Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Action: Part One

Several random items that are worthy of comment this weekend:

1. The Clinton/Obama Texas Debate

The 20th debate in the Democratic Primary season was really much of the same that we've seen in the last several debates between Clinton and Obama. The policies haven't changed at all since there were 7 or 8 Democrats in the running for the nomination, so the good people at CNN (in their infinite wisdom and love for the American people) have found new and creative ways to generate sparks between the candidates. Both Clinton and Obama appeared to be a bit weary and perhaps under the weather and much of the first half of the "debate" was pedestrian at best. Things heated up between them on a few occasions, but at this point hasn't it all been said? In fact, in my humble opinion, the whole thing is over.

Clinton's message is scattered and undisciplined, her money is waning, her financial records look shabby, her husband has practically thrown in the towel in advance of Texas and Ohio, and Obama is gaining by the day. The Obama campaign is continuing to draw nearly 20,000 people per rally, while Clinton is struggling to draw 7-8,000 according to recent reports. Obama has reportedly raised $50 million this month alone (!) and can afford to outspend her as much as five or six to one in March. I'm not painting this favorably for Obama. The facts are undisputed across all loyalties, including many of Clinton's people who are gravitating toward Obama increasingly as we go on. A Clinton supporter in Texas attended an Obama rally and spoke to the crowd, saying something to the effect that he still supports Clinton, but he sees the way the wind is blowing. Ouch.

Every so often when discussing "debates", I like to go back to an interesting appearance by Marshall McLuhan with Edwin Newman and a very young Tom Brokaw in September of 1976 during the Ford/Carter election race. McLuhan attempts to describe the problems with the format we have come to know and love over the years, and schools the pair of NBC reporters on the finer points of his media theory. I have never liked Tom Brokaw, but this particular clip pushed me further over the edge with respect to the man as he arrogantly challenges McLuhan without understanding a word of what he's saying. Enjoy.

2. John McCain's Lobbyist

The New York Times reports that John McCain's campaign advisers had to ask a female lobbyist to stay away from the candidate during his 2000 run for the presidency because they feared that their relationship had become romantic. The Times has caught a lot of flak for the ambiguous sourcing of the story and have enabled the conservative critics of John McCain to abandon their adversarial stance in favor of circling the wagons around the embattled Senator. The focus of the story from the beginning has been the apparent adultery alleged by some shadowy figures attached to McCain's camp, but the missing element in the controversy is the serious allegation of favors to lobbyists that entangle the young woman, Vicki Iseman, and others in shady backroom dealings with the Senator. Some of those allegations remain unresolved, despite McCain's blanket rejection of the story as a whole. I doubt the romantic angle has legs (no pun intended), but the impropriety, which is the more serious charge anyway, may have more ahead. Newsweek is already on top of some inconsistencies that may come back to haunt McCain before all's said and done. Stay Tuned.

3. Bill Moyers

I'm a big fan of the Bill Moyers program on PBS and had the pleasure to take a little time out from reading to watch his Friday edition this week. Two important stories caught my attention that I wanted to bring to you. The first is a story about an intrepid group of reporters from the Seattle Times who took it upon themselves to investigate earmarking in appropriations bills before Congress. The reporters set up a project to dig into the committee reports, where the earmarks are hidden in fine print and strange code, and the Representatives own press releases and translated the information into a database of earmarks and campaign donations. They are able to cross reference the earmark expenditures and the dates and names associated with big money campaign donations by the people they help with special interest spending. It was remarkable and should be passed along to everyone within eyeshot of a computer screen.

The other story was a Sarah Chayes' tale of her work in Afghanistan and the things she's seen in her time over there. It's a mess and a cash cow for greedy companies, corrupt politicians, and opium businessmen who have set up agriculture, import/export, and even an above board credit system in a country where very few ever had access to credit of any kind. Also a must see.

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