Friday, August 31, 2007


There's a word for this.
"What I do know is that Republicans, as they have in the past, when you have members that have problems or scandals and they are found guilty--the Republican Party does the right thing and kicks them out."
That's Tom DeLay, who is speaking without apparent reference to his own situation, perfectly ignorant to the stunning irony he invokes. Yeah, this is a party on the move.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dogs and People

Larry O'Donnell has thrown the Huffington Post into a frenzy with a "what's the big deal?" post about the Vick dog-fighting scandal (currently 457 comments at this writing). Sample observation: "Between bites at McDonald's today there will be a lot of outrage expressed about Michael Vick getting off easy. I won't understand a word of it." Irreverance is what Larry does, and so it's not surprising he was the guy to write the post. He certainly wasn't the first one to make the observation, though.

You don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate what's wrong with dog fighting. You don't have to be a vegetarian even to see what's wrong with the meat industry. We have these sexy brains that allow us to hold opposing views simultaneously--even while legitimately avoiding hypocrisy. Larry's sort of right then, but his grade on outrageousness exceeds his logic score.

Where the hypocrisy lies isn't with the outrage at Vick, it's that people aren't equally outraged by professional athletes' crimes against other people. I know the NFL has a long rap sheet, but I like the example of Kobe Bryant best--he's a star of a similar status as Vick, he's black, and he took advantage of his power over another being (he was accused of rape, a charge he managed to get settled out of court). And the outrage was ... well, there wasn't any, really. Kobe is now one of the biggest stars in the NBA and no one mentions this piece of history. Why?

The NAACP jumped in to defend Vick and asserted that the outrage was racially motivated. They were both wrong about Vick (you think people would let Peyton Manning kill dogs?), and wrong to miss a more important point. Why is it that no one cares when a young black man is shot or beaten up at a night club by a star athlete (an all-to-frequent occurance), but sent around the bend by abused animals?

We have a fractured society, one in which NASCAR rednecks can say the most horrific things about gay-lovin' liberals and feel the position is actually moral, and where liberals dismiss NASCAR rednecks as half-witted fascists with the same self-righteousness. We have done a great deal to distinguish ourselves from one another and rob our own compassion. This happens across political, racial, geographic, and religious lines.

But not so much across canine lines. Dogs we can relate to. Other people . . . ?

Kari the Grifter?

My BlueOregon compadre, Kari Chisholm, was today bestowed a rare honor that confirms his and the blog's arrival as media fixtures: he was declared Rogue of the Week by Willamette Week.
The Rogue Desk isn’t known for playing nice. We like it when politicians mix it up. But we’re calling foul on Democratic media consultant Kari Chisholm , who runs the blog, for excessive use of bullshit in his mud-slinging.

This week, Chisholm accused Novick of buying into the Republican “swiftboating” of Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s House Speaker and Smith’s more established challenger.
The delighted Chisholm responded, sheepishly, that he wasn't really worthy:
I feel bad, of course. My Rogueishness just doesn't seem to stack up with the high standard set by previous Rogues.... Because when they're calling out bloggers for "bullshit" in the 43rd comment on a blog post, that must mean there aren't any scam artists, wetlands polluters, witness-intimidating thugs, salmon-killing congressmen, con artists, bottom-feeding lawyers, or guys named Alberto Gonzales that are really putting the hurt on Oregonians.
When we launched the site in '04, WW and the Oregonian wouldn't even deign to credit us when they refered to "liberal blogs" or used our stories for their own. So it is with some pride and--all right, envy, I'll admit it--that I tip my hat to Kari. We've hit the big time now, man!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hillary the Grifter?

Well this is interesting--one of the three biggest donors to the Clinton campaign is a postman and housewife who live in a shotgun shack in the flight path of SFO in Daly City, California:
Six members of the Paw family, each listing the house at 41 Shelbourne Ave. as their residence, have donated a combined $45,000 to the Democratic senator from New York since 2005, for her presidential campaign, her Senate re-election last year and her political action committee.... That total ranks the house with residences in Greenwich, Conn., and Manhattan's Upper East Side among the top addresses to donate to the Democratic presidential front-runner over the past two years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of donations listed with the Federal Election Commission.

It isn't obvious how the Paw family is able to afford such political largess. Records show they own a gift shop and live in a 1,280-square-foot house that they recently refinanced for $270,000. William Paw, the 64-year-old head of the household, is a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service who earns about $49,000 a year, according to a union representative. Alice Paw, also 64, is a homemaker.
Of course, everyone's denying everything. The plot, however, continues to thicken:
The Paws' political donations closely track donations made by Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman in the apparel industry who once listed the Paw home as his address, according to public records....

Mr. Hsu has pledged to raise $100,000 or more for Mrs. Clinton, earning the title of "HillRaiser" along with a few hundred other top financial backers of her campaign. Earlier this year, he co-hosted a fund-raiser that raised $1 million for Mrs. Clinton at the Beverly Hills, Calif., home of billionaire Ron Burkle. He is listed as a co-host for another Clinton fund-raiser next month in northern California.

The Paw family is just one set of donors whose political donations are similar to Mr. Hsu's. Several business associates of Mr. Hsu in New York have made donations to the same candidates, on the same dates for similar amounts as Mr. Hsu.

On four separate dates this year, the Paw family, Mr. Hsu and five of his associates gave Mrs. Clinton a total of $47,500....

William and Alice Paw are of Chinese descent. The entire family got their Social Security cards in California in 1982, according to state records. All but one of the Paws registered to vote as "nonpartisan." A San Mateo County elections official said that members of the Paw family vote "sporadically."

No one in the Paw family had ever given a campaign contribution before the 2004 presidential election, according to campaign-finance reports. Then, in July 2004, five members of the family contributed a total of $3,600 to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat. Five of the checks were dated July 27, 2004. About the same time, Mr. Hsu made his first donations to a political candidate, contributing the maximum amount allowed by law to Mr. Kerry in two separate checks, on July 21, 2004, and on Aug. 6.

From then on, the correlation of campaign donations between Mr. Hsu and the Paw family has continued. The first donations to Mrs. Clinton came Dec. 23, 2004, when Mr. Hsu and one Paw family member donated the then-maximum $4,000 to her Senate campaign in two $2,000 checks, campaign-finance records show. In March 2005, the individuals gave a total of $17,500 to Mrs. Clinton.

Okay, this could be the thing that gives Obama a shot.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzo Bids Adieu

A satisfying way to begin the day: Alberto Gonzales' resignation. Yet I remain ambivilent; as when Ari Fleischer stepped down, the Dems lose an unpopular figure to kick around. Since this is analysis-proof (what're you gonna say?), here's a smattering of the reax from around the right-o-sphere, where unintentional irony and delusion are the order of the day:

"Gonzales's only real offense seems to have been mediocrity. But mediocrity in an Attorney General is nothing new (think Janet Reno), and any blame for this occurrence properly attaches to the White House."

Robert Bork
The price to America of driving Alberto Gonzales from office, if such a scenario unfolds, will be heightened polarization and peril.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, NRO
Gonzales is now available for a SCOTUS nomination.
[An unintentionally funny righty makes an intentional (and funny) joke.]
President Bush
"Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle. ...After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision. It's sad that ... his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."
[Words fail.]
Protein Wisdom
"In other words, after having smeared a man into ruin, I knew the left would turn around and immediately affect a conciliatory tone, and press the President to join them in their sudden need to raise the level of discourse."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
"I thank Alberto Gonzales for his public service and wish him well in his future endeavors. It is my hope that whomever President Bush selects as the next attorney general, he or she is not subjected to the same poisonous partisanship that we've sadly grown accustomed to over the past eight months."
[Almost cosmically ironic.]
Captain's Quarters
A lot of politicians have accused Gonzales of crimes without providing any evidence, and in the end, they couldn't find any even with unfettered room to conduct investigations for half a year. The Democrats have wound up empty on both investigations and legislation, and now they have little to show for the first half of this session.
[Not true. The Times actually ran a piece yesterday documenting the number of laws passed in this session--it far outweighs the previous, GOP-led Congress. But I digress.]
Orrin Hatch
"I hope that history will remember Attorney General Gonzales for his honorable service to his country, rather than for the absurd political theater to which some critics have subjected him."
[Yes, that's exactly what they're remember him for.]
Brit Hume
“He was a man almost without fans in Washington…he was, simply, a crony.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wyden Speaks

You almost never see Senators speak with candor directly to their constituents. On a site he hosts to promote his health care policy, he did today. It's a very lengthy post, but I'm going to excerpt pretty broadly from it, anyway. It's fascinating stuff.
I hope that many of my colleagues who have so far resisted are also meeting with their own constituents and holding their own town halls to discuss the war in Iraq. I hold open town meetings in every county in Oregon each year, but after over 450 of those meetings as a Senator, I have never before witnessed the level of intensity and emotion that I encountered at my recent Iraq-focused meetings. Over 700 people attended these forums, about 150 of them spoke, and many more submitted written comments. The almost unanimous thread in what I heard is that people have had enough....

I have spoken publicly in opposition to the war now several hundred times, many times with reporters and cameras present, but reporters aren't going to produce story after story saying, "Wyden Continues to Oppose War." They see no "news value" in it. It's frustrating, but I still get up every morning looking for ways to help end this war.

One episode from the town meetings which made me scratch my head, but also illustrates the level of frustration out there, came when I answered that if the House impeached the President or Vice-President, or if a censure resolution was considered, I would insist on due process such as a formal presentation of the evidence and a full opportunity for the accused to present evidence and present their case. I finished by saying that we should extend the same due process to President Bush that was extended to President Clinton, and that it shouldn't matter whether you are Independent, Democrat or Republican when it comes to due process. A significant chorus of "no" came from the audience, including cries of "he doesn't deserve it!" When passionate liberals argue in opposition to due process, you know that good and decent people have long ago exceeded their boiling point.

Almost everyone who spoke brought a unique and personal vantage point to the conflict, but I want to highlight a few who really stood out. There was a woman in Portland—whose son and husband are serving in Iraq – who has lost all confidence in the government that is solely responsible for their service. There was the veteran in Medford who has experienced enormous road blocks and lengthy waits to be seen for health problems, including mental health issues. And there was the religious leader in Eugene who talked about the role our government ought to be playing in bringing together peace-loving people of different faiths in troubled regions like Iraq. I wish every Senator could have heard these Oregonians and the other speakers at our meetings.

Finally, there was one gentleman who bravely stood up before a passionately anti-war crowd and made a case for the war and for staying in Iraq. While I strongly disagreed with him, I thought he made a valid point when he challenged me to admit that Iraq will likely be in turmoil if we withdraw. Where I disagree with the speaker, however, is that staying longer in Iraq won't change the outcome, but will result in even more Americans and innocent Iraqis killed, more jihadists recruited and trained to kill Americans, and more money wasted while Americans suffer.

The best news from these town meetings: Oregonians don't see government as a spectator sport, and Oregonians are going to keep pushing for a more sensible and humane foreign policy.
Full post here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Of Books and Moderates

Another thing noted in that AP poll was a crosstab with political philosophy. It will come as no surprise that liberals read more books than conservatives and moderates. We are the wonks, the dwellers of ivory towers, the secular worshiping at the altar of Darwin and Mapplethorpe. What's interesting, though not surprising, is that conservatives read only slightly less. (Liberals read on average 8 books a year, conservatives seven.) Where our eyeballs land is different--conservatives read a lot more religious material, and presumably a lot of stuff published by Regnery--but curiosity isn't the sole purview of liberals.

What's more interesting is that moderates read on average just five books a year. I will now draw, from this single data point, a larger theory not supported therein--but which seems consistent with other data points. Moderates and independents prize themselves on their open-mindedness. They style themselves the mavericks not swayed by rank party affiliation. Their minds rest on loftier clouds.

But when you consider that moderates are very often the people who waffle between pretty clear choices--war or no war, Bush or Kerry--this open-mindedness looks a lot more like empty-mindedness. For anyone with a modicum of insight into an issue, positions generally form. To see no distinction between Bush and Kerry is to have absolutely no idea what they stand for or what your own political philosophy is.

So I wasn't so surprised to read that moderates read less. Theirs is an open-mindedness untroubled by information.

Decline of the Long Form

Spot the trend: in 1990, the average American read six books a year. In 2004, the NEA found that only 57% of Americans had read a book in 2002. And today the AP released results that found 27% didn't read a book last year. (Polling of this kind should be regarded with some suspicion--there's bias in the question that directs respondents toward more socially-acceptable responses. The 27% has got to be a substantial under-report.)

Worse than the falling rates of reading is the loss of fiber in the reading diet.
The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories. Popular fiction, histories, biographies and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels. Every other genre — including politics, poetry and classical literature — were named by fewer than five percent of readers. (itals mine)
Here's another statistic that boggles the mind (which I don't have a link to at the moment): 80% of all books published in America sell fewer than 100 copies.* People are reading less, and publishers--an industry dominated by a few giants--are more skittish and therefore less daring in their selections, hastening the problem.

I am sympathetic with the situation. I read far fewer books now than I used to. Until about five years ago, I was reading on the order of 25-30 books a year. This year I'll be very lucky to hit ten. The interesting thing is, I actually read far more than I used to--almost all of it online. I suspect that among literary-inclined readers, this is a common story. The internet has given me access to a huge amount of interesting (and free) material, so I consume a lot more via blogs, online newspapers, and online mags. In the evening, when I would typically have picked up a book in the past, I pick up a copy of the New Yorker or Harper's--about all I have energy for.

I am also a victim of the very decline in which I participate. A few months ago, I received the final rejection on my own novel; Milkweed Editions, one of the best independent publishers in the US, had taken a serious look at it, but declined. It's impossible to know what would happen if I had submitted the book 50 years ago (it may still have found no publisher), but what I learned in this process is that there are scads of fantastic novels available to independent publishers by writers who can't find an outlet. There's an oversupply thanks to the declining demand.

Books won't die out completely. Literature and serious nonfiction will find publication, but it will become an even more marginalized niche market. We're in one of those weird times when it's unclear what exactly will replace them. But it may not be the grim thing we all imagine. When novels replaced verse and movies replaced theater, the reaction was uniformly panicked. The death of art! But smart people aren't going away. Their consumption patterns have changed, but they will continue to pursue high-fiber meals.

Maybe blogs are the new novels.

*After a lazy Google search, I located this blog post that contains the stat and a few other jaw-droppers: Of the 1.2 million books in print in 2004, 80% sold fewer than 100 copies, 98% sold fewer than 5000 copies, Only a few hundred sold more than 100,000 copies, and about 10 books sold over a million copies. It came from a blog, so it must be true.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Foreign Policy Revisionism

There's an interesting debate going on among the blogosphere's mandarins about whether there's a cabal of foreign policy mandarins who stifle dissent in their own ranks. As a result, argue bloggers, they circle the wagons on any non-neocon view--a practice continuing even now. [See Yglesias, the young mandarin, Atrios, the older one.] Kevin Drum, the wonky one (and my fave), adds this:
Sure, the war skeptics might have been afraid to go against the herd, but I think that was just an outgrowth of something more concrete: a fear of being provably wrong. After all, everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and unpredictable thug and almost everyone agreed that he had an active WMD program.... This meant that war skeptics had to go way out on a limb: if they opposed the war, and it subsequently turned out that Saddam had an advanced WMD program, their credibility would have been completely shot. Their only recourse would have been to argue that Saddam never would have used his WMD, an argument that, given Saddam's temperament, would have sounded like special pleading even to most liberals. In the end, then, they chickened out, but it had more to do with fear of being wrong than with fear of being shunned by the foreign policy community. [Itals Kevin's]
I don't know about the whole foreign-policy community argument, but Kevin repeats a somewhat perverted version of history that's fast becoming the standard. Not that anyone reads this blog or cares, but I think several points are worth mentioning in service of reclaiming the past. (Gassho to Orwell.)

1. Not everyone agreed he had an active weapons program. Everyone agreed--or assumed--he had active weapons. But over ten years of embargoes, bombings, and inspections had taken their toll, and the extent to which he was able to continue these programs was unclear. Moreover, the skepticism of this claim skyrocketed when Hans Blix got on the scene. Particularly outside America, the notion that he had active programs was definitely disputed.

2. There were at least four reasons for foreign policy types to oppose the war that trumped the supposed existence of WMD: international law, which allows invasions only under imminent threat; derailing the real and serious effort to reign in al Qaida; international disapproval, particularly in the mideast, which we were ostensibly trying to pacify; and the obvious near-impossibility of dealing with the aftermath. Foreign policy analysts were offering these points and, outside the US and UK, they were pervasive.

3. Kevin offers an interesting tell that I picked up in late 2002 with his business about Saddam's instability and readiness to use WMD.* If the US were actually fearful of a bristling arsenal of Iraqi WMD, why did we invade so quickly and with so little preparation? The antiwar analysts should have seen this as an obvious indication that the White House wasn't really serious about their own claims.

*Kevin's wrong about the instability, too. He was one of the most reliable and predictable despots in the mideast and to my knowledge never did anything the US didn't anticipate.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rove's Legacy

I don't know that I would say anything different than I did on BlueOregon, so here's that post...

Last week, the feds announced that they planned to precipitously increase logging on Bureau of Land Management lands across Oregon, including on lands inhabited by the Northern Spotted Owl and including old-growth stands. The proposal will be held open for public comment through next year, allowing Oregon's old wounds to open up and fester again just in time for the November election. Rove I don't have any evidence that the the motivation behind the proposal is to boost Republican chances in the US Senate and Presidential race, but it's exactly what we've come to expect from the Bush administration--a corrupt, politicized style that favors elective wins above good governance. From the way it has run the justice department to the Plame leak the current furor over the Klamath river salmon kill, everything this administration does is designed to increase its political advantage.

We have Karl Rove to thank. He announced today that he's going to leave the White House, but it's a good six years too late.

Rove was a genius of sorts. He managed to get George W. Bush, a man of no accomplishment or vision, elected not only to the Texas governorship, but to the White House--twice. Rove had an instinctive sense about how to divide voters so that just a bare majority supported his woeful candidate, and a knowledge of election tactics that has been unequaled in the last couple decades. Unfortunately, that same "genius" led him to infect the policies of government. There was no policy he couldn't tinker with to punish Democrats or rally Republicans, whether the subject was tax cuts or terrorism.

The short-term result was a series of catastrophic failures of governance and the most incompetent administration in a century. Long term, the results may even worse. Trust has been absolutely undermined between the parties and among citizens. Punitive politics is the currency of the day; genuine bipartisanship and serious consideration of solution-based policies a thing of a quaint, distant past. It will take years or decades to clean up this mess.

I would love to celebrate the departure of this most malign, nasty figure in American politics. Unfortunately, his legacy is such that I don't have any confidence that his successors will be any different.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fox News Hurts America

Pew has released findings in a new study that show sharply growing mistrust of the media--results that will surprise exactly no one. Republicans, who have been fed the constant gruel of hatred toward the "liberal media," are far more critical of news sources--particularly national newspapers (the Gray Lady is the right's bĂȘte noire). And among Republicans, those who consume Fox News are far more mistrustful of news media, and consequently believe it has a malign effect on the country.

I have reproduced one of the charts from the findings (at right) so you can see some of the egregious things Fox-fed viewers believe. Predictably, they mistrust non-Fox news. But far worse, they actively believe other sources are in the thrall of the powerful (82%), are liars (81%), are too critical of "America" (71%), and most shockingly that they "hurt democracy" [!] (57%). Pause and consider the implications of the mindset of citizens who simultaneously believe that the news is both in the thrall of powerful people and also too critical of America. Or maybe it's all too horrible to consider.

You can actually see the malign effect if you take another of their charts and convert it to a line graph (as I have conveniently done below). The Pew numbers chart the growing gap between Republican and Democratic approval of the various froms of news media from 1985 forward. Approval among citizens of both stripes starts out pretty much even. But then the right-wing spin machine kicks in in the late 80s as Rush rooms and cigars become popular, and the gap widens. You can see the steadily growing mistrust of the GOP toward news between 1985 and 1997, when FOX was founded.

The trend does a funny thing, then, however. Fox-fed Republicans become more sated with their newsy offerings locally and on TV and the gap narrows for the only time. However, since they're being told incessently what a nightmare the New York Times is, the gap widens more precipitously than at any other time during Pew's study. Then the catastrophe that is the George W. Bush administration begins in earnest, news gets far more critical--reflecting reality--and the Fox viewers become raving lunatics.

These findings are a perfect example of how you can have state-sponsored propaganda in a free-market system. People who consume Fox News are roughly as well-informed as those who got TASS in the Soviet Union.

Two Hillarys

The first, following last week's debate:
“I think that presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. And I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think we'll leave it at that, because I don't know the circumstances in which he was responding.”
The second, a pre-candidate Hillary, last year:
“I have said publicly no option should be off the table, but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table. This administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven’t seen since the dawn of a nuclear age. I think that’s a terrible mistake.”
Update your files.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Uh Oh ... Better Buy Gold!

First we have the very volatile stock market, which today lost 3% of its value:
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 387 points today and other stock prices tumbled around the world as the U.S. and European central banks pumped more than $100 billion of extra money into the financial system to counter tightening credit conditions in panicky markets.
What do I care about those rich bastards anyway, right? Well, I don't, except that I worry that the sky is falling, and it's just one part. Far more worrisome is this delightful little nugget:

The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US Treasury bonds if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation.

Two Chinese officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning, for the first time, that Beijing may use its $1,330bn (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress. Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies.

Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession.

Even if this doesn't signal a US economic collapse (don't you believe it, goldbugs!), it sounds like China may be ready to start calling in some markers, and that can't be good. Oy.

Op-Ed in the Oregonian

The Oregonian published an editorial of mine today. They have a pretty strict 500-word limit, so the version published was a couple hundred words shorter than the original. For the sake of my reader (and posterity), here's the longer version, with my suggested title.

Why We Need Blogs

The evolution of blogs, like everything else in the tech world, has been quick. Five years ago, almost no one had heard of them. Now they exercise enough influence that when a group of national political bloggers held a convention in Chicago last week, it was attended by the Democratic presidential front-runners.

Appropriately, this growing influence has brought increasing scrutiny, but some of the criticism is either misplaced or disingenuous. For days in advance of the YearlyKos convention, Bill O’Reilly smeared bloggers as extreme radicals. (Picking fights with liberals has never hurt O’Reilly’s ratings.) In the offices of the nation’s print newspapers, editors tut-tut bloggers as irresponsible partisans not beholden to journalistic ethics. It’s true that some unscrupulous bloggers spread rumors and invective. But on the whole, blogs perform a valuable function: they increase participation and discussion among voters, reduce the influence of corporate money and single-issue PACs, and erode the power of the consolidated mainstream press to dictate narratives in news and campaigns.

The central criticism of blogs concerns their power. Critics argue that, like single-issue PACs, they use their well-organized minority to dictate terms to politicians, adding to polarization that plagues politics. This is nonsense. Blogs, by their nature, a democratic media form. Even high-traffic blogs like DailyKos are sites where myriad voices discuss politics. In that site’s case, there are hundreds of “authors” and none of them are controlled by any single authority.

When we formed BlueOregon, regarded as one of the most influential Oregon blogs, we recruited a large group of writers and added guest columns. Readers add comments—sometimes scores of them on popular topics. No one controls the content of the posts or comments. And BlueOregon is only one of a dozen or so influential blogs, all with their own writers, readers, and commenters. We do not coordinate among ourselves or, in most cases, even know one another. If blogs exercise power—and they do—it is the power of regular citizens talking about issues that matter to them. This isn’t a perversion of the process—it’s a example of a healthy process.

This democratizing impulse has had profound effects on politics. In an era where money is equated to speech, corporations and well-funded interest groups speak louder than citizens. But blogs have begun to mitigate this. In the first half of 2007, Barack Obama not only raised the most money in the history of presidential politics for the period, he did it through 250,000 small donations. Blogs help promote candidates and encourage readers to give money online.

Blogs also help candidates out of the party mainstream like Ron Paul—a blogosphere darling—raise their national profile. Whether these kinds of candidates ultimately win an election isn’t the final metric, either—that their views spark such deep passion is instructive to the mainstream candidates who do win. The visible participation that blogs facilitate helps guide politicians to popular majority positions, not toward the fringes.

Finally, blogs are an important corrective to a mainstream press too quick to form simplistic narratives of news events and political campaigns. The consolidation of power in the media, highlighted last week by Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal, underscores a troubling propensity in the Fourth Estate. Across all forms of media, the firewall between the newsroom and the sales department is burning down fast. In benign cases this means comprehensive news coverage is scrapped for sexy or bloody news; in other cases, like Murdoch’s media empire, news is used to forward other agendas.

Blogs have been on the front line to challenge sloppy, inaccurate, or missing reporting. It was bloggers, notably Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who kept digging into the fired US attorneys, ultimately putting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ job in jeopardy. Because bloggers don’t have limited column space nor advertisers to please, they can doggedly—some might say obsessively—follow news stories they think are being overlooked.

Blogs aren’t a panacea for an unhealthy political environment. They can’t magically make government work efficiently or single-handedly root out corruption. But bloggers are far from the fringe radicals portrayed on the Bill O’Reilly show. They are regular people, who, through this emerging medium, have seen their voices suddenly start to matter. In a democracy, that’s not a bad thing.

Jeff Alworth is a founder and editor of the blog BlueOregon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hillary is That Bad

Other times I watch TV and I hear Hillary say something like this--cynical in its calculation, false in it's hypothesis, and obvious in its intention--and I think, "Oh God yes, she will be that bad."

Clinton then jumped in to say that, regardless of the soundness of Obama's policy, he should avoid speaking hypothetically as a candidate for president.

"I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with al-Qaeda and Taliban," she scolded.

I don't know that I can handle another eight years of a Clinton.

More Bad News

A friend emailed more bad news on the Obama front. The Iowa Electronic Market is essentially a betting pool where people invest money ($5 to $500) and predict outcomes on various elections. The thinking here is that people don't have any incentive to tell pollsters who they're actually going to vote for, but if they're putting their money down, they do it on the candidate they think will win. They tend to be more accurate than polls at predicting outcomes. When money's on the line, people tend to ignore intangibles and focus on real data, like jobs reports, Iraq news, and so on.
Run by the university's business school and regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Iowa market has spawned similar futures markets at and, and they have been remarkably prophetic. Compared with 596 national polls in four presidential election cycles between 1988 and 2000, the Iowa market was closest to the actual election result 76 percent of the time notes Thomas Rietz, a finance professor at the University of Iowa and director of the Iowa futures market.

Indeed, early on in the 2000 White House race, the polls put George W. Bush as the clear winner, but the Iowa futures market predicted a dead heat as early as May that year, Rietz said.

So who do participants like in Iowa? Hillary, by a steady margin:

(DROF is any other Democratic candidate. For the Edwards campaign, this is bad indeed--he's consistently trailing DROF in these markets. Oy.)

If there's any good news, it's that IEM participants can only base their bets on current, actual data. Since Obama is still untested and somewhat unknown, the data will continue to be volatile. Campaign and real-world events can shape what people think about the candidates, altering their view of who will win. But still, it's further evidence that the Senator from Illinois has some work left to do.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is Obama Screwed?

Apparently bad news on the polling front. Gallup has the margin at 22 points (Clinton 48% to Obama's 26%)--the largest ever and eight points larger than three weeks ago. I admit this made me groan, and worse, a kind of fatalism has set in: I now find myself watching her on TV and saying, "She's not so bad" when I see her on the screen. An obvious psychological process of coming to terms with reality. But wait, are national polls relevant?

Obama was actually leading in Iowa in a recent poll, 26% to 23% for Hillary and Edwards. He's doing all right in South Carolina, and if he wins the black vote, could win there. (Though Hillary's actually improving her numbers more quickly than Barack and leads 42-28%.) He's getting killed in Nevada (37-17%) and holding his own in NH (33-25%). I'm skeptical about the NH numbers though--I expect Clinton to win that one handily. So, can he rally?

Charles Franklin at Pollster has tackled the question based on polling. Shorter version: things could be better.

[Obama] had a rapid rise to 23% by April 1 and it was nearly impossible to read a news article about him during this period without encountering the phrase "rock star". But perhaps he was a "one-hit-wonder" because since April 1 there has been no further upward movement in his national support. If anything there has been a negligible decline to a current estimated support of 22.6%.

The Clinton campaign also experienced a long period in the doldrums. After entering 2006 at about 37% support, Clinton declined slightly to 35% just after the November elections.... That began to change by early June [this year] and has accelerated a bit since. My best estimate of Clinton's current support is 38.8%, a rise of nearly 4 points since the end of April. That four point rise won't sound like much to those accustomed to the noisy variation from poll to poll, but the trend estimator I use has the advantage of aggregating across many polls and hence has a much smaller range of random variability. A move of this much is certainly not negligible.

The arguably bigger problem is that Clinton's poll trends are all up in the five early states (though there have only been six polls in Nevada). Obama is up in South Carolina, a little in New Hampshire, but is down in Iowa and Florida (again, no real trend line in Nevada).

So, is Obama screwed? The answer is "probably." But he has a few months left to show improvement in the early states. Otherwise we move to "almost certainly."

Monday, August 06, 2007

Giuliani for Obama

That's Caroline, Rudy's daughter. Dad must be so proud to have raised an open-minded daughter:
There's one vote that Rudy Giuliani definitely can't count on in his 2008 presidential bid: his own daughter's. According to the 17-year-old Caroline Giuliani's Facebook profile, she's supporting Barack Obama.
Or maybe not:
It's not news that Rudy and his two children, Caroline and her 21-year-old brother Andrew, have a rocky relationship. Caroline and Andrew are the children of Donna Hanover, Rudy's second wife. In March, Andrew, who is a junior at Duke, told the New York Times that he and his father had been estranged for some time, and he has spoken candidly about his objections to Giuliani's marriage to Judith Nathan. And after the wedding, the Times reported, Giuliani also stopped attending Caroline's high-school events. Though he went to her high-school graduation, he left without speaking to her and did not join in the post-graduation family celebration, according to the New York Daily News.
Why do Republicans reliable raise kids who hate them? Hmmm....

More Charged Language

It is possible, in the midst of a three-hour, 39-minute baseball game, for the attention to wander. Anyway, while the Red Sox were clubbing Seattle yesterday afternoon, mine did. (Not enough for me to tune out; a win at Safeco is rare enough that I watch to the final out.) It wandered right over to the White House's webpage, where I continued looking at the frequency with which Bush used heated languages in speeches. See if you can spot the pattern*:

"Terror" and "Danger"

The pattern was thrown off slightly by 9/11, but sure enough, when it came time to scare soccer moms before an election, Bush was ready with the fear-mongering. Of course, he's not above emotional manipulation, either. Have a look at the next chart.


For a guy who has ridden the backs of the military harder than any president in American history, this is pretty cynical, don't you think? But cynicism isn't just for the troops. Bush also played the God card to the hilt.


Based on this pattern, it looks like we can expect to hear a lot more of "God," "the troops," "danger" and "terror" in a few months.

*As with the earlier graph, these use six-month averages, which is why the height of use doesn't necessarily correspond with the election. If an enterprising blogger wanted to break it down by month, it might be even more illustrative. Maybe I'll get to it during the next televised Red Sox game. (Might be awhile--I don't have cable.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

"al Qaeda" in the Air

Does it seem like Bush is using the phrase "al Qaeda" more frequently? Yes. That can only mean one thing: an election year is on the way. I did a search on that phrase at the White House's website, and what I discovered is depicted in the graph below (click to enlarge):

Say bereft Republicans: "Oh 'al Qaeda,' how long will you feed us?"

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Impeachment as Clever Politics

Ever since the fantastic Moyers piece on impeachment, good lefties can at least raise the issue without looking like deranged fanatics. The idea is generally quickly dismissed, but at least it's not so absurd as to obviate the need to kick it around conversationally. We're still at the point where it seems like political suicide, but at least we're doing the polling.

Ah, but I think I see a way to have your impeachment and eat it, too. Here's how.

The Argument Against
Most recently, I heard Rosa Brooks and Heather Hurlburt discuss the cons of impeachment on a podcast of their bloggingheads discussion. Their analysis, typical of lefties, goes like this:
HEATHER: In an alternative fair and just universe, the president would be already be impeached, he'd be convicted, he'd be gone.

ROSA: Absolutely, okay. Here here. (smiles broadly)

HEATHER: So I'm totally with that as the ideal outcome.
But the problem, they conclude, is that it's politically unwise. Yes, Bush has committed crimes against the Constitution, and yes, his is exactly the case the framers envisioned when they included impeachment in it. Having just declared independence from a king, they wanted to make sure there were stops in place to prevent one, too. This is the essential argument for impeachment as a remedy--when a president seizes power beyond those granted to the executive, there must be a way to stop him besides waiting for the next election. As Nichols noted in the Moyers discussion, impeachment is the corrective to the crisis, not the crisis itself. With these arguments Rosa and Heather agree.

Still, impeachment is politically out of the question because the '94 zealots beat Dems to the punch, squandering this rare privilege in a contemptuously partisan move. Impeaching Bush/Cheney would look like cheap payback for Clinton, plus it would galvanize the GOP and jeopardize Democratic chances in '08, plus the votes aren't there, anyway. So fahgeddaboutit. Move on, let history be the judge.

The Argument For
There's actually very little disagreement--even on the right--about presidential "overreaching." Since taking office, Bush has claimed powers that are demonstrably not granted by our Constitution: he hides things from the Congress, imprisons and tortures suspects, spies on citizens, uses the federal government as a political arm to abuse political foes. The case has been made well elsewhere (and ad nauseum) and I won't go into it here.

The real threat, of course, is that having granted a president these "rights," we have to live with them. Future President Clinton will have the right to torture suspects she doesn't like, to spy on her enemies, and to use the federal government to punish her foes. Or Giuliani, or whomever. There is only one way to prevent these rights from being transferred, and that is to force the president to cede them; and that is done by drawing up articles of impeachment. (If he chooses not to cede them, then removal settles the matter.)

Now, here's the clever politics part. If the current Democratic presidential field led the charge for impeachment* and demand impeachment on the grounds that they shouldn't have these rights when they become president, it would defang the political argument and turn it into a discussion about what it properly is: a Constitutional crisis. Most of the field are senators, so they can't actually begin the process, but by taking point on it, they could raise the heat on power-grabbing Republicans. Even more to the point, they could begin hammering the Congressional GOP by asking whether they want these rights to be transferred to a Democratic president, and demanding that if the answer is no, they support the impeachment process.

I don't have any great delusions that it would lead to actual impeachment hearings, but it could become the political coup of '07. And based on polling, it wouldn't hurt their approval ratings, either. Dems miss an enormous opportunity by letting it pass.

*Or join Kucinich's charge.