Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

English Pronounciation

Author unknown (credit to thb for turning it up).

Multi-national personnel at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language ... until they tried to pronounce it. To help them discard an array of accents, the verses below were devised. After trying them, a Frenchman said he'd prefer six months at hard labor to reading six lines aloud. Try them yourself.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sleeve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!

Monday, November 24, 2008

"deliberative democracy"

...a conversation among adults who listen to one another, who attempt to persuade one another by means of argument and evidence, and who remain open to the possibility that they could be wrong.
--George Packer

Think calmly and well, upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prop 8 Fallout: Maine Clergy Back Same-sex Marriage

The fall-out from the California Prop-8 battle continues, and not all of it is bad news.

The "mainline" Protestant denominations have largely trended with progressive values for years. This progress has not come without rupture and hard words, but it has continued nevertheless. What has often been missing from the mainline, however, is a willingness to elbow their way to a seat at the table of public discourse.

As a result, the far right of the religious community has been allowed (and encouraged) to define the "faithful" positions on many questions. Most notably, their flag has flown in the face of equal rights for gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgendered citizens.

Following the passage of Prop 8 in California, some mainstream clergy are finally beginning to take a more assertive approach:
Religious leaders across the state held news conferences Thursday to urge Mainers to end marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian couples and called for the state to create same-sex civil marriages.

While this clearly isn't the same as privately conspiring with the Catholic Church and encouraging all your Mormon brethren to bankroll discriminatory legislation, it represents a big step for groups who have preferred to fly low on the radar. In part, this was out of sensitivity to their membership, many of whom have struggled to expand their personal understanding of their closely held faith.
...more than 120 religious leaders from 14 different faith traditions across Maine have formed the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine. The coalition, [Presbyterian Rev. Marvin Ellison] said, is not a political action committee, but a group of clergy acting as individuals to raise awareness about the issue of same-sex marriage.

Ministers who joined the coalition signed a declaration. They agreed to “commit ourselves to public action, visibility, education, and mutual support in the service of the right and freedom to marry.”
"Visibility" is the big missing piece in mainline churches' effort to promote respect, understanding and equality in this struggle for rights.

If you agree that homosexuality, lesbianism, or gender difference or ambiguity (or disambiguity as the case may be) are inherent -- as most educated people do -- then this is very clearly an issue of civil rights. These faith communities are gradually coming to the understanding that advocacy and visibility on these questions is every bit as compelled as their support for the civil rights movement of the 60's and 70's, which focused on race and, latterly, sex.

Some tentative steps had been taken already. The UCC launched a publicity campaign for their beliefs entitled "God is still speaking," encouraging a fresh and renewing approach to faith and famously featuring television commercials that cleverly showcased a message of inclusion.

The Ejector:

The Steeples ("All the People")

The Bouncers

This campaign was famously banned by the traditional media.

The creation of this coalition seems to indicate that, at least in Maine, mainline churches now recognize that on a question of theology, the Right has made their religion a public policy. If, as they profess, the mainline stands for the oppressed, they must speak out.

This is one small, but important, step in that direction.

Maine law does state that marriage is between a man and a woman. Our constitution remains, for the moment, unstained.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland would oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine, Marc Mutty, director of the Office of Public Affairs, said Thursday after the press conference.

The Family Policy Council of Maine, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine, also has said it would be “working to defend marriage.” Executive Director Michael Heath announced in September that opponents of gay marriage were forming a group called Marriage Alliance. It would work to amend Maine’s constitution, according to information posted on the council’s Web site.
The Christian Civic League has become a punchline here in Maine. Mainers have consistently refused to legislate hate, and a petition drive they attempted last year had to be scrapped because there just wasn't any money out there to support it.

The Catholic Church, however, is becoming (has become?) an embarrassing case.

Clergy who appeared at the press conference in Bangor represented the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Church. Both denominations, along with Reform Judaism, allow the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.

The list of clergy who support the coalition, however, includes ministers in the United Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations that continue to debate the issues of gay marriage and the role of gay clergy on national and international levels.

The declaration stated that the signers respected the fact that debate and discussion would continue in many of their religious communities concerning the theological and ethical issues of marriage. It also said that members of the coalition supported the right of all religious communities to make their own decisions about whom to marry within their faith traditions.

“We draw on our diverse religious traditions to arrive at a common conviction — the state of Maine should allow same-sex couples to share fully and equally in the legal institution of marriage and do all that it can to eradicate current discrimination and the lingering effects of past discrimination against our lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters,” the declaration continued.

Taking this stance reflects a distinctly mature approach to living (and hold a faith) in a pluralistic society. It separates the health and righteousness of the civic body from the integrity of a given body of faith. It acknowledges that we differ, and will continue to differ, on issues of moral theology (and, dare I say, science), but that equality in civil society does not permit the enforcement of only one creed. Down that road lies religious war. Down that road lies theocracy. Down that road lies the Taliban (if I need be so blunt).

Of course, if you believe you have the one, true, faith, this approach is anathema.

One wonders: If the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church of LDS both got substantially what they wanted, how long would it take before they were at each other's throat?

“I don’t think [the coalition] represents a great majority of the religious community in Maine,” Mutty said. “They represent marriage as a civil right and believe that anyone that meets certain criteria should be able to marry.

“Marriage is the building block of society and includes procreation,” Mutty continued. “Without procreation — and same sex couples can’t — they’re missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle. The argument is not any more complicated than that.”
Marriage, sanctioned by the state, is a civil right, Mark. Whatever you want to recognize within the walls of the Church is up to you.

I'm not even going to touch the weak "procreation" argument, which would disqualify thousands of hetero men and women from marriage.

Marriage should be dropped from the law altogether, in my opinion. The contractual, financial and privacy privileges which the state sees fit to confer on that arrangement between consenting adults should be available to everyone interested. If we see fit to qualify eligibility with a legal pledge of "love and support" or something similar, that seems fine to me. It would promote the social benefits of joining people together in small mutual enterprises and help glue the community together. But the definition of "marriage" as a spiritual state could easily be left to individual congregations.

It's their institution, after all.

“I have seen many loving, committed couples in my life,” the Rev. Becky Gunn, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, said at the press conference. “Some choose to marry, some do not. But there are those who would choose to marry that are not currently allowed to marry. These same-sex couples do not have the same civil rights as married heterosexual couples. This is ethically and morally untenable.”


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just a few more days.

The results will soon be in. Please get out and do what you can to help.

On this end, I'll be in New Hampshire for the weekend canvassing in CD#2. On the 1st and the 2nd, I'll be GOTV in Maine, wherever they choose to send me. Just give me one shift. Get to your local office and offer to do something for a few hours this weekend. Go to this website, enter your zip code, and find something to do.

It's a bitch, this democracy racket. It only works if you do.

In other, much less important, news, the Patriots renew their rivalry with the hated Colts of Indianapolis on Sunday. These two storied franchises are struggling through similarly frustrating seasons. The fact that they're not on the top of their respective games has caused a minor detente among the fan bases -- something like Adams and Jefferson, bitter rivals who in the end realized they only had each other. Except not as vital to our country. Nor as touching.

In that spirit, Pats Pulpit, the Patriot fansite I occasionally write for, is exchanging blogging privileges with Stampede Blue, internet home of Colts faithful. My contribution is a feature on Patriots' stalwart, Kevin Faulk.

I've been enjoying writing about the Pats. It's a hell of a lot less stressful than contemplating the possibility of President McCain and Vice President Palin.

I just puked in my mouth a little.

Which is exactly why I'm going out from 11/1 through 11/4. And why you should, also.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

A new conservatism?

The Public Servant has a very interesting piece up on a prospective Obama administration's 1st 100 days, titled "Rounding Third." It's a good piece, and I recommend treating yourself to its entirety. It contains this central thesis about the goals of that potential government during its first 3 or so months:
The point is to change the country in a way that will command the support of a large majority of the public before the general cynicism about government takes root.
I might modify that somewhat: The point is to hold the general cynicism about government at bay long enough to pull its teeth by fundamentally reinventing government, in practice first and then in the eyes of the people. Public Servant gets all that--I just wanted to take that extra cut for my readers, here.

I agree. This will be very interesting (provided the outcome we both wish for arrives). I don't know what BHO has in mind, of course, and the rather bold call that PS and I would make might not be on his radar at all (though the circumstances beg for original, unconventional approaches). But I've been thinking a lot lately about the need for a new, robustly intellectual conservatism. The more I think about it, the more I think that that might be just what Obama represents.

Certainly, many of his policies ring bells that 20th century conservatives would label as "liberal" (and really what I think we have in the GoP today is the rump party of 20th century conservatism, with all the real conservatives sucked out of it). But his pursuit of those policies is very measured and based on sober historical and factual analysis.

This is also to say that what was once conservative policy is now obsolete, and the new conservatism of the 21st century may very well represent a much more pragmatic cross-breeding of progressive sensibility with conservative procedure. Government will be pared back, but not to the quick, not to Norquist's bathtub-ready shrimp. It will be pared back to a purpose: the commonweal, as defined by the progressive dictum to protect the weak from the strong, the power-less from the powerful, and to secure an equitable starting gate for all citizens regardless of wealth.

I recognize that that's highly ideal, of course. But what are mission statements if not ideal? I also recognize the dissonance in claiming simultaneously that we need a dramatic shift in the nature of government and that that shift will be to a new conservatisim (a clear-cut oxymoron). So sue me.

I hope to come back to this and develop it a bit. This is a first cut, but I'd be interested to hear what you all think. What is conservatism, to you? My judgment is that the GoP is an intellectual desert right now; do you agree? I also see Obama proceeding very conservatively, in the classic sense.

Let's chat.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ivan is laughing at you.

And I am laughing at him:

Harrison out, maybe forever.

I got the chance to attend a Monday Night Football game this week and had a blast. The view from the upper deck is, well, "all-encompassing" might be the best way to put it. We had a great time, but we might also have seen the last game played by 15-year NFL veteran Rodney Harrison. Here is a link to a piece I wrote on that for Pats Pulpit.

If you love football (or are reluctantly engrossed by it), you know he was archetypal. If that was his last play, to go down in the fight and be carted from the field was probably the only way for it to happen. Like Cool Hand Luke, he would never have stopped on his own.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I agree with John McCain.

As a former resident of Western Pennsylvania, I couldn't have said it better myself:

I'd also like to note that practically every time I do a post on McCain, I feel somehow compelled to use my "general asshattery" tag. It's not exclusive to him, of course, but he does seem to drive that phrase into mind.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The next time Putin rears up his head to peek into Alaska,

ask him if he can spare some change:
Russia's permanent mission to the UN has received a letter from U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain asking for financial support of his election campaign, the mission said in a statement on Monday.

"We have received a letter from Senator John McCain with a request for a financial donation to his presidential election campaign. In this respect we have to reiterate that neither Russia's permanent mission to the UN nor the Russian government or its officials finance political activities in foreign countries," the statement said.

According to Ruslan Bakhtin, press secretary of the Russian mission, the letter dated September 29 and signed by McCain, was addressed to Vitaly Churkin, Russia's envoy to the UN, and arrived on October 16.

The ambassador's title was not included in the letter, and was not clear why the letter had taken over two weeks to arrive.

Enclosed was a request for a donation of up to $5,000 to McCain's election campaign to be returned with a check or permission to withdraw the money from the donor's credit card until October 24.

Individual donations to candidates' election campaigns are capped by law at $2,300, and it is illegal to accept donations from foreign nationals.
Click on the title of the post for a link to the story. Predicted McCain camp reaction: "The Russian Information Agency has planted a despicable lie about Senator McCain. It is unsurprising that Barack Hussein Obama has the support of socialists and Communists around the world, who will do anything to see he is elected. Obviously, that includes lying about John McCain, a decorated war hero and former POW."

This comes via Politico, which has a link to the letter. Ben Smith, Politico's author, claims the story was confirmed by embassy press secretary Ruslan Bakhtin, but the link to the embassy-provided release also includes a link to the letter itself. That downloads as an unprotected word document, though it does read like a standard campaign solicitation.

True or not, it does fit the rightwing pattern: Accuse your opponent of the very malfeasance you yourself are currently perpetrating. While the crowd surrounds the newly-minted suspect, you walk away with the loot. Winger TV does this all the time--keeping people so busy looking for liberal bias in the media that they have no idea how viciously they're being spun.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Stretch Run: Canvassing NH for Obama

click on pictures for larger images

I do not like making phone calls. I do not like meeting new people. I don't like bothering strangers. I take rejection personally.

I am not a natural canvasser.

Ian, my friend, knows this. But he also knows how to motivate me. When he called to ask me to canvass New Hampshire with him for a day he said, "I don't really want to do it either, but if John McCain wins the Presidency and there was something I could have done about it, and I didn't, I don't think I could live with myself."

So that's how I found myself in Portsmouth, New Hampshire today, standing among a group of 40 strangers and listening to a young woman give me my marching orders. She is the Field Organizer for Obama's Portsmouth office, and she knows exactly what she needs from us.

Speaking to us like adults (which we were--I estimate the average age of that morning's group at around 44), Ellen gave us our territory, and clipboards with a list of contact names on it. "Be polite, be energetic. Do not engage in a debate. Get contact information if you can, and be sure to leave literature with everyone who wants it and at every door where no one is home. Be upbeat, polite and energetic: you are the face of this campaign."
Staff at work, 6:30pm. We were late.

Canvassing right now is about data gathering -- not persuasion. At least not if you walk in off the street like we did. The lists are targeted. Everyone in the packet of addresses they give you is either undecided or as yet un-contacted. Our job was very simple: find out what they're thinking. Everyone we met would be graded on a continuum of Obama, Leaning Obama, Undecided, Leaning McCain, McCain.

Honestly, it was a bit refreshing. So late in the game, it's not like the candidates need an introduction. It opened the door to a few long conversations and it kept encounters with those who had decided to vote McCain very short and sweet. And even occasionally polite.

Ian and I were sent to Rye. (I wish I had a rhyme to follow that.) We counted ourselves very lucky--this stretch of US Route 1A runs right along the shingle of the coast, and it has been perhaps the most beautiful fall I can remember.

The homes in our territory were spread relatively far apart--not least because we weren't going to visit every house in the neighborhood, just a subset of a subset. Some were very clearly monuments to wealth. Others were small; some few of the old capes that have escaped trophy-hunting renovators, some 60's era single-level bungalows. A scattering of condos converted from beach houses. It took us about 5 hours to knock on about 30 doors. Many people were not home, most conversations were short. But occasionally we met someone who wanted to talk.

We met Lorraine, mowing her lawn on this beautiful day. She was looking forward to voting for Obama very much. In her 70's, she and her husband had lived in the same house for 46 years, watching this once quiet stretch of New Hampshire's coast gradually become busier and wealthier. We met another woman with a houseful of five independents and a Republican mater familias, all of whom will be voting for the Democrat this year. She was pensive, but hopeful.

Worth noting: This campaign is explicitly working for down-ticket races as well. When we queried people about their preferences for president, we also asked about Jeanne Shaheen in the Senate race and Carol Shea-Porter for the House. Obama is clearly seeking to lengthen his coattails if his bid is successful.

Our area seemed roughly 60-40 for Obama, but many of the people we spoke with claimed to still be making up their minds. This boggles me, as I can't remember or come up with two candidates less like one another in modern Presidential history. Ian's take was that anyone still thinking about it would in other years have been a McCain lock. My feeling is more along the line that if you were once a McCain lock, or you're really still undecided because they seem so similar to you, you have the same issue: brain freeze.

But there was one guy who sticks with me. He was pleased that we knocked on his door. He wasn't sure who he wanted to vote for. He'd seen Powell's endorsement this morning. To me he felt genuinely worried, afflicted by the times he found himself living through, a little adrift. His wife couldn't come to the door--she has MS. Did we think Obama would be ok? Yes, we did. Did we see that Powell had endorsed him? We had. "A lot of people think of Colin Powell as a truthful, trustworthy man," I offered. He agreed--it was a good sign, he felt. Would he take an absentee ballot for his wife? He would. Perhaps some literature, with information about Obama's plan for healthcare? Yes, and thank you. He shook our hands.

I've been thinking about him since. He was in his early 70s, but could have been anywhere between there and 55. The older I get, the younger my elders seem. He looked like he could have been my Dad's age. A wife with late-onset MS. A small house with a new ramp to the door. And a clear worry. Thinking about him now, I almost feel like he was frozen -- petrified, really. I don't know if that's fair, but it was the feeling I got from him; as if the next move he made would either set his world safely down or shatter it beyond redemption or repair.

Does any President have an answer for that man? I don't know.

In all, it was a very good day. I strongly encourage you to do this, if you have any free time. Take this Saturday or Sunday. There is a very limited amount of time left to keep our country from going completely off a cliff and there is a very specific thing you can do to stop that. Contact your local office and put in some time.

It's easy--even for the antisocial.

How will you feel on November 5th if McCain wins, and you did nothing to prevent it?

Fried lunch. Yum.

When we came back, the car was still there, but the board was gone. Way, way down the surf line you could see this guy paddling out. We don't stop up here just 'cause it's cold. It's always cold. In fact, the water is probably warmer now than it was in May. Not that I verified that for myself, you understand.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hi Mom!

The roles are finally reversed: Now it's my Mom who asks the one-line questions that lead to long answers:
What do you know about the allegations relating to Ayers and the real estate guy? I have a friend who wants to vote for Obama but is a little uncomfortable with the things he's heard. Love, Mom.
Well, mom, here's what I know:

Bill Ayers: Ayers was a true 60's radical. He was prominent in the SDS, and followed his convictions to the extreme, eventually coming to the conclusion that the government's actions in Vietnam needed to be stopped and that the only language the Gov't would understand was violence. This conviction led to a schism with the SDS leading to the formation of the "Weather Underground." Ayers was co-founder.

During his time as a leader of the WU, Ayers participated in many street fights with the police and later in at least 3 bombings of US government buildings: the NYC polic headquarters building, the US Capitol and the Pentagon. No one was hurt in any of the bombings, though a water leak caused in the pentagon indicident did halt hight altitude bombing in Vietnam for 2 weeks.

Ayers had decided to turn himself in in the late '70s, but his wife and co-conspirator was not--she was pregnant and wanted to give birth. As a result of the COINTELPRO investigation through the Church Committee, the charges against him were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct.

Since his days as a radical, Ayers has become, in the words of the prosecutor in those cases, "a responsible citizen." Since his student days he was interested in education and education reform. He currently holds a PhD in education and teaches at the University of Chicago, where he holds the title of "Distinguished Professor."

Ayers and Obama: There are three main contact points between Ayers and Obama.

1. Hyde Park. The Obamas and the Ayers both live in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Obama's political career was launched by Deborah Leff nominated him to head the board of the Joyce Foundation. In that role he came to the attention of then-state Senator Alice Palmer, who eventually gave her blessing for Obama to run to succeed her. Ayers' home was the site of a meet-the-candidate reception, attended by the political players of Hyde Park, of which Ayers was one. Palmer also attended. Ayers did not serve on Obama's campaign (then or now), nor has he ever been in an advisory role to Obama.

2. The Woods Fund of Chicago. The Woods fund is an anti-poverty organization. This is its mission statement: "a grantmaking foundation whose goal is to increase opportunities for less advantaged people and communities in the metropolitan area, including the opportunity to shape decisions affecting them. The foundation works primarily as a funding partner with nonprofit organizations. Woods supports nonprofits in their important roles of engaging people in civic life, addressing the causes of poverty and other challenges facing the region, promoting more effective public policies, reducing racism and other barriers to equal opportunity, and building a sense of community and common ground." Bill Ayers and Barack Obama served on that board together from 1999 to 2002. Ayers was there in his capacity as a professor of education; Obama in his capacity as state senator and professor of law.

3. The Annenberg Challenge Foundation. The ACF was founded with a $50million matching grant from former Nixon employee and friend-of-Ron (Reagan), billionaire Walter Annenberg. Though he is now dead, Annenberg is survived by his wife, a major McCain contributor. The goal of the grant program was to reform America's public schools, which, by Annenberg's lights, must be improved "or our civilzation will collapse." There were three primary grant-writers who brought the grant money to Chicagor; William Ayers, a member of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, was one of them. Ayers would continue to serve in the operational arm of the ACF, using his expertise in education reform to help the ACF allocate its funds through local work. Obama served on the board of directors from 1995-2001. His bio when he was appointed read: "civil rights attorney at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland; lecturer at theUniversity of Chicago Law School; member of the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago; winner, Crain's Chicago Business 40 Under 40 award, 1993; former president of the Harvard Law Review (1990–1991); former executive director of the Developing Communities Project (June 1985–May 1988)."

Ayers has been defended--though always with caveats about his misspent youth--by officials and educators in Chicago for his work with the ACF. In late May 2008, Michael Kinsley, a persistent Ayers-hater, stated the following in Time Magazine: "If Obama's relationship with Ayers, however tangential, exposes Obama as a radical himself, or at least as a man with terrible judgment, he shares that radicalism or terrible judgment with a comically respectable list of Chicagoans and others — including Republicans and conservatives — who have embraced Ayers and Dohrn as good company, good citizens, even experts on children's issues...Ayers and Dohrn are despicable, and yet making an issue of Obama's relationship with them is absurd."

Here is a good NYTimes article on their association: Obama and a 60's Bomber -- A Look Into Crossed Paths.

Tony Rezko (the real-estate guy). Less has been made about this recently, but it was a big deal during the primary. Rezko, who has been convicted of fraud, was a big-time political fundraiser for Chicago democrats for almost 25 years, and for Obama's senate campaign beginning in 2003. In all, probably close to $250,000 came into Obama's senate campaign through Rezko--either people he tapped or people who he was at one remove from. The Obama's also bought a house from the same seller from whom Mrs.Tony Rezko purchased a plot of land and on the same day (a condition of the seller's). There was nothing untoward in the sale: Obama's offer was the highest offer on the table and the rate on the Obama's mortgage was good, but normal for an A+ credit risk--which the Obama's certainly were.

Obama later bought a strip of land from the parcel owned by the Rezkos for twice its assessed value. Some critics have said this was a favor to Obama on Rezko's part, as it made Rezko's land less salable. On the other hand, it has been argued that Obama's overpay was a favor to Rezko. The most reasonable conclusion, in my mind, is that the price was set higher than assessed value to compensate the Rezko's for that loss of saleability. Obama has since acknowledged that the creation of the appearance of impropriety as a result of this deal was a mistake.

Prior to his association with Rezko, in 1997 Obama advocated for a low-income housing project that was awarded to Rezko. Rezko, as a developer, made his fee out of that deal--which was a large amount of money.

If Rezko's conviction for fraud and influence peddling taints Obama, it taints many other people as well. In addition to Obama and former Illinois Governor Blagojevich, prominent Democrats that Rezko and his company, Rezmar, have contributed money to, or fund-raised for, are Comptroller Dan Hynes, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, former Chicago Mayors Daley and Washington, and former Cook County Board President John Stroger. Rezko has also raised money for Republicans: former Illinois Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan, the late Rosemont, Illinois Mayor Donald Stephens and he co-chaired a multimillion-dollar fund-raiser for President George W. Bush in 2003.

In spite of the flurry of press this association has generated, and the investigative reporting done by the Chicago papers, no credible evidence exists to show that either Rezko or Obama has benefited from their relationship in any illegitimate fashion. Obama's campaigns were not subjects of the law-breaking Rezko was convicted for, and there is no evidence that he or his clients benefited from Obama's office in any untoward or unethical way.

A couple of asides: Both of these "issues," while peddled on right-wing talk radio for a while, only rose to prominence once Hillary Clinton chose to give them a veneer of legitimacy by making them the centerpiece of her campaign for the nomination. Second, while these associations may cast an ephemeral pall over Obama, they are part of the miasma that surrounds any politician. Governance is the art of walking the narrow path between the venal, the greedy, and the corrupt in order to accomplish good things for under-financed people (that would be us). A politician who doesn't know anyone questionable is not going to be around for long because questionable people suffuse the halls of power. The relationship with Ayers, such as it is, hardly qualifies given the setting. The relationship with Rezko is an equal-opportunity stain. It's not like Obama went on high-toned family vacations with the guy at his expense and on his jet (see McCain/Keating). It's guilt by association at best.

Hope this helps.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tumbledown Mountain, 10/4/08

Click on images for larger views.For the first time in a long time, I got (made) a chance to get out for a hike. At the suggestion of my boss, I drove up to Weld, Maine on Saturday to hike Tumbledown Mountain. It's about a 2 hour drive to Weld from Portland, but it was beautiful fall day: crisp and sunny. I estimate 1 more week until we're at full peak for the change of leaves. Once north of Lewiston/Auburn, the roads travel through some of the most beautiful farmland in Maine--though the current crop of McCain signs was a constant reminder of why I live in Portland. The trailhead lies off a dirt road northwest of Weld village center. I chose to follow the Little Jackson trail, a track that would take you to nearby Little Jackson summit. I may do this next time, as I think it overlooks Tumbledown which would make a very pretty view. The trail roughly follows the eastern slope of a shallow defile in the hillside. After about 1.5 miles of steady climbing, I turned off on to the Pond Link Trail, headed west. There is a rushing stream in the crease of the defile which the trail crosses. I'd forgotten about the stream as I hiked and was reminded of it as a soft bass note was added to the sound of the wind in the trees.

Pond Link joins the Parker Ridge trail after about a mile, descending from a height-of-land with views of Crater Pond to the open saddle on top of Tumbledown. The day had become overcast and blustery during the climb and it was cold on the mountaintop so I didn't linger. There is no "moisture management" fabric that can really handle my moisture output. No matter the season, hiking makes me sweat like a fat man at a barbecue. After walking around the summit and near the pond, I returned down Parker Ridge. It was the right way to go, by my lights. Little Jackson is sheltered--you don't break into the open until you get to the Pond. Parker Ridge enjoys a fairly long stretch of open hiking on the ledges, with views to the south and east--very pretty in spite of the pewtery light through the cloud cover. The trail also descends through a quiet and dark pine stand, where water seeps out of the ground down the faces of the rocks, making them slick.

It was a good hike--not too many people on the summit and I only met a handful on the trail. The sun came out again when I got back to the car. I find it hard not to take these things personally. If I'd been only a couple of hours earlier or later, photos from the summit would have been spectacular (I Crummed* myself at the top, and took a few others--posted). And it would have been warm enough to sit and eat lunch, rather than eating and walking as I did.
Crummed.* Cold and windy.
The whole walk took me about four and a half hours--pretty close to the estimates made by the AMC in their Maine Mountain Guide. 10 years ago, I shredded those times. 10 years from now, I'll likely regard them as optimistic.

I took a long route home, first around the southern and western shores of Webb lake, then Route 124 to 11 to Gray before getting on the highway. As I stated, the farmland north of Turner through the Androscoggin watershed is some of the most beautiful in Maine. With the fields in stubble and fringed with turning trees I wanted to walk through it all.

TPL has done a fair amount of work in the Mt. Blue State Park/Tumbledown Mountain region (#s 21 & 22 in the link). Much of what you see from the summit as you look southeast toward Webb Lake has been protected through our work.
Toward Webb Lake and MBSP.

*Crummed: v. "Crumming" is the art of snapping a self-portrait with a camera held at arm's length. Its vulgar echoes are pure coincidence. The word is eponymous to its master, Tom Crumrine, author of Crumthekid and Crumtheteacher. It soon may be time for another "meet the blogroll" post.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meanwhile, in the club car of the "straight" talk express...

...the hits just keep on coming.

Couric: So, Mrs. Palin, could you remind me how you spell your last name?

Palin: Oh, you know... pretty much the way you would. It's a very common name, you know, not -- I mean a lot of people have heard one like it. I spell it the same way I always, the way my mother taught me, just like you and everybody else. There's this, you know, crazy perception that we, Alaska, you know we spell just like everyone does. It's not this strange foreign country unlike Washington. But, you know, like, I, you know, I get it--this gotcha journalism we all have to deal with these days. Plus, you know I can see that Russian guy in the morning from where I live. Nkay?

I'm just going to throw this out there--hedging my bets. Could this be the most elaborate game of rope-a-dope ever perpetrated? Will Sarah Palin suddenly drop this Klondike Barbie routine at the VP debate tomorrow and absolutely blindside Joe Biden?

Or is this the greatest travesty in the history of American government?

I'm tempted to list the ways in which I am more qualified for the Vice Presidency than this ignoramus. But I know I actually fall pretty low on the list of more qualified candidates. Your average New York City cab driver, for example, has (by McCain/Palin lights) vastly more foreign policy experience than I. And probably some crime-fighting chops I don't have either.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Onion, January 17, 2001

On January 17, 2001, in The Onion satirical newspaper:

Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."
Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.
On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.
"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."
"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."
First written as satire, then written as history.

Palin Pity Party?

Not for Rebecca Traister:
Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness. It's a disservice to minority populations of every stripe whose place in the political spectrum has been unfairly spotlighted as mere tokenism; it is a disservice to women throughout this country who have gone from watching a woman who -- love her or hate her -- was able to show us what female leadership could look like to squirming in front of their televisions as they watch the woman sent to replace her struggle to string a complete sentence together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Banana Republic of the United States

Remember when Bush won in '00, and the GoP got all smug about how "the adults are in charge now?"

I just want you to hold that idea, and read the following from
The more Congress examines the Bush administration's bailout plan, the hazier its outcome gets. At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle complained of being rushed to pass legislation or else risk financial meltdown.

...some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."
Yeah, they just made it up. I'm filled with confidence.

"How much should we ask for?"

"I don't know...what do you think we can get?"

"Not sure. How scared do you think they are?"

"Pretty scared. The press is doing a good job, Joe lunchpail can't fill his tank or pay his half the congress is on the take."

"I know. Plus we've got Phil Gramm!"

"Good point. Let's make it big. How about a billion -- no! 7 billion!"

"Seven billion?! Come on, man. That's peanuts. Think bigger! How about we just ask for the deficit Bush racked up? They're used to that."

"C'mon. That's just greedy."

"Well...what, then?"

"Hope they buy it."

"Oh they'll buy it, all right."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your Urgent Help Needed

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible.
Read the rest at Angry Bear, and enjoy the dark humor of the moment. The gallows makes comics of us all, I guess.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The beauty of the free market

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.
John McCain, "Contingencies" Sept/Oct 2008.

If you're lucky enough to get health insurance from your employer, you're probably also aware that your contribution to that insurance is taken out before you're taxed. In that article, McCain explains how, in addition to deregulating the health insurance market in the same way we've deregulated the mortgage market, he'd tax your contribution. Then he'd give you a $2,500 tax credit, regardless of your income, to offset your costs. A family could get up to a total of $5,000 in credits.
Individuals who currently don’t have access to employer sponsored insurance where they work can use the tax credit to purchase individual insurance coverage. Everyone purchasing health insurance would gain access to exactly the same tax benefits.
Think you can insure a family of four for $5000 a year? John McCain thinks so. In John McCain's happy world of friendly health insurance companies, "Consumer-friendly insurance policies will be more available and affordable when there is greater competition among insurers on a level playing field."

Just as with mortgages, however, the field will never be level. Not when the least among us will get whatever $5,000 pays for, while John McCain's base gets whatever they can afford. Or want.

Imagine a world where medical histories indicate "default risks" in health insurance. Imagine a world where those "default risks" are bundled and re-insured in the same way that mortgages are. Pools of people who have not yet become sick will be favored investments for these insurance companies. Pools of people with chronic or persistent illnesses (diabetes, depression, heart disease, Crohn's disease, e.g.) will become personae non grata. Hey--they're expensive! And you know they're going to cash in on their benefits. In fact, they're the very people that -- right now -- are costing you and me money!

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, and your husband's father was diabetic, how much do you think it will cost to insure your children per year on John McCain's "open market?"

Do you think $5,000 will cover it?

I don't know how I can make this any simpler. John McCain says (and we all agree) that health insurance is too expensive to the government. His answer to that is not to find a less expensive way to insure people. His answer is to simply stop paying.

Well. That will certainly cost less. But don't worry. I'm sure that the "healthy competition" of a de-regulated health insurance market will guarantee you can afford coverage.

Right now, open market health insurance of the most basic variety (excluding Rx, hospital, or "critical illness" care) would cost $4,236 per year in my city, for a healthy family of three. Add one more kid, and the rate doubles. Add any "pre-existing conditions," and, well, it depends. And hey, who needs prescriptions anyway?

That plan is offered by a company that guarantees to cover you, as far as you are able to pay. Under McCain's plan, you'll be able to pay up to $5000 a year, plus whatever you can contribute on your own. Which is pretty good--unless something goes wrong. If you can get covered. If you don't have a high "default risk."

Anyway, don't worry about it. The same de-regulated markets that catapulted our national investment banks and mortgage companies to the top of the finance world is sure to help you out when your kid gets hit with leukemia, or something.

Obama's plan. If you care.

Here's a Boston Globe Editorial saying essentially the same thing. I hadn't read it until today (9/22), believe me or don't.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Privatize Social Security

Still sounding like a good idea to you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Patriots 2.0

Crossposted from Pats Pulpit

So. Now what?

Now that we know NFL MVP and Patriots starting QB Brady is out for the season, what comes next? I put this column together for SB Nation site Pats Pulpit on Sunday, before the whole thing shook out. I stand by it (seriously--how can you get paid for this? I do it for fun and I know it's better than 99% of the sports-bloviating out there).

The Quarterback of the Future

The quarterback of the future is Tom Brady. I don't think that, even if we've lost him for the entire year, this team would seriously contemplate replacing him as the starter. In quarterback years, he's in his prime. His arm is good and his judgment and knowledge of the system have never been better. With the exception of his left ACL, his body is going to get a nice break from the weekly beating. Given the shallow pool of quarterback talent in the league (it's not even 32 deep) Tom Brady is still the near-term future of the team.

For that reason, I don't think you'll see a high profile signing like Daunte Culpepper for example. The cap hit would cripple the team's flexibility and introduce a complicated personnel dynamic. I think signing a guy like Sims is a backup the backup strategy, the judgment being that O'Connell isn't ready to be that close to live fire.

The quarterback of today is Matt Cassel. Cassel is an interesting story--one we're going to rehash ad nauseum this week. His last big game was in high school. He held a clipboard at USC for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. A backup's backup, if you will. So why would he get the call from Pioli and Belichick? I think we saw part of the answer on Sunday, and, given the crap he took in the preseason, it bears looking at again.

Matt Cassel

Before yesterday, Matt hadn't played a serious down in a game of football since he was in high school.

High School.

On opening day in front a packed house, he took over one of the premier teams in the league, got the snap from center and took two backward steps into his own endzone to hand off.

On the next play, he lined up in his own endzone and did the same thing.

On his third serious play from scrimmage since losing in the 3rd round of his high school championship tournament, Cassel took the snap from center, faked a hand-off and launched a 50-yard strike to a wideout on a go-route who had sagged into the zone, hitting him in the hands and in stride. If you'd been standing on the cross-bar, you could have peed on his helmet.

98 yards later, the Patriots were in the endzone and on the board. Cassel's day: 13 of 18 for 152 yards, one TD and no INTs.

Patriot haters, people who don't know better, and some that should, have in the past derided Brady as a "system" quarterback. But he isn't--he's a talent, and one of the best ever. Matt Cassel may one day be a very good quarterback. But the numbers he put up on Sunday illustrate one thing: the difference between a great quarterback and a great system. Start with a great quarterback in a great system. Subtract great QB. What do you get? 13 of 18 for 152 yards and a touchdown. Why (in this case)? Because the quarterback place-holder we put in was able to execute the system. He didn't bring much to it--but he didn't get in its way.

You really can't ask for more than that from your backup. In fact, if your backup QB does bring more than that to the table, then you're brewing one of two things: either your QB-of-the-future-in-waiting, or a quarterback controversy.

Give Matt his due: pretty much everyone wanted him out. What he showed on Sunday is what some of us suspected: the pre-season was a long science experiment that worked to his detriment. He's ok.

Of course, the Chiefs aren't the best. But it was one to grow on.

Who Are These Guys?

Team identity--what do you do well, consistently. How do you win?

When Brady went down, I lost whatever detachment I usually muster (not much) and became simply a fan again. I was rooting for the guys to come together, to lean on each other and make room for Matt to fill the void. I stopped paying attention to the little things I like to watch like, "how quickly is Light getting into his pass set?" "Is the running back seeing the blitz?" "Is Mayo flowing to the ball?" "How's the communication in the defensive backfield?" "Is Wilfork dealing with the doubleteams?"

My stream of consciousness was more like, "comeon comeon comeon comeon!"

Hey, they did it. Tough to pull it together like that. And I think we got a glimpse of who this team might be this year, offensively at least:

Run, then throw. Morris looks good. Maroney looks good. Evans looks his solid self and LaMont looks ready. With the return of Faulk, there are some seriously talented toys in that backfield and lots and lots of possible combinations. The only moments of concern were when we were pinned on Matty's first series. Backup QB, on your own goalline--even the PeeWees know you're going to try the run. Later in the drive, we were knocking them off the ball and dominating the LOS. Could be shades of things to come.

In the air, we looked efficient. Less opportunistic than with Brady at the helm but by no means incapable. I think you can look for Cassel to improve over the next six weeks, too. Thomas showed his hands; it'll be nice if Watson can get healthy (and stay healthy, dammit). Welker is going to be even more key this year than last, though his catches will inevitably decrease.

Defensively, this team will need to step up. Of all the units, the most rapid maturation has to happen in the defensive backfield. O'Neal filled in pretty well--a couple of minor lapses but otherwise solid. Hobbs is still short and there's nothing to be done about that. He managed--he'll have to do better. There are some good teachers there, though--again, time.

At the end of preseason, looking at the youth, I predicted that it would take a month to six weeks for this team to really sort itself out. I stand by that. This will still be a good year, but a different one from the one we were all anticipating. The sorting is going to result in a different product.

You may recall a team of scrappers with a stifling defense and an offense that did just enough to win who walked away from the season with a Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand. Your 2001 New England Patriots were a team like that. But they weren't the first: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens did that, too -- and with a game-management quarterback (Trent Dilfer, anyone?) who stayed out of the way of the system. Is there anyone else besides me who thinks Matt Cassel has more tools (of his own and on the team) than Trent Dilfer did?

The Key Guy

Every success has a key guy--at least one, anyway. The Patriots have several lynchpins right now, guys who have to really step it up: Wilfork, Mayo, Merriweather, Hobbs. On offense: Cassel, Maroney/Morris/Jordan and whomever winds up at right guard. But there's one dude in particular who I'll be watching closely: Randy Moss.

If I had to guess at how Randy's feeling today, I'd go with "dismayed."

All he's ever wanted was to have a quarterback who he thought was just as good as he is. And he got it--then he lost it. How has our Randy grown? Moss can really make the difference this year. If he shuts it down because Cassel's no Brady, this could get ugly. That's a worst-case scenario.

On the other hand, he can do better than that--by a long shot. A strong endorsement of Cassel (and the concomitant change in offensive emphasis) as well as a commitment to both mentor and be led by Matt would go miles and miles toward a play-off run. It could make all the difference.

Let's Play

This is going to be fun--I'm serious. The expectations are shot and the pressure is off. Everything they get they'll fight for--against the competition and internally as they struggle for a new sense of themselves. For fans, it will be a ride. But, unencumbered by the stratospheric expectations of last year, I plan to enjoy myself a little bit more.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Supporting the Troops

It has always been a complex world. Most Americans would tell you that it is a more complex world today than it was in 2000, but that's just not true. Many Americans will claim that "everything changed after September 11th," but that's not true, either. The world is the same--it is we who have changed. We're paying a little more attention, right now. Not much, but a little. We're seeing a little bit deeper into the complex interrelations that move world events.

For example, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (private, for-profit corporations) are being taken over by the US Government amid fears that their collapse would cause a domino effect of financial ruin at home and around the world. According to the NYTimes, the government (you and me) will guarantee Freddy's debt, while allowing shareholders to twist in the wind.

As an American, you might ask, "Whose debt am I guaranteeing? If the vig comes due, who will we--the taxpayer--have to pay? Who has so much pull with our government, that they can request us to take over the largest mortgage companies in the world and guarantee their investment? Especially in a lousy housing market, where the value that debt supports is rapidly shrinking? Who, in other words, does hold my mortgage?"

Answer (from MarketWatch):
The top five foreign holders of Freddie and Fannie long-term debt are China, Japan, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. In total foreign investors hold over $1.3 trillion in these agency bonds, according to the U.S. Treasury's most recent "Report on Foreign Portfolio Holdings of U.S. Securities."
$1.3 trillion dollars. At least it isn't a buyout. You and I aren't paying China. We're just guaranteeing their investment in our mortgage industry with our taxes. And, yes, it's the same mortgage industry that's in the toilet right now.

It's complex. Always has been. The point is, things are bad enough right now that we're starting to pay attention. I know I sure didn't care about China buying our debt before a couple of years ago. I don't know if I ever gave it more than a passing thought.

So, back to September 11 and everything changing and, as the title implies, supporting the troops. I don't think I'd find much argument if I said that our military is a little ragged these days. And most people would probably agree that our veterans aren't getting the help they need. If one of your older relatives went to school on the GI Bill -- maybe your Dad or your Grandfather -- you might know that's a lot harder to do now. You might also know phrases you never knew before, like "stop-loss" and "individual ready reserve."

National security has never been more critical or seemed so complex. Many of the first choices and policy decisions our next President will have to make will deal with the health and welfare of our military. If you're in the service, or you know someone who is, you're probably assuming that John McCain is the right man for the job. After all, Republicans support the troops more than Democrats and he served in the military (you might have heard he was a POW). He never hesitates to reiterate his abiding support for our military. I'm writing this post precisely for you. If you think John McCain is the best candidate for the military, then you're using the same logic as a woman who supports Sarah Palin because she, too, has a vagina.

Here are some examples:

In April of this year, the Webb GI Bill came up for a vote in the senate. The Webb bill would have guaranteed veterans a chance to go to college. The original bill, from WWII, could have (and did) put a service member through Yale University. Currently--well, not so much. McCain opposed the Webb bill, which was co-sponsored by Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) would have again made it possible for a soldier to go to college, with thanks from a grateful nation. McCain opposed this bill, saying it would decrease retention. Saying, essentially, that the benefits were too good.

Webb's bill would be expensive--about the same amount of money that we spend in Iraq in 36 hours. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the WWII bill returned $7 to the economy for every $1 it cost.

It is also the Army's primary recruiting tool.

On the day of the vote, only two Senators couldn't seem to make to the Senate. One was liberal Senator Ted Kennedy, at home recovering from brain surgery. The other was John McCain.

Here are some other dropped balls:

September 2007: John Sidney McCain (JSM) votes against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments (the "Dwell time" bill).

May 2006: JSM votes against providing the VA with $20 million needed for health care facilities; the money would have been provided by closing tax loopholes.

April 2006: JSM joins an elite group of 13 senators (all Republican) voting against $430,000,000 for the Department of Veteran Affairs for Medical Services for outpatient care and treatment for veterans.

March 2004: Votes against creating a reserve fund -- funded by closing tax loopholes for corporations -- to provide up to $1.8 billion in Veterans' medical care.

October 2003: JSM votes to table (essentially, to kill) an amendment that would have provided $322,000,000 of safety equipment (you know, like body armor) for troops in Iraq, funded by spending that much less on reconstruction.

In April of 2003, he voted to kill an amendment that would have appropriated $1 Billion for National Guard and Reserve Equipment in Iraq to address a shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof insets and tactical vests.
I'm not going to get into a discussion of how McCain voted on the war in Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq, or how he wants to deal with Georgia or Iran. All I'm trying to say is that if you want to argue for military measures, or you want to say you support the troops, then you should be able to back it up with your voting record--since that's all you've really got.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has kept track of over 160 separate votes since 9/11, and graded every Senator and Congressman on their voting record. John McCain gets a "D."

The Disabled Veterans of America rated McCain at 20% for the 109th Congress.

IAVA and DVA also graded Obama. He got an 80% from DVA and a B+ from IAVA. If you're on the fence about these two guys, and the way they treat our people in uniform is something you're interested in, then I think you should take the evidence of their votes into account. One guy loves to use the military, but isn't interested in taking care of it. The other guy considers force the last resort, and would look after the health of his men.

If you find yourself surprised, and perhaps considering Obama, don't worry. You're in good company. According to the non-partisan Center For Responsive Politics, deployed troops support Obama over McCain 6:1, and he maintains a significant edge among all military personnel.

Our world is a much more complex place than some politicians try to make it seem. But this seems pretty simple to me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

I hope you enjoyed a day off from work today, courtesy of the people who brought you a minimum wage, child labor laws and the weekend:

The Radical Left.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hey, it worked for torture.

Uninsured? No you're not! You lucky dog, you. John McCain and his healthcare policy advisor have you more than covered:

...John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning Dallas-based think tank. Mr. Goodman, who helped craft Sen. John McCain's health care policy, said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort. (Hospital emergency rooms by law cannot turn away a patient in need of immediate care.)

"So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime," Mr. Goodman said. "The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American – even illegal aliens – as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care.

"So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved."
You just can't invent this shit. I know--I've tried. But somehow, reality is always worse than my most fevered imaginings. Thankfully, if those fevers get too hectic, I know I'm covered. There's an emergency room right around the corner.

So. If you're concerned about the rising cost of healthcare, and are worried that you and your children might one day be without it...don't worry, silly! Just go to the emergency room. Alll better, thanks to Poppy McCain.

For those of you following along in your books, this is the point at which you say, "Aha! I know this will work. Because when they wanted to torture people and make it ok, they just redefined what torture is! That made the problem go away. So it's all good!"

Lucky (or not) for McCain that he was tortured when it was still torture. Under today's regime, he was simply in for some "aggressive questioning techniques." It's a lot harder to deflect difficult campaign questions by reminding people that you were "aggressively questioned for five years."

And no, I'm not denigrating his service. I'm denigrating the way he uses that service as a shield to all criticisms--including his inability to remember how many houses he has. No shit:
Making light of McCain's inability to put a number on his real estate holdings last week, Leno joked with the Republican nominee that, "for one million dollars, how many houses do you have?"

Rather than reply with either a real answer or a similarly light-hearted joke, McCain brought up his POW status.

"Could I just mention to you Jay, that in a moment of seriousness, I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, I didn't have a house, I didn't have a kitchen table, I didn't have a table, I didn't have a chair..."
He has made his own sacrifice into a humorless punchline. Should I even bother to point out that, given an opportunity to make torture illegal, McCain refused to sign the bill?! He was against it before he was for it.

God help us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To All Democrats:

The Bill of Rights is in tatters. Our international reputation is bankrupt. Our energy policy is a relic of the 60's. The economy is rotten.

This is the direct result of 8 years of Republican mismanagement--for 6 of which they had the place to themselves.

But just because this is true does not mean you are the default choice. You will have to take power.

Or you can plan how to explain to your kids why we invaded Iran and went to war with Russia while our roads crumbled, our bridges collapsed, our schools closed and millions of Americans went without medical care. The choice is that plain.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Something new, something wonderful.

If you didn't get a chance to watch all of Michelle Obama's speech this evening, you owe it to yourself to set some time aside and see it. I think you'll agree that, with a few different forks in the road, we could easily have watched a convention on behalf of nominee Michelle Obama.

It was an address of personal politics, expressing, perhaps better than Barack himself, the deep service-oriented roots of their political philosophy. It was fitting that she shared a stage with Teddy Kennedy, in this way: Kennedy was born wealthy and could quite easily have turned his energy toward creating even greater personal wealth. Instead he devoted his personal fortune and his political career to serving the cause of those without a voice, without wealth.

The Obamas each came from modest means and each secured a ticket to the big leagues. A law degree from Harvard is a license to earn. But both Obamas have, with that opportunity, also willingly accepted an obligation to serve.

More even than that, however, this was a watershed moment for our nation. If we are lucky, we may be blessed one day to realize just how significant it was. A black woman stood before half of political America and told them in no uncertain terms of her humanity, her intelligence and her love for a black man who they should by now be compelled to elect as leader of the free world.

I'm very, very glad that I was able to see that.

Video below in two parts; runs just over 18 minutes total.

Song of the Day

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Great choice. I refer my reader(s) to Al Giordano:
[A]s the national media vetting process will disclose in the coming days, after 36 years in the US Senate, he's still one of the poorest US Senators: he never availed himself of the back-door personal enrichment techniques that most of his colleagues - Democrat and Republican - have utilized. Beyond class resentment, he retains a sense of class solidarity. His wife since 1977 never went into Washington lobbying: she remained a public schoolteacher.

Biden has also lived personal tragedies that would have splat most people like watermelons tossed from the sixth floor of a Wilmington tenement: between his first US Senate election in 1972 and being sworn in, his first wife and three small children were in a gruesome car accident. Mrs. Biden and his daughter died, his two boys were wounded, and he became a single father. Biden never quite entered the Washington DC culture so seductive to his peers: commuting from Delaware to DC, always coming home at night.

...Yes, I would have preferred the "three point shot" - that Obama pick a running mate from outside of Washington - but as DC insiders go, it's interesting that Biden chose all these years to refuse to live inside it, or meet with its lobbyists.

Obama stopped at the three point line, passed the ball to the new muscle man with the sharp elbows, and put two points on the board instead. I can live with that. And my working class soul is actually looking forward to the populist campaign that will come out of the unlikely alliance of two guys from humble beginnings against the owners of this coal mine called America.
I love Al's coal-mine analogy; love Biden's populist roots. It's a tough sell in Delaware (home of more Banks, Insurance Companies and Corporate headquarters than any state in the nation), but he's made it work since 1977.

He's smart, he's experienced, and he's not afraid to lay the smack-down. I would take a slightly different cut at the basketball analogy to add that Biden is a three point play: three the hard way. He can draw the foul, then make them pay.

And I'm also left with this: who do the Republics answer with? Biden has them beat in foreign policy and domestically. He has them beat on moral grounds and with gravitas. I don't see a guy on the other side of the aisle who is a fail-safe response. It's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Go ahead and read Al's whole take: Second Chance for the Everyman. As one of his commenters said, this is a "brass knuckles" choice by Obama.

Oh, and this made me laugh:
Biden has a reputation for shooting from the hip, as he did when he called President Bush "brain-dead" while campaigning for Sen. John Kerry. Republicans were outraged by his comments, but since Biden had also called former Democratic president Clinton brain-dead, many people dismissed the GOP's criticism.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Patriots blah-blah

I've been writing a fair amount for Pats Pulpit, having become the default source for line commentary. Here's the latest:

In Like Flynn? Or Just in Chaos?

...Flynn is the latest signing in a bewildering array of free-agents old and new that the Pioli/Belichick team has brought in to shore up the front wall. Spurred by a merry-go-round of injuries all along the front five, the Patriots now enter officially desperate waters. To bring in an o-lineman this late in camp is beyond cause for concern--it's indicative of a serious issue. That issue is depth.
Click the link to read the rest.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From another world.

Coupla nights ago, Lake Forest, California:

REV. WARREN: Okay, on taxes, define "rich." Everybody talks about, you know, taxing the rich but not the poor, the middle class. At what point -- give me a number. Give me a specific number. Where do you move from middle class to rich? Is it $100,000? Is it $50,000? Is it $200,000? How does anybody know if we don't know what the standards are?

SEN. MCCAIN:...I don't want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich. (Laughter.) I don't believe in class warfare or redistribution of wealth. But I can tell you, for example, there are small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, that some people would classify as, quote, "rich," my friends, and want to raise their taxes and want to raise their payroll taxes.

Let's have -- keep taxes low. Let's give every family in America a $7,000 tax credit for every child they have. Let's give them a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go out and get the health insurance of their choice. Let's not have the government take over the health care system in America. (Applause.)

So I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?

Now, he hemmed and hawed about that. But it was a simple question: where's the line? And that was the only number he could come up with. No matter what you pick, you're bound to piss off some people. But if you understand what things cost, if you have a passing sense for what it takes to get by in the world, you can come up with a number. That number -- where you cross from middle-class to rich -- is a measure of abundance. Sure, some people feel more comfort is due the middle class than others. Certainly, if you're on the bottom of the middle class most of what's above you looks rich enough. And McCain may have shot high on purpose, giving himself a chance to look like a kidder.

But even that underlines the essential flaw here: He really doesn't know where the line is. He doesn't even have a framework for talking about it. He flies on a private jet, owns eight homes and wears $500 shoes. That's more money than most people make in a week and he wears it on his feet. Those pictures of him looking clueless in a supermarket aren't the result of a bad day--he really is clueless about the average American.

The Obama's are rich (though by McCain's line, they're comfortably middle class). But at least they recognize that. And they've devoted their careers to helping ordinary folks. And they recognize that in order to help the common person, you have to understand the common person. McCain, though he wants you to believe he has your best interests at heart, has no idea what your interests are.

In response to that blind-spot, he's essentially adopted Bush's approach to policy discussions. But instead of saying "911 911 911 911," he says, "POW POW POW POW POW."

Which answers exactly nothing. But it has the effect of halting the conversation. That's something he does understand.

Click for big picture: