Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Palin a drag on McCain, going rogue & planning for 2012

This blog’s criticisms of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate are well-known to its readers,so I won’t swell the record here with those points again.  For them, see here, here, and here.  Suffice it to say, her selection by McCain played a role in the decisions of a number of conservatives who have endorsed Obama, myself included—and add Reagan advisor Ken Adelman to the list too—along with decisions by many other solid Republicans who won’t be supporting the GOP ticket, including my Congressman and Colin Powell.  Her addition to the ticket was pretty clearly a cynically executed political maneuver by John McCain, not one that put country first.

"Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'?  Do you mean me...or yourself?"

McCain: "Wait, what do you mean when you say that you're 'looking out for #1'? Do you mean me...or yourself?"

Now he appears to be paying the price for the decision.  A recent poll shows that voter’s biggest concern with the Republican ticket is Palin’s perceived lack of qualifications.  Another poll indicates that 59% of voters think that she is not qualified to be Vice President.  If accurate, then at most 41% of Americans think that she is qualified (it’s probably lower due to respondants who gave no opinion).  That indicates to me that probably almost everyone who’s not voting for McCain finds her unqualified.

Now, with McCain’s slim chances of pulling off a victory declining each day, one of his campaign aides has said that Palin is “going rogue.”  She has been critisizing McCain’s campaign, saying they should have kept competing in Michigan and should stop using “irritating” robocalls to reach voters, even as the campaign was defending their use.  A second campaign insider said that Palin seemed to be looking out for her own interests more than those of the campaign.

She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. … She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.

Possibly the words of displaced insiders on a campaign that’s behind big with just days to go.  There is a history of tension between the #1 and #2 people on a ticket and their respective staffs.

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one

Hopefully, Palin will still be seeing plenty of this flag after January 20th, and not just because it's a pretty good one.

But these are also possibly real insights from people who are positioned to know what’s going on behind the scenes.  Palin does appear to be positioning herself for a run in 2012 “if” she and McCain don’t win on Tuesday; when asked if she’d just return to Alaska if Obama wins she said “Absolutely not. I think that if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we’ve taken … I’m not doing this for naught.”  She has also publicly broken with McCain over a federal marriage amendment, something that McCain opposes (he wants states to decide) but that Palin’s most likely constituency, social conservatives, absolutely love.  These are not things that garner the type of attention that a guy needing a huge upset, come-from-behind victory needs to have in the week before the election.

She is clearly now a liability, not the asset she seemed to be in the days after her selection.  A number of sources are now speculating about what might have been if McCain had selected another running mate.  The guy that I would have liked to see, Tom Ridge, recently said in an interview that “I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania [if I were the Vice Presidential nominee]. … I think we’d be foolish not to admit it publicly.”  Ridge, the campaign’s national co-chairman, admitted that McCain “had several good choices and I was one of them.”  (He later backpedaled saying he was “taken out of context” and that “Governor Palin will make a great Vice President” and, oh yeah, they’re going to win Pennsylvania too.)

Ridge was a popular Governor of Pennsylvania and has at least twenty times as much experience as Palin, most of it “executive experience.”  McCain would be extremely competetive in Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes) right now if he’d picked Ridge, and would probably be ahead in Florida (27 votes) and Ohio (20 votes) as well. The biggest reason that he wasn’t picked is that social conservatives in the party would probably have objected to someone who is pro-choice being on the ticket.

I hereby propose an amnesty for any and all conservatives and Republicans who have previously endorsed or supported Sarah Palin’s selection as the GOP vice presidential nominee.  Simply admit that she is, after further consideration, not the best possible pick and that you wish that McCain had selected someone else.  Do this by midnight Monday and no questions will be asked.  This doesn’t even require you to vote against McCain, just admit that Palin is not helping the ticket and shouldn’t have been selected.  You can do so in a reply to this post if you’d like.  And, whoever wins on Tuesday, let’s try to pull back together to keep our party from getting screwed up for next time, okay?

2008 World Chess Championship concludes

The World Chess Championship match between India’s Viswanathan Anand and Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik has concluded in Bonn, Germany with defending champion Anand retaining the title.

The pieces that Kramnik and Anand used were probably a lot nicer than these

Anand, who had previously played Garry Kasparov for the championship, was the incumbent by virtue of having won last years round robin tournament in Mexico City.  Kramnik was the World Champion heading into that tournament after having defeated Bulgaria’s Vaselin Topalov in 2006 in the mutch-anticipated title reunification match.  Kramnik and Anand played two games against each other in Mexico City; both ended in draws.

I think it’s dubious to win the championship in a tournament like that; to be the champion you need to beat the champion.  But the anomaly was the result of the way Kasparov and Nigel Short managed their 1993 World Championship Match, which they held apart from the auspices of FIDE, the World Chess Federation.  From then until the 2006 Kramnik-Topalov match, there were two people with claims to be World Chess Champion: the one who won the FIDE tournaments and the one who could trace his claim through victories over the previous title holder.  (It got somewhat complicated.)

Anand defeated Kramnik 6.5 points to 4.5 points in a best of twelve match.  Anand won three games, Kramnik won one, and the other seven were drawn.  One point is awarded for a win, 1/2 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss.  There are tie-breaker procedures in the event of a 6-6 tie after twelve games.

Anyway, the title is now happily reunified and will have to be won and defended in matches between the champion and challenger.  The 2009 championship will be between Anand and the winner of a match between 2005 FIDE champion Vaselin Topalov and Chess World Cup 2007 Winner Gata Kamsky, a naturalized American citizen.  Beginning in 2011, the championship will be contested every 2 years with a challenger determined through a series of tournaments, a system that I think should be fair and robust.

Obama targetting Arizona

Arizona's flag is quite good.  But don't worry, I'm sure there'll soon be news from a state with a sucky flag.

Arizona has a good flag. But don't worry, I'm sure there'll be news from a state with a lame one soon.

CNN indicates that Barack Obama is going to air ads in John McCain’s home state of Arizona.  They say that Arizona would be a key swing state if not for the fact that McCain is from there; the Republican only leads 49–45 with 6 percent undecided.  McCain’s residency and his long representation of the state in the Congress is probably worth at least 4 points; the state would probably be looking bluish, like neighboring New Mexico and Colorado if the GOP had nominated someone else.

Intrade speculators think it is 4.35 times more likely that McCain will win Arizona than that Obama will do so.  However, they may not have had time to factor in Obama’s latest decision into the pricing.  In any event, Obama’s only goal probably isn’t to win Arizona’s 10 electoral votes, though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind them.  He’ll probably consider the expenditure worth it if it simply creates the impression that McCain is embattled and struggling even to win his home turf.  Hmm.  It seems to be working.

Readers may recall that Democrat Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in 2000; had he won it, he’d have been president.

South African chair malfunctions in the YouTube age

By now probably millions of people have seen the viral video of South African MP Nhlanhla Nene, chairman of the portfolio committee of finance, having a chair collapse under him while giving an interview on live TV.  Before I try to make a serious point about the incident, for the record, here is the admittedly comedic video clip:

Now that you’ve seen the video, take a look at Nene’s Wikipedia article.  Earlier today I contributed to the article but since then I’ve been thinking about it further.  Excluding citations and headings, the article currently has 467 words; 366 of them—78% of the content—is dedicated to describing the furniture  malfunction of which he was the victim.  The article didn’t even exist until the video and news of the chair collapse started spreading via the internet; few people cared that this man even existed until a chair that he just happened to be sitting on broke while he was on television. Apparently, that is what defines notability in the YouTube age.

How pleasant that so many of the flags recently featured on this blog are so good; South Africa's is awesome--it's the exception that proves the rule about having no more than four colors

How pleasant that so many of the flags recently featured on this blog are so good. South Africa's is awesome; it's the exception that proves the rule about having no more than four colors.

Presumably, Mr. Nene has dedicated his life to trying to better his community and his troubled nation.  I can only say presumably because Wikipedia gives few details on his political career in the 22% of the article devoted to his life in the pre-chair collapse era.  All anyone cares about is that the gentleman had a chair break underneath him.

Well, the article does accurately describe the chair incident, in a NPOV way, with proper citations.  But I feel kind of bad now for contributing to it.  That 26-second video can’t represent 78% of the man’s life; that’d leave just 7.333 seconds to everything else he’s ever done.  Therefore, in the next few days I’m going to try to learn more about Mr. Nene and, hopefully, make his article more balanced and a better reflection of his life and work.  Sure, let’s laugh with him about this little accident, but let’s keep it in perspective; this guy isn’t a dolt or a failure just because of this event, which was outside of his control.

My presidential endorsement: Barack Obama

With five days before the election, I have decided to come out and endorse a presidential candidate. During the Republican primaries, I endorsed, voted for, and contributed financially to John McCain—moves that I do not regret, as I think he was the best candidate in the GOP field. However, further developments have convinced me that he is not the best man to lead our country at this point in history. I am crossing party lines and endorsing Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States.

I hereby endorse this man to be the next President of the United States of America

I hereby endorse this man to be the next President of the United States of America

This move will, undoubtedly, surprise and puzzle a number of my friends, family members, and associates, who, if they know anything of my politics, know me as a life-long Republican and a self-identifying conservative, so I will briefly state the reasons for my decision.

First, Obama is, like Kennedy, a tax-cutting Democrat.  According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Obama would cut taxes by $2.9 trillion over the 2009-2018 period.

The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers. By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by about 5 percent, or nearly $2,200 annually. Those in the top 1 percent would face a $19,000 average tax increase—a 1.5 percent reduction in after-tax income.

McCain’s tax cuts would be about 30% larger but are targeted differently, mainly assisting those already wealthy and, undoubtedly, contributing to further economic inequality, which is already approaching all-time highs.

Unfortunately, both of them would lead to bigger deficits, but Obama is the slightly less reckless of the two.   The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the nation’s debt will increase by $2.3 trillion by 2018 under current laws. The Tax Policy Center estimates that Obama’s tax package would add $3.5 trillion to the total, while McCain’s proposals would add $5 trillion. That is, McCain would add 25% more to the national debt than would Obama. That is not conservative.

Arguments that the wealthy will stop working as hard and stop investing in their businesses if their taxes go up need to be addressed.  Those arguments, while they may seem intuitively right to many conservatives, do not hold up. Right now the top marginal tax rate is near its all-time historic low, set in the 1920s—just before the great depression hit. In the 1990s the top right was higher than it is now—and the economy did quite well. It also did just fine from 1950–1963 when the highest rate was a whopping 91% (note: not a typo).  The wealthy will be just fine under Barack Obama, just as they’d be fine under almost any president.  They can pay a bit more in taxes so that lower- and middle-income people don’t need to sacrifice saving for retirement, college, childcare, health care, et cetera. The wealthiest people, however, usually end up sacrificing what can reasonably be called luxuries. Taxing the richest people now will lead to fewer poor people in the future, which is good for everyone—including the rich.

Additionally, I think Obama would be the better man to handle our nation’s foreign policy.  While McCain has more experience in the field, he is fundamentally hawkish, and I tend to be dovish.   In my view, while McCain is not likely to get the country involved in another armed conflict he is considerably more likely to do so than Obama, and less is much less likely to be able to build international support and an international coalition to share the military and financial burdens of any such action.  Many of the great issues of our day—terrorism, climate change, trade—cannot be effectively handled at the level of the individual nation-state; they must be handled at the international level.  And I think Obama would have more clout and could get more done on that front than McCain.

One specific area where I think McCain is wrong is in his refusal to conduct even low-level talks with Iran and North Korea, both dangerous countries. During the Cold War we never broke off relations with the Soviet Union; Kennedy and Reagan, to of the best Cold Warriors, talked with the Russians constantly.  As a side note: people often object here that we’re not going to change Ahmadinejad’s mind about anything. That’s almost certainly correct. However, the point of negotiating is not to show the other guy how right you are and have him admit the error of his ways.We didn’t convince Khrushchev or Gorbachev that our system was better than theirs. But the contact helped to relieve tensions and lead to useful diplomatic breakthroughs which quite possibly helped avert more bloodshed than occurred during the Cold War.

Lastly, like most Americans, I find Sarah Palin to be significantly under-qualified to be Vice President, let alone President of the United States if anything happens to McCain (a 72-year old cancer survivor).  According to actuaries, there is approximately a 10% chance that McCain would not be able to serve out 4 years in the White House.  With Palin as Vice President, that would be disatrous in my view.  That McCain would put the country in such a position for political reasons—and I firmly believe she was selected only to get votes, not for governing ability—gives me great concerns for his approach to the presidency and how he will govern.

See also my blog posts discussing Obama being endorsed by the New York Times and by several notable conservatives.  Check out Republican Congressional candidate Joel Haugen’s endorsement.  And take a look at this blog post which details how the country seems to do better during Democratic presidencies than Republican ones on a number of conservative metrics.

He is not my ideal candidate and I have a number of disagreements with him, but for all of the above reasons and more, this blog is endorsing Barack Obama for president.  God bless America.

New York Times adds Obama to long list of presidential candidates they’ve endorsed

In a move that I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one, the New York Times has endorsed Barack Obama for president.

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

The editors also praise Obama for promising to “restore a climate in which workers are able to organize unions if they wish,” a probable reference to the very undemocratic card check system, which I blogged about critically here and here. The measure in question would reduce worker’s ability to decide whether or not to unionize and it has garnered opposition from both conservatives and liberals.

They take McCain to task for wanting to make permanent the tax cuts for higher earners that he previously said were fiscally irresponsible, “and while he talks about keeping taxes low for everyone, his proposed cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of Americans while digging the country into a deeper fiscal hole.” While they credit McCain, who they said was the best Republican candidate during the primaries, with taking tough positions on climate change and other previous issues, they have some harsh criticism:

Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

This blog has been a critic of Sarah Palin’s selection and considers it a gimmick by McCain, a decision calculated to secure the votes of social conservatives, not to promote good government. That she could become president if something happens to McCain is troubling; what his willingness to take that risk says about his governing style is more troubling. It is the opinion of this blog that Governor Palin’s inclusion on the ticket is a significant reason to question McCain’s suitability to be president.

The Times provided historical context and information on all of their previous presidential endorsements, back to Abraham Lincoln in 1860; they provide pdf files of the actual editorials. The reason that no one, I trust, was surprised by their endorsement of Obama is that the paper hasn’t supported a Republican candidate since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

The New York Times endorsed this man over FDR.  Had he won, he'd have been the only president besides Millard Fillmore with double Ls in both his first and last name.

The New York Times endorsed this man over FDR. Had he won, he'd have been the only president besides Millard Fillmore with double Ls in both his first and last name.

Interestingly, the New York Times endorsed Thomas Dewey, governor of New York, over Harry Truman in 1948. Fortunately, they didn’t run with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman!” as some other papers did. They also supported Wendell Willkie over Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, though they endorsed FDR in his other three bids. On account of the Willkie endorsement, Grover Cleveland is the only candidate that the paper has endorsed three consecutive times. Given the term limits which now exist and the difficulty of running again after you’ve lost an election, it is unlikely that the paper will endorse another candidate three consecutive times.

Since supporting Woodrow Wilson in 1912, the paper has supported the Democratic candidate 21 out of 25 times, though their first six endorsements all went to Republicans (who all subsequently won).

Attractive people make more money

CareerBuilder has an interesting story about the positive correlation between physical attractiveness and earnings. The money passage is as follows:

Good looks can have a real impact on workers’ bank accounts, according to research by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle published in the Journal of Labor Economics. Attractive people earn about 5 percent more in hourly pay than their average-looking colleagues, who in turn earn 9 percent more per hour than the plainest-looking workers. This means if an average-looking person earned $40,000, their prettiest co-workers would make $42,000 while their least attractive colleagues brought home just $36,400. Plain-looking workers may also receive fewer promotions than those awarded to their more striking contemporaries.

The story also reports that students consistently give better evaluations to more attractive professors. It also says that “It remains uncertain whether the handsomest people translate their good looks into higher productivity.” The effects of being attractive are also disputed by some people investigating the issue. See the CareerBuilder article for details.

it is simple, distinct, and uses meaningful symbolism.  Sadly, most municiple flags are not so good.

The flag of Santa Barbara, California is very attractive: it is simple, distinct, and uses meaningful symbolism. Sadly, most municipal flags are not so good.

In any event, while it may be unfair, it is legal in most jurisdictions to discriminate on the basis of looks, unlike race, religion, and national origin. Washington, D.C. and Santa Barbara, California are two of the only municipalities with laws against appearance discrimination. On a whim, I checked the Hooters store locator to see if either city had a franchise. Santa Barbara does not, but Washington, D.C. does. I wonder if they have to do anything different to comply with the law there.

Afghan gets 20 years for discussing women’s rights

An appeals court in Afghanistan has sentenced 24-year old Parwez Kambakhsh to 20 years in jail for promoting women’s rights—and that’s actually an improvement in his condition; the trial court sentenced him to death. Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif, is accused of “insulting Islam and abusing the Holy Prophet Mohammad,” charges stemming from allegations that he asked questions in class that indicated a criticism of the way women are treated in his country and that he printed out and disseminated an essay that asked why Islam doesn’t modernize and recognize women’s rights. He denies downloading or handing out the article and says he didn’t write his own comments on it, as the prosecution alleges.

The Flag of Afghanistan, adopted in 2004.  Afghanistan has had 23 flags since the start of the 20th century---more than any other country--- including one that was all white and another that was all black.

The current Flag of Afghanistan, adopted 2004. Afghanistan has had 23 flags since the start of the 20th century--more than any other country--including one that was all white and another that was all black.

The presiding judge at his trial, Abdul Salam Qazizada, is a holdover from the Taliban days and was clearly hostile to Kambakhsh, who hasn’t received a fair trial according to international observers. He was detained far longer than he should have been and his lawyer didn’t get to speak with witnesses until the day before the trial. He also reports that he was abused and coerced into confessing by the police. At least one “witness” says he was threatened into testifying against Kambakhsh. And this procedural stuff is ignoring the fact that he’s on trial for talking about women’s rights in the first place.

While it is depressing that it is illegal to discuss women’s rights anywhere in the world in the 21st century, but if you read the accounts of his trial carefully there is reason to hope. The judge said that “Kambakhsh may have wanted to make himself popular by writing this text.” If his peers and fellow students were against women’s rights, challenging the status quo would hardly make Kambakhsh popular. Such an action would only make him popular if tapped into beliefs that were already there and growing amongst the young Afghani population. It’s too much to suggest that women’s lib will soon come to Afghanistan and that they’ll be burning their burqas, but progress is on the march there, as in Saudi Arabia, where women may soon be able to drive cars.

It is thought that Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and criticized local warlords. Note that Yaqub is the Arabic form of the name Jacob. Kambakhsh may still appeal his sentencing to the Afghan Supreme Court. Note that I’m the one who started the Wikipedia article on the Afghan Supreme Court. Check it out for examples of some of it’s reactionary and backwards rulings, along with news that President Hamid Karzai has since appointed some more moderate jurists to that tribunal. Hopefully international attention and pressure will continue to be applied to Karzai and the Supreme Court will overturn this silly conviction.

Monks make money for charity

The Cistercian Order's Coat of Arms

The Cistercian Order's Coat of Arms

MSNBC recently reported on a Cistercian monastery in west central Wisconsin, Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey, that runs a very successful—and profitable—business selling printer refill cartridges and other supplies online. One of the monks, Bernard McCoy, said he got the idea to set up the business, when he was reordering ink for the monastery’s printer; he found the markup to be “sinfully high.” The abbey is home to nine monks; once their modest $150,000 operating costs are covered the remainder of their profits, about $4.5 million, goes to charity.

Customers get to suggest where profits are invested. Some of the money trains Vietnamese orphans how to use office computers. Other funds feed battered families. Part of the profits helped Joe Sanwald do something no one in his family has ever done: graduate from high school.

The monks hired the 17-year-old to build a guest cabin in the forest surrounding the Abbey. “Kids were giving me a pretty tough time since I was poor, but look at me now,” Joe says with a grin. “I’m doing better than they are!” He’s even planning on going to college.

Their business is LaserMonks.com and their slogan is “Real Savings. Real Monks. Supporting Real People.”

Monastery’s, of course, have a very long history of aiding their communities. We’ve just sort of forgotten about that and the fact that monks aren’t very good at getting themselves on TV to inveigh against popular bugaboos doesn’t help their Q score any; they tend to take a longer view of things.

The Cistercian Order was founded about 1098 and stressed returning to a strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Written circa 530, the rules required all monks to work to support themselves and their monastery. As the Laser Monks site explains:

In his “Rule for Monks”, St. Benedict stated that the monks were to work for their living “by their own hands”, and thus not to beg for their livelihood, from others. Hence, monastic communities are self supporting and each has a business which sustains their Abbey and allows the community to live lives of contemplation, prayer and good works. Up until modern times, the chief means of support was agriculture, but today, many other businesses and products have developed such as the making of bread, jams and candies, stained glass, art and other hand made gifts.

Last year for Christmas I received some creamed honey from another Cistercian monastery, Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, and I can attest that it is excellent in quality; I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys honey. I got a box with four types in it: original, raspberry, lemon, and cinnamon. The Laser Monks site has links to the products of other monasteries and provides some information on the work that the proceeds supports.

Also potentially of interest to readers of this post is a recent Slate article on how the Catholic Church is currently trying to encourage more young people to become monks and nuns. To my surprise, they are actually enjoying success at convincing people to seek the life of contemplation.

More on the undemocratic card check system

USA Today published an op-ed yesterday (“Our view on labor laws: No way to form a union“) opposing the euphemistically named “Employee Free Choice Act,” which, in Orwellian fashion, actually takes away employees’ free choice.  They rightly characterize the measure, which Obama supports and McCain opposes, misguided.

Currently, when union organizers get 30% of a company’s workers to sign unionization cards a democratic election is organized and held where all employees can vote by secret ballot on whether or not they want to unionize.  Union leaders and the employer get to campaign for the votes of the workers, who can try to persuade each other.  Everyone gets to be heard.  Under this law, however, if 50% of a company’s employees can be persuaded to sign cards a union will automatically be organized.

Cajoled choice is more like it. The proposed change would give unions and pro-union employees more incentive to use peer pressure, or worse, to persuade reluctant workers to sign their cards. And without elections, workers who weren’t contacted by union organizers would have no say in the final outcome.

The L.A. Times also editorialized against the law, back in 2007 when it was passed by the House:

Unions once supported the secret ballot for organization elections. They were right then and are wrong now. Unions have every right to a fair hearing, and the National Labor Relations Board should be more vigilant about attempts by employers to game the system. In the end, however, whether to unionize is up to the workers. A secret ballot ensures that their choice will be a free one.

But don’t just take their word for it.  George McGovern, a long time friend of labor rights, is opposed to the measure and appears in a television ad against it, as I recently blogged.  This measure is undemocratic; it is about increasing the power of labor leaders, not workers.