State of Affairs

Jim Fairthorne’s take on the political scene in America

Hope and Change – The Slogans of our time

Posted by yoozur on November 3, 2008

The date was 1914, the year of the first great war of the 20th Century. Generals, soldiers, politicians and citizens of Europe’s great powers were blissfully unaware of the realities of modern combat, and the presiding mood was one of optimism, of ambition, and in many cases outright desire for combat. The rise of nationalism, patriotism and jingoism all came to a front during this period, and songs and slogans boasting their nation’s power and military prowess were everywhere. While it would be easy for conteporary thinkers to look back at the people of this period as misguided and overambitious, it would be drastically understating the power of groupthink, catchphrases and popular culture, while at the same time, overstating our current resiliance to those sorts of things.

While obviously the subject matter is completely different, and the tone is much less overt, there are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the state of political thought at the turn of the 20th century, and political thought in 2008 (and in particular, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign). First and formost is the appeal to vague ideals, ideals that are supposed to represent the movement as a whole. Secondly is the use of slogans, songs and catchphrases to reign in those who may not fully grasp the real issues at hand. “Yes we can!” “Hope” and “Change” are the three most recognizable slogans of the Obama campaign. The red and blue picture of Obama with Hope written underneath, as well as Obama’s stars and stripes circle are the two most recognizable images.

What does “Yes we can!” mean exactly? How do you quantify hope? Many of these slogans and chants mean different things to different people. To an African American, could “Yes we can!” represent the breakthrough of an African American politician ascending to the presidency? To a staunch Democrat, could Hope signal the end of the stranglehold Republicans have had over the country for almost a decade? The idea behind these campaign slogans is to be an “everything to everyone” message that is easily digestable. But what actual message do these slogans impart? Do they really mean anything, or are they just rallying cries?

We have seen that empty messages are not only capable of inspiring and moving large amounts of people, but are actually more effective than clear, direct messages. It’s much easier to appeal to one’s emotions than to a person’s sensibilities. Emotions are universal. It’s easy to agree with a mob of people chanting “Yes we can!” than people who are discussing potentially divisive issues and policies. It’s easier to sell a T-Shirt with Hope on it, than to sell a plan that dramatically changes the tax structure of the US.

North American culture has been rapidly accelerating, preferring sound bites, quicker edited movies and music videos and fast food. Does the re-emergence, and wild success of the Slogan signal that the pace of politics is picking up as well? Think quickly!

Posted in Future, Politics | 1 Comment »

America lacking the administration to handle this election?

Posted by yoozur on October 30, 2008

With little less than a week until the 2008 presidential election, there is growing concern that several states are dangerously unprepared to meet the challenge of administering an election where voter turnout will likely reach unprecedented levels.

Advancement Project, an organization who works to protect voting integrity, has released a report that examines the probable impact the expected voter turnout will have on precinct polling operations in key battleground states on November 4th.

The study uncovered three major findings, concluding that:

  1. In many jurisdictions, the number of voting machines, privacy booths, and poll workers will likely be insufficient to accommodate all those who may turn out to vote on November 4, 2008. This will likely result in extremely long lines at the polls and “lost” voters unless these problems are addressed beforehand.
  2. Machines, privacy booths, and poll workers have been mis-allocated in many jurisdictions, which will likely result in some precincts within a jurisdiction having long lines due to insufficient resources while neighboring precincts have an efficient Election Day because they have been provided ample numbers of machines, privacy booths, and poll workers.
  3. In some jurisdictions, the allocation of polling place resources is likely to have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In other words, there will be fewer voting machines or poll workers per voter in high minority precincts than in low minority precincts.

This report had this to say about the nature of the expected explosive vote turnout:

The allocation of polling place resources is of particular concern because fairly small increases in turnout at the precinct level can result in dramatically different wait times. For example, many of the jurisdictions profiled here have had barely enough machines, privacy booths, and poll workers to avoid extended wait times in previous elections using the same resources they are allocating for November. Many others have experienced long lines at the polls in previous elections with the same, or similar, resources. When additional voters are added in November, precincts that were previously relatively efficient could face extremely long lines, and precincts that already had experienced long lines could become overwhelmed.

An indicator of expected voter turnout

With such an explosive expected turnout on the horizon people are getting nervous that come election day their names will not be properly registered in their riding. Rock the Vote (a youth oriented program that aims to register young voters) has reportedly received approximately 2,200 e-mails from people they helped register to vote in New York, NY reporting their names missing were from registration rolls. More than 2.5 million people downloaded registration forms from the group’s Web site, which is just one of several non profit groups who launched full fledged voter registration programs this year.

Rock the Vote: If You Care promo

So what can you do to ensure that you’re information is accurate and accounted for on election day? Take a few minutes and verify your registration. If you’re unsure which county you reside in you can check NACo Data & Demographics, and from there you can verify that you are registered over at votepoke. Showing up at the last minute is naturally a bad idea, and be sure you don’t leave the voting booth until your vote has been correctly cast. If you find that your name HAS in fact been dropped, use NACo to find the number of your county representative and demand they fix the problem. Best of luck to everyone on November 4th, if you have any tips or updates on this issue please let us know below.

Data and maps can be downloaded as separate pdf files at this location.

Posted in Future, Politics, Rock the Vote, Voting | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Negative Advertizing – A Dying Animal?

Posted by yoozur on October 24, 2008

A lot has been made over the past few weeks on the campaign trail about negative advertising. In particular, the Ad campaign run by John McCain featuring Obama’s apparent link with William Ayers, an ultra left-wing 1960s radical bomb maker and domestic terrorist. The link between the two seem to be tenuous at best, which raises why Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought it up in the first place. Obama himself has been using extensive negative campaign ads featuring John McCain and his voting record, highlighting that John voted with George W. Bush “over 90% of the time”. Obama also has a much larger war chest for his campaign than does John McCain, which he has been using to blitz key swing states with his ads.

Another key component to this developing story has been the McCain campaign’s use of the socialist tag for Barack Obama, with attack ads citing a National Journal study that named Barack Obama as the most liberal of all US senators. This tack has generated a great deal of conversation and controversy. Even broaching the ‘S’ word seems to have cranked up the already shrill political discourse in this country.  John McCain was confronted at a rally by a supporter who angrily lambasted the socialists who are apparently “taking over this country”. John quickly skirted around the question, instead deciding to talk about vote fraud. Sarah Palin was also thrust into a similar situation when asked point blank by CNN reporter Drew Griffin: “Is Barack Obama a Socialist?” Her answer, like McCain’s, avoided directly calling Obama a socialist, but Palin went a bit further than John, saying that Obama’s new tax policies were wealth redistribution — essentially socialism.

Obama’s newest string of ads, titled “The Subject” are aware of the public’s supposed distaste for smear campaigns, and directly reference McCain’s negative ads. Ironically, the ads start by saying that McCain is “out of ideas”, “out of touch” and “out of time” before talking about McCain’s decision to smear Obama.

While the negative ad campaign has been perfected nearly to a science over the past few decades, are we beginning to witness a public backlash? Smear ads are so ubiquitous, so omnipresent in the US political scene, it’s hard to believe that they will disappear completely, but we could be witnessing an important change to the nature of how political campaigns are conducted in this country.

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The Bailout, Big Business and the Ballot Box

Posted by yoozur on October 10, 2008

As the Presidential election edges closer with each passing day, it seems to have taken a back seat to what appears to be the biggest economic crisis in 70 years. Issue #1 for most Americans is the economy, and how it is going to affect their lives. For virtually everyone, it appears that dark clouds are either on the immediate horizon, or are already directly overhead. When looking at this crisis in regards to each Presidential candidate’s campaign, certain questions begin to percolate. What will the fallout be? How will each of the candidates deal with the problems that will no doubt rear their heads over the coming years?

First, let’s take a look at what the experts say. The Economist, Forbes Magazine, and most other reputable business news outlets all predict that we are headed for a recession, with the only disagreement coming at how deep and sharp it will be. The wellspring of credit, which has been available to American consumers virtually consequence-free for over a decade, has almost completely dried up. Even after (or if) the credit freeze unthaws, banks and loaners are going to think twice about granting credit to people with a less-than-sterling credit history.

Either John McCain or Barack Obama are going to have to deal with the fallout from the disastrous sub-prime lending fiasco, and their positions haven’t really been clearly defined from one another. The McCain-led Bailout bill has not seemed to calm fears on Wall Street, but the bill was supported by Obama as well, albeit lukewarmly. Barack’s only caveat to the bill seemed to be the wish that the taxpayer not be unduly put at risk.  McCain has faced harsh scrutiny from Republicans for his willingness to put taxpayers in the line of fire (something that goes against core Republican tenents) while Barack Obama faced criticism for not having a clearly defined position on the matter. While the Bailout bill itself has been passed through Congress, it has not yet taken effect. The planning of the Bailout continues, with former Goldman Sachs CEO, and current US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson at the helm. Paulson intends to bring in top industry experts to divvy up the unprecedented 700 Billion dollars granted to him to fix the problem.

John McCain’s Presidential campaign hit a hitch when the first Bailout bill was defeated in Congress on Monday, September 29. His name was directly tied to it’s success, and it’s failure in the house was a large blow to McCain’s credibility on the campaign trail. However, McCain was somewhat vindicated when the DOW Industrial Average (America’s benchmark stock market) plunged 777 points; the biggest point drop in American history. Opponents of the bill were raked over the coals on National Television, Democrat and Republican alike. The market seemed to send the right message, because on the Friday of that week, an amended bill passed through Congress and was signed into law by President Bush, with many of the representatives that had originally voted against the bill putting their vote behind it.

As Americans sit back and watch things unfold, one thing is for certain: things are going to get very interesting on the campaign trail over the coming weeks.

Posted in Economy, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Everyone, Everywhere…

Posted by yoozur on September 25, 2008

…seems to be rapidly running out of patience, or even the semblance of patience, with the whole McCain camp.  Periodically I like to skulk around WordPress and read posts whose titles capture my attention, and a few minutes ago, this one happened to catch my eye:

http://mudflats.wordpress.com/2008/09/24/alaskans-for-truth-are-hopping-mad/

Yes, even in the far-distant corners of this nation, grassroots organizations are emerging from the woodwork.  It’s nice to see people sitting up and taking notice — late is better than never.

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Xbox Live Program Distributes 55,000 U.S. Voter Registration Forms

Posted by yoozur on September 24, 2008

From Gamasutra.com:

A collaborative effort between Microsoft and youth-oriented voting awareness group Rock the Vote has seen 55,000 United States voter registration forms downloaded through Xbox Live.

Not bad. Rock the Vote is seriously upping the bar this election.

Posted in Rock the Vote | Leave a Comment »

Sarah Palin’s Email Account Hacked

Posted by yoozur on September 24, 2008

Original story from Wired.

20 year old David Kernell, a student at the University of Tennessee hacked into Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s personal email address. The hacker broke into Palin’s personal Yahoo account by guessing her security questions (note to self: make my security questions harder). The Kernell then posted emails from her account on message boards to prove his conquest.

Although Kernell may be charged, it is unclear what he will be charged with. It would be logical to charge him under the Stored Communications Act, but the Department of Justice is against the idea. According to the DOJ, email stored on servers such as Yahoo don’t count as “stored communication“.

Either way, it will be interesting to see what will happen. It’s funny, the FBI didn’t even arrest this guy because he hacked Palin’s account. They showed up to his door because of a party he was having. Funny how things work out.

Oddly enough too, Kernell’s father is Democratic Tennessee state representative Mike Kernell, and has already turned into a talking point & hacker war.

I’ll keep following this one. I have a feeling that more sites/emails are going to get hacked.

Posted in Hackers, Palin | Leave a Comment »

Google To Give $10 Million For World Changing Ideas

Posted by yoozur on September 24, 2008

Today Google announced something they are calling 10 to the 100th. It’s a contest where you can submit ideas that you think will benefit the world in some way. The categories range from poverty to the environment. The idea is to find solutions to today’s problems that will benefit the most people worldwide.

Submission deadlines are October 20th, so get thinking about how to change the world!

Posted in Future | Leave a Comment »

No One Thinks The Economy Is Improving

Posted by yoozur on September 23, 2008

A new poll from the American Research Group.

Like this comes to a shock to anyone. Considering the DOW has dropped 600 points in the last two days, is there anyone that can possibly put a good spin on this? Anyone? Even the Europeans are keeping their distance.

Posted in Economy | Leave a Comment »

New Michael Moore Film Online

Posted by yoozur on September 23, 2008

Michael Moore has released a new documentary today that is free to watch online. Entitled “Slacker’s Uprising,” it is a film telling the story of those who didn’t vote taking action after Bush was re-elected for a second term.

You can watch the whole movie at http://slackeruprising.com/

Here’s the trailer:

Posted in Documentaries, Voting | Leave a Comment »