the US. The utter failure of the Bush-Cheney regime and Republicans to adequately regulate and monitor financial institutions has led to the entire financial system coming under threat:

This week, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch & Co. was sold after it faced bankruptcy, AIG, the world’s largest insurer, is facing a credit downgrade and may yet collapse and the FDIC, which insures accounts in US banks, has only $50 billion in assets to cover $1 trillion in deposits in financial institutions.

Nouriel Roubini, of NYU's Stern School, says America has a "slow-motion run on retail banks" in the midst of what many call the "financial storm of the century" after former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called this a once-in-a-century financial crisis that’s almost certain to lead to recession.

The situation is so serious that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson held a mid-afternoon press conference to try and calm people. "The banking system is safe and sound," he declared. He added, "Nothing is more important than the stability and orderliness of our financial markets [and] regulators remain vigilant."

That’s the centre of the storm: The utter failure of Bush-Cheney and the Republicans who controlled Congress until a year ago to exercise even a tiny amount of oversight. If Paulson’s regulators are vigilant now, they certainly weren’t in the first seven years of the Bush-Cheney regime.

What happens in America will affect the entire world: Less credit available in the US means less credit available to other countries, so if the US slides into recession—as now seems probable—the world will probably follow it.

John McCain, who voted with George Bush 90% of the time, claims he’ll somehow “reform” Wall Street. But after all those years in Congress in which he didn’t, how can we believe him? His most famous connection to the banking industry was being part of the infamous “Keating Five” scandal (McCain was cleared by a Senate panel of corruption charges, but condemned for using "poor judgement").

The last thing we need now is more of the same. McCain and the Republicans have shown themselves unwilling or unable to use the existing powers of regulation and oversight, so it’s time for change. We—the world—literally can’t afford four more years of Bush-Cheney-McCain and the Republicans.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I can see Russia from my house!



We don't get "Saturday Night Live" in New Zealand, so I don't get see any of the bits Americans are talking about, like the one above. So I was glad to find this over at Joe.My.God and naturally had to post it over here, too (and, by the way, the built-in posting feature in these videos is outstanding and easy).

Good political satire isn't always easy, but this pretty much nails it. And it's nice to have something lighter to share from time to time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

(Re)touching the past

Today I looked at some old photos. All I did was look. As I did, I wondered about the ethics of re-touching personal photos.

I have the skills and technology to change photos—add things, remove things: I can change “reality”. Journalists have long dealt with the anguish caused by manipulation of photos (as the New Zealand Herald recently did with little acknowledgement). When is it permissible, how much can be changed? The point with journalists is that changing photos can change reality by changing the appearance of reality.

Well, what about personal photos? Can we remove a kilo or two? Can we add hair? Can we remove a person who’s no longer part of our circle of approved people?

We edit personal photos all the time, and we always have. In the old days, it was simply cropping: Removing extraneous background to focus on the real subject of the photo. Sometimes, this did indeed include removing unfavoured people. But now we have the technology to easily “improve” the photo, to make it more (or less) than was originally shot. Should we?

So far, any photo I’ve published on this blog has been modified only by cropping (the traditional method), and by improving colour balance and brightness (as I would if the photo was being published in print). What I do makes the photo better and, I would argue, doesn’t materially change the photo or its “reality”. Is it okay to go farther?

Clearly context matters. If I present a photo as mere illustration, it’s completely different than if I present a photo as documentary fact. The same is true for any publisher, mainstream or otherwise. We all have an obligation to reveal when and how we’ve changed a photo.

Does any of that apply to personal photos? Do we have the right to change our past? As digital technology advances, these questions will take greater prominence. In the meantime I’ll err on the side of “no”, even personal photos should remain untouched. Except for that whole cropping thing.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blogoversary 2

Two years ago today, I began this blog with my first post. I had no idea where it would lead and the truth is, I still don’t. Part of the fun in blogging is just letting whatever pops up, happen. I get interested in something for awhile, until I’m not.

I make no claim to great insight, and I’m not a journalist. Like a lot of bloggers, I’m just someone who thinks about stuff and has opinions about it. Sometimes I just like to talk about what I’m doing. I put it on the Internet so anyone who’s interested can read the posts, but considering that the vast majority of the world’s Internet users have no idea I exist, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m not the centre of the universe. The truth is, when you have a blog you get to pretend that you—or, at least, your thoughts—are the centre of the universe. As long as the illusion isn’t taken for reality, it’s all in fun.

So I keep churning out posts and every once in awhile I somehow manage to produce one I’m especially proud of. Fortunately, there have only been a few I’d rather I hadn’t written, but they’re here, too, somewhere in the archives.

As it happens, yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of when I first arrived in New Zealand, as a tourist. It would be early November before I arrived to stay. Also, next week I’ll have been podcasting for 18 months, which is an eternity in podcast years.

None of which will be noted very far or wide in the world, but it all means something to me, and so does this blog, and so do the comments that people take the time to leave. We’ve gone many places together on this blog, and I have no idea what’s up ahead.

So, what I said at the close of that first post two years ago is still true: Pour yourself a cuppa, relax, and let’s see where this leads.

In honour of my Second Blogoversary, I changed the header at the top to one I made myself. I figured that after two years, it was time.

Finally

A “small market” (Portland, Maine) television journalist asks John McCain the tough questions that the national newsmedia won’t. Add this to the relentless fact-checking (on both parties) being conducted by supposedly “small market” journalists and a pattern emerges: Just as in 2002, 2004, 2006, the mainstream national newsmedia are giving the two parties, and the Republicans especially, soft and easy treatment, while local journalists are asking the tough questions that we need answered. Thank goodness someone is.

Update 10.30pm: I originally embedded the video, but it started playing as soon as the page was loaded. I hate when that happens on other sites, and I wasn't going to allow it here. So, I changed it to an ordinary link instead.

Found via Joe.My.God

Book burner?

Sarah Palin has been criticised for trying to ban books while mayor of her small Alaska town. Others have argued that she was only speaking hypothetically, as if that somehow makes the idea of book banning okay. However, new evidence is emerging that backs up earlier suggestions that she did indeed have specific books in mind.

Palin’s apologists have been saying that she never had a list of books to be banned from the town library, basing their assertion on alocal news story written and the time, and the lack of written evidence since. But Paul Stuart, the reporter who wrote the story about the library 12 years ago, has told "PolitiFact" in the St Petersburg Times that the librarian told him after his story was pubished that Palin mentioned three books by name that she wanted removed from the library:

Stuart told PolitiFact that in a conversation with Emmons after his article ran, she listed three titles. He said he could recall only two, and initially said they were I Told My Parents I’m Gay and I Asked My Sister. We looked for these titles; they don’t appear to exist.

“Mary Ellen told me that Palin asked her directly to remove these books from the shelves,” Stuart said. “She refused.”

Asked later if the first book could have been Pastor, I am Gay, a controversial book written by a pastor who lives just outside Wasilla, Stuart said that was it.

Howard Bess, author of Pastor, I am Gay and former pastor of Church of the Covenant in nearby Palmer, recalls that his book challenging Christians to re-examine their ideas about and prejudices against gays and lesbians was not well received in Wasilla when it was published in 1995—the year before Palin was elected mayor.

Virtually every book store in Wasilla refused to sell it.

Bess said he gave two copies to the Wasilla Library, but they quickly disappeared. So he donated more copies.

The controversy over the book was part of the context of that time period, he said. “Knowing Sarah’s religious connections and the people involved, I would be surprised if my book was not one of those at issue,” Bess said. “But I don’t know that for a fact.”

“I don’t think anyone has the facts except Mary Ellen, and she ain’t talking,” Bess said.

Palin’s apologists will dismiss this as irrelevant. But if Palin feels she has the right to impose her extremist views on everyone, it matters very much if she were one heartbeat away form the presidency. For the past eight years, Bush-Cheney have arrogantly imposed their far right ideology on the nation. America can’t risk someone with even more extreme views becoming president. Sarah Palin is too big a risk.

Tip o’ the hat to Librarians Against Palin for the pointer, and Roger Green for the tip).

About that interview

I saw the first part of Charlie Gibson’s interview with Sarah Palin. Every concern I had about her was reinforced and a new one added: She is dangerous.

The overall impression she left was that she was briefed, but ill-informed. She was coached, but ignorant of world affairs. She was given talking points, but didn’t have the underlying knowledge of what she was talking about. She came across as facile, smarmy and arrogant—and we’ve had eight years too many of that in the Bush-Cheney regime.

All of this isn’t based merely on the fact that she had no idea what Gibson was talking about when he asked her about the so-called “Bush Doctrine”, which describes the Bush-Cheney-McCain assertion that the US has the right to attack any country in the world pre-emptively and unilaterally if, in their sole opinion, it means “preventing a terrorist attack”. When this was all explained to Palin, she endorsed it.

More of my concern came from Palin seeming to seriously believe that her little hops overseas, and the fact that you can see Russia from part of Alaska, has given her foreign policy and national security experience. She dismissively said that there had been other vice presidents with less “experience”, and she may be right. But they weren’t alive in the dangerous world of instant terror we find ourselves in now. With the Democrats we have the able and experienced Joe Biden ready to step in should something happen to Obama. With the Republicans we’d have and novice traveller, and that’s all the more dangerous when she seemed to think nothing of blithely suggesting war with Russia over Georgia (memo to Palin: Georgia did strike first, so the Russians certainly considered themselves provoked, whether you did or not).

When Gibson asked her whether she hesitated even for a moment in accepting McCain’s offer to be his running mate, she said she didn’t. Most people would at least pause and wonder whether they’re the best person. Sarah Palin had plenty of reasons to wonder but, apparently, she sees her time as a small town mayor and less than two years as governor of large (but largely empty) state as somehow qualifying her to be president, should McCain die in office.

If Palin had run in the primaries, she would’ve been dispatched pretty quickly as completely unqualified. But now she’s being anointed as some sort of demi-god, ready to rise from obscurity to be president. She’s not ready to lead, and her total lack of relevant experience and qualification makes her unfit. Add her ignorance of the world and her extremist views on many domestic issues and she’s downright dangerous.

We’ve just had eight years of incompetence and ignorance on the loose. We don’t need more of the same.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The right tone at the right time

Barack Obama and John McCain made a joint appearance today, free from politics or partisan division. They also suspended their TV ads against each other. This temporary truce was inspired by the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US (which is today in the US). It was a right and fitting thing to do.

They walked down into the pit at “Ground Zero” together, they shook hands with relatives of victims, they laid flowers—all appropriate. Their tone separately was equally appropriate.

In Pennsylvania to commemorate the victims of United Flight 93, McCain said that the only way to thank the passengers who tried to take back the plain was to "be as good an American as they were," and he added, "We might fall well short of their standard, but there's honor in the effort.”

Obama said in a statement, "Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims, to donate blood, to give to charity, and to say a prayer for our country. Let us renew that." It recalled that time after the attacks that brought all Americans together, for a time, and which made the world stand in total solidarity with America, for a time.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden saluted the ordinary courage of the emergency services: "You suit up, head out on that vehicle not knowing what you're going to find. If, God forbid, anything remotely close to that happens, it's going to be you guys trying to save all of us." Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was home in Alaska seeing her son off to Iraq,

The candidates acted appropriately for the day, but afterward it’ll be back to the rough and tumble of the campaign. This is as it should be since it means the terrorists failed to destroy either the US or democracy.

That’s the first and last time I’ll be writing anything nice about the Republican candidates. But for one day even I can put aside partisanship.

AmeriNZ 113 is available



AmeriNZ 113 - Politicast after the RNC is 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.


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Phony outrage

Barack Obama has correctly said that John McCain is using "lies and phony outrage and Swift-boat politics” in an attack on Obama for his use of a colourful aphorism.

Obama was speaking about George Bush and John McCain and how their polices are identical, then said, "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig,” a phrase he’s used in the past.

McCain immediately seized on this to accuse Obama of making a sexist remark. Trouble is, McCain himself has used the phrase—including when talking about Hillary Clinton’s health care plans. No one accused McCain of being sexist.

Why the double standard? The McCain campaign is desperately trying to sell Sarah Palin to women voters, especially Hillary Clinton supporters, despite the fact that Palin is against nearly everything they’re for. The Republicans think that creating a controversy will help them convince women to overlook Palin’s appalling positions on women’s issues (well, on pretty much every issue, actually). It’s a sham, a phony outrage.

Not surprisingly, the McCain campaign has been caught distorting the truth again and again in recent attack ads, including some of the worst the Republicans have produced yet. So making up a controversy is just par for the course for them.

Actually, Palin herself has been caught being less than honest about her record. She repeatedly uses her line “I told Washington thanks but no thanks”. Trouble is, it’s not true. As has now been well documented, she supported the “bridge to nowhere” until it became an object of ridicule. Even then, she didn’t return the federal money. In fact, she went on to get more money per capita in federal earmarks than was received by any other state. That’s hardly telling Washington "no thanks". But that’s exactly what American voters can tell her and McSame in November.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Manipulating polls?

We’ve all seen the media reports trumpeting the supposed sudden lead for McCain/Palin in opinion polls. An increase in polling would be expected, if there was a “post convention bounce”. But the polls are not quite what they seem.

It turns out that all the major polling organisations have decided to increase the percentage of poll respondents who are Republican, despite the fact that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans. Polling companies also don’t poll new voters, since they don’t turn up on voter lists, and Democrats have a huge advantage in new registrations. They also don’t poll people who have only mobile phones (and no landline), many of whom are younger and tech-savvy—which describes a good chunk of the people who were attracted to Barack Obama’s campaign in the primaries.

All of which means the poll results are highly suspect. According to the Huffington Post, “Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz is highly skeptical of the new Gallup, USA Today and CBS polls.” He points specifically to problems with the CBS poll:

"One reason for the dramatic difference between the two recent CBS polls is that the two samples differed fairly dramatically in terms of partisan composition. The first sample was 35.2% Democratic, 26.2 percent Republicans, and 38.6 percent independent. The second sample was 34.9% Democratic, 31.1% Republican, and 34.0% independent. That's a change from a 9 point Democratic advantage to a 3.8 point Democratic advantage. That alone would probably explain about half of the difference in candidate preferences between the two [CBS] polls."

So: Are the polling companies deliberately manipulating poll gathering? Or are they just making huge errors? Either case isn’t very encouraging, though the first raises serious questions.

I have no idea why opinion polls are being done so badly now, but it would help if the media obsessed about them less. That, or if journalists took statistics classes so they’d learn how to assess and evaluate polls then reporting could improve. You don’t need to take a poll to find out how unpopular both options would be in newsrooms across America.

AmeriNZ 112 is available



AmeriNZ 112 - Unexpected episode is 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.


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Monday, September 08, 2008

John McCain gets BarackRoll'd



Because not everything in an election campaign should be serious.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Way too busy

This past week was an incredibly busy one, and got more so as the week went on. Friday was busiest of them all, and even yesterday and today didn’t miss out. That’s why blog posts and podcasts have been fewer lately (it took me until tonight to post a pointer to the most recent podcast I recorded because I didn’t even have time to do that).

The first week of the month is always the busiest of the entire month, but most weeks in September promise to be busy. You know how it goes, so much to do, so little time. Nevertheless, I hope to return to a more or less normal schedule for blogging and podcasting, with the occasional video thrown in, too. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m sure I’ll be having plenty to say about the elections—both US and New Zealand—in the weeks to come. Some things don’t change.

AmeriNZ 111 is available



AmeriNZ 111 - Between Conventions is 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.

Apologies for posting this note so late. I’ve been busy.

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.


Get AmeriNZ Podcast for free on iTunes

Friday, September 05, 2008

Republican lies

The “media elite” (as named by the Republicans) have dubbed Sarah Palin a “star”: “Palin delivers star-turning performance for GOP” (AP). "A very auspicious debut, (Tom Brokaw of NBC), “A star is born” (Wolf Blizter and Anderson Cooper on CNN, Chris Wallace on Fox Noise). Yet, we know that the Republicans will continue to blame the “media elite” for everything that goes wrong in their campaign, and despite the warm afterglow, plenty has.

Not surprisingly, I’m not at all impressed with Palin or any of the other speakers yesterday night. The speeches were filled with lies and distortions or the usual mean-spiritedness for which Republicans are becoming renowned.

The biggest lie of the evening: Huckabee claimed that Palin had received more votes for mayor of her little town than Joe Biden did for US President. The truth is that Palin received 616 votes in 1996 and 909 in 1999 for a total of only 1,525. Biden on the other hand, received 76,125 in 23 states and DC. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, ought to know that he shouldn’t bear false witness.

Romney issued a battle cry to “change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington—throw out the big-government liberals, and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin." Trouble is, the rightwing Bush-Cheney regime has been in control for nearly eight years. Republicans controlled Congress up until a year ago. So, if people want change in Washington, voting for Democrats is the only way to get change.

Palin shaded the truth, too. She claimed to have “championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress” in which members of Congress get little-noticed cash for local projects. However, that’s not exactly true: As mayor, she hired a lobbyist for her town and frequently went to Washington to get more federal money. As governor, she got more money in earmarks per capita than any other US state got. The most famous earmark debacle was the “bridge to nowhere”, but she only opposed it after it became an object of derision.

She claimed that Barack Obama hadn’t written “a single major law or reform—not even in the state senate." That’s simply not true, and Republican Richard Lugar co-authored one of Barack Obama’s major bi-partisan pieces of legislation. He also sponsored major legislation in Springfield. She ridicules his voting “present” on a few dozen votes out of the thousands he cast in the Illinois State Senate, somehow forgetting to mention that this is a common tactic for Illinois legislators—including Republicans.

So what did I make of this day and it’s activities? The speakers were attack dogs spewing all sorts of nonsense and even lies without offering a single proposal for how to deal with the very real problems of ordinary Americans, or even seeming to understand the problems of ordinary Americans. We heard them ridicule community organisers—the people who help ordinary Americans to deal with the ruin caused by the Republican power elite. Of course they ridicule community organisers: They’re helping the people who Republicans care the least about, namely, everyone outside the Republican power elite.

The best antidote so far to this particular Republican spin: “Jesus was a community organiser; Pontius Pilate was a Governor.”

So far, the Republican Convention has been nothing more than a bunch of people screaming hate at the other party and offering nothing positive. If I were still a Republican, this convention would have been enough to make me quit. I don’t want more smug, cynical arrogance from the Republicans, I want change in America. I’m voting Democratic.

The Republican Hater's Ball



I couldn't agree more.

A tip o' the hat to Jeffrey Taylor for the pointer to this video.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain: It’s your fault

Still reeling from the controversy caused by picking a spectacularly unqualified vice presidential running mate—perhaps the most unqualified ever—John McCain is now telling America it’s all their fault.

Forget about all the serious questions about Palin that have emerged, forget about the appearance that that McCain campaign never fully investigated Palin, no, the problems are all because America is sexist and wants to “destroy the first female Republican nominee”. Because, you know, women candidates never do well in America.

This reminded me of how John McCain’s economic policy maker referred to ordinary Americans as “whining” and said that their financial troubles were all in their heads. Forget that McCain has admitted he knows nothing about economics; the current economic troubles facing the country, his adviser said, are all ordinary people’s fault.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this. Just yesterday the McCain campaign declared, “This election is not about issues.” Well, they would say that when their campaign only offers more of the same as Bush. The first time McCain had to make a serious decision—choosing his running mate—he totally screwed it up. His good buddies George Bush and Dick Cheney have been screwing up for nearly eight years, so it’s not surprising, I guess, that John “More of the Same” McCain also makes bad decisions.

With nothing to offer but more of George Bush’s failed policies, and now demonstrating that he can make really bad decisions just like George Bush, it’s too dangerous to allow John McCain to be president.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Minnesota a fascist state?



Police at the Republican National Convention want you to believe that they’re upholding law and order. Are they? Or are they deliberately suppressing free speech and democratic rights?

When self-styled anarchists supposedly rioted, the mainstream press dutifully reported the official line. Was it true? I’m beginning to wonder. The video above is of Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now!” being arrested for "conspiracy to riot". Yeah, right. Amy was later released, but other journalists remained imprisoned.

Obviously police who uphold the law have my total respect. They do a dangerous job and seldom get the thanks they deserve. But police who seek to suppress democracy and freedom of speech do not. They and the politicians who order that suppression should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If police at the RNC can’t tell the difference between the exercise of democratic rights and crime, they have no businesses wearing the uniform.

Freedom of the press? Prove it, Minnesota. Or are you just another Bush-Cheney tool?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Hang on a minute

I fully agree that the children of a candidate for public office should be off limits. They didn’t choose the somewhat bizarre path that their parent chose, so hands off. However, the Republican’s own spin has made me pull the hand brake.

The fact that the seventeen year old daughter of the Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant and unmarried would be irrelevant except for one thing: The Republican media releases repeatedly said she CHOSE to keep the baby—she chose.

Both Palin and McCain are adamantly anti-choice. In fact, Palin thinks that all abortions should be outlawed, no exceptions, no way, no how, and McCain has been saying how his would be a “pro-life” administration.

All of which means that Sarah Palin’s daughter exercised the very choice they would by law or Constitutional Amendment forbid all other woman from making. Their spin has a technical word: Hypocrisy.

Don’t give me this self-righteous crap about how “liberals” have been “slandering” the poor innocent, beleaguered Palins. Bullshit. Sarah Palin opposed all sex education in Alaska. She backed the discredited “abstinence only” education, and her own teenage daughter becomes pregnant and exercises the very choice that both McCain and Palin would deny to all other woman. They’re not just elitist, they’re dangerous.

Neither McCain nor Palin can be trusted with ANY office.

Update (already): The AP reports that McCain "has opposed proposals to spend federal money on teen-pregnancy prevention programs and voted to require poor teen mothers to stay in school or lose their benefits." So, in the McCain-Palin universe, teen mothers are on their own, and must bear the baby no matter what, dammit.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Welcome to Spring

Today is the first day of Spring. Some pedants insist on waiting another three weeks until the astronomical change of seasons, but the reality is that September first marks the shift of seasons because the seasonal change begins around now.

What that means is that the rain starts to ease up, the temperatures rise with some warmth, even heat, in the sunlight and the days are getting noticeably longer. Jackets start to become unnecessary as the air warms and in general it’s just more pleasant to be outside.

Some of our best, prettiest days are in Spring. So are some of the hottest, in late Spring. It’s a good season.

In Chicago, Spring was my close second-favourite season (next to summer) because it marked the final departure of winter, its bitter cold, snow, ice and big piles of stained, gray icy mounds. In Auckland, where the climate is far better, Spring is less of a big deal, but it’s still my second-favourite season next to summer. But summer is far and away my favourite season—and that’s now only three months away.

Key delusion

New Zealand's Opposition Leader John Key has compared himself to US Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. His intention was to suggest that he’s not a political insider, but the comparison implies other similarities that simply don’t exist.

Obama went from university to community organising, passing up big-paying corporate jobs. Key went to work as a highly-paid currency trader for many years. Obama is trying to bring change to America, while Key claims that he’ll do almost nothing differently than Labour (which is part of what fuels the continuing talk of the National Party having a secret agenda). Obama also opposed the Iraq war, while Key backed it.

The Financial Times article in which Key made the self-comparison, also noted that if his party wins the next election, it would make Key “the most inexperienced politician to lead New Zealand in more than 100 years”, far less experienced than Obama is.

With an election coming sometime in the next eleven weeks, Key and the National Party have yet to offer a reason why they should form a government, apart from the fact that they’re not the New Zealand Labour Party. But that’s simply not good enough. And neither is claiming to be something you’re not.