Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Democrats Debate

Of course, having eight people on stage with only two hours to debate, much of which is taken up by the questions themselves, is not the best way to get any real impressions of the candidates. On the other hand, some things came out and are worthy of being pointed out. Let’s look at the candidates:

Mike Gravel: the crazy old uncle of the field – at times fun, but a waste of time. He managed to make Dennis Kucinich seem moderate. He’s something of a loon.

Dennis Kucinich: right more often than he was wrong, his function in this race is to put pressure on the others, has health care right and, like Gravel, lumps everyone else together on Iraq, which helps Hillary. His general foreign policy approach is hopelessly naive.

Chris Dodd – showed some guts on the drug testing question. Gave a wonderful answer on gay marriage, then chickened out by saying he was against it, although in favor of civil unions.

Bill Richardson – It isn’t good in a Democratic primary to be referred to as the NRA’s favorite candidate. His favorite Supreme Court Justice – Whizzer White...Whizzer White??? A man who was opposed to Roe v. Wade? Horrible speaker, bad impression – may have seriously damaged his VP chances. He has no Presidential chance at all.

Joe Biden – Had the best, and shortest, answer of the night. Sounded intelligent, well-informed, and clearly someone who could be helped by the night. Let’s see if the polls move.

John Edwards – Came across as smart and articulate, gave a good answer on his Iraq vote, yet didn’t seem sharp enough. Bungled the “hedge funds making America better” question, looking like a defender of them and the very rich who deal in them. He sounded like someone who asks the right questions, which, frankly, is what I like best about him. Not sure whether his pointing people to his web site worked, but reminding people that depth and solutions are necessary was good. Great answer on moral leader question at the end, which may have been the thing that saved the night for him.

Barack Obama – I’m going to disagree with a number of pundits – I think he did very well. Seemed authoritative, correcting a bad quotation from Brian Williams made him look tough, generally good on his feet. I thought his answer about Asia was good. His bringing up the Terri Schaivo vote as a regret was a bold move and one I greatly respected. One failing was his answer to Williams’ “Al Qaeda strikes” question. Later he took on Kucinich and looked really tough.

Hillary Clinton – Judged by most as the winner and I won’t debate that, although I hated the giant pearls. She had a good answer on keeping US safe, less good on health care, not good on Iraq. Won the night with the best answer on “if we were attacked”, by immediately responding with strike back. Seemed very comfortable with herself, as did Obama.

Best Answer: Clinton on “Al Qaeda attacks”

Most Memorable Answer: Joe Biden’s one word response to “are you too verbose?”

Most Thoughtful Answer: Edwards’ moral leader answer. May have been more helpful than anything he had said in the previous 80 minutes.

Worst Answer: Several by Richardson, who seemed way out of his depth.

Most Surprising Moment: Seeing Dennis Kucinich’s wife, Elizabeth. He got a tall, hot, redhead with a British accent. Not sure how he did it, but damn, he got the respect of a lot of men across America. If he can get that babe, maybe he can end the war and solve the health care problem.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. It seems to be one of the few holidays which doesn’t inspire department store sales, which is probably the reason it sort of slips by us. I mean, how many of us would care about Presidents Day without furniture sales? Hell, without the advertising, we would just be upset about the lack of mail deliveries.
I don’t think this is controversial, but I feel the need to say it – I like the Earth. All things considered, it’s been a pretty damn good planet. Sure, there’s no need for hurricanes and earthquakes and the like, but let’s face it, it’s the best planet around, between the atmosphere, water, and gravity, it’s been pretty damn hospitable. And we really don’t do much for it, do we? We dump garbage in the ocean, overwork the land, and God only knows the damage we’ve done to the atmosphere. We call it Mother Earth, yet we never call and never give it anything it wants, like a sound ozone layer. And except for the seven people who compost their garbage, we never take it to lunch.
We do seem to take it for granted. We insist on using our limited water supply on huge golf courses and lawns in areas of the country which rarely get enough rain to sustain them. For a while we seemed to stop tossing industrial waste into our rivers and streams, but not this century, since it allegedly would hurt our economy to tell businesses to do or not do, well, anything. Assuming global warming is happening and the effects of it will be significant, it seems to be time to get to work on water. Out here in the West, the problem could be severe. Population increases alone will put more pressure on the Colorado River than it can bear. Even if global warming is not as severe as expected, the decrease of the snow pack in the Sierras is inevitable, the only question is how bad it will be. This doesn’t just have an effect on the West – the price of food will not be limited to where it’s grown. To his credit, Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about the situation and trying to find solutions, including dams. This is going to be a national crisis and requires a national solution, since it won’t be limited to one part of the nation. We need to work on desalinization and any other solutions which come to mind.
Speaking of minds, we need to give all the assorted Earth-related problems the mind power they deserve. We need to be prepared, we need to put think tanks to thinking and researchers to researching. This is more important than the space program, it’s more important than missile defense, it’s more important than anything. We can’t just plant trees and recycle anymore. We need fundamental change here. We need to change our cars, so they produce fewer hydrocarbons and, not coincidentally, use fewer fossil fuels. Ethanol is the solution the oil companies and agribusiness love, but it’s a sham, ridiculously expensive and affecting a minimal change on pollutants, when its manufacture is taken into account. We need to increase mileage standards on cars now – not a few miles per gallon, but 20 miles per gallon. We have to count every transportation vehicle sold, no exceptions for light trucks or SUVs when computing mileage standards. We need to make this country the engine of clean fuel and high mileage for the world, It’s good for the planet, good for our security (less oil) and even good for our economy. A couple of billion dollars a year dedicated to this could produce trillions in long term savings – it’s insane to just assume someone will figure this out. Bush talked about hydrogen cars in a State of the Union address, yet there has been no government involvement in this, just words.
We need to deal with power generation. Our fossil-fueled based system is not sustainable and while coal is fairly plentiful, the environmental cost there is huge. Renewables such as wind and water have a place, but can’t replace what we use. It’s time to think seriously about nuclear power. We need to put the best scientists in the world in a well-financed, intensive research project to deal with nuclear plant safety and even more important, nuclear waste disposal. When the Sierra Club starts talking about nuclear power as an option, you know that its time has arrived, but at this moment, the technology has not caught up with the need.
All these things require political will and all of us must join together. The environment can’t just be a liberal or Democratic issue, we all are part of this planet, we all have to make our leaders understand that this is as important as any issue they care about now. Hell, it’s more important – if Mother Earth dies, the only funeral will be ours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

He Was A Loner

Yes, the Va. Tech gunman was described as a “loner”. This is hardly surprising, since most mass murderers seem to be described that way. The bigger question is how this non-citizen, who had a history of mental problems, who was taking medication for depression, managed to get the kind of weaponry he had. Even if one believes in the absoluteness of Second Amendment rights, they surely cannot extend to non-citizens, and surely shouldn’t extend to those who have mental problems.
I have a friend who graduated from VT a few years ago and when I first heard the news, I wondered how he must have felt. For the rest of us, the names Ambler Johnston Hall and Norris Hall have no real meaning other than the sites of this tragedy. He spent four years of his life there, it’s a very real place to him. Those are buildings and areas he passed through or around on a regular basis, it was home.
Virginia Tech is one of the top universities in the country and now it is faced with rebuilding in a way no university has had to. This obviously has a horrible effect on those directly involved and their families. For the over 20,000 students at VT, it is a nightmare which will be hard to awake from. How do they go to classes in Norris Hall, knowing the carnage that took place there? How safe do any of them feel in their dorms or classrooms, no matter how unlikely a repeat may be? How do their parents react to this – besides the immediate relief that their child is alive, followed, one would expect, by a certain guilt at that very relief, knowing that there are at least 33 other sets of parents who don’t have that feeling? What of the entering class, do they reconsider where they were going? The excitement of getting into a top school surely must now be tempered with the doubts about what that campus will be like when they get there.
Now we will see the overreaction by those whose function in life is to overreact. Pundits will babble about a) the need for greater gun control b) the need for greater campus security c) the violence of video games d) all of the above. Politicians will try to write laws to fix the problem, with no real ability to do so; yet is the nature of our democracy to believe that every problem has a solution, so they will try something, no matter how irrelevant. For if history shows us one thing, it is that if you really want to do violence, if you really want to kill, nothing can stop you. The assassination attempts on multiple Presidents has clearly demonstrated that. Suicide bombings in Israel clearly demonstrate that. You can’t make people go through metal detectors everywhere, every day, and still have a society which feels free and open.
Of course, background checks before getting handguns would be nice. And if the Republicans can stop sucking at the teat of the NRA long enough to restrict the kind of ammunition available, at least some deaths might be prevented. The 19-round cartridges he apparently used were illegal until the last Congress, the previous law had restricted them to ten rounds, but the GOP let that lapse. You may have the right to carry a gun, but no one other than a mass murderer needs that many rounds without reloading.
The news coverage of this event and the aftermath was, of course, wall-to-wall. It merited it, but that kind of coverage reveals a major flaw in the way stories are covered. What you have is an anchor, whichever one is supposed to be on-air at that hour, handling all the presentation, all the questions, all the reactions. This is a terrible way to get information and to organize information. In a more reasonable world, only 45 minutes of the hour would be devoted to this story, with the rest of the time devoted to everything else in the world. However, if you did that, people would change the channel looking for more news about the big story, so that is out of the question, since ratings are everything. The way it’s set up now is awful – you get a series of terrible questions, mostly due to bad assumptions, but often due to the inability to digest and analyze what information is already at hand. The best solution would be to immediately bring in a second anchor, allowing them to take turns analyzing the information themselves as well as batting ideas around with staff. They would be up to speed faster and the expert interviews would be far more revealing and far less infuriating. Hopefully, we’ll never have deal with it again. Realistically, we will.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Notes and Numbers -- New Polls and Gore's Decision

Evans and Novak say Fred Thompson is going to run. Make no mistake, this will turn the race on its head. The first couple of weeks after his entry could well be disastrous for any number of opponents, with his solid conservative credentials possibly dealing fatal blows to Gingrich, Huckabee, and all the little guys. Romney has enough money to weather the storm, but could have a lot of trouble getting enough air. It may also put McCain’s campaign into complete confusion – do they tack back to the middle and try and outlast Giuliani and then go head-to-head with Thompson? Or do they try and hang tough on the right, hammering experience as the theme? I suspect it wouldn’t matter, that Rudy would have him outflanked in the middle while Thompson will get the conservatives.

Time magazine has the Democrats tightening, with Hillary leading Obama 33-26 with Edwards right behind at 25. The LA Times/Bloomberg poll has Hillary up 33-23 with Edwards and Gore at 14 and 13. There are now a lot of numbers out there, with Hillary still probably up by double digits and everyone looking for an opening to really catch up.

If Thompson decides to enter, is that a sign for Gore that it’s time for him? What is the right time for Gore to jump in, assuming he ever does?
Many pundits have proclaimed that Gore is the one person who could enter late, as late as the Fall, and still be a real factor. Frankly, I think that’s nonsense. As I’ve said before, people, workers, and money, will have made their choices and he will be trying to change their minds, a far harder thing to do. The latest Gallup Poll isn’t all that encouraging – by 57% to 38%, Americans say they don’t want Gore to run. Now the more important number is Democrats, where 54% do want him in the race while 41% don’t. Independents oppose a Gore candidacy 57-37. The problem with those numbers is we have nothing to contrast them with – no one else is in this situation and very few ever have been. I would posit that if a person is truly enamored of another candidate, he would not want Al Gore to enter, therefore the 54-41 edge is a significant and positive one.
He will still have to answer the big questions: why are you running and why now, rather than six months ago? The second could get tricky. If he enters after Edwards campaign dies, then it looks like he’s upholding the white guy banner – not a good position to be in. If he waits until it looks like Hillary is in charge, then he becomes the anti-Hillary, but taking on Bill and Hillary isn’t an easy position for the man who was Clinton’s VP. He could run against her as the anti-war candidate, but by that point, she will have overcome that against two others. Head-to-head with Obama could really be tricky, for obvious reasons. No, he has to get in soon, I’d say by June 1st. And the reason will have to be that he is just a bigger international personality – that he has the respect of the world in a way that the others do not, which, combined with his experience, makes him the best person for these troubled times. If he combines it with a bold campaign, unafraid to tell people things they might not want to hear, he could finally realize his dream.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Numbers and Notes – Money Isn’t Everything Edition

So lots of people raised lots of money, but what does it really mean?
1) Democrats are much more excited than Republicans. Dems raised $80 mil, Repubs raised $50 mil – this is unprecedented and says something about who cares more about their candidates and maybe about the ’08 race.
2) John McCain is a crappy fund raiser. Whether a personal distaste for the activity is the key, or a conservative distaste for McCain is the key, his numbers looked bad, and he just can’t afford that.
3) Where are all the Hillary supporters? Clinton supposedly has a 250,000 name list to draw from, yet collected money from only 50, 000. Obama collected money from 100,000 donors, so while they raised about the same amount of money, Obama has more people to return to who already have a vested interest in his success. Edwards raised half the money of the two of them, but should stick around with his $12-13 mil.
4) Mitt Romney can raise money – especially from Mormons. Now he needs to spend it to get people to vote for him, which they seem disinclined to do.
5) Except for the big six, the others don’t have money or poll support. Things can change, but how to make that happen? Remember, we are only ten months from this race being virtually over. The clock is ticking on all their campaigns.


The latest Gallup polls reflect very little movement. On the Democratic side, Clinton is still on top, with 38% to Obama’s 19, with Edwards at 15 and Gore at 14. Going back to January, Hillary’s leads have been: 11, 19, 14, 13, 19 – so we’re now back where we were two months ago. In fact, the numbers on individual candidates have been remarkably consistent – Obama has polled 18, 21, 22, 22, 19, Edwards 13, 13, 9, 14, 15, and Gore got a bump with the Oscars, but has lost 3 points since then, which, like all the other differences, is margin of error stuff.
Clearly things have settled in for the long haul – or has it? Rasmussen has very different numbers, with Hillary’s leads over the same timeframe looking like this: 7, 16, 8, 12, 5. Now there is less consistency there, but since 2/12 Rasmussen has not had Obama below 23%, with him currently at 29.. Edwards’ numbers seem to be in sync with Gallup. Even more interesting, when Gallup removes Gore from polling (as Rasmussen has), Clinton’s lead gets bigger, at 43-19 – very curious indeed. The latest Cook/RT Strategies poll has similar numbers to Gallup, so maybe Rasmussen is off here.
There’s even good news for Edwrads, as Rasmussen has him beating Giuliani by 6 head-to-head, while Clinton and Obama run even.
One more thing has to be noted – Al Gore has started a diet.


Over on the GOP side, there’s disagreement between Gallup and Rasmussen regarding Rudy. Gallup, after showing him slipping two weeks ago, gives him a 38-16 lead over McCain in this poll. Giuliani’s Gallup leads have been: 4, 16, 24, 9, 22. Rasmussen tracks over the same points somewhat differently: 8, 14, 15, 20, 11. The addition of Fred Thompson in the Rasmussen poll has clearly caused the latest drop, as Thompson drew 14% of the vote while Rudy lost 7-10 points. That would seem to indicate the expected softness of Rudy’s support, as well as the huge opening we all think exists for a new conservative candidate on the GOP side. Gallup has Thompson at 10%, which is still more than Mitt Romney, who shows up with a puny 6%. Rasmussen has Mitt at 12, but it’s the first time he’s been over 10 and looks like a blip to me.
Make no mistake, If Thompson gets into this race, he will be a serious threat. He has clear conservative credentials. His experience in the Senate gives him some level of heft. He’s experienced – having played a President in the movies...which to most people is just as good as being President (which, with Law and Order, also will negate Giuliani’s edge as a crime fighter). He also looks and sounds like a President, which also won’t hurt. I know, this whole paragraph has been a sad commentary on the American electorate, but do any of you doubt its accuracy?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Vagaries of Wonderfulness

Last night on the Pacific Coast Highway, long-time Hollywood director Bob Clark and his 22 year old son were killed by a drunk driver. This is not the kind of news that I would normally comment on, but his career caused me to think about fame and success, and how random it can be.
He had a feature film directing career of over two dozen films spanning 40 years. There were a few high points – a big commercial success in Porky’s (and Porky’s II); a genre success in the original Black Christmas, a couple of decent movies in Tribute (with Jack Lemmon) and Murder by Decree (Christopher Plummer and James Mason). Mostly though, his career featured some awful stuff – Rhinestone, Turk 182, and Baby Geniuses (and it’s sequel – Superbabies). Even if you liked those movies, you probably couldn’t name the director; when I heard his name, I didn’t connect it to anything, which is a shame.
It’s a shame because in the midst of that relatively anonymous (if economically successful) career, lies one very special movie. Bob Clark directed A Christmas Story, which, to avoid argument with Capra fans, I will refer to as the second-best Christmas film ever. Perfectly cast and written (by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Clark, from Shepherd’s book); it was so perfectly shot that some of its shots have been re-used in commercials as recently as last year, in order to evoke the same feeling they did in the movie. It was Clark’s eleventh feature, in 1983, the same year he directed Porky’s II. He would follow it the next two years with Rhinestone and Turk 182, two horrible, if major, motion pictures starring Sylvester Stallone and Timothy Hutton, respectively.
In the midst of that series of godawful dreck, who knows why it all came together on that movie? Maybe it was just a story Clark had a special affection for, maybe it was just movie magic. Whatever it was, next year at the Oscars, when Bob Clark’s picture flashes on the screen in the necrology, remember the one shining moment he had and the joy the movie gave you.
(There is a good Wikipedia entry on A Christmas Story that you might want to check out.)