Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain Picks Who? An Alaskan Perspective

I was most impressed at the lightspeed response by the media and internet folks to John McCain's announcement of his pick for the Vice President spot, one Sarah Palin, the current governor of Alaska, who is two years into her first term.

Yeah, who??

In mere nanoseconds (decades in computer time), bloggers and the media were hoisting images of Palin just a'totin' some guns with some guys and her beauty pageant pics. The choice allowed McCain the chance to do something he has not been able to muster during his entire campaign: to make news. Also, the story today is not Obama's acceptance speech, it's McCain's pick - a double whammy!

So who is she?

A most informative post can be found here at the Alaskan political blog Mudflats. It has tons of info and perspective and I'm posting a chunk of it. Hopefully, you'll bother to read it and learn something about her beyond this current day's media gush:

Is this a joke?” That seemed to be the question du jour when my phone started ringing off the hook at 6:45am here in Alaska. I mean, we’re sort of excited that our humble state has gotten some kind of national ‘nod’….but seriously? Sarah Palin for Vice President? Yes, she’s a popular governor. Her all time high approval rating hovered around 90% at one point. But bear in mind that the 90% approval rating came from one of the most conservative, and reddest-of-the-red states out there. And that approval rating came before a series of events that have lead many Alaskans to question the governor’s once pristine image.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Alaskans are feeling pretty excited about this. But we live in our own little bubble up here, and most of the attention we get is because of The Bridge to Nowhere, polar bears, the indictment of Ted Stevens, and the ongoing investigation and conviction of the string of legislators and oil executives who literally called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club”.

So seeing our governor out there in the national spotlight accepting the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate is just downright surreal. Just months ago, when rumors surfaced that she was on the long version of the short list, she was questioned if she’d be interested in the position. She said she couldn’t answer “until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day. I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here….”

There is no doubt that Palin has fierce territorial loyalties. When elected governor there was much concern because she came right out and said she would favor her own home town of Wasilla (where she was mayor) and its surrounding environs collectively known as “the Valley” while leading the state. And it’s obvious from her statement that Alaska was on her mind when accepting the VP nod (see my emphasis above).

So what is it that we’re “trying to accomplish up here”?

  • Palin is currently in the middle of a controversial gas pipeline project in Alaska. She’s favored the ‘Trans Canada’ proposal that will run the pipeline through Canada, in effect shipping US jobs over the border. Many Alaskans, including former governors, have favored the “All Alaska Route”.
  • She is also sueing the federal government over listing the polar bears as a threatened species. The science was even compelling enough to convince the Secretery of the Interior that the bears needed to be listed. But acknowlegement of this issue, and the potential disruption to development on Alaska’s oil-rich north slope spurred Palin to attempt to stop the listing.
  • Does she want to open ANWR? Yes. Every politician in Alaska wants to open ANWR. It’s basically a requirement if you ever hope to get elected for anything. Even Mark Begich, the progressive Democrat running against the indicted Senator and Alaskan institution Ted Stevens, is pro-drilling. That’s the sea we swim in up here. There are a few anti-drilling folks, but you have to look hard to find them, and work hard to have them admit it.

Will all this wash with voters in the ‘Lower 48′? Time will tell.

18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

It was obvious anyway, but became beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-two-by-four obvious when Palin referenced the ‘glass ceiling’ line, that this choice is a blatant pander to women. I would like to believe that women will actually feel insulted by this. Yes, it would have been historic if Hillary had gotten the nomination. It was historic that she made it as far as she did. Yes, it would be great to have a woman in the oval office, or in the VP slot if they are the right woman…a woman who got there with her own drive, grit, determination, intelligence, skill and merits. When you’re hand-picked by a man to win votes simply because you are a woman, that doesn’t count, and it doesn’t break any kind of ceiling. Would we have had a Stan Palin as our VP pick? No. So choosing a woman because you think her gender will get votes is insulting.

Governor “Squeakyclean”….or not.

Another focus of Palin’s introduction today was her reform image. Listen to John McCain and you’ll hear about a maverick reformer who took on big oil, took on corrupt Alaska politicians, and whose ethics are unquestioned.

Alaskans really want to like Sarah Palin. In a state where corruption is the rule, and the same faces keep recycling over and over and over again like a bad dream, a new face, with a promise of reform seemed like a breath of fresh air. Palin defeated incumbent governor Frank Murkowski (father of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who he appointed to his own Senate seat when he was elected governor) because he was such an obnoxious, bloviating, downright BAD politician. This staunchly republican state voted with relief, not having to cross over and vote Democratic, but still able to get Murkowski the hell out of office. In the general election Palin swept into office running against a former Democratic governor, Tony Knowles, who was capable but came with baggage. And he represented to Alaskans more of the same, tired old-style politics, and special interests that we have come to loathe.

So, if McCain had made his selection six months ago, the squeaky-clean governor meme would have made a little more sense. But, Sarah Palin is currently under an ethics investigation by the Alaska state legislature. The details of this investigation read like a trashy novel, and I suspect that the players will soon have newfound celebrity on the national stage. I’ll try to explain for all you non-Alaskans who suddenly have good reason to want to know more about Sarah Palin. For those of you not interested in trashy novels, feel free to skip ahead. Here it is…what we in Alaska call “TrooperGate”.

Sarah Palin’s sister Molly married a guy named Mike Wooten who is an Alaska State Trooper. Mike and Molly had a rocky marriage. When the marriage broke up, there was a bitter custody fight that is still ongoing. During the custody investigation, all sorts of things were brought up about Wooten including the fact that he had illegally shot a moose (yes folks this is Alaska), driven drunk, and used a taser (on the test setting, he reminds us) on his 11-year old stepson, who supposedly had asked to see what it felt like. While Wooten has turned out to be a less than stellar figure, the fact that Palin’s father accompanied him on the infamous moose hunt, and that many of the dozens of charges brought up by the Palin family happened long before they were ever reported smacked of desperate custody fight. Wooten’s story is that he was basically stalked by the family.

After all this, Wooten was investigated and disciplined on two counts and allowed to kept his position with the troopers. Enter Walt Monegan, Palin’s appointed new chief of the Department of Public Safety and head of the troopers. Monegan was beloved by the troopers, did a bang-up job with minimal funding and suddenly got axed. Palin was out of town and Monegan got “offered another job” (aka fired) with no explanation to Alaskans. Pressure was put on the governor to give details, because rumors started to swirl around the fact that the highly respected Monegan was fired because he refused to fire the aforementioned Mike Wooten. Palin vehemently denied ever talking to Monegan or pressuring Monegan in any way to fire Wooten, or that anyone on her staff did. Over the weeks it has come out that not only was pressure applied, there were literally dozens of conversations in which pressure was applied to fire him. Monegan has testified to this fact, spurring an ongoing investigation by the Alaska state legislature. But, before this investigation got underway, Palin sent the Alaska State Attorney General out to do some investigative work of his own so she could find out in advance what the real investigation was going to find. (No, I’m not making this up). The AG interviewed several people, unbeknownst to the actual appointed investigator or the Legislature! Palin’s investigation of herself uncovered a recorded phone call retained by the Alaska State Troopers from Frank Bailey, a Palin underling, putting pressure on a trooper about the Wooten non-firing. Todd Palin (governor’s husband) even talked to Monegan himself in Palin’s office while she was away. Bailey is now on paid administrative leave.

As if this weren’t enough, Monegan’s appointed replacement Chuck Kopp, turns out to have been the center of his own little scandal. He received a letter of reprimand and was reassigned after sexual harrassment allegations by a former coworker who didn’t like all the unwanted kissing and hugging in the office. Was he vetted? Obviously not. When he was questioned about all this, his comment was that no one had asked him and he thought they all knew. Kopp, defiant, still claimed to have done nothing wrong and said to the press that there was no way he was stepping down from his new position. Twenty four hours later, he stepped down. Later it was uncovered that he received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks on the job from Palin. Monegan got nothing.

After extensive news coverage about all this nasty behind-the-scenes scandal, which is definitely NOT squeaky clean, Palin’s approval ratings fell to 67%, still high, but a far cry from the 90% number that’s being thrown around so glibly by the Republicans today. Alaskans are quickly becoming disillusioned once again.

Read it all.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Satanic Lunch Program of Doom!

"Hawkins County school officials assure me that students participating in the biometric identification system will be under no obligation whatsoever to swear allegiance or worship the school lunch lady. In fact, the Hawkins County School system advises against the worship or religious-type following of any staff or board member - as this would be just really weird.

Okay, they didn’t actually say that. They were mostly offended by the notion that half the county thinks they’re acting as a mark distributor for the devil. But the point here is: you are not and will never be required to kneel before anyone wearing plastic gloves and a hair net."

Read the whole story at DeMarCaTionVille.

My Speech to the 2008 Democrat Convention

Hello convention delegates!

Thanks for the invite to speak to you all.

I salute your party today because your primary campaigns offered, for the first time, viable contenders for the office of President who were not White Males. I think that is a most historic event, worthy of praise and admiration, and points to a nation lead more by ideals than any other thing.

I am an Independent voter, sort of. I decided to vote in the primary in Tennessee back in February and in order to do that I had to pick a political party primary to vote in. (Of course, I was also voting on a local sales tax increase, which I voted against, which really meant nothing, since the city voters decided in June to vote again and passed it and now the county says they want the increase too and it is on the ballot in November, but I wonder how it can be on the ballot twice in one year, and sorry I digress here.)

So as of this moment, I am still an Independent but a peek at my voting record would show I voted this year in the Democrat primary and am thus, I suppose, a Democrat. (The state's Democrat blog links to my page while the GOP's blog does not link to me, whatever that is worth.)

(Jeez-oh-Pete, look at these parenthetical remarks ... that's what happens to my writing and speechifying after I've just read a Robert Heinlein book. Ah well. Anyone who finds the use of the word or the form of parenthetical writing are all gone now, so it may be safe to continue.)

I mention all this as a form of full-disclosure. I have never been a dues-paying, card-carrying member of any political party, but I did vote in the primary and most folks who know me who are members of the two-party system have always labeled me a "liberal democrat", mostly as a short-hand way of expressing distaste for my views, meaning not so much they are 'liberal' as they are individual.

Since so many bloggers, texters and jillions of other event-recorders are at your convention, and since your candidate, Sen. Obama, is intent on including more than just delegates at his acceptance speech, I decided to make my virtual attendance and provide a speech. Thanks for thinking of me.

(Oh, and for those who think the Senator's speech in front of "Greek columns" is a grab at the power of Godhood, what? Have you people even been to Washington, D.C.? The style of our government's architecture is purely Greek temple.)

Here is my plea:

Don't blow it.

Our current Republican President and V.P. and his appointees have greatly abused the powers of their offices. Never thought I would see such abuse in my lifetime. Centralizing authority in a single political office is utterly opposite the reasons our Nation was founded. And they led by stirring fear and suspicion and woe and still, even with all that power, they are inept; so inept that 3 years ago they could not muster a response to a hurricane in the Gulf Coast and still can't; so inept they cannot conduct a military campaign to victory even after they have claimed it; so inept ... well, you get the point and I am no Great Orator.

My concern is that much of the conduct of this official and his crew were all made possible by the elected representatives in Congress. It was allowed to happen and accountability has been sorely absent. So I'm saying - Do Not Blow This Opportunity.

Our Nation has been stained with the acceptance of torture, of acting without legally obtained warrants, and all the while telling me to get some duct tape and plastic to make myself safe in my home and to take off my shoes to be safe in an airplane. The last eight (well, seven and change) years have been surreal. More so than normal.

I'm about twelve years past the median age in this country, so this ain't my first rodeo. Political conventions are as engaging to most folk as oral surgery. Now that you have had your time to gather some unified energy, it is time to hit the streets and get some face time with voters who are unsure of what to do after having the bejesus scared out of themselves. And should you be fortunate and blessed and obtain the office of the Presidency, then boy oh boy the real work starts. And it will not be easy to undo the damage. I will be watching closely and you can check what I think by visiting this page often and thank you for that.

Still, I speak today to support the Obama/Biden ticket. Your choice is highly optimistic about our Nation. I surely hope that is what you begin to spread among the masses and truly bring back into government.

As a great British writer once wrote: "God bless us, every one."


(Can you get your house band to play this as I leave the stage? Can I pretend to conduct, too? No? Ah well, play on, play on.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why I Feel Justified Fearing New High-Tech Cellphones

Tales Told By Idiots

After the 24-hours of comments left on this Knoxville News Sentinel story, I may have to take back my comments yesterday that the good outweighs the bad on the internet.

Crikey. I sure feel sorry for those who have to moderate the comments there. Must be like cleaning out Ancient Septic Tanks of the Damned.

I did note one comment worth repeating:

Sounds like most of you took the day off from working on your GED's."

UPDATE: I'm embarrassed. KNS blogger Michael Silence writes this morning that I was more right yesterday.
I should not read news and comments until I've had more coffee and sleep, maybe??

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's a Madhouse!!

"It's basically become a mudpit and it's very loud," he said of the blogosphere. In his final post, he wrote, "Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarized, and so filled with haters hating that it's simply not worth it. "

From Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs and CEO for Mahalo, in the Washington Post article Monday.

Since I began scouring the Internet via a 9600 baud dial-up connection in the early 1990s and all the way to today, what I have discovered is you can find whatever you wish to find - mudpits, nitwits, genius, talent, scum, glory, community, isolation and an opinion on any topic. Managing sites can be thankless, brutal work, and it can also be incredibly rewarding.

The real crux of the WaPo article above is that marketing directors, CEOs, large and minuscule, companies all compete on the Internet now. This humble page is one of millions of daily blogs, nearly impossible for anyone to find, right? Nope. Readers arrive from every corner of the planet to view this page, from all manner of sources and queries and searches. As many as hate, just as many offer something better than that.

For me, what I continue to see is an ever-expanding creativity. And yes, some folks just scrawl dirty limericks on the walls, but the larger truth is about creation and not destruction.

Talking About Michelle Obama

I only got to see some of the event last night, but one thing did really creep me out: those silhouettes along the railing above the stage and in front of the big screen look really weird.

Anyway ...

I think Michelle Obama did something fairly amazing in her speech last night at the Democratic Convention - she made a mostly critique-proof speech. It wasn't a rant on the failures of Republicans, or a huge promotion of policies and platforms. It was a kind of fluffy talk about how her family made her strong, how her marriage and her children made her strong, and that those kinds of strength are the best of American Life.

Mom, Dad, Home, Kids and Apple Pie. As both the Tennessee and the national Republican PR-geeks have worked to create the image of Michelle Obama as a deranged and bitter and angry woman, she effortlessly deflected such claims, gave huge emotional and symbolic salutes to the role of women in American Life - as sisters, mothers, and daughters - and still gave salutes to her man, too, in a way that is hard to smack down with criticism, like this bit:

He's the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter home from the hospital ten years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands .."

Every parent who heard that probably got a bit misty on that line. Making her a target at that moment would be a major error. It also made me think perhaps she had wished he would move a little faster, too.

Likewise, a salute (emotional and symbolic) to Sen. Kennedy, whose health is failing, was tough to knock apart too. Kicking a man when he's down, when his family shows a bittersweet hopefulness for the future, would be political suicide.

So critics were left with little to actually say about last night other than it was "a wasted night", as Bill Kristol said on FOX. Yeah, see, he wants to attack and be attacked. A solid image of families whose lives are measured in small and large moments, sometimes historic, sometimes mundane, leaves critics with nothing to fight about.

UPDATE: Be sure to read R. Neal's observations on Monday night, part of his continuing coverage.

Monday, August 25, 2008

ET Unemployment Hits 5 and 10 Year Highs

Unemployment in Morristown hit a 10-year high at 13%, the highest rate since Jan. 1998, and other metropolitan and county communities likewise saw the summer bring on high rates, according to a report in the Kingsport Times-News:

With the exception of Johnson City and Kingsport, unemployment rates for East Tennessee cities with population above 25,000 are the highest rates since Jan. 1998 - the date the current Bureau of Labor Statistics report begins.

"Morristown's unemployment rate was 13% - the highest since Jan. 1998.

Kingsport weighted in with 8.2% in July.

Bristol's July rate was 6.6% - the highest since Jan. 1998.

Johnson City's July rate was 6.2%, down from June's 6.3% rate."

The KTN also spoke with ETSU Economist Steb Hipple, who says that even though there were more jobs available this summer than there were in 1998, it's the constantly rising cost of living and inflation which is bringing more and more job seekers out into the marketplace:

The higher cost of living has decimated family living standards. The only recourse is to put additional family members to work, so in the second quarter millions of Americans entered the labor market trying to find work to augment falling household incomes.”

The announced 20% rate hike in utilities this fall from TVA, and an economy which isn't adding jobs as fast as costs rise mean these numbers may well stay high into next year. And expect your taxes to increase as well.

Ben Cunningham posts about two new increases - one on a so-called 'streamlined-sales-tax' on internet purchases, and another on the coming increase in gasoline taxes in Tennessee as well.

Seems the government, along with most of the rest of us, are searching high and low for ways to provide enough money to cover ever-increasing costs.

Blogging The Democratic Convention

The voices and views of many hundreds of bloggers, the instant texting, the live feeds, the YouTube cameras, and much more hi-and-lo-tech touches are making this year's political nominating party conventions something new.

East Tennessean R. Neal is already in Denver, posting many activities as the event gets underway. A sample photo of the convention center and the security fencing is show below, BUT I want to stress a few things about this new kind of political coverage so peek at the pic, but please read on.
What's happening this week via Neal's reports and comments (which you can easily track with this nifty feed full of links he's provided) and the reports from all those other folks means we're getting fresh perspectives on how our political, social and technological actually works, far ahead of the typical dry old media approach. He's already made numerous posts about just how the convention works, a view from the inside which will be uniquely his own. It's a civic lesson of sorts and I am already learning things -- and he is hardly alone in reporting and writing and photographing a complex political creation.

An article in today's NYTimes calls this the Year of the Political Blogger:

While many Americans may watch only prime-time television broadcasts of the convention speeches, party officials also recognize the ability of bloggers to deliver minute-by-minute coverage of each day’s events to a niche online audience.

“The goal is to bring down the walls of the convention and invite in an audience that’s as large as possible,” said Aaron Myers, the director of online communications for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “Credentialing more bloggers opens up all sorts of new audiences.”

Many raised the money for the travel and other needs online, some paid for it themselves, and even the so-called 'credentialed' bloggers concept was expanded in recent weeks to allow for even more bloggers to get that inside look. One person with a laptop and a wee camera can do what used to take an army of media employees, hefting cameras and trailing microphone cords at the direction of some producers in van parked outside a convention center. And there are hundreds of folks at the convention with that kind of media power now - not professional.

So, as this week unfolds, I'll be attending the convention too, as I never could before. And I'm working on my own speech which I will present as well. It is gonna be a doozy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekly Best of Tennessee Blogs

Bloggers across the state, like many others, are pondering on the selection of Sen. Joe Biden as the V.P. candidate for Sen. Obama. One way in which Sen. Obama scored a huge win with his announcement was they way in which the media and the public and the bloggers made his choice a huge story for much of the last week.

Here are the thoughts of those in Tennessee who wrote about the event, courtesy of Russ McBee via TennViews:

Given the large number of blog posts discussing the choice of Biden and the diversity of opinions on the topic, this week's roundup is devoted exclusively to that subject.

• 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera: Biden! and Senator O'Biden [Ed. note: The RSS feed for 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera has moved to this link.]

• 55-40 Memphis: It's official now

• Carole Borges: Joe Biden is perfect! I'm excited once again.

• The Crone Speaks: Obama Says it is Biden, I Say More of the Same

• Don Williams: Obama-Biden’s a brilliant ticket, but only if they win, natch

• Enclave: Wealthy Elite vs. Middle Class: Pick Your Biden Scorecard and Biden His Time: Delaware Senator Brings Commoner Cred to the Ticket

• KnoxViews: Joe Biden

• Lean Left: Hello, Joe! (Whadda ya know?)

• Left Of The Dial: Hey Barack

• Left Wing Cracker: I think it's going to work..

• Nashville for the 21st Century: Asshatery at Fournier's "Associated Press"

• Newscoma: Obama Chooses Biden and LA Times Gets Its VP Story Wrong and Breaking Down The Biden Factor

• Russ McBee: A quick thought on Joe Biden

• Sharon Cobb: BREAKING: Obama Picks Joe Biden!

• Silence Isn't Golden: It's Definitely Biden

• Southern Beale: So It's Biden and IOKIYAR: Veepstakes Edition

• Tennessee Guerilla Women: Obama Picks a Bro: It's Biden

• Vibinc: The Veep-Stakes Fiasco [Ed. note: OK, the Vibinc post isn't a reaction per se, since it was written on Friday, but it's still relevant. Sue me.]

And finally, Katie Allison Granju blogs on the subject from her new home at, "Because I Said So":

• Because I Said So: Obama didn't get this one right