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Monday, June 30, 2008

No bid oil contracts in Iraq awarded to foreign oil companies

I heard about this on NPR nearly a month ago, but the vaunted MSM is just now getting on the story. Below is a link and the first few paragraphs of the story from MSNBC:


BAGHDAD - Iraq opened international bidding for eight enormous oil and gas fields Monday, paving the way for investment in a nation with some of the world’s largest petroleum reserves.

If approved, contracts to update and manage those fields could involve the biggest foreign stake in Iraq since its oil industry was nationalized more than 30 years ago and help Iraq reach its goal of nearly doubling petroleum production by 2013.

That could be good news with the price for a barrel of oil breaching $143 for the first time ever on Monday. But the contracts won’t be signed for a year, and if Western firms win a dominant role it could feed perceptions that U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein to get at Iraq’s natural resources. [YA THINK?]

Those concerns were heightened by expectations that Iraq would announce short-term no-bid consulting contracts with five Western oil firms on Monday. The New York Times reported about two weeks ago that the firms included Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron and Total.

ADDENDUM - July 2, 2008

I just realized that Bob Herbert conveyed this situation quite articulately in his column yesterday:




I've been very upset this morning - listening to the radio and, earlier, watching cable news. Former Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card was on MSNBC talking about how the leaking of this report inhibits the president's ability to make good decisions and to protect America. I don't really buy that, and it's hardly the main issue. What the hell are we doing? We've made such a mess of both these military campaigns and now that Al-Qaeda is completely reconstistuted, we can't even figure out a way to deal with it. What the hell are we doing? Billions and billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of Americans are dead, and I don't feel one bit safer than I did on Sept 12th. I don't think I've ever felt more sure that we'll be attacked again than I do this morning. What's it all been for?


WASHINGTON, June 29 (Reuters) - Top Bush administration officials drafted a secret plan late last year to make it easier for U.S. Special Operations forces to operate inside Pakistan's tribal areas, but Washington turf battles and the diversion of resources to Iraq have held up the effort, the New York Times reported on Monday.

[ . . . ]
After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush committed the nation to a “war on terrorism” and made the destruction of Mr. bin Laden’s network the top priority of his presidency. But it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration will leave office with Al Qaeda having successfully relocated its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas, where it has rebuilt much of its ability to attack from the region and broadcast its messages to militants across the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Repudiating liberalism

Great stuff from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo:


. . . who are the elites? Well, they're us, the liberal base of the Democratic party. And that's what this "run to the center" is really all about --- putting as much distance between the politicians and us as they can. It's not about being "serious" on national security or crime or family values. It's not even about appealing to swing voters. It's about repudiating liberalism.

You can have a right wing zealot on the team who is so out to lunch that he writes books recommending you beat your children like he beats his dog. But associations with anything remotely culturally liberal or politically progressive are considered poisonous if you care to be taken seriously by the likes of Target shopper Brian "Everyman"Williams or the policeman's daughter Maureen "Everywoman" Dowd.

Repudiating liberalism is a symbolic gesture required of Democrats by the political establishment to prove that they are not elitists. And it goes beyond mere posturing on gay marriage or abortion. The national security challenge is always not to appear to be "an appeaser." The way you prove that is by refusing to appease the Democratic base. The economic challenge is to walk very carefully on taxes because it "costs jobs" for the hard working man and the struggling businessman alike who are in this thing together against the liberal elites.

The cultural challenge is to not appear to be too friendly to blacks or too unfriendly to socially conservative religion in order to prove that that you are not beholden to the "extremists." The entire construct is based upon Democrats distancing themselves from their most ardent supporters (which is quite convenient for Republicans.)

That being the case, I'm not sure it's ever been realistic to expect Barack Obama to be the guy to challenge all this. He carries with him the strongest cultural signifiers a Democrat can carry to make the political establishment freak out: he's young, he's from big city politics, he's elite educated and, of course, he's black.

As much as the "Everymen" like to think of themselves as beyond something silly like race, unless a black person is a Republican like Powell or Rice, he is automatically suspect. As a Democrat whom they've already successfully, and erroneously, labeled as super liberal (and closet terrorist, which amounts to the same thing) Obama must work twice as hard as an older white male would have to do to prove to the gasbag elites that he can "connect" with Real Americans.

Under the system as it exists today, you can hardly be surprised that the first black Democratic nominee would be reluctant to break much more new ground than he already has. (The same would be true of the first woman president, by the way, so there would have been no advantage for Clinton --- indeed, less of one, since she inherited president Clinton's baggage as well.) Indeed, I always assumed that the first black or female presidents would have to be Republican for just that reason --- only a Republican can go to China and all that rot. [Me too!]

As the Republicans fall back and regroup, Democrats have decided to use some of their political advantage of the moment to advance something important: the full equality of African Americans. In America, with our history, the symbolism of that means something quite real. But there is a trade off involved. He has less freedom of movement than someone like a John Edwards might have had.

I wish that he would use some of his rhetorical gifts to challenge conservative assumptions more and I'm hopeful that he will, as president, work to redefine the conventional wisdom. I'm also hopeful that his approach on the big issues will not be reflexively compromising. But as of right now, there remains a strong belief among all the Democratic players that liberals are losers --- and they want to win. I don't think we're going to change that in the next four months.

We chose serious symbolic change that has deep cultural meaning over serious ideological change that has deep political meaning. There's nothing inherently wrong with that --- the effects of such things are far reaching and incredibly important for the advancement of our society. You can't forget that Barack himself was born at a time when Jim Crow was still enshrined in the south. This is huge. But nothing comes free and having a politically moderate president at a time when a more explicit progressivism might have gotten a boost is the price we pay. The Village will only tolerate so much change at one time. If we want real political change, it's time to change the Village.


Friedman: Anxious in America

I'm not a huge fan, but this is hard to resist.

[ . . . ]
My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.
[ . . . ]

“America and its political leaders, after two decades of failing to come together to solve big problems, seem to have lost faith in their ability to do so,” Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib noted last week. “A political system that expects failure doesn’t try very hard to produce anything else.”
. . . digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

"Dancing Matt"

I saw this 4 minute video on msn.com quite by accident - I never would have watched if the guy wasn't named Matt. I find it so moving - it's partly the music, which is lovely, but mostly it's the JOYOUS people ALL over the world:


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another big lie

Bizarre Republican talking point is popping up all over, suggesting that the caribou in Alaska like the "warmth" of the pipeline and that caribou have increased in the area around the existing pipeline. Of course the exact opposite is true - the type of caribou in the Artic refuge have been negatively affected:


Science, tells a different tale. Though the Central Arctic herd in Prudhoe Bay has grown, the Porcupine caribou in the Arctic refuge are “very different.” Wildlife biologists say drilling proponents are making an “oversimplified” argument when they tout Prudhoe Bay to justify disrupting the much larger Porcupine herd in the refuge:
[ . . . ]
Far from becoming a meeting ground, surveys have
shown that the Central Arctic “caribou reduced their use of the more heavily developed Prudhoe Bay oil fields by 78 percent, and their east-west movements declined by 90 percent.” “As surface development continues, the caribou are effectively crowded out of these areas,” said Ray Cameron, a wildlife biologist who studied caribou for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “They’ve decided it’s not the place to be.”

Studies have also found that pipeline construction near caribou calving and summering areas can lead to “greater calf mortality” and the “reduction of the population.”


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Obama could win vote, lose election"

My (Republican) friend Richard sent me this article, which I admit, gave me 30 seconds of pause, but I haven't heard any (TV) analysts who accept this as anything but the remotest of possibilities. I tend to view this as wishful thinking on the part of conservatives.


Wed Jun 18, 2008
Obama could win vote, lose election
by Harry Siegel

Until 2000, it hadn’t happened in more than 100 years, but plugged-in observers from both parties see a distinct possibility of Barack Obama winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College — and with it the presidency — to John McCain.

Here’s the scenario: Obama racks up huge margins among the increasingly affluent, highly educated and liberal coastal states, while a significant increase in turnout among black voters allows him to compete — but not to win — in the South. Meanwhile, McCain wins solidly Republican states such as Texas and Georgia by significantly smaller margins than Bush’s in 2004 and ekes out narrow victories in places such as North Carolina, which Bush won by 12 points but Rasmussen presently shows as a tossup, and Indiana, which Bush won by 21 points but McCain presently leads by just 11.

One possible result: Even as the national mood moves left, the 2004 map largely holds. Obama’s 32 new electoral votes from Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia are offset by 21 new electoral votes for McCain in Michigan and New Hampshire — and despite a 2- or 3-point popular vote victory for Obama, America wakes up on Jan. 20 to a President McCain.

According to Tad Devine, who served as the chief political consultant for Al Gore in 2000 and as a senior adviser to John F. Kerry in 2004, “it certainly is a possibility. Not a likelihood, but it is a real possibility.”

Some observers, such as Joseph Mercurio, a political consultant and pollster who worked on Sen. Joe Biden’s Democratic primary bid, see this as unlikely given the dramatic increase in Democratic Party enrollment and President Bush’s near record-low approval rating. Also skeptical is Nate Silver, a political cult-favorite blogger whose statistical model — which factors in population change since electoral votes were last allocated in the 2000 census — shows McCain as more likely than Obama to lose the Electoral College while winning the popular vote.

But others, pointing to the competitiveness of the past two elections, predict that this will be another such tight race. If they’re proven correct, this would be the fourth in the past five elections, making for the most closely contested run of presidential contests since those spanning the popular vote-Electoral College splits of 1876 and 1888.

Hank Sheinkopf, president of Sheinkopf Communications and an adviser to Bill Clinton in 1996, warns that such a split “is anything but impossible.” While he gives Obama a slight edge in the general election “because he doesn’t have George Bush riding with him,” he predicts that “Obama’s going to get big votes for a Democrat in the Southern states but not enough to win any new electoral votes. So it’s a distinct possibility that he could lose the entire South, split the Midwest” and end up not as president but rather as the second coming of Al Gore. When asked the odds of this playing out, he offers “50-50.”


Feeling sorry for myself

I'm totally exhausted this morning because I had a big fight with my sister last night right before I was ready to go to bed. It started as a snippy little email exchange earlier in the day, but then she called me (which she never does) and she'd apparently gotten herself all worked up in the meantime. She was yelling and calling me a bitch and really trying to pin me to the wall. I don't think we ever had a fight like that. Years ago, before my dad died, we fought all the time, but it was just pathetic, looking back. Then we sort of declared a truce, after he died, and we've been cordial ever since. But apparently she thinks I've been a total bitch for years and she's never told me. Oh well. She's a wreck, which she admits, so the main problem, according to her, is that I'm not tolerant enough. Which is probably true, but it's hard to tell someone that when they're yelling and cursing at you. We didn't solve anything, but we got off the phone eventually. Supposedly we're going to talk again and "resolve" this, but I don't have high hopes about that, at least not right now. She needed to vent and that's o.k., but it's not like we came to a higher understanding. Too bad life isn't a sitcom, where people fight and then make up, all in 22 minutes.

ADDENDUM - the next day

Still feeling blue. I watched my wedding video recently with my kids - I hadn't seen it in ages. In it was one of my old friends, Sandy, who held one of the huppa poles (a major honor). Around the holidays last year, I wrote a letter to her. I hadn't heard from her in ages and I had tried to find a phone number for her and wasn't able to. Imagine my surprise when I got a letter back saying she hadn't considered me a friend for a long time and please don't correspond with her anymore. Wow. She and I had almost nothing in common (other than growing up in the same small town) and we barely stayed in touch, but it really bothered me. It still bothers me. I still have a pillow that she made for me over 20 years ago. It just seems weird that she's out of my orbit completely now. I got to thinking about that yet again, after the fight with my sister. I was really offended that Sandy did that, but I can understand, if she felt like it was completely one-sided (I don't agree that it was, but people feel what they feel). It seems related somehow. I was annoyed that Sandy did that, but I feel the same way about my sister - there's so little interaction and I feel frustrated about it when it does happen, and I feel like it wouldn't make any difference if there was none. Which I said to my sister, and she was totally infuriated about it. Which is exactly how I would have reacted - if I'd had the chance - to Sandy. So I keep going around and around in my mind. Of course, I didn't tell my sister to never contact me again, though I wanted to (it would be absurdly melodramatic to do that anyway - it was absurdly melodramatic that Sandy said that to me). But I do feel like my only choice here is the same as what Sandy thought (apparently) - accept what (little!) they offer and be happy about it. But I'm NOT happy about it. Do I have to pretend? I mean, my father is deceased, and I HATE that, I get nothing from my mother, and I HATE that, and I get little from my sister, and I HATE that. I guess it's not fair to put that on her, but that's how I feel! Maybe the best course of action is to pretend that it doesn't bother me, but that's HARD!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sellout Achievement Award

This snarling post came from my favorite blog, Hullabaloo, where she nails Steny Hoyer for his recent "compromise" on FISA regulation:


Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Constitutional Sell-out of the year award. [The italicized text is from the website, The Politico]:

The Maryland Democrat [Steny Hoyer] shepherded a set of FISA amendments through the House last week — winning praise from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and even some in his party to who opposed the deal — but now finds himself subjected to a barrage of criticism from his party’s left. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) called the House bill a “capitulation.” Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald called Hoyer an “evil, craven enabler of the Bush administration.” Firedoglake.com blogger Jane Hamsher — delivering the lowest possible blow from the liberal blogosphere — declared Hoyer “the new Joe Lieberman.” Hoyer knew it was coming, and he persevered anyway. That he did so speaks volumes about who he is: a master of cloakroom politics who can use his friendships across the aisle to strike deals, even if others demand that his party hew closer to the positions that put it in power in 2006.

Those who demand that the party should hew closer to the positions that put it in power should be happy to have such a "masterful" leader who will sell out their most cherished principles in order to make a deal with people who would like to turn the US into a police state. Do read the whole Politico article, which doesn't bother to spend even one paragraph describing why people were opposed to the bill.

For that matter it doesn't bother to tell us why the other side was so adamant that it get passed either. The fact that it wasn't some typical congressional agenda item which might naturally be "horse traded," but rather a matter of fundamental constitutional principle, isn't worth mentioning. Even the fact that the whole thing stinks to high heaven of financial corruption gets no mention.

What we have instead is the portrait of a Village hero, the ultimate master of the only game that matters --- ostentatiously capitulating to conservatism. It's the biggest accolade a Democrat ever gets, like winning a congressional Oscar, and the preening Hoyer is happy to make his acceptance speech in the pages of the Drudge Daily.

This one is sweeter than most because he managed to capitulate to the congressional minority and the most unpopular president in history on an issue of fundamental constitutional principle which contained little political risk to uphold. A truly bravura performance.

In fact, it's worthy of a lifetime achievement award. Donate here to Blue America's FISA Accountability fund so that we can continue to assure that Steny's constituents are aware of his great triumph.


Another reality check on gasoline

I happened to read this article right after hearing all the NPR coverage of the gas price issue, although this was published several weeks ago in our local paper and a couple weeks before that in the Washington Post. Very eye-opening. Below is the first few paragraphs and a link to the rest.


Sunday, May 25, 2008
Wake Up, America. We're Driving Toward Disaster.
By James Howard Kunstler

Everywhere I go these days, talking about the global energy predicament on the college lecture circuit or at environmental conferences, I hear an increasingly shrill cry for "solutions." This is just another symptom of the delusional thinking that now grips the nation, especially among the educated and well-intentioned.

I say this because I detect in this strident plea the desperate wish to keep our "Happy Motoring" utopia running by means other than oil and its byproducts. But the truth is that no combination of solar, wind and nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel, tar sands and used French-fry oil will allow us to power Wal-Mart, Disney World and the interstate highway system -- or even a fraction of these things -- in the future. We have to make other arrangements.

The public, and especially the mainstream media, misunderstands the "peak oil" story. It's not about running out of oil. It's about the instabilities that will shake the complex systems of daily life as soon as the global demand for oil exceeds the global supply. These systems can be listed concisely:

The way we produce food
The way we conduct commerce and trade
The way we travel
The way we occupy the land
The way we acquire and spend capital

And there are others: governance, health care, education and more.

As the world passes the all-time oil production high and watches as the price of a barrel of oil busts another record, as it did last week, these systems will run into trouble. Instability in one sector will bleed into another. Shocks to the oil markets will hurt trucking, which will slow commerce and food distribution, manufacturing and the tourist industry in a chain of cascading effects. Problems in finance will squeeze any enterprise that requires capital, including oil exploration and production, as well as government spending. These systems are all interrelated. They all face a crisis. What's more, the stress induced by the failure of these systems will only increase the wishful thinking across our nation.

And that's the worst part of our quandary: the American public's narrow focus on keeping all our cars running at any cost.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Wake up and smell the crude

They had several stories on gasoline on NPR this a.m. - in one of them a woman is saying "energy costs need to come way down." I was a little disturbed to hear this - is there anyone left who really thinks prices will ever go down significantly? People better wake up and smell the coffee, or the crude. Here's a wake up call (the first few paragraphs and a link to the rest):


June 22, 2008
NY Times
Op-Ed Columnist
Mr. Bush, Lead or Leave

Two years ago, President Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil,” and, by gosh, he was going to do something about it. Well, now he has. Now we have the new Bush energy plan: “Get more addicted to oil.”

Actually, it’s more sophisticated than that: Get Saudi Arabia, our chief oil pusher, to up our dosage for a little while and bring down the oil price just enough so the renewable energy alternatives can’t totally take off. Then try to strong arm Congress into lifting the ban on drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s as if our addict-in-chief is saying to us: “C’mon guys, you know you want a little more of the good stuff. One more hit, baby. Just one more toke on the ole oil pipe. I promise, next year, we’ll all go straight. I’ll even put a wind turbine on my presidential library. But for now, give me one more pop from that drill, please, baby. Just one more transfusion of that sweet offshore crude.”

It is hard for me to find the words to express what a massive, fraudulent, pathetic excuse for an energy policy this is.

George Carlin, RIP

Goodness, another high profile death, just when we were recovering form the last one. George was 71 - not as tragically young as Tim Russert, but certainly not a ripe old age. Larry and I saw him in concert in Philadelphia a few years ago and laughed ourselves sick. He was definitely a defining voice of my generation and he will be sorely missed.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Water water everywhere

A friend of mine had her letter published in the local paper today, regarding this AP article on bottled v. tap water.


The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Tapping a Water Trend

By Tali Arbel

Tap water is making a comeback.
[. . . ]
Cities and businesses, big to small, also have gotten in on the action. Marriott International Inc. distributed free refillable water bottles and coffee mugs to the 3,500 employees at its corporate offices in Bethesda, Md., and installed multiple water filters on every floor.

Many cities, including New York, have enacted pro-tap campaigns, and some have stopped providing disposable water bottles for government employees. Chicago started a 5-cent tax on plastic water bottles in January.

San Francisco has done away with deliveries of water jugs for office use, instead installing filters and bottle-less dispensers, and banned the purchase of single-serving bottles by city employees with municipal funds. The city already has cut its government water budget in half, said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

"It's becoming chic to say, 'Oh no, I don't drink bottled water, I'll have tap water,' " he said.

Here's a link to her letter:


Friday, June 20, 2008

Whine and cheese

This morning, I listened to Joe Scarborough say, with a straight face, that some of Obama's supporters are so "ideological and mean." He seemed puzzled and saddened by this. He either has a highly developed sense of irony or absolutely none at all - he was elected to Congress three times by supporters who could quite reasonably be described as ideological and mean. That served Scarborough's purposes just fine when the ideology was on his side, rather than his opposition. Get over yourself, Joe - conservatives play rough and just plain dirty, so don't whine when you see liberals using the same approach.


Thursday, June 19, 2008


Today is Juneteenth (a name derived from a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth), also called Freedom Day - celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation announcement in Texas. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.

As of June 2008, 28 states, and the District of Columbia, have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance, including Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Delaware, Idaho, Alaska, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Missouri, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Vermont, and North Carolina



Holding for ransom

I got steamed when I heard on Morning Joe on MSNBC that Hillary's campaign is claiming that Obama won't get her voters' support unless the two campaigns can come to an arrangement regarding help with paying Hillary's $20 MILLION plus campaign debt. I'm sure this is exactly the sort of back room dealing that goes on in politics all the time and the unseemliness of it is exactly why the average voter has no idea that it's happening. I did wonder exactly how Hillary is going to notify her supporters that she's gotten adequate pay off, er, I mean, assistance, that they are now free to vote for Obama. Doesn't seem likely somehow. Is this what's we've come to? Makes me so proud to be a Democrat (NOT!)

P.S. It's illegal for his campaign to just give money to her campaign, and asking donors to give to her when Obama's campaign, and especially the DNC, need the money, is a tough choice too:



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brainy bumper stickers


Gravity. Not just a good idea; it's the law
The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.
OK, so what's the speed of dark?
Black holes are where God divided by zero.
I once tried to microwave instant coffee, and went back in time.
2 + 2 =5 for extremely large values of 2.
I like you, but I wouldn't want to see you working with subatomic particles.
Before they invented drawing boards, what did they go back to?
Si Hoc Legere Scis, Nimium Eruditionis Habes (If you can read this, you're over educated)
When evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve!

And the ultimate:
I support teaching evolution - you can take my opposable thumb when you pry it from my cold, dead hand!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Check out The Jeff Michael Band

My friends here in Syracuse, Fran and Steve, are thrilled for their son's debut album, which got a rave review on the website Absolute Power Pop:

The Jeff Michael Band-The Other Side. Jeff Michael can best be described as a one-man Traveling Wilburys, at least the Tom Petty and George Harrison part of that supergroup. On the band's debut EP, Michael combines Petty's jangle pop and a Harrisonesque voice to fine results, with "When Will I See You Again" and "Straight Line" sounding like outtakes from the Wilburys' Volume One. The John Hiatt-ish "Enjoy The Ride" is another winner, and the EP closes with "Empty Lives", a track heavily influenced by "Tomorrow Never Knows" with its hypnotic drums and backwards guitars. As I always say with quality EPs, bring on the full length!

Monday, June 16, 2008

"The Photoshop Effect"

I came across this 5 minute video while looking for something else and it's well worth watching - Sarah from Diet.com discusses the pervasiveness of Photoshopping with several industry experts (the photographer says that 99.9% of images are Photoshopped), and has her own photos retouched.



Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hillary voters for McCain

Great column from Frank Rich in the Sunday New York Times that helps tease out the fact and the fiction in the current election narrative regarding "angry white women" who are supposedly flocking to McCain. Below are excerpts and a link to the full piece:

[ . . . ]
How heartwarming. You’d never guess that Mr. McCain is a fierce foe of abortion rights or that he voted to terminate the federal family-planning program that provides breast-cancer screenings. You’d never know that his new campaign blogger, recruited from The Weekly Standard, had shown his genuine affection for Mrs. Clinton earlier this year by portraying her as a liar and whiner and by piling on with a locker-room jeer after she’d been called a monster. “Tell us something we don’t know,” he wrote.

But while the McCain campaign apparently believes that women are easy marks for its latent feminist cross-dressing, a reality check suggests that most women can instantly identify any man who’s hitting on them for selfish ends. New polls show Mr. Obama opening up a huge lead among female voters — beating Mr. McCain by 13 percentage points in the Gallup and Rasmussen polls and by 19 points in the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey.

How huge is a 13- to 19-percentage-point lead? John Kerry won women by only 3 points, Al Gore by 11.
[. . . ]
The fictional scenario of mobs of crazed women defecting to Mr. McCain is just one subplot of the master narrative that has consumed our politics for months. The larger plot has it that the Democratic Party is hopelessly divided, and that only a ticket containing Mrs. Clinton in either slot could retain the loyalty of white male bowlers and other constituencies who tended to prefer her to Mr. Obama in the primaries.

This is reality turned upside down. It’s the Democrats who are largely united and the Republicans who are at one another’s throats.
[ . . . ]
There are many ways that Mr. Obama can lose this election. But his 6-percentage-point lead in the Journal-NBC poll is higher than Mr. Bush’s biggest lead (4 points) over Mr. Kerry at any point in that same poll in 2004. So far, despite all the chatter to the contrary, Mr. Obama is not only holding on to Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic constituencies but expanding others (like African-Americans). The same cannot be said of Mr. McCain and the G.O.P. base.

That story is minimized or ignored in part because an unshakable McCain fan club lingers in some press quarters and in part because it’s an embarrassing refutation of the Democrats-in-meltdown narrative that so many have invested in. Understating the splintering of the Republican base also keeps hope alive for a tight race. As the Clinton-Obama marathon proved conclusively, a photo finish is essential to the dramatic and Nielsen imperatives of 24/7 television coverage.
[ . . . ]
The ludicrous idea that votes from Clinton supporters would somehow make up for McCain defectors is merely the latest fairy tale brought to you by those same Washington soothsayers who said Fred Thompson was the man to beat and that young people don’t turn up to vote.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pitiful parables

My stepson, who just turned 18 and will be voting for the first time in the November election, sent me the email below - his grandmother had forwarded it to him, complete with a ringing endorsement. It annoyed me, so I felt compelled to write a long, intellectual response. But seriously, he's at a critical phase in the development of his political perspective, so I thought I was obligated to put this fairy tale into some kind of context.

There was a Chemistry professor was asked this question by a foreign student in his class, "Do you know how to catch wild pigs?" [There is a long explanation of putting out free corn and trapping the pigs] . . . soon they go back to eating the free corn. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in thewoods for themselves, so they accept their captivity. The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening to America . The government keeps pushing us toward socialism and keeps spreading the free corn out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tobacco subsidies, dairy subsidies, payments not to plant crops (CRP), welfare, medicine, drugs, etc. while we continually lose our freedoms - just a little at a time. [It goes on and on like this.]

[Her endorsement] How profound and true . . . Here is something to think about in this time of electioneering when every candidate seems to be trying to "out give" his/her opponent.

MY RESPONSE [Rich will love this!]:

This parable is incredibly out of date. Maybe this rang true to some extent in the 1960s or 1970s, but whatever socialistic tendencies America had have been gone for at least 2 decades. The prescription drug benefit for seniors is the first new government program in almost 30 years. What "free lunch" can anyone point to in America? We don't get our heathcare from the government, many people use alternatives to public education, at both the elem-secondary levels and for college, while Social Security is a safety net of sorts, no one depends completely on it for their retirement.

In America, quite the opposite is true - ever since Reagan was elected in 1980, the government has provided less and less. Bush has continued in this tradition - many government agencies have been actively reduced or just allowed to languish. Think FEMA. Think EPA. Think FDA (food inspection). Even medical research gets much less government funding now compared with 20 or 30 years ago - it's all paid for with private money. This story may appeal on some emotional level, but it doesn't match reality at all.

As for candidates trying to "out give" each other - that doesn't match reality either. Maybe 20 years ago, but the political narrative in this country now is "do for yourself" and "get government out of it." Look at the phenomenon of Ron Paul's candidacy - he's a libertarian, who wants the government to be involved in nothing but defense of the nation, and "average" people just love him.

What is the purpose of government? This is a question that people must answer when deciding who to vote for and deciding what role they think the government should take in the major concerns of the day. Should the government help control gas prices? What do all those people who support Ron Paul say about that? Should the government raise the fuel efficiency standards on cars so that automakers are forced to build cars that get better gas mileage? Should the government protect wildlife areas from commercial development? Should the government force schools to close if they don't meeting certain testing standards? Should the government provide healthcare for people who can't afford it? Should the government provide subsidized student loans to make it easier to go to college? Should the government provide tax breaks or subsidies to farmers to make certain foods more available and more affordable? Should the government provide emergency help for people when disaster strikes? Are these things the "free lunch" that this parable is talking about? Instead of relying on sound bites, everyone needs to think about what they want their government to do and what they think government should not be involved in. It's more complicated than it looks!


Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert, RIP

Wow, we're all in shock. 58 years young - such a waste. What will the presidential campaign be without him? Unimaginable. And who can replace him on Meet the Press? Unthinkable.


Completely by accident I watched the Tim Russert memorial service on MSNBC Wednesday night. This link has a brief story with some highlights, and you can watch the complete service online [long time friends Mike Barnicle and Maria Shriver were especially great].



I'd been wondering about his heart attack. Here's a good article about how an asymptomatic person can die suddenly:

[ . . . ]
About 920,000 Americans have a heart attack each year and 38 percent are fatal, according to the American Heart Association. Half of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms.

Despite impressive advances in preventing and treating heart disease, experts say there's no easy way to know which patients are going to have a heart attack and which aren't. Most heart attacks occur when fatty deposits in the arteries rupture and a clot forms.

The goal of preventive measures is to stabilize the plaque and prevent a rupture, or to prevent a dangerous clot from developing if the plaque does burst open.

Steinbaum said patients have difficulty understanding how someone can have a normal stress test like Russert, and then have a heart attack later. She said Russert apparently didn't have enough blockage when he had a stress test in April to indicate any problems. The test shows how the heart reacts to exertion and whether there's adequate blood flow to the heart. "A stress test is important for us to assess how well the heart is functioning, but it doesn't give you a bye." said Steinbaum.

Not all heart attacks result in the heart suddenly stopping, as in Russert's case. Dr. Paul Wang of Stanford School of Medicine said only a small percentage lead to cardiac arrest, and it's not clear why, although the size of the heart attack can be a factor.

"This is far from uncommon though, unfortunately," he said. "There's still a substantial number of people who do have cardiac arrest," after a heart attack.

Few people survive a sudden cardiac arrest; a prompt shock from a defibrillator is needed to restore a normal heartbeat. Wang said the Russert case highlights the need for workplaces to prepare for a cardiac arrest, just as they plan for fire drills.

But not everyone can be saved. Russert's doctor said on CNN that efforts to revive him began immediately and paramedics shocked his heart three times before reaching the hospital.

McCain and Obama

I got into an email discussion with a moderately liberal friend from Philadelphia named Mike, and ended up writing a lengthy treatise regarding the candidates, so I'm including it here:

There is NO WAY that Wright or Sharpton will have anything to do with an Obama administration. McCain has JUST as many questionable people within his circle, and goodness knows, Bush has had some very odd associations over the years. It's not fair to judge the candidate by the wacky stuff that people they know say and do.

I also don't think it's fair to judge Wright based on 30 seconds worth of rhetoric cherry picked from a long and respected career. He was a major positive force in his (very troubled) community for DECADES, and THAT'S why Obama went to his church. Wright did more good for more people in his lifetime than 50 average people have done. I don't think Obama's association with Wright reflects poorly on him at all - quite the opposite. I think it's a damn shame that a few intemperate remarks can overshadow a person's lifetime of devoted accomplishment.

And McCain has said some pretty, er, interesting stuff over the years - check it out (he called his wife a cunt in public, for one).

Just for the record, I'm not a single issue voter AT ALL, but McCain's position on abortion is a deal breaker for me - he's not even moderate or on the fence. I MIGHT make allowances (like I did for, say, Casey, when he ran for governor), if his positions on other issues were fantastic, but they're not.

Bottom line, I think McCain would be bad for this country. Despite making a show of being moderate, his policy positions are quite conservative - why doesn't he embrace this instead of trying to obscure it? Sure, he's out of step with conservative dogma in a few places, like immigration policy, but otherwise, he is a very run-of-the-mill Republican.

Perhaps more troubling to me - he has a reputation as a hot-headed person who has alienated a lot of his colleagues in the Senate - you can easily read about it. Obama may be "inexperienced" but at least he's unlikely to fly off the handle the first time someone disagrees with him. Which is more important?


He has made a big show of crusading against soft money, but that was based less on principles than it was a strategic necessity after the Keating Scandal, which almost ended his career. His campaign is suffused with lobbyists, just like every other politician's. SAYING you're against soft money is not the same as actually being against soft money.

I also think he has picked some odd advisors, like Phil Gramm (and check out McCain's own Karl Rove, Charles Black - he's an interesting dude).

He has a strange attitude about war and foreign policy, based on his experiences in Viet Nam - there was a Newsweek piece that covered this in detail.

Look, I grew up in Arizona, my brother was an intern with McCain when he (my brother) was in law school (back in the 1990s), because McCain was on the Native American Affairs Committee (after law school, my brother worked for the Apache tribe in Arizona before becoming a public defender in Tucson). I don't think McCain is a bad person, but I don't think he'd be a great president. I think we've had a tough guy in the office for 8 years, and maybe it's time to let a cooler, more diplomatically-oriented person have a shot. That's my thinking anyway.

And Obama has no less foreign policy experience than Bill Clinton had when he was elected, so I find that argument to be unconvincing and sort of odd.

I may be a knee-jerk liberal, but I like to think that I'm a very well-informed knee-jerk liberal. I read a LOT, from a lot of different sources - I pride myself on knowing a lot more about the people and the issues than what is generally presented on the 11 o'clock news, or even on the average cable news show. I don't make election decisions lightly, in fact, I take it ridiculously seriously, and I find the selection process to be shockingly shallow. If more people knew more about the things that mattered, we have better leaders, period.


More sad news

I can hardly stand to even hear about this story. I can't even imagine how devastated these parents must be. You send your child off to the most innocuous place in the world - boy scout summer camp, and now you're making arrangements for a funeral.

At least 4 killed as tornado hits Iowa Boy Scout camp
BLENCOE, Iowa — Iowa rescue workers cut through downed branches and dug through debris amid rain and lightning Wednesday night to reach the camp where the 93 boys, ages 13 to 18, had huddled for safety through the twister. They and 25 staff members were attending a weeklong leadership training camp.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Take the Bush McCain quiz"

More fun video - this is a 30-second spot with John Cusack (he donated his time):


The Forbes 100 List

Forbes released it's list of top celebrities, based on their media coverage, as well as what they're paid. Below is the top 20, see the complete list:


In their video report they note that actors and musicians are up, while athletes are down (only Tiger Woods made the top 10). They also discuss models, comedians (e.g., Jim Carrey fell off the list for the first time in years), and the rankings of bad girls (e.g., Paris Hilton) vs good girls (e.g., Hillary Duff).

I was surprised that Madonna was so high - #3 and that Tom Cruise is still in the top 10. And notice that Brad Pitt is #5 but Angelina's way down at #14 (that must be based on money, because it seems like she's in the news a lot more than him).

1 Oprah Winfrey
2 Tiger Woods
3 Madonna
4 Rolling Stones
5 Brad Pitt
6 Johnny Depp
7 Elton John
8 Tom Cruise
9 Jay-Z
10 Steven Spielberg
11 Tom Hanks
12 Grey's Anatomy cast
13 Howard Stern
14 Angelina Jolie
15 David Beckham
16 Phil Mickelson
17 David Letterman
18 Bon Jovi
19 Donald Trump
20 Celine Dion

"Obama's baby mama"

I missed this - my friend Mary alerted me. It's so ridiculous, and it's not even accurate (the phrase refers to people who have children together but who aren't married):


Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Fox News calls Michelle Obama "Obama's baby mama"

An alert reader wrote in just a little while ago to let us know about something he'd spotted on Fox News Wednesday afternoon. During a segment discussing conservative attacks against Michelle Obama, the wife of presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama, the network described the former as "Obama's baby mama."

. . . In fact, that description was displayed on screen several times during the segment, which featured anchor Megyn Kelly and conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, an FNC contributor.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sexism and the presidential race

I got the following message from my friend Mary today. Below it is my response.

Ever since I saw Hillary give her speech on Saturday, I've been wondering if I made the wrong choice and whether sexism did play a larger part in her loss than I had previously acknowledged. I had tears in my eyes as I realized my first (but I hope not last) chance to vote for a woman for president had dissolved.

Wow, I just don't look at it that way. I'm 45 - I've got a few presidential elections yet. I truly believe that someone will emerge as a viable female candidate, someone we probably don't even know about yet. Look at Obama - who would have thought that the first viable A-A candidate would be someone like him, instead of one of the many black politicians who have been around for years? I ended up being pretty pissed at Hillary - I thought she did some dirty stuff. Of course there's sexism and of course she was held to a different standard. But we knew that already.


Here's an interesting prediction that I stumbled on while looking for something else:


"I'm voting Republican"

This 3 minute video is hilarious and brilliant - political satire at it's very best. I got the link from my friend Mary.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Toddler dies of drug overdose

I heard this story on the news last night and went online to get the details. Sadly, this happens regularly - in Texas in 1995 and in Maine last fall, and both those children were even younger than this one.


Autopsy: Toddler died from overdose of cocaine, Oxycontin

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A South Florida mother is charged with child neglect causing death after an autopsy found that her 21-month-old son died of a cocaine and Oxycontin overdose.

Darius Clark died April 21. His mother was charged Thursday after the autopsy showed the toddler had drugs in his system. A judge released her Friday on house arrest.

Riviera Beach Police Sergeant Patrick Galligan says the drugs were “strong enough to kill an adult.”


Monday, June 09, 2008

Joshua Generation Project

As a member of a minority religion in America (and in the world!), I am deeply suspicious of any collaboration between Christianity and politics. However, I can't feel anything but hopeful about Obama's outreach to young evangelicals and Catholics:



Sunday, June 08, 2008


For some reason, I've gotten Kanye West's song, Stronger, stuck in my head lately, even though it was released last summer. The first line is a slight paraphrase of Friedrich Nietzsche's most famous statement ("what doesn't kill me makes me stronger"). So I've listened to the song over and over, and since I couldn't really understand all the lyrics, I looked them up. Turns out that this song, which starts with a profound philosophical statement, is mostly about having sex, with a few lines about Kanye's appearance at a fashion show:

Awesome, the Christian in Christian Dior
Damn they don't make 'em like this anymore
I ask, cause I'm not sure:
Do anybody make real shit anymore?
Bow in the presence of greatness
Cause right now Thou has forsaken us
That I would even show up to this fake shit
So go ahead go nuts, go ape shit
Specially in my pastel and my Bape shit
[refers to Bathing Ape - a Japanese clothing line]
Act like you can't tell who made this
New gospel, homey, take six
And take this, haters

Kanye is an important pop culture voice, so it's a shame that he decided not to make this (incredibly catchy) song about something larger. Of course it's hard to find a rhyme for "Nietzsche."

To listen to the uncensored version (which doesn't blank out the curse words):


I love the photo above, of him in his "shutter shades" in the video.

<= This is another cool image from the video.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Sexism and the City"

Even if you don't care about the movie, this commentary on why men are so determined to bash it is a fun read. Below is the first few paragraphs and a link to the full article.


Jun 3, 2008
Sexism and the City
Ramin Setoodeh

What's up with this vicious bashing of the 'Sex and the City' movie?

"Sex and the City" the movie has done so well at the box office already it's hard not to get carried away. It opened with $56.8 million last weekend, the highest-grossing debut ever for a movie starring women. It's also the first tent-pole blockbuster to rest squarely on a female demographic—85 percent of the audience on opening night, according to a studio estimate. As I wandered into a Manhattan theater on Saturday, crowds of women swarmed and sat in a long hallway, as if they were waiting to pick up the next Harry Potter book. A door opened and out popped a group of newly Sexed fans, who left a screening misty-eyed and jubilant, deeply satisfied to have spent 145 minutes with some old pals.

"Sex and the City" the TV series was a revolution, yadda yadda, because it was one of the rare forms of entertainment that showed women in the flesh (and flesh), with all their vulnerabilities, anxieties and intelligence. But when you listen to men talk about it (and this is coming from the perspective of a male writer), a strange thing happens. The talk turns hateful. Angry. Vengeful. Annoyed. It's not just that they don't want to accompany their significant others to the movie. How dare Carrie and her girls hijack the box office during a time when the Hulk, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the good old boys of the summer usually rule?

Is this just poor sportsmanship? I can't help but wonder—cue the Carrie Bradshaw voiceover here—if it's not a case of "Sexism in the City." Men hated the movie before it even opened. They flooded www.imdb.com, voting early and often, so that the movie would have a low rating of 3 out of 10 among users before Friday (although now that number is higher, at 4.8). Movie critics, an overwhelmingly male demographic, gave it such a nasty tongue lashing you would have thought they were talking about an ex-girlfriend. "Sex" mustered a 54 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com, compared to the 77 percent fresh for the snoozefest that was "Indiana Jones" (a boy's movie! Such harmless fun!).

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Why men have nipples

My friend Janet sent me this, which is so coincidental, because we had this conversation at our house just the other day! This piece is short and explained it well - all humans start out female!

As an aside, I wonder why Harrison Ford is wearing a manzier (discussed in the article) - he's not that well-endowed. I wonder if the real purpose is to keep your nipples from showing (maybe nipples aren't considered manly). Hmmm. (I really didn't need to have this thought bouncing around in my head!)


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Proof of McCain's "character"

Here's a quite unflattering history of McCain's first marriage. Surprising to find that Ross Perot figures prominently in this story.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The fist bump heard 'round the world

The media is apparently obsessed with the fist bump that Michelle Obama gave her husband on the stage when he made his first speech as the presumptive Democratic nominee on Tuesday.

And Fox News couldn't resist taking advantage of the opportunity to yet again imply that there's something not right about Obama, by referring to the gesture as a "terrorist fist bump." Seriously.

They also suggested that a pat on the back is the only acceptable public gesture, but Bush is famous for using all sorts of weird body contact, including patting people on the head and lately, the chest bump (at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony). Fox, of course, didn't bother to comment on this. [Note - I have no problem with this at all, I'm just annoyed that Fox is selective in their criticism.]


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Can't we just get on with it?

Thank goodness today is the last damn Democratic primary!


It's not over til it's over. Obama finally got enough delegates, and made a wonderful speech, but Clinton just won't let it go.

Monday, June 02, 2008

What we're helping to build in Iraq

This made me super mad. I watch tons of cable news and I have to hear endlessly about Obama's bowling score and other pointless crap, but I never heard ONE WORD about this on any show purportedly devoted to "real" news. Basically, the upcoming provincial elections in Basra (where 90% of Iraq's oil comes from) are being manipulated to ensure a victory by Shiite candidates who will facilitate, are you ready for it, unfettered investment by foreign oil companies. So what, you say. Well, the local population is getting pretty disgusted because despite all this political maneuvering, they still have no decent sewage service or garbage collection. It's well worth listening to this 5 minute report.


Morning Edition
June 2, 2008
Political Squabbling Stalls Elections in Iraq
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
Provincial elections are expected to take place this fall in Iraq, and nowhere is more contested than Basra. The oil port city is considered a major prize by many political parties. The recent Iraqi Army offensive in Basra, which was ordered by the government, has had political ramifications. Rival parties like the Sadrists accuse the Iraqi prime minister of using the fight in Basra for political gain.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer TV is not a complete wasteland

Mad Men (on AMC) will be back on July 27th - hallelujah! I can't wait!!!


Mad Men is so damn good that I'm considering checking out another period program - Swingtown, set in the 1970s, which is more of a character-driven drama than the soft core porn fest that it's been positioned as. On CBS no less.


And I thoroughly enjoyed the new show on USA, In Plain Sight, with Mary McCormack, who freakin' ROCKS as a Federal Marshall who works for the witness protection program. It's certainly formulaic, copying the basic format that cable programs apply to shows about women (see Saving Grace, The Closer, both on TNT) - good at her job, miserable in her personal life. But the show is witty and fast paced, and Officer Mary Shannon takes absolutely no shit from anyone and looks completely credibly doing it. It's not as surreal as Grace and not as grim as The Closer - seems to fit my tastes much better than those. And ya gotta love the strong secondary characters, played by actors like Fred Weller and Paul Ben-Victor (recognizable, but you don't know from where), and the highlight - Leslie Anne Warren as Mary's loopy mother, Jinx. (The show also features delicious Chilean soap star Cristian de la Fuenta, who had American audiences swooning this spring when he appeared on the 6th season of Dancing with the Stars, where, despite tearing a tendon in his arm, he made it to 3rd place with his dancing partner Cheryl Burke.)


Funny t-shirt

It certainly says something about me that I find this quite funny. Of course it's probably an old joke, just proving that I'm always late to the party. It's one of the milder offerings at this website: http://www.tshirthell.com/hell_bm_only.htm