Thursday, October 23, 2008

$150,000 on clothes

Much in the news today about purchases of clothes for Sarah Palin. Regardless of whether this is a good, bad, or neutral event, the facts are that very close to $150,000 was spent on clothing, hair and makeup by the Republican National Convention in September.

Here's the Budget Breakdown from the Washington Post on clothing purchases for Sarah Palin and family:

· Bills from Saks Fifth Avenue in St. Louis and New York for a combined $49,425.74.

· Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, including one $75,062.63 spree in early September.

· $4,716.49 on hair and makeup through September.

· September payments were also made to Barneys New York ($789.72) and Bloomingdale's New York ($5,102.71).

· Macy's in Minneapolis, another store fortunate enough to be situated in the Twin Cities that hosted last summer's Republican National Convention, received three separate payments totaling $9,447.71. The entries also show two purchases at Pacifier, a top-notch baby store, suggesting $196 was spent to accommodate the littlest Palin to join the campaign trail. An additional $4,902.45 was spent in early September at Atelier, a high-class shopping destination for men.

OK, please note that the numbers and the names of the stores are FACTS. Some of the language, however, is emotionally laden (e.g. "spree"), or suggests a value or judgment ("top-notch," "high-class").

The total, btw, if my math is correct, is $149,643.45.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What is socialism?

On both sides, lots of pundits are bandying the word "socialism" about: first with the bailout plan "socializing" the banks; then with Barack Obama telling Joe the Plumber that it was a good thing to "spread the wealth around." But it seems like no one has taken the time to explain what they mean by socialism. Just that there is a general notion that it involves the government using taxpayers' money.

From the little reading that I have done on the subject, this seems simplistic in the extreme. However, there is a wide spectrum to the notion of socialism as befits a complicated economic system with over a century's worth of thought and practice behind it. These thoughts below are based on the crudest definitions of the term based on some brief Googling on the topic.

Is socialism when the government owns the means of production? That's one rather simple definition, which certainly doesn't seem to be broadly applicable even to the bailout plan. The banks, as far as I can tell, are still publicly owned, though of course the stock values have sunk. I don't pretend to understand what is going on with the bailout plan, but it only resembles this form of socialism in the most limited way.

Is it worker-owned collectives? That's another quickie definition, which certainly doesn't sound anything like either the bailouts or this "spread the wealth around" notion.

Is it a focus on publicly owned rather than private property? It seems like the notion of private property is still a very strong one, even in the midst of floating plans about helping people facing foreclosure. There's never been a suggestion that the government would then own people's houses, as far as I've been able to determine.

I think Colin Powell spoke eloquently on the difference between socialism and taxation in this interview after his interview endorsing Barack Obama.

I wonder if part of the bogeyman imagery of socialism comes from the political radicalism that characterized socialism in the United States, such as Eugene Debs in the early 20th century.

At any rate, be aware of these cheap shots about socialism. I think most people making them are just bandying the word about without having any idea what it means.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I'm going to let Rachel Maddow do the work for me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bill Ayers

I just spent a few minutes reading the Wikipedia entry on Bill Ayers, the former (depending on your leaning) domestic terrorist/60's radical activist. As an Oberlin grad, I would like to opine that I know his type. Though I don't think anyone I know has tried to make any bombs.

Here's the part that's germane to the presidential election, pulled out as a series of fact (as best I can tell):

1) Bill Ayers and Barack Obama at one time lived in the same neighborhood in the city of Chicago
2) Both had worked on education reform in the state of Illinois.
3) The two met "at a luncheon meeting about school reform."[footnoted in article]
4) Obama was named to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Project Board of Directors to oversee the distribution of grants in Chicago [of which Mr. Ayers was also a member].
5) Later in 1995, Ayers hosted "a coffee" for "Mr. Obama's first run for office."[footnoted in article]
6) The two served on the board of a community anti-poverty group, the Woods Fund of Chicago, between 2000 and 2002, during which time the board met twelve times.[footnoted in article]
7) In April 2001, Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's re-election fund to the Illinois State Senate.[footnoted in article]

There's more, but that seems the most pertinent. Serving on a couple of boards myself, I know how tenuous those relationships can be, though it also seems clear that Senator Obama knows Bill Ayers better than I know most of my fellow board members. But who knows? Maybe there are some 60's radicals/domestic terrorists serving on the School for Deacons board right now. Good thing I'm not running for high office.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Debate reactions

If you want some reality checks on tonight's presidential debate, I direct you to the NY Times' "Check Point" which does a good job of unpacking some of the key points.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Who's fault is the financial meltdown?

With ads on left and right blaming both sides for the current financial crisis, comes through again with a helpful analysis, both of ads and of issue.

I appreciated their summary of where the blame lies, copied below:

So who is to blame? There's plenty of blame to go around, and it doesn't fasten only on one party or even mainly on what Washington did or didn't do. As The Economist magazine noted recently, the problem is one of "layered irresponsibility ... with hard-working homeowners and billionaire villains each playing a role." Here's a partial list of those alleged to be at fault:

* The Federal Reserve, which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap.

* Home buyers, who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively.

* Congress, which continues to support a mortgage tax deduction that gives consumers a tax incentive to buy more expensive houses.

* Real estate agents, most of whom work for the sellers rather than the buyers and who earned higher commissions from selling more expensive homes.

* The Clinton administration, which pushed for less stringent credit and downpayment requirements for working- and middle-class families.

* Mortgage brokers, who offered less-credit-worthy home buyers subprime, adjustable rate loans with low initial payments, but exploding interest rates.

* Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2004, near the peak of the housing bubble, encouraged Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages.

* Wall Street firms, who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), and issued bonds using those securities as collateral.

* The Bush administration, which failed to provide needed government oversight of the increasingly dicey mortgage-backed securities market.

* An obscure accounting rule called mark-to-market, which can have the paradoxical result of making assets be worth less on paper than they are in reality during times of panic.

* Collective delusion, or a belief on the part of all parties that home prices would keep rising forever, no matter how high or how fast they had already gone up.

The U.S. economy is enormously complicated. Screwing it up takes a great deal of cooperation. Claiming that a single piece of legislation was responsible for (or could have averted) the crisis is just political grandstanding. We have no advice to offer on how best to solve the financial crisis. But these sorts of partisan caricatures can only make the task more difficult.

–by Joe Miller and Brooks Jackson

Friday, October 3, 2008

Voting "present"

This is one I've meant to look at for a while.

The Republicans have on more than one occasion mocked Senator Obama for voting "present" rather than yes or no when he was a state senator. The most complete analysis of this that I have found is here, with sources dating back to last December.

The key facts are these:
a) Barack Obama voted "present" 129 times out of "roughly 4,000" votes, so about 3 percent of the time.
b) In the Illinois legislature, voting "present" allows individuals or parties to express opposition to a measure without taking the political fallout of voting no.
c) Sometimes Barack Obama voted "present" according to party dictate and sometimes as an individual.

The main thing I take away from this is that voting "present" is a political option often undertaken for political reasons and is not merely or necessarily an absence of nerve or opinion.

Health care plans

There was a lot of information thrown around last night during the VP debate on the campaigns' competing health care plans.

Here are some of the comments and my best read on what the facts are. If you don't have time for all of this, skip to my next-to-last paragraph. And take an aspirin.

John McCain's plan

Senator Biden, responding to a question about subprime mortgage lenders, spoke of Senator McCain's support of deregulation and said, "As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry deregulate it and let the free market move like he did for the banking industry." says this "relies on a single phrase from a journal article under McCain's byline, in which he said he would reduce regulation of health insurance "as we have done over the last decade in banking." But the full context reveals that McCain was referring narrowly to his proposal to allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines." The full article from the Sept/Oct issue of "Contingencies" with John McCain's byline is here. I encourage you to read it to get a better sense of Senator McCain's thoughts on health care and insurance.

Meanwhile, Governor Palin and Senator Biden strongly disagreed on what Senator McCain's health care policy would cost taxpayers. Governor Palin said Senator McCain is "proposing a $5,000 tax credit for families so that they can get out there and they can purchase their own health care coverage. That's a smart thing to do. That's budget neutral. That doesn't cost the government anything."

In response, Senator Biden said,

Do you know how John McCain pays for his $5,000 tax credit you're going to get, a family will get?

He taxes as income every one of you out there, every one of you listening who has a health care plan through your employer. That's how he raises $3.6 trillion, on your -- taxing your health care benefit to give you a $5,000 plan, which his Web site points out will go straight to the insurance company.

And then you're going to have to replace a $12,000 -- that's the average cost of the plan you get through your employer -- it costs $12,000. You're going to have to pay -- replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped. Twenty million of you will be dropped.

So you're going to have to place -- replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company. I call that the "Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere."
FactCheck doesn't review Senator Biden's explanation of Senator McCain's plans, but it does refute the notion that the plan is "budget neutral. FactCheck says, "The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that McCain's plan, which at its peak would cover 5 million of the uninsured, would increase the deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years. Obama's plan, which would cover 34 million of the uninsured, would cost $1.6 trillion over that time period.

And, "The nonpartisan U.S. Budget Watch's fiscal voter guide estimates that McCain's tax credit would increase the deficit by somewhere between $288 billion to $364 billion by the year 2013, and that making employer health benefits taxable would bring in between $201 billion to $274 billion in revenue. That nets out to a shortfall of somewhere between $14 billion to $163 billion – for that year alone."

The Washington Post gives its analysis of Senator Biden's comments, giving it a "Two Pinocchio rating" of significant omissions or exaggerations. The studies they cite suggest that Senator McCain's plan will help more people get health insurance over the long run. "The Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution estimated that 5 million people would gain coverage under the McCain plan after four years, after which the pendulum would swing in the opposite direction. Health Affairs calculated that the number of uninsured would increase by 5 million after five years."

However, an article in the Wall Street Journal doesn't agree, saying, "Sen. John McCain's proposed health care plan is likely to result in higher overall health care spending than Sen. Barack Obama's, says Kenneth E. Thorpe, PhD, Emory University health policy researcher," and that, "Under McCain's plan, 14 million adults would face either denials of coverage or pre-existing condition waivers in today's individual health insurance market. If all employers dropped coverage, over 65 million adults would face the same fate, Thorpe's analysis notes."

The WSJ also supports Senator Biden's contention about how Senator McCain's plan would change what taxable income would look like: "The central tenet of McCain's health care plan is to withdraw the current tax exclusion of employer health insurance contributions and treat them as taxable income. In exchange, McCain would provide refundable tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of purchasing insurance in the non-group private market." However, according to the Washington Times, "For most families, that tax credit would for several years be more generous than the current tax break for employer-sponsored health insurance. An analysis of McCain's plan by the Tax Policy Center estimated that McCain's plan would increase the federal deficit by $1.3 trillion over 10 years, mainly because it would lead to less tax revenue coming in."

In short, Senator Biden's comments were off the mark in terms of immediate out-of-pocket expenses, and may be off the mark in terms of whether or not more people will be insured, but Senator McCain's plans may be unworkable in light of our current financial crisis and tax needs.

Barack Obama's plan

Finally, Governor Palin spoke of "Barack Obama's plan to mandate health care coverage and have universal government run program and unless you're pleased with the way the federal government has been running anything lately, I don't think that it's going to be real pleasing for Americans to consider health care being taken over by the feds."

An Associate Press report says that this is "Wrong on several counts. Obama's plan does not provide for universal coverage, only mandates insurance for children and doesn't turn the system over to the government. Most people would still get private insurance through their work. Obama proposes that the government subsidize the cost of health coverage for millions who have trouble affording it and he'd set up an exchange to negotiate prices and benefits with private insurers — with one option being a government-run plan."

Critiquing both plans

Finally, according to an article from the Kaiser Family Foundation, neither candidates' plan is workable as it is currently proposed. "Health insurance consultant Bob Laszewski said, "The chance for major health care reform in either 2009 or 2010 is now zero." He added, "Obama's health plan will cost at least $100 billion a year. That's now a nonstarter. McCain's health plan counts on deregulation of the health insurance industry. Do I even need to explain to you why that is a political nonstarter in this environment?"

So there you go. My non-factual 2 cents is vote for either of the candidates for some reason other than their health care plan.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You can see Russian from Alaska

OK, I just neeeeeeed to pass this on.

So you know how Governor Palin has foreign policy experience because you can see Russia from Alaska? Well, turns out a) you can indeed see Russia from Little Diomede Island, but b) Governor Palin has never actually been there, according to a report from Anderson Cooper 360 correspondent Gary Tuchman.

And because I am evil, I was amused to learn that some residents of the island didn't know who Governor Palin is."It turns out they have no TV on the island, and therefore, many don’t follow the news."

Details here, and also on "Anderson Cooper 360" tonight on CNN.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Now that I'm back and have had a chance to catch my breath, let's talk about abortion, shall we? Won't that be fun?

There are a number of un-subtle ads out there on both sides that portray each presidential candidate's position as about the most extreme you can have.

Instead of looking at each candidate's opponent's portrayal, let's look at what the candidates' supporters say about their records.

Senator McCain's record, according to the National Right to Life PAC, includes the following:

John McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade. He voted against an amendment that read, “It is the sense of the Senate that the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right; and such decision should not be overturned.”

John McCain voted in favor of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. When the Act was upheld by the Supreme Court on April 18, 2007, Sen. McCain said, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who cherish the sanctity of life and integrity of the judiciary. The ruling ensures that an unacceptable and unjustifiable practice will not be carried out on our innocent children.”

John McCain voted in favor of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (“Laci and Conner’s Law”). Thebill establishes that when an unborn child is injured or killed during the commission of a violent federal crime, the assailant may be charged with a second offense on behalf of the second victim, the unborn child.

John McCain voted in support of a bill to require an abortionist to notify a parent before performing an abortion on a minor who lives in another state.

John McCain opposes the “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), a bill which would prohibit states from placing limits on abortion, including the types now permitted by the Supreme Court, such as parental involvement laws and waiting periods, and which would make partial-birth abortion legal again.

John McCain voted against an amendment to nullify the “Mexico City Policy.” The Mexico City Policy cut off U.S. “family planning” funds to private organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

John McCain voted against repealing the law that prohibits performance of elective abortions in military medical facilities.

At a speech at Wake Forest University, John McCain described the kind of people he would nominate to the Supreme Court. “I have my own standards of judicial ability, experience, philosophy, and temperament. And Chief Justice [John] Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito meet those standards in every respect. They would serve as the model for my own nominees if that responsibility falls to me.”
Senator Obama's record as reported by NARAL Pro-Choice America:
Sen. Barack Obama has served in the U.S. Senate since 2005. During that time, he has cast 13 votes on abortion and other reproductive‐rights issues. All 13 of those votes were pro‐choice. In addition to his pro‐choice record, Sen. Obama has cosponsored legislation that would prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion. A description of Sen. Obama’s key votes, a selection of pro‐choice bills he has authored and cosponsored, and a selection of his public statements on reproductive‐health issues follow.

Preserving Roe v. Wade and a Woman’s Right to Choose
+Voted against a measure to codify a controversial regulation that allows states to make an embryo or fetus – but not a pregnant woman – eligible for health‐care coverage.
Voted against two anti‐choice U.S. Supreme Court nominees:
+Samuel Alito, nominated to be associate justice. After joining the Court, Justice Alito cast the deciding vote upholding the Federal Abortion Ban, a ban that criminalizes some abortion services, with no exception to protect a woman’s health, and carries up to a two‐year prison sentence for doctors.
+John Roberts, nominated to be chief justice. After joining the Court, Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, a ban that criminalizes some abortion services, with no exception to protect a woman’s health, and carries up to a two‐year prison sentence for doctors.
Voted against three anti‐choice lower federal court judicial nominees:
[William Pryor, Janice Rogers Brown,Priscilla Owen -- details at website]

Ensuring Access to Abortion Services
+Voted against a law that would have jeopardized young women’s health and safety by making it a federal crime for anyone other than a parent – including a grandparent, adult sibling, or religious counselor – to accompany a young woman across state lines for abortion care if the home state parental‐involvement mandate has not been met.
+Voted against a proposal that would have endangered young women’s health and safety by imposing a new, impossibly complex national patchwork of parental‐notification mandates on doctors and young women.

Protecting Women and Their Doctors
+Voted to amend bankruptcy laws so that perpetrators of violence or harassment at reproductive‐health clinics cannot evade financial responsibility for their illegal activities.

Preventing Unintended Pregnancy
+Voted in favor of funding teen‐pregnancy‐prevention programs and ensuring that “abstinence‐only” programs are medically accurate.
+Voted to repeal the global gag rule, a policy that bans overseas health clinics from receiving U.S. family‐planning aid if they use their own funds to provide legal abortion services, give referrals, or even take a public pro‐choice position.
+Voted for legislation that would have prevented unintended pregnancy by investing in insurance coverage of prescription birth control, promoting family-planning services, implementing teen‐pregnancy‐prevention programs, and developing programs to increase awareness about emergency contraception.

Sponsorship of Selected Pieces of Pro‐Choice Legislation
+Authored legislation to fix the birth‐control pricing crisis facing millions of low‐income women across the country today.
+Original cosponsor of the Prevention First Act, a package of proposals that increases funds for family‐planning services, assures contraceptive equity in health‐insurance plans, ensures young people receive honest, accurate sex education, and improves women’s access to emergency contraception, among other provisions.
+Cosponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify the tenets of Roe v. Wade in federal law and protect the right to choose for future generations.

In His Own Words
• Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign website states his position on choice this way: “Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President…. Barack Obama is an original co‐sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.”
• “I told him I understood his position but had to disagree with it. I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually; that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved and wrestled with her conscience when making that heart‐wrenching decision; that I feared a ban on abortion would force women to seek unsafe abortions, as they had once done in this country. I suggested that perhaps we could agree on ways to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place.”
• “Now, the ability for a woman to make decisions about how many children to have and when – without interference from the government – is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have. We all know, becoming a parent is one of the most – if not the most – important jobs there is. No one should make that decision for a woman and her family but them. And we must keep defending their right to choose in the years to come. But even as we defend this right, it’s important for us to acknowledge the moral dimension to the choice that’s made.”
• “Obama will oppose arbitrary and harmful restrictions to abortion, advocate for measures requiring health insurance providers to cover contraceptives, and fight to preserve access to RU‐486. Obama will seek to reverse the Global Gag Rule and to increase funding for women’s health programs, both here and abroad.”

The differences really are quite stark: Senator Obama co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act and Senator McCain voted against it. The strange thing about these negative ads is that single-issue voters wouldn't need to be convinced of the extremes; the differences on the positions are clear enough as it is.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The latest on FactCheck

Sorry to be slow the past couple of days...I'm out of town and a bit out of touch. While I get my act together, I'm not going to do much more than direct you to -- which I'm sure you're checking anyway.

Everybody gets a bit of a smackdown this week for stretching or massaging the truth in various ads and speeches.

Joe Biden misleads on Senator McCain's record about small borrowers and the GI Bill.

The McCain-Palin campaign distorts Senator Obama's tax plan.

And the Obama-Biden campaign misrepresents Senator McCain's plan to amend Social Security.

I do recommend that you read these analyses that show how people's words are used and misused, sometimes in very subtle ways.

Stay vigilant!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More tax plan graphs

Today's Freakonomics column in the NY Times compares different graphs on the candidates' tax plans and also directs you to another website from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center that gives you raw numbers.

Rape kits in Wasilla

A friend of mine was watching last night's "Daily Show" in which Jon Stewart (blessed be he) said something about the police department of Wasilla charging women for rape kits while she was mayor. My friend wants to know if this is true.

This much at least is undisputed: during Sarah Palin's term as mayor, women in Wasilla who were sexually assaulted or claimed to be so were charged for "rape kits," used by law enforcement to collect forensic evidence in the case of sexual assault. The kits range in cost from $300 to $1200, according to this article at

McClatchy Washington Bureau reported the following:
Eight years ago, complaints about charging rape victims for medical exams in Wasilla prompted the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill -- signed into law by (then-Governor Tony) Knowles -- that banned the practice statewide.

"There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla," Knowles said

A May 23, 2000, article in Wasilla's newspaper, The Frontiersman, noted that Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies regularly pay for such exams, which cost between $300 and $1,200 apiece.

"(But) the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests," the newspaper reported.
What is merely speculative is whether then-Mayor Palin approved or even knew of this practice.

Various Sarah Palin statements

Andrew Sullivan is on a tear about Sarah Palin and has been writing a series of entries on various statements she's made. If you're curious about any of these topics, here's Andrews take on them all:

1) Did she pressure the Public Safety Commissioner to fire her ex-brother-in-law?

2) The "Thanks, but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere" claim.

3) Did she fire the police chief and librarian of Wasilla for political reasons?

4) Did Alaska state wildlife officials disagree with the federal decision to put polar bears on the endangered species list?

5) What's the status on the oil pipeline through Canada that Governor Palin claims as a major achievement of her term in office?

6) What is her position on the rights and morality of homosexuality?

7) Does she think climate change is affected by human behavior?

8) What is her position on the rights of foreign detainees?

9) How much of the national energy supply does Alaska produce?

10) Did she ad lib her comments in Ohio?

It's a strange assortment of odds and ends. Andrew Sullivan's basic conceit is that Governor Palin lies reflexively and about almost anything. He also says judge for yourself.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More on tax plans

I wrote that I'd keep an eye out for more on the candidates' tax plans. I posted an update here with a graphic from the Washington Post.

"losing focus"

Obama himself got distracted from his planned focus on education this week by talking about Palin, partly in response to media questions but also in reaction to the lipstick brouhaha.

Thus saith the SF Chronicle yesterday in an article headlined "As battleground shrinks, rivals narrow focus." But there's no attribution to this statement, no supporting quotations -- nothing. Just a bald assertion.

If you google "Obama speech education dayton" you will find a transcript in the Chicago Sun Times, among many others, and a YouTube posting of the 35-minute-long speech, in which Governor Palin is never mentioned. Not once. I wonder what he will say when he's not talking about Governor Palin and focusing on education instead.

It seems to me that the focus on Governor Palin isn't coming from Senator Obama. When I did a search on, the Chronicle's search engine, on "obama speech dayton," I found a single AP article that referred to Obama's Dayton appearance as follows, in total:
In Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, the crowd waiting for Obama to take the stage chanted "No pit bulls! No pit bulls!" — a reference to Palin's joke that lipstick is the only thing that sets hockey moms like her apart from the dogs.
I'm not sure that's evidence that Senator Obama has been distracted by Governor Palin.

If I may venture another opinion here: Don't believe everything you read in the paper! And I'm incredulous at the number of opinions out there masquerading as fact. It's egregious.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The $5 million question

I saw it again just now: the commonplace that Senator McCain believes the middle class are those who earn $5 million a year.

This was drawn from the Saddleback Presidential Forum of mid-August. But reading through the transcript, you can see this is taken out of context.

Rick Warren: Ok, on taxes, define “rich.” Everybody talks about taxing the rich, but not the poor, the middle class. At what point - give me a number, give me a specific number - where do you move from middle class to rich?

Is it $100,000, is it $50,000, is it $200,000? How does anybody know if we don’t know what the standards are?

Senator McCain: Some of the richest people I’ve ever known in my life are the most unhappy. I think that rich should be defined by a home, a good job, an education and the ability to hand to our children a more prosperous and safer world than the one that we inherited.

I don’t want to take any money from the rich — I want everybody to get rich.

I don’t believe in class warfare or re-distribution of the wealth. But I can tell you, for example, there are small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week that some people would classify as - quote - “rich,” my friends, and want to raise their taxes and want to raise their payroll taxes.

Let’s have - keep taxes low. Let’s give every family in America a $7,000 tax credit for every child they have. Let’s give them a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go out and get the health insurance of their choice. Let’s not have the government take over the health care system in America.

So, I think if you are just talking about income, how about $5 million?


But seriously, I don’t think you can - I don’t think seriously that - the point is that I’m trying to make here, seriously — and I’m sure that comment will be distorted — but the point is that we want to keep people’s taxes low and increase revenues.

Future Combat Systems

Those busy folks at have another article to which I refer you, this one addressing an allegation made by John McCain that Obama favors "slowing our development of future combat systems." Evidently, what Obama is referring to is a program called Future Combat Systems.

In an e-mail sent to reporters, the Obama campaign says that Sen. Obama was referring to Future Combat Systems (or FCS). FCS is an ambitious new, integrated computer and weapons system which would require an estimated 63.8 million lines of computer code, the complete replacement of the Army’s inventory of heavy tanks, light armor, and armored personnel carriers along with the development of entirely new unmanned drones. Army officials told The Washington Post last year that the $200 billion price tag makes the FCS “the most expensive Army weapons program ever.”
FactCheck goes on to report that McCain, too, is reported as saying, "There are lots of procurements — airborne laser, Globemaster, Future Combat System — that should be ended."

"Pesky Proper Nouns" is the title of the FactCheck article. They are pesky, aren't they?

More websites for you

I've added a number of websites over in the list to the right, most of them quite entertaining (especially PolitiFact with its "Truth-O-Meter" settings).

But I especially want to draw your attention to the more substantive webpage, It won't give you any information about Governor Palin because it is dedicated to tracking legislation through Congress. But as such, it can give you a good idea of the focus and interests of the two candidates for president, both how they vote (which is pretty straight ticket voting), but perhaps more revealingly, what bills they sponsor or co-sponsor.

John McCain's summary page is here. You will find out that he is the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee (and a member of various subcommittees), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (and various subcommittees), and a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Statistics: John McCain has sponsored 537 bills since Jan 21, 1993, of which 340 haven't made it out of committee and 31 were successfully enacted. McCain has co-sponsored 1232 bills during the same time period.

Some of McCain's most recently sponsored bills include...
S. 722: Walnut Canyon Study Act of 2007 (to suggest an area of AZ be designated a national monument)
S. 2172: Saffron Revolution Support Act of 2007 (related to Burma, supporting democracy and condemning its current repressive regime)
S. 32: Defense Acquisition Reform Act of 2007
S. 1255: Indian Arts and Crafts Amendments Act of 2007 (making it illegal to falsely label non-Indian made arts as Indian)

None of these ever came to a vote, BTW.

Barack Obama's summary page is here.

He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, along with subcommittees for all but the last.

Statistics: Barack Obama has sponsored 136 bills since Jan 4, 2005, of which 122 haven't made it out of committee and 2 were successfully enacted. Obama has co-sponsored 659 bills during the same time period.

Some of Obama's most recently sponsored bills include...
S. 2030: A bill to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (to require reporting relating to bundled contributions made by persons other than registered lobbyists)
S. 2111: Positive Behavior for Effective Schools Act
S. 2066: Back to School: Improving Standards for Nutrition and Physical Education in Schools Act of 2007

None of these came to a vote either.

Oh, for the heck of it, here's Joe Biden's details:

He's the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, co-chair of the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Statistics: Joseph Biden has sponsored 287 bills since Jan 21, 1993, of which 158 haven't made it out of committee and 15 were successfully enacted. Biden has co-sponsored 1407 bills during the same time period.

Some of Biden's most recently sponsored bills include...

S. 3061: William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (William Wilberforce! Yay!)
S.Res. 328: A resolution condemning the assassination on September 19, 2007, of Antoine Ghanem, a member of the Parliament of Lebanon who opposed Syrian interference in Lebanon. (This passed in the Senate)
S.Res. 320: A resolution recognizing the achievements of the people of Ukraine in pursuit of freedom and democracy, and expressing the hope that the parliamentary elections on September 30, 2007, preserve and extend these gains and provide for a stable and representative government. (as did this)

Yes, it's not as much fun as partisan squabbling, but these webpages may give you a better idea of what these candidates are like when they're not on the campaign trail giving stump speeches. You can also read their floor speeches, check their voting records, and link to their homepages. It's a great resource.

Dig in, and enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Comprehensive sex education for kindergarteners"

A recent McCain ad claims that Obama’s one accomplishment for education legislation is legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergarteners.

FactCheck's take on this:
The ad refers to a bill Obama supported in the Illinois state Senate to update the sex education curriculum and make it "medically accurate." It would have lowered the age at which students would begin what the bill termed "comprehensive sex education" to include kindergarten. But it mandated the instruction be "age-appropriate" for kindergarteners when addressing topics such as sexually transmitted diseases...The bill also called for all sex education course materials to include information that would help students recognize, among other activities, inappropriate touching, sexual assault and rape...The bill passed in the Health and Human Services Committee with Democrats, including Obama, voting along party lines in support of it. But the measure promptly stalled and died in the full Senate, and no action has been taken on it since late 2005.
Here's the bill itself. Read it and see what you think.

Which just shows how easy it is to use information however you want

I got an email update from today entitled, "McCain-Palin Distorts Our Finding"
A McCain-Palin ad has calling Obama's attacks on Palin "absolutely false" and "misleading." That's what we said, but it wasn't about Obama.

Our article criticized anonymous e-mail falsehoods and bogus claims about Palin posted around the Internet. We have no evidence that any of the claims we found to be false came from the Obama campaign.

The McCain-Palin ad also twists a quote from a Wall Street Journal columnist. He said the Obama camp had sent a team to Alaska to "dig into her record and background." The ad quotes the WSJ as saying the team was sent to "dig dirt."

Update, Sept. 10: Furthermore, the Obama campaign insists that no researchers have been sent to Alaska and that the Journal owes them a correction.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Comparing tax plans

OK, here's something I know absolutely nothing about and wouldn't begin to know how to analyze. I do know that both Obama and McCain have said, "My plan is better than the other guy's."

Here's what they say.

from Obama's acceptance speech:
Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. You know, unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America. I'll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. I will cut taxes -- for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class.

From McCain's acceptance speech:
"We believe -- we believe in low taxes, spending discipline, and open markets. We believe in rewarding hard work and risk-takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor...I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it. My tax cuts will create jobs; his tax increases will eliminate them."

Now, as I said, I don't know how to analyze this, so what you think of this may depend on what you think of Business Week that has this article comparing the two plans. Here's what they say:
So where does the reality lie? According to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, two Washington think tanks, this round goes to Obama. The TPC took a look at the various tax proposals put forth by the two candidates and estimated that Obama's plan would lead to a boost in aftertax income for all but the highest earners, while taking a smaller bite out of government tax revenues than would McCain's plans.

I encourage you to read the entire article. And I'll keep an eye out for more details.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sarah Palin and censorship

The rumor has spread that Governor Palin attempted to get the librarian of Wasilla, AK, to remove various books. Here is the original source, excerpted from a letter written by a woman named Anne Kilkenny:

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

First of all, Anne Kilkenny is a real person, according to the wonderful, the Urban Legends webpage--also according to various news agencies that have spoken to her. According to Mudflats, an Alaskan blog, "Kilkenny has talked to the New York Times and National Public Radio, and is being hounded by the flock of press that has descended on our usually sleepy ‘little’ state." The letter was apparently originally sent by Ms. Kilkenny to about 40 friends and relatives and it has traveled far and wide since then.

Most of the letter is either verifiable from other sources or clearly one person's opinion of another person, but this story about the library is a little more slippery. It has also been embellished with the names of books that Governor Palin supposedly wanted removed. That list included some of the Harry Potter books, which is odd since the Harry Potter books weren't published at the time, according to

FactCheck gives a slightly more nuanced/neutral view of the situation which, by its nature, does not lend itself to an absolute grasp of truth. Here is their take on the events:

It’s true that Palin did raise the issue with Mary Ellen Emmons, Wasilla’s librarian, on at least two occasions. Emmons flatly stated her opposition both times. But, as the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman (Wasilla’s local paper) reported at the time, Palin asked general questions about what Emmons would say if Palin requested that a book be banned. According to Emmons, Palin "was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library." Emmons reported that Palin pressed the issue, asking whether Emmons' position would change if residents were picketing the library. Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny, who was at the meeting, corroborates Emmons' story, telling the Chicago Tribune that "Sarah said to Mary Ellen, 'What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?' "

Palin characterized the exchange differently, initially volunteering the episode as an example of discussions with city employees about following her administration's agenda. Palin described her questions to Emmons as “rhetorical,” noting that her questions "were asked in the context of professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city." Actually, true rhetorical questions have implied answers (e.g., “Who do you think you are?”), so Palin probably meant to describe her questions as hypothetical or theoretical. We can't read minds, so it is impossible for us to know whether or not Palin may actually have wanted to ban books from the library or whether she simply wanted to know how her new employees would respond to an instruction from their boss. It is worth noting that, in an update, the Frontiersman points out that no book was ever banned from the library’s shelves.

Moreover, although Palin fired Emmons as part of a "loyalty" purge, she rehired Emmons the next day, and Emmons remained at her job for two-and-a-half more years. Actually, Palin initially requested Emmons’ resignation in October 1996, four days before the public discussion of censorship. That was at the same time she requested that all four of Wasilla’s department heads resign. Palin described the requests as a loyalty test and allowed all four department heads to retain their positions. But on Jan. 30, 1997, three months after the censorship discussion, Palin informed Emmons and Wasilla’s police chief, Irv Stambaugh, that they would be fired. According to the Chicago Tribune, Palin did not list censorship as a reason for Emmons’ firing. Palin rehired Emmons the following day. Emmons continued to serve as librarian until August 1999, when the Chicago Tribune reports that she resigned.

"John McCain voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time."

I have heard this claim repeated many times by the Obama campaign. Is it true? According to,

The claim is true. According to Congressional Quarterly's Voting Studies, in 2007 McCain voted in line with the president's position 95 percent of the time – the highest percentage rate for McCain since Bush took office – and voted in line with his party 90 percent of the time. However, McCain's support of President Bush's position has been as low as 77 percent (in 2005), and his support for his party's position has been as low as 67 percent (2001).

Please note that it is true for 2007. Still, even at its lowest ebb, Senator McCain voted in line with President Bush's position 77 percent of the time.

Additionally, also according to FactCheck, "By comparison, Obama's own record of supporting Bush policies has averaged slightly under 41 percent since the senator took office. However, Obama's voting record is no less partisan than McCain's. He has voted in line with his party an average of nearly 97 percent of the time. The truth is that neither candidate can claim a strong record of 'breaking with his party' if Senate votes are the measure."