September 27, 2008

More Cynical Manipulation of Religious Voters

Tomorrow is "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," which is being billed by its sponsor, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), as an effort to restore First Amendment freedoms to churches. The reality is somewhat different, and the event is just another ploy - whether willfully ignorant or deplorably cynical, is not clear - to rally religious voters on the eve of the 2008 election and fan the flames of the "culture wars".

For Pulpit Freedom Sunday, participating clergy are being encouraged to comment on the "moral qualifications" of individuals running for elected office. This will put them in violation of the Johnson Amendment and section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which grants tax-exempt status to religious organizations, but only so long as they abstain from political campaigning and the endorsement of candidates. The desire is that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will cite participating churches for this violation, leading to lawsuits that the ADF hopes will overturn the Johnson Amendment.

It is a mark of what appears to be the diminishing power of evangelical voters as a cohesive power base for Republican conservatism, as well as the arrogance and ignorance of church leaders participating in the Pulpit Freedom Sunday, that this is being pursued at all. There is ample legal precedent affirming the appropriateness of prohibitions on the intermingling of faith and politics, and those clergy who violate that law are essentially guaranteeing that their congregations will be publicly embarrassed, potentially saddled with legal bills, and facing the very real possibility of losing their tax exempt status.

As then-IRS Commissioner Mark Everson explained in 2006:
In 1954, Congress saw the need to separate charities and churches from politics. An amendment was offered on the floor of the Senate by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson.

The Johnson amendment is found within the well-known section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In its present form, the law states that charities, including churches, are not allowed to “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
Freedom of speech and religious liberty are essential elements of our democracy. But the Supreme Court has in essence held that tax exemption is a privilege, not a right, stating, “Congress has not violated [an organization’s] First Amendment rights by declining to subsidize its First Amendment activities.”
The rule against intervention by charities and churches in political campaigns has been entrenched in the law for over a half-century. Congress enacted the law. The Courts upheld it...
Through either willful blindness or crass cynicism, the Alliance Defense Fund is ginning up a confrontation over a non-issue. This is not a matter of First Amendment freedoms of either religion or speech. Rather, it is an issue of tax exemption, and the ADF is wildly inaccurate when it claims that the government is legislating what can be spoken from the pulpit. The government makes full allowances for political speech by religious organizations, it simply removes their tax exempt status. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Tax exemption, by contrast, is a privilege provided by law, and which comes with preconditions. Violate those preconditions, and there is every justification for losing that privilege.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is just one more distraction - one more spurious claim of Christian victimhood, like the so-called "War on Christmas" - designed to exploit cultural divisions and rally religious voters to the Republican Party, which, in recent years, as wholeheartedly backed the erosion of the wall separating church and state. A recent study from the Pew Research Center, however, confirms that fully half of American conservatives - up from just 30% only four years ago - think that churches should stay out of politics. Even setting aside the fundamental issues of law and the Constitution involved, given the contemptuous manner in which the GOP has treated religious conservatives, church leaders would be wise to share that sentiment.

September 23, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama, Part 3: Final Thoughts

In part one of this series, I focused on the issues I consider the most important in the upcoming presidential elections, and concluded that Barack Obama's positions align much more closely with my own than do John McCain's. In part two, I examined the judgment and leadership of the two candidates, considering this election in the broader context of recent history, and again determined that I am much more comfortable with the prospect of an Obama presidency than a McCain Administration.

However, while everyone understands intellectually that issues and leadership ability are the most important factors in choosing a president, if the two most recent presidential ballots have taught us anything, it is that they are often relegated to secondary status by manufactured crises and flimsy concerns generated by the worst elements of our political class and propagated by a complicit media. In this, the conclusion of this series, I want to provide some brief final thoughts centering on the tenor of the election and the distractions associated with it.


The magnitude of the misgovernment by the Republican Party and the Bush Adminstration - even with the airwaves alive with chatter about a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street - is barely understood by the average citizen. As I have written extensively in past posts, it truly and literally touches every single aspect of our society and our nation's institutions.

Even if none of the political issues I discussed in part one, or the holistic view I took in part two, convince you that Barack Obama is the right candidate to support, at the end of the day, what this election boils down to is this: the John McCain of 2008 is so closely linked to George W. Bush that his presidency would effectively be a third term with slightly different rhetoric. There is simply no way that can be allowed to happen; we cannot afford to hand the keys back to the same people who drove our country into a ditch, despite their ludicrous claims that they're the best people to fix the horrific mess they've made, if we'll only give them one more chance.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, does anyone really believe that Al Gore or John Kerry would have brought the country to where it is today? That the performance of either man could possibly have been worse than, or even "only" as bad as, George Bush's? That, at the end of the day, the ginned-up press narratives around Gore's supposed "serial exaggeration" and Kerry's alleged failure to have earned his war medals somehow mattered? At all?

Fast forwarding to today, the same type of question remains; do we honestly think that Barack Obama's membership in a particular church or his choice of euphemism or his failure to always have a flag pin on his lapel or even his shorter resume make him so egregiously unqualified when compared to a man who has turned his back on everything for which he once stood, and helped push the United States to the brink at which it presently teeters? I think with a few moments' pause, and some reflection - away from the prattle about preachers and lipstick on a pig and jewelry and hockey moms and mavericks and all the rest of the useless pabulum generated by the media - the answer is clearly, "no."

Barack Obama is certainly not perfect and he's not the messiah, but he has never claimed to be either of those things. For me, he is simply a better candidate than his opponent on the issues, he continues to demonstrate genuine leadership, and in the larger picture, the GOP very definitely needs some time in the wilderness to regroup as a viable and respectable party of opposition.

And that's why I'm voting for Barack Obama.

September 19, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama, Part 2: Holistic View


In part one of this series, I examined the positions of John McCain and Barack Obama on the issues that are most important to me in determining my choice for president. As we inch ever closer to election day, however, there are unquestionably other parameters along which it is worth considering these two candidates; from how this election fits into the overall ebb and flow of political power in the United States, to each man's personal history and indicators of the manner in which he might lead. To that end, this post will focus on a holistic view of the Republican and Democratic nominees.


Balance of the Political System:

Whatever one may think or have thought of Republicans, and whatever claims today's GOP makes to being "Reagan-esque" (if you consider that a good thing), this is not your father's Republican Party. The modern GOP has been taken over by ideologues that have desecrated the Constitution at every opportunity, fought a war of choice, brought the economy to the brink of collapse, and never missed an opportunity to be fiscally irresponsible. John McCain sold whatever soul he had to those same people, and if nothing else, this election needs to see the Republicans kicked to the curb for a period long enough to allow them to clean house and get themselves straightened out.

To be sure, this does not mean that the Democratic Party is some sort of white knight. Senator Obama's party unquestionably has issues of its own, but the sheer scale of the malignancy within the Republican Party makes those problems pale by comparison. No matter what mealy-mouthed attempts may be made to talk about current failings as bipartisan in origin, they are, flatly, untrue. No presidency or political party has ever wrought as much havoc on the country and its institutions as the Bush Administration and the modern GOP. John McCain is, as revealed by his voting record and his public statements, very much a continuation of the Bush Administration. A McCain presidency would mean that the same people are in power, and, frankly, I don't believe that the country can withstand more of what it has endured for the past eight years.

Image and Personal History:

It can be argued - quite convincingly in my opinion - that image and personal history have no place in an election; they merely serve to distract from the important issues at hand. That said, image and background are major - if not often deciding - in modern ballots, and in 2008 they have been driving both the press narrative and the uncertainty that remains within the electorate. Pausing to examine the images of the candidates, and whether they are supported at all by fact, will, I think, make it easier to actually focus on the issues.

Barack Obama has become the political equivalent of a rock star, much to the chagrin of his opposition, and his popularity has provided impetus to both a press narrative and a period during which the McCain campaign responded with ads attacking him as a celebrity without leadership skills. Personally, I have no problem with Obama's ability to draw big crowds - a good leader is inspirational, and he appears to me to have the substance to back it up. While there are additional elements to the celebrity meme - specifically that Obama is "light on specifics" - in fact, his platform as described on his website is (and has been for a long time) highly specific. Having looked at Barack Obama's stance on various issues, it is clear - whether one agrees with his positions or not - that he has given them serious thought and that he is no lightweight. He knows what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to go about doing it.

Rather than Obama's image however, I think the most important issue of popular perception actually surrounds John McCain; he is portrayed as a foreign policy expert, a "maverick" and an independent thinker with bipartisan leanings. If there is one thing - and there are many - that at which the press has been particularly bad (at least up until very recently), it's examining the John McCain of 2008 and comparing him to the John McCain of 2000. Today's John McCain is not the center-right candidate he once was; he has wholly sold himself to the rightwing GOP base, and in the process, totally - and I do mean totally - turned his back on everything he was believed to have stood for.

Most people have forgotten, but John McCain didn't become a "straight-talking maverick" until he was brought up on ethics charges - to which he admitted - for peddling congressional influence in the Lincoln Savings & Loan scandal. He is a member of the justly infamous Keating Five, but he was re-elected anyway, and escaped with little more than a talking-to. So far, so good - I have no problem with second chances (although I don't know that I personally would have given one to McCain were I an Arizona voter) - but the real story is what happened after the 2000 election. It reveals a lot about McCain's true character and his willingness to fully embrace political expedience.

In the 2000 contest, George W. Bush's campaign used a technique known as push-polling - most famously in South Carolina during the Republican primary - in which they placed calls to likely voters and asked questions like "If you knew that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child, would that affect your vote?" (The McCains have an adopted daughter from Bangladesh.) McCain's own campaign collapsed as a result, but rather than hold a grudge, he was a good soldier and endorsed Bush. Over time, he appears to have come to some sort of epiphany that the only way he was going to realize his presidential ambitions was to cleave fully to the hardcore rightwing elements that currently control the Republican Party.

Without a look back, he went from opposing the Bush tax cuts, to both supporting them as a necessary tactic and fighting to make them permanent. McCain went from calling Jerry Falwell and others like him "agents of intolerance" to giving the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. He went from being a vocal supporter of "the troops" to opposing Senator Jim Webb's new GI Bill until he could no longer block it given the political storm his position created. (He acquiesced to supporting it, but despite his campaign commercials, he was not an avid supporter, he never cosponsored the bill, and was absent for the vote.) He went from opposing torture as an element of U.S. policy to providing legislative cover that has allowed it to continue, which is particularly striking given his own experiences as a POW in Vietnam. Additionally - and this has gotten none of the scrutiny it deserves by the mainstream press - McCain, co-author of the much ballyhooed campaign finance reform bill known as McCain-Feingold, is actually in violation of his own law, but isn't being prosecuted because the Federal Election Commission (FEC) doesn't have the quorum required to take action. (Currently, only 2 of the 5 seats on the FEC are filled.)

Simply put, John McCain is not the man he is portrayed to be. If you look even a little bit beneath the media hype, he is, in fact, a serial panderer and a fully-owned subsidiary of the establishment GOP. And even if he was once, he is certainly no maverick today. He has an overall voting record that aligned with the Bush White House 90% of the time overall, 95% in agreement in 2007 and 100% in 2008.

Vice Presidential Selection:

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin has - at a minimum - energized the GOP base. That said, whatever you think of Governor Palin and her counterpart, Joe Biden, as individuals - and whatever one may think about the importance of the number 2 spot in general - I think the selection process and the choices themselves say an awful lot about the men at the head of each ticket. Biden is an experienced foreign policy leader who can clearly bring something to an Obama administration from a policy perspective, and who is intended to shore up the Democratic ticket against one of the biggest criticisms leveled at it: a lack of overall experience and a shortage of foreign policy experience in particular.

Governor Palin, meanwhile, had never, ever been heard on the national stage or on national issues prior to her nomination. She appears to be a capable politician and is obviously not stupid, but she has already been caught lying on a number of topics. She supported the Bridge to Nowhere before turning against it when it finally became too much of a political hot potato; she tried to fire the City Librarian of Wasilla, when she was mayor of that city, for refusing to censor books and then tried to cover it up; she is being investigated - and refusing to cooperate with said investigation - for abuse of power. Further, she appears to be a serial liar, touting a visit to Iraq that never occurred, talking up a visit to Ireland that was no more than a refueling stop for her flight, and continuing to trumpet her supposed opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere despite having been revealed to be one of its biggest backers.

The idea that Sarah Palin strengthens the GOP ticket in any manner other than the purely political is unsupportable. Objectively, there is any number of other female Republicans who could fill the vice presidency and who have the same ideology as Palin, and even Republican shills like Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy know that to be a fact. With his selection of Governor Palin, John McCain is demonstrating his adherence to the Bush Administration playbook, using cronyism to put politics ahead of the country. (In case that wasn't already clear from his political metamorphosis since the 2000 election.)


The relative experience of each candidate has been a significant topic of conversation, with the Republicans actively ridiculing Barack Obama's resume at their national convention. There is no doubt that John McCain has more government experience than Barack Obama, but I think it is very much an open question as to whether he has used - or is using - that experience successfully or in the best interests of his constituents. Likewise, it is worth considering that Obama's work history is not nearly the flimsy construct it has been made out to be in the press:
Meanwhile, Governor Palin, who has unquestionably worked to further herself in Alaska politics, has a depth of qualification that gives even fellow Republicans pause about claims that she is ready to assume the most powerful office in the world, should the need arise. Her resume at the national and international level, frankly, pales in comparison to either Senator Obama's or Senator Biden's:
Experience is only part of the equation, however, and it's important to remember that the administration of George W. Bush was one of the single most experienced in history when it arrived in Washington, DC. That experience, because it has been rife with cronyism and absent critical thought, intellectual honesty, and judgment - whether it be on foreign policy, climate change, energy policy, disaster relief, politicization of the Justice Department, torture and human rights, or in any number of other policy areas - has meant, literally, nothing. Unless experience is mixed with prudence, pragmatism, and an ability to learn from one's errors, it is useless. Unfortunately, while I see experience in Senator McCain, I see a horrible lack of judgment, and when I look at Governor Palin, I see both inexperience and a lack of the common sense she so often attributes to herself. Both of them are every inch Bush Republicans.


From a qualitative standpoint, therefore, I am backing Barack Obama for the following reasons:
  1. He has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish
  2. He has demonstrated the ability to inspire others to contribute to that vision
  3. He has made smart choices about the people with whom he surrounds himself
  4. He has remained consistent - with one or two exceptions - in his positions and his politics, but leavened them with common sense, prudence and pragmatism
Senator Obama has sufficient experience for me, and he has shown judgment and substance that I trust. John McCain, between his flip-flops, slavery to political expedience, outright lying, and choice of a running mate who - it becomes more clear everyday - has no business being a heartbeat from the Oval Office, has not.

September 16, 2008

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama, Part 1: Issues


In the wake of GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's coming out party at the Republican National Convention, there has been a concerted effort by the John McCain campaign to rebrand its candidate as a reformer. Relatedly, I have personally witnessed and been involved in a number of conversations with McCain supporters that have centered on the contention that people who are backing Barack Obama for the presidency are really just voting against Senator McCain, rather than for his opponent. This contention seems to be rooted in the belief that - in the minds of his supporters, anyway - John McCain is as much an agent of change as Senator Obama.

Leaving aside for the moment that, after the utterly disastrous performance of George W. Bush, no one really has to justify simply voting against the Republican Party, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about what I see as the positive reasons that have driven my decision to vote for Barack Obama. With that in mind, this is the first of what will be three posts on the topic. This series (my first trilogy - try to contain yourselves!) is not in any way meant to be exhaustive or definitive or even universal; rather it is intended to provide food for thought, and one person's perspective on the candidate.

While there is no question that the personalities, demeanor, experience, reputation and records of the candidates are all valid points to consider when choosing for whom to vote, to me, the most important aspect of picking the next president is about issues. With that in mind, that is where I'll start.


Foreign Policy:
The idea that John McCain is a foreign policy expert is one of the biggest media-created myths of the current day. In fact, he is anything but, and has been notably wrong on the most important issues of the past decade. Senator McCain is on record as saying that the Iraq War would be easy - although he now says he "always" said it was going to be difficult; he has talked about trouble on the Iraq/Pakistan border (there isn't one; Iraq borders Iran, which in turn borders Pakistan); and he has also made repeated claims - despite being corrected - that Sunni al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq were crossing the border into Iran to receive training from the Shia regime there, something that is patently absurd. (See here for side-by-sides clips.)

Senator McCain has also advocated kicking Russia out of the G8 without appearing to understand that any such move requires a consensus (i.e. including Russia), and he has also backed military action against Iran, despite the fact that our military is so over-extended as to make such a move completely impossible. (See National Security, below.) Further, McCain has been notably flippant about the possibility of additional wars of aggression by the United States apparently failing to grasp the reality of current U.S. deployment and readiness.

While Senator Obama has not been there a long time, he has served, by most accounts, very capably on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has even earned praise from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who traveled with Obama to Israel earlier this year. Perhaps most importantly, however, Obama represents a change from the Bush/McCain policy of unilateralism and a return to diplomacy, both of which we will need if we are to begin digging ourselves out of our current hole. As former President Clinton said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power," and polls have shown that the rest of the world is much more interested in dealing with a President Obama than a President McCain.

Iraq and Afghanistan Wars:

The Iraq War is, arguably, the single biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States. It was supported from the outset by John McCain - who continues to advocate an open-ended occupation - and opposed by Barack Obama. The reality is that, whatever one's feelings about the war, the U.S. is in that country and has caused untold chaos and death. Clearly we owe the Iraqis something, but just as clearly, we can't continue pouring money and people into a conflict without end.

The Iraqis want us out; Obama advocates a time table for withdrawal that can be adjusted as conditions merit. McCain has recently changed his position to align with Obama's, albeit with the famous Bush escape line "but only if the commanders on the ground agree." The fact of the matter is that, since McCain has up until recently lambasted any departure date, no matter how tentative, his new position strikes me as untrustworthy. The president sets policy, not the commanders on the ground, and Senator McCain has been strikingly light on the specific criteria he believes would allow us to depart. To me, setting a goal for withdrawal and evaluating progress against that goal makes sense. Without genuine commitment to withdrawal or a proposed time line, success cannot be measured (think about how many times we've heard "we're winning" and "we've turned a corner") and there will be no end to this conflict.

While the "surge" - which was backed by McCain and opposed by Obama - has helped reduce violence, the media's portrayal of it as the solution to the Iraq War is inaccurate. In addition, there are two major factors contributing to reduced violence that are hardly discussed. First, Iraq has been effectively segregated into Sunni and Shia communities - and neighborhoods within the cities - and this de facto separation, the result of neighbors slaughtering one another, has provided fewer opportunities for violence.

Additionally, before the "surge," a policy of paying tribal leaders not to attack American and Iraqi government forces was instituted. (The U.S. currently doles out $30 million each month to this end.) Despite conventional wisdom, it is far from clear that the "surge" is the success it is claimed to be, and it is important to remember also that the escalation in troop levels was supposed to enable the government to reach a political solution, which is no closer to happening today than it was when the surge began.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan is heating up, as it has been doing for the past several years - despite little news coverage of the fact - and the Pentagon has admitted that the current patchwork strategy is not working. McCain, by focusing solely on Iraq has effectively supported that strategy, while Obama's stance has been that one of the biggest reasons we need to close up shop in Iraq is to address the problem - the real problem, rather than the false pretenses problem in Iraq - in Afghanistan.


The Iraq War - at the insistence of the Bush Administration - remains off the books despite the fact that it is now in its 5th year. That means that the reported deficit - already monumental - is even worse than most people realize. In addition to spending cuts, taxes will have to go up to even begin closing the budget deficit and reducing the national debt, so the question comes down to "whose taxes?"

A non-partisan examination of the Obama and McCain plans reveals that their plans impact wage earners across the income spectrum very differently. In my opinion, there is some pain that has to come in the foreseeable future if the grown-ups are going to repair the mess that has been made, but McCain instead advocates across the board tax cuts. Obama's plan, meanwhile, increases taxes on the people who can afford it most. If you make less than $227,000 a year, you will see a tax decrease, and if you make between $227,000 and $608,000 you'll see essentially no change. Even more interestingly, if you are a lower or middle class citizen, your taxes under Obama's plan go down more than they do under McCain's. (Again, despite McCain's repeated false claims to the contrary.)

Obama admits that his plan will not balance the budget initially. McCain, on the other hand, has said that he can balance the budget just by getting rid of earmarks, a claim which doesn't withstand even cursory examination. As a result, he is now talking about the elimination of discretionary spending. In neither case, however, do his numbers add up, and personally, I find the cavalier manner in which he has attempted to get the public to accept his bonafides as a budget hawk to be disturbing in its lack of seriousness and rigor; it's clearly not something to which he has paid much attention.

Finally, with the turmoil facing the American housing market and the chaos on Wall Street, it is clear that the nature of government financial regulation needs to change. Proponents of unregulated free markets - of which McCain vociferously counts himself one - have put the country in the position it is in today. The free market will - unquestionably - straighten itself out eventually, but the question that the Republican Party and John McCain have never bothered to address remains: "At what human cost?"

Unless we are prepared to periodically absorb massive losses resulting from the lack of oversight - losses like we are encountering today - regulation must exist to provide a marketplace in which the rules are followed and a level playing field exists. Barack Obama has consistently called for new and better regulations. Although John McCain is now echoing those sentiments, it must be remembered that, banking industry lobbyist and former senator Phil Gramm, McCain's former campaign chairman, worked very hard to kill legislation that would have prevented - or at least greatly reduced the impact of - the subprime mortgage meltdown. As with Senator McCain's reversal on a time table for withdrawal from Iraq, given the length of time and the effort he has put into supporting his previous position, I simply do not trust his commitment.

Health Care:

Neither McCain nor Obama offer truly universal health care. That said, their plans are very different. McCain's plan will cover fewer people than Obama's, and at a greater cost per insured. Obama's plan is reckoned to cost more overall, but the tax-incentive structure of McCain's plan is very likely to drive health insurance purchase toward individual (rather than government or employer) purchase, which will almost certainly provide less leverage for the insured. From where I sit, McCain's plan opens up health insurance to the private market in a way that will probably cause further problems down the road, if history - and current events - are any judge. Obama's plan, while not as ambitious as I would like, is a solid, incremental step toward universal coverage.


Both McCain and Obama target energy as a key issue. McCain, however, focuses much more on expanded domestic supplies of fossil fuels, while Obama's main lever is alternative sources and a transition away from oil. (It should be remembered that the Bush Department of Energy itself has stated that new domestic drilling would not bring oil to market for 10-12 years.) Each candidate wants to reduce emissions, raise fuel standards, and institute a cap-and-trade system for controlling greenhouse gases, but Obama is more aggressive all three instances. McCain and Obama both support government investment in alternative fuels, but where McCain advocates spending about $2 billion, Obama's plan calls for $150 billion of government investment.

Obama has buckled in the face of offshore drilling advocacy and is now backing limited drilling, but even so, McCain's plan strikes me very much as more of the same with only a few grudging adjustments, while Obama's is about seriously changing the game. Energy, in my view, is a problem that we cannot drill our way out of, and the sooner we can free ourselves from the bonds of a petroleum based economy, the better.

National Security:

As detailed above, McCain's reputation for foreign policy expertise is questionable at best. Similarly, it is important to consider the impact of the Iraq War on our armed forces. There is widespread agreement - including from Colin Powell - that the army has been "broken," and it is telling that the military has had to repeatedly lower admissions standards to even approach recruitment goals. Our Adventure in Iraq has decimated three decades of forward progress toward making the armed forces smarter and more professional, and not only are they now accepting felons, but lower-performing recruits across the board.

The Bush War in Iraq - which again, McCain supported and continues to advocate - has not only brought our military close to collapse, but the Republicans have vigorously opposed measures like a new G.I. Bill (McCain claims to have supported it but he actively campaigned against it and was never a co-sponsored), denied vets health care, and even begun providing drugs to soldiers on the front line suffering from mental trauma in order keep them functioning. McCain and the GOP talk a good game about "supporting the troops," but their actions are anything but supportive, and that's probably why service people are donating to Obama's campaign versus McCain's at a rate of 6 to 1.

Obama supported the new G.I. Bill, supports additional help for vets and their families, and appears to understand that the military cannot continue operating as it has.

Equal Rights:
I believe that homosexual couples should have all of the same rights enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. Neither Obama nor McCain, however, support full marriage rights for same-sex couples, although both endorse the concepts of civil unions. McCain, however, has repeatedly voted against anti-wage discrimination bills in general, and against legislation to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, in particular. Obama has supported and continues to support such laws.

John McCain and Sarah Palin both oppose abortion, with Palin supporting exceptions only if the life of the mother is endangered; not for instances of rape or incest. Obama has a 100% pro-choice voting record, and has pointed to the Clinton model which I favor: abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

Constitution and Human Rights:
Up until earlier this year, Obama had a solid record of protecting the Constitution. That changed when congressional Democrats decided they'd short circuit any opportunity the Republicans might take during the campaign to accuse Democrats of being soft on terror. They ginned up a bill that fully capitulated to White House demands for greater power, providing retroactive immunity for telecom companies that broke the law by spying on Americans without a warrant. Obama supported that bill, as did McCain, who had been a leader in pushing for fewer constraints on the government's ability to violate the privacy of its citizens.

While Obama is just as guilty in the case above, McCain has been at the forefront in legalizing torture for prisoners in the "war on terror". (Without digressing too much, torture is a policy that originated at the very top of the current administration, and despite terms like "enhanced interrogation," current and recent policies very clearly violate international law) Obama has opposed these measures.

Likewise, Obama has backed efforts to provide judicial review to men at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Despite the fact that more than half of the original prisoners at Gitmo have been released - and that the military has plans to try only about 70 of the remainder, with the others languishing indefinitely - McCain and the Republicans have fought tooth and nail to deny inmates fair and impartial trials, refusing to acknowledge that this very clearly indicates that at least some innocent men are incarcerated.

While issues of torture and imprisonment are usually considered to be primarily about human rights, it should not be overlooked that American policy in this area greatly affects international relations, and therefore national security. When we prove ourselves hypocrites on the world stage as we have done under President Bush, the United States loses a tremendous amount of its ability to influence the course of global events without resorting to military force. Obama appears to understand this link; McCain does not.


Although there are unquestionably other issues on which to compare Senators Obama and McCain, this post is intended to examine what I consider to be the most important problems facing the country, as well as the candidates' positions on them. Tellingly - albeit unsurprisingly, considering the manner in which he has sold his political soul to the people who thought George W. Bush was going to be a great president - John McCain is wrong for me on every single one of them. So, despite recent polling putting the race in a statistical dead heat, maybe this shouldn't be such a tough choice after all.

September 11, 2008

The Trademarking of 9/11

During the Republican National Convention, a film was shown, ostensibly to "commemorate" the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the networks covering the RNC dutifully broadcast it. What no one questioned, with the exception of Keith Olbermann, was why anyone thought the Republican National Convention - a purely political event - was an appropriate setting for such a remembrance.
Mr. Olbermann was visibly upset at the time, and in fact, apologized to his audience for having broadcast what was very clearly the politicization of a national tragedy. Below, is the special comment he delivered on the topic last night.

September 8, 2008

The Kilkenny eMail

In the wake of Governor Sarah Palin's nomination by the Republican Party to be its vice presidential candidate, eMails claiming to be from people who know her, from constituents, from coworkers and from members of her church have begun circulating. Amidst the swirl of spam on the topic of Mrs. Palin, however, one eMail has proven to be both genuine and measured in its content. Written by Anne Kilkenny, a resident of Wasilla, Alaska - the town of which Sarah Palin was mayor - it lays out a personal, ground-level evaluation of the VP candidate based on more than 15 years of firsthand knowledge.

The McCain campaign has announced that Mrs. Palin will grant her first interview to Charles Gibson of ABC News sometime in the coming week, in Alaska. Given Mr. Gibson's wretched performance at the Democratic Party presidential debate he and George Stephanopoulos moderated, it is a fair bet that the governor will wholly control the message, and that she will not be pressed on any issue of significance. Ms. Kilkenny's now-viral eMail - intended for friends and family only - is then well worth reading. It makes no claim to be anything but what it is, - one person's opinion - but given its original, private intent, as well as its tone and content, it strikes me as revealing. See for yourself:

I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah since 1992. Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis. Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child's favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99% of the residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she’s like the most popular girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and won't vote for her can't quit smiling when talking about her because she is a "babe".

It is astonishing and almost scary how well she can keep a secret. She kept her most recent pregnancy a secret from her children and parents for seven months.

She is "pro-life". She recently gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby. There is no cover-up involved, here; Trig is her baby.

She is energetic and hardworking. She regularly worked out at the gym.

She is savvy. She doesn't take positions; she just "puts things out there" and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.

Her husband works a union job on the North Slope for BP and is a champion snowmobile racer. Todd Palin’s kind of job is highly sought-after because of the schedule and high pay. He arranges his work schedule so he can fish for salmon in Bristol Bay for a month or so in summer, but by no stretch of the imagination is fishing their major source of income. Nor has her life-style ever been anything like that of native Alaskans.

Sarah and her whole family are avid hunters.

She's smart.

Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000 (at the time), and less than 2 years as governor of a state with about 670,000 residents.

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative." During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.

The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? Or a new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece of property that the City didn't even have clear title to, that was still in litigation 7 yrs later — to the delight of the lawyers involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once.

These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today's surplus, borrow for needs.

She's not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren't evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

Sarah complained about the "old boy's club" when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of "old boys". Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal — loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the State's top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla's Police Chief because he "intimidated" her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska's top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it's pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn't fire her sister's ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn’t like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.

Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.

When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the "old boys' club" when she dramatically quit, exposing this man’s ethics violations (for which he was fined).

As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the "bridge to nowhere" after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

As Governor, she gave the Legislature no direction and budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects — which had been vetoed simply because she was not aware of their importance — but with the unobservant she had gained a reputation as "anti-pork."

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a fiscal conservative.

Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her "Sarah Barracuda" because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah's mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

As Governor, she stepped outside of the box and put together of package of legislation known as "AGIA" that forced the oil companies to march to the beat of her drum.

Like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to global warming. She campaigned "as a private citizen" against a state initiative that would have either a) protected salmon streams from pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in the state (depending on who you listen to). She has pushed the State’s lawsuit against the Dept. of the Interior's decision to list polar bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for President; Sarah will be a heartbeat away from being President.

There has to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she.

However, there's a lot of people who have underestimated her and are regretting it.

  • "Hockey mom": true for a few years
  • "PTA mom": true years ago when her first-born was in elementary school, not since
  • "NRA supporter": absolutely true
  • Social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (said she did this because it was unconsitutional).
  • Pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to promote it.
  • "Pro-life": mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation.
  • "Experienced": Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.
  • Political maverick: not at all
  • Gutsy: absolutely!
  • Open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.
  • Has a developed philosophy of public policy: no
  • "A Greenie": no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.
  • Fiscal conservative: not by my definition!
  • Pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets to early 20th century standards.
  • Pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents.
  • Pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla's history.
  • Pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union doesn't make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.

First, I have long believed in the importance of being an informed voter. I am a voter registrar. For 10 years I put on student voting programs in the schools. If you google my name (Anne Kilkenny + Alaska), you will find references to my participation in local government, education, and PTA/parent organizations.

Secondly, I've always operated in the belief that "Bad things happen when good people stay silent". Few people know as much as I do because few have gone to as many City Council meetings.

Third, I am just a housewife. I don't have a job she can bump me out of. I don't belong to any organization that she can hurt. But, I am no fool; she is immensely popular here, and it is likely that this will cost me somehow in the future: that’s life.

Fourth, she has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the City Librarian against Sarah's attempt at censorship.

Fifth, I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.


I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in spending & taxation 2 years ago (when Palin was running for Governor) from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of Wasilla, and I can't recall exactly what I adjusted for: did I adjust for inflation? for population increases? Right now, it is impossible for a private person to get any info out of City Hall — they are swamped. So I can't verify my numbers.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the population of Wasilla, ranging from my "about 5,000", up to 9,000. The day Palin’s selection was announced a city official told me that the current population is about 7,000. The official 2000 census count was 5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was Mayor from 1996 to 2002, and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90’s.

Anne Kilkenny
August 31, 2008
Let's see: Opaque leadership, incompetence, personal vendettas, political ruthlessness, fiscal irresponsibility, pro-oil, anti-environmentalist, etc.; sounds like the very picture of a George W. Bush Republican, doesn't it?

September 4, 2008

Not Only Unqualified, But Dangerous Too

[Click on the image to enlarge and to visit the archive for This Modern World.]

Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin is the talk of the political world at the moment, having vaulted from obscurity to a position in the current campaign that could see her become the second most powerful person on the planet. By now, anyone even casually following the race for the presidency knows that Mrs. Palin is also at the center of a swirl of controversy because she lacks substantive national political experience, has made a number of questionable claims about her record, is embroiled in a state-level abuse-of-power scandal about which she is known to have lied, and her teenage daughter is pregnant despite - or perhaps because of - her abstinence-focused sex education policies, both public and, apparently, personal.

With GOP spokespeople decrying the "liberal media" over "sexist" attacks on the Alaska governor at every turn, all eyes were upon Mrs. Palin as she made her national debut at the Republican National Convention last night. Those expecting her to fall on her face - of which I was not one - went away disappointed; she was well-spoken and passionate, and clearly energized the members of the GOP base in attendance with sharp attacks on Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Those expecting the night and her speech to be marked by rank hypocrisy, personal attacks and the distinct lack of policy substance - of which I was one - got their money's worth.

Never mind the ridiculousness of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney braying about East Coast elites; disregard "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani - a man who has actually hosted Saturday Night Live - making smirking claims about Senator Obama's alleged celebrity status; and don't pay too much attention to the snide remarks about a lack of executive experience on the Democratic ticket from people backing a career legislator with none himself; there were plenty of blatant lies and meanness in Mrs. Palin's speech alone.

There are two very thorough fact checks of Governor Palin's RNC speech here and here, but it's worth noting some of the highlights (courtesy Hilzoy writing at CBS News' Political Animal):
  • Mrs. Palin claimed to be a friend to families with children who have special needs. While her youngest child was recently born with Downs Syndrome, and her position may have changed, as governor, she actually slashed funding for schools for special needs kids by 62%.

  • Governor Palin claims that her running mate, John McCain is the very figure of constancy. This extensive list of Senator McCain's personal reversals and policy flip-flops shows her to be either woefully misinformed or deeply untruthful.

  • Mrs. Palin stated that she turned down federal earmark funding for the famous Bridge to Nowhere, which has become the symbol for wasteful government pork barrel spending. Unfortunately, the requirement that those funds be spent on that bridge (i.e. the earmark) were removed before Sarah Palin became governor. She was therefore in no position to tell Congress anything about the bridge, and on top of that had voiced support for the bridge during her campaign. Later, in fact, she accepted the now-unrestricted money and spent it.

  • Mrs. Palin characterized Barack Obama as having "authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform - not even in the state senate." In so doing she ignores significant legislation from the Illinois senator on everything from nuclear non-proliferation to ethics reform to the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina. She also conveniently ignores the fact that it is Senator McCain who has written two memoirs while his counterpart has only scribed one.

  • Governor Palin claimed that although "America needs more energy ... our opponent is against producing it." In fact, Senator Obama's energy plan aims to develop substantially more energy than John McCain's. His plan, however, focuses on renewables, not carbon-based and fossil fuels. Further, the Democratic nominee was present for the last eight votes in the Senate on renewable energy, while Senator McCain was not.

  • Finally, the GOP's nominee for the vice presidency declared that Barack Obama supports plans to raise taxes and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars. To the contrary however, independent and non-partisan analyses of both Senator Obama's tax plan and Senator McCain's have repeatedly revealed that the Republican scheme will provide tax relief to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class - the opposite of the Democratic plan - and have a more adverse effect on the national budget deficit.
Even beyond the Alaska governor's newly demonstrated affinity for self-aggrandizement, obfuscation and outright falsehood, there is a laundry list of reasons why she is the wrong person for the job of vice president. She is a far-right religious ideologue, a global warming denier, has a record of running up massive public debt, has advocated censorship in libraries, and she exploits her own son's military service to further her political career. In short, Sarah Palin is a George W. Bush Republican, and one who appears to relish that role even more than her running mate. She is not merely unqualified for the position of vice president - never mind president should something happen to John McCain - she's dangerous, too.

One of the more arresting things about Mrs. Palin's sudden elevation, is that - as the videos below demonstrate - it has generated an even higher level of spin, lies and hypocrisy from the Republican Party than usual. The first clip is audio of conservative pundits Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy picked up by live microphones after an interview in which they sung the praises of McCain's number two. (Be sure to note the contrast.) The second is an extremely able round-up by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart of the trademark IOKIYAR standard as applied to the GOP's vice presidential nominee.