Recently in 2008 Politics Category

One last time

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So the first polls close in a few minutes, but unless you live in Indiana or Kentucky, you've still got time to vote if you haven't already. On a day of record turnout across the country, you can almost accurately say that absolutely everyone else is doing it. Even in a totally safe state like New York, my sister apparently faced down a three-block long line to vote this morning. But don't let the lines scare you. Elections are one of the last truly participatory community events left in this country.

Hey, you don't have to take my word for it.

sparky-rock.jpg -- cybershrimp.jpg
Sparky the Rockstar and the Clockwork Shrimp command you to vote.
Sparky is not my work, but I did make the shrimp.

Now off to curl up with some cable news and some wireless internet. Hah, like I was going to get any work done today as it was. Sadly, I will probably have to pass on the enormous block party rumored to be in the works in Harlem tonight.

Endgame

Twenty-two months ago, in January 2007, Hillary Clinton declared "I'm in to win." Almost two effin' years. And in roughly 24 hours, we will almost certainly know the final answer and the madness will be over.

(Here's an interesting description of the state tonight of the Obama campaign national headquarters.)

Among the data-hungry set, tomorrow's going to be a feast. I'm going to spend more time than is healthy checking for updates at fivethirtyeight.com, for sure. Also firedoglake and TPM.

Of course, I've already voted. This is the part where you vote, and while you're at it take someone to the polls who might not otherwise have voted. I don't have to tell you how to vote, obviously, but let's be blunt: if you vote for McCain tomorrow, we will literally never stop laughing at you.

Not with you.

If you're reading this in Minnesota, there is also no excuse for voting for Norm Coleman. Bring five Al Franken voters to the polls with you if you can.

Okay, so tomorrow evening rolls around, hopefully you've got an election-watching party to attend. The founder of fivethirtyeight.com put together an hour-by-hour viewers guide at Newsweek to give an overview of what'll be important.

If you want something a bit meatier and more detailed, check out the American Prospect's 2008 Election Night Guide.

That's it. See you on the other side. It's rather nice to feel hope for this country of ours country again.

And don't forget to vote.

Live from New York...

...it's Dia de los Muertos? Well, probably not anymore, by the time I get this posted.

It's my twelfth night in New York, as it happens, but there have so far been no cases of mistaken identity. Although Elena apparently managed to take home a costume contest prize from a local club's Halloween party this weekend, so that might count.

Mostly, though, it's the election season -- and in particular, we're in the seventy-two hour home stretch leading to probably the most momentous election in a generation. As a liberal under thirty, it feels quite odd to be enthusiastically supportive of a candidate who's probably going to win. This feels big. It's a feeling I could get used to.

Needless to say (as it's being shouted from the rooftops as we speak) we're not out of the woods yet, and in particular the confident predictions you see everywhere are predicated on an anticipated surge of voters showing up at the polls. So for the sake of anything and everything you hold dear, do show up. In quite a few critical places, while we're probably out of the margin of outright theft, we're not out of the margin of the undecided voter.

This boggles the mind, if you think about it. Allow me to quote David Sedaris' column in the New Yorker this week, as I think he expresses it nicely:

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,? they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!? Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?? she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it??

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

It's not astonishing though, by any means, that the election is close. The human brain is wired to be easily influenced by vague fears and prejudices -- we naturally accept even preposterous notions that conform to the general outlines of what we expect to be true, and we have a deep affinity for the comfortingly familiar. These are all traits likely to help keep one alive if living as a hunter-gatherer on the savanna, but not conducive to what we now think of as enlightened decision-making. In fact, these traits are so reliably ingrained and influential that exploiting them in a political context has felt like cheating for as long as politics has existed, and thousands of years ago the term demagoguery was coined to describe it.

For as long as we've had politics, there was always someone willing to use the appeal of the familiar against the other as a route to power. For the past thirty years or so in the United States, that has been the conservative movement. But they've been getting less and less subtle, and what is shocking is that anyone, having given the two seconds of thought to the problem needed to actually identify as "undecided" to a pollster, doesn't immediately recognize this. Thus, for most of this cycle, I really haven't spent much effort actually arguing, as such, in favor of Democratic candidates. Anyone bothering to use their brain to decide how to vote, is already going to vote the right way -- thus the trick has been to find the right emotional button to press, to jolt a person out of the auto-pilot of the familiar and get that person thinking for a moment.

Obama should really have been able to stand up and say, Hey, I'm better in every conceivable way than anyone the Conservatives could possible put forward, so vote for me. Instead his campaign has been about hope and change warm fuzzies, trying to give the electorate a jolt and change the terms of the familiar. It seems to have worked well enough, if only just.

This is depressing. But I basically agree with Tristero here:

Nor am I saying that Democrats and only Democrats always have the "right" answer to a problem - clearly they don't. I am saying, however, that it is absolutely impossible with the Republican party as it is now, and in its forseeable paleolithic palinized future, for Democrats to work together productively with the extremists at the top of (and throughout) the party except on the most circumscribed of issues. To get anything serious done, they will have to be fought. And that will not be pretty. I see no reason for Dems to back down and plenty of reasons to respond tit for tat, with interest.

You cannot "work with" the extreme right, but you can defeat them. Obama's tactic appears to be to ignore them and isolate them from the atrophied remnants of the "moderate" Republicans, which he will encourage. Fair enough, that's part of a strategy, but it's not sufficient. To defeat Bushism and other trends of the American extreme right will take, as it always has, concentrated . sustained, and effective resistance in addition to Obama's "divide and conquer" tactics. It requires us to denounce scoundrels like DeLay and humiliate buffoons like Boehner as well as a consistent, persistent, hounding of the media to do their job to expose these people for what they are.

These are incompetent frauds driven by a dangerously belligerent ideology grounded not in American values, but only sheer ignorance and fear. There is no reason to show them respect or kindness. They simply must be pushed away from the corridors of power, left to mutter in their plush think tanks and at their gun shows 'bout how Obama is using hypnosis, how the beginning of the end was fluoridated water, and how gay marriage is the only human factor that causes global warming.

So this isn't so much an endorsement as an exhortation. If you're reading this, I trust you to vote like a reasoning, thinking human being. Just make damn sure you actually get out there on Tuesday and cast that vote.

EDITED TO ADD: And this morning, even the New York Times asks, What is up with these people?

Flames

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Over the past couple of weeks the country at large has started to notice that the McCain/Palin campaign looks less like a campaign than like folks with torches and pitchforks raising a mob.

My friend Gemma wrote this:

What scares me is that I don't feel like McCain and Palin are trying anymore. These Ayers smear tactics are not working with anyone but their base, and they know it. Nor will a rerun of the Wright ridiculousness do anything productive with swing voters. They are not trying to win right now. They are trying to incite hatred. Serious, vociferous hatred.

In a comment I cited the above article by digby and said this:

The short version is that they're actively laying the groundwork to delegitimize Obama over the next four years, by planting in their base now the narratives that will keep them chanting "not my president" until 2012. ...

While I'm sure the GOP planners would like to imagine staging a replay of 2006 in two years and maybe even trying for another impeachment (on charges of being a terrorist sympathizer, no doubt), they are realistically trying to set up Palin (or maybe Jeb or Huckabee or some Bush III empty suit who isn't on anybody's radar yet) to run in 2012 on a narrative of reversing a stolen election and taking the country back from the anti-American Arab Manchurian candidate.

And it's not just the occasional outburst from someone in the crowd after applause lines, either. Yesterday TPM posted this video of the people waiting to get in Palin rally:

So yeah, be frightened. All that seething class, race, and ideological resentment that the right wing has been stoking for years in its base? They've decided it's now okay to bring it out in the open. If Obama wins and brings with him the down-ticket landslide that everyone's expecting, the right wing will have little left to lose, so expect them to play the next four years scorched-earth style.

On the other hand, like a smoldering coalseam or root fire, bringing all this out in the open and exposing it to fresh air may be the only way it will ever burn itself out for good.

The Twelth of September

I sat down yesterday and found that I had no desire whatsoever to write about the eleventh of September. Since every newspaper and every blog seems to have had something to say about it, I rather felt that I ought to, but refrained.

That day is, in a way, the Big Bang of 21st century America. A somewhat inscrutable event taken on its own, the entire pattern of the country I now inhabit seems to flow from that moment, initial conditions evolving in depressingly predictable ways. I would hardly say it was inevitable that seven years later America would be in its present sorry state, but it was clear to many within hours or days that the Bush administration was having visions of endless (and profitable) war abroad and a consumer police state at home.

(Roger Cohen has an interesting rhetorical take on this, although if it took him seven years to notice he really needs to work on paying attention.)

On the other hand, this country had been suffering from several deep pathologies for decades before, and it's just possible that the Bush/Cheney dark age has shaken loose enough entrenched forces, inspired enough of a clamor for something different, that we have a real shot at fixing some of them. If so, that will be no less consequential: not putting things back the way they were before, but achieving the next phase of after.

Bike Stasi

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There is something both creepy and unaccountably adorable about bicycle cops in gas masks. That doesn't make it okay that a few rounds of tear gas and concussion grenades is the new "Hello."

Also, I love Lindsey Beyerstein's photography.

Watch

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Turns out I would make a terrible political live-blogger. I wound up watching so much Democratic speechifying that I haven't posted here in days.

While I didn't find his acceptance speech as loftily inspiring as some of his earlier ones, I think that for what he needed to do, Obama knocked this one out of the (large, packed) park.

Meanwhile, today will go down as the day the McCain campaign jumped the shark. Or the polar bear, as the case may be.

Now, of course, the excitement (so to speak) moves to my back yard. Not sure yet what the extent of my involvement in that mess will be.

Veepstakes

Supposedly today is VP Day. I didn't bother to sign up for the extra special find-out-first text message. It's not like I won't find out within hours, anyway.

For the record, I've been saying it should be Sebelius for months.

I'm going to out on a limb and say it'll be her. But I'm quite likely wrong.

[Update, the next day: Yup, I was wrong. I feel pretty okay about not getting a text message at 3 am to tell me that.]

Some Provocative Bits

A great deal of my reading is political in nature, so I have a vast backlog of links to interesting stuff I've read. Here's a selection:

I'm leading off with the article that actually inspired me today to get off my virtual ass and return to the site, because I want to know planetgal's reaction to it. Digby has been writing lately about police violence, with a particular focus on the phenomenon of people being essentially tortured (sometimes to death) with Tasers. However, the post I'm interested in today zooms in on a different, rather specific form of police aggression: it appears that in an encounter with today's trigger-happy cops, it is not too unlikely that they will shoot your dogs.

Not to diminish the horror of a loved one being electrocuted, but at least then there are likely to be some kind of repercussions. But I know several people, planetgal included, who love their dogs like children, so it's a bit striking that if a policeman guns them down essentially for sport they probably won't even feel the need to apologize.

Next topic: someone convinced the government to publish its policy on electronic searches at border crossings. The short version is, they can take your laptop, cell phone, or anything else "capable of storing information" down to the crumpled up receipts in your pockets. For all practical purposes, they never have to give it back, they will share the data with whomever they want, and they don't need a reason.

For this reason among others, I only cross borders with electronics I don't mind losing (I tend to inherit ancient laptops) and keep basically no information on them -- my files cross later via encrypted link (nothing but SSH) from my destination's wireless network. The exceptions are MP3s (which nobody cares about, I want on the plane, and would take too long to download from home anyway) on my player, and stuff like contacts on my cell phone (since I don't know of an easy way to wipe it and remotely restore that, anyway). But seriously, if you're trying to smuggle data in/out of the country, just tuck a SD card or similar in your pocket. They're so tiny now, it could almost certainly pass unnoticed.

On a related note, if I'm not mistaken in this Frontline interview an ex-NSA employee reveals what Bush/Cheney were doing that was so bad Ashcroft's deputies threatened to resign when they found out. Not to mention the fact that Bush was willing to deep-six necessary foreign intelligence revisions unless Congress included retroactive blanket immunity for the telcos that cooperated (and by extension for himself, since if they can't be investigated nobody will ever be able to prove what they did). Why the Democratic leadership rolled over for that one remains a mystery. I'll probably talk at greater length about this one later.

More generally there's been a lot written (here's a good example) this summer about restoring the rule of law and achieving accountability for those responsible for so degrading it -- the many followers of Bush and Cheney who enabled illegal spying, who committed torture, who tried to roll back democratic rights that our ancestors have guarded for the last thousand years. I'll tell you straight up right now, most of them, if confronted, are going to claim that they were just following orders.

OMG WTF Are we all gonna die!?

(To spoil the ending: um, no.)

Among the neo-conservative nutball set, however, the answer is generally a resounding "yes," which is why, no matter the decade or the circumstances, the only correct answer is always to preemtively invade everyone in sight. For the past few months, they've been engaged in some particularly silly hysterics (silly until they start another war, anyway) over the fact that President Obama would *gasp* conduct diplomacy with Iran. When it was gently pointed out to them that conservative "heroes" such as Nixon and Reagan were perfectly willing to engage with their Soviet counterparts, some responded with the rather singular argument that that was different because Iran is WAY more dangerous than the USSR ever was.

The mind boggles. After all, essentially every resident of the first world between my age and the age of my parents had to grow up taking it for granted that we could all be vaporized on a moment's notice. The age of the ICBM arms race meant that I, living over ten thousand miles from any Soviet territory, grew up having fucking nightmares about fallout! (Pardon the vulgarity, but I'm sparing you the billion-point blinking neon font that would be required to adequately convey the magnitude of my incredulity that anybody actually thinks this.)

For a snarkier take on this, I recommend Attaturk's post on the subject, in which he attempts to soberly compare the two adversaries. E.g.:

9. Allies: The Soviets had a "bloc" comprising half of Europe through the Warsaw Pact [coincidentally comprised of nations they occupied, funny that], the Iranians were tossed in with North Korean and Iraq as the "Axis of Evil" [much to the surprise of Iraq & Iran , see #5 above] because Bush learned his history from Dixie Cup sayings.

10. Movies: "Red Dawn" much cheesier than "Not Without My Daughter"

Police State

I think there's an assumption out there that the political blogging world talks so much about surveillance and privacy because it's made up of techie cyber-libertarians at heart, and that ordinary people don't actually have much interest in those issues. Certainly the Democrats in Congress, until recently, seem to have been operating on that assumption, given how quick they've generally been to give away the farm in that area. It's also true that the general public usually rates things like privacy pretty low on their list of priorities.

However, there's a few reasons why that could be misleading. For one thing, our oh-so-courageous mainstream media isn't inclined to stick its neck out to report on stories that it thinks nobody cares about. Thus most people have no idea what's really going on. And on the other hand, Hollywood has large chunks of the population believing that government satellites already record everything they do, say, and think, so they doubtlessly figure that any revelations coming out now are nothing new.

The truth is, things really have gotten much worse under George Bush -- in his and Cheney's pursuit of unchecked power, they have (probably intentionally) put in place much of the infrastructure of a police state.

The big discussion generator of the past week was an article in Radar -- while many of the allegations cannot be substantiated (of course), people who spend a lot of time writing and thinking about this stuff find them both plausible and extremely frightening:

... a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government's data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

Meanwhile, Naomi Klein has been researching the Chinese government's security technology -- much of which American companies developed and sold them. Again, there is a tie back to Bush, which tristero highlights:

Herrington was a military-intelligence officer, ascending to the rank of lieutenant colonel. What he is seeing in the Pearl River Delta, he tells me, is scaring the hell out of him — and not for what it means to China.

"I can guarantee you that there are people in the Bush administration who are studying the use of surveillance technologies being developed here and have at least skeletal plans to implement them at home," he says. "We can already see it in New York with CCTV cameras. Once you have the cameras in place, you have the infrastructure for a powerful tracking system. I'm worried about what this will mean if the U.S. government goes totalitarian and starts employing these technologies more than they are already. I'm worried about the threat this poses to American democracy."

Herrington pauses. "George W. Bush," he adds, "would do what they are doing here in a heartbeat if he could."

And let's never forget that they still maintain that they have the right to kidnap, detain, and torture anyone (even you) for any reason, indefinitely. And just in case they are forced to shut down Guantanamo, we find out that they're building a shiny new (and enormous) detention facility at Bagram in Afghanistan. You can disappear a lot of people in a 40-acre complex on the other side of the world, after all.

I pray we make it to January 20, 2009 in one piece, and that President Obama has the wisdom and courage to dismantle as much as he can of what Bush has wrought. But Bush and Cheney are running out of time, and seriously -- what kind of person amasses that kind of power if they don't intend to use it?

Symbols

So apparently same-sex marriage is legal in California now. Word. To the many thousands of Californians who have been hoping and fighting for this day, for the full recognition of their own or their fellow human beings' relationships: congratulations.

Word is, this will probably hold up, too. The California legislature has already passed resolutions that would have accomplished the same thing, but the Governator vetoed them on the logic that the issue should first be resolved by the courts. That having now taken place, California's homophobes are more or less checkmated. Sure, there will almost certainly be a ballot initiative to undo this decision, but from what I hear, that is similarly almost certain to fail.

The chattering class is already talking about this being bad for the Democrats in the fall elections, but let's be realistic -- same-sex marriage made a lot of noise, but hardly produced any measurable effect at the ballot box in 2004, and that was with one of the presidential candidates being from one of the states in question. In 2006 New Jersey was the issue, and almost nobody cared. Republicans may howl and get their hopes up (and really, given the drubbing they're in for I can understand that they'll grasp at anything), but I don't see where this makes the slightest difference in the fall, except maybe to increase turnout in California.

However, it's an important practical and symbolic victory. California has a little more than the population of Canada, encompassing about one in every ten Americans. Expect that in just a few years, virtually every community in the nation will have a couple that is married under California law; very inconveniently for certain demagogues, the world will fail to implode as a result. One of the most effective ways to combat homophobia, it turned out, was to get enough people out of the closet that most people realized that they already knew GLBTs, that they were otherwise basically like everyone else and not a freakish other. The same thing is going to happen with same-sex marriage, mark my words.

In fact, that's how we won most of the major battles of the culture wars. Which is why, much noise as they still make, the culture wars are basically over. Tolerance won, and now we're mostly in the phase of waiting for the (old, wealthy, influential) reactionary dinosaurs to die out.

Which brings me around to the local dinosaur carnival that we're going to be holding here in a few months. Sorry, paleontology nerds, I don't mean actual therapods -- we're talking the Republican National Convention, which will be down the road in St. Paul in August. The Twin Cities being one of the bluest urban areas not to have oceanfront property, I'm not really sure what the Republicans were thinking in coming here. There was talk of maybe keeping Minnesota a swing state for another cycle, or recruiting Gov. (numbskull, esq.) Pawlenty for Veep, but the first at least seems relatively unlikely. Pawlenty only kept the governorship in the first place because socially liberal libertarian-ish third parties run fairly strong here, but it's not like there's one of those seriously running for president.

Point being, the GOPers coming into town might make local restaurant owners happy, but they're otherwise not going to be especially popular. Large protests are planned, of course, which bubbled up into the news this week when the St. Paul police proposed a route and time that, in the organizers' views, didn't bring them into close enough proximity with the delegates or media. But I should point out that the restrictions are already a world apart from previous Republican conventions, where actively compliant authorities have seriously cracked down on freedom of speech and assembly in an effort to marginalize voices of protest. Here, they have already promised that there will be no barbed wire, no designated "free speech zones", and the proposed protest route runs less than a block from the convention center.

I expect there will be some fun guerilla actions, too. If I was planning one (which I'm not, since sadly I'll probably be in New Mexico testing my experiment then), I'd organize a bunch of people with stencils and spray paint to descend on the site the night before the fences go up. I'd like to see them try and sand-blast away, as the media and delegates are arriving, ten thousand labels declaring:

Everything's Fine
Third Term for McBush!

You know, just to remind the GOP faithful of what they're really fighting for.

Progress

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Here's a very hopeful sign: after yesterday's special election, in which Democrat Travis Childers picked up a supposedly safe Republican House seat (it voted 62% for Bush in 2004), for the first time since 1995 there are now fewer than 200 Republicans in the House of Representatives. It's increasingly looking like Bush has run the Republican party and the Conservative brand so firmly into the ground, that we really are looking at a once-in-a-generation political realignment taking place.

Let the House-cleaning continue!

Old as the Hills

Not ScavHunt related, but I'm passing this along because it is just that funny:

There is now a whole blog devoted to things younger than John McCain.

Still Climbing

Like Kate Sheppard, I've been pleased to notice that, on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, there has been some attention given to his unfinished and deeply radical vision. Most of the time, it gets largely papered over in favor of a nice, safe vision of white and black children playing together. I recommend reading this from TAPPED:

America began perverting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message in the spring of 1963. Truthfully, you could put the date just about anywhere along the earlier timeline of his brief public life, too. But I mark it at the Birmingham movement's climax, right about when Northern whites needed a more distant, less personally threatening change-maker to juxtapose with the black rabble rousers clambering into their own backyards. That's when Time politely dubbed him the "Negroes' inspirational leader," as Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff point out in their excellent book Race Beat.

Up until then, King had been eyed as a hasty radical out to push Southern communities past their breaking point -- which was a far more accurate understanding of the man's mission. His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is in fact a blunt rejection of letting the establishment set the terms of social change. "The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation," he wrote, later adding, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Tuesday

Overhead from another lab in passing: "If I'm going to vote for a 70-year-old dude, it'd better be Dr. Love."

Almost no matter where you are, if you're reading this there's a pretty good chance that your state's presidential primary or caucus is tomorrow. I urge you all to attend. Arrive early, record turnout is expected.

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