Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Machine 

As the media gears up to over-emphasize the simplistic "racial storyline" of the South Carolina primary expectations game, I wanted to post some excerpts from a fine WSJ article by Chris Cooper, Valerie Bauerlein and Corey Dade. It deals with some of the internal dynamics operating inside the so-called "black vote", and the new tactics the Obama campaign is using to court them. The article is titled "NEW MACHINE: In South, Democrats' Tactics May Change Political Game" (sub req). Apologies for the lengthy excerpts:

The contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in South Carolina this Saturday is the next big test in the tight battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. In the long term, the showdown could also upend the way politics are practiced across the South.

In early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, campaigns use rallies and personal appearances to get votes. Now, the nominating races have moved to bigger states, including much of the South. Candidates here rely on endorsements from powerful politicians and preachers. It is a tradition that has evolved since the 1960s to garner support among poor blacks who look to their preachers for both spiritual and political guidance. And it is the way Mrs. Clinton, like countless Democratic politicians before her, is running her campaign in South Carolina.

Mr. Obama, in contrast, is trying something many observers say has never been done here: He is circumventing entrenched local leadership and building a political machine from scratch. His staff consists largely of community organizers -- many from out of state or with no political experience -- who are assembling an army of volunteers. It is a strategy often used by labor organizations and in neighborhood and town politics.
The strategy has risks. The endorsement system of politics evolved precisely because it was locals, not outsiders, who knew where voters here lived and how to get them to the polls.
Paying the Power Broker

When Mr. Obama first started trying to organize the state earlier this year, he began in the usual way, seeking endorsements of traditional power brokers. The campaign offered a $5,000-a-month consulting contract to state Sen. Darrell Jackson of Columbia, a longtime legislator and pastor of an 11,000-member church, who also runs an ad agency.

Mr. Jackson's ability to turn out the vote -- or suppress it against rivals -- is the stuff of local legend. In 2004, he helped clinch a primary win for North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, even as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was coming off wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. At the time, Mr. Edwards was paying him consulting fees of roughly $15,000 a month, according to federal records.

Mr. Jackson says he seriously considered the offer from Mr. Obama, but instead became a paid consultant to Mrs. Clinton, essentially running her state operation for substantially more than what the Obama camp offered. "A lot of our hearts were torn -- it wasn't an easy choice," Mr. Jackson said. He drew more than $135,000 from the Clinton campaign from February 2007 through September 2007, the latest figures available, according to federal election filings, and remains on the payroll.

"Winning here has a lot to do with who validates you as a candidate," Mr. Jackson says. "I'm comfortable with what Mrs. Clinton has going here."

I bet he is "comfortable".

But this style of politics hasn't been effective at fostering sustained black participation in state and local politics. In South Carolina, blacks make up nearly a third of the population, but they are significantly underrepresented in elected office, even in areas where they are the majority. In the 2004 general election, turnout of nonwhite registered voters was 66%, compared with 72% among white registered voters, according to South Carolina Election Commission data.

Mr. Obama's team says his grass-roots approach -- tapping younger African-American voters who have never been engaged in elections -- has the potential to permanently change the way politics are practiced here.

Steve Hildebrand, Mr. Obama's chief strategist for early voting states, set out to build an organization that relies heavily on circumventing the established black political gentry in South Carolina. A native of South Dakota, Mr. Hildebrand is not only an outsider, he is also white -- an unusual combination for someone setting out to win the black vote here. Many of the people he has hired have come from out of state or have no presidential-campaign experience, or both.

He says he has largely eschewed the local tradition of giving "walking-around money," or "street money," to political figures who back candidates. Such funds are used to hire van drivers, canvassers and poll watchers who turn out the black vote on election day. It's a practice as old as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A bottom-up campaign effort that can win without paying off ward heelers and without distributing "walkin'-around money"? Now that is a welcome development, don't you think? In Louisiana's Gubernatorial race, "Independent" candidate John Georges carried Orleans Parish largely because his "street money" offers were at least double what "Democrat" Boasso offered. Guess who most of the local pols endorsed?

As you know, I'm a big fan of Chris Cooper's work (especially in "Matewan"). He's great. His WSJ articles and his book, "Disaster", are indispensable reading for Federal Floodologists.

But... I don't know if it's his pumped up Suthin' drawl (from being in SC), or if it's his repeated lookaways to his notes, or how the notes read... but I thought this video segment with Chris Cooper was kind of funny (and informative). In the video, Cooper expands on the other items in the article, like the fact that many voters in South Carolina didn't know who Obama was, or that he was black, or... some other things:

The revelation that Mr. Obama was almost a complete unknown led the campaign to retool Mr. Obama's image. ...[In SC, the Obama campaign opted for] a new series of campaign buttons, push cards and issues literature, all of which showed photographs of Mr. Obama...

But it wasn't just letting voters know Mr. Obama was black. In a state where skin tone is seen by many black people as a measure of social standing, the campaign frequently brought out Michelle Obama, whose darker complexion carries a special meaning when contrasted to the lighter skin tone of her husband. "It was important for people to see that Obama wasn't putting on airs by marrying a woman lighter than him," says Anton Gunn, South Carolina political director for the campaign. "You think a thing like that wouldn't matter, but here it does, very much."

Update: Looks like Obama's "new machine" performed pretty well.

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"a tool for addressing any lingering shortcomings" 

I don't know if this Saturday T-P Editorial on the Nagin Administration's lax accounting even qualifies as a baby step towards progress. On Wednesday, I expressed my hope for adequate editorial treatment of this issue, which was well-covered by nolabloggers. David at Moldy City has been expressing a similar hope for two years, now.

The T-P opines:

The Nagin administration has a ready response to the broad array of criticisms raised in an audit of the city's 2006 finances: Hurricane Katrina forced deep layoffs of city workers, and that affected the city's accounting staff.
But keeping finances in order is also a basic function of city government. That's not less true in the midst of a fiscal crisis -- it's more true. The Nagin administration should have taken a strategic approach to how it laid off workers. If cuts to the finance department and layoffs of accounting personnel in other departments meant that it couldn't adequately handle the city's money, that was a bad management decision.

At the very least, New Orleans officials could have asked the state for help or explored the many offers of help from other governments and nonprofit groups. An army of volunteer accountants could have done a world of good if the city had tried to assemble one.

KPMG, the firm that conducted the audit, found that the city did a poor job of keeping track of the cash and other assets that were under its control in 2006.

"The city does not have adequate policies, procedures and related internal controls to prepare accurate and complete financial statements," the audit report said.

Auditors found nine significant deficiencies in internal fiscal controls, five of which create "more than a remote likelihood" that a material error in a financial statement won't be caught.
The Nagin administration says that it is rehiring accounting staff and consultants to address the problems pointed out in the audit. One finding -- that the city lacks barriers to prevent corruption of the public contracting process -- is being addressed by the creation of the Inspectors General's Office, the city noted.

Certainly by now the administration should have made significant progress in addressing the problems that sprang up after Katrina. The city has more resources, and we are more than two years into recovery. This audit, while troubling, should serve as a tool for addressing any lingering shortcomings.

Are you kidding me? That's it?!

Where's the larger context here? The T-P says that Nagin might have made a bad, unstrategic "management decision" regarding the city layoffs that Katrina "forced". But did Katrina also "force" subsequent pay raises for un-consolidated, upper-level city employees? Did Katrina also "force" Nagin to sign expensive garbage contracts rather than hire auditors to handle the city's money?

On Wednesday, David at Moldy City wrote:

In the intervening two years, what's the mayor done to "stretch" every dollar to make "this recovery work"? In addition to deciding that increased garbage collection costs would somehow help the recovery (the mayor called it a "cornerstone"), our high-maintenance size queen of a mayor decided that amply-sized garbage cans were more important than an adequately sized accounting department. Funny thing is, the great big cans that the mayor couldn't live without were no bigger than the old ones.

I could add more...

I think the T-P needs to add a lot more to their "criticisms" about "OUR MAYOR", Ray Nagin, (B.S. in Accounting, Tuskegee Univ., 1978), too.

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Not for the young 

Drive By Blogger and We Saw That have some nasty but informative coverage of the controversy surrounding Sen. Mary Landrieu's education earmark.


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Friday, January 25, 2008

Qwick qwery 

Who "won" Louisiana's peculiar Republican caucus, anyway? Romney? McCain? Paul?...Thompson? ...Reagan?!

I honestly don't know.

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LA Dems call for Timmy Teepell's resignation 

Here's the complete text from an LA Democratic Party press release asking for Jindal to remove Timmeh from the new governor's "Authoriteh strukture"*:


Staff Must Adhere to “Non-Partisan” Ethics Laws

BATON ROUGE – Bobby Jindal should ask Timmy Teepell to resign. Jindal’s “war on corruption and incompetence in government” should start with his own staff who failed to comply with state ethics laws long after the violation came to light, according to Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington.

In September, Timmy Teepell and his campaign staff were made aware of the violation and subsequent fine yet failed to resolve the matter and blamed the state Republican Party for failing to alert him of the in-kind donation. Forgetting to pay the fine in September and continuing to campaign on strict ethics reform is inexcusable and would not be tolerated by Jindal if he adheres to his own pledge of comprehensive transparency among all elected and government officials, said Whittington.

The fact that Jindal’s spokesperson referred to the ethics violation being made public as “a partisan political stunt” is a slap in the face to Republicans and Democrats alike who have no problem adhering to Louisiana campaign finance laws.

“This is not a partisan issue. Ethics laws apply to everyone. This is about Jindal and his staff not following the rules that everyone must abide by, regardless of party,” said Whittington. “The state Republican Party legally documented the expenditure on their finance reports, yet Teepell and his staff continually failed to take any responsibility.”

“This is an opportunity for Jindal to show the people of Louisiana and the country he’s serious about ethics reform by holding his own staff accountable. We fully support ethics reform, but feel reform led by an administration that claimed to be unaware of current state laws is questionable,” said Whittington.

“We have seen the same double standard in both David Vitter and Jim Tucker who themselves have skirted ethics laws and avoided reprimand. We hope Jindal isn’t using his campaign platform of ethics reform as a tactic for his own political gain.”


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Changing ideas 

The Jonathan Ferrara Gallery sent me a notice that artist Dan Tague has a new exhibition in the Fine Arts Dept. at the University of New Orleans. It's entitled "My War".

Tague describes My War thusly:

Many of the acquired objects in this show could probably tell their own wonderful story, but I've convinced them to be part of my dialog through juxtaposition and manipulation. I had every intention to redefine these things in order to tell another story about My War by shuffling nostalgic memories from movies, disdain for organized religion, current "fucked up" politics, adolescent aggression via punk music culture, complacency of the masses with a spoonful of irony and comedy.

If you have a moment to scan through his collection, I recommend taking a look. Two of my favorites pieces are here and here.

This approach is fun, and appeals to my dark sense of humor. Don't you enjoy when nostalgic, commonplace items are reworked in sinister ways? Yeah, me too.

I plan on attending Tague's exhibit at UNO before it concludes on February 15th, and view his solo exhibition at Jonathan Ferrara's Gallery beginning April 5th.

Not sure why, but Tague's outlook and exhibition reminded me of a sarcastic quote from Dr. Greg Gaffin, founder and lead singer of the punk rock group Bad Religion:

Whatever happened to the good ol' days when a man could beat his wife and kids, molest a boy scout, and organize a lynch mob all in the same night?

Here's a video of my favorite Bad Religion song, Change of Ideas. It was recorded in '89, and is only about 55 seconds long.


Well the sheaves have all been brought, but the fields have washed away,
And the palaces now stand where the coffins all were laid,
And the times we see ahead, we must glaze with rozy hues,
For what don't wish to admit what it is we have to lose.
Millenia in coming, the modern age is here.
It sanctifies the future, yet renders us with fear.
So many theories, so many prophecies,
What we do need is a change of ideas.
When we are scared we can hide in our reveries but
What we need is a change of ideas.
Change of ideas, change of ideas,
What we need now is a change of ideas.

Update: More news on art, and "changing ideas" at Michael's 2 Millionth Web Log. The delicious money quote from Michael's first (must read) link is: "So Bush’s inspiring, prosyletizing Methodist is in fact a silver-tongued horse thief fleeing from a lynch mob." Classic.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

I thought war was declared on such dragons 


Gov. Bobby Jindal faces state ethics charges for failing to timely disclose more than $100,000 in campaign aid he received from the state Republican Party.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics ordered a public hearing to explore charges that Jindal and his governor’s campaign committee violated the state’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act.

Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s chief of staff, said Thursday night that Jindal would pay the fine.

Just the cost of doing bidness. Eh, boys?

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A doorway to political truths said in jest 

Appearing on the David Letterman show, Presidential candidate John Edwards said that he was trying to "represent the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party" at the debate in South Carolina the other night.

Then this very illuminating exchange occurred. Pay attention to the point Dave Letterman is making between the laughs (video here):

Dave: “And you were roundly cheered when you said, ‘You know, I am the adult here,’ whatever you said, made a funny joke, and it was true to some extent.” (audience laughs) “But I do think there’s something to seeing people-- petty bickering. I think there’s something to that. Do you think there’s any good from that or not?”

Edwards: “What good? No, I think there’s, actually, there is value in having real engagement on the issues. I think that’s worth something, because there are differences between the three of us on the issues and people need to know those differences. But when it gets down sort of in the ditch and it’s the little petty stuff, I mean, I don’t think it adds much.”

Dave: “But see, for a dumb guy like myself,” (audience laughs) “because irrespective of the view you have on the issues and the other two have on the issues, I don’t know the difference. I’m just that dumb, I couldn’t tell you the difference so I don’t mind seeing –“

Edwards: “Is that the ‘issues, schmissues’ you were talking about? (Edwards, audience laughs, applauds)

Dave (laughs): “Exactly right. ‘Issues, schmissues.’” (audience applauds)

Edwards (laughs): “How many times have you said that?”

Dave: “A million. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, Senator.” (audience laughs) “I wish I had a nickel. But I think it does – I mean, it’s fun to watch, you know, because you don’t know when somebody, you know, might take a swing at somebody else.” (audience laughs) “And I think in some ways it’s insightful.”

The segment concluded with Edwards allowing Letterman to playfully reach over and tussle his hair. (Letterman likes to touch people, but does not like to be touched.)

Whether people want to admit it or not, they pay attention to the petty bickering of Presidential candidates. And deep down, perhaps unconsciously, they believe it is "insightful" as well.

I like John Edwards, and appreciate how he has moved the agenda during this campaign cycle. However, despite his tough rhetoric, I continue to question his "toughness" as a presidential candidate. Once again, Edwards has entered the awful, absurd playing field of presidential campaign politics. It's not like he's unfamiliar with "the game". Yet he chose this absurd battlefield to wage the "fight of his life". Other than a meteoric 3 week period in 2003-04, Edwards is reluctant to fully engage in the absurd game, and lay it all on the line to be successful. To win a presidential campaign, candidates must do more than (honorably) explain their proposals and policy differences. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn't. And underdog candidates must do much, much more than that. (Maybe this weekend I'll put up a couple more things about Edwards. I think he's an instructive political example.)

David Letterman, the "dumb" guy, has an essential understanding of why people watch debates , and, therefore, how the media covers debates. After eight years of running for the Presidency, it's not apparent that Edwards has fully grasped this insight. (Btw, in general, I thought candidate Edwards' appearance on Letterman was fine. I enjoyed it. But it reminded me why I look at him as a seriously flawed candidate.)

The media isn't ignoring Edwards because he's a white man running against a woman and a black man. (Remember, the media basically ignored Bill Richardson.) Edwards is being ignored because he's only playing the game in a half-ass way. He doesn't give the media easy horse race stories. He's not winning, or attacking candidates, or employing innovative strategies on the campaign trail. He's being polite and talking policy after losing his "must win" state of Iowa.


Here, Bill Clinton is playing the game by pretending to be outside it. He (rightfully) slams an Obama supporter for making an inane comparison, and then (rightfully) slams the media for not being interested in policy-- knowing full well that this passionate non-policy statement will create media notice.

It's beyond absurd. We must change the media to break the "absurd game", but in order to do that-- how much must we change ourselves?

Video here.

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"If I wasn't entertaining to a certain extent, I think I wouldn't be as relevant as I am. People tend to pay attention to what I say and do. So, you know, I like to be unpredictable at times... I could have done a lot of things and enhanced my persona, if you will. But I haven't. Internationally . . . you know, the fact that I came out so strongly right after Katrina, my international appeal is very, very high. At some point in time I'll take advantage of it, but not right now."

-- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, describing his "entertaining style" that maintains his relevance, and plays well overseas.

"... You wouldn't have had the Jena Six if you didn't have MLK. You see his doctrine was, 'Don't obey laws you don't like.'"

--Richard Barrett, lawyer for (white) Nationalist Movement, speaking at the MLK day rally in Jena

"We are completely out of time, but we have time for one final question that I'd like to ask all three of you to respond and, if possible, within one minute or less, and it's an important question on this important day.

"... If Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today, unfortunately, he's not, but if he were alive today, why do you think he would or why should he endorse you?"

-- Wolf Blitzer, CNN/Black Caucus Democratic Debate in Myrtle Beach, SC.

"I've got duck leases out there and I remember when they were covered in grass. They're all ponds now. It's not gone because of drilling. It's because nutria ate all the grasses."

-- Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, explaining coastal loss in South Louisiana.

"...we need to elect a pro-life president."

-- Sen. David Vitter, Southern Regional Chairman for the Rudy Giuliani campaign, speaking at the "March for Life" rally in D.C.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SOTU predictions 

Bush's 2008 State of the Union speech is next Monday. Here are a few predictions:

The phrase "ownership society" won't be featured.

The Gulf Coast and New Orleans will get a single, insubstantial mention.

Bush will certainly not announce any new flood protection commitments, and USACE will not release its overdue plan for Category 5 protection for South Louisiana prior to the speech.

General Petraeus will be in attendance. *surprise!*

There will be no updates on the President's "Vision for Space Exploration", announced four years ago, which includes a commitment to go back to the moon and on to Mars.

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Phoney Baroni 

After I wondered why there had been so little "publicity and outrage" over Nick Baroni's corruption, the Times Picayune has suddenly been all over the story.

Last week, I had posed the following thought experiment: "Imagine if a former Democratic City Councilmember from New Orleans defrauded the Navy during a time war, and Mayor Nagin wrote a testimonial for such a person using official city letterhead. Picture that reaction." Well, I must admit, the T-P has done its best of late to show no double standard. They're absolutely hammering this corrupt Kenner Republican.

In the past week, I've seen one front page story on Baroni, one T-P editorial, and two James Gill columns. Not bad. The T-P has not only taken Baroni to task, they've taken on his defenders, such as Jeff Parish President Aaron Broussard and Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz.

Gill's first column on Baroni confirmed some details I had mentioned in October, when I said:

Nick Baroni and recently re-elected Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard are good friends. I hear that, back in the day, Nick and Aaron made a spiritual pilgrimage to Medjogorge together, and stared into the sun, and came back as better people. Or something like that.

Sure enough, Gill writes:

Pride of place in the Baroni fan club goes to Jefferson Parish President, and former Kenner Mayor, Aaron Broussard, whose letter [to the court in defense of Baroni], at 3 1/2 pages, is the longest.
One of the reasons [the judge] should go easy on Baroni, according to Broussard, is that he "volunteered to help coordinate a number of precincts for my School Board race which I won at 25 years old."

Broussard enclosed a picture of himself and Baroni taken when they "shared a pilgrimage trip to deepen our faith to a region in Yugoslavia," and wrote, "I will always feel that I left out a lot in this letter." [The judge] is probably glad he did.

The second Gill piece, titled "Baroni the Bandit", is an utter lambasting. Gill repeatedly employs the "defrauded the navy after 9/11" frame I used in this post, to great effect. Here are some excerpted samples from today's column:

While U.S. armed forces were fanning out across the Persian Gulf region in response to the terrorist attacks of 2001, former Kenner City Councilman Nick Baroni and his son Keith were able to resist the patriotic mood that overcame most Americans.

The Baronis just carried on stealing from the Navy.
[N]ow the government has set out the facts and the timeline in a sentencing memorandum filed after the Baronis pleaded guilty. The true story turns out to be one of prolonged treachery and fraud spanning 9/11, when the dead included scores stationed at the Pentagon's Navy command center.
In November 2001 the war on terrorism was heating up, with U.S. aircraft striking Afghanistan from carriers in the Arabian Sea. While a grateful nation rallied behind its armed forces, Nick Baroni was coming up with a plan to hoodwink the Navy auditor who came to his office.
He has, as several supporters point out, paid for his crimes with a collapsed business and a ruined reputation.
[T]his is true, as it is true of many others sent to the penitentiary for crimes much less offensive than ripping off the Navy when the country is virtually at war.

Goodness. That is brutal.

Baroni's "sophisticated" plan for fooling the Navy auditor included posing as a "systems administrator". Sadly, Baroni didn't know what such a person did. When the Navy auditor came to check his books, Baroni made a point of dressing in blue jeans and repeatedly walking by the auditor while carrying a mouse or a keyboard, looking purposeful, acting hard at work. Gill's account is hilarious. Go read the whole thing.

Now that my wish for more Baroni coverage has been fulfilled, I'm suddenly wanting the T-P to redirect its efforts back to New Orleans stories that have yet to receive adequate editorial treatment.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008


From lj4a we learn of this T-P story on Duhbya's latest veto:

President George W. Bush yesterday "pocket vetoed" a bill that includes a provision by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., to make the primary mission of U.S. counter-terror operations the capture al Qaeda leaders, and to increase pay to military service members.

Why does Mary insert these outrageous "poison pills" into common sense legislation?

Senator Landrieu's amendment to H.R. 1585, the Defense Authorization Bill, would have made the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other leaders of al Qaeda and the destruction of their terrorist network the primary mission of U.S. counter-terrorism operations. Also included in the Defense Authorization Bill was an across-the-board pay increase for U.S. service members and enhancements to veterans' medical care. The Bill would have reduced a pay gap between military and civilian pay.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate, but the President rejected it without signing within the 10-day window required by the Constitution.

White House budget officials said last year in a statement of administration policy that troops don't need bigger pay raises, and laid out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

Since May, we've noted the White House's skinflint policy towards the men and women risking their lives in this trillion dollar occupation of Iraq. I guess the budget is too tight to give them a modest pay increase.

Bush budget officials said the administration "strongly opposes" both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases "unnecessary."

The White House says it also opposes:

- a $40/month allowance for military survivors, saying the current benefits are "sufficient"
- additional benefits for surviving family members of civilian employees
- price controls for prescription drugs under TRICARE, the military's health care plan for military personnel and their dependents

The White House decision to reject the bill was followed by news today of a new audiotape of Osama bin Laden making continued terrorist threats towards western nations and U.S. forces in Iraq.

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What is an "industrial-size breast pump"? 

Hayek swears by it.

(Salma, not Friedrich.)

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GOP chair: "we want people who are paying attention to decide who will be president, not just casual voters." 

Extended excerpt from John Maginnis' 1/9/07 T-P column, "Wide-open nomination races closing fast".

Despite efforts to make presidential candidates at least visit a few airport tarmacs in Louisiana, once again voters here will experience both nomination races vicariously. Though the Legislature moved up the state's presidential primaries to Feb. 9, both parties' nominees are bound to be decided at least four days earlier, when 20 states vote on Super Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras.
Even if Fat Tuesday didn't crowd out Super Tuesday, it's doubtful Louisiana would rate as much of a battleground. That's because the results of the Democratic primary are pre-ordained and that of the Republican primary are practically irrelevant.

Even before his campaign caught fire in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama was a cinch to win the Louisiana Democratic primary, when his cross-over appeal with whites is combined with the 46 percent of registered Democrats who are African-American.

Months ago, local supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton advised her campaign to not bother with Louisiana except for fund-raising. Besides announcing his candidacy in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, former Sen. John Edwards has had no campaign presence here.

At least the votes the Democratic candidates receive Feb. 9 will be reflected proportionately in the number of delegates pledged to them in the state's delegation to the national convention in Denver.

But isn't this a reason for Democratic candidates to run as strong as possible in LA, even if they don't win? (And for the record, I think it will be competitive after Super Duper Tuesday.)

Not so for Republicans. Regardless of the voter preferences in the GOP primary, most if not all of the state's delegates will go to the Minneapolis convention uncommitted.

That's because state party leaders have deemed the Republican rank and file untrustworthy to make as weighty a decision as the nominee for president.

Instead, the state Republican Party will hold caucuses at 11 sites around the state Jan. 22 to elect delegates to a state convention, which in turn will elect delegates to the national convention. All delegates will be uncommitted unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Feb. 9 primary, in which case 20 of the state's 47 delegates will be pledged to him on the first ballot.

So 49 percent of Republican voters could choose former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but none of the state's delegates would be obligated to vote for him at the convention.

The indirect, convoluted process has discouraged some candidates, such as Huckabee, from even participating in Louisiana. Only Sen. John McCain and former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney are recruiting supporters to run for delegate in the caucuses.

Not a few Republicans are unhappy with the caucus system trumping the choices of primary voters. "It takes away the rights of Republicans in Louisiana," said outgoing state Rep. Charlie Lancaster, R-Metairie, a longtime party builder. "It's set up so a few people can control the operation."

State party chairman Roger Villere Jr. defends the caucus system as open "because everybody has a right to go." He added, "It is for people who are politically active. The argument was we want people who are paying attention to decide who will be president, not just casual voters."

Few have worked harder for his party than Mr. Villere, though perhaps he has been working too hard and should give it a rest. Some lifelong Republicans who rarely miss an election might take offense at being considered casual or inattentive and at having their primary votes superseded by a handful of caucusing party activists.

The long-shot possibility of a brokered national convention would put uncommitted delegates like Villere and company in the catbird's seat in Minneapolis, though they might find themselves in the doghouse back home. Imagine how ordinary Republicans might feel if, by some outside chance, the outcome of the Louisiana primary still matters by Feb. 9, but their votes don't.

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Edwards: Social Security needs "a solution" to keep it "alive" 

Lost in last night's debate was this policy statement by John Edwards, where he explicitly aligned himself with Obama on Social Security against Hillary Clinton. Edwards said that Social Security "needs a solution" (implying that it's a problem), and that we need to "create revenue to keep Social Security alive" (implying it will die).

I'm sure our progressive bloggers and liberal pundits will jump all over Edwards for this transgression.

EDWARDS: ...But I do have to say, in response to something Senator Clinton said just a minute ago, both Senator Obama and I have said Social Security needs a solution. And we have said we won't privatize, we won't cut benefits, we won't raise the retirement age. Same thing that Hillary has said.

But she has proposed nothing about how we're going to create revenue to keep Social Security alive and talked about fiscal responsibility. Here's the problem: If you don't have -- this is not complicated. The American people understand it. If you've got more money going out than is coming in, you're going to eventually run out of money.

And you've got to have a way to pay for it, which is why -- now, let me finish this. Lord knows you let them go on forever.


What I'm saying is we have to be consistent in what we're saying. I have said I think Hillary doesn't want to talk about raising taxes. Let's just be honest about that.

Barack and I have both said that you've got to do something about the cap on Social Security taxes, which is now capped at $97,000. It means if somebody is making $80,000 a year, every dime of their income is taxed for Social Security. But if you are making $50 million a year, only the first $97,000 is taxed.

That's not right. And people ought to be paying their Social Security taxes. But the American people deserve to know what we're going to do.

Update: I thought I'd put my response to Jeffrey's comment up here, in the post, rather than in the comments.

Well, Edwards said he was committed to running all the way to the convention. I'm sure he won't drop out before South Carolina.

In my view, Edwards is "creating separation" between himself and Hillary on Social Security in order to appeal to older voters in South Carolina, similar to how Obama "created separation" between himself and Hillary while campaigning in the Brodervilles of Iowa.

The progressive blogosphere erupted against Obama at the time he was making his move in Iowa, hammering him on this "issue". (It's not the reason he won Iowa, but it was part of his winning strategy.) Now, Edwards is using Social Security for similar reasons (though it's far too late) and I bet he gets a complete pass.

In campaigns, "policy" talk is primarily the vocabulary of political maneuvering.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrating The Dream in Louisiana in 2008 

On MLK day, Rep. Ron Paul flew into Louisiana and made a few campaign speeches around the state. Supporters of the libertarian Congressman-- who voted against an MLK holiday, and who published a racist, anti-King newsletter (that he now unconvincingly disavows)-- have organized an MLK day fundraising effort on Paul's behalf. Their promotional video does a good job of... how shall I put this?... stirring the senses.

Paul recently pissed off the "David Duke" wing of his supporters when he said that he considered Dr. Martin King to be a hero. In response, David Duke has organized his own fundraising effort... on MLK day.

Not to be outdone, some white "Nationalist" protesters marched in Jena today, brandishing firearms and "dog leashes". Allegedly, they were marching for their "pro-majority" rights. The group's lawyer, Richard Barrett, went so far as to blame Martin Luther King for the Jena Six. He said: "You wouldn't have had the Jena Six if you didn't have MLK. You see his doctrine was, 'Don't obey laws you don't like.'"

King would remind us to love these mouthbreathers, to see the good in them, to oppose their policies nonviolently, and to understand that our destinies are intertwined.

That's all.

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Another doorway 

Despite what they say, people very much enjoy seeing candidates interact and argue with one another on stage. They don't watch a debate hoping to hear lengthy explications of each candidate's policies. They watch a debate in order to see candidates on stage together, soaring or blundering, attacking and defending.

Naturally, the networks endlessly replay and "play up" the most contentious exchanges from a debate, which usually have nothing to do with policy differences, and everything to do with perceived personality and performance under pressure.

Yes, it is an absurd game for high stakes. Yes, we should work to change it. No, it won't change quickly or easily.


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"Please displease me" pt 2 

Paul Krugman shamelessly enters the "Please displease me" game, and uses a chopped quote from Obama's discussion about political timing, where he mentioned Reagan's 1980 campaign. Krugman uses the Reagan administration's subsequent economic record to argue against Obama's (accurate) political observation about how Reagan presented himself on the 1980 campaign. That's just some awful punditry. Krugman could have spent five minutes looking at the actual video of Obama's interview (between the 17:00 and 22:00 minute marks), but apparently that would be too much work. He substitutes speculation for research.

Krugman writes:

Contrast [Bill Clinton's 1991 comments] with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?

Again: if one takes the time to look at the interview, they'll see that Obama was making an observation about Reagan's political timing in 1980, and the trasformational opportunities that afforded his administration. And OF COURSE Obama was trying to curry favor with the editorial board. It's ludicrous to expect him to counter prevailing narratives about the Reagan administration's record, when he wasn't even talking about such things. What's that going to solve? Obama wasn't discussing Reaganomics, he was discussing political timing, and the opportunities that a mandate presents for transformational change. Yet, if Krugman spent five minutes reviewing the video of Obama's remarks, he'd see that Obama did repudiate the Republican economic approach since Reagan, and indicated the new direction he would take the country if he were able to take advantage of the "times", with a solid electoral majority.

I transcribed the full quote to the best of my ability starting at the 18:45 mark. The video is here. It is important to note that the tape has been edited here and that the question Obama is responding to-- probably a question about his ability to change the country-- is omitted. I've highlighted certain portions for emphasis, but just keep in mind that he's answering a particular question, not making a campaign speech.

I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 election was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing. Alright?

I think Kennedy, twenty years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction.

So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those times right now, where people feel like things as they are going aren't working, that we're bogged down in the same arguments that we've been having, and they are not useful. And the Republican approach I think has played itself out. I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time over the last 10 or 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before, you look at the economic policies that are being debated among the presidential candidates it's all tax cuts. Well, you know, we've done that. We've tried it. It's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example. So, some of it's the times and some of it I do think there's a maybe a generational element to this partly. In the sense that I didn't come of age in the battles of the sixties, I'm not as invested in them. So I think I talk differently about issues... and values. And that's why I think we've been resonating with the American people.
... What I'm saying is that I think the average Baby Boomer has moved beyond a lot of the arguments of the sixties, but our politicians haven't.

Krugman criticizes Obama for feeding into a false narrative about President Reagan, when he really wasn't doing so-- he was talking about Candidate Reagan. The two are very different. And if liberals and progressives are so analytically constrained that they can't let an observation about Reagan's political skill in 1980 pass without insisting on an accompanying criticism of Reaganomics... that's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Krugman rightly says that historical narratives count, but then uses a chopped quote to willfully misinterpret what Obama said, and slams him for not making an argument that had nothing to do with his central point. There was plenty of good stuff to discuss from Obama's interview if one took the time to listen to it, yet Krugman joins countless others who want to play the tyrannical "chopped quote" game.

"Please displease me", says our brightest major liberal pundit.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Collected political comments 

Over the past five months or so, I've written some decent GOP campaign analysis in the haloscan discussions at Library Chronicles. Currently, my analysis seems to be holding up, so I wanted to collect and preserve selected comments in this post, as a record of my thought. Right now it looks like McCain and Clinton have the advantage, but I'll stick with my hopeful prediction that Obama and Romney will meet up in the end. (We should note here that YRHT fan "bigshot" predicted that same matchup over a year ago.)

[Jeffrey said:] "I'm still not buying the Mitt hype..."

It is true that when you eliminate Rudy from consideration, and try to envisage a more plausible nominee from the current GOP field... it becomes a very difficult exercise in prognostication. Everyone else is by default, and Mitt's still at the top of that list.

Thompson-- doesn't seem to want it.

McCain-- not dead, despite what everyone says; has another "act" to play out, but will probably fade out very quickly after IA and NH.

Huckabee-- has more potential upside than almost anyone, which will go unnoticed (Thompson hurts him).

Brownback/Hunter/Gingrich/Tancredo: hell no

So that leaves Mitt. Yikes.
oyster | Homepage | 09.14.07 - 3:14 pm | #

Oh. And it's not going to be Huckabee, either. The powerful forces who call the shots for the GOP regard him with infinite suspicion. But he's a gifted campaigner, and could make things extremely interesting for a couple weeks with a win in Iowa.

It's difficult to believe that Romney will do it (by default). It's very hard for me to imagine, but Rudy is even more unthinkable, therefore-- Mitt.

Mitt the Mormon-- holy cow.

There will be a small, tiny opening for John McCain to re-emerge a la Kerry in 04. I seriously believe he could get a second chance in this thing. But... he will have to jet that political sluice at exactly the right moment.
oyster | Homepage | 12.07.07 - 4:23 pm | #

... Electoral and Campaign dynamics are key-- ignore the trends unless they are supported by the dynamics. Longtime historical trends will be more useful, I predict, as CONTRARY indicators of success than anything else.

How well is the candidate and the campaign positioned for the foreseeable political dynamics? Can they take a hit? Can they deliver hits? Can they take advantage of current events? Do they have discipline and an appealing message? Those are the questions to ask.
oyster | Homepage | 09.15.07 - 10:33 am | #

Right. And that's really what I'm doing with Rudy!, I think.
jeffrey | 09.15.07 - 12:06 pm | #

Giuliani is short and bald and his message is one of fear. In a "Change" election year, Rudy appeals to that slice of the electorate that wants "More Bush only with extra pugnaciousness". Is that demographic likely to shrink or grow over the next year? I would bet on the former occurring, and that's not in his favor.

Moreover, Rudy is soft on gays but hard on guns. He is pro-choice. How will he respond when his opponents relentlessly pound him on these issues in attack ads in the South? Will fundagelicals really vote for him in a primary because he might be better at putting the dirty hippies in their place? I don't think so.

Beyond these dealkillers, there is a truckload of negative stories about Rudy that have yet to be strategically deployed. How can he possibly overcome this? Remind people he was "America's Mayor" after 9-11 for the upteenth time? No way. While the economy softens and the Iraq war drags on... will "kicking dark skinned asses" still be his Ace in the hole? I don't think so.

Iowa, NH and SC... where does he win? And if he doesn't win one of those, suddenly Rudy is no longer the frontrunner, and the campaign "dynamics" will appear far different than they do now.

However, I still hope Jeffrey is right and I'm wrong about Rudy getting the GOP nomination. It will shake my confidence in terms of presidential political analysis, but in terms of desirable long-term consequences... I'm all for it.
oyster | Homepage | 09.17.07 - 10:35 pm | #

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"we have [an empathy] deficit when it takes a breach in our levees to reveal a breach in our compassion" 

Grandmère Mimi directs us to the transcript of Barack Obama's powerful sermon at Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. She asks: "can we agree that this is a damned good speech?"

Yes we can.

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Every generation needs one 

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"Please displease me" 

Similar to Hillary's comments about MLK, Obama's comments about Reagan have been chopped, removed from context, and purposefully misinterpreted. In his interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette, Obama did not praise Reagan's "ideas", as some contend. He was talking about political timing, and how Reagan presented himself in order to win overwhelmingly in 1980. Obama was implying that 2008, like 1980, is ripe for significant "change", and that he could win overwhelmingly, with a mandate and coattails for (more liberal) transformation.

His reference to Reagan was a very small slice of an hour long interview. But rival campaigns and incurious pundits were quick to react with righteous indignation at something that wasn't said*. "Please displease me", is Somerby's way of describing the contrived clowning.

I decided to watch the entire video interview with Obama, which unfortunately seems to be currently unavailable at the newspaper's web site. Obama was in professorial mode, so it wasn't exactly riveting, but he made a couple of interesting points. The first question the Reno Gazette editorial board asked Obama (as well as Clinton) had to do with Katrina, and how it would've been handled differently than Bush. Obama (as well as Clinton) said they would have already had competent people at FEMA, and would've had better coordination among local/state/federal, and would've promptly visited the site afterwards, and would've improved how recovery funding was delivered...

Obama was asked about levees, a topic I had hoped would be raised in the Las Vegas debate. Obama broadened the scope of his answer to include "infrastructure" in general, and basically said he would end the war in Iraq, and we would be in a better position to fund our infrastructure needs. He didn't use the phrase "make levees, not war"-- but that was his basic point. (Obama has made Category 5 protection a goal for New Orleans.)

Here are some other quotes from Obama's interview that I thought were interesting and transcribed:

Here's what I've always said: if you are a progressive you need to be more fiscally conservative than those who don't believe in government because there are things you think are important that are not getting funded right now. So I'm interested in doing an audit, essentially, of the Federal government and how we're spending money. We can't waste money. I don't care whether we're wasting it in the Pentagon or whether we're wasting it on social programs that have outlived their usefulness and no longer work.


We have a structural problem in the economy that has to do with, I believe, a tax code that has been skewed towards the well-to-do. That compounds the problems of globalization where the benefits of globalization have gone to the top one, five percent... but the average American hasn't seen a wage or an income increase at all... Even as the middle class and working class gets squeezed, there is a lot of money that is looking to park itself somewhere and it feeds first the internet boom... then the... real estate bubble, and so you keep on getting these bubbles because there is just a lot of money that's accumulating, looking for twenty five percent returns, in the meantime the average American is finding itself deeper in debt, and having a tougher and tougher time keeping up. If we... had a tax structure that's a little bit fairer... if we are making investments in college affordability... infrastructure... retraining workers... energy independence, if we are doing a lot of those structural investments, and we're getting our fiscal house a little bit more in order... then we can get back on track. That's the long-term agenda.
Long term what I've proposed is a shift in the tax structure to go back to a fairer system... that is paid for by closing some of the loopholes that already exist. So essentially's net neutral to the government, but I'm changing who pays in, and who gets something back.

Sorry for the lengthy excerpt. Now back to our regularly scheduled outrage over the next chopped quote from the campaign trail...

Please displease me!


* actually, if you were willing to play it straight and not chop quotes and bend meanings, there was some much better material in that interview that could be used to attack Obama.

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