October 31, 2004

Thirsty for democracy in Florida

For the fourteenth day in a row, Moises Yaber, 55, filled cups with water from an orange cooler he pushed around in a shopping cart for the hundreds of people lining up outside West Miami City Hall to vote.

His matching orange Community Relations Board T-shirt signified he was one of the Miami-Dade County employees volunteering to answer questions, aid the elderly and assist voters navigate whatever obstacles they faced during the two-hour wait between the end of the line and the election workers at the polls.

"We’re not involved in the election process. We’re just here to help people,” said Yaber.

While the rest of the country waits for a replay of the 2000 debacle to hit Florida this election, Yaber watches over his slice of it, reveling in his role in American democracy.

A lot of the people voting here are foreign-born citizens, said Yaber. “You can see the emotion … It’s gratifying, man.”

Earlier, a 96-year-old man, hunched over by age, chose to work his way through the line instead of voting from the parking lot, said Yaber. In Florida, voters who qualify for curbside voting can vote in a car outside the polling place from a machine brought to them by election workers. Florida also opens a limited amount of early-voting polling places for two weeks before Election Day.

After he came from Cuba and became a U.S. citizen, Yaber used to bring at least one of his seven children to the polls with him to vote until they were all old enough to vote themselves, he said.

The one thing about the new electronic voting machines, he said, is that using them takes something away from the voting experience. “When I punched the card (in the old machines), I was striking one for democracy,” he said, holding his clenched fist in front of him.

On Sunday, he spoke in Spanish while pouring water for a Cuban-American woman who had finished voting after spending more than two hours waiting in line. But she realized she had left without getting an “I voted” sticker, so he told her who to speak with to get her sticker, he explained later.

She came out with two stickers, one for each shoulder.

“The freedom of this country is very important to me, and I want to show everyone that I voted,” she said, translated by Yaber.

He smiled and said: “I love to see this.”

Then he pushed his shopping cart with the water cooler and the stacks of paper cups to another part of the line.

Posted by Zack Johnson at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 30, 2004

The Bush "Ground Game"

There have been multiple articles like this one, suggesting that he who gets out the voters wins the polls. Optimistic takes on GOP-GOTV can be found here and here. Here's my own anecdotal experience from Las Vegas this evening:

Phone rings.

I answer: "Hello."

A woman says: "I'm calling on behalf of President Bush" (at this point she starts to giggle and silence reigns; it sounds like someone is talking in the background).

A man comes on: "We're calling on behalf of President Bush. That's really all we have to say and we hope you get out to the polls."

I thank him for the call and hang up. (Note: above dialogue paraphrased from memory.)

Now, judging from what the two conservative bloggers I linked above have written, it's possible that this lady had only just been trained in the last couple of days. Also, I don't think it's likely that small slip-ups by campaign workers/volunteers when they make telephone calls will have a statistically significant effect on how or whether people vote. Of course, if they start writing down the wrong addresses for people they need to drive to the polls...

Posted by Elliott Wainwright at 07:27 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Anecdotal Advertising Analysis

On Friday night in Las Vegas, I watched local newscasts for 95 minutes. I watched the 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. newscasts on KVVU, Las Vegas Fox affiliate, and the 11 p.m. newscast on KTNV, the ABC affiliate. Of the 50 ads broadcast, 32 were political.

This includes advertisements for and against ballot questions (the equivalent of propositions in California; 6 ads), candidates running to become County Commisioners in Clark County (10 ads), Congressional candidates (6 ads), and, of course, the Presidential candidates (10 ads). Again, this is anecdotal evidence. However, 16 out of 50 ads relating to candidates for Federal offices is something you won't see in California.

What surprised me most was that I had seen or heard of almost all the advertisements that were aired regarding the Presidential race. In retrospect, I should have expected that the campaigns, the parties, and the major independent groups would be the only organizations running ads during newscasts since they seem to be such highly coveted venues for political advertising.

Though I have seen some ads sponsored by independent groups I hadn't heard of before, those ads were aired on the cable news channels on Saturday afternoon. As to the local newscasts, there were three Bush-Cheney ads (one on each newscast), three Democratic National Committee ads (one on each newscast), and one ad each for Kerry-Edwards, Move On (pro-Kerry), and the Progress for America Voter fund ad (pro-Bush). The only Presidential campaign ad that was entirely new to me is an anti-Bush ad from the League of Conservation Voters focusing on an issue unique to Nevada, namely, the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

Posted by Elliott Wainwright at 05:13 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 29, 2004

Situated in the Silver State

For the politically inclined out in predictably Democratic California, it's easy to be jealous of the battleground dwellers. They get to watch all the ads, be in on the whisper campaigns, and — mirabile dictu — the candidates come to ask them for their votes, not just the maximum allowable contribution. Able to countenance the situation no longer, I ventured to Nevada in search of a world where mailboxes are full of campaign literature, phonebanks flourish, and political advertising rules the airwaves.

To start, a brief rundown of the campaign in Nevada. John Kerry was in Las Vegas on Tuesday and Bill Clinton put in an appearance in Las Vegas on Friday, as Democrats try to wrest Nevada from the Bush column. Though the latest Zogby numbers show the President opening up a comfortable lead, Dick Cheney is holding two Monday campaign events in Nevada just to be safe.

Nevada is one of the states that has early voting, so Cheney's visit will have no effect on the 266,387 voters (out of 1,071,101 registered) who took advantage of early voting before it ended Friday. (Early voting does not include absentee ballots; early voting numbers Friday have not yet been released for Douglas and Lyon counties). In the 2000 presidential election, 206,330 of the state's 876,888 registered voters voted early.

As for the television advertising, the candidates, the political parties, and 527s have spent 18 million dollars in Nevada. I watched local newscasts Friday night on a couple different networks and was bombarded with a staggering amount of political advertising. I'll offer a full report on that and the political mailings I've been able to look at in a later post.

Posted by Elliott Wainwright at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 23, 2004

Academics Debate Threat of Terrorist Surprise

by Shlomi Simhi

The set of debates is over, the polls show a closer race than ever, but it just might be that the presidential election will be decided by an event that hasn’t occurred yet. As October moves to its end, the possibility of an “October Surprise,” an event that would change the outcome of November 2nd elections, is diminishing. But it ain’t over until October is over.

So, what if there were a terrorist attack? Can political scientists predict the consequences it might have? Why do people have a common view that such an attack would serve President Bush? And how much do terrorists really care about who sits in the oval office?

In the past few months, American intelligence agencies have continued to collect fresh information reaffirming earlier government warnings that terrorist groups are intent on launching an attack aimed at “affecting the democratic process.” The lack of experience with pre-election terror in the United States leads most people who think of the potential consequences to learn from history. Almost all of them go back to the same place—Spain.

Four train bombings in Madrid on March 11 killed nearly 200 people. The incumbent conservative government supported the war on Iraq and had slight edge according to some polls. Sound familiar?
Three days later and in the wake of the attack, Spain's voters rejected Jose Maria Aznar's ruling Popular Party in favor of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists. Al Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack. Immediately following the elections, administration officials and right-wing media pundits in the Unites States denounced the Spanish population for learning the “wrong lesson” from the terrorist attacks and for “appeasing” terrorism.
Professor Robert Jervis, a widely respected international affairs scholar from Columbia University, doesn’t agree with this comparison. “In the Madrid case it’s not clear if it really turned the elections,” he said. “First of all, the government initially tried to blame ETA, Basque Armed Group, and it made it look incompetent. Second, some polls showed that it was more of a tie, than a right-wing lead.”

Professor Merrill Shanks, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, also sees a distinction between the United States and Spain: “The circumstances were very special, because there you had an unpopular war in the first place,” he said. Professor Brigitte Nacos, an expert on Mass Media and Terrorism at Columbia University, said that even if there was a change in the outcome of the elections in Spain, it shouldn’t be attributed to the terrorism. “It was an indirect effect, and the terrorists had no way to anticipate that the Spanish government would react they way it did,” she said.

Most political scientists agree that an attack works in favor of the incumbent president. “Anything that works on politics of fear, works in favor of the president”, said Professor Jervis. “Also, there is some truth in the argument that the crazier the world gets, the more it plays to the theme of the President’s campaign.”

Another factor that might play a role is the magnitude of the attack. “The bigger the attack is,” said Professor Henry Brady, UC Berkeley Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, “the greater the rally around the flag effect will be.”

As the election date gets closer, Senator Kerry’s prospects of gaining advantage from such an event are diminishing. “In the case of an attack immediately before the elections, it would help Bush because people will be angry and we will see them rally around the President,” said Professor Avery Goldstein, a political scientist who specializes in International Relations and Security Studies. “On the other hand, if the attack is several weeks before, then it might help Kerry, because we will have time to have a discussion about the fact that the administration hasn’t kept the United States as safe as the President promised.”

Dr. Michael McDonald, Assistant Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University and currently a Visiting Fellow at Brookings Institution, explained why the timing might be critical for Kerry’s prospects. “The only way it can help him is if someone is able to prove Bush’s incompetence in dealing with the threats. Since we are so close to the elections, I can’t see how such investigative reporting can be published before the elections.”

Dr. McDonald said that an ‘October Surprise’ doesn’t necessarily have to be a terrorist attack. “It can also be the capture of Osama Bin Laden, or anything else that we can’t even think of.” The term, which is used this year to describe a large scope of potential surprises, comes from the 1980 campaign and the maneuvering around the release of the American hostages in Iran. It refers to an event engineered or manipulated by one of the campaigns – usually the incumbent president.

In a briefing for reporters last month about the pre-election threat, senior counterterrorism officials said that while intelligence repeatedly indicates that al-Qaida operatives oppose President Bush, no evidence has been found that they hope a successful attack might boost the candidacy of Senator Kerry. The anti-Bush sentiments, the officials said, are part of a broader hatred of the United States and Western democracies as a whole. "It's really not for our consumption," one official said of the motive behind the attack. "It's for their supporters.”

“You do terrorists attacks when you can, so it is hard believe they can do fine tuning and time it just before the elections,” said Professor Jervis. In Professor Brady’s opinion, the terrorists don’t care about changing the outcome of elections; they just want to create havoc. “Kerry and Bush are the same for the terrorists,” Brady said.

The argument that the terrorist are doing it for their supporters seems to be a “sensible analysis’’ said Professor Goldstein. “Whoever the president is, he will continue the war against terror. Neither candidate will withdraw from Iraq after such an attack. After all,” Goldstein said, “if we can’t figure out how such an attack will influence on the elections, they surely can not…”

Posted by J-School Student at 02:02 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 19, 2004

Welcome to Appalachia - where God turns everything upside down

PORTMSOUTH, OH - Rolling into this Rust Belt town at the southern edge of Ohio, we drove almost all the way through the half-boarded up business district, before we found any signs of life.

Just before we reached the floodwall, built after the Ohio River nearly swallowed the city in 1937, we watched a man stumble from a bar and try to fit his key into the door of his truck.

And across the street through a storefront window, we saw an African-American church in service.

Intrigued by a congregation that would still be worshiping at 10:30 on a Monday night, we decided to start our reporting there. After introducing ourselves to the pastor, who was sitting next to her nodding-off grandson while the deacon read from the Book of Revelations, she responded:

"You think your school sent you here, we know God sent you."

That was only the first misconception we had.

We also thought that if there were reliable Democratic voters in the swing counties of southern Ohio, they could at least be found among the five percent African American minority.

Wrong again.

These people weren't ultimately concerned with discrimination or the rampant poverty or unemployment in the area. The issues these 30 or so Seventh-Day Adventists, who believe the Bible is the literal word of God, said they care the most about are "chucrh issues that have become legal issues." That means the right to life and gay marriage. That also means they won't be voting for John Kerry.

Pastor Sandra Latimore told us that when President Bush came through town a few weeks ago, they gathered all the children so they could wave to him as he was driving by. But, she said, "We reminded them that the king of kings is greater than any man."

At the end of the day, they believe that the end of the world is near and Christ will be coming soon, to take them away from any troubles. This election, fought between mere mortals ("They distant cousins" anyway, one congregant said) does not matter so much, because as Latimore explained:

"It's the praying people, not the president, that's holding things together."

Posted by Michael Chandler at 05:57 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 18, 2004

God and Jobs, Photography by Tristan Spinski

Michael Chandler and I traveled to Scioto County, Ohio on the week of October 4 to report and photograph an election story about church-going union members who are deciding between jobs and god. The Christian Right has mobilized a drive to “vote your values” – which in this election means voting against gay marriage and for George Bush. But the economy in this pocket of Appalachia has been wheezing since Bush took office, and people are torn between what’s more important – economic livelihood or homosexuals tying the knot.

Pastor Calvin Ray Evans leads a prayer at the Rubyville Community Church in Scioto County, Ohio. Evans said he is adamantly opposed to gay marriage and said that he considers it a major issue in the Presidential election.

Michael Kibbey, 32, of Wheelersburg, Ohio, talks about balancing his Christian ideals in the political arena. Kibbey is a member of the Boilermakers' Union, Local 105. After four months of unemployment, he now works at a coke plant in Franklin Furnace, Ohio. Kibbey said that he will support John Kerry in the Nov. 2 election.

An unidentified man in the congregation shares his experience of being "saved" by Jesus Christ with the rest of the churchgoers in the Rubyville Community Church in Scioto County, Ohio.

Jody Welch, left, and her daughter Jennifer Welch watch traffic through the window of the Bush/Cheney campaign headquarters in Portsmouth, Ohio. Both women work as volunteers for the campaign.

Worshippers raise their arms in prayer at the Rubyvill Community Church in Scioto County, Ohio.

Jack Jones, 42, of Porstmouth, Ohio, displays his sentiments about President Bush on his hardhat. Jones is a member of the Laborers Local 83, and works on the construction site of a coke plant in Franklin Furnace, Ohio.

Walter Callihan, 74, of Greenup, Ky., sits in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Portsmouth, Ohio to watch the Vice-Presidential debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney. "I've had enough of George W. Bush and the Republicans," he said. "They've torn up the Constitution, thrown it on the floor, and spit on it."

The old coke plant, which closed in 2002, rots on the bank of the Ohio River. The plant was the last functioning remnant of the steel mill, which was once the primary employer in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Posted by Tristan Spinski at 01:15 PM | Comments (1) | Permalink

October 15, 2004

Fact Checking the Bush Resume

by Ali Berzon, Tomio Geron, Marjorie McAfee, Felicia Mello, Claire Miller, Aliza Nadi, Emilia Pablo, Shlomi Simhi, Sandhya Somashekhar and Timothy Wheeler

A satiric resume of President George W. Bush has been making appearances in the blogosphere and the email accounts of just about every US voter with a friend fond of forward-spam. Entertaining as it is, the resume begged to be fact checked, and students in Susan Rasky’s J200- Reporting the News class took on the task.

Here’s the first of what they found (more to come):

In my first year of office, I set the all-time record for most days on vacation by any president in U.S. history (tough to beat my dad’s, but I did).

First of all, the wording of this question makes it false to begin with: It states that in his first year of office, Bush set the record for vacation days of any president – implying that it is comparing his first year against the four or eight year terms of other presidencies.

A CBS News analysis from 1999 found that President Reagan spent 335 days on vacation throughout his eight-year term. Clearly, Bush did not spend 335 days out of a single year on vacation, so we can already determine that this is not a true statement.

A more commonly repeated statement, and perhaps more accurate, is Michael Moore’s charge in Fahrenheit 9/11 that Bush spent 42% of his first eight months on vacation. This assertion is backed up by a Washington Post article from August 6, 2001 by Mike Allen stating that including a vacation he was on when the article was published, Bush spent all or part of 54 days through August 2001 at his ranch in Crawford, plus another 38 full or partial days at Camp David, plus four days at his parents’ estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, for a total of 42% of his presidency through August, 2001. These statistics were, in the article, undisputed by Scott McClellan, Bush’s spokesperson. Also indicating the veracity of the implication that Bush’s vacations were unprecedented: At an August 3rd press briefing, according to the Whitehouse archive of briefing transcripts, Whitehouse Press Secretary Ari Fleisher was asked by a reporter, “Ari, the American people sent him here to the White House. He's going to set a modern record for not being here,” Fleisher did not dispute the idea that Bush might be “setting a modern record” for time away from Washington. It is, however, necessary to consider a few other factors. Simply stating that Bush was on vacation for that time is misleading. Many of those days were weekends, so under the way many people conceive of vacation time as time away from a regular workweek, it is questionable whether or not those days would count at all. Also, the Camp David “vacations” included working meetings with foreign leaders, which would still be considered working time.

Also important to consider… in examining White House press briefing transcripts from August 2001, it is clear that Bush’s spokespeople emphasized that Bush was working part-time during his Crawford vacations. On August 3rd, Press Secretary Ari Fleisher said that while on a month-long vacation Bush would receive security briefings every day, would do “a little policy,” and would be traveling around two days out of the week. Perhaps anticipating public opinion that Bush was “loafing,” Fleisher repeatedly called it a “working vacation” and said it would include “parts work and parts vacation.” On August 22, 2001, for example, at a briefing out of Crawford, Fleisher said that Bush had spoken with President Fox of Mexico in the morning to discuss the economic situation in Argentina and immigration policies, and would be meeting in a few days with defense experts about military transformation and strategic reviews.

It is, however, also worth nothing that there were only five press briefings in the entire month of August 2001, while Bush was on vacation, significantly fewer than previous months, perhaps indicating that there was not doing a lot worth reporting while he was on his “working” vacation. (Alexandra Berzon)

After taking the entire month of August off for a vacation, I presided over the worst security failure in U.S. history.

According to multiple newspaper articles and press briefings from the time period, Bush was on vacation for 28 days in August, 2001 - from August 4 through the end of the month.

This has been confirmed, again in multiple newspaper articles, as the longest vacation in 32 years, when Nixon took a 30-day vacation. The White House has not disputed these facts.

In terms of the “worst security failure in U.S. history” – this is a very difficult question to confirm as it depends on how you define “security failure.” Do you quantify failure by the level of the attack, by how many people were killed, or by how preventable the attack should have been? The September 11th Commission Report is perhaps the most credible source in terms of how great the September 11th security failure actually was.
According to CNN, the Commission cited the following failures:
--Neither Bush nor his predecessor Bill Clinton understood the gravity of the threats posed by terrorists because the leaders could not imagine such attacks.
--The CIA was limited in its effort to try to capture al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants in Afghanistan by the agency's use of proxies.
--Terrorism was not the top national security concern and missed opportunities to thwart the attack indicate the government's inability to adapt to new challenges.
--The failure of the CIA and FBI to communicate with each other -- sometimes because of "legal misunderstandings" -- led to missed "operational opportunities" to hinder or break the terror plot.
--The CIA did not put 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar on a "watch list" or notify the FBI when he had a U.S. visa in January 2000 or when he met with a key figure in the USS Cole bombing. And the CIA failed to develop plans to track Almihdhar, or hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi when he obtained a U.S. visa and flew to Los Angeles. Both men were on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.

The FBI failed to recognize the significance of Almihdhar and Alhazmi's arrival in the United States or the significance of al Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui's training and beliefs after his arrest in Minnesota in August 2001. It is impossible to compare these failures with previous security failures in U.S. history, such as Pearl Harbor, to make a quantifiable declaration of which is the most serious. For example, 2,400 people died in Pearl Harbor, less than the 2,800 death toll of September 11th. Judged on those terms, September 11th was worse. However, was Pearl Harbor more or less preventable? Which had more of an impact in terms of future policies and generations? It is impossible to know objectively if these are even relevant questions to ask in determining the more serious security failure, much less find the answers to them. (Alexandra Berzon)

I set the record for the most campaign fundraising trips by any president.

Bush has raised $263,695,189 through August 31, 2004, according to the Federal Elections Commission, which monitors federal campaign giving. Through the same time period in 1996, for example, according to the FEC, Clinton had raised $41,739,746.

The non-profit consumer rights and governmental watchdog organization Public Citizen has counted 60 fundraising events at which Bush appeared between June 17, 2003 and April 5, 2004. However, it is not clear whether this is a complete list, and it does not include activity since April. Also, there does not appear to be a comparable list for previous presidencies. Therefore, what can be concluded is that Bush has raised an unprecedented amount of money, and one may therefore be able to theorize from that that he may have made more campaign fundraising appearances. However, other conclusions could also be drawn, such as the influence of internet fundraising, the changes in the campaign finance laws, etc. Therefore, the statement cannot be verified. (Alexandra Berzon)

In my first two years in office over two million Americans lost their jobs.

According to the Democratic Policy Committee, which tracks Bush’s record, 2.7 million private sector jobs were lost between 2001 and 2003. This has been offset by increases in jobs in the public sector, but the report concludes that the total net job losses were still above two million during this period. Charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that job losses significantly outpaced job gains between 2001 and 2003.

However, it is worth pointing out that the wording of this phrase is still problematic. Taken literally, the number of Americans who lost their jobs was far more than 2 million. Between 1993 and 2003, for example, the number of gross job losses was consistently above seven million per quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This, of course, is offset by job gains, which normally outpace job losses (but did not during the first two years of Bush’s administration). (Alexandra Berzon)

I cut unemployment benefits for more out-of-work Americans than any other president in U.S. history.

The federal government occasionally acts to extend the normal 26 week state unemployment benefits for 13 additional weeks when there is a recession or declining job market that makes it difficult for the unemployed to find new jobs. Bush signed an extension in May 2001, as well as in January 2003 and May 2003. The May extension was set to expire at the end of December 2003, and Congress left for a recess without acting on an extension. Democrats have repeatedly tried to pass an extension of the benefits, and, by a narrow margin, have not gotten the votes they need.

By all accounts, Bush has done nothing to encourage Republicans in the Congress to pass the extension.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that two million unemployed workers ran out of benefits between January, 2004 and June, 2004, and states that this is the most for any sixth month period since at least 1973, when data was first collected, even if the number is adjusted to reflect the growth in the labor force. The Center, a liberal non-profit economic policy organization, reports that this analysis was conducted using data from the Labor Department. The wording in the resume statement is again misleading--Bush did not cut the benefits--he just allowed an extension to expire without being extended. Also, it was not him but the Republican-led Congress that made this decision, although it is true that he did not use his influence as president to pressure the Republicans into passing the extension. However, although somewhat misleading, the larger point of the statement is generally verifiable. (Alexandra Berzon)

I spent the U.S. surplus and bankrupted the U.S. Treasury.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the government’s total budget surplus was $69 billion in fiscal year 1998, and rose to $236 billion by FY 2000. But by fiscal year 2001 the surplus had fallen to $127 billion, and by FY 2002 the books were in the red.
By 2003, the total budget deficit reached $375 billion. (Prior to 1998, budget deficits were more common; 1998 was the first year there was an actual surplus since 1969, according to CBO).

As for bankrupting the Treasury: According to the Treasury Department itself, the country has been consistently in debt since the 1830s. The amount of debt has risen during times of war and recession, and has been rising steadily since the 1970s. Under President Bush, the debt has increased from roughly $5,700 billion to $6,100 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. (Felicia Mello)

I shattered the record for the biggest annual deficit in history.

The total budget deficit for fiscal year 2003 was $375 billion, the largest since the CBO started keeping records in 1962. But as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, this deficit was far outpaced by those of the early 1980s and early 1990s. In 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president, the budget deficit was 6 percent of GDP, the largest on record, compared with only 1.5 percent in 2002 and 3.5 percent in 2003. (Felicia Mello)

I set an economic record for the most personal bankruptcies filed in any 12-month period.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported 1,661,996 total bankruptcy filings in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2003 (Chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 combined). This was the greatest amount of filings in any 12-month period on record. Of those bankruptcies, 1,625,813 were personal bankruptcies, also a record high. Because some married couples file jointly, this figure may represent close to 2 million people in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings have risen 98% since 1994 (Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts). (FM)

I set an all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the stock market.

Well, this really depends on what you measure. Most analysts agree that the worst single day in stock market history was Black Monday—October 19, 1987—when the Dow Jones lost a quarter of its value in just a few hours, followed closely by October 28, 1929, also known as Black Tuesday. In percentage terms, April 14, 2000 ranks as the ninth biggest single-day drop. It is the only day during Bush’s presidency to make the Top-10 list, according to Dow Jones.

In terms of index points, however, the largest net loss was on September 17, 2001—six days after the September 11 attacks--when the Dow fell 685 points in one day. The sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-biggest net losses also occurred under Bush’s watch. But eight of the top-10 one-day rises in the Dow also occurred during his presidency (Dow Jones). The figures may just be a sign that the stock market is larger now, or generally more volatile, than it was in earlier years.

Between 2000 and 2002, the Dow only lost 17 percent of its value. But the NASDAQ, on the other hand, lost 78 percent of its value in the same time period. Since NASDAQ was only established in 1971, one could argue that was the largest drop in its history. (Felicia Mello)

I am the first president in decades to execute a federal prisoner.

True, with some caveats. The federal death penalty was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1972 but restored in 1988 (Federal Bureau of Prisons). Timothy McVeigh, who masterminded the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed on June 11, 2001 and was the first person to be executed since the restoration of the death penalty. Since then, two other federal prisoners, Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones, have also been executed (Federal Bureau of Prisons).

The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, can instruct prosecutors to seek the death penalty. If a defendant is convicted, sentenced to death, and exhausts his or her appeals, President Bush is the only person with the power to grant clemency (Death Penalty Information Center). Both Bush and Ashcroft are strong supporters of the death penalty—Texas executed 152 people under Bush’s watch, and Ashcroft’s Justice Department has pursued far more death penalty cases than under his predecessor, Janet Reno (Death Penalty Information Center). (Felicia Mello)

I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. prisoners of war and by default no longer abide by the Geneva Conventions.

The author doesn’t clarify what kind of inspectors Bush didn’t allow, but under the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross is responsible for visiting prisoners of war. From the ICRC: "Prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian internees (CI) are protected by the Geneva Conventions, which also give the ICRC the right to visit them. The ICRC has been mandated by the international community, under the Geneva Conventions, to ensure that international humanitarian law is applied fully. Among the ICRC's tasks are visits to prisoners, both military and civilian." If the author is referring to ICRC inspectors, this is false – according to the ICRC, it has received access to U.S. prisoners of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay.

The author also doesn’t clarify which prisoners of war – those in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay. In Guantanamo Bay, where the United States detains suspected al Qaeda members captured in the war on terror, it’s true that the administration does not abide by the Geneva Conventions. This is not, however, “by default” because it doesn’t allow inspectors (it does.) Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions defines prisoners of war as fighters who are part of a nation’s armed forces or organized militia and who wear identifying uniforms and carry arms openly. The Bush administration says al Qaeda members don’t meet these qualifications. It labels them unlawful or enemy combatants, thereby maintaining that they don’t have to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In a White House press briefing on January 28, 2002, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, “As for the people who are the detainees who are being held in Cuba, the determination has been made that they are not and will not be considered POWs. … they are unlawful combatants,” and the president has referred to them many times as enemy combatants.

In Iraq, the Bush administration says it is abiding by the Geneva Conventions for Iraqi prisoners of war detained there. However, not all soldiers are following the conventions’ rules. Article 3 says prisoners must not be subjected to physical or mental torture or coercion. However, at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, and several have been sentenced. Major General Antonio M. Taguba conducted an internal Army investigation in February 2004 and concluded that the abuse was taking place, and military courts have found the same thing. (Claire Miller)

I am the first president in U.S. history to refuse United Nations election inspectors access during the 2002 U.S. elections.

This is false (putting aside the fact that as written it’s literally true, since Bush was the only president during the 2002 U.S. elections.) According to the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, within the Department of Political Affairs, the office of the president of the member state (the United States in this case) "must send an official written request for assistance to the United Nations Focal Point for Electoral Assistance Activities (e.g. the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs) at least 3 months before the scheduled election to allow for meaningful involvement," which the White House did not do. The U.N. lists each member state that asked for and received electoral assistance between 1992 (when the electoral assistance division was established) and 2004, and the United States is not listed as having requested it. (Claire Miller)

I am the all-time U.S. (and world) record holder for most corporate campaign donations.

This is false, because corporations are not allowed to make campaign donations to candidates running for federal office or state office in Texas. The Federal Election Commission says: “The [Federal Election Campaign] Act prohibits corporations and labor organizations from using their treasury funds to make contributions or expenditures in connection with federal elections.” Texas also bans corporate contributions. Some campaign finance watchers calculate corporate donations by calculating the amount of money corporations’ political action committees and individual employees of a corporation donate to a candidate, but neither of these are actually corporate campaign donations to Bush.

It’s impossible to determine corporate campaign donations worldwide. (Claire Miller)

The biggest lifetime contributor to my campaign, and also one of my best friends, presided over one of the largest corporate bankruptcy frauds in world history (Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation.)

This is false, according to FEC information compiled on opensecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization founded by Ralph Nader that tracks campaign money. (The numbers can be verified on www.fec.gov.) Independently, Kenneth Lay contributed the maximum amount he could to Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign ($2,000), but thousands of other people also donated the maximum. So far, Lay has not contributed to Bush’s 2004 campaign, so other individual donors have out-donated him. Along with many others, in 2000 Lay was also a Bush Pioneer – someone who raised over $100,000 in contributions of $1,000 or less – according to the Bush campaign.

Enron has donated $736,800 to Bush’s campaigns – $312,500 to his 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns, $113,800 to his 2000 presidential campaign, $10,500 to his 2000 recount fund, and $300,000 to his 2001 inaugural fund, also according to Open Secrets. (These donations are a compilation of soft money, money from Enron’s PAC, and individual employees’ donations, including Lay’s.) These contributions make Enron one of the largest corporate donors (though not the largest) to Bush’s presidential campaigns – so the statement is false. Recent data shows that the credit card company MBNA has out-donated Enron.

Enron WAS the biggest corporate donor to both of Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns, according to Texans for Public Justice, a non-profit Texas-based group that describes itself as non-partisan and “a vocal advocate for citizen rights, open government, and corporate accountability in Texas.” Its numbers match with other reports; official Texas numbers are only available from 2000 on. Lay himself was not the largest individual donor to Bush’s Texas campaigns – he donated $100,000 while someone named Dennis R. Berman gave $175,000. (Claire Miller)

I spent more money on polls and focus groups than any president in U.S. history.

It’s hard to say, definitively. A portion of this information can be found by reviewing Bush’s financial disbursement filings, available through the FEC, and tallying the amount of money paid to companies that run polls and focus groups. Then, the same thing would have to be done with past presidents, and the numbers compared. According to a “Washington Monthly” article, the RNC disbursement filings at the FEC for the year 2001 revealed that the Bush administration spent $346,000 on principal pollsters and, including independent polling firms, about $1 million overall. The reporter said this was about double what Clinton generally spent per year, but there is no way of knowing in either case whether that is the total amount spent on such services. (Claire Miller)

The poorest multimillionaire, Condoleezza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

True, at least until Chevron renamed the vessel Altair Voyager, after a star. On May 5, 2001 Chevron spokesman Fred Gorell confirmed that the company had renamed the tanker.

Rice, a Chevron Corp. director since 1991, resigned from the company's board, effective Jan. 15, 2001 to join the new Bush Administration as the President’s National Security Advisor. (Shlomi Simhi)

I am the first president in US history to have all 50 states of the Union simultaneously struggle against bankruptcy.

By late November 2001, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reported that 44 states (including the District of Columbia) were reporting that revenues were coming in under projection, while 22 reported that expenditures were over budget. As a result, 36 states were in the process of, or were considering, cutting expenditures planned for fiscal year 2002.

As the U.S. economy turned down in late 2000, state and local budgets came under increasing pressure. After averaging almost $22 billion (annual rate) over the first half of 2001, aggregate budget surpluses of state and local governments fell to $1.9 billion by the third quarter of 2001. As the growth of tax receipts slowed dramatically, many states, most of which operate under some sort of balanced-budget requirement, were forced to trim planned outlays, raise taxes and/or redirect money from "rainy day" funds. This marked a reversal of the tax reduction trend that was in place from 1995 to 2001.

The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research determined in July 2003 that a trough in business activity occurred in the U.S. economy in November 2001. The trough marked the end of the recession that began in March 2001 and the beginning of an expansion. The recession lasted 8 months, which is slightly less than average for recessions since World War II. (Shlomi Simhi)

I presided over the biggest corporate stock market fraud in any market in any country in the history of the world.

In the eyes of many people in this world, “the history of the world” is a meaningless phrase. The fall of the value of investors' equity per share in Enron during 2001 was from $85 to 30 cents. This was an unprecedented and disastrous event in the American financial world and Enron became one of the largest corporate failures in history. Was it the largest fraud ever? No one can say for sure. Can you really compare the depth and disruption of previous stock market frauds in history, in relative terms, to what happened with Enron?

Almost 300 years ago, the English had Enron of their own. In 1720 stock in The South Sea Company (SSC) in England had risen to 890 pounds, where it peaked. Since the Spanish never intended to give the English free trade in the ports of Spanish America, The whole scheme of paying off government debt through trade in South America was doomed to fail. In early 1721 the company was wound up and shareholders were paid a dividend of a little over 33 pounds. The directors of the company were found guilty of fraud as they sought to raise the stock through fictitious reports. (Shlomi Simhi)

I am the first president in US history to order a US attack AND military occupation of a sovereign nation, and I did so against the will of the United Nations and the vast majority of the international community.

False. The Dominican Republic proclaimed its national independence on February 27, 1844. In 1916, under President Woodrow Wilson, the United States Army occupied the country. The Army remained until 1922, when President Warren G. Harding agreed to end American military occupation and hold national elections to establish a new government.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson again sent troops to the Dominican Republic. He removed the troops in 1966.

In December 1898, the United States purchased the Philippines from Spain at the Treaty of Paris for the sum of $20 million, after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. The United States government made plans to make the Philippines an American colony. However, the Filipinos, fighting for their independence from Spain since 1896, had already declared their independence on June 12. On August 14, President Teddy Roosevelt send 11,000 ground troops to occupy the Philippines.

Also, in 1983, under Ronald W. Reagan Presidency, United States Armed Forces occupied the island nation of Grenada. (Shlomi Simhi)

I have created the largest government department bureaucracy in the history of the United States, called the “Bureau of Homeland Security”

Not quite true. Though not the classic bureaucracy, the Department of Defense is the nation’s largest employer, with 2.3 million military (Active, Reserve and Guard) and almost 700,000 civilians (Office of Management and Budget, The White House Website).

On March 1, 2003, approximately 180,000 personnel from 22 different organizations around the government became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – It was certainly the biggest federal bureaucracy since the 1947 creation of the Defense Department, but it’s not the largest government bureaucracy.

The DHS is currently the second largest government agency. For comparison, The Department of Justice, that is comprised of 39 separate component organizations, has about 113,000 workers, The Department of Health and Human Services has 66,000 workers; the State Department has 30,000 employees and the Department of the Education has only 5,000. (Shlomi Simhi)

I set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending increases, more than any president in history.

True. Overall annual spending under Bush went from $1.789 trillion in fiscal 2000 to $2.011 trillion in 2002, according to congressional budget officials. With the 2003 budget, Bush asked Congress for $2.1 trillion. The White House projects that spending will rise to $2.2 trillion in the 2004 fiscal year. Bush projected the government would run $106 billion in the red, thus returning to deficit-spending for the first time since 1997.

The Treasury Department announced on October 14, 2004, that Bush has set the record for annual deficit, bringing it to $413 billion. (Marjorie McAfee)

I am the first president in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

True. On Thursday, May 3, 2001, the United Nations' 53-member Economic and Social Commission voted against a continued US presence at the UN Human Rights Commission for the first time since the Commission was established in 1947. UN diplomats told reporters the US had failed to lobby sufficiently to shore up support for its election. They also pointed to European irritation with the Bush administration on issues ranging from Bush's proposed missile defense system and the American reluctance to pay its UN dues to US failure to back the Kyoto agreement on global warming, an international criminal court and the nuclear test ban treaty. Some mentioned being fed up with "heavy handed" lobbying by former US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke.

However, the US regained its seat on the commission one year later. (Marjorie McAfee)

I am the first president in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Elections Monitoring Board.

False. In July 2004, Congress voted against a bill that would invite the U.N. to monitor the 2004 presidential elections, as a way to ensure fairness and avoid the debacles of the 2000 presidential election which many Democrats accused Republicans of swaying their way. (Marjorie McAfee)

I removed more checks and balances, and have the least amount of congressional oversight, than any presidential administration in U.S. history.

A matter of opinion. While it’s true that President Bush has enjoyed having his party in control of the House (and some might argue the Supreme Court, too) for much of his first term in office, he is not the first president in that situation. The Democrats controlled the Senate during Bill Clinton’s first two years in the White House, for example. Regardless, to accuse President Bush of “removing” checks and balances by having Republicans hold many elected positions of power is a stretch.

What this accusation may be referring to is the controversial USA Patriot Act the President put into place after 9/11. Supporters of the Patriot Act say it is meant to preserve our freedom and safety. Opponents, like the ACLU, say it invades privacy and breaks constitutional rights, like freedom of speech; this argument may have devolved into this accusation that the President removed checks and balances. (Marjorie McAfee)

I rendered the entire United Nations viewpoints irrelevant.

Subjectively worded, but true. Bush went against the U.N. which voted against war in Iraq by declaring war there anyway. In the fall of 2003, Bush said that he would refuse to compromise with France and other members of the Security Council who pleaded with the president to cede control over Iraq to the United Nations. Indeed, the U.S. currently maintains control of Iraq, and thus continues to disregard the wishes of the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the war in Iraq was not in conformity with the U.N. charter. He "raised questions about the legitimacy" of the action by the United States and Britain to go to war without specific authority from the Security Council. (Marjorie McAfee)

I withdrew the United States from the World Court of Law

True. On June 23, 2004, The United States announced it was dropping its effort to gain immunity for its troops from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The U.S.’s efforts to gain immunity were broadly opposed by the U.N. Security Council.

This move was a departure from the previous administration. On December 31, 2000, President Clinton signed a treaty joining America to the International Criminal Court. Clinton noted that Senator Trent Lott and other Republican senators opposed this move because they feared U.S. soldiers sent to other countries could be brought before the court for political reasons. Clinton shared that same concern, but ultimately felt the treaty was constructed in a way that would prevent such a situation. (Marjorie McAfee)

Posted by J-School Student at 04:22 PM | Comments (3) | Permalink

October 13, 2004

Knowing the Neighborhood

Enter the latest, greatest application for your handheld or phone, "Red or Blue,"which uses Global Positioning Systems to tell you if you’re in a Republican or Democratic neighborhood. It will also tell you how much the area has donated to either party or pull up information about the top 100 donors surrounding where you stand. It's obvious this would be a great tool for canvassers and fundraisers. And journalists probably won’t have to spend so much time knocking on doors or sorting through spreadsheets to find that one archetypal Republican or typical Democrat for their stories.

But look, my life is full of strangers and the unexpected and I’m stunned by the data gluttons who'd use this. It seems like this country has developed a whole religion for those who want to know everything about other people, clump those strangers together in predetermined groups, and then avoid the groups they don’t like. The world is addicted to prediction (even though it mostly ends up with simple-minded prejudices). And, there’s something creepy when a creative mind comes up with a “Geiger counter” for people, and something wrong about classifying the hell out of the human race.

Posted by Lisa Lambert at 05:12 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 08, 2004

"Red Catholics" and "Blue Catholics"

Whether or not you believe "values voters" are going to make a big difference in this election (and the Bush campaign is betting huge that they will), religion has consistently bubbled to the surface of issues in this election.

Looking beyond the ubiquitous use of religious phrases in presidential speechifying ("May God continue to bless America"), religious disputes appeared in everything from the prospect of Catholic priests denying pro-choice politicians communion to using lists of churchgoers as political mailing lists.

So it should come as no surprise that even a murky category of religious voters is sharply divided on where its votes will go. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who writes the most consistently insightful column on culture and religion, has done some informal polling of the Vatican and picks Kerry to win a hypothetical Holy See vote 60-40.

Allen breaks down two categories of Catholics: Blue Catholics are those who support strong international cooperation in global affairs, and those who prioritize a "culture of life" and oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research are Red Catholics. Which to me sounds a lot like the breakdown of non-religious voting groups....

Posted by Matt Wheeland at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 04, 2004

Out and About in Oregon

I live in California and I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of not mattering. We are the most populous state in the union, a state with the fifth largest economy in the world, and yet when it comes to this year’s presidential race, neither candidate cares about our vote. California is a solid blue-state.

So I was relieved, to say the least, to head north for the weekend to Portland, Oregon. As Robert Eisinger, a political scientist at Lewis & Clark College told the Portland Tribune, “Oregon is a battleground state, period.” Here, I expected, would be the home of the swing voter, that undecided creature who will determine the course of the country for the rest of us.

But the funny thing is that Portland seemed every bit as decided as Berkeley.

The Kerry signs outnumbered the Bush signs a dozen to one. I attended an art exhibition in which every third gallery had anti-Bush literature. I overheard conversations about this week’s Moveon.org volunteer event. And Portland even had a liberal weekly that would make San Francisco proud. The Portland Mercury called Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi Bush’s “little puppet.” It advertised a local place to watch the first presidential debate as an opportunity “ to laugh and heckle your lungs out” at President Bush. And the photo caption for the review of Going Upriver, a film documenting John Kerry’s life, reads: “Another great reason to vote for Kerry.”

I spent two days here and all I saw was Kerry, Kerry, Kerry. And then on Sunday something strange happened. I left Portland and, suddenly, the Bush signs outnumbered the Kerry ones. Taking a ride on the historic Hood River Railroad, I passed through rural and low-populated areas where all I could see was a Bush sign, an orchard and a house. Kerry territory ended as soon as the houses stopped having yards and started having farms.

Oregon may be a swing-state, but that looks to be more a result of geography and demographics rather than real “swing-voters.” The urban Portland (and the whole of Multnomah county) goes heavily for Democrats while most of the rest of the state goes for the Republicans. California, it seems, just has one too many Democratic urban bases (both San Francisco and Los Angeles) to be in play. So while the pundits and the pollsters keep chiming in about red-state this and blue-state that, the real divide might not be between states, but between rural and urban populations.

Either way, it is back to Berkeley where the most competitive race I will be voting in is for City Council.

Posted by Shane Goldmacher at 10:38 AM | Comments (1) | Permalink

Vote For Change, or Michael Stipe dances like a meth-head attempting yoga

Detroit -- Last night, I felt old. In Cobo Hall, an old hockey arena downtown, Michael Stipe took the stage and a sea of bald heads rushed toward him in the pit. Yes, REM, a band of my youth, is now officially Dad Rock.

When Vote for Change, a Kerry-supporting concert series, was announced this summer, Democrats I know hoped the bands would bring out the youth vote. I nearly choked. Bruce Springsteen is not a draw for any 18-24-year-olds in my life. But, who would Vote for Change bring out and what impact would the music have?

Vote for Change is only touring battleground states, which excluded California. But the bands descended in full force on Michigan last night, and my hotel across from Cobo filled with people in vintage Springsteen shirts, all ordering Miller Genuine Draft at the bar. REM, Bruce Springsteen and Bright Eyes almost filled Cobo, while down the street the Dixie Chicks played with James Taylor and somewhere in town Dave Matthews Band and Jurassic 5 reminded Detroiters to vote for Kerry. Pearl Jam was in Kalamazoo. There was a festival feeling in the city from having so many bands play all at once.

The concert wasn’t as political as I expected. There were a few signs and Michael Stipe wore a Kerry shirt. Between sets, the musicians explained on videos why they supported Kerry. The evening’s strongest political message came when Springsteen, acting like a revivalist preacher, “saved” a man in a bow-tie he pulled onstage from the audience. He exorcised the man’s Republican associations by having the audience shout “Halliburton” three times.

He also summarized Kerry’s points from Thursday’s debate about "flip-flopping" in one eloquent, beautiful slogan. Seriously, the man should be writing speeches, not songs.

“America isn’t always right,” he told the audience, “but it is always true.”

Still, this was hardly an evening of strident political pronouncements, and the emphasis was definitely on the music.

Interspersed with the minutes-long wails of “Bruuuuuuuce,” were the shouts of “Four more years.” The two men who sat in front of me may not be voting for Kerry and they may not have had any rhythm, but they still loved the Boss. The nearly four-hour concert didn’t change their minds. It just seemed to make them more defensive of their beliefs.

The man at the end of my aisle came to see REM. An independent businessman, he’s lived in Detroit his entire life. Right before the war, he had a sign that read “Yee-haw is not a foreign policy.” On Michigan streets, people in Jaguars and old beat-up trucks honked at him, flicked him off, and even ran him off the road for his sign. Yes, he said, people here are angry on both sides and the election will be tight. But, he also said, since the invasion of Iraq his political statements have been met with less violence and less contempt. The concert was an affirmation for him.

As for Bruce Springsteen, the woman next to me recognized his twelve-string version of “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Born in the USA.” She also knew a couple of REM’s songs. It was a pleasant evening for her. She’d been leaning toward Kerry and this made her want to vote for him a little more, but she wasn’t inspired to take political action. She came with a friend, and we all noted there was almost no hype for the concert. No signs, no radio ads.

So, then, what are these concerts about besides entertainment? Not the youth vote. Not conversion.

They’re here to galvanize voters. Voting is boring, mundane, and even difficult. We’re supposed to go to the polls at the end of the work day, stand in line and wait for a woman old enough to have baby-sat Moses to stop explaining why Eisenhower was the greatest man who ever lived and get her ballot. Then we’re supposed take our own ballots into a booth and hope that the holes we’re punching in a card mean something.

But Bruce and Michael are turning voting into a party. Those not only discouraged from voting by the process, but by the fact people in their states overwhelmingly support the other guy for President, get a stadium show and can hear an interminable song where the chorus is “People have the power.” They get to feel like they aren’t being run off the road by the other half of the population. And, in swing states, this type of anti-voter-suppression activity may be key to the election.

Posted by Lisa Lambert at 08:34 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Dead Presidents

Detroit -- What could be creepier than standing a few inches away from the car where JFK was shot? For one, standing next to that car and knowing the chair where Lincoln sat when he was killed was a few yards away (accompanied by a sketch indicating which stains were blood). For two, reading on a placard that Kennedy's blue convertible was painted black and then used by succeeding presidents all the way until Carter. But the situation wasn’t creepy enough to keep tourists at the Ford Museum yesterday from taking photos of the most infamous four-wheeler in American history.

As I watched families quietly pass through the museum exhibitions with the reverence and passivity reserved for church, I began to think the museum was more of a place of the dying than a tourist destination.

The Ford Museum, a gargantuan warehouse attached to an old brick house, pays homage to work and automation, with great American conveniences such as pink toilets chugging overhead on a track in the ceiling. There’s the flight exhibit, the furniture exhibit, and, of course the car exhibit, where you can see each of the automobiles used by presidents past.

A narrator in the occasional exhibition video might warn about “air pollution,” or illustrated signs next to a display may ask kids to guess the percentage breakdown of wastes in landfills, but the museum's underlying theme is that Ford’s vision of the future was the right vision. Here, we might witness a happy evolution where worker and tool melt into a system of greater efficiency, productivity, perfection.

One placard reads, “these engines represented for Mr. Ford the pinnacle of power, efficiency and beauty.”

Michigan has been hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs and no one knows if they’re coming back. The blue-collar, white men and women I saw in the museum are a dying group. In the futurist world of Ford’s museum, they had a place, but not any more. Call it outsourcing. Call it changes in how we live and think. But it's not the same any more. And I felt it strange to stand in a room full of metal and plastic where signs indicate that the Industrial Revolution still churns and where one man’s idea of ordering society still exists. It’s also strange to wonder what world comes after the demise of those beliefs.

What happens to the Democrats when the auto unions die? After all, the United Auto Workers here hesitated to endorse Kerry because they feared his emphasis on tighter Café standards would jeopardize car production.

Who is the heartland any more that politicians reach to? It doesn’t seem those living in Detroit can relate to the two men from Yale who’ve had enough spare change to run companies into the ground or to actually choose to go to war.

Posted by Lisa Lambert at 07:27 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink

October 01, 2004

When Democrats Go Bad (Be Vigilant, Minnesotans!)

By John Letzing

Minnesota has a reputation for folksy, warm-and-fuzzy Democrats, from late Senator Paul Wellstone to Presidential would-be Walter ‘Fritz’ Mondale. This is the state where the Democratic Party is still officially known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, after all. But as the presidential election nears, do citizens of this battleground state have reason to fear a new breed of Democrat? An angry, out of control Democrat? The Republican Party of Minnesota thinks so. The local G.O.P. has launched a web site, WhenAngryDemocratsAttack.com, to warn constituents about a recent rash of anti-Bush hate crimes.

Fortunately, the attacks have mostly been confined to vandalizing property, such as campaign signs. But the perpetrators of these crimes (none of which have been collared yet) are not only spray-painting and burning signs – G.O.P. supporters were reportedly roughed up at the state fair, and one angry Dem went as far as driving a pickup truck onto someone’s front lawn in order to flatten their Bush sign. Most ominously, the most recent Bush sign burning had the unfortunate side effect of also burning a good portion of its owner’s deck.

So who are the angry Democrats behind all of this? Could it be the ornerier, post-2000 Al Gore, or infamous angry man Howard Dean, both of whom are shown baring their teeth on the web site’s home page? Or maybe it was Al Franken, the renowned Republican-wrangler who is also shown on the site, waving a menacing finger in someone’s face?

So far, the G.O.P. can’t say for sure. The best whenagrydemocratsattack.com can guess is that the perpetrators are misguided Minnesotans under the influence of provocateurs like filmmaker Michael Moore, who the site calls “The King of Angry Democrats.” In any case, the local Republicans have had enough of what the site calls “the hatred that has come to define the Democrat Party.” One theory about the new rash of aggression: isn’t it logical that politics would take a physical turn in a state full of ice hockey-worshippers? The site points to at least one instance where rowdy Dems were spotted “hip-checking” a group of college Republicans. No penalties were called.

Posted by Scot Hacker at 05:06 PM | Comments (0) | Permalink

Down and out in Detroit

Detroit -- Last night, a source told me there were fabulous Arab restaurants that stayed open late in Dearborn. I misunderstood exactly where he meant and when I took my rental blue Chevy through road construction and over potholes after the debates, I couldn’t find anything. The pictures I had of people eating hashing out what Kerry and Bush had said over fresh tabouleh didn’t fit the well-lit and busy Bob’s Big Boy I passed. I ended up at Kroger’s, a super-super grocery store, where working-class families and crazies were still shopping.

The sales clerk said she works nights and her husband works days, because they can’t afford daycare for their daughter. I’m in Michigan to learn about the sea-change in Muslim voting during this election, and have been hearing a lot about the issues argued in the debate. But it’s hard to ignore that all of Michigan was hit hard by the recession. In poll after poll, residents say economy is their number one concern in the election, and whoever runs the country has to solve the problems.

I interviewed a business professor who said that when the economy turns south people stop buying cars, and so Detroit is the first hit by a recession and the last to recover. So, what would bring Detroit back up? His answer was to get cash into the pockets of poorer people. It was a trickle-up theory, where the poor will spend the money they get, not save or invest. That spending will circulate cash back into the economy and create demand. He pointed out they may not spend it where policy-makers and economists want it spent. Cars, I thought, aren’t cheap, and I doubt the government wants to give enough cash out so everyone gets a new Mustang. So, I don't know how this would help his specific region, unless it becomes a service economy.

In other words, while the debates last night were illuminating and exciting, the ones that matter in Detroit are still to come. And neither man running for president may be able to do anything that really helps.

Posted by Lisa Lambert at 08:33 AM | Comments (0) | Permalink