Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

Quick Hits

Not much time left today, but happy birthday to Superman! I tried in vain to find a comic book cover of Superman (or even Clark Kent) celebrating his birthday, but since the day comes around so rarely, I didn't want to miss the opportunity. This is his 18th birthday, by the way.

The new Martin Lawrence movie, College Road Trip, has been advertised as heartwarming? Martin Lawrence? Shouldn't that be heartburn? I've heard some rumors that this started out as a National Lampoon movie and somehow morphed into Disney G-rated fare. It might almost be worth it to see exactly how such a thing could work.

There's a fair amount of activity around the political blogs today about Hillary Clinton's new fear-mongering ad in Texas. If you don't want to click through, it's got a phone ringing several times at 3:00 in the morning while children are sleeping. The announcer ominously tells us that "something's happening in the world," and we've got to choose who we want to have in the White House to answer the phone. The phone never stops ringing until the end of the ad and we see Hillary talking into the receiver. It's not clear until the end that it is, indeed, a Hillary ad, and I half expected to see John McCain pop up. Kevin Drum points out that the Republicans shouldn't be allowed to have the corner on security concerns and that the only way to expand the idea of competent Democrats is to take the initiative. Still, the tone and subject of the ad itself made me think of McCain rather than Clinton, so this particular ad may not be doing its job.

Obama came back quickly with his own version of the ringing phone, arguing that we want someone who's shown good judgment in the past about foreign policy picking up that phone. Comedy often works in threes, and since we've already got the first two parts of the set up, Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is expecting McCain's version any minute now. We hear the phone ring, but instead of panning over peaceful, sleeping children, it'll cut to McCain picking up on the first ring. "I'm on it." Sorry, but that one beats what either Clinton or Obama are going with at the moment.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Meeting the Press

Did the Prez have anything to say today? I heard something about it, but boy, did I have to dig to get some details. That's certainly one way of measuring irrelevance. He apparently wanted to talk about telecom immunity, but the reporters didn't seem too interested about that. In his opening statement, he insisted that telecoms be given immunity so they won't have to be accountable for what they may have done. And we can't have that. Unfortunately, the Prez didn't seem completely clear on just why the telecoms might get sued.

At issue is a dispute over whether telecommunications companies should be subjected to class-action lawsuits because they are believed to have helped defend America after the attacks of 9/11.

Nobody wants to sue the telecoms because they're believed to have helped America. It's because they're believed to have illegally spied on their customers. The lawsuit would help to determine whether the spying occurred or not. If the telecoms didn't do--or if they did but had a legally valid reason--then they win the lawsuit.

Of course, to find out about this at all, I had to go to the transcript of the presser. There's no mention of it in The Washington Post's report, and it only gets one line in The New York Times' account. There are some other interesting tidbits the media missed. Despite coming out with the intention of pushing the telecom bill, Bush was somewhat taken aback when the question was posed in a different context than he was expecting.

Q You can get the Congress to protect telecom companies from lawsuits, but then there's no recourse for Americans who feel that they've been caught up in this. I know it's not intended to spy on Americans, but in the collection process, information about everybody gets swept up and then it gets sorted. So if Americans don't have any recourse, are you just telling them, when it comes to their privacy, to suck it up?

THE PRESIDENT: I wouldn't put it that way, if I were you, in public. Well, you've been long been long enough to -- anyway, yes, I -- look, there's -- people who analyze the program fully understand that America's civil liberties are well protected. There is a constant check to make sure that our civil liberties of our citizens aren't -- you know, are treated with respect. And that's what I want, and that's what most -- all Americans want.

He quickly got back on point, arguing why the telecoms should be able to break the law with impunity. Elsewhere, he insisted that, although the economy doesn't look as robust as it might, he doesn't see a recession in the offing. Despite being right on top of economic issues, the Prez seemed completely nonplussed at the fact that some analysts have suggested we might soon see gas at $4.00 a gallon before too long.

Q What's your advice to the average American who is hurting now, facing the prospect of $4 a gallon gasoline, a lot of people facing --

THE PRESIDENT: Wait, what did you just say? You're predicting $4 a gallon gasoline?

Q A number of analysts are predicting --


Q -- $4 a gallon gasoline this spring when they reformulate.

THE PRESIDENT: That's interesting. I hadn't heard that.

So apparently, even the president of the United States can learn something he didn't know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Crushed Hopes, Shattered Dreams

Well, that's a disappointment. I was a bit too quick off the mark a couple of days ago, writing about potential third party candidates. There's one fewer today (or, I suppose, technically on Thursday). Michael Bloomberg has been flirting with the possibility of running (all the while denying that he ever intended to--but that's the way flirts operate, isn't it?). Oh, sure, he told Ryan Seacrest a couple of months ago that he wasn't going to run, but who pays attention to what anybody says to Ryan Seacrest? After being encouraged by supporters and petition signers numbering in the thousands, Bloomberg has offered a firmer denial in a more prominent venue: The New York Times.

So, OK, I guess we need to believe him now. But don't worry, he's not going to go away. He's still hanging around to push "an independent approach." I'm fine with the idea that a candidate doesn't need and shouldn't hew to strict party lines on every single issue. But what does it mean to be mindlessly independent? Lyndon LaRouche is independent. Ralph Nader is independent. So what? See for yourself if Bloomberg offers any specifics:

In the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to work to steer the national conversation away from partisanship and toward unity; away from ideology and toward common sense; away from sound bites and toward substance. And while I have always said I am not running for president, the race is too important to sit on the sidelines, and so I have changed my mind in one area. If a candidate takes an independent, nonpartisan approach — and embraces practical solutions that challenge party orthodoxy — I'll join others in helping that candidate win the White House.

In other words, if you're a candidate who supports no one in particular but everyone in general, Bloomberg's got your back.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Campaign Overload

All right, I'll admit it. I've been getting burned out with all this political stuff. So much of it seems irrelevant. Should we care that Obama dressed in Somali garb when he was in Somali? Of course not, but that's only the tip of the iceberg of what's ahead of us in the fall, especially since political news guru Mark Halperin is suggesting that McCain use both the race card and (to come completely out of left field) the Manchurian candidate card. Of course, since he writes at the Time magazine site, he points out in a note at the end of his column: "This is analysis, not advice." (Emphasis entirely his.) Because the Republicans could never have come up with any of that stuff on their own.

All this is to say that I couldn't bring myself to watch tonight's debate between the last Democrats standing. From a couple of summaries of it I've read, it appears that while it was more contentious than what we've been used to seeing, Hillary didn't do anything to put Obama on the defensive, which means that Obama carried the day. Everything's going his way, so unless she could change that direction, she might as well have stayed at home.

If anybody wants to provide their own analysis of what they saw tonight, by all means enlighten us in a comment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who'da Thought?

Maybe Mike Huckabee is right to hold out for miracles. Maybe it's not a ridiculous cliche to say in this election season that we have to expect the unexpected. Contrary to all expectations (well, all expectations at this blog, anyway), we saw some actual straight talk coming out of the Straight Talk Express today. Here's the AP report on what happened:

John McCain said Monday that to win the White House he must convince a war-weary country that U.S. policy in Iraq is succeeding. If he can't, "then I lose. I lose," the Republican said.

He quickly backed off that remark.

Yeah, I guess. But even backing off, he wasn't willing to pull away from it altogether.

"Let me not put it that stark," the likely GOP nominee told reporters on his campaign bus. "Let me just put it this way: Americans will judge my candidacy first and foremost on how they believe I can lead the country both from our economy and for national security. Obviously, Iraq will play a role in their judgment of my ability to handle national security."

"If I may, I'd like to retract 'I'll lose.' But I don't think there's any doubt that how they judge Iraq will have a direct relation to their judgment of me, my support of the surge," McCain added. "Clearly, I am tied to it to a large degree."

There's no doubt that this is true. He's staked his reputation on being more hawkish on Iraq than even the Prez. It's somewhat surprising that this reality hasn't sunk his chances already. But the entire McCain enterprise relies on him being able to sell not just the surge but the complete Iraq war package.

And Then There Were Three

Or two. Or, technically, I suppose--especially with the trouble John McCain has been having lately--only one. But Ralph Nader made it official today and jumped into the presidential race. This will be his fourth time on the ballot, after being an unofficial Green Party candidate in 1996. Whatever else he might have on his agenda, he'll definitely be trying to make sure he garners more than 463,655 votes, 0.38 of the total--that's his personal low from 2004. He did better in 1996, when he wasn't even actively campaigning. With barely more than a third of a percent of the vote last time around, Nader is clearly irrelevant to the process this time around, but the impish Tim Russert, apparently intending to stir up trouble somehow, provided him with marquee position on today's Meet the Press.

Nader may not be the only prominent third-party candidate this time around. Ron Paul, who previously ran as the Libertarian Party ticket twenty years ago, has declined to mount an independent or third-party run this time around, but he's not the only possibility out there. Apparently disenchanted with the major-party possibilities--and Ralph Nader--there are more than a couple of efforts to bring New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the race (and it's not at all clear which of these may be operating with Bloomberg behind the curtain). There are various sites with petutions. The one with the biggest groundswell seems to be, which claims to have 11,390 signatures after the petition has been up more than a month. Unite for Mike says it has 2474 signatures. Run Mike Run doesn't announce its numbers, but when I took a look at the signatures on the petition page, it listed 598. Although there are probably others out there, these three petitions are moving in on 15,000 signatures. With numbers like these, Bloomberg might even give Nader a run for his money.

Bloomberg and Nader might not be alone in their runs, though. Mike Huckabee's still hanging in there, and he's actively addressing the possibility of a brokered convention. If things go that far but he doesn't pull off the nomination, the Republicans will be moving forward with a potentially wounded nominee. Huckabee may not be able to ask for a much better opportunity to mount an insurgent religious right campaign. He met up with James Dobson recently, and neither man will say what their discussion entailed. I can't imagine this subject didn't come up.

McCain, Obama or Clinton, Nader, Bloomberg, Huckabee. And it's still only February. Is it possible that the race will get even weirder before we're all done?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shameless Crossposting

I posted this over on Howling Curmudgeons, but there may be some here who'd find it interesting but aren't likely to come across it over there.

Back a couple of months ago when the The Simpsons episode with Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes originally aired, I posted some links to what turned out to be very temporary videos of comic shop portions of the show. Now that the episode was rerun a couple of weeks ago, I can link to what appears to be a relatively permanent video. I assume it's got some sort official OK because It's over at the Nerd World blog at the Time magazine site, which is cowritten by Matt Selman, writer and executive producer of the show. Of course, one of the benefits of Selman keeping a blog is that he can also pass along interesting tidbits about the episode, which he does in three parts, here, here, and here. He's got a lot of details worth reading, but my favorite is:

Art Spiegleman insisted that his character wear a Maus "mouse" mask when he turns into a superhero. This was not our idea, and if it had been, we would have been to scared to pitch it to Art.

Yeah, I think I would've been scared to suggest it, too.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Straight Talk Veers Right

Last night we ventured into the tepid water of The New York Times's John McCain story. That piece had an awful lot of hand-waving and not much else. It wasn't hard to figure out what the Times was getting at, but you had to pretty much rely on hints and implication. Perhaps it's because the story was so vague, or perhaps because McCain is well aware that he can do no wrong in the eyes of the press, he wasted little time in coming forward and denying everything within earshot. Unfortunately, it's now coming out that maybe he should've been a bit more precise in determining exactly how much to refute. The Times said that lobbyist Vicki Iseman influenced McCain into writing letters to the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications. McCain called a press conference to say that he'd never even met with Iseman, anyone from her lobbying firm, or anyone from Paxson itself about the letters. Michael Isikoff, unfortunately, pointed out a five-year-old deposition in which McCain says the exact opposite. Just for good measure, Lowell "Bud" Paxson chimed in to say that he certainly remembered meeting with McCain in McCain's office. McCain has gotten used to reflexively creating his own reality and pushing on unquestioning reporters. Does this mean that his "straight talk" will soon be exposed to a fact checker? Maybe a little bit more, but don't count on a groundswell. Old habits die hard.

Friday, February 22, 2008

That McCain Stuff

At this point, I can't get too worked up over The New York Times McCain story, which was also picked up by the Washington Post. Sure, there might be something there, but if there is, the Times didn't have it. What was the story? Really, there were a couple. The one that's getting the heat is the possible affair, but the stress has to be on possible. All they were really prepared to publish was that some of McCain's advisors eight years ago thought he might've been having one. That's it? They were speculating about it eight years ago? The second part of the story is still speculation, but at least it has a bit more substance: Was McCain's relationship with this lobbyist, Vicki Iseman--regardless of whether there was an affair or not--lead to undue influence with the senator? Did she get any special favors? This could actually be significant, but without the suggestion of sex, no one would care.

McCain may have misstepped in his press conference when he denied, denied, denied. He seemed blissfully unaware of a subject that his campaign seems to have been desperately trying to quash for a couple of months. Overstepping the response in a situation like this can often provide a key into whatever the truth of the accusation really is. I suspect that there's more to come and it will trickle out. Journalistic standards have gone far enough down these days that I'm not absolutely confident that the Times has more than they printed, but I'd be surprised if the paper didn't. There's simply not enough on which to hang a front-page story. But we've got nothing else we can do about it for the moment but to be patient and wait.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Crossing the Line?

You don't necessarily need me to point this out, but it's going to get ugly out there. We're starting to get a hint, but it's far more tame for the time being than we're going to have to get used to. I've assumed that as Obama got closer to the nomination, the veiled (or not even bothered to be veiled) racial comments would become more and more noticeable. Yesterday was a great example, and we haven't even got going yet. On Monday, Michelle Obama uttered an unfortunate choice of words. She said:

For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.

Now I don't know if this is true or not, and I'm not that concerned one way or another. But it's clearly not the kind of thing you want to say while you're in the middle of a political campaign. The conservatives are going to jump all over you, and deservedly so. But trust Bill O'Reilly to push things in the wrong direction. Michelle Obama's comments gave O'Reilly and his callers the entree to criticize Obama. In response to a caller accusing Obama of being a generally angry woman, O'Reilly feigned to take the high road because he doesn't want to lynch her (just yet). Media Matters has the actual quote:

I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

So apparently O'Reilly is prepared to lynch Michelle Obama, but only if it's necessary. Here we go.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not That It's a Surprise, Exactly

Hey, guess what! Oh, you already know. It's another primary and caucus Tuesday, so that must mean that Obama's winning over Hillary by double digits again. At what point did this become a matter of course? The Hillary campaign has been downplaying Wisconsin in the expectation of exactly this, but they can't keep downplaying every state but the handful Hillary's won. Wisconsin's the ninth state in a row that Hillary has lost, and by the time we all get up in the morning, Hawaii will have proven to be the tenth. That means that 20 percent of all the states have voted against Hillary, pretty much always by a double-digit margin, since a state voted for her by any margin whatsoever. Unfortunately, I'm too tired at the moment to figure out other clever ways to rephrase or otherwise frame the question, so I'll just go to bed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Man of Strength and Courage

I'd be remiss if I didn't pick up on Monday morning's memo from Blogosphere Central. Every other blog seems to have commented on it, but it's just that astonishing that I have to add my voice to it. I'm talking, of course, about Nicholas Kristof's Sunday New York Times column singing the praises of that most amazing of mortals, John McCain. The piece is a logical and moral mess. I'm not even sure I can explain the argument. I think the main thesis is that we can tell that John McCain is a true man of principle because he's willing to set those principles aside when they're not convenient. He's not afraid to put a little English on his straight talk when that suits his purposes. Read it for yourself:

His most famous pander came in 2000, when, after earlier denouncing the Confederate flag as a "symbol of racism," he embraced it as "a symbol of heritage." To his credit, Mr. McCain later acknowledged, "I feared that if I answered honestly I could not win the South Carolina primary, so I chose to compromise my principles."

In short, Mr. McCain truly has principles that he bends or breaks out of desperation and with distaste. That's preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.

I disagree with Mr. McCain on Iraq, taxes, abortion and almost every other major issue. He has a nasty temper, which isn't ideal for the hand holding a nuclear trigger. For a man running partly on biography, he treated his first wife, Carol, poorly. And one of the meanest put-downs in modern political history was a savage joke that Mr. McCain publicly related about Chelsea Clinton when she was 18 years old; it was inexcusable.

Now that's integrity! And keep in mind, this is Kristof rhapsodizing about McCain's good points.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Superdelegate Crunch

Tomorrow we head out to the Wisconsin primaries, where we'll see whether or not Hillary can stop the bleeding. Her campaign seems severely off its stride, and it's not clear what exactly its strategy is at the moment. Or maybe it is clear: Hillary's people will do whatever is necessary to make sure she secure's the nomination that's rightfully hers. Senator Chuck Schumer, Hillary's colleague from New York may have inadvertently spoken the truth yesterday on Meet the Press:

Here's the bottom line once again, Tim. Each candidate, of course, takes the position that benefits them at the moment.

And that was him speaking in defense of Hillary. Essentially, he's saying, "We'll say what we need to to win the nomination."

The big sticking point right now is the superdelegates, which I actually believe will turn out to be a total nonissue. It's true that superdelegates can make up their own minds for whatever reasons they choose to vote for whoever they want to vote for. If they agree to get together as a block and vote for Obama or Hillary or Al Gore, they can do that. Hillary's trying to make sure they retain that power, and Obama's trying to push them to follow the votes of the people they represent. Obviously, both candidates now expect (or fear, as the case may be) that Obama will win the most regular delegates, so the superdelegates are looking more and more like they'll be Hillary's only chance to win. But when considering what they superdelegates will do, it's very important to remember on primary fact. Who are the superdelegates, after all? They're elected government officials and elected party officials. That means they're politicians. Even though they could if they so chose, they're not going to back Hillary if all the momentum's behind Obama. Similarly, of course, if Obama stumbles and Hillary picks up the slack and moves ahead, they won't stick with Obama. They want to be with the winner. And don't get distracted by the superdelegates each candidate already has. Superdelegates don't have to commit themselves until the actual floor vote takes place at the convention. Every single superdelegate could come out tomorrow and pledge themselves to Hillary and then turn around the next day and switch to Obama. They're not going to do this, obviously, because people are watching, but their commitment to a particular candidate is never necessarily more than that. Hillary has however many superdelegates she now claims, but if Obama sweeps Wisconsin and Hillary can't make up the difference in Texas and Ohio, trust me--they're going to bail. (And not to pile on Hillary, if the Obama momentum falls flat and Hillary starts picking up speed, it'll be no time until some of the Obama superdelegates start to peel away.) It's pointless to be spending so much time trying to lock in the superdelegates now when they don't truly matter for another few months. Why do you think more than half of the superdelegates haven't come down on one side or the other? They're waiting to see who the winner is, and then that's who they'll support.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sit Back and Relax

Here are a couple of links to entertain you on a Sunday evening. You've probably seen the first one already, but if you haven't, take a look now. Keith Olbermann is even more outspoken than usual, and although his Thursday night commentary has been getting some notice, it seems mostly of the acknowledgment and moving on variety. Is it the elephant in the room no one wants to notice, or is it at this point such an obvious observation that the reaction is, "Yeah, and?" Regardless, Olbermann has come up with the line of the week, something I can't stop laughing at, even though I can't quite tell you why: "You’re a fascist — get them to print you a t-shirt with 'fascist' on it!"

The second link is a Mark Fiore flash cartoon that went online before the House took on the administration. Snuggly the Security Bear explains why the Protect America Act (the actual name of the surveillance legislation that's been all the rage lately) is vital to our emotional well-being (not to mention saving us from the terrorists). Do you think we should reconsider our opposition?

Keeping the Right Doors Closed

Do they think that no one's paying attention? With the do-nothing press corps and the unwillingness (up until a couple of days ago) of Congress to do anything that might put a check on the President, I suppose it's fair enough to assume that no one is. But even so, my jaw dropped yesterday when I heard National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell tell NPR yesterday that the main sticking point on the surveillance legislation is telecomm immunity. They're apparently not interested in keeping the American people safe until differences on the immunity bill can be resolved. They're just interested in whether Sprint or Verizon might have to defend themselves in court.

It's never been about keeping you or me safe. It's been about protecting the profits of the communications industry. Even I find that overly cynical for the Bush administration, and I wonder if the real reason is protecting themselves. If the telecoms did break U.S. law on the say-so of administration officials, who is really liable for the law being broken? The telecoms have to be responsible for what they do, but so do the Bushies who authorized it. If the telecoms have immunity from prosecution (and, by extension, investigation), then we'll never have occasion to take a look into the West Wing to assess blame. Does that sound like the American way to anybody? Anyone?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The House Does the Right Thing? Maybe So!

It figures. As soon as I get so busy that I can't spend the time I'd like to writing here, the Democrats get all bold on us and start standing up to the Prez. On Wednesday, the House tried to pass another extension of FISA, but Republicans (and some Democrats) voted it down. (Some of the Democrats seem to have voted against the extension not in acquiescence to the Prez and the Senate Republicans but because they don't want any FISA bill to pass in the first place.) On Thursday, Democrats in the House stared down the administration and refused to go along with whatever it was that the Senate voted in about FISA [and surveillance]. Perhaps more surprisingly, Friday came and went, and the Democrats hadn't changed their mind and caved, instead. Sure, the House basically had to adjourn in order to hold themselves to that, but whatever is necessary to make it work.

In protest, House Republicans walked out of the House session, which was, unfortunately, not their finest hour. In fact, the post I linked to earlier demonstrates that the whole protest was pretty muddled to begin with--not everyone was sure exactly why they left the chamber. It was thought for some time that it was perhaps because the House was about to vote on contempt citations for presidential staff who refused to appear before Congress, that Republicans were so contemptuous of the rule of law that they'd rebel at the mere thought that they had to be answerable to anyone.

The current surveillance law remains in effect until midnight Saturday night. The pressure will continue to mount on House members to do their patriotic duty and vote to allow the Prez to ignore the law. Will they cave? History says they might, but let's remain optimistic while we can.

UPDATE--Reading over this in the morning, I realize that I should've clarified that I used FISA as shorthand for the surveillance and telecom immunity bill that the Senate passed and that should've been headed to House-Senate conference to work out the differences. FISA itself, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that has had jurisdiction over surveillance and intelligence gathering since 1978, remains in effect after midnight Saturday. It is in no way under consideration for change. The new warrantless wiretap program sets FISA's legal protections aside, and in turning that program away, the House is actually reinforcing the original FISA. Bush and the Republicans insist that the House is putting an end to surveillance, but that's a ridiculous charge. Instead, this is making sure that somebody in authority--a FISA court that itself works behind closed doors and whose decisions generally remain classified--keeps an eye on the intelligence community and what it is doing. As far as has been made public, the FISA court didn't turn down any intelligence warrant requests from the 1970s until 2003 (Josh Marshall has some details from a few years ago). Although the court asked for some warrants to be modified, as of 2005, it had only turned down four outright. The Bush administration seems to think that these people are too lax in protecting the country. That should tell you all that you need to know.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More University Shooting

Not surprisingly, I'm very distracted by the shooting at Northern Illinois University. My brother (who sometimes pokes around here in the comments section) is on the faculty there. He wasn't on campus today, so he escaped the danger, if not the trauma. I haven't linked to anything because authorities have been releasing bits and pieces, and anything I link to tonight could well be out of date when you read this and click on them. There will also be time to look at the policies of gun availability. For now, we just send our thoughts and condolences out to those families who are experiencing loss tonight.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Or "Emotional Blackmail Day," as Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk calls it (and that's just the tip of the iceberg as to why I'm a very lucky man). For those of you giving in to the forced romanticism of the day, I hope your intended Valentine accepts your advances.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Double Digits and Then Some

I don't know if there's in particular wrong with Blogger tonight, but it's taken me some time to get on, so by necessity I'm going to have to keep this short again tonight. It's been two whole days since we've had any nominating contests, and people must've been getting antsy. Obama was expected to do well, but I'm not sure anyone expected him to actually move toward absolute obliteration. Was Virginia or Maryland supposed to be Hillary's best chance today? I can't find an actual citation at the moment, but my memory was that Virginia would be more closely watched. Well, it turns out that Maryland actually provided the closest margin: Obama only defeated Hillary by 23 percentage points there (as of 82 percent of precincts reporting). Virginia awarded Obama with a 28 percent margin of victory, 64 percent to 35 percent. That means, of course, that Hillary barely pulled in just a bit more than a third of the voters. No one had any doubt that Obama would do well in the District, but three to one? Although Hillary's not flinching (at least not yet), Obama's growing momentum is becoming more and more of a problem for her. Adam Nagourney nails the situation:

The lopsided nature of Senator Barack Obama’s parade of victories on Tuesday gives him an opening to make the case that Democratic voters have broken in his favor and that the party should coalesce around his candidacy.

In waiting for the March contests in Texas and Ohio, Hillary needs to make sure she doesn't fall into the Giuliani strategy--keep losing until the party coalesces around you.

UPDATE--I hadn't seen this when I wrote my final sentence above. The Clinton people must be quaking in their boots. Rudy's campaign manager says Hillary's aim of putting all her eggs in the Texas and Ohio baskets is exactly the right strategy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Moment of Silence

No blogging tonight, there's too much going on. And Steve Gerber died, besides. R.I.P.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Double Digits Again

A work-related project has kept me from ruminating too much today, but I will stop in long enough to note another big win by Obama. He took the Maine caucuses 59-40. At this point, he's won all the caucuses except Nevada, which almost makes you wonder what went wrong there (of course, when you take into account that even though he came up short in the popular vote he still took home a majority of delegates, you have to concede that maybe nothing did). Although it was common wisdom that Obama would do well this weekend, the fact that he did overwhelmingly well is still awfully impressive. On to the Potomac Basin on Tuesday.

For some really strange goings on, though, take a look at Saturday's Republican caucus in Washington. Huckabee, you'll remember, won two contests on Saturday, and Washington still needs to be decided. As I write, they've only counted 87 percent of the vote. McCain is up by a lousy 242, but Washington officials are saying, close enough for victory! Don't worry your pretty little heads about that extra 13 percent. No matter how they work out, John McCain's come close enough to call him a winner. No, really, that's pretty much the argument. You can check out the details from Josh Marshall.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Elections, More Landslides

Four more states were in play today, three for each party (you do the math). Following in the tradition of Super Tuesday we remarked upon the other night, all the Democratic races are landslides--this time, though, they're all landslides for Obama. In the Nebraska and Washington caucuses, a format that's usually worked well for Obama, he's defeating Hillary by a more than two-to-one margin. In the Louisiana primary, he's up by twenty-one points with 99 percent of precincts reporting. These were all expected to be strong contests from Obama, so there's not much of a surprise here (although those margins are awfully big). But the big question is how this translates to Obama's momentum. He's also expected to do well in Tuesday's Potomac primary of Maryland, Virginia, and DC, but will he do better after today's performance? And if so, will it continue building into March's races in Ohio and Texas? Right now, Hillary's expected to do better on those battlegrounds, but will all this make Obama more competitive? Obama's got to be careful that he doesn't lose at the expectations game. For the last little while, the buzz has all been surrounding him, but it's still completely a two-person race. Realistically, there's no reason to think that he should be putting her away, but the attention's he's been getting perhaps suggests that he will any second. If the race remains competitive for too long, some of his supporters just might start getting impatient.

On the Republican side of the ledger, there were a couple of surprises today. With Romney out of the race, John McCain has seemed to be the presumptive nominee, but voters put a big warning sign on that, awarding one caucus and one primary to Mike Huckabee. Now that there's no one Huckabee has to share conservatives with, are they lining up behind the former Arkansas governor? He took out McCain by 60 to 24 percent in Kansas and squeaked by in Louisiana. With most of the votes counted in the Washington caucus, he's running only two points behind McCain (with Ron Paul running only three points further behind Huckabee). There's an awfully lot of ground Huckabee would have to make up to become actually competitive, but if Huckabee did seem to be taking a lot of delegates away from McCain, would that cause buyer's remorse among the Republican powers that be? Perhaps even less has been decided than we realize.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

History Repeats Itself

I certainly didn't want to write again about the Senate surveillance bill, but this is getting ridiculous. We're coming up to a climax again, and it's playing out exactly like it has in the past. As we discussed last night, the surveillance reauthorization bill--if passed by the Senate at all--will barely have time for a conference with the House to iron out differences. Harry Reid, always the optimist, apparently, is calling for another extension of the current law so the House-Senate conference does not need to be rushed. The Republicans agreed to do that once, but when they did so, they made it clear that they wouldn't do it again. In trying to replay the same scene, Reid comes off as a hapless sucker. The Right calls for bipartisanship, but it's been clear for some time that in their terminology, bipartisanship means that the Democrats will climb the fence that divides them from their rivals and come to whatever spot where the Republicans are making their stand so that the Republicans don't even have to shift their weight. If they have to budge, they're not going to agree. I know that. You know that. How come everybody knows that but Harry Reid? That disconnect between Reid and the voters is probably behind Congress's 22 percent favorable rating in the latest AP-IPSOS survey. That's eight points below the Prez's own 30 percent favorability, which only makes sense because the whole point of the Democratic Congress was to elect the Democratic Congress to keep the executive branch at bay. If Congress actually stood up to the Prez, there's no telling how much their favorabilty would rise. But no, the Democrats seem unable to do anything but give this lame-duck precisely what he asks for.

If the Republicans refuse to grant an extension, Reid should allow the surveillance law to lapse. Sure, then the Prez and the Republicans will yell bloody murder that all surveillance will cease and that the Democrats are inviting terrorists into the country, but not that many people are paying attention to them these days (did I mention Bush's 30-percent approval rating?). In reality, we'll just default back to the original FISA legislation--the one in place while the U.S. won the Cold War. It's not realistic to ever expect bullies to stop bullying as long as their tactics give them everything that they want.

Friday, February 08, 2008

No, FISA and Telecom Immunity Aren't Done Yet

The climax of the FISA bill I apparently promised the other night is a bit longer in coming than it seemed. The Senate is slowly going through the amendments (and so far, predictably, they've all been voted down), and the actual vote is now likely to come next week. There'll be little time before the current surveillance law expires to send the new one to conference with the House, which is likely just what the White House is intending. Barring some sort of shocker (but keep making those calls, because you never know), the Senate will pass telecom immunity, which is not a feature of the House bill. There's little reason to think that the House won't fall into line and cave along with the Senate when the time comes, but I guess without hope we just lie down and die.

One possible silver lining about the surveillance power is that it may not be as permanent as present legislation implies. If a Democratic candidate wins the White House in November--particularly if that candidate is Hillary Clinton--it'll be no time before the Republicans seek legislation to cut off the free reign of surveillance. They'd flip-flop on a dime to deny their theory of the unitary executive. That is, until the next time a Republican inhabits the Oval Office.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Neck and Neck but Miles Apart

For a race that seems primed to go down to the wire, the contest for the Democratic nomination sure has some wild variations. As you're well aware, yesterday's Democratic Super Tuesday votes took place in twenty-two states: Obama won thirteen to Clinton's nine. New Mexico, which took a long time to be decided in Hillary's favor, was very tight, as was Obama's upset in Missouri. Obama also unexpectedly won Connecticut, so the vote totals there were fairly close, as well. But except for Arizona, which Clinton won by nine percentage points, every single other contest--all eighteen of them--went to the victor by double-digit margins.

No, I have no idea what it means. But if the race for the nomination is such a toss up, shouldn't Clinton be pulling in more than 17 percent in Idaho? Or Obama doing better than 31 percent in Oklahoma? Nationally, the contest couldn't get much closer, but in these eighteen contests yesterday--82 percent of the states in play--the winner walked away in a landslide (and again, that's only counting the double-digit wins; Arizona's nine points, which would be considered a landslide under normal circumstances, is small potatoes here). And it was as evenly divided between the winners as the total contests themselves: Clinton and Obama each won two squeakers, while Obama triumphed in eleven landslides to Clinton's seven. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to expect that, if one candidate were getting blowouts in some states, the other would just be winning by narrow margins. But no, no matter which way a state goes, Clinton or Obama, it goes with a vengeance. My blog reading may not be wide and eclectic enough, but I haven't noticed anyone else commenting on this. If anybody's got any insight into this situation, I'm eager to hear it.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I've been out most of the evening, and I've got an early morning adventure ahead of me (with the threat of snow to add to the drama), so although I'm playing catch up with the Super Tuesday results, I'm also going to keep it short. We'll find out more details of how the delegates shake out in the morning (here's the New York Times's wrap up of the Democratic action). Although I've been hearing some spin about how the Hillary campaign comes out ahead as a result of today's voting, it seems to me that Obama has more than held his own. He won more states, so that's good, but Hillary won more of the big states such as California and New York, so she comes out the winner. And what about delegates? Obama has done well, since delegates are awarded proportionally, so it doesn't even matter who won or lost which state, it comes down to who's getting the delegates. They seems fairly evenly split, which can only be a plus for Obama. If he's not falling behind, then he's as much or more a part of this race as he's ever been. Hillary representatives have been talking about how everything's going along as planned, but they have to be disappointed. There's still a long way to go.

Over on the Republican side (and here's The Times talking about Republicans), John McCain added further to his delegates, coming that much closer to the nomination. Mitt didn't do terribly well, but Huckabee surprised all by picking up four states! Is he now running for vice president? If he is, would that be enough to bring back Rush and Dobson to the fold?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Quick Hits

I'd intended to give this a bit more attention, but it's too late at night and the news goes stale tomorrow. This may just be lowering expectations for Super Tuesday, but Clinton advisors Howard Wolfson and Mark Penn suggested in a conference call that Super Tuesday isn't going to settle anything and, in fact, the race for a candidate might go all the way to the convention. Part of me wonders how we won't all be sick of it by that time, but another part thinks the longer we can keep a buzz and excitement to this contest the better. Once people actual count the votes from tomorrow, the race will likely get much clearer, even if that clarity just shows us we won't have a winner any time soon.

When we were talking about a climax last night, I hope you didn't think that I meant the climax was coming quickly. That's simply not how it's done in the Senate these days. The FISA bill was raised today, but it's going to be debated in more detail tomorrow. If there's time, they may vote on the various amendments, but the whole thing won't likely reach final disposition until Wednesday. Harry Reid is hiding behind Super Tuesday to pass telecom immunity. It's no fun spying on people if everybody knows you're doing it.

Am I the last blogger to link to the new Barack Obama video? On the Obama campaign page, they just refer to it as a "supporter-created video," but when that supporter is multi-platinum recording artist of Black Eyed Peas it carries a bit more weight. Sorry, there's no word I could find about which candidate Fergie's supporting.

Monday, February 04, 2008

FISA Fight Finally Coming to a Climax

Late last week, the Senate came to an agreement about how it was going to handle the FISA legislation that has kept causing problems. The Democrats reached across the aisle to the recalcitrant Republicans and . . . well, they either caved or they didn't. The Republicans--who were holding up any vote on any amendment to the bill whatsoever--have agreed to vote on Monday and to allow most amendments to stand or fall on a straight majority vote and are only intending to force a supermajority on a few. Some people seem to be satisfied, but I find it hard not to agree with Glenn Greenwald:

It seems rather clear what happened here. There are certain amendments that are not going to get even 50 votes -- including the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity out of the bill -- and, for that reason, Republicans were more than willing to agree to a 50-vote threshold, since they know those amendments won't pass even in a simple up-or-down vote.

But then, there are other amendments which might be able to get 50 votes, but cannot get 60 votes -- such as Feinstein's amendment to transfer the telecom cases to the FISA court and her other amendment providing that FISA is the "exclusive means" for eavesdropping -- and, thus, those are the amendments for which the GOP insisted upon a 60-vote requirement.

The whole agreement seems designed to ensure that the GOP gets everything they want -- that they are able to defeat all of the pending amendments which Dick Cheney dislikes, and to do so without having to engage in a real filibuster.

On he other hand, there are a number of people who seem at least somewhat satisfied. Senator Russ Feingold is pleased, although he seems to leave his options open in case the amendments votes don't go the way he'd like. Let's help him out. McJoan, another optimist about the deal, has a list of Senate phone numbers.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Harry and Louise Vs. the Nazis

No sooner did Hillary and Barack appear to put any bad blood behind them in Thursday's debate than it bubbled up elsewhere in the campaign. In response to the Clinton health plan, the Obama campaign put out a fear-based attack mailer that seemed to invoke former Clinton insurance-company nemeses Harry and Louise. Ezra Klein discusses the brochure and even includes a frame from an old Harry and Louise ad to make the pretty obvious comparison. This is disappointing, but then Obama's negative was trumped by something worse out of the Clinton camp. Clinton's people set up a conference call to defend her health-care proposal, and one of the experts got a little carried away. According to Ben Smith at Politico, the New America Foundation's Len Nichols criticized the mailer perhaps a little more strongly than it deserved. Saying, "I am personally outraged at the picture used in this mailing," Nichols followed it up with, "It is as outrageous as having Nazis march through Skokie, Illinois."

Outrageous might be arguable, but Nazis? That kind of overstatement just backfires on the person making it and steals focus from the original piece, which certainly deserves the complaints it's been receiving. But due to an overzealous defender, Hillary lost the ability to make the criticism, and Obama won a point or two for being attacked unfairly. Looks like advantage, Obama.

UPDATE--I should say a little bit more about the campaign pedigree of the Nazi comparison. It was not made by an official Clinton spokesperson, but it was made by someone lined up to speak in favor of the campaign in a call organized by the campaign. At the end of the conference call, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson repudiated the comment.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who Heard About Captain America?

Captain America returned to the Marvel Universe this week, and I'm told that it was a major news story. If you're not a regular comics reader, you may or may not remember that Cap was assassinated last spring (it was a story that kept popping up in the regular media). The attention the storyline received made it an instant sell-out. Now the story has progressed to the point where Cap's former sidekick (who himself recently returned from having been presumed dead for the last forty-five years) has stepped into his shoes. I read comics and follow the comics press, so I was aware of this, but I never saw any mention of it in the regular press. Yes, I read reports that it appeared (and here's the AP story most outlets picked up), and I knew that Marvel's editor in chief was going on The Colbert Report (Newsarama has the video), but had I not read comics sites writing about all this, I'd have never have seen it.

I talked to the folks at Chicago Comics, and because it was a replacement Captain America rather than the real thing, they hadn't expected it to be a big deal, either, but they had a run on the comic and had to limit it to two copies per person before essentially selling out of it the day it was released with about an hour and a half to go before closing. It may have only been the regular Wednesday comics buyers anticipating a quick windfall (though it doesn't seem like it's getting a lot of action on eBay at the moment), but it could've been people alerted by the news. Was there a lot of news? Did anybody see this through normal channels, or am I just paying far too much attention to the political scene these days?

Just a Thought

What does it really mean when people say something is "selling like hotcakes"? Since when are hotcakes so amazingly popular? Are we to understand that IHOP is one of the richest and most successful multinational corporations in the world?

Republican Race Solidifying

Last night, I mentioned that I'd intended to write about how the Republican presidential contest--like that of their Democratic counterparts--was still mostly wide open. A scant twenty-four hours later, that seems a much more difficult position to defend. Although reports on Thursday morning that Romney didn't appear to be buying any ads in anticipation of Super Tuesday have since been repudiated, it doesn't seem like there's much that a media buy can do for him at this point. TPM Election Central has a round up of polls from the Republican Super Tuesday states, and they fall overwhelmingly toward McCain. There's been talk that McCain could have trouble with the Republican base, but if that's true, the doubting base had better make itself known in a couple of days. Although McCain most likely can't put it away on Tuesday, he can build himself a virtually unassailable lead. If he indeed does have a problem with the base that's not settled in a few days, it could well manifest itself during the general election, which will only help the Democratic nominee. There's still a long time between now and the Republican convention. If McCain follows through with what almost seems inevitable at this point and a backlash develops among the base in the several months of downtime before the convention, will the party try to draft an alternative? At this point it's all idle speculation. Fun, perhaps, but idle nonetheless.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Shifting Landscape

Be careful not to buy into the common wisdom. We're in the midst of one of the most dynamic presidential primary seasons we've seen in ages--in both parties--but everybody wants to keep declaring it over. Before the actual voting began, Hillary was considered inevitable and unstoppable. Why were any of the other candidates even bothering to get into the race. That all stopped, though, when Obama took the Iowa caucuses, and the question immediately shifted over to whether there was any use in her staying in the race. Her win in New Hampshire caught far too many people (including me, as I recall) by surprise. And then it wasn't long until she was inevitable again, at least until Obama took South Carolina--but can that be enough to really challenge Hillary? Well, it may or may not, but the question is far from settled. The latest development that "changed everything" was Edwards's surprise withdrawal from the race.

I'd believed Edwards when he said he was in for the long haul, and with the Democrats's proportional award of delegates in the upcoming primaries, even if he never won one, he could've continued amassing delegates that might've made him a factor in the convention. Why did he leave now? Was there something in Florida that let him know he was in a useless battle? All of the candidates had agreed not to campaign in the state, so what was there to be learned from his results, which weren't that different from what he'd been experiencing all along? Why not at least wait until after Super Tuesday? If his results from South Carolina were bad enough to push him out, why didn't he leave then? All of those are empty questions unless Edwards explains himself, but the immediate reactions caused by his pulling were quite interesting. There was a pulse through the blogosphere (the progressive blogosphere, anyway, although it wouldn't surprise me if it hit the conservative blogosphere, as well) that Hillary had as good as wrapped up the contest. I have to admit that the idea occurred to me, as well. But on further thought, I wondered why that was the only conclusion to reach? I'm not saying that all of Edwards's support was anti-Hillary, but a lot of it would've been. I'm not sure how much different the dynamic of the race was at the end of the day Wednesday than it was at the beginning of the day. We may learn a lot on Super Tuesday, but I think what we'll find is that Obama wins a bunch, Hillary wins a bunch, and although we'll actually be closer to a nominee, I'm not sure it'll be any more sure about who it's going to be.

I'd intended to take on the Republican campaign, as well, but tonight I suspect my time is better spent in bed. Maybe we'll take up the topic at a later time.