Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prevent the Next Meltdown

The federal bailout of Citigroup, including a stake of $45 billion in cash injection for shares and up to $250 billion in loss guarantees, is but the latest manifestation of a shocking abnegation of responsibility. Between them, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman encapsulate our financial and recessionary situation to a tee. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Friedman reminds us how we came to this state of affairs and Nobel economist Krugman reminds us how to prevent a recurrence.

Writing on November 26, Friedman diagnoses the root of the problem. In his piece "All Fall Down" Friedman reminds us it was not just the bankers who caused the financial meltdown. It "involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics." The heart of his summation is telling:

So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling these loans into securities and selling them to third parties as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.

Friedman's column is well worth reading. He introduces astonishing examples such as a Bakersfield "strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000." And why not? The builder sold a home, the person who sold the house made a commission, as did the one who wrote the loan, the regulator who assessed the prospects as A-plus and then the outfit that bundled it together with other loans to sell in bulk to other financial institutions. It was nothing but a giant pyramid scheme.

Krugman squares the other end of the equation in his piece on November 28, "Lest We Forget." In it, Krugman begs us not to get so caught up in the details of extricating ourselves from the current mess that we neglect the stringent regulation that will be necessary to keep another such catastrophe from happening again. He reminds us that the banking industry is rather strictly regulated but that the derivative swaps that perpetrated this rot are not. This is what he refers to as the "shadow banking system," the one that Alan Greenspan, Phil Gramm and Robert Rubin insisted was somehow immune to human fallibility and could not be restrained by annoying rules requiring sane and sustainable practices.

Congress and the new president should heed Krugmann's conclusion: "So here's my plea: even though the incoming administration's agenda is already very full, it should not put off financial reform. The time to start preventing the next crisis is now."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dealing with Mumbai

The horror of the Mumbai terror attacks is at long last over. According to the Calcutta News Net current totals after sixty hours of combat are 183 dead, including 20 police and 22 foreigners, and 327 injured. Two things are still unclear: who was responsible and what their objective was. Another critical imponderable concerns what India and other governments will now do.

Among the theories now current the Times of India reports American and Indian signals intercepts link the terrorists to a group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba, sometimes spelled Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani-based group dedicated to opposing Indian sovereignty over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, literally "army of the pure," is one of a number of groups established with the aid of Pakistani military intelligence in the 1980s. The nation's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) was active with the American CIA in working to organize resistance groups fighting against the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan. One of these became al-Qaeda. In many cases it is now clear that these efforts succeeded in spawning a set of hateful violent Islamic fundamentalist groups.

If the Mumbai attacks were indeed this group or another spawned in or abetted in Pakistan as seems likely, the next question is what will India do. Its government has announced it can no longer tolerate the existence of safe havens for such groups in Pakistan. It is difficult to imagine any government in the world who had suffered such an attack saying anything else. The United States too has ratcheted up the pressure on Pakistan. The Bush Administration has stepped up Predator drone attacks within Pakistan and even sent in a commando raid against suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban targets across the Afghan border. As a candidate, Barack Obama stated his preference for drawing down in Iraq and building up in Afghanistan. He also announced support for the idea of striking unilaterally into Pakistan at al-Qaeda targets whenever the Pakistanis "could not or would not" do the job themselves.

Faced with this kind of pressure from both India and the Americans the Pakistani government will soon have a bitter quandary on its hands. To take on the extremists within its borders could invite something approaching civil war. At the very least, the terrorists' capabilities would now largely be directed against the government itself. But to do little would be to invite increasingly brazen violations of its sovereignty by the American superpower and by its longtime hated rival, India. We should soon see what course Pakistan will take. It will be tough politically for the Islamic state to crack down hard. Either path will be painful and result in much violence in the country.

India and the United States ought to be working together behind the scenes to coordinate a strategy and an approach to Pakistan on this. They need action but they also need to sustain the rule of law and organized authority in Pakistan. If that breaks down, if Pakistani society disintegrates into its various tribes or important factions within the government or military side with the extremists one need only remember that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. If ever there was a time for adroit diplomacy based on an acute understanding of a country and its problems now is that time.

Friday, November 28, 2008


My wife and I went to San Diego to get together with friends and family for Thanksgiving. We stayed at a downtown San Diego hotel. While having breakfast at the hotel cafe Thursday morning I saw a homeless woman shuffle by on the sidewalk outside. The accoutrements of the trade labelled her as homeless whether or not she really was. The apparently 65-year-old white-haired woman wore a grimy stocking cap and pushed a wheeled, wire cart stuffed with bedrolls and plastic trash bags.

People like her are such a common sight in our society. I have seen them around home, scrounging in trash cans looking for cans and bottles or pushing a shopping cart behind bushes between streets and drainage ditches, getting ready to bed down for the night. Early morning runners along the St. John's River tell me they see encampments in the trees lining this local runoff channel. The local cops regularly sweep the city parks at night to roust them. They beg at freeway onramps. They are everywhere but they are invisible at the same time.

An estimate puts the number of Americans who experience homelessness during a year at 3.5 million. About 33% are chronically homeless. The number at any one time is thought to be about 800,000. It is believed the homeless population tripled between 1981 and 1989. You can look at some data from the National Coalition for the Homeless or the Los Angeles Homeless Services Coalition. They think about 59% of homeless people live out of their cars and 25% live in "makeshift shelters" like boxes. About 33% to 50% suffer from mental illness. Veterans are twice as likely to be homeless as the rest of the population. 43% are female and 39% are children. 25% are employed but cannot afford shelter. In fact, 76% had been employed within the past year.

You didn't used to see so many homeless before the eighties. Anecdotally I'd certainly support the findings about the numbers growing dramatically then and remaining high since. In addition to being a human tragedy for the homeless themselves I suspect they present quite a cost to society. Their camps and living arrangements in general cannot be very sanitary. They wash infrequently and urinate and defecate in the open. The chronically homeless support themselves by some combination of scrounging, begging, stealing, prostitution and dealing drugs. Only 7% have legitimate jobs and high percentages are drug and/or alcohol abusers.

In the past people like that were institutionalized. The non-functional mentally ill and non-functional addicts were "committed" to controlled state wards. In the interest of "freedom" and the Reagan-era desire to cut social services these tools and facilities were greatly scaled back in the 1980s. The result is what we see now. I'm not so sure that what we have is progress, or preferable to what we had before then. In a recent year there were 80,000 homeless in Los Angeles and 18,529 beds in homeless shelters. Are we saving money this way or costing ourselves? Are we serving the chronically homeless best this way or are there better ways? Is not the presence of hundreds of thousands of desperate vagabonds in the self-described greatest country on earth a national disgrace?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Gratitude List

I'll be travelling out of town with my wife for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to blog before Friday, so I'll devote this space to what we are supposed to be doing at this time of year, counting our blessings. A gratitude list is a healthy thing. It's a good antidote for a negative attitude, which is something I do not want to have.

I'm thankful for
A wonderful wife who is still my best friend after 31 years,
Two fine grown daughters who love their parents, and
A full-time job doing what I love.

I'm thankful that
It seems they got the prostate cancer and it hasn't returned.
I am on good terms with my three sisters.
I have had a chance to see much of the US and a bit of Europe.

I'm grateful
I live in a country with so many freedoms.
I am pretty happy most of the time.
I get to associate with so many fine colleagues and students at work.

I'm grateful that
I've gotten to see the Dodgers win 5 World Championships and the Lakers 8 of them.
My parents pulled themselves up from impoverished childhoods and gave my sisters and me support and a chance.
George W. Bush has less than two more months in office.

I'm thankful that
We have good health insurance.
We can afford to pay our mortgage.
Visalia is such a nice city.

I'm thankful for,
Thanksgiving, turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, friendship and love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fanatics Among Us

Today one of my U.S. History students handed me a minister's blog entitled "Response to the Recent Presidential Election." The writer, who signs off as "Dutch Sheets" is a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, formerly popularly known as the Dutch Refomed Church. The student indicated his general agreement with the pastor's views.

The upshot of the pastor's analysis is that because of the election of Barack Obama, the harsh punishment of a vengeful God is now about to fall upon the United States. In his section entitled "Judgment Will Increase" the minister begins "This is not a fire and brimstone warning from an angry, legalistic preacher." When somebody starts out that way it's a pretty clear indication of what is to come next. He does not disappoint, either.

Here is what the reverend forecasts from the Almighty as retribution for America's choosing Senator Obama: "More economic woes, more violence in an already violent nation, disease and death (satan, who is responsible for these things will have greater inroads to our nation), natural disasters (weather-tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, drought; fires; earthquakes; etc.), terrorism (they will fear us much less now), war, perhaps on our own soil, and judgments relating to the Court."

The list makes me wonder two things. First, what would he have forecast if he had been "an angry, legalistic preacher," and second, are not these predictions characteristic of what has been happening under the born-again President Bush whom this preacher no doubt supported the past two elections, and under whose reign, if this preacher's crystal ball and view of God is right, we should have expected earthly blessings day and night for the past eight years?

What is sobering to consider is that tens of millions of people are subjected to this picture of God, this world view and this view of the legitimacy of Barack Obama as president every week in churches across the country.

Was this the God Jesus spoke of? God as the big hit-man in the sky, indiscriminately laying waste guilty and innocent alike in an endless thirst for vengeance? Is the world view that is godly the one whose candidate supports unnecessary wars and sings and jokes about starting new ones? Is it really that clear and simple?

And finally, if millions of the faithful are weekly being exposed to an ideology that holds the recent election is not about the expressed will of the people but instead about a servant of "satan" whose "background, associations, beliefs and practices..." will set the causes of "God, life and morality...back years, possibly decades," then how long will it be before many of them feel it their celestial duty to eliminate him before these calamities befall us?

I do not mind saying that I frankly find this variety of religion very, very disquieting.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Obamanomics To Be Unveiled

President-elect Barack Obama is set to announce his economic team on Monday. His economic package is being prepared with the idea of having it ready to pass on Inauguration Day, January 20. It may well include a massive stimulus package in the range of $600 billion. There is no doubt Obama and his advisers feel the economy is too sick to stand further delay. He obviously intends to pursue an activist presidency.

Obama's economic brain trust will include Timothy Geithner, the 47-year-old head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank as Treasury Secretary. When word of his impending appointment was leaked Friday the market responded with a nearly 500-point gain. His reputation includes a cool demeanor and a non-ideological approach to problem-solving.

Larry Summers, 55, a former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, will head the National Economic Council. Summers is brilliant but purportedly arrogant. His selection as an inside adviser to the president rather than a conduit to the press and public seems shrewd. Peter Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, will supposedly be announced as Obama's Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He enjoys the confidence of both parties on Capitol Hill for his non-spin fiscal reporting.

To round out the top-level announcements we will likely also see New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce. He served as Secretary of Energy and Ambassador to the UN in the Clinton days, and his diplomatic credentials ought to come in handy in his new job for negotiating trade pacts. Hillary Clinton's position at State has also been widely reported.

The recession is worsening now primarily because of consumer retrenchment. Consumer spending accounts for some 70% of economic activity, and it has contracted as unemployment has risen, credit has tightened and home values have plummeted. The next contributor to economic activity, investment, is also down. Few businesses are interested in expanding in such a bad economy, even if they are flush or have access to credit. That leaves one entity with the pull to provide demand on a large scale, and that is the federal government.

In true Keynesian fashion, this is what the Obama Administration plans to do. Like Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Obama will ask Congress to initiate a massive public works program, an investment in jobs and national infrastructure to jolt the economy into action and get confidence and demand moving again. He will also reportedly go ahead with his middle class tax cut proposals. To engender some support across the aisle among Republicans, aides such as David Axelrod have let word out that Obama may not push for the reinstitution of the pre-Bush tax rates for the wealthy as Obama advocated during the campaign. Instead these could be allowed to lapse on schedule at the end of 2010.

These moves will unquestionably worsen the deficit, but the avoidance of a deflationary spiral (read Depression) constitutes the urgent matter at hand. Unfortunately, budget reduction will have to wait. In the meantime, while the Bush Administration seems to be asleep at the wheel now other than hurriedly rewriting environmental regulations to permit more poison in the air and water, the Obama team is, as expected, taking bold steps to prepare to hit the ground running and begin addressing the nation's problems from Day One-and even before.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How Will US Handle Multipolar World?

The era of American dominance in world affairs is coming to an end. So says the latest assessment from the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence. Its report, "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World", paints a picture just seventeen years hence in which, "the U.S. will find itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage," playing "a prominent role in global events" but not the decisive one as in the past.

C. Thomas Finegar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council and the nation's top intel analyst said on Thursday, "The unipolar moment is over, or certainly will be over by 2025." World War II ended in a bipolar world. From 1945 to 1991 the United States and the Soviet Union dominated world events. When the Soviet regime collapsed the "unipolar moment" was created. The U.S. stood as the lone world superpower. Now, with the emergence of China and India, the reassertion of Russia and the consolidation of regional blocs such as the European Union, the pre-war multipolar dynamic is poised to return. An essential question for Americans is, how should the United States adjust to the coming reality?

The keys should be to cultivate self-sufficiency within and multilateral cooperation without. Internally, this is why it is so important now to embark on domestically-produced renewable energy in a big way. It is similarly why we must invest in restoring the national infrastructure to world-class status. The transportation, energy and communications grids especially need immediate attention. Fortunately, these are projects the incoming president-elect is committed to. Pursuing them will also offer the added benefits of internal economic stimulus in a time of recession. Health care and education need attention, too. It is a competitive drag on the U.S. economy to be paying twice as much per capita for a health system as the rest of the developed world while getting poorer results. Inefficiencies like this can no longer be tolerated. In education we are wasting too much of our human capital by making it financially unfeasible for so many of our young people to go to college. Our competitors do not have this problem. Obama's "school for service" proposal is a way to address this. It or something like it must be embraced.

Externally, we will no longer be able to bully and intervene militarily with impunity to get our way. To attempt to do so will only invite similar counterpressure from our international rivals, rivals whose influence and power will be coming ever closer to our own. To continue down this path would be to follow the path of earlier waning imperial powers such as France and the Netherlands, who futilely and at great wasted expense tried to hold onto their colonies in the wake of World War II. Instead, the focus of our diplomacy with the rising powers should be to lock in mutually beneficial arrangements on such topics as regional security, resource allocation, terrorism, immigration, trade, labor standards and the environment.

Iraq and Afghanistan should have shown us how costly and indecisive the war model of addressing foreign problems can be. It may be that extreme rivalry with the rising powers is inevitable, but it ought to be our goal to avoid that if possible and seek the win-win first. It is indeed welcome that the crude and myopic approach of the outgoing administration is giving way to the more forward-looking stance of the new one. Change is never easy, but it is coming. The only real question is how we will manage it: proactively and intelligently or reactively and wastefully. Now is the time to make the intelligent choice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meeting of Minds on Abortion?

An article in today's Washington Post offers hope that an outbreak of common sense might be in the offing on the abortion front. See the entire article here. After thirty-five years of attempting and failing to ban abortions there appear to be movements afoot in the pro-life community to begin dealing realistically with means to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and provide the kinds of support to pregnant women that could help more decide to bear their children. Such measures are welcome and long overdue.

"Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of anti-abortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions," reports Jacqueline L. Salmon. The election of Barack Obama has ended for the foreseeable future the likelihood of anti-abortion justices being nominated to the Supreme Court. With that in mind, some abortion foes have decided to take Obama up on his word.

In accepting the Democratic nomination at Denver's Invesco Field Obama said, "We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country." This follows in the same vein as that enunciated by Bill Clinton when he, as candidate and president, stated his view that, "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

Most Americans feel abortion should be legal, in the 2006 Gallup Survey by a margin of 60% to 36%. But they are also uncomfortable with it. Gallup also finds that 51% consider the practice "morally wrong." Pew Research showed this dilemma by finding that 66% of Americans favored a "middle ground" between the polar positions while only 29% said there was "no room for compromise."

Among those promoting the pregnancy prevention and personal support include the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Sojourners, a progressive evangelical movement, Catholics United, Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., one of the nation's largest churches. Hunter says, "There's got to be a way we can take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture wars."

Social research appears to strongly back up the approach. A study by Catholics United for the Common Good found, "The abortion rate for women living below the poverty line is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level." Women who have no insurance or access to contraception and who see little prospect of properly providing for a child are far more likely to opt for abortion. Basic common sense should have made this conclusion obvious to all long ago. It would be a good thing if action were now taken. Fewer unwanted pregnancies and healthier mothers and babies would be very good things for American society. It's about time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hillary Clinton for State?

Last March, after surviving the gauntlet of "Super Tuesday" primaries on February 5 against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama was in the middle of running off eleven consecutive primary and caucus wins. The lead he amassed that month was his margin of victory; Clinton thereafter was never able to close the gap.

One of the little-noticed things Obama did that month in the midst of a frenetic schedule of appearances was to place a call to an author. Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, had written an acclaimed book about the sixteenth president. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln had received the Lincoln Award as the best book about the Civil War in 2005. Obama had read the book and wanted to garner a few further insights about how Lincoln managed his Cabinet, a Cabinet he had stocked with practically every one of the members of his party who had contested him for the nomination.

Obama's inquiry was not idle chatter. He has already tapped one primary season rival, Joe Biden, for the vice presidency. Reports are now rampant that the job of Secretary of State is Senator Clinton's to accept or turn down. Obama is said to have offered her the post when the two met in Chicago. I believe the reports. The Obama campaign up to now has maintained nearly unprecedented message discipline and no one is denying the reports. Just today former President Bill Clinton said his wife "would make a great Secretary of State."

I tend to concur. She is brilliant. She knows foreign and defense policy backward and forward. She knows and has personal relationships with the world's heads of state and government. Her profile is the highest possible, lending the utmost weight and credibility to her diplomacy with global leaders and efforts to assuage the intricacies of the world's trouble spots. Imagine a visit to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia or even North Korea with Hillary Clinton as diplomat in chief. The effect would be electrifying, several orders of magnitude past what would be generated by John Kerry or Bill Richardson. She has a heart but can also famously be as tough as nails. It is easy to picture her as an altogether formidable chief of American foreign policy.

The potential drawbacks are apparent. Might she undermine the president or prove to be an unmanageable subordinate? Are there more Clinton skeletons in the closet that vetting might turn up, particularly with respect to husband Bill's international foundation and its sources of financial support? And speaking of Bill, might he wind up underfoot, in the way, at odds with and a distraction for Obama and his Administration in general?

The answer, of course is that such problems are certainly possible. Given the competence of the Obama operation so far, however, I am inclined to believe they have been anticipated. Obama seems to want strong people around him. His style is to encourage open debate. Then, when he makes a decision, it is final. His approach will be like Lincoln's-to tie the fates of himself and his erstwhile rivals together so that his success is their success and vice versa.

In a remarkable parallel Lincoln tapped New York Senator William Henry Seward, who had been strongly favored to win the Republican nomination in 1860, for his own Secretary of State. Seward began with the apparent idea that he would be the real power of the Lincoln Administration over the thinly-experienced man from Illinois, but before long he considered Lincoln his best friend and he was among the president's firmest supporters. I too have read Goodwin's book and am sure Obama is mining it for insights into leading such a prominent group and maintaining authority. One trait Obama certainly has no shortage of is self-confidence.

For her part, Clinton is, for all her fame, a relatively junior senator. The landmark legislation coming out of Congress under this administration will, for the most part, have the names of long-serving senators such as Dodd, Leahy, Kennedy, Levin, Boxer, and yes, probably McCain attached to it. State presents Clinton with the opportunity to achieve some transcendent objectives, far beyond what she is likely to have under her name in the senate anytime soon.

Consider the kinds of issues the next Secretary of State will tackle. An Israeli-Palestinian settlement, for instance. The successor to the Kyoto climate change treaty. A truly effective global working arrangement on terror. Fixing the horrible African mess. Splitting Syria from Iran. Putting Afghanistan back together. And Iraq. Nuclear proliferation, particularly with respect to Iran and North Korea. Finding the appropriate ongoing relationship with Russia. Encouraging constructive development and evolution in the Islamic world so as to promote justice and drain the swamp that engenders extremism.

Hillary Clinton as Senator has earned high marks for doing her homework, learning the ropes, working across party lines where possible and letting the more senior members enjoy the lion's share of credit when credit is due. I have a hunch that if she becomes Secretary of State she will be a better subordinate than many expect. We will have to wait and see what happens, but keep in mind the Obama team has had a transition operation in place already for at least three months now. Watch what unfolds. Unless I miss my guess, what we are about see leading up to the Inauguration and in the weeks immediately following will be like nothing Americans have witnessed before, except among the very elderly. Fasten your seat belt and get ready to be amazed.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Voter Resources

Where does a citizen go to find pertinent information on candidates and issues at election time? All too often, the answer is nowhere. For many people soundbite or negative commercials and a little word of mouth from other dubiously informed people are the major determinants in their decision-making.

There are, however, some good resources for those who want to dig a little deeper. I like to find out how candidates stand on a number of issues, and if they have a record on actual bills. I really want to find out if they and their campaigns have a history of telling the truth. I also want to find out who is supporting them financially. The money trail is even more important on ballot propositions, many of which are put up by special interests in the guise of being for the general good. Here is a list of valuable sites. I want to thank Maria Gaston for much of this research.

Project Vote Smart does research on thousands of political candidates and officials. It has a great record for nonpartisanship. It asks the candidates to take its National Political Awareness Test each election on the issues they will probably be dealing with if elected. It is tops on the list. Go to or click the link.

To find out whose money is backing what and whom at the state level, a great site is kept up by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. It's called You can find it at

Do you want to find out who is giving you the straight scoop and who is shoveling the bull? An excellent site for this is They especially stay on top of major races and controversies around the country and spare no one from their impartial scrutiny. Click on the link or look into it at

For the real policy wonk you can go to Thomas (as in Jefferson), the Library of Congress site dedicated to publishing all the records of Congress, including not only their votes but also their statements on bills being considered. You can access this at //

As the paper of record in the nation's capital, the Washington Post is unequalled in its day to day coverage of what is going on there. It also has links to voluminous resources such as voting and poll data bases. You may need to register with the paper online, but it's free and they do not send advertising to you. See what WaPo Politics has to offer at

You can find out what the parties are concentrating on at their own websites, too. The Republicans display their wares and a dim view of the Democrats at the Republican National Committee site, The Democratic National Committee has its own site at The minor parties such as the Libertarians and Greens all have their own sites, too.

Happy hunting, and remember at election time, stay informed!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stunning Astronomical Discovery

When I was a boy nothing fired my imagination more than the space program. My mother got me up before dawn in California so I could watch Alan Shepherd, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn and the others of our first astronauts "blast off" into the great beyond. Now, remarkable news has just come in of the first visual image of a planet orbiting a star other than our sun. This achievement owes its realization to the amazing capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope and some remarkable persistence by the astronomical team on the job.

The star Fomalhaut is a main sequence white dwarf star, similar to our sun, about 25 light years from Earth. By astronomical measures that is pretty close to our own neighborhood, though in more familiar terms it is a long way- over 150 trillion miles. As early as the 1980s Fomalhaut was observed to have a gas and debris disc around it, evidence of an early solar system still in formation. It is now thought the star and its system may only be 200 million years old. That is mere infancy compared to the 4.6 billion year age of our own system.

A planet has now been identified even in visual light. It is about three times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting over 10.7 billion miles from its star. That is much farther away than Pluto is from our sun. It is so far away that one orbit around Fomalhaut takes 872 years. The planet's gravity is apparently creating a gap in the disc, shepherding matter out of it. Click here for an article from NASA and the actual picture of Fomalhaut b, the newly discovered planet's tentative designation.

As our capacities improve it seems only a matter of time before we discover another world that supports life, if one exists relatively close to us. Such a planet would be easily identifiable from the spectrograph of an atmosphere that contained a lot of free oxygen and a replenishing quantity of methane. These characteristics would almost certainly be the byproducts of biological activity.

Given the progress of our detection systems and the nearly infinite number of stars and planets it seems increasingly likely that such a world will be found, even within the next few years. It will be interesting to say the least how such a discovery might affect such fields as philosophy, science, art and literature here on our little blue planet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Solar Energy Breakthrough?

Reader Jeff sent me word of a possible breakthrough in solar cell technology that could greatly multiply the amount of electricity the panels could generate. The study itself is published in a journal with exceedingly high credibility, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can see the article here. If you're not a scientist you can read about it in layman's terms at this link.

It seems researchers at Ohio State University programmed supercomputers to look for molecular configurations that would be best at trapping light by causing electrons to go phosphorescent. This makes them available far longer to be "siphoned off as electricity." What they found was a hybrid of plastics, molybdenum and titanium. The material approaches 100% efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity. Current technologies are only about 45% effective in doing so in most practical applications.

This better than doubling of the efficiency of solar panels would obviously have major implications for energy production, making it economically feasible for people to install them even at home. My wife and I looked into putting solar panels on our roof about three years ago but it just did not pay, even with the encouragement of a tax write off. Although the article speculated the commercial introduction of this technology was still years away, such developments stand to revolutionize the energy production of the future. For environmental, economic and national security reasons such research and development ought to be an urgent national priority. An urgent international priority, for that matter.

See some of my earlier posts under the "Energy" heading for parallel developments. Especially pertinent was the July 21, 2008 posting. This is one issue that really can and ultimately will be fixed by technology. When the oil runs out what will we do? It would be best not to wait to find out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What will GOP learn from defeat?

Where does the Republican Party go from here? They seem to want to blame everything on the unpopularity of one man, George W. Bush, though the party went along with him in lockstep for eight years. They have a tough choice to make: hew to the conservative line or move to the center. The toughest decision will involve what to do about their base of social conservatives.

The best chance for a rapid reversal of Republican fortunes would be for President Obama and the Democratic Congress to be unable to achieve much of a substantial economic recovery by 2010 or 2012. That could make it less imperative for the Grand Old Party to have to revamp its own tool kit.

But aside from that, Republicans find themselves divided between those who feel the party lost its way by not staying conservative enough, as evidenced by Bush's deficit spending, and those who feel the party should move toward the center on things like social issues.

In the short term it will likely prove impossible for the Republicans to effect a divorce from the social conservatives and their veto power over party policy. Ever since Ronald Reagan added them to the coalition they have been indispensable to its victories. Now, though, their function is increasingly to narrow the party's appeal as the electorate grows younger and more ethnically and culturally diverse. Not to mention more fed up with theocratic ideology wedded to an abysmal capacity to govern.

Surveys show the people getting more liberal on practically every major issue. You name it-global warming, renewable energy, health care, gay rights, the Iraq War, immigration, environmental protection, regulation of business, progressive taxation, abortion rights-the majority of Americans do not support the hard right position. Yet it is so unassailable in Republican politics that even a moderate like McCain had to do it unending obeisance to secure the nomination and dared not deviate in the general election campaign either. Thus we saw the "Drill baby drill" and culture war campaign and the Palin phenomenon. But these focuses, given the nation's current problems and experience with an Administration that thinks in such terms, drove away more moderates than it energized conservatives.

Yet given the power these social conservatives marshal in the primaries it is probable the Republicans will proceed to run another couple of hard right campaigns and get lathered in them before they bring themselves to de-emphasize trying to be the party of evangelical theology and get back to the limited set of principles that motivated their appeal in previous days. Until then the Democrats will have a golden opportunity, should they govern well, to reassert their previous majority status in American politics for the next generation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What Education Needs

Education has to be a major component of any long range plan to preserve American international economic competitiveness and consequently its standard of living. There is little doubt that by many measures U.S. educational achievement lags behind the levels attained by many other industrialized countries. For the results of a recent comparitive study click here.

Education problems have certainly received considerable attention. The Bush Administration tried to address educational deficencies with the No Child Left Behind program. It laudably attempted to create a set of standards but unfortunately tied them too strongly to rote testing and failed to provide the funding needed to implement K-12 improvements or expand access to higher education.

The incoming Obama Administration has also stressed a commitment to education, mentioning it among its top five national priorities and promising innovative approaches, increased funding and a college-for-service program to increase access. Most promisingly, Obama himself has shown an interest in making achievement, service, public education and having a brain "cool" again.

The educational studies show a disturbing trend: American kids get off to a good start in reading, mathematics and science as measured in the fourth grade, but go downhill from there. By the eighth grade they are no longer ahead of the field and by the age of fifteen they are starting to lag behind other nations.

As a long-time educator I do not believe the causes for this pattern are principally to be found in weaker instruction at higher grades. I believe the roots of this declining performance are mainly cultural.

Culturally, I have noticed a strong anti-intellectual bias in recent years. We have witnessed a continual railing against "elites" and a culture war against science and fact-based discourse. We have seen the previous two presidential elections decided on the basis of perceived cultural affinity with the person "you would want to have a beer with" rather than on the candidate having the smarts for the job.

I also noticed a pernicious peer pressure during my middle school teaching days that sought to ridicule high academic achievement. It was clear that a good deal of this attitude emanated from some children's homes. Another distressingly high dose of it spews from the spigot of popular culture. There the shallow, commercial, reckless and narcissistic are glorified at the expense of ideals that actually matter.

The political effects of these cultural trends are quite clear by now and have been repudiated in this year's polling. The educational effects are no less deleterious. President Obama may have many good ideas for educational reform, but the results will disappoint if he does not devote much of his considerable powers of persuasion and inspiration to changing the cultural views that underpin societal attitudes about educational achievement in the nation. Cocky, ignorant and stupid are not cool. Openminded, curious and smart are. To the extent President Obama and indeed all our role models effectively make this case will U.S. students begin moving up the educational achievement ladder. Without them all the well-meaning reforms and new appropriations in the world will not accomplish squat.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama Set to Reverse Bush Rules

President Bush's outgoing administration is reportedly quite busy preparing a rush of executive orders in an effort to lock parts of his legacy in place after he leaves office. For his part, President-Elect Barack Obama is said to have a team of four dozen transition staff of his own assigned to ferret such orders out so that Obama can countermand them as rapidly as possible. Here are some of the areas under scrutiny.

Back in March Obama was on the primary stump in Wyoming. The Denver Post reported Obama told a crowd in Casper, Wyoming in March that he would as president reverse every unconstitutional executive order such as the "use of warrantless wiretaps and a willingness to hold prisoners without charges."

Having secured the nomination, Obama paid a visit to Capitol Hill in late July. There, according to the Associated Press, he vowed to order his attorney general to expunge any of George W. Bush's orders that "trample on liberty."

Another area under scrutiny by the Obama team is likely to be the environment. The Bush White House is currently reported to be preparing large-scale relaxations of air and water quality regulations. Speaking in Nevada, AP reports Obama said, "I think the slow chipping away against clean air and clean water has been disturbing." He added, "Much of it hasn't gone through congress. It has been done by fiat."

Yet another avenue of executive order action could be on stem cell research. In August Obama domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes told NPR Obama, "believes that upon being elected president he could sign an executive order that would overturn the Bush position on stem cell research."

Obama has made clear that the financial crisis and weak economy will be his first priorities upon taking office, with energy policy close behind. Still, such news as this makes it apparent he will be moving on several fronts at once, and quite a bit of it may be under most people's radar.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama's Potential Ranking

Greatness occurs when preparation encounters opportunity. Reader John R. has asked me to speculate about where Barack Obama may someday rank on the list of American presidents. All I can say is that the potential for "near greatness" is there. Whether it will reach fruition is anybody's guess at this point, but the ingredients are in place.

First to consider are the stakes the incoming chief faces. Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are examples of presidents who faced the most perilous conditions imaginable. They took office in the midst of existential national crises. Failure in each case could have meant the end of the republic. With stakes so high, success would almost certainly lead to a "great" reputation. Failure would be abject. Buchanan and Hoover, for instance, faced some of these same stakes. Their inabilities to surmount them have relegated them to dismal repute.

In Obama's case he faces some grave conditions. One, the financial situation is the worst since what FDR faced during the Great Depression. The economy is in the same boat. Two, we are also at war, not in an existential struggle like the Civil War or World War II, but a Vietnam-style bleeding sump that divides the nation and saps its ability to deal with its other issues. Three, we have just been through a terribly destructive brand of politics built on exacerbating the divisions within our society and using them to intentionally stoke suspicion and enmity and polarize the nation along its cultural fault lines. Carried to its logical conclusion, this Bush-Rovian model could threaten the cohesion of the nation.

Obama's campaign shows that he gets what he faces. See my previous blog for some of his priorities. He has repeatedly stated his view that partisan posturing and special interest grasping have to give way to problem solving. He places fiscal and economic recovery at the top of his issue list. His approach to the wars-decouple from the needless waste of Iraq and wrap things up in Afghanistan-are undoubtedly the best for the national interest.

Furthermore, the operation of his own campaign organization, if it betokens anything of his ability to lead an Administration, presents a tantalizingly breathtaking example of ingenuity, discipline and effectiveness. Obama's personal qualities as well have similarly appeared to be "off the charts." Alone among the major contenders, for instance, Obama went 21 months with scarcely a gaffe. It is difficult to name even a single instance of him losing his temper, equanimity or focus. Though starting with far less experience than most in the field of both parties, Obama quickly was able to master the issues and prevail in debate against people with many more years in government than he. His intellect is unquestionable. His ability to inspire the people hardly needs commenting upon. And judging from his campaign, his strategic political sense is pretty strong too.

So yes, all the potential is there for Obama to emerge as a "near-great" President of the United States. By setting the stage for fiscal restoration and economic recovery, particularly for the long term, by restoring America's international reputation and competence and doing so while returning the nation to its Constitutional principles, by inspiring the kind of national sense of purpose Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy engendered, and by driving a stake through the heart of politics by deceit, demonization and culture war, Obama could wind up high indeed in the pantheon of presidents. Maybe even to "greatness."

But does he have the right economic prescriptions? Can he pass his agenda? What unforeseen crises will arise, how will he deal with them and how badly will they derail his plans? No one can answer these questions with certainty. The problems are serious but the potential for surmounting them is there. We should all wish him well, for his success is our success. And if together we succeed he will prove his campaign invocation that we indeed are the change we have been waiting for. It ought to be a fascinating few years.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's Priorities and Intellect

A few days ago CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer got some scant minutes to interview then-candidate Barack Obama before he was to go on stage at a campaign rally. "Senator Obama," Blitzer asked, "what will your order of priority be for these five issues: health care, energy independence, the tax code, immigration reform and education?" Obama's response tells us some important things about the man who will be our next president.

Obama began by adding a sixth. "Even before any of the others, I think first we have to stabilize the financial system," he said. "And part of the picture is that the economy will need stimulus. Without these none of the rest of the things you mention are possible."

After that, Obama placed energy independence second. He pointed out its relationship to national security and jobs. This evidences an analysis that our dependence on foreign oil drives our foreign policy and makes it hostage to energy calculations. It also shows an understanding that dependence provides other governments with leverage over us. The jobs component illustrates Obama's solution to the problem, his plan to turn vulnerability into opportunity by investing $15 billion a year for ten years into installing green energy systems. He has often stated his estimate that this will provide five million domestic jobs.

Obama placed health care in third place. He made it clear that this is something he really wants to get done by the end of his first term. He views health care as a "right" that all should enjoy. He cited the examples of the success of other countries in reigning in costs and covering all of their citizens and seemed incredulous that the United States could not accomplish as much. "This is a case of special interests controlling an agenda. For the good of the American people, that will have to change."

Next was tax reform. Obama pointed out a relationship with his first priority, financial and economic stability, and mentioned how the tax code was strongly related to it and would be part of the same overall solution.

Coming in fifth was education, "not because it is not important, but because in this list the other items simply have to take priority." Obama did feel his service-for- tuition proposal could still be implemented in this environment. "If we are going to compete in the world we must find a way to get every deserving student to college."

Immigration wound up last on his list and garnered little in the way of emphasis or explanantion from him. If seemed definitely low on his list of concerns.

The first thing that struck me about the interview was Obama's mental facility. Wolf Blitzer gave him a complicated question with five things to remember. He added a sixth and never had to ask for a refresher on what all the issues were. Next, he displayed strong powers of integration. He thought about the big picture and the little pictures. You could sense him thinking the problem through as he spoke. He recognized relationships, such as how oil dependence creates problems in multiple areas and how tax, fiscal and economic issues can be addressed together so that one solution improves several facets at once.

Another thing I took away were Obama's powers of mental organization. The logic of his priorities is hard to argue with, despite his having to come up with them ad hoc and on the spot. Finally, I was quite intrigued with his ability to focus and concentrate. The interview took place in a tent behind the stage where Obama was to deliver a campaign speech at an outdoor rally. The din of the crowd and the amplified voices of the preceding speakers on the stage filled the background of the CNN interview. Obama was not distracted. He remained on topic and imperturbable throughout. As might be expected, the former President of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago Constitutional Law Professor is a formidable intellect. It was an impressive display.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Meaning of Obama Election

These are the remarks as I prepared them to deliver to the Election Night Victory Celebration of the Tulare County (California) Democratic Party. There were over 700 in attendance at the Visalia Holiday Inn.

This is a great night to be a Democrat; this is a great night to be an American! On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. We are also sending bigger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to help him get this country back on track again. It’s about time! Thanks to your hard work we have taken our country back. You registered the voters, you made the phone calls, attended the rallies, you contributed your money, talked to your family, friends and neighbors, painted the signs, stayed informed, cast your vote: in short you made it happen. You have proven what Barack has been saying all along: This campaign has never really been about him. It is about us, the American people, what we need, and what we are willing to believe in and make happen.

The smashing victory we see tonight confirms what we have been saying since the beginning of this campaign: This country is ready for change! And starting on January 20, we are going to get it. America’s eight-year nightmare is over. We have seen a vindication of the basis of our party’s campaign. As Barack Obama says, the size of our problems had outgrown the smallness of our politics, the politics about tearing each other down instead of building our country up. It is time to once again become one America, not a Red America and a Blue America, but one United States of America. With this election tonight we have chosen hope over fear, unity over division, change over the status quo and a bright future over the failed past.

We will now see the beginning of the end of our involvement in a war that should never have been fought, while we finally go after the people who actually attacked us. We will see health care treated as a human right and not as a privilege. We will live up to our ideals and our sacred constitutional principles: Let it never ever be said again that America’s government tortures people and spies on its citizens without cause or a warrant; those are not the practices of a free country.

We will see people treated equally and with respect, whether they be black, white, brown, Native American, immigrant, gay, straight, disabled or not disabled. We will build up our schools and our infrastructure; we will break our dependence on oil, not by trying to squeeze the last few drops out of our shores but by turning to the wind and the sun. In the process we will begin reversing global warming and handing a cleaner planet over to our children. We will mobilize our young people and invest in our human capital by rewarding service with a college education.

These are but some of the ideas and ideals to which we have committed ourselves. Our triumph tonight grew out of an improbable movement that turned cynicism into optimism and the spirit of business as usual and “no you can’t” into “yes we can.” Our party always rises when it appeals to our hopes and not our fears, to our better angels and the promise of the possible. This is the spirit that understands that obstacles are what we see when we take our eyes off the prize, the spirit that Bobby Kennedy referred to when he said, “Some see things as they are and ask why, I see things that never were and ask why not.” So tonight we begin day one of seeing things that never were but ought to be, that are for some and ought to be for all, that could be and that will be. This is our night, and it is America’s to celebrate.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Night Guide: The Big 12

If you're like me you're an election night junkie. I can't wait to watch the returns come in from all the states. The problem can be sensory overload. Here's a systematic approach to help you make sense of it all and give you a good picture of how things are turning out. Though thirty states and the District of Columbia will be closing their polls by 5:30 PST, you can probably get a good handle on things by paying attention to just 12 states in the first couple of hours. After that you can begin celebrating, commiserating or curling up with a good book for the rest of the evening as your wont suits you. If you'd like to see the polling hours for every state click here.

But if you're not that ambitious, here's what to look for. I'll call them the Big 12 of 2008. All times are PST, since I'm a Californian.

3:00 P.M.
1. Indiana President, 11 Electoral Votes. McCain desperately needs this tossup state. The polls say he currently leads by half a point. If it gets called early for Obama it likely means he's on his way to election. Anything else means "stay tuned."
2. Kentucky Senator. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell leads challenger Bruce Lunsford by 5-6 points. If this is too close to call it's a bad sign for Republicans generally. This is one of three strongly contested Southern GOP senate seats. If the Dems can pick up any of them they have a good chance of reaching 60 seats in the senate and having the votes to block any filibusters.

4:00 P.M.
3. Virginia President, 13 EV. Obama has been running strong here but McCain has been narrowing the gap in recent days. Several recent polls have Obama up by 4%. If the Old Dominion is called early for Obama it's not necessarily fatal for McCain but it's very bad for him. It would mean McCain would absolutely have to take Pennsylvania at 5:00 or go down. If it's called early for McCain we have a horse race.
4. Florida President, 27 EV. The Sunshine State is another desperate must-have state for McCain. Obama's been running a little better than 3 points ahead. If that holds the O-crew can start popping the champagne. If McCain's neck and neck or slightly ahead he stays alive. Watch where the returns are coming from. Obama should do best in the South and McCain in the North.
5. Mississippi Senator. Republican Roger Wicker was barely ahead of Democrat Ronnie Musgrove until recently starting to pull away. This is another of the three Southern Republican senate seats the Dems feel they have a chance to win to reach 60. This one looks unlikely, but if Musgrove is in the hunt it bodes well for Dems in all the down-ticket races.
6. New Hampshire President, 4 EV, and Senator. McCain has spent a lot of time here at the end of the campaign. This is the state that gave him an early lead against Bush in 2000 and revived his candidacy in 2008. All the latest numbers show Obama ahead by 10 or more, so if McCain is in the running here when New Hampshire's polls close it would show a catastrophic trend for Obama. Democrat Jeanne Shaheen appears poised to take a senate seat away from John Sununu here by double digits too. Just take a quick glance to see if the results are going according to expectations in both these races. If not then we may have a Truman-Dewey situation developing.

4:30 P.M.
7. Ohio President, 20 EV.
This is another one McCain has to win "or else." Obama had pulled ahead by about 6 but recent surveys show his lead cut to 3 or 4. If that trend continues it could be a nailbiter. But again, as in Florida, if the Illinoisan grabs and maintains that lead or bigger then the handwriting is on the wall for McCain. The man from Arizona has to win everywhere things are close, and nowhere more so than here.
8. North Carolina President, 15 EV, and Senator. Here is another normally solid Republican state that has been trending more Democratic. Obama still clings to a slim half-a-percent lead in the Tarheel State. McCain will have to put this one in his win column to stay alive. If he loses North Carolina he will almost surely lose Virginia too. So again, it's another one of those places where Obama can administer the knockout blow with a victory and McCain must win to have any chance. I tend to think McCain will pull this one out. The Senate race is important here too. Longtime GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole has been trailing Democrat Kay Hagan by a growing margin which is now up to five. Dole has begun egregious smear ads in the past couple of days. If Dole hangs on the rest of the Southern Republicans are likely to also.

5:00 P.M.
9. Pennsylvania President, 21 EV.
If things are still up in the air after the 4:30 states Pennsylvania will weigh in decisively at 5:00. This is McCain's only real hope for turning a 2004 Kerry state Republican to make up for the probable loss of Western states like Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico later in the evening. Obama led in the Keystone State by around 12 a week ago, but McCain and Palin have spent and campaigned furiously since. Still, recent polls continue to show Obama with 6 and 7 point leads with two days left and McCain's curve rising too slowly to complete the chase in time. But those are polls. Don't go away at 5:00 when Pennsylvania's exit polls and actual results start coming in. It seems unlikely McCain can catch up, and if he doesn't he is dead in the water. But if somehow he does or he's within, say 2%, then all bets are off and anything can happen. That is, of course, presuming that Obama isn't already carrying Florida or Ohio, or North Carolina and Virgina, or either of them and Indiana.
10. Georgia President, 15 EV, and Senator. Georgia is a state where Obama has made a late surge, pulling to within 3% in recent days. African-American early voting is massive. If Obama is winning here then Virginia and North Carolina are probably going his way too and he wins in a landslide. McCain simply must hold Georgia. The Senate race is tight too. This is the Democrats' best chance to defeat one of the three seemingly vulnerable Southern Republican senators besides Dole and get to 60 seats. Saxby Chambliss leads Democratic hopeful Jim Martin by only 2%. It's a heavy blow for the GOP in congress if Chambliss falls.
11. Missouri President, 11 EV. Missouri's electoral votes typically go for the presidential winner, so the Show-Me State is often referred to as a "bellwether." Obama had established about a 3-point lead last week, but McCain caught him on Halloween and now both candidates' support is dropping a bit, as though the voters are stepping back to make up their minds. McCain leads by less than one point. It's another case of almost "have to have" for McCain and "would be nice to have" for Obama. Just keep in mind that although Obama doesn't have to win any one of these medium-size states in particular, he does have to win one of them somewhere, especially if McCain takes Pennsylvania.
12. North Dakota President, 3 EV. Believe it or not, the Great Plains capstone is a dead-even tie. There are electoral vote scenarios close enough that North Dakota's 3 (and neighboring Montana's, where McCain leads narrowly) could be what decides the election. If Obama is ahead here he's probably doing well in neighboring Montana, which reports at 7:00, too. Those combined 6 electoral votes could be crucial if the race is extremely close.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Day at the Campaign Office

Let me give you an idea of the scope of the Obama organization as the election approaches. It's what first turned the tide his way in Iowa and has been an integral part of powering his run ever since. My job today at the county party headquarters was to train phone volunteers and get them started making get out the vote calls.

Though we were calling from Visalia, California, the county seat of Tulare County, the target state today was Montana. That's because Obama already has a huge lead here in the Golden State, and in our 56-44 Republican Central Valley county the local races do not look very good. Polls in Montana, on the other hand, show McCain vulnerable there, running only 4% ahead.

We had thirty volunteers come in to make calls. Many had never done anything of the sort; that is the kind of interest Obama has inspired. So, what can 30 people do? Make 3000 calls, that's what, to a state where there are only 456,000 registered voters. The 9000 statewide California callers could reach all those voters in Montana in a day. That's right, one day. They could find out who was undecided and make a short pitch. They could identify which ones were for Obama, which ones have voted early, remind those who haven't to vote on Tuesday, tell them where their polling place is and arrange a ride for them on election day if they need one. Then the 15,000 volunteers in Montana itself can take over from there. One volunteer for each 30 voters in the state is huge.

We started calling Ohio a few Saturdays back. Of course this is all in conjunction with TV ads, candidate or surrogate appearances and local efforts on the ground in the states. The effort is being coordinated nationwide. After two weeks Ohio went from McCain by a half a percent to Obama by 4. We then turned our attention to Colorado. After two weeks Obama's lead solidified from 4% up to 7%. We spent last Saturday on Nevada and saw Obama's lead go from 3% to 7%. Today it was Montana. It will be interesting to see what happens if there is a poll released there in the next couple of days, or if not, then what the results are on election day.

The number of volunteers, like the amount of money Obama has raised from small contributions, exemplifies the excitement and commitment Obama has engendered. The organization of the campaign effort similarly bespeaks of the high level of expertise and professional acumen within the Obama team itself. If this is any preview of how a prospective Obama Administration might be run--well, the difference from what we have gotten used to lately could be breathtaking.