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.