Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bono at the UN

Bono and his personal economic guru Jeff Sachs were blogging for the Financial Times during the week they were in NYC for the UN meetings on the MDGs. Worth browsing.

Sachs especially isn't too happy with US participation in recent efforts to reduce global poverty and disease. But there are some interesting proposals floating around for combining poverty alleviation with addressing climate change.

Palin and the end of the world

Huffington Post has a really good article (and especially watch the 10-min video at the bottom) asking about Palin's "eschatology" -- i.e., religious beliefs about the end of the world. I grew up and spent 15 years in an Assemblies of God church, the same denomination as Palin's church in Wasilla.

Most Assemblies of God churches believe that the end of the world is coming soon. They believe that all true Christians will suddenly be whisked away to heaven (the Rapture). They believe that the world as we know it will end in a World War (Armageddon), allowing God to create a new world and Christ to return to Earth in person. Many of them believe that these "end times" will only happen when Israel controls all of the Holy Land, and that Moscow will start Armageddon by attacking Israel. They believe that the "Anti-Christ" is a literal person who will fight against or deceive Christians during the end times. Most importantly, they look forward to all of this eagerly because it means that they're all going to heaven. I know this because I've heard the sermons stating these prophecies first-hand.

Does Sarah Palin personally believe these things? I don't know; she hasn't exactly been available for extensive questioning. But the Youtube videos demonstrate clearly enough that she's comfortable with the theology and subculture.

If you're worried about Palin's lack of knowledge about public policy issues, just imagine what those religious beliefs would mean for her foreign policy. We could actually have a president in several months who looks at the US relationship with Russia and Israel and asks, "What can I do to hasten the Second Coming of Christ?"

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I'm looking forward to seeing the new documentary with Bill Maher called Religulous. It's coming out Oct. 3. (Watch the trailer here.)

Few things are as important and serious in our society, and in the world, as the role of religious belief. So isn't it a bit strange that the film is done by the director of Borat? Who knows, maybe comedy is the best way to rationally discuss religion.

Palin meets most important leader yet

Bono met with McCain and Palin in New York to promote the ONE Campaign's efforts in fighting extreme poverty and disease. In short, wealthy governments promised in 2005 to increase aid directed toward the world's poor to $50 billion per year, but have since fallen far short of that goal. As Bono says, "They love signing checks, but they don't like cashing them."

And yet Bono remained overwhelmingly positive about the progress made so far, citing 29 million African children now in school and 2.5 million with access to AIDS medications because of increases in aid. He praised governments for their recent promises to eradicate malaria by 2015.

This is an effective strategy that the ONE Campaign has consistently followed. Instead of lamenting about pervasive failure, they direct our attention to the concrete (if smaller) successes that foreign aid can accomplish. Instead of playing to our collective fear or guilt, they play to our hope and faith in ourselves.

I wonder how much of this is ONE's strategy, and how much of it is Bono's own personal approach? I'm just guessing, but I think it has a lot to do with Bono's philosophy. As U2 sings,
Of science and the human heart, there is no limit;
There is no failure here sweetheart, just when you quit....
I'm not giving up on a miracle drug.

My disappointments with Obama

Let me be clear: I think Obama is the best presidential candidate in my adult lifetime (which doesn't say much -- I'm not that old). Barring disaster, I'll vote for him in November. But he's still a politician, and there are a few things that I've been disappointed with in the course of his campaign, especially in the past month.

First, he has committed his fair share of populist pandering. From dissing NAFTA in the primaries, to promising support for auto manufacturers in Michigan, he has adopted a few economically dubious policies, presumably in order to win votes. This doesn't compare to the utterly misplaced economic priorities of Bush/McCain, but it's not pretty.

Second, he has occasionally allowed himself to get dragged into the mudslinging. Comparatively speaking, Obama has taken the high road in his campaign, but some of his ads and criticisms are deliberately misleading.

Third, he hasn't consistently stood behind some of his less popular positions. One example is his response to the Russia-Georgia conflict. I think he got the initial response right, by arguing that both sides had taken provocative action, by denouncing human rights violations including Russia's incursions into Georgia, and by calling for negotiations. Since that time, a conventional wisdom has developed that says Russia committed unprovoked aggression (anyone miss the Cold War?) that must be "confronted." Illustrated by the debate last night, it seems that Obama has given in to the conventional wisdom.

So I'm a bit disappointed with Obama in these regards. But perhaps I'm too idealistic; maybe I've watched too many West Wing episodes and want to vote for President Bartlet or Santos. Is it possible to win an election without doing some of these things? Probably not.

Palin, Iran, and good/evil

Plenty of things have already been said about Gov. Palin's most recent embarrassment, a.k.a. the Couric interview. I won't repeat all the critiques of her lack of knowledge and dangerously extreme policy positions. But I want to focus briefly on her comments about negotiating with Iran:
"I think, with Ahmadinejad, personally, he is not one to negotiate with. You can't just sit down with him with no preconditions being met. Barack Obama is so off-base in his proclamation that he would meet with some of these leaders around our world who would seek to destroy America and that, and without preconditions being met."

Did I miss something, or does Iran really seek to destroy America? Did someone in Iran say that? Did some U.S. intelligence agency infer that? Now Ahmadenijad is no saint, but even under the worst possible interpretation of his various remarks, the worst you could argue (and even here it's highly disputable) is that he wants to destroy Israel.

But this isn't just Palin's own mistake; I think it fits into a long tradition of enemy-making. In Palin's worldview, there are Good Guys and Bad Guys in the world. By definition, we are the good guys, and the bad guys want to destroy us. Since Israel is one of "us," by definition anything Israel does against bad guys is good and shouldn't be second-guessed. Ahmadenijad is not a cynically rational, self-interested authoritarian concerned about his own domestic politics (which a fair reader of this interview would surmise), but another Hitler who must be confronted.

Now there is a tiny, tiny nugget of truth in this thinking. There are people who don't like America and its policies, and sometimes they do things that are evil. But I can't overstate how dangerous this kind of good/evil thinking is, for our own security and others' as well. We are literally (literally, with words) creating enemies out of our opponents and even some former friends. We define these enemies as inherently unreceptive to rational incentives or dialogue, which leaves threats and violence as the only policy alternatives. Do we really need more enemies? Do we never do anything evil ourselves?

Two last comments: First, it seems that this kind of binary good/evil thinking is heavily related to exclusivist religious belief. Second, it only buttresses the position of leaders like Ahmadenijad in his own society, since he can use the same good/evil language to demonize us.

The first presidential debate

I tivo'd the debate last night and just watched it. My initial impression was that Obama won on substance, but McCain's style fit the debate format better. I kept wanting to tell Obama to criticize and respond to McCain more directly (although he did more as the debate continued). Obama has gotten better about this throughout the campaign, but he is fundamentally an Explainer, wanting to "clarify the record" in response to attacks. On the other hand, McCain seemed more schooled in the standard debate tactics: Share a tangential story when you can't answer a question directly (e.g. "the bracelet" in response to a question about Pakistan); Repeat your talking points ad nauseum (e.g., "Obama doesn't understand..."); and Stay on the attack.

So while I personally prefer Obama's style (especially as a president rather than a campaigner), I worry that it doesn't play well to a national audience. Instead of saying, "Let me clarify this point," I think he needs to say, "John, once again you're lying about my record." As Obama Explains, it can make him look Defensive.

But maybe my concern is unfounded. Initial post-debate polls seem to give the advantage to Obama. For example, in the CNN poll, people overwhelmingly thought McCain attacked more (60-23%), but favored Obama on every other measure.

Also, in wanting Obama to be more direct in his criticisms, I wasn't thinking about the very narrow tightrope that he has to walk. In that respect, I think he's doing pretty well.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cynical politics? Mea culpa

Politico has an interesting and pretty fair piece about how the 2008 presidential campaign has turned into politics-as-usual, despite early promises of a clean and post-partisan campaign. The authors blame both candidates for being unimaginative and misleading, and they blame the media for focusing on shallow trivialities. Joe Klein similarly bemoans the political lies in the Sept. 29 issue of Time, although he places most of the blame on McCain (as many journalists have done).

I agree that the media and the politicians are indeed responsible for shallow and cynical politics, but I also want to point the finger at us. It's all of our faults, because we are by and large "low information" voters. It's my own fault as an educator. Politicians deceive and distract us, and they repeat simplistic campaign slogans, because that's what persuades us. We don't take the time to look into their proposals and records, and we don't give ourselves the tools to estimate whether a candidate will perform well. So we simply don't reward good political behavior and nuanced media coverage.

It's a mutually reinforcing cycle, but in a very real sense, we get the kind of politics and politicians we collectively deserve.

The Paulson bailout plan

Nothing really new here, but I just saw the actual text of the Paulson plan, and this struck me:
"Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.
The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time."

That's a lot of zeros, and a lot of authority for one person.

The other thing that struck me is just how simple the plan is -- the draft is only a couple of pages long. And yet, even though the plan came out last week, McCain admitted that he hadn't actually had time to read it until Tuesday. (It was available to anyone on the web -- Oh yeah, that might help explain it.) This must have been the same day that McCain started planning to suspend his campaign, drop out of the debate, fly to DC, and use his Magical Bipartisan Pixie Dust to save the negotiations over the bailout bill. Negotiations that were already moving along pretty well without him, particularly since he doesn't sit on the Senate Banking Committee.

With McCain's suspension announcement, and the most recent Palin-Couric interview, it's starting to get a bit ridiculous.

(Hat tip: TPM)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Palin meets with foreign leaders for the first time today

Ah, those Onion staff writers must be salivating.

Is Paulson's bailout plan socialist?

I'm not an economist, so I don't pretend to understand the details or implications of the $700 billion bailout plan. But from the little I do understand, it's totally inaccurate to call Paulson's plan "socialist," as so many pundits and politicians have done.

There are different definitions of socialism, but all of them involve government taking a more active role in the economy in order to redistribute resources from the wealthy to the poor. Although defenders of the plan are arguing that the bailout will help the economy as a whole (which seems reasonable enough), they are pointedly not arguing that the bailout will redistribute resources to the poor. If anything, a major criticism of the bailout is that it will do precisely the opposite.

So let's call the bailout plan mercantilist, or nationalist, or even Keynesian, but not socialist. The government is looking to support (or even own) specific industries and stabilize the financial system in order to improve the national (and perhaps global) economy. It has virtually nothing to do with socialism.

Is Bush following Obama in Pakistan?

The American military and NATO forces have been engaged in a battle with Taliban and al Qaeda militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border for several years now. A few weeks ago, the Bush administration adopted a policy of pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban militants across the border into Pakistan, with aerial bombings from drones (which have been used all along) and ground forces (which is new).

Early in the presidential primaries, Obama claimed that he would attack al Qaeda on Pakistani territory, without the Pakistani government's permission, "if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets." At the time, Obama was ridiculed as naive about foreign policy. Now, it seems that the Bush administration is following that policy. It also seems that the critics of the policy were party justified, since the recent American incursions have drawn a sharp rebuke from the new Pakistani leadership, and have possibly destabilized Pakistani politics.

I'd like to suggest that Bush isn't exactly following Obama's earlier recommendation. First, Obama was not talking about ground troops, and he was only talking about "high-value targets" (presumably folks like Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri). I might be parsing words too much here, but it's important, because there's a cost-benefit calculation that must be made: Is killing or capturing the militant worth upsetting relations with (and within) Pakistan? As I interpret Obama's statement, it's only worth it when it's a high-value target. Bush's recent policy has dramatically widened that net, and so he might be operating under a different cost-beneft calculation.

Indeed, Scott Horton has argued that Bush's calculation in this case is entirely different. He thinks Bush's attempt to capture or kill Bin Laden is related to the U.S. electoral cycle:
"The Bush Administration is hoping for an 'October surprise' that will lift the tides of the Republican candidates just in time for Election Day. That explains why the extraordinary effort is undertaken now, and why the sensitivities of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship are being ignored."

That's a pretty brutal claim. I'm not sure what to make of it. But after the past seven years of manipulating foreign policy for partisan political purposes, I'm not eager to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another out-of-touch elitist against Palin

In an upcoming Newsweek article, Sam Harris agrees with me that there is something deeply disconcerting about many Americans' anti-intellectual bias when selecting our leaders -- most recently exemplified in the Palin nomination:

"Ask yourself: how has 'elitism' become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated."
Harris is a great, provocative writer. What I find interesting is that, in an email to people on his mailing list, he titled his article "In Defense of Elitism." Makes sense. But compare that to the title on Newsweek's online edition: "When Atheists Attack." Doesn't that sound a bit like pejorative commentary from Newsweek's editors? Does it even relate to the substance of the article?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Are taxes patriotic?

In a recent interview, Joe Biden suggested that for Americans who can afford it, paying taxes is a patriotic duty:
The truth of the matter is that we are in trouble. And the people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break.
Is Biden right? Hell yes. It really shouldn't be that controversial, should it? If you love your country, you want it to function well. To function, your country needs money to have a military, build roads, run schools, and police your neighborhood. To get money, it needs your taxes. So do your damn duty.

I can see two reasons why Americans would consider taxes a burden rather than a patriotic duty. First, Republicans have been remarkably successful at framing taxes as "painful," unreasonable, and burdensome (e.g., Bush's "It's your money" slogan and McCain's recent ad). They have largely won the rhetorical battle on this issue.

Second, fiscal conservatives like Andrew Sullivan argue that government doesn't need that much money to fulfill its basic functions, and therefore taxes should be smaller and flatter. (Side note: current Republicans are NOT fiscal conservatives.) He argues that the government's role should be to promote economic efficiency while protecting formal (not substantive) equality. So anything beyond a small flat tax would be burdensome and unfair.

Although that argument is more reasonable, I disagree with it. I'm not an economist, but I just don't see how the numbers would add up under a small, flat tax. The U.S. already has the smallest welfare system among all advanced democracies. We have the smallest government overall, as a % of GDP, among all advanced democracies (144 out of 160 countries, according to one list). We have a roughly half-trillion dollar federal deficit amid a major financial bailout. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but what government functions are you going to cut to allow for a small flat tax?

I just don't see how the federal government can perform its basic functions, including having a fairly minimal social safety net, without having progressive taxation. It's not a matter of trying to achieve some utopian "substantive equality," but simply ensuring that extreme inequality doesn't prevent some people from meeting their basic needs. So yes, paying your share of taxes, especially if you're wealthy, is a patriotic duty.

(Credit: Sullivan)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just when you thought Obama WASN'T the Antichrist...

Apparently he might be:

"Barack Hussein Obama has taken the nation by storm.... It is stunning. On the surface, it appears attributable only to his eloquent oratory and his race. But an invisible factor may be a strong spiritual force behind him, causing some people to actually swoon in his presence."
Yeah, he's not talking about the Luke force, but the Darth Vader force. Read the whole letter. It's circulating among evangelicals.

If you aren't familiar with pentecostalist evangelical thinking, you might be led to think the letter is some kind of parody. But trust me, I grew up in an Assemblies of God church (the same denomination as Palin), and they're deadly serious.

"Don't worry," you might say, "it's a fringe idea that would never affect a presidential election." No, it's more like a quarter to a third of our population -- that's 100 million people.

The value of a good reputation

If you watched the end of the Broncos-Chargers football game last Sunday, you saw referee Ed Hochuli blow a call that cost the Chargers the game. Hochuli is a 19-year veteran and has a reputation as one of the very best referees in the NFL. Blown calls happen all the time. What strikes me about this story is how Hochuli has responded to his mistake, and how the public is responding to him.

Hochuli knew he blew it almost immediately, but the NFL rules didn't allow him to overturn the call. So he admitted to Chargers' coach Norv Turner during the game that he made a mistake. After the game, feeling "devastated" by his error, he emailed San Diego fans and apologized. And he talked about his error with the commissioner. Exactly the kind of thing that a person of integrity and professionalism would do.

The response by the NFL and fans appears to be overwhelmingly supportive and forgiving. In fact, the NFL is reviewing its own rules about overturning calls. An NFL official said that

...my whole goal is to try to get him back to get on the horse and work again this weekend. He's too good of a guy, too good of an official to keep off the field...
In the ideal world, that's what happens when you build up a positive reputation and do the right thing. And sometimes in the real world too.

McCain's reign is falling in Spain

In an interview with a Spanish-language radio station in Florida yesterday, John McCain seemed unable to identify Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain. In response to the interviewer's attempts to clarify who he was talking about, McCain gave a boilerplate answer about how he will work with friends and confront enemies.

Now, I'm partly willing to give McCain a pass on this one. Perhaps it was a miscommunication because of language differences. Perhaps McCain mixed up Zapatero with the Zapatistas. In fact, I think it's unrealistic to expect the candidates to remember the names of every single foreign leader (although Spain is a pretty important ally). So I'm hesitant to say that this was a big "gotcha" moment. It strikes me as significantly less worrisome and less relevant than, say, Palin's ignorance of the Bush Doctrine.

But here's where McCain doesn't get a pass. He has made his foreign policy experience a central argument in his campaign. Earlier in the very same interview, he tried to draw a contrast with Obama by claiming, "I know the issues and I know the leaders." So McCain should simply be held to the standard that he sets himself. If Obama had made this mistake, McCain would certainly make it Exhibit A in the case against Obama's foreign policy cred.

Incidentally, the same should also hold true for Palin (possibly) getting pregnant before she was married, and McCain committing adultery on his first wife. I don't think these issues are relevant to someone's qualifications to be president. But if the appeal of your own candidacy is based on notions of fidelity, personal integrity, and sexual morality, shouldn't you be held to your own standard?

PETA uncovers pig abuse

Undercover PETA volunteers have caught Iowa farmworkers beating and abusing pigs on video. Will the McCain campaign blame Barack Obama?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Palin's appeal

Identity politics? Preposterous.

Expertise matters

Now that Gov. Palin has actually granted one journalist an interview, it seems that people are beginning to notice that her knowledge of foreign policy is... how shall I say it... a bit lacking. I guess being able to peer across the Bering Strait just didn't give her all the expertise she hoped for. Last week Robert Kagan, a McCain advisor, said the following in her defense:

“I don’t take this elite foreign policy view that only this anointed class knows everything about the world," he said. "I’m not generally impressed that they are better judges of American foreign policy experience than those who have Palin’s experience.”

Which made me think: I wonder how far Republicans would be willing to carry this "knowledge is elitist" claim? I mean, how egregious does your lack of knowledge have to be before you're deemed unqualified? Apparently, "not really focusing on" the war in Iraq, and not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is, or what a vice president does, isn't enough. If a candidate didn't know where Washington DC was, would they praise him for being an "outside the Beltway maverick"? If he didn't know where Canada was, would they call him a patriot?

The classic Rovian strategy seems to be: turn your weakness into strength, and your opponent's strength into weakness. So if Obama finished at the top of his class at Harvard, is an expert in constitutional law, and can speak intelligently about foreign policy, he's "out of touch with mainstream America." And Palin is a hockey mom "just like one of us."

Hey, I enjoy a beer with the guys at happy hour just like anyone. But if any of them ran for national office, I'd punch them in the face. (OK, metaphorically.) And I hope they'd do the same to me. Neither I, nor the guys I used to drink with in DC, are smart enough to be President of the Freaking United States. The country -- especially at this moment -- needs someone exceptionally smart and capable to be in that position. It's just plain dangerous for us to belittle expertise in favor of the Average Guy Candidate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Don't helmets work better when they're on?

Confession: I've been watching a lot of football on TV lately (excuse: torn achilles tendon, plus Fantasy league). Has anyone else noticed that someone's helmet is flying off on just about every other play? Call me alarmist, but isn't that not supposed to happen?

Speaking of Fantasy, I lost Tom Brady and I'm still 2-0 in my league. Coaching, baby.

Speaking of 2-0, how about the Irish? Not exactly pretty wins, but I'll take 'em.

Will your taxes increase under Obama?

Yes -- if you make over $603,000 or so per year! Chartjunk has a great chart comparing tax plans from Obama and McCain:

Notice the difference in priorities?

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is a bit addicting.)

US faces big foreign policy challenges

In the lead article of the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke states that "the next president will inherit a more difficult opening-day set of international problems than any of his predecessors have since at least the end of World War II."

According to Holbrooke, which candidate is best qualified and prepared to meet these challenges? You guessed it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I support Obama for president

I think the recent public discourse about our presidential candidates has been shallow and cynical. At its best, politics is about arguing to define common goals, values, and interests to move our society forward. At its worst, politics involves trading rumors, lies, distortions, and distractions in order to win an election, which trivializes the really vital issues. So I wanted to explain, as clearly and briefly as possible, why I think Barack Obama is the best candidate for president, without talking about lipstick, flag pins, old age, Islam, or pregnant daughters.

What does a President do? He (perhaps eventually she) decides when and how to use our military. He is our highest diplomat to communicate with allies and enemies. He will likely nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. He is ultimately responsible for directing the huge bureaucracy that is the executive branch. He helps set the legislative agenda by sending bills and budgets to Congress, and has the power to veto or sign all national legislation. He influences American and global public opinion. In short, it’s the most important and difficult political office in the world, period.

Why is Barack Obama best qualified to fulfill these duties?

· He is a deliberative, critical thinker. The single most important qualification I look for in a President is how he makes decisions. Public policy is complex; it does not lend itself well to split-second, instinctual, black-and-white thinking. In contrast to his opponents, Barack Obama makes decisions through a deliberative process, listens to arguments from the other side, and is comfortable with nuance even as he holds to his basic values. That is an absolutely essential skill in a complex world.
· He is skilled and knowledgeable in domestic and foreign policy. Some people are concerned that Obama, as a first-term U.S. Senator, does not have the “executive experience” or history in Washington to be president. This is a valid concern that I share (although frankly, rendered a bit moot by McCain’s choice of Gov. Palin). Yet throughout his career, Obama has shown exactly the skills and expertise necessary to be president. His opponents have belittled his career; you can read about it for yourself here. Although he is not as experienced in the U.S. Senate as John McCain, his own considerable qualifications, judgment, and poise more than make up for this.
· He has a vision for change but is pragmatic in his approach. I happen to agree with most of Obama’s core values. Obama has laid out concrete proposals for ending the war in Iraq, making health care affordable for all, and cutting middle class taxes. But even when I disagree with some of his positions, I appreciate Obama’s focus on finding pragmatic solutions rather than settling into rigid ideological camps.
· He knows and respects the Constitution. The first duty of the President is to honor the U.S. Constitution. As a former constitutional law professor and civil rights attorney, Obama knows the Constitution better than any other candidate. Rather than repeating simplistic partisan mantras about “activist judges,” Obama actually understands theories of constitutional interpretation and has a sound approach to judicial nominations. While his opponents mock habeus corpus, Obama understands that defending the Constitution means defending basic American values.
· He will keep the American people safe and increase our influence in the world. Our national security is not best achieved by talking tough, alienating allies, labeling any potential threat as “evil,” spurning international law, and acting unilaterally. It might make us feel patriotic when our leaders do this, but most often it actually reduces America’s power. America gains more power when we follow international law, listen to our friends’ advice, work on problems multilaterally, negotiate with our adversaries, and support moderate populations against extremists. Obama will use force when necessary to protect Americans, but he will ensure that it is indeed necessary by taking soft power and diplomacy seriously. Given the actual and potential crises in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, Burma, Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, Congo -- and the list goes on -- tough talk and hard power are simply insufficient tools to protect our national interests.
· He has a strong commitment to solving the world’s biggest problems. Every semester I ask my students what they think the world’s biggest problems are, and every semester they say the same two things: global poverty and climate change. It’s hard to argue with them. More people die from extreme poverty than war, crime, or anything else – it’s probably the biggest moral failing of our age. While the other candidates give lip service to poverty, Obama has made concrete proposals to provide $50 billion in aid targeted to the world’s poorest people. On climate change, while his opponents’ approach to energy is centered around drilling for more oil, Obama makes a real commitment ($150 billion over ten years) to developing affordable clean energy – wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels – that holds a real promise of ending our dependence on foreign (or any) oil.
· He appeals to the better angels of our nature. Fear and anger are strong motivators; they are absolutely necessary sometimes. But when fear is used to serve partisan political ends, it divides and weakens the country. The central premise of Obama’s candidacy is that we can move beyond these divisions when it serves the public interest. Opponents have ridiculed Obama’s message of hope and change as empty rhetoric; as I’ve shown above, I think there is quite a bit of substance to the message and the candidate.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How you can help Obama win

Register new voters. Strangely simple.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lipstick, flag pins and elections

One reason I started this blog is because I believe that US presidential elections are deadly serious events. People give their lives to have opportunities like this. So I've been pretty disheartened by the level of public discourse over the past couple of weeks. I know there are strong structural and psychological incentives in every election to pay attention to trivialities rather than issues. Every election has its share of lying, deception, exaggeration, and twisting of facts. But frankly, I expected more from Senator McCain, whose public image has been built around the notion of integrity.

I am an Obama supporter, and have been for some time, so I know I'm biased. But McCain's personal attacks on Obama's integrity and patriotism, the phony sexism charges, and the sex education attack ad were just outright lies. Not accidentally false claims, or exaggerations, but deliberate Rovian lies.

I find McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as VP to be along the same vein. I actually find a lot about Gov. Palin that I personally like. But McCain's decision-making process was cynical, rash, and ill-prepared. Whatever you think about Palin, McCain cannot have been thinking about effective governing when he made this decision. He was thinking about effective politicking-- and even then, only the most cynical form of identity politics that America should be trying to move beyond in 2008.

Palin on the Bush Doctrine

Honestly, I expected Gov. Palin to be fairly well prepped for the Charlie Gibson interview. Her response -- or lack of response -- to his question on the Bush Doctrine really blew my mind. You see, I'm a professor who has taught Intro to International Relations, a freshman level general education class at my college. The Bush Doctrine is something that every single freshman -- not just Politics or IR majors, but every single college freshman -- should be able to define and critique after one semester of this class. Governor Palin clearly did not know what the Bush Doctrine was. Her level of knowledge would have failed a freshman International Relations course. Now granted, she only had two weeks to prepare for this exam, and my students have the whole semester. But my students aren't running for Vice President of the United States either.

She sure seemed awfully confident though. As the past 7.5 years have taught us, lack of knowledge should never dissuade you from looking confident in your assertions. Thank God.