Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: January 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Car Trouble, Oh Yeah

No! This was supposed to be the post title I didn't use a couple of weeks ago. If I were the kind of person who believed that there were no coincidences, that everything happens for a reason, I'd think that there was some sort of cosmic hit out on me or something. Just a bit over a month ago, I was rear-ended on the freeway. Because it was right before the holidays and in the midst of an ice storm, the body shop was backed up, and we didn't get the car back for 20 days. A week and a day after that, in the midst of a savage cold snap, I went out for lunch, and I couldn't get the car started. I had to get it towed to even find out what was wrong with it. As it turned out, it had nothing to do with the cold. We got the car back last night, just in time for Chicago's thirty-degree drop in three hours, snow, and heavy winds. Don't worry, we got it home without any real problem.

Tonight, though, it was a different story. I was minding my own business and driving on a couple of errands when I hit a patented Chicago-freezing-weather pothole. Every time I hit a pothole more directly than I should, I remember a time more than twenty years ago when my brother and I were coming home from a Bruce Springsteen concert and tried to take a backstreet to avoid the massive traffic jam from concertgoers trying to get on the freeway. (In one of those odd synchronicities you run across from time to time, although she and I had never met at that point, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk [under a different name at the time] was returning from the same show; she was wise enough not to try some lame backstreet.) I hit a pothole about as straight on as a pothole can be hit, and the blow out was immediate. Tonight I was recalling that experience when I realized my ride was suddenly much rougher than it should've been. Sure enough, the front driver's-side tire was as flat as a pancake. If you're in the Chicago area, you already know the implications of this. If you're not, let me just say ten degrees and slush on the roadside. I don't know whether the temperature had anything to do with it or if it was just a particularly ornery bolt, but there was one just that didn't want to come off. I was jumping up and down on the tire iron to make it budge, and nothing much happened for ten or fifteen minutes. It did finally give a little bit, and then I knew I was in business. In addition to all of this, the car fell off the jack twice (or three times? I'm not sure), and I desperately hope that the wheel itself hasn't been damaged. The whole process took fifty minutes to an hour. Amazingly, I think adrenalin got me through the whole episode. My hands were cold at first, but after my gloves got wet and dirty (they started out black, so I don't really have an idea of how filthy they are right now), I just worked with my bare hands but didn't feel especially cold (is that adrenalin or frostbite?). I wasn't quite so sanguine when driving home afterward. Although I couldn't find a Saint Bernard wearing a wooden cask, I did stop at the store to get myself some brandy to help warm up when I got home. I also stepped into a nice, hot bath.

I understand there were some developments today in the Democratic primaries. I'm sorry to see John Edwards go, and I may have some more to say about that later. Right now, though, I'm just trying to stay warm.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bye-Bye, Rudy

It looked so brilliant, so foolproof. Who could have ever guessed that Rudy Giuliani's primary campaign strategy, loose really big, over and over, until you win even bigger wasn't an obvious winner. Rudy's always said that he was pinning his while campaign success on Florida. (At least, he's always said it since whenever the first time he said it was. This post at RealClearPolitics shows that his campaign was singing a different tune three short months ago.) Perhaps it depends on how you define success. If you really look at it, Rudy did indeed pull off his best showing tonight in Florida. A full 15 percent of the vote and a solid third place. That sure beats single digits and sixth place. But apparently 15 percent doesn't live up to Rudy's expectations, so he's taking his ball and going home. (Actually, he's tossing his ball to McCain, and then he's going home.) I have to admit that I laughed out loud at the Sound Politics headline: Rudy's on a Train to Nowhere. They've even got a nifty video to explain the reference.

So does this make McCain the frontrunner? Such as it is, I suppose so. But with Super Tuesday only a week away now, I'm not sure that the crown matters much. McCain's had money problems in the past, but everybody loves a winner, so I'm sure fundraising isn't a problem at the moment. But it must be remembered that Romney has no such money problems. He doesn't need to win to stay in the chase, he just needs a respectable showing. Until McCain can show that the Republican base is going to coalesce behind him, there's no reason in the world for Romney to continue dropping out. Now that McCain's looking more and more to be the odds-on favorite for the nomination, it'll be interesting to see what kind of backlash he inspires. The people who hate him are going to start getting desperate before too long.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Following Up

All right, I'll admit it. I couldn't actually bring myself to watch the State of the Union tonight. I didn't see precisely how the Prez addressed the FISA and telecom immunity bill. Contrary to my expectations, though, I haven't seen any accounts that suggest he did anything much more than the Senate Republicans did. So now all we need is for the Democrats to stand by their guns and not cave. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you also missed the State of the Union and want the Cliff Notes version, run over to Think Progress for their extensive collection of real-time fact-checking. Everything you need to know, and maybe a few things you'd rather not have seen.

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union Time Paradox

The Democrats were apparently angry enough today that they actually defeated the Republicans' call to cloture for the FISA bill that featured telecom immunity. Only four Democrats defected, so I suppose that has to count as a triumph. Although the Prez has claimed he'll veto an extension of the current law, which expires at the end of the week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that some extension might be in order. Because, after all, the Republicans have been clamoring for weeks that allowing the law to expire would essentially give the terrorists carte blanche to organize their next attack. Washington appears to have been in a post-ironic state for a number of years, but surely somebody there would recognize the irony if the Republicans blocked the very thing they claim is the only way to protect the republic. (They got off to a good start, though, preventing a vote on the Democrats' proposed 30-day extension.)

All of this seems to be some sort of White House master plan, and it's hard to imagine that the Prez is not going to make hay with it once he's got the platform of a joint session of Congress. Yet, that's not what he's overtly planning to do. Newspapers are always on strict deadlines for the morning edition, so as it usually does, the Associated Press has helpfully written out its past-tense account of the State of the Union address for those papers that can't wait for the actual event. This is virtually guaranteed to be printed somewhere. There's no mention of the Senate vote this afternoon--the closest we'll get, according to the AP (oddly shifting to the future tense for a moment) is, "He will prod Congress to extend a law allowing surveillance on suspected terrorists." Is he now supporting the extension he had his Senate Republicans knock down this afternoon? I'm not holding my breath. We'll see how much he prods and how much he beats them with his rhetorical club. I'm going to save a copy of the AP pre-report to see what kind of prognosticators they are.

Going Against the Prez Before the State of the Union

Tomorrow--well, it's quite a ways after midnight, so I guess it's technically today--is the big vote for cloture on the revised FISA bill (which I most recently talked about here, here, and here). The Republicans apparently think it's to their advantage to keep Congress from passing a new bill so they'll have the advantage in campaigning. At this point, I'm expecting a whole lot more fear being served up in the Republican primaries and then in the general election in the fall. Glenn Greenwald wrote more on the dynamics of the issue (all the bolding is as it appears in the original):

The only reason Senate Democrats became angry on Thursday is because Republicans actually refused to allow Democrats to capitulate, as they were ready and eager to do. Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from caving in completely to Bush because they didn't want this issue resolved. They want to ensure that Bush, in Monday's State of the Union address, can accuse Senate Democrats of failing to act on FISA, and thus attack and mock them as being weak on national security and causing the Terrorists to be able to Slaughter Us All.

And, rather pitifully, some Democrats are shocked -- so very upset -- that, yet again, their demonstrated willingness to give the Republicans everything they demanded has not prompted a Good, Nice, Courteous Response. "We did everything you told us to do. Why are you being so mean and unfair?" That sad posture is what led even Jay Rockefeller apparently to announce that he will vote against cloture on his own bill.

Worse, even if Democrats prevent the Republicans' cloture vote on Monday, that will mean we'll just be right back to where we were before that happened: with a series of votes that will almost certainly end in the Senate with some form of retroactive immunity and vastly expanded warrantless eavesdropping powers.

Just because the Prez will go to town in the State of the Union about how the Democrats aren't really interested in protecting the country, I think enough voters have gotten tired of this rampant fear-mongering that they'll see it for what it is. Just in case they don't, though, it doesn't hurt to continue to contact your senators or others who you think need to hear from you. Once again, Christy Hardin Smith has the contact information, including phone and FAX info for the three main Democratic presidential candidates (only two of whom have an actual vote in the Senate). And Jane Hampshire follows up her own post from a couple of nights ago with the announcement that Hillary and Obama will both be in the Senate chamber to vote against cloture. Let's hope they do a little bit of twisting arms for that position, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Winning Big

I don't really have too much to say at the moment about Barack Obama's extremely impressive showing in South Carolina. With the field helpfully winnowed down to three candidates (yes, I know Mike Gravel is still ostensibly in the race), it's not as far-fetched to pull out a majority, but Obama had twice as many votes as second-place finisher Clinton. Chasing after the horse race is an extremely popular pastime these days, and Obama's big finish may even vault him back into the position of consensus frontrunner. But what will that mean? I suppose that we can count Florida or not, given that their delegates are not official for the time being and the candidates have promised not to campaign there, but other than that state, with South Carolina out of the way, the primaries just became national. We're less than a week and a half from Super Tuesday, when almost half the states will hold primaries or caucuses, including California, New York, and Illinois. There'll still be speeches and appearances, but none of the candidates can spend the time in each state that they did in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. And strategy and tactics become much more important all of a sudden. The horse race may be different again after Florida, and it will almost certainly be different in ten days after Super Tuesday, so talking about the snapshot of the race at this moment won't necessarily accomplish much.

Still, it's been very heartening to see so much interest in the primaries. More than half a million people participated in today's contest, and previous states have seen record turnouts, as well. That can't help but be good for Democrats.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Are You Ready for Some "Straight Talk"?

Anytime that John McCain is ready to provide his patented form of straight talk, I suppose it would only be polite to listen to it. But despite the hype for candor that usually accompanies the senator, at best he runs hot and cold. Are his statements more trustworthy when they're self-deprecating? Perhaps so.

For more than a little while, he's been downplayed his economics bona fides. Earlier this week, it was reported that he surprised The Wall Street Journal editorial board when he came for a recent interview with former senator Phil Gramm in tow. Gramm joined the McCain campaign last summer to help with economic issues. Sam Stein wrote: "'People around the table were sort of taken back,' said the source. 'They thought McCain would have better answers.'" Last month, he joked about his unpreparedness on the economy. "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. I've got Greenspan's book." As Greenspan's tenure reveals itself to be more and more ineffective in keeping the economy on an even keel through both the dot-com and the housing bubbles, perhaps his biography isn't the best tool for devising financial policy. But claiming that he's weak on economic theory isn't a new development for McCain. A couple of years back, another interview appeared in The Wall Street Journal. He trotted out his by-now-familiar line, which interviewer Stephen Moore called "refreshingly blunt": "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated." He also said he depended on Phil Gramm for advice, and Moore suggested that Gramm would "almost certainly" be appointed secretary of the Treasury under McCain.

So if McCain's been willing to expose his shortcomings on economics, what's the problem? Well, now that the economy seems like it will play an outsize role in the remainder of the campaign, such admissions are not quite as strategically helpful. During Thursday's debate, Tim Russert, who always enjoys paying a fun game of Gotcha with politicians, dredged up the older Wall Street Journal quote. But instead of admitting his shortcomings, McCain indulged in a different kind of "straight talk": "I don't know where you got that quote from. I'm very well versed in economics." Talking Points Memo has the video. For some reason, Russert didn't continue his gotcha ways and simply dropped the ball--I mean, point. Maybe he was caught flat-footed by McCain's outright denial of his own quote. If I'd been Russert, I'd have expected McCain to try to finesse the issue or sidestep it, not completely lie about it. Of course, if I'd been Russert, McCain's answer would've just got my back up and I would've pressed it further. Of course, I've never been charmed on the back of the Straight Talk Express. When it comes to McCain, perhaps that's primarily the point where I differ with the liberal media.

Can Hillary Win Again?

On tonight's NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was hyping the South Carolina primary by stating that Obama is looking for his first win since Iowa and Clinton for her first one since Nevada. Oh my god! Hillary hasn't won since Nevada? Oh, yeah. Nevada's not quite a week old yet. It's the most recent contest. So according to Williams, Hillary's looking for her first win since the most recent opportunity anyone had to win anything. So thanks, Brian, for putting things in context for us.

The polls close in South Carolina in a few minutes, so we'll see how it shakes out soon. In the meantime, here's the final pre-election opinion poll to ponder.

Is This Leadership?

Every now and again, Harry Reid comes up with an inspired tactic or otherwise good idea to remind us the kind of activist and effective majority leader he could be. The time he forced the Senate into closed session to demand discussion of prewar intelligence of Iraq the Republicans were avoiding was pretty clever. (Of course, when the Democrats took control of the Senate, they followed the Republicans' lead and continued to ignore the same issue.) And the decision to keep the Senate in session to thwart the Prez's ability to make recess appointments of nominees he could never actually get through the Senate was inspired. But most of the time--for whatever reason--he seems to lead his party in caving into whatever the Prez happens to want at the moment.

That seems to be pretty much what was intended this week for the FISA bill that was expected to include telecom immunity. We talked a little bit last night about what might've happened, and it seems like Reid just finally got pissed off by Republican intransigence on an issue that was going to see Democrats cave to give the administration everything they wanted. That idea was reinforced today at the National Press Club when Reid essentially announced that the FISA bill would not be completed by the February 1 deadline when the current FISA bill--the one that allows for widespread wiretapping without a court order--expires. He demanded that the Prez and his party should accept an extension of the current law until details of the replacement can be worked out. The Republicans, of course, will claim that the nation has lost the ability to monitor calls of potential terrorists. That's ridiculous, of course. There will still be laws in place to monitor anything that raises suspicion. Subpoenas will be required, but no court is going to stand in the way of investigating dangerous suspects. It's just the arbitrary surveillance without any oversight that will be required to stop.

In the past, I would have found these developments promising. The Democrats were finally standing up to the Republican bullies. I've seen this fall apart too many times, with the Democrats running back with their tails between their legs, desperately eager to toss all their principles aside so they can give the Bushies anything and everything they desired. Why will it be different this time? The Republicans were so ridiculously obstructionist against the FISA bill yesterday that there's no doubt in my mind that they wanted the Democrats to do precisely what they've done. The FISA vote is now scheduled for Monday afternoon, just a few hours before the Prez addresses Congress and the nation in the 2008 state of the union address. What better opportunity to ratchet up the fear that we've finally been able to set aside to a large degree. Bush will be playing T-ball with the Democrats, who will place themselves on the batting stand and wait for Bush to swing and knock them out of the park. How long will it take for the Democrats to turn tail at that point?

Also last night, I speculated that the presence of Clinton and Obama, in town for the state of the union and presumably in the Senate chamber for the FISA vote, would bring more juice to the issue. Unfortunately, that remains to be seen. Jane Hamsher asked each of those campaigns about the issue, with very disappointing results. Obama's people said he'd be in town, but they weren't sure enough about his schedule to say whether he'd be on the floor for the vote or not--they can't even guarantee whether he'll be able to register a "present" vote. As for Clinton, her campaign hasn't yet responded--are they ducking the question? Neither of these candidates exactly inspires optimism about the leadership they're prepared to offer from the White House.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another Run at Telecom Immunity

When I got up this morning and took a look at this blog, I wasn't at all pleased with the head on last night's post. I was strapped for a title before going to bed, and I went for a faux naivety. Unfortunately, in the cold light of day this morning, the faux part isn't quite so obvious. The default position on this issue is and has been that the Bush administration and its telecom partners can use their surveillance powers in whatever way they wish without any accountability. That's how it will all work out unless someone (i.e., Democrats) act to prevent it.

I have to pretty much admit that I'm at a loss to figure out the dynamics of the Senate debate today. Although Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted that he was against telecom immunity, it looked as though he was making matters easier for the forces pushing it rather than those opposing it. On Tuesday, he was pushing to have the entire debate and vote complete by the end of the day Thursday (Glenn Greenwald has the details here). But then something happened today to change Reid's trajectory. Tim Tagaris, Chris Dodd's Internet guru during his candidacy, claims that it's just the fact that Republicans became intransigent this afternoon and blocked anything and everything having to do with the bill. That makes sense to me, but who knows.

The long and short of it, however, is that a cloture vote is scheduled for Monday afternoon. In the same post I linked to earlier, Tim Tagaris spells out what that cloture vote means. The good news is that there are three days to influence Democratic senators who voted for telecom immunity in a procedural vote to vote against cloture. With the Prez's state of the union address scheduled for Monday evening, it's virtually certain that Obama and Clinton will be present, as well, so that will ratchet up a bit more attention. Marcy Wheeler has contact information for the Democratic fence sitters (and Republican Arlen Specter for good measure). The stakes are high, but Democrats can win, if they get their act together. Call and encourage them to do just that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Telecoms May Yet Be Let Off the Hook

No matter how I try to tell the story, I can never get it to work out satisfactorily. If the various telecom companies have acted unlawfully--even if they were told to do it by the administration--shouldn't they be answerable for that? And of either of the two parties, shouldn't the Democrats be the ones to stand up for the little guy against corporate malfeasance? I started to type, "Or at least, those are the cliches." And while the second statement may be a cliche, since when is it a cliche to act according to the law?

But most of the Democrats in the Senate don't seem to be interested in following the cliche. At this point, at least, they seem to be lining up to express fealty to a lame duck, unpopular, discredited president on an issue that the majority of Americans oppose. There's no way I can spin this in my own mind so that the Democratic position can seem anything other than unreasonable. And that's even before we get to the potential Chris Dodd filibuster.

It all looks like it may be coming to a head on Thursday, so get on the phone to your senators. Christy Hardin Smith has phone numbers that might be helpful--phone numbers of the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, of Senators Dodd and Feingold who indicated that they'd filibuster, and of twelve senators (including two who are currently up to no good in South Carolina) who suggested they'd support the filibuster. It seems to me that a good test of leadership might be which presidential candidates felt strongly enough about the Constitution to drop whatever campaign plans they have made and run back to the capital to, y'know, lead or something. It would be a demonstration of priorities and of a willingness (to coin a phrase) to change from the corrupt policies of the Bush administration. Also at Firedoglake, Jane Hamsher calls out Clinton and Obama. Returning to Washington to take part in a filibuster if necessary is far more effective than a long-distance "I've got your back" from the campaign trail. While I'm passing along links, I might as well offer Glenn Greenwald's take down of Harry Reid and his Senate leadership. You might want to read it while you're on hold with your senator.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quick Fixes

The market didn't fall as far as it might've, and Asian markets seem to be bouncing back as a result. Was it caused by the Fed's unexpected three-quarter point rate cut first thing this morning, before the markets even opened? Could be. It's the largest cut since 1984, and you don't make that kind of move hoping it won't be noticed. Of course, it was unexpected because the Fed doesn't actually meet until next week, so count on more rate cuts at that time. That can make us feel better about the short term (or it might not), but we've still got some basic problems in the economy that won't go away so easily. A couple of posts from TPM Cafe help illuminate the problem. First, here's Jared Bernstein:

Global financial markets have been tumbling recently based on a number of factors:

--they too are holding bad debt related to our mortgage crisis. The Bank of China just disclosed that the might have to write off $8 billion more in bad loans;

--they’re worried about an American recession. Contrary to the theory of the "great decoupling," globalization has made markets more, not less, interdependent. Foreign markets are betting that the US consumer is unlikely to continue to financing their expansions.

--the weakening dollar means diminished US demand for exports, because they are now more expensive to us.

All of this adds up to greater uncertainty about what's ahead, and that's spooking markets here and abroad. Each week, market players and policy makers keep expecting to hit bottom, only to find some new, deeper problem surface.

Dean Baker provides a little bit of history:

The cause of the chaos is no mystery; the housing bubble is bursting.

It was easy for any competent macroeconomist to recognize that the housing market was in the midst of an unsustainable bubble. By its peak in 2006, the run-up had generated more than $8 trillion in housing bubble wealth. It was inevitable that this bubble would burst and wreak the sort of havoc that we are now seeing.

The housing bubble was allowed to expand to such dangerous proportions because the Fed was not run by a competent macroeconomist. It was run by Alan Greenspan, who used to be the greatest central banker of all time. Greenspan did nothing to stem the growth of the bubble. In fact, he encouraged its growth by recommending that people take out adjustable rate mortgages. He also dismissed the views of the competent macroeconomists who tried to warn of the bubble, assuring the markets that everything was under control.

Fed cuts don't really address any of those issues. Will the upcoming stimulus package do any good, or do we just have to ride the recession until it works itself out?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Uh Oh

I'm not a religious follower of the stock market, but this just can't be good.

A world-wide stock selloff suggested that recession fears are spreading beyond the U.S., and that the downturn in U.S. markets is dragging down share prices abroad.

While U.S. markets were closed yesterday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, major indexes fell 7.2% in Germany, 7.4% in India and 5.5% in Britain.

. . .

Stock indexes in Britain, Germany and France suffered their heaviest percentage declines since Sept. 11, 2001, and in Hong Kong, the largest since Sept. 12, 2001. Indexes yesterday fell 3.9% in Japan, 5.1% in China and 6.6% in Brazil. Hong Kong-listed shares in Chinese companies fell more than 7%.

If that's not enough, Asian markets have already opened and closed for Tuesday, and it didn't look good. The Nikkei Stock Index in Tokyo dropped more than 5 percent today. When added to Monday's loss, the Nikkei is down 9.3 percent for just this week alone, the largest two-day drop in 17 years.

When the Dow Jones opens again on Tuesday, will it follow, adding to the losses of last week, or will it find some stability? Keep an eye out here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Remembering Dr. King

Why You're Feeling So Blue

Yet another car mishap yesterday--my best guess is that the fuel line is somehow frozen--and we had to take it into the shop again for the third time in three months. I was getting ready to post about this and complain (for little more reason that I could title it "Car Trouble, oh Yeah") when I discovered that Monday is the most depressing day of the year. (That might explain why Blogger seemed to be down in the middle of the night--I was intending to get this up before midnight for a Sunday dateline, but I couldn't get in until early Monday morning.) I can't complain about my car on Blue Monday! There's much more to be depressed about than that. I won't go into it, though, because I'm sure you can come up with your own list in pretty short order (that's assuming that you don't already have a pre-existing list in your mind to call on when necessary).

It seems that Monday might be particularly depressing if you're Cliff Arnall, ostensibly of Cardiff University. It's his name that's associated with the determining that January 21 is more depressing than January 22. His depressing-day formula is taken apart by Ben Goldacre of The Guardian here, and his "connection" to Cardiff University and other matters are addressed by Andrew Mickel here. Of course, Arnall responded to previous Goldacre criticism by celebrating the money he makes, so maybe it's not so depressing to be him, after all.

In the meantime, since if you can cheer yourself up by listening to this.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Correcting Errors

At least somebody's on the ball at The New York Times--sort of. As I type, this picture is on the The Times's home page. It's an illustration for this blog entry about an appearance Barack Obama made at Martin Luther King's former pulpit, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. After he spoke, he laid a wreath at King's tomb, on the grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. Although it's since been changed (actually, it was changed between when I started writing this post and now), the original caption identified the woman accompanying him as Coretta Scott King. I wondered why they didn't identify the picture as a file photo, especially since it seemed to imply that it had been taken today.

Well, it turns out I'm not the only one to notice the discrepancy. Apparently someone who actually works at the paper--possibly recalling this obituary from almost two years ago--realized that if that photo was taken today, then that wasn't Mrs. King (although I'll admit that, from a distance, the now unidentified woman does look something like her). I did a bit of quick research and found this photo of the tomb, which now includes Mrs. King. That matches the tomb Obama is visiting, which implies this is indeed a new photo. The caption was changed to read that Obama was placing a wreath at "tomb of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King." As I mentioned above, that change came after I'd already started writing this post, which was going to note another in what's becoming a series of print media missteps. Instead, it just seems to be an online error quickly corrected. Even though it's on the front of the Web site, I suspect it was never intended to get into the paper's print edition.

Another Day, Another Vote Total

So what did today's various contests tell us about the Republican and Democratic presidential races? Not a lot, but something. I was expecting Huckabee to win by a small margin in South Carolina, but he lost by a small margin, instead. While this isn't a knockout blow by any means, South Carolina did look pretty fertile for Huckabee's kind of campaign. For him to have any chance at all, he needs to prove that he's locked up the evangelicals, but The New York Times reported that he only got 40 percent of those voters--surprisingly, McCain got a quarter of them. Huckabee can probably stay in through Super Tuesday, only two-and-a-half weeks away at this point, but unless he gives us a real surprise there, he won't last much longer. If Huckabee has to prove his mettle among evangelicals, McCain, interestingly enough, needs to prove that he can get support among Republicans. He's doing better than he had been, however, drawing the same percentage of self-identified Republicans as Huckabee did. Is he winning his party over? Super Tuesday will give us a better idea, but I still say, "Don't count on it."

Disappointedly (for me, anyway), Fred Thompson came in a distant third. South Carolina was also going to be his moment to shine. His good-ol'-boy charm was going to win him converts in the South. Or not. This is his best showing so far, I believe (and no, it's too late--I'm not going to look it up), and if this is it, he's done before Super Tuesday. Rudy Giuliani, as I'm sure he's going to point out any minute now, fulfilled his own intentions by bringing in a full 2 percent of the vote. At this rate, no one will expect his return when he roars to victory in some primary when we least expect it. Of course, that's assuming that he actually roars to victory in some primary somewhere.

Over in Nevada, Mitt did very well, mostly due to the fact that he campaigned for it and most everyone else never even showed up. I'm sure he's happy to take it anyway. Even though he polled fourth in South Carolina, this win is enough to keep him in the mix. He's one three contests so far (although two of them featured very little campaigning from the rest of the field). Come to think of it, instead of remaining in the mix, the latest victory might bestow him with frontrunner status. It's either him or McCain.

Nevada also held Democratic caucuses, and Hillary was the big winner there. Or was she? Obama ended up closer than the various polls suggested that he would, so that's good news for him. We'll see if Super Tuesday does any sorting out there. Edwards ended up with 4 percent, which doesn't portend well. Nevada's set up is similar to Iowa's, and candidates have to clear 15 percent of the vote in a particular caucus to remain in the count. Edwards wasn't able to pull that off, so his disappointing numbers. Although he claims that he's in for the long haul, you've got to start wondering how much longer Edwards can maintain his campaign. He's still hanging in the running, and Super Tuesday will give us another chance to see how much staying power he's got.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

South Carolina Shows Its Stripes

Not surprisingly, the Republican primary in South Carolina has gotten ugly. Back in 2000, John McCain got pretty effectively slimed by somebody (who could it have possibly been?). His wife was said to be a drug addict, and it was claimed that Bridget McCain, the daughter the McCains adopted from a Bangladeshi orphanage, was actually the senator's love child by some unidentified brown-skinned mistress. McCain's campaign, we all know by now, never recovered. Apparently wanting to jump aboard a winning strategy, some Huckabee backers are attacking McCain and Romney for going against the Confederate flag. These ads claim that those who want to celebrate the flag only want to acknowledge their Southern "heritage." Not that this comes as news to anyone, but it's worth noting that that Southern heritage includes a treasonous period of open rebellion against the nation. If they want to embrace that treason, then it's their right to do so, but there's no reason that they should expect the rest of us to back them up. The Confederate flag is a code word for racist views, so in receiving the support of "Americans for the Preservation of American Culture," Huckabee is aware that he's courting the racist vote. In fact, the governor himself told a rally in Myrtle Beach, "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do." But Huckabee's stratagem seems to be working. We'll see for sure in a little while, but the latest polls seem to be breaking his way.

With the Democrats holding back for a week before their own primary, it'll be interesting to see the fall out if Huckabee does pull out a victory with a racist wind in his sails. Will that blow back on Obama and the Democratic race? I can't imagine that it can manifest itself enough to ensure a Huckabee win and then just dissipate into nothing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Here We Go Again

The Democrats are having a relaxed and leisurely primary season in comparison to the Republicans. The GOPers jump into their fifth contest on Saturday as Republicans in South Carolina go to the polls. They already had a Wyoming contest ahead of Democrats, who will caucus there on March 8, and they had an active primary in Michigan earlier this week up against the Democratic vote that was mostly ignored by the candidates. South Carolinians will have to endure another week of Democratic campaign ads, since that party doesn't hold its primary until January 26. Both parties caucus in Nevada on Saturday.

So will South Carolina shed any new light on identifying a Republican frontrunner? Somebody will win, but don't count on a breakthrough for anybody. McCain has seen his lead in the last few days shrink and disappear as Huckabee gains ground. Apparently that fried squirrel nostalgia is working well for him. Me, I'm rooting for Thompson. He hasn't won anything yet, and South Carolina may well be his last stand. He's apparently hoping that voters there will respond to a fellow Southerner. When he didn't seem to be making inroads into New Hampshire, he withdrew in order to put all his eggs in the South Carolina basket. He's not currently a frontrunner, but unless he pulls an upset out of his hat, I suspect he'll be on the first train back to Hollywood, where he'll again be able to say, "I'm not a successful, charismatic politician, but I play one on TV." Romney has similar numbers to Thompson, so he'd probably better enjoy his frontrunner status while it lasts for another couple of days. Of course, Romney may be able to use his bounce from Michigan to walk away with the Nevada caucuses, but depending on how well he does in South Carolina as well, he'll likely return to his position of just another contender.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How Old Is Old?

I was browsing in a record store today (yes! a few still exist!), and I noticed an odd trend. Like many record stores (I should call it a CD store, because I didn't notice any actual LPs in there, but CD store sounds odd), it divided its inventory into various categories--rock, jazz, new age, classical, etc. They also had an oldies section, which isn't terribly unusual, either, but I was a bit surprised at what the oldies area included. There was the typical collection of '50s and early '60s performers and groups, some of the lesser British invasion participants, and even some psychedelia. Not terribly unusual. But then I noticed markers for Gang of Four of the Go-Gos. Well, when you think of it, those groups broke more than a quarter century ago. Just because I have first-hand memories of that era doesn't mean it's too close to the present to avoid the label of oldie. When I think about it, I work with people who are younger than Entertainment! and Beauty and the Beat. Although I wasn't particularly paying attention at the time, I realized later that I'd seen the Rolling Stones mixed in the regular rock section alongside Radiohead, The National, Arcade Fire, and whatever other current band you want to mention. Well, even though the Stones were England's newest hitmakers more than four-and-a-half decades ago, they've never broken up, so I guess they count as an ongoing concern. But then I also remembered seeing The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and--from the same era as Gang of Four and the Go-Gos--Talking Heads, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. All those performers or bands have been caput for at least ten years (although some of them have reunited for live shows or tours from time to time).

So what's the logic here? I didn't think too much about this while I was in the store and didn't look through the oldies section terribly closely, so it's possible that Gang of Four and the Go-Gos are the only new-wave era performers included, possibly as some sort of joke by the staff or something. But it does raise a question. What should we be considering oldies today? I first heard the "Hits of the '60s and '70s" radio station in Texas back about 1983 or '84. At that time, radio didn't seem to be playing anything that wasn't current, so it was a refreshing change to hear songs again that you enjoyed in the past. That particular radio station announced that their playlist could consist of anything that was seven years old or more. Now those same kinds of stations play "Hits of the '60s, '70s, and '80s," and maybe a few of them stray into the '90s. But what would happen if anybody used that same "seven years or more" standard? Every U2 album except their latest one would qualify. Most of Eminem's output. Radiohead up through Kid A. All but the last Blur album and the last two Oasis albums. When I was 18, the music from seven years earlier, when I would've been 11, seemed like a whole different generation. Much of the music I just mentioned seems fairly contemporary (to me, anyway), but what does it sound like to an 18 year old? Whether that theoretical teen likes some of those groups, do they seem like they're somebody else's music? Everybody complains about the Baby Boomers ruling the airwaves, but are Generation X bands monopolizing our current awareness as much as the Boomers did back in the '80s and '90s?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Primary Wrap

I'm getting a late start on this tonight, so it'll probably be short. But the big news is that the Mittster pulled it off! It was do or die for the Romney campaign tonight, and they did. Mitt finally got himself a gold (I know--it was a tired analogy the first time he used it, and I'd imagine that pretty much everybody's sick of it by now. But this definitely puts a dent in McCain's position as frontrunner. They've had three four different Republican contests, and they've had three different winners. Of course, I don't want to appear as though I'm gloating, because the Democrats have had two official contests and two winners. (Tonight in Michigan doesn't count because the national Democratic Party didn't sanction the primary and there are no actual delegates at stake--still, Hillary did pretty well against uncommitted, with both Obama and Edwards having withdrawn their names.) Romney got 39 percent of the vote, with McCain coming in second with 30 percent. Huckabee trailed quite a ways back with 16 percent, ahead of Ron Paul with 6 percent and Fred Thompson with 4. Rudy Giuliani, who pulled in 3 percent, continued his crafty strategy of losing big until he wins by pulling something out of his hat. Any day now, I'm sure.

Elsewhere, it's official: Mike Huckabee wants to be a mullah when he grows up. You can't get much purer as a religious right candidate than wanting to get God into the Constitution. God's not there now by design because, as you may remember, the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, set up a freedom of religion. It's hard to be free to pursue whatever religion you're driven to if one in particular is sanctioned by the state. But Huckabee, apparently, is wiser than the founders. He wants to make the U.S. into a more Christian nation. At least you can't accuse him of being a stealth candidate. Our pal Don Byrd has more at his church/state blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Go Vote Republican, Michigan!

Today's the Michigan primary, and you may have heard that the dynamics here are a bit different than they usually are. The state moved its vote up much earlier than it's been in past years, and the Democratic party has not been happy about that. They've refused to seat whatever delegates come out of that vote, and as a result, Barack Obama and John Edwards have taken their names off the ballot. That means Hillary's running there essentially unopposed (well, there is Mike Gravel). Michigan Congressman John Conyers is trying to push "uncommitted" votes as a way to undermine Hillary, but last week Kos had another idea. Michigan runs open primaries. Recalling previous instances when Michigan Republican voters crossed over to the Democratic primary to influence those contests, Kos proposed that Michigan Democrats let Hillary have her empty win and vote Republican. Particularly, he suggested that they prop up Mitt Romney's ailing campaign. Romney has appeared to put all his chips into Michigan, where his father was governor during the '60s, and if he doesn't pull out a victory, he may take his riches and go back to Massachusetts with his tail between his legs. Without Mitt, John McCain just might be unstoppable for the nomination. Although there may be no way to deflect McCain in the long run, isn't it better for everyone (except maybe Republicans) for the nominating race to keep going for a while? Matt Yglesias even argues that a vote for Mitt doesn't even have to be seen by Democrats as mischief making--he'd be a more reasonable president than either McCain or Rudy Giuliani (presuming Giuliani even remains a viable candidate). Of course, that assumes that Romney is currently misrepresenting his true positions to get Republican votes and that an actual Romney administration would be closer to Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts than Romney's actual presidential campaign, but I'm not sure that's not a relatively safe assumption myself. So if you're in Michigan, get involved!

Another Warming Trend

The bad news on the climate seems to be accelerating. Monday's Washington Post reported on new information in Nature Geoscience stating that ice sheets in Antarctica have begun to show signs of melting. Although the Arctic has long been the focus of melting, Antarctica was long presumed to be relatively safe from warming temperatures. In fact, the reality that the southern hemisphere didn't seem to be experiencing the same obvious symptoms of global warming as the northern hemisphere has been used by skeptics of global warming to prove that no part of the planet is warming. For better or worse, those days appear to be over. Here's what the Post wrote:

Climatic changes appear to be destabilizing vast ice sheets of western Antarctica that had previously seemed relatively protected from global warming, researchers reported yesterday, raising the prospect of faster sea-level rise than current estimates.

. . .

[Eric] Rignot[, senior scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the Nature Geophysics material] said the tonnage of yearly ice loss in Antarctica is approaching that of Greenland, where ice sheets are known to be melting rapidly in some parts and where ancient glaciers have been in retreat. He said the change in Antarctica could become considerably more dramatic because the continent's western shelf, an expanse of ice and snow roughly the size of Texas, is largely below sea level and has broad and flat expanses of ice that could move quickly. Much of Greenland's ice flows through relatively narrow valleys in mountainous terrain, which slows its motion.

Some of the most alarming prognostications in the article concern a continuation of the Arctic melting with simultaneous Antarctic melting.
"Both Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheet are huge bodies of ice and snow, which are sitting on land," said Rajendra Pachauri, chief of the IPCC [(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)], the United Nations' scientific advisory group. "If, through a process of melting, they collapse and are submerged in the sea, then we really are talking about sea-level rises of several meters." (A meter is about a yard.) Last year, the IPCC tentatively estimated that sea levels would rise by eight inches to two feet by the end of the century, assuming no melting in West Antarctica.

That's right, a rise of the ocean "eight inches to two feet" is the best-case scenario. Better start putting the sweaters away.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Having Their Cake and Eating It, Too

It may not be a business model that can work for everybody, but those who can pull it off may be looking at the future. Radiohead released physical copies of its latest album In Rainbows, this week, and as is their pattern, they immediately saw it leap to number one. Most of you probably know why that was seen as a surprise to some, but for those who don't, here's a quick explanation. Back in October, Radiohead, between record contracts, released their seventh album only on the Internet. Available to anyone and everyone who had an Internet connection, the band asked merely that downloaders pay what they feel they should (you can click through if you want to, but the offer's no longer available). None of the statistics for that experiment are available--Radiohead is keeping the numbers to themselves. Did most people pay something, of did a majority take the files for free? For those who did pay, how much did they pay? One study claimed that only 38 percent of downloaders paid anything. Figuring all those who didn't pay into the average, Radiohead brought in $2.26 for each download. Speculation is that their royalty rate through a major record company would be more than that, $3.00 or more. Radiohead wasted no time in denying those figures, although they refused to release their actual numbers.

Regardless of how many people downloaded the album, for free or otherwise, 122,000 buyers were willing to pay regular CD prices to buy a regular CD of In Rainbows. The general explanation for this is that the downloads served as kind of teasers or advertisements for the "official" prerecorded CD. Content providers worry that if they make their content available online for free that no one would bother paying any real money for it. But it turns out that many (most?) people want to have a physical artifact in addition to any digital material they might have. In the context of comics and webcomics, Todd Allen has been making that argument for ages (although he didn't make it in the column posted today, so you might want to check out his archives. Radiohead's experience will encourage a few more content providers to experiment with free Web material. It's a slow build as a business model, but with each success, it becomes more and more obviously viable.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Those Deadlines Are Killers

Is the print media just trying to embarrass itself? Last week we had the Parade magazine cover featuring Benazir Bhutto as possibly "America's best hope against al-Queda" a week and a half after her assassination. This week, some of the British print press reported that Barack Obama had won the New Hampshire primary.

Sure, it's not as dismal as The Chicago Daily Tribune's "Dewey Defeats Truman headline (something The Independent also points that out, but more on that in a minute). But sixty years ago, you can assume that deadlines were even tighter, and cross-country communication wasn't completely reliable. Nowadays, however, I guess technology has has improved on the presses so that they can roll that much closer to delivery. Communication, even with a vast ocean between the two parties, is instantaneous. But that doesn't solve every eventuality. Sometimes you're not going to have what you need by press time. But in those cases, the correct answer is not to wager on one possible outcome coming to pass. Instead, if you don't have all the information, print what you can and promise to provide a full story as soon as possible.

One issue that may make this hard to address could be that newspaper editors and publishers don't want to acknowledge their limitations. I can understand that to some degree, but in an instance like this, their limitations are raised aloft for the world to see when they get such a highly visible story wrong. The Times, The Telegraph, and The Independent were the papers that put Obama on top, and for its part, The Independent didn't seem too concerned about that in its explanation the following day.

Our front page yesterday may, regrettably, have given the impression that Barack Obama had beaten Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary and was well on his way to sewing up the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. "Barack Obama's Incredible Journey," we called it.

To be sure, Mr Obama's journey thus far has been incredible.

What The Independent didn't point out is that the phrase "Barack Obama's Incredible Journey" was prefaced with: "Iowa . . . New Hampshire . . . America?" Take a look yourself. But they went on:

We could plead mitigating circumstances. The time difference works to the great disadvantage of the European and British press. Print deadlines gave us little choice but to trust the advance US polls. The unusually wide discrepancy between the exit polls and the actual vote became clear a good two hours after our final edition went to press. The exit polls were wrong; so was our gamble on Mr Obama.

At least this was only an early, if important, primary, and we were in the excellent company of most of the British press. It was hardly a howler like the Chicago Daily Tribune's 1948 headline, declaring that Dewey had defeated Truman for the presidency. Nor was it a CBS moment – when in 2000 the US network called Florida, and the presidency, for Gore.

Pointing out its mistake wasn't as bad as those others have made doesn't do much to mitigate it. And if that's your strategy, make sure you know what you're talking about. I'm not entirely sure what The Independent means by "a CBS moment." All the networks called Florida for Gore, then they all went back to undecided, then to Bush, and finally to undecided. We don't need to get into it here, but it's not at all clear that the networks were wrong in the first place.

The print press is obviously concerned about being scooped not just by TV but now by the Internet. They should stop worrying. The logistics and dynamics of the various media demands that they will be. When they do go to press with the wrong information, they have to take whatever steps they can to correct the story and mitigate the damage. Amy Gahran at Poynter Online sums up the reason why:

Expensive? Probably -- but when you're in a business where your key asset and selling point is credibility, it's far more costly to look like you either don't know or don't care what really happened.

Newspapers are having a tough enough go of it today as it is. They certainly don't need to do anything to make themselves even more irrelevant.

A Quick Favor

I do some Web upkeep for Stockyards Theatre Project, and I'm told we're having some problems that I can't see. Some Comcast customers have been unable to access the site, and I'm trying to find out if it's an outage for Comcast as a whole or if it's just a more localized and limited issue. So if you access the Web through Comcast, I'd be very appreciative if you could click over to the Stockyards site and then tell me what happened. Would it come up at all? Can you see some of it but not all of it? Did everything look and work like you'd expect it to? Please respond through the comments to this post or shoot me an e-mail. Thanks for your help!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Naval Provocations

The stakes keep getting jacked up with Iran. This is a strange story that just seems to keep getting even more strange. It was reported earlier this week that five Iranian boats approached U.S. forces in the Strait of Hormuz and acted threateningly before retreating without further incident. The Bush administration has been rattling its sabers against Iran for quite some time, so this was potentially quite worrying. The Prez wasted no time in "expressing concern" over the incident. But it wasn't long before the story started falling apart. The Pentagon released audio and video of the clash, but some of the audio didn't seem to fit. The most threatening part of the audio was the message, "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes." But it didn't share the same background noise, the voice seemed too clear. It was just wrong.

Well, yes it was. The Pentagon ultimately admitted that the threats may not have come from the Iranian boats and may not have been directed toward American forces. According to TPM Muckraker, Navy Times has reported that the message may have come from a well-known prankster in the area, Filipino Monkey. If that's the case, was the timing a coincidence? Was it intentional? Who knows?

The problem with the situation is that, whether Iran was intending to be provocative or not, the Bush administration appears very ready to be provoked. If any of this sounds familiar, it is. We went through a similar situation with a fabricated attack against U.S. ships by North Vietnamese vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. That situation led directly to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that inflamed the conflict in Vietnam into a full-fledged war. If there was still any doubt that the alleged attack never occurred (and I didn't think there was), that was put to rest earlier this week in a report issued by the Federation of American Scientists. The evidence of the attack presented at the time was bogus, although the report doesn't have enough information to suggest whether that was intentional or not. We've already been lied into one war by this administration. As the Prez once famously said, "Fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me . . . you can't get fooled again." Let's make sure we aren't.

Friday, January 11, 2008

There's That Problem Solved

In case you've been concerned about the state of affairs between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Middle East, there's no reason to worry any longer. George W. Bush is on the case. Despite the fact that he's ignored the entire situation for the entirety of his administration, he's over in the Mid-East now, and he's talking solutions. Looking into his crystal ball, he predicted that there'd be a peace treaty before he leaves office. The Palestinians will have their own state, and everyone will live in peace and harmony. That comes as quite a relief. He gave no particular reasons why this would be so, but as we've learned over the years, he doesn't say what he doesn't mean. After all, he said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and even though it wasn't true, it might as well have been. I have no doubt that his new effort will be just as successful. He's gone all the way over there. He surely deserves to get something back for his trouble, doesn't he?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Business Is Business

I guess these days it can't be too surprising that patriotism only goes so far. Sure, it's great to hide behind your country's skirts when you need to, but if it's costing you money, enough's enough. That's what some phone companies said to the FBI when they cut off surveillance of suspected criminals when the bills were running late. Inspector General Glenn A. Fine wrote in an audit:

We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.

Admittedly, the late payments do seem to have been a problem. According to the report, "more than half of 990 bills to pay for telecommunication surveillance in five unidentified FBI field offices were not paid on time." That'll add up to a fair amount of money. But if an industry is ready to spy on its own customers in the name of patriotism, surely it can allow let a few bills slide for a few months out of love of country. Especially when there are active investigations at stake. Assistant FBI Director John Miller assures us that, although active surveillance investigations were indeed interrupted when the telecoms turned off the lines, none of the lost surveillance was that important. Of course, that's exactly what you'd expect him to say, but there you go.

At what point does the movement to offer immunity to the telecoms get too embarrassing to continue? Will we just add obstruction of justice for interfering with active investigations to the charges they're immune to? Or will this somehow never even become part of the conversation.

The Long Run

The excitement of the last week has been intoxicating, with the Iowa caucuses on Thursday and then the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. We've gone from the inevitability of Hillary to the Obama wave to Hillary's big comeback, all in just a few days. Where do we stand now? Who knows! But one thing that's easy to forget in the tsunami of political coverage is that, even front-loaded like they are this year, the primary season is fairly long. In all, there are 4,049 delegates up for grabs, which means that somebody has to nab 2,025 for a majority. Of the 4,049 delegates, 796 are so-called superdelegates, party members or elected officials who get to choose who they'll support. That leaves 3,253 delegates to be chosen through caucuses or primaries. So far, This year, Super Tuesday (February 5) will really earn that name, with 2,075 delegates up for grabs in 22 states. So far, Iowa and New Hampshire have awarded a grand total of 67 delegates: 25 to Obama, 24 to Hillary, and 18 to Edwards. Even adding in superdelegates who've pledged their support to a particular candidate (they're allowed to change their minds at any time), we're left with Hillary at 183 delegates, Obama at 78, Edwards at 52, Richardson at 19, and Kucinich at 1. By any measure, that's a long way from 2,025. Certainly momentum is important, but it's not everything. And as we've been seeing, momentum shifts and fluctuates. Obama had it over the weekend, but Hillary took it on Monday and (more importantly) Tuesday. After Iowa, Edwards was the only Democrat gaining momentum nationwide (though we'll have to see if that continues after New Hampshire). Because every state wanted to move its primary up far enough that there would still be a contest going on by the time it got to vote, we'll have a nominee earlier than we have in the past, but at this point, there's still a ways to go.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NH Results

Wow. Among the various things we learned tonight, record turnout doesn't necessarily break toward Obama. Pretty much everybody, including the Clinton campaign, was expecting the Obama wave to continue tonight--the only question was how decisive it would be. As we can see now, not very. What struck me was the way that Hillary took a lead of 39 or percent to 36 percent, and except for a point or two here or there, it never wavered. I kept waiting for the Obama surge, but nothing. Over the weekend, I wondered if we were exchanging one inevitable candidate for another, but it sure doesn't seem that way tonight.

But what happened to the polls? Obama got a considerable bounce out of Iowa, and he was shown to be ahead by considerable amounts. Matt Yglesias has one possibility: Obama's numbers held, but the undecideds broke to Hillary. That seems to have surprised her as much as anyone. Just yesterday, her husband was complaining that the media wasn't giving Hillary a fair hearing. Come on, Bill! She's a Clinton. You should be used to it by now!

Over on the other side of the aisle, McCain had his own sort of comeback. He'd been pretty much counted out in the summer, but the lack of viable choices in the Republican field had to count for something.

Although I don't lean toward Hillary, I'm glad to see this happen. We don't need to see a candidate--no matter which candidate--just skate to the nomination. We'll have time to get to know our options before we get an actual ticket.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Changing the Subject

Today is New Hampshire day, when the first actual votes will be cast in the 2008 presidential election (still ten months away, by the way). The first votes have been counted--all 46 of them, and Obama and McCain have taken early leads (although Obama's is more secure than McCain's). Turnout is huge, according to ABC, and there's some concern that Democrats will run out of ballots. Turnout is what worked for Obama in Iowa, so maybe his results here will be even bigger than anybody's been predicting. But we won't actually have any further vote counts until this evening, so let's talk about something else.

The most annoying TV commercial these days comes from U.S. Cellular. I looked but couldn't find a copy of it online, so I'll just have to describe it to you. It starts off well enough--a young woman tells us she was worried about going off to college because she didn't want to leave her dad alone. This is understandable enough, but then she tells us why: He never learned how to read. We never learn why, if there is a disability of any sort or any kind of valid reason why the father is illiterate. No, the implication is that he just never got around to learning. This woman is going to college--she apparently learned how to read! Why could she not just pass that information on to her father? Or maybe he could take an adult education class or something. Instead of some sort of responsible action, the daughter would rather just go off to college and worry.

Fortunately, she didn't have to worry for very long. Her dad took a bill into U. S. Cellular, and the salesperson there was very patient in explaining it. She was so patient, in fact, that now that father takes all his letters and bills to the woman at U. S. Cellular so she can read them to him. Once again, the poor man is surrounded by enablers rather than responsible people who will help him improve himself.

When I first saw this ad, I thought it was ridiculous, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was actually quite clever. In fact, I'm considering changing my cell phone to U. S. Cellular to see if I can get them to help me out in a similar way. Maybe they could balance my checkbook, or I might be able to convince them to come over and wash my dishes. Oh, sure, I know how to do those tasks for myself, but they're chores I hate, and I'm a busy man.

U. S. Cellular, your codependent phone company. What annoying tasks of daily life could they take off your plate?

Quick Hits

In today's big news, Hillary got emotional while speaking to a group of women. The media examination, of course, started almost immediately: Is the Ice Queen too delicate to be president, or is she so manipulative that she can tear up on cue? ThinkProgress has a mash-up of the commentary, along with a few examples of conservative manly men who proved their strength by showing their "human" side.

George McGovern sat out the preparation for the impeachment of Richard Nixon so his participation couldn't be misconstrued as sour grapes. But he stepped forward in Sunday's Washington Post to call for the impeachment of this administration, which he says is far more worthy of it than Nixon ever was. Don't worry, he has his reasons:

They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly "high crimes and misdemeanors," to use the constitutional standard.

The Golden Globe Awards ceremony scheduled for Sunday night has effectively been cancelled because of the writer's strike. Writers were not allowed to write, and SAG members (possibly but not necessarily including George Clooney) agreed not to cross the picket line. The People's Choice Awards are due to air Tuesday night, but they've apparently been retooled into a "new format."

Harkening back to a post from last year, here's a photo of Jim Nabors from a few years back. He could easily be a Huckabee sibling.

Via Attaturk at Atrios's place, here's a coda on last night's post on dying media (at least until Fox pulls the plug).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Another Nail in the Coffin of 19th-Century Media

It's no secret that print is not as nimble as broadcast or cable, and neither has the turn-on-a-dime qualities of the Internet. But Parade magazine's cover this morning is ridiculous. If you don't click on the link, it features Benazir Bhutto with the blurb, "'I Am What The Terrorists Most Fear.'" Another blurb asks if she's "America's best hope against al-Queda." We're now ten days on from Bhutto's assassination, so I guess we have our answer.

Parade is carried by more than 400 newspapers, so this was widely seen throughout the country. The Chicago Tribune ran a note from the editor--one I'm sure was echoed nationwide--stating:

Parade Publisher and President Randy Siegel said any attempt to update the issue after the assassination would have cost "millions and millions of dollars."

Also, Siegel said, tight production and distribution schedules might have jeopardized delivery to many newspapers and their readers. Parade prints 32 million copies weekly and contracts distribution with more than 400 U.S. newspapers.

The AP adds the detail that the issue went to press more than two weeks ago on December 21. I don't know whether that lead time is longer than usual because of the holidays or whether every issue of Parade is put to bed half a month before its release, but that doesn't seem sustainable in today's media climate. It's the supplement for the Sunday paper, so by definition Parade tends to be fluffy, so this may result in nothing more than their shying away from anything that approaches hard news. I suppose it's not as embarrassing as the time The Weekly World News featured morgue photos of Timothy McVeigh after he had a stay of execution, but we're venturing into the same territory. I guess this won't alter anyone's news-reading habits too drastically, but don't turn to Parade magazine for breaking news.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Obama Bump

Hardly surprising, but Barack Obama has received a fairly substantial boost in New Hampshire out of his win in Iowa. In a series of posts at Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz runs down the latest polls over the last couple of days. He first cites a poll from American Research Group gives him a 12-point lead, and Rasmussen puts him up by 10. Tracking polls, which follow trends over a few days, show marked improvement: Zogby demonstrates a 2-point uptick, cutting Hillary Clinton's lead from 6 to 4; Suffolk University shows him narrowing her lead from 12 points to 7. In a later post, he mentions a CNN poll that puts Obama tied with Hillary at 33 percent. Finally, a Research 2000 poll that had already put Obama in the lead by one shows no change between Obama and Hillary, although each strengthen their positions by two points.

With only five days between the Iowa caucuses and the first primary voting in New Hampshire, it's hard to tease out how the Iowa results will affect New Hampshire voters, but if nothing else, Obama's strong showing seems to be giving his candidacy a considerable legitimacy. It's premature to know for sure, but are we replacing one inevitable candidacy for another?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Republican Follies

Twenty-four hours later, there's been more fallout from Iowa, with the Republican machinations much more fun to watch than those of the Democrats. The liberal media is falling all over itself to label John McCain, who finished behind Huckabee, Romney, and Thompson with 13 percent of the vote (roughly a third of Huckabee's total and half of Romney's), as the true hero of the night. Greta van Susteren said, "I can't think of anyone happier tonight than Sen. John McCain," after Obama and Huckabee apparently slipped her mind for a moment. And Mike Allen enthused:

Tonight is a fantastic night for John McCain. . . . He's one of the biggest winners of the night. He's now in a fantastic position. Except for Barack Obama, there's almost no one you'd rather be tonight than John McCain.

Almost is the key word there. I'm not sure Mike Huckabee was wasting any time thinking, "Damn, if only I'd come in fourth like McCain!" Matt Yglesias had the best comment on this wish fulfillment:

I think Kansas will beat Virginia Tech, but the real winner of the Orange Bowl will be John McCain as the merest thought of football reminds voters of his toughness.

McCain himself, meanwhile, was busy endearing himself to the anti-war vote. He suggested he'd be fine to stay in Iraq for 100 years, and when pressed, claimed he'd be fine if the occupation continued for 1,000 years. That wouldn't make it just a problem for our children and grandchildren--the 31st century gets us into Legion of Super-Heroes territory.

McCain's rivals didn't fare much better. Fred Thompson, who barely edged McCain for third, may indeed have wished to have traded places. He won enough votes to keep him in the race when he may have wished for an excuse to get out. He's doing less than he might, though, having decided to take a pass on New Hampshire and put his efforts into South Carolina. That's a variation on the Giuliani plan, let somebody else build momentum and then try to catch up. It's not the most obvious strategy for success, but I guess we'll have to see how it plays out.

Speaking of Giuliani, he sat most of Iowa out and was rewarded with a big 4 percent of the vote for his trouble, putting him in 6th place. He's not concerned, though, as he's pioneering the lose now win later strategy. Still, he took some solace in previous experience. As bad as a 6th place finish in Iowa could be, he pointed out, it wasn't as bad as 9/11. That's a point on which I think we can all agree.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama and Huckabee with Hefty Margins

The numbers are in, and they're more lopsided than I expected.

Senator Barack Obama : 37.58%
Senator John Edwards : 29.75%
Senator Hillary Clinton : 29.47%
Governor Bill Richardson : 2.11%
Senator Joe Biden : 0.93%
Uncommitted : 0.14%
Senator Chris Dodd : 0.02%

I'd say Hillary's lost her air of inevitability, but she's still close enough to make it a horse race. Edwards at second should give him a shot in the arm. But Obama's decisive victory, almost 8 percentage points and 25% beyond Edwards's numbers, makes him the guy to pay attention to. Will the attack ads start airing in New Hampshire? Looking at those numbers, it can hardly be a surprise that both Dodd and Biden are pulling out. I expected Dodd to do a bit better, but it's impossible to know what his numbers were on the first go-round of caucusing.

Over on the Republican side, Huckabee did indeed pull it out, topping Romney by 9 percentage points. Could Romney have done better if he'd spent even more money? Fred Thompson, who's been fighting bad press about not being in it to win it, came in a distant third, edging out McCain, who supposedly is going to show us all in New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani, deliberately downplaying the caucuses, may have dropped a little too low. Coming in with 4% of the vote, he has to wonder when he stops being a viable candidate.

As everybody pulls up stakes in Iowa to reset the game in New Hampshire, we've got six five days of spin to get through before the next vote.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

An Inside View of the Iowa Caucuses

Commenter Jim C., who caucused in Iowa for Paul Simon in 1988, answered the call. Thanks, Jim!

I can't imagine you mean me ...

The Iowa Caucus (in which I participated in 1988) is different for each party.

The Republicans gather at precinct locations and participants indicate presidential preference by secret ballot. After they do this, those who choose to can stick around to discuss party platform issues, and vote on such things. Otherwise, the ballots are tabulated and sent on to local/state party HQs.

The Democrats take a lot more time. Participants also gather at local precinct locations to determine the proportion of delegates to the District Caucus the most viable candidates can send.

Unaffiliated/independent voters (who will be legal age by Election Day) can register on-site (declaring party affiliation to participate, naturally. And this is also the case at GOP caucus sites). You then enter and group yourself by candidate of choice (Obama supporters here, Clinton supporters there, Biden supporters in back, 'Uncommitted' also associate together in an area, etc.)

A head count is then completed determining the totally number of caucusers present. You candidates' group must be equal or larger than 15% of the total number of people present to remain a "Viable" candidate in the precinct. (This 15% is apparently the smallest number of people that can receive a single precinct delegate)

Once groups are deemed Not Viable, they can then reaffiliate themselves with a second-choice candidate. This decision can be done either independently *or jointly*. The group can then deal with the larger groups, agreeing to caucus with a larger group in exchange for the right to select one of the precinct delegates Large Group would be winning from their non-viable supporters (who would then be able to again stand for their preferred candidate at the District Caucus). After these realignments are made, there is a final count, and the delegate proportions are assigned to the still-viable candidates. After this, people who are so committed can also decide platform issues. This process is repeated throughout every precinct in Iowa (over 1700 according to the NYT). Statewide organization is paramount.

Will Saletan wrote a great paragraph explaining this much better than I did, using 1988 candidates (he was writing about a controversy regarding results reporting at the time - though it was news to me):

That's the sausage; here's how it's made. Say 100 people show up at precinct caucus X. The caucus chair designates eight stations around the room, one for each candidate and one for undecided. Twenty-eight people go to Simon, 27 to Gephardt, 18 to Dukakis, 9 to Jackson, 8 to Babbitt, 1 to Hart and 9 to Uncommitted. Now, caucus rules say you need 15 percent of the total to elect a precinct delegate. So the caucus chair announces that Jackson, Babbitt, Hart, Gore and Uncommitted aren't "viable." Members of those groups can then band together or defect to their second-choice groups. Say six Jackson people move to Gephardt, two to Simon, one to Uncommitted. The Babbitt group moves over to Uncommitted to elect one of its own as an "uncommitted" delegate who can vote for Babbitt at the county level; the Hart oddball defects to Gephardt; two uncommitted people defect to Gephardt, another to Dukakis. Now the chair counts again: Gephardt has 36; Simon, 30; Dukakis, 19; Uncommitted, 15. Of the seven delegates precinct X will send to the county convention, each group wins one delegate just for meeting the 15 percent threshold. Gephardt is awarded two of the remaining delegates; Simon gets one. So the chair phones in the results to county headquarters: Gephardt, three delegates; Simon, two; Dukakis, one; Uncommitted, one.

Full story here.

The district caucus takes place in a month or two, followed by a state caucus later on, by which time no one is paying any attention anymore.

Personally, I think it is a lot of fun. Of course, I enjoy being an election official (aka Election Judge), too, so that might give my enthusiasm some perspective. My experience in 1988 was as a Simon supporter in a campus precinct in Iowa City. The largest groups were the Simon and Jackson camps, with Dukakis third. Non-viable groups included Babbitt, Uncommitted, and Gary Hart. The Hart group was amusingly pathetic looking, a motley band of four with only a loose-leaf piece of paper with HART written in ballpoint. (They scattered quickly.) The horse-trading session was quite heated - the Babbitt group was being wooed by both the Simon and Dukakis camps. (I was acting as a runner for our lead organizer between the main guy talking to the Babbitts and herself. She was trying to pull in the uncommitteds. IIRC, they ended up with Jackson. Or with us for nothing. They weren't as relevant as the larger Babbitt group.) The Dukakis offer wasn't as good as the Simon offer - Simon's group offered a delegate to the District caucus, while the Dukakis group only offered the chance of a delegate if they reached a certain delegate level, which wasn't going to happen. It actually got oddly personal, with such Dukakis supporter pleas as, "They're LYING to you!!" and a football player threatening to bash our skulls in. (He probably could have done it, but he wasn't that imposing, and it was just so ludicrous that we were laughing, and I think that made him even more angry. Good times, good times.) I think that was actually unusual, since I've watched CSPAN coverage of caucus sites since, and never seen that kind of silly passion.

Turning Up the Heat

The recording industry, already making friends everywhere by suing their customers, has decided to take an even harder line. In filings in an Arizona case, lawyers for the RIAA are asserting that legitimately purchased CDs cannot legally be copied onto a computer. All those digital copies you've got sitting on your hard drive or transferred onto your iPod are illegal. In an explanation on its site, the RIAA admits that copying onto your hard drive or MP3 player "won't usually raise concerns" if you own the CD and don't share it with anybody else. Interestingly, you can also copy your CDs onto old-fashioned analog cassette tapes, as long as it's not commercial purposes. Digitally, you can copy your CD to mini-discs, digital tapes, or particular Audio CD-Rs. I have to admit that I'd always wondered what Audio CD-Rs were for, because at least as I understand the technology, there's no way they could be better suited to digitally reproducing music than other CD-Rs. I'd also wondered why they were more expensive. Now I know it's because the manufacturers have paid a record-industry tariff.

Although this is apparently the first time the RIAA have pursued this argument in court, they've been asserting it on the Webpage for quite some time. Steve Benen, guest blogging at The Washington Monthly, remembered a boingboing post from almost two years ago that identifies an awfully juicy target for prosecution.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Help Wanted

If there's anybody out there who's had actual experience participating in the Iowa caucuses (and you know who you are), write up an explanation of the process in comments, and I'll put it up on the front page.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

A bit late today, but what can you do? I hope everybody had a safe night last night and is having a great day today!