Category Archives: Politics

I should stop watching Sarah Palin interviews.

I saw the interview on ABC last night and tonight. It surprised me that she quite clearly didn’t understand what the Bush Doctrine is (Charlie Gibson had to explain it to her). She dodged and evaded too many questions to count. Every foreign policy question she turned into an oil question, citing Alaska, as if somehow Alaska has played a key part in international conflict in the last decade.

Charlie asked her about the budget deficit, the economy. He got her implied assent that Bush hadn’t done well, and asked her to name three concrete ways she’d change. She dodged for a minute. He tried again. She cited lower taxes, better oversight, and I forget the third. Anyhow, it didn’t sound very different to me — and not very specific either. It’s so general that everybody from Ron Paul to the green party can agree to it.

He asked her about the deficit, and what she and McCain would do to fix it. She stumbled for a minute, then said “I certainly wouldn’t cut veterans benefits” and spent the next minute talking about how important veterans are. Which is a whole other topic. She never did say how they’d cut the deficit, just that in some magical way, they’d find inefficiencies. McCain’s had over a year to name them, and I haven’t seen the specifics yet.

I came away feeling more concerned about her than I expected. She reminds me of Bush in 2000. Cocky, self-confident, a shallow thinker on every topic, and utterly unprepared.

This process of getting to know McCain’s unknown pick is not going so well, I think.

Political Thoughts

It may come as no surprise to some of you that I actually enjoy — yes, enjoy — watching political conventions. I’ve spent some time watching them over the past two weeks.

McCain has yet to speak tonight as I write this, but I’ve got to get out a few comments.

First of all, both parties of course were attacking the presidential candidate of the other. But did you notice a key difference? The Democrats attacked McCain on policy, while the McCain people attacked Obama on biography. VP nominee Palin even went so far as to mock Obama’s work 20 years ago as a community organizer. I think that is incredibly telling. It seems to me to indicate that the Republicans know that their policies aren’t working, and are grasping at straws to find something else. There is plenty in McCain’s biography that the Democrats could go after — his involvement in one of the worst scandals in the Senate, for instance — but they aren’t.

What about the other difference? Hope vs. fear. Obama’s speech last week was truly inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired by a politician before. Make no mistake about it, he set the bar for himself incredibly high. I don’t think anybody since Kennedy has done that. Obama realizes that there are things we must do as a country, and he also emphasized that the “ask not what your country can do for you” theme. Watching Giulianni and Palin was an exercise in fear-mongering. It’s a constant stream of “9/11 MUSLIM OIL SHORTAGE TERRORISM NUCLEAR BIN LADEN IRAN GAS PRICES RED ALERT PANIC PANIC PANIC MEXICANS 9/11 9/11 9/11 SCARY WAR WAR WAR.” It’s as if they have discovered M-x spook RET in Emacs.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are talking about reducing health care costs, making sure everyone is covered, ending war, making the economy better for working-class people. It’s an interesting disconnect that Obama highlighted well: McCain has said that the American economy has done well over the past 8 years. And indeed, by some “traditional” measures, such as productivity or GDP, it has. But the vast majority of Americans are not better off today than they were 8 years ago. Obama argues that the way McCain measures economic success is way off; our economy is not doing well if the vast majority of regular Americans are not doing well.

Also telling was how both candidates promised to reach across party lines (Bush promised that too). One actually is working to do it. Take abortion, for example. Obama said that he doesn’t agree with the pro-lifers, but surely everyone can agree that providing better funding and support for alternatives to abortion such that it becomes incredibly rare is a good thing. Where’s McCain looking for common ground? And then, of course, we have Palin wanting her family to be off limits — but only when it’s convenient to her.

I’ve voted in the past, but usually as a vote against someone rather than a vote for someone. This year, I’ll make a single vote and do both.

Obama, RFK, and Making History

I think that for the first time, when I go to vote this November, I will probably not have to hold my nose as I make a selection for president. I don’t agree with Obama on everything, of course, but the core of what he stands for — that it is time to enter a post-racial, post-partisan time — and that putting the interests of the people before those of the corporation — is a powerful message.

And I’m not the only one that thinks so. One interesting read is Why This 55-Year-Old White Lifelong Republican Wants Obama To Win by Frank Schaeffer. He’s a pro-life, pro-military Republican that actually campaigned for McCain in 2000, and this year he’s supporting Obama. He pointed out another key point: Obama does not play on our fears.

Then there’s A Transformational Moment by Jim Wallis, who grew up in a time when white people that supported civil rights were literally putting their lives on the line. He ends with:

This morning I heard several interviews on NPR with black Americans about their response to Obama’s nomination. One older woman said, “A black man running for president, did you hear what just I said? A black man running for president of the United States ….” She just kept repeating the words, and succinctly captured my own personal feelings.

Yes, it is truly historic, and the U.K. newspaper headlines captured that sentiment as did papers around the world. Nothing could change the image of America around the world more than this. But it is more than historic; it is very personal for many of my generation. A new generation just sees this as natural — he’s an inspirational leader who happens to be black, which matters little to them. But for my generation — I’m dating myself now — this is a transformational moment, one we didn’t think would come in our lifetimes. Race was the issue that changed us, shaped us, determined our path, and even defined the meaning of our faith. Now a black man is running for president of the United States. Amazing grace.

Tom Hayden reflects on the similarities between Obama and RFK, another interesting read. He concludes with:

Those who denounce Obama — and the possibilities of all electoral politics- – should ponder the effectiveness of sitting judgmentally on the sidelines while an Unexpected Future arrives through the sheer will of a new generation. They should consider whether politics and history can be reduced to a fixed determinism that is endlessly repeated, as if there are no surprises. We can have our differences with Obama’s specific policies, as I certainly do, but those should be measured against the prospect that a movement might transform him even as his very rise continues to transform the rest of us.

And now for something less inspiring. If you go look over at the latest blog entry at and read the comments, these readers frankly sound more than a little loony. There are rampant accusations that Obama “stole the election” with the help of the DNC. That makes no sense to me; he followed the rules, and the DNC gave Clinton more delegates than she should have had with the rules as they were at the start of the game (which she supported then). The Obama campaign even rejected a plan that was less favorable to Clinton at the DNC rules committee meeting on Saturday. They also go on and on about how Obama has had so many scandals (though the Clinton real estate scandals really are far more serious than a former pastor). It all looks so very petty, and I wonder why Clinton has whipped up her supporters to such a fervent extent. Perhaps it was an accident, but you’d think things like this are rarely an accident with her.

More Reasons To Like Obama

Ars has an article Previewing McCain and Obama on geek issues that is a thoroughly good read. I find myself agreeing with Obama on everything from net neutrality to privacy rights. I find it interesting that Republicans like to run as advocates of individual liberties but are the ones pushing laws that restrict them the most.

One gripe though: these are issues that are important to everyone. To call them “geek” issues implies that they are only of interest to some, and thus cheapens them. Ars ought to have a better title for their article.

Clinton Voters on Barack Obama

Some TV network did some interviews with West Virginia voters at the time of their primary. The Daily Showpicked up on it (click link for video). Among the comments:

“I guess because he is another race. I’m sort of scared of theother race because we have so much conflict with them.”

“He’s Muslim and that has a lot to do with it.”

“I don’t like the Hussein thing. I’ve had enough of Hussein.”

The segment on this starts at 1:03 into the video, and the comments start at 1:45.

By the way, if you think Obama is Muslim, check out (Though it won’t comment on the separate question of why it matters).


A Smart Gas Tax

The recent announcements by McCain and Clinton of their support for a temporary repeal of the Federal gas tax make me sick. More on why later, but first, I want to put forth my idea. I think both Republicans and Democrats would like it — as it’s based on market principles and achieves a reduction in costs to the average household, while simultaneously helping the environment and reducing our dependency on foreign oil. But of course, it’s courageous, and we don’t have many politicians of that type anymore.

What we need is a large, revenue-neutral, gas tax increase. Now, before people go nuts, let’s explore what this means.

Revenue-neutral means that it doesn’t result in a net increase of monies going to the government. The increase in the gas tax rate is offset by a decrease in the income tax, tied to the cost of direct and indirect taxable gasoline each family or business consumes. So on day 1, if you cost of filling up at the tank goes up by $10 in a week, if you are an average family, your total paychecks also go up by $10. Your cost for receiving a package might go up by $1, and your paycheck goes up by the same amount. So you’re no worse off than before — if you’re average.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of this sort of plan:

  • The economic incentive to be efficient consumers of gas is magnified. This will eventually lead to Americans having more money in their pockets, increasing market incentives for fuel efficiency, and a decreasing (or increasing slower) price of oil as demand slows.
  • Economic incentives to use mass transit, live close to urban centers, or drive fuel-efficient vehicles are magnified. Likewise, the economic incentives to invest in mass transit and efficient automobiles are also magnified.
  • As more efficient technologies come on the market, and Americans decide that they’d like to pad their bank accounts by hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, more sustainable and environmentally-friendly development patterns will emerge. Also, the price of oil will be kept low. Of course, people that choose not to change will, on average, be no worse off than before.
  • Alternative choices to the automobile will have a greater incentive to develop. Think the return of a fast, speedy national passenger and freight network, greater mass transit options, etc.
  • The marketplace will drive Detroit to love making fuel-efficient vehicles, because they will be the new profit centers.
  • This sort of thing is known to work well in other countries around the world.

If we think more long-term, we see even more positive effects:

  • The return to local agriculture and manufacturing. Due to lower transportation costs, local farmers and manufacturers will be able to undercut Walmart’s prices due to the larger relative costs of Walmart’s much-vaunted national distribution network. Unless, that is, Walmart starts buying local — which is a good thing too. This is a good thing for American jobs.
  • Keeping all that oil money in the domestic economy is a good thing for American jobs, too.
  • Our businesses will have a jump start on being competitive in the increasingly carbon-regulated global marketplace.

As for the cons:

  • Eventually this will lead to a net reduction in Federal revenues as efficiencies develop in the marketplace and people save money on gas. Corresponding budget cuts will be required. (A good thing, I figure)
  • Implementing this all at once would be a shock to some people living inefficiently now — those that are far above average. It would have to be implemented gradually to avoid being a shock to the economy.

Now, for the McCain/Clinton plan: it’s a farce. Reducing the gas taxes means more efficient gas, which means more consumption of gas, which in turn leads to — yes — higher gas prices. Its real effect will be minimal, and is a terrible long-term policy. It charges tens of billions of dollars to the national credit card (which we, and our children, will have to repay) while achieving almost no benefit now. It’s a gimmick through and through, and something that says loud and clear that neither candidate is on track for the “Straight Talk Express”.

Update 4/29/2008: One potential solution for the problem of declining revenues over time is to periodically re-index the averages to mirror current usage. Assuming this does really lead to the expected drop in consumption, there is no sense in 2020 of paying people for how much gas they would have used in 2008.

Pennsylvania and Irrelevance

NPR has been doing an interesting series this week. They’ve sent out a reporter who is going all across Pennsylvania interviewing people at local food markets. He found a fish shop in Pittsburgh, a market in Lancaster, and some shops in Philadelphia. He sought out Democratic voters to ask them about their thoughts on Clinton vs. Obama.

A lot of the Pennsylvania voters were for Clinton. When asked why, most of them said that they liked Bill Clinton and his policies. A few said they liked how Hillary handled the Lewinsky affair. To me, none of that has anything to do with whether Clinton or Obama would be better for the country.

Then there was the person this morning who was criticizing Obama for not offering specifics. She said she is Jewish, and so Israel is important to her, and Obama hasn’t said anything about helping along the peace process. So I went to, clicked Enter the Site, went to Issues, Foreign Policy, then Israel. Then I clicked on the full fact sheet, which was a full 2 pages on Israel, including far more detail than the voter said she wanted.

I often wonder about these people that say Obama doesn’t have specifics. Just because each speech doesn’t read off a whole lot of information doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have it — it’s all there on the website. I’m sure people that don’t have Internet access could call the Obama campaign and get information, too. It seems Obama ought to do a better job of mentioning this fact at every possible opportunity.

Then I hear a lot of Clinton supporters saying that since Clinton has won states like Ohio in the primaries, she’d do better there in the general election. I think that is a totally facetious argument. Just because Clinton did better with Democrats doesn’t mean that she’d do better in the general election. We can generally assume that the Democratic voters will vote for the Democratic nominee, whoever it is. The question is how many independents and Republicans a person can win over.

xkcd author endorses Obama

The author of the xkcd comic has endorsed Obama for president. Among other things, he wrote:

Obama has shown a real commitment to open government. When putting together tech policy (to take an example close to home for xkcd) others might have gone to industry lobbyists. Obama went to Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons (under which xkcd is published) and longtime white knight in the struggle with a broken system over internet and copyright policy. Lessig was impressed by Obama’s commitment to open systems — for example, his support of machine-readable government information standards that allow citizens’ groups to monitor what our government is up to. Right now, the only group that can effectively police the government is the government itself, and as a result, it’s corrupt to the core. Through these excellent and long-overdue measures, Obama is working to fight this corruption.

Having Larence Lessig as an advisor, instead of some RIAA shill, speaks volumes about the candidate.

Today’s Political Puzzler

So recently the prime minister of Iraq criticized Israel for a disproportionate response in their attacks against Lebanon. I don’t know his exact words, but in general, I agree with that sentiment.

It’s no big surprise that Bush and Republican leaders have all been rushing to support Israel and taking their sweet time before helping with a ceasefire, and taking plenty of time with that process, too.

So it’s also no big surprise that a number of Washington politicians mustered up a good deal of righteous-sounding moral indigniation at the Iraqi PM. There were some that boycotted his address to Congress today. Lots of fiery rhetoric.

But here’s the surprise: it was the Democrats doing this.


The populist party, the one that’s supposed to be valuing life and perhaps has recently started to grow a backbone in opposing ever-broadening war, is now in support of Israel’s tactics?

I think it’s all politics. The Republicans don’t want to criticize the PM because he’s part of the process their party started. And the Democrats want to pander to their base and criticize anything related to an unpopular war.

I don’t think very many people in Washington from either party have genuine ethics these days. They just take whatever moral position they think will win votes.