Friday, October 31, 2008

How voting Obama will save babies

I've been doing a fair amount of phone banking into some areas with what seem to be a bunch of folks who won't vote for Obama because of the abortion issue. Here's what I tell them. It's the first argument that has actually helped me win a few over.

In 1996, as an undergrad in college, I took a bus trip to Washington DC for the annual protest on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I have always been pro-choice but wanted to have the experience. I paid about $35 for the trip. When I arrived at the stadium where they were parking the buses, the entire lot was filled with buses from all over the place. There had to be a thousand or more buses. Being math inclined I started doing the numbers in my head (1000 or more buses * 40 people a bus * 35 each) and I realized we just spent a large sum of money to fight to overturn a law but did nothing to help women make a more life preserving choice.

It's taken another 12 years for me to formulate my own position on abortion but it has been heavily informed by that trip.

My core belief is that we need to to things now to help woman facing a difficult decision to make the right choice. From that day on I donate a small amount of money every month to a shelter for pregnant women who want to keep their babies. If you believe in this cause, consider visiting them and making a donation. On the side of politics I believe we have to stop voting on this one issue and, instead, support a candidate who will do things to help save babies tomorrow.

We have been fighting the Roe v. wade battle for almost 40 years. No matter what argument you make for or against, between 40 and 60% of Americans will disagree with you. There are good people making reasonable points on both sides. With the nation this divided, fighting this by the law won't solve the problem. And besides, we know that abortions still happen even when the law is changed.

Instead, we need to enact policies that can start saving babies tomorrow. Most women having abortions are in poverty and lack health care. If we enact policies that provide everyone health care, a woman will not face the decision of bringing a child into the world without care. If we provide women options for better childcare perhaps they will have an easier time to bring a baby into the world while being a single mom.

Research also shows that abstinence only education leads to more pregnancies. We need better education to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Now I know some will say there is no such thing as an unwanted pregnancy and that people shouldn't have sex till marriage. My favorite is hearing that argument from a married couple I know who had their first baby 7 months after their hastily arranged wedding. The fact is, no amount of moral training will stop people from having sex before marriage. Kids will be tempted, adults will do what they will and people will have sex. Better access to education and contraception will lower unwanted rates of pregnancy and reduce the number of abortions now.

The bottom line is this. We've been fighting this battle for 40 years and each year more babies are aborted. We can keep fighting that battle and make no progress. We can go another 40 years and look back and regret that we did nothing today when we had the chance. Or, we can start solving the problem today and begin saving babies tomorrow. To me, it's really that simple. My God calls me to start saving babies now and Barack Obama is the candidate best positioned to support that goal through access to health care, reasonable education, and policies that support single moms in the workplace. Where do you stand?

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain's Decision Making - Ignores Advice Like Bush

When evaluating someone’s decision making ability, there are a few things you can look for. How do they handle stress? Who do they look to for advice? When they get advice, do they take it under consideration? When advice comes in that challenges an individual’s existing views, is the information considered or just dismissed as out of hand? This last one is a biggie for me. All humans face the challenge of confirmation bias – or the propensity to seek out and only listen to information that confirms existing beliefs while dismissing anything that contradicts existing beliefs.

We’ve all been in this situation. You have a theory or an opinion about a particular topic. When you see information that supports your idea, you embrace it. When you see information that is counter to your beliefs, you keep looking until you find something new. Wikipedia has a decent discussion of the phenomenon here.

How does this impact the presidential race? Follow me below for a discussion of McCain’s response to recent criticism.

Over the summer, at the Faith Forum hosted by Rick Warren, John McCain was asked “Who were the three wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration.” John McCain answered with the name John Lewis as follows:

I think John Lewis. John Lewis was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Had his skill fractured. Continues to serve. Continues to have the most optimistic outlook about America. He can teach us all a lot about the meanings of courage and commitment to causes greater than ourself.

McCain also refered to Lewis in one of his books.
Last week John Lewis, commenting on some of the inflammatory remarks coming out of recent rallies, said this about John McCain’s campaign.

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.

"During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat.

How did McCain react? He issued this statement available on his website:

"Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.
"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

He then said this in the final presidential debate:

And the fact is, it's gotten pretty tough. And I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns. But the fact is that it has taken many turns which I think are unacceptable.
One of them happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect -- I've written about him -- Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.

So, rather than consider the possibility that his conduct has been less than honorable, rather than considering the possibility that the message from John Lewis was spot on, John McCain rejected it as out of hand. Further, he stepped up his smear campaign by starting Robo Calls attacking Obama.

You can make your own judgment about the tone of McCain’s campaign. But, just today, another man who McCain claim’s to respect, call McCain out for his tactics while offering his support to Barack Obama:

This will give us another opportunity to see how McCain reacts to “advice” coming from people he claims to admire. My guess…he will continue to reject the advice when it flies in the face of his own views rather than give them the consideration they deserve. So far, I am afraid McCain continues to ignore the advice:

WALLACE: But senator, back, if I may, back in 2000 when you were the target of robo calls, you called these hate calls and you said —
McCAIN: They were.

WALLACE: And you said the following: "I promise you I have never and will never have anything to do with that kind of political tactic." Now you've hired the same guy who did the robocalls against you to, reportedly, to do the robocalls against Obama, and the Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the co-chair of your campaign in Maine, has asked you to stop the robocalls. Will you do that?

McCAIN: Of course not. These are legitimate and truthful and they are far different than the phone calls that were made about my family and about certain aspects that — things that this is — this is dramatically different and either you haven't — didn't see those things in 2000.

WALLACE: No, I saw them.

McCAIN: Or you don't know the difference between that and what is a legitimate issue, and that is Sen. Obama being truthful with the American people. But let me tell you what else I think you should be talking about and the American people should be talking about. In the debate the other night, I asked Sen. Obama to repudiate a statement made by John Lewis, a man I admire and respect and have written about that connected me and Sarah Palin —
WALLACE: This is the congressman, civil rights leader.

MCCAIN: Civil rights leader, American hero. That connected me and Sarah Palin to segregationists, to the campaign of George Wallace, and even alluded to the bombing of a church where four children, four children were killed, and I asked him to repudiate that statement. I have repudiated every statement made by any fringe person in the Republican Party. And it has come up from time to time, and it probably will. The fact that Sen. Obama would not repudiate that statement I think is something the American people will make a judgment about. That robocall is accurate. It’s totally accurate. And there is no comparison between it and the things that were done and said in South Carolina.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

On negative campaigns....

Just a quick post to point something out about. There's been some discussion about who has run the more negative campaign vs. who has stayed focused on this issues. I think there is one example that highlights the higher road for the Obama team.

Sarah Palin was found to have violated state ethics laws just one week ago. While the report was clear,

Palin continues to claim the report cleared her. Despite this obvious contradiction between the report and Palin's claims, the Obama campaign has just left it alone to stay focused on issues. To my knowledge there has not been a single commercial or campaign spokesperson pushing this hot button issue - that the person whom might be the next VP has been found to have violated state ethics standards.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More Bill Ayers w/ update

The lead prosecuter in the case against the Weathermen has spoken about this issue in an editorial to the New York Times. Again, digest and decide for yourself.

As the lead federal prosecutor of the Weathermen in the 1970s (I was then chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of Michigan and took over the Weathermen prosecution in 1972), I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Full editorial is here.

NPR addressed this issue today and has a quote from a Chicago area Republican suggesting Ayers has a bi-party following. Listen and make your own judgment.


This week the McCain campaign has resurrected an old attack on Barack Obama: his supposed relationship with Bill Ayers. I don’t want to debate the merits of the attack. This is politics and I guess we have to expect it. Instead I want to consider who Bill Ayers is today and also consider if it should reflect poorly on anyone who might interact with him.

First, some background. Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group of the 70’s. As part of a broader protest against the Vietnam War and other perceived injustices, his group set off some small bombs targeting facilities like The Pentagon. In the attacks that involved Ayers, no one was killed or injured. In fact, their attacks typically included a warning ahead of time. Ayers disappeared underground for a number of years and later he turned himself in to authorities. A member of the Weather underground group was killed by an accidental explosion.

This is an intentionally brief summary and more can be found through a quick Google search.

Clearly these acts were despicable. No one really debates that. The question, is, can a person redeem themselves from such acts? I believe they can.

Since his time as a radical, Ayers has become a noted scholar working at one of the preeminent learning institutions in the world. He is a noted expert on urban educational reform and social justice issues. Here is what the Washington Post says about Ayers:
Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board. The president of the Woods Fund, Deborah Harrington, said he had been selected for the board because of his solid academic credentials and "passion for social justice.

It is this board where Obama first met Ayers. Ayers later made a small donation to one of Obama’s early political campaigns and hosted a small event for Obama as well.

In this country, is it possible for someone to commit a crime and, through later acts, redeem themselves? I have my opinion. You can form your own.

Next, regardless of your answer to this question, consider the context in which Obama met Ayers – on the board of a respected non-profit. In this context, can you really fault someone for also agreeing to serve on that board? Again, form your own opinion.

Finally, Ayers has been criticized for not expressing regret at his past actions. He has addressed this (here and here). His regret is that he wasn’t able to stop the Vietnam War. In retrospect, given the deaths to both American and Vietnamese, and the awful legacy of that war, I think most would agree stopping the war would have been good. While his methods were questionable, his motives, perhaps, were not.

Whatever your personal view, I hope you take away from this a far more complicated view of the situation than what the McCain campaign seems to be pushing.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Campaign Distortions and Lies

One of the reasons why I support Barack Obama comes down to his promise of a "new kind of politics" that tries to steer away from the attacks and lies we have come to expect from politicians. By and large I think Obama has managed to keep his commitment to this ideal, and certainly moreso than his opponent, John McCain. Regardless, we are fortunate to have some independent sources that attempt to sort out the fact from the fiction.

One critical source is They have recently released a summary of the distortions in the campaign. I've done my tallying and believe that on both the seriousness of the claims and on the quantity of claims, it is clear that McCain has run a far dirtier campaign than Obama. But, have a look and decide for yourself.

Below the fold I have some specific references.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

It's campaign season and time for more updates...

Eight weeks to go and it's time to revisit the blog. I'll have some more posts in the coming week. But for now, despite the good speech, you can't get around the issue of qualifications:

And here is the rest of it.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

President or Prom King, Part 2

I never thought I would see the day when a candidate for the presidency would have this as their home page.

I'll say it again...I want a president that acts presidential. This just makes McCain look ridiculous.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is he running for the Presidency or Prom King?

Sure, Barack Obama is getting a lot of attention this week from the media. But, let's remember, he's meeting with foreign leaders, checking out the war zone, and doing things that are, shall we say, presidential. And lets remember who goaded Obama into making a trip overseas. Now that it seems to be generating a positive response, not just from Americans, but from people all over the world, John McCain seems to be a little jealous. So, what does the McCain campaign do? They whine about it just like Americans are apparantly doing about the economy.

Here's the current McCain campaign home page.

I'm not sure it even needs words, but let me say this: I want a president that acts presidential. I want a president that treats the election and campaign with respect and I don't want one that makes it look like the election for high-school prom king. That's what this home page does. That's what the silly count-down clocks on the GOP site do (and, not to be out done, it seems the GOP is showing the media complaint video too). span class="fullpost">
Since the beginning Barack Obama has been committed to running a clean campaign devoid of the silly politics we see every four years. Looking at the Obama website, I think you can see the difference without even leaving the home page. John McCain, on the other hand, runs comics.

Senator McCain: If you want the media to take you seriously and pay attention, perhaps you should take this election seriously. You can start by: suggesting your advisers not call Americans a bunch of whiners; by not referring to borders that don't exist; by not referring to countries that don't exist, and by actually answering a question about insurance coverage for birth control rather than driving the straight talk express off the side of the road in evasive measures.

Clean up the home page, start talking about important stuff and maybe people will pay attention. In the mean time, leave the comics to the pros.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Organizing for the Presidency (and a ding on the US press)

As the presidential campaign heads into the dog days of summer, two issues remain front and center for many who are not supporting Senator Obama: 1) Does he have the experience for the job and 2) What will he be like as president?

We live in turbulent times and, in many ways, the problems and risks we face are like nothing we have seen before. Instead of working from a well-tested play-book from the past, our next president will be forced to develop creative new ways of tackling challenges as diverse as national security and international relations, energy and health care policy, the post credit-bust economy, and more. All the while the next president will have to win back the confidence of the American public by ensuring them (especially the 45-50% who voted for the loser) that he can be a President that ALL Americans can be proud off. This is no easy task and it is easy for someone to question how Obama will deal with these issues.

One clue into Obama's skill as President really comes from the campaign organization he has developed. Throughout the primary and into the early parts of the general election the campaign has been a case study in discipline and professionalism. Little has come from the campaign in the way of leaks or major controversy (the same can't be said for the Clinton campaign or the McCain campaign). Despite building a far-reaching organization that has hit every state in the land, little has come in the way of publicly displayed infighting Despite being the "inexperienced" candidate, Obama has shown a managerial skill we have sorely lacked the last eight years. A great example of Obama's organization also provides some insight into his potential ability as the occupant of the West Wing. A recent article on Obama's foreign policy team was published in the International herald Tribune. It details an organization of 300 (mostly volunteer) foreign policy advisers that help funnel critical information to the candidate on a daily basis. The article describes the organization as "a tight-knit group of aides supported by a huge 300-person foreign policy campaign bureaucracy, organized like a mini State Department, to assist a candidate." Further, the article quote an Obama campaign official as saying:

"It is unwieldy, no question," said Denis McDonough, 38, Obama's top foreign policy aide, speaking of an infrastructure that has been divided into 20 teams based on regions and issues, and that has recently absorbed, with some tensions, the top foreign policy advisers from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign. "But an administration is unwieldy, too. We also know that it's messier when you don't get as much information as you can."

The group includes a small paid staff and a cadre of volunteers including the likes of Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, both former Secretaries of State. Of course this group will be tested in the coming weeks as Obama begins his overseas trip and this will give us some insight into Obama's capability as president. But, equally important, is the comparison of this group to that advising McCain:

Obama's Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, has a far smaller and looser foreign policy advisory operation, about 75 people in all, and none are organized into teams.

The early end to the Republican primary season gave McCain several months of a head start to build an organization that will support the campaign and form the base for a potential presidency. But, when we look at the many missteps and recent reorganization of the McCain campaign one has to wonder about the overall management capability of John McCain and how his skills will map onto the challenges faced by the next President.

My own interactions with the Obama campaign also provides some interesting insights. Last month the campaign launched the Organizing Fellows program and which trained and dispatched more than 3000 organizers out into the field. Just a few days into the start of the program I was contacted by one of the Fellows assigned to Central PA. The organizing fellows quickly tapped into local volunteer networks to organize dozens of events and register hundreds of voters. The skill they have shown in just a few short weeks is a testimony to the overall campaign.

One just has to visit the Obama website to see all the ways in which one can interact and be a part of the campaign. In contrast, just last week I visited the John McCain website in an effort to see what kind activities were running in my area. Despite my best efforts, all I could find was a phone number for the Ohio-PA regional office.

In talking to members of the paid staff, I have also been impressed with the way the campaign can coordinate actions between HQ and the local offices. I'm told that even the most distant staffers have the ability to get information to the top which is a far cry from the isolated bubble of our current President.

In short, I believe the Obama campaign, as a whole, and his foreign policy group, as a specific example, provide an nice preview into the way Obama will tackle the challenge of the Presidency. It seems clear to me he has the management skills necessary for the job as well (not to mention communication skills). McCain, on the other hand has shown some weaknesses in this area despite having had several months of a head start.

Finally, a little ding on the US press. The article mentioned earlier on Obama's foreign policy advisory team is a great example of how reporting ought to be done. It provides some detailed insight into how a candidate will organize and access information, two critical aspects of the job. The US press could learn from this type of reporting and perhaps focus on these types of details rather than Obama's workout schedule.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Campaign Funding - Broken System

A lot of noise has been made about Obama's decision to opt out of public financing. If you are wondering why Obama did it, have a look at this article.

The NRA (National Rifle Association) plans to spend more than $40 million running ads against Obama. To put that in perspective, that would be equal to about half the money that would be allowed under public financing. This is just one group. There will be many others and they can take large chunks of money from donors giving the wealthy unequal power in the election and, thus, defeating a key goal of the public funding system. When these groups can't be controlled, the public funding system is broken.

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