Friday, February 29, 2008

Hillary's Rezko?

This is interesting.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has declined to return $170,000 in campaign contributions from individuals at a company accused of widespread sexual harassment, and whose CEO is a disbarred lawyer with a criminal record, federal campaign records show.

The federal government has accused the Illinois management consulting firm, International Profit Associates, or IPA, of a brazen pattern of sexual harassment including "sexual assaults,” “degrading anti-female language" and "obscene suggestions...."

Wolfson dismissed the notion that keeping IPA money reflected a lack of concern about sexual harassment. "Sen. Clinton is proud of her long record of championing women's causes," he said. "When the EEOC rules on the allegations involving Burgess, we will consider that outcome in assessing if there is any reason to return his contribution." Of the $170,000 total in donations from all IPA officials and employees, Burgess and his family members personally contributed $16,000 to Sen. Clinton, campaign records show.

Sexual harrassment hits her pretty hard, too. What percentage of those working-class women she champions have experienced harrassment? Ain't insignificant, that's for sure.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Good news: Marc Ambinder crunches his own numbers and concludes:
If Florida and Michigan's delegations are seated fully to her advantage, and if she wins in Ohio by 65% and wins in Texas by 65%, and all other percentages hold, she can win the nomination.
Assumptions here.

Bad news: Texas is swinging back to Hillary, at least according to one analysis.
But a survey of 591 registered voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary in Texas conducted last night (February 27) indicates that Sen. Hillary Clinton has regained the lead in a race that remains within the survey’s margin of error. The results were:

Clinton: 47%
Obama: 43%
Undecided: 10%

“This is a classic sign that a race might be starting to turn. We see the undecided voters increasing and unsettled numbers in key age brackets. Moreover, Clinton has expanded her lead among Hispanic voters, while holding onto white votes. She has dropped slightly among women, but has gained among men.


Fun New Delegate Calculator

Slate has a version of the Excel-based delegate counter I referenced last week. It is handier and allows you to adjust the margin with a little slider bar. As you adjust the margin, the delegate totals recalculate to reflect the proportional distribution.* At the bottom, it recalculates the total delegates, both for the remaining primaries and overall.

Now, here's the interesting feature. At the top, there's a slider bar that will simultaneously adjust all the contests simultaneously. Guess how far you have to go for Hillary to catch Obama? I'll let you fiddle with it to see, but suffice it to say that the margin she'd need to win in every remaining primary just to pass Obama by three delegates is ... a lot. (On the other hand, Obama would have to win 85% of each vote to win the nomination outright--without supers. Clinton can't win it outright at all.)
Slate's Delegate Calculator
No wonder the supers are fleeing the ship.

*True, vote counts and delegate counts are separate matters, but this is the best we got. Math geeks, whinge all you want, but the larger point is true--Hillary's in very serious difficulty

McCain - A Winning Strategy?

Since this approach worked so well for Hillary, McCain has decided to adopt it:

While we're on McCain, you should be aware of Josh's very dark prediction for the coming campaign. I hope to hell he's wrong about it--but if he's right, voters will definitely have a real choice.
The core is to drill a handful of key adjectives into the public mind about Barack Obama: Muslim, anti-American, BLACK, terrorist, Arab. Maybe a little hustler and shifty thrown in, but we'll have to see. The details and specific arguments are sort of beside the point. They're like the libretto in a Wagner opera, nice for some narrative structure. But it's the score that's the real essence of it, the point of the whole exercise.

Now, a good deal has been made out of John McCain's repudiation of talk radio yakmeister Bill Cunningham, who led off for McCain at one of his rallies with the full run of Obama sludge. But don't be distracted or fooled. This is more like an example of what the digital commerce folks refer to as 'channel conflict'. You've got your multiple distribution channels. You've got the way McCain's selling the product. Broadcast. Broad and thematic about McCain. But you've got a number of other product channels to sell through, most of them a lot grittier, but no less essential for ultimate success.

Both can work simultaneously. In fact, in the kind of campaign McCain's running, they're both essential for success (see the 2000 Republican presidential primary in South Carolina). The key is just that the channels don't cross. Because that's when the trouble starts and they can begin to undermine or even short-circuit each other. And that's what threatened to happened here.

Don't insult your intelligence or mine by pretending that John McCain's plan for this race doesn't rely on hundreds of Cunninghams -- large and small -- across the country, and the RNC and all the GOP third party groups, to be peddling this stuff nonstop for the next eight months because it's the only way John McCain have a real shot at contesting this race.

If McCain really wants to repudiate this stuff, he can start with the Tennessee Republican party which dished all the slurs and smears about Obama being a Nation of Islam-loving anti-Semite, just today. And once he's done talking to the people who will be running his Tennessee campaign, we'll have a number of others he can talk to, like the head of his Ohio campaign, former Sen. Mike DeWine, who gave that Cunningham guy his marching orders.

Let's just not fool ourselves, not lie to ourselves about what's happening here and who's in charge.

Gird for the worst, hope for the best, I guess.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm Pretty Much Done With Hillary

I have really tried to keep an open mind on Hillary. There's been some chance she would become the nominee--and I suppose there still is a remote possibility. And I recognize that in the heat of a campaign, when years--decades?--of dreams are perishing before you, you say stupid things. But you don't smear a man time and time and time again. (Obama, despite very good provocation, has refused to do it at all. But that's another story.) She did it in tonight's debate, and I'm pretty much done with her. I won't necessarily vote McCain, but I think she lost my vote tonight. (I have yet to vote for a Clinton.)

The issue: Tim Russert, whose style has devolved into sandbagging candidates about whisper campaigns, rumors, and inconsistencies, went into a Farrakahn assault on Obama. He kept at it, despite Obama's clear statements, in what can only be interpreted as a smear. And then Hillary lept in to condemn Obama further. It was beyond indecent. The clip is below, and Hillary's idiotic smear kicks in at about the 4:40 mark.

Let's hope Obama kills her in Ohio and Texas and she has the decency to back out. I am discouraged enough now that I doubt she possesses that decency.

The High Road

Hillary to Barack: "Shame on you!" Barack to Hillary:

The Daily News's Michael Saul, at Obama's presser, put to him David Plouffe's quote that circulating the photo of Obama in African dress was "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election," and asked if Obama agreed.

"I think that at this stage in the campaign there are going to be dust-ups, particularly at the staff level," Obama said. Certainly I don’t think that photograph was circulated to enhance my candidacy."

"Do I think that it is reflective of Senator Clinton’s approach to the campaign? Probably not," he said.

Which kind of president do we want?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Year in Clips

My movie week now stretches out luxuriously into a fortnight. And in this particular post, it stretches out into new technology. Actual clips, which weren't available when I started this in 2003 (though due to copyright, many still aren't available). A sampling of those that are, and which I enjoyed.

There Will Be Blood
The scene where Daniel Plainview admits that he has "a competition in me." (1:12)

No Country For Old Men
The iconic scene in which Anton Chiguhr challenges a gas station owner to "call it." (3:39)

Michael Clayton
Tilda Swinton makes a decision about "the other option." (1:12)

The only clip I could find of Juno--the final scene in which Juno and Paulie play a song on guitar in front of Paulie's house, once again, teens unburdoned. (1:59)

The Lives of Others
The Stasi in action. (2:30)

A long clip, but a charming one. Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova play the song that won them an Oscar last night. (6:12)

The Madness of Hillary

My new mantra, from Michael Clayton: "I'm not here to argue with you, I'm here to tell you how it is." And it's ugly. Drudge, who apparently got this one right (a broken clock's accurate twice a day...):
With a week to go until the Texas and Ohio primaries, stressed Clinton staffers circulated a photo over the weekend of a "dressed" Barack Obama.

The photo, taken in 2006, shows the Democrat frontrunner fitted as a Somali Elder, during his visit to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya.
Normally, we'd consider this more of the same baseless muck from Drudge, but when the Clinton campaign was questioned about it, they offered a non-denial non-denial (not even the non-denial denial), and went on the attack:
If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.
Ashamed is a good word, because the Hillary campaign knows exactly how this stuff gets used. Yesterday, the racist wing of the GOP ran with the story, lacing it with the poison of their bigotry (also here and here).

Of course, Obama was dressing in traditional garb, as many leaders do, as a way of honoring the culture he was visiting. This is known as good diplomacy, so it's not surprising that the bomb-'em-first-and-let-God-sort-them-out set is opposed.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Experience, Truth, and a non-Movie Post

Terrible to be interrupting your Oscar Sunday with politics, but the Hillary campaign provoked me into it:
Hillary said the Obama camp were being bad Democrats: "It is blatantly false and yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. It is not hopeful. It is destructive, particularly for a Democrat to be discrediting universal health care."
Dee-lightful: Obama's a liar and a traitor to the party. First things first--let's dispense with the charge of lying. Although Hillary doesn't like the way Obama characterizes her statement, the source Obama cites backs him up. I'm sure Obama doesn't agree with Hillary's characterization that he's all talk, either. But that's hardly a lie, and it really isn't even bare-knuckle politics. (Appears that it's the truth, which makes the sting even worse for Hillary, no doubt.)

Obama has yet to hit Hillary on the central thesis of her campaign, but this might be the moment to do it. Truth is, we can't know what Hillary's view on NAFTA was because she wasn't the president when it was passed. Hillary wants to run on Bill's record ... unless she doesn't. Look, if she's going to claim that those 8 years are her experience (as she does, ad nauseum), then she has to actually run on the record. Having it both ways while excoriating Obama for inexperience is BS. She apparently wasn't enough of a foe of NAFTA to actually say so out loud, so she's stuck with it now.

And there are those who want to give her credit for the experience, like Kevin Drum:
Seen through this lens, the problem with Obama isn't that he's less experienced than Hillary, but that he's inexperienced, full stop. And again, like it or not, John McCain will certainly use that as an argument in the general election campaign in a way he couldn't against Hillary. Sure, he's got 25 years to her 15, but that doesn't matter. Beyond a certain point voters aren't interested in who's got more experience, and 15 years is well beyond that point. If McCain tried to paint Hillary as inexperienced, it would be a waste of breath. Nobody would buy it.
Really? Obama hasn't hit Hillary on the issue of Bill's experience, but McCain will hammer it ruthlessly. He'll force her to pick a side--running on Bill's record (and accepting the de facto admission that that means Bill will be helping to run the show for the next eight), or backing off it. And aside from her senate years, she's got absolutely bupkis on relevant experience. She was a laywer and a politician's wife. The "35 years of fighting" is pure fiction.

Obama may not get credit for the Illinois state house, as Kevin believes. But he's been actively involved in politics since the mid-80s, and spent a number of years as a professor of constitutional law. All of that is more relevant than the Rose Law Firm experience Hillary periodically invokes.

Year in Quotes

In No Country for Old Men, a slightly dim-witted deputy asks his boss, Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) whether the protagonist realizes the danger he's in. Bell replies, " I don't know, he ought to. He's seen the same things I've seen, and it's certainly made an impression on me." These are the quotes that made an impression on me throughout the year (writers in parens).

Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe): An innocent prisoner will become more angry by the hour due to the injustice suffered. He will shout and rage. A guilty prisoner becomes more calm and quiet. Or he cries. He knows he's there for a reason. The best way to establish guilt or innocence is non-stop interrogation.

(Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse): I am McLovin!

There Will Be Blood
(Paul Thomas Anderson)
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis): I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people…. I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry... to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these... people.

(Diablo Cody)
Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Gardner): Your parents are probably wondering where you are.
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page): Nah... I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?

Juno MacGuff: No, I mean, like, for real. 'Cause you're, like, the coolest person I've ever met, and you don't even have to try, you know...
Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera): I try really hard, actually.

(Brad Bird)
Remy:We're thieves, and what we're stealing is, let's be honest, garbage.
Django: It's not stealing if no one wants it.
Remy: If no one want's it, then why are we stealing it?

Darjeeling Limited
(Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson)
Jack (Jason Schwartzman): What did he say?
Peter (Adrien Brody): He said the train is lost.
Jack: How can a train be lost? It's on rails.

(John Carney)
Guy (Glen Hansard): [song finishes] Well, what do you think? Do you like it? It's just a demo, you know...
Guy's Dad (Bill Hodnett): It's fucking brilliant.
Guy Really?
Guy's Dad: Fantastic stuff. That'll be a hit, no question.

Hot Fuzz
(Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright)
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg): Mr. Porter, what's your wine selection?
Roy Porter (Peter Wight): Oh, we've got red... and, er... white?
Nicholas Angel: I'll have a pint of lager, please.

No Country for Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen/Cormac McCarthy)

Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

¡ Viva Obama !


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Year in Acting

There is a strange level of unanimity about who put in great performances this year. Daniel Day-Lewis's was lauded even before There Will Be Blood was released. And since then, the adoration is exceeded only by Obamaniacs. His performance won the Golden Globes, SAG, British Oscars, Critics' Choice, and a host of others. Julie Christie won even more uniform praise, if such a thing is possible, for her role in a movie only 49 people saw, Away from Her (released in May, it has made just $4.5 million).

Acting is one of those skills, like writing or painting, about which everyone feels qualified to judge. When it's good, we believe, we can see it just by looking. Well, maybe so, but when people who read John Grisham for "pleasure" report they can spot good writing, the argument grows infirm. But maybe I bring all of this up just as a way of justifying my argument for the two performances I most enjoyed this year--by actors little-recognized.

The first, Tilda Swinton's performance in Michael Clayton, was actually broadly nominated. But the transcendently talented Cate Blanchett was too shiny a jewel for voters--playing one of the Bob Dylans in I'm Not There, she walked away with the best-supporting actress award every time. Perversely, Swinton had a far harder role. In Clayton, she plays the lead corporate lawyer for the uber-evil U-North agricorp, which knowingly poisoned farmers with its deadly product. Credit director Tony Gilroy for setting aside convention and giving each character three actual dimensions.

As Karen Crowder, Swinton does not play the usual cackling evil corporate stooge so favored by Hollywood. Rather, she's the nebbishy smart girl who has had to navigate the world of wolves by being the smartest and most composed, not the most ferocious. In this narrative, Crowder has recently been hired as the lead counsel, and she desperately wants to vindicate this decision. But the desire to please only adds to the stress of the case, and Crowder spends the movie trying to keep it all together.

In scene after scene, we see her practicing speeches in front of the mirror, or meticulously cleaning her carefully laid-out suits. The performance is still but pregnant, the brace before impact. It's a physical performance, too. We see her in her hotel room in a bra, her middle-age folds bare to the world. This is her performance--bear and painful to watch. In the final scene of the movie, she is so stricken that she finally recoils, falling into a squat like someone who's just been punched. But it's all internal--the damage is inside where we can't see it. The movie, which might have been building toward a redemptive scene, dissipates in this scene. Her character is too human, too naked, too recognizeable. The movie is about the stain of corruption, and Gilroy's not going to let us off easily. The movie succeeds because Swinton makes us see how complicity arises--and we feel implicated.

The second performance was Josh Brolin's, almost completely ignored next to Javier Bardem's scene-gobbler in No Country for Old Men. The story follows the form of a thriller, but by the end, viewers recognize it as a black allegory. Bardem's character isn't a character, he's a malignant force. I greatly enjoyed the performance too, but it was a mythic exercise that, once the grooves were found, required Bardem to do little else but follow along.

Josh Brolin didn't get off so easy. Through his character, Llewelyn Moss, he had to embody the fragility of humanity. Moss is no cupcake--he's a Texas cowboy who consistently thwarts Bardem's assaults. He's even iconically American, as slow-moving and capable as Eastwood's Man with No Name. But as the movie unfolds, we realize that humans, actual people in real life, have weaknesses easy enough for forces of evil to exploit.

Moss has a lovely young wife who shares his trailer, and she's his biggest weakness. We see his demeanor shift from inscrutible to rattled as he realizes that there's more at stake than his own well-being. Brolin gives such a strong performance that you keep looking at him to try to figure out where you've seen him before (nowhere, it turns out--unless you saw Slow Burn, Milwaukee, Minnesota, or DC Smalls). By the end of the movie, you have been pulled into Brolin's bleak state and you feel as helpless and lonely as he does. Bardem's character is an automaton, and the role would slide into Rutger Hauer territory were it not for Brolin's. We fear Bardem because we experience Brolin's state. Most people, apparently, leave the theater with Bardem's face in their minds (admittedly unforgettable with his iconic, Moe-like bowl haircut). But for me, it was the sadness of Brolin's loss that stayed in my mouth.

There were other performances I admired--Bardem's and Day-Lewis's, to begin with. Ellen Page as Juno deserves the accolades, but Jason Bateman, too. Glen Hansard does a wonderful job as a street busker in Once. In another good movie no one saw, Waitress, Keri Russell does a psychologically rich job in the lead (perhaps better--and certainly less appreciated--than Page's). Although it was technically released in 2006, Lives of Others didn't really appear in the US until 2007, and it featured two very strong performances. Ulrich Mühe does an exquisite job as a Stasi spy (something like Swinton's) and Sebastian Koch keeps his character from becoming maudlin. Finally, I'll cop to the performances I have yet to see: Philip Seymour Hoffman in any of his three movies this year; Laura Linney in the Savages; Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose; and Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone.

A McCain Observation

Reacting to the news that straight-talkin' maverick John McCain may have had an affair with a lobbyist to whom he later showered gubmint lucre, righties have two responses:
1. The NYT is corrupt, duh, and
2. Why didn't they run the story earlier?
First one who sees what's wrong with these positions gets a gold star.

(Hint: logical consistency has not been a hallmark of the current right wing smear machine.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hillary's Effectively Done

Okay, it's back to movies for the rest of the week, but here's one more prediction. I expect that over the next few days a storyline will emerge that may doom the Clinton campaign: Barack's inevitable, and for the good of the party, Hillary has to step down if she doesn't win decisively in Ohio and Texas.

Obama's now up by roughly 140 pledged delegates. In order to get back in the game, Hillary will have to dish out a fair thumping--which will only result in a moral/momentum victory. Even a win of 20 points in both states, currently unimaginable, just gets 60 back from Obama. Meantime, he would be defraying these gains in other states. In fact, using this delegate calculator, it turns out that if she wins every remaining state by a margin of ten points, they'll be tied.

This reality will dawn on the Dems in the coming days. If, as everyone has been thinking, this thing goes to Puerto Rico, that's 108 days from right now (June 7). The Dems can't survive a 3+ month long battle--we have to have a nominee sooner or risk sacrificing the gimme election in November. So here's how it's got to play out--Obama will close the gap in Ohio and Texas and perhaps win Texas. Ohio, to be charitable, will go to Hillary. Obama will still be over 100 pledged delegates ahead, and the party will coalesce around him. Pressure will be overwhelming and Hillary will have to step aside. Even the Clinton campaign calls it "hard to imagine" that Clinton can catch Obama in pledged delegates. If they think trailing badly and drawing things out will secure the Superdelegates they need--well, that would be yet another miscalculation by the campaign.

I know I'm usually super gloomy about Obama's prospects, but the numbers don't lie. Barring scandal or other unanticipated game-changer, it's all but over.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Exits: Obama won among everyone under 60, including whites (by nine points). He won among the poor and those without a college degree. He won every region, every income category. He won among Democrats. He tied among unmarried women. He won ... well, you get the picture. Final Wisconsin tally--58-41%.

And maybe this is the most telling finding of the exits: when CNN asked if the candidates had attacked the other unfairly, 54% said Clinton alone had, but only 34% said Obama had attacked unfairly.

Weirdly, Clinton tried to pre-empt Obama's victory speech (not shockingly, the stations stayed with Barack), and the surrogate who introduced her attacked Obama pretty visciously:

Machinists Union President Tom Buffenbarger, introducing Clinton, hit Obama in...colorful...terms, my colleague Ken Vogel reports.

"Yes we can? Give me a break," he said.

He also compared Obama with "Janus, the two-faced god" of Roman mythology. He called him "silver tongued" and a "thespian" and "the man in love with the microphone."

"He’s not just a trained thespian, he’s a terrific shadow boxer. You know the type. Outside the ring, he pretends he can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," he said. "But Barack Obama is no Muhammad Ali. He took a walk every time there was a tough vote in the Illinois state Senate. He took a walk more than 130 times. That’s what a shadow boxer does. All the right moves, all the right combinations, all the right footwork, but he never steps into the ring. He walks away from the fight.”

He also drew a contrast between the “editor of the Harvard Law Review or a fighter for working families."

So did McCain:
Will we do that, or will we heed appeals for change that ignore the lessons of history and lack confidence in the intelligence and ideals of free people? I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people.

Will the next president have the experience and judgment and strength of purpose to respond to each of these developments in ways that strengthen our security and advance the global progress of our ideals? Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan,* and sittting down without preconditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?
(I kid you not--he actually said that. Translation: "I'm doubling down on the success of the Bush years!--are you with me?!")

Release the hounds, things are seriousing up.

[Update: I'm adding to that McCain quote so you can see the Dubya-esque route he has chosen. Particularly egregious is the accusation that Obama said he'd bomb Pakistan. As McCain knows, and as the media will emphasize, this is a lie. He suggested a strike against Osama bin Laden in remote parts of Pakistan if the Pakistanis were unable to act. This passage, replete as it is with gross hyperbole, accusations of terrorist-coddling, and lies, is right out of the Bush playbook.]

The Year in Film

Let us take two hallmarks in film this year: Knocked Up and Atonement. One is the highest of art--an adaptation of a delicately composed, thematically rich novel from England in the time of WWII. It's the pinnacle of Oscar bait, hitting all the high points--historical setting, wealthy Brits, impeccable source material, tragedy, time of war. It represents the evolution of a certain kind of film that started in the 80s with the films of Ismael Merchant and James Ivory--small, literate productions that often adapted material from famous works of literature. It was an indie response to the Hollywood trend toward the blockbuster movie.

In the 90s, Miramax took the formula and t (with the help of substantially bigger budgets) turned it into an awards' cow. Hollywood, shut out at Oscar time, stole the formula, and now we have Universal's Atonement (under the Focus Features unit), a modern facsimile of the Merchant Ivory films, costing tens of millions to produce.

Now take Knocked Up, which is by no measure an art film. You have to go no further than the title to recognize this, but the plot--a comedy about a drunken hook-up that leads to a baby--confirms it. Knocked Up is supposed to be cotton candy comedy--gone from your mind before you emerge, blinking, into the summer sun outside the theater. Yet Knocked Up, because it is sincere, well-written, and unpredictable, stays in the mind far longer than the meringue of Atonement. Oscar-bait movies are now a variant of Hollywood's gigantism, and by consequence, a corporate product designed to push the buttons of a particular audience no less than the focus-grouped, by-the-numbers blockbusters it releases in July.

The real action is elsewhere. Judd Apatow is one of the brightest talents in Hollywood, even if his milieu is the lowest of lowbrow (Superbad, issuing from the Apatow big tent, was even lower brow, and even better.) Pixar consistently produces among the best movies of the year, and this year's Ratatouille allowed director Brad Bird to use a rat and a kitchen as the platform for discussing art. Juno, which actually got an Oscar nod (in the new, indie-comedy slot), is pure subversion: a well-adjusted teenager gives her accidental baby to a single mom. A focus-group nightmare.

(For their trouble, makers of Atonement were cited--dutifully, I expect--by 22 critics in annual "best of" lists. But Knocked Up, without even trying, got eleven.)

A second current running through movies is decidedly darker, reflecting, it seems, a moment of disillusionment in the American experience. Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, and There Will Be Blood were nominated for a collective 22 Academy Awards. If the three can be said to have anything in common (aside from desolation), it's not with theme or content. Rather, they are the first forays into diagnosing a culture-wide illness.

Michael Clayton
is the most straightforward, examining the effect of ethical drift. The story uses corporate America as the tableau, but it might easily have chosen politics or the interesection between them. Old Men is a black allegory in the shape of a thriller and poses the question Americans don't like to confront: what does it say about goodness if evil has no purpose? Finally, in There Will Be Blood, we see assailed two of the purest pillars of red America--God and money.

This current is diagnostic because the filmmakers don't care about redemption. The Bush years have provoked a strange combination of forced belief that we are on a righteous path even as we slide further into corruption. This disjunction appears briefly and painfully in stories about torture, vote rigging, and the housing bubble (among so many more), before the spin doctors trot out new evidence that these are markers along the righteous path. Films in 2008 find epiphany in the painful act of looking at the corruption nakedly. Redemption smells of spin doctors, and moves us too quickly past our own misdeeds.

In both currents, the lighthearted Apatowian comedies and the gangrenous tragedies, filmmakers are striving toward authenticity and reality. There was of course the usual fare--slasher flicks, rom coms, blockbusters, and so on--but among those filmmakers who were trying to say something, in 2008 it seemed to cohere around a rejection of the false in favor of the real, no matter how untidy the real may have been.

Madness in the Badger State

As always, I wake up gloomy on the day of primaries. It's Pavlovian--losing so often over 30 years leaves me with an autonomous reaction of disappointment. Maybe Obama will win today, but I fear the cagey badgers going wrong. Three things:
  1. Righties voting for Hillary in the open primary because they fear Obama;
  2. Blue-collar rural voters reacting to the culture cues Hillary's putting out and rejecting the "elitism" of Obama;
  3. Blowback from Obama's good run, fatigue over his message, and effective tarnishing by Clinton.
Dunno what will happen, but my erstwhile homestaters are capable of anything. They elected Joe McCarthy, remember?

Incidentally, I'm taking a break on politics after this post (with some backsliding, no doubt, when the results come in), to do my annual Jeffies--the thinking cineaste's response to the odious Oscars.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hillary: Tough, Experienced, Ready on Day One

Hillary, whom I'm doing my best not to despise as this election goes along, has employed a couple of unforgiveable tactics: she's trying to game the delegate system even if she loses, and she's giving the GOP lots of talking points about how to attack Obama if he does become the nominee.
And it's the second one that's turned my Monday morning sour.

At an RNC donor event over the weekend, Republicans outlined their plan of attack against Obama--and it's essentially taken directly from Hillary's playbook:
The first called for pointing out what the GOP views as a seeming incongruity between Obama and the mantle of commander in chief. The second point harkened back to Obama’s days in the Illinois state Senate, noting how his “pattern of voting ‘present’ offers many openings to question his candidacy.” The third offered hope to the GOP faithful that “we can be confident in a campaign about issues.” A fourth bullet point relayed how “undisciplined messaging carries great risk,” while the fifth and final attack point stressed, “His greatest weakness is inexperience. He is not ready to be commander in chief. He is not ready to be president.”
Sound familiar? The worst part of this isn't that they'll attack Obama directly with these--they'll quote Hillary in making them. You'll see ads with her making these points and hear surrogates and the campaign quoting her--an entire effort led by Hillary Clinton.

Hillary, of course, offers solid day-one readiness and vast experience to run the ship of state. Oh really? This is the woman who ran her campaign so badly that her manager lied to her about how little money she had, who adopted a strategy of "inevitability" that gave Obama a talking point after winning Iowa that has turned him into the front-runner, who ignored caucuses because she didn't think the pissant delegates from Idaho mattered, and who staked her entire strategy on knocking Obama out on Super Tuesday. And now there's this:

While the Hillary Clinton campaign has made the Ohio and Texas contests on March 4 into their new firewall, they have only recently discovered the arcane rules of delegate selection in Texas, which could potentially mean that even a substantial popular win translates into only a slight edge in delegates.

The Washington Post reports that Hillary strategists learned in a closed-door meeting this month about the Texas contest, which splits delegates among the state Senate districts and also between the primary and a caucus held that night. It's ultimately a commentary on their lack of planning for a race lasting after Super Tuesday — when they thought they'd have the race locked up — that they have only just now learned of delegate rules that were of long-standing public knowledge.

Ready on day one my ass.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday News Dump

In the spirit of comprehensiveness, which is the standard to which we at the Obama Broadcasting Channel hold ourselves (quality--yeah right), your Friday afternoon steaming pile o' Obama news:

SEIU Endorses Obama. That's Andy Stern's outfit, and while endorsements rarely move votes, this union's muscle might:
The S.E.I.U.’s endorsement is especially coveted because the union has 1.9 million members and has a rank-and-file that is far more politically active than most other unions’. Moreover, its political action committee is expected to collect more than $30 million this campaign, making it one of the biggest PACs in the nation....

Mr. Stern estimated that the S.E.I.U. has about 150,000 in the states with primaries over the next two months.
Obama's still getting thumped in the non-college crowd, despite the (apparently misleading) exits from VA and MD.
That could be bad. In 2005, Census data show that 27.7% of adults over 25 had a bachelor's degree. But the four bigger states upcoming all fall below that average: Texas: 25.5%, Ohio 23.0%, Wisconsin 25.0%, Pennsylvania 26.0%. So he maybe needs to fire up the populism.
Oh good, here's some populism: Obama also wins the UFCW endorsement. Obscure, but Yglesias says it could help in Ohio.
They're one of the youngest unions around in terms of membership, and have a substantial presence in Ohio.
Finally, Obama now leads the national polls 47.1% to 46%. That's plural, as in aggregate. Behold:
Of course, it didn't help Hillary or Rudy to be leading the national polls, so maybe this is bad news. I don't know anymore.

FISA, Contempt, Torture

I hear there's other news from Washington. Anyone know anything about that? Oh wait, never mind, here's something else about Obama coming over the transom....

The Strange Case of Texas

Forget the polls, what happens in Texas will be a strange admixture of connections, luck, and organization--and that's just to understand what the Texas system is. Burnt Orange Report, the BlueOregon of Texas, has a vast post describing the system, but if you don't know where Laredo is, you may not care. (Something about all the Latino districts being bunched up and Hillary having to have an overwhelming advantage to score the lion's share.) But after wading through all those particulars, we come to this:
Of course, this discussion has only focused on the "primary" portion of Texas' primary/caucus system. Texas' caucuses begin at 7:15 PM after the polls close on Election Day, March 4th. Texas caucuses are an entirely separate election process for determining an entirely separate portion of national delegates. A candidate could win the primary but lose the caucuses to a better organized opponent.

Senator Obama could come close to Senator Clinton in the "primary" portion and dominate the "caucus" portion --- the only catch is that those 67 votes that come from the "caucus" system won't be known until June and the Texas Democratic Party Convention.
Wha?!?? Man, I am so tired of Texas politics.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama's Toughness

Here at the Obama News Channel, we've been chafing lately at this claim that Obama is a shrinking violet who will wither under the assaults of the McCain machine (which is arguably in cahoots with the Clinton machine). Maybe not:

The Center for Responsive Politics has a new study out which finds that [Obama and Clinton] have donated a total of more than $890,000 to those super-delegates who are elected officials in the past three years. Who's donated more? Obama has, by far.

According to the study, Obama's PAC and campaign committe have given out $694,000 to such superdelegates. Some 40% of the supers who support Obama received cash from him, the study finds.

Hillary's PAC and campaign committee, meanwhile, have donated only $195,000 to supers, less than a third of what Obama has, and only 12% of supers supporting her have received her money.
We have become so used to "tough" being a synonym for "butt-stoopid," thanks to half-witted GOP rule that we've forgotten how smart politics can even playing fields.

Also, you'll notice a new feature here on the OBC--tracking polls from's data. At present, only the numbers in Ohio and Wisconsin reflect very recent polling. But this will form the baseline and I'll chart it as we move forward. Delegate totals are pledged delegates only and are taken from this list. The trend, of course, is Obama's versus Hillary. All referents on the OBC are, of course, Obama.

Stay tuned for the next update of the OBC.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Edwards' Endorsement Redux

As he weighs a possible endorsement in the Democratic race, former Sen. John Edwards is as split as the party he once hoped to lead — and is seriously considering supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite the sharp criticism he leveled at her on the campaign trail, according to former aides and advisers.
| link |

Delegate Math

So how far ahead is Barack? Based on a report Josh Marshall thinks is fairly accurate, Obama leads Clinton now by about 110 pledged delegates, 1078 to 969 (2047 altogether). There are 796 unpledged delegates (superdelegates), which leaves 1206 left for the taking. A candidate needs 2025 to secure the nomination.

Since Democratic primaries are proportional, Clinton is now behind the 8-ball. To tie Obama, she needs 658 of the remaining 1206 (54.5%). Obama, on the other hand needs just 548 (45.5%). This is where proportional delegates gets tough. As long as Obama stays close to 50%, he doesn't even have to win Ohio and Texas to thwart Clinton. It gets worse. Since his childhood home state of Hawaii along with Wisconsin, where he leads in the polls, are up first, his delegate surplus should rise. Coming out of those contests, his margin is likely to be around 125--with still fewer delegates left for Hillary to win.

Ohio and Texas have a combined 334 pledged delegates at stake. A win of even 65% to 35% in those two states wouldn't catch her up--and no one believes she'll come close to that margin. If she wins at all, it will be modestly--say 55-45%. But that only makes up 34 of the delegates, and leaves her trailing by 90.

The math is now definitely in Obama's favor.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obamania: Potomac Edition

Let's start with Adam Nagourney, writing what I hope emerges as the central storyline of tonight's Obama wins:

The lopsided nature of Senator Barack Obama’s parade of victories on Tuesday gives him an opening to make the case that Democratic voters have broken in his favor and that the party should coalesce around his candidacy....

And his strength on Tuesday sliced across nearly every major demographic line, with two elements standing out: in Virginia and Maryland, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls, he beat Mrs. Clinton among women and the two were nearly even among white voters.
Numbers (all CNN)
930,840 - votes cast for Obama tonight
498,523 - votes cast for Clinton tonight
567,137 - votes cast for McCain and Huckabee combined

5,711 - total GOP voters in DC
112,860 - total Dem voters in DC
Obama's Virginia Exits (CNN)
+21% among women
+26% among those with no college degree
+26% among those earning less than $50k
+8% among Latinos
+5% among whites
+27% among union members
+23% among those aged 45-59
+12% among those over 60 years
Expectations were crazy high going in, and it seemed like a sure bet that Obama would fail to meet them--and yet he actually exceeded them. I thought the upper limit was 20%. Not a single poll showed Obama ahead more than 22% (60-38). In the final stunning tally, he won by 29 points, 64 to 35%. We are getting used to big margins, but this is pretty shocking, by any measure.

Krugman's Weird Jihad

Krugman's pile of capital is almost infinite in my mind, so his bizarre sallies against Barack Obama--in language formerly reserved for the likes of Rove and Rummy--won't do much to make me stop reading or appreciating his column. But, smart as he is, I wouldn't want him operating on my spleen. Campaign analysis is obviously beyond his ken, too:

The bitterness of the fight for the Democratic nomination is, on the face of it, bizarre. Both candidates still standing are smart and appealing. Both have progressive agendas (although I believe that Hillary Clinton is more serious about achieving universal health care, and that Barack Obama has staked out positions that will undermine his own efforts). Both have broad support among the party’s grass roots and are favorably viewed by Democratic voters.

Supporters of each candidate should have no trouble rallying behind the other if he or she gets the nod.

Why, then, is there so much venom out there?

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody.
That's from the delicately-titled "Hate Springs Eternal."

1) There is no venom between the candidates. Given that this is the most closely-fought campaign in my life, it's especially strange that it's been so genteel. Krugman, unfamiliar with campaign history, apparently doesn't realize this.

2) This is, by my count, the third assault on Barack Obama Krugman has leveled, not to mention other snide asides and numerous anti-Obama blog posts. Given that he has a very large megaphone, it wouldn't surprise me that he's hearing from some of the millions of readers out there. Sorry, Paul, but the heat in the kitchen comes from your souffle. You attacked first; buck up.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Add Maine

The split, amid heavy caucusing--despite a snowstorm, apparently--is about 59-41. I was worried that a poor Super Tuesday showing would be damaging to Obama, but it looks like the reverse has happened: Hillary's lost every subsequent state, and by pretty staggering margins. Something appears to have changed. I know she's staking the whole thing on Ohio and Texas now, but with Tuesday's three and a potential 7-0 drubbing since Super Tuesday, the mo may definitely have shifted. Of course, I was feeling confident ahead of NH, too, so...

Fun fact of the day. Average margin of victory by Obama since Feb 5 (excluding the Virgin Islands): 28.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hope's Flicker Rekindled

Okay, I'm starting to believe. While it was admittedly two caucuses and a black state, it was also Nebraska, Washington, and Louisiana, three states with almost nothing in common politically. Obama has now won in rural states, urban states, Southern states, Western states, blue, purple, and red states. With another week, he would have won California and New Jersey and probably Massachussets. He's won 18 states to Hillary's 13. And by current estimates, he leads pledged delegates 908 to 877 (CNN's total).

Still holding my breath, still worried about the superdelegates, but also a little more hopeful. (And that speech in Virginia--whoo, good stuff. It's beginning to look like his entire campaign had a plan and a theme. Man sees the big picture, all right....)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Money Race

No time for real blogging, but this info about the money race is pretty fascinating. Apparently Obama's raised $7 million since Tuesday, and Hillary $4. If Obama is still raising it among the rabble like me at $50 a pop, we're seeing the emergence of a new kind of politics--where the people are eating the lobbyist-fed corporatist candidates with a million tiny bites. Obama's pushing Hillary around in the money race, but he's less beholden to special interests. Obama fans should be promoting this. As I am.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Aftermath: Mass Confusion

Well, here I am down in Arizona to visit my Mom, assuming that when I arrive, all will be revealed as to the delegate totals. This whole process has been a big education, hasn't it? No one knows what the results are, except that it's too close to call and that the Democrats' system looks to have been half cobbled-together by two drunks on a bender.

Here are how different news outlets are calling it, first, those that omit superdelegates:
O: 840-849 from last night, 903-912 total
C: 829-839, 877-885

CNN (current actuals from last night)
O: 625
C: 624
And those including superdelegates:

ABC - Hillary leads, 1,038-940.

CBS - Hillary leads 1,044 to 966.

WaPo - Hillary leads 1,000 to 902.

Associated Press - Hillary leads 845-765

Obama's looking great, in other words. At some point, when the actuals come in, I'll compare it to my poll-based predictions (I wasn't nearly as far off as I expected). Whew. We live to fight another day.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Quick Tally

Well, it's not too bad, but we'll have to see how the byzantine delegate split develops. Here's a quickie of what we know now, and what I expected. From MSNBC, Obama wins in bold.
State______Split - C/O (% rept)______Expected
AL______________42/56 (99%)___________50/50
AZ______________50/41 (66%)___________52/48
AR______________73/23 (75%)___________60/40
CA______________55/33 (17%)___________52/48
CO______________32/66 (96%)___________49/51
CT______________47/50 (96%)___________52/48
DE______________42/53 (100%)__________52/48
CO______________32/66 (75%)___________49/51
GA______________32/66 (95%)___________42/58
ID______________17/81 (87%)___________40/60
IL______________32/64 (93%)___________36/64
KS______________27/73 (96%)___________48/52
MA______________56/41 (95%)___________55/44
MN______________32/67 (76%)___________52/48
Missouri _______48/49 (99%)___________50/50
NJ______________54/44 (98%)___________53/47
NM______________too early(1%)_________53/47
NY______________57/40 (99%)___________57/40
ND______________37/61 (100%)__________51/49
OK______________55/31 (100%)__________63/37
TN______________54/41 (98%)___________61/39
UT______________40/56 (91%)___________39/61
Probably won't be online until late tomorrow--but you'll have plenty to read elsewhere.

Tomorrow's Storyline

While we still need to see how the delegates break out, it looks like Hillary will have won 50-100 delegates more than Obama tonight, but, rather surprisingly, Obama will have won more states--or at least more than he was expected to win. The storylines that develop beginning tomorrow will define the rest of the election.

If it's this (NYT), Obama stays in the race:
Clinton and Obama Trading Victories
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won her adopted state of New York and neighboring New Jersey, while Senator Barack Obama claimed his home state of Illinois and won in Georgia, Alabama and Delaware as the two Democratic candidates traded victories in a coast-to-coast contest for convention delegates.
So far, that's what they're all leading with.

Not Falling for the Exits

The exits are starting to come in, and they look surprisingly good for Obama. I am having a little of the deja vu from '04, and I'm even more suspicious of these--people coming out of polling places may or may not be willing to admit they voted against the black guy, the exciting candidate of hope. So we'll see.

Here's what Josh has up, itals (mine) on the surprises:

GA: C- 25.5, O - 75
CT: C - 45, O - 52.2
IL: C - 29.1, O - 69.6
AL: C - 37, O - 59.6
DE: C - 41.9, O - 55.6
MA: C - 47.3, O - 49.8
MO: C - 45.1, O - 49.8
TN: C - 51.6, O - 41.1
NY: C - 55.6, O - 42.2
NJ: C - 47, O - 52.2
AR: C - 71.2, O - 25.5
OK: C - 60.5, O - 30.4
AZ: C - 44.8, O - 50.5

These below are first wave ...
NM: C - 45.6, O - 51.8
UT: C - 39.9, O - 60.1
CA: C - 49.6, O - 46.3

Damn, I need a beer.

Super Tuesday Poll

The Massive Super Tuesday Post

In no particular order, here is too much information, most of which is speculative, for anyone to reasonably be expected to enjoy. But that is the job of a blogger, so. Here we go.

Delegate Math
Kari Chisholm has offered a nice rundown of how the process works, which I'll quote here verbatim. It describes exactly why trying to predict the post-Tuesday delegate count is impossible (a "fool's errand," as he calls it). After that, I'll predict the post-Tuesday delegate count.

In most states, roughly 35% of the delegates will be allocated based on the proportional vote each candidate gets in the statewide balloting. And roughly 65% of the delegates will be awarded based on the proportional vote each candidate gets in each congressional district.

But not all congressional districts get the same number of delegates. They've all got the same number of people - but not the same number of Democrats.... Every district gets between three and seven delegates....

For starters, you need at least 15% of the vote to get any delegates at all. Once the sub-15% folks are removed from the equation (sorry, Mike Gravel), here's how the math works:

* In a three-delegate district, if you get 50% plus one, you get two delegates. (Yes, that's a huge bonus for winning by a single vote.)

* In a four-delegate district, however, a 51-49% outcome leads to a 2-2 split among delegates. Even a 60-40 split is still 2-2. The winning candidate has to get to 62.5% to earn a 3-1 split.

* In a five-delegate district, unless the winning candidate gets over 70% of vote, it's going to be a 3-2 split.

* In a six-delegate district, it's going to be a 3-3 split, unless the winning candidate gets over 58.4%, then it's a 4-2 split. 75% of the vote earns a 5-1 split.

Okay, clear enough? But that's too much to think about, so instead, I go back to my crude back-of-the-envelope math based on proportionality and old polls. (Mostly they're from February, but unless they reflect the last few moments of the voter's confused, indecisive mind, they're more or less useless.) Again we'll consult the chart, which by now my reader will have recognized has been riddled with errors and faulty assumptions--if pretty layout. I assume this one contains more of the same, but perhaps in a less ostentatious manner. For example, in the past I said the totals didn't include superdelegates, but in fact they did. (Superdelegates, of course, are even more impossible to predict, so I've been intending to just throw them out--thanks to this handy list, I've finally done so.)

Based on these numbers (about which more will be said in a moment), the race will be a dead heat, with clinton holding a lead over Obama of roughly the delegates of Kansas:
884 - Obama
913 - Clinton
If you look at the chart, you'll notice that the trend is almost uniformly toward Obama where data are available. This would suggest that, since the polls are lagging behind public opinion, these totals may be an underestimate. As you can see on Pollster's current trend line, that certainly looks to be the case:

However, there is some evidence that the trends may have flattened out just as Obama pulls even. Gallup, which has been tracking this each day, showed Obama pull nearly even only to drop back by five points:

So what's going to happen? My fear is that all this Obama hype will lead to inflated expectations and a Clinton rally like we saw before New Hampshire. Expectations are so high right now that if Obama falls 50-100 delegates short of Hillary, tomorrow's storyline will be that he's done. And, given the role of superdelegates and the punishing reality of proportional math, that may be the case.

If Obama falls back by 100 delegates, he'll be in a serious hole. After tomorrow, 1797 delegates of 3253 will have been allocated (excluding superdelegates). That leaves just 1456 remaining. Obama would have to win 779 of them--or 54%. And that's just to end up with the bare victory, leaving aside superdelegates. Today's results need to be close enough so that his momentum doesn't die. I'd put that at 50 delegates or fewer. I have yet to see a Democrat of my choice win the nomination for president, so my inclination is to fear the worst, nevermind Chuck's confidence. We'll know soon enough.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Fair and Balanced

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Karl Rove, the strategist behind President George W. Bush's ascendancy to the White House, will join Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel as a contributor starting with Super Tuesday, the network said.
Link here.

Another Delegate Counter

A reader of Mark Ambinder's, using a similar process as my projections arrives at a different conclusion: a twelve-delegate lead for Hillary on Feb 6. If that happens, Obama wins the nomination.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Obama Surges, Loses Delegates

I have revised my poll-based delegate prediction, and despite a rally by Obama, he actually loses delegates because we now have better polling data from the indispensible Pollster. (However, it's too early to tell what Edwards' pull-out means, except to say that he won't get any of these delegates.) Where possible, I have used their aggregate trend, which also hurts Obama--but more on that in a moment. First the predictions. Based on these data, and using the same methodology (minus Edwards), I arrive at these numbers:
Delegate Count on February 6, 2008
Obama: 1020
Clinton: 1182
In my earlier calculation, Clinton had a lead of 143 delegates, and this current total puts her at 162.

Caveats and things to look for: This is a conservative estimate. Since there's scanty state polling in the 2/5 primary states, Pollster's aggregates reflect older voter preferences. I will release on more of these predictions on Monday or Tuesday, and I'll get a little bolder about adjusting for trends. Below is the revised chart.

I calculated the proportion each candidate would receive based on these totals. (All Democratic primaries are proportional.) In some cases where earlier polling was available and a trend was evident, I adjusted accordingly.Unlike the major media outlets, I excluded Superdelegates, which are highly unpredictable (see here) and mutable.