In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

From the Horse's Mouth: Obama's Acceptance Speech

Below is a great speech worth watching from Thursday night when Obama officially accepted the Democratic nomination for president. Here's a few lines that especially stood out to me, with the video of the full speech below:

"[L]et us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag...

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things...

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future."

Go here to see a whole pile of other speeches from the Democrats' convention (e.g., Al Gore, Virginia governor Tim Kaine, Bill Clinton, etc.).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary's Clearest Voice--But Why?

I can only imagine the speech Hillary shared tonight coming from a deep reflection on the reality before our country--honestly. I didn't hear her speak with that degree of clarity throughout the primary season, though perhaps I missed some of the occasions where she did. Nevertheless, she seemed much more at ease and at the same time full of conviction as she spoke tonight; I almost just went to sleep instead of listening because I was quite frankly bothered by some of the ways she handled the primary season, and expecting a pat speech that I'd rather sleep through. So either she's an unreal actor or she was deeply moved by considering the depth of importance behind this race--I think it was the latter.

I'll look to paste the video in here when it becomes available, so take a listen if you didn't hear it yet--not to just hear some difference in her speech though, but because of the education and the encouragement she actually provides on the absolutely critical issues before us: lack of affordable health care, devastating conditions for the poor (and increasingly, the middle-class), unhealthy foreign policy, and so on.

As a last reflection on the speech though, I suppose it's most moving because it, as I noted above, does seem to have been Hillary's clearest moment this election cycle; maybe that indicates how important everything is...that is, if she was able to actually change the nastiness that at times characterized her campaign, perhaps it was because she realized how we may be reaching a tipping point where the damage to our country and our people, the rest of the world and so forth, is becoming irreversible--perhaps she's more clearly realizing the actual consequences that are behind the already cliche-sounding phrases about McCain continuing Bush's policies. That's my view after hearing the speech at least, that she may simply have taken the time to reflect on the treacherous waters that she would be culpable for helping propel us into if she did not fight hard in the opposite direction. Hopefully the damage that she did do (in my honest opinion) can begin to be outweighed by speeches such as this, though unfortunately actions have consequences, and we will see.

Above photo credit: Wall Street Journal.

Update: Here's the link to a video of Hillary's speech.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Michelle Obama, Rounding Out the Candidate

So the Democratic Convention is going on through Friday of this week, with Barack accepting the official nomination for president with his speech on Thursday night. But let this be a sign of the man--he did not have this leader or that in the Democratic party or otherwise as the keynote speaker last night--the first night of the Convention; rather, he had his wife, Michelle Obama, in the top spot. And let me just say here--good choice. She rocked the party. But more than that, she spoke with a richness of values that just seeped through the video and hit me good (yes, good).

Take a look yourself and I think you may see the reflection of Barack in her, and her in Barack, in the way I did; as she herself says in the speech, both of them were raised with values that informed their outlooks and individual entrances into public service. So, I think that while we have a great man in Barack alone, we have a richer, fuller consideration than that, for Michelle clearly brings so much to the table in terms of her strength, mind, humanity, and so forth (in addition, they both of course have two little girls and the related understanding of families that affords). I actually am including three videos below: the intro video they showed of Michelle's mother telling the story of her daughter and their family; the in-person introduction that followed by her brother, Craig Robinson; and Michelle's own speech (I'll have to add a few other videos of Michelle in some later updates to this post, but you can also watch and read more about her here, on Obama's website). And oh, while I'm thinking about it, earlier in the night they showed a great tribute video to Sen. Ted Kennedy, highlighting things like his relationship with JFK and Robert Kennedy, after which Kennedy gave a stirring speech on how much new hope (yes, hope) Obama imbues him with--and remember, Kennedy has been in Congress for over forty years.

Video of Michelle's mother telling Michelle's story

Video of Michelle's brother introducing her

Video of Michelle's speech

Update: That didn't take long, here's another speech from Obama's website that I happened to have already heard a few weeks ago; it's Michelle speaking at the "Democratic National Committee's Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council":

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Woe is McCain: Economically Out of Touch

For a while I've wanted to start a set of posts looking at McCain and his various stances on issues, his character traits, etc., and thought this issue would be a good starting point; look for any other coming posts with the title "Woe is McCain" if you're interested in reading more.

Apparently McCain, when recently asked how many houses he and his wife own, said, "I think — I'll have my staff get to you...It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you." You can actually hear the recorded question and answer at the top of this brief overview of the issue. I'm not really sure what to say here, as this would be funny if it weren't so far removed from any reality I could imagine.

I waited to post this though because none of the news I was seeing was making it clear whether the McCains actually lived in most of the houses or rented some out. I still couldn't find a definitive answer in looking around, but he and his wife clearly live in at least four, though it looks like they own twice that many; at least two of those eight are used by their children. Here's a list of the properties (from here): "Those real estate holdings include a Sedona ranch with three dwellings, worth $1.1 million; a Phoenix condominium suite that had originally been two units, worth $4.7 million; an $847,800 three-bedroom high-rise condo in Arlington; an oceanfront condo in La Jolla, Calif.; a half-million-dollar loft in Phoenix purchased for their daughter Meghan; another Phoenix condo, worth $830,000; and two beachfront condos in Coronado, Calif, one of which is valued at $2.7 million...Cindy McCain told Vogue magazine the family needed the second condo because the first was getting too crowded as their family grew." (See pictures and read another fairly biting description of the high-dollar homes here).

That said though, perhaps it would be easy for McCain to lose track (honestly). However, it still relates to a larger problem, I believe. First, there is the simple fact that he and his wife live in at least four big-money homes across the country--in a world where many are in need, I do have to say that seems excessive, though it's of course his choice. Secondly, McCain actually said recently that it was those making $5 million or more that he considers "rich." He mentioned this at a "faith forum" last weekend. Obama was there too and was asked the same question--he considered those making $250,000 or more to be rich (which is a lot closer to what I'd estimate). Third, McCain recently said the "fundamentals of our economy are strong." If you're not sure about the state of the economy, watch this tough video from Bill Moyers on the individual stories of some average Americans who have been hit hard by the current economic situation. Lastly, none of this even gets into his tax policies, such as the tax cuts of the current Administration that McCain says he plans to make permanent (even though he previously could not "in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate")--I'll have to write more on that topic, but I'll just say that I know a well-off Republican who literally said that he didn't need the annual $80,000 he was getting back because of Bush's tax cuts. Maybe, just maybe, that money could stay in the government pot and pay down some of our $9 trillion deficit, allow full health insurance coverage of all children, provide increases in the National Institute of Health (NIH) budget for cancer research, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Add up the above points on McCain and you get an individual bouncing around the country between four expensive homes, who thinks the rich are those making over $5 million, feels the economy is fundamentally strong, and is all for skimping Americans by maintaining what I believe are unethical tax cuts. So what? So that's not the person I want in the White House deciding what amount of taxes are fair for various income brackets, whether to spend money on programs that create new jobs, whether to make health insurance affordable for the 47 million who don't have it, and so on. I'll have to write more on some of the economic issues related to this if I have a chance, but suffice to say right now that, given McCain's economic position and related perspective, I don't think he can relate to most Americans enough to make this country work as it could for most Americans.

Update: To give credit where credit is due, I just read this New York Times article that mentions, among other things, some of the charitable giving in which the McCains have been involved. While I still hold to the above points, I really have problems with the common approach in politics of overstating the case and leaving out complimentary points about one's opposition. The article seems to present a balanced picture of the overall scope of the McCains' wealth; here's an excerpt:

"[T]he Hensley family wealth, from its rough-and-tumble origins to prominence in Arizona’s corporate world, is also the fortune that propelled John McCain into national politics. A clearer picture of that fortune emerges from a review of public records and interviews with employees, business associates, friends and relatives.

Hensley & Company has grown from a tiny operation in the 1950s to the dominant beer wholesaler in Arizona and the third-largest Budweiser distributor in the country, with more than $300 million in annual sales. It plays a leading role in corporate Phoenix — Andy McCain, the senator’s stepson from his first marriage and a top executive of the beer company, is now president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce — and is a forceful presence in state politics on the issues that matter to it.

But by all accounts, Mrs. McCain is far from a forceful presence at the company, where she is chairwoman.

She crisscrosses the country on the company jet, keeps an accountant on the company payroll to mind her personal finances, drives a company Lexus with “MS BUD” plates and says she oversees the company’s “strategic planning and corporate vision.” Yet she almost never shows up in the office, is deemed an absentee owner [which is a technical not derogatory term] by Anheuser-Busch and has left scarcely a mark on the company, present and former executives say.

Mrs. McCain has spent far more time as a volunteer on behalf of needy children. She is a board member of CARE and Operation Smile, which provides cleft-palate surgery for impoverished children; when she visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh 17 years ago, she brought a baby girl back for the surgery and then adopted her...While all of the family's real estate is held by Mrs. McCain, the John and Cindy McCain Family Foundation is funded by Mr. McCain. From 2001 to 2006, its donations averaged about $260,000 a year. In addition to big donations to children's causes, mine clearing and Parkinson's research, the United States Naval Academy received $420,000 to run an ethics conference in the senator's name; the Brophy school has received more than $250,000; Christ Lutheran, which Bridget and Jim attended, more than $100,000."

Update 2: In September, McCain continued to say that the "fundamentals of our economy our strong," despite the enormous collapses of banks, mortgage lenders and others. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC provided a good overview on all of it, bringing in the perspective of the Obama camp as well:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden Ain't Bad

Obama's now-VP running mate, Senator Joe Biden, is a cool cat--here's a couple short videos on him, which I'll add to as I run across others (you can also watch Biden and Obama live at their first rally together this afternoon at 3pm EST; Obama's site will have a live video feed of it). But I love how frank Biden is, as especially comes across in the two brief videos below. The first is in response to Bush's claims that Democrats (and by implication, Obama) would be appeasing various enemies by meeting with them (Bush actually even compared it to the idea of meeting with Hitler). The second one is from the floor of the U.S. Senate in March 2007, and has Biden speaking with biting honesty about the negligent way the Iraq war has been handled; the video actually starts with Senator McCain finishing speaking, and you'll hear Biden later address him (when he refers to the Senator from Arizona). Here's a key couple lines of Biden's from the second video:

"Our troops don't lose wars, bad policy, bad leadership leaves wars. They [the GOP] should have the courage to stand up and tell the Administration they have had a god-awful policy, they have put our troops in a position that in fact has made it virtually impossible for them to succeed at the outset. They deserve a policy, they deserve a plan--there is no plan! We went to war with too few troops, we went to war unnecessarily, we went to war with these men and women ill-equipped, they're coming home ill-served. It's about time we have the courage to stand up, and say to the President, 'Mr. President, you have not only put us in harm's way, you have harmed us. You have no policy Mr. President.' I'm so tired of hearing on this floor about courage--have the courage to tell the Administration, 'Stop this ridiculous policy you have.' "

Here's the two videos:

Update: Here's the video of Obama's first official introduction of Biden today, followed by Biden's own speech; both together give a pretty helpful picture of who Biden is:

Update 2: Here's Biden's kickin' speech from the Democratic National Convention.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

From the Horse's Mouth: Sit-down Candidate Discussions on Beliefs

Both candidates participated in a "faith forum" yesterday where they were asked about all of the hot button issues, from abortion, to same sex marriage, but also interesting questions of character and ethics (each was interviewed separately though, so it wasn't debate style). I especially like the parts of the interviews where you get looks at easily-missed qualities such as how one makes a decision, etc. The videos may end up on the website of the church that hosted it here, but I wanted to check them out and came up with the YouTube videos below (so if some don't end up working because they're yanked off of YouTube for copyright issues, you might try the above link; also, the first three videos for McCain unfortunately were only a still frame picture in the video screen with audio over top, but you can of course still hear what's being said--update: I just came across this website that has full videos of McCain too, but the categories below may still be helpful, although they don't quite match up for McCain now).

As a quick note before pasting the videos, I wanted to mention that the concept of the candidates participating in a "faith forum"--in the way that they did particularly, at an evangelical megachurch--is not immediately appealing to me for a number of reasons (primarily the basic concept that both could be doing so to pander with a capital "P"); however, having admittedly considered myself an "evangelical" in the past (though I do not any longer), I embrace the concept of any political discussion that moves that population beyond the checkbox issues of abortion and same sex marriage (though both those issues were included in this forum, the questions went beyond that too, as I mentioned above). Both candidates seemed to be fairly candid, but judge for yourself and throw any comments below.
I purposefully didn't want to summarize what each said because, like I'm getting at with these posts I'm titling "From the Horse's Mouth," I think the issues being discussed in a race such as this--to lead a hugely complex country--can be nuanced enough (at times) that they merit one's full consideration.

So below I just broke it down into the five videos I found and listed the basic topics the candidates were asked about in each (the candidates were
supposed to be asked the same questions, but based on the below videos, there were some differences which I indicate).

Update: Each of the videos I posted below were apparently pulled from YouTube, but you can watch the different segments here:

PART 1 - TOPICS: Introduction and the candidates' personal sources of leadership; going against party loyalty (McCain)



PART 2 - TOPICS: The "greatest moral failure" of their life and that of America; going against party loyalty (Obama); the "most significant position" held ten years ago that they no longer hold today; the most "gut wrenching" decision they have had to make



PART 3 - TOPICS: Faith issues; abortion; same sex marriage; civil unions; stem cell research (McCain)



PART 4 - TOPICS: Stem cell research (Obama); the existence of evil; to what conflicts would we commit troops (McCain); religious freedom (McCain); Supreme Court Justice choices (Obama)



PART 5 (all Obama, as I couldn't locate any fifth video for McCain, but let me know if you find one) - TOPICS: Federal funding for faith-based initiatives; merit pay for teachers; discussion on taxes and economic fairness across income levels


Saturday, August 16, 2008

McCain Misleads on Obama (Again)

I'm a little late on the uptake here, but since I saw Obama's recent energy speech and heard McCain's paltry energy slams on Obama, I just wanted to throw up a quick post here (to add to the last article I posted on how McCain blatantly misled on Obama's visit to Germany).

Here's what McCain said about Obama on energy publically and in this press release:

"We need oil drilling and we need it now offshore. We need it now. [Barack Obama] has consistently opposed it. He has opposed nuclear power. He has opposed reprocessing. He has opposed storage. The only thing I've heard him say is that we should inflate our tires. So he has no plan for addressing the energy challenges that we face. And we need drilling everywhere that the states and the governors, such as in the state of Florida, approve of." (emphasis added)

Now I put this quite in here to sack McCain for his fake argument on Obama's energy plan, but should quickly note with the oil drilling argument, it's pretty thin ice 'ol McCain has been stacking his energy plan on, claiming that it would provide some kind of relief for gas prices: “As a matter of fairness to the American people, and a matter of duty for our government, we must deal with the here and now and assure affordable fuel for America by increasing domestic production.” Well, that argument falls through, as has been noted by many recently; brings up the obvious rebuttal many have been pointing out: "Even if offshore drilling areas opened up tomorrow, experts say it would take at least 10 years to realize any significant production" (they also do a great job of chopping up the argument in more depth here, where they rate McCain's claims on the utility of drilling as "false"). Miles, a buddy of mine who writes a great blog on energy issues, did write a recent piece on the Democrats' openness to drilling as part of a compromise plan (which I believe Obama has come out in support of); the plan seems fair in my view, as compromise does by definition mean giving ground at times and departing from what's perfect for what may be good. (By the way, Obama also isn't opposed to nuclear power, as McCain claims above; rather, while he doesn't seem to be singing its praises as the best option, he does point out in this overview of his plan that "it is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option.")

But, in terms of McCain's other lame points (above), about Obama not having an energy plan, I mean, even though he relies on his wife to do anything computer-related, he might have had his wife or some staffer check Obama's website before he made this comment; turns out, what do you know, there is a plan on Obama's website. Of course McCain knew he was being misleading, but apparently he just didn't care (going so far as to send out tire gauges that said "Obama's Energy Plan" on them). It's pretty lame to see such blatant misrepresentation though, and doesn't do much for my view of McCain's integrity. It also doesn't help his case when he turns around and admits that Obama was right on the basic point that people can save fuel by keeping their tires pumped up (something I've got to check on my own car now that I'm thinking about it):

Here's Obama responding to McCain's turnaround, and below is Obama's boo-yow energy address from a few weeks ago--it's encouraging if you ask me (and hey, may even qualify as a "plan"):