1/29/2008

go john

(P) I'm not really the cheerleader type. I'd never be one of those people asked to warm up the crowd at a pep rally or before a speech. But hey, that doesn't mean I don't get excited. So since we're next (finally), I thought I'd give a try at being concise in my thoughts leading up to Feb 5.

In the spirit of brevity, I am going to keep this to three reasons. Here goes.

1) Edwards has been out ahead on the issues. I like his detail and his timeliness. The issues seem to matter with his campaign, he's talking about the right issues, and it seems like the advisers around him are the most open to the full range of policy options. Poverty, healthcare, the environment, trade policy, minimum wage, Iraq, torture, and so forth. The only candidate who seems able to use the word accountability to modify the word corporate. In a national landscape so thoroughly dominated by corporate interests, a willingness to call the problem by its name is greatly appreciated. And deserving of a vote.

2) Edwards has been driving the debate. Perhaps this has special appeal to me as a debater and debate coach. The way Edwards has influenced the language and proposals of the other candidates suggests to me a president who will take advantage of the opportunity to guide the national discourse in important new directions. Even if he doesn't win the nomination, his very presence and the clarity of his more populist message has had an impact on whatever platform the ultimate nominee assembles.

3) The Edwards candidacy represents a different approach within the Democratic party. I think it's time to have a Democrat who hasn't been in Washington the past few years, who hasn't been within the party establishment. In fact, Edwards had a chance to be the establishment candidate. He was, after all, the more energetic half of Kerry/Edwards 04. Yet, he left DC and has been out doing things on poverty and education and healthcare and such. Instead of being Kerry in 2008, he's actually Dean in 2008, but, I think, with a message that's even more openly populist.

There are also a few tactical things I thought I'd point out.

1) None of the candidates are 'anti-war'. It's unfortunate, but all three seem to have bought into the basic premise that we need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on military activities. While Clinton is most directly hawkish, Obama is clearly under a lot of influence in the Senate. In the past three years, he hasn't been a leader on stopping the war, he hasn't supported censure or impeachment efforts, he hasn't been able to stop torture or the suspension of habeus corpus or anything else the Bush Administration has been up to. He supported primary candidates in 2006 that were more pro-war than the challengers they were running against. He continues to talk about increasing the size of the military. And Obama won't promise that US troops will leave Iraq before the end of his first term. What could be a powerful antiwar campaign of Obama in 2002 is reduced to a hope that Obama in 2008 wouldn't be quite as bad as Clinton. Or Lieberman (whom Obama endorsed in 2006 over anti-war challenger Lamont).

2) If you are not wanting Clinton to win, or you don't like the idea of backing someone who's a longshot to win, the primary process is different than the general election. The Democratic party has a proportional representation system, not a winner take all system. If you lean Edwards, you don't need to feel like you have to vote for Clinton or Obama in order to make your vote count. Edwards can pick up delegates even if he finishes third in a state. Delegates are how the party platform and the nominee will get decided in Denver.

3) It is not bad to have a lengthy nomination process. In fact, quite the opposite. It gives the candidates longer to talk to the public, and it allow them more time to develop their specific policy positions. A rush to crown a nominee, followed by months of relative media silence, is much less effective. Competition is good.

4) Vote :) Vote for Clinton. Vote for Obama. Vote for Edwards. Write in Kucinich. Do whatever. But whatever you do, go to the polls on February 5th. The best way to influence all politicians is to show them that the citizenry is energized, paying attention, and willing to take action.

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1/21/2008

aging gracefully

As we take some time to observe the birthday of one of the truly inspiring Americans of the 20th century, I'm sparked by the thought that some things age so well, and others, well, just feel old.

My car, for example, is definitely not new anymore, passing several milestones this past year. But, it's hanging in there pretty well. The only major expense in 2007 was replacing the tires, which were the original tires on the car.



On the other hand, with several of us turning 26 this year, that just feels old. 25 was a major psychological marker for me. But happy birthday Kelli, Andrew, Scott, Jodi, etc, etc! And no Jodi, we will not tell you what we are doing for your birthday this Saturday.

The birthday we observe today (which, of course, is not his actual birthday) has some of both. Everybody embraces the safer parts of King's message. The media and political candidates all have a dream. And it really is pretty amazing how successful they were at radically changing our society.

Yet for all the talk about MLK, it also feels pretty sanitized. It's been cleaned up. The parts that don't age well in our materialistic, militaristic society get relegated to that dustbin of history politicians like to assign to uncomfortable truths.

By the mid 1960s, King was speaking very strongly about the relationships of racism and poverty and war. He made poverty an important issue, he supported labor rights, he opposed the Vietnam War in increasingly impassioned ways. Certainly not everyone agrees with his views by 1967 or 1968, then or now. What's so interesting, or concerning, is that we have a media and political process that can so loudly embrace the less controversial parts of the King identity while virtually ignoring the rest.

So here are a few of my favorite lesser well known quotes not from I Have a Dream, along with links to three speeches. The greatest disservice we can do his memory is ignoring the tight linkage he made between racial equality, economic justice, and opposition to war. As King described it in his Nobel speech, "each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war."

Nobel speech
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
I've Been to the Mountaintop

Optimism:

"Let me close by saying that I have the personal faith that mankind will somehow rise up to the occasion and give new directions to an age drifting rapidly to its doom. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of this period something profoundly meaningful is taking place. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born."

"If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

"But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

Politics and Labor:

"The voters of our nation rendered a telling blow to the radical right. They defeated those elements in our society which seek to pit white against Negro and lead the nation down a dangerous Fascist path."

“Those who in the second half of the 19th century could not tolerate organized labor have had a rebirth of power and seek to regain the despotism of that era while retaining the wealth and privileges of the 20th century. Their target is labor, liberals and the Negro people.”

"The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers."

"That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question."

Poverty:

"So it is obvious that if man is to redeem his spiritual and moral "lag", he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the "haves" and the "have nots" of the world. Poverty is one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern life."

"There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it."

"In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent."

Urgency:

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late."

"Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today."

War and Peace:

"Recent events have vividly reminded us that nations are not reducing but rather increasing their arsenals of weapons of mass destruction."

"In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment."

"Equality with whites will hardly solve the problems of either whites or Negroes if it means equality in a society under the spell of terror and a world doomed to extinction."

"It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace."

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours."

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1/20/2008

highs and lows

Sometimes politics and economics are related, but these two things really have nothing to do with each other except that they've both happened recently and are worth commenting on.

Last year, I took a second to mention the Dow's breaking the 14,000 barrier in July. So I suppose at this time it is worthwhile to emphasize the other half of that message. It's ok for long term investors if stocks perform poorly in the short term. Don't panic! In fact, when in a period of decline, that's the best time to dump additional money for the long haul into equities. Just make sure it's really for next decade, not next week. Your emergency fund should never leave your savings account.

How much has the market (or more accurately, several markets) crashed? From breaking 14,000 last July, we're back under 13,000 now, almost below 12,000. In fact, what's happened the last few weeks is the largest decline in the history of the DJIA. By comparison, the crash of 1987 was less than a thousand points. Since then, the Dow has risen by almost exactly 10,000. In other words, a hypothetical investment in the 30 companies would have sextupled in the 20 years from Black Monday to LameduckW. Okay, LameduckW may not be the word historians ultimately use for the markets under Bush, but until they come up with a better name for this crash, that's what I'm calling it. But what if you bought the day before Black Monday? Well, then you'll have to console yourself with only a quadrupling of your money from 1987 to now (unless you got emotional and sold your investment, in which case you had quite the loss).

All of this, if you're like me, screams buy! If a Democratic president enters the White House come January 2009, we are primed for some impressive gains the next few years. Youngun's especially, take advantage.


And one side note. The National Association of Realtors, the lovely lobbying organization designed to market buying and selling houses (as opposed to making sure everyone has housing) and ensuring one of our most regressive tax breaks stays in place, the mortgage interest expense deduction, is running ads advertising a rather misleading website. They make some ridiculous claims about the historical appreciation of houses, and of course, the data they cite is their own historical series survey that you have to buy from them. Obviously, the reason they don't cite the data is because it's based upon the height of the housing bubble, not the long-term historical record that shows houses appreciating about half a percent a year above the inflation rate, much less than the doubling every 10 years they claim (which requires over a 7% annual gain). Plus, of course, these are all gross figures; they are not net of the costs of homeownership. Homeownership is valuable mostly because people like owning their home. Few people treat their homes in the emotionless, rational state necessary to count as an investment.

But what really is offensive about the website is the use of statistics about the distribution of wealth. They accurately point out that homeowners as a group have a much higher net worth than renters. Having a net worth of "46 times that of a renter" is most definitely not a benefit of home ownership, though. It's a benefit of higher wages and a longer working career. In fact, their observation is precisely why we should eliminate the tax breaks for homeowners. People who earn money to buy and sell property obviously want you to think that owning a house is more valuable than renting one. But that doesn't mean it actually is, and it certainly should rouse suspicion and scrutiny when a lobbying organization is making such blatantly misleading statements at a time when the market it represents is in the bust phase of its bubble.

(P) I hadn't originally intended that little disgust with the NAR as a segue from the market's ups and downs to Senator Edwards' ups and downs, but it seems pretty appropriate. I was very excited yesterday to go see John speak at the Carpenter's District Council building. For one thing, I'd driven past it a hundred times, but I'd never been there. It's interesting living in a town that actually still has a union presence. It was also a reminder, that I say only half-jokingly, that lots of white people live in the city, too. It was almost unbelievable, I'd say 3/4 of the people who packed into that meeting hall were older than 40 and white. They still exist!

I really liked his stump speech, and that was really the first time I've been around a large gathering of Edwards supporters. Mostly it's been smaller groups, like what we did at Earth day or greeting him at the National Urban League conference. In my mind, Edwards is saying the right things and has the right approach.

Clearly, though, Nevada did not go very well yesterday for Edwards. It makes me wonder a bit if they started campaigning elsewhere because they knew that was going to happen. With two third place finishes in a row, it's worth asking what is left to get accomplished. While finishing third in the Republican race any given day isn't a big deal, the Democratic side is a little more consolidated at this point. That itself is quite interesting, since the corporate media likes to talk a lot about fractures in the Democratic party when the GOP is really what is splintered at the moment, but that's a slightly different topic.

What stands out to me is that there's no reason not to keep going. For one thing, Clinton has not been able to stake out a majority position, even as she borrows some of the ideas and language from the Edwards and Obama campaigns. She hasn't won a majority of delegates in any state so far (unless you count Michigan, which is actually embarrassing for how few votes she received), and in fact, Edwards beat her, at least in terms of votes, in the Iowa caucus (you don't really know for months the actual delegates each candidate will get). If Nevada is a sign of things to come, then obviously Edwards isn't stealing votes from Obama. If it was an aberration, then it can't be a reason to ask Edwards to leave the race. The longer he's in, the more he has a chance to shape the dialogue and influence the convention. And of course, he just might win a few states.

That leaves me with the most interesting question I have after this weekend. Why do some people want him to drop out? Do they not like his message? Do they think he's preventing Clinton from getting more votes? Do they think he's preventing Obama from getting more votes? Do they not like having a broader field to choose from? Does Edwards' continued presence allow him to raise uncomfortable questions that people in the media or the party don't want asked? If a majority of voters want Clinton or Obama to be their nominee, then I'll respect that. But what I don't understand is telling a guy he needs to drop out after only three states have voted, in one of which he beat Clinton.

I hope Edwards picks up some states in the next few weeks. But I'm quite sure it would beneficial for him to stay in the race through the convention, even if he doesn't win a single state.

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1/13/2008

funny to serious

Julie and I went to see the Courthouse Steps with her parents in Florissant this weekend. They're kind of like the Capitol Steps, but a group with a lot of St. Louis-specific stuff. They're lawyers who happen to like to sing about various parody-worthy headlines.

We did dinner beforehand at Hendel's Market. Mmm, pork chops.

(P) So now that it's 2008 and a few of the delegates have actually been chosen by voters (as opposed to the 'superdelegates'), I thought this would be a good time to explore where I'm at. Or maybe I'm just procrastinating on starting the work week.

Basically, I started leaning toward former Senator John Edwards about a year ago, and by now, the leaning's far enough gravity's pretty much taken over. There are a couple of things I really like about what he is doing. First, while he's definitely running to be the Democratic party nominee, he seems to be running purposefully outside the parts of the party tied more to the DLC and corporate interests and DC consultants and so forth. I think this is particularly noteworthy given that the Kerry/Edwards campaign in 2004 very much earned the DLC seal of approval. Edwards used to be a New Democrat; I'm not sure if that makes him an "old" Democrat now. Perhaps, it just makes him a Democrat. He also used to be a Senator. He used to work for Fortress Investment Group, one of those Wall Street hedge funds incorporated in Delaware that incorporated its particular funds in the Cayman Islands for 'tax purposes', ie, tax evasion for the wealthy. He used to support the Iraq war; or, probably more accurately, thought it wasn't important enough to say anything that would upset the party leadership. That stands in stark contrast to positions staked out by a few notable Democrats, such as Al Gore and Barack Obama from outside Washington, or Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, and the 150-odd politicians inside Washington (from all parties) who voted against the war in 2002. The fact that Senator Edwards chose a strategy of breaking with all this history to try for the nomination in 2008 I appreciate and am very excited about. He's not been in government for years, which in and of itself is a plus for me right now. He's off talking about poverty and economic class and healthcare. Even if everything he would do is wrong, he's talking like a populist. In so doing, he's forcing the whole conversation of the Democratic candidates to change, to deal with what he's talking about.

Which leads to me to the second thing I like. Edwards' stump speeches tend to be a little repetitive; the mill and cleft pallette (palette, pallatt?) stories are older than the lumpy milk in my fridge. But the specific policy positions he has taken are incredibly detailed, especially considering how early he started talking in detail about things like healthcare and the environment. I like the fact that Edwards is substantive enough in the campaign to give you enough that you can disagree with him. The impression Senator Obama leaves sometimes is that of a vagueness where you can see what you want to see; there's nothing to disagree with. Partly that's unfair because he's outlined things in a lot more detail more recently in the campaign process, and earlier in his books. But in a lot of ways, that sounds like how Al Gore's campaign got handled. Dumb everything down, don't talk about the specifics, even (especially?) if you've written books about them. I really think right now what we need is not a progressive to sound like a centrist long enough to get into office and then take the gloves off, as Dick Cheney might say, but rather somebody who's going to talk the talk right now, to lead the national dialogue at a moment when Democrats are getting lots of attention in the corporate media (all efforts to ban Kucinich from the debates aside).

But before I talk too much about Senator Obama, let me address the rest of the field first. I really like Representative Kucinich. He's one of the few national Democrats that seem ready and willing to act independently of the Democratic leadership when he feels it's necessary. He seems to get it on a lot of the issues that are important to me. In some ways he's more liberal/leftist than I, but his independent streak I value highly. He just seems to lack an ability to get people energized on a national level. Perhaps that says more about the Democratic party's nomination process than it does about Kucinich, but nonetheless, I think it's there and it's real. He has the largely thankless task of trying to shape the debate, to raise different issues and paint issues that are raised in different ways, all the while being lambasted by a variety of people who want him to just sit down and shut up. Groupthink is just as dangerous in a political party as any other group.

Governor Richardson and Senator Biden never did much for me. Senator Gravel had his moments, but his positions are just too out of the mainstream on a few issues for me. Senator Dodd is another person that doesn't seem to have much national appeal, but the more I learned about him, the more I liked him. He's practically single-handedly responsible for delaying the incredibly absurd idea of granting immunity to mass criminals. Senator Clinton has too many issues I disagree with her on. She just seems too cozy these days with the kinds of companies that wrote the Medicare bill and the Peru trade pact and control the media. It's also worth noting that as a white male whose relatives have been in the country for centuries, I obviously don't have a personal connection to the possibility that a woman or a hispanic or a black man or the son of an immigrant might win the White House. I understand that that is an important symbol, and that is a very interesting factor in the Democratic race this year.

None of this is to say that I'm deeply opposed to any of the Democratic candidates. In fact, this year is exciting in large part because there's a good chance they should win in November and, whoever the nominee is, it'll be a pretty good one. That gets me back to the former North Carolina Senator. I think we have a chance (again) to not just have a decent president, another Bill Clinton of the 1990s, but to have a president who's going to rewrite the rules in Washington. The chance that I care about isn't to put a Democrat in the White House. I'm pretty disgusted with the Democratic Party, especially senior figures in Washington. 2008 will be even harder than 2004 and 2000 for the Democratic Party to not gain the White House. Short of an actual fascist takeover, a burning of the Capitol, so to speak, Bush will be out of office in 2009 no matter what the Democrats do. What is exciting is the ability to put a really intriguing candidate in the White House, a candidate who spent the campaign telling everybody that when it comes to making policy, the needs of average citizens will count as much as the demands of a few of the country's wealthiest citizens. Edwards is the one driving the populist rhetoric, even to the point of getting Clinton and Obama to adopt some of the same language.

Senator Obama might be the most energizing candidate. He might be something truly special, something different, something that's a notch above most other national Democrats. But I'm just not sold on it. In Obama-speak, I don't believe. And if he's not a new breed of politics, then the stuff I like about Edwards is more than enough to sway my vote. There are three fundamental questions I have. These are serious questions, I'm not just looking to bash the Illinois Senator (quite the contrary, I would be happy to vote for him in November). I would be happier about him, though, if I could get some answers on these.

The first thing that nags at me is his choice on endorsing certain candidates. In races that mattered, at times that mattered, he seems to have thrown in his lot with the DCCC and DSCC and established Washington thinking to the direct detriment of local grass roots efforts for change, perhaps even in conflict with Dean's efforts at the DNC. In fact, if there's one issue Senator Obama stands out the most on nationally, it's his opposition to the Iraq war in 2002 as an Illinois legislator. Yet by 2006, as a US Senator, Obama was doing things like endorsing Bush apologist Joe Lieberman a couple weeks after Ned Lamont announced his candidacy in Connecticut and endorsing the nationally picked Tammy Duckworth over the local, grass-roots supported Illinois candidate, Christine Cegelis, who practically did the unthinkable in running a competitive race with Henry Hyde two years earlier.

Now, it's not like Lieberman and Duckworth are terrible candidates. But the point is, if Iraq really is so important, at the least Senator Obama should have let local Democrats decide their own primaries, and gotten involved in the general election. And if he was going to get involved in the primaries, he should have endorsed the "anti-war" candidates, the candidates which made Iraq a signature issue, which was clear in these two particular races. In response to a Harper's magazine story, the Obama office answered part of this by saying, "Harper's takes exception to Obama's decision to donate money to Senator Lieberman, but fails to note that Obama endorsed Ned Lamont and gave him $5,000 the day after Lamont won the nomination". That's exactly my concern, though. His defense is that he endorsed Lamont after he won the primary. I'm interested in what he did when the outcome was unknown. Imagine what could have happened if Obama had come out for Lamont in March instead. Maybe Lamont, not Lieberman, would be the junior Senator from Connecticut. Imagine what that would do for the anti-war vote in DC. Unlike Lieberman, Duckworth wasn't pro-war. But the really disturbing thing is that she won the primary basically due to the influence of national Democrats and fundraisers. Cegelis and her local volunteers did the work in 2004, and then the national figures decided to pick a candidate they preferred over her (interestingly, it appears Duckworth was not the first choice of a more centrist opponent to Cegelis; Emanual wanted a wealthy, self-financing candidate but was turned down twice). Obama didn't tell people like Rahm Emanuel, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton to back off. Instead of asking fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin why he was looking to recruit a primary opponent to Cegelis in December of 2005, Obama joined the DCCC and DSCC in supporting Duckworth in the primary. Even if Duckworth had been a "better" candidate, I would like to know if Obama thinks it's good policy for the DSCC and DCCC to be regularly involved in selecting and financing primary challengers to run against established local candidates. If Duckworth was so great, why not have her run in another Illinois district with a weaker Democratic candidate? It's not like she's from the 6th District. And knowing now that, furthermore, Duckworth lost the general election, does Obama have doubts about this process, or does he think it was the best shot and Roskam would have won regardless?

The second question I have is in regard to what Senator Obama has done since speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Kucinich has been active within government. Gore has been active outside of government. But Obama, he didn't even support Feingold's efforts to censure President Bush in 2006, let alone giving voice to more serious efforts of oversight, a special counsel, or impeachment proceedings. Even Senator Kerry joined Feingold and Boxer as a cosponsor a couple months later. How has Senator Obama changed the national discussion on issues like Iraq? What legislation has he pushed through on critical issues? What legislation has he filibustered? If his claim to fame is a new kind of politics, an ability to bring people together, to work together, where have his successes come in getting Republicans to join him? What has he done simply to stop the bleeding? A Senator is certainly not as powerful as a president. But look what Senator Dodd was able to do on telecom immunity, for example. What would be different about our government if Obama hadn't been in Washington for over three years now?

The third area of concern I have is about finances and strategy. The Obama campaign, I think, is clearly superior to the Clinton campaign. But, the majority of his money still comes from large donations. He has restrictions in place on lobbyists and corporate money and so forth. And yet, he's still a huge beneficiary of large Wall Street firms. He has several former corporate lobbyists involved in the campaign. None of this disqualifies him, of course. Rather, it suggests that he's not special; he's not a magical candidate that's somehow doing all of this from $25 contributions from college students and middle school teachers and firefighters. He hasn't kept corporate lobbyists and Clinton-era advisers out of his campaign. And I'm confused, and concerned, about what exactly Obama is saying about 527s, independent groups. Is Obama saying all groups are bad? Here's an article defending Obama's position. It makes some good points. But the question I have, then, is why hasn't Obama come out and flat out said I don't want any 527 support in the primaries, if I'm the nominee, I do not want any 527 groups running ads on my behalf in the general election, and I will challenge the Republican candidate to do so as well? The reason 527s run ads is because they work. If Obama is going to forego 527 support in the general election, he needs to be heavily educating voters about how to identify 527 groups and why they should punish the GOP candidate for using them. And if he's not, well, that will give the GOP candidate some nice lines. Why doesn't Obama just come out and say the whole process is absurd? We need clean, publicly financed campaigns. We need a media that serves the public interest. We need a primary process that makes sense. That would be powerful stuff.

Another strategy area I'm concerned about is how exactly the Obama Administration is going to govern. Democrats have been compromising with GOP leaders for years and years and years. From my perspective, the fruits of that have been increasingly bad policies. I don't see what it means to give insurance companies a seat at the table. Bill and Hillary gave them one, and they destroyed the whole shebang. I don't see how you build bipartisan support for troop withdrawal when you won't even guarantee troops will leave Iraq 10 years after the invasion, more than 20 years after the Gulf War. What does it mean to build consensus on telecom immunity or domestic spying or torture? Some people want to do it, most people think it's patently absurd. What I don't hear, as a pretty intelligent, well-informed voter, is Senator Obama answering the how. Will Senator McConnell all of a sudden be cooperative with President Obama? I'm not saying there aren't answers to these questions. In fact, I would love it if someone figured out an answer to people like Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde and Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist and Mitch McConnell that involved working with them rather than opposing pretty much everything they try to do. I just don't see the vision; I don't see how this is going to happen. I'm not looking for Obama to save me, to make me believe change is possible. I know change is possible. I'm asking him to tell me how you get change done his way. How do you even win an election, let alone govern, if you do not confront undemocratic practices, policies based on monied access instead of the will of the people? Al Gore tried this strategy after the 2000 election, and we ended up with George W Bush being annointed a war czar with the effective power to spy on and torture Americans.

Senator Edwards offers an answer, namely, that we have to stand up for America against corporate greed and special interests in Washington. I find that pretty powerful, in both narrative and substance. Senator Obama gets people excited, but I'm not clear on how he's going to deliver. As I finish this up, I can't help but think about Brian's support of McCain in 2000. He didn't support Bush at first; he had to come around for the general election. I wonder if I'm the same on Obama.

Or maybe Edwards will end up getting the nomination, and then we'll get to see what a candidate who ran as a fighting populist can do in DC. That still gets me the most excited.

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1/08/2008

time for another election

This pains me deeply to say. I almost can't bear it. But here goes.

The political coverage about New Hampshire is actually better than the sports coverage found in the AP and USA Today Polls.

I find myself wanting to strangle somebody. And not because of some new scandal in the Bush Administration.

There are some legitimate points of debate. How to rank BYU, for example, is tough, since they beat a lot of teams with winning records, but they were all midmajor conferences. There's no signature win. Ditto for Hawaii, with the problem that Hawaii has quite the signature loss.

But some are just stupid. It's like, which is worse; that voters were ignorant and they just didn't care, or that they are so enamored with certain teams they willfully overlook pesky things like wins and losses? How in the world do you rank Florida ahead of Michigan (and Auburn in one of the polls)? It makes a good little Baptist boy want to swear hard enough to make Mel Gibson and Michael Richards blush. And speaking of Auburn, really? Ahead of two 10-3 teams!?!

I have an APB out for South Florida. Let's see, all they did was beat West Virginia. Oh, and somehow they beat a team from the superhuman ego conference, too. One that goes by the name of Auburn, who somehow got a 14 and a 15. Hmm, nothing to see here folks, move along. The SEC is all-powerful. They don't lose to anybody, even if the score board has some kind of malfunction and shows them having fewer points.

Now we get on to the really fun stuff, both because these are the best teams and because I personally care more. It's one thing for a team like Florida to be ranked above the team they lost to in the bowl game, or for a team like 9-4 Auburn to be ranked ahead of 10-3 teams Cincinnati and Arizona State. I don't follow any of those teams closely. But when teams I do follow more closely get disrespected, or more accurately this year, simply ignored, it makes me quite animated. Looking at how the voters decided the top ten, I really think the most rational response is to just ignore the polls. They must have used some alien formula more secret than FICO scoring. And it must have about as much precedent as the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v Gore.

So let's break this down. I think the most helpful way to analyze this is to remove the school names. You then see quite plainly that many voters made decisions based not on the performance of the teams on the field this year but rather on performances in prior years or biases about certain programs or conferences. First, here's what the two polls have after the season ended.


Without the schools, here's what the AP did:
1. 12-2
2. 11-2
3. 11-2
4. 12-2
5. 11-2
6. 11-2
7. 12-1
8. 11-3
9. 11-3
10.10-3

That makes no sense. Absolutely none. So, let's try this method. Here are the number of wins the team had against another top ten opponent (bigger is better).

1. 2
2. 0
3. 0
4. 1
5. 0
6. 1
7. 1
8. 3
9. 0
10.0

I repeat myself, that makes no sense. So, let's try the reverse. These are the number of losses to teams not in the top ten (smaller is better).

1. 2
2. 2
3. 2
4. 0
5. 1
6. 2
7. 0
8. 2
9. 1
10.2

Well, you know the drill. So, let's try the number of teams they beat which beat a top ten team (bigger is better).

1. 0
2. 1
3. 1
4. 7
5. 0
6. 1
7. 3
8. 2
9. 1
10.1

Now let's look at another number where smaller is better, the number of losses to teams with fewer than 10 wins.

1. 2
2. 1
3. 2
4. 0
5. 1
6. 2
7. 0
8. 2
9. 0
10.2

Again, very interesting. Is there any number that makes sense? I haven't found it yet if there is. Maybe the answer is that the teams rated highly won their conference (or division of conference).

1. conf champ
2. none
3. conf champ
4. div champ
5. conf champ
6. conf champ
7. none
8. conf champ
9. conf champ
10.none

Hmmm, guess not. So let's put this together in the form of [wins-losses], [top ten wins-losses to teams not in top ten], [wins against teams with a top ten win-losses to teams with fewer than 10 wins], [conference position]. The AP voters say:

1. 12-2, 2-2, 0-2, conf champ
2. 11-2, 0-2, 1-1, none
3. 11-2, 0-2, 1-2, conf champ
4. 12-2, 1-0, 7-0, div champ
5. 11-2, 0-1, 0-1, conf champ
6. 11-2, 1-2, 1-2, conf champ
7. 12-1, 1-0, 3-0, none
8. 11-3, 3-2, 2-2, conf champ
9. 11-3, 0-1, 1-0, conf champ
10.10-3, 0-2, 1-2, none

Here's how I rank them (note, this sets aside the rule that the winner of the national championship is the automatic number one).

1. 12-2, 1-0, 7-0, div champ
2. 12-1, 1-0, 3-0, none
3. 12-2, 2-2, 0-2, conf champ
4. 11-2, 1-2, 1-2, conf champ
5. 11-2, 0-2, 1-1, none
6. 11-2, 0-2, 1-2, conf champ
7. 11-2, 0-1, 0-1, conf champ
8. 11-3, 3-2, 2-2, conf champ
9. 11-3, 0-1, 1-0, conf champ
10.10-3, 0-2, 1-2, none

This completes the more objective analysis of the day. I am quite eager to turn into a fan and really argue this case. Let's put some names on those numbers.

1. Missouri
2. Kansas
3. LSU
4. West Virginia
5. Georgia
6. USC
7. Ohio State
8. Oklahoma
9. Virginia Tech
10. Texas (although, this is really Boston College for me; I vote Texas 11 and BC 10)

When you look at the 2007-2008 college football season, I am quite convinced that the national championship game was not played in New Orleans between LSU and Ohio State, but rather in Kansas City between Missouri and Kansas. They have quality wins and they avoided bad losses. In a season where the top teams are all very close, that combo is very important. The worst team that the Big 12 combo of MU/KU lost to was...Oklahoma; they had not a single loss to a team outside the top ten. That is almost unbelievable. Only three of the top ten teams won 12 games, yet only one of them was ranked in the top three. Kansas only lost one game all season, while Missouri beat seven teams who were good enough to themselves beat a top ten team, more than LSU (0), Georgia (1), and USC (1) combined! The teams Missouri beat were themselves responsible for beating the SEC Champion, the ACC Champion, the Big 12 Champion, and the Big Ten Champion. That is a monstrous season.

Let's move on to Georgia. What would be required of teams like Missouri, Kansas, and West Virginia to get voted ahead of Georgia? All three had more wins against top ten teams than Georgia even played! Missouri, unlike Georgia, won its division, not to mention winning more games. Georgia's schedule was as soft as Kansas' was; Kansas came out with a better record. West Virginia won the Big East, having the same record as Georgia. Basically, the AP voters are saying a team would have to go undefeated to be better than a two loss Georgia team whose best win of the entire season was against a four loss team and whose worst loss was to a team that didn't even play in a bowl game. The two teams Georgia lost to had a combined 10 losses. The three teams that Missouri and Kansas lost to (together) had total combined losses of eight games. Just think about that. Georgia's rank is so ridiculous you can't even argue with it. You just laugh at the voters and give them zero credibility.

Then there's USC. At least they won their conference. Their main problem, however, is that they have a bad loss. A very bad one. USC lost at home to a team that finished the season 4-8. Stanford's victory over USC ranks not just among the season's all-time upsets, but among the greatest upsets in the history of college football. Now, if the Pac 10 had been a strong conference this year, that might be forgivable, if USC had some great wins. They don't have any, though. Their only win against a team with 10 or more wins was against Arizona State, which was manhandled by the Big 12's fourth team, Texas. Their second best win was against Illinois, which, oh, Missouri also beat, in a location a lot closer to Champaign than the Rose Bowl. Like Georgia, USC didn't even play a top ten team!

It's also important to understand that, aside from ranking either team highly, ranking both USC and Georgia highly is only consistent if the criteria is the national recognition of the program. In other words, it has nothing to do with this football season. You can't claim the SEC is a great conference to vote for Georgia #2, then vote a team from a weak conference #3. You can't vote USC #3 because winning conference championships are important, then vote for a #2 team that didn't even win their division, let alone their conference. You can't talk about how good the conference is when the teams you are talking about (like Florida and Arizona State) lose bowl games against teams ranked lower than them, while other teams get blown out by a higher ranked team (think Arkansas).

So my #1 choice is finally ranked at #4. But that still leaves me upset about Kansas and West Virginia.

How Ohio State is ranked #5 is a mystery beyond mysteries. It's so bizarre. Either they should be ranked higher for winning a conference, or they should be ranked lower for not being a very good team. Unlike Georgia and USC, Ohio State did play a top ten team. They lost, though. Overall, I think their season was a little better than USC, but since USC won its bowl and the team it beat was responsible for Ohio State's other loss, then I think USC should probably be a notch higher than Ohio State. How the AP voters rank them higher than Kansas and West Virginia, though, is probably classified above top secret.

Interestingly, once we make it down to the 8, 9, and 10 slots, I have no quarrel with the AP.

So join me in recognizing the Missouri Tigers as your national champions. Or at least join me in mocking the voters.

And I don't mean the New Hampshire ones.

One final update, here's the bowl predictions I made by conference vs the actual result.

Prediction/Actual: difference
Big 12: 5-3/5-3: exact
Pac 10: 4-2/4-2: exact
SEC: 5-4/7-2: two off
ACC: 4-4/2-6: two off
Big East: 2-3/3-2: one off
Big Ten: 4-4/3-5: one off

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1/06/2008

time to rant

(R) This has no in-depth analysis. Nothing's changed in college football in the last 24 hours.

I just saw something on ESPN that really encapsulates the absurdity of the season. Look at the articles written about the four BCS bowls played so far.


In the Orange Bowl, Virigina Tech, #1 in the computer ranking, is matched up against Kansas, a team with a better record than both USC and Georgia. That apparently warrants three articles, with headlines like, "Kansas Proved it Belonged". Meanwhile, the Fiesta Bowl had the most anticipated game, the only match-up between two conference champions. It is just as worthy of the national championship as Ohio State/LSU. That naturally is worth four articles.

However, the Sugar Bowl, where Georgia played a team whose best victory was against Boise State, somehow warranted seven articles. And the Rose Bowl, the most pathetic excuse of a BCS game in perhaps the history of the BCS, an embarrassment to any claim the Rose Bowl has to national implications, was somehow deserving of nine articles. The top one is titled, "USC looks like nation's best team". Wow, they beat a top 25 team in what was essentially a home game. That's, like, an automatic national title, isn't it? You'd think the coach of the year was at Georgia or USC with this kind of coverage. You'd certainly be forgiven for thinking Georgia and USC have the best records in college football, or that they've beaten the best teams this season, or that they haven't lost to any bad teams. Of course, you'd also be wrong. Georgia, like Kansas, didn't even win its division. USC lost to Stanford, an even worse loss than West Virginia's loss to Pitt.

Sports coverage is usually quite good, at least, in comparison to things like political coverage. But these guys should be embarrassed. Or they should just admit that they're not covering college football. Rather, they're partisans with a particular interest in certain schools. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, fans are what make sports great. Just be honest about whether you're writing as a fan or an analyst. If writing as a fan, then give equal space for fans from other schools to make their case. If writing as an analyst, include all teams in your discussion. It's not like Missouri or Kansas or Oklahoma or West Virginia or Virginia Tech are clearly superior to USC and Georgia. Rather, it's that they're obviously equal to them, deserving mention in any objective analysis about the best teams this season or the best bowl games or anything else.

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1/05/2008

time to rank 11-25

Since there are about 8 national champions this year, I'll wait until next week to rank the top teams. But for now, this is what my rankings 11 through 25 look like for the end of the 2007-2008 season. Being me, I naturally made a little spreadsheet with some helpful things like records and who I think their best wins and worst losses were against. I really don't know what to do with Hawaii, since I feel like some mention is deserved by a 12-1 record, but they really didn't beat anybody this year. So I gave them #25.

#) Team Record Conference
Best 2 Wins - Worst 2 losses

11) Texas 10-3 Big 12
Texas Tech/Arizona State - K State/Texas A&M

12) Tennessee 10-4 SEC
Georgia/Wisconsin - California/Alabama

13) Arizona State 10-3 Pac 10
Oregon State/Colorado - Oregon/Texas

14) Cincinnati 10-3 Big East
Oregon State/Uconn - Louisville/Pittsburgh

15) Texas Tech 9-4 Big 12
Oklahoma/Virginia - Colorado/Oklahoma State

16) Oregon 9-4 Pac 10
USC/Arizona State - California/Arizona

17) Michigan 9-4 Big Ten
Illinois/Florida - App State/Wisconsin

18) Illinois 9-4 Big Ten
Ohio State/Wisconsin - Iowa/Michigan

19) South Florida 9-4 Big East
West Virginia/Auburn - Rutgers/Uconn

20) Auburn 9-4 SEC
Florida/Clemson - South Florida/Mississippi St

21) Florida 9-4 SEC
Tennessee/Kentucky - Auburn/Michigan

22) Penn State 9-4 Big Ten
Wisconsin/Texas A&M - Michigan/Michigan State

23) Wisconsin 9-4 Big Ten
Michigan/Michigan State - Illinois/Penn State

24) Virginia 9-4 ACC
Uconn/Wake Forest - Wyoming/NC State

25) Hawaii 12-1 WAC
Boise State/Fresno State - Georgia/NONE

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1/03/2008

what we know so far

There are three Democratic candidates with substantial support in the party. Oh wait, we've known that for months. On to the important stuff...the free labor employed by the 'nonprofit' NCAA.

What we know about college football is that there were two good conferences and a whole bunch of mediocre ones this year. We also know the reason the BCS system doesn't work isn't because it destroys all the old, traditional match-ups or because it's impossible to rank teams nationally. The problem is it tries to do both. So, instead of having set games each year (for example, say, always having the SEC champ play the ACC champ, Big 12/Big East, and Pac 10/Big 10) or instead of matching the top teams against each other (1 vs 2, 3 vs 4, etc), it does this incredibly awkward combo move that really is a just the same old same old. When the pundits decide that Georgia is playing great football, or that it doesn't matter that USC lost to Stanford, well, we're just supposed to accept that.

New Year's Day illustrated the absurdity quite plainly. Missouri, USC, and Georgia are three of the best teams in the country. Exactly where to rank them is a fun task I'll get to later, but the immediate problem the BCS has is none of them played each other! Instead, they all played teams they should beat, and guess what, they all beat them. In the first quarter. 35 to 34, to be exact. That's 35 first quarter points vs 34 total game points. Just process that for a second. All three teams won their games by more than 30 points.

No one wins from that system. It makes the games less exciting and doesn't enable any kind of closure or final ranking for the season. It also puts fans in the compromising position of having to value the spin about a team instead of just settling questions on the field. Finally, the system can't decide whether conferences are important. A system that ranks a weak champion like Ohio State so highly should, commensurately, rank a team like Georgia that couldn't even win its division quite lowly. Guaranteeing a spot for the conference champs makes sense; it's a good way to ensure participation of the major conferences and recognize the importance of winning the conference. It doesn't make sense, though, to force a second team from a weak conference (the effect of preventing three teams from the same conference being in the BCS).

That means, of course, the insanity continues well past New Year's Day. First, you've got the ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies are ranked number one in the computer system. Now, if we don't trust computers, fine, just rely on the polls. But a BCS where the computers are so impotent that their number one team doesn't even make the championship game is so bizarrely stupid it's difficult to quantify. To add insult to injury, they're not even matched up against another conference champion. Instead, they get the third best team in the Big 12. Or wait, is that the second best team?

See, the problem with not having guidelines for how to rank teams is that you get inconsistency. That's why the NFL has specific rules for how to rank teams (ie, tiebreakers). It may not always decide the 'best' team, but it decides how to decide, then defines the team that won that decision as the best team. Everybody knows the scenarios and who comes out on top before there is controversy. You have to decide these rules because there is no objective way of breaking a tie like Missouri/Kansas. Either the division winner is more important, or the number of losses is more important, or the head to head is more important, or the quality wins is more important, or the teams lost to is more important, etc.

That is important because what we really want to do is compare football teams across conferences. While Virginia Tech really has nothing to win now, the opportunity for Kansas is to show that the Big 12 is having a flabbergastingly dominant season. Essentially, the BCS is saying that the number three team is as good as other conferences' champs. The obvious parallel to Kansas is Georgia. They should be playing each other, and Missouri and Tennessee should be playing each other (or, as I would vote, Missouri vs Georgia and Kansas vs Tennessee). But of course, USC 'must' play a Big Ten team in that all-powerful game, the Rose Bowl. What a beauty that game was! And then by beating a team that is not one of the country's best, that somehow makes them one of the country's best? [hmmm, what team can I think of that beat Illinois and has a better record than USC?] Meanwhile, Oklahoma's prize for winning the (arguably) toughest conference is not a shot at the national championship game, nor an easy(er) game against an at-large bid. They draw the only other match-up against another major conference champion.

It's pretty clear from both the regular season and the bowls that the Big 12 and the SEC stood out from the rest of the conferences. The number 4 Big 12 team (TX) pounded the number 2 Pac 10 team (ASU). The number 5 Big 12 team (TX Tech) knocked off the number 3 ACC squad (Virginia). The number 5 SEC squad (Auburn) knocked off the number 5 ACC team (Clemson). The number 3 SEC team (Georgia) pounded WAC champ Hawaii. Number 2 SEC Tennessee beat the Big 10's number 4 (Wisconsin). During the regular season, the two conferences beat such teams as Wake Forest, Illinois, and Virginia Tech. When you look at the Pac 10, the Big 10, the Big East, and the ACC, there just aren't the teams to compete this year.

So if wins set them apart from the pack, how do I pick a winner between the two, you ask? Well, thanks for asking. It's when you look at the losses that things stand out to me. For example, the difference between Oklahoma losing to Big East champion West Virginia and Florida losing to unranked Michigan is pretty big (and let me say early and often, I thought Michigan was going to knock off Florida). The difference in the two head to head bowl games, of course, is even more enormous. Alabama and Colorado both showed why they were 6-6. Alabama won by six (Ross, I'm sure you are excited about that). Missouri, meanwhile, showed that the 'second tier' in the Big 12 was measurably superior to the second tier in the SEC, both in terms of overall record (3-0 vs 2-1) and in who they beat (Arizona State in particular). Or a different way to say it, the top 5 Big 12 teams finished 54-13, while the top 5 SEC teams finished 50-16 with LSU still left to play. [In contrast, the ACC was 49-18, Big 10 47-17 with Ohio State left to play, Big East 46-18, and the Pac 10 45-20.]

I'm not going to hold my breath, though, for ESPN to be talking about the superiority of the Big 12 this year.

One other thing we know is that I can't count. In my bowl predictions, I counted an SEC team as a Big East team, and just plain can't count the Big Ten. Sorry Mississippi State!

How am I doing? Well, not too shabby, but probably not superbly enough to have cleaned up in Vegas. Here's what I originally predicted a month ago [remember LSU/OSU is still to come]:

Big 12: 5-3
Pac 10: 4-2
SEC: 4-4 [note, this should be 5-4, since I can't count]
ACC: 4-4
Big East: 3-3 [note, this should be 2-3, since I can't count]
Big Ten: 3-4 [note, this should be 4-4, since I can't count]

Basically, I thought the ACC would win a game against the SEC. Well, you know, I thought the ACC would win against somebody, at least. Here's how they actually played out.

SEC: 6-2 (one to play)
Big 12: 5-3
Pac 10: 4-2
Big 10: 3-4 (one to play)
Big East: 2-2 (one to play)
ACC: 2-6

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