Sunday, August 31, 2008

Quote of the Day

From Sarah Vowell's "Bringing Pell Grants to My Eyes," in today's NY Times:

I have spent the last eight years so disgusted with the incompetent yahoos of the executive branch that I had forgotten that I believe in one of the core principles of the Democratic Party -- that government can be useful, meaningful, and a worthwhile force for good in this republic instead of just an embarrassing, torturing, Book of Revelation starter kit.

And if you always suspected William Safire has never had a thought worth sharing, his little cameo column today won't present contrary evidence. It will not be linked here.

Hurricane Gustav

McCain and Palin are going to Mississippi for "briefings" on emergency hurricane response. It's an obvious political move, trying to prevent comparisons to Katrina, and, who knows, it may work. Obama's response, from MSNBC's First Read, strikes just the right tone:

LIMA, OH -- After attending church service at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Obama kept the focus on Hurricane Gustav during a brief press conference here, telling reporters he was prepared to mobilize a network of volunteers to help the victims of the storm once it was clear what kind of aid was needed.

“I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary,” he told said, according to a pool report. “So it becomes a question of what people on the ground need and once we determine that then we can activate our email list of a couple of million people who want to give back."

Obama said he was monitoring the situation and that officials in the area were doing everything they could “to execute a effective evacuation, but we need people’s cooperation so that’s the message I’m going to be sending throughout the day.”

He said donations from his millions-strong email list of volunteers and donors could include cash, and he responded to the news that John McCain, his wife Cindy, and his running mate Sarah Palin were traveling to Mississippi today at the invitation of Gov. Haley Barbour.

"A big storm like this raises bipartisan concerns, and I think for John to want to find out what's going on is fine,” he said. "The thing that I always am concerned about in the middle of a storm is whether we're drawing resources away from folks on the ground because the Secret Service and various security requirements sometimes it pulls police, fire ,and other departments away from concentrating on the job. I'm assuming that where he went that wasn't an issue. We’re going to try to stay clear of the area until things have settled down and then we'll probably try to figure out how we can be as helpful as possible."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Holding at 49%

We were wondering whether the Democratic Convention, and Obama's speech, would be enough to kick Obama's poll numbers over 50%.

It looks like they were not. For two days, now, the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll has been sitting at 49% Obama, 41% McCain. We've got the Republican Convention coming up next week, and the Sarah Palin nomination, so it could be the numbers will start deteriorating.


Sunday update:

Now 48% to 42%. The convention bounce is over, and the numbers will probably be closer tomorrow.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin?

Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin?

Tell me: is this the best choice McCain had for second in command? What does this say about the kind of Commander in Chief he would make?

The only explanation I can think of is McCain believed those polls showing Hillary's people are still disaffected, thinking he can lure them to his campaign with a woman VP. But there's evidence that group has dissolved in the last week.

We'll be seeing the usual talking heads putting the best face on this, but from here it looks like an incredible blunder.

Obama's Speech

Hooray! Hooray! Obama is finally following my very valuable advice, and making this a campaign about the manifold Republican failures:

For over two decades, [McCain has] subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is — you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps — even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure.

If you didn't see the speech, you missed a doozy. But don't despair, here it is, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

Daily Kos offers a good summary of reactions, liberal and conservative.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Schadenfreude, Again!

From Talking Points Memo:

MSNBC just noted that with Gustav likely to hit the Gulf Coast next week this could be a "split-screen convention" for the Republicans.

A Gulf Coast hurricane disrupting the GOP's messaging during convention week -- three years after Katrina hit (the anniversary is tomorrow) -- the irony would be enough to make my head explode.

Here's hoping Gustav gets really scary and lots of media attention, but amounts to nothing.


Two days ago the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll, which averages the 3 most recent day's results, showed McCain at 46% vs. Obama's 44%. Up 'til then, Obama had been in the lead, or sometimes tied.

Today, the poll is reflecting Obama at 48% and McCain at 42%. Gallup attributes the sharp turnaround to a "convention bounce," which, in an earlier article, they say averages about 5%. It's worth noting that one of the 3 days covered by the poll included Hillary's speech, but none reflected Bill's or Biden's speech.

At the end of July, Obama had one 3-day average of 49%, with McCain at 40%, but that's about as far apart as they've been. Can Obama push it over 50%? We'll be watching here.

[Click on graphic for a larger image.]

The Republican Extremist World View

Kevin Drum has some advice for Obama tonight:

In some simple way, he needs to make people understand that all the stuff they don't like about the past eight years isn't just the fault of one guy's idiosyncrasies, it's the fault of an entire worldview. And if you elect McCain, you're electing that worldview too.

Clinton (Bill)

I had forgotten how good a speaker Bill Clinton is:

The choice is clear. The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do. As a Senator, he has shown his independence on several issues.

But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friedman Sums It Up


More About Wind Power

The NY Times has a good article about the problems of transmitting wind-produced electricity from the Great Plains to the coasts. The sections that caught my attention:

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.


Unlike answers to many of the nation’s energy problems, improvements to the grid would require no new technology. An Energy Department plan to source 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind calls for a high-voltage backbone spanning the country that would be similar to 2,100 miles of lines already operated by a company called American Electric Power.

The cost would be high, $60 billion or more, but in theory could be spread across many years and tens of millions of electrical customers. However, in most states, rules used by public service commissions to evaluate transmission investments discourage multistate projects of this sort. In some states with low electric rates, elected officials fear that new lines will simply export their cheap power and drive rates up.

Without a clear way of recovering the costs and earning a profit, and with little leadership on the issue from the federal government [emphasis added], no company or organization has offered to fight the political battles necessary to get such a transmission backbone built.

The problem with a political "philosophy" that says government is inherently bad, and not the answer to anything, is that some things -- important, our-survival-depends-on-it things, can only be done by a government. Cut government out of the equation, and it doesn't get done. If we haven't learned that from the failures of the "conservative revolution," we haven't learned anything.

There's more good information in the article.

The One You Don't Use

Here at Sempringham we've been fans of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer for several years. How does a Democrat win in Montana? By being himself, and telling the truth. We really liked this passage from his speech last night:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stay Calm

Bad news from ABC:

The health of U.S. banks is quickly deteriorating, and the government fund set up to protect depositors might not have enough money to insure everybody, analysts told ABCNews.

The number of banks on a key FDIC watch list for failure has grown from 90 to 117 banks. The government insures deposits of up to $100,000 but will it have enough money to insure everybody?

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, insures bank deposits of up to $100,000 at nearly 8,500 of the nation's banks and also keeps a watch list of banks that it considers in trouble.

Thanks to a collapsing housing market and a weak economy, a growing number of banks are struggling to stay afloat, with not enough cash on hand to cover losses from bad loans.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Comic Relief, from The Queen's Na-vy

It's Time to Get Nasty

Glenn Greenwald at starts off telling it like it is:

What's most notable about John McCain's confusion over the number of homes he owns isn't merely that it demonstrates that, after running his campaign based on depicting Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and himself as the all-American Everyman, McCain lives a life that is about as far removed from the Average American as one can get, and has done so for decades. What's notable is how McCain was able to live that way. McCain himself isn't actually rich. He just lives off the inherited wealth of his much younger former mistress and now-second-wife -- for whom he dumped his older and disfigured first wife -- and who then used her family's money to fund McCain's political career and keep him living in extreme luxury (after insisting that he sign a prenuptial agreement, which would make McCain the first U.S. President to have one).
Here's a good question for McCain: "Did your wife insist that you sign a prenuptial agreement before agreeing to marry you?"

You need to read the whole article.

Being Lapped

We got a postcard from our friends Susan and Phil, who went to Beijing for the Olympics. Among other comments:

Public trans is the only way to get around -- a bit more modern and easier to use than home. Over and over Phil and I say to ourselves, "We are being lapped." Asia is preparing for the next 100 years -- the U.S. is sleeping.

It's amazing how closely that matches my thoughts when watching the Olympics.

Is America in decline?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Recommended Reading

Steve Clemons doesn't care how many houses McCain owns, or whether he remembers how many there are. But something about it concerns him.

George Obama

This is a really fascinating CNN story about George Obama, Barack's half-brother, who lives in Kenya. It's not quite 3 minutes long.

I'd be interested in your reaction to it, either in comments or by email. By the way, if you haven't read Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, you're missing a very good read.

Late update: There's more to this than I first realized. Now that you've had a chance to think about George Obama's story, take a look at this.

I'm not making any judgments here. I'm just struck by the coincidence.

Later update: That didn't take long:

Are Cindy McCain's half-sisters fair game now?

Friday, August 22, 2008

An Item from the Way-Back Machine

John McCain in January 2008:

When asked how he would respond to the fact that voters are now increasingly focused on the nation's economy, McCain said he had no interest in changing his own policy priorities.

"Even if the economy is the, quote, number one issue, the real issue will remain America's security," he said. "If it's not the most important issue in the minds of many voters, America's security will remain the number one issue with me. And if they choose to say, 'Look, I do not need this guy because he's not as good on home loan mortgages,' or whatever it is, I understand that. I will accept that verdict. I am running because of the transcendent challenge of the twenty-first century, which is radical Islamic extremism, as you know."

Reported here, in the Washington Post.

Exciting Underpants Found in England!

Just in case your issue of History Today hasn't arrived yet:

A pair of Queen Victoria’s hand-made knickers from the 1890s has sold at auction for £4,500. The July 30th sale at auctioneers Hansons auctioneers in Derbyshire also included the Queen’s chemise and nightgown. The 50in cotton bloomers include a VR monogram and were sold by relatives of the monarch’s lady-in-waiting; auctioneer Charles Hanson said: ‘These pants, considering their provenance and pedigree, are very exciting.’

Very exciting, indeed.

CNN Goes Crazy

From 23/6, and it says it all:

Here's hoping this doesn't all come back to bite Obama. It's really kind of stupid, and could be lampooned pretty effectively by the McCain campaign. Would a President Obama email special information to his elitist, zombie-like cultists? Right now the press on this is favorable, but don't expect that to last.

He Thinks It's Him!

David Kurtz has not yet received a call from Obama, telling him he is NOT the VP pick. Over at Talking Points Memo he makes his expectant VP guess in "I Think It's Me".

Just Another Cappuccino Conservative

Sempringham hopes you're getting a vast helping of schadenfreude out of the "How many houses does he own?" thing with McCain.

So far the Obama Campaign as gotten two good ads out of it:

and this one:

This was all presaged by this video, which you saw here months ago:

We have to admit that we wonder what this really means, as does AMERICAblog:

It's difficult to be[lieve] that the McCain campaign wasn't aware that the number of McCain's homes was going to be an issue. Why wasn't McCain briefed on the issue and given a number? Or was he briefed and he couldn't remember, just as he hasn't been able to remember a lot of things of late?

The LA Times has a good article about what they call the "kerfuffel" here. Our favorite bit:

McCain, who huddled with advisors at his desert compound in Sedona, Ariz., said nothing in public. A nine-car motorcade took him to a nearby Starbucks early in the morning, where he ordered a large cappuccino. McCain otherwise avoided reporters.
It's really a pity the convention is so soon. There's no question the Obama Campaign would like to milk this for several weeks. It's quite possible they're holding back on the VP announcement as long as they possibly can, just to give this story more time.

The Death of Conservative Economic Thought

From Kevin Drum's last substantial post at Political Animal:

The palpable exhaustion of conservative economic thought really is extraordinary. The evidence has been clear for years that that, at current U.S. tax levels, neither modest cuts nor modest increases has any real effect on economic growth, but the GOP's core interest groups — rich people and corporations — want tax cuts, so that's what they continue to offer. They've simply got nothing else in the tank.

And John McCain desperately wants to be president, so he's surrendered to the flat earthers. He knows perfectly well that Grover Norquist and the Club for Growth and the cranks at the Wall Street Journal editorial page can torpedo his campaign if he doesn't pay fealty to their mindless tax cut jihadism, so fealty he pays. He's sort of a Manchurian candidate at this point, reciting the talking points in a monotone and hoping wearily that it's enough for one more trip to the well. Kinda sad, really.

What's even sadder is that these cranks could win. We just can't afford the luxury of being stupid anymore.

Life in the Real World

I wonder if they actually taste the wine before rating it.

The news that Wine Spectator magazine was scammed into giving an Award of Excellence to a non-existent restaurant has been greeted with guffaws by schadenfreude fans and with fury by the magazine’s editor.

But longtime readers of the Dining section might have seen this coming. Five years ago Amanda Hesser wrote that the magazine granted the award, the lowest of three levels of recognition by the magazine, without actually inspecting the restaurants involved. Restaurants submitted a wine list, a menu and an explanation of their wine program. (Like the wine writer Robin Goodstein did with Osteria L’Intrepido, the fake restaurant in Milan.) “The basic award is not that hard to get,'’ the magazine’s executive editor, Thomas Matthews, told Amanda.

She wrote:

"Of the 3,360 awards granted this year, from a pool of 3,573 entrants, 2,808 received the basic award. Only the winners of the Grand Award, the magazine’s top award, of which there are 89 this year, are ever inspected; 3,271 restaurants simply sent in copies of their wine lists and menus, a cover sheet describing their wine programs and a check for $175 — and walked away winners."

The fee has gone up to $250. More than 4,000 awards were granted this year, so Wine Spectator made more than $1 million in fees.

Found in the NY Times, of course.


The McCain's property holdings include what is described as "a Sedona ranch with three dwellings, worth $1.1 million." Can this possibly be right? Can you buy a ranch in Sedona (above) with three houses for $1.1 million? Wow.

Any idea what a 3-bedroom bungalow would go for?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Campaign

McCain has apparently given a green light to the 527s. Things are about to get very ugly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bad News for America

If you look at the little electoral college count map in the upper left of this blog, you'll see that today, for the first time, Obama has slid under the important 270 mark. There's been a lot of blogging done elsewhere about the whys of that, but nobody has the heart to talk about it here.

I recommend daily visits to Talking Points Memo for different points of view about how Obama can turn that around. It is, as Obama said about a different matter, above my pay grade.

Wind Power

New York's Mayor Bloomberg must be drinking the same stuff T. Boone Pickens is. According to the NY Times:

In a plan that would drastically remake New York City’s skyline and shores, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is seeking to put wind turbines on the city’s bridges and skyscrapers and in its waters as part of a wide-ranging push to develop renewable energy.

The plan, while still in its early stages, appears to be the boldest environmental proposal to date from the mayor, who has made energy efficiency a cornerstone of his administration.

Mr. Bloomberg said he would ask private companies and investors to study how windmills can be built across the city, with the aim of weaning it off the nation’s overtaxed power grid, which has produced several crippling blackouts in New York over the last decade.

Is Bloomberg nuts? Maybe not. Take a look at this map:

Click on the map for a better view with legible explanations and legends. The map rates the wind resource potential of different parts of the country. Down the middle of the country is what T. Boone Pickens calls "one of the best wind corridors in the world." And maybe it is. But according to this map, the corridor ranks mostly Fair to Good. That's the gold and purple.

But along both coasts, and in the Great Lakes, are pretty good-sized red and blue, or Outstanding to Superb, wind resource areas.

In fact, the United States has some of the best wind power potential in the world. Take a look at the evaluation of global wind power here. The writers summarize:

Areas with strong wind power potential were found in Northern Europe along the North Sea, the southern tip of the South American continent, the island of Tasmania in Australia, the Great Lakes region, and the northeastern and western coasts of Canada and the United States.

A tip of the hat to NY Times columnist Charles M. Blow, who linked to these maps in one of his blog posts.

Should we build a windmill on top of the Empire State Building? No, thank you. But it's encouraging to see a couple of billionaires get excited about saving our necks.

Later thought: How long, do you think, before we see a picture of the Statue of Liberty with a propeller cap on?

Update: To heck with it, I did it myself.

Sayings of the Jewish Buddha

Thanks to Andrew Tobias:

· If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

· Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

· Drink tea and nourish life; with the first sip, joy; with the second sip, satisfaction; with the third sip, peace; with the fourth, a Danish.

· Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

· Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems. What would you talk about?

· The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.

· There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

· Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.

· The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides.The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao is not Jewish.

· Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as a wooded glen. And sit up straight. You’ll never meet the Buddha with such rounded shoulders.

· Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist.

· Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

· The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself. The Buddha says, There is no self. So, maybe we are off the hook.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Great Carrier Reef

The USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier that saw action in Korea and Vietnam, called "The Mighty O", is now a diving attraction off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. The New York Times has a good lead for its story about it:

PENSACOLA, Fla. — For Thom Dietmeyer, a retired naval officer, standing again on the bridge of his old ship was a dream come true, even if he was 70 feet below the surface of the ocean.

“I knew exactly where I was going as soon as I got down there,” he said, recalling the dive, which took place a year ago last May on the wreck of an aircraft carrier called the Oriskany.

The article ends with an interesting connection to someone in today's news.

Too Good Not to Share

The head of the Associated Press Washington Bureau is a McCain/Rove acolyte. Which makes this so much sweeter.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gallup Poll

Thought you might be interested in the daily Gallup Poll of registered voters:

You'll need to click on it for it to be readable. They were tied at 45%-45% yesterday, 45% being the highest McCain had ever polled. McCain dropped back down to 43% today.

McCain the POW

Here's an interesting article about McCain from someone who knew him as a POW, and at Annapolis.

It's not favorable, but it's a long way from swiftboating.

Quote of the Day

"It's the Olympics. If you can't get up to swim in the morning, don't go."

-- Swimmer Michael Phelps, on finals being scheduled for the morning, Beijing time.

The Cone of Silence

Well, well, what do you know? During Rick Warren's little get-together with McCain and Obama last weekend, McCain was supposed to be sitting in an isolation room so he wouldn't hear the questions and have an unfair advantage.

But he wasn't. He was in his limousine while the questions were being posed to Obama, and, incidentally, being broadcast to the world.

Knowing what you do about the Karl Rove school of politics, do you think it's just possible McCain (who knew he was supposed to be in a sound-proof room) was told the questions -- and how to frame his answers?

Mr. Warren started by asking Mr. McCain, “Now, my first question: Was the cone of silence comfortable that you were in just now?”

Mr. McCain deadpanned, “I was trying to hear through the wall.”

Interviewed Sunday on CNN, Mr. Warren seemed surprised to learn that Mr. McCain was not in the building during the Obama interview.

But a spokeswoman for the McCain campaign, demonstrating a command of logic we have not seen since the build-up to the Iraq War says:

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous.”

You know, the world is a very dangerous place. Being stupid just isn't going to be enough anymore.

VP Madness

If you enjoy speculating about running mates, Steve Clemons has been talking to unnamed people who profess to know what's going on. Read it here, but don't expect to get your short list whittled down too much.

Bayh is apparently out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wesley Clark Out

Wesley Clark as been told by the Obama camp that there is no reason for him to attend the convention. You'll find the story at The Washington Note. I guess that pretty much ends speculation about whether he'll be the vice presidential running mate.

I can only surmise that his non-invitation is some sort of punishment by Obama for Clark's declaration of the obvious: that McCain's being a former POW does not instantly imbue him with the qualities needed to be Commander-in-Chief. That statement was twisted by CBS's Bob Schieffer and, of course, Faux, to mean that he did not honor McCain's service. It was all crap. Sorry, I don't use words like that here, but crap it was.

If the story is true (i.e., not a smokescreen) it means a good man is being mistreated.

Premature Postmortem?

Kevin Drum (again) has an interesting take on the Russian invasion of Georgia. In short, "Putin screwed up." It's worth reading.


Paul Krugman makes an amazing discovery. Is the guy below somebody you've seen in the news lately? Maybe somebody who ordered a bunch of tanks into Georgia?

It's an appropriate picture isn't it? Only one thing, though.

It's not Putin. It's Number 5 from From Russia with Love.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Short Version

Kevin Drum gets it right, and saves us all a lot of time:

CHEAT SHEET....Since the Russo-Georgian war is complicated, I thought everyone might appreciate a quick primer:

* Shorter liberal view: "This isn't to condone Russia's conduct, but...."

* Shorter conservative view: "Yes, Saakashvili acted recklessly by sending in troops first, but...."

See? It's easier than you thought! You may now return to your regularly scheduled Olympics watching.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dear Lord Help Us!

McClatchy again:

WASHINGTON — President Bush declared Friday that the United States and its allies "stand with the people" of war-torn Georgia against Russian "bullying and intimidation." He then left Washington for a 10-day vacation at his Texas ranch.

Well, we're used to that, aren't we? But then:

Bush's departure — along with the fact that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also are on vacation — underscored that the United States has no military options in Georgia despite the president's parting rhetorical shots at Moscow.

Please Share This Video

Via Talking Points Memo, a must-view video. Pass it on.

Surprise, Surprise!

Tomorrow night Rick Warren, the mega-church guy who wrote the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, will host a forum with McCain and Obama. First one, then the other, will come out on stage and have a one-hour conversation with Warren. Whoever comes out second will not be able to hear the first, and will be asked the same questions when he comes out.

I'm not a big fan of a candidate's religion -- or lack thereof -- being topics of discussion in a campaign, but so far I don't write the rules on these things.

Anyway, here's an ad that will run during the forum. Watch the ad, then I'll tell you what's the surprise alluded to in the title of this post.

Did you see the guy named Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell?

He officiated at Jenna Bush's wedding. He is not a McCain fan, as you might have surmised.

Five More Months -- Will We Make It?

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

WASHINGTON — President Bush Wednesday promised that U.S. naval forces would deliver humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia before his administration had received approval from Turkey, which controls naval access to the Black Sea, or the Pentagon had planned a seaborne operation, U.S. officials said Thursday.

As of late Thursday, Ankara, a NATO ally, hadn't cleared any U.S. naval vessels to steam to Georgia through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the narrow straits that connect the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, the officials said. Under the 1936 Montreaux Convention, countries must notify Turkey before sending warships through the straits.

Pentagon officials told McClatchy that they were increasingly dubious that any U.S. Navy vessels would join the aid operation, in large part because the U.S.-based hospital ships likely to go, the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, would take weeks to arrive.

"The president was writing checks to the Georgians without knowing what he had in the bank," said a senior administration official [Sempringham's emphasis added].

"The president got out in front of the planning when he talked publicly about using naval forces," said a second senior administration official. "At that point we need to look at treaty obligations, our bilateral relations with the Turks and others, waterway restrictions and what kind of ships might be appropriate and usable — something like the Comfort or something already in the Med (Mediterranean)."

The U.S. officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly, because the issue is diplomatically sensitive or because the administration takes a dim view of officials who reveal its internal deliberations.

Last month I wrote that the White House is being run by 21-year-old interns, because everybody else has left. I see no reason to alter that assessment. On the bright side, it's a step up from what we've had for the past 7 years.

Musical Interlude -- Rickie Lee Jones

I'm guessing this was about 25 years ago.

Still Staying Positive

Obama has a new ad up for the Olympics. McCain's ad has been negative.

Why doesn't Obama hit back? Maybe he wants to draw a contrast, first.

They Just Make Stuff Up

Expect heavy coverage of Jerome Corsi's book on Faux, too. That guy is a real piece of work.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just Having Some Veepstakes Fun

One of the least useful things you can do with your time is try to guess who McCain or Obama will choose as their vice presidential running mates.

But it can be fun. It's exciting to think Obama is going to choose someone you know, like, and highly respect.

Lately the talk as been that Evan Bayh of Indiana has the inside track for Obama's VP. But it now appears that Bayh will join Biden and Richardson as scheduled speakers on Wednesday night at the convention; i.e., not -- presumably -- in the VP candidate's speech slot that night.

Two big names are not yet on the speaker schedule: Wesley Clark and Al Gore! Think of the possibilities.

Of course, McCain has already made his running mate choice: Wormwood.

Getting to Like Joe Klein

Joe Klein tells the truth about McCain.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Hope You're Paying Attention to All This

This is just incredible.

• McCain's principle foreign policy advisor, a neo-con wacko named Randy Scheunemann, has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby McCain and others on behalf of the country of Georgia. The story here.

• McCain is having daily telephone conversations with Georgia's president.

On CNN today, the Georgian president said, "Yesterday, I heard Sen. McCain say, ‘We are all Georgians now. Well, very nice, you know, very cheering for us to hear that, but OK, it’s time to pass from this. From words to deeds.”

• McCain is now sending Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham as his delegates to Georgia! Talking Points Memo says it's hilarious. I think it's outrageous! Do we have a State Department, or do we not? Do we have a president, or do we not? If Condi had any -- um, gumption -- she would smack these guys down good and hard. Here's hoping Graham and Lieberman don't sign some sort of mutual assistance agreement with Georgia. And I'm only half kidding.

This whole episode is saying an awful lot about the kind of president McCain would make: reckless and crazy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Terrorists are Everywhere!

9/11 changed EVERYTHING!! Another terrorist fist jab, compliments of They Gave Us a Republic.

Click on the picture for a better view.

A Light Moment

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for calling my attention to this.

This 7-foot, pre-lit, upside-down Christmas tree was offered by Hammacher-Schlemmer for $600. It's sold out.

Is He in His Dotage?

According to the Huffington Post,

Seeking to reassure the questioner that he has only the best intentions for fans of hardcore conservative judicial activism, [McCain] told the questioner that there were going to be two-to-three vacancies on the Supreme Court soon. This was, in McCain's words, "According to people who decide these things."

What in the world could he have meant by that? The Huffington Post thinks he's talking about the Grim Reaper, since Supreme Court justices have life-time appointments. Could be he's just losing it.

An Ah-ha Moment

Jake Tapper at ABC notices that McCain's latest anti-Obama ad has four white women adoring Obama in it.

Monday, August 11, 2008


It's in our DNA: The great lesson to be learned from the Nazis, we all know, is that appeasement is the wrong course. I've just come across a June Newsweek essay that takes a close look at that lesson. A sample:

It may be true, as the saying goes, that leaders who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. But it's also true that leaders who carelessly or heedlessly use historical analogies, who twist or hype the lessons of the past, may be destined to make even bigger mistakes than their predecessors. In modern American history, no metaphor has been more used—or abused—than "Munich." The lesson of appeasement—that giving in to aggression just invites more aggression—has calcified into dogma. Neville Chamberlain's name has become code for a weak-kneed, caviling politician, just as Winston Churchill has become the beau ideal of indomitable leadership. American politicians have gone to extraordinary lengths to be seen as Churchill, not Chamberlain, with results that have not always been in America's best interests.

The rest of the essay is here.

It's important, as we consider what to do about Russia's invasion of Georgia, that we keep in mind that Russia is not Nazi Germany, and Putin, as despicable as he is, is not Hitler.

But expect a certain class of people to use the word "appeasement" quite liberally, anyway.

T. Boone Pickens Update

T. Boone was on McNeil/Lehrer tonight, and provided an additional kernel of his energy plan. You will recall that he plans replacing natural gas's place in producing America's electricity (about 23-26%) with wind power over a period of 10 years. He would apply the natural gas to powering transportation, since we already have the technology to do that.

One objection to applying natural gas to transportation is that there is no national network of "natural gas stations", and it would be too costly to build one. T. Boone answered that objection tonight by saying, essentially, that we should convert only the trucking industry to natural gas. That seems to make some sense, and would require fewer stations.

Bush, Georgia, and McCain

Both these posts were highlighted at Talking Points Memo, which is fast becoming more influential than the Sunday morning bobble heads. They point us to Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic Monthly. Watch the video, too, if you're brave enough.

What the Obama campaign has lost sight of, I think, and what it needs to regain control of, is the essential message of his candidacy. After the last eight years, we simply cannot risk a continuation of the same reckless, belligerent, argument-losing, ideological and deceptive foreign policy of the current crew. The damage that neoconservatism has done to America, to the Middle East, to democratic norms, to Israel's security, to civilized values and fiscal sanity is immense and deep. From his knee-jerk Cold War posture over Georgia to his Rovian campaign tactics, McCain is simply too close to this disastrous record to contemplate. McCain's trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare.

Go read Fred Kaplan at Slate. A sample:

Regardless of what happens next, it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?

It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would.

The Case for Wesley Clark (2)


Barack Obama is fortunate that the conflict in South Ossetia has occurred during the Olympics, depriving it of some of it of the coverage that it otherwise might receive. He is also fortunate that Americans don't have much attention span for foreign affairs outside of matters involving Iraq and Al Qaeda.

That is not to endorse McCain's more hardline stance toward Russia, the particulars of which this blog has no standing to comment upon. I have no doubt, however, that the lingering memory of the Cold War makes an anti-Russian stance an easier sale from the standpoint of electoral politics.

But the unscripted drama in the Caucasus also serves as a thought experiment of sorts, especially as it regards Barack Obama's VP selection. Would Obama be better off if he had, say, General Wesley Clark flanking him right now?

The rest here, including a late addition, which says:

UPDATE: Chris Bowers points to some other interesting tea leaves on Clark. And Clark is surging on Intrade right now, essentially turning the Big Four (Bayh, Biden, Sebelius, Kaine) into a Big Five.

Russians in Georgia

You will not find a fan of Vladimir Putin at Sempringham. Nor, for that matter, of the Russians, who I put roughly on a par with the Nigerians (i.e., hopelessly corrupt). But there's something about this column at Washington Note that rings true, and the fact that we're pre-disposed to blame the Russians for the current conflict is all the more reason to take a few steps back before doing it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Failures of the "Conservative Movement" (11)

Friedman ends his column today with this quote from the Danish president of the world's largest wind turbine company:

“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”

There ya go.

Nicholas Kristof writes about the dire situation in the American diplomatic corps:

The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats.

I like military bands, but that's pathetic.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

McCain Loses Ohio

I've read commentary that says this ad is not really fair to McCain, that the sale of Airborne Express to DHL actually helped the economy of this town before it hurt it.

Either way, I'd say McCain has just lost Ohio. Let's keep an eye on the Ohio polls in the next few weeks and see if there's an effect. It's currently a tossup. McCain had better rethink his attack ads, because there are more like this.

The Olympics II

Daily Kos comments on this, and it struck me the same way. During the 4 hours of the opening ceremonies, during which all the other ads were playing on the themes of world harmony, individual and team effort, good sportsmanship, and the benefits of flavored sugar water, came a McCain attack ad. It was jarring.

For comparison, here's the ad Obama will be running during the Olympics.

By the way, after McCain's race-baiting "Celebrity" ad, the Gallup daily tracking poll showed McCain bringing Obama's numbers down, and McCain's up but not so much, until they were tied at 44%-44%. But that was as good as it got for McCain, and the numbers quickly reversed direction. They now stand at Obama 47%, McCain 42%.

The Olympics

Kudos to the Chinese for producing an amazing opening ceremony. Mouths here were agape.

Mayor Daley wants the 2016 summer games to be in Chicago. Here's hoping he fails. We can't beat what the Chinese have done, and we'll be bankrupted even trying. The Olympics were a good idea when it was a bunch of amateurs, but have become, as one member of the International Olympic Committee referred to it, "a brand". I don't think tax money should be used to promote the brand.

South Ossetia

Can we have a show of hands, please? How many had even heard of South Ossetia before the current conflict? [Hands here are down.]

A Fistful of Euros provides some blunt analysis, from which are below offered extended quotes. But here is an alternative analysis. If you want to do some background reading on your own, American Footprints has some good links.

So, South Ossetia. Little mountainous region up in the back of the Caucasus. Used to be part of Georgia. Declared independence in 1991, just as the Soviet Union was falling apart. There was a shooting war for about a year, which left around a thousand people dead, some tens of thousands ethnically cleansed. When it ended, most of South Ossetia had de facto independence, which they’ve maintained since then with strong support from Russia.

Couple of things you need to grasp if you’re going to understand South Ossetia. One is, it’s not very horizontal. It’s all mountains, with just enough flat ground for one modest-sized town. Almost all of it is over 1000 meters up, about a third of it over 2,000 meters.

Two, it’s not that big. There are only around 75,000 people in South Ossetia. In both area and population, it’s the smallest of the frozen conflicts.

Three, it’s poor. Really poor. I mean, Transnistria is one of the poorest corners of Europe, but Transnistria is Switzerland compared to South Ossetia. It’s basically 75,000 people living on rocks. Okay, okay, not rocks, but this is a region whose traditional economy consisted of driving sheep uphill in spring and back down again in autumn. There’s no industry to speak of. About one-third of the state’s income comes from charging tolls on the single highway. South Ossetia doesn’t export much but timber, sheep and people. Well, and there was a big counterfeiting operation making US $100 bills a couple of years back. But anyway, point is, not much there.

The Ossetians themselves are one of those weird Caucasus groups. Their language is distantly related to Persian; the Ossetians are supposedly descended from the Alans, a medieval nomadic people who were vaguely connected to the ancient Scythians. The Alans had a small empire going in the northern Caucasus back in the 12th century, but then they got badly steamrollered by the Mongols. The survivors fled up into the rugged slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, which is where their Ossetian descendants still live today.

That’s why there’s a North and South Ossetia, by the way: two regions are separated by the spine of the Greater Caucasus range. These are some serious mountains — jagged savage peaks that go up three, four, five kilometers. There’s only one road connection between the two Ossetias. It goes through the Roki Tunnel, which was blasted out by Soviet engineers back in the glorious Soviet heyday of blasting big holes in things. The tunnel is at 3,000 meters altitude and 3.8 km long, and it gets closed by snow every winter. When that happens, there is no way over those mountains by land whatsoever, unless you’re a trained Alpinist with a few days to kill. Ossetians like to talk about the essential unity of the Ossetian people, but geography isn’t really working with them.

Okay, so much for the basics. Now an obvious question: why should you, dear reader, care about South Ossetia?

You probably shouldn’t.

Unlike the other frozen conflicts, there’s not a lot at stake in South Ossetia. It’s small, it’s remote, it has no resources and zero strategic value. It’s very unlikely to lead to a larger conflict. So unless you’re Georgian or Ossetian, there’s no reason it should keep you awake at night. (And even if you’re Georgian, you probably spend a lot more time thinking about Abkhazia — Georgia’s other frozen conflict — than about South Ossetia.) South Ossetia is just not that important to the rest of the world.

And then there's this:

Who started it? — Looks like Georgia. The sniping earlier came from both sides, but the Georgians have clearly launched a major ground offensive, and that doesn’t just happen by accident.

Why? Why? — What follows is a mishmash of guesses. Take it with a big grain of salt.

South Ossetia has always been vulnerable to a blitzkrieg attack. It’s small, it’s not very populous (~70,000 people), and it’s surrounded by Georgia on three sides. It’s very rugged and mountainous, yes, but it’s not suited to defense in depth. There’s only one town of any size (Tsikhinvali, the capital) and only one decent road connecting the province with Russia.

That last point bears emphasizing. There’s just one road, and it goes through a tunnel. There are a couple of crappy roads over the high passes, but they’re in dreadful condition; they can’t support heavy equipment, and are closed by snow from September to May. Strategically, South Ossetia dangles by that single thread.

So, there was always this temptation: a fast determined offensive could capture Tsikhinvali, blow up or block the tunnel, close the road, and then sit tight. If it worked, the Russians would then be in a very tricky spot: yes, they outnumber the Georgians 20 to 1, but they’d have to either drop in by air or attack over some very high, nasty mountains. This seems to be what the Georgians are trying to do: attack fast and hard, grab Tsikhinvali, and close the road.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Making Money the Old Fashioned Way

As we've seen, T. Boone Pickens' plan for running windmills down the middle of the U.S. has a (no-longer) secret agenda involving a water right-of-way. Now we're learning more about how he's trying to get Californians to finance the switch to natural gas powered vehicles. The LA Times says:

Along with being the country's biggest wind power developer, Pickens owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling station company that is the sole backerof the stealthy Proposition 10 on California's November ballot. This measure would authorize the sale of $5 billion in general fund bonds to provide alternative energy rebates and incentives -- but by the time the principal and the interest is paid off, it would squander at least $9.8 billion in taxpayer money on Pickens' self-serving natural gas agenda.

The initiative deceptively reads like it's supporting all alternative-fuel vehicles and renewable energy sources. But a closer read finds a laundry list of cash grabs -- from $200 million for a liquefied natural gas terminal to $2.5 billion for rebates of up to $50,000 for each natural gas vehicle.

Much of the measure's billions could benefit Pickens' company to the exclusion of almost all other clean-vehicle fuels and technology.

Wow, this guy is really a piece of work.

A later thought:

You know, it's not the self-serving secret agendas that offend me. That's what people like Pickens are all about. It's the way he wraps it all up in false patriotism and altruism. recounts:

Some are skeptical, too, of his motives, saying Pickens is looking to benefit his BP Capital Management company, which invests heavily in renewable energy.

But, munching on Famous Amos chocolate-chip cookies in his Hay-Adams hotel suite, the 80-year-old Pickens said he’s in a new phase of his life.

“I didn’t want to come and go in this life and feel like I had something that would’ve helped the country,” he said. “So I thought, ‘What the hell, it’s time to stand up and be counted.’”

What a thoughtful guy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Undiplomatic is a new blog by Charles J. Brown, formerly of Amnesty International and formerly Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and External Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the U.S. Department of State. (And I thought the Social Security Administration was bad!)

If you're a poly sci major, you will love his blog as much as The Washington Note.

But since you're not, Sempringham will try to bring you some of the best nuggets, the first of which is from his "Five to Watch" -- five things happening in the world right now that are not getting enough press attention.

Just in case you were feeling pretty good about things, let me share number five:

5. Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself. As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been. The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either. Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics. With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility. This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

If that doesn't make you want to reach for the Maalox, nothing will.

BBC Weekly World News Quiz

You can't blame me if you get question four wrong!

Lunacy in High Places

Two facts:

(1) The U.S. Army is offering $150,000 reenlistment bonuses to service members who are proficient in Arabic.

(2) Sixty Arabic- and Farsi-speaking service members have been involuntarily discharged because they are gay.

The latest test of whether you are gay is apparently your answer to the question: "Are you involved in community theater?"

Details here. Make sure you watch the very short video.

If John McCain wins, this nonsense will continue.

Future Post Teaser

One of the smartest people I hear from writes:

I am a little disappointed in Obama giving the McCain troops flip-flop fodder on oil drilling. Yeah, yeah, I know... McCain has changed his direction on a gillion things. We ain't gonna drill our way out of this one baby.

I agree about 90 percent. I'm still trying to organize my thoughts on this, though, so I'm still putting off posting about it.

More on the Pickens Plan

Kevin Drum had a good pair of posts, pro and con, about T. Boone Pickens' plan to build windmills in a corridor extending from Texas to North Dakota.

His entire post is here, but Kevin says, in part:

Well, as near as I can tell, here's the story. Pickens wants to build his electricity transmission facilities on a strip of land 250 feet wide and 250 miles long that starts at his farm in Roberts County, Texas, and terminates in Dallas. Why that particular strip? Because Pickens has been buying up massive water rights from the Ogallala Aquifer and he wants to pipe that water to Dallas at huge profit. Unfortunately, pipeline right-of-way is pretty hard to acquire, so Pickens figured out a way to get some help: he formed a little water district headed by his wife and a friend and then convinced the Texas legislature that water plus wind electricity was a good reason to use its power of eminent domain to hand over the land to him for a song. Wind power wasn't really the motivation for this land snatch, it was just a sweetener for a water deal.

A correspondent answered:

Whether we like it or not, the alternative energy revolution is going to be driven in significant part by tycoons or large companies. They will use the political process and their clout to their advantage at every point. And there will be scandal, absurdity, and gross enrichment. The tradeoff is more jobs, a young and growing domestic alternative energy market that competes with oil, keeps prices reasonable, and begins to swing the pendulum of greenhouse gas production in the other direction. We will always evaluate whether and to what extent these goals are being achieved.

What I like about the plan is that it makes the leap from simply calling on government to approve X or prime the pump in other ways, to saying we are going to do X, regardless of a national energy policy. Other companies that have either stood on the sidelines or actively thwarted any attempts through the legislatures to create the markets and incentives necessary to help foment this type of market (Pickens included) will have to respond.

I think that's right.

Supporting the Public's Right to Know

Here at Sempringham we're much too classy to put a video of Paris Hilton responding to the McCain "Celebrity" ad right on the site, but feel it is our public responsibility to make sure you have the link.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Civil War Widows Still Live!

In 2004 there was a story that made the newspapers and TV about the passing of Alberta Martin, who was supposed to be the last surviving Confederate widow. Turns out she wasn't. In fact, it turns out there are still surviving widows from both sides of the Civil War.

The interesting story of one of them is here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Looking for a Million Votes, or so

Despite all the crud, and the polls that go up and down, I still think Obama stomps all over McCain (and his Rovian cretins) when it comes to organizing a campaign. Here's an example.

McCain Is Losing His Base

Jonathan Alter at Newsweek has had enough:

I misread McCain. On the night of the 2000 South Carolina primary, I was in his hotel suite and watched Cindy weeping over what Rove and his goons did. Her husband was plenty mad, too. Now he's got Rove's protégé, Steve Schmidt, running his campaign. Eight years ago, McCain profusely apologized for playing racial politics in South Carolina by backing efforts to fly the Confederate flag at the state capital. Now he's content to see race crowd out the economy in the battle for precious media oxygen. McCain argues that Obama opened himself up to attack by saying, "They're gonna say he doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." But if his campaign hadn't leaped on that Obama comment, it would have been another. Accusing the other guy of playing the race card is a not terribly subtle form of, well, playing the race card—and the victim.

The whole column is here.

Earlier, Joe Klein in Time opened his eyes:

A few months ago, I wrote that John McCain was an honorable man and he would run an honorable campaign. I was wrong. I used to think, as David Ignatius does, that McCain's true voice was humble and moderate, but now I'm beginning to think his Senate colleagues may be right about his temperament. From what I can gather, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican, reflected the views of many of his colleagues earlier this year when he said:

"The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine...He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

In a later column, Klein called McCain's campaign scum.

McCain is losing his base.

Water Thrown on Pickens Plan

Andrew Tobias points to this column from the Tucson Weekly. After first setting the stage (i.e., Pickens is not a trustworthy person, as we all know), the column's author gets to the heart of the matter:

I was about to salute Pickens--that is, until I came across an article in Business Week that showed how Pickens was using one face to talk up wind energy while his other face was busy buying up all the water rights in the Texas Panhandle. It seems that old T. Boone wants to corner the water market and sell the increasingly-in-short-supply commodity to the booming Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex at an eye-popping profit.

For the past several years, Pickens has been buying up water rights to land over the southern end of the giant Ogallala Aquifer, the nation's largest. Pickens now owns more water than any other individual in the country, and because of quirks in Texas law, his supply is about to get much larger. Texas groundwater use is governed by "right of capture," which amounts to: If you have a large enough pump, you can suck your land and everybody else's around you dry in the process. (This is the basis for the "I drink your milkshake" line in There Will Be Blood.)

Pickens wants to pump the water out and ship it 250 miles to Dallas, which has resisted his overtures thus far, but with its booming population and dwindling supplies of groundwater, won't be able to forever. The problem for Pickens is that the pipeline would go through 11 counties and over 600 tracts of private land. He can afford to pump the water and build the pipeline, but buying up all that land would be cost-prohibitive.

Now, if he could find a way to have the government help him get that land through eminent domain, that would make things a lot easier. And what do you know: The Texas Legislature passed a bill that had an add-on provision (that several legislators swear they knew nothing about) that would allow a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and move water along a single right of way.

I'm not sure how to assess the water right-of-way issue. Even if Pickens is successful in cornering the water market for Dallas/Ft. Worth, how big of a deal is that? Is the water right-of-way a smaller add-on to the power right-of-way, or the real, secret reason he wants the power right-of-way in the first place? Dunno.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Grasshopper and the Ant

Obama is right to compromise on the off-shore drilling issue, for a number of reasons, but more on that later.

In the meantime, this short reflection on the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant is a good foundation.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Is De-Globalization Beginning?

On June 24 I wrote about "Some Interesting Developments on the Oil Front". Oil priced at more than $100 a barrel is having significant effects on world trade. The cost of shipping a container from China has increased from $3000 to $8000, which means it often makes a lot less sense to have products targeted for the American market manufactured in Asia.

This interesting article by the NY Times' Larry Rohter explores the issue further. In addition to the higher cost, ships are dropping their speeds by 20% to save fuel, adding a not-just-in-time component to the equation.

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.

“If we think about the Wal-Mart model, it is incredibly fuel-intensive at every stage, and at every one of those stages we are now seeing an inflation of the costs for boats, trucks, cars,” said Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

We're living in interesting times.

Daily Show to the Rescue

Nine minutes and 55 seconds of hilarity. Okay, maybe eight and a half minutes.

Okay, It's Long ...

... but read as much of it as you can.

But since you probably won't, at least read this:

The Washington Post has reported that "McCain and his allies" are accusing Obama of "snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true" and noted that the evidence the McCain campaign provided to back up the claim did not do so. The New York Times reported that McCain's recent offensive against Obama has been based on claims that have been "widely dismissed as misleading," which is actually an understatement -- they've been widely dismissed as false. A St. Petersburg Times editorial denounced McCain's "nasty turn into the gutter," adding that he "has resorted to lies and distortions in what sounds like an increasingly desperate attempt to slow down Sen. Barack Obama. ... [T]hese baseless attacks are raising more questions about the Republican's campaign and his ability to control his temper." The New York Times editorial board called another McCain attack "contemptible" and "ugly." On MSNBC, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Jay Carney called a McCain ad "reprehensible." MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that a McCain ad is "completely wrong, factually wrong" and that it "literally is not true." The Cleveland Plain Dealer rated a McCain campaign ad a "zero" on its 0-to-10 scale of truthfulness.

All that -- and much, much more -- has come in just the past week.

In short, nearly every recent attack by the McCain campaign on Obama -- and there have been many -- has been debunked by at least one news outlet and in most cases by several.

So what's the problem? Sounds like the media are doing their job, right?


All week, McCain's attacks have been driving news coverage. Those same news organizations that have declared McCain's charges false have given them an extraordinary amount of attention, repeating them over and over. They have adopted the premises of the McCain attacks even as they acknowledge the attacks are based on false claims. The media narrative of the week has not been, as you might expect, that John McCain's apparent dishonesty may hurt him with voters. Instead, the media's basic approach has been to debunk McCain's attacks once, then run a dozen stories about how the attacks are sticking, how the "emerging narrative" will hurt Obama.

More on the Race Card

Bob Herbert tells it like it is.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Race Card

Barack Obama goofed. Here's what he said:

John McCain right now, he's spending an awful lot of time talking about me. You notice that? I haven’t seen an ad yet where he talks about what he’s gonna do. And the reason is because those folks know they don’t have any good answers, they know they’ve had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things. They know that you’re not real happy with them.

And so the only way they figure they’re going to win this election is if they make you scared of me. So what they’re saying is, "Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he’s... doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency, you know, he’s got a, he’s got a funny name."

I mean, that’s basically the argument -- he’s too risky.

The reason that's a goof is because Obama accuses McCain of literally using race as a factor in the campaign. McCain uses race, but symbolically.

That was the purpose of the "Celebrity" ad [see it in the post, "For McCain is an Honorable Man", below], which used images of Obama with two white women of questionable virtue, who had no connection to him or his campaign at all.

A similar ad was used against a black senatorial candidate, Harold Ford, Jr., in the 2006 Tennessee election -- the so-called "Call Me" ad -- and it was highly successful. A buxom, white woman actress pretended to be talking to Ford, breathing "Call me," raising, implicitly, the racial/sexual taboo of black men with white women. Undecided voters who saw the ad broke 2-1 for Ford's opponent. Ford lost the election. This was not an obscure event; it was widely discussed in political circles.

And the lesson was not lost on the McCain campaign, which for a couple of months had been trying to uphold his press-supported image of an honorable man of principle.

But the trouble with being an honorable man of principle who is also a Republican is that you're going to lose, and McCain's campaign was foundering big time. So they brought in Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove catechumen, to take over leadership of the campaign. And things immediately went into the sewer. When all you're interested in is winning, regardless of the damage, negative works.

Thus, the "Celebrity" ad. How do you run an ad showing a black man with white women, without being too obvious? After all, Obama is not (unlike Harold Ford) a playboy, and he's married to an attractive black woman. The "celebrity" theme did the trick. They got plausible deniability and got to send their message to the conscious or unconscious minds that were susceptible to it. Message sent. Message received.

You might be interested in this short article from Newsday, which explores the question of whether Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are the most obvious choices to illustrate "celebrity". Thanks to Talking Points Memo for that link.

The most beautiful thing about the ad (if you happen to be Satan) is the plausible deniability part. People can see the ad and say, "That's not about race, it's about celebrity!" And they'd be half right, which for most people is enough. And people who don't want to think the ad is an appeal to racism have their out. And you get articles like this one, from ABC's Jake Tapper, who's been around long enough to know better.

So McCain played the race card. And, as he said at the end, "I'm John McCain, and I approved this message."

Then how did Obama goof? By suggesting that McCain had literally called attention to Obama's race. It is true that McCain did not attack Obama for his funny name or his skin color. And no matter how you twist the meaning of Obama's comments, that's what he was alleging. McCain shouldn't have been allowed to get away with it, but that's what surrogates are for. It's too late now.

Score one for McCain. And two for Karl Rove.

The sooner Obama can get the discussion off this, the better.