Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cut it out, David Plouffe

I like Barack Obama and I plan to vote for him in the general election. And because I donated to his campaign, I get mass mails from Barack and his campaign manager, David Plouffe, designed to convince me to give more and do more for the campaign. The language of emails signed by Obama, for the most part, tend to sound similar to his public statements. But sometimes Plouffe's emails use questionable statements to rile up supporters. A March 20 email stated:
Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy. They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act. And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working.
Actually, both of them have a tendency to rephrase the other candidates' statements in their own words, without proving enough information for me to look up what they actually said. But surely McCain and Clinton didn't really criticize "Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists"? And consider this email of March 25:
In February alone, more than 94% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up just 13% of Senator McCain's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's.
Wow, it looks like Obama has 7 times as much grassroots support as McCain! That's what Mr. Plouffe would have supporters believe. But if you read closely, he's comparing two very different statistics: the McCain statistic does not measure the percent of donations $200 or less. It measures the percent of total campain funds from such donations, which is a totally different story. Since I don't know where to find the complete statistics, let us assume for the sake of argument that the average over-$200 donation to Barack's campaign is $1000, and that the average under-$200 donation is $100. Let us assume the same thing for McCain's campaign. Now, with some algebra, we can figure out the missing statistics:
  • On average, although 94% of Barack's supporters gave $100, 6% gave $1000. So donations under $200 make up 61% of his total campaign funds.
  • On average, although only 13% of McCain's funds come from $100 donations, 60% of donators gave $100.
If these assumptions are anywhere near correct, then it seems safe to conclude Obama is ahead in grassroots support: 61% of Barack's funds versus 26% of Hillary's and 13% of McCain's come from relatively small donations. And getting well over a million separate donations during the primaries is unprecedented. But let's try reversing Plouffe's statistics trick. Maybe the McCain camp could say this:
In February, more than 60% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. In comparison, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up 61% of Senator Obama's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's. Yet the democrats claim to be ahead in grassroots support! What the hell are they smoking?
Look, I have no doubt that the other candidates use similar techniques. This sort of thing is precisely what I expect from politics. But Barack promised to be different. Barack promised a positive campaign that focuses on the issues. In many ways he has delivered on these promises; for example, Barack's speech "A more perfect union" not only proved his excellence as a speechwriter, but it proved that he could respond to a guilt-by-association smear campaign without crucifying his former pastor Reverend Wright. Had other candidates been attacked in a similar manner, no one would expect them to respond as Barack did. It was fun to read the Obama campaign's analysis of a Clinton press release, an email containing nonsense like this:

But the Obama campaign has just announced that it is turning its attention away from Pennsylvania. This is not a strategy that can beat John McCain in November. ... Why are so many voters turning away from Barack Obama in state after state?

My point is this. Just because Barack's opponents talk smack and twist the truth into falsehood, doesn't make it okay for Obama's campaign to do the same. David Plouffe needs to speak the truth, be fair, and take the moral high ground. Every time he doesn't, I am disappointed. Every time he doesn't, I wonder whether this campaign is really so different from Washington's status quo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Daylight Saving Time: Stupid

I had thought it was pretty stupid of Congress to move the boundaries of Daylight Savings Time based on projected (not proven, just estimated) energy savings that were measured in only millions of dollars. It was stupid because
  • the change would be an inconvenience for a lot of people whose computers were programmed for the old time
  • it would mess up peoples' habits
  • it would require an unknown amount of money to be spent reprogramming computers (estimated here at up to $1 billion) and updating documents
  • it may annoy the cows--but seriously, Congress should have known that unknown factors might negate any positive impacts
  • it annoys us Canadians, who are forced to change our time zones too (granted, you can't expect Congress to care)
  • the estimated savings were so small. I was not able to find a figure online, but I recall mere eight-figure sums were quoted by the media. Shouldn't Congress be thinking a little bigger?
Well, it turns out that a study of actual energy use (rather than an estimate based on some mathematical model) showed that DST uses more energy in Indiana.

Why not Hillary?

I used to dislike Hillary, and temporarily joined a Facebook group labelled something like "Join this group if you are AGAINST Hillary for president", until somebody asked me why I was against Hillary.

Hmm. It's a funny thing. I actually began to like like Bill Clinton a lot more after so much time under George Bush, but for some reason I didn't like Hillary even though I had not followed her in the media and really didn't know much about her. So what wasn't to like? I think somehow that the feelings of others had rubbed off on me. I had heard her described several times as a "divisive" figure and I had never heard any particular reasons to like her, and apparently this was enough to give me the same negative feeling. But it really is not good enough.

I checked her Wikipedia entry and it was pretty benign. She doesn't seem concerned with things like Net Neutrality, copyright/patent law, or other things I consider important. And she voted for the Iraq war, which I cannot be happy about, but I guess it was the popular thing to do at the time. On the other hand she had a universal health care plan, maybe not a perfect plan, but at least we can agree in principle.

So I quit the anti-Hillary group. Over time I've become more and more sure that I'd really rather have Barak Obama as president (or Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel or Ralph Nader), but it is a little disconcerting to have made up my mind without really considering Hillary at all.

Anyway, I was reminded of my misstep by this slashdot post, directed at someone who was against Hillary:
Why do you dislike Hillary so strongly? I'm genuinely curious. I know there's a lot of folks who hate her, but I don't ever hear it logically explained. I imagine there has to be a pretty strong argument for why you'd support Obama over McCain but McCain over Clinton when Obama and Clinton's policies are so closely aligned and so dramatically different than McCain's.
Good question. I could not have answered it two months ago. The response from "JudgeFurious":
You know, I spent a lot of time pondering that as well. Why does this candidate rub me the wrong way so badly? I didn't mind her husband as President and so I naturally started wondering if it was because of her gender. Was I being sexist without recognizing it? Ultimately I concluded that my biggest problem with Hillary Clinton was her personality and the almost palpable ambition she seems to give off. It's like the woman is just starving for power and will step over just about anybody or anything to get it. I haven't had this kind of negative feeling about a candidate or President since Nixon. Despite his actions I don't much get it from GWB. I do get a sense of it from Cheney however.

She goes into a series of primaries with agreeing to certain terms (like Florida and Michigan not counting for instance) and then when it seems like she might not get her way she starts making noises about changing those terms. She enters a primary in Texas fully aware of how the primary works in Texas (and any protests otherwise she might make border on being insulting in my opinion) and then again you start to hear rumblings from her campaign about the possibility of filing suit to have this changed because it does not favor her. She goes into debates talking about being "co-President" and trying to leverage her husbands coat tails (which I do not fault her for doing mind you) but then denies any real involvment when failures or negatives from his administration are brought up. I see this and think "You were either the co-President or you weren't so what's it gonna be?"

This is the kind of behavior that makes me just cringe at the thought of her being President of the United States.
Another interesting response from "inca34":
The Republican playbook is a general turn-off for me. Character assassination and fear mongering instead of forging plans for the future tends to be the dead giveaway. When Obama had more free reign over his campaign with all the candidates involved, he spoke of plans for the future that he was passionate about and which made sense to me in terms of feasibility. Hillary, for what little she's actually done, has little personality except for what she thinks will get her ahead.

She wants to garnish my wages if I can't afford medical insurance, eh? She wants to fight the war (any war) in XXXX (wherever) because she has vested interested in defense spending? She wants me to feel comforted in her experience by the fact that she's been cherry picked by her husband to be in positions of power for a shorter period of time that Obama has been doing public service-oriented work?

I'm sorry, her story just does not check out. I want nothing to do with her platform or her reforms. Her rhetoric reeks of a lack of substance and a motive for her own personal advancement.

Check the exit polls. The more educated, the more likely the vote was for Obama. This statement is not elitist and does not assume a college degree could trump reality or a good common sense, but the averages should speak for themselves. With a college education one ought to be able to seek truth more effectively. I've researched my candidates come to my own conclusions, and I wish everyone could do that, but that's just not realistic for 300 million people to do. So we rely on the media and the game and hope it all works out in the end.

If politics were about qualifications, I'd suspect we'd have heard more about Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich and a few others. I personally would prefer their going to the Whitehouse based off of solid records, good experience, and most important character trait a politician could have: they can't be bought. Obama has yet to be seen, though his discipline with his investments give me a good feeling. Hillary has been bought before, I'm sure it can and will happen again (keywords: walmart board labor union).
I have to agree, Obama's tactics are much more tasteful, his speeches are better, and some elements of his campaign (anti-war, pro-net-neutrality) definitely make me like him more. I don't know if he's going to deal with the corruption of the military-industrial complex, but there's certainly no reason to believe Hillary will.

And Hillary's claims that she's so much more experienced? Well, Obama's senate record is pretty impressive for a first timer, as "Grassroots Mom" explains.

I bought Obama's book "Audacity of Hope". Hopefully it'll convince me that he's as good a candidate as my brother (who campaigns for him) believes. Of course, the real test will come after he's voted into office. But a man committed to change is more likely to clean house than a woman who is not.

As an aside, I am finding McCain to be a suprisingly likable guy. It's a suprise because lately I have expected nothing but evil behavior from Republicans. I say that as a Mormon, which may seem ironic given that Utah is as Red as a rose. But McCain is not against the Iraq war and he is not promising change in Washington. I'm sticking with Barak, but suppose I ought to give McCain a closer look anyway.