Friday, October 31, 2008

More Alaskan weirdness

On October 27, Senator Ted Stevens was convicted of seven felonies; he was found guilty of taking unreported gifts from people who very likely had interests in legislation. That is, of corruption.

Today this longest sitting Senator returned to his home state of Alaska to campaign for re-election. Though the polls don't favor him winning, he still has his enthusiasts. An Alaskan sent along this picture of die-hard Stevens fans.

She writes: "I love Alaska and I love living here but these people ... make me wonder if there isn't damage occuring when our brains are exposed to extreme cold and dry air . . ."

Friday cat blogging:
Louie is not bothered

Thanks to Moises Rodriguez for the photo.

Three humans and a dog have invaded his home to work on the Obama campaign, but he has some sleeping to do.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My sentiments exactly

H/t Cogitamus.

I've resisted piling on Sarah Palin. This campaign isn't really about her. It's about what kind of country we are and what kind of country we hope to become. I don't want Palin's country as far as I can discern it -- but she's not really the point. John McCain, rather crudely, tried to use her as bait for both wacko conservatives and for women proud of their accomplishments. She seems to genuninely appeal to the former -- the latter have rapidly become deeply offended by being offered such a shallow individual as a role model.

No, we women didn't wait 232 years for Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hope and a lot of work

This poster hangs in front hall of the Obama campaign office in a Denver exurb where I'm spending this week. The people who flow in and out are definitely full of hope. But mostly they just grind through the routine work of contacting voters, giving of their time and their enthusiasm in an organized process that can dredge out a winning margin.

The county we're working in has always been a Republican place. Looking at the addresses of the people I'm calling, I note that some developer thought to name one of its suburban boulevards "Quemoy," presumably after the Chinese offshore island claimed by Taiwan. In the 1950s this dispute that threatened to draw the U.S. into a war with China. Supporting China/Taiwan's right to the island was a rightwing obsession of the period.

Recently the county's Democratic registration has overtaken the Republican total, but the county is still very much up for grabs with a large unaffiliated registration. Obama's supporters are a racially mixed middle-income group who've acquired many campaign skills over the long campaign. They phone possible Obama supporters looking for their votes, knock on doors, and at this late moment are shepherding thousands of voters through the maze of early voting and mail balloting that Colorado makes available.

Over the last two days, this office has implemented a tactic that vividly illustrates both how hard it is to squeeze out every last potential vote -- and the possibilities open to a campaign with huge resources in money and volunteer energy.

The office had a list of some 600 voters who fit the profile of the undecided but persuadable -- but who they had never been able to reach on the phone or by doorknocking. So -- staff organizers decided that these people should get personalized letters. Volunteers hand addressed envelopes, wrote in salutations to the recipients on a photocopied persuasion letter, and many signed their own names and gave their own local phone numbers as contacts. (Some letters went out in the name of an organizer with a local phone number.) The body of the letter, which came down from somewhere much higher in the campaign, struck me as quite well targeted to voters who might be undecided. Some excerpts:

I live here in ____ county and I am writing my neighbors because I want you to know the truth about Barack Obama and tell you why I support him.

With the economy in a shambles, prices for everything going up, and people losing their jobs and their homes, I feel deeply that our country has to change direction. ...

First, you should know that Barack is a Christian, a patriot, and a loving husband and father. He believes that as Americans we are all connected -- that we are our brothers' keeper, our sisters' keeper. ...

You get the idea. But the photocopied text is not the heart of the letter.

The heart of the letter -- as a persuasion device -- is the handwritten P.S. added by a volunteer saying why s/he supports Obama. Nobody is telling the volunteers what to say in these. I've watched people sit around and figure out what they want to communicate, what they care about and are willing to handwrite, over and over, to their neighbors. Some I've seen:

"I support Barack Obama because my brother is a soldier in Iraq and he'll take better care for veterans."

"I trust Barack Obama to get our economy moving again. Something has to change."

"As someone who graduated from high school this year, I think Barack Obama will put more money into education."

So do I think this letter will win votes? Certainly it has its drawbacks. It is not flashy, eye-grabbing. Lots of the handwriting is pretty funky -- few of us have very good penmanship these days. Some of the P.S. phrases are a little inarticulate.

As a consumer of the considerable research about what constitutes effective voter contact, I have my doubts. But the letters do have strong authenticity and come from close neighbors, factors that do raise turnout in other kinds of contact. I'm willing to guess that one or two percent of recipients may find a contact like this enough to confirm a choice where a leaning existed and perhaps encourage a vote which had not been certain without this contact. That is -- a project that probably took something like 24 volunteer hours and the cost of paper and stamps, might yield 6-12 votes.*

That's an enormous amount of human labor for a very few votes. But that's what winning an election through popular mobilization looks like. Repeated over and over in many locales with many tactics, the result is enormous. The Obama campaign is an amazing experiment on an unprecedented scale in what might be achieved through such mobilization. All this field organizing may end up looking like icing on the cake in an Obama victory -- but for the millions who've worked in the heart of it, this is what victory is all about, working together in an organized way for broad empowerment that changes people and communities.

* My assessment might be wrong and this letter writing tactic might not even win the few votes I project -- to my knowledge, no experimental research has been done on this, though I could be wrong about that too. But I am certain the number of votes won is not larger than 6-12.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An absentee voting story

Democratic Party strategist Ed Kilgore reports that the Obama campaign's remarkably successful encouragement of early voting is generating a backlash in Georgia.

Heavy early voting has been a regular local news story in Georgia for several weeks now, and the visuals, along with much of the commentary, has made the disproportionate turnout of African-Americans a centerpiece. And among conservative white folk I've talked to, a sense of genuine racial panic seems to be setting in, fed, of course, by the McCain-Palin campaign's incessant references to Obama's scary character and ideology.

This observation reminded me of a story from an absorbing book I've recently discovered, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff tell the story of the Civil Rights era from the point of view of the reporters who covered it, first from the Black press, and later, ironically, in the white media whose white reporters had a better chance of surviving racist violence than their Black counterparts.

While the brave attempts of Mississippi Blacks to register to vote in the summer of 1964 are sometimes remembered, Roberts and Klibanoff recount much earlier efforts to increase Black registration that ended in violent repression. In particular, the story of Lamar Smith's early work in Lincoln County presents a counterpoint to this season's campaign to encourage early and absentee voting. In this Black belt town, hardly any African Americans were registered in 1955. Smith, a farmer and a veteran of World War II, was able to encourage some local Black people to risk threats and humiliation to register. He also encouraged them to vote absentee, so they didn't have to show themselves at the courthouse and risk white violence on Election Day.

County authorities were alarmed when the number of absentee voters jumped from about 600 to 1000 in one primary. A group of white men accosted Lamar Smith at midday on a Saturday in the center of the town of Brookhaven -- and shot him dead. According to The Race Beat, "the Sheriff focused not on who had killed Smith, but on whether Smith's absentee ballot operation had been legal." White newspapers didn't ask questions about the reasons for the shooting. To the Black community, Smith died a hero; to the incurious white world, he was a cipher, a schemer, and dismissed as an aging bootlegger.

Fifty-three years later, we are about to elect a Black president -- and there is a minority segment of our society that somehow fears that an enthusiastic early and absentee voting effort must be sinister. Many Republicans cling to various devices -- registration hurdles, complex rules, excessive identification requirements -- that tap into those fears. It's still about the fear that if everyone really votes, traditional power arrangements will crumble. But just maybe, slightly to our own surprise, we are about to take a leap into a different future.

Gay and Gray

My latest "Gay and Gray" column, an introduction to and appreciation of elder activist pioneer Barbara MacDonald, is up at Time Goes By. Click over and take a look.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Meanwhile in San Francisco...

My partner sends this picture of students she encountered today on the campus of that good Jesuit institution, the University of San Francisco.

The real world is pushing hard on institutions that have lost touch with the aspiration to love alive in the people within them.

Meaningless observations from a long drive

Seen last summer. Part of a trend?

This Presidential campaign has been going on so long, and subjected to so much punditry, analysis, polling and general dissection that it probably should not surprise me that Kelley Blue Book, the outfit that provides price information about used cars, should issue its own slant on matters. In fact, they have.

According to a press release,

...the car brand and segment owned by voters is related to their preference in presidential candidates. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) rates high among domestic and luxury owners. Among the domestic brands, owners of GMC (61 percent), Chevrolet (60 percent), Buick and Dodge (each at 58 percent), as well as Ford (57 percent) vehicles are the highest in favor of McCain. In the luxury vehicle segment, McCain leads among Lexus, BMW, and Lincoln owners at 52 percent each.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) leads McCain among owners of import vehicles with the highest ratings for MINI (70 percent), Subaru (61 percent), and Saab (59 percent). Fifty percent of Honda owners plan on voting for Obama, ten points higher than McCain. ...

"McCain's appeal among owners of domestics and large trucks/SUVs is right in line with where we see a majority of those vehicles selling - in the traditionally Republican 'red' states," said Rick Wainschel, senior vice president of marketing and analytics for Kelley Blue Book and "With import and hybrid owners typically favoring Obama, this also aligns with strong sales of these types of vehicles in predominately Democratic 'blue' states."

This seemed interesting enough so that while driving from San Francisco to Denver, I took my own survey: which bumperstickers were on which cars? Did my results agree with Kelley Blue Book's?

Mostly I learned is that out on the open road, bumper stickers are pretty rare. This was a bit of a shock. Where I live in San Francisco, it seems like one car in ten sports an Obama sticker (we rarely even think of the other guy.)

But on my 1200 mile drive, seeing hundreds of cars, I saw all of four Presidential bumper stickers. McCain-Palin rated one, on an older Saturn sedan. The three Obama stickers were attached to: a Toyota Highlander, a Honda Element, and a Buick LeSabre. Nothing conclusive in that. I'll have to take Kelley Blue Book on trust.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Our total information society

Nevada sunset

For the last two days, I've been driving across Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, while listening to the entirety of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America by James Bamford.

This federal snooping agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), sucks up pretty much all the electronic and other information it can gather about everyone in the world, foreign and domestic. The sheer volume of this data, increasing exponentially along with population and technology, threatens to drown both any utility the information may have and any effort to impose limits on its use.

Bamford's book is such a wide-ranging, deeply informed survey of this bloated monstrosity that it too threatens to overwhelm. But if democracy is to have any chance in the total surveillance state already in being, we the people will have to master enough understanding of all this to be able to imagine how to bring intrusive snooping under control. The same inexpensive capacity to utilize vast databases underlies the ability of the Obama campaign to create the people-empowering GOTV effort we are all about to see. But this capacity also is what makes the surveillance state possible. Can we rein in this power before it engulfs any meaningful freedoms?

Wyoming sunset

Roadside attractions:
Northern California

Driving I-80 east, I pulled over for a pit stop in Auburn, California, a Sierra foothill town. At the first corner it was clear there was an election going on.

Hey -- I know that name. Gordy Ansleigh is legendary in running circles. Back in 1974, when his horse went lame before the Tevis Cup 100 mile horse race over mountains and through canyons, Ansleigh completed the course on foot in under 24 hours. This feat was the beginning of the Western States Endurance Run, a 100 mile ultramarathon that set the standard for such runs in the U.S. The event is held in June each year.

Apparently he wants a seat on the Auburn Area Recreation and Park District board.

Ansleigh is part of a slate...

and the running community is plugging for them.

It was nice to see the No on Prop. 8 sign up in the hills.

The closely watched race in the area is Charlie Brown's second effort to win a Congressional seat for the Democrats. It's a tough project. CA-04 went for George W. Bush by 24 points in 2004. But in 2006 Brown almost defeated the incumbent Republican John Doolittle who had been awfully close to the crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ethically tainted Doolittle chose to retire rather than go for a rematch.

Doolittle's retirement might have done in Brown's hopes -- except that the Republicans chose an improbable candidate in their primary. For several decades, Tom McClintock has represented rightwing Orange County districts in the stage legislature. His extreme brand of conservatism is well known in the state; whenever no one else will sign a ballot argument for a nutty rightwing initiative, you can count on McClintock. But McClintock was termed out of the legislature. He wanted to go on to Congress. There's no law that a Congressional candidate has to live in the district -- so he ran in CA-04, hundreds of miles from where he has lived and worked in. Lots of people in the foothill district are pretty doubtful about this carpetbagger candidate. For a description of what it is like knocking on doors for Brown, see this story.

Recent polling gives Charlie Brown a good chance in this very Republican district.

Leaving Auburn, it was time to push on over Donner Summit.

There I met this kindred spirit.

On to Colorado...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On the road again...

Some one living in my San Francisco Mission neighborhood has a message to share.

This time I'm off, by car, to Colorado to spend the last gasp of this endless campaign season in a battleground state.

At least, Colorado was a battleground when these plans were made. Now it looks good both for Obama-Biden and also for Mark Udall, a Democrat taking a Senate seat that has been Republican. Why heck, Coloradans may even get rid of Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. She's well known as the lead sponsor of the federal amendment to outlaw gay marriage and for leading the hew and cry about Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl half time show a few years ago. Democrat Betsy Markey of Fort Collins might just knock her off.

Blogging may be light during this adventure -- but at the very least, I'll try for some pictures!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Descent into thuggishness:
Backers of Prop. 8 try extortion

Illustrations are screenshots from videos supporting Prop. 8 found on YouTube.

This is so bald I find it hard to believe, but apparently there is undisputed evidence.

Leaders of the campaign to outlaw same-sex marriage in California are warning businesses that have given money to the state's largest gay rights group they will be publicly identified as opponents of traditional unions unless they contribute to the gay marriage ban, too., the umbrella group behind a ballot initiative that would overturn the California Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage, sent a certified letter this week asking companies to withdraw their support of Equality California, a nonprofit organization that is helping lead the campaign against Proposition 8.

"Make a donation of a like amount to which will help us correct this error," reads the letter. "Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage. ... The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to but have given to Equality California will be published."

from an Associated Press story,
San Francisco Chronicle,
October 23, 2008

Searching out what entities gave to who in legally mandated campaign finance reports is not unusual for campaigns -- but using the information to make threats is over the top. It's not as if the donors to No on Prop. 8 didn't know their actions would be public. Signers of the letter, which Yes on Prop. 8 campaign spokespeople confirm is authentic, include leaders of the California Catholic Council and the Mormon Church.

We're seeing "religious" groups instigating terror and hooliganism here. They think God is on their side. They are afraid.

Fortunately other religious leaders aim to calm fears. In my church, all eight Episcopal bishops in California, despite their own differences about what the church should do about gay marriage, have opposed monkeying with the California constitution to impose anyone's religious views. And much of the mainstream Protestant community agrees:

"I think it's really important for the community at large to see that there is a large and strong Christian voice that stands in opposition to this," said Pastor Scott Landis of the Mission Hills United Church of Christ. "And it’s standing on the side of fairness."

Personally I like what the Rev. Susan Russell (disclosure -- I have the privilege of working with her) has said repeatedly: Prop. 8 "takes us down a slippery slope from democracy to theocracy."

If Californians get out and vote on November 4, if we make ourselves part of the Obama wave we'll get to see sweeping the country, Prop. 8 will go down to defeat according to the most recent polls. But the No on Prop. 8 campaign still needs funds to get the message out that this is important. How about a donation against extortion and theocracy?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Real Americans" vote

Photo By Andy Barron. More here.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) did their bit to make "early voting" a social experience in Reno this week with a march and rally on the courthouse steps.

How very Arnold...

My governor demonstrated his readiness to serve when installed in 2003 by instantly repealing the Vehicle License Tax and setting the state on the road to insolvency. Then he put us through a fourth statewide general election in four years when he tried to bypass the legislature and rule by initiative -- and got hammered by the voters. Last summer, he let Republican legislators who hold barely one third of the seats in Sacramento stall the state budget for months.

That is, Arnold Schwarzenegger, though photogenic, presents a terrific example of what voters get when they stick an ambitious nincompoop in a job requiring executive and political capacity.

Naturally, our guy is off in Ohio telling Campbell Brown of CNN that Sarah Palin is just what the country needs:

CAMPBELL BROWN: Do you think she's qualified to be president?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I think that she will get to be qualified.

BROWN: She will get there? What do you mean? She's not ready yet?

SCHWARZENEGGER: By the time that she is sworn in I think she will be ready.''

Picked up by Carla Marinucci,
San Francisco Chronicle

He should know about this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A torturer charged

Sometimes they look like this by the time they are brought to court

Jon Burge was a Chicago Police Commander who was good at getting confessions from suspects. Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun Times reports on how that worked with one accused.

In 1982, Melvin Jones was picked up on suspicion of murder. He was taken to Area 2 police headquarters on the South Side. That's where he met the infamous Jon Burge.

In a 1999 interview for CBS' 60 Minutes II, Jones quoted Burge as saying, "You only have two rights when you come in here, and that's to confess or get your ass kicked."

Jones said he refused to confess to a crime he didn't commit. That's when, he told me, Jon Burge and two other officers brought out a small hand-cranked electrical device with alligator clips. He saw it spark, then felt a shock as they touched his foot with the clip, and then his inner thigh. And then, Jones said Burge told him, "I'm going to put it on your testicles." Jones said he was in tears, "Trying to holler as loud as I can. . . . I was begging them to stop."

They didn't until Jones confessed. Convicted by one court, Jones was ultimately freed by another.

Twenty-six years later, Burge was arrested on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice yesterday. He couldn't be charged directly for the torture (there are believed to have been over 100 victims of this treatment) because the statute of limitations has run out. But federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (yes, the same one who led the Scooter Libby prosecution) brought the charges. He'll be tried in Chicago.

John Conroy took the case of the Chicago police torturers as one of his three subjects in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture; An Examination of the Practice of Torture in Three Democracies. The other two were what the British did in Northern Ireland to Irish nationalists and what Israel does to Palestinians. His conclusions are not hopeful.

Only a tiny fraction of working torturers will ever be punished, and those who are can expect their punishment to be slight compared to their crime. It seems a very small leap to argue that torture is the perfect crime. There are exceptions, yes, but in the vast majority of cases, only the victim pays.

All the more reason to applaud the tiny minority of cases in which persistent accusers finally get some recourse to justice.

Conroy wrote in 2000, before the Bush administration led the U.S. government into a widespread practice of torture. Dick Cheney's heart probably won't last long enough for him to be brought before a judge. But with all his devotion to physical fitness, perhaps someday we'll see an elderly George W. Bush in the dock. This is certainly an outcome worth working for.

Monday, October 20, 2008

View from my window

That's Chicago as seen from an eleventh floor in Evanston.

Down below, this Californian is delighted to see fall's colors.

White protesters greet black voters

You know that collective experience of early voting at polling places near Obama rallies I wrote about yesterday? Some people find this profoundly threatening and offensive.

Christina Bellantoni reported for the Washington Times on McCain/Palin supporters heckling Obama supporters as they cast their ballots in southwestern Virginia.

An organizer at the rally rattled off the addresses of early vote sites nearby that would be open after the event.

Photographer Joe Eddins and I headed over to the closest one and found a steady line of voters hoping to cast ballots early. Most seemed to be Obama supporters and several had come from the rally. Nearly all the voters were black.

Also at the polling site was a group of loud and angry protesters who shouted and mocked the voters as they walked in. Nearly all were white.

As you can see from these videos, no one held anything back. People were shouting about Obama's acknowledged cocaine use as a young man, abortion and one man used the word "terrorist." They also were complaining that Sundays are for church, not voting.

This wasn’t the scariest protest I've ever seen. The Obama supporter who talked with the reporter didn't seem to feel that threatened. But he is a big guy.

But protesting while people vote? Yelling scorn at people entering the polling place? That certainly goes over some important line, amounts to an attack on a basic democratic right. See the scene yourself. [5:04]

H/t the Washington Monthly.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Together we can:
Obama campaign makes voting a social experience

Sitting with a group of women friends last night, we talked about voting. I've already done it. I became a permanent vote-by-mail voter as soon it became legally possible because I'm always working on some campaign on Election Day. Several others had received their ballots, were working as volunteers on various facets of the Obama campaign, and intended to send them in soon. And the inevitable person said, "I know it is easier to vote by mail, but I want to go to a polling place on November 4. I want to feel like I'm doing it with everyone else."

There was a lot of agreement with that nostalgia -- and awareness that this wasn't the way the world seemed to be going. Californians all, we wondered at the fact that all elections in Oregon are by mail. But we too have long had the option of voting by mail if we choose without giving any reason at all.

The growing predominance of voting by mail scares me. It's all very well for habitual voters. But for folks who are just getting into to the process, first timers, or people who because of their race or income aren't so sure they belong in our democracy -- they get a boost from feeling Election Day as a sort of civic participation festival. I've seen this in action while canvassing low-income Latino precincts in California's Central Valley and the sometimes mean streets of impoverished Oakland. I've written about what researchers call "convenience voting" here and here.

Given these misgivings, it is exciting to see the Obama campaign creating situations that overcome the isolated individualism of the early and vote-by-mail voting experience. Obama supporters aren't expected to do their pre-Election Day voting alone. In states where there are "early voting" polling places, Obama organizers are bringing a party to the voting area. As reported by Sean at

Obama for America [West Virginia] State Director Tom Vogel told us that during the GOTV phase, all 55 counties in the state will have early voting and weekend GOTV rallies. In Charleston on the 25th, for example, the campaign is holding a live music street fair just two blocks from an early voting location.

This week, the New York Times reported how the campaign is getting it done in Colorado. Obviously campaigns love early voting. The Colorado campaign is hoping to get 50 percent of voters "banked" before November 4. This guarantees that no late news can sway weak supporters. Further it will mean only half as many people have to be found and pushed to the polls in the last twelve hours. And voters get to avoid inconvenience and long lines. But the campaign also knows it has to give voters something back -- the feeling of collectively practicing democracy!

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The presidential debate had barely ended Wednesday night when Kristin Marshall had her ballot on her lap, pen in hand, ready to vote. Three friends, all supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, had their ballots, too.

"Obama's the second one down -- don’t accidentally pick the first" said Ms. Marshall, 27, a reference to the ballot placement of Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, as her living room of Obama supporters erupted in laughter.

The traditional American vote -- a solitary moment behind a black curtain in a booth, civics in secret -- was never thus. ...

In coming up with strategies to get out the mail-in vote in Colorado, both campaigns have focused on making the mail-in voters feel part of a bigger movement. The Obama campaign's debate-and-vote parties, for example, were intended to create a feel of civic participation.

Awesome organizing this -- what a campaign can do when it has 3.1 million donors and vast sums to spend on facilitating people to people contact, in addition to making its essential advertising buys. Bravo!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

About those McCain robocalls

Don't worry Obama fans: buying robocalls is what you do in a campaign when you are desperate -- and it doesn't work.

McCain is doing this because he doesn't have enough money to compete as we go down to the wire. See this article in Saturday's New York Times.

Mr. Obama’s advertisements come as Republicans have begun a blitz of automated telephone calls attacking him.

Obama bet he could fund his campaign from eager, anxious citizens; he has won his bet. So when John McCain tries to relax by watching the Arizona Cardinals, he is confronted by Obama on national television. (Odd way to relax ... but who's a 49er fan to talk?)

Buying robocalls is what you do when you can't afford anything better. I had responsibility once for a campaign in which our candidate was getting swamped by money. The other guy had $4 million -- we never got to $400 thousand. End of the campaign is coming, what to do? Blow a little on robocalls. Now I did something very different with our money than McCain has: instead of throwing sleaze, I targeted the calls to the demographic that included our supporters, hoping to encourage their efforts. (Didn't help; nothing could.) But I can imagine the bad choices McCain's handlers have.

Robocalls are mostly wasted money. This is the rare election tactic that is easily subject to social science research. There are academics who set up real world tests, with treatment groups who get the worked on by various electoral tactics and control groups that don't. I've looked at their research before here and here. They conclude that voters are nearly impervious to robocalls.

Just think about your own reactions: the more of these we get, the more we hate 'em. Even if we agree with them. I can't get worried about McCain's robocalls. They are just throwing the little money they have up in the air and hoping for a miracle.

Obama supporters need to keep working to turn out our voters and don't have to worry about McCain's desperate gambit.

Will this hold true once LGBT marriage becomes a norm?

Some good articles about which U.S. demographic groups tend to have which partisan leanings came out today. There wasn't anything earth-shattering or markedly different from the new Democratic electoral coalition whose shape has been emerging for years. But this stuff always appeals to my inner geek.

I noticed a theme that gave me pause.

The Women's Voice, Women's Vote Action Fund is clearly angling for more cash to send persuasion mail to unmarried women voters. They contend that this group is uniquely likely to respond to mail persuasion. Their chart above shows how much better Obama does among unmarried women than the married.

Meanwhile, a wide-ranging examination of electoral demographics in the National Journal points out the Democratic leanings of single people in general. Single status seems to overcome other factors, like being white or less educated, that often might suggest a Republican tendency. Some instances:

Democrats have run somewhat better among single white men. Clinton, with an assist from Perot, carried them both times. Kerry's 46 percent among that group in 2004 was the highest share for Democrats over the past 20 years, and Kerry actually ran even among white, single college-educated men. ...

Democrats carried white single women by double-digit margins in each of the past four elections; Republicans, meanwhile, carried white married women every time. ...

Single white women without a college education lean Democratic ...

On average, Republicans have run 13 percentage points better among married independents than among single ones since 1988.

What do you want to bet that some fairly significant fraction of these "single" people are actually gay? That's been the reality of many gays for decades. For most legal purposes, that's how the world has classified me for the last 28 years I've been with my partner.

And though there are some anomalous upper class white gay men who pride themselves on the eccentricity of identifying as Republicans, overwhelmingly LGBT people lean Democratic. Dems don't usually make common cause with fundamentalists who'd like to exorcise or "cure" us. Republicans do. I suspect we are even more likely to be Democrats than to be genuinely "single" -- though I don't know where to get the data to prove that.

So -- as more and more LGBT people leave the category of the ostensibly "single" for a socially sanctioned marriage status, it will be interesting to see whether the electoral leanings of single and married people come more to depend on other variables than whether people are in a recognized couple relationship. A part of the "marriage gap" might disappear. I am certain there will be some shifting of categories.

I like the idea of gay folks emerging into the light when we choose to. No on Prop. 8 in California is working to speed this transition.

Bonus: check out Ellen Degeneres making her personal pitch for preserving her option to marry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Toward a "Dog Food Retirement future"

So the stock market gyrated again today -- first the Dow was down about 400 points, then up a similar amount. That's an 800 point swing over a day -- certainly enough to make a good spectator sport, if only these oscillations didn’t have real life meaning. But they do.

The post-Reagan Republican "ownership society" has pretty much killed off pensions and shoved millions of us into 401-k plans that force us to play in the big casino that is Wall Street. Pretty much everyone in that arena has just taken a 30 percent hit to the "value" of whatever they were invested in. (Quotations marks there because the real value will be the price when we liquidate those holdings, not the number they happened to have in a quote today. But what if we can't wait for the value of our holdings to come back, if it ever does?) For a discussion among elders of what that means in the current market, see this post by Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By. Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, lays out lucidly the particular crunch this puts "early boomers" (the 55-63 year old set) into.

But in addition to those of us in a position to worry about all this, there are also millions of people for whom such worries would be living in luxury. Jonathan Tasini at Working Life laid out some of the facts in a recent post.

  • 24.5 percent of all Americans earn poverty wages ($9.60 or less);
  • 10 percent of all Americans --15 million Americans -- earn $6.79 or less;
  • 33.3 percent of African American workers and 39.3 of Hispanic workers earn poverty wages;
  • At the recent new minimum wage of $6.55 an hour, if you worked every single day, 40 hours a week, with no vacations, no holidays, no health care and no pension, you would earn the grand sum of $13.624. The POVERTY LEVEL for a family of three is $17,600;
  • 47 million Americans have no health care and tens of millions more have inadequate or costly health care that can bankrupt them;
  • Since 1978, the number of defined-benefit plans -- that means, pensions that give retirees a promised monthly amount -- plummeted from 128,041 plans covering some 41 percent of private-sector workers to only 26,000 today. It’s a Dog Food Retirement future for millions of people.
Kind of puts the gyrating Dow in some perspective to think about the people who are at the true bottom of the U.S. pyramid. They pick our food, work in meat processing plants, clean hotels, build subdivisions -- and we enjoy the product of their labor. If we indeed get a Democratic administration, those of us with a little more need to keep the pressure on the new regime to make sure those with even less have a chance to work their way into the mainstream of U.S. life.

Update: I'll just add this story of the intersection of financial flimflam, economic stagnation, and the endless war which came to me this morning from Code Pink, along with an appeal to help Jocelyne Voltaire whose story it tells.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No more debates! Yeah!

Matt Yglesias explains why the debates have been a win for Obama and a disaster for McCain:

What Obama's good at doing is redirecting conversations to things people care about. He's good at conveying both with words and body language that when the subject shifts to something people don't care about, that he'd rather be addressing the things people care about. He'd rather be talking about something else, but unlike McCain he's not personally affronted that the other side criticizes him.

It's not about how he feels or what he wants but about what normal people want to hear about. By contrast, McCain's key campaign theme is that McCain is awesome and that the government should spend less money, neither of which have anything to do with real problems in real people's lives.

McCain hasn't got a message for the majority of us who aren't looking for a grandfatherly alternative to the upstart Black man. He's not speaking to us at all. And he doesn't even know it.

When I teach campaign basics, I hammer a maxim: just about the moment when you are bored to tears with repeating or arranging for repetition of your main message, the people you want to reach have finally noticed that message. Keep repeating it.

McCain never got either an attractive message or the discipline to stick to it. This observation suggests that he never had to run a truly difficult campaign before this one.

This video is not for the faint of heart. The whole world is watching the U.S. election. A goodly fraction of it is watching on the Al-Jazeera TV network, based in Qatar, a Gulf oil state. Their correspondent interviewed some of the poorly informed, frightened people who attended a Palin rally in Ohio and an Obama supporter who tried to influence them. No further comment from me.

California ballot: a perversion of democracy

I voted by mail yesterday. That is, I voted for Barack Obama, for Cindy Sheehan for Congress (to remind Nancy Pelosi she has constituents), for a local supervisor (I like Eric Quezada in District 9), school board members, community college board members, a judge, and a BART Board member.

That wasn't so bad. I also voted on 12 statewide propositions. No on Prop. 8! That's the one that would eliminate same-sex marriage. Also no more locking black and brown people away because they scare us, so no on 6 and 9. And no chipping away at reproductive rights, so no on 4. And no on the redistricting one -- nothing that comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger is likely to be a good thing. Come to think of it, I don't think I voted for any of them. Maybe the one about the size of animal cages...

And then there were the 22 city propositions: charter fixes, bond measures (yes on B for affordable housing), efforts to rein in PG&E (yes on H; that's a no brainer once you've been buried in "No" ads) and naming the sewage treatment plan after our departing 43rd President.

This sort of ballot is flat out insane. This isn't democracy; it's rule by fundraising and 30 second spots inflicted on the electorate.

Initiative politics reduces the incentives for legislators to work at long term planning and difficult policy making. Some person or group withenough money can trump their efforts by bringing their own policy preferences to the ballot. Legislators throw up their hands and seek funding for their next election contest.

And yet, historically anyway, we the people love the initiative process. A survey done in 2000 [pdf] found:

Seven in 10 residents think it is a good thing that a majority of voters can make laws and change public policies by passing initiatives, while less than one in four see it as a bad thing. Most Californians (56 percent) also think it is a good thing that a majority of voters can permanently change the state constitution by passing initiatives, while one in three believe this is a bad thing. A majority of Republicans and Democrats have positive impressions of the citizen initiative process, while voters outside of the major parties hold the most favorable views. There are no differences across regions, and both Latinos and non-Hispanic whites hold the initiative process in high regard.

The study did find some unease, but nothing approaching the massive distress with the process that would be required to change our electoral customs.

Of the various proposals I've seen for initiative reform, one I like a good deal would limit Constitutional amendment propositions to November election in years when federal candidates would be on the ballot. That is, we'd only get Constitutional amendments every two years, in elections that draw a fairly high turnout. It seems reasonable that a high fraction of the electorate should vote on changes to the state constitution.

A reform proposal I like even better is simply to put a limit of six on the number of propositions that voters could be confronted with from each jurisdiction on any ballot. That way I'd probably see six from the state and six from the city. People (most people) who live in a county jurisdiction that is separate from a city would see an additional six measures. That's still 18 of these things to try to understand, but it would be more manageable than the current menu of incomprehensible choices! Which ones would get on the ballot? Put them on in the order they qualify -- but make qualification expire after three years so an infinite number of prospective initiatives can't clog up the queue. Pretty rapidly we'd only get initiatives that had proponents who could wait a year or two to get to the ballot -- not a bad hurdle to add to the process.

It's not going to happen of course. California voters and its campaign industry is hooked on the initiative. Maybe the coming recession will lead to some cutbacks, but I doubt it. Initiatives remain a growth sector.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lest we forget: "the real situation in Iraq"

Laith writes about getting to and from work in Baghdad -- running a gauntlet of checkpoints and dodging military convoys, U.S. and Iraqi, full of trigger happy men with too much fear and too many weapons.

The way those people who have guns behave makes me like many Iraqi civilians feel that Iraq became a wild jungle where survival is only for the strongest. This kind of feeling kills the soul of patriotism in the hearts of people.

I never thought that freedom means mess and I never thought that liberators care only about themselves. It's too hard to believe that but this is the real situation of Iraq.

Iraq Today

Cutting through the bull

I didn't know you were allowed to say anything this sensible on TV. But Campbell Brown, who looks just like the sort of professionally attractive straight woman I have a bias against, nails some of the racism in our attitudes toward Senator Obama and the wide world of the Others we involuntarily live among. It's only 2:25 and well worth watching

If you couldn't make yourself view the YouTube, here's part of the transcript:

So what if Obama was Arab or Muslim? So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter? When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim being dirty words, the equivalent of dishonorable or radical?

Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there's something wrong with being an Arab-American or a Muslim. And the media is complicit here, too. We have been all way too quick to accept the idea that calling someone Muslim is a slur.

I feel like I'm stating the obvious here, but, apparently, it needs to be said. There is a difference between radical Muslims who support jihad against America and Muslims who want to practice their religion freely and have normal lives, like everybody else.

There are more than 1.2 million Arab-Americans and about 7 million Muslim Americans, former Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, successful business people, normal, average Americans from all walks of life. These are the people that are being maligned here every time this happens. And we can only imagine how this conversation plays out in the Muslim world.

We can't tolerate this ignorance, not in the media, not on the campaign trail. Of course he's not an Arab. Of course he's not a Muslim, but, honestly, it shouldn't matter.

Tough stuff. We still have to redeem the label "radical" because we do need some going-to-the-root radicalism of imagination if we're to enhance democracy and keep the planet from frying. But Campbell Brown is doing good work here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yes, we span!

United States citizens overseas are sick of being embarrassed by a President. See a lot of them in this video. [5:57]

A little sweet, a little long, but heartening.

Via Thought for Food.

This is sick

From Equal Justice USA:

The Supreme Court has denied the appeal of Troy Davis, clearing the way for a new execution date to be set.

The Supreme Court announced today that they will not hear Troy Davis' case to determine whether it is constitutional to execute someone with a strong claim of innocence. The Supreme Court has essentially said that innocence doesn't matter - Troy Davis can be executed despite the fact that case against him consisted entirely of inconsistent eyewitness testimony and that seven witnesses have recanted their testimony.

If this is all the protection we can expect against executing the innocent, we must stop executions now.

For more on this Georgia case, see Amnesty International. Davis was convicted of killing a police officer at a Burger King based entirely on witness testimonies. There was no physical evidence and no weapon found. All but two of the non-police witnesses have recanted or changed their "recollections" since the trial.

But Davis is up against two big problems:

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles -- the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Now there's a guy with an incentive to stick to his story.

Davis' other problem is that, in the interest of "steamlining" court proceedings, the "justice" system limits appeals. The Supreme Court isn't saying they think Davis was rightly convicted; they are saying they won't look into the issue in the interests of a smoothly operating system.

Yeah, right -- a smoothly operating conveyor belt to execution for unlucky, poor, black folks...
You can send a letter to the Georgia parole board here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why vote?

Here's a letter from a college student, a fellow taking one of those not very cool or practical humanities majors, who has been thinking hard about why voting matters. We can all listen up [my emphasis added]:

I've heard people say they don't plan on voting, which surprises me because of the naivete and lack of responsibility this shows. Yeah, the system sucks. We all know it. But the notion that you can change this system by being hip and anti-establishment and refusing to vote is a terrible argument with no legs to stand on. I see this as being complicit [in] the system.

First of all, this isn't just about the Presidency. There are other things to vote on, and sometimes we forget this. Proposition 8 has been going different ways in different polls. If you care that a proposition backed largely by out-of-state interests could pass to keep certain people getting married in California, then go vote.

You don't have to vote for the presidency. And if you aren't sure, fine, don't make a choice. It is perfectly valid to not make a line on that question at all. In fact, if you showed up and turned in a blank vote, it would be better than not voting at all.

So vote on those things you are educated about, and don't think you have to just choose randomly or not vote because you don't know all the issues.

And by the powers of greyskull, vote even if you don't want to choose between McCain and Obama. Though I have no idea why you wouldn't have a choice.

This is California, go ahead and vote for a third party presidential candidate. You won't be spoiling the electoral votes for Obama.

But, if you vote in Ohio or other battleground state, please do not vote for a third party. There is a responsible way to work within the flawed system to minimize harm. I don't think that is a hard concept to understand, since it's how American life is on a large scale.

And the whole "my vote doesn't matter" idea is just... arrrgghhh that's stupid. That's like saying "it doesn't matter that all the products I buy are made in sweatshops, because even if I didn't, they still would be." It's too convenient to forget that groups are made up of individuals. If everyone who said their vote didn't count voted, they would count! Just like if everyone stopped buying unfairly produced products, the market would change.

...Go vote, instead of standing by while a disproportionate number of elderly conservative white people decide who I can marry...

As a wise politico wrote today, with three weeks to go, " ... winning teams don't relax when they are up 10 points with halfway to go in the fourth quarter. Instead, the goal should be to run up the score."

What's wrong with this picture?

For those who don't live in the Bay, read up on Angel Island here. For more on fire in California, see this. For more on the collapse of the great casino of the '00s, try any mainstream publication.

Happy Monday.

Europe votes

Awhile back I wrote several posts on how the rest of the world sees the U.S. election. These rather trivial comments continually get hits through Google. The rest of the world is stuck watching us and, mostly, holding its breath in the hope that the dangerous, wealthy adolescent in North America might at last get a semi-adult government.

So today the Nobel Prize Committee found a way to vote: it threw the economics prize to Paul Krugman. What better way to say -- stop giving us ignorant cowboy presidents! And put a grown up in charge of this crisis of financial gambling gone wild into which you've led the world!

I'm not equipped to evaluate Krugman's economic prowess, but he has been one of the few reliable voices of sanity in the New York Times during the past dreadful decade.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Columbus Day: the conquest

Detail from a mural by Diego Rivera in the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City.

Europeans brought mayhem, slavery, an obsession with gold -- and a religion that seemed to bless it all from the perspective of the "discovered." The muralist made art from the story.