Thursday, October 30, 2008

The battle of our time

California is in the midst of a battle that makes the famed “culture wars” look like a leisurely picnic. In that state, religious extremists are attempting to amend the state’s constitution to remove the right of same-sex couples to marry, as some 11,000 have done so far. Based on current polling, the haters are poised to succeed.

The amendment is being promoted by the usual assortment of social conservatives, but the campaign is being championed mostly by far right christianists and, especially, Mormons, who have made the battle a particular crusade for their religion.

The religionists pushing the amendment have used outright lies in their campaign, and it’s worked to turn the polls around. Apparently, the prohibition against bearing false witness has an asterisk for these people. They’re also raising much more money than the No on 8 campaign, recently announcing they’d raised some ten times more. Now they’re asking for another $3 million on top of that to seal their victory.

The No on 8 campaign is attempting to raise $3 million in 3 days. A big ask, but one that must succeed because Proposition 8 must not.

Why do I care? Partly, it’s matter of principle: No religion should be allowed to force their beliefs on everyone else, but to take away other people’s human rights in order to impose those beliefs is even worse. Also, by attacking the gay and lesbian people of California they are, by extension, attacking all gay and lesbian Americans, wherever they live.

There’s no rational reason to oppose marriage equality. After all, if the religionists don’t like same-sex marriage, then I suggest that they don’t have one. But the pushers of this amendment have avoided rationality in their campaign, relying on those lies as well as deliberate distortions that have the effect of being lies.

What this battle is really about is human dignity: Either we are all citizens of equal value, or we aren’t. I respect the right of the religionists to have their beliefs, even though I don’t share them, but I demand they respect my rights as a citizen. They clearly don’t, and this battle proves it. Fortunately, there’s still time to prove to them that simple justice matters more.

Donate to Equality California/No On Prop 8’s 3 Mill 3 Days campaign (anyone can donate, no matter where in the world they live).

Update: Tonight the No on Prop 8 website and the site for Say No 2 (the campaign against the proposed Florida constitutional amendment to outlaw marriage equality) were victims of an apparently coordinated denial-of-service attack. D-o-S attacks are intended to crash servers, making the sites inaccessible (making it impossible for people to make donations). A single D-o-S attack is merely a cyber crime; a coordinated attack like this crosses the line into cyber terrorism.

Update 2 (31/10/08): The attacks on No on Prop 8 are continuing. Apparently, it's possible to get through to the sites, but they're running much more slowly. According to a press release from No on 8, "It is believed the attacks, which occurred throughout the night, came from California, Texas, New Jersey and Georgia. The attacks to the site increased from a small number of hosts to dozens. As IP addresses of attackers were blacklisted, new IP addresses emerged and attacked." This indicates a level of multi-state coordination, so the FBI and Secret Service, who have jurisdiction over such cyber attacks, have been notified.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fox: Unfair, unbalanced and unhinged

The Fox “News” channel calls itself, ironically, “fair and balanced” when any rational person knows they’re neither. In fact, in this election cycle they’ve become positively unhinged, presenting lies and smears as news and sometimes manufacturing “news” completely.

Fox is basically the 24-hour Palin-McCain and Republican propaganda channel with unending attacks and slurs against Obama-Biden but not even a hint of real criticism of Palin-McCain. They repeat Republican talking points endlessly in an attempt to make them stick, even when there isn’t a shred of truth to what their hosts or commentators are saying.

The other day, Sean Hannity spent an entire show telling viewers why they shouldn’t vote for Barack, and only a couple of his “reasons” were anywhere near thoughful disagreement on principle. Instead, his “reasons” were just Republican talking points (not surprisingly), many of them based solely on smears and innuendo, not anything factual. Hannity didn’t tell viewers to vote for Palin-McCain, but that performance and others made make it abundantly clear that’s what he wants viewers to do.

In principle, I have no problem with a channel promoting right wing views and their agenda, but they shouldn’t call it “news”. What’s so offensive about Fox is the smug arrogance of their talking heads who present themselves and their fellow believers as the only ones with intelligence, the only ones with wisdom, the only ones who think correctly, and anyone who disagrees with them is, at best, stupid or blind, and at worst, anti-American, “extremist” or “ultra-leftist”.

It’s clearly impossible for any of the faces on Fox to admit that there’s anything good decent or worthy about their opponents. Their shrill, self-righteous rhetoric whips their fans into a frenzy and contributes to the angry, hostile climate I’ve been writing about. That’s not presenting a conservative viewpoint, that’s fomenting anger and inciting those angry rightwing people to some sort of action.

So, why do I watch ever Fox? Sometimes it’s a channel-surfing accident, but part of the reason for staying and watching is simple: They’ve declared war on everything I believe, and in war the first rule is, “know your enemy”. What’s abundantly clear to me is that Fox is not a news channel, it’s never fair and certainly not balanced. Lately, it’s seemed simply unhinged.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

As you sow…

All actions, good or bad, have consequences, good and bad. That’s the point of the old aphorism, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. Those consequences may be intended or not, but they’ll happen.

In politics, people argue about the extent to which the consequences of the other side’s actions were intended, especially when those consequences are bad. The fact is, words have meaning and it’s at best na├»ve, and at worst intensely dishonest, to deny that.

We’ve seen the dog whistle politics of the Palin/McCain campaign and the Republicans generally; they’ve used all sorts of inflammatory rhetoric to suggest that Barack and Democrats aren’t “real” Americans, that they’re “different”—and those are merely the “kinder” words. Now we see some on the political right declaring all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories and using some truly bizarre words to describe their opponents. Words have meaning.

As the rhetoric of the right becomes more and more heated—and irrational—it will inevitably lead to violence. I fully expect to see attacks on Barack’s supporters, or Democrats generally, as Republicans become angrier and more desperate and their rhetoric becomes ever more extreme. Words have meaning—and consequences.

The FBI recently released a report on the incidence of hate crimes in the US during 2007*. The FBI doesn’t draw year-on-year comparisons because there are differing numbers of official agencies reporting hate crimes. Nevertheless, hate crimes overall were down about 1% in 2007, except in one category: Hate crimes against gay people were up 6%.

While the report found that blacks, Jews and gays were the most frequent victims of hate crimes, only gay people experienced an increase in crimes directed at them. During 2007, anti-gay rhetoric started escalating as christianist fundamentalists began gearing up for their anti-marriage equality electoral campaigns. Some of that rhetoric has been nothing less than hate speech, using lies, smears, defamation and distortions, hiding behind the First Amendment. Words have meaning—and consequences.

So when the christianist fundamentalists get away with portraying gay people as evil, criminal, conspiring to destroy America, anti-God, etc., etc., etc., no one should be surprised when hate crimes against gay people increase. We are, in fact, the last minority it’s socially acceptable to hate openly (thought Muslims are a close second among many Americans). Words have meaning—and consequences.

I’ve said before that rational Christians have a responsibility to call out christianist fundamentalists on their hate speech. So, too, the mainstream media shouldn’t allow the far right to get away with blatantly lying about gay people (as the anti-marriage equality haters are doing in California). But neither seems willing to act responsibly to counter hate, and that, too has consequences.

We’ll continue to see an increase in hate crimes against gay people in America, and very probably other kinds of hate crimes will be up, too, in the report covering 2008 because the rhetoric this year is even worse and more extreme than in 2007.

Words have meaning—and consequences.

*The FBI started collecting statistics on hate crimes after enactment of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, signed into law by George H.W. Bush in 1990. I lobbied hard for the passage of that law, including convincing a conservative Democratic US Senator from Illinois to become a co-sponsor. Because of that work, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force invited me to join them in watching the president sign the bill into law. It was the first time any federal law had included gay, lesbian and bisexual people—by name—as an enumerated class. It was also the first time that gay activists had been invited to a White House signing ceremony.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Three years ago today

Today is a public holiday, Labour Day (which was a lovely, sunny day, by the way). I don’t really feel like discussing anything deep and meaningful, so instead I’m posting an old pre-blog journal entry written three years ago today, during the 2005 World Series. That seemed appropriate with the Phillies—the team my mother always cheered for—taking a 3-1 lead in this year’s version.

So, here’s a version of that entry, called “Baseball in Sunshine”, which is still more or less accurate:

Baseball isn't exactly important here. In fact, it's probably best described as a "minority sport." It's popular mostly among ex-pat Americans (Canadians, USAers, Central Americans) and maybe even some Japanese. But the rest of the country takes little notice at all.

Mind you, the concept isn't totally foreign. New Zealand's national men's softball team is several time world champions. But the average Kiwi only takes notice of that when they win another world championship.

Major League Baseball just isn't followed here, by and large. Our pay TV service, Sky, broadcasts baseball games from ESPN International, which usually works out to one featured game a week, often a replay. For a couple years running, they broadcast a live Cubs game on Queen's Birthday Weekend (first weekend in June), so it was a good excuse for a small party. As far as I know, there hasn't been a Cubs game broadcast, either live, delayed or as "highlights", in years.

It's way different with the World Series.

Most of the playoff games were presented in "highlight" form, in the evening. I watched a couple of the White Sox playoffs, and part of one of the Astros/Cardinals games.

The World Series is being presented live through ESPN International, including yesterday's marathon 14-inning endurance test. I watched game one, most of game two and game three intermittently until the ninth inning, when I left it on until the Sox won (apart form channel surfing to local news during commercial breaks). When I say I "watched" the game, that's not literally true; I've often had it on in the background while I'm doing other things.

The best part for me, though, is that due to the time difference the games are broadcast starting at 1pm our time. Even yesterday's marathon ended before sunset. Call me old fashioned, but I still feel that baseball belongs in the daylight, and the very warm, sunny spring weather we're having at the moment only reinforces those old-fashioned notions.

I can dimly remember my Dad taking me to the old Comiskey Park to watch the Sox as part of a father-son outing organised by our church. This would have been the early 60s, before I was old enough to remember much of anything.

Still, I vaguely remember sitting there, not having a clue what was going on, and being a little frightened of the thousands of screaming, cheering adults all around me. I guess it's a measure of how my childhood wasn't bad that I nevertheless felt safe because my Dad was there to protect me—even if he did occasionally shout in the direction of the field like the other, scarier grown-ups around me.

I can also remember my Dad watching Sox games on TV. As I remember it, he switched to Cubs loyalty when the Sox moved to UHF, which our TV didn’t receive. From there on, though, it was the Cubs all the way, so I guess that it was only natural that one day I'd end up living and working practically in the shadow of Wrigley Field.

Now, on the other side of the world from Wrigley Field, baseball is a tiny part of my life. To be honest, it was never that big even when I lived in the US, but it was still part of the background to my life, sometimes even in the foreground. Now, in this World Series, it's back in the—well, near-foreground, anyway.

I'm sure that this year's World Series coverage in New Zealand is no different from other years, but I never really noticed before. Why would I? Chicago wasn't in it.

So, I have game four all programmed into our satellite decoder so it switches in time for the game. I've planned in advance to sit there and do the little work I need to do on my laptop while the game plays in the background.

Once this series ends, baseball will again recede to the distant parts of my life, more memory than presence, until the next time events force it before me. Personally, I could really go for a Cubs-Sox Subway Series next year. It's not called a "field of dreams" for nothing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old jokes

The thing about old jokes is that they only stay around if there’s an element of truth to them. A bit like stereotypes, except they’re not usually as easy to refute as jokes are.

One of the country’s favourite jokes about Auckland goes like this: What do you call two days of rain in Auckland? A weekend. What do you call three days of rain? A holiday weekend. And what do you call four days of rain? Easter weekend.

The element of truth is that there are parts of the year when it rains a lot. Winter can be quite rainy (and Queen’s Birthday holiday is in winter). October, November and December can be unsettled, and the period from around Christmas to mid-January is when cyclones (Southern Hemisphere hurricanes) are more likely (though still not very likely in New Zealand). This includes the Labour Day holiday weekend, plus Christmas and New Year’s.

On the other hand, the most settled days are generally mid-January to mid-March (give or take a few days either way). Auckland has two holidays in that period: Auckland Anniversary Day and Waitangi Day. There are also quite a few weekends. And some of the most brilliant, sunny days— including weekends—occur in Winter.

The reality is that the joke overstates things considerably; statistically, Auckland is about in the middle of rainy/sunny day averages for the country. Even so, we like to repeat the joke. No one ever said they actually had to be true.

The forecast for tomorrow is for a mostly sunny day with a high about 18 (64 in American temperature), with SW winds about 16-32kph.

NZ’s worst TV reporter

Hannah Hodson, who just may be the worst New Zealand TV reporter, is reportedly being investigated by her employer, TVNZ, after an alleged fracas between her and the management of P!nk. This isn’t the first time she’s been in trouble with employers.

The allegations centre on a report that Hodson grilled P!nk on why the singer had fired Hodson’s sister from the singer’s Australian entourage. P!nk’s management ended the interview and tried to seize the videotape, which allegedly resulted in a scuffle.

In 2003 Hodson was forced to resign from rival TV3 after she revealed the identity of a whistle-blower. TVNZ then immediately hired her.

Putting both incidents aside, she ought to be sacked simply for being a terrible reporter.

Friday night, TVNZ aired her interview (last item) of Katy Perry when the singer was in Australia. All Hodson wanted to know about was Perry’s hit song, “I Kissed A Girl” and went on to badger her over that song and the idea of kissing a girl. The interview was disgusting and very probably the most homophobic interview I’ve seen on New Zealand television in the nearly 13 years I’ve lived here. The irrelevant questions came across as some sort of bizarre obsession that Hodson held. She did a disservice to New Zealand and to TVNZ.

If TVNZ is stupid enough to bring her back, let’s just say I know how to change channels.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Familiar story

Yesterday, the Dominion Post (via the Stuff website) published a relatively feel-good story about a 17-year-old Karori (Wellington) lad, Eddie Bowie, who put up a sign backing the Labour Party candidate for the Wellington Central electorate. His dad, John, however, is a National Party supporter and put up a competing (and much larger) sign for that party (to his credit, the dad didn’t take down the Labour sign).

The article says that the lad, being too young to vote, was trying to convince as many people as possible to support his preferred party, the Labour Party. That was very familiar to me because at 17 I did the same thing—try to convince adults to vote the way I wanted them to (though, in my case, it was the same way my parents voted).

But what happened after that was even more familiar.

Like a lot of mainstream news sites, Stuff permits comments on its stories. Completely predictably, the right wing started commenting in force. At first, it was all pretty civil, with both sides remaining relatively restrained.

Later on, right wing comments started to become ad hominem attacks on the Labour Party, Prime Minister Helen Clark or on the centre-left generally. Many sounded arrogant, smug and even somewhat bitter. Many were, in other words, completely negative. A few on the left responded in kind.

As I travel around the web, I often see the right behaving this way, perpetually portraying themselves as the victims of the left who “trash” them and their beliefs—when they're usually the most eager at such negative tactics. In this case, the centre-left wasn’t as strident as the right was. Even so, I should add that in most cases, the right was far more respectful than the right in the US is in similar situations.

However, some comments went too far, attacking Eddie personally: “Just like any young self serving leftie…”, “What a foolish kid…”, “A typical 17 year old idealist…”, “Dear dear Eddie. Lovely to be naive and idealistic”.

This all gets to the core of something I’ve been talking about lately in this blog or in podcasts: Is it even possible for civility to be restored to political discussions? I actually think that Eddie could be strengthened by the personal attacks; anyone who wants to be involved in politics, as Eddie says he does, needs to develop a pretty thick skin. But wouldn’t we all be better off if that wasn’t the case?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No to Illinois Con Con

The voters of Illinois are being asked, as they are every twenty years, whether to hold a Constitutional Convention (Con Con), potentially to re-write the entire thing. There’s nothing wrong with the state constitution the way it is, and it can be amended, if needed, by the General Assembly or the people themselves. A Con Con could cost at least $80 million, money that would be better spent on roads, schools and other critical needs. As an Illinois native, I’m absolutely opposed to holding a Constitutional Convention and I urge Illinois voters to vote NO.

To learn more, check out the Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The audacity of soap

I was sent the link for this by a podcast listener and I thought it was funny in a naughty kind of way. And no, I didn’t come up with the title for this post: It comes from a commentor over at YouTube.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain still smearing

The campaign of Republican John McCain is still using smears to try and divert attention from the real issues facing voters. They know they can’t win on those issues, so instead they try to defame Barack Obama and Democrats generally.

Their latest trick is using robo-calls (automated campaign sales phone calls) to once again push the downright silly attempt to link Barack with a former 1960s radical. As the Associated Press reported, not only are the links extremely tenuous (at best), the Palin-McCain campaign isn’t even paying attention to facts.

This negative campaign tactic is so bad that even a Republican Senator, Susan Collins of Maine, has demanded that McCain end the robo-calls. “These kind of tactics have no place in Maine politics,” she said through a spokesperson. Collins is also McCain’s campaign chairman in Maine.

The Palin-McCain campaign and Republican Party are using a campaign built on distortions and even outright lies to try and smear Barack Obama. But doesn’t it say more about Palin-McCain and the Republicans that they’ll say anything to be elected? Doesn’t their lack of regard for honesty and truth suggest they’d ignore it if elected, too?

These smear attacks, part of a negative, often sleazy, campaign show just how unfit for office Palin-McCain and the Republicans really are.

Voter fraud and Republicans

McCain and the Republicans have been sounding a few notes over and over and over, hoping that voters won’t think about important issues like the economy or the global financial crisis. Mostly, they’re just plain silly, laughable, even—except the subtext is so serious.

Republicans’ current favourite obsession is “voter fraud” and ACORN’s independent voter registration efforts in particular (the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party have official registration efforts, and they don’t include ACORN). McCain and the Republicans keep talking about “voter fraud”, which is incorrect; they actually mean to allege “registration fraud”, though even that’s dumb.

The fact is, various states' laws require groups like ACORN to turn in all voter registration forms, even ones they know to be false (like if someone puts “Mickey Mouse” as their name). So, ACORN itself flags registrations that it thinks are questionable, and that’s how authorities find the possibly false registrations. However—and this is the most important point of all—there’s absolutely no evidence that anyone has ever tried to cast a vote in the name of one of the false registrations.

The Republicans have long been obsessed with “vote fraud”. Remember that it led to one of Bush’s impeachable offences when he ordered the firing of US attorneys when they wouldn’t file false “vote fraud” charges against Democrats. Their goal is vote suppression, keeping certain people from voting: Young people, the poor, and especially racial minorities. These are all presumed to be predominately Democrats, and these are the people ACORN focused on. So, by discrediting ACORN they have cover for their efforts to suppress the votes of the kinds of people ACORN registered, thereby helping McCain and the Republicans.

The irony is that allegations have emerged that Republicans have their own false registration scandal. According to the Los Angeles Times, a company called YPM was hired by the California Republican Party (and the state parties in other states) to register Republican voters. The paper says YPM used bait and switch tactics to fool voters into changing their registration to Republican or, far more seriously, absentee (meaning they may not be able to vote on election day).

The paper reported, “The Times randomly interviewed 46 of the hundreds of voters whose election records show they were recently re-registered as Republicans by YPM, and 37 of them—more than 80%—said that they were misled into making the change or that it was done without their knowledge.” That percentage is far too high to be mere coincidence as it defies probability. There are also allegations against the company in several other states.
So, the Republicans campaign against supposed false voter registrations (and deliberately deceptively call it “voter fraud”), while at the same time their officially hired registrars are caught doing what they condemn ACORN for. The goal, however, is the same: To suppress potential Democratic votes.

And that’s why they’re so obsessed with ACORN. Too bad their own hands aren’t clean on this issue.

Update 21/10/08: The owner of YPM, the firm hired by Republicans to register voters, has been arrested and charged in California with voter registration fraud and perjury. According to Reuters, "Mark Jacoby is accused of fraudulently registering himself to vote at a Los Angeles address where he no longer resides—his boyhood home—to meet a state law requiring all signature gatherers to register or be eligible to vote in California… He did this twice, in 2006 and 2007, according to a statement issued by the California secretary of state…" Do I even have to point out that no such senior leader of ACORN has ever been similarly charged?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Short-takes on the news

I was busier this week than I thought I would be, which meant I didn’t have time to comment on some recent events in the news, even though I had things to say. So I thought I’d add short takes on a few of those issues.

Sarah Palin’s alternate universe

A week ago, the official enquiry into “Troopergate” found Sarah Palin guilty of abuse of power for personal gain. It said that she had violated state ethics rules, which could lead to her being censured and fined. Incredibly, Palin started saying she’d been “cleared” and wasn’t guilty of violating ethics rules. Late this week she said that she wasn’t campaigning negatively, despite being roundly criticised for exactly that by both the mainstream media and even fellow Republicans. Now she implied that only people in small towns are patriotic and “pro-America”. I’ve long wondered what planet she’s on, but now I’m wondering what universe she’s from.

The final debate

Like most Americans, I think Obama won all three debates, including the final one. In all three debates, McCain was angry, grumpy, surly and snarky. Obama was cool and collected. I know I’d certainly prefer Obama’s temperament in a president.

But speaking of alternate universes (see above), the one inhabited by the wingnuts is now in even more superheated overdrive. “Joe the Plumber”, who was used as a PR stunt in the final debate by McCain, faces loss of his livelihood because it turns out he’s not a licensed plumber and his city may move to shut him down. Chances are good that he wouldn’t have come to the attention of his city’s officials if the McCain campaign hadn’t used him in their stunt and unleashed a media circus around him. So, McCain did all this to “Joe”. Except not to the wingnuts who have used some sort of weird, convoluted and twisted logic to blame “that one” instead. Clearly the wingnuts live in a logic-free universe.

The Washington Post endorsement

Earlier today I blogged about the Chicago Tribune endorsing Barack Obama for president. Yesterday the Washington Post posted its endorsement of Barack Obama. The Tribune’s editorial pages have long backed conservative positions and Republican presidential candidates. The Post has become increasingly conservative, and their editorial reflects their current ideology.

Nevertheless, even the Washington Post declared “it is without ambivalence that we endorse Sen. Barack Obama for president.” More telling, perhaps, was this paragraph:

The choice is made easy in part by Mr. McCain's disappointing campaign, above all his irresponsible selection of a running mate who is not ready to be president. It is made easy in larger part, though, because of our admiration for Mr. Obama and the impressive qualities he has shown during this long race. Yes, we have reservations and concerns, almost inevitably, given Mr. Obama's relatively brief experience in national politics. But we also have enormous hopes.

These conservative papers are merely reflecting what much of mainstream America is thinking. So, it’s not really surprising to see them endorsing Barack Obama. In a short time, all of America will be able to join them.

Hometown news

Today the Chicago Tribune joined the growing list of major newspapers to endorse Barack Obama for US President. The paper, which is the one I grew up with, said it was proud to endorse him.

This is an historic endorsement: The Tribune has never endorsed a Democrat before; their own editorial points this out and notes that in 1872 they endorsed Independent Horace Greeley who was later endorsed by the Democrats, and in 1912 they endorsed former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who was running on a third party ticket. In both cases, this was because of problems with the Republican Party, and that plays a factor this year, too.

The Tribune says that the Republicans have strayed from their ideals, and it’s impossible to argue with that. But they also point out that Obama has a storng partner in his running mate, Joe Biden, while McCain passed over experienced, capable Republican women (and men, for that matter) to pick the totally unprepared and unqualified Sarah Palin. Biden would be ready to become president, should that be necessary, Palin would not, and in this dangerous world, that’s not acceptable. As the editorial put it, “McCain failed in his most important executive decision… [He] put his campaign before his country.”

The editorial dismisses many of the Republican talking points, and they’re clearly in a position to be able to evaluate him. In fact, they show a strong faith in Barack and his judgment, intellect and ability to lead. It’s a ringing endorsement.

I completely agree with their endorsement. And, it’s nice to be able to do that for a change.

Update Saturday evening: Now the Los Angeles Times has also endorsed Barack Obama. The paper hasn't endorsed a candidate for president since 1972, when it endorsed Richard M. Nixon for re-election.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Alaskan women on Palin

Two women originally from Alaska say exactly what they think of Sarah Palin (not much). They say what rational people think, and it’s important to have it said (you can find the video and its comments here).

But Palin also has strong ties to extreme right wing politics in her state. That includes not just the well-known ties to the Alaskan secessionist movement, but also far right christianists. Either she holds extremely dangerous beliefs, or she’s happy to embrace and promote dangerous extremist right wing thinking. Neither prospect is encouraging.

So, while the centre-left loves to ridicule Palin, she’s not really a joke: We’d all stop laughing if she got her finger on the nuclear button, something that would be highly likely as the vice president for a 72-year-old cancer survivor. America and the world simply cannot take that risk.

Tip o’ the hat to my friend Jason , where I found this video.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A New Zealand Debate

Last night, the leaders of New Zealand’s two largest parties met for a one-on-one debate. In the end, it seemed to me to be all sound and fury illuminating a little.

Prime Minister Helen Clark (Labour Party) and Opposition Leader John Key (National Party) met and debated in a weird format that combined videoed questions from YouTube, in-studio journalists and ones from the host. Very often the two shouted over each other and argued with each other in a way that would be unimaginable in America, but which is also familiar to anyone who’s watched Question Time in Parliament.

Many pundits that I read gave the night to John Key, if only on points. I personally think they both did well, but that’s not saying much because it was Key’s to lose: Riding high in the polls, he had an opportunity to zoom to the front, but he didn’t.

There are two reasons for that. First, Helen Clark is a seasoned debater and she often debated rings around Key. But the main reason is something that no debate performance could fix: National’s policies.

The conservative National Party has, under Key, been positioned as a slightly to the right of the mostly centrist Labour Party. He’s claimed that not much would change under a National-led government, but the things they would change are pretty alarming.

They want to reduce contributions to Kiwisaver at a time when we need Kiwis to be saving more. They’re cutting tax credits for research and development, even as they claim to be pro-business and focusing on growing the economy. They pledge to gut the public service, increasing unemployment at a time when the private sector is also cutting jobs. They’re planning on attacking the education system to go back to the failed policies of the past. Senior party officials have been caught admitting that the party does, indeed, want to sell off state assets, despite its pledge not to do so.

So, in the end, it’s National’s policies that are the problem more than Key’s performance in any debate. It can’t claim to be “fresh” or pushing “change” when most of its policies will be a continuation of the Labour-led Government’s, the rest refer back to their failed policies from the past, and most of their senior Members of Parliament have been their for decades. Add to that the fact that Key was once engaged in the same sort of business activity that led to the current financial crisis, and, well, neither National nor Key can be trusted.

So, for me, Labour and Prime Minister Helen Clark are the clear winners, though I’m not just talking about a debate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Will the hate go away?

The main thing that worries me about this campaign is whether it will ever actually end. I’m not talking about the campaigning, the ads, the slogans, the debates. I mean the bald hatred that’s been unleashed.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. I know that some have blithely trotted out the hateful things that candidates have said in the past—even the distant past—as if that somehow makes the current trash acceptable or understandable. It doesn’t. The excesses of campaigns of the past pale by comparison to the virulent hatred that’s been unleashed this time.

I don’t need to recap all the bile that’s been spewed by the Palin-McCain campaign and the Republican Party. The mainstream media has been exposing it for what it is, including the barely-disguised racist subtext of much of their rhetoric. But it’s their supporters who have ramped up this hatred to a near-frenzy—to the extent that even John McCain was booed when he tried to tamp down some of his supporters’ expressed hatred of Barack Obama.

This didn’t originate with John McCain or Sarah Palin. They’re only doing what Karl Rove did with great success in 2000, 2002 and 2004, and less successfully in 2006; it’s the same slash and burn politics of Newt Gingrich and even reaches back to the fervent partisanship of the Reagan years. But over the past eight years, the Internet has exploded, bringing a plethora of places for like-minded people to gather and spew hatred, lies, smears and abundant conspiracy theories.

Just as McCain didn’t create the climate of hate, neither did the Internet. Both simply provided an outlet for what was already there. America is a deeply divided nation in which polarisation is the norm. That’s a topic in itself.

Here’s the thing: The vast majority of Americans are decent people, prepared to be fair-minded, given half a chance, but they’ve been brow-beaten by politicians and by right-wing media bent on fomenting division and demanding—if not agreement, then silence.

I’m not saying anything here that mainstream politicians don’t already know. Even John McCain knows it. You could see the anguished look on his face when one of his supporters said she didn’t trust Barack Obama because "he's an Arab”. Maybe at that moment he realised exactly what his campaign had created. But that’s the problem: Neither mainstream politicians nor John McCain are willing or able to put things right.

I don’t know who the real John McCain is anymore, and, quite frankly, I no longer care. If he and the Alaska Governor are willing to pander to the basest elements of society, if they’re willing to use prejudice and bigotry to win electoral office, then they don’t deserve those offices, and they deserve to lose in a landslide. America is better than that—it deserves better than that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Regularly scheduled programming

These recent weeks have been among the busiest I’ve experienced in years; there was too much to do and not enough time to do it. Blogging and podcasting had to go because of that time crunch. This was especially frustrating for me because there have been so many things I’ve wanted to say, to comment on, but I simply didn’t have the time.

But things are now returning to normal. That’s not to say that I have nothing to do: It’s Spring, and the gardens need to be cleaned up. There are still projects to complete in the house. There are also day-to-day chores and projects. And there’s work, too, of course.

But with things returning to normal, so, too, my blogging and podcasting can get back to a schedule—just in time for the final weeks of the elections in both the US and New Zealand. I’m looking forward to seeing what developes.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Whew! No need for democracy!

The Palin-McCain campaign has cleared Sarah Palin of all wrongdoing in the “Troopergate” scandal in Alaska. No need to wait for that pesky thing called “democracy” to sort it all out—the campaign has decided for us what the truth is.

Isn’t that a relief? I know I’d much rather rely on Palin-McCain to determine the truth than the people who were elected to do that job.

Seriously, I don’t know if this is the biggest case of arrogance I’ve ever seen in my life, or if it’s merely the most cynical. The Palin-McCain campaign obviously thinks that Americans are too stupid to know the difference between a legitimate government probe and campaign spin. They think that voters won’t know the difference between a government inquiry and a campaign press release.

Of course the Palin-McCain campaign is furiously spinning “Troopergate” as being a “partisan” campaign. Trouble is, the Alaska legislature is controlled by Republicans. You can’t blame this on Democrats either, John.

But at least we can all take comfort in the fact that we can finally get rid of that nuisance of democracy and let Palin-McCain tell us what to think.

Update 11/10/08: The official Alaska inquiry has found that Sarah Palin abused power for personal gain in seeking the firing of an ex-relative. This was the real inquiry, the one conducted by elected officials (mostly Republican, by the way).

100% negative—and wrong

We all know that John McCain is becoming increasingly desperate and negative, turning the Palin-McCain campaign in one long, ugly smear against Barack Obama. Now we have a way to measure just how negative John McCain has become.

The Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin reported that in the week of Sept. 28 to Oct 4, the Palin-McCain campaign ran 100% negative ads. During the same time, the Obama campaign ran 34% negative ads, and most of them would have been attacking Palin-McCain lies and smears.

The Palin-McCain campaign has continued to try and smear Barack by insinuating that he’s a terrorist. They don’t actually say that, of course, but by continually bringing up the non-existent link with Bill Ayers, they’re trying to smear Barack with guilt by association. Normal, rational people know that Barack was eight years old when Ayers was a radical, and they know that the extent of the link was that they served on an education reform group’s board at the same time and live in the same area of Chicago. But Palin-McCain aren’t talking to normal, rational people, but to those who are afraid of a black man with a funny name. This is classic dog-whistle politics: They don’t expect normal, rational people to buy their lies and smears, they’re really trying to motivate racist voters and those who are easily led.

Guilt by association, huh? Well, then, what about Palin’s extensive links to the Anti-American secessionists in Alaska? She denies the links, of course, but they’re far stronger than Barack’s are to Bill Ayers. Or what about McCain’s links to Nazi collaborator and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America? He directly supported them, and Reagan’s illegal support for the Contras, but as an 8 year old Barack clearly didn’t support Ayers. If Palin-McCain want to play this game, then they have to accept that we’ll look at their real links to unsavoury characters, too.

McCain is running 100% negative ads, he and his dangerous and absurd running mate are repeating lies and smears endlessly, and they offer nothing new, just four more years of Bush-Cheney (only more so). They’re not just 100% negative, they’re 100% wrong for America.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The die is cast…

…and so is my ballot. The photo is of me posting my Official Overseas Ballot, which is kind of like putting it in a ballot box. To be counted, it has to arrive by 7pm on election day or, if posted (as this one was), it has to be postmarked by 7pm election day (and this will meet that requirement) and must reach Chicago by two weeks after election.

In case you’re wondering, it cost NZ$3 to post, which today is about US$1.90.

AmeriNZ 117 is available

AmeriNZ 117 – Back to work is available, and it's free no matter where you get it from. You can listen to it or download it through the player at the bottom of the post here, or subscribe for free through iTunes here (you must have the free iTunes player installed). You can also listen to it for free through the player on my MySpace page, or on the right-hand side of this blog.

Please leave a comment at http://amerinzpodcast.com/, send an email to arthur{at]amerinzpodcast.com, or ring my US listener line on 206-339-8413.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What’s McCain afraid of?

We all know how the McCain campaign prevents reporters from asking Sarah Palin any questions, apparently afraid of what she might say. Maybe that’s with good reason: On all real news channels she’s bombed pretty spectacularly when she’s been interviewed.

But the McCain campaign is now preventing reporters from talking to ordinary Palin supporters attending rallies. The St. Petersburg Times reported:

When reporters tried to leave the designated press area and head toward the bleachers where the crowd was seated, an escort would dart out of nowhere and confront him or her and say, "Can I help you?'' and turn the person around.

When one reporter asked an escort, who would not give her name, why the press wasn't allowed to mingle, she said that in the past, negative things had been written. The campaign wanted to avoid that possibility Monday.

So maybe the McCain campaign isn’t just afraid of what Palin might say, maybe they’re afraid their feelings will be hurt—you know, by the truth. Not surprisingly, this is a page right out of the Bush-McCain-Rove campaign playbook, in which the media is tightly controlled.

So, this is yet another way in which Palin-McCain are just the same as Bush-Cheney.

McCain the liar

John McCain has accused Barack Obama of being a liar for having dared to point out the truth about McCain’s record. The truth is that McCain’s commitment to deregulation of the financial industry led directly to two financial disasters and two massive federal bailouts, no matter how much he falsely claims it didn’t.

In the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, McCain’s trying to change the subject by launching vicious attacks on Barack Obama—not his policies, but on the man himself. McCain’s doing this because he doesn’t want American voters to remember that he was in the thick of setting the stage for the current financial disaster. But the main thing he wants voters to forget is that he was very nearly prosecuted for his involvement in the “Keating 5” and got off lightly.

McCain's political favours and aggressive support for deregulation back in the late 80s and early 90s put him at the centre of the fall of Lincoln Savings and Loan, one of the largest in the country at that time. More than 23,000 investors lost their savings. That crisis forced the federal government to bail out the savings of hundreds of thousands of families and ultimately cost American taxpayers $124 billion. McCain wants voters to forget all that.

Then McCain helped to set the stage for the current disaster by backing the same failed policies and he wants voters to forget that, too. McCain has openly admitted that he doesn’t understand economics, so he turned to the people who were the architects of these financial disasters and enthusiastically did as they demanded.

So McCain helped cause this problem, and no amount of lying about the past of Barack Obama can change that. McCain’s ignorance of economics means he doesn’t even understand what he broke, or how he did it, so he can’t possibly fix it. McCain’s inability to admit his mistakes and correct them means his arrogance could lead to this happening all over again—again.

McCain is wrong about Barack Obama, he’s wrong about the economy and he’s wrong for America. Paired with the most unqualified and ignorant vice presidential nominee in decades, perhaps in all of American history, one thing is clear: Palin-McCain aren’t merely wrong, they’re dangerous.

And that’s the truth—not that Palin-McCain know what that is anymore.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Palin-McCain’s dog whistles

The increasingly desperate Palin/McCain campaign has started resorting to all sorts of lies and smears in an attempt to destroy voters’ perception of Barack Obama. They’re losing and they know it, so like a wounded dog, they’re lashing out, all teeth and saliva.

Well, no, that’s not what’s going on.

Actually, there’s something far more insidious at work here as the campaign moves to shore up it’s base and foster overconfidence among Obama supporters.

Recently, Karl Rove, Bush-Cheney’s Machiavellian strategist, declared that Obama has enough electoral votes to be elected president. That’s the headline that most people will hear, leading Obama supporters to relax and Palin’s ardent base to re-commit to their team. Appearing on the right wing Fox Noise Channel, Rove provided a lot of caveats to suggest that Obama may not really win. This was intended to sound like “reasonable analysis” to any undecided voters who may watch Fox, but its real purpose was to rile up the Republican base: Rove wanted to be sure they didn’t think the situation was hopeless, and that their commitment was vital.

Meanwhile, Palin stepped up attacks on Obama using attacks that an AP analysis said were “unsubstantiated and carried a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret.” She repeated the lie about Obama being associated with “terrorists”. Challenged on the lie, she then declared the AP was “mistaken”. Did you follow that? She lied, then lied about the truth, too.

Palin-McCain have no intention of letting the truth or facts get in the way of their campaign. Obama supporters hear these lies and think, “there they go again!”, but the wingnuts hear reinforcement of their prejudices and what they want to believe and get riled up. That’s the Palin-McCain plan.

The technical term for all this is “dog whistle politics”. It means that the Palin-McCain campaign talks about things in a way that goes straight at the far right, while the centre and left don’t hear what they’re really saying. That was what the AP analysis was revealing, how Palin-McCain use carefully chosen words and attacks to remind the right that Obama is African American and to portray him as weird, other-wordly, “not one of us”. This worked brilliantly for Bush-Cheney—twice—and there’s no reason to think that it won’t work again.

So, while it may be true that the Palin-McCain campaign is increasingly desperate, that’s not what’s behind their lies and smears and relying on them may be just what they need to take control of the White House.

People who are sick and tired of the politics of division as practiced by Rove, Bush-Cheney and now by Palin-McCain, can be rid of it once and for all by making sure they vote for Obama-Biden. The best strategy for Democrats and all reasonable, rational American voters is to act as if Obama-Biden are 20 points behind in the polls. You can be sure that the dogs Palin-McCain are whistling to will vote en masse. The rest of us must, too.

The visit ends

Our young nieces have moved on to Nigel’s sister’s house for the next few days after what was a fun week for everyone.

We went to the Zoo, to Kelly Tarlton’s, took them to the park and let them have some fun treat meals. They also used the spa pool most days, and played with Jake most of the rest of the time.

They were absolutely no trouble—in fact, they were pretty much perfect in most ways. But they also have a lot of energy, which could be a bit exhausting for us oldies. They quieted right down when children’s television was on, which led me to understand why parents turn to it. But the girls themselves sometimes wanted the TV turned off, so they’re clearly not TV addicts.

Near the end of their stay, we got a Nintendo Wii game console with Wii Sport. The physical nature of playing the Wii appealed to them in a way old-fashioned game consoles couldn’t, and it turned out that even at their young ages they were competitive with the adults. How many games is that true of? So in the Wii there was both entertainment and physical activity—not a bad combination.

It was a fun time this past week, but now it’s back to work. We know we’ll see the girls before they head home later this week, if only because their dad, Nigel’s brother, is staying with us for a few days. So, there will probably be a few more chances for their uncles to spoil them some more. Pretty good for everyone, I’d say.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Auckland View: From Tamaki Drive

I snapped this photo on Friday from Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland (outside Kelly Tarlton's). It was sunny off an on that day, and the clouds happened to pass over the skyline at the time I took the photo. But you get the general idea (click on the photo to embiggen). Tamaki Drive has some really nice views of Auckland City, Rangitoto and the Hauraki Gulf in general. It also has some nice beaches. It's well worth a visit.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Can’t stand Palin

I’ve been on holiday this week, but I still follow the news, of course. When I do, I’m reminded of how spectacularly unqualified Sarah Palin is to be president, should McCain become president and then die or resign.

Palin only got a passport a year ago, she’s had no involvement in any national issue and can’t even name a newspaper or magazine she gets news from. She also can’t name a single Supreme Court case she disagrees with apart from the obvious, Roe v. Wade. Has she ever even read a newspaper, magazine or book? Her stunning lack of knowledge about the world would suggest she hasn’t, and that ignorance is a frightening prospect for someone who may have her finger on the nuclear button.

She has peculiar ideas about world affairs, and her religious views are part of that; it’s dishonest to claim otherwise. She declared that soldiers in Iraq were doing “God’s work” and her religious beliefs are tied to a belief in “end times” and a final war in the Middle East. Those of us who don’t believe in that are fully justified in being concerned about a Commander-in-Chief who may be looking for a war in that region. Far right christianist extremists have been bullying the rest of us into silence about this, but if they want the religious freedom to hold their beliefs, then I must have the same freedom to question their beliefs and how they might be operationalised.

We’ve already had eight years of a president who arrived at the White House with no foreign policy experience, no deep understanding of public policy or national issues and an itchy trigger finger. We simply cannot risk even one day of another ignorant, ill-prepared and shallow president. There’s a better than average chance that electing McCain would mean getting that again in Palin.

Later today the Vice Presidential Debate will apparently be taking place (much to my surprise, I admit). Apparently, and not surprisingly, the McCain campaign’s tactic will be to have Palin go on the attack and mount a negative assault on Joe Biden. When a candidate and campaign have nothing to offer, the usual strategy is to go negative, as the McCain campaign has already done.

There’s absolutely nothing that Palin can say in that debate that will win me over, but I’ll be watching anyway. Somehow, I suspect she’ll give me plenty to talk about in upcoming blog posts and podcasts.