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

UPDATE 2:
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.

UPDATE:
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.

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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 factcheck.org. 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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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Service is Different than Judgment

Here in Pennsylvanians, we have seen more of our neighbors, children, spouses, and relatives killed in Iraq than any other state save the much larger states of California and Texas. With that as a backdrop I find unsettling the uproar in the media over General Wesley Clark’s comments about John McCain, especially in light of comments made by McCain right here in Pennsylvania the very next day.

In an interview with a newspaper in Bucks County, PA (near Philadelphia) following a campaign stop, McCain reiterated his support for the war and said, even knowing what we know today, he would still vote to authorize war! Even knowing that Iraq had no connection to 9/11; even knowing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction; and even knowing that five years would pass and more than 4000 lives would be lost (186 from Pennsylvania), McCain would still authorize war. No matter how honorable John McCain’s past service, this position reflects poor judgment.

It is this type of decision that General Clark was referring to when he suggested that McCain lacked the judgment needed to be President. Yes, McCain served honorably and is a hero. Watch the video yourself – Clark acknowledges this. But, past service is irrelevant if you are still willing to commit to war in Iraq knowing what we know today. We have had eight years of a president unwilling to learn from or admit past mistakes -- we don’t need another four. Barack Obama was against the war from the start and is committed to bringing our troops home. That is the kind of judgment we need back in the Whitehouse.

The video is below the fold.



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Thursday, May 29, 2008

McCain, Barack, Iraq and Foreign Policy Experience

Today comes news that Barack Obama is considering a trip to Iraq after turning down an invitation from McCain to do a joint visit. John McCain believes we should stay in Iraq while Obama believes it is time to pull the troops out. He has committed to doing just this within 16-months of taking office. On that topic John McCain is quoted this week as saying:



"Obama was driven to his position by ideology and not by the facts on the ground. And he does not have the knowledge or the experience to make the judgments. Presidents have to listen and learn. Presidents have to make judgments no matter how popular or unpopular they may be."
John McCain claims he has visited Iraq several times and thus "knows what is happening on the ground". If that is the case, then why was it he had such a skewed view of the security situation in this interview last year when he suggested some neighborhoods were safe enough for Americans to walk around without maximum security?


In the interview McCain scolded Wolf Blitzer to "catch up" and for "giving the old line". Following this interview John McCain was shown to be wrong on this fact (see second video below) and insisted he didn't say what he had said. So, either McCain was not telling the truth or HE doesn't know what is happening on the ground in Iraq.





There have been other McCain Iraq and foreign policy mistakes. See below for a few examples. In the mean time, what does Barack Obama have to say about his plan for Iraq? In short, he believes we need to give the military a new mission of removing our troops, in a safe way, in 16-months. He is willing to listen to the military experts on how to do this, but he believes the president, as commander in chief, sets the mission and the military is to execute.

The commander in chief sets the mission. That's not the role of the
generals. The president's approach lately has been to say, well, I'm just taking
cues from General Petraeus. Well, the president sets the mission. The general
and our troops carry out that mission. And unfortunately we have had a bad
mission. Once I've given them a new mission, that we are going to proceed
deliberately in an orderly fashion out of Iraq, if they come to me and want to
adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into
consideration. And I have to look at not just the situation in Iraq, but the
fact that we continue to see al Qaeda getting stronger in Afghanistan and in
Pakistan, we continue to see anti-American sentiment fanned all cross the Middle
East, and we are overstretched in a way that we do not have a strategic reserve
at this point.
For a video of this response, visit this link and forward ahead to about 5:30.

John McCain Examples:

Mistaking Sunni and Shia:


Not knowing where the power lies in Iran:



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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A new kind of politics: What does that mean?

A key message of the Barack Obama campaign is "Change". This has a number of meanings in the campaign but a primary one, in my opinion, is the need to change our politics. Senator Obama often talks about the need to rise above petty politics and divisiveness and instead focus on issues and honest dialogue in search of solutions. But what does all that mean? How is Barack Obama different than the other candidates still in the race? I believe a key example is the negative attacks that are so common in old style politics.

As I was thinking about this post, another Blogger did a nice analysis that clearly demonstrates the issue. Rather than come up with my own measure, I'll refer to that analysis. The chart below graphs the number of press releases from each campaign and respective parties (Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee) that mention other candidates. The assumption here, which seems obvious, is that a campaign only mentions the competitor when they are throwing mud.



If we focus just on stuff from candidates, you need to look at the lighter blue, the dark blue, and the bright red. These are attacks coming from Clinton, Obama, and McCain respectively. As can be clearly seen, the bars representing "from McCain" and "from Clinton" are much larger than the minuscule bars representing "from Obama."

To me, this provides a nice picture into the true commitment Obama has made to "a new kind of politics." Again, check it out for yourself. Visit the press release page for each campaign and decide which "tone" represents what you want leading our country.

Links to campaign press releases:

Obama

Clinton

McCain



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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What topics can a president joke about?

Leader of the free world.
Most powerful person in the world.
Commander in chief.

These are all terms used to describe the president of the United States. It's an awesome position and we need to think long and hard about to whom we should give the job.

So here's an odd question: Given the position, what topics should be off limits to the president (or presidential candidate) when cracking jokes?

A few weeks ago I suggested that we should never call a kid a "little jerk." Maybe you don't agree. Maybe you view it as a harmless joke or a just response to a kid speaking out of line. OK, I stand by my original post but let's kick it up a notch.





How can the leader of the United States look another leader in the eye and be taken seriously when they openly joke about the most important responsibility of the president? Going to war should be the last option. Putting troops in harms way should be done only with great trepidation. Yet, John McCain feels that it is OK to joke about such a thing. I believe this is fine material for the late night comics but not for the future occupant of the oval office.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gas Tax Holiday: Further Evidence of Independent Thinking

A few weeks ago I wrote about Barack Obama's demonstration of independent thinking. In that post I suggested that his decision to forgo a flag pin on his lapel was evidence of his willingness to make decisions that might be unpopular. If you haven't read that post, have a look.

This week we have another example. Earlier in the week McCain proposed a gas tax holiday which would drop the price of gas by about 18 cents a gallon. Hillary Clinton quickly voiced her support of the plan. The best experts in the nation have looked at this and concluded it would save the average family less than $30 over the course of the summer. They also suggest it could be much less because the base price of gas could go up as a result of the reduced tax.



Think about the decision Barack Obama had to make when this came out. He could jump on the bandwagon and trumpet his support for this plan. Without further scrutiny, everyone would be happy to hear about a tax cut of any kind. Or, he could speak his belief and oppose this plan. Doing so would require an explanation to the American public about the full impact of this tax cut and the likelihood that prices could go UP as a result.

Picking the latter route, and criticizing this plan, on the heels of a difficult week caused by his former pastor, highlights Obama's commitment to making the decisions that are right for Americans rather than those decisions that are right just for himself. It showed his belief that, when presented with unvarnished facts, Americans can understand nuanced political decisions.

Hillary Clinton faced the same decision. She has advisors who have admitted the shortcomings of this plan. Yet, being the calculator she is, she chose the easy option. She chose the option that would be popular at first glance if not best for America.

If Barack Obama was an ordinary politician he would have taken the safe route too. He didn't and this is further evidence of his independent thinking that will help move our country forward.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Gas Holiday? Another silly idea!

It sounds like a great plan. With the high cost of gas, let's roll back the federal gas tax for everyone over the summer to give drivers a break during the busiest travel season. McCain first proposed this plan and suggests that "Hard-working American families are suffering from higher gasoline prices. John McCain calls on Congress to suspend the 18.4 cent federal gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day." After Obama came out against the plan, Hillary Clinton NOW supports it.

This is another example of silly election year politics. On the surface, it (maybe) seems like a reasonable way to give Americans a break. But, with some scrutiny, I believe it is a failed plan.


First, lets look at the math. The rollback in the tax will last about 14 weeks. In 2001 the average American traveled about 14,500 miles a year in a vehicle. Lets bump that to 20,000 for increases since then and to make the math easier. The average new car in the US gets about 25 miles to the gallon. I think we can all agree that the folks most likely to benefit from a reduction in the gas tax may drive older cars that get less mileage. Then again, those driving Hummer's help drag down the overall average. But, just to be conservative and to again used round numbers, let's assume the average car gets 20 miles per gallon.

If we work out the numbers this amounts to about 1000 gallons of gas per year. Now, if we multiply that by the federal tax, the average American would save $184. Ah, but wait. This program would only run for 14 weeks, not an entire year. That means the average savings to the typical American would be just about $50 over the summer.

All of this, of course, is based on same pretty conservative assumptions. I would argue that those needing help the most because of increased costs (food is up as well you know) are really feeling it in the supermarket. On top of that, many of the most needy don't have cars (thus get no help with this plan), only drive for work (thus far under the typical average miles driven), may rely mostly on public transportation (again, get no help), or can find other ways to reduce fuel related costs (like car pooling).

But there's an even bigger problem with this tax rollback. It is a tax holiday for ALL Americans regardless of income, regardless of the purpose of a trip, and regardless if you are driving a Hummer H2 when you could probably get by with something more efficient. Why should someone who drives and can afford a Hummer get the same break as the average Joe who is just trying to get by?

On top of that, reducing the cost of gas will likely increase demand. Increasing demand will likely tighten supply. Tightening the supply will cause the price to increase somewhat thus taking back some of the $50 in tax benefits and giving them to big oil.

Finally, doing this also will cost the US treasury about $10billion dollars in money that is badly needed to maintain our highway system (remember that bridge that collapsed?).

Americans are suffering due to high costs. But, a 14-week band-aid that will save, at best, a typical American about $50 is not the way to fix this problem. The way to fix this problem is to address the root cause: we have to increase minimum efficiency for automobiles, we have to find alternative sources, we have to find ways to stabilize the regions where oil comes from, and we have to find ways to strengthen the dollar (because oil is priced world wide in dollars and the dollar has lost a great deal of value in recent months).

Now, if we want to help out Americans that are hurting, let's focus a plan on them. How about a tax credit for the those with the lowest incomes? Obama has proposed such a plan. How about a rebate on the gas tax for the first 500 gallons you buy each year rather than every single gallon? Or maybe a tax credit for gas for those under a certain income level?

There's hundreds of ways to address this issue, but a blanket rebate for every gallon of gas sold is the wrong way to go. It is nothing more than pandering for votes while ignoring the real issues. Once again Obama shows that he is the only candidate willing to speak the truth to voters rather than pander for votes!
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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Obama the most liberal senator? Not so fast!

It seems the latest talking point is that "Obama is the most liberal member of the US Senate." But, what do the facts say? Well, one place to look is in a compilation of data from the good folks over at Electoral-Vote.com. I like this site because it is a 100% data driven and non-spin site.

They did two sets of analysis. In the first one, they compiled rankings on each senator by liberal interest groups (e.g. ACLU ADA, NARAL, etc). They then took the average rating for each senator and compiled an overall ranking list. Where does Obama rank? Right smack in the middle just two spots away from a centrist like as Joe Lieberman. And where is John McCain? He's fifth from the bottom and about as far from the center as you can get! See for yourself.



Ah, but you suggest this is just some manufactured list made up by a bunch of liberals? OK, well then look at the second list compiled by Electoral-Vote.com. This one is a compilation of rankings by conservative interest groups (like Traditional Value Coalition and Family Research Council). In this list, McCain is in the lower third of the republicans while Obama in in the top third or so of Democrats again just two spots from Lieberman.

So, Obama is the most liberal senator? I don't think so.

This is the silliness that has to stop in US politics. When a campaign rep does an interview and lies, the reporter has an obligation to his or her profession to call the lie into question. But, that rarely happens. The lesson? Don't take these claims at face value. Do your research and make your own decision.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Experience

I was listening to the news earlier and heard a lot of talk about Hillary Clinton's experience. I began to wonder, what experience, exactly, does she have? Two-and-a-half terms as a senator. The rest of her experience comes as the spouse of the former president and a former governor.

What about Obama? He served in the state house of Illinois for 8-years and has spent two in the US Senate. I don't see much of a difference here. If anything, at least Obama was the person elected in the cases of his "experience". But lets look beyond that.

Obama comes from a tough upbringing, having been raised by a single mom. He knows what it is like to be raised in an environment were money was scarce, health care was an issue, and advantages few. Despite this difficult upbringing, he worked his way to Columbia and then Harvard Law School. He has worked with the poor in Chicago and served on the boards of non-profits. He has lived internationally thus bringing a unique perspective to our international relations, something we sorely need today and, most important, he brings an optimism that things can change in Washington.

If you think Barack Obama lacks experience, I urge you to reconsider what you define as experience.
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Sunday, April 20, 2008

35,000 in Philly and Why Change Can Happen

For those who think we need the more political savvy candidate in Washington, or those who think the one with more Washington experience is the better candidate, have a look at these videos.

First, Barack spoke in Philadelphia, at the location of our nations founding and talked about how those patriots, against the longest odds, forced change by taking on the mighty British empire. Think about it...if there were political pundits around at the time, what would they have said? They would have said "they will never succeed" or "you can't change England" while today people say "Washington won't change" and "you've got to know how to play the game." Well, I don't think so and that crows of 35,0000+ in Philly seems to agree! Obama's basic argument is that the poeple must stand up and demand that their government take notice of the people. This is what this election as all about. Have a look at the videos below, keep an open mind, and decide for yourself.



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For a shorter version, have a look at Obama's speech the next day:



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Friday, April 18, 2008

Endorsement from Robert Reich

Here in Pennsylvania we are gearing up for the primary on Tuesday. With Democrats still debating who should be the candidate, you have to take notice when a former Clinton administration official comes out in support of Barack Obama. However, I believe the words he used to explain his choice really underscore why Barack Obama is the best candidate. Below are some excerpts along with the link to the full posting.

The formal act of endorsing a candidate is generally (and properly)limited to editorial pages and elected officials whose constituents might be influenced by their choice. The rest of us shouldn't assume anyone cares. My avoidance of offering a formal endorsement until now has also been affected by the pull of old friendships and my reluctance as a teacher and commentator to be openly partisan. But my conscience won't let me be silent any longer.
...
Although Hillary Clinton has offered solid and sensible policy proposals, Obama's strike me as even more so.
...
He also presents the best chance of creating a new politics in which citizens become active participants rather than cynical spectators. He has energized many who had given up on politics. He has engaged young people to an extent not seen in decades.

You can read the full post here.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Will you say no?

Over and over Americans criticize politicians for lacking substance, for avoiding specifics, and, when asked straight questions, for dodging them with vague and roundabout answers. We claim that we yearn for a politician that speaks straight with us or in detail about problems and proposed solutions and we are, rightfully so, quite frustrated when they fail to do so. We like to blame the political system for these outcomes but I believe we need to look in the mirror at our own actions first. I believe we get the politicians we deserve. But that can change.

With the fervor over things like the “bitter” comments and Bosnia; with a media based on 8-second sound bites on the evening news; and with political competitors waiting to pounce on any statement that can be twisted for advantage, we shouldn’t blame politicians for sticking 100% to a bland and scripted message. We, in fact, encourage exactly what we dislike. For those brave enough to attempt a spontaneous answer or for those willing to talk straight about a complex problem we allow the political process and the media to pounce and destroy them if any part of their answer can be misconstrued. We then jump on the pile with comments like “how could they possibly say something like that” or “what was he thinking” often without taking the time to read the original text or to understand the context in which the comment was made.



Think about your own life and the times you have made comments that didn’t come out quite right. Or think about the time you were appalled to overhear just part of a conversation only to learn that you greatly misunderstood the context of a particular statement. We’ve all been in these situations – it’s human. With candidates on the campaign trail nearly 24x7 for weeks on end, it’s no wonder they don’t provide even more fodder for their political enemies. But for the tight scripts we force them to stick too, they just might make some more mistakes. This is a shame. I wish they would “make more mistakes” as that would mean our candidates had left the tight script in an effort to have a true dialogue. If we allowed them some latitude to speak more freely or if we allowed them a slipup once in a while, maybe, just maybe we might actually have some real debate on issues that matter – like how to get jobs to return to towns that lost them 25 or more years ago. We might get politicians willing to talk about ideas and explore solutions that look impossible on the surface but could provide the real answer if only we could dig just a little deeper. But, alas, in our world of 8-second sounds, we don’t reward politicians who step off script. We destroy them instead.

When we allow a few spontaneous sentences from an impromptu question to undo months and years of good work, we are only encouraging the scripted and shallow politics we claim to dislike. If we want to do something about it, we have nowhere to look but in the mirror. But we can do something about it. At a speech by Hillary Clinton on Monday, some audience members took a stand that, I hope, is a sign of true change in American politics. When she began to attack her opponent over a few words taken out of context and when she tried to define someone’s entire being in terms of those few words, some in the crowd booed and yelled “no”. They expressed their frustration with this kind of politics. Will you do the same? Will you stand up and demand a new kind of politician that will forgo attacks and speak straight and in detail about plans?

It doesn’t matter which way you vote, but, if you allow attack ads, 8-second sound bites, and cherry-picked words to define a candidate and sway your vote, you are perpetuating a political system many claim to despise. When you instead allow a candidate to speak freely and explore issues and ideas, you will encourage an open and full debate that might just allow us to solve some of the vexing problems of our time. Each of us has a choice – will you chose to shout “no” to the next attack or will you simply jump on the pile?

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weary PA? New York Times Article

Have a look at this article from the New York Times. Perhaps this, more than anything else I've read, captures what Barack Obama tried to speak to the other day. My question is this: when Democrats have a tendency to focus on social issues like improving schools, tend to cut taxes for lower and middle-class, and talk of providing some relief for the constant steam of jobs going overseas, how can someone from this town vote against a Democrat? There's more to it as well...when I lived near Philadelphia, I didn't know anyone with a kid in Iraq. Now that I live in central-PA, I know several people with relatives that have been to or are currently in Iraq. They fight our wars, give up jobs that are sent overseas, and get ignored except during the election cycle and they vote Republican. I just don't get it.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sound-bite Politics and why Hillary can’t beat McCain

This week gives us another example of the sound-bite-driven “gotchya” politics that dominates our political process. Earlier this week Obama made some comments that could be interpreted as an insult to groups of Pennsylvanians. If you listen to the entirety of his comments in context, they seem much less problematic. But, let’s set that aside. I want to discuss this issue more broadly as an example of the problem of “sound-bite” politics we seem to be practicing these days.

Anytime a politician says anything that can be twisted and turned into something that it isn’t, the opposition is there to express their “disbelief” that someone could say something so horrid or that someone could be so “out of touch.” Then, for the next 48-hours the only thing you see on the news is a high-stakes, multimedia version of he-said, she-said. Rather than discussing issues related to the divisions in this country, we are left with sound bites such as Howard Dean’s scream, talking heads debating various interpretations of a certain quote, and various volleys back and forth between the campaigns.

Where does this get us? It gets us the division we currentlty have. It gets us the politics of say anything or do anything to get one vote more than my competitor (and who cares if that is less than 50% of the country). What should we do? It’s time for political candidates, news media, and American public to get past this silly form of one-line politics and, instead, begin to focus on the issues. It’s take to take a higher road. But, this is easier said than done. The issues are complex, require time to discuss, debate, and understand. In short, they take longer than the 12-seconds the networks often give to the sound bites they like to play on TV.

I believe, however, that one candidate has taken this high road. Barack Obama has committed to a campaign largely free of this form of divisive, attack politics. Here’s a simple comparison. A visit to the news page of the Hillary Clinton campaign site lists the following top-5 headlines:


4/11 Statement from Spokesman Jay Carson
4/11 Hillary Clinton Sets
Goal Of Cutting Murder Rate In Half
4/11 America’s Mayors Applaud
Hillary Clinton’s "Solutions For Safe & Secure Communities Now" Plan
4/11 Hillary Clinton Reacts to Sen. Obama’s Newly Discovered
Characterizations of Pennsylvanians
4/11 Obama Slams Oil Company Tax
Breaks He Voted For

Two of the top-5 stories seek to “slam” her competitor rather than talk about her own ideas. Now, let’s take a look at the same list from the BarackObama.com website:


4/11 Obama Discusses Plan to Give Shareholders a Say in
Executive Pay
4/10 Obama Discusses Plan to Help
Families, Stimulate the Economy
4/10 Statement of
Barack Obama on President Bush's Stay the Course Iraq
Strategy
4/10 Utah Democratic Party Chair Wayne
Holland Endorses Barack Obama
4/9 Obama
Campaign Statement on Clinton's Latest Misleading Attack Regarding
Iraq

Here you see one reference to Hillary and only in response to an attack she started. But, more important is to look at the BarackObama.com website around the time of Hillary’s, now admitted, misstatements about sniper fire in Bosnia. If Obama practiced the same brand of politics as his competitors in this race, why isn't there a comment on the BarackObama.com homepage that says “Obama releases statement regarding Hillary’s fabricated experiences in Bosnia” or "Hillary lies again: Bosnia story a fabrication." Why doesn’t Barack appear on network TV calling her a liar? Or delusional? Why? Because he doesn’t believe in that form of politics. Obama is about bringing people together, and is not for saying whatever it takes to win.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Go visit the press release pages of the two campaigns (Obama Clinton )and see for yourself. Which one would you want setting the tone for America’s future?
What does this have to do with electability? Well, Clinton’s campaign hasn’t hesitated to slam Obama at any chance. In short, I find it unlikely that McCain will find anything new to throw at Barack. In comparison, think about how much ammunition McCain will have if he faced Clinton. By taking the higher road, Barack has left so much material on the table that McCain will have a field day trashing Clinton. Think I am wrong here? Have a look at McCain’s press releases and then make your decision.

Obama is better than Clinton in the general election because Clinton has tested him like McCain will. You can’t say that the opposite is true. And besides...isn't it better to have a candidate who talkes issues first?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Communication Skills

I've heard a number of people say "sure Obama is a good communicator but that won't make him a good president" or "he can give a great speech but he never really says anything." I take issue with both of these comments.

I contend that being a good communicator is a requirement for a successful presidency. For a moment, let's set aside the content of communication and focus on the skill or craft of speaking. Andy Rooney, of 60-minutes fame, did a piece last year about the daily schedule of the president. If you don't have two minutes to watch the piece, the basic idea is that the president's daily schedule is jam-packed with meetings of very short duration. The day is so jam packed that the president has people handling many things you and I take care of on our own like, for example, laying out cloths for the next day. Rooney laments that such a busy schedule leaves little time for thinking. I propose it causes another problem - it heightens the need for exceptional communication skills.

With only a short period of time to interact, a president's communication skills can mean the difference between gaining support for an idea and forever losing an opportunity to gain a supporter; between developing a relationship that turns an enemy into an ally and coming off as ill-informed, arrogant, or unaware of the issues that are important to another leader; between motivating staff or the public to commit to a new change initiative and general ambivalence or even outright opposition.

Here's another way of looking at it. Last week Ann Coulter visited Penn State. In her speech she said that George Bush has done such a great job fighting terrorists that Republicans can no longer use that subject as a key campaign issue. Just for a minute, let's take that statement as fact. Let's assume the tactics employed by the Bush administration have, in fact, kept us safe and eliminated much of the threat. Why doesn't the average American see it that way? Why are Bush's approval numbers at record lows? I would argue that, even if he has kept us safe, his numbers are this low because he hasn't the ability to communicate with the American public about the important things he is doing. When he speaks, he doesn't inspire or generate confidence. Rather, he comes across like he is complaining about something most of the time. This is regardless of the content of his message.

You don't believe communications skills matter? Compare in your mind the difference between Reagan and either of the Bush presidencies. Compare Bill Clinton to John Kerry. Compare your favorite teachers from college or high school with those you disliked. What was it about these people that made one group better than another? Often it's communication skills...the ability to connect and relate to people...the ability to read a situation, understand another persons needs and interests and respond in such a way as to show more commonalities than differences. This is a gift that Barack Obama has. And its not just important when talking to the American public. The president must interact with world leaders or all stripes. Communication skills, the ability to inspire, to instill trust, and generate a sense of mutual respect are critical.

Of course a president needs more than just good communication skills. In addition to the craft of speaking, one must also have content to speak about. Some would suggest that Barack lacks substance to much of his speech. I believe this couldn't be further from the truth. If you believe he lacks content, I encourage you to take some time to really listen to some original audio from a speech or two. What you will find is nuance and complexity that is often missing in our political dialogue today. Take, for example his speech on race.

Set aside for a minute his relationship with his former pastor. Take time to listen to the content of this speech and hear the message. I'll BLOG another day about what I heard and will leave it to you to decide if he lacks substance.

Looking for another view on this? Take a look at a Newsweek Blog entry about McCain vs. Barack on education specifics.

Finally, attached below is a nice compilation of impressive speakers, include Barack Obama.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Should we ever call kids "little jerks"?

After writing my last post, I must admit I was a little annoyed. You see, in gathering the video and quotes for that post I cam across another question of McCain at his old high school. A student asked about McCain's age. If elected, he would be the oldest president ever. He has had cancer several times. The student wondered if there should be concern about this. I view it as a legitimate question. McCain seem to take it that way, gave a solid answer, and then called the kid a "little jerk." I'll grant you that he was joking. But, is it really OK to call a kid a "little jerk", even as a joke, when he asks a question you'd rather not answer?



Watch the video and decide for yourself:



Now contrast that with Obama. A few months ago some pro-life protesters interrupted a speech. It's not the best comparison, but its the best I could find. It was an issue he'd rather not have dealt with then. But, rather than shout them down or allow his supporters to do so, he emphasized the need to listen. Rather than crack some joke, he acknowledged their position and treated them with respect.

Again, watch and decide for yourself.




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Media Bias? Or different points of view?

This post isn't about a candidate. Instead, it's a lesson we ought to all think about...


As I started this blog I made myself one promise. That is, I would not take a media account of an event as fact. Instead, when I write about a comment made by a candidate, I will always try to cite and provide a link to the source audio, video, or text so readers can form their own opinions. This weekend I came across a news story that reinforced my thinking on this topic. I'll get to that in a second, but first, a quick aside.



There are two people standing at an intersection when an accident happens. One of the cars involved speeds away. The police interview the witnesses and get two completely different stories. One might say the car was white while the other swears it was blue. One might suggest there was a pedestrian involved while the other will never even mention any other participants. One may suggest driver A is at fault while the other will swear it was driver B.


In everyday life we have no problem chalking this up to differences in perspective (one person was standing in front of the accident, the other was off to the side), differences in memory (one person wrote down the color of the car while the other is doing the interview with police 2-hours later from memory), or differences in past experience or knowledge (one person is from this area and knows there is a stop sign for only one of the cars while the other person just assumed they both had stop signs). In the case of the accident, we would not likely accuse the other witness of being a left- or right-wing supporter because of the conclusions they drew about the accident. Yet, we do this all the time in the news and we ought not to (at least as our first reflec). Instead, we ought to seek out multiple perspectives and, when possible, the original text/audio/video to allow us to draw out own conclusions. Case in point:

This past week John McCain was speaking at many sites that have a meaningful connection to his life. One stop was his high school. A student asked McCain a question related to the purpose of his trip. The verbal content of the question, and McCain's subsequent answer, are not in question. Two news outlets seem to have nailed the quotes exactly. The meaning ascribed to those comments, however, are quite different.


First, consider this quote from an article on CNN.com (link here to full article):

A student in the crowd asked him, "We're told this isn't a political event, so what exactly is your purpose in being here?"
McCain shot back, "I knew I should have cut this thing off. This meeting is over."

Now consider the coverage of this comment by USA Today (link here to full article):

Katelyn Halldorson, 16, stood up and said the event at Episcopal High School had been billed as non-political yet some of the ground covered had a decidedly political tone. "What exactly is your purpose in being here, not that I don't appreciate the opportunity," she asked.
"I knew I should have cut this thing off," McCain joked. "This meeting is over!"

One used "joked" while the other used "shot back" to describe the comment. What's a reader to conclude? That part is easy - do your own homework. Read various accounts and draw your own conclusion. If you can find video of the event, even better. Watch it and make up your own mind. But - and this is the lesson for us all - don't just assume the first account is correct or incorrect based on how it aligns with your own views. Instead, seek out and look for information that both supports and challenges your own beliefs. That way you can escape any trap caused by potentially biased media.


Ah, yes, back to the original question - media bias. Is CNN biased? Is USA Today? While some would argue this case, I would argue it's a moot point. Remember the accident on the corner? Different people can honestly come up with different accounts. Reporters are just like you and me. They are working long hours, trying to get a story filed and, many times, trying to get home to their family after long trips covering the candidates. Oh, and they have their own beliefs, opinions, and life experiences that, despite effort to the contrary, will influence the choice of words when a story is written (remember the guy who knew the stopsign was only one way?). People have their own interpretations. As citizens, we need to each form our own view rather than allowing others to form opinions for us.


By the way...you think CNN is biased? Check out how this was covered on the air (see video below). They took a third view and called the questioner a "heckler". If they are biases, they better resend the memo. Instead, I'd suggest their reporters ought to take a lesson from Ms. Halldorson and learn how to ask tough questions, but that's a blog for another time.

Oh, and this also gives you video of the question and McCain's response. Draw your own conclusions.




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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Independent thinking

You might wonder why Obama doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel. Honestly, I've never been one to do something "just because everyone else is." Ever since 9/11 I've wondered how long it would be before it would be OK for a politician to skip wearing the pin in public. Here it is, almost 7-years later, and I guess the answer at this point is "not yet" (see CNN article here for Karl Rove's view).

Sure, it's a nice gesture, but I really don't think this can be a measure of one's patriotism. Karl Rove would like you to think this is arrogance on Obama's part. Maybe it is. But, on the other had, if Obama were the type of politician who would do ANYTHING to get your vote (like the folks Rove is used to working for), there's no doubt in my mind that he would be wearing that pin. Instead, he says the following:



In early October, an Iowa reporter asked Obama why he was not wearing a flag pin on his lapel, as many politicians do. The Illinois senator said he wore one shortly after 9/11, but later decided to show his patriotism in other ways.
"After a while, you start noticing people wearing the lapel pin but not acting very patriotic,” he said then. “My attitude is that I'm less concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart. You show your patriotism by how you treat your fellow Americans, especially those ones who serve."


Maybe this is arrogance. Maybe he is just stubborn. Or, maybe he just thinks its more important to demonstrate independent thinking. But, you can't refute that "the easy thing to do" is to wear the pin lest you annoy a few voters. Yet Obama doesn't do that in this case. Sure, it's a simple situation, but what can that tell us about his decision making process when it comes time to make a call on something that might be unpopular in the short-run but better for us all in the long run?

As kids, when our parents asked us why we did something stupid we might attempt to explain it away by saying "cause Billy told me to." Our parents would follow by saying, "Well if Billy told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?" Of course we would answer "Noooo." Parents want independent thinking from kids. Shouldn't we demand that of our our politicians as well?

For my money, I want the politican who is willing to go against Billy on issues big and small. I especially want a politician who is willing to make decisions that could be bad for themself but good for us. If Obama can do it here, when the risk is some lost votes (e.g. maybe bad for him) with no real potental for gain on his part, maybe, just maybe, he will exhibit those same independent thinking skills when it comes time for an important decision, like passing a law that could annoy some PAC. Oh wait...Obama doesn't take money from PACS (that's a BLOG for another day). But you get my point.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

The comment that made me support Barack

I was driving home from campus one day back in January and NPR was covering the stories coming from the recent democratic debate in Nevada. One news story of the day was a debate question which asked the candidates to comment on their biggest weakness. It's a question we have all gotten in a job interview and the conundrum is how one should answer it. Do you expose something real about yourself or spin it around by highlighting a "weakness" that is really some desirable trait.

I'm always in favor of a real answer. Why not share some of your faults? We are all human and we all have some shortcomings. What's important is to recognize them and find people who can compliment your own skills and fill in any gaps you might have. Worse is the person who can't recognize their own mistakes or see their own faults. For me, I'm less concerned about the weakness than how he chose to answer the question and, later, deal with the criticism.



On the radio story Barack addressed head on the weakness he admitted in the debate. He has "a messy desk "and "can loose track of details" and "needs good people" to help him. His opponents "get impatient...frustrated when people don't understand...we can do so much more to help each other" and "I sometimes have a powerful emotional response to pain of those around me." When asked about this, Barack stood by his answer and suggested "one of the hallmarks of our campaign is that I actually answer questions honestly and try not to engage in too much spin".

If you want to listen to the clip, the audio from NPR.org is available here. The core part of the story begins at 3 minutes but the specific section that won me came at 4:50 into the story. The transcript of the key section is attached below.

Also below is a YouTube video from the debate. Listen to the original comments and decide for yourself.

Quoted from NPR website:

Perceived Weakness Obama takes another jab at his rivals when asked about a response he gave to a question at a
recent Democratic debate.

At a debate in Nevada, Obama was asked about his weaknesses. He
confessed that his greatest weakness is a lack of organization — a messy desk
and office. At the debate, Obama answered the question first, followed by
Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC).

"I think Sen. Edwards said he was too passionate about
helping poor people, and Sen. Clinton said she was too impatient to move the
country forward," Obama tells NPR. "I was trying to answer the question
'What's your greatest weakness?' as opposed to 'What's your greatest
strength disguised as a weakness?'"

"I should have said I like to help old ladies across the street," he says.

But Obama says he would not want to redo his response.

"I think one of the hallmarks of our campaign is that I actually answer
questions honestly and try not to engage in too much spin," he says.


This clip is from the debate. If you want to hear Barack's answer and those of the other candidates, fast forward to the 5:40 mark.





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Honey, this guy just started his campaign for president

"Honey, this guy just started his campaign for president...."

I still remember watching the 2004 convention. Barack Obama just finished speaking. I turned to my wife and said the words at the top of this post. No way did I think it would be four years later, but here we are!

I've linked to the video of Barack's speech at the convention. It really captures a big part of why I am supporting him now. Here's just a two of the reasons:

1. He's inspiring
Listen...really take time to listen to him talk. Even if you don't always agree, you can't help but be energized. Do any other candidates offer inspiration like this? Sure, a president needs more than this, but it's a huge start. Rhetoric is the primary tool a president has in interacting with the country and the world. Mastery of this tool can only be a benefit.



2. He wants to do away with the talk of division
Go to the 3 minute mark of the 2nd video and listen to his comments on this issue of divisive politics. He does not engage in the politics of "us" vs. "them" and "me" vs. "you". Save that for any other time you hear him speak. Do you ever here him pit his ideas and opinions against some other labeled group? He won't do it and this is an important first step towards a political environment where we can develop solutions more than 50.1% of the country can agree on.

Part 1:



Part 2:



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Why blog on this topic?

Four years ago I spent more time than I care to remember supporting John Kerry's run for president. He lost and I wrote off any further involvement in politics. As the 2008 campaign began - what was it, two maybe three days after the 2004 election - I vowed to keep my time and treasure out of the next race. The money part was easy. In the time since 2004 I've gone back to school to pursue a PhD in management. While the stipend is quite generous compared to many other fields of study, lets just say it doesn't leave much room for me to come anywhere near the campaign donation limits.



But something kept tugging at me. As I listened to the news and read stories on the Internet, I began to see a difference in one of the candidates. A candidate that seemed to represent a different way of thinking than most of those I have seen in my lifetime. This blog will be about highlighting those differences. I will touch on basic things like honesty and straight talk. I will touch on more complex issues such as campaign finance and international relations. I will also address misinformation. I will attempt to support my views with fact, excerpts, and other material. My hope is that you will read the material and form your own conclusions.

I welcome comments and debate on any topic - as that is how our process should work. However, offensive comments, rants, or any other material that doesn't rise to the level of intelligent debate will be deleted.

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