Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Passing the torch

Sarah Palin Mattered

by Susan Estrich

For years I've been dining out on the story of the 1988 vice presidential debate, where Lloyd Bentsen literally cleaned Dan Quayle's clock — "You're no Jack Kennedy" — resulting in a huge increase in his own approval ratings and virtually no bump at all for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket.

Quayle and Spiro T. Agnew have long been Exhibits A and B buttressing the conventional wisdom that people vote for president, not vice president; that having the better candidate for the No. 2 slot is all but irrelevant to winning the election; and that anytime you see one of those "who would you rather have a heartbeat away from the presidency" ads, it's an almost certain sign that the campaign running it is a heartbeat away from defeat.

Most of the time, the interest in the vice presidential nominee peaks in the hours leading up to the announcement. The minute we know who it is, we — the media, the country and especially the voters — lose interest.

So it was for Joe Biden. The run-up to Obama's vice presidential announcement had the media in a frenzy. Far-fetched rumors were flying. Then the announcement was made, and that was that. Sure, Biden. Right. Did anyone vote for Barack Obama because of Biden? Maybe not. Then again, did anyone vote against him because of the Delaware senator? Why would they? A perfect vice presidential selection.

Sarah Palin was another story. Her selection, and this election, may change forever the conventional wisdom about vice presidential nominees. Whether a good choice can help you remains to be established; my Bentsen story may still be controlling on that issue. But it should now be clear that a bad choice — and Palin was most certainly a bad choice — can do great harm to a presidential campaign.

The fact that McCain's top people are talking out of school about Palin's weaknesses is a sign of just how bad a choice she was. She hurt them. She should not escape unscathed. They are clearly angry.


Only the Good Buy Young

Why 20-year-olds should invest way more in the stock market, and 50-year-olds, way less.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock ExchangeHere are the chief investment lessons of the financial crisis for today's young people: They should be buying more stocks and running up debts to do so. I'm not saying that the market is undervalued—how would I know? I am merely suggesting a way of reducing risks.

If that seems strange, reflect for a moment. We know that stocks can be very volatile. We also know that some generations have been luckier than others when it comes to the performance of the stock market. The baby boomer who started regular purchases of U.S. stocks in 1970 and sold in 2000 would have felt pretty sick after the awful bear market of 1974, but in retrospect, his timing would have been perfect, filling his pockets with bargain late-1970s and early-1980s shares and selling out right at the top. His daughter, entering the stock market in 1995 and aiming to retire in 2025, would have spent the past 13 years buying shares at prices that now seem to range from high to extortionate. We could call this "generational risk."

Now think about the current prevailing wisdom on investing in shares, which reflects the fact that shares tend to produce high but risky returns. It is to start by putting most of one's savings into the stock market and as retirement approaches, increasingly shift one's portfolio to bonds and other less volatile investments. That seems to make sense. In fact, it is nonsense.


Forty years on, McCartney wants the world to hear 'lost' Beatles epic

The track, a jumble of shrieks and psychedelic effects, is said to be as far from the melodic ballads that made Sir Paul McCartney famous as it is possible to imagine. But now McCartney has said that the public will have the chance to judge for themselves.

'It does exist,' McCartney says on a BBC Radio 4 arts programme to be broadcast this week. Talking to John Wilson, the presenter of Front Row, the former Beatle confirms that he still has a master tape of the work and says he suspects that 'the time has come for it to get its moment'.

'I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off piste,' he adds.

In the 40 years since 'Carnival of Light' was recorded by McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon in the Abbey Road studios in London, its collection of disparate rhythms has become a kind of holy grail for Beatles obsessives. The track was put together on 5 January 1967, in between working on the vocals for the song 'Penny Lane'.

Once released it should offer proof that the Fab Four, and McCartney in particular, were much more avant-garde in their tastes than many gave them credit for. According to the few who heard the track on the one occasion the recording was played publicly, at a London music festival in 1967, it features the sound of gargled water and strangled shouts from Lennon which vie with church organs and distorted guitar.


An Unforgettable Moment

by Uri Avnery
WHEN I told this to Anwar Sadat, he laughed: "The moment the door of your airplane opened, all Israelis held their breath. I live on a main street in Tel-Aviv, and at that moment I looked out at the street below. It was totally empty. Nothing moved, except one cat which was probably hurrying home to the television."
The day after tomorrow, 31 years will have passed from that moment, one of the greatest in our lives.
THROUGH THE eyes of an Israeli, this is how it looked: Egypt and Israel were in a state of war. In the previous 30 years, four major campaigns had been fought, with thousands of Israelis and tens of thousands of Egyptians killed and maimed. The hatred between the two peoples was deep and bitter. Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, Sadat's predecessor, had been officially designated as "the Egyptian Tyrant", whose effigy Israeli children used to put on bonfires. Radio Cairo's incitement against Israel was vicious. Only four years earlier, the Egyptians had launched a surprise attack against Israel and dealt us a heavy blow.
And here, without any prelude, was the Egyptian president standing up in his Parliament and announcing that he intended to fly to Jerusalem and make peace. Many did not believe their ears. The Israeli Chief of Staff thought it was a trap. No one took it seriously.
And here he was. The unbelievable was happening before our eyes. A date to remember: November 17, 1977. The entire Israeli leadership stood in a row on the tarmac. The Egyptian airplane landed and slowly taxied towards the red carpet. The stairs were attached. For a moment the atmosphere was surreal. And then the door opened, and there stood the Egyptian leader, slim, erect and solemn. Israeli army buglers sounded the salute. An unforgettable moment.
I have looked for a historical parallel and found none. It could even be compared with the first steps of man on the moon.
Anwar Sadat had done something that was without precedent.

A Juror named "Flipper?"

by: Grace

Only in Alabama can one find a gymnastic juror who turns "flips" to amuse her fellow jury members and a juror whose concentration seems to be more on a romantic interest in an FBI Special Agent seated at the Prosecution team's table than in the evidence being presented in the case. Only in Alabama do Federal Marshals serve as Cupid's errand boys, passing notes between the juror to a legal aide on the prosecution team to determine if the FBI Agent is available and perhaps interested in pursuing a romantic liaison. Only in Alabama can these kinds of soap-opera shenanigans during a trial be kept from the Defense Attorneys while being an open secret among members of the Prosecution's team.

What is it going to take for Alabamians as a whole to wake up to what has been happening here in Sweet Home Alabama thanks to Republican Party Operatives like Karl Rove and the Bush's appointed, politically motivated, U. S. Attorneys? Perhaps it is going to take the embarrassment of seeing the exploits of a juror in Alabama, with the nickname of "Flipper," being plastered all over the pages of TIME Magazine for the whole world to see. Perhaps it's going to take 52 former and sitting Attorney Generals throughout the United States yelling, "Foul" over the acts of injustice done to our former Governor, Don Siegelman by a tainted jury, a supposedly recused U. S. Attorney, who in fact did not recuse herself at all, and a Judge whose rulings kept vital evidence from the Attorneys defending Don Siegelman. Perhaps what it is really going to take is the outrage of ordinary Alabama citizens like you and me screaming our collective heads off to our new President Elect, Members of Congress, Editors of our local papers, our local TV News Reporters and anyone else we can get to hear our cry that we abhor the Republican/Rovarian kind of Injustice that has been dished out to our former Governor, Don Siegelman. Today is not too soon to start doing just that.

In a telephone interview yesterday with Zachary Roth of TPMuckrakers, Governor Siegelman had this to say:

"Whoever is the new Attorney General has to be strong enough to weed out the Karl Rove clones who have been embedded in the US Attorneys' offices throughout the United States. If not, it is going to eat at our system for years to come. If I've been put through this for a reason, it's to expose the fact that this is not an isolated incident. I am prayerful that Congress will dig in and demand the truth. These folks have got to be weeded out."

It is time for us to pick up those hoes of truth and justice we might have temporarily laid down during the heat of the Presidential Campaign and start again to chop out those destructive weeds that are still sapping the life out of the fruits of Justice here in Alabama and in other States as well.


I'm melting

"I heard a tap-tap of gunfire. But I didn't realise my legs had gone"

Last week the world watched as Barack Obama embraced an Iraq war vet at a Veterans Day ceremony. Tammy Duckworth lost her legs on a mission in Baghdad four years ago. Now she is among a rising number of ex-soldiers reshaping US politics and may yet serve under the new president. Here she talks about her fight for her comrades - and her own fight for life

President-elect Barack Obama and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP

As the man and woman walked slowly towards the war memorial in Chicago last week, the figure of Barack Obama was instantly recognisable. But as the pair hugged after laying a wreath in the ceremony, it was the young woman who caught the attention of the media and whose photograph flashed around the world.

It was difficult not to notice her. As the President-in-waiting embraced her, it was clear that she was a double amputee. Rarely has the human cost of America's war in Iraq been so painfully and poignantly illustrated.

The woman was Tammy Duckworth, one of the most remarkable figures to emerge from the conflict. Horribly wounded by an insurgent attack, the former helicopter pilot is now part of a wave of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are returning home and reshaping US politics. They are running for office, heading government departments and campaigning on issues they care about.

Duckworth is now one of the most visible and high-profile among them. There are even whispers that she might replace Obama in the Senate, taking the seat left vacant when he moves to the White House, or that he might appoint her to his cabinet as head of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. But on that cold Chicago morning last week, as Duckworth and Obama paid tribute to America's war dead, it was not politics that were on Duckworth's mind. It was her former comrades-in-arms, recently redeployed back to the country where she lost her legs. 'I was actually thinking about my crew,' she told The Observer.


Hiroshima: The Lost Photographs

by Adam Harrison Levy
One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor's house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.  

He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges — snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.

At the kitchen table, he looked through the photographs again and confirmed what he had suspected. He was looking at something he had never seen before: the effects of the first use of the Atomic bomb. The man was looking at Hiroshima.

In a dispassionate and scientific style, the seven hundred and one photographs inside the suitcase catalogued a city seared by a new form of warfare. The origin and purpose of the photographs were a mystery to the man who found them that night. Now, over sixty years after the bombing of Hiroshima, their story can be told.

Red Sex, Blue Sex

Why Do So Many Evangelical Teenagers Become Pregnant?

During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin's pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America's dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country's "blue states" tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in "red states" generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion.

A handful of social scientists and family-law scholars have recently begun looking closely at this split. Last year, Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, published a startling book called "Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers," and he is working on a follow-up that includes a section titled "Red Sex, Blue Sex." His findings are drawn from a national survey that Regnerus and his colleagues conducted of some thirty-four hundred thirteen-to-seventeen-year-olds, and from a comprehensive government study of adolescent health known as Add Health. Regnerus argues that religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and that this gap is especially wide among teen-agers who identify themselves as evangelical. The vast majority of white evangelical adolescents--seventy-four per cent--say that they believe in abstaining from sex before marriage. (Only half of mainline Protestants, and a quarter of Jews, say that they believe in abstinence.) Moreover, among the major religious groups, evangelical virgins are the least likely to anticipate that sex will be pleasurable, and the most likely to believe that having sex will cause their partners to lose respect for them. (Jews most often cite pleasure as a reason to have sex, and say that an unplanned pregnancy would be an embarrassment.) But, according to Add Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical Protestants make their "sexual d├ębut"--to use the festive term of social-science researchers--shortly after turning sixteen. Among major religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.


GM Must Re-Make the Mass Transit System it Murdered

by Harvey Wasserman

Bail out General Motors?  The people who murdered our mass transit system?

First let them remake what they destroyed.

GM responded to the 1970s gas crisis by handing over the American market to energy-efficient Toyota and Honda.

GM met the rise of the hybrids with "light trucks."

GM built a small electric car, leased a pilot fleet to consumers who loved it, and then forcibly confiscated and trashed them all.

GM now wants to market a $40,000 electric Volt that looks like a cross between a Hummer and a Cadillac and will do nothing to meet the Solartopian needs of a green-powered Earth.

For this alone, GM's managers should never be allowed to make another car, let alone take our tax money to stay in business.

But there is also a trillion-dollar skeleton in GM's closet.

This is the company that murdered our mass transit system.

The assertion comes from Bradford Snell, a government researcher whose definitive report damning GM has been a vehicular lightening rod since its 1974 debut.  Its attackers and defenders are legion.  But some facts are irrefutable:

In a 1922 memo that will live in infamy, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit aimed at dumping electrified mass transit in favor of gas-burning cars, trucks and buses.

Just one American family in 10 then owned an automobile.  Instead, we loved our 44,000 miles of passenger rail routes managed by 1,200 companies employing 300,000 Americans who ran 15 billion annual trips generating an income of $1 billion.  According to Snell, "virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system."

But GM lost $65 million in 1921.  So Sloan enlisted Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, glass and rubber companies and an army of financiers and politicians to kill mass transit.


High Rider


America’s Wars of Self-Destruction

AP photo / Morry Gash

Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than a billion bullets a year.

By Chris Hedges

War is a poison. It is a poison that nations and groups must at times ingest to ensure their survival. But, like any poison, it can kill you just as surely as the disease it is meant to eradicate. The poison of war courses unchecked through the body politic of the United States. We believe that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war. We embrace the dangerous self-delusion that we are on a providential mission to save the rest of the world from itself, to implant our virtues—which we see as superior to all other virtues—on others, and that we have a right to do this by force. This belief has corrupted Republicans and Democrats alike. And if Barack Obama drinks, as it appears he will, the dark elixir of war and imperial power offered to him by the national security state, he will accelerate the downward spiral of the American empire.

Obama and those around him embrace the folly of the "war on terror." They may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy, not policy. By clinging to Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan, the poison will continue in deadly doses. These wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford them. The rash of home foreclosures, the mounting job losses, the collapse of banks and the financial services industry, the poverty that is ripping apart the working class, our crumbling infrastructure and the killing of hapless Afghans in wedding parties and Iraqis by our iron fragmentation bombs are neatly interwoven. These events form a perfect circle. The costly forms of death we dispense on one side of the globe are hollowing us out from the inside at home. 

The "war on terror" is an absurd war against a tactic. It posits the idea of perpetual, or what is now called "generational," war.  It has no discernable end.  There is no way to define victory. It is, in metaphysical terms, a war against evil, and evil, as any good seminarian can tell you, will always be with us. The most destructive evils, however, are not those that are externalized. The most destructive are those that are internal. These hidden evils, often defined as virtues, are unleashed by our hubris, self-delusion and ignorance. Evil masquerading as good is evil in its deadliest form. 


Why Al Franken Will be Minnesota's Next Senator

Democracy and Elections

For many reasons, all listed here, when the final votes are tallied and likely litigation ends in Minnesota, Al Franken will be a U.S. Senator.

By Scott Rafferty

No one should be surprised if Democrat Al Franken is elected to the U.S. Senate in the Minnesota vote count or canvass, which is not completed until Nov. 18, and that a statewide hand recount, an election contest in Minnesota courts, and the United States Senate will all confirm this result.

Here's why. Minnesota only uses paper ballots, no punch cards and no touch screen. There is a complete paper trail. Most of the ballots are counted in their precincts by optical scanners. Some rural counties use a large machine to count in the clerk's office after the polls close. In both precinct and central counting, the machine reads only marked ovals, but the test audits during the canvass (and the subsequent recount) are by hand and include all discernable marks and a recount is mandatory for close races.

Minnesota's system is pretty close to the ideal. The precinct counter warns voters if it reads more than one vote for a single office (known as an overvote). This is usually human error, and the voter has a chance to correct it (or to choose to reinsert his or her ballot, in which case the machine will count the unaffected races). In some areas, precinct scanners also warn voters if they fail to vote for every office, but most Minnesota counties do not use this setting. Because it allows voters to correct many human errors, the precinct counters are more reliable than paper alone.

There is also a strong tradition in Minnesota that every vote counts. Any discernable mark is counted as evidence of voter intent. Minnesota courts don't blame voters if election officials made a mistake in keeping the ballots in less than ideally secure locations; they require evidence of actual fraud. And Minnesota ballots are pretty straightforward, on a single page without the design flaws that confused so many voters in the 2006 congressional election in Sarasota, Fla. There were thousands of undervotes in that close contest, mostly from Democratic-majority areas.


Into the sunset