31 October 2008

Things I Have Learned This Election Season

I feel like I've gotten a PhD in political doublespeak this year.

When John McCain's campaign was BEHIND almost ten points in the polls, what did he announce? "We've got them right where we want them".

At this point in the race, with four days left, I wouldn't be surprised at anything. Some of the other things I've learned this year:

  • Huffington Post has headlines that are more misleading than the ones on the Drudge Report.

  • John McCain wears $400 Ferragamo shoes - but HE can afford them.

  • Sarah Palin has upgraded to a Neiman-Marcus wardrobe - but she has to give the clothes back at midnight on November 4th.

  • Barack Obama owned a Chrysler 300 before he ran for president - now he has a Ford Escape hybrid - I don't know HOW he and Michelle fold those long-ass legs in THAT tiny pretend SUV.

  • A "capitalist" is someone who takes money from the government when his business goes bad.

  • A "supporter of free markets" is someone who takes government campaign funds instead of raising money from private citizens.

  • A "socialist" is someone who pays for their own health insurance so their employer can pay out dividends to its stockholders.

  • A "supporter of socialism" is someone who raises campaign funds from private citizens and manages to stay with their budget.

  • Alaska is an "energy rich" state.

  • Lump sum taxpayer financed bailouts are "rescue packages".

  • Individual tax rebates to tax payers are 'welfare".

  • "Mavericks" are allowed to stab each other in the back and still say they are on the same page.

  • Cable news anchormen you see on your TV screen are smaller than they appear.

  • One half-digested fact from the campaign trail can hold the interest of the entire cable and network news universe for 24 hours.

  • The amount of a candidate's zeal for explaining his tax plan is inversely proportional to the likelihood that it will be implemented if the same candidate gets elected president.

  • Casting your vote early only heightens your anxiety until Election Night.

  • Black people can suspend "C. P. time" when they feel like it.

30 October 2008

GOP "Hack-A-Shaq" Can't Stop Obama

My buddy called me yesterday to catch up on the latest political developments in the presidential election. “Man, I don’t know,” he said, “do you think Obama is going to be able to pull this off?”

I was on the web at the moment, half listening, half reading the teasers on my blogroll, when I heard the question. My head jerked. “Dude, what are you talking about? Obama is in the lead. Obama is spanking that ass. Obama is –“

“Alright, alright, I got it. So you think he’s going to win, eh?”

“Dude, his plan is working.”

There was dead air for a few seconds, then he said, “so how many electoral votes you think he’s going to get?”

“Three fifty” leaped out of my mouth – but wasn’t that the number I kept seeing everyday at FiveThirtyEight.com? Wasn’t that a conservative estimate, given what I figured would probably happen once people supporting McCain realized he wasn’t going to win.

“Are you sure?” Finally, my buddy had something to be skeptical about. “That’s mighty optimistic, don’t you think? Three hundred and fifty electoral votes?”

“I really think he’ll be bumping up against four hundred.”

“Four hundred! Four hundred electoral votes? Come on!”

“Dude, do you understand what’s happening here?”

“But what about Florida? What about Ohio? Or Indiana?”

“Don’t matter. There are other ways to get to two seventy, buddy. These guys are showing you a new way to play this ballgame.”

We went back and forth for a few minutes, until his faith in the almighty Republican vote stealing prowess started to get on my nerves. “Dude, you’re looking at this wrong. I mean, I know where you’re coming from. And in a close race, where it all came down to these same old states, you would have a point.

But Obama has changed the game. He basically has done what some middle school kids did on the basketball court when I was growing up. These kids weren’t tall, but they were quick, and more importantly, they could shoot from what we now call three point range with ease.

So they didn’t have to go in the paint to score points.

Ohio and Florida are "in the paint" states - states conventional wisdom dictates that you MUST win to get to the White House. But the Obama campaign's sharpshooters won’t let the GOP candidate just hang out there like they are Shaquille O'Neal.

So the McCain campaign has had to leave "the paint" of Ohio and Florida, because they have to go to man-to-man against Obama's people in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri, and even ARIZONA, of all places, to even have half a chance of getting McCain into the White House.

You've watched basketball games with runaway scores before. What does the team that's down by a few points do near the end? They start committing intentional fouls. They hack the big men, they hack the ball carriers - they would hack the referees if they thought they could get away with it.

The only way something like this works in politics, like in basketball, is if the score is close. In the case of politics, if the media is providing the ready made “horserace” narrative and voter turnout is low, the Republicans can go to their "hack-a-Shaq" offense, one that usually allows them to manipulate enough votes within the system to make a difference.

But this time, there will be no need for the GOP to manufacture the right kind of votes by the thousands. No need to lose the wrong kind of votes by the thousands. No need to risk the careers and the personal freedom of their operatives on any voter intimidation tactics, or phone bank jamming, or software tampering that are the hallmarks of Florida and Ohio elections. Because when the buzzer goes off next Tuesday night, Florida and Ohio will turn out to be icing on the cake for a job well done by the Obama campaign.

29 October 2008

Getting The Early Vote Lead: Vote TODAY!

One of my younger cousins sent me an email a couple of weeks ago, asking me to write a piece about the safety of early voting. I was a little surprised, because she is a lawyer, with a lawyer for a husband – definitely not your low information voters. But her email was really striking for another reason – in it, she said "a lot of people are waiting until the day of the election because of fear. These are very political-minded people who are still scarred by the 2004 election."

Which means that some of the most highly educated African Americans under thirty don't have a lot of confidence in our electoral system.

I didn’t really have an answer for her at the time, because I had no idea myself what really happened to the votes that are cast before November 4th. And we are in Georgia, the heart of the South, which has given even people this young many, many reasons to think some kind of trickery might go on after they push the button on a voting machine, so I can feel where these voters are coming from.

What does happen to your vote once you cast it?

Most of the literature I surveyed about states who used electronic voting machines have fairly similar procedures. Here in Georgia, according to the Secretary of State's website, these are the mechanics of their ballot security procedure:

After you cast your ballot, your votes are immediately stored in the voting unit in two separate places. One location is part of the unit itself. The second location is a memory card that is locked into the voting unit during the election. At the close of the election, the memory card is removed and used to count the votes. The two internal sources plus the memory card comprise a two-part audit trail, ensuring that every vote is recorded and counted the way the voter cast them.

A back-up power supply ensures that once the system has been activated for an election, the contents of the audit record will be preserved during any power interruption to the system until processing and data reporting have been completed. If there is a power failure, your vote remains intact.

Does that mean these things are totally safe? No. And as average, ordinary citizens, some things, like whether or not the ballots are secured by sheriff's deputies or private security firms, or whether or not there are paper trails to audit voting machine performance, are not things we can do anything about as individuals at this late date.

But these fears are far outweighed by the psychological momentum early voting tends to give to the party who can "turn out" the most voters the fastest. When the margin of Democratic voters who vote early outweigh the Republican early voters, the numerical totals that are reported nightly can act as a incentive for other Democrats to "join the crowd", while having the opposite effect on the Republican voters, who might be less inclined to vote at all if they feel it is a lost cause.

So we need to vote early. We need to vote and remain vigilant about this end of the process, the one we can have an impact on, by doing things like reporting malfunctioning voting machines, and triple checking our ballots before we push the "FINISH" button.

So cuz, if you're reading this, you need to encourage those friends of yours to get to the polls Thursday and Friday. You need to go yourself. Because the old folks were right - the early bird DOES get the worm, and the early votes WILL help elect Barack Obama as your next president.

28 October 2008

Replacing The Hate I Feel With Hope

There are certain words that are almost guaranteed to be included on the front page of any major metropolitan newspaper. Rape, murder, death, killings, merger, law, charge, arrest, body, suspect, gunshot, busted, trial, case, drugs, assault, order, owe, guilt, allegation, alleged, cost, budget, weapon, factor, fatal, record, statement, meeting, won, lost, launch, success, failure.

"Assassinate" will get you a spot above the fold, with your very own headline, every single time.

According to the New York Times, "two young men who are believers in “white power” have been arrested and charged in Tennessee in what federal officials described as a plan to assassinate Senator Barack Obama and kill black children at a school."

It is amazing how energetically someone like Daniel Cowart, the young man in the picture above, will cling to a tradition of hatred that is so barren, so desolate - until you remember that there are people who grew up in the desert who think cacti are beautiful.

The article also stated, "federal officials said that both of the men who were arrested — Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Arkansas, and Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tennessee. — told interrogators that they had talked of assassinating Mr. Obama."

To assimilate into America's mainstream, when the rest of the life you know and have known is a relic of days gone by means to many that they must disavow their own self-image; in more cases than you can imagine, this is an impossible emotional hurdle for them to overcome.

We live in a world where we want measurable, quantifiable, scalable action plans that will tell us, if we devote a certain amount of hours, and a certain amount of money, that the kind of racially oriented problems people like Daniel Cowart and his accomplice, Paul Schlesselman, represent will disappear.

I wish it were that easy - actually, I pray that some one comes up with the formula to turn the lives of people like this around.

Because it is going to be hard to replace the hate I'm feeling right now with hope.

Hope that when the fever over this election dies down, people like this will finally begin to see how brown skin can be just brown skin, even when it belongs to the president of the United States. Hope that those who harbor racial animosity, who may be only a few degrees to the left of these skinheads, will finally see more of our similarities than our differences. Hope that those who are racially ambivalent will generously accept the added emphasis that will be placed on racial diversity.

But I've got to do it, otherwise, I'll be held hostage by these two even while they sit locked in their jail cells. My hatred of them would be the same as their hatred of me. I will not let them intrude into my life long enough to truly, deeply loathe them the way I know it should be done - I cannot afford to waste the time it takes to be thoroughly disgusted, nor the energy it would require to completely revile their very existence.

Because if I don't replace this anger in me with some kind of hope that this time is one step closer to the last time this happens in America, I am almost certain to make the paper's front page myself - "Murder Suspect Arrested In Fatal Killings"

27 October 2008

Obama Controversy # 137

When I click around the internet, checking the latest the latest political tidbits, I know I can count on two things – a condescending potshot at Sarah Palin on Huffington Post and a blaring anti-Obama headline at The Drudge Report. The latest treat from Matt Drudge is this Monday morning mouthful:


I guess the next big revelation will be “Obama Point Shaving Scandal During High School Chess Tournament”.

You will be hearing excerpts from this four minute youtube video for the next few days. Phrases that look to become Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh favorites will likely include the text in the video that is being shown while the audio portion plays, things like "Obama wants to redistribute your wealth to African Americans".

Now for some facts.

Barack Obama made appearances as a guest on Odyssey, a talk show produced by Chicago Public Radio. Obama, then a State Senator and Senior Lecturer at the Law School, was on the program 3 times between 1998 and 2002. According to Josh Andrews, who produced the shows, "when he joined us, he was more than willing to set aside his political persona and put on his academic hat.

Obama participated in discussions on the evolution of the right to vote, the politics of electoral redistricting, and the uneasy relationship between slavery and the constitution in early America." The excerpts in the youtube video were taken from this hour long audio recording made January 18, 2001 from a program entitled "The Court and Civil Rights" hosted by Gretchen Helfrich.

What did Obama really say on the air? See for yourself:

OBAMA: "You know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples, so that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order - as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay. But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And to that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.

And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that."

HOST: "Let’s talk with Karen – good morning, Karen, you're on Chicago Public Radio."

CALLER: "The gentleman made the point that the Warren Court wasn’t terribly radical – my question is – with economic changes – my question is, is it too late for that kind of reparative work economically and is that the appropriate place for reparative economic work to take place?"

HOST: "You mean the court?"

CALLER: "The court, or would it be legislation at this point?"

OBAMA: "You know, maybe I’m showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor. But I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.

You know, you just look at very rare examples where, in during the desegregation era the court was willing to, for example, order, you know, changes that cost money to a local school district – and, the court was very uncomfortable with it, it was very hard to manage, it was hard to figure out, you start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues, you know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time."

OBAMA: "You know, the court’s just not very good at it, and politically, it’s just its very hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So I mean I think that, although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, you know, I think any three of us sitting here could, could come up with a rationale for bringing economic change through the courts."

What seemed to be the more interesting excerpt, at least to me, in this program was a comment by Obama about the seemingly contradictory relationship between liberal political ideology and the traditional African American approach to religion and politics.

HOST: "Let’s talk with Joe (I guess this must be "Joe the Liberal") – good morning, Joe, you're on Chicago Public Radio."

CALLER: "Good morning. What I'd like to know is, considering that the civil rights movement was fought very much on moral grounds as much as legal grounds, and therefore religious grounds - I mean, Martin Luther King was a reverend, after all - what impact is that having now on the Supreme Court, and perhaps, with Ashcroft being nominated, in the future."

OBAMA: "Well, you know, I think its an interesting question, you may be pointing out, sir, what has been a longstanding contradiction, not just in the Warren Court or liberal lawyers, but, sir, the liberal community generally, and that is the contradiction between on the one hand basing many of its claims for justice on moral and ethical grounds, and at the same time being suspicious of church encroachment into the political sphere.

That's been less of a contradiction traditionally in the African American community, and for whatever reason psychologically, the country has always been more comfortable with the African American community's marriage of spiritual and, and political institutions.

But I think that is a genuine contradiction that exists, you know, I think in the ideological makeup of the left in this country that hasn't been entirely resolved."

My father has always maintained that integration was doomed to have limited success because "they didn't integrate the money". Neither he nor Obama were calling for any kind of reparations. They were simply acknowledging out loud what a lot of black Americans knew all along - that without adequate access to capital for investment, our community was guaranteed to struggle along. Its not like we were asking for 700 billion dollars - just some real access to capital to go along with all that freedom we had.

But even more ironic than that is the frenzied hate over this latest "finding" that will be harbored by people who have nothing to redistribute but negligible equity in their homes credit card debt and virtually empty 401(k) accounts. This has to be the greatest Jedi Mind Trick of all time - rich elites have the broke "Joe SixPacks" who comprise their base of supporters championing their cause.

For people who love to call the Democrats socialists, it is the most collective ownership ideology out there. "If you tack a picture of my big house and nice cars on the wall of the house you can barely pay for, you can call yourself a capitalist. Just don't be late to work, cause I need you to make me some more money, Joe."

Racial equality without economic equality is like having a car with no gas - at that point, it just becomes something to look at and polish once in awhile so you can remember what it used to look like when back when you first got it. The even funnier thing about all of this is, "Joe the Plumber" has more in common with "Jamal the Plumber" than he realizes. But you can't tell Joe that.

All I know is, if I run into some Joe SixPack or Joe the Plumber who starts sputtering about how Obama is going to "redistribute" wealth he probably will never have to "African Americans", I am liable to tell him the same thing Cuba Gooding said to Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire when he told Cruise his future depended on Cuba staying with him - "all he's got to do is 'show me the money, baby!'"

26 October 2008

Focusing on the Fear of an Obama Presidency

Some evangelical Republican, an anonymous writer calling himself "Christian 2012", obviously had a lot of time on his hands earlier this week. Instead of getting out in the streets to knock on doors or hitting the campaign office to do some phone banking for John McCain and Sarah Palin, they sat down and put their creative energies to work to come up with a fifteen page missive titled "Letter From 2012 in Obama’s America".

But the group who is circulating the letter, Focus on the Family Action, is not anonymous. Its leader, Dr. James Dobson, is one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the country, and was purported to be instrumental in the behind-the-scenes decision making that lead to the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. You might imagine, then, that Dobson's political influence and huge email list makes this more than your ordinary chain letter.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, you’re pretty familiar with the format the writer chose, where they take you forward in time and describe the changes that have taken place between now and then. If you decide to click on the link above and read the whole thing, you will quickly figure out that the writer is no optimist.

The letter itself is preceded by an introduction which rambles all over the place in an effort to state that the letter is not a “prediction”, but "a ‘what if?’ exercise", using the past performance of Barack Obama , liberal judges, and the liberal leadership of congressional Democrats as a basis for the doomsday scenarios the writer presented.

The next fifteen pages (can you believe that? I can rant with the best of them, but FIFTEEN PAGES?) read like something out of a political Mad Max and the Thunderdome:

Many of our freedoms have been taken away by a liberal Supreme Court and a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, and hardly any brave citizen dares to resist the new government policies any more.

He predicts a 6 to 3 Supreme Court, with a liberal majority that decimates laws on marriage, religious speech in the public square, abortion, pornography and gun ownership, using extreme examples and the slipperiest of slippery slope arguments to illustrate what could happen in each instance. For example, this segment:

Homosexual weddings:

“The land of the free”? Church buildings are now considered a “public accommodation” by the Supreme Court, and churches have no freedom to refuse to allow their buildings to be used for wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples. If they refuse, they lose their tax-exempt status, and they are increasingly becoming subject to fines and antidiscrimination lawsuits.

was one of many that leaned on homosexuality, while this segment:

Freedom of Choice Act:

Congress lost no time in solidifying abortion rights under President Obama. In fact, Obama had promised, “The first thing I’ll do as president is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” (July 17, 2007, speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund).

This federal law immediately nullified hundreds of state laws that had created even the slightest barrier to abortion.22 States can no longer require parental involvement for minors who wish to have an abortion, waiting period, informed consent rules, restrictions on tax-payer funding or restrictions on late-term abortions. The act reversed the Hyde Amendment, so the government now funds Medicaid abortions for any reason. As a result, the number of abortions has increased dramatically. The Freedom of Choice Act also reversed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, so infants can be killed outright just seconds before they would be born. States whose laws were overturned challenged the law in court but it was upheld by the Obama Supreme Court. “The land of the free”? There is no freedom for these infants who are killed by the millions.

pulled no punches, throwing out the image of dead babies as an instant heart tugger.

I’ll have to give it to my man, he didn’t miss a beat, ticking off everything on the list, from religious freedom to home schooling to gun ownership to healthcare. He had a special emphasis on the future of terror:


“The home of the brave”? President Obama fulfilled his campaign promise and began regular withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, completing it in the promised 16 months, by April 2010.31 All was peaceful during those months, but then in May 2010, Al-Qaida operatives from Syria and Iran poured into Iraq and completely overwhelmed the Iraqi security forces. A Taliban-like oppression has taken over in Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of “American sympathizers” have been labeled as traitors, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. The number put to death may soon reach the millions. Al-Qaida leaders have been emboldened by what they are calling the American “defeat”and their ranks are swelling in dozens of countries.

His mention of talk radio and the prosecution of the Bush administration officials was predictable, but it was this diatribe about the future of Christian literature that had my jaw dropping:

Christian books:

After the Supreme Court legalized same “sex marriage,” homosexual-activist groups targeted three large Christian book publishers that had publications arguing that homosexual conduct was wrong based on the teachings of the Bible. The activists staged marches and protests at Barnes & Noble stores around the country, demanding the stores remove all books published by these “hate-mongering” publishers. Barnes & Noble resisted for a time, but the protests continued, there was vandalism and secret defacing of books, and eventually the cost was too great and Barnes & Noble gave in. The same thing happened at Borders and other chains. Then they staged a massive nationwide computer attack on Amazon.com, with the same demands, and the same result. As a result, those evangelical publishers could no longer distribute any of their books through any of these bookstore chains. Any Christian publisher that dares to print works critical of homosexual behavior faces the same fate. As a result, several Christian publishers have gone out of business.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, homosexuality seems to be at the bottom of just about every problem these Christians followers face. Near the end, the writer revisits his opening theme with a leap in logic that defies the laws of…well, of logic.

Many brave Christian men and women tried to resist these laws, and some Christian legal agencies tried to defend them, but they couldn’t resist the power of a 6-3 liberal majority on the Supreme Court. It seems many of the bravest ones went to jail or were driven to bankruptcy. And many of their reputations have been destroyed by a relentless press and the endless repetition of false accusations.

Forty eight months is obviously longer than I thought. You can barely pay your car off in four years these days. Half the people who go to a four year college take at least five years to graduate. Although, if you need psychiatric help, like this guy does, four years might be long enough for an intensive treatment regimen to begin to help him regain his mental equilibrium.

Is this guy serious?

Who does this pseudo Christian think he is? Does he realize that his religion is not built on the idea of fear, but the very same “hope” that Barack Obama espouses? Are we seeing the beginnings of a “Christian Jihad” in the making?

I might have to start my own organization – “Focus on Fake Christians” – to help Mr. Anonymous “Christian From 2012” understand that the purpose of religion is individual salvation, not political organization.

24 October 2008

Will Democrats Nationalize Your 401(k)?

Just when you thought this presidential election was almost over...

...just when you figured the worst thing over the next two weeks would be the juvenile name calling that was bound to erupt from McCain/Palin supporters, instead of bringing your mama into it, they brought your 401(k) into it.

If there’s anything that will get my attention, my mother and my money are at the top of the list. The latest gossip going around - a rumor that will no doubt be bandied about the talk radio circuit like it’s the secret antidote for the McCain campaign - is the suggestion that Democrats want to nationalize the country’s existing 401(k) plans.

The way it's being presented on websites will look something like this:

    Powerful House Democrats are eyeing proposals to overhaul the nation’s $3 trillion 401(k) system, including the elimination of most of the $80 billion in annual tax breaks that 401(k) investors receive.

    House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-California, and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, are looking at redirecting those tax breaks to a new system of guaranteed retirement accounts to which all workers would be obliged to contribute.

Being the natural born skeptic that I am, I noticed immediately that this hearing was held TWO weeks ago.

On the eve of an election, this seems to play right into the fears of voters who are on the fence about supporting Barack Obama and Joe Biden for president. Combine this news with the drumbeat of “he’s a socialist”, and it has the potential to breathe life back into all of the innuendo about Obama’s "radical" associations just when they seemed to be fading away.

The bad thing about an excerpt from an article like this one that gets spread all around the web is the verbiage is always the same, which leads me to believe that there is very little research or fact checking going on. This year of political soundbites should have shown you by now that the testimony of professor Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School for Social Research was one of several of proposals put before the committee at that one hearing alone, but its dramatic nature made it the one you get to hear about.

What are the facts? No legislative proposals have been introduced on this issue. Congress is out of session until next year. Of the five people who testified before the committee on October 7th, only Professor Ghilarducci proposed a detailed solution instead of general policy advice. And even if the Democrats gain a majority in the Senate and the House, you just saw with the Fed Bailout proposal how hard it is to get anything through Congress without close scrutiny.

The bottom line is, Barack Obama is not a big bad socialist Democrat who is going to huff and puff and blow your 401(k) down.

I wouldn’t worry about the alarmist rhetoric surrounding this issue – with the stock market already down several hundred points today, bringing up this issue takes voters right back to how bad the economy is doing these days. But if I were you, I would be concerned about my money.

If you have the means, and are concerned about protecting your assets, find a reputable fee-based financial planner if you don’t already have one – it will be the best $300 you spend this year. If you’re just starting out, pick up a copy of Money magazine when you are at the grocery store. For $3 a month, it has the most practical financial information available, including things you can do today.

Since they only brought my money into it, I’ll stop right there. Now, if they start talking about my mother...

23 October 2008

GOP "Legion of Doom" Shrink Black Vote

The polls are open now for early voting in many states. Black people are voting in droves - campaign volunteers who stripped off their "Obama ‘08" t-shirts in the parking lot, policy wonks reading emails and surfing the web on their Blackberries, along with a whole lot of us who only turn on the news at 6:59 pm to see what the day’s winning lottery numbers are.

And yet, you already know which voting precincts are going to make the evening news in your town on Election Night. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that will still have long lines of angry black people waiting to vote - while the TV reporter describes the scene behind him in the same detached monotone he uses to report on a car wreck.

This is what minority voter suppression looks like.

You saw it during the primaries in Gary, Indiana, and Houston, Texas and Cincinnati, Ohio, and you will see it again in over the next two weeks Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. Count on it.

According to the Associated Press, "there are 9 million newly registered voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic." And the Obama campaign has millions of campaign volunteers who are knocking on doors, making phone calls and coordinating rides to the polls across the country, an operation whose sheer size dwarfs anything the McCain campaign or the Republican National Party has organized to get out the vote.

But when you have the Legion of Doom with their super powers to call on, like the Republicans do, you can level the playing field a bit. I can just about reel off the names of the Secretary of State in places like Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida from memory, because there isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t see one of them on the news, talking about "voter integrity".

The thing is, only 24 people IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY were convicted of illegal voting in federal elections between 2002 and 2005, according to ProgressiveStates.org.

Back in the sixties, it was pretty easy to figure out, with all those dogs barking and the water hoses from those fire hydrants going full blast, that if you had brown skin, you weren’t going to be greeted at the voting booth with open arms. It was the beginning of the real "Southern Strategy", when Harlington Wood, the GOP Deputy Director of Ballot Security, authored a "Ballot Security" handbook in 1964 to guide their field troops in an effort called "Operation Eagle Eye". The Wood manual originated the tactics we have come to associate with Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.

Voter intimidation, voter misinformation, voter credential challenges, and poll watchers taking pictures of voters – it's all there, a fully formed strategy that the GOP nurtured and spun off into the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) and various "voter security" organizations. Add voter caging, voter ID, lack of polling site resources and polling site placement, and you are looking at the Republican Party’s last chance to upset Barack Obama's quest to win the White House.

So check your registration online. Show people you know how to check theirs, or do it for them if they don’t have access to the internet. Make sure you have your photo ID when you go to the polls. Leave your Obama t-shirt at home. And if you see any poll watchers out there, taking pictures...

...give them a big "Yes We Can" smile for their cameras.

22 October 2008

What "The Bradley Effect" Really Looks Like In West Virginia

[Sometimes I run across original research, original analysis, or hard-to-get information that is exactly the kind of stuff I live for - well thought out, well written, well researched commentary, the kind that your media experts get by the pound but think is too much for you to understand.

This author doesn't really need to keep his avocation under the radar for professional reasons, but tells me that everybody knows him as Carnacki. His website is called West Virgina Blue. The post below has been slightly edited for Brown Man Thinking Hard, but it can be found in its entirety at his website. Carnacki has given me permission to publish his comments and photos here.

All I've been hearing about, and will probably continue to hear about until after the election, is the famous Bradley Effect, where political pollsters predicted former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley had won the race for governor of California back in 1982 based on their research and exit poll data.

They were wrong.

Many of the pollsters concluded that Bradley's polling data was skewed by his race, hypothesizing that voter reluctance to appear to be racially biased prevented a significant sample from answering poll questions honestly once they had cast their ballots.

This idea has been kicked around by political pundits all year, leading many of them to reserve a healthy amount of skepticism about the accuracy of the primary and presidential election polls since Barack Obama, an African American, was running for president.

The bad thing about TV and cable news shows is a pronounced tendency to use the same image over and over, day in and day out, in order to anchor the stories they are developing in their viewers minds. With the limited amount of airtime they have, that means there are a WHOLE LOT of things you don't get to see that are going on in the rest of the country.

What you are about to see are the faces behind the statistics that are showing Barack Obama only six points behind John McCain in the state of West Virginia, a state that has not gone for the Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.


Brown Man

Tour for Change in West Virginia by Carnacki

You don't think Appalachian Americans are ready to vote for a black candidate? I beg to differ.

The following diary is photo intensive. The West Virginia Democrats and union leaders took two buses and several vans from Charleston, West Virginia throughout southern West Virginia on a Tour for Change. I drove 6 hours from the Eastern Panhandle on Friday night to join them at 8 a.m. Saturday.

8 a.m. Charleston, opening press conference

Among those there were Governor Joe Manchin, Auditor Glen Gainer, Treasurer John Perdue, Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Sec. of State Nominee Natalie Tennant, Supreme Court Nominee Menis Ketchum, UMWA President Cecil Roberts, WV AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue, State Party Chairman Nick Casey.

Ben Smith from Politico hopped on the bus to cover the tour. He spoke to a lot of people, including Tom Vogel at length who explained the national pundits took the primary results here to be anti-Barack Obama when it really was pro-Hillary Clinton. Since then the state has run a coordinated Campaign for Change to encourage people to vote a straight Democratic ticket, from Barack Obama on down.

10:15 a.m., Boone County Democratic Rally, Danville

It was a crisp autumn day. Mark, one of our Democrats from Danville, said he played football on the field when they were blasting through the rock not far away to build a cut through the hill for the road. It shook the field as they practiced. This was long ago, but out of kindness to him I won't say how long.

At each stop Kenny Perdue handled the introductions and the opening and passed it off to Glen Gainer, who really fired it up for Obama. In West Virginia, even the state auditor and the state treasurer do stemwinder speeches. (Joe Manchin headed from Charleston to Bridge Day to speak to the tens of thousands there.), passing the microphone through the ranks.

Natalie Tennant, the first and so far only woman selected to be the West Virginia University Mountaineer mascot, fired her musket at the close of her speeches when we were outdoors. Talk about "Fired Up" and "Ready To Go". You'd think the musket shot would have been rousing, but it was Cecil Roberts brought really brought it home.

He talked about how awful the policies of George Bush have been on working people and how Dick Cheney mocked West Virginians as inbreds at a black tie dinner for his millionaire and billionaire friends. Cheney has even joked that now he doesn't need the votes of West Virginians for re-election. "That's what Republicans think of you," Roberts said. West Virginians can't punish Dick Cheney, but they can punish John McCain and the other Republicans.

12 p.m. Logan Democratic Rally, Logan Mall

The Logan Mall - a shopping center - is the flattest area of the community because it's a reclaimed stripmine where they've built retail and restaurants.

Logan surprised our volunteers. The longer the people spoke, the more people showed up. And several of our volunteers passed out Obama Biden bumperstickers on the main thoroughfare to cars that would stop and roll down their windows. So then they began passing them lawn signs too. It seemed like more cars took them than didn't.

1:30 p.m., Williamson Democratic Rally, Williamson Fire Hall

There were more than 100 people in the fire hall before we arrived. Ryan was there during the primary and these were strong Hillary Clinton supporters. They're coming home.

You heard of "Yellow Dog Democrats" - I called these "Broken Glass Democrats." They'd crawl across broken glass to vote for the Democrat. This county is very important because they generally vote a straight Democratic ticket.

As Nick Casey and I talked about later on the bus, the McCain campaign (and unfortunately some of our own people here) assumed these folks wouldn't vote for a black candidate. Many of us believe they will. We have faith they're better than that and they don't deserve being taken for granted by anyone, Democrat or Republican. These are good people. These are good Democrats.

3:45 p.m. Welch Democratic Rally, outside the Welch Library

We pulled into Welch and the people were fired up and ready to go before we even got there. Three young teenagers were banging on drums and had a good beat going. McDowell County is about 25 percent African American in a state that has an overall African American population of about 3.5 percent.

Throughout the trip big, burly men would come up and hug Cecil Roberts. They love him here. Unions for steelworkers, painters, and miners, teachers, government workers, service industry, were all represented. Cecil Roberts has to be one of the most popular figures in the labor movement today.

5:30 p.m. Princeton Democratic Rally, Mercer County Courthouse

People with preconceived notions about West Virginia have made a lot of presumptions, basing their opinions on the most negative Appalachian stereotypes and the way people here look. As Tom Vogel explained to Ben Smith, you can find people in any part of this nation making ignorant comments. I think the videos from northeast Ohio and elsewhere from the Sarah Palin rallies have demonstrated that quite clearly.

John McCain has taken my state for granted. He has one field director here. After stating they were sending Sarah Palin here, Palin went on a "Blow Off West Virginia Tour", hightailing it to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Joe Biden is coming here and soon Barack Obama will too. They want to win our state.

And so do these people.

21 October 2008

H.N.I.C. Rebukes G.O.P.

For years, Colin Powell has been the Republican Party's favorite black man, their beloved "Head Negro In Charge" who didn't threaten any of the Party's leading presidential contenders because he was not going to run for president. He was their light skinned Morgan Freeman - wise, solemn, with a dignity and a bearing that made him the conservative movement's bulwark against the Jessie Jackson's and the Al Sharpton's, an accomplished, polished, no nonsense kind of black guy whose dynamic personality appealed to the GOP's free enterprise capitalism ideologists.

You couldn't have ordered a black actor from central casting, if Morgan Freeman was busy, who could better play the role of the Republican Party H.N.I.C. than Colin Powell. Which is why Sunday's announcement of him coming out in support of Barack Obama was all the more heartbreaking for John McCain and his allies.

In an excerpt from a piece of short fiction I wrote a couple of years ago, titled The Black Folks Guide To Survival, I expounded on the Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice's images within the power structure, and how they were relevant to any young black professional who had his eyes on the executive suite:

    There are ex-Crackers out there, especially the ones you work with, who wonder why we all can’t be like Condoleeza Rice or Colin Powell – smart but not uppity, aggressive but not angry, ambitious but not power hungry.

    As unpopular as some of the decisions are that Rice and Powell have made in our community, they are still two black folks in blue suits using complex language on television to articulate their thoughts.

    DO NOT FALL FOR THE OKIE DOKE! Condi and Colin don’t want to get to the top spot in their organization. You do. If your goal is to be “The Man” in your organization, you are going to have to take the gloves off and duke it out sometimes.

As I watched Powell calmly and methodically lay out his reasons for supporting Barack Obama, his mannerisms seemed reminiscent of those of a high school principal who has gotten tired of his students who are perpetual troublemakers. His blunt assessment of his own party's failings was probably the most candid seven minutes of presidential election commentary that has been shown this year.

The talk radio court jesters didn't miss a beat, mercilessly pounding on the validity of Powell's actions since then, but what they don't seem to realize is they are not talking about O.J. Simpson.

      Colin Powell has stood in foxholes.

      Colin Powell has commanded battalions.

      Colin Powell has four stars to go along with the rank of general.

      Colin Powell has been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

      Colin Powell has served as the Secretary of State of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Beside Powell's thoughtful, measured comments, these radio shills sound like all the other pretend Republicans and fake conservatives who feel the need to cling to a rigid ideology instead of allowing their thinking to be guided by core principles. The "Straight Talk Express" can't haul much more of this hypocrisy - the wheels were already starting to fall off of the McCain campaign.

Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts are trying to turn the clock back to 1945, when black soldiers who fought to keep America free were supposed to get back in their "place" when their ships hit our shores. When the black man's opinion, whatever his station in life, only mattered when the rest of the country wanted it to matter.

The drumbeat on the airwaves, the kind of revealing dialogue being shown between these scared white men and their audiences about what THEY'RE feeling - by last night, when the evening news shows came on, I had become more than a little ticked off, partly at myself for lumping this rhetoric into the same old "this is the kind of shit black people have to put up with" and partly at the way the media pundits had taken out their toolkits to subtly reshape the boundaries of discussion, imperceptibly pointing their commentator colleagues into directions they were more familiar with.

If our faith-based friends would only exhibit a little more "faith" in the process, instead of worrying about what they see in front of them, I think they will be able to get through this.

Because Colin Powell and Barack Obama are going to be black for a long time.

19 October 2008

Doing The Colin Powell Bounce

In the last twelve hours, I've heard Chris Rock advise white people on when it is appropriate to use the word "nigger" in public, come across a very recent photo of Colin Powell doing the "Colin Powell Bounce" on stage in London, watched the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin replace her own alter-ego in a cameo appearance on a comedy show AND sing along to a rap song that makes fun of her own candidacy, all capped off by the announcement that Barack Obama's campaign raised $150 million dollars in September.


Then "The Last Boy Scout", Colin Powell, decides to finally announce his presidential election endorsement, after shaking up his image this week with an impromptu performance on stage with a hip-hop group.

Powell commented at the Africa Rising Festival on Tuesday in London, ""I stand before you tonight as an African-American. Many people have said to me you became secretary of state of the USA, is it still necessary to say that you are an African-American or that you are black, and I say, yes, so that we can remind our children.

"It took a lot of people struggling to bring me to this point in history. I didn't just drop out of the sky, people came from my continent in chains."

Colin Powell was back to his stone-faced self this morning, though, as he praised Barack Obama, criticized John McCain, and then looked into the Meet The Press camera and said "I'm voting for Barack Obama." His announcement got the cable news pundits atwitter, with some of them, especially the ones on CNN, reading so much into the phrases he used that you thought they were fortune tellers instead of journalists.

Watching Newt Gingrich on the George Stephanopoulos show, I had to force myself to remember that he had been a college professor before entering politics, because the stuff coming out of his mouth this morning was more ridiculous than usual as he recited a laundry list of "leftist" and "liberal" policies that were about to be unleashed by Obama and Congress on the American public.

To hear Gingrich say that Democrats wanted to "redistribute" the hard earned money of ordinary Americans almost made me fall out of my chair. We just gave the biggest wealth transfer in the history of the country to the smallest, most personally financially secure sliver of citizens EVER, a "redistribution" that will dwarf anything coming down the pike for years, and people who can add "2 + 2" are supposed to react to smug faced sound bite?

The thing all the Democratic pundits missed was an opportunity to hammer home Powell's endorsement. The reality of Powell's decision is that he threw his support behind the most conservative candidate in the race. If you can see beyond the rhetoric of the hot button issues, what you've got is what you always get when a black guy rises to a high level in America - someone who does their homework and is prone to act out of an abundance of caution.

I need to go practice my dance steps - looks like Powell might have a few moves on me.

18 October 2008

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web

In the course of keeping up with the news and doing research, I come across some great stuff you might not see in your hometown newspaper or on the nightly news.

Dense & Intense - This Week On The Web is a compilation of longer, more detail-oriented stories and humor pieces that caught my eye during the week.

COLIN POWELL "gettin' jiggy wit it"

In the few short months I’ve had this blog, I’ve come across some pretty interesting blogs that I have listed on my blogroll that runs down the right hand column of your screen. I really like the feature the Blogger platform provides that presents a snippet of each blog’s latest post – it gives me a running list of headlines, kind of like my own presidential election newspaper. So this edition of "Dense & Intense" is devoted to the bloggers I read.

If you haven’t visited any of the blogs on my blogroll before, click on a few links. The things that stood out for me this week are:

Moderate Left - "Dead Cat Bounce"

Booker Rising - "Quote Of The Day"

Cogitamus - "Barack Obama"

Donklephant - "Why A Powell Endorsement Matters"

Jack and Jill Politics - "Obama Raises More Than 100 Million In September"

Keep It Trill - "What About Jamal The Plumber?"

Oliver Willis - "Bush Led Kerry At This Point In 2004"

Political Irony - "Jesus Hussein Christ"

Writes Like She Talks - "Will The Real Anti-Americans Please Stand Up?"

Slacktivist - "Racism and Litigation"

The Field Negro - "KILL HIM! - The Sarah Hate Tour, Continues"

Wearing Obama Everyday - "Day 43: The Word On The Street"

FiveThirtyEight.com - "On The Road: Western Pennsylvannia"

The Black Snob - "21 Days and Counting"

This picture by Art Maggot can be found HERE.

17 October 2008

Cut That Zero, Get With This Hero

Is Barack "The Professor" Obama starting to get jiggy with it?

Could he possibly have Doug E. Fresh's Greatest Hits on his IPod?

In the picture above, Obama could be signaling a lot of things. But if you have a multi-track mind like I do, one that can go off in ten directions at the drop of an absentee ballot, you might get the idea he's trying to show us:

  • The number of percentage points McCain and Palin increased in the polls today.

  • The number of grandchildren Obama expects to have before his daughters finish college.

  • The amount Joe The Plumber's taxes will go up on the income he ACTUALLY earns.

  • The size of John McCain's eyeballs when Obama told his opponent how much money HIS campaign raised in September.

  • The sum total of all the game changing ideas the McCain campaign has left.

  • The total quantity of mooseburgers Obama will ever eat in his life.

  • The number of text messages Obama has sent Rev. Jeremiah Wright this year.

  • The amount of times Obama has considered "suspending" his campaign.

  • The size of Jessie Jackson's ego after he was recorded saying he wanted to "cut Obama's nuts off".

  • The number of times Obama wished he'd chosen Hillary Clinton as his running mate.

  • The total quantity of bombs Obama helped William Ayers build and detonate.

  • The number of terrorist cells Obama heads up.

  • The amount of times Obama has had sex with Larry Sinclair

  • The number of aides Obama needs to help him navigate the internet.

  • The amount of chittlins Obama intends to keep stocked in the White House kitchen.

Now I'm sure his gesture was in response to something more serious, like the amount he plans to raise taxes on the middle class, or the number of times he voted for the war in Iraq, but with all this repetition of these talking points about the ISSUES, my mind has become the devil's workshop.

November 5th can't get here soon enough.

16 October 2008

No Intellectual Peacocks In This Debate

Luckily, I dozed off during the closing statements of the debate, so I avoided what must have been a painful night for the political pundits who were waiting with baited breath to dissect this last presidential debate. Because there was really nothing John McCain could do, short of beating Barack Obama in the head with a baseball bat, that would change the course of this election.

Actually, the main thing that was running through my mind just before I went to sleep was a burning question - who the hell runs CNN? And what do they have all those god dammed dials and charts and lines on the screen for?

That stuff was beyond distracting – do they think the kind of people who watch debates are video game junkies? If I was one of those live bloggers who posted comments to the web about the debate every two or three minutes, I would have sent fifty nasty emails to the network last night.

The thing that the pundits probably spent a lot of time telling you about is what those seismograph looking lines meant as the debate went on, as if every reaction you have as a human being is directly related to a substantive input. I will watch Sunday Night Football even if Detroit is playing the next worst team in the league because my old buddies John Madden and Al Micheals are calling the game.

Why? Because its the sound of their voices that I want to hear, a pleasing and familiar combination that lulls me to sleep on the very same couch I fell asleep on last night.

When I woke up, the actual debate was being played again. As I lay on the couch, gathering myself so I could sleep in an actual bed, I thought about the voices of Barack Obama and John McCain that were piercing my semi-consciousness, and something my best buddy had said after the last debate.

"Bill Clinton is probably the best debater ever-"

"Bill Clinton," I said to him that day, "has been arguing his whole life. It was a survival mechanism."

While I listened to the voices of Obama and McCain with my eyes shut, repeating words and phrases I'd originally heard a couple of hours before, I recreated their personalities in my mind's eye to match the images their inflections and intonations suggested. And then I compared them to Clinton, looking for a way to delineate the differences between the three of them in terms of their personal styles.

Obama sounded like some of the guys I grew up with, the kind of guy who had always drawn attention because of his "otherness" instead of any preternatural ability to speak to people. McCain reminded me of all the short guys I'd ever known, who had always had to do unnatural things to stand out in a crowd.

Clinton's draw has not been his looks, or his height, or his charm, but his intelligence. Maybe I know this because I am a small town native myself, but in the kind of place Clinton was from, where he didn't grow up in the biggest house, or have a black father, or six fingers, he was known as the kid who knows everything.

Obama, as we have seen time and time again, reluctantly displays his smarts. McCain doesn't seem to care whether you think he is a smart guy or not. But for a guy like Bill Clinton, it was being an intellectual peacock that made him stand out in a crowd, that got him in front of opportunities his mother never could have shown him, that garnered the awards, the fanfare, the presidency, and the women, starting with his wife.

As Obama's stammer and McCain's bluster invaded my thoughts, repeating many of the same talking points we've come to memorize over the last couple of months, hectoring each other over "Joe the Plumber", I wondered if there had really been anything of value in this last debate, other than the fact that John McCain had obviously practiced looking Obama directly in the eye.

"If I'm starting to think about Bill Clinton," I said to myself as I clicked the TV off, "probably not."

15 October 2008

For Those Who Have A Hard Time Believing In Obama's Chances When The Polls Are Not Enough

At a blog like mine, where there are no R Kelly updates, no photos of Malcolm X, or no list of a journalistic pedigree, what it pretty much boils down to is a certain level of trust that develops between me, the writer, and you, the readers. I'm pretty strident in the positions I take because...well, because that's the way I am, especially after getting my arms around enough facts to let my brain cells go to work. And I stand behind everything I write here, which is why I have no problem putting my real name on my Creative Commons license.

But one thing I've had to learn working in the mortgage business, where I can ask total strangers to turn over their social security numbers, birth date, tax returns and bank statements in less than five minutes over the phone, is that sometimes you have to look at things from the perspective of the customer, who is pretty much gauging whether or not to fax some of their most closely held personal and financial information on the sound of a voice and the inflections of a few key words.

When I sense this, I step back for a second from talking about the four things I need to know to give them an accurate rate quote and slide into a quick session on how to evaluate a loan to make sure it meets their needs. By the time we get back to finishing up the actual loan application, they've often gotten to see how I think and what I know long enough to finally get comfortable about sending me their documents.

So this post is for Melinda, who needs to see a little more today than my opinion. I am not a big fan using of Huffington Post as a source, but this account, unlike most of the essays they post, is a pretty detailed account of what really is going on in the Obama campaign. I will also have some links below the excerpts from "The New Organizers" by Zack Exley that I posted a few months ago, when I wanted to know what was under the hood of the "O-Train".

Melinda, I don't know if you know anything about cars, but back when I was a teenage boy, I used to study magazines like Sports Car Graphic and Car and Driver as if my life depended on it. At that time, back in the early 80's, the Porsche 930 Turbo was one of the fastest cars in the world. Porsche's engineers were considered to be among the world's best at building performance cars. Not a single car rolled out of the factory whose engine hadn't been fully tested and test driven.

But for the richest Porsche aficionados, that wasn't good enough. They'd buy the car and get it shipped directly to an independent performance engine builder here in the States. These guys, for a fee hefty enough to buy you a small car even today, would take the entire brand new Porsche motor apart and then put it back together again to tolerances closer than the minimums specified by the factory blueprints. This process was called "blueprinting" an engine.

Barack Obama and his guys have not only come up with a brand new way to look at organizing a presidential campaign. They were also willing to "blueprint" their own ideas, taking them apart and letting their volunteers and lower level staffers help put them back together again - while the campaign was going on.

The New Organizers, Part 1: What's Really Behind Obama's Ground Game


    The "New Organizers" have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so "top-down" and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or "bottom-up" organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization.

    In 2004, it was unusual for volunteers to have persistent roles and responsibilities—both at the Kerry campaign and the independent field operation Americans Coming Together. That is the norm for electoral organizing campaigns, and perhaps organizing in general these days. In contrast, the Obama neighborhood team members are organizers themselves, sometimes working more or less as staff alongside the young FOs.

    Patrick Frank, 21, joined the campaign as a volunteer, won an unpaid "Organizer Fellowship" and finally was hired as an FO in July. Having served as a volunteer on more than 10 political campaigns, Patrick contrasts his experience at Obama with the traditional organizing model he was used to:

    "It's about empowering. When I was 16 I worked on a big governor's campaign. And we were reliable volunteers and we were putting in serious hours. I felt like we should have been leaders, but that never happened. They said, 'Do your call lists, knock on doors—let us do the thinking.' Now, on the Obama campaign, when I see people like me and my friends used to be, we turn them around and say, 'Well hey, here's how to be a community organizer. Let me help you be a community organizer.' And then they go out and they get people to be their coordinators. And then we tell those new coordinators, 'Build yourself a team and be organizers too.' There's no end to it."

    After visiting my fourth or fifth team, it was painfully clear that an enormous amount of power is unlocked by this incredibly simple act of distributing different roles to people who actually feel comfortable taking them on. And I say "painfully" because I couldn't stop thinking about all the union and electoral campaigns I've worked on where we did not do this.

    The Ohio campaign is attempting to build teams in 1,231 campaign-defined "neighborhoods," each covering eight to ten precincts. They are targeting virtually every inhabited square mile of the state. The campaign claimed to have teams in 65% of neighborhoods when I visited in early September. That's risen to 85% coverage at press time—and they are shooting for 100%. In contrast, the Kerry campaign effectively wrote off rural counties, and completely abandoned them in the final few weeks of the campaign in a last minute all-in shift to the cities.

    Christen said, "I feel like people are committing more time this election because there's a community thing going on, and they're part of something that's local and social. But we're also more effective at harnessing volunteers because the teams do a lot of the training and debriefing themselves—it scales well. Everyone who goes out canvassing comes back with at least one story of someone they impacted. The team leaders are trained to give people time to tell those stories, and so everyone gets a sense of progress and they learn from each other how to be more effective next time."

    Training for organizers—and for volunteers—was critical to the success of this unorthodox model. In Ohio, Jeremy insisted on getting the whole staff together for an intensive full-weekend training early in the program.

    "When I got here, yeah, I was nervous," said Jeremy, "because most of these organizers had never done this [team building] before. We did two days—we got everyone together, we went to Oberlin."

    That training was expensive, but Jeremy said, "We spent more money than they ever wanted us to. But training is the most important thing. So [in our field budget] I'll cut whatever you want—but having all of our organizers together and training them for a full weekend. A lot of campaigns say they do training but it's often like a two hour orientation. We wanted to make sure that ours was a real, interactive, in-depth training."

    The field director Jackie Bray was driving around the state doing spot checks on the quality of local team structures when I was in Ohio. So I asked her to describe the field model in an email. I'm struck by two things about her response: first, how detailed and self-analytical it is; second, that it represents exactly the model I saw actually being practiced in the field—because I'm sorry to say it, but I'm just used to anyone with the title "director" being hopelessly out of touch with the reality of the ground. (Including myself in more than a couple past jobs!)

    Jackie wrote: "When we identify a volunteer or a potential volunteer we always hold a one on one meeting. Movements aren't built on individual people—they are built on relationships. Then we ask our volunteers to make deeper commitments. We coach new volunteers and facilitate the process for folks who are old hat at this stuff through an organizing activity. Usually the organizing activity is hosting a house meeting but it can be hosting a community meeting or a faith forum or recruiting seven plus new volunteers to take the first step and come to our office. Once someone has succeeded at an organizing activity we ask them to try their hand at leading a voter contact activity. Mostly we are interested in how well they train fellow volunteers to make phone calls or knock on doors. Training is a huge part of quality control and we need our leaders to be good trainers. If a potential leader is a successful trainer then we meet with them again to ask them to take that next step and become a Team Coordinator or Team Leader. If at any moment in this process a volunteer isn't successful our organizers are trained to spend time coaching them through getting better. We are an inclusive team here and our goal is always to make people better."

This is all happening IN JUST ONE STATE. The same thing is happening in your state, if its a battleground area, like Florida or North Carolina or Virginia. And even here in Georgia, where the national resources have been redeployed, the local enthusiasm has continued, growing of its own accord.

The link above is to a long article. If you don't do anything else today, read the whole thing. And then send it to your friends, and ask them to read the whole thing. Because even though you're not out there on the street, just your believing and your positive energy will help the cause.

My own post from the past is yet another collection of links that describe the beginning of all this:

Under The Hood Of The O-Train


    I wanted to know what the real deal was behind the “O-Train”. Is it the smile? The near Sidney Poitier level of courtliness? The much vaunted “charisma” that seems to work its way into the opening lines of nay article about Barack Obama? Or could it be simply - superiority. Because he seems to have a superior level of fund raising, superior advisors, superbly crafted speeches – from the outside looking in, it appears that he has met and exceeded his challengers at practically every organizational detail…

    …that’s what I really want to know – what do the nuts and bolts of their operation look like? A little research turned up the playbook and the beginnings of its execution. Again, hats off to this wonderful internet (which I’m sure will be more closely regulated in the future) for providing access to ACTUAL INFORMATION when a brother wants to know how things work.

So if anybody tells you they are not sure Barack Obama can be trusted to run this country, you tell them that he has so much faith in this country that he has trusted average, everyday Americans to organize, staff and manage the backbone of his campaign.

This Is Not A Horse Race - Again

One of the fallacies that has been propped up by our main stream media journalists for the last three weeks is that this election is still a horse race. What almost all of them conveniently ignore is the tremendous amount of energy, time, money, and an improbable shift in the actual demographics of the remaining battleground states that would be needed for the Clinton McCain campaign to garner more than a 50% total of the outstanding pledged delegates votes in each of these states she is projected to get based on current state by state estimates.

I wrote the original paragraph above back in May, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign was flailing against Barack Obama’s organization. The title came back to me as I thought about the political pundits on TV last night. There was no real tension in their voices as they speculated about tonight’s final presidential debate and the things each candidate needed to accomplish, because they know what you know – John McCain and Sarah Palin have very little chance of winning this election.

The thing that is maddening to me this time around is that every journalist in the country who is on the political beat or is a political columnist, people whose job is to understand the actual mechanics behind getting out the vote, don’t do a better job of focusing on why the feeling of an inevitable loss by McCain/Palin is so similar to the feeling you got back in May when Hillary Clinton’s team was on the ropes.

Barack Obama and his top strategists have taken the business of politics as seriously as the Mafia took the business of crime. Their decision to make the internet and the small donor the backbone of their fundraising efforts was as revolutionary to American politics as Henry Ford’s assembly line was to the manufacture of automobiles. The methods they used to mobilize and deploy their campaign resources - money, manpower and volunteers – are as pioneering to political organizational planning as John D. Rockefeller was to the distribution of oil.

Do you think you will hear any of this tonight after the debate from your favorite political pundits?

This level of execution has changed the dynamics of our electoral process so much that our traditional political bellwethers have become anachronistic. Tonight’s debate is almost a formality. Too many people are planning to vote this year, people who don’t seem to understand that they are supposed to have landlines, like good Americans, and that they are supposed to wait by their phone to be polled. Too many dollars have been raised from individuals who don’t seem to understand how much quid pro quo is supposed to be gotten in exchange. And waaay, waaay too many people are on the internet, talking to each other when the latest "information" being disseminated doesn’t seem to add up.

But the people who get paid the big bucks to analyze this election will be telling you the same old stuff they said last week. The campaign commercials will recycle things you already know, but with a more insistent tone in the narrator's voice. The campaign surrogates on both sides will continue to parrot their talking points, with the Republican ones trying their best to look particularly earnest.

And John King, the guy on CNN who plays with the snazzy electoral vote map, will be working overtime tonight to explain to you just how John McCain and Sarah Palin might still be able to pull this out.

14 October 2008

You Know You Flipped That Switch, John McCain

When YOU flipped the switch to start the negative campaigning in earnest, John McCain - YOU know what switch I'm talking about - YOU signaled to your troops how low YOU were willing to go.

I’m here to tell you that you wasted your breath dismissing the comments by Congressman John Lewis that compared recent actions surrounding your campaign to those promulgated by arch segregationist George Wallace. This is EXACTLY how you motivate people to believe your message, John McCain, when logic and common sense have to be abandoned. It's the same way you do it in wartime when you have to learn how to hate an enemy you don't know.

The Gordian Knot of race didn't tie itself. And in all those years since the first guy - who I am certain was not one of us pesky minorities, who have caused all the rest of the nation's ills, including the latest financial crisis - since that same first non-minority guy thought up the concept of discrimination based on skin tone and ethnicity, there were a whole lot of non-minority people through the ages who went along with the idea.

Why? Because it gave them an advantage.

But now that the shoe is on the other foot, having an advantage because of the color of your skin seems to be bad all of a sudden.

It isn't a coincidence that the party who has adopted Christianity as one of its main sponsors is paying the price for this. Over zealous religious believers have been some of our nations most dedicated and fervent oppressors, with centuries of practice under their belts, and even now, they have retained the unique ability to spit intolerance out of the same lips that they use to ask God for personal salvation.

Barack Obama is as much of a politician as the next guy, which is why I will applaud his use of any means necessary to corner, cower, antagonize, browbeat, and generally keep his opponent off balance.

You know who Obama is, John McCain. He's the one wearing the white trunks, not the right trunks. He's the one who you've said is "all show and no go", although he asserts that he is the second coming of "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee".

He's the one that's taller than you. He's the one you've been chasing around the country these last few weeks, trying to keep up with Obama campaign rally rope-a-dope. Now you're about to find out what Joe Frazier knows - the "sting like a bee" part can hurt you real bad.

But its not the "race card" that's doing all this, John McCain, its the collective strength of all those community organizers - remember them? - who are really taking a toll on you, who are showing in these final days that having a longer reach is as invaluable in politics as it is in boxing.

If I were you, John McCain, I would immediately demand an apology from George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Joe McCarthy, Jessie Helms, Lee Atwater, Bull Connor, Lester Maddox, and all the rest of those whose vile and despicable acts of the past have forced you to have to try to be a decent and honorable candidate, especially when the cameras are rolling.

Because it's too late to flip that switch back - it's stuck in the "ON" position.