Archive for January, 2008

Florida: The “What the hell?” state
January 28, 2008

It didn’t really surprise me that after the South Carolina primary on Saturday, where Barack Obama basically turned into a 300 story tall radioactive Japanese lizard and lay waste to Clinton’s campaign headquarters, that Clinton’s response might be something along the lines of, “Sike! That primary didn’t count! The important one is Florida, where I’m ahead.” Never mind that Florida doesn’t have any delegates.

Nor was it particularly was it particularly surprising when Clinton quickly mumbled into her sleeve something about campaigning in Florida even though both campaigns had pledged not to.

Alright, that’s not true. It was sort of surprising, but not for the reasons you might expect. When I read that, my first thought was: “Why? She’s ahead there.

It took me a while to figure it out. This is why Clinton pays the big bucks for campaign strategists while I’m sitting here in my dorm writing this for free. Apparently the Clinton campaign’s learned an important lesson from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina that I forgot: namely, that the polls just aren’t matching up with the actual election results. So it’s perfectly conceivable, at the very least, that Clinton may not be able to rely on just getting a victory in Florida handed to her like the polls indicate.

What does that mean for people like me, who like to make all sorts of predictions about how this race is going to turn out based on polling? Should we cut down on that and focus on more substantive issues?

Hah! Yeah, right. I’ve got a better idea: since there’s no way to make these predictions responsibly, I’m just going to be wildly irresponsible about them. No longer am I tied to things like polling data and evidence to make my predictions – instead I’m going to pronounce and prognosticate with utter conviction based on data culled from a random sampling of my Ouija board.

With that in mind, I’m willing to bet all sorts of money and humiliating acts that Ron Paul will win the Florida primary. No – Ron Paul will win both Florida primaries.

Ron Paul fans of the Internet: You’re welcome.

Every day is John McCain day on the Straight Talk Express
January 27, 2008

To people who aren’t a member of the Straight Talk cult, it’s not really news that John McCain is an infallible font of wisdom and hard truths. But did you also know that he’s ill-prepared to answer any question that doesn’t involve war, Dirty Harry-style hardboiled dialogue, or worshipful exposition about how much of a total rebel this guy is? Todd Beeton has the scoop:

McCain was asked a question about education and it was just painful to watch. After stumbling through typical talking points (accountability, competition, blah blah) he actually said the words “look, other people will be more knowledgeable about the education system in Florda…” Mel Martinez stepped in to save him (followed by Lieberman who touted McCain’s experience and his ability to cut through that evil partisanship!) but as McCain turned over the microphone to Martinez, he looked over to the right of the camera and sort of shrugged his shoulders as if to say to an off-camera (and none-too-pleased) advisor, “what, it’s the best I could do.”

It’s oh so much more special than that, though. As Matthew Yglesias points out, his economy shtick is remarkably weak (and bonus points for yet another X-Men reference from the blog that coined the phrase “the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics”).

So what’s it gonna be, Florida? Is it going to be Romney, the guy who panders so aggressively it makes him sound half-crazed, or is it going to be McCain, the guy who’s aggressive pandering is cleverly masked by his rebellious play-acting, his incomprehension of domestic affairs and the possibility that he might actually be legitimately half-crazed?

(Obligatory Mitt Romney talking point parrotry: Also remember that choice #2 was endorsed by the New York Times. Not that this makes him a covert Marxist or anything, Republican voters of Florida. Nope, not one bit.)

SC Post-Mortem
January 27, 2008

Here are a few official statements about the primary results worth checking out:

Obama Camp: “I AM ARES, LORD OF DESTRUCTION. KNEEL BEFORE ME AND TREMBLE.”

Clinton Camp: “Was there a primary last night? No way! Where? South Carolina? Psshht. Whatever. That’s not an important one. The big one is Florida, with its whopping 0 delegates up for grabs.”

But the big news, of course, is that the pollsters have finally be redeemed after their wildly inaccurate soothsaying in New Hampshire, where they incorrectly predicted the winner and, numbers-wise, were off by a large number. Compare that to South Carolina, where they picked the correct winner and were merely off by a huge number. Looks like conventional wisdom is finally back on track.

Where else to find me
January 26, 2008

Long-time readers of the blog have probably noticed a gradual shift in tone since it’s inception, or at least since it’s reboot – influenced by time at TPM, I originally envisioned this blog as a wonkish take on politics i.e. Ezra Klein or Matthew Yglesias. But they’re both better at that sort of thing than I am and it quickly became clear that it is A) more fun and B) easier to just make fun of political figures.

So this blog ended up taking a much more satirical bent, and I think it’s better off that way. And keeping in line with that new direction, I’m happy to announce that an article pitch I made with my good friend Peter has been picked up by Cracked.com. I’ll have more details about the article and a link to the piece itself within the next couple of weeks. But that’s what I’m going to be working on this week.

Prescience
January 26, 2008

Told ya:

The interesting thing about John McCain is that his whole shtick is a combination of surprisingly moderate positions on a handful of (mostly domestic issues) but with a liberal dose of (mostly foreign policy) positions that are way into the crazy spectrum of the far right. So in order to prevent the latter from becoming an official part of American policy for the next 4-8 years, we need to sit tight and hope that the former sinks him in the GOP Primary. To that end, I think Romney’s being smart here.

Atheism’s fine, as long as you recognize how wrong it is
January 25, 2008

Via Ross Douthat, here’s a definition of atheism that doesn’t make any sense at all:

“The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit. Albert Camus called them “the saints without God.” The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2). This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot over those of Julian of Norwich. There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. . . . The word “atheist” can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who—at least so it seems to him—is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.”

So to clarify:

A good atheist is someone who spends all of his time wracked with existential agony and smothered in crushing depression because being an atheist sucks and being religious is super-awesome all the time.

A bad atheist is someone who consciously rejects God because he thinks God is a jerk.

Do either of those two classifications sound like anyone you know?

If you’re an atheist and you simply don’t need to believe in God to be happy, that doesn’t make you an asshole. It doesn’t make you someone who angrily rejects God either. In fact, if you’re an atheist, by definition you can’t actively reject God, because – and this is crucial here – you don’t think God exists.

I’m pretty confident that most of us atheists are perfectly happy giving our own lives meaning, but thanks for the concern. And if you really need religion to do that, the emotionally healthy thing to do would be probably be to become religious.

Evidently, Rudy CAN fail
January 25, 2008

I was saving that pun for when Giuliani lost Florida, but I’m an impatient man, and my love for both the Clash and bad politics/punk rock-related puns is too great.

Anyway, I don’t think the NYT’s pointed non-endorsement of Giuliani was all that pointed or significant. The guy’s losing pretty much everywhere, and based on the polling, I’m betting New York’s going for McCain anyway. Plus, a lot of the press thinks John McCain is made of sugar and spice various other things that are nice, so it makes sense that a lot of papers that are traditionally thought of on the right as members of the international Marxist conspiracy to pick him as their endorsed candidate on the GOP side.

So the question isn’t so much “Why didn’t they endorse Giuliani?” as it is “What, if any, effect is this going to have on the race?” I doubt it’s going to effect it much, but to the extent that it does, I can’t see many of the Republican faithful going, “Wow! If a neo-Leninist propaganda rag like the New York Times endorsed McCain, he must be a strong, principled conservative!” It’s more likely that the other candidates are going to wield this as a punchline against him. Imagine Mitt Romney throwing into a stump speech a line like: “My leading opponent’s such a strong conservative that even the New York Times likes him.” And then he chuckles smarmily and, seeing minorities in the audience, mumbles something about his milkshake, and how it brings all the boys to the yard. On Hardball that night, a senior political strategist on the Romney campaign confirms that, damn right, it is indeed better than y’all’s.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that this endorsement is fantastic news for McCain.

Telecom immunity explained
January 25, 2008

(I think this is going to be crossposted at the NYU College Democrats blog. I’ll post the link up here if that happens.)

On Monday, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd will filibuster legislation that would provide retroactive immunity to phone companies that knowingly violated the civil liberties of their clients by turning phone records over to the NSA. If he’s going to successfully block this legislation, he’s going to need help – so it’s important that everyone contact their Senators and ask them to support the filibuster.

But don’t take my word on it. To help explain why this is so important, I’ve recruited a disembodied voice (in bold text) to ask me leading questions so that I can better illustrate my point.

What is this legislation?

The Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) was passed in 1978 and called for the formation of the Foreign Intelligence Service Court (FISC). When the US government wanted to wiretap communications involving “foreign powers,” they had to go to FISC and request a warrant.

How picky were these guys?

Let me put it this way: in 2003, out of 1727 warrant applications, 79 were substantially modified and all but three were approved.

Sheesh.

Yep. And here’s the big kicker – if, say, the NSA was really pressed for time, they could just go ahead and tap some phones without a warrant and then later get the warrant issued retroactively.

So where do the telecom companies come in?

Funny story: In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order ordering the NSA to spy on the communications of US citizens without ever consulting FISC. Major telecom companies decided to go ahead and cooperate.

What? How is that legal?

It’s not. It’s exactly the opposite of legal, and when the New York Times reported it in 2005, it caused quite a tizzy.

Huh. I guess I must have missed that impeachment hearing.

Hahah! Good one. Funnier story: when the whole thing got found out, the Bush administration turned around and said that FISA was too strict. So Congress decided to accommodate the White House by coming up with the Protect America Act.

Well I can’t possibly object to a bill with a name like that! What does it do?

Basically it modifies FISA to allow the Attorney General to order warrantless wiretapping with no real oversight. So in effect, there’s nothing in between the NSA and listening in on all your international calls.

Holy crap! And Congress passed this?!

Yessir. But it expires on February 1st, so Congress needs to vote on it again soon.

So that’s what they Dodd’s going to be filibustering Monday?

Sort of. Two bills got written up here – one that was a compromise between the Senate intelligence committee that calls for retroactive immunity and another bill written up by the judiciary committee that leaves it out.

Well if there’s retroactive immunity in one of the bills, I’m assuming there must be some sort of legal or historical precedent for that sort of thing.

Nope – declaring someone immune from prosecution after they break the law is pretty much unheard of.

Surely a Democratic Senate would vote for the one without retroactive immunity, right? Unless all of America has suddenly fallen in love with their phone companies, it sounds like voting against retroactive immunity would be both politically shrewd and a moral imperative.

You’d think so, but apparently Congress doesn’t see it that way. On Thursday, twelve Democrats hopped party lines to vote down judiciary’s bill. That means that it’s on Senator Dodd, who vowed to filibuster any bill that includes retroactive immunity.

Remind me what a filibuster is again?

Basically it’s an attempt to indefinitely prolong debate on a bill so that it never reaches the floor. A senator gets up during the debate and talks for a long, looooooong time. The trick is that since 60 votes are needed close the debate, as long as there are enough senators not voting for cloture, it just becomes a test of endurance for the senator who’s filibustering. That’s how filibusters used to run, but traditionally in the modern Senate, if a Senator declares his intention to filibuster, then the Majority Leader will pull the bill from consideration to avoid wasting time. The Republicans have taken advantage of that quite a bit, and in recent years have threatened to filibuster everything that moves, without having to actually filibuster.

So then we have nothing to worry about, right? Now that Dodd’s declared his intention to filibuster, the bill will get pulled from consideration.

Nope! Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is forcing him to actually filibuster. This is after Reid also refused to honor Dodd’s hold on the bill, even though he continues to honor Republican holds on bills.

Wait, this guy’s the Democratic Majority Leader?

Uh-huh.

WTF?

Yeah, I know.

This is an outrage! Surely the courageous Democratic presidential candidates will step in and use their influence to vocally support the filibuster!

Hahahah! You’re a barrel of laughs, lemme tell you. Actually, Clinton’s not supporting it. Obama indicated that he might while still hedging a bit, but neither of them showed up to vote on Thursday, so I’d say whether or not Obama will show up on Monday to vote against cloture is still up in the air.

So what can I do to help?

Well, concerned rhetorical device, if either of your senators are on this list, you can call them. In fact, go ahead and let them know how you feel even if they’re not on the list. The more the merrier. And let’s hope on Monday we can beat this thing.

Free shirts are free
January 25, 2008

Do you like things that are free? Do you frequently find yourself wearing shirts? Do you live in some place that is not Connecticut? Well then you’ll be overjoyed to learn that my good friend John and his business associates wants to give you free t-shirts.

Yes, that’s right: if you sign up on the site, a friend of mine is going to mail you free t-shirts, which is to say, you will receive in the mail a series of clothing items that cost you nothing. You can:

  • Wear them on your chest!
  • Wear them on your head for protection from the sun!
  • Use them to wipe up nasty stains!
  • Fire them out of cannons at rowdy sports fans!
  • Rip them off when you get angry!
  • And much much more!

I know what you’re thinking: How could this possibly be free? Is it some sort of scam? The answers are: Yes, and no, it’s most assuredly not a scam. It’s actually a pretty savvy business plan – I don’t quite understand the whole thing, but I’m pretty sure it involves wizards. And sharks? I’ll ask John next time I see him.

Look, unless you hate shirts, there’s basically no downside to signing up for this thing. Which is to say you should do that.

In all fairness, I’m terrified of umbrellas too
January 24, 2008

Blech. Now that both major candidates have once again failed to demonstrate leadership and backbone even when the opportunity’s been handed to both of them on a silver platter, I’m remembering how easy it is to get sick of primaries. So instead of horse crap, here’s a video about goats fainting:

See, the goats are like Democrats and the umbrella is like congressional oversight … or something. Screw it.

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