Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Comparing Obama '08 to Bush '00

Previously, I compared the histories of Karl Rove and David Axelrod. Another way to compare the two would be to compare the campaigns each has shaped. In 2000 and 2004, Karl Rove (the second link in his name creeps me out a little) was the principal advisor to George W. Bush in his campaigns for President. In 2008, David Axelrod is the principal advisor to Barack Obama.

I want to see David Axelrod's tax returns next year if this is the case in the Obama campaign. From a Rolling Stone article from April 2007:

The party's campaign strategists operate under contracts that would make Halliburton blush. While their GOP counterparts work for a flat fee on presidential campaigns, Democratic media consultants profit on commission, pocketing as much as ten percent of every dollar spent on TV ads. It's a business model that creates "an inherent conflict of interest," concedes Anita Dunn, who served as a strategist for Bill Bradley in 2000. The more the candidate spends on TV advertising, the more the consultant cashes in. And that compensation is hidden from public scrutiny: Federal campaign reports reveal only what a campaign spends on ads, not how much the consultants skim off the top.

"Consulting," says former Gore campaign chair Tony Coelho, "is a business that can turn into a racket." Over the past two presidential elections, Rolling Stone estimates, that racket has cost the Democrats at least $10 million more in consultant fees than it did the Republicans. Even top GOP advisers, who usually counsel that greed is good, are amazed by the exorbitant fees. "If you want to elect your candidate, you ought to be able to work for a reasonable rate -- not try to haul off a sack full of profits," says Mark McKinnon, the lead media strategist for George Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

Can you imagine how much money even one percent of the total amount that Obama's campaign has spent on television advertising? Earlier tonight, Barack Obama bought half an hour in prime time from 7 to 7:30 pm CDT, on three of the four national television networks, FOX, NBC, and CBS. This forced the delay of the conclusion of Game 5 of the World Series. If you read the articles linked to in this post about David Axelrod, you will remember that he is obsessive about baseball. I wonder whose idea it was to buy the half hour time slot before the possible series clenching games of the World Series. Also, if you go to the bottom of that story on SkyNews, it says

It is estimated that by the time this election is over Obama will have spent £144m ($230m) on TV advertising.

Ten percent of that would make a very tidy sum.

The bottom line is that, by writing this, I now think that David Axelrod is the most interesting figure in this political campaign. One thing about Rove in 2000 was that he was well known. Rove had been involved with the Republican Party, in DC then in Texas, back to Watergate. I do not see a broad spectrum of information available about Axelrod like I do when I search for "Rove 2000".

Since I am new to all this, I do not know how to embed youtube videos, so I will just give you the links.

John Edwards in 2004, when Axelrod worked for him.

Barack Obama in 2007, when Axelrod worked for him.

Apparently the politics of hope requires a black candidate and slower, clearer diction.

I just deleted a lot of this post because it was much too long. I will try to revisit the similarities between the Bush '00 and Obama '08 after I have had more time to ponder and research this topic. If I ever do write it, it will be very long.

An alternative way to approach abortion

Before you read my tortuous logical discussion of why I think this statement is correct, let me make the statement. I believe that we must assume that life begins at conception because it is the most conservative approach. If it is the wrong approach, it does the least damage to the rights of humans. The worst case scenario for this assumption is not as bad as the worst case scenario for any other assumption.

This definition of "conservative" does not refer to the political spectrum, it refers to scientific calculation. If you give me a value for the radioactivity for a certain substance, it has a value for its error, e.g. +/- 20%. If you have ingested this substance, and I want to calculate how much damage the radioactivity will do to your insides, I will carry that error through the calculation. The total amount of radiation dose inside your body could be higher by a factor of 1.2, therefore I will tell you the number I have calculated times 1.2. This represents the worst case scenario, and is the most conservative estimate of the total radiation dose you absorbed.

When taking into account the consequences of the worst case scenarios for each assumption about when life begins (conception, birth, in between), the most conservative assumption is that life begins at conception. If abortion is allowed to continue, that represents a tacit agreement that life begins at birth (or at the very least, after conception). If, someday in the future, mankind has unassailable proof that life begins at conception, then every abortion carried out will represent a murder. The converse of this scenario, where abortion is stopped now and then we find out later that life begins at birth, is an infinitely more acceptable alternative to the first scenario.

The following is the essay I wrote first, last night, about this. I prefer the summary above, but I will not delete this because Randy has already commented on it.

The most polarizing issue in American politics. Pro-lifers argue that abortion is murder because life begins at conception. Pro-choice folk argue that a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body, and that it is not murder because we do not know when life begins.

Science can not yet tell us definitively when life begins. Even if science could tell us that, not everyone would be convinced (lets all think about how some "scientists" dispute that the earth is warming). So, given this lack of evidence, it is reasonable to make an assumption about when life begins. Should we assume that life begins at birth, at conception, or at some point in between? The consequences of each assumption are far reaching.

If we assume that life begins at birth, that would make abortion a perfectly allowable practice that government has no business regulating. Government, among other things, is charged with punishing the violator of another individual's negative rights, like the right not to be killed. If an infant is not alive until it is born, it can not be killed until after it is born.

If life begins at some period after conception, but before birth, then abortion is only a legal issue after that period has passed in a pregnancy. This assumption, of the three, appears to me to be the least defensible.

If life begins at conception, then, as pro-life activists say, abortion is murder. This means that the government must punish the mother who receives an abortion.

So, given these choices, which one should be chosen? The most important consideration is choosing which assumption causes the least amount of harm if it is chosen and its consequences carried out.

If life begins at birth, the mother has absolute power over the fate of her infant. This protects the mother in the event that the pregnancy was caused by something awful like rape, or that the mother experiences complications that risk her own life. Fortunately, cases like this represent a small percentage of the total number of pregnancies, and the total number of abortions. According to the abstract of this article, none of the most frequent reasons for abortion have anything to do with either of these unfortunate occurences (I cannot read the full article because I do not want to pay for it). Of course, women with complications rarely go to abortion clinics, so that is most likely under-reported. I must admit I do not know much about the motives for abortion. If someone can find a reputable source that says something to the contrary, I welcome the input.

If life begins at some point between birth and conception, then partial-birth abortions are murder, but first trimester abortions are not a legal issue. This assumption appears weak to me because if you grant that life starts before birth, then you must assume that life starts at conception in the absence of compelling scientific evidence confirming otherwise. Do you say that there is an arbitrary cut-off, like, say 18 weeks? Is the child alive when it kicks? When it starts to sprout limbs? To me, the strongest position that a pro-choice advocate can take is to unblinkingly accept that life begins at birth, that the baby is not alive and individual until it is outside its mother's womb. If you grant that life begins before birth, you have already lost. Every indicator, like kicking or a heartbeat, can be traced back further and further until eventually you have one cell dividing into two.

If life begins at conception, then the infant is protected and the mother is stuck. Unwanted pregnancy or not, she will have to go the full term. However, it seems apparent that the infant is totally defenseless, and that the mother is not. Unfortunately, in this case, an unexplainable miscarriage might be a legal issue as well as a personal tragedy.

The most conservative assumption is that life begins at conception. The least harm is done when one assumes that life begins at conception. The infant is protected in the event of an irresponsible mother. I think This assumption grants rights to an infant immediately. Whether or not this grants the unborn infant legal protection is a difficult question to answer and nearly impossible to legislate.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Campaign Financing - Late Night, Fragmented Thoughts

John McCain and Barack Obama made a pledge to voters during the primary season that, if each were nominated, and that the other agreed to public campaign financing, that each candidate would agree to public campaign financing. Barack Obama broke that pledge as soon as his campaign realized that it could raise the amount of money the FEC would give them for the whole campaign in less than two months. His campaign raised $150M in Spetember! John McCain was given $84M for his whole campaign by the FEC, but his campaign has access to more like $140M for the general election campaign. The difference is silly.

This may seem trite, but is no one suspicious of this amount of money? Can you imagine 150,000 Americans donating $1000 each in the month of September to a political campaign? Does this not seem far-fetched? Do you think that 1.5M people would donate $100 each, or 6M (1 out of every 50 people) people donating $25 each? Is our economy not in the midst of the worst downturn since the Great Depression? Where is this money coming from? The acceptance of public campaign financing means that a candidate can no longer accept money from private individuals. So McCain raised money for as long as he could from private individuals (the last number I saw for McCain fundraising was May 2008), then accepted $85M and had to stop accepting money from private individuals. Obama, however, has raised tons of money. I mean tons.

June - $52M - average donation in June $68 (765k donations in June)

Total After June: $296M

July - $51M - 65k new donors - more than 2M donors total
August - $66M - 500k new donors
September - $150M - 632k new donors

My math says that is $563,000,000 that Barack Obama has raised to get elected President. More than a half billion dollars. If we use the number in June for average donation, and assume that each donation was from a unique individual, that amounts to 8.2 million people making the average donation, or 2.75% of the population of the United States. More than one out of every forty people.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kingmakers: David Axelrod and Karl Rove

David Axelrod is Barack Obama's chief strategist and media advisor. Karl Rove is an evil bastard, and also was George W. Bush's senior advisor. What is the difference between David Axelrod and Karl Rove? Karl Rove is a lifelong GOP activist/advisor and David Axelrod is a long-time Democrat advisor (his only other job was as reporter for the Chicago Tribune for 8 years). They both groomed young, charismatic candidates to run for President.

Here is Wikipedia's entry about Axelrod's career up until the 2008 Presidential election:

He formed a political consultancy, Axelrod & Associates, in 1985. In 1987, he worked on the successful reelection campaign of Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor. This established his first experience in working with black politicians and he later became a key player in similar mayoral campaigns of blacks, including Dennis Archer in Detroit, Michael R. White in Cleveland, Anthony A. Williams in Washington, D.C., Lee P. Brown in Houston, and John F. Street in Philadelphia.[5] Axelrod is a longtime strategist for Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley and styles himself a "specialist in urban politics."

In 2004, Axelrod worked for the presidential campaign of John Edwards. During the campaign, he lost responsibility for making ads, but continued as the campaign's spokesman. Regarding Edwards' failed 2004 presidential campaign, Axelrod has commented, "I have a whole lot of respect for John, but at some point the candidate has to close the deal and—I can’t tell you why—that never happened with John."

In 2006, Axelrod consulted for several campaigns, including for the successful campaigns of Eliot Spitzer in New York's gubernatorial election and for Deval Patrick in Massachusetts's gubernatorial election. Axelrod also served in 2006 as the chief political adviser for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel for the U.S. House of Representatives elections, in which the Democrats gained 31 seats.

Karl Rove's political consultancy experience is certainly longer, too long for me to insert here, but I think you will accept that I am comparing apples to apples here.

Axelrod specializes in the nether-region between lobbying and advertising. Wikipedia's entry on him refers to this field as "astroturfing", or the manufacturing of a grass-roots movement. I'm not going to pretend I know much about this, here is a link for some background information, but it still strikes one as kind of icky.

So, there it is, my first post with some sources. I grant that two are Wikipedia, and the other is linked to from Wikipedia, but I still put forth some effort. Also, I want to give a shout out to my girlfriend who has labelled my blog "gayy" (emphasis added), at least half-jokingly, too!

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If you happen by this blog, know me, and want to contribute, email me and I will most likely invite you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Racial Blind

Right now, Barack Obama is leading this election by a statistically significant margin. The causes of this are several, and it is not my goal to analyze all of them. My goal is to raise a question I have not heard anyone else ask: Is race a primary cause of Barack Obama's lead? I believe the answer is yes.

Let me backtrack and briefly note my history with this election. I followed this election intensely throughout the primary season. I have liked John McCain since the 2000 election, and personally favored him to get the nod from the GOP. I did not believe this would happen. With the benefit of hidsight, I see that Republicans had little choice but to select McCain. I believe in any other election cycle, where the incumbent is not such a fantastically unpopular, incompetent Republican, John McCain would have no chance of getting nominated by the GOP as its candidate for President. Ron Paul was also a brief breath of fresh air. I describe him as brief because his good ideas are refreshing, but all of his ideas taken together amount to anarchy. This excited me, but not as much as the primary race happening in the Democratic party. I must admit, I dislike Hillary Clinton. Of the rest of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, I thought Richardson was the most qualified, and that Barack Obama was intriguing and had the necessary flair for the dramatic (by announcing his candidacy on a cold February morning in the birthplace of Lincoln). I enjoyed the drama of it all, and checked several times each day. I also learned to enjoy the Lehrer News Hour on PBS. If you have never watched this show, do not underestimate how boring a television newscast can be that does not have commercials. Boring though it may be, I now firmly believe that it is the best source of news on television.

I was enamored with Barack Obama. I thought about how great it would be to have a President who united people, and I did not care about his specific policies. Even if I did care about his vision for where America would go if he was elected President, I would not have been able to make sense of anything he described. I noticed that the candidate and his campaign were purposefully vague about many policy issues. It appeared to me that this was a classic political move, highlighting strengths ("I had the judgement to vote against authorizing the Iraq war") and minimizing weaknesses (his lack of initiative in creating policy in the Senate).

I was so enamored with Barack Obama that I thought that all arguments against voting for him were motivated by racism (maybe not overtly, but that all agents of criticism were at least subconsciously motivated by racism). I thought that acceptance of criticism of Obama made me a racist, at least partly. A vote is a judgement, in favor of one and against all others, and the media exposure of Presidential candidates means that most people vote for both the personality as well as the policies the candidate professes. My vote for McCain is a vote against Obama, which I thought could be interpreted as a vote for the white guy and against the black guy. It takes discipline to seperate the individual candidate, and his race, from the individual candidate's policies and philosophies. It took me a long time to reconcile the idea that a vote for McCain was not a vote against the 14th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and every other advance in civil rights this country has fought so hard for throughout its history. I hope that every other American can look at this election with enough detachment from the personalities of the candidates to decide who to vote for based on the merits of the race.

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