Archive for March, 2008

The Curious Caucus Experience 2

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Yesterday was the Collin County Democratic caucus — ours was held a day after most Texas counties held their caucuses as Collin County, without exaggeration, did not contain a venue large enough for the expected turnout on the scheduled March 29th date. And turn out we did: about 4000 people packed into the convention hall at the Embassy Suites in Frisco, Texas.

It was an incredibly drawn out process, made worse by the unprecedented turn-out: 1660 delegates compared with the previous county record of about 400, plus nearly that many alternates and observers. Starting yesterday morning, simply signing everyone in took upwards of 4 hours and the caucus itself stretched on to midnight. The process itself was comprised of twenty steps, conducted in parliamentary fashion (if you can imagine a parliament of 1660 members). Process was explained; preliminary delegate counts tabulated; delegate challenges resolved; rules reviewed; chairpersons and vice chairpersons at multiple levels nominated, elected, and confirmed; objections were raised, considered, and resolved; and finally district caucuses selected their delegates before a number of other bookkeeping steps were attended to, which I somewhat ashamedly did not stay for.

The final count was 1078 delegates for Obama, 582 for Hillary. After 12 hours of waiting, the announcement of this, the preliminary tabulation, was met with rock concert-level applause. I don’t know how many actual national delegates this will lead to for Obama, but it’s certainly a resounding victory for Obama from this county and the numbers are similar in others.

I’m left with a weird mix of emotions after the experience — even more than the “watching the sausage get made” ambivalence I expected. The curious thing about caucuses is that they take a normally anonymous election process and make it very personal. When an election is as highly-pitched as this one, putting that much exposed personal sentiment in one room is, for good or ill, revealing. My doubts about the utility of the caucus process are even greater now, but it was a fascinating process to take part in.

The most exciting part of participating for me was of a personal kind. I went into this caucus as as one of a few alternate delegates, there only as backups for the 11 Obama delegates from our precinct. As it happened, 2 delegates failed to show, and I and another man were the only alternates who came. We were both “elevated” to full delegate status, and so I had the pleasure to cast a meaningful vote to ensure my precinct’s single delegate to the state caucus would be for Obama. This really was a bit of a thrill for me (well, maybe less so after around 11pm) and a happy bit of closure to my whole experience.

My personal victory aside, I have to say that a lot of what I saw yesterday — taking my first step inside the outermost ring of insider politics — was pretty ugly. I’ve never been a big fan of the Democratic Party, but I think recently the glow of Obama has burnished the party’s image in my mind. The caucus reminded me of what I dislike: videos instructing supporters how to play Republicans’ own word games against them to make the Democratic platform more appealing (they’re not taxes, they’re “investments”); lobbying by slimy local politicians appealing for a “new blue majority”; and being surrounded by simple-minded trust in the government to solve all problems all made me a bit ill. In-fighting ran throughout the proceedings. Delegates engaged in childish wranglings on the floor to subvert process for slight political advantage, and more disappointingly my own precinct was nearly split by internal suspicion of a type that was so disgusting that I don’t think I can write about it.

Do I still have faith in the process? Although Texas’ particular process is flawed to say the least, absolutely I do. Gathering and distilling the will of millions of people with as many opinions is a messy business and our system does it as well as any. I’m not sure I want to put my hands so deeply into the mess next time, but I’ll consider it a bargain if it helps launch a presidency that is as historic as I hope it will be.

The Smoking Gun on James Sabatino’s LA Times Con

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

No time to obsess right now, but this was too much in the sweet spot for me to pass it up. From The Smoking Gun, a story about how imprisoned con-man James Sabatino apparently gamed the LA Times into reporting fabricated news: Big Phat Liar.

MARCH 26–Last week’s bombshell Los Angeles Times report claiming that the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio was carried out by associates of Sean “Diddy” Combs and that the rap impresario knew of the plot beforehand was based largely on fabricated FBI reports, The Smoking Gun has learned.

The Times appears to have been hoaxed by an imprisoned con man and accomplished document forger, an audacious swindler who has created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries, conducted business with Combs, Shakur, Busta Rhymes, and The Notorious B.I.G., and even served as Combs’s trusted emissary to Death Row Records boss Marion “Suge” Knight during the outset of hostilities in the bloody East Coast-West Coast rap feud.

Obama Speaks Truth to Race

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Honestly I wasn’t expecting much from Obama’s speech today on race, assuming that he would attempt to distance himself and Clinton from their respective supporters that have been trying to turn this into a racial election, in one direction or another.

As it turns out, Obama takes this moment — at the height and final stretch of an incredibly unpredictable nomination race — to speak substantively, expansively, and somewhat confrontationally on race and how it influences the opinions and opportunities of a broad swath of Americans today. Here’s the transcript.

Some continue to insist that Obama is all talk. Looking at what he has accomplished, they couldn’t be more wrong. But even if it were true, I think a President who is able and willing to speak words like these at politically inopportune times may do more to change the way business is done than any amount of political triangulation.

Fact-Checking the Hillary Campaign

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I don’t want to get pigeonholed as a Hillary hater. But the following just happens to be the thematically-connected material that strikes me as lately:

From my hero, Mark Kleiman: Too late, the truth about NAFTAgate. Short version: score one for Hillary, as a false-to-fact smear against Obama gets cemented in the popular consciousness and the mainstream media, just in time to help her win Ohio.

From another of my heroes, Joshua Micah Marshall: Say It Ain’t So. So, is Geraldine Ferraro factually correct to argue that if he weren’t black, Barack Obama wouldn’t be where he is today? Not so much, it turns out. Or, more succinctly, as still yet another of my heroes, Adam of Mighty Forces, put it (in Geraldine Ferraro can bite my shiny metal ass):

Hey Geri: FUCK. YOU.

But the best comment on Hillary’s recent race-based campaigning comes courtesy of this video from the droll subversives of Election08 (also pointed out to me by the aforementioned Adam):

Okay. Back to work.

Schwarz on Hillary’s 2002 Saddam Speech

Monday, March 10th, 2008

I like Jonathon Schwarz a lot. Here he is talking about Hillary’s 2002 speech condemning Saddam Hussein (delivered in the run-up to her Sure, George, Go To War vote in the Senate), but talking in a larger sense about politicians’ lying and the social underpinnings of it: The Monster(s) Speak(s).

In any case, the older I get, the less I blame people like Clinton for lying. Politicians will always lie as much as their society allows. The problem here isn’t Clinton, but the layers of America underneath her. In particular I blame the upper middle professional class from whose loins I sprang. Their entire societal power derives from them – ie, doctors, scientists, managers – purportedly caring about reality. But it turns out they don’t, as long as they themselves don’t suffer.

Greenwald on Carlson on Peev on Power on Clinton

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

Intelligence is sometimes overrated. Stupidity can be a great source of truth, not to mention (black) comedy. In that vein I give you the Michael Scott of US television “journalists”: Tucker Carlson.

You have to sit through a commercial to view the video at that site (which is why I didn’t embed the video here; I will not let my teency piece of the web be degraded in that particular way, at least not yet), but I think it’s actually worth sitting through, because Carlson exposes so clearly what is wrong with US journalism, and the response of The Scotsman reporter Gerri Peev (who did the interview with former Obama advisor Samantha Power where Power called Hillary Clinton “a monster”) is so awesome.

This is coming courtesy of Glenn Greenwald, who has lots more insightful things to say about the issue, including a round-up of several YouTube clips of non-US journalists asking questions of US politicians. All highly recommended.

To sum things up, here’s an excerpt from Greenwald’s piece at Salon (Tucker Carlson unintentionally reveals the role of the American press), which also requires viewing an ad (sigh), though at least it’s not a TV ad.

Credit to Tucker Carlson for being so (unintentionally) candid about the lowly, subservient role of the American press with regard to “the relationship between the press and the powerful.” A journalist should never do anything that “hurts” the powerful, otherwise the powerful won’t give access to the press any longer. Presumably, the press should only do things that please the powerful so that the powerful keep talking to the press, so that the press in turn can keep pleasing the powerful, in an endless, symbiotic, mutually beneficial cycle. Rarely does someone who plays the role of a “journalist” on TV so candidly describe their real function.

Sanchez on Continetti on Congress on FISA

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

Over time I’ve become less and less interested in fisking (which I’m using here to mean the process of dissecting a dishonest online argument by posting a response that plows through it a sentence or two at a time, interjecting criticisms), but with that said, this piece by libertarian Julian Sanchez on something Matt Continetti wrote recently in the Weekly Standard regarding Congressional actions on FISA is worth reading: Substandard.

Sigh. So much crap; so little time.

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s ‘We’re Listening’ Video

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Just submitted via the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s contact page:

I really liked your youtube video featuring the audio of the Oklahoma state legislator making the homophobic comments. (Well, I was appalled by it. But I like that you’re helping to publicize it.)

I’m trying to figure out why you would fail to identify the person making the remarks. It seems to me that if posting the audio is justified, then identifying the person speaking is also justified. I mean, she’s a politician, and should be held accountable for her remarks. If identifying the person speaking is not justified, then posting the audio isn’t justified, either. I mean, it’s trivially easy for someone who is active in Oklahoma state politics to identify her based on the recording, so you’re not actually protecting her identity in any meaningful way, right?

The best I can come up with for a rationale is this: Something about the recording itself might have been illegal, or unethical. The video indicates that she was recorded without her knowledge. Maybe that’s actually a violation of Oklahoma law? Or maybe the editing of the audio omits remarks by others questioning her that would cast the people making the recording in a less-than-flattering light?

If that’s the case, then I can see a rationale for leaving her unidentified in the video. By not identifying her, you avoid the side issue that would be raised if she were to challenge the authenticity, completeness, or legality of the recording. In the meantime, you still get the benefit of shocking people with what she said (which probably translates into fundraising, or at least awareness-raising, for your organization). If she’s not identified, then she would have to “out” herself (so to speak) to raise an objection to the recording, which she might be unwilling to do.

But here’s the thing: If that’s the explanation, it strikes me as a shady ethical approach for your organization to take. I come back to the same position I felt when I first heard the audio: It’s shocking, and it makes me want her identity to be known so she’ll pay whatever price her constituents think is appropriate. Not identifying her may make some sort of tactical sense in terms of the rough-and-tumble of politics, but for me, it doesn’t pass the smell test. I’d be more inclined to support your organization if I believed that you were being scrupulously ethical in your actions.

She sounds like a homophobe, and a hate-monger. But she’s also a human being. She deserves to be exposed for having made those comments. But she also deserves an opportunity to give her side of the story, to the extent she wants to give one.

If you’re concealing her identity in order to prevent your audience from knowing the full story behind the recording, I’m not sure that’s ethically cool. It’s a pretty minor ethical lapse compared to denigrating and discriminating against a whole class of people based on their sexual orientation, granted. But it’s still uncool.

I wish you would be more cool.

John Callender

Update: Apparently the Oklahoma state legislator whose voice is heard in the recording is Sally Kern., which appears to be operated by the same people as the Victory Fund, posted the following comment yesterday:

One of the primary questions people have had after hearing her hateful speech was why no one ever mentioned her name. If the audio was worthy of being publicized, why not single out the person responsible?

There are a couple reasons.

First, we don’t want to make her a hero in anti-gay circles. Running a name and a picture would merely serve as a feather in her cap.

Also, while this speech is remarkable in its statements, it’s not unique. For every bit of hateful rhetoric we hear, scores of other anti-gay statements go unchallenged.

It is not our intention to make this individual the target of animosity and hostility. It is, however, our intention to let her know that we heard what she said, we do not approve and that we support public officials who recognize people in the LGBT community as equal, ordinary citizens.

I appreciate their providing the explanation, and I don’t doubt that that was the intention behind not mentioning her name. At the same time, I think their logic was muddled. By publishing the clip, they guaranteed that she would be identified and would receive the responses (both pro and anti) that they say it was not their intention to promote. This is a fish-or-cut-bait kind of situation. They can’t have it both ways. If they didn’t want to publicize her actions, then the appropriate course of action was… not to publicize her actions. If they were willing to publicize her actions, then I don’t think they’re really carving out any sort of moral high ground by letting others take the predictable next step of tracking down and sharing her identity.

The Curious Experience of Caucusing in Texas

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Two district conventions were held together in the fire station a mile or so from my house this evening at 7pm. This isn’t the kind of event I would have predicted I would be spending an evening on a couple years ago even, but having spent so much time bemoaning a combination of disappointing candidates and meaningless votes in Texas, I felt I owed it to my self-respect to make the most of this day when neither were true for me. And apparently I’m not done yet.

Driving up at 6:55, I was stunned to see people lined up outside in the chilly night, and I was lucky to get one of the last places to park around the firehouse. While I waited outside, cars would begin streaming into the church parking lot down the street, and people would build until a crowd of a couple hundred or so were milling about, chuckling about how much worse it would have been if it were during yesterday evening’s ice storm, asking each other about Texas caucusing arcana, and having a look at what exactly Texas Democrats look like.

The doors opened at 7:15 and it was over an hour for everyone to get inside the door, and have them put their names down for one candidate or another. The question was constantly asked if we had to stay or if we could go once we had signed in. The answer was the latter and by far most people left, although I stayed just to satiate my curiosity. The caucus was called to order, a temporary chairperson and secretary were selected, who then presided over the nomination and voting in of a permanent chairperson and secretary.

The names were counted, and the proportion used to split the district’s delegates to the county convention (where delegates will be selected in similar fashion for the state convention… where the delegates to the national convention will be selected, also in kind). My district was assigned 18 total delegates, 1 delegate per 15 people who voted democratic in the last gubernatorial election — curiously that’s only about 270 which seems a small number compared with the number caucusing tonight. Here, Obama won 11 to Clinton’s 7. I heard from the next room that their district fell in similar proportion.

We were sectioned off into two corners of the room to select our 11 delegates, plus 11 backups, to attend the county convention on March 29th. Only 17 remained so the Obama camp had to settle for 6 backups.

One of which seems to be me.

Texas Democrats Count (For Once)

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

The Texas Democratic primary is a pretty strange hybrid of general voting and caucusing — and it’s not even that simple. But Texas Democrats — normally drowned in either red-statedom or late-primary irrelevancy — should take note that not only has the close Clinton/Obama race put them in a decisive position, but the quirks of Texas’ primary offer a singular opportunity to Make Your Vote Count. The short story is you get to vote twice… if you know how.

I do not generally affiliate myself with the Democratic party (or any party), but as an ardent Texan Obama supporter, I am thrilled that I might make a difference tomorrow. So for all of you intending to vote in the Democratic party primary in Texas tomorrow, I’ve collected some information on how to make the most of tomorrow:

To summarize, here’s what you do tomorrow:

  • Step 1 – Vote in the primary election. To find your polling location, enter your address here. Yes, it’s Obama’s site, but honestly it’s the best statewide polling location finder I’ve found. Every vote counts here, as small changes in vote count can shift single delegates within the individual districts.
  • Step 2 – Caucus! Show up at your precinct convention location (also available at that Obama link above), which is probably the same as your voting location, with proof you voted in the Democratic primary and commit your support for your chosen candidate. You may also want to familiarize yourself with the format for the convention minutes, which should give you an idea of what to expect. The precinct conventions are extra important, as you will be part of a small number of people with the ability to directly influence delegates.

I’m looking forward to taking part in this whole process tomorrow — I hope it will be taking part in history in the making.