May 3rd, 2009


Enough With the 100 Days Already

Enough With the 100 Days Already

BELIEVE it or not, there are Americans who have a “very negative” opinion of Barack Obama (13 percent, in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll). Some are even angry at him (10 percent, New York Times/CBS News). As the First 100 Days hoopla started to jump the shark last week, I tried, as an experiment in empathy, to see the world through their eyes.

It was difficult at first, but an interview with the official White House photographer, Pete Souza, on CNN, pushed me over the edge. Souza was showing all those beguiling behind-the-scenes pictures that, though government issued, were more or less passed off as journalism by virtually every news outlet in the land.

Inevitably we got to The Dog. “I want to show this picture because I find this to be a fascinating picture,” said the CNN anchor John King, who found almost every picture fascinating. “The president running down the hall with his new jogging partner there, Bo.” What, he asked Souza, is it like “to add this to the diversity of your work at the White House?”

I’ll leave the photographer’s answer to your imagination. But for a second, anyway, I could imagine what it’s like to be among the Limbaugh-Cheney deadenders who loathe Obama. Those who feel the whole world is against them. Those who think the press corps is in the tank. Those so sickened by the fawning that they’d throw a brick through the television screen if the Bush-Cheney economy had left them with enough money to buy a new set.

But only for a second. I confess to being among the 81 percent (per Wall Street Journal/NBC) who like the guy
. And I share the belief of nearly two-thirds of the American people (per every poll) that he has made an impressive start. The new president is largely doing what he promised, and he is doing it with the focus, brainpower and preternaturally calm temperament that kept his campaign on track even as the political press dismissed him as a hope-mongering naif next to the supposedly far more organized and more moneyed Hillary.

That the same crowd is over the top now in its praise says more about the news business than Obama. The journalism industry is fighting for its life. Obama is the one reliable product that moves the market for newspapers, magazines and television. No wonder so many special sections, special issues and special cable marathons have alighted on the 100 Days.

All those great report cards! Trying to stand out in this over-caffeinated throng of hagiographers, a Time pundit sprinkled his evaluations with A-pluses. One of them was for Michelle Obama, whose approval rating is even higher than her husband’s. Hard to believe that just a year ago some of the same commentators were questioning her pride in America, and that Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, was seriously arguing that her 1985 Princeton thesis linked her by association to the views of Stokely Carmichael and Louis Farrakhan.
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Obama's Kenyan grandmother to perform Hajj

According to Pakistani paper The News, U.S. President Barack Obama's Kenyan grandmother (actually, his father's stepmother) is headed to Mecca this year for the annual pilgrimmage. The 87-year-old Sarah Hussein Obama will be the guest of Sulaiman Al Fahim, an Abu Dhabi real estate baron:

As my own mother is no longer with us, our family has a spare place. So I invited her and she has accepted," the Hydra Properties chief executive officer was quoted as saying by Arabian Business.

During the presidential campaign, Ms. Obama denounced Hillary Clinton stafers for circulating photos of Barack in a turban. "Bringing such pictures that are trying to imply that not only is he a foreigner, he is a Muslim is wrong, because that is not what he is," she said.

The Hajj will be in late November this year.


I bet fox news is going to have a field day with this. SEKRET MUSLIN!!!!


GOP Begins Laying Out Campaign Against Obama's Court Pick

GOP Begins Laying Out Campaign Against Obama's Court Pick

The framework of the forthcoming battle over Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick began to materialize on Sunday, as a range of Republican officials sent out trial-balloon criticisms of a pick that is likely weeks away from being announced.

Talk of a filibuster was not directly addressed or, for that matter, ruled out. Republicans on the talk show circuit repeatedly noted that Obama himself had voted against cloture on the nomination of Samuel Alito in late January 2006.

"Well, I'm not a payback type of guy," Sen. Richard Shelby declared during an appearance on CNN. "I think you have to keep moving. On the other hand, a lot of us were aware of then Senator Obama's votes against Alito and I believe against Roberts. But I think Obama has -- President Obama has got some strong cards to deal. I hope he makes a great choice for the court."

Generally, however, Republicans tried to duck discussion of holding up a Supreme Court nominee in committee or Senate - in the process, spurring speculation that they would do just that.
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  • bispo

Economist has Seven questions for Nate Silver

NATE SILVER has been called a "prodigy", a "wunderkind", and a "genius". Using his unique methodology, he was able to correctly predict every state but Indiana in the 2008 presidential election. He also got every Senate race right. That is why we here at The Economist find ourselves visiting his website, FiveThirtyEight, several times a day. This week Democracy in America talked with Mr Silver about polling, predictions and politics.

DIA: Since you were able to predict so many 2008 races months ahead of time based on immutable factors, how much do political campaigns really matter?

Mr Silver: There are two separate questions here: how much campaigns matter and how much candidates matter. Candidates clearly do matter, in the sense that it's not uncommon to get results in individual races that significantly diverge from the national trends. For instance, right now we have two Republican senators in Maine, which voted for Barack Obama by 18 points, and two Democratic senators in North Dakota, which hasn't voted a Democrat for President since 1964. Likewise, we have a Republican governor in Vermont and a Democratic governor in Kansas. When you see gravity-defying results like those, it usually boils down to a very talented candidate.

But how much do campaigns matter? They clearly matter some. Hillary Clinton, who proved to be a much stronger candidate than I expected but ran a very poor campaign, is probably Exhibit A in this regard. On the other hand, John McCain’s campaign basically went bankrupt during the Republican primaries and he managed to win the nomination.

DIA: Was there one campaign from 2008 that stood out as best at beating the mathematical odds? If so, how did they do it?

Mr Silver: The Republican Joseph Cao defeating Democratic incumbent William Jefferson in Louisiana's 2nd congressional district, in which probably something like 70% or 75%  of the voters are Democratic. It's clear enough how Mr Cao managed to do this—Mr Jefferson was exceptionally corrupt and ran a complacent campaign—but it was nevertheless an impressive win.

DIA: Despite all of the focus on Pennsylvania in the last days of the 2008 presidential campaign, it fell so easily to Barack Obama that people asked why it was even considered a "swing state". What, in your mind, are the swing states to watch in 2012? (Which blue state is most obtainable for Republicans? Which red state for Democrats?)

Mr Silver: Generally speaking, the same states that were swing states in 2008. But I would keep an eye on Georgia for the Democrats, which is rapidly beginning to urbanise and is becoming part of the "New South". For the Republicans—maybe New Jersey? One would expect that their anti-tax message would play well among wealthy voters, and there are a lot of wealthy voters in Jersey.

The other thing to watch is whether Barack Obama performs better in some parts of Appalachia, where I think his race hurt him in 2008. It wouldn’t surprise me if, after watching him on television for four years, some voters who had previously harboured some degree of racial animus begin to feel more comfortable with him. If so, Mr Obama could be more competitive in states like West Virginia.

DIA: You wrote that the McCain campaign "radically overestimated the importance of appealing to the base" in 2008. What type of political message would best serve Republicans trying to form a winning electoral coalition in 2010, 2012 and beyond.

Mr Silver: Well, that’s the $64,000 question. Clearly if the economy has not recovered, the Republicans will have the script somewhat written for them, and they can rail against the expansion of government or deficits or taxes or what have you. But I think they'll have to do it in an affirmative, pragmatic way—the "party of no" critique is a little hackneyed, but is probably fairly effective counter-messaging. And if the economy recovers? I don’t think it matters much what they do.

If they’re spending a lot of time talking about gay marriage, by the way, I think that's a sign that they're in trouble—unless perhaps the Supreme Court has ruled on it, which could reset the whole debate.

DIA: I've heard you say that baseball analysts put too much emphasis on what just happened. Is the same true of political analysts?

Mr Silver: For sure. And in baseball, at least, they're playing every year, whereas you only have a presidential election once every four years. The McCain campaign operated under the assumption that the political world hadn't changed since 2004—that Mr Obama couldn't turn out black voters or young voters, that swift-boating would work, that Mr Obama couldn't possibly win states like North Carolina and Indiana—and they paid a price for it. On the other hand, I think some Democrats might be a little bit complacent right now. There are a lot of things that can go wrong—both known unknowns and unknown unknowns. What if Afghanistan turns into the next Iraq? What if swine flu winds up killing several hundred thousand Americans? What if there's a nuclear exchange in Kashmir? What if there's a significant, unpredicted increase in the crime rate? Some of those things might hurt the Democrats and others might not, but there's a pretty decent chance that the core issues in 2012 will be things that we haven't even thought about yet.

DIA: You reach some surprising conclusions using your statistical techniques. How good is your average reader's understanding of your work? Do people ever say, "I don't care about your fancy 'mathematical' methods, that can't be right so you must be doing something wrong."

Mr Silver: More often I get the opposite—people who tell me they don’t really follow the analysis, but trust my conclusion. That's more worrying in some ways, I think.

DIA: What went wrong with the Oscar predictions?

Mr Silver: Hah! Well, you know, we got two different predictions wrong—we missed on best supporting actress and we missed on best actor. The best actor prediction I don't feel that bad about. It's very rare for someone to win best actor twice within a short period (Sean Penn had won for "Mystic River" in 2003), and it was probably only the fact that Mickey Rourke had been a colossal jerk to his peers that prevented him from winning. Forecasting deals in probabilities, not certainties, and sometimes you can make a good forecast and wind up with an incorrect result, or vice versa. If I had told you at the start of last year that the Arizona Cardinals were going to make the Super Bowl, would that have been a good prediction? No—if I'd told you that you would have had me institutionalised.

On the other hand, with the best supporting actress category, I did some sloppy modeling and clearly screwed up—that might have been the worst prediction since "Dow 36,000". My apologies to anyone who bet their mortgage on Taraji P. Henson.


Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin receives deluge of ethics complaints

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin receives deluge of ethics complaints

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s life has changed in a myriad of ways since she became the Republican vice presidential nominee last August, but one aspect of her newfound fame has been more bracing than the others: Since entering the national spotlight, Palin has been inundated by ethics complaints, most of them filed against her after she agreed to become Sen. John McCain’s running mate.

The complaints run the gamut, ranging from the governor’s use of state funds and staff to the workings of her political action committee and even to a jacket she wore to a snow machine race involving her husband.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many complaints have been filed because the state doesn’t keep count and the complaints are kept confidential by the attorney general’s office unless the state moves forward with a public accusation of wrongdoing. But in total there have been more than a dozen, and most of those have surfaced in the last seven months.

That much is clear because the complainants have a habit of notifying the media and bloggers each time they lodge a grievance.
It’s evidence, say Palin’s defenders, that there is a clear political component to them.

“As we've been saying, the number of ethics complaints filed against the governor and her staff — as well as the tortured logic they contain — continue to constitute the most disturbing trend in Alaska politics,” said Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow in a recent statement after one ostensibly confidential complaint was sent to the Anchorage Daily News and other news outlets.

“In the past several months, we have seen an orchestrated effort by the governor’s opponents to make differences of opinion and ideology almost criminal,” said Mike Nizich, the governor’s chief of staff, in a statement. “Governor Palin has spent a considerable amount of time and money fighting ethics complaints – and no charge has been substantiated. I hope that the publicity-seekers will face a backlash from Alaskans who have a sense of fair play and proportion. I served six previous governors, and I’ve never seen anything like the attacks against Governor Palin.”
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Jon Ensign Laments Republican Litmus Test

Jon Ensign Laments Republican Litmus Test

Commenting in the wake of Senator Arlen Specter's defection and poll numbers showing dismal public identification with the Republican Party, Sen. Jon Ensign insisted on Sunday that the GOP had to drop its proverbial litmus tests on electoral candidates.

"Unfortunately, some people have wanted to have just all conservatives in the party, but if you want to be a national party and you want be a majority in Washington,"
the Nevada Republican and former chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee told "Fox News Sunday," "you have to welcome people who vote differently ... you have to respect each other's differences, not only regional differences, but also ideological differences."

"What we have not done a good job of, particularly in the Northeast, is recruiting the kind of candidates who can win," Ensign added.

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Jeb Bush, GOP: Time to leave Reagan behind

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it's time for the Republican Party to give up its "nostalgia" for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election.

"You can't beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that," Mr. Bush said.

The former president's brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama's message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.
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Lobbyists Prosper During Recession

Lobbyists Prosper During Recession

They're furloughing many city workers for eight days this summer. They've cut staffing by about 5 percent. Now officials in Tracy, Calif., are trying another way to help make ends meet in these tough economic times: They've hired a Washington lobbyist.

It's an idea that seems to be spreading. Senate lobbying records show that dozens of cities and counties signed up with lobbying firms in the three months of this year. Their goal is to get a greater share of the money flowing out of Washington, from a record federal budget to the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

Some of the communities hiring lobbyists have done so before and are simply shuffling their lineup or adding to it. But others are getting into the lobbying game for the first time.
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(no subject)

Giuliani Blows Off Gay Pals' Wedding

Remember when then-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani was cheating on his wife and she threw him out and he went to live with his two gay BFFs and promised that he'd officiate at their marriage when it became legal? So much for friendship.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a last-minute no-show at the wedding of his former roommates -- a gay couple -- yesterday. It was a disappointment for Queens car dealer Howard Koeppel and his longtime lover, Mark Hsaio, who tied the knot in a double-ring ceremony before 10 guests in Westport, Conn. The couple famously let the ex-mayor crash at their luxury $2.37 million three-bedroom Manhattan apartment while he was going through a nasty divorce with Donna Hanover in 2001. Later, Giuliani married the "other woman," Judith Nathan. "Rudy and Judith were both invited with a beautiful written invitation by mail," said Koeppel. "His secretary called Thursday and said he was not able to come to the wedding and wished us all the best."
He can't even been seen at the wedding of his "best friends" now that he's planning on running for governor on an anti-marriage platform. Opportunistic SCUMBAG. 9/11!!!

try again

swine flu vaccine by fall

WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters) - The U.S. government expects to have flu vaccines ready for both the new strain of the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu by autumn, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday.

Sebelius said the government is accelerating production of vaccine against the seasonal flu, which is expected to infect millions of Americans.

"At the same time, we're growing the virus and testing the virus to attack H1N1 and we'll be production-ready when it's time to go," she said on NBC's Meet the Press.

"So we'll be ready for both," Sebelius said. "We're going to be ready for both, come fall."

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to decide whether to add the new H1N1 strain to the seasonal flu vaccine for the northern hemisphere for delivery starting in September.

Companies already are making the vaccine for the autumn months with a mixture of three influenza viruses that was chosen this year before the new strain broke out.

"What hasn't been determined yet -- and it will be determined by the scientists -- is whether or not vaccine production for H1N1 makes sense, whether we really do want to do full-scale production," Sebelius told Fox television. They have four choices -- leaving the new strain out of the mix altogether, replacing the current H1N1 component with the new H1N1 strain, offering a separate swine H1N1 vaccine or making it a so-called quadrivalent vaccine that includes the new swine H1N1, the circulating seasonal H1N1, the H3N2 component and the influenza B strain.

It takes months to formulate influenza vaccines and they must be made fresh every year with new strains of the constantly mutating virus.

More than a dozen vaccine manufacturers have licenses to produce influenza vaccines. The CDC and WHO make samples of virus available to commercial manufacturers, who then manufacture vaccine.

"It's too early to manufacture anything," Sebelius told Fox.

"What they need to do right now with this H1N1 virus is to test it, is to make sure they've got the right antidote to this particular viral strain, to make sure we have the right dosage, and then make a decision based on the science of what we know whether or not full-scale vaccine production." (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott)
panda bear

(no subject)

Hope for change runs into reality

Kate O'Leary voted for Barack Obama and began the year full of energy. But her hope is giving way these days to a sense that some things never change.

"I trust his motives," she said of President Obama. "I feel like he is an honorable guy, I am not sure if he can do it. That's the problem."

Too much too soon is one of her worries. Too much politics as usual is another. Add in too much bailout money and Kate O'Leary is more sober now than she was when Obama took the oath of office.

Across from O'Leary sat Debbie Lurvey, who took a job at the Tilt'n Diner after losing her job in the mortgage business.

"It was a forced unemployment because of the economy," Lurvey said. "So, you know, I decided that it was best to move on to something a little more stable."

O'Leary and Lurvey are among those who think the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. But our third guest for our weekly diner conversation, Jim Wells, isn't so sure.

"I think most of it is psychological," said Wells, a Republican who believes consumers need to be more confident. "The secret out of a recession like this is to spend money. And you have got to spend your own, you can't expect somebody else to spend it for you."

He makes the distinction between consumer spending and what he sees as too much government spending.

"We are going to have to pay the bill in another two or three years and it is going to be scary when it happens," Wells said.

All three agreed one thing missing from Washington is a spirit of cooperation and compromise.

Lurvey said the pain of losing her job and dealing with foreclosure have taught her there are some things the government can't do.

"It is a good time to get back to what this country was made on -- it's the family," she said. "And you know I think for awhile we were all going crazy and overspending and living beyond our means and this has kind of been a reality check for most people."

Obama/Biden Look

The Internet's Role in Campaign 2008

I don't think this has been posted to my recollection, but I ran across it researching for a paper about Obama's usage of the internet in his campaign.

On April 15th, The Pew Internet & American Life project released a study about the role the Internet campaign played in the 2008 elections, which was in correlation with other studies and surveys they did during the campaign. The full PDF report is 90+ pages, but it's totally worth the read, and it has lots of very helpful graphs and charts. Some highlights from the findings:

* Nearly one in five (18%) internet users posted their thoughts, comments or questions about the campaign on an online forum such as a blog or social networking site.

* Fully 45% of internet users went online to watch a video related to the campaign.

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Those are just a few of the findings, there's a lot of others in there that either seemed kind of obvious, or really surprised me (especially internet usage patterns of older adults and seniors).

You can read the study online, or you can download the PDF, which I'd recommend. Well worth a read.

(and now back to the aforementioned paper...)
panda bear


Why India's Teachers Do Not Spare the Rod
By Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi

My three-year-old son came home from a private preschool recently and told me that his teacher had hit him for not being able to color properly. I was shocked and angry. The next morning, however, I discovered that my anger could be funneled into a wider controversy. I read in the local newspapers about Shanno Khan, 11, a Delhi schoolgirl had allegedly been punished at school but did not survive. Shanno's sisters, who attend the same government school, say that her teacher forced her to stand in the scorching sun for two hours until she fainted. She reportedly slipped into a coma and died in the hospital.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which governs a large part of the area around India's capital, and a pro bono lawyer for Shanno's family are investigating the case. The teacher has denied doing anything wrong, saying that she did not punish her and that Shanno was epileptic, a claim her father denies. So far no action has been taken against the teacher. But her death has renewed calls to stop corporal punishment in schools; the issue is explosive because in India physical abuse in schools is widespread. According to a 2007 joint study by UNICEF, Save the Children and the Indian government, 65% of school-going children have faced corporal punishment. Ayub Khan, Shanno's father, a waiter without a regular job, says in an interview with TIME that he is determined "to get justice for his daughter."

Khan gets emotional as he describes Shanno's last hours. "She kept on asking for water but the teacher ignored her," Ayub describes what he says as his daughter's suffering. Her two sisters, Saima and Sehnaz, say that Shanno pleaded with the teacher that she would learn her alphabet properly after lunch, but was ignored. (The parents of several other children at the same school say their children describe the incident in similar terms.) Shanno's sisters Saima and Sehnaz then ran to get their mother. "We thought our sister was dead," Saima said. When their mother arrived, she found Shanno lying on the ground, Khan says, and by the time Shanno was taken home she had slipped into a coma. He breaks down while relating Shanno's last words to her mother: "I never want to go to school again." Shanno died the next day, on April 17.

Deep Mathur, a spokesman for the MCD, says the agency has interviewed everyone who was present in school that day, including the students. During the inquiry, the principal and the other teachers backed the accused teacher's claim that she did not force Shanno to stand in the sun. If the MCD finds that the teacher was at fault, the case will be handed over to the police. India's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights will make its own recommendations regarding action in this case in the next few days.

Teachers say they resort to physical punishment because of the inherent problems of India's public education system, specifically, the immense challenge of maintaining control of huge classes of unruly children. "Most children in my school are criminal-minded," says Dr. S.C. Sharma, the principal of a government school in South Delhi. "We have caught them stealing fans from classrooms and even the iron grills from the windows. How do you discipline such kids?" In Sharma's school the teacher-student ratio is 1:63, compared with a recommended ratio of 1:35.

Shanno's death, furthermore, highlights the gap between legislation and implementation in India's efforts to protect children. India's Right to Education bill, which guarantees universal education and bans corporal punishment from schools, has been waiting to become a full-fledged law for more than a decade. The Supreme Court ordered a ban on corporal punishment in 2000. But enforcement is weak and it has been implemented in only 17 of 28 states. According to the 2007 report, Delhi was one of four states in India where corporal punishment is most common.

More than anything, Shanno's death is a wake-up call to parents to speak up for their own children. Many are afraid to. Indu Bhandari, mother of a five-year-old, says her son often complains about being hit on the head with a pencil by his teacher. "If I complain, she might ill-treat my son more," Bhandari says. At my son's school, I raised the matter for discussion in the parents' forum. We decided to watch how all the children in his school are treated much more closely. For now, that's all we can do.

' jules

Perfect article for a no-news Sunday.

~GUESS WHO~ else from the Obama administration made PEOPLE Magazine's 100 Sexiest People list?

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And guess which Sexy Person may not have come across his title solely for his good looks?

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Do you agree w/these choices? Who would you have included? and why no PFitz this year?


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James Baker Backs Reinstating the Draft

James Baker Backs Reinstating the Draft

Rep. Charlie Rangel, Congress's lone champion of reinstating the military draft, can count on another Korean War-era vet for support: Republican James Baker, a soldier in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Baker, secretary of state during the first Gulf War, visited a private girls' school in Virginia, where he was asked how to attract kids into some kind of service that gives them a stake in the country's future. "This is a very unpopular thing that I am about to say," he warned. "But one thing that makes it harder to go to war is to have a draft, because when you have a draft, then everybody's got a stake in it, and the costs of war are brought home much more vividly and vigorously to the American people. I think national service is a wonderful idea." But unlikely, he conceded: "You get killed if you support a draft, politically, but it sure would raise the stakes. Everybody would understand a lot better what we have at stake when we go to war."