Friday, March 28, 2014

A Victory, But the Fight For Voting Rights Is NOT Over

In other news of Florida schadenfreude directed at Rick "MEDICARE FRAUD" Scott, his latest effort to purge the voter rolls yet again has been cancelled:
Once again, Ken Dentzer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) handpicked Secretary of State, has unsuccessfully attempted to mount a massive purge of Florida’s voter rolls. And once again, he has been forced to abandon this effort due to his lack of an accurate list of who is and is not eligible to vote.
In a memo, Dentzer told the state’s local election supervisors that the purge would be postponed until 2015. He plans to utilize a new federal database which he believes will be up and running by then and will provide more accurate data on who is and is not a U.S. citizen...
It's terrifying how constant the Republicans have been the last 20 years or so chasing after "voter fraud" by doing their damnedest to go after legitimate voters (who mostly tend to be minority, young, and/or Democrat).  This is me commenting in 2013... this is me in 2012, openly figuring Scott and his ilk were breaking the law doing what they did... And this push against "voter fraud" was something I argued could be solved by making voting more universal (easier to obtain) as far back as 2008.

I didn't blog about it then (didn't start until 2006), but Jeb Bush's tenure as governor was replete with voter purges: the 2000 election suffered it, and by 2002 the effort was documented and debunked.  While then-Republican Charlie Crist reformed the electoral process during his governorship (making it easier to vote) and improved efforts to let ex-felons re-apply for voting rights, he still took a hard stance on voter IDs matching to photo IDs or Social Security numbers that still put a crimp on state residents trying to vote.

It disgusts me that something as sacred as a right to vote could be so eagerly denied by one political party... but I'm not all too surprised considering the Republicans are losing membership strength by sheer demographics, and they've got no other recourse left but to cheat and skew the rules to make it harder for Democratic-likely citizens to vote at all.  Like I said before:

As the demographics turn against them, as their open hostility to women's rights and minorities worsen, as the party is starting to lose more of their base to old age, the Republicans are pretty much stuck with "cheating" as their primary method...
For a Party that's obsessed with the idea that their platform of God, Guns, and Tax Cuts is "beloved by all true Americans", the Republicans do a shitty job of selling that platform to all actual Americans when the time comes and rely more on mudslinging and false advertising to win elections. And now, denying hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans their civic right to vote.

And while this fight may seem to be over for now here in Florida, I guarantee Scott and his ilk are trying to figure out something else that wouldn't involve outraged county elections officials blocking their efforts.  And Florida's not the only state suffering this: Wisconsin's GOP hardliner governor Walker just signed in laws making it harder to vote in that state as well... and those damned laws are spreading everywhere else where the Republicans fear the future.

Just a reminder, the last sentence from that ThinkProgress article I linked to at the beginning of this blog:

Scott is up for re-election this November. Should he lose, his replacement would likely be able to appoint a new Secretary of State before any 2015 purge.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Schadenfreude In Florida: Why Yes, It Does Involve Rick "MEDICARE FRAUD" Scott...

While I was lost in the halls of the Orange County Convention Center this weekend, this was taking place:

In a campaign shakeup, Gov. Rick Scott’s top fundraiser — billionaire healthcare CEO Mike Fernandez — abruptly quit his post late Thursday after weeks of behind-the-scenes disagreements.
Fernandez said he was quitting to spend more time with his family (NOTE: RED FLAG) and businesses. And he praised Scott's campaign in a letter to the campaign's leadership team...
Fernandez began expressing his frustrations at least a month ago when he sent an email to top Scott allies and complained about two campaign aides who had joked around in a cartoon-style Mexican accent en route to a Mexican restaurant in Fernandez’s home town of Coral Gables.
Fernandez, who is Cuban, wouldn’t comment about the email...

Leave it to the Republicans - a party having serious issues shaking off the public perception of being run by aging white men who hate gays, ethnics, and women - to find a way to piss off a member of the one voting bloc - billionaire CEOs - they try (consciously) not to piss off.

The official story is that Fernandez is really resigning because he's upset with the campaign's direction and poor messaging.  But the messaging can't be helped with this story about the tactless aides getting out.

When Scott's new Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera - remember the other one had to resign?  I wonder what the current status of the criminal investigation involving her is at... - tried to go public with a new attack ad campaign today, the questioning got cut short because all the reporters would ask about was Fernandez's quitting over the possibility that the campaign staff was secretly mocking the very ethnic group the Republicans need to win this midterm.

One of the things a political campaign can ill afford is to look disorganized and in disarray.  It doesn't help that Scott's office has been hard-line on immigration reform for most of his tenure and that any attempt to start appealing to Hispanic voters is going to backfire.

This schadenfreude is a bit tasty, but it's an appetizer.  It's a long wait for the main course in November, and part of me wants to see how Scott's people can screw up even worse...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Survived MegaCon 2014

And all I got was... was...  oh no.  I forgot to pick up the complimentary "I Survived Orlando MegaCon 2014" t-shirt!  :(

On the bright side, I got pics:

I left home a little later than planned, and regretted it as soon as I got to Exit 72 on I-4, the turnoff to the convention center.  Traffic gets clogged real fast getting into the parking areas for the events (and Orange County Convention Center always schedules other events alongside MegaCon), and so when you get to International Dr. you get this (with the South Concourse right there on the horizon):

For 30 minutes.

Dear Orange County / Orlando Metro: WILL IT KILL YOU TO ADD EXIT RAMPS FROM I-4 DIRECTLY INTO THE CONVENTION CENTER PARKING LOTS?!  This can't be the only event that gets this freaking headache...

Parking aside, the next big woe is always the Getting In portion of the morning.  This year, rather than hosted within the West Concourse - the longer, spacier hall - MegaCon got moved over to the South Concourse.  As a result, the line formation for getting tickets was a bit off than usual:

Thanks to my obsessive, hate-to-wait-in-line attitude, I purchased an advance ticket and so got to get in the short Advance line (step to the left!).  Which still meant waiting this year.  Just not as bad as the impulsive, let's-wait-until-the-actual-day-to-buy ticket line that stretched out to Daytona Beach.

Once inside, prepare for the craziness of pedestrian traffic, posing for pictures, chatting with artists, and waiting for celebrity sightings that are SOP for your geek-themed comic-book/sci-fi/fantasy/horror/Lego get-togethers:

Now, the one thing I swore was going to happen at this MegaCon would have been finding a ton of Queen Elsa cosplayers: Frozen being a huge hit with the kids and girls and teens and women.  Sad to say, I saw very few.  Only explanation I can think of is that the Elsa Snow Queen outfit is tricky to make and not that many have been finished in time.  Maybe next year.  At least I saw one before the day was out:
Did see a few more Elizabeths from BioShock Infinite.  It's the corset look.  I met one at the CosplayDeviants booth (site NSFW!  Must be 18 or older and able to tell the difference between DC and Marvel characters!) and got a nice picture of her:
Saturday is usually the day at comic-cons to host costume contests, hence the high number of cosplayers that day (personally, I planned on dressing up as a Jedi this trip, but the Jedi outfit from years ago was in bad shape, and using a trenchcoat as an alternate uniform too hot to wear).

By 12:15 I left the main floor, I wanted to attend a writers' presentation on World-Building (to get inspiration towards that damned first novel I've yet to finish).  Heading out the main doorway, I passed the still-snaking line of the Day Ticket buyers:

While waiting for the presentation, I saw what had to be the tallest female cosplayer I'd ever seen, dressed up as Leeloo.  I asked for a picture:

 I'm 6'2", doing my best to stand as tall as possible.  She's still about an inch taller.  Wow.  Also, regarding this photo JJ Abrams will be impressed with the sun flare over the shoulder...

Also bumped into some Ghostbusters (FOR EGON!):

The writers' event was packed, as the rooms available in the South Concourse were clearly smaller than the ones in the West.  Our presenter, Glenda Finkelstein, kept apologizing for it.  At least the author-wannabes in attendance (myself included) got some good tips out of attending.  Above all, don't trip up over the details!  And when you're naming characters, use the Name Dictionary! (As a fully certified librarian, I know where the 929.4 shelf area is heh)

That's Glenda on the left of my photo. The author taking a photo of us taking a photo of them (it's called meta, get over it) is Bill (William) Hatfield. Next to him is T.S. Robinson, and on the right is Jade Kerrion.

After the presentation I circled back down to Artist Alley where they had tables, and chatted a bit.  Turns out Hatfield was the owner of one of the comic book stores (Novel Ideas) I patronized at U of Florida.  Small world...!

When I got back to the main floor - the vendor booths - after 2 pm it was this packed:

In that kind of environment I would have melted out of my trenchcoat.  Good thing I didn't dress up this weekend.  Still, I'd like to find something fun to wear next year...

Just to note the regular sites along the walkabout:

The Southern R2 Builders with their working astromechs:

Lego City:

As with any cosplay, expect dance-offs.

Ah, Deadpool, my old nemesis.

While I didn't dress up as a Jedi, I still brought my lightsaber.  When I got to the Mandalorian Mercs display area, I asked for a chance to pose for an action shot.

I'm not thrilled with how it turned out.  I should have single-wielded the saber, using the other hand to push the cage door open in a "You cannot contain me, bounty hunter!" way.  Also, I should have used Hugh Jackman as the Jedi this shot: this poor fat unshaven fool is completely unsuited.

Just as I was leaving, found out where the gamer tables were this year:

The nephews expressed an interest in D&D, so I asked after starter kits for them.  I'll check again to see if they're still interested and if I can get Wil Wheaton to DM a game.

As a final note, I leave you with this image:

I'm taking a picture of convention-goers taking a picture.  META!

Okay, peace out.  Next year, I need co-pilots.  Any volunteers?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Planning Ahead To Attend A Convention: A Quick Guide

These are some of the rules I've put together over the many years of heading out to ALA conventions and the weekend geek cons.  MegaCon '14 is this weekend...

First rule: make sure you got the tickets to go.
Purchasing advance tickets is sometimes cheaper, and helps you start planning ahead

Last thing you need is to fly out to San Diego for the ALA Midwinter and find out your hotel pass is back on your dresser.

Third rule: If you're planning on staying at a hotel for a weekend, pack enough clothes to last you a week.
Expect the unexpected, such as running out of underwear.  Happened to me one convention trip and spent a morning looking for a men's wear shop in downtown Chicago on a Sunday (almost nothing is open in the downtown area on a Sunday).

Forth rule: It wouldn't hurt to get a map of the place you're going to.  Especially to figure out where parking is, where food is, where bathroom is.
Very important.

Fifth rule: Don't exactly overpack (except for the UNDERWEAR).  If you're traveling, travel as light as possible.
Do plan on where you'll stash your dirty clothes on the trip back, as well as souvenirs.

Sixth rule: Toothbrush.  Bring a toothbrush.
And toothpaste.  Remember what I said about how hard it is finding a shop when you get to where you're going...

Seventh rule: If you're just going for a day, backpack for carrying stuff will do.
Toothbrush is optional.
Extra underwear isn't.

Eighth rule: if it's a comic-con or geek festival of some kind, there's nothing wrong with cosplay.
Costuming up is fun, and helps you mingle with the crowd a little bit.  Just remember: there will be kids, and very angry parents, and very violent security guards.  Dress conservatively.  If it's a professional convention, dressing up as a Jedi or Queen Elsa isn't going to go over too well... so REALLY dress conservatively for that.

Ninth rule: Take enough money with you to pay with cash all the toys and trinkets and autographed memorabilia you're bound to collect.

Tenth rule: Rest often.
There's enough walking and running and standing around at every kind of con I've been to.  Professional, geeky, personal, public, private... EVERY convention is at a big hall, with distant parking lots and hotels, and waiting for shuttle buses, and waiting for food, and waiting for events, etc.  Think of attending a convention akin to attending an endurance race, at least a 5K mini-thon or something.  And comic book conventions are packed, shoulder-to-shoulder sometimes.  I came back from one convention with a successful weight loss of 9 lbs., I think it was the ALA Chicago one back in 2000.  I only lost 4 lbs at the last MegaCon though...

I promise I will survive MegaCon and bring back pictures.

I promise.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Raging Against Voters Who Won't Vote

You know me.  One of the big drums I beat about politics is the need for voter turnout.  My whole belief system in our republican democracy is that we need more people showing up, not less.

And still... and still... outside of the Big One - the Presidential tournament we run every four years - voter turnout in this nation is atrocious.  In a place where freedom of choice is touted, the biggest choice seems to be refusing to show up.

It's worse when I am angling so much to one side - higher Democratic turnout, because I am firmly convinced the modern GOP is too Far Right - only to see that even in the midterm (or special) election cycle where massive Democratic turnout would be key to winning House seats the turnout remains dismal.

One argument being given in the Washington Post:

Plouffe, who was Obama’s campaign manager in 2008 and oversaw the reelection bid as White House senior adviser, put the onus back on the Democrats. Democrats didn’t lose the special election because the Republicans had an insurmountable advantage in the district. They lost because they couldn’t get enough voters — the ones who backed Obama in 2012 — to the polls. Plouffe called the loss a “screaming siren” for the fall. As he put it, “We have a turnout issue.”
...Districts like Florida’s 13th may look more Republican in off-year elections than in presidential years, but as Plouffe pointed out, that’s because Democrats have a turnout problem in those midterm elections. The Democrats’ coalition includes groups of voters who are simply less likely to show up in midterm elections. Younger voters turn out at lower rates in midterm elections than older voters. Single women are less likely to vote than married women...
...A companion problem is confronting Democrats this year: dissatisfaction in their ranks. Obama has disappointed many of his followers, and his overall approval ratings are low enough to give the party real concern. The lack of enthusiasm for the president could easily lead to demoralization and too many stay-at-home voters in November...

This is a bit off of that posting but it's a feeling I'm getting from reviewing the hand-wringing about the poor turnout: Democrats are not as united as the bloggers hope. Whereas the Republicans are fracturing between Far Right factions fighting between themselves over who's the most hardcore wingnuts, the Democrats have remained fractured since the 1990s between the moderate/Centrist types - represented by the Clinton political machine - and the Far Left types who want their elected officials ideologically pure.  Bipartisanship is a dirty word among the tree-hugging hippie libruls too.

But where the Far Right faction(s) used party purging to drive out their moderate leaderships to make the Republicans more wingnut, the Far Left decided to take their ball and go home to sulk and wait for their ideal "pure" liberal candidates to emerge.  This explains a little bit why candidates like Alex Sink - this was her second time failing to win by a meager margin - are having trouble getting the vote out: Sink is not viewed as politically "pure" on topics, and her background in banking doesn't help.  Simply put: the candidates the state party here in Florida is putting up for election in some of the battleground districts don't inspire the base the way the GOP's candidates inspire the base.  And Florida's not the only state with that problem...

I'm a bit worried right now for Charlie Crist.  Currently the state-wide favorite to beat Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott (Crist leads in the polls over Scott 52-40), Crist could win the primary nomination - he's well ahead of other Democratic candidates like Nan Rich and Pam Iorio (and even Sink is back on the list) - but the Far Left voters might refuse to turn out yet again for a candidate they'll view as a turncoat ex-Republican.  Failure to turn out for him - as well as failing to turn out for all the other Democratic challengers in contestable state and congressional districts - is gonna get us stuck with four more years of an openly failing, corrupt, incompetent Scott.

Someone needs to get out there and get the Democrats motivated to vote.  These midterms are as important as always, especially against a Republican Party convinced their ObamaCare opposition will win them votes (and even the US Senate).  Obama needs to step up: most Presidents don't seem to put themselves out there for midterms, letting the state parties founder without them, but dammit Obama has the social skills and charisma to inspire the voters to show up this year.

As for me, here I am still shouting GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT PEOPLE.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Real-Life X-File

(EDIT: as of 3/20, this is the most current finding.  The debris field IS in an area the plane could have reached...)
I have to admit the first few days I read up and chatted online about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, it balanced between sadness - the most likely fate of a missing plane was an explosion or crash - and snark - making ill-advised comments about "aliens" or "that island from LOST".

The snark came from being a long-time aficionado of conspiracy theories and ghost stories.  Growing up, I read books in the 133 juvenile shelves rather than the standard fiction.  Getting into The X-Files TV show for me was easy, given my childhood interests in UFOs, Bigfoot, the Bell Witch, the Bermuda Triangle.

And here was Flight 370, disappearing off radar without a word.  Early searches for debris or a crash site turn up nothing.  The legendary black box(es), nowhere to be found.  Family and friends noting that their attempts to call their missing loved ones' cell phones were ringing: if the phones had been destroyed or completely cut off from cell signal, calls are known to revert immediately to voicemail.  Early research into the passengers and pilots didn't reveal warning signs outside of two illegal passports... except both passport users - Iranians - had no known terrorist ties, and one of them was following the standard behavior of someone seeking asylum.

But the last few days' revelations about what might have happened - that there was a deliberate switch-off of the plane's transponder and communications, that the plane changed course multiple times, that it avoided waypoints in such a way only a trained knowledgeable pilot could fly - has turned this mystery into a more serious and unsettling affair.  No more jokes.

There are now a ton of questions about Flight 370, above all: What the hell happened?

What was originally considered likely - mid-air explosion, or else mass decompression that froze/suffocated everyone on board - is no longer considered.  To be fair, if that had happened, we would have found wreckage by now.  That mid-flight course corrections were made, and that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and transponder (comm link to air traffic controllers) were turned off before the last contact makes this more deliberate than accidental.

So, if someone - someones - hijacked the plane, this unlocks these questions: Who did it, Why did they do it, and Where the hell did they think they could go?

Those Iranians seeking asylum using stolen passports are suspects again.  But if it's not them, that leaves 230 or so people (I'm subtracting the poor kids who were on-board).  Even the pilot and co-pilot are suspects, considering whoever commandeered the flight knew how to avoid certain waypoints and stuck to radar dead zones.

One thing we do know: whoever did this either could not or did not make the effort to turn off other tracking data coming from the plane.  The engines, for example, gave off signal data of a sort to satellite tracking systems (which is why we've found out there was no crash when and where we thought it would be), and those signals are not accessible from within the plane.  This was rarely reported information, so even the most highly trained hijacker might not have known...

Why did someone hijack this flight?  Usually it's done as a kind of Propaganda of the Deed, a violent act drawing attention to the person(s) committing that deed.  But there haven't been any valid claims or statements from known terror cells, no-one standing up with video evidence or otherwise.  Even if there was a vast conspiracy between nations and media outlets to not broadcast any terrorist demands or claims, there's too many sources that would have leaked by now.

Other reasons to do this would cover:

  • someone on the flight was a target, although it begs the question why was the whole plane taken to do that.
  • someone wanted a plane, any plane, for a future terror plot.
  • there was something valuable on the plane that was needed, and for some reason this was the only way someone could get to it.
  • there IS no reason: someone's doing this for kicks or a bizarre rational none of us can comprehend.

The question most confounding is the Where?  Given the location and circumstances, there's not a lot of Where to cover.  I've linked to that map above, showing an orange trail of possible plane paths after the last known satellite report from the plane's engines.

You'd think the northern path over Asia makes the most sense, considering this was a hijack and the hijackers would want a place to land.  There's places in China and central Asia past the Himalayas where that type of plane - even relatively small airports, even flattened desert - could land.  And this hijacking - with a plane full of Chinese citizens - is happening at a time of serious turmoil and mass terror attacks in West China involving Uighur separatists.

The problem with this argument is that China - as well as India and Pakistan - are tightly protected airspaces.  Military radar and alert systems would have spotted the plane even at low altitudes, and those areas are well-populated areas.  People would have reported seeing a low-flying airliner by now.  And neither of these nations - China in particular - would have kept silent on the matter even if they shot down the plane.  They'd argue with good reason that a hijacked airliner is a flying weapon, and they'd have every right to shoot it down to avoid a bigger catastrophe.

The southern path into the Indian Ocean is the other likely direction... except that's mostly water.  There are no known island or landstrip locations that way.  If the plane circled back over Australia, again that's an airspace with a solid radar net protecting it.  And why hijack a plane to fly it out into an ocean when blowing it up is just as easy, if not easier to pull off?

One other question remains: What has happened to the passengers and crew?

This is the most terrifying part.  While it wasn't a comfortable thought if there had been an explosion or crash, the best that could have been said was that the deaths would have most likely been quick.

This as a hijacking is infinitely worse.  Some passengers were families.  Some were kids.  If they're taken as hostages, why aren't we hearing demands from the party responsible (even in a massive media lockdown, someone would have leaked by now)?  If someone on that flight was a target, what is happening to that person (or persons)?  What's happened to the poor victims deemed expendable...

This is a global mystery with a ton of clues and almost no solid leads.  This is scary and wrong and I'm afraid it's not gonna end well for everyone...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The First Book I Kept From College

(EDIT: Hello, everyone from Crooks & Liars, thanks for visiting!)
I went for a Journalism degree at University of Florida, thinking of getting a career as a writer.  It didn't work out - reporting itself as a skill eluded me - but that's what I got my bachelors' degree (parents didn't back my request to switch majors to Poli Sci).

Of the textbooks I purchased over the semesters, when finished with the classes I traded most of them back in as I no longer needed them.  Except for a select few that caught my eye and became favorites for me to read and re-read as time went on.

One of the ones I kept - the first one, actually - was Joe McGinniss' Selling of the President.

The professor was using the book as an example of investigative, in-depth reporting covering a prolonged event: a Presidential campaign.  Specifically, Richard Nixon's 1968 return to politics as the Republican nominee.  But to me - with my interests in politics and history - there was a lot more to what it was about.

McGinniss was covering one of the key moments in the American political landscape.  During the 1960s, television had become the most powerful communications medium in the nation, surpassing radio which had been the dominant form since the 1930s and surpassing newspapers which had been the standard since the colonial era.  Before, most political campaigning relied on print ads, banners, crowds, speaking events, buttons, etc.  There'd been radio ads but they were easy to produce and ship out.  Television was different - a visual format that punished the unworthy and elevated the vain - and required a more cunning approach.  Advertising had by that time become a major profession using all of these mediums - print, radio, TV - to sell products: by 1968 with television leading the way, it was going to be used to sell politicians on a massive scale.

McGinniss lucked into the story by accident: his introduction to the 20th anniversary edition which I owned gave the details.  Hanging around New York City to interview Howard Cosell, a rising sports announcer, he met an advertising executive crowing about "landing the Humphrey account:"

The ad man was quick to explain.  Hubert Humphrey, who, now that Kennedy was dead, would almost certainly be the Democratic presidential nominee, had retained the agency to create a winning image for him... A week earlier, I'd been in Los Angeles because a leader of potentially heroic dimension had been slain. Now I was hearing an ad man say he'd be selling Hubert Humphrey to Americans like so much toothpaste or detergent... (p. xiii-xiv)

McGinniss, a young columnist for a Philadelphia paper who attracted the interest of a book publisher, conveyed the story he heard to the publishing agent meeting him later that week.  Intrigued, the publisher convinced McGinniss to pursue this as an investigatory piece for a book, one counter to the "official" historical tomes written by Theodore White (a respected author who wrote dry but impressive volumes about previous Presidential campaigns).  McGinniss even came up with a title mimicking White's usual Making of The President: this book about the ad campaign would be The Selling of the President.

When he followed up with the Humphrey ad exec to see about doing it, the ad man was obviously horrified. What he said was off-the-record, and above all the thing about advertising is how some ad men don't like revealing trade secrets: it's akin to pulling the curtain back on the All-Powerful Oz to realize people have been sold a humbug (Humphrey as the pro-war candidate in 1968 was not the most popular choice in his own party for the job).

McGinniss, stuck with an idea but not a subject to cover, decided to give Nixon's campaign - since at that time he'd sewn up the GOP nomination - a call to see if their ad execs were more accommodating.  He was put in touch with a Harry Treleaven, who "was most congenial.  He said he'd be happy to meet with me at ten o'clock..."

So that was it.  A dime in a pay phone was the genesis of this book...  He said he had no problem with that, but protocol required that such an arrangement be approved by his superior, Len Garment, whose own office was at Nixon headquarters.
That afternoon, Garment said no problem, with one stipulation: that nothing I observed would be printed until after the campaign was over.  I told him, as I'd told the man from Doyle Dane, that I would not even start writing until November and that it would be months after that before a book would be published...
...I asked Humphrey's people and they said no and I asked Nixon's people and they said yes...
As it was, when first published the book was widely perceived as being an attack upon Richard Nixon rather than a report on a very nearly apolitical process which promised (or threatened) to forever alter the way national campaigns would be conducted...
...It was fashionable in the season of the book's first publication... to lament the amorality of the process of selling the President and to bemoan as tragic the surrender of something so sacred as our method of choosing our leader to cynical, mercenary... soldiers of fortune.
But, look: who were the Watergate villains?  Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Magruder, Dean, Colson, Liddy, Hunt, and of course Nixon himself.  These were the people (excepting Nixon) whom even Harry Treleaven (my note: Treleaven is pretty much the hero of the book) considered the forces of darkness...  As for the supposedly venal ad men... their hands are clean, their souls unsullied (my note, again: this was written before Roger Ailes committed the deadly sin of producing Fox Not-News)...  What's more, every one of them was absolutely correct about Spiro Agnew. (introduction)
I liked the writing: wordy but not showing off, leavened with a dash of self-deprecation and awareness, an attempt at objective analysis while letting the author's bias show up in bits of levity.

The book itself then dives into the actual mechanics of what a modern Presidential campaign is anymore: a series of staged, well-managed media events staggered by a round of making televised ad snippets.  Interwoven into the scenes of Richard Nixon - not the most comfortable of souls - doing what he could to be both dignified (his only saving grace as a figure at that point) and (formally) informal, McGinniss wrote about the ad men themselves, dedicated to an increasingly demanding job of marketing to an electorate whose moods and whims shifted with each changing news story.

I loved McGinniss' introductory chapter to Treleaven: a rather middle-class guy who worked in L.A. for the Times and wrote radio scripts for a few years and grew to loathe it out there:

One night he and his wife were having dinner in a restaurant in L.A. with a couple he did not like.  Halfway through the meal, he turned to his wife.  
"Do you like it here?"  
"You mean the restaurant?"  
"I mean Los Angeles."  
"No, not especially."  
"Then let's go." (p.42)

At which point Treleaven left that night to New York City to find another job and never looked back.

It's a brilliant way to write a descriptive of your subject.  It highlighted Treleaven's sense of self, and an impulsive earnest willingness to break the routine when realizing the routine was killing his soul.  Elsewhere, McGinniss noted how Treleaven was annoyed that a newspaper misspelled his name, but found out later it wasn't about a sense of pride, it was Treleaven being disappointed someone didn't do their job right.

It was Treleaven, working on a 1966 Congressional campaign in Texas for this businessman named George HW Bush, who noted that "logical persuasion" was difficult to sell because he found "probably more people vote for irrational, emotional reasons than professional politicians suspect." (p.45)  He found that image worked wonders, as long as he presented Bush as likable, hard-working, and expressing empathy for the voter.  Bush won in heavily-leaning conservative Democratic Texas beating the incumbent 58 percent to 42, an unheard-of victory margin in that day and age (and even remarkable in this one where incumbents are even harder to defeat).

It's in these revelations that McGinniss details the shift in political science away from the logical to the emotional.  In some ways, politics had always been emotional and partisan.  But previous campaigns there were serious issues that had to be debated seriously.  The new method, due to television requiring an expressive empathic presence, needed to rely on emotional impact more than ever.  It stains the political discourse we have today, where actual facts and the complexity of real-world issues are drowned out by impulsive and inaccurate posturing.  Because of all the money that all this marketing requires, every candidate for every office has to campaign to the emotional impulse... nearly every minute of every day.

It was both eye-opening and horrifying to read the book when I was in college.  I keep re-reading every so often to compare it to the horrors of the political stage we see today 24/7.

But for more than just the outrage about the destruction of honest politics.  I kept this book because it's a great read.

McGinniss' skill as a writer-reporter comes through during the most compelling chapter in his book, the one where Nixon's campaign stages a "Question & Answer" broadcast where they actually bring on a fire-eating liberal radio show host, by the name of Jack McKinney (whom McGinniss suggested when Ailes asked him for any liberals they could bring onto the show).  McKinney goes after Nixon like a bulldog, and for half a chapter McGinniss details how Nixon works the stage, projecting somewhat Nixon's inner rage but also making you cheer Nixon on as he verbally spars with an opponent out to ruin his night.

Yeah.  Cheering Nixon on.  And this is an admitted Kennedy-following liberal reporter in McGinniss making you root for the sonofabitch.

I'm writing all this because McGinniss just passed away.  Andrew Sullivan at The Dish dedicated a decent-sized memorial to a fellow political writer/junkie:

...It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White... And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn't write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.
The book I keep from college over twenty years ago was itself twenty years old when I got it.  It was relevant in 1968 and 1988 and 2012 and will remain relevant.   Because it's that well-written.  And that important a topic.

You must read it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


It's the day of the special election to fill FL-13 for the US Congress.

It's the day to get out and vote for Alex Sink, so we can scare the crap out of the GOP wingnuts controlling the US House.

Go fight win, Democrats.  And to all my fellow moderate, ex-Republican Eisenhower/Roosevelt types, YOU GOTTA GET THE VOTE OUT TOO, JUST DON'T SIT THERE WITH YOUR NO-PARTY-AFFILIATE LABEL, VOTE DAMMIT.

I'll be updating this post as the day progresses, most likely after the polls close and the counting begins.

In the meantime, follow this link over to Vagabond Scholar where Batocchio has a list of CPAC responses.  Just a reminder, that THIS is what you're voting AGAINST.

More specifically, that CPAC still uses Sarah Palin as a major speaker, and the tone-deaf efforts she makes to stir up the Far Right base... as the Unitarians say, "Activate Facepalm Mode".  This is your modern Republican Party, folks... AVOID AVOID AVOID


Update: as of 7:25 pm EDT, the Tampa Bay Times is reporting a slim Sink lead at 47.6 percent with Jolly at 47.2 percent and Libertarian Overby at 4.9.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections estimated voter turnout at 39 percent through 6 p.m.

Dammit, Pinellas County.  39 PERCENT TURNOUT?!  I'm gonna disown the lot of you for failing to show up to vote!  /headdesk

Update (9:00 pm): I really think that poor turnout is what hurt Sink's chances, because the election's been called for Republican Jolly.  He's at 48 percent with Sink at 46 and Overby holding around 4 percent.

Well, f-ck.  This is pretty interesting because the GOP had been laying out an early narrative that Jolly had been mismanaging his campaign, but now they'll be crowing it as PROOF DEFINITIVE PROOF THAT AMERICANS HATE OBAMACARE AND OBAMA AND THE EVUL LIBRUL AGENDA.

The Dems ARE gonna be forced to go on the defensive about Obamacare now, and won't be able to stick to their narratives about hiking the minimum wage or protecting social aid programs like Food Stamps.

Dammit, Pinellas voters.

Here's your wake-up call, Democrats.  GET THE GODDAMN VOTE OUT THIS YEAR.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Florida Special Election for the 13th District: Turnout Still Critical

So that means one thing, Democrats.  GET THE GODDAMN VOTE OUT.

From the Washington Post:

So far, Republicans have cast slightly more votes than Democrats. That doesn't bode well for Republican nominee David Jolly.
Say what?
You read that right. Republicans account for 42 percent of the ballots returned through Thursday, while Democrats account for 40 percent of the ballots cast. While that may seem at first blush like good news for Jolly, the reality is that it falls short of the mark Republicans were hoping to hit, for a few reasons.
GOP strategists have been hopeful that turnout would favor the GOP in a big way in this race. There's no presidential election at the top of the ticket, and problems with Obamacare have fired up the Republican base. In short, Republicans were hoping to build up a wider advantage than two points via absentee balloting, which is a very popular option in the district. (Two points is roughly on par with the GOP's registration advantage in the district.)
As Adam Smith noted in the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month, Republicans have outpaced Democrats in absentee balloting during the past couple of cycles by wider margins. In 2012, Republican voters outpaced Democrats by six points in absentee voting. (President Obama still won the district narrowly.) In 2010, as Smith noted, the GOP absentee advantage was 11 percent...

The actual election day is this March 11th.  Get the DAMN VOTE OUT THIS TUESDAY, PEOPLE...

Adam Smith's been tracking this story, and one of the other bits he's written is about how the independent, NPA voters are key this Tuesday:

As of Friday, Republicans had a nearly 3,800 vote advantage over Democrats in District 13 and likely will cast significantly more votes on election day than Democrats. It still may not be enough for Jolly, given the way swing voters ultimately pick the winner in this centrist district.
Consider that in 2012, Republicans had cast nearly 11,000 more votes than Democrats by election day and then on election day outperformed Democrats by more than 9,000 votes. Barack Obama still narrowly won that district. In 2010, Republicans had a nearly 12,400 vote lead prior to election day and then on election day cast more than 8,600 more votes than Democrats. Then-gubernatorial candidate Sink still narrowly beat Republican Rick Scott in the district.
It's shaping up to be a squeaker, but given the recent track record of District 13 voters, Jolly as of today has more to worry about looking at absentee ballot returns than Sink...

Tuesday.  March 11th.  Find your precinct.  You're allowed by law to take an hour off from work to go place your vote in an election.  GET.  THE.  DAMN VOTE.  OUT.

I'm sick and tired of seeing less than half of our registered voters not showing up for non-Presidential election days.  You made the effort to register, folks, MAKE THE EFFORT TO VOTE.  It's your POWER, it's YOUR voice.

I don't wanna hear any whining if the turnout's under 55 percent and your party's candidate doesn't win out.

P.S. Vote for Sink.  Jolly's sticking to the GOP script of banning Obamacare, refusing to fund any stimulus package, discriminating gays, and slashing on much-needed aid to our veterans and the poor.  Just stop voting Republican, people... Just stop...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Things To Note About Russia, Ukraine, and The World

With the ongoing crisis in eastern Europe between Russia and the Ukraine over Crimea (and Ukraine itself should Russia all-out invade), there are a few things you'll need to know. This Slate article does a nice job about covering the current events, but there's a few bits of background info you'd need to consider:

1) Russia has historically been heavily involved in Eastern European affairs for centuries.  They consider it "their" stomping grounds the way we Americans would consider, well, the Western hemisphere.  To an outsider, Russia reacting to the Ukrainian uprising this past month seems a bit like overkill: however, just consider how the U.S. reacts/reacted to Cuba just 90 miles off our shores over the last 150 years (trying to annex it, fighting Spain for its' "independence"... going apesh-t when Castro took over and joined the Soviets).  And the Ukraine is right on Russia's border.

The reason World War I escalated the way it did was because Russia inserted itself as a major player into the Eastern European Balkan nation-states like Serbia: when Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia in response to the Arch-Duke's assassination, Russia mobilized in response (which got Germany mobilizing against both Russia AND France, since France and Russia were allied via treaty already).  Just think of Russia still wanting to insert itself into Eastern European activities... whether those Eastern European states want Russia meddling or not.

2) What Putin is doing with sending troops into the Crimea may be an over-reaction because the Russians clearly didn't think their ally President Yanukovych would fall so quickly.  There's also the possibility Putin didn't figure on Europe or the United States over-reacting to his sending in the troops and getting his parliament to rubber-stamp the use of force against Ukraine.

A previous stir-up with a former Soviet state in 2008 - Georgia - ended up being lopsided in Russia's favor with few international repercussions.  But that was due more to Georgia's leadership being too aggressive towards Russia, hurting their stance with the U.S. and NATO nations.  Ukrainian protesters that overthrew Yanukovych may have been anti-Russian in their stance, but they were openly protesting in favor of joining the European Union.  That would make the EU nations - Germany, France and the UK in particular - more keen on providing political and economic support to Ukraine.

2a) Another reason for Putin's over-reaction: he's increasingly surrounded himself with yes-men and cronies (sounds familiar...) who only give him the news he wants to hear.  As such, he may have gotten separated from the real world and is operating on full Disconnect mode...

3) It's that pro-EU stance of the Ukrainians that's upsetting the Russian government.  Having a bordering nation go fully into the Western European sphere of influence would seem like a weakness to the Russians.  Again, see how Russia reacted to the start of WWI...

4) Crimea itself is relatively sparsely populated, but is mostly pro-Russian citizenry, which is why Russia moved so quickly and successfully in occupying it.  Save for the Tatar population, which is an Turkic-Arab minority that also happens to be very pro-Ukrainian and pro-Western.  What happens to them is a serious issue.

5) Crimea is key territory for Russia because of its' natural seaport geography in the Black Sea, a major aspect of Russian naval security.  There's a reason after the Soviet break-up that Ukraine and Russia made a series of treaties allowing the Russian navy access to Sevastopol: Russia needed that seaport, big time.

6) Western responses to Russia's takeover of Crimea has been limited.  Mostly diplomatic ties getting cut, a planned G8 meeting in Sochi in June now likely to get suspended, possibility of the other nation members kicking Russia out.  There's been a huge response already, however, to Russia's economy where their stock market's taken a huge hit, their currency's been devalued, and a lot of trade deals getting struck down.

6a) Which is why Putin may be talking tough, but it's increasingly unlikely Russia would fully invade Ukraine.  An actual invasion would be a huge blow to Russia's economy: they have few allies siding with them on this, and the nations that would line up on Ukraine's side are the major economic powers - the EU, Japan, the United States, even China - that could cripple Russia's finances and cause an internal economic depression that would anger up the Russian populace.

7) If Russia does invade, the Ukrainian forces may have fewer numbers than the Russian forces but will be better organized and fighting a defensive war, which favors them.  While NATO or the U.S. won't contribute ground troops or any overt support, they will back Ukraine as far as possible.  More than likely, Ukraine will find military support coming from Poland and other former Warsaw Pact nations not on good terms with Russia and terrified of a Putin-led government acting like a reborn Russian "empire".  It definitely won't be a swift curb-stomp fight like Russia had against Georgia.

8) Most likely scenario: Russia forces the annexation of the Crimea.  There'll be a fight - mostly political, possibly military - to force Russian concessions to Ukraine to make that annexation go over smoothly (especially something that would ensure the Tatars political and physical safety).  Russia may face some sanctions and their political leadership might find themselves persona non grata on the international scene for a few years, but it may stabilize matters over the long term.  That's only if they don't invade.

8a) If they do invade... it'll be like their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan (or the U.S. invasion of Iraq 2003) all over again: an occupying force in hostile territory while the rest of the world sits by in anger and open contempt.  With the added woes of a tanking economy as much-needed trade deals get wiped out.