Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Camelot Coming; Have Patience Progressives

- guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of

We’ve celebrated for 2½ weeks and what better way to remember Jack Kennedy on this solemn day than to watch President-elect Obama’s deliberate, studious and principled leadership in action. The hard work began precisely at 11:00 pm on 04 November, healing our land and cleaning up our reputation in the world, after George Bush.

These two months are important get ready days and the legacy of lobbyists and thieves looting the Treasury as they leave town with their tails between their legs will not die easily.

Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech 45 years after Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1963 another leader who inspired and embodied hope for the future was taken from us. From a warehouse storing textbooks and a Texas city known for football, big hair and large living, a much-too-storied place in history was earned as Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed John F. Kennedy, the nation’s 35th President from the 6th floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.

Camelot ended abruptly and we began a steady descent into the depths of a costly guerrilla war that took 57,000 of our sons and daughters in Vietnam, Civil Rights violence and a period of deep division in our land. As we thought we were rising out of it with Richard Nixon to China and détente with Russia a possibility, Watergate reared its ugly head, he resigned and we entered 30+ years of deep partisan bickering, stagnation, special prosecutors and a military industrial complex built on fear and lies that seems only now on the brink of real change.

While it’s easy to be Pollyanna in the early days, let me share some views of why the leaks matter not a whit and why we need to pay attention to the deliberate actions of the last 2½ weeks.

Barack Obama has been preparing for this moment for months and the hard work shows in his grasp of the situation and where he wants to head.

As his Cabinet lens comes into our focus, one can look behind the choices in a clearer way to understand what President Obama is really thinking. Make no mistake, he will be firmly in charge and anyone thinking this is business as usual will be sadly mistaken.

1. He knows what he doesn’t know and surrounds himself with people more knowledgeable than himself. I was reading a pair of excerpts from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers (he wrote The Tipping Point and Blink) and in it he talks of the perseverance of all top performers. They required 10,000 of practice in their craft to reach the highest levels. Obama does not have 10,000 hours of executive experience, refuses to fake it and has put together a team with a mixture of old and new. His deliberate appointment of people who know how to get things done in Washington has been criticised by some for “hiring ex-Clinton re-treads.”

2. Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff and the campaign brain trust as key advisors. The ones he came to the dance with and kept him honest for two years will be there helping him. Emanuel, Biden and Daschle will be key player moving the President’s agenda on Capitol Hill. Progressives say this is business as usual. This is what is needed to have a hope of moving some of the more difficult left-leaning programs through. Just as donning Bush masks and screaming gets you on telly, wait until you have something to compain about before jumping on him, the far right is already blaming the current woes on him and he does not take office for 59 days!

3. Timothy Geith at Treasury is an example of youth (47) and a new hand with new ideas. If he places Larry Summers as head of the Federal Reserve and other older hands, he get principled brilliant leaders who will find a way out of the crisis. Bill Richardson at Commerce is also brilliant. Here is a man who knows how to sell and that is the prime role of a Commerce Secretary. With Geith and Co. fixing the bottom line, Richardson will focus on the top line.

4. Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services is a masterstroke. Here is a player who for years was Senate Majority Leader. He is an authority on healthcare knows how to get changed passed in the Congress.

5. Hillary Clinton at State is not the same thing as when Bush put Powell there to block him. All is forgiven here. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Well what happens in the primaries where you fight your ideological equal so you have to pick on other stuff, stays in the primaries. Obama has loyalists who hate the Hillaristas and vice versa. Get over yourselves people. If they can, you can. What was this about, your person winning or fixing the nation? You also get 2 for 1 there as Bill is still revered and what trip with the both of them would not boost the US reputation abroad.

6. The Lieberman situation as cover for his real game changer: John Dingell’s ouster. Obama is a poker player and a basketball player. He saw the whole court on this one and Lieberman was Michael Jordan with everyone swarming him defensively until scrawny Henry Waxman stood alone under the basket for the big pass. Everyone was focused for weeks on punishing Joe for supporting McCain. He let the game play out and the real heavy lifting was removing obstructionist John Dingell from his powerful Energy Chairmanship. Obama forgave Joe but made sure the word went out that Energy and the environment matter. More importantly, he said business as usual in Detroit was not going to be tolerated. The Big Three will be bailed out but their new partner will be the US taxpayer who demands smart manufacturing and energy efficient cars. As the stock rises again, the money goes back into the Treasury to pay the bailout and make money on the “investment.”

7. Lincoln’s Team of Rivals is an overplayed theme. The media is ga-ga over Hillary, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson (all former Presidential rivals) on the team. They coyly say keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Obama is smarter than that. He knows what he doesn’t know and wants a blockbuster team to hash out solutions with and take definitive action. He is willing to make mistakes along the way, admit it was a mistake and change course.

8. Keeping Republican Gates in Defense through the Iraq War wind down and bringing in Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander will send a strong bipartisan message.

So instead of predicting, for which you get no extra points, just watch the operation and marvel at it.

Reaching Out To Returning Veterans

Since neither the Pentagon nor the Veterans Administration seems to show much real interest in the plight of returning Afghan and Iraqi vets beyond spouting a few discredited talking points during interviews, organizations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is taking the lead in reaching out to help.

Knowing that upwards of three hundred thousand veterans of Bush’s war fever are returning with unseen emotional wounds, IAWA is teaming up with other similar groups, ad agency giant BBDO and the AdCouncil to produce a series of public service television spots that both enlighten the public and inform veterans of help that is available to them.

Many returning vets report feeling isolated with no one to talk to since their families don’t understand what soldiers went through in country and VA waiting lists are criminal. The first ad in the series highlights the plight of Bryan Adams. According to Bob Herbert, who writes about the issue in his column in today’s New York Times, Bryan was an Army sniper in Iraq for one year in 2005. He was shot in the leg and hand during a firefight, and he saw and did things that he was less than anxious to talk about when he came home.

The campaign is titled Alone, focusing on the isolation far too many veterans feel when they return to the US. The television and print ads encourage veterans to visit, a place where they can share their experiences with other vets.

Bush committed two significant crimes when he invaded Iraq: The first was the destruction of the country and the administration’s subsequent lack of any serious effort to rebuild the nation; the second was the destruction wreaked on the men and women who fought in the illegal war and then ignoring their problems once they made it home.

Hopefully, the Obama administration will pay serious attention to this issue because combat does terrible things to people. “Nobody can cross this river without getting wet,” Paul Reickhoff, IAVA’s executive director, says in describing the impact of repeated tours on all vets.

It will help if people write or call local stations and newspapers urging them to run the advertising. If broadcasters and publishers really do "support the troops" as much as they say they do, then running the ads is a "no brainer."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama, Democrats, Tackle Climate Change While Bush Adds To His Poisoned Legacy

Thursday morning, House Democrats took firm control of the environment issue by ousting Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. John Dingell. In his place, the caucus chose Rep. Henry Waxman, Besides seating a committed environmentalist as head of the influential energy committee, the vote removes one of the auto industry’s best friends from a key leadership post — further evidence of how much influence the American auto industry has lost on Capitol Hill even as CEOs of the Big Three plead for $25-billion in loans from Washington.

Led by Dingell, the entire Michigan delegation in Washington managed to block most efforts to force auto makers from improving fuel efficiency and developing cars run on alternative energy such electric power for decades.

Meanwhile, prospects for America’s involvement in the struggle to combat global warming soared yesterday after President-elect Barack Obama told a conference in Europe by video link the US will play an aggressive role in renewing the Kyoto Protocol.

"This is an incredibly welcome statement about the need not to delay, and it will send a very positive message around the world, especially to the developing countries," a British source involved with negotiations told The Guardian.

Clearly, Obama’s message is timed to influence interim negotiating meetings in Poland next month which Obama reminded his audience he could not attend, "because the United States has only one president at a time."

But Obama’s words ended eight years of wilful climate destruction by the Bush administration, which withdrew from Kyoto six weeks after taking office in 2001. As a result Bush inflected incalculable damage to international community efforts to construct a unified response to the climate change threat.

The Bush withdrawal set the international effort back by nearly a decade – years in which it became increasingly clear that atmospheric warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is proceeding much faster than UN scientists thought it would.

Bush The Destroyer

Not content with destroying life in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush is working at breakneck speed to dismantle at least 10 major environmental safeguards protecting America's wildlife, national parks and rivers before leaving office in January, thus actively trying to destroy life in the United States, as well.

With barely 60 days to go until Obama’s inauguration, the Bush White House is working methodically to weaken or reverse an array of regulations that protect America's wilderness from logging or mining operations, and compel factory farms to clean up dangerous waste.

In his latest move, Bush opened up two million acres of land in Rocky Mountain states for oil shale development, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. The law goes into effect January 17, three days before Obama takes office. The timing is crucial. Most regulations take effect 60 days after publication, and Bush wants the new rules in place before he leaves the White House on Jan. 20. This makes it more difficult for Obama to undo them.

"There are probably going to be scores of rules that are issued between now and Jan. 20," John Walke, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defence Council told The Guardian. "And there are at least a dozen very controversial rules that will weaken public health and environment protection that have no business being adopted and would not be acceptable to the incoming Obama administration, based on stances he has taken as a senator and during the campaign."

Midnight Regulations

The flurry of “midnight regulations” is part of Bush and Cheney’s broad campaign to leave a lasting, nasty footprint on environmental policy. Many of the actions are provoking widespread protests, such as the Bureau of Land Management's plans to auction off 20,000 acres of oil and gas parcels in sight of Utah's Delicate Arch natural bridge.

The Bush administration is also accused of engaging in a parallel go-slow on court-ordered actions on the environment.

"There are the midnight regulations that they are trying to force out before they leave office, and then there are the other things they are trying not to do before they go. A lot of the climate stuff falls into the category of things they would rather not do," notes a career official at the EPA, asking his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak with reporters.

It’s not just environmental issues where Bush is killing decades of protections. Workplace safety and employee rights rules are also being decimated in the waning hours of his presidency.

The campaign began in May when the White House chief of staff Josh Bolten wrote to agencies asking them to forward proposals for rule changes. Bolten had initially set a November 1 deadline on rule-making. The White House denies that the flurry of rule changes is politically motivated.

"What the chief of staff wanted to avoid was this very charge that we would be trying to, in the dark of night in the last days of the administration, be rushing regulations into place ahead of the incoming, next administration," Tony Fratto, the White House spokesman, told reporters.

But OMB Watch, a non-partisan watchdog group, notes that the Office of Management and Budget website shows 83 rules reviewed between Sept. 1 and Oct. 31 – about double its workload in each of the last three years.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration cut short the timeframe for public comment. In one instance, officials claimed to have reviewed 300,000 comments about changes to wildlife protection within the space of a week.

The only way it could have done so is adapting the old parable about an infinite number of monkeys sitting before an infinite number of typewriters doing the work.

Mine Pollution To Pig Farms

Barely a corner of American life will be untouched by Bush’s proposed changes.

· New regulations would free industrial-scale pig and cattle farms from complying with the Clean Water Act so long as they declare they are not dumping animal waste in lakes and rivers; apparently, their word is good enough.
· Mountain-top mining operations will also be exempt from the Clean Water Act, allowing them to dump pollutants directly in rivers and lakes.
· The electricity industry’s coal-fired power plants will no longer be required to install pollution controls or clean up soot and smog pollution while pollution control regulations on new power plants will be downgraded.
· Another new rule allows the Pentagon and other government agencies to embark on new projects without first undertaking studies on potential dangers to wildlife.
· Next week, a new rule will weaken regulation of perchlorate in drinking water, a rocket fuel toxin that affects brain development in children.

The Bush strategy is prompting a fight by environmentalists, the Democratic-controlled Congress and members of the Obama transition team as well as the President-elect himself. And compared with the outcry of dismay at Bush's end-of-term actions, Obama's statements are being greeted with a global "huzzah!".

Finally, Fresh Air

Obama’s words to the climate change meeting were instantly applauded as "fantastic" by California's Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a leading force for environmental changes in the face of White House obstinacy.

"These were inspirational words from Obama," adds Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "He basically said that, even though the world economy is less than healthy, global warming remains an absolutely top priority. It means the United States is now ready to take on a leadership role in combating climate change."

Behind Obama's words is the big idea that energy-hogging is at the root of US economic problems at home and security problems abroad. America's gluttonous oil consumption is unsustainable, damaging the environment and making the country dependent on unstable parts of the world for its energy which, in the end, has become a threat to its national security.

When Pres. Obama finally walks into the White House on Jan. 20 after the inaugural parade, and even before he has time to change into formal wear for the series of balls planned to celebrate his election, he will have to climb through a mountain of polluting and health-robbing garbage the former resident is leaving behind to be cleaned up.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chris Matthews Is Becoming The Left’s Bill O’Reilly

As a progressive, one of the things that I appreciate about MSNBC’s evening line-up is that although its people have a liberal point-of-view, they stick to actual facts rather than slide down into the slimy half-truths and outright lies that Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the others on Fox’s right wing mouthpiece network roll around in night after night.

Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and David Gregory are among the best in class in asking intelligent, probing and penetrating questions, even of talking heads with whom they might agree.

But somehow, Hardball host Chris Matthews is morphing into the network’s Bill O’Reilly, trying to out-stink Mr. Orally (as Olbermann calls him). His dislike of Bill and Hillary Clinton was obvious throughout the primaries, whether through comments, questions or being written all over his potato-like face whenever they were a topic of discussion.

Now, he’s dragging himself back into the Fox-like dirt again with Sen. Clinton widely expected to be Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of State. As Media Matter’s Eric Boehlert and Jamison Foser write today, twice in the past week Matthews dragged up old stories about the Clinton’s that were thoroughly discredited 15 years ago, trying to egg guests into repeated old smears.

Without any logical segue, he brought up Linda Tripp – the woman who was tried in Maryland of secretly recording Monica Lewinsky’s confessions of having sex with Pres. Clinton. Matthews then went on to ask Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican congressman from Indiana who insisted for a time that Bill and Hillary killed White House aide Vince Foster, "Congressman Burton, you're no fans of the Clinton(s). In fact, I think you think the Clintons had something to do with killing Vince Foster. What do you say?"

Although you couldn’t prove it by his behavior back when he was pushing the theory back in the 1990s, Burton is not entirely a fool and deftly sidestepped the question by saying he has no interest in re-hashing old news. The exchange went like this, according to an MSNBC transcript:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Congressman Burton, you're no fans of the Clinton. In fact, I think you think the Clintons had something to do with killing Vince Foster. What do you say?
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, I'm not gonna go back and rehash that again, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, rehash it for a minute, sir. You do –
BURTON: No, no, no.
MATTHEWS: – believe they had something to do with it.
BURTON: No, I'll be glad to answer questions from you about –
MATTHEWS: Well, it does give me a sense –
BURTON: – how tough she is and –
MATTHEWS: – of what you think of the Clintons, that you won't even say they're free of a murder charge. Won't you do that at least?
BURTON: Chris, I know you – you want me to be controversial. Let me just say, she's a very talented woman.
MATTHEWS: No, you're the controversy, sir. Let me ask you this: Do you believe the Clintons are innocent of any foul play with regard to the death of Vince Foster? Let's start from there and we'll move on to your bona fides in this topic.
BURTON: Chris, you heard what I said. I'm not gonna go back and cover that ground again.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, we just did.

Another guest, Time magazine’s Peter Beinart said, "I really don't think most people, besides Chris, with all due respect, are really interested in rehashing all of the scandals of the 1990s."

Matthews jumped in to say, "No, no. It's a question of whether they're all coming back, sir. That's the question. Rehashing or reliving is a bigger question. Do you want to relive them all?"

Only Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens would play Matthews unseemly game, stating that naming Hillary Clinton as Secretary of state would be a tragic error:

This is the woman whose foreign policy experience consists of making a fool of herself and fabricating a story about Bosnia. This is the woman who, with her husband, has so many connections – fundraising connections overseas, Indonesia, China. Just look up the Senate report on their fundraising activities, the people they have pardoned, the amazing brothers of hers who nearly got the – was it the nut monopoly in Kazakhstan or something farcical like that. Just look it up. It's a ludicrous embarrassment for the president and for the country.

Of course, Mathews never bothered telling viewers that Hitchens has a long history of Clinton-baiting, comparing them to zombies, vampires, werewolves and the faithless.

Not content with watching Hitchens bite off the head of a live chicken on air, Matthews dragged MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard into the mess. The GOP’s token black woman commentator said that if Clinton became secretary of state, she will run a "parallel government." Jennifer Donahue, political director of the very conservative New Hampshire Institute of Politics think tank, added that Clinton would try to "create only one term for Barack Obama."

It was learned today that Bill Kristol’s Op-Ed contract with the New York Times is up for renewal and both sides are considering whether they want to continue the association. For the Times, Kristol turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; Chris Matthews is having the same affect on MSNBC. Its management might want to re-assess his value to the network when his contract is expiring.

So Long, Ted. We’ll Miss You.

So convicted felon Sen. Ted Stevens lost his re-election bid.

After three months of Sarah Palin, it’s comforting to know there are some 3,000 more Alaskans who felt he shouldn’t be serving in the Senate and Leavenworth at the same time than there are those who didn’t see a problem with him being found guilty of seven federal felony offenses.

Washington’s Prime Purveyor of Pork is leaving town not just in disgrace but defeat. Still, in a perverse way, it’s a shame that the man who single-handedly provided Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, David Letterman and countless other comics with reams of hilarious material is going to fade from view.

But at least we’ll be able to keep in touch with Stevens thanks to the series of big tubes on the internets (which is not a big truck you just dump stuff on).

So long, Ted. We’ll miss you. Do you need help packing and moving?

Did John McCain Lose Arizona?

– by Denis Campbell, editor of

While Maricopa County Arizona (Phoenix) Judge Edward O. Burke agreed with the state's Libertarian Party that county elections director Helen Purcell did not follow election law, ensure ballot integrity and provide an unbroken custody chain, he ruled against the party’s request for an injunction by saying, "in a county the size the size of Maricopa, perfect compliance with the statutory electoral scheme, while desirable, is not possible due to time, space, the practicalities of the electoral process and the number of persons involved" in denying their injunction for a hand recount last Friday.

Pardon me, but, WTF?

We still do not have a final Presidential result in the state of Missouri, 14 days after the election.

We still do not have all ballots counted in Alaska in their razor close Senate race. We still do not have a result in the Minnesota Senate race and will have a mandatory recount. We still do not have a result in Georgia where a run-off election will be held on December 2nd, but John McCain's state and home county – the largest in Arizona – need not follow election laws because it may be inconvenient for them to so do?

What kind of a banana republic state does the former Republican Presidential candidate represent? I reported extensively in the run-up to this election about problems in Tucson's Pima County where now even the County Manager is distancing himself from the justifiably embattled Elections Director there.

At first glance, John McCain appears to have comfortably won his home state by about 9 percentage points. Barack Obama won Tucson (Pima) and John McCain won Phoenix (Maricopa). Those two counties though account for almost 70% of the total vote. So, if one wanted to hack a series of memory cards or alter the vote's results, these two counties would have the greatest impact and make the most sense.

I'm puzzled.

Aside from losing a wild-card pool pick state – I had Arizona going to Obama, against the odds – how can so many states surrounding Arizona turn blue, yet this one stay so conspicuously red? Why did team Obama, who had a solid run, spend money and time in Arizona? Did McCain actually lose Maricopa County because, if he did, he would lose his home state. When the stakes are so high, it makes one think.

John Brakey is as passionate as they come. This citizen warrior is part of AUDIT AZ and they work tirelessly for election transparency and integrity. Since 1996 they have been battling election authorities in Pima County. Their work has uncovered major systemic problems with Dieboldt and ES&S machines, Indeed, the state's Attorney General still refuses to seize questionable ballots from a 2004 election and order a recount that could resolve the issue.

Brakey says of Maricopa County, "the point of all this is to force this out-of-control election department to resolve chain-of custody issues, to force the county to follow the rules of law."

At trial, evidence was introduced but not addressed in the court's decision. This included testimony given orally and by affidavit about:
• Unsigned poll register tapes;
• The lack of security handling and transporting memory packs; and
• The flimsy and easily manipulated ballot containers and seals.

Jim March, an elections security expert with testified in an affidavit introduced at trial, "The elections department used flimsy plastic containers purchased at Fry's Electronics store that can be easily opened by removing the hinges. This keeps the election department seals intact."

Without a proper chain of custody, properly sealed bags, and memory card on walkabout throughout the county, if someone wanted to ensure a victory there are many ways in which to do that.

This film shows election results arriving without proper seals and custody and elections director Purcell unconcerned then belligerent. All it takes is one infected card to alter the entire tabulation computer's result.

As was shown time and again this election, our nation's voting systems are badly broken. That people have to give up a day or half-day's wages to vote is, as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow suggested, a new form of the Jim Crow era poll tax.

That they stood on line for so long and did so in record numbers is a reason for us all to feel proud.

That belligerent "public servants" can treat an independent election observer and the process with such disdain should be a dismissible offence. There is no room for that kind of behaviour.

Earlier this election season we highlighted a public-private cooperative effort in Humboldt County, California that should be the model for election departments across the USA. Uniform national election laws and procedures for recounts should be a priority before the mid-term elections.
Defensiveness, confrontation and belligerence have no place in such a sacred place as the local election department. It is the one right we must all fight for responsibly and the sooner both sides come out of confrontation and into cooperation the better it will be for us all.

Did John McCain lose his own county and state? We will never know.

And we should.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bush’s Blanket Pardon For War And Torture?

As if we don’t have enough to worry about the shenanigans Bush & Co. might try pulling in their last 60-plus days in office, now comes whispered reports from Washington that Dubya is considering issuing a “blanket pardon” for everyone involved in anything illegal in the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and – more critically – anything remotely connected to torturing detainees during his eight year reign of terror.

As constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley explained last night on Countdown, such a pardon would not only be “unprecedented” in American history, it would establish a “dangerous precedent” for future presidents in that it would allow an administration to do anything and escape judgment by issuing itself a blanket pardon.

In effect, Bush would be pardoning himself, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Yoo and the rest of the neo-con cabal surrounding the administration that not just tore the Constitution to shreds but mounted illegal invasions of sovereign nations and authorized torture despite US laws and international treaties banning its use. Of course, it would also cover the hapless military officers, NCOs and enlisted personnel who carried out the illegal orders from on high.

Not even Richard Nixon had the gall to self-pardon his Watergate crimes.

Admission Of Guilt

Nixon’s reluctance wasn’t so much constitutional as it was personal: He knew that pardoning himself for Watergate would be an admission of guilt.

Since George Bush is not capable of such careful thought or legal subtleties – remember, this is the man who told a Nov. 2001, Oval Office meeting “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a Goddamned piece of paper” – it’s entirely possible he could be talked into forgiving his and everyone else’s sins moments before leaving for Barack Obama’s inauguration.

While that might free Bush, Cheney and their pals from worrying about US prosecution, a pardon’s reach would end at the US shoreline. And it appears increasingly likely that at least some European governments are not as eager to forgive and forget.

Yesterday, one of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".

Lord Bingham, in his first major speech since retiring as the senior law lord, rejected the then-attorney general's defense of the 2003 invasion as fundamentally flawed.

“No Factual Grounds” To Invade

Contradicting head-on British attorney general Lord Goldsmith's advice that the invasion was lawful, Bingham told an audience Monday night, "It was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply in a manner justifying resort to force and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had."

Adding his weight to the body of international legal opinion opposed to the invasion, Bingham said that to argue, as Tony Blair’s government did, that Britain and the US could unilaterally decide that Iraq had broken UN resolutions "passes belief."

Lord Bingham reminded his audience that governments are bound by international law as much as by their domestic laws, adding "The current ministerial code binding on British ministers requires them as an overarching duty to 'comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations'."

Opposition parties in Parliament are pressing for an independent inquiry into the invasion but the government is resisting.

But Lord Bingham insists, "If I am right that the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK and some other states was unauthorised by the Security Council there was, of course, a serious violation of international law and the rule of law.

"For the effect of acting unilaterally was to undermine the foundation on which the post-1945 consensus had been constructed: the prohibition of force save in self-defense, or perhaps, to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe, unless formally authorized by the nations of the world empowered to make collective decisions in the Security Council ..."

Broken Law Compact

The moment a state treats international law as binding on others but not on itself, the compact on which the law rests is broken, Lord Bingham argues. Quoting a comment made by a leading academic lawyer, he added: "It is 'the difference between the role of world policeman and world vigilante'."

He contrasted that with the "unilateral decisions of the US government" on issues such as the detention conditions in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Referring to mistreatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Bingham states, "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among top officials in the Bush administration."

In many respects, Lord Bingham was laying out the case for a war crimes prosecution against individuals in the Blair and Bush governments.

Think back a few years when Donald Rumsfeld, then a newly-retired pensioner having been fired as Secretary of Defense, was pursued across Paris by a French prosecutor who wanted to detain Rumsfeld to question him about war crimes. Somehow, Rumsfeld made his way to the American Embassy where he hid out until a plot was concocted to smuggle him out of France.

Under Bush, of course, the United States dropped its recognition of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. If Pres. Obama reinstates America’s participation in the court, not only will the Bushmen not be safe to travel outside the United States, they may not be safe from detention in the US while awaiting extradition, either.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Is Capturing bin Laden Another Bush Lie?

Twice in the past six months, America has been shown that Osama bin Laden was in sight of Allied forces and twice George Bush directed troops in the field to back off, effectively letting him escape.

The first telling was Kill bin Laden by “Dalton Fury,” the pen name of a former Delta force officer who is forbidden from writing about operations using his real name. Fury led an elite Delta Force unit into Afghanistan with the sole mission of finding bin laden and killing him. But he points out repeatedly there was interference from Washington, cancelling missions including one where Fury’s company came within a few meters of actually capturing or killing bin Laden. One of his commandos with a night vision scope sat watching bin Laden make his way through a mountain pass from Afghanistan into Pakistan while Washington ordered “Don’t shoot!”

Now, a new French documentary shows that French soldiers trapped and arrested bin Ladin but Washington ordered the French to release him. Bin Laden, The Failings Of A Manhunt by Emmanuel Razavi and Eric de Lavarene confirms claims of French soldiers on the ground that they could have killed bin Laden during two different operations but American forces prevented them from doing so.

As he’s moving out of The White House, someone ought to tap George Bush on the shoulder and ask him why.

Kabul’s independent secular daily newspaper Hasht-e Sobh reported on Sept. 29 that the documentary shows how the Americans are interested in continuing the bloody and expensive game whose victims are only the unprotected and local people of Afghanistan. Rumours in Kabul spread about this film last year but it has not been taken seriously by the media. A translation of the article shows up on the US Government Open Source website and was cited by Juan Cole (

Even though French soldiers insist on the truth of the story, both the Elysees Palace and The White House rejected their account. Afghan leaders in Kabul say they has no information about either the operation or official interference.

Yet according to Hasht-e Sobh, the film raises a number of disturbing questions that US meda have yet to raise:
• If bin Laden was allowed twice to escape capture by Washington, why is the US still fighting in Afghanistan.
• If America’s target in Afghanistan isn’t bin Laden, then who is the US target?
• What is America searching for in Afghanistan and why are they looking for whatever it is?
• The Western media remained silent before the report of the Osama Bin-Ladin arrest by French soldiers, reducing a known fact to rumour by not noting the report.

Hasht-e Sobh reminds readers that politicians in Kabul try forgetting such news, and they give similar advice to locals. Yet the newspaper points out that, “Forgetting and ignoring such facts is possible but how can we forget and ignore the bombs exploding next to our houses every day?”

It’s pretty hard to win the hearts and minds of an indiginous people when America’s stated reason for invading Afghanistan may be shaping up to be one more big lie.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Meet Sen. Norm Slimy (R-MN)

Although I’ve lived in Toronto for going-on two decades, Minnesota was my last state of residence in the US so it is where I’ve voted since moving here. Reading on-line editions of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press coupled with having friends – some since high school – who still live there, it’s easy for me to keep up with home state politics.

In a state known for squeaky clean, Lake Woebegon-like politics, Sen. Norm Coleman is the poster child of slimy political stunts, self-serving manoeuvring and kow-towing to corporate campaign donors.

He was narrowly elected to the Senate in 2002 after incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash during the campaign – a sad irony because Wellstone was first elected in 1996 barnstorming the state in an battered, old, school bus painted green. Now, Coleman is embroiled in a state-mandated recount because the election results in his fight against Al Franken fell within 0.5% of a tie.

How slimy is Coleman?

Besides demanding that Franken forego the recount even though precious few votes separate them and the law requires it, Coleman and his surrogates are attacking everyone from poll workers to Minnesota’s Secretary of State Mark Ritchie with lies about vote count shenanigans, being untrustworthy and practically criminal behaviour. When Republican lies are disproven – sometimes by the very people who started them – Coleman conveniently ignores reality and goes on with his smears.

Well, what can you expect? Coleman was first approached about running for the Senate by Karl Rove.

Typical Coleman Crappola

This week on The Rachel Maddow Show, Ritchie fired back at the Senator. He noted that, as the elected Secretary of State, it is his job to take the jabs and smears “but Sen. Coleman has no business attacking the integrity of election judges around the state, many of whom have been volunteering for decades without a hint of wrongdoing or impropriety.”

Now Coleman and the national Republican Party are flying in some 100 GOP lawyers to peek over the volunteer’s shoulders as Minnesota’s 87 counties recount the Senate vote. But while much of the nation is aghast at what Coleman is doing, for people in Minnesota his smarmy representation is nothing new.

For example, in March 2007, Coleman introduced legislation to kill the Defense Travel System, a program to automate Defense Dept. travel purchases, which spends roughly $5.5-billion annually for travel. Shortly after filing the legislation, Coleman received a generous contribution from CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson of Minneapolis-based Carlson Companies, owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Its Government Travel unit provides lucrative services for numerous federal agencies. Moreover, over the years, Coleman has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from other Carlson Companies executives.

As a constituent, I wrote objecting to his measure to bring efficiency to travel purchases by the federal government. Weeks later, a form letter showed up in my e-mail saying, in effect, go stuff yourself.

He backed Pres. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, telling me in a letter I wrote to him at the time objecting to the scheme that Americans can better take care of their future than the government. As the stock market crash amply demonstrated, had Social Security been privatized as Coleman wanted, the nation’s elderly would be even worse off now than they are.

He told me in another letter that the Patriot Act is an important way to protect Americans from terrorism, saying that people not involved in nefarious activities have nothing to worry about. Uhm, it turns out we all have a lot to worry about as Attorney General Michael Mukasey proved again a few weeks ago by allowing FBI agents to investigate anyone for any reason.

Smart Money

I stopped writing to Sen. Coleman once I realised all I was receiving in return were Republican talking points, the same ones The White House shares with Fox News every day. By comparison, when I write to my other senator, Amy Klobuchar, I receive a thoughtful reply that includes a rationale for her position. I don’t always agree with her but at least she explains why she is supporting or opposing some piece of legislation.

Coleman merely spits in my face.

Friends in Minnesota tell me that the smart money in the recount is on Franken who carried the urban Hennepin and Ramsey counties and their surrounding suburbs by wide margins as well as counties in the traditionally heavy Democratic-voting Iron Range which includes Duluth. The state and the US Senate would be well-served by ridding itself of another self-serving toady who, in his own quiet way, is turning into the Ted Stevens of the Midwest.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bloomberg Sues The Fed For Loan Disclosure

Lost in the wake of Henry Paulson’s announcement Wednesday that Treasury is “changing direction” in how it doles out money in the bank rescue plan is a little-noticed lawsuit filed last Friday by Bloomberg LP, the business news wire service. It is suing the Federal Reserve Board’s governors for public records that would answer two simple questions: Who is receiving $2-trillion in Fed loans and what collateral are taxpayers getting to support them?

That’s trillion, with a “t.”

And, yes, as hard as it is to believe, taxpayers don’t know the identity of the borrowers to whom they are lending. They also don’t know what kind of junk — Stocks? Bonds? Three milk cows and a ’69 Camaro? — they are getting to collateralize the federal loans.

As Bloomberg wrote Monday, “The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.”


Listen, one can argue about whether the Fed’s loan program is wise or not though most people think it is.

But now that the Treasury’s vaults have been thrown open, taxpayers have a right to know who is getting the loans. Likewise, taxpayers should know the collateral being held, especially given the virtual certainty it is worth far less than the cash they are lending. Taxpayer exposure is enormous.

Loans Worth $2-Trillion

The $2-trillion in loans that are the subject of its suit are separate and apart from the $700-billion rescue package passed by Congress in October. At least, that law has some measure of transparency — we know which banks are getting capital — and safeguards to ensure that taxpayers’ investment is secured.

The Fed lending program is different. As the Bloomberg suit explains, before August 2007 the Fed typically loaned money to regular banks for very short periods of time requiring gold-leaf collateral and had about $1-million in loans outstanding at any one time. Come the financial crisis, the Fed added three new lending programs and dramatically eased terms and dropped collateral standards, opening the loan spigot. By the first week of October, the Fed had average lending of more than $400-billion. Now, the figure is much higher.

Almost daily, the Money Honeys on CNBC announce that such numbers are unprecedented, and it is all too true.

In return, banks handed over collateral of unknown and, assumedly, poor quality. The gap between amount loaned and the amount the collateral is worth is the amount the taxpayers may have to pay if banks can’t make good on these loans.

Seeks Basic Information

The Bloomberg suit is looking for very basic the information:

The government documents that Bloomberg seeks are central to understanding and assessing the government’s response to the most cataclysmic financial crisis in America since the Great Depression. The effect of that crisis on the American public has been and will continue to be devastating. Hundreds of corporations are announcing layoffs in response to the crisis and the economy was the top issue for many Americans in the recent elections …

In response to the crisis, the Fed has vastly expanded its lending programs to private financial institutions. To obtain access to the public money and to safeguard the taxpayers’ interests, borrowers are required to post collateral. Despite the manifest public interest in such matters, however, none of the programs themselves make reference to any public disclosure of the posted collateral or of the Fed’s methods of valuing it. Thus, while the taxpayers are the ultimate counterparty for the collateral, they have not been given any information regarding the kind of collateral received, how it was valued, or by whom.

Seems pretty clear to me. The documents Bloomberg request are all pretty basic stuff.

Records to sufficient to show the names of the Relevant Securities.

Records sufficient to show the amount of borrowing permitted as compared to the face value [the non-marked-down value of the collateral], also known as the ‘haircut…’

Records sufficient to describe whether valuations or ‘haircuts’ for the Relevant Securities changed over time [i.e. whether taxpayer losses are growing]…

Records sufficient to show the terms of the loans and the rates that the borrowers must pay…

Records, including contracts with outside entities, that show the employees or entities being used to price the relevant securities and to conduct the lending process.

Who’s running the program? A simple question.

Unneeded Secrecy

There are arguments against disclosure, of course, but the secrecy case here seems especially weak.

Banks oppose any release of information because it might signal weakness and spur short-selling or a run by depositors, said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington trade group.

Barney Frank gives it a try and comes across sounding foolish which Rep. Frank is not: “I talk to [New York Fed Chairman Tim] Geithner and he was pretty sure that they’re OK. If the risk is that the Fed takes a little bit of a haircut, well that’s regrettable.” Such losses would be acceptable, he said, if the program helps revive the economy.

Pretty sure they’re okay? Sorry, Barney, that’s just not enough. And then he makes an equally weak case for secrecy.

Frank said the Fed shouldn’t reveal the assets it holds or how it values them because of “delicacy with respect to pricing.” He said such disclosure would “give people clues to what your pricing is and what they might be able to sell us and what your estimates are.” He wouldn’t say why he thought that information would be sticky.

Actually, it’s more likely that visibility would help the market, as Bloomberg’s story points out:

Revealing how the Fed values collateral could help thaw frozen credit markets, said Ron D’Vari, chief executive officer of NewOak Capital LLC in New York and the former head of structured finance at BlackRock Inc.

“I’d love to hear the methodology, how the Fed priced the assets,” D’Vari said. “That would unclog the market very quickly.”

Misplaced Fear

The fear for banks is misplaced. They already have the loans, so they’re fine. The real purpose of secrecy is hiding how badly taxpayers are in the hole. As the Bloomberg suit points out:

The public has significant and legitimate interest in the Fed’s conduct with respect for these four lending facilities because the Fed’s assets are public assets. Taxpayers are entitled to understand and assets the decisions by the Fed on the valuation of the collateral it accepts as security for public money being lent to private institutions. The public’s interest is particularly pronounced in light of the new expansive powers of the Fed, the new risks that the Fed is taking with public money, and the ongoing financial crisis and its effects on the American economy.

As the public’s independent eyes and ears on the government, news organizations, can do no less than everything in their power to put a spotlight on these public expenditures. The power to tax and spend is probably government’s most basic one. To me, watching those is a news organization’s first order of business: It is Job One.

Freedom of Information Act requests are a common newsgathering tool and so are lawsuits to force disclosure when the law is violated. The Bloomberg suit is a reasonable, appropriate and measured tactic by a mainstream news organization. And the suit is manifestly in the public interest.

News organizations compete but they usually cooperate on matters of press freedom and transparency. This is one of those times.

Business Week, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, The New York Times, CNBC and every other print and broadcast media that purports to cover business news to join the Bloomberg suit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering Veterans …

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada - what America calls Veterans Day - and everything except retailing and restaurants shuts down tight across the country, even in Québec.

Canada treats Remembrance Day observations much more somberly than do US celebrations. This may well be the result of how the British mercilessly used the colonial Canadian army as fodder in both World Wars and the US seems to view Veterans Day mostly as time for a one-day-only sale.

Also, I suspect Remembrance Day is such a somber commemoration in Canada not just because the country has had peacekeepers on constant active duty in various places around the world for as long as any Canadian alive can remember, but because one in 275 Canadians died in World War II, one in 100 in The Great War. Since half the population was female and a significant share of the men were either too old or young, two entire generations of men in this country were wiped out. Twice.

In World War I, British commanders like Gen. Kitchener sent Canadian troops over the top first and units were usually assigned impossible tasks such as taking and holding Vimy Ridge. Tens of thousands of Canadians died in a few days of fighting while the Brits stayed the flanks and took very little German fire. But Canadians held the ridge.

It was much the same thing in World War II.

When Winston Churchill decided to try a poorly planned mini-invasion of France way before D-Day, Lord Louis Mountbatten send a nearly all-Canadian force to Dieppe. Ill-considered, ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-led by the British, almost everyone was either killed or captured, and those who returned to England suffered hideous wounds and injuries.

During the Italian campaign, Field Marshall Montgomery used Canadian troops to take the brunt of German resistance in the middle of the country as the British army fought its way up the relatively soft east coast of Italy.

Likewise, during and after D-Day: Canadians were first assigned to fight their way through the hardest of German reinforcements at Normandy and, later, sent alone to rout Germans during the Battle of the Veldt in the Low Countries.

On the other hand, the Dutch have been forever grateful to Canada for liberating their country.

It is Canada - not Britain or America - that holds a special place in Dutch hearts. The tulip gardens in front of Parliament in Ottawa are a thank you from the Netherlands for liberating the nation. Holland may be the only place on earth where Canadians hide the flag most of them have on their luggage. While elsewhere in the world the flag will bring a smile, a welcome or an open door, in Amsterdam a Canadian can hardly negotiate the handshakes and hugs from strangers when they walk down the street.

On a number of occasions over the years, I've been in bars in Holland where a friendly local happened to ask where I was from. When I answered Toronto, patrons wouldn't let me pay for a drink the rest of the evening.

My dad served in the US Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Other than a few anecdotes like how he found a way to scrounge more than his ship’s meager allotment of beef when a supply party went ashore, he barely spoke of his wartime experiences. Now that he is long dead, all I have from that period of his life are his officer’s dress uniform, a pair of shoulder bars showing his rank, a tiny handful of photos and an ash tray some Chief Petty Officer carved out of a shell casing after Guadalcanal.

Phil survived the war, went to law school on the GI Bill, and when he aged and needed medical help, the Veterans Administration hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota turned him away. Despite Congress’ promise to veterans in the Forties that “if you fight for your country, we’ll take care of your medical needs for life,” Ronald Reagan changed VA regulations and broke the promise. Phil would relate easily to the problems veterans of Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan face nearly every day with the VA.

So, to Phil and the millions of others who served in war time, it is truly a day to remember all of you. Thanks.

Now For Something Completely Different ...

Sarah Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, told the AP that Palin spent “the weekend going through her clothing” to determine what belongs to the Republican Party after it spent $150,000-plus on a wardrobe for the vice presidential nominee (and possible Senate candidate? -Ed).

“She was just frantically … trying to sort stuff out,” Heath reports. “That’s the problem, you know, the kids lose underwear and everything has to be accounted for.”

Uhm, has anyone bothered to ask why contributors to the Republican Party were buying underwear for Palin’s children?

Meanwhile, in Wasilla, hometown backers put aside their disappointment over her unsuccessful Veep bid to focus on really important issues. Jessica Steele, for one, can’t wait to see what Sarah Palin does next – with her hair.

“That’s something I want to talk to her about: What’s our vision for her hair?” says Steele, proprietor of the Beehive Beauty Shop and keeper of the governor’s Bee Gee’s era up-do since 2002.

This just about sums up Sarah’s depth and that of her campaign and friends. ‘Nuff said.

Is Henry Paulson Channelling Chairman Mao?

One of Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s “sayings” immortalized in his Little Red Book deals with stealth in politics and war. “Make a noise in the east,” the Great Helmsman wrote, “and strike in the west.”

On Monday afternoon, I realised that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is channelling Chairman Mao. While everyone on the Hill and around America was focusing attention on the election and bank rescue plan – a noise in the east – on Sept. 30, Paulson struck in the west by quietly giving banks a $140-billion windfall by issuing new regulations under an arcane provision of a seldom used 1980’s-era tax law involving corporate mergers.

According to The Washington Post, the change to Section 382 – a provision that limits a kind of tax shelter arising in corporate mergers – came after a two-decade effort by conservative economists and Republican administration officials to eliminate or overhaul the law, which is so little-known that even influential tax experts sometimes draw a blank at its mention. Until the financial meltdown, bank lobbyists told the Post, its opponents thought it would be nearly impossible to revamp the section because it would look like a corporate giveaway.

It would look like a giveaway because that’s exactly what Paulson intends it to be, and Goldman Sachs best friend in Washington pulled a fast one on Congress and the American people while everybody was looking the other way.

If people called Bill Clinton “Slick Willy,” this must make Henry Paulson a 21st century Wily Coyote. He’s like Willy Sutton, the once-famous bank robber: Sutton said he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is” and Paulson robs taxpayers for the same reason.

Muck And Mire

Listen to Treasury’s rationale: Spokesman Andrew DeSouza says Paulson has the legal authority as part of his power to interpret the tax code and provide legal guidance to companies. He described the Sept. 30 notice, which allows some banks to keep more money by lowering their taxes, as a way to help financial institutions during a time of economic crisis.

Apparently, Paulson doesn’t think that Seven Hundred Billion Dollars is enough of a helping hand to get clever, greedy bankers with their voracious appetite for grabbing someone else’s cash out of their own muck and mire.

Even more egregious, noted tax lawyers and other experts around the country say Paulson’s gimmick isn’t even legal.

"Did the Treasury Dept. have the authority to do this? I think almost every tax expert would agree that the answer is no," George K. Yin, the former chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, told the Post’s Amit Paley. "They basically repealed a 22-year-old law that Congress passed as a backdoor way of providing aid to banks."

Adds Candace A. Ridgway, a tax partner at the law firm Jones Day, "It was a shock to the tax law community. It was one of those things where it pops up on your screen and your jaw drops.

"I've been in tax law for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this," Ridgway asserts in an interview with Paley.

Today, I spoke briefly with 10 US tax lawyers I know well in New York, Washington, Chicago and Minneapolis. All said Treasury has no legal authority to unilaterally change the meaning of Sect. 382; at least two of the 10 were aghast Paulson would try pulling such a stunt in the waning days of an administration already blamed for being too cozy with Wall St. and causing the financial crisis.

Now What?

Here’s the rub.

If either Treasury repeals its own regulation or Congress does it for Paulson, there’s a serious risk that more than a few of the recent bank mergers – many engineered by Treasury, the Fed or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to prevent weak banks from collapsing – will unravel. The tax benefit Paulson created is likely to be one of the driving forces behind a healthy bank’s willingness to take over a sick sister; in some cases, the acquiring bank might well have its entire, potential exposure covered by tax breaks generated by the deal.

About the best thing would be for Congress – preferably the lame duck session that convenes shortly or at least the new one in January – to turn back Paulson’s slight-of-hand trick without toppling existing merger deals. No one would gain by a sudden rash of unexpected bank failures, and the ensuing losses would put the FDIC at risk.

Still, if anyone needs proof at this late date of the deceitful behavior of Henry Paulson and the rest of the Bush gang, they need look no further than the Sept. 30 regulations for Sect. 382. Someone better lock the cash register now, before the door slams into their backside as they leave office Jan. 20, 2009.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dear Red States ...

Pete, one of my far-flung correspondents, passed along this bit of wit that is making the rounds of the blogosphere. I post it in case you haven't seen it.

Dear Red States:

We've decided: We're leaving.

We intend to form our own country and we're taking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, this includes California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and all the Northeast states. You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.

We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation – especially to the people of the new country of New California.

We get stem cell research and the best beaches; you get textbooks saying dinosaurs walked the earth 8,000 years ago. We get the Statue of Liberty; you get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft; you get WorldCom. We get Harvard; you get Ole' Miss. We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs; you get Alabama. We get Jon Stewart; you get Pat Buchanan. We get two-thirds of the tax revenue; you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than states in the Christian Coalition's power base, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war, and we want all of our citizens back from Iraq. Right now. If you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids they're apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and they don't care if you don't show pictures of their children's caskets coming home. We wish you success in Iraq but we're not willing to spend our resources in Bush's Quagmire.

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80% of the fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92% of the fresh fruit, 95% of quality wines, 90% of all cheese, 90% of the high tech industry, most of the low-sulphur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools plus Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT.

On the other hand, the Red States will have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans and their projected health care costs, 92% of all mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the hurricanes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the University of Georgia. We also get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you, and hope you don’t totally ruin the Grand Canyon with the uranium mining Dubya is set to allow.

It will be interesting to see the society you create since 38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale; 62% believe life is sacred unless we're discussing war, the death penalty or gun laws; 44% say that evolution is only a theory; 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11; and 61% of you believe you have higher morals then we do.

Finally, we're taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed they grow in Mexico.

The Blue States

January Can't Come Soon Enough

One sunny day in late January, 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench next to the statue of Andrew Jackson. He approached a US Marine standing guard and said, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine looked at the man and replied, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The old man said, "Okay" and walked away.

The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

Again, the Marine told the man, "Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The man thanked him and, again, just walked away.

The third day, the same man approached the White House gate and spoke to the very same Marine, saying, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don't you understand?"

The old man looked at the Marine and said, "Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it."

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted and said, "Yes Sir! See you tomorrow, Sir."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Conservatives Wallow In Denial

Not surprisingly, red meat conservatives are wallowing in denial, now that the shock of Tuesday night has worn off. Basically, the arguments run along one of two or three lines: Obama tricked people, Obama stole the election or that despite the size and scope of the win across counties and states, he must abandon the liberal or progressive wing of the Democratic party and govern from the center.

Speaking yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball, Michele Bernard intoned that “Obama will have to govern from the center because that’s where America is.”

Oh, no it isn’t, girl.

Then Neil Stevens, writing at Red State, insists, “Democrats are going to claim that Obama's margin of victory over John McCain was a large, overwhelming repudiation of the Republican party, and that it was possibly even a historical turning point of partisan political realignment. There's just one problem with that theory: It's not true.”

Sorry, Neil, but it is true.

Even David Brooks, appearing on the PBS NewsHour last night, stated firmly that “Obama will have to fight off the left-wing of his party to govern more from the center.”

Got it wrong, again, David.

Thursday morning, at his Conscience of a Liberal blog in The New York Times, Paul Krugman thoughtfully provided a county-by-county map of the United States showing which counties voted more heavily Democratic in 2008 than in 2004, and those counties voting more Republican this time around than in the last election. Much of the nation has a decidedly blue tint.

Sorry, Michelle; my condolences, Neil; heartfelt sympathies; David, look again. The fact is that the map clearly indicates a major leftward shift straight across the country, even in states McCain won. Only in eastern Oklahoma, a large swath of Arkansas, southern Louisiana (now heavily white in post-Katrina New Orleans) and Tennessee did more people cast Republican votes than in 2004.

And yet the right persists.

Victor Davis Hanson of the National Review grandly announces, “Like the young emperor Augustus, Obama may well have sensed that a country eager for change was still a largely traditional and centrist society — as this election’s relatively close popular vote reflected.”

A close popular vote? The map aside, Obama received well over 63.2-million votes, more than any presidential candidate in American history, beating McCain by nearly eight million votes – or the equvilent of about 12.5 Alaska’s.

Nevertheless, right wing blogger Kevin Walker wants to remind people that, “I just hope those few correct-minded people in Congress (Note: He means the remaining Republicans) will fight tooth and nail to Chairman O and his cohorts' policies that will only hurt America.”

Walker doesn’t say which of Obama’s policies will hurt America: Perhaps universal health care, which the vast majority of the country says it supports – including big business? Maybe ending Wall St. shenanigans that sent the US and the world spinning into a deep recession? How about getting out of Iraq, another winner with 80% of Americans who see the war as a tragic error? Will a more equitable tax code hurt America, with the rich actually paying their fair share? Walker leaves out the specifics.

Meanwhile, a far right, moon batty blogger who goes by the name of Moonbattery, is quoted on Huffington Post as writing, “This is a day of celebration for everyone hostile to America and the principles of individual liberty for which it stands.”

Excuse me, Moonbeam, but George Bush and Dick Cheney tore individual liberties to absolute scraps of paper during their two terms so the Bill of Rights only barely resembles what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

Even when it comes to the economy, conservatives remain in a state of denial. In describing what is happening now in the US, Manchester Union-Leader columnist Kathleen Parker writes today, “Granted, not everyone got to play Monopoly, but our hardships are relatively benign.”

Tell that to everyone who lost their job, their home, their health insurance and their hope for a better life.

The election made a number of things clear about 21st century America, prime among them that the Republican Party’s laisser-faire attitude about business and regulation, about social issues and the role of religion in public life, and what governing for all of the people means all need a massive re-think.

Barack Obama will be everybody’s president but, based on what happened in this election, the last thing he needs to do is worry about governing from the center. The American center has moved left.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The End Of The Beginning

Like many other people last night, at precisely 11PM when the polls closed in California, Oregon and Washington, and Keith Olbermann called the election, I started to cry. Steady, solid, weeping that kept coming in waves.

Then I glanced at the screen where the MSNBC director was flipping from one celebration to another and saw many others crying: Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, young, old, men, women, all over the country. A series of individual shots that, together, redefined the United States of America last night.

There was a student at Spellman College in Atlanta who collapsed in tears and was being comforted by her friends.

Then Oprah was leaning on the shoulder of the man in front of her as she cried uncontrollably, Jesse Jackson standing directly behind her with two rivers flowing freely down his face.

A quick shot of a nursing home day room where elderly white men and woman, some in wheelchairs, one man wearing an American Legion cap, some cheering and some wiping their eyes with tissues.

Cut to a sports bar in Georgia where white and black faces kissed each other, and hugged.

And always back to Grant Park in Chicago. The roar of the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to be free lifting their voices and their smiles and their hands in relief and jubilation and ecstacy and exhaustion.

I thought of my mother, who died in 1996. She had my sister and me sit in front of the television when Dr. Martin Luther King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial before an endless sea of people who only had hope for a different tomorrow. Their - our - tomorrow finally came at 11PM Eastern time last night. I remembered how she wanted to go to that rally but Dad talked her out of it because it might become "dangerous." It turned out, the only dangerous thing was Dr. King's ideas.

John McCain came on screen in Pheonix to concede, giving the best speech of his campaign and silencing the yahoo's in the crowd who booed when he mentioned Barack Obama. Then back to the studio where someone was reading a White House transcript of Bush's congratulatory call to Obama where he told the President-elect to "go out and enjoy yourself." Only George W. Bush would hand the presidency of a country he came close to ruining to someone by saying Obama should "enjoy himself." It was akin to urging people to shop after 9/11.

Finally, there was Obama himself. He gave a better, more encompassing vicory speech than most inaugural addresses over the past 30 years.

Someone, it might have been Chris Mathews, said he looked "exhausted." He may have been that after 20 months of campaigning but, to me, he looked somber. Written all over Obama's face was the reality of the burden he suddenly bore, not just for himself and the country but the entire world. Even after his speech, when Joe Biden and his family and the throng of relatives and well-wishers crowded around him, he couldn't shake the look of a man who suddenly realises how alone he is.

I remember what Jack Kennedy said the first morning he was president and walked into the Oval Office. Surrounded by long-time aides and advisors, he sat in the chair behind the Lincoln desk that he requested be brought out from the Smithsonian Institute, looked up and asked, "Now what the hell do we do?"

Last night, Obama's face showed that he knew full well "what the hell do we do." But he's not alone. He has tens of millions of people around the country, and around the world, there to help. Our work has just begun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Final Projection: Obama 349, McCain 189 Electoral Votes

Throughout the campaign, the most-reliable polling information came consistently from Nate Silver's website,

Starting from his adoration of baseball statistics - a love I happen to share with him, by the way - Silver created a thoroughly incomphrensible maze of logrithems, regressions and who-knows-what-else to run all of the polls through his computer regressions, statistical analyses and simulations. He didn't just take information from one poll or a few of them, he took data from all of the polls, adjusting for past accuracy, internal polling bias and other abberant behavior.

Throughout the campaign, Silver's numbers have been dead-eye accurate.

The final projection from Obama 349 electoral votes, McCain 189.

Here's the last election report Silver filed before returns begin showing up in five hours.

It's Tuesday, November 4th, 2008, Election Day in America. The last polls have straggled in, and show little sign of mercy for John McCain. Barack Obama appears poised for a decisive electoral victory.

Our model projects that Obama will win all states won by John Kerry in 2004, in addition to Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Florida and North Carolina, while narrowly losing Missouri and Indiana. These states total 353 electoral votes. Our official projection, which looks at these outcomes probabilistically -- for instance, assigns North Carolina's 15 electoral votes to Obama 59 percent of the time -- comes up with an incrementally more conservative projection of 348.6 electoral votes.

We also project Obama to win the popular vote by 6.1 points; his lead is slightly larger than that in the polls now, but our model accounts for the fact that candidates with large leads in the polls typically underperform their numbers by a small margin on Election Day.

This race appears to have stabilized as of about the time of the second debate in Nashville, Tennessee on October 8th. Since that time, Obama has maintained a national lead of between 6 and 8 points, with little discernible momentum for either candidate. Just as noteworthy is the fact that the number of undecided voters is now very small, representing not much more than 2-3 percent of the electorate. Undecided voters who committed over the past several weeks appear to have broken roughly equally between the two candidates.

Our model forecasts a small third-party vote of between 1 and 2 points total; it is not likely to be a decisive factor in this election except perhaps in Montana, where Ron Paul is on the ballot and may garner 4-5 percent of the vote.

Any forecasting system is only as good as its inputs, and so if the polls are systematically wrong, our projection is subject to error as well. Nevertheless, even as we account for other cycles in which the polling numbers materially missed the national popular vote margin (such as in 1980), a McCain win appears highly unlikely. It is also possible, of course, that the polls are shy in Obama's direction rather than McCain's, in which case a double-digit win is possible.

Nor does McCain appear to have much chance of winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote; in fact, our model thinks that Obama is slightly more likely to do so. McCain diverted many of his resources to Pennsylvania, a state where he narrowed Obama's margins somewhat, but which our model concludes that Obama is now virtually certain to win. This may have allowed Obama to consolidate his margins in other battleground states, particularly Western states like Colorado and Nevada to which McCain has devoted little recent attention.

Thank you for placing your trust in over the course of the past several months. We hope that you will join us both on the website and on HDNet tonight, where I'll be providing election coverage for Dan Rather's team. FiveThirtyEight intends to continue to apply our unique approach to politics after the election, and we hope to have several announcements about our future plans in the coming days and weeks.

Thank you, Nate!

Quote Of The Day

"If I were to give one reason why I believe electing Barack Obama is essential tomorrow, it would be an end to this dark, lawless period in American constitutional government." – Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic

"Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Obama could run. Obama's running so that we all can fly. I can't wait until November 5 and I'm going to say 'Hello, Brother President'." – JZee, rapper

"Ok guys, let's go home. It will be fun to see how the story ends." – Barack Obama to reporters on his campaign plane last night en route to Chicago.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Last Les MisBarack Video

Here's the final Les MisBarack video. If you don't have tears at the end, you are not human!

I Tremble For My Country

The American author and naturalist Terry Tempest Williams once wrote, "The eyes of the future are watching us and they are praying that we learn to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with clasped hands that we might act with restraint, leaving room for the life that is destined to come."

Described as a "visionary" by the Utne Reader, Williams’ prayerful hope sums up how I feel this morning, the day before what will be the most-critical election of our time. Maybe any time since Lincoln was elected in 1860. Yet I also tremble for my country as it stands on the eve of electing its 44th president.

I tremble because we stare numbly at a world in crisis due largely to America’s catastrophic wars of choice and “in your face” foreign policy.

I tremble because we live terrified in an economy melting faster than a snow cone in August thanks to the unbridled greed and “grab all you can before someone else gets any” philosophy nurtured by a president who has no moral compass.

I tremble because as we shiver in the cold, early days of winter, a cold, shivering chill runs down our spines when we hear John McCain and Sarah Palin throw smears and platitudes like red meat to starving animals instead of discussing real issues like 11% of the country not working when unemployment claims are added to the number of people who’ve become discouraged and stopped looking for a job, or that 18% of American children go hungry every day, or one-sixth of the country is praying and hoping they and their kids don’t get sick or injured because they have no insurance.

I tremble because we’ve endured eight years of seeing America’s honor in the world torn to shreds, the Constitutional rights that protected us for 225 years from government abuse of power and authority systematically stripped and pillaged, the virgin American ideal of equal justice and equal rights and equal opportunity and equal protection raped repeatedly by an ideologically-driven Supreme Court where one Republican-appointed justice is angry he was born black, a second is a mental midget and a third accepts the far right notion that those who have it are worth more under the law than anyone who doesn’t.

I tremble because if We the People of the United States of America have another election stolen out from under us there will be hell to pay at home and around the world. One of the most laconic women I know told me last night that if somehow McCain confounds the reams of polls and wins, there will be rioting in the streets and “I’ll be out there throwing bricks myself.” Ironically, a deposition is being taken today in Ohio of the man who may have been responsible for the illegal, computerized vote switching and disappearing votes in the Buckeye State in the infamous Ken Blackwell 2004 Presidential Election Vote Switcheroo.

I tremble for my country because there is not enough Loraizapam™ in the world to calm me down if Obama loses. I should be celebrating my birthday today but instead I sit worried, fearful, frightened and trembling.

538 And Rasmussen: Obama Still Has Healthy Lead

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll once again shows Barack Obama with 51% of the vote while John McCain is five points back at 46%. This is the 38th straight day that Obama's support has stayed between 50% and 52%.

In the Electoral College projections, Rasmussen shows Obama leading 260 to 160. When states that are leaning in one way or the other are included, Obama leads 313 to 160. A total of 270 Electoral College votes are needed for victory.

At Nate Silver’s five, Obama's position became somewhat stronger since its Sunday afternoon update. Silver has him with a 5.8 point lead in the national popular vote, and winning the election 96.3 percent of the time. Earlier, those figures were 5.4 and 93.7, respectively.

Obama's win percentage ticked upward for a couple of reasons, Silver maintains.

Firstly, he's gotten some relatively good numbers out of Pennsylvania with PPP and Zogby giving him leads of 8 and 14 points, respectively, and Rasmussen showing his lead expanding to 6 points after having been at 4 before.

Second, Silver reports, McCain's clock has run out. While there is arguable evidence of a small tightening, there is no evidence of a dramatic tightening of the sort he would need to make Tuesday night interesting.

Moreover, there are very few true undecideds left.

After accounting for a third-party vote which looks as though it will come in at an aggregate of 2%, Silver shows only about 2.7% of voters left to allocate between the two major-party candidates. He predicts that even if John McCain were to win 70% of the remaining undecideds, it would only be worth a net of about a point for him. Frankly, McCain's winning scenarios mainly involve the polls having been wrong in the first place – because of a Bradley Effect or something else. It is unlikely that the polls will "tighten" substantially further – especially when Obama already has over 50% of the vote.

A couple of quick notes from Silver on yesterday’s individual state and national polling:

• He says people shouldn't worry too much about the SurveyUSA result in Minnesota which shows Obama just 3 points ahead. SurveyUSA's polling in Minnesota has been “very weird” all year; they've never shown Obama with larger than a 6 point lead in their likely voter model and had McCain ahead in the state as recently as October 1st. SurveyUSA does not have a Republican lean in general but, in Minnesota, it has consistently had a huge one.

• A couple of the national polls have started to predict how undecided voters will behave and allocate them between the two major-party candidates. Silver uses versions of these surveys before any such allocations are made as he doesn’t believe a pollster's job is to be in the prediction business.

I Couldn’t Wait

– Guest post by Dick Price of

I didn’t really mean to do it. I usually have more self-control. Something just came over me. I couldn’t restrain myself. Please forgive me.

I voted Friday.

I don’t have an excuse. I’ll be in town on Election Day and had planned to vote then like I always do. I’ve even taken off work Monday and Tuesday, making myself available to pitch in where needed, which would give me plenty of time to vote Tuesday, no matter how long the lines.

And, ordinarily, I like voting at our local polling place here in Mount Washington; I like bumping into our neighbors and silently congratulating each other in this bluer-than-blue neighborhood for striking our blow for what we hope will be freedom and justice. Oftentimes, I take my 14-year-old daughter along, making it a family affair that I hope will rub off on her.

But after a long, antsy day at the office in Los Alamitos, I found myself behind the wheel Friday afternoon, headed back through the Orange Curtain, to the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office in Norwalk. It’s probably no more than 10 miles as the crow flies, but I was confined to surface streets, which were crowded with moms driving their kids to Halloween parties. As usual, I took a couple wrong turns to make the trip more of an adventure than necessary, then had to circle to the large parking lot several times to find an open spot.

Once I processed in at the Registrars, I spent the better part of an hour in a huge, makeshift tent with hundreds of my fellow Angelenos—some who had spent hours there already—until my number was finally called and I could mark my ballot for Barack Obama and Joe Biden—and for our new friends Cynthia Loo and Lori-Ann Jones for LA Superior Court, for Xavier Becerra for Congress and Kevin de Leon for the Assembly, and against Prop 8.

And I’ve got to tell you, damn, did it feel good! Damn, damn, damn!

An Essential Sea Change

Since you’re reading this, I don’t have to tell you how important this election is.

Aren’t we all heartsick at the way the Bush-Cheney Administration has combined wrong-headed incompetence with wrong-hearted bellicosity to bring our country to its knees on so many fronts? Now, doesn’t the prospect of another Republican administration, led by an ill-tempered John McCain and an ill-informed Sarah Palin, leave a pit in all our stomachs?

America would survive a McCain-Palin Administration—Americans are resilient folk—but it would be another four years of grinding through an administration that simply doesn’t represent policies that reflect my views or those of most people I know.

On the other hand, Barack Obama’s performance through this endless campaign, the measured way he has addressed the economic and military crises that have arisen, the galvanizing way he has inspired millions of Americans as no one has for decades, the growing sense that this man and his Vice President, Joe Biden, would put together an administration that would get something done that we all want done—well, it vindicates every hope Sharon and I expressed before the California primary.

And, obviously, we’re not alone.

Even in states that have seemed to have gone over entirely to the Dark Side, the Obama-Biden ticket has a shot just three days out:

• The New York Times reports that in Colorado “close to 1.5 million votes, or about 46 percent of the registered total, are already in the can, cast and waiting to be counted.”
• In Georgia, the Washington Post reports that a “record-breaking 2 million people cast early ballots in the U.S. state of Georgia, an indication of high enthusiasm over Tuesday’s presidential election that could help Democratic candidate Barack Obama.”
• And in North Carolina, where I lived for a couple years as kid, The Nation reports that Obama has a chance: “Obama’s North Carolina campaign, undergirded by 1,700 volunteers, 40 offices and close to 400 paid staffers (McCain has 30 offices but only 30 paid staff), has outregistered Republicans five to one in the state this year and drawn even in the polls heading into the campaign’s last weeks. In the first week of early voting, in mid-October, almost three times as many Democrats as Republicans were casting ballots in a record turnout; while African-Americans are only 22 percent of the state’s population, almost 40 percent of early voters were black.”

Long lines are reported in virtually every state that has established early voting. Not all the absentee and early voters will go for Obama and Biden, of course, but early returns are looking good for the Democratic ticket, darned good. These early returns, the long lines, the masses of Obama volunteers, and the mountains of small donations his campaign has amassed month after month tell us that something is clearly afoot.

America is on the move.

Bringing More of Us In The Tent

The crowd in the tent at Norwalk looked a lot like Los Angeles: African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Whites in roughly equal measure. Working class folk and young professionals. Young and old, but a lot of the young. More than a few who struggled with English.

I don’t suppose everyone there cast a vote for Obama. There was no electioneering, in the tent or outside. No one wore an inappropriate button or shirt — my Obama-Biden button was in my pocket and my “No on 8” T-shirt under my regular shirt. Still, there were enough winks and nods and high-signs to say that the Democratic ticket was having a good day up and down the line.

I ran into our young friend Francisco Cendejas, who needed to vote early because he had decided to help get out the vote for Manuel Perez’s California Assembly race in Indio and Palm Springs and also pick up a ballot for his girlfriend Ana Mascarenas, who had returned to her home state of New Mexico to help with a Congressional race there. It was nice to see a friendly face in what was a friendly crowd despite the long waits, close quarters, and a bullhorn that rattled your teeth.

This election isn’t about race anymore than it’s about income redistribution. But an Obama Administration is going to make a big difference in race and class relations in this country. As our friend, Anthony Asadullah Samad wrote recently, America is finally letting one of the disenfranchised “drive the car.” ust the fact that a black man will be our President and a black woman our First Lady, two people who grew up in the straightened circumstances many Black Americans know, will send the clear signal to all the disenfranchised across America that they’re more fully inside the tent with the rest of us.

And that will be a good thing.

So let’s all make sure that good thing comes to pass so we can spend the next four years a dream, not a nightmare.

Along with his wife Sharon, Dick Price edits a daily e-news and opinion magazine at

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Obama Will Do It

– Guest post by Denis Campbell of

If you think this campaign was about tons of money for slick television advertising, you’re wrong. The money helped Obama take his message into additional ‘red’ states, but this election was about getting to know the voter – the customer, if you will – and giving them a voice and a say. Yes, Obama built a classic door-to-door retail unprecedented political machine but he made the election about us. No-drama Obama is only part of the story.

The wizard behind the curtains is soft-spoken and determined David Plouffe, 41, Obama’s campaign manager. Said strategist David Axelrod, “David Plouffe has done the most magnificent job of managing a campaign that I’ve seen in my life of watching presidential politics. To start something like this from scratch and build what we have built was a truly remarkable thing.”

These are the seven deadly virtues of Obama-Plouffe and the decidedly disciplined and unsexy way in which they did it:

1. The Pharaoh’s Already Dead

Invert the pyramid. In this election, ground-level organizing and excitement trumped traditional thinking. Plouffe turned the organization upside down and decentralized everything: He put the campaign in the hands of incredibly loyal, door-to-door, face-to-face organizers in the highest of high-touch ways. Half of the campaign money raised went to community organizing and was indeed a triumph of average voters over high powered lobbyist political machines.

The Clinton and McCain campaigns brought in “the usual suspects” and relied on models from the last three elections. They wheeled out 90’s-era lobbyists and strategists from past campaigns such as Rick Davis and Mark Penn, architect of Hillary’s “3AM ad” who stilled is owed $7-million by the campaign.

This is how campaigns are run. McCain was in Alexandria, Virginia next to Washington, they could all be important, lunch at The Palm on the campaign’s nickel, opine on national TV, sit together in high level HQ meetings, dictate strategy and, as we saw, in-fight and destroy the campaign from the inside-out.

Obama put his top people and surrogates out in the field. Now with 4,000 paid staffers and millions of volunteers, I got calls from US phone banks here in the UK despite having voted six weeks ago via absentee ballot. Plouffe had the good sense to give them more than they could possibly use or need, get out of the way and then let volunteers and field staff do their thing as opposed to issuing HQ fiats and edicts and deflating their enthusiasm.

The election was always about them.

2. Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers

In a traditional campaign, you follow a prescribed timetable and calendar which breaks at different times over your opponent. Well, there never was a sacred cow in the Obama campaign. They went against conventional wisdom at every turn: Obama never got the memo.

As a result, his campaign made sure everyone knew this was not the 1992, ’96, ’00 or ’04 election. This was to be the first YouTube, Facebook, Blogger, MySpace, Twitter election. The Internet was where it would be won or lost. So he set out to:

• Attract and excite those who had never voted,
• Energize young people on college campuses, and
• Lure back those who felt so disenfranchised by the seeming theft of the last two elections that they’d given up.

The problem was the Democratic Party, a group that had won only three Presidential elections in the last 40 years. Democratic voters are like Rolling Stones fans. They are so busy getting ready for the concert they forget to vote. I’ve loved the Stones for decades, been to most of the concerts and I’ve never purchased an album. Point made?

Obama got them enthused and kept them disciplined. He warned of complacency until the last poll closed, even producing a brilliant ad showing a guy celebrating and falling off his bike before crossing the finish line, crashing because he took his hands off the handlebars and the second-place rider – with a McCain paste-on face – passing him at the line. Obama and his team always warned of celebrating too early despite the encouraging news.

Obama spoke to enormous rallies and got them to vote by using his relentless follow-up machine.

3. Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

Pollsters can ask any question in any way to get the result they want. What they did not count on was the wonkish Nate Silver, head of über statistical firm and website

The gold of 538 is it represents the number of electoral votes up for grabs; the first to obtain 270 state-by-state is the winner. All states except Nebraska and Maine are winner take all contests with Nebraska and Maine apportioning electoral votes by Congressional district.

If you followed the daily tracking polls as a barometer of what was happening, you got only half the story because those pollsters did not factor in new voters, those brought back by Obama or cell phone-only households (15% of the US ). The “Likely Voter Model” was based on those who had voted in the last two Presidential elections.

Silver grew up following baseball stats so he developed mathematical formulae and algorithms based on all factors before issuing his polls and predictions. As expected, he gets it right more often than the vaunted television network news desks and traditional pollsters such as Gallup, Zogby and Rasmussen. Team Obama knew this and their internals always showed a strong advantage; this was why they had an 18-state battleground strategy which included many red states.

4. Obama’s Ground Game

There was an 80%+ total turnout, the largest since 1960 and one third of the vote was cast in the weeks before Election Day. The subplot to this is the enormous registration effort in key battleground states. This is referred to as Obama’s Ground Game (OGG). While the Republicans, Sarah Palin in particular, joked about “what is it a community organizer does?” they got schooled and gamed.

The OGG was registering voters methodically and consistently all throughout the summer and on into September. Using sophisticated data-tracking tools such as Geographic Information Systems, used by Bill Gates’ foundation to target areas of greatest need for food and vaccinations, Obama’s field offices and millions of volunteers kept reaching out to the newly registered. Indiana, a traditional Republican red state had four million registered voters in the 2004 election; the OGG machine registered 400,000 new Democrats this time around. Pennsylvania had five million voters in 2004; the OGG registered 500,000 new Democrats.

Up and down the battleground state map, new voters and volunteers for change was the order of the day.

5. Money, Money, Money

By enthusing the base and reaching out to people who never before voted, the Obama campaign generated $650-million dollars or $86 per person. More importantly, he brought 3.2-million people onboard via his website.

His standard “ask” was $5 or $10 per person, knowing that once he motivated you to contribute a small amount, do something you had likely not previously done, the battle was won. He could e-mail and have your neighbors call you. You were more likely to listen to your neighbor than a candidate or a pundit.

Polio was defeated by raising $2 rolls of dime coins for President Roosevelt; it later became the “The March of Dimes.” Everyone could empty their pocket. Folks thought this a mad way to raise campaign cash – until it worked and raised more than ever before.

6. Play The Game On The Other Guy’s Half Of The Field

Obama’s campaign forced McCain to defend and protect his turf against Obama’s overwhelming push. Hope for a mistake is how McCain had to play this election game. Make him play defense all of the time.

McCain had quite a bit of money yet played the game throughout the month of October in his own end of the field and was forced to spend money defending even his home state of Arizona, Georgia which, normally, is very Republican and North Dakota, a state George Bush won by 27 points in 2004. Obama said from the beginning he wanted to end partisan Red vs. Blue politics and build a center from where the best ideas could be grown and implemented.

7. The Internet Is Not A Series Of Tubes

Soon-to-be former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens once called the internet “a series of tubes.” The Obama Internet was a fund raising, organizing and data mining juggernaut.

Fund Raising - Team Obama picked up where Howard Dean left off. The DNC Chair raised $6 million dollars over the Internet for his 2000 presidential primary election campaign. Everyone wanted to know how to do that. Last month Obama shattered the record he himself had set the previous month ($150 million dollars raised in September vs. $66 million in August) and long after this election ends we will learn he raised another $100 million dollars or so for October and the first three days of November. That’s ¾ of a billion dollars or more raised for one candidate.
Organizing - If you registered at there was a wealth of Internet tools to use, making it possible to download everything from position papers to brochures and desktop wallpaper. You could find hints on how to organize debate watching parties, find other supporters in your area and suggested talking points. You knew where phone banks would be held and could even organize car pools to help elderly or handicapped voters get to the polls online. You could also report attempts at voter suppression by the other side and other bad actors. You had access to the campaign and they treated you as the real reason for the campaign.
Data Mining - The real gold for the campaign was mining and manipulating the real-time databases behind the website that made their data mining effort unprecedented. They used a variety of tools to reach out and ask for help because they knew where and how to find you.

They also used their social networking tools from sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to collect friends and surrogates all working for one thing. Through data mining, they also helped individuals find like-minded people around the globe. The breadth of their technological reach was breathtaking and it grew and merged over time into an unstoppable juggernaut.

I live in the UK and registered at my mother’s address in the USA. With two clicks of my mouse, I knew of every like-minded person in my neighborhood, county, state and region. I found out where debate-watching house parties were to be held and how door-to-door campaigning efforts were organized. I knew of union and private phone banking efforts every day for the last five months and could join in if I chose or someone called me to make sure I was invited.

My mother took 17 calls – sorry, Ma – by different volunteers saying thanks for the support and if she or I had any questions. Even she was impressed.

By the way, she is still waiting for her first McCain phone call.

This is high touch customer embracing action and once you commit to it, you literally become the Biblical mustard seed that moves a mountain.

* * * * *

This is a generational change and wave election. As revolutionary as it was, it never lost site of the fact that we needed to first connect with and learn from each other before casting our vote.

Obama made it easier and acceptable again for us to talk with each other over a cup of coffee at the back fence. David Plouffe and Barack Obama have revolutionized the way political organizing is done.

Obama knew he had to shatter the red state-blue state paradigm and expand the base; otherwise he could not govern and lead.

Obama brought confidence, change and hope as his message. Everyone worked hard and pulled together in the same direction. No one ever took anything for granted, especially based on the past, and this is what will win it. It also helped that people really understood the consequences of the Bush years and despite a $10-trillion deficit, there was absolutely nothing to show for it.

Forty years ago, Martin Luther King’s proclaimed, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

We are almost there yet there is much work to do.

Denis Campbell is editor-in-chief of