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Real-Time Fact Checking for Political Debates

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Note:  This posting was published before the second 2012 Presidential debate at Hoftsra University

After the Vice-Presidential debate, many of Team Obama’s surrogates were referring to both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney as liars.  Obviously, most Republicans were upset by this.  What I found amusing about the entire dust-up was that at no time did anyone from Team Obama support their aspersions with a reference to a fact-checking website.  It would have been easy enough.  Directing people to a fact-checking website would have been even more helpful because the site would inform the reader that the candidate in question told a number of lies.  Upon visiting one of the fact-checking websites, Team Obama’s aversion to using such a site to support those nasty allegations becomes obvious:  there are a number of untrue statements from Obama and Biden which are also exposed.

The two most widely-used fact-checking websites are PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org.

The PolitiFact page concerning the Denver Obama – Romney debate can be found here.  The FactCheck analysis of that first Obama – Romney debate can be found here.

As for the Vice-Presidential debate, the PolitiFact page is here and the FactCheck Veep debate page is here.

After learning the truth about what was said during the debates, I immediately imagined a political debate in which three meters – similar to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter – appear at the bottom of the screen.  The meters would provide readings from three independent fact-checking services.  When a candidate would finish making a factual assertion, the meters would indicate the degree of veracity for that statement.  Upon further consideration, it quickly became obvious that a delay of as much as twenty minutes might be necessary between the time of the statement and the broadcast.  If seven-second delays are used to censor obscene words, why not use a twenty-minute delay to expose lies?  If a twenty-second delay was used to avoid broadcast of a grizzly mishap during Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic skydive, why not use a twenty-minute delay to open a window to the truth?  If the networks can provide audience response meters to the candidates’ statements, they should be able to provide fact-checking readouts in real time.  It might be necessary to delay the broadcast version of the debate as much as twenty minutes later than “live”, and it could get bogged down by delays between questions so that the meter reading from one candidate’s previous statement would not remain on the screen while the opposing candidate would begin speaking in response to the next question. Nevertheless, it would be more interesting and the candidates would have no reason to resort to calling each other liars.

If such a debate format were actually suggested, it would be amusing to watch the responses to the proposal.  I would be willing to bet that all candidates and political parties would oppose it.  Lies are politicians’ tools.  Exposing candidates’ lies during a political debate would be compared to requiring a magician to expose the secrets behind each trick during the course of a performance.

It is up to the voters to insist that political campaigns are not magic.  Some politicians may have a supernatural ability for making enormous amounts of money appear in their campaign accounts, but the truth of what these candidates say should not be shrouded in mystery.  Beyond that, viewers should not be required to take notes and then look up each fact on a website to determine whether a politician is lying.  The use of three different, independent fact-checking services would provide a more objective measure of truth-telling.

Here’s hoping that the 2016 election campaign will involve the use of real-time fact checking during the debates.  We might find ourselves watching candidates who have more integrity than the characters we have been watching during the current campaign cycle.


 

Senator Kaufman Will Be Missed

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Ted Kaufman filled Joe Biden’s seat representing the state of Delaware in the United States Senate on January 15, 2009, when Biden resigned to serve as Vice-President.  Kaufman’s 22-month term as Senator concluded on November 15, when Chris Coons was sworn in after defeating Christine O’Donnell in the 2010 election.

Senator Kaufman served as Chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel – the entity created to monitor TARP on behalf of Congress.  The panel’s November Oversight Report was released at the COP website with an embedded, five-minute video of Senator Kaufman’s introduction to the Report.  At the DelawareOnline website, Nicole Gaudiano began her article about Kaufman’s term by pointing out that C-SPAN ranked Kaufman as the 10th-highest among Senators for the number of days (126) when he spoke on the Senate floor during the current Congressional session.  Senator Kaufman was a high-profile advocate of financial reform, who devoted a good deal of effort toward investigating the causes of the 2008 financial crisis.

On November 9, Senator Kaufman was interviewed by NPR’s Robert Siegel, who immediately focused on the fact that aside from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil suit against Goldman Sachs and the small fine levied against Goldman by FINRA, we have yet to see any criminal prosecutions arising from the fraud and other violations of federal law which caused the financial crisis.  Kaufman responded by asserting his belief that those prosecutions will eventually proceed, although “it takes a while” to investigate and prepare these very complex cases:

When you commit fraud on Wall Street or endanger it, you have good attorneys around you to kind of clean up after you.  So they clean up as they go.  And then when you actually go to trial, these are very, very, very complex cases.  But I still think we will have some good cases.  And I also think that if isn’t a deterrent, they will continue to do that.  And I think we have the people in place now at the Securities Exchange Commission and the Justice Department to hold them accountable.

We can only hope so   .  .  .

Back on March 17, I discussed a number of reactions to the recently-released Valukas Report on the demise of Lehman Brothers, which exposed the complete lack of oversight by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — the entity with investigators in place inside of Lehman Brothers after the collapse of Bear Stearns.  The FRBNY had the perfect vantage point to conduct effective oversight of Lehman.  Not only did the FRBNY fail to do so — it actually helped Lehman maintain a false image of being financially solvent.  It is important to keep in mind that Lehman CEO Richard Fuld was a class B director of the FRBNY during this period.  Senator Kaufman’s reaction to the Valukas Report resulted in his widely-quoted March 15 speech from the Senate floor, in which he emphasized that the government needs to return the rule of law to Wall Street:

We all understood that to restore the public’s faith in our financial markets and the rule of law, we must identify, prosecute, and send to prison the participants in those markets who broke the law.  Their fraudulent conduct has severely damaged our economy, caused devastating and sustained harm to countless hard-working Americans, and contributed to the widespread view that Wall Street does not play by the same rules as Main Street.

*   *   *

Many have said we should not seek to “punish” anyone, as all of Wall Street was in a delirium of profit-making and almost no one foresaw the sub-prime crisis caused by the dramatic decline in housing values.  But this is not about retribution.  This is about addressing the continuum of behavior that took place — some of it fraudulent and illegal — and in the process addressing what Wall Street and the legal and regulatory system underlying its behavior have become.

As part of that effort, we must ensure that the legal system tackles financial crimes with the same gravity as other crimes.

The nagging suspicion that those nefarious activities at Lehman Brothers could be taking place “at other banks as well” became a key point in Senator Kaufman’s speech:

Mr. President, I’m concerned that the revelations about Lehman Brothers are just the tip of the iceberg.  We have no reason to believe that the conduct detailed last week is somehow isolated or unique.  Indeed, this sort of behavior is hardly novel.  Enron engaged in similar deceit with some of its assets.  And while we don’t have the benefit of an examiner’s report for other firms with a business model like Lehman’s, law enforcement authorities should be well on their way in conducting investigations of whether others used similar “accounting gimmicks” to hide dangerous risk from investors and the public.

Within a few months after that speech by Senator Kaufman, a weak financial reform bill was enacted to appease (or more importantly:  deceive) the outraged taxpayers.  Despite that legislative sham, polling results documented the increased public skepticism about the government’s ability or willingness to do right by the American public.

On October 20, Sam Gustin interviewed economist Joseph Stiglitz for the DailyFinance website.  Their discussion focused on the recent legislative attempt to address the causes of the financial crisis.  Professor Stiglitz emphasized the legal system’s inability to control that type of  sleazy behavior:

The corporations have the right to give campaign contributions.  So basically we have a system in which the corporate executives, the CEOs, are trying to make sure the legal system works not for the companies, not for the shareholders, not for the bondholders – but for themselves.

So it’s like theft, if you want to think about it that way.  These corporations are basically now working now for the CEOs and the executives and not for any of the other stakeholders in the corporation, let alone for our broader society.

You look at who won with the excessive risk-taking and shortsighted behavior of the banks.  It wasn’t the shareholder or the bondholders.  It certainly wasn’t American taxpayers.  It wasn’t American workers.  It wasn’t American homeowners.  It was the CEOs, the executives.

*   *   *

Economists focus on the whole notion of incentives.  People have an incentive sometimes to behave badly, because they can make more money if they can cheat.  If our economic system is going to work then we have to make sure that what they gain when they cheat is offset by a system of penalties.

And that’s why, for instance, in our antitrust law, we often don’t catch people when they behave badly, but when we do we say there are treble damages. You pay three times the amount of the damage that you do.  That’s a strong deterrent.

For now, there are no such deterrents for those CEOs who nearly collapsed the American economy and destroyed 15 million jobs.  Robert Scheer recently provided us with an update about what life is now like for Sandy Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup.  Scheer’s essay – entitled “The Man Who Shattered Our Economy” revealed that Weill just purchased a vineyard estate in Sonoma, California for a record $31 million.  That number should serve as a guidepost when considering the proposition expressed by Professor Stiglitz:

If our economic system is going to work then we have to make sure that what they gain when they cheat is offset by a system of penalties.

What are the chances of that happening?


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Wading In Quicksand

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July 12, 2010

The recent Gallup Poll, revealing that President Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 38% among independent voters, has resulted in an outpouring of (unsolicited) advice offered to the President by numerous commentators.  As I pointed out in my last posting, Matt Miller’s July 8 Washington Post article set out a really great plan, which he described as “a radically centrist ‘Jobs Now, Deficits Soon’ package”.   Nevertheless, Mr. Miller’s piece was not written as advice to the President, as some of the more recent articles have been.  I recently read one of those “advice to Obama” pieces that the President would do well to ignore.  It was written by a former Bill Clinton pollster named Douglas Schoen for the New York Daily News Schoen’s plan focused on this premise:

The independent swing voters who hold the fate of the Democratic Party in their hands are looking for candidates and parties that champion fiscal discipline, limited government, deficit reduction and a free market, pro-growth agenda.

Not true.  The independent swing voters are disappointed with Obama because the candidate’s promise of “hope and change” turned out to be a “bait and switch” scam to sell the public more cronyism.  At this point, it appears as though the entire Democratic Party will suffer the consequences in the 2010 elections.

The shortcomings of the Obama administration were more accurately summed up by Robert Kuttner for The Huffington Post:

But even a dire economic crisis and a Republican blockade of needed remedies have not fundamentally altered the temperament, trajectory, or tactical instincts of this surprisingly aloof  president.  He has not been willing or able to use his office to move public opinion in a direction that favors more activism.  Nor has Obama, for the most part, seized partisan and ideological opportunities that hapless Republicans and clueless corporate executives keep lobbing him like so many high, hanging curve balls.

*   *   *

But despite our hopes, Barack Obama is unlikely to offer bolder policies or give tougher speeches any time soon, even as threats of a double-dip recession and an electoral blowout in November loom.  This is just not who he is.  If the worst economic crisis in eight decades were going to change his assumptions about how to govern and how to lead, it would have done so by now.

*   *   *

I have also watched Obama’s loyal opposition –people like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Elizabeth Warren, Sheila Bair — be proven right by events, again and again.  So there are alternative paths, as there always are.  But the White House has disdained them.

And I’ve noticed that it is the populists among Democratic elected officials who are best defended against defeat in November.  That tells you something, too.  Why should the project of rallying the common people against elites in Washington, on Wall Street, and in the media, be ceded to the far right?  But that is what this White House is doing.

E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post demonstrated a good understanding of why independent voters have become fed up with Obama and how this has ballooned into a larger issue of anti-Democrat sentiment:

On the one hand, independent voters are turning on them.  Democratic House candidates enjoyed a 51 percent to 43 percent advantage over Republicans in 2008.  This time, the polls show independents tilting Republican by substantial margins.

But Democrats are also suffering from a lack of enthusiasm among their own supporters.  Poll after poll has shown that while Republicans are eager to cast ballots, many Democrats seem inclined to sit out this election.

The apathy of the rank-and-file Democrats and the alienation of the independents is best explained by the Administration’s faux-reform agenda.  The so-called healthcare “reform” bill turned out to be a giveaway to big pharma and the health insurance industry.  Worse yet, the financial “reform” bill not only turned out to be a hoax – it did nothing to address systemic risk.  In other words, if one of those five “untouchable” Wall Street banks fails, it will take the entire financial system down with it — in the absence of another huge, trillion-dollar bailout from the taxpayers.

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute documented the extent to which Obama’s Treasury Department undermined the financial reform bill at every step:

Examples?  Off the top of my head, ones with a paper trail:  They fought the Collins amendment for quality of bank capital, fought leverage requirements like a 15-to-1 cap, fought prefunding the resolution mechanism, fought Section 716removed foreign exchange swaps and introduced end user exemption from derivative language between the Obama white paper and the House Bill, believed they could have gotten the SAFE Banking Amendment to break up the banks but didn’t try, pushed against the full Audit the Fed and encouraged the Scott Brown deal. spinning out swap desks,

You can agree or disagree with any number of those items, think they are brilliant or dumb, reasonable or a pipe dream.  But what is worth noting is that they always end up leaving their fingerprints on the side of less structural reform and in favor of the status quo on Wall Street.

The Obama administration is apparently operating from the mistaken perspective that the voters are too stupid to see through their antics.  Sending Joe Biden to appear on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show to dissuade the public from considering the motives of politicians will not solve the administration’s problem of sinking approval ratings.




The Scary Stuff

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July 6, 2009

During the past week, a good number of Americans had been soothing themselves in Michael Jackson nostalgia  . . .  others watched tennis, many were intrigued by the military coup in Honduras and everyone tried to figure out what was going on in Sarah Palin’s mind.  Meanwhile  . . .  there was some really scary stuff in the news.  With Fourth of July behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to Halloween.  We need not look very far to get a good scare.  Those of us who still have jobs are afraid they may lose them.  Those who have lost their jobs wonder how long they can stay afloat before chaos finally takes over.  Many wise people, despite their comfortable positions in life (for now) have been discussing these types of problems lately.  Their opinions and outlooks are getting more and more ink (or electrons) as the economic crisis continues to unfold.

As we look at the current situation,  let’s check in with the guy who has the biggest mouth.  During an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Vice-President Joe Biden admitted that “we and everyone else misread the economy”:

Biden acknowledged administration officials were too optimistic earlier this year when they predicted the unemployment rate would peak at 8 percent as part of their effort to sell the stimulus package.  The national unemployment rate has ballooned to 9.5 percent in June  —  the worst in 26 years.

This was basically a concession, validating the long-standing criticism by economists such as Nouriel Roubini (a/k/a “Dr.Doom”) who refuted the administration’s view of this crisis.  Many economists (including Roubini) have emphasized the administration’s unrealistic perception of the unemployment problem as a primary flaw in the “bank stress tests” as established by Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner.  Now we’re finding out how ugly this picture really is.  Here are some points raised by Dr. Roubini on July 2:

The June employment report suggests that the alleged “green shoots” are mostly yellow weeds that may eventually turn into brown manure.  The employment report shows that conditions in the labor market continue to be extremely weak, with job losses in June of over 460,000.

*   *   *

The other important aspect of the labor market is that if the unemployment rate is going to peak around 11 percent next year, the expected losses for banks on their loans and securities are going to be much higher than the ones estimated in the recent stress tests.  You plug an unemployment rate of 11 percent in any model of loan losses and recovery rates and you get very ugly losses for subprime, near-prime, prime, home equity loan lines, credit cards, auto loans, student loans, leverage loans, and commercial loans — much bigger numbers than what the stress tests projected.

In the stress tests, the average unemployment rate next year was assumed to be 10.3 percent in the most adverse scenario. We’ll be already at 10.3 percent by the fall or the winter of this year, and certainly well above that and close to 11% at some point next year.

*   *   *

The job market report is essentially the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a significant signal of the weaknesses in the economy.  It affects consumer confidence.  It affects labor income.  It affects consumption.  It affects the willingness of firms to start increasing production.  It has significant consequences of the housing market.  And it has significant consequences, of course, on the banking system.

*   *   *

But eventually, large budget deficits and their monetization are going to lead — towards the end of next year and in 2011 — to an increase in expected inflation that may lead to a further increase in ten-year treasuries and other long-term government bond yields, and thus mortgage and private-market rates.  Together with higher oil prices driven up in part by this wall of liquidity rather than fundamentals alone, this could be a double whammy that could push the economy into a double-dip or W-shaped recession by late 2010 or 2011.   So the outlook for the US and global economy remains extremely weak ahead.  The recent rally in global equities, commodities and credit may soon fizzle out as an onslaught of worse-than-expected macro, earnings and financial news take a toll on this rally,which has gotten way ahead of improvement in actual macro data.

All right  .  .  .   So you may be thinking that this is exactly the type of pessimism we can expect from someone with the nickname “Dr. Doom”.  However, if you take a look at the July 2 article by Tom Lindmark on the Seeking Alpha website, you will find some important concurrence.  Mr. Lindmark discussed his own observation about the unemployment crisis:

All of these people do have to find jobs again sometime and I suspect, as do many others, that the numbers understate the extent of the problem.  There are a lot of people working for ten or twelve bucks an hour that used to make multiples of those numbers.  That’s what you do to survive.   So as we all probably know intuitively, the truth is worse than the picture the numbers paint.

Lindmark included the reactions of several economists to the latest unemployment data, as quoted from The Wall Street Journal Real Time Economics Blog.  It’s more of the same — not happy stuff.  Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s self-serving, self-congratulatory claim that “green shoots” could be found in the economy was made during a discussion on 60 Minutes back on March 15.  That’s what you call:   “premature shoots”.

Just in case you aren’t getting scared yet, take a look at what Ambrose Evans-Pritchard had to say in the Telegraph UK.  He draws our reluctant attention to the possibility that there might just be a violent reaction from the masses, once the ugliness of our situation finally sets in:

One dog has yet to bark in this long winding crisis.  Beyond riots in Athens and a Baltic bust-up, we have not seen evidence of bitter political protest as the slump eats away at the legitimacy of governing elites in North America, Europe, and Japan.  It may just be a matter of time.

One of my odd experiences covering the US in the early 1990s was visiting militia groups that sprang up in Texas, Idaho, and Ohio in the aftermath of recession.  These were mostly blue-collar workers, —  early victims of global “labour arbitrage” — angry enough with Washington to spend weekends in fatigues with M16 rifles.  Most backed protest candidate Ross Perot, who won 19pc of the presidential vote in 1992 with talk of shutting trade with Mexico.

The inchoate protest dissipated once recovery fed through to jobs, although one fringe group blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995.  Unfortunately, there will be no such jobs this time.  Capacity use has fallen to record-low levels (68pc in the US,71 in the eurozone).  A deep purge of labour is yet to come.

*   *   *

The Centre for Labour Market Studies (CLMS) in Boston says US unemployment is now 18.2pc, counting the old-fashioned way.  The reason why this does not “feel” like the 1930s is that we tend to compress the chronology of the Depression.  It takes time for people to deplete their savings and sink into destitution.  Perhaps our greater cushion of wealth today will prevent another Grapes of Wrath, but 20m US homeowners are already in negative equity (zillow.com data).  Evictions are running at a terrifying pace.

Some 342,000 homes were foreclosed in April, pushing a small army of children into a network of charity shelters.  This compares to 273,000 homes lost in the entire year of 1932. Sheriffs in Michigan and Illinois are quietly refusing to toss families on to the streets, like the non-compliance of Catholic police in the Slump.

*   *   *

The message has not reached Wall Street or the City.  If bankers know what is good for them, they will take a teacher’s salary for a few years until the storm passes.  If they proceed with the bonuses now on the table, even as taxpayers pay for the errors of their caste, they must expect a ferocious backlash.

Do you think those bankers are saying “EEEEEK!” yet?  They probably aren’t.  Many other similarly-situated individuals are likely turning the page to have a look at the action in “emerging markets”.  Nevertheless, Mr. Evans-Pritchard, in another piece, exposed the hopelessness of those expectations:

Russia is sinking into a swamp of bad loans.

The scale of credit rot in the Russian banking system exposed by Fitch Ratings this week is truly staggering.  The report is yet another cold douche to those betting that the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) can pull us out of our mess.

So there you have it.  You wanted to see Thriller again?  Now you have it in real life.  This time, neither Boris Karloff nor Michael Jackson will be around to keep it “lite”.  This is our reality in July of 2009.  Hang on.

Michelle In The Spotlight

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November 20, 2008

I receive many strange comments on this website that I simply delete.  Although I am a strong proponent of First Amendment rights, I exercise my option of deleting defamatory remarks, spam-based “comments” and miscellaneous lunacy.  That final category includes a comment I received a while ago from an alleged female, focused on Michelle Obama.  The rant included this statement:  “Someone should look into Michelle  …”   I felt inclined to reply with the following:

An obstetrician actually did look into her and found two African-American babies, who were sired by Barack Obama.  Are you scared yet?

Throughout the Presidential campaign, the crazy stuff about Michelle kept turning up all over the media.  Monday, November 17, was a landmark day for that ignominious chapter in “news” coverage.  You may remember Fox News anchor E.D. Hill, who, on June 6, called attention to Michelle’s “terrorist fist jab” with Barack.  Fox News subsequently removed Hill from its America’s Pulse program.  On November 17, TVNewser reported that the Fox News Senior Vice-President of programming, Bill Shine, informed TVNewser of his decision not to renew Hill’s current contract with Fox, which expires within the next few months.  A small step for Fox, but a giant leap for  …  uh …  Fox.

From a more rational perspective, another item about Michelle appeared on today’s Daily Beast website.  The article, “Michelle’s Closet Agenda”, was written by Geraldine Brooks.  Ms. Brooks summarized the theme of her posting with this statement:

The point of this long-winded anecdote is not to add more fuel to the bonfire of the vanities surrounding the fact that, my God, we’re finally gonna’ have another first lady like Jackie who knows how to dress.  The point is twofold:  Michelle seems to be able to do everything she sets her mind to, and to do it at a high level of excellence.  And, more importantly: she knows this, and isn’t about to be “handled” into any role in which she is not supremely confident and comfortable.

This point emphasizes an aspect about Michelle that many people find threatening.  They saw it all before with Hillary Clinton:  A woman who attended law school with her husband at Yale, who went on to have an active and successful legal career.  Although Barack is two years older than Michelle, she graduated from Harvard Law School three years before our President-elect graduated from that same institution.  While working as Vice-President for Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals, Michelle was earning approximately $273,000 per year, in comparison with Barack’s $157,000 salary as a United States Senator representing the State of Illinois.

Michelle’s stint as First Lady follows that of Laura Bush, who did not have much to say during her husband’s eight-year tenure.  Nevertheless, book publishers are stomping on each other’s toes in the quest to obtain the publishing rights to Laura’s memoirs.  As for Michelle, many are expecting a First Lady who might have a little more to say, than did Laura Bush.  There is a great deal of doubt as to whether Michelle will become as involved in government as was Hillary Clinton, during her days promoting expanded health care.  Despite that, many people are anxious to get a little more insight from Michelle than we heard from Laura Bush.  One of the first commentators to express this craving was Jason Zengerle.  After Michelle’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Zengerle had this to say in the August 25 edition of The New Republic:

Michelle Obama introduced herself as a sister, a wife, a mother, and a daughter–which are all incredibly important identities.  But those identities don’t reveal her full person–the Princeton and Harvard Law grad, the corporate attorney, the hospital executive–which were parts of her life that she barely mentioned.  Instead, she gave us predictable pap like “the Barack Obama I know today is the same man I fell in love with 19 years ago.”

Many pundits are hungry for more incisive, quotable wisdom from our next First Lady.  They will surely get it.  They will know better than to scrutinize Michelle’s statements for gaffes.  Joe Biden has proven himself as the new administration’s most abundant source of those.  Why look elsewhere?

The Secret Candidate

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September 8, 2008

They’re out there … all around you.  You just don’t know who they are yet.  Right now, all across America, they’re out shopping for those Kawasaki eyeglass frames … trying to re-style their hair into that half-beehive/half-mullet look.  They’re the Sarah Palin wanna-bes — forcing their sons to join hockey teams – each hoping to earn that coveted title for herself:  “Hockey Mom” — a ticket to success in today’s America.  There is no question that Sarah Palin will be the most popular Halloween costume subject for 2008.  Beyond that, there are many thousands of American women, currently adapting their lives to accommodate Sarah Palin as their new role model.

The rest of us just aren’t sure we know who Sarah Palin is yet.  The McCain campaign is obviously training her on the difficult subject of interviews with journalists.  As of this time, there are no Palin interviews scheduled, other than the rumored possibility of an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson.  As I write this, McCain campaign CEO, Rick Davis, is holding out for “ground rules”.  I suspect that if the campaign’s senior strategist, Steve Schmidt, were to have his way, any such interviews would be tightly scripted and choreographed, with all questions and answers written in advance by Schmidt.  Meanwhile, Joe Biden appeared on the September 6 edition of Meet The Press.  Biden had to answer at least one question with:

I don’t know what Governor Palin’s position on this issue is, because I haven’t heard it yet.  I have to assume that her position will be the same as Senator McCain’s.

When asked about the impending federal government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Biden pointed out that he had just discussed the subject with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the previous evening.  I could not help but wonder what the hell Sarah Palin would have said in answer to that question   …  “Freddie Mac cracked a lot of sexist jokes at an Obama rally.  Didn’t he die recently?”

Nevertheless, we are beginning to obtain information about Palin for ourselves by using our computers over the Internet.  The mainstream media have nothing for us, other than the superficial biography offered by the Republican National Committee.  What we have initially learned is that Sarah Palin spent six years working toward her Bachelor’s Degree, while attending five different schools in that effort.  Many consider this as evidence that she may be significantly dumber than our current President.  Although I refer to Governor Palin as “The Gumball”, I don’t consider her six-year college tour as a justifiable basis for criticizing her.  Many of us who attended college either made school transfers ourselves, or had friends who did so  — at the cost of lost course credits.  For someone to change colleges five different times, yet graduate in only six years, is quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations, Sarah!

Additional information about Palin has been provided by David Hullen in the September 4 edition of the Anchorage Daily News.  Hullen quoted an e-mail written by Anne Kilkenny of Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin was formerly mayor.  Ms. Kilkenny was described by Hullen as a “stay-at-home mom, letter-to-the-editor writer and longtime watcher of Valley politics.”  This article and e-mail are essential reading for anyone with more than a nanobyte of curiosity about who Sarah Palin really is.  Before I quote a passage from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail … let’s revisit The Gumball’s quip about Barack Obama, included in her acceptance speech, as written by Matt Scully:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.

Ms. Kilkenny of Wasilla informed us about the consequences for Sarah Palin’s failure to fulfill those responsibilities:

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She (Palin) had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

In other words, Palin’s duties as “mayor of a small town” had to be “outsourced” to someone else, because Palin was in over her head and on the verge of being recalled.  Was this administrator from Bangalore, India, by any chance?

As we learn more about The Gumball, we are repeatedly reminded of our current President.  Here’s another remark about Palin, from Ms. Kilkenny’s e-mail:

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise.  As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

If you thought that John McCain was becoming a lot more like President Bush, Sarah Palin appears to have a head start.  No wonder she is being kept under wraps!

Many have criticized the mainstream media for “not doing their job” during the run-up to the Iraq war.  Those same news sources appear to be well on the way toward repeating that performance, as we enter the run-up to the Presidential election.

Hillary Delivers The Goods

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August 28, 2008

Like many critics of Hillary Clinton’s performance during this Primary season, I was very skeptical about whether she would deliver a whole-hearted endorsement of Barack Obama at the Democratic Convention.  My reaction to her speech on Tuesday night was similar to what I heard from the voices in my TV.  My first exclamation at the close of her speech, was:  “Out of the park and 300 feet above Waveland Avenue, all the way across!”  Keith Olbermann’s voice then came out of the TV, saying: “Grand Slam!” repeatedly.  After a minute, David Gregory asked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to critique the speech.  Richardson described it as “a 500-foot home run”.

After hearing her speech, I felt motivated to apologize for publicly doubting her loyalty to the Democratic Party.  She really did “deliver the goods” by giving what was, perhaps, her best speech on the campaign stump.  Although many of us were surprised by the substance of her speech, I was particularly impressed by her delivery.  Hillary had always addressed her audiences with Lieberman-esque stiffness.  Imagine someone saying “let us go forward” with a groaning, insincere tone for the 10,000th time.  That was the way Hillary used to speak.  In defeat, she really did find her voice.  Although she claimed that happened after her “close call” in New Hampshire, I believe that deep in her heart, she must have known she would not really find her voice until she would be completely vanquished in this campaign.  Once the weight of the world was (literally) lifted off her shoulders, she was able to freely and candidly express herself to the voters.  She needs to review the videos of this speech to reinforce her better public speaking skills, as an example of “how it is done properly”.  The look in Bill’s eyes told the story:  Hillary had finally cultivated her public speaking skills to the level where they belong.  Right on the heels of the Summer Olympics, where we saw so many American women win so many medals, we saw an American woman who ran for the Presidency, delivering a solid performance for Team U.S.A.  I’m sure the audience saw it this way and it was reflected in the sports metaphors used by so many, expressing their reactions to this speech.

I was glad to see the individuals mentioned in my “Women To Watch” article (June 19) behind the podium during the first two days of this Convention.  At the Republican Convention, we will not see this many women speaking, unless they run some sort of “Abortion Confessional” feature.  (John Waters would be the perfect director for such a piece.)

Bill Clinton’s only challenge at this Convention was to show that he still has “the old magic”.  It was not unlike an extended, Keith Richards guitar solo at a Rolling Stones concert.  All he had to do was go out and give the audience a little of the old  …  “little of the old”.   It worked.  Bill was back with his unique ability to enrapture a crowd.  The audience responded warmly to him.

By this point in the Democratic Convention, no speaker had yet really slaughtered John McCain or the Republicans to the extent many Democrats had anticipated.  Patrick Buchanan of MSNBC voiced his criticism that McCain had been “getting a free ride” at this Convention.  His remark drew a round of applause from the largely-Democratic, outdoor crowd at Union Station in Denver.

Finally, Joe Biden stepped up to serve the audience some petit filet mignon.  Democrats aren’t big on red meat.  They’re mostly a “fish” crowd, preferring high levels of mercury over the risk of colon cancer.  The avoidance of “red meat” had been obvious all week.  It was beginning to show.  Had the arugula vegans taken over Obama’s campaign once and for all?  Biden gave the Convention program just what it needed:  some hardball pitches at McCain’s failed foreign policy positions, contrasted with Obama’s foreign policy ideas, some of which were ratified by the Bush Administration even after McCain had dissed them as nonsense.

For his part, Obama educated his Republican critics about the characterization of him as a “celebrity”.  They just can’t get a handle on it.  On Wednesday night, Obama made it clear that he is not just a celebrity …  He’s an “M.C.”  (This means “master of ceremonies” to all of us still using SPF 30 sunscreen in late August.)  “M.C. Barack” had things under control by the end of Wednesday night.  Let’s see how he does on Thursday.

Night Of The Glow Stick

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The hour is quickly approaching when Barack Obama will announce his running mate.  Most political commentators expect John McCain to take his time in making his own decision, since the Republican Convention takes place after the Democratic event.  Some believe that Obama’s choice might impact the decision McCain will make in selecting his own, would-be VP.  My theory is that McCain’s primary concern is to avoid selecting anyone taller than himself.  The McCain camp has made a point of limiting his traveling companions to Senator Lindsey Graham and Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  Both of these men stand at approximately the same height as McCain.  Since “The Tool” is not really a Republican and, worse yet, was Al Gore’s “kiss of death” running mate, I have my money riding on South Carolina Seantor Graham.

As for Obama’s choice, the rumors have it that the Democratic candidate has narrowed the field down to a final three:  Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Delaware Senator Joe “Glow Stick” Biden.  Early enthusiasm about Governor Kaine began to fade, as critics focused on a “lack of national security experience”.  Once the attention turned to Evan Bayh, there was an outpouring of disgust that a co-sponsor of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq would be considered as a viable choice for the VP slot.  Activist Steve Clemons was one of those leading the charge against the selection of Bayh, with his plea that those opposed to Bayh should communicate their opinions to the Obama campaign.  Clemons now reports from his blog, The Washington Note, that his sources from within the Obama campaign have informed him that the “surge of concern” expressed on the Internet about Bayh, has pushed the Indiana Senator out of contention.  As a result, the last of those three, still believed to be standing, is “Glow Stick” Biden.

You may recall Biden’s earlier efforts in the current Presidential campaign.  Immediately after his one-percent showing in the Iowa caucuses, he dropped out of the race and allowed his hair plugs to return to their naturally-white color.  His January 31, 2007 remark, characterizing Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” became a celebrated gaffe.  That remark confirmed the longstanding diagnosis of his Cerebral Flatulence Disorder  — too many “brain farts”.  This disorder had become apparent during his 1988 bid for the Presidency, when he claimed, in a speech, that his father had worked as a coal miner.  Reporters easily refuted this claim with uncontroverted evidence that, in fact, his father had managed a car dealership.

In 2002, Biden introduced the controversial Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, also known as the “RAVE Act”.  A notable aspect of this failed piece of legislation was its provision outlawing the use of “glow sticks” which had become popular at “rave” parties and nightclubs.  Perhaps Biden’s sense of cause-and-effect had become altered to the point where he believed that the use of glow sticks was actually causing young people to use the drug, known as “Ecstasy”, at these events.  The absurdity of this proposal motivated Glenn Reynolds from (of all places) Fox News to write an article called “Raving Lunacy” on July 25, 2002.  It is indeed difficult to understand how an individual, who had served as an adjunct professor of Constitutional Law at Widener University Law School, would see no First Amendment problem with this incursion on the rights of glow stick aficionados to express themselves.  I was reminded of that fiasco while watching the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics on August 8.  I could not overlook the irony that in the Communist police state, we saw approximately eighty per cent of the 90,000 people sitting in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, waving glow sticks in accordance with the program created by director Zhang Yimou.  I could not help but wonder what Joe Biden thought of this.  If only China had its own counterpart for him – perhaps a Security Enforcer named Cho Bai Den, storming through the Olympic stadium yelling: “No grow stick!”  .  .  .

With Senator Biden on his way to Tbilisi, Georgia, as Obama’s surrogate to offset the efforts of McCain’s Lieberman-Graham duo, we see him emerging as an apparent choice for an important cabinet position in an Obama Administration.  Should he find himself standing before the crowd in Denver’s Pepsi Center as Obama’s Vice-Presidential nominee on August 27 – there could be only one appropriate way for the audience to celebrate:  by waving glow sticks.