Friday, October 31, 2008

Election Night Survival Guide, Part III
Part I took us through the first half-hour after the polls close at 7 Eastern, and Part II surveyed the second half as polls close at 7:30 in a few states.

Now, it's 8:00 Eastern time. Many states we are waiting on have yet to be called (in fact if turnout is heavy people could still be voting, poll hours may have been extended). The current electoral vote count is 21-3 in favor of McCain and we're waiting on a handful of states (IN, NC, GA, VA, OH) that would be nice but *not essential for an Obama victory*. Suppose Georgia - as I'm expecting - doesn't close the way we'd hoped and it's 15 EVs are called for McCain, making it 36-3. We are still well on the path to victory. Step away from the ledge.

At 8 Eastern, polls close in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Network calls should come right and left on several. McCain will claim TN, OK, MS, and AL quickly and raise his EV total to 69. Meanwhile Obama grabs CT, DE, IL, ME, MD, MA, NJ, DC and, after 20 mins or so of making sure, NH. That brings his total to 82. (See? Feel better?) New Hampshire is worth watching. Common sense says it should be close, but recent polls have had Obama winning by double digits. If it stays too close to call for a while, or looks like a McCain upset, it may be a sign of trouble.

There are still other important races to watch in these states, even though the Presidential contest shouldn't be close in them: MS offers the most longshot of the Senate races still considered possible. If incumbent Roger Wicker is not confirmed pretty quickly as the winner, it will be an exciting surprise. It is one of 3 races Democrats must win to have a shot at 60, along with McConnell's unlikely seat in KY. Democrat Ronnie Musgrove has fallen behind in polls, but who knows. For a longshot House race worth following, check on AL-03 where incumbent Mike Rogers is being challenged by friend-of-a-friend Democrat Josh Seagall. Josh has no business winning this race, but in a year like this who knows. Now, on to the close states in the presidential closing at 8.

Florida: For me, FL is like Ohio. Once it looks like McCain is pulling ahead there - very possible - his supporters will whoop and news anchors will fall over themselves building up McCain's chances, but once again this is really not the key state it was in 2000. At least not in Plan A or B. It could be a fail-safe in a Plan C, which I'll get to later and hopefully we won't have to think about. Anyway, I'm not worrying about FL for Pres. Watching to see if we can beat the Diaz-Balart brothers in FL-21 and FL-25.

Missouri: I love watching MO because it seems to undergo a big shift at the end. Remember Super Tuesday, some networks had called it for Clinton and Obama pulled in big numbers late to overtake her - really an essential moment in the primary. MO looks close in polls and won't be called anytime soon. Move along...

Pennsylvania: This is the big one so far in the night. McCain has been gaining and putting lots of resources here. The primary Obama routes to the presidency go through PA. Polls have been all over between a big Obama win and a slim lead. If PA is called before this half-hour is up - and I doubt it will be - we can really unclench one of our fists and know that McCain's options for winning just nearly vanished. If McCain pulls of a win here, he most certainly took OH as well as IN and if it happens we will pivot quickly to Virginia. Adding VA to some states out West, that will make up for PA. But here's why PA is so important. If Obama wins PA, he can lose all of the tossup states that have closed so far: OH, FL, MO, IN, NC, VA, GA and *still* be right on target to win. The path would be narrow, but still smooth.

Shorter Version: After the 8 PM Eastern poll closings, Obama will lead 82-69 (if we give McCain GA) and we will be still watching 6 states: PA, OH, FL, MO, IN, NC and VA. And the greatest of these is Pennsylvania. Win there and none of the others can stop him. Win there + one of the others? And we can start to relax and root for Musgrove (Sen) in MS.
Time Change Health Effects?
Don't forget, we move clocks back an hour this Sunday - an extra hour of sleep that may be good for you. This is fascinating, if true.
Heart attacks decrease by 5 percent the first Monday after the time change, and by 1.5 percent over that week, according to an analysis in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. The findings are based on 20 years of data from a Swedish registry of nine million residents.

The springtime transition to daylight saving time poses more of a health hazard: Heart attacks increase by 5 percent over the first week after clocks are pushed back an hour, spiking by 10 percent on that Tuesday, epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found.
I have my doubts, no offense to Swedish scientists (or Swedish hearts). For one thing, if screwing with your sleep schedule that slightly was that bad for you, wouldn't we notice a similar heart attack increase among people going through jet lag after long flights? I dunno, maybe that does happen? I've certainly never heard of it though.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Night Survival Guide, Part II
In Part 1, I talked through the way I will be neurotically, nervously watching the returns on Tuesday at 7 pm Eastern when the first polls close in 6 states. A half-hour later, polls will close in Ohio, North Carolina and West Virginia. The key for this 30-minute stretch is to keep our eyes on the prize. These states don't necessarily matter. Follow me:

So, it's 7:30 and (I'm guessing) 3 states (VT, SC, KY) have been called giving McCain an electoral vote lead of 16-3. GA, IN and VA are still too close to call, and maybe Obama's behind in all three as the earliest votes are counted. Breathe. Remember, GA and IN are pile-on states. Indicators to be sure, but in no way necessary for Obama's electoral strategy. As West Virginia is called 10 minutes later, putting McCain up 21-3 and dashing hopes of a big upset there, we will not worry. This was all to be expected.

Ohio: I am not as optimistic about Ohio as others. But here's the thing: it's not that important. Winning OH (like winning FL) would just about assure an Obama win, but neither is necessary. I expect OH to be close and will not be called for the next hour at least. I'm going to try and just ignore it. In 2004, Ohio was everything for Kerry's chances. Not so this year. Barack's most fundamental route to 270 takes Kerry's result (including the losses in OH and FL and VA) and adds Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico.

Is Ohio important at least to insulate against a McCain upset in PA? I'd say no. If Obama wins OH, he will win PA, where he has consistently run 5 pts or so ahead of his Ohio numbers. It's hard to imagine him winning OH and losing PA. Every news anchor is going to go on and on about what a deciding state Ohio is. But this year, it is much less likely to be so.

No, if you want to watch Ohio closely, forget about President and pay attention to House races. In OH-15, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy should pick up an empty seat, and in OH-2, Republican incumbent Jean Schmidt seems likely to hold on to her seat in this district Bush won by a huge margin, though it could be close. If either of those expectations are not met, it will be telling, about the Ohio vote generally, and Democratic House prospects. Also watch OH-01, where Steve Chabot (R) looks to be in one of his toughest re-election races. If this breaks strongly either way it will be an important indicator. Here's another reason to root hard in that one: Chabot was one of the 12 Clinton impeachment managers, one of only 3 who will still be in the House if he wins.

North Carolina: Obama doesn't need to win here, not at all. But it's been exciting to see the polls put him very close, or even ahead. The main thing here is for it to not be an early McCain call. If it is, that may not bode well for Obama in VA, and the map will tighten up, putting lots of pressure on PA and CO should VA not come through.

Shorter Version of 7:30 closing: Don't panic. These 3 states are not essential. WV should be an expected and substantial loss. OH and NC would virtually assure a win, but are not necessary, no matter what Wolf Blitzer tells you about how huge Ohio is. By the time the 30 minutes are up and we're ready for 8 pm closing, let's expect the count to still be 21-3. If GA, IN, OH, NC and VA are still too close to call, things are going according to plan, and if it looks like Obama is poised to win *any of them*, or any of them have been called in his favor, he will be well on his way to victory. The only bad news will be if he is losing them (especially VA where he looks to be well ahead in polls) decisively, as that would suggest the polls are off nation-wide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Case You Missed It
Obama's prime-time half-hour. I hope it works. It worked on me, of course.
Election Night Survival Guide, Part I
At 7:00 Eastern time Tuesday night, polls will close in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Here's what I'll be looking for as I freak out during the first half-hour:

Indiana: No Early Call. In 2004, at 7:00:01, the networks called Indiana for Bush. This year, Obama is making a push and keeping it close in polls. Assuming it breaks for McCain in the end, the longer it takes to call this state, the better omen it is for Obama's chances across the country. The quicker it goes, the better sign for McCain. If, at any point, IN gets called for Obama, he will be President, and probably win in a landslide. Another important marker to watch for is the house race in IN's 3rd District. There Republican incumbent Mark Souder, in a district that went heavily for Bush, is receiving a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Montagno. I always expect the incumbent to find a way to pull out these close ones, but it will be worth watching just how late in the night IN-03 goes.

Georgia: Basically the same as Indiana, but even more heavily assumed to go McCain. Heavy African-American turnout in early voting has some dreaming of a surprise here, but not me so much. This will be a real test of the turnout. A quick call in GA would not be as upsetting as IN, but would indicate that this will not be an Obama blowout nationwide. What I'm more interested in GA is:

Senate seat: Jim Martin has been closing on Saxby Chambliss, the despicable Republican incumbent. There are 3 close (hopefully) races, 2 of which will have to go blue for Democrats to reach 60 Senators. This is one. I'm hoping the first half-hour of coverage includes a Martin lead.

Kentucky: This will be called for McCain pretty early, I'm guessing the 3rd call of the night. But there is another reason to watch KY: to see if Republican Senator Mitch McConnell will get a close race or not. This is another of those 3 races (along with GA) that will decide the scope of Democratic victory in the Senate. If I had to choose, I'd rather pick this one up, if for no other reason than McConnell is such an ass. But he probably is the most likely to hold on.

South Carolina: Not much to see here. I'm expecting it to be the 2nd state called in the evening, going to McCain.

Vermont: Ditto. I expect it to be the 1st state called, for Obama of course.

Virginia: This is the most important of the early closing states. Indiana or Georgia would be gravy for Obama. Virginia has become a key player in Obama's electoral routes to 270. At, VA is now the #1 tipping-point state, meaning it is the one that, after all the blowout states are allotted, the state most likely to put Obama over the top. He can win without it, but - with a healthy lead in state polls - a loss here would indicate a substantial over-estimation of Obama's GOTV effort. It would mean there is no chance in NC, and PA might be in question. He could still win without those, but the margin suddenly becomes very small. In this early group, it is for Obama what GA is for McCain, in the sense that the longer it takes the favored candidate to be declared the winner, the bigger a boost the other guy will get.

Shorter Version of the 7 pm closing: By 7:30, I expect VT, SC and probably KY to already be in the bank. And hoping that Senate races in KY and GA have not been called. *Really* hoping that IN and GA look like they will take all night to sort out, and it will be telling to watch which state between VA and GA gets called first. It's hard to see how McCain wins without taking them both.
Tennessee Leads the Nation
No, not in kidney stones, though we are pretty high. According to this site tallying the early/absentee vote across the country, Tennessee is #1 so far in early voting turnout as a percentage of the total turnout in 2004. At just over 1 million through Monday, early and absentee votes number 45% of the 2.4 million total votes cast in 2004, that just beats out the 44% put up by Colorado. Not bad for a state that is not expected to be competitive.

Does this point to a huge boost in turnout this year here in the Volunteer State? Not necessarily. The early vote was nearly 50% of the turnout 4 years ago too. By the time the early vote ends after Thursday, we should be past that for sure. But, it remains to be seen whether Nov. 4 turnout will also exceed expectations, or if everyone is just voting early. My point is: a 50+% early vote turnout here is not as notable as it would seem to be in, say, GA, which lags behind TN but is far exceeding its early vote share from 2004.

Is there any good news for Obama in the TN turnout? A little. in 2004, John Kerry won 18 of TN's 95 counties in getting drubbed 57-43 by Bush. Those 18 counties (mostly Nashville and Memphis) made up 29% of the statewide turnout total back then. In the early vote so far this year, those same 18 - which should go for Obama - account for 32% of the statewide total. An increase in the share, modest as it may be...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Errol Morris Films for Obama
One of my favorite filmmakers (as you know), Errol Morris has made some spots highlighting and targeting voters "in the middle". There are 7 of them - don't know if these are just web ads or will actually air on the teevee. Take a look.
Drink More Water
What's happening to the children?
To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.
[P]ediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.
Kidney stones are apparently really painful and generally result from a diet of either too much salt or too little fluids, or both. I'm wary of this danger because of calcium deposits in my kidneys that showed up on an x-ray several years ago. Until reading this, I had no idea that I live in the "stone belt" because of the high rate of kidney stones in the South (which has extended to children here as well).

The article makes the case that kids have much more salt in their diet these days, and are reluctant to drink fluids during the day to avoid using the restroom at school.

In general, intake of fluids helps, but the contributing factors in specific beverage consumption are confusing at best. While caffeine intake has been believed to increase risk of stone formation, this study found that in fact coffee and tea both have an inverse relationship to the recurrence of stones (as do beer and especially wine, though all of the other behaviors associated with significant alcohol consumption mitigate any benefit), where apple and grapefruit juice increase the risk. Go figure.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Week to Go
Throughout the final week, I expect my poll and electoral college obsession to be in full bloom, sorry. I spared you for most of the general election at least... But continuing my weekly series, the number of electoral votes Obama would have if he won each state he currently leads by 3 or more in the average is 314 (321, 333, 300), 44 more than he needs (previous weeks, from most recent, in parenthesis). Regaining Ohio into the +3 column and losing Florida accounts for the loss of 7 EVs.

If he wins all states he leads by any margin, he would have 367 (367, 353, 353), the same as last week.
What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Synecdoche, New York
Looking forward to Charlie Kaufman's newest. This is his first screenplay since Eternal Sunshine, which longtime readers will remember me obsessing over a few years ago. I'm avoiding the reviews and trailers because what little I've heard sounds like it's better seen blind. But if you're not worried about getting spoiled, there is a preview here. You know this, but just to get the links in... Schenectady, by the way, is the town in New York. Synecdoche is something else.
Obama's Closing Argument
You can read some excerpts here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Let Them Eat Potatoes"
An answer to the growing food crisis?
Though the price of grains has receded in recent months from historic highs, grains are still far more expensive than they were just two years ago. The United Nations agency continues to strongly encourage countries to diversify into potato production...
Potatoes are a good source of protein, starch, vitamins and nutrients like zinc and iron. As a crop, they require less energy and water to grow than wheat, taking just three months from planting to harvest. Since they are heavy and do not transport well, they are not generally traded on world financial markets, making their price less vulnerable to speculation. They are not generally used to produce biofuels, a new use for food crops that has helped drive up grain prices. When grain prices skyrocketed, potato prices remained stable.

Beyond that, potato yields can be easily increased in most of the world, where they are grown inefficiently and in small numbers.
Also, did you know the UN has named 2008 the official year of the potato? Me neither.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Afternoon Deep Thought
Thinking about the Greenspan post below, it occurs to me there are only 3 kinds of Republicans: 1) The Bush-Cheney model that never admits to a mistake of any kind, 2) The kind that - like Greenspan and perhaps the McCain of old - will admit to a mistake but only after it's too late to do anybody any good; and 3) the kind that are now for Obama.
What Would Aunt Bea Think?
The best campaign-related video of the year?
See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die
Now He Tells Us
Do Republicans ever learn of their mistakes when they're still in a position to do something about it? Thanks for nothing, Alan.
[O]n Thursday, almost three years after stepping down as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a humbled Mr. Greenspan admitted that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets and had failed to anticipate the self-destructive power of wanton mortgage lending.
“You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee. “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”

Mr. Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Use the Google!
It's good for your brain:
Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have shown that searching the Internet triggers key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning. The findings, to be published in the upcoming issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, suggest that searching the Web helps to stimulate and may even improve brain function.
If you Google while you eat beets, you will live to be 120...though that's only true so long, of course, as you don't have sealants on your molars leaking chemicals into your blood stream. Being healthy can be very complicated.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are You There, Margaret? It's Me, Don
When I see that someone like Margaret Atwood has an op-ed in the NYTimes, it gives me a Chris Matthews-style chill down the leg in anticipation. She wrote A Handmaid's Tale! And she has something to say on current affairs!? Indeed, the piece reflects her view of the current financial crisis, specifically the idea of debt.

Alas, after reading it - and trying to ignore the fact that just 24 hours after being published, her first sentence is now entirely inaccurate - I just honestly don't have much of an idea of what she's trying to say. It seems to be something along these lines, which she kind of gets to eventually: Debt is the stuff of human drama and always has been. Until our structures of credit instill confidence in their fairness, we will never get along and our society will not prosper.

I read all the way to the end looking for the part where she gets to the point though, urges some action, identifies some specific unfairness, but to no avail. Where I thought she was going was to build on the idea that most of us in debt have the benefit (or curse) of being individual moral agents, whereas most of the holders of debt are some form of corporation that lacks moral concern. That lopsided relationship - the point might continue - is partially responsible for the mess we're in. But that starting point seems to be one I just imagined. Here's what we get instead:
As for what will happen to us next, I have no safe answers. If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored, people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more — friends, family, a walk in the woods. “I” will be spoken less, “we” will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good.
I've been one all along to disagree with the charge that Gov. Palin isn't too bright. It seems to me she is obviously intelligent, but with little experience thinking through issues she's now supposed to know well. (I know the anti-intellectuals out there will not want to accept the idea that thinking is something that is necessary for experience, but it is.) Still, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around her statement that as VP she would be "in charge of the Senate," whether she was answering a child's question or not. That's not simplifying your answer that's just being wrong. Surely she knows that being President of the Senate doesn't mean being in charge of it, in any sense. And she must know that everyone else knows that - and that she's on TV. So why say it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who are the Undecided?
David Sedaris (via Andrew Sullivan):
I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
As they say, read the whole thing.
Deep Socialist Thought
Now that McCain is accusing Obama's tax plan of being socialist, I'm confused.

For the last couple of months, McCain and Palin and the GOP have had one basic argument to counter his plan to cut taxes on people making less than $250K: he's lying. He's a Democrat. He will raise your taxes, no matter what he says. Now, there's a new message that - it would seem to me - is in complete contradiction to the earlier one: Obama wants to tax the rich and give to the middle class! Socialist! So, does this mean they no longer dispute that he does indeed intend to cut taxes for everyone making less than 1/4 million? If it's such a bad idea, why did they try to claim he didn't mean it? And anyway, I thought he was a liar? Is this just one of the few instances in which he forgot to cover up his sinister un-American plans?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Timewaster
Via Kos, the Eyeballing test. I did not do well. Best score for a whole round was 5.01, after I developed a few strategies. Even that seems to put me below average. I especially stink at making a parallelogram and finding the center of a circle.
2 Weeks To Go
My weekly poll update - just one a week, keeping my obsession in check. It's dragging on sooo slowly. As I did the last 2 weeks, added up the states in which Obama leads by 3+ points in the average (trend in parenthesis). Today that puts him at 321 (333,300), 51 more than he needs to win the election. If he wins all states in which he leads by any margin, he would have 367 (353,353).

Ohio moved back into the less-than-3 pts. category, while North Dakota, and Nevada moved over 3. Missouri was added to the leaning Obama list.

I expect things to tighten up considerably over the next 2 weeks. Next week's update will likely not look as rosy as this week's.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Protect Your Obama Sign
With a $5 alarm, a wire hanger, some fishing line and, of course, duct tape. HOW TO here.
Powell Endorsement

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Socialism and Un-American Activities
Shorter GOP desperation strategy: Let's stop this tradition of re-fighting the culture wars of the 1960s every four years. Instead, let's go back farther and re-fight the culture wars of the 1950s.

[UPDATE: Or maybe the culture wars of the 1860s.]

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Supreme Court on Friday lifted a federal judge’s order that would have required Ohio election officials to set up new procedures to verify voter registration across the state in the weeks before the Nov. 4 balloting.
The decision by the 6th Circuit could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters. It's nice to see the Supremes for once - and I'm guessing they wish they could erase their Bush v Gore anti-voter reputation - side with voting instead of the overstated threat of voter fraud.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What's This All About?
Isn't a half-hour prime-time campaign commercial a little perot-esque?
Officials at the Obama campaign and at several television networks said Thursday that Mr. Obama had completed deals to show a half-hour program about his candidacy on CBS and NBC on Wednesday, Oct. 29, less than a week before Election Day. The campaign is also talking to ABC and Fox about similar deals, though the potential of a World Series Game 6 may make that impossible on Fox.
Apparently, they are not discussing the content of the ad. When you're ahead why not just keep doing what you're doing? Not sure what I'm worried about, maybe Obama fatigue?
Democrats are familiar with this scenario, in which a presidential debater is able to score points by pointing to holes in his opponent's arguments, but at too great a cost: the determination to expose fault pleases the base but the thorough negativity turns off all the undecided voters who, after all, matter most at this point. It's nice to have that going for us for a change: a candidate who seems to have an understanding of the stakes and the audience, and the good sense to not waste time trying to make me happy. I'm on board.

I thought McCain actually raised some decent objections to Obama's answers early on last night. But he overreached - on John Lewis, on Ayers, on ACORN (registering Mickey Mouse to vote threatens the fabric of our democracy?) - and he couldn't pivot back to substance without sounding like he didn't mean it. Plus, his frustration and condescending tone at times made him look and sound out of balance. No doubt, it reflects the frustration of the conservative base who can't seem to understand how Obama has gotten to the doorstep of the White House. So it doesn't seem off base to them; it's a cathartic release to see the exasperation they feel expressed on national TV. But to undecided voters - God bless them, whoever they are - there are arguments for both candidates. They are not frustrated with one side; they are waiting for a moment of confidence. McCain's strategy ignores this reality, while Obama's true self seems tailor made for it. Calm, confident, competence that understands the issues that really matter.

2 moments stuck out for me. One was small but made me smile, when Obama took McCain's praise of Palin's commitment to autism and special-needs children, and reminded that we couldn't increase our spending on that important area if we implement McCain's spending freeze idea. The other was more substantial and I hope we hear more about it: when McCain put women's "health" in air-quotes. That's the "extremist pro-abortion" position, he said, to use the crutch of health of the mother in opposition to anti-abortion legislation. To me, it was a shockingly tone-deaf moment, dismissive of the idea that women might have legitimate health risks worth considering. It's also completely inaccurate. Insistence on provisions for the mother's health is not an extremist position; it's the law of the land, the position of the US Supreme Court.

I can't access sound right now, but TPM seems to have the video of that exchange here, in case you missed it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Not This Year?
African-Americans in Georgia will not be denied:
Just cast an early vote in Cobb County. Only took one hour, forty-five minutes — exactly three weeks before Election Day.

A long line folded itself three times in a relatively hot October sun, shortly before lunch-time. Perhaps a dozen people couldn’t stick it out — they left before getting to the front of the line.

Every one of those who gave up the effort was white. Once in, not a single African-American walked away while I was there. If voter fatigue becomes a factor over the next three weeks, and on Election Day itself, one has to wonder if Republicans are more likely to lose out than Democrats.
In speculating about voter turnout we can't forget what this election means to African-Americans.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In the Sunday NYTimes Magazine, author Michael Pollan (whose books I've recommended to everyone I can) writes an open letter to the next President of the United States with a series of proposals designed to overhaul our national relationship to food, which he rightly calls en environmental, national security and health care imperative.

I wish I thought a President Obama could/would implement even 1/3 of these ideas. After reading this piece now, if I could ask the candidates just one question, it would be a *really long one* about the concerns Pollan raises. Sadly, it's not a topic that has come up, even peripherally, in any debate.

It is a powerful set of recommendations - some of which you will recognize if you've read his books, but most of which you will not; a long piece, but worth the time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

3 Weeks To Go
Just one poll post a week. That's not too many, right? Last Monday, I surveyed the state of the electoral college race and here's an update (last week's results in parenthesis). If Obama wins every state in which he leads by 3+ points in the average, he would have 333 (300) electoral votes, 63 more than he needs to win. If he wins in every state he currently leads, he would have 353 (353). This week, Virginia and Ohio moved into the 3+ pts. category. He holds smaller leads in North Carolina and Nevada.
What have you been listening to, watching, reading?

Book Bleg
Question: Has anyone read the novel Blindness? Recommendation? I know there's a new movie, but heard good things about the book. Just curious. An earlier book from the same author, Jose Saramago, got good reviews from Dad but I never got around to that one.

Got stacks of books lying around? A friend tells me about - in which you mail books to people around the country who want them, and earn points that entitle you to request books from others. Sounds like a decent idea.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welcome News
From Sam Stein
On Monday, Obama's communication's shop is expected to go on the offense on issues of voter protection after a week in which Republicans cried foul about registration efforts in various states and painted the community organizing group ACORN as a criminal enterprise.

Obama aides will attack Republicans over efforts to disenfranchise voters in several states, and announce a voter protection campaign involving hundreds of volunteer lawyers around the country.
There's hardly an equivalence between a voter registration effort that turns in bogus applications and a large-scale scheme to suppress the turnout of legitimately registered voters. Republicans are going ape-shit over ACORN - and yes it sounds like there are serious problems in many of the group's registration applications. But those problems are the predictable, ultimately harmless (though, yes, criminal) result of registration pushes that offer incentives to workers for the number of people they sign up. Inevitably, some are going to foolishly seek that reward by filling out lots of applications falsely. That doesn't mean there will be *voter fraud* on election day, as if some cadre of bold liberals with a lineup of disguises will actually use those multiple registrations to re-enter their polling place again and again and hope the poll-watchers who are there all day won't notice.

No, if you want to commit crimes to truly influence elections you do it the Republican way, with a massive purge of registered voters. There are not 10,000 fools in battleground states prepared to vote 3 times each or whatever. But there may be 1 fool at the head of an election office prepared to kick 20,000 voters off the list improperly. That's the kind of fool that most concerns me.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Too Little, Too Late
I think it's swell that McCain is now trying to rein in the most rabid elements of his kkk campaign rallies. Ana Marie Cox reports on yesterday's change starting in a Minnesota event.
He acknowledges the "energy" people have been showing at rallies, and how glad he is that people are excited. But, he says, "I respect Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." People booed at the mention of his name. McCain, visibly angry, stopped them: "I want EVERYONE to be respectful, and lets make sure we are."

The very next questioner tried to push back on this request, noting that he needed to "tell the American the TRUTH about Barack Obama" -- a not very subtle way, I think, to ask John McCain to NOT tell the truth about Barack Obama. McCain told her there's a "difference between record and rhetoric, and I plan to talk about his record, respectfully... I don't mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean it has to be respectful."
And then later, again, someone dangled a great big piece of low-hanging fruit in front of McCain: "I'm scared to bring up my child in a world where Barack Obama is president."

McCain replies, "Well, I don't want him to be president, either. I wouldn't be running if I did. But," and he pauses for emphasis, "you don't have to be scared to have him be President of the United States." A round of boos.
Indeed, he just snatched the microphone out the hands of a woman who began her question with, "I'm scared of Barack Obama... he's an Arab terrorist..."

"No, no ma'am," he interrupted. "He's a decent family man with whom I happen to have some disagreements."
It makes me think: wouldn't it be great if the McCain from 2000 or so could have run this time around? What if we had 2 candidates who both rejected the hatefulness of the Religious Right, like McCain once did? who both denounced the irresponsible Bush tax cuts like the Arizona Senator used to? who both were enemies of Rovian-style character attacks and wedge politics? What if we could have used this election to finally give government-hating, fear-mongering, racist, Christianist, you're-on-your-own, anti-intellectual, nutjob conservatives literally nowhere to go on the national political stage?

Instead, McCain spent the last 8 years flirting with this crowd, earning their trust for the GOP nomination, and finally selling them his soul by selecting their poster girl as his running mate. Now he can't feign surprise when this relationship he so diligently courted reaches full bloom in front of God and everyone.
Palin: Ethics Maverick
The Alaska Legislature investigation found that the Governor "unlawfully abused her authority" by pressuring a state employees to fire a trooper, and by enlisting her husband and other surrogates in the same effort, often at taxpayer expense.

Hopefully the high-profile coverage of that scandal won't overshadow the other that came to light: Governor Palin also often charged Alaskan taxpayers to send her and her church.

Friday, October 10, 2008

One Word Report on Stocks

Let's just all agree not to look at our retirement and stock accounts for a while and save the stress. Instead of stocks, I recommend focusing on the Sox, who start League Championship play tonight. What would be more fun than a World Series against the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez, Joe Torre, Derek Lowe, and Nomar Garciaparra? I suppose there is that problem of Tampa. But I think experience wins out here. We'll see.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Clearly part of the Obama team strategy at this point involves daring McCain to take him on in person about William Ayres. Barack himself challenged him last night to "say it to my face", Biden said it too today, and I've heard surrogates on my teevee all day suggesting McCain didn't have the nerve on Tuesday to bring it up when face-to-face.

This could be like Josh says just an effort to get under McCain's skin and make him crazy and even more error-prone, or they may just suspect that the Republican really doesn't want to bring it up in front of anyone but his rabid base, but I'm hoping they know they have a fabulous response ready for when he does bring it up. Better not challenge him like this and not be fully prepared when he takes you up on it next week. This all feels like a brilliant move, but we won't know for sure until all the cards are played out on this one.
As is custom, both candidates for President have assembled transition teams to prepare for the possibility that they will be taking over governance of the country. One candidate's team has started with a strong ethics policy and has worked methodically and diligently to identify the policy concerns of each cabinet department, and recommend capable people for high-level appointments. The other has reportedly done nothing of substance, planning to "tackle important aspects of his potential transition in real time."

Can you guess which is which?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My Fellow Prisoners
I'm sure psychologists can offer a perfectly logical and benign explanation for this:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I was really hoping it would not come to this. Check out the picture.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Poll Watch
I've tried to spare myself the embarrassment of sharing my poll obsession the last few months. But it's worth pointing out this milestone. If Obama were to win only the states he currently leads by 3 points or more in the average, he would have 300 electoral votes, 30 more than he needs. If he wins in each state he currently leads by any margin, he would have 353. A long way to go, though.
Dangerous and Sick
This is where we're headed. I almost forgot what loathsome losers Republicans can be. In case there was any doubt, the last vestiges of McCain's decency have gone up in smoke.
So we have McCain today getting his crowd riled up asking who Barack Obama is and then apparently giving a wink and a nod when one member of the crowd screams out "terrorist."
This is no Dukakis Campaign
Or Gore, or Kerry, for that matter. Now that McCain says he's going to try to make an issue of William Ayers, Obama shows he's ready and ups the ante.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Uhhh, Parents?
Thanks to Dad for passing this along. What can you say about something like this?
The abandonments began on Sept. 1, when a mother left her 14-year-old son in a police station here.

By Sept. 23, two more boys and one girl, ages 11 to 14, had been abandoned in hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln. Then a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl were left.

The biggest shock to public officials came last week, when a single father walked into an Omaha hospital and surrendered nine of his 10 children, ages 1 to 17, saying that his wife had died and he could no longer cope with the burden of raising them.

In total last month, 15 older children in Nebraska were dropped off by a beleaguered parent or custodial aunt or grandmother who said the children were unmanageable.

Officials have called the abandonments a misuse of a new law that was mainly intended to prevent so-called Dumpster babies — the abandonment of newborns by young, terrified mothers — but instead has been used to hand off out-of-control teenagers or, in the case of the father of 10, to escape financial and personal despair.
Maybe the most impressive thing about the Obama campaign has been how calm and steady it's been. The "no drama" mandate has actually worked. I guess we don't know how things would be different if he trailed by 7 points right now, instead of leading by that much. But throughout, he has led the whole campaign to a very even and confident demeanor. What that means, of course, is that he will likely govern the same way, for better or for worse. Bold progress might not be the hallmark of an Obama presidency, so much as steady, determined steps forward. Given the hell the country has been through the last 8 years, that doesn't sound so bad.

Funny, Obama came on the scene with a dynamic address. But he's going to win because of something approaching the opposite: his virtually unexcitable reserve. Not only does he have this gear that Howard Dean, for example, lacked, it would seem to be his true self. Read Joe Klein:
Part of Obama's steadiness is born of necessity: An angry, or flashy, black man isn't going to be elected President. But I've also gotten the sense, in the times I've interviewed and chatted with him, that calm is Obama's natural default position. He is friendly, informal, accessible...and a mystery, hard to get to know. He doesn't give away much, doesn't — unlike Bill Clinton — have that desperate need to make you like him. His brilliant, at times excessive, oratory is an outlier — the only over-the-top, Technicolor quality he has. There has been no grand cathartic moment for him in this campaign, but rather a steady accretion of trust, a growing public sense that he knows what he's talking about and isn't going to get crazy on us. His demeanor has rendered foolish all the rumors about his alleged radicalism. This guy is the furthest thing imaginable from an extremist; McCain, by his own admission, is the bomb-thrower in this race.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Quick, Which Current Supreme Court Decisions Do You Disagree With?
Off the top of my head, 3 come to mind: the Ledbetter decision (but only because it was recently in campaign news and I read about it, regarding equal pay and the timing of discrimination claims), Bush v Gore - obviously, because I will never forget or get over that one, and last year's Hein decision (which I only know about because I write about church-state issues at my other blog). I'm sure there are many more, but no others I would pinpoint just at the moment of thinking of the topic.

What I'm getting at is I don't think it's a big deal that Palin couldn't think of any that she disagrees with, apart from Roe. Hell, for one thing, what big decisions have conservatives lost in recent years? That LA death penalty case, and one of the Guantanamo detainee cases, I think? Even those took me 10 minutes or so to come up with while typing this post.

When the cameras are rolling and someone asks you to name some, I think you get a pass. I mean, you should be able to dismiss the question with a little more poise than she showed in her bumbling vamp, but that's a different problem. I don't think coming up blank in itself makes you an unserious person, or ill equipped to deal with the broad strokes of public policy (we have other evidence that indicts her on those fronts). As much as it pains lawyer types to hear it, those kinds of things just aren't in the front of people's concern, and so it's not in the forefront of concern of the people running to represent them. Economy, security, opportunity, justice, those are the things people care about. Memorizing the canon of Supreme Court precedent really isn't a prerequisite for federal office.

Having said that, I would like my VP to be able to point to specific legislation the opposition Congress passed that she would have rejected, and be able to articulate a sensible, non-slogany philosophy that would drive her selection of judges, should she become President (fingers trembling as I type that) - you know, the kinds of decisions she's actually running to potentially make. I wish Couric had asked Palin that sort of question, or maybe found a way to ascertain her commitment to First Amendment principles, instead of the question she asked.

I know you and I are not running for VP, but seriously, I ask of non-lawyers, if you were in the middle of a televised interview you couldn't escape and somebody asked you that, could you come up with a list on the spot? What would they be? Can somebody explain to me why this is the biggest gaffe ever? I'm certainly willing to be convinced and add this to my list of reasons why she's fundamentally unqualified and unprepared to be President. How many do you think Couric could have named, by the way?
Noted Without Comment [UPDATED]
For fear of jinxing it.

[UPDATE: And another. Can we just vote already?]
Democrats are in the they're revising the rescue package to include some tax cuts designed to get Republican support? What for? Why not revise the plan to entice some Democrats? We only need to add a handful. I don't get it.