Politix

Entry 1
It’s news to me, but 7-11 has, for the past few elections, been running a promotion wherein voters can indicate their presidential preferences by choosing certain cups for their coffee. Despite the fact that not every state has 7-11s, the final totals in 2000 and 2004 apparently lined up pretty well with the final outcomes of those elections. (This means, I guess, that just as you were about to enjoy your last cup of delicious steaming Kerry, five guys in black robes ran up, knocked in out of your hands, and handed you a cup of cold, grounds-filled Bush.)

And but so, you want to know who’s ahead now, right? You’ll have to click through the Flash-y website to see the exact numbers, but as of 9:17 pm tonight, Barack Obama leads John McCain, 59.68% to 40.32%. I think that’s called a “landslide.” (For what it’s worth, McCain is only “winning” three states [North Carolina, New Hampshire, and West Virginia], and only by narrow margins.)

Anyone out there near a 7-11, go buy a large Obama cup for me. I’ll pay you back.

Entry 2 (promoted from my Tumblr site – see the right side of this page)

At his rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, last week, a woman asked John McCain about Barack Obama being an “Arab.” McCain cut her off, but the full story is even worse. (See the video: she appears at about 0:50.) Apparently, the woman may have actually said that Obama was an “Arab terrorist,” and in an interview with reporters after the event, both repeated that slur (describing her sketchy sources for that information) and said she’s a Minnesota GOP campaign worker. See the full transcript of the interview at The Uptake. Nice campaign you’re running over there, Republicans!

Presidential Education

Amidst the continuing turmoil on Wall Street and the increasing ugliness of the presidential campaign, it was nice to read – a few days ago, but many days after its publication – this article in the Boston Globe about Barack Obama’s two years at Occidental College, a liberal-arts school in Los Angeles. According to journalist Scott Helman,

it is during the two years Obama spent at Occidental, a small liberal arts school in Los Angeles, that he started on the path that has led to the Democratic presidential nomination. Oxy, as it is affectionately known, nurtured his transformation. He started playing basketball less so he could read and study more. After shying away from activism early in his college career, he joined an antiapartheid campaign. He came to terms with his identity, eventually ditching his nickname, Barry, and embracing Barack. And then, yearning for a bigger stage, he engineered a transfer to Columbia.

Partly it was the sobering state of the world and the nation – the Iran hostage crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the grave concerns over energy and inflation, and the wave of antigovernment conservatism that swept through California in 1978 as the precursor to the Reagan revolution. Partly it was a pivotal professor who helped tease out his potential. And partly it was a desire to assert more control over the arc of his life.

Very interesting stuff. I hope President Obama pays attention to the American liberal-arts colleges, which often do more with less than the big state and private universities that get all the press.

(Postscript: I thought that Obama would have been one of a very few presidential-level politicians to have attended a liberal-arts college, but – according to this Wikipedia list – quite a few have earned degrees at small colleges. By my count, at least fifteen presidents attended at least thirteen liberal-arts schools. The last to do so was Ronald Reagan, who attended Eureka College.)

Still Thinking Snow

The crisp early-October morning weather is heightening my eagerness for some snow, so I was excited to hear Mark Seeley, a U of Minnesota climatologist and state celebrity, say last Friday on Minnesota Public Radio that the Twin Cities have received measurable snowfall in forty Octobers since 1884, most recently in 2002. October snow is actually pretty late for some parts of the continent, of course. On August 31, the Canadian cross-country skier Devon Kershaw blogged about significant snowfall in the Rockies, and a couple of ski teams in Alaska actually did a bit of snow skiing in September. And this weekend, the forecast for Spearfish, South Dakota, is nicely white:

Spearfish Forecast
Spearfish Forecast

As my post last weekend showed, here in southern Minnesota it’s still rollerski season. My workout hardly compared, in topographical or physical demands, to the incredible-sounding (and amazing-looking) “Climb to the Castle” uphill race on Monday in northern New York. Then again, it was still better than using this cool but pretty weird cool invention: a synthetic surface so much like snow that you can ski on it.

When I get rich figuring out how to profit on the Wall Street collapse, I’ll use my third million dollars to install this on my woodland estate in northern Minnesota. (The first million will go in the bank, the second to buy the property and build a modest 9 BR, 8 bath shack in one corner of the lot.)

Four Years, Four Weeks

A great line from a good article on Obama’s delicate balance between telling the (awful) truth about the economy and raising (dim, possibly false) hopes for the future.

“Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan asked the electorate if you were better off than you were four years ago,” Obama told a grandstand full of voters in the swing state of Indiana. “At the pace things are going, you’re going to have to ask if you were better off than you were four weeks ago.”

The Maverick Family

This is the best thing I’ve read in a week: from John Schwartz in the Times, the family history of the actual Maverick family, Texans with a long streak of progressive politics: 

There’s that word again: maverick. In Thursday’s vice-presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the Republican candidate, used it to describe herself and her running mate, Senator John McCain, no fewer than six times, at one point calling him “the consummate maverick.”

But to those who know the history of the word, applying it to Mr. McCain is a bit of a stretch — and to one Texas family in particular it is even a bit offensive.

“I’m just enraged that McCain calls himself a maverick,” said Terrellita Maverick, 82, a San Antonio native who proudly carries the name of a family that has been known for its progressive politics since the 1600s, when an early ancestor in Boston got into trouble with the law over his agitation for the rights of indentured servants.

In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it, Ms. Maverick said; unbranded cattle, then, were called “Maverick’s.” The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand.

Sam Maverick’s grandson, Fontaine Maury Maverick, was a two-term congressman and a mayor of San Antonio who lost his mayoral re-election bid when conservatives labeled him a Communist. He served in the Roosevelt administration on the Smaller War Plants Corporation and is best known for another coinage. He came up with the term “gobbledygook” in frustration at the convoluted language of bureaucrats.

This Maverick’s son, Maury Jr., was a firebrand civil libertarian and lawyer who defended draft resisters, atheists and others scorned by society. He served in the Texas Legislature during the McCarthy era and wrote fiery columns for The San Antonio Express-News. His final column, published on Feb. 2, 2003, just after he died at 82, was an attack on the coming war in Iraq.

Terrellita Maverick, sister of Maury Jr., is a member emeritus of the board of the San Antonio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Considering the family’s long history of association with liberalism and progressive ideals, it should come as no surprise that Ms. Maverick insists that John McCain, who has voted so often with his party, “is in no way a maverick, in uppercase or lowercase. IIt’s just incredible — the nerve! — to suggest that he’s not part of that Republican herd. Every time we hear it, all my children and I and all my family shrink a little and say, ‘Oh, my God, he said it again.’ He’s a Republican,” she said. “He’s branded.”

Brilliant. I love that woman.

Bailout Analysis

Most of what’s passing for “explanation” or “analysis” of the financial crisis is about as valuable as a mortgage-backed security, but this article by John Leonhardt in the Times is a really good overview of the crisis, the solution, and the context for both. A few choice bits:

… All told, the Federal Reserve has pumped $800 billion into the financial system, Ben Bernanke, its chairman, estimated on Tuesday. That figure doesn’t include the untold sum that the Fed now plans to spend buying short-term debt so that companies can continue to pay for their daily operations. And it doesn’t include any of the money the Treasury Department is laying out, like the $700 billion bailout fund or the $200 billion that could be spent propping up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

After 14 months of crisis, the federal government — meaning you and me — has put serious money on the line. As a point of comparison, the entire annual federal budget is about $3 trillion.

Even before the crisis, the Bush administration was set to bequeath a $550 billion deficit to its successor. Now, a better estimate appears to be $750 billion — or 5 percent of gross domestic product. The only years since the 1960s that the deficit has been nearly so large were the early 1990s (almost 4.5 percent of G.D.P.) and the mid-1980s (with a peak of 6 percent in 1983).

… Obviously, next year’s deficit is a problem. And if you assume the credit crisis isn’t about to lift — which seems smart at this point — the ultimate cost of the bailouts could conceivably go higher. Whatever the final figure, it should still be put in some context.

Despite everything, the biggest fiscal problem remains, far and away, health care. Based on the rate that medical spending has been rising, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts that Medicare and Medicaid will take up 10 percent of G.D.P. within two decades, up from about 4 percent now. In today’s terms, that would be the equivalent of adding at least $900 billion to the deficit every single year, in perpetuity. It makes the cost of the bailouts look like a rounding error.

Surprises at the Mall

I had to take the car to the shop today ($800 repair, covered by the warranty: thank god for a consumer economy) and occupied myself during the repair by making the short trip over to Burnsville Center. Apart from having dinner at the Mall of America with a blog friend a while ago, this was my first visit to a real mall (note: the “Faribo West Mall” in Faribault does not count), and I felt a little bit like the hick in the big city. A few surprises:

  • The myriad oppotunities for free ear piercing.
  • The prominence of lingerie in shop windows.
  • The ubiquity of Packers gear.
  • The thorough co-branding.
  • The law office near the Cinnabon.
  • The Somali-based workforce.
  • The prevalence of kiosks.
  • The prevalence of kiosks selling cell phones, sunglasses and accessories, and dubious-sounding health care “solutions.”
  • The sheer number of vending machines, although they only sold Coke and Coke products.
  • The high prices.