Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin Clueless as to Role of VP

Here’s Sarah Palin, who is John McCain's choice for his VP running mate, in a recent interview with Larry Kudlow on CNBC:

What is it exactly that the VP does everyday?

Her question, "What is it exactly that the VP does everyday?" should be cause for concern. Any person smarter than a fifth grader knows that first and foremost, the Vice President of the United States is next in line for the office of the President, should the President be unable to serve for any reason. And since John McCain is no spring chicken, this should be the first thing which voters should remain mindful. The VP also serves as the President of the Senate. And if for some reason a person didn't know that, I hope that someone like Sarah, who is Governor of Alaska, would know how to talk her way around the issue without making oneself look uneducated. But, in case Sarah needs more help, here’s some of what the VP does, according to Wikipedia: .

The formal powers and role of the vice president are limited by the Constitution to becoming President in the event of the death or resignation of the President and acting as the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate. As President of the Senate, the Vice President has two primary duties: to cast a vote in the event of a Senate deadlock and to preside over and certify the official vote count of the U.S. Electoral College. For example, in the first half of 2001, the Senators were divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats and Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote gave the Republicans the Senate majority. (See 107th United States Congress.)

John Tyler, the first Vice President to assume the Presidency following the death of the previous President. The informal roles and functions of the Vice President depend on the specific relationship between the President and the Vice President, but often include drafter and spokesperson for the administration's policy, as an adviser to the president, as Chairman of the Board of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as a Member of the board of the Smithsonian Institution, and as a symbol of American concern or support. Their influence in this role depends almost entirely on the characteristics of the particular administration. Cheney, for instance, is widely regarded as one of George W. Bush's closest confidants. Al Gore was an important advisor to President Bill Clinton on matters of foreign policy and the environment. Often, Vice Presidents will take harder-line stands on issues to ensure the support of the party's base while deflecting partisan criticism away from the President... Under the American system the President is both head of state and head of government, and the ceremonial duties of the former position are often delegated to the Vice President. They may meet with other heads of state or attend state funerals in other countries, at times when the administration wishes to demonstrate concern or support but cannot send the President himself.

It’s a big job, one that seems to become bigger with each passing administration, and the duties can vary by administration. The world is also becoming a more complicated place in which to live. The role of the Vice President can have more meaning and more impact with the right person in the job. But if someone - especially someone who is currently a governor - doesn’t even really have a clue as to the role of the VP, maybe they aren’t the right person for the job? While you're thinking on that, think if you would want Sarah Palin to step in as President if something were to happen to John McCain. Personally, I wouldn't.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

John McCain Panders to Women Voters With VP Running Mate

Now, just how transparent is John McCain’s choice for VP running mate? As transparent as glass just cleaned with Windex.

In my opinion, McCain selection of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska , is a clear attempt to capture the Democratic female voters that his campaign believes will bolt their party because of dissatisfaction that Hillary Clinton wasn’t chosen as the Democratic candidate.

I think this is a mistake. It’s been widely reported that some women are unhappy that Hillary didn’t make the cut, and as I mentioned here just the other day, McCain is even running ads trying to capitalize on that. What they may not be taking into account, as many of these so-called Hillary supporters who voted for her in the primary were, in fact, republican voters who crossed over in many states to vote for her. Their motives may not have been clear. Maybe they were Republicans hoping to put a woman in the White House, maybe they were just those that were fearful of the Obama steamroller and wanted to throw a wrench into it by putting their vote elsewhere. Either way, my prediction is that McCain will not garner the huge bump in votes he thinks he had coming with this choice.

From my own personal experience, every voter I’ve spoken to – and that’s a lot of them – who voted for Hillary in the primary are voting for Barack in the presidential election. Many of them cite party loyalty as their reason, but most of them say that they are just sick of a Republican White House and think that Barack Obama is the person the country needs to serve as a real impetus for change.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But one think for sure is, that as a woman, it hasn’t swayed my opinion.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Clinton Factor

There has been a lot of press lately on concerns that voters who supported Hillary Clinton in the primary are going to vote for John McCain. In fact, the McCain campaign is even running a commercial highlighting this, titled “Debra.” While I don’t dispute the fact that some voters out there vote not by party lines but by the candidate (I’m that way), I find it hard to fathom that after the many years of a Republican administration, that it would be so easy for voters to abandon the Democratic party if they voted that way in the primary.

In fact, I think the media has become enamored with the Clinton factor, and despite the fact that she lost the primary but still with big numbers, the media seems to want to make the Clintons into an issue. And when I say “the Clintons” I mean both Hillary AND Bill. Do I think Hillary and Bill are unhappy that Hilary lost the bid for the presidency? Sure. Do I think that they are both dumb enough to shoot their own party in the foot? No. I think when it all comes down to it, they know that as long as the party regains the White House, it could mean they would continue to wield influence in Washington and elsewhere. But the media seems desperate to stir concern that Hillary and Bill are so unhappy with their loss that they would be willing to stir discontent within their own party, or they will endorse Barack Obama and not mean it. I think her speech at the Democratic Convention last night should have put that whole issue to bed. Yet even now as I write this, the media is still taking whether this will be enough to sooth the what they see as a divided Democratic Party.

On a similar vein, the McCain campaign seems to think that using Hillary’s own campaign rhetoric against Barack Obama scores points for the Republican candidate. My grandmother used to tell me to be careful when I point fingers, because when you do, three of them are pointing back on YOU. McCain could, and probably will, have his own worries about his own campaign rhetoric depending on whom he chooses as his running mate, since McCain has his share of nasty comments against his peers. But, clearly the McCain campaign thinks that Hillary’s words are powerful enough that they will bring more voters to the McCain side. Instead, Hillary has used it by saying that she didn’t approve the message (spoofing of course the old tag line “And I approved this message”).

It’s clear to me that both the media and the McCain campaign feel that the Clintons still have drawing power. But using her words against her own party is a tactic that can only bring McCain short term results, helping only to win over voters who really may not have party loyalty to begin with. There are other voters out there who can also be swayed against McCain for the same reason; these things aren’t always one sided. So the McCain campaign should beware of the Clinton Factor, because it just may come back to bite them.


Passed Over

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Is Pro-McCain TV Ad Illegal?

I received an email from the “Obama Action Wire” (part of the Obama presidential campaign support) that stated the following:

“Yesterday, a right-wing smear group launched a full-fledge attack against Barack, pulling in every baseless lie and re-hashed false assertion in their playbook.

Not only that -- it turns out the ad may be illegal. Campaign finance experts are weighing in about violations of election law. And the ad is so ridiculous that CNN and even Fox News have both refused to run it.

This is exactly the kind of politics Barack is running to change.

Unfortunately, some TV stations in Ohio are running the ad right now.

Contact TV stations in Ohio and tell them this kind of garbage shouldn't be run on the public's airwaves, no matter how much money they are making to run it.

John McCain claims he had nothing to do with this attack, but a former McCain consultant leads the so called 'third-party' group behind these lies.

The primary funder of the ads, Harrold Simmons, is one of the main culprits behind the Swift Boating of John Kerry and a top bundler for John McCain. The spokesman for the group also has ties to the Kerry Swift Boat attacks.

The McCain camp and the Swift Boaters must be truly desperate to change the subject from John McCain's shocking disconnect with the economic struggles of the American people.

Take action right now to make sure this trash doesn't pollute another election:

Keep fighting the good fight,

Obama Action Wire”

I do recall seeing the commercial, and found it mildly annoying, but didn’t realize that there would be an issue with its legality. The ad is as follows, which is being aired on the American Issues Project web site.

You know about how I feel about 527 groups like the American Issues Project, I wrote about them on my blog on August 8th, here. It appears that this time, a 527 group and one benefactor, Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, may have gotten caught violating election rules, and also John McCain’s campaign is being dragged right along with him.

So here’s the full story from the LA Times. Personally, I think that the ads, which are targeting only two states, should be pulled from the air until their legality can be verified. And, pulling the ads from the air may actually help the McCain campaign because it will make the story go away for a while. Still, it again makes me question if it’s “politics as usual” for the McCain camp if there is proof they had any hand – even the smallest – in this ad.

Billionaire Harold Simmons funded ad linking Obama, ex-Weatherman Ayers

A major fundraiser for John McCain, he also helped pay for the Swift Boat ads that attacked the military record of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004.

By Dan Morain, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 23, 2008

Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who helped pay for the devastating attacks on the military record of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004, has paid for a television ad that assails Barack Obama over his ties to a founder of a violent radical group.

Simmons, who is also a major fundraiser for John McCain, donated $2.87 million that a newly formed nonprofit group, the American Issues Project, has used for the ad, a report filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission shows.

The 60-second ad opens with Obama giving a speech, then asks how much voters know about him.

From there, it focuses on his relationship with William Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who more than three decades ago was deeply involved with the Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for numerous bombings.

The American Issues Project is airing the commercial in Ohio and Michigan, where Obama and McCain are locked in tight contests.

Obama's campaign responded to the ad by sending a letter to the Justice Department charging that the backers are violating criminal law and urging an investigation. Obama's attorneys also are calling on television stations not to air the spot.

The national Fox News Network has declined to air it, but several Fox affiliates in Ohio and Michigan are showing it.

"It's on tons of stations in Michigan and Ohio," said Christian Pinkston, a Washington consultant overseeing the effort.

"It is a battleground-state strategy."

Pinkston and Simmons were both involved with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that ran ads questioning the Vietnam record of Kerry, a decorated veteran. Simmons was Swift Boat's second-largest donor, giving $3 million.

Simmons has donated at least $4.5 million to federal campaigns in the past decade, Federal Election Commission records show.

Simmons was No. 43 on the 2007 Forbes list of richest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $7.4 billion. Known as a corporate raider, Simmons has been nicknamed "the Ice Man." He acquired his wealth by investing in drugstores, steel, garbage collection and other entities. He could not be reached for comment.

On its website, McCain's campaign discloses that Simmons has raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the Republican candidate.

Simmons also has given direct contributions to McCain and McCain-related committees totaling $17,300 since the presidential campaign began last year. A political action committee affiliated with one of Simmons' companies has donated $18,500 to McCain committees.

The anti-Obama ad that Simmons funded notes that the Sept. 11 hijackers failed to crash one of the hijacked jets into the Capitol but that 30 years earlier the Weather Underground detonated a bomb in it. "Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it?" the ad asks.

Ayers was never prosecuted for any of the Weather Underground bombings; charges were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Under federal law, it would be illegal for McCain to have had a hand in the ad, and McCain's campaign has denied involvement.

Obama attorney Robert F. Bauer charged in a letter to the Justice Department that the American Issues Project is engaging in a "willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law."

The group claims tax- exempt status.

Bauer noted that the law limits the ability of such committees to expressly advocate for the defeat or election of a candidate.

Instead, he charged, the group should be operating as a political organization.

Federal law, however, caps the size of donations to such groups, a restriction that would have precluded Simmons from donating $2.87 million.

"We urge and expect the Department of Justice to fulfill its commitment to take prompt, vigorous action to enforce against criminal violations of the campaign finance laws," Bauer wrote in his letter.

Separately, Obama's attorneys are demanding that television stations spike the spot. They say the ad is "demonstrably false" and labeled it a "crude, disreputable and malicious attempt to link Sen. Obama to domestic terrorist activities."

Pinkston, the American Issues consultant, scoffed at the charges, saying: "These people need to study election law. It is totally legal. You can be sure we vetted and vetted and vetted it again."

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Friday, August 22, 2008

McCain – A Few Homes Too Many?

As the election season heats up, it looks like there is more and more fodder for the bloggers.

The latest gaffe comes courtesy of John McCain, who has so many homes that he isn’t unable to tell anyone how many he has. (See the story below from CNN.) It seems to validate some of my concerns about McCain that he may not pay attention to details. And, if he is unable to qualify his personal holdings, how can he possibly be able to grasp the complexities of the economy of the United States? Even more questionable is his ability to relate to the average voter, who more than likely only has one home, or the low-income voter who may be struggling to keep his or her own from foreclosure.

Smartly, the Barack Obama campaign has come back with an immediate response in the form of an ad (below, along with the McCain response ad). The Obama campaign has been losing ground in the polls, possibly because they haven’t been very quick to jump on what seem to be an increasing number of McCain slip-ups. I suspect that as the candidates announce their respective running mates, and as they hold their conventions, both sides will unleash even more commercials taking aim at each other. It’s an expected part of the process. But, the McCain ads to date seem to be focusing more on their envy of Obama’s “celebrity” and less on what McCain can do.

If John McCain hopes to win the next election, his campaign needs to show more substance of his own platform, and less jealousy of the Obama fame. And if Barack Obama hopes to win, he needs to ramp up the quick advertising responses to any McCain blunders, which I suspect will increase.

Either way, hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Obama pounces as McCain unsure of how many homes he owns

(CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama's campaign used a new attack ad Thursday to pound Sen. John McCain for his failure to answer a question about how many homes he owns.

Sen. John McCain has faced Democratic criticism that he's out of touch with average Americans.

1 of 2 The Democratic candidate hammered home the same point on the campaign trail in Virginia as the McCain camp battled back.

"Somebody asked John McCain, 'How many houses do you have?' and he said, 'I'm not sure, I'll have to check with my staff,' " Obama said Thursday in Virginia. "True quote. 'I'm not sure, I'll have to check with my staff.' So they asked his staff and he said, 'At least four.' "

Obama was referring to McCain's comments in an interview for the Politico Web site. "I think -- I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told Politico. "It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you."

The McCain campaign later told Politico the senator from Arizona and his wife, Cindy, own at least four homes in three states. Other news organizations have reported a higher total. Cindy McCain is heir to a beer fortune estimated at roughly $100 million.

McCain faced similar criticism from Obama after remarks Saturday at the Rev. Rick Warren's faith forum in which the Republican joked that someone would need to earn $5 million a year to be defined as rich in the United States.

"Now think about that -- I guess if you think that being rich means you gotta make $5 million, and if you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy is fundamentally strong," Obama said Thursday.

"But if you're like me and you've got one house -- or you were like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so that they don't lose their home -- you might have a different perspective."

Obama said that there was a "fundamental gap of understanding" between McCain's world and "what people are going through every single day here in America."

In response to Obama's attack, McCain's campaign again pressed its case that the senator from Illinois is an elitist.

"Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?" McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.

"Does a guy who worries about the price of arugula and thinks regular people 'cling' to guns and religion in the face of economic hardship really want to have a debate about who's in touch with regular Americans?"

"The reality is that Barack Obama's plans to raise taxes and opposition to producing more energy here at home as gas prices skyrocket show he's completely out of touch with the concerns of average Americans."

The Obama campaign released its new ad hours after McCain's Politico comments surfaced, painting a portrait of the Republican senator as privileged and insulated from current economic woes.

"Maybe you're struggling just to pay the mortgage on your home. But recently, John McCain said, 'The fundamentals of our economy are strong,' " said the announcer in the 30-second spot.

"Hmm," the speaker continues skeptically as the ad flashes a picture of a house with a foreclosure sign in the front yard.

"Then again, that same day, when asked how many houses he owns, McCain lost track. He couldn't remember. Well, it's seven. Seven houses," he continues. On-screen, the legend flashes: "It's seven. Worth $13 million."

The White House appears on-screen as the announcer concludes: "And here's one house America can't afford to let John McCain move into."

The ad is Obama's fifth negative spot in two days. The campaign said it will run on national cable television. Watch more on Obama's attacks »

The latest dust-up between the candidates comes as McCain chips away at Obama's lead in a national survey of polls.

According to CNN's average of recent national surveys, Obama is ahead of McCain by 1 percentage point, 45 percent to 44 percent.

Obama's lead in the "poll of polls," which consists of seven surveys, is down from 3 percentage points on Wednesday and down from 8 percentage points in mid-July.

"From my perspective, Obama needs to introduce a game changer -- and fast -- before public opinion starts to gel around the notion that he is a phenom who deserves great respect but is not seasoned enough and would be too much of a risk in the Oval Office," said CNN contributor David Gergen, a former counselor to three presidents. Read what Gergen thinks at the "Anderson Cooper 360°" blog

The poll of polls includes NBC/The Wall Street Journal (August 15-18), CBS/The New York Times (August 15-19), Zogby (August 14-16), George Washington University Battleground (August 10-14), Gallup tracking (August 17-19), Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg (August 15-18) and Quinnipiac (August 12-17). The poll of polls does not have a sampling error.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

John McCain: Pro-Draft, or Just Daft?

In a town hall meeting yesterday in Las Cruces, New Mexico, (video and text below), John McCain was asked a very long, wordy question by one woman who closed her question by asking:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: If we don’t reenact the draft I don’t think we will have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell.

MCCAIN: Ma’am let me say that I don’t disagree with anything you said and thank you and I am grateful for your support of all of our veterans.

Did he just say what I thought he said? Is John McCain in favor of a draft? Was the question too big and confusing for him? Or, did he just not hear that part of the question and decided to only address the issue of medical care for veterans?

Instances like this is why I have concerns about John McCain. When I watch this video, I see a man getting impatient with the length of the question, looking as if he was looking for an opening to cut it off and move on to his answer. I can understand having to do that. But in doing so, it seemed as if his mind already had prepared an answer based on what he already heard, and he may have failed to fully recognize the bombshell the questioner added right at the end.

But, if John answer was encompassing of the entire question, we have reason to be very worried, because it could mean as President, he could be pushing the country into an even more protracted war. And while I respect John’s military service to our country, he shouldn’t be in such a hurry to place our young men and women in the line of fire. A draft should only be necessary in very narrow situations where our country is being affected by a direct, frontal threat (for example, on our won soil), and only if there is no possible way for our troops, if pulled back from their other locations around the world, to handle the task. And if that situation were to really occur, it’s likely that, as in WW II, the draft wouldn’t even be necessary because people would enlist in order to protect their way of life. And when people believe that the need for war is right, a draft is not necessary, as citizens show their "buy-in" by enlisting.

So take a listen and watch this video closely and let me know what you think of his answer. No matter how many times I look at it, I don’t see or hear anything good.

The full question can be found at this link, and also below:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Senator McCain I truly hope you get the opportunity to chase Bin Laden right to the gates of hell and push him in as you stated on your forum. I do have a question though. Disable veterans, especially in this state have horrible conditions, their medical is substandard. They drive four hours one way to Albuquerque for a simple doctors appointment which is often canceled. Our VA hospital is dirty it is understaffed, it is running on maximum overload. The prescription medicines are ten years behind standard medical care we have seven hundred claims stacked up at the VA office in Albuquerque some of them are ten and seven years old waiting to be processed in the mean time these people are homeless. My son is an officer in the Air Force, and I am a vet and I was raised in a military family. I think it is a sad state of affairs when we have illegal aliens having a Medicaid card that can access specialist top physicians, the best of medical and our vets can’t even get to a doctor. These are the people that we tied yellow ribbons for and Bush patted on the back. If we don’t reenact the draft I don’t think we will have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell.

MCCAIN: Ma’am let me say that I don’t disagree with anything you said and thank you and I am grateful for your support of all of our veterans.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lowering the Drinking Age: Why It Should Happen

There have been many stories in the news over the last few days about college leaders asking for the national drinking age to be lowered to 18 (see one article below).

I happen to agree with them. Forget about the obvious arguments that if an 18-year old is old enough to vote, old enough to work, and old enough to enlist in the military and die for his or her country, that he or she is old enough to drink. And forget about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who may think this will only increased deaths from alcohol. I have news for all of them: 18 year olds are already drinking, and they have been drinking at this age for decades.

Because many of these 18 year old are currently drinking in environments where bingeing on alcohol is almost rite of passage, the risk is already there that the 18-20 age group will get in an accident or be caught for drunk driving. Just as risky, the current environment may also be encouraging risky sexual behavior that they may regret later in the form of an unwanted pregnancy or STD.

Mind you, lowering the drinking age will not make these situations go away. But it could very well diminish drinking for the “thrill” of it, or drinking because it’s forbidden. It also may actually have the benefit of making college-age students feel more responsible because the lower age would be a sign of trust that we believe they CAN be responsible.

Drinking already is a problem at this age. This means that this age group is getting their hands on alcoholic beverages anyway, despite the law’s attempt to ban them. I can imagine that lowering the drinking age would mean a whole new crop of flashy bars geared to that age that would pop up at light speed around colleges and everywhere else. It wouldn’t mean the drinking would stop. But maybe it would make the “binge” drinking environment go away. After all, there really wouldn’t be the need to drink in excess quantities because one happens to be at a Saturday night party where they can get their hands on it for the night.

But for every action, there should be an equal, opposite reaction. We must, as a country, start to get very, very serious about how we handle drunk drivers at ANY age group. Maybe it should be one strike and you’re jailed for a set period of time. Two strikes, you lose your license for a year or more and can’t get it back unless you complete an alcohol treatment program. Three strikes and you lose your license forever. And for anyone caught behind the wheel of a vehicle involved in an accident while intoxicated, on anything and at any time, that person should serve hard time in prison. And then our law enforcement and court system needs to enforce it.

Let’s face it, the age limit right now is a sham, especially in the college campus environment. It’s time that we treat the 18-20 year old age group like the adult that they should be. And maybe they will learn to act that way.

College leaders hope to renew debate on a lower drinking age

The current limit ignores the reality of drinking on campus and pushes it underground, they say. Opponents say a rollback to age 18 would reverse declines in teen drunk driving.

By Larry Gordon and Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
August 20, 2008

As college students gear up for annual back-to-school parties, a group of university and college presidents in California and across the country this week pushed for a national debate over whether the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18.

The current limit ignores the reality of drinking during college years and drives it underground, making binge drinking more dangerous and students less likely to seek help in an emergency, according to a petition signed by more than 100 campus presidents. Though they don't call for an outright age rollback, the campus chiefs said they support "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."

Their statement provoked some controversy as critics contend that a lower drinking age will cause an increase in drunk driving deaths.

In California, the heads of Occidental, Pomona and Whittier colleges signed the petition, along with leaders of Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Mount Holyoke, Tufts and many small liberal arts colleges elsewhere in the country.

Pomona President David W. Oxtoby said colleges now were in the difficult position of having to enforce the underage ban but also to encourage moderation and offer advice to students who might want to help a drunken friend. Schools, he added, can't sponsor events at which students might emulate responsible and controlled drinking, such as campus faculty receptions, where wine is served.

The result, he said, is that too many students wind up drinking by themselves in their rooms, "and that is the most common place they get seriously ill," Oxtoby said.

Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger and Occidental's Robert Skotheim said they signed the petition to encourage discussion, but said they had not decided whether the drinking age should be 18. "It's time we look at the issue afresh and see whether there are better solutions than we currently have in place because, after all, we haven't solved the problem," Herzberger said.

Many colleges, including Whittier, Occidental and USC, require all incoming students to take an online course on the dangers of drinking.

The petition is part of a Vermont-based movement called the Amethyst Initiative, named after the gemstone that ancient Greeks believed warded off drunkenness. It is sponsored by the Choose Responsibility organization founded by John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College, and is funded with private donations, none of which come from the alcoholic beverage industry, its officials said.

McCardell's organization stresses the paradox that 18-year-olds can vote, serve on juries and join the military but cannot legally drink beer. It proposes a drinking license, similar to driver's licenses, for 18- to 20-year-olds who complete an alcohol education program.

The effort, however, was denounced by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which is urging parents to protest to the college presidents. Chuck Hurley, chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that he was "profoundly disappointed" in the initiative and contended that the signers were ignoring research showing a significant drop in drunk-driving deaths for teens since the age limit was raised to 21. McCardell said some of that reduction may be attributed to safer cars, better enforcement and wider use of "designated drivers."

Although states are free to set their own drinking ages, 21 became the national standard since a 1984 federal law reduced highway funds for states with a lower age.

UCLA and USC officials were approached to sign the petition, but they held off. A spokeswoman said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block wanted more time to confer with other university leaders and examine research about the age limit. USC President Steven B. Sample received the petition last week but hadn't yet taken action, a spokesman said.

Surveys show that almost half of first-year USC students drank before college, but by Thanksgiving, the percentage rose to 80%, Swinford said. "There are many, many first-time drinkers in the first few months of college," Swinford said. "What we have done is be very honest about this as an institution. And trained staff to deal with it." However, she said she doesn't know if a lower drinking age would reduce drinking.

Pomona College sophomore Ted Zwang, 18, said he was pleased with the petition. He said most college students, including himself, drink before 21 but rarely become seriously drunk. He said he learned to drink responsibly since his parents allowed him an occasional glass of wine at home and during travels to countries where drinking is legal.

If the age limit is lowered, more parents might show their 18-year-olds how to drink safely before they go to college, said Zwang, who is from New Jersey. "Now students start to experiment when they are no longer under their parents' supervision," he said. "And that encourages them to drink in ways that are less safe for them."

At USC, pharmacy student Estella Wu, 26, said she had seen teenage girls passed out on streets in San Diego and San Francisco, but she was not sure about the effects of a lower drinking age. "It might make the drinking more visible, but I don't know if it would make it easier to monitor and control," she said.

At Occidental, residence hall officials do not search rooms for alcohol, but students discovered drunk or hosting a drinking party are required to attend a meeting with administrators and may have a reprimand placed in their file, according to Barbara Avery, campus vice president for student affairs. Counseling may be recommended, and parents may be alerted about repeated violations, but students typically do not face suspension or expulsion unless their drinking led to physical injuries or property damage, she said.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do Not Call Should Mean Do Not Call At All

The National Do Not Call Registry is a great thing because it allows you to block telemarketers from calling. But there are limitations. One can still receive calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, and companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those where you’ve provided consent in writing to receive their calls.

My personal feeling is that Do Not Call should mean just that – DO NOT CALL. Period. I can understand a company that you have a business relationship with you calling in the normal course of doing business. But I don't know why politicians get a free pass to annoy me by phone. I wrote in my blog (here) back in February about one company making annoying political calls, and with the upcoming presidential election, I sense the political calls are going to ramp up exponentially as we get closer to Election Day.

Frankly, I don’t want to hear from any of them.

During the primaries, I received calls – prerecorded and automated, of course – from Hillary Clinton and John McCain. I don’t recall getting a phone call from Barack Obama but that actually worked in his favor for me. The calls from Clinton and McCain were left on my answering machine (I screen all my calls), which allowed me to either listen to them or just delete them, depending on my mood. But I have to admit the fact that they even called me and made an attempt to interrupt my day actually lowered my opinion of them. Also, John McCain’s message sounded like he’d just woken up and hadn’t had any coffee yet. It was dull, stiff, and lifeless. I felt like the life force was being sucked out of me as I listed to the message.

And the fact that many politicians are using electronic autodialers to do the work for them – sometimes called “robocalls” - it’s made the political call even more worthless. Sure, by using autodialers they can reach more people in less time, but it’s also the phone equivalent of email spam. It’s just some electronic method of dumping junk, this time on your ears.

So while the Do Not Call registry has helped to cut down on those annoying people trying to sell you something you don’t want, it still has allowed what I call phone spam – telespam? – from people you don’t want to hear from.

I wish that the Do Not Call registry was sophisticated enough to allow you to select – or deselect – groups of people you don’t want to hear from. I would make sure that I wouldn’t hear from politicians and their political messages. Of course, they can call me personally if they want to talk to me personally. But I don’t think I need their canned, automated phone call to sell me their message.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Newsflash: Politicians Are Human Beings

Well, the headline on my blog today shouldn’t be news to anyone. It seems that during election season, someone running for office is caught embellishing, covering, or stretching the truth. Some outright lie. Some are involved in shady deals. Someone is caught cheating on his or her spouse. We know this from experience. Politicians are human beings who do human things.

Why is it then that everyone seems so shocked, appalled, and sometimes happy when someone gets caught doing something wrong?

Reports of John Edwards’ infidelity seemed to bring shock to some, glee to others. The shock seems to come from those that still, in this day and age, expect that politicians should do no wrong. The glee comes from people who feel that it only validates what they felt all along about people running for office – that they can’t be trusted and all of them think that they are untouchable.

For me, while I expect anyone elected to public office to have the highest level of integrity, I don’t expect them to be perfect. I have less of a concern with John Edwards’ actual indiscretion than I do with the fact that he lied about it. He just plain lied. And if a politician is willing to lie to cover an issue that really isn’t anybody’s business anyway, what would that same politician be willing to do if he or she lies to cover an issue that IS the business of those that have elected them?

Lucky for the Democratic Party that John Edwards wasn’t selected as their candidate for president. While sometimes these issues have their way of working themselves out, it would have helped had the Democratic party - who I have to believe had a whiff of something wrong there – stepped in and helped to get the truth out much earlier. It certainly makes one wonder how well any party knows its own candidates.

It also makes one speculate as to what is waiting to come out for John McCain and Barack Obama, who did make their party’s cut to vie for the top job? And what is waiting for them in the form of the running mates that they select?

One thing is for sure, politicians are human, and any flaws they have will be flushed out. We can only hope it’s before Election Day on November 4, 2008.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

US Television News: Utter Rubbish?

I thought I’d pass along this article from the UK Guardian, which refers to the TV news here in the U.S. as “utter rubbish.” While I think the national evening news segments are better than they give them credit for, I think that this article pretty much describes the state of the cable news channels, like MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. In fact, Fox is probably the worst of the bunch. Take a read below – what’s your opinion?

Why TV news in the US is utter rubbish

For years it has been a joke that news in the United States is terrible: obsessed with trivia and celebrity; fronted by Botox bimbos; forever interviewing citizens about some artefact of small-town life when a major news story is breaking elsewhere.

Well, the truth is that it's far, far worse than that. There are a multitude of news channels - CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox. But after an hour of flipping between them during lunchtime last week, this was the sum total of information gleaned: there are two US presidential candidates; they have produced campaign ads; people have made video parodies and posted them on the internet; a US TV news host appeared on a US TV chatshow last night; and someone said something controversial (read ignorant) on a different TV show the day before.

In the meantime, one of the most sought-after war criminals in the world had been arrested and sent for trial; several new scientific breakthroughs had been announced; Zimbabwe edged carefully toward shared government; the Indian government dealt with votes of no-confidence and terrorist attacks; and countless other real stories came and went. For millions of Americans, these events appeared as 15-word tickertapes at the bottom of their 36-inch widescreen TVs.

It's not the absolute dearth of real news that is the problem, however. It's the fact that the news that is presented isn't news but mindless, misleading gossip. The clearest example of this is when one of the (between two and six) commentators on any given story provides their "analysis".

This comprises of showing a video clip and then talking with the assumed voice of the person in the clip. So, for example, Barack Obama gave a press conference. A clip of around four or five seconds of what he said is shown and then the TV studio people take over.

News anchor: "So what he's saying is 'Hey, I'm the guy in charge here - I'm the person who decides what to do, not you.' Is that right?"

Commentator: "I think what he was saying was: 'If I become president, then I'll be the person that calls the shots.'"

Commentator Two: "I don't agree. He's saying: 'I am going to listen to others – that's what I'll do – but make no mistake I'll be the person who makes the final decision.'"

This goes on and on with people making up dialogue and pretending to be Obama (or John McCain or anyone else that comes to mind) rather than broadcasting what was actually said.

But it gets worse:

• Unfair comment: The analysis of what someone has said is clearly bent by the reporters themselves along ideological lines. Unrelated facts and events are attached and then attacked, and the original news point ends up as little more than a launching pad for the experts' own political perspectives. So a sober report on, say, house prices ends up as a criticism of the Republican party's fiscal policy (without any details of that policy being provided). In the worst cases, something with no news value at all is introduced in order to score political points – such as McCain eating at a German restaurant, or Obama knocking fists with his wife.

• Tail-chasing and navel gazing: The media reports constantly on itself. And that really does mean constantly. Anything reported on the TV news instantly becomes something to be reported on. For an entire day the lead on most TV networks was whether the media was giving Obama too much coverage. The second day comprised of whether the coverage given to Obama was too uncritical. By the third day, much of the coverage was about the previous two days' coverage, complete with clips of how rival networks were covering the "news". News hosts also regularly appear on other news hosts' shows, and then feature that appearance on their own show.

• Never let the story get in the way: The focus is entirely on the back story, and the actual news is given lip-service. So you'll hear more about how a decision was arrived at than what the actual decision was, or what impact it might have. The idea is that you are getting the real juice. The reality is you are forced to drink a pint of conjecture concentrate. Presidential campaign ads have become lead stories. A one-second image flash of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in a recent ad implied that Obama was no more than a celebrity. It led to hours of primetime news speculation, while the ad's central claim that Obama would raise taxes if elected was ignored.

• The Jerry Springer school of journalism: There is never a neutral statement - it is always an extreme perspective. If you are the news anchor, you can speak in a third-party voice and add a question mark on the end to suggest impartiality. But otherwise, wild claims are balanced with an equally wild claim at the other end. If someone attempts to point out logical inconsistencies, they are almost always faced with personal mockery by the other commentators. Just one example of this bizarre, school-bully behaviour: When one commentator, speaking from Las Vegas, tried to point out why an offshore drilling bill (which had been misrepresented as a reason why the Democrats were responsible for high petrol prices), had not been passed by Congress, he was told by the anchor that he had clearly spent too much time at the craps tables. He was told soon after by another commentator he had spent too much time at the bar. The substance of his argument did not of course merit discussion.

• The gold(fish) rush: There is absolutely no effort to provide historical context. The news is paced so frenetically that anything beyond soundbites is not tolerated. News anchors consistently talk over the top of anyone that doesn't provide a punchy point every 10 seconds. Swooshing graphics and dance music add to the general level of pace – which effectively masks the fact that almost nothing is being provided beyond personal opinion.

• When did you stop beating your wife? Coverage is deeply cynical in the sense that people are assumed to have a hidden and planned agenda even when the connection drawn would have been impossible to predict as it doesn't follow logical reasoning. Speculation with no foundation in logic or fact is opened up as a serious news item with the simple inclusion of the phrase "Did [insert name of person] know about [insert event]?" The answer – if there was ever any attempt to actually arrive at it – will always be "No".

• Fight! Fight! Fight! There is no effort to reach a greater understanding. Instead, the sole intent is to provoke disagreement and partisan perspective - with the anchor used solely to egg on disagreement. Nearly every segment ends with the anchor shutting off argument and promoting the idea that they will have to agree to disagree.

So where do you get your news while living in the US? News-starved Americans usually hold up National Public Radio, NPR, as the best option. But with interlude music fresh from the 1920s and a twee, kitchen-table-chat approach, this is news wrapped in a tea cosy.

Two comedy programmes, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, fill a peculiar niche of serious analysis with gags and are possibly the main news source for people under 30. They both viciously lampoon the news media, which pretends not to notice and runs clips from them on their own shows.

There is hope however. The non-news cycle is increasingly being broken by the internet. Thanks to cheap digital technology and fast net connections, online video is a simple prospect and means it is possible to get your fix of moving images with real news thrown in.

Not that TV news is concerned. The internet, and YouTube in particular, is a network's dream: an Aladdin's Cave of uninformed, one-sided and aggressive gossip and commentary, all of it searchable and requiring minimal expenditure of time or money. And so every day you can find news anchors running short clips of the very best the internet can offer before turning to the experts to give their views.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

…And I approved this message.

You’ll be hearing that a lot in this presidential election season. The candidates say it for the ads prepared by his or her campaigns. Essentially, it helps differentiate a candidate from ads fronted by 527 groups, which usually have their own agenda and backers with deep pockets to fund them.

527 groups, named after a section of US tax code, are tax-exempt organizations created to influence a nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates for public office. And some of them can get downright nasty in their political statements, probably because they can say pretty much whatever they want about whomever they want, often hiding behind a group name, like, rather than a face. In many cases, they sometimes use controversial imagery to get their point across.

And while it’s good for people to have a venue to relay their political leanings and ideologies, sometimes these 527 ads can seem to go overboard. One recent example was the ad that put in the New York Times last year challenging the integrity of Gen. David H. Petraeus's, and played off his name with this question in large letters: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" In my opinion, this anti-war attack did little to actually affect the opinions of the American people on the war (which was already bad); it only served to slur one person. To me, it may have been more effective had their ad focused on putting more pressure on Congress as a whole to put a quicker end to the war.

So while I have no problem with the existence of 527 groups, I am not looking forward to the mud and slime that will be coming out of them in the upcoming presidential election season. I would be much less inclined to tune out their messages if they stated clear, supported facts, rather than their attempts to play on people’s emotions. In fact, sometimes ads playing on a person’s emotions usually have the opposite effect on me, because they seem more transparent in their motives than those that are based on fact.

So here’s one blogger that won’t donate to any 527 group. I haven’t found yet that doesn’t lean too far to the extreme. But they still do serve a purpose by helping people to think – and sad to say, sometimes a negative ad will do that.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paris Hilton…For President?

I’ve written here before about some of the bad things that can come out of a Presidential election. But, there are also good things, and one good thing is that some really great comedy and satire is done, sometimes from very unlikely people. Here’s a new favorite of mine, with Paris Hilton taking her stand - well, maybe she does it laying down – about how she feels about her image being used in a John McCain ad which negatively targeted Barack Obama.

Personally, I think this ad is better than any political ad I’ve seen this year. Maybe the candidates could learn something here, don’t you?

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

The video can also be viewed on the “Funny or Die” web site,

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