Friday, October 31, 2008

Latest Poll: Shamen dance to Obama's tune

According to the BBC's Dan Collyns, Peruvian shamen overwhelming support Barack Obama with only a few for John McCain:

As the US presidential election nears, the shamans of Peru have been displaying their own methods for ensuring the success of their chosen candidate.
Peru's shamen send US election vibes
My Quechua is a bit rusty so we'll have to trust the translator. Click the image or the link to see the video.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Grocer’s Son: the way we were

The Grocer’s Son/Le Fils de l'épicier

Director Eric Guirado has given us a slow-paced film. Slow like life in rural France where it takes place. Slow like the developing romance at its centre. Slow like the rebuilding of the family's relationships. Slow like the emerging self-discovery of its main characters. Slow like the growing bonds between the stand-in mobile grocer and his customers.

Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé) has been sacked from his waiter’s job. When his father is hospitalised, he returns to help in his family grocery in a rural French hamlet. He brings his friend Claire (Clotilde Hesme) with him, hoping to establish a sexual relationship.

He's not a a prime catch. The men in Antoine’s family are all dysfunctional. His bitter, misanthropic father (Daniel Duval) wants nothing to do with him. His brother François (Stéphan Guérin-Tillié), who is a local hairdresser, blames Antoine for deserting the family. Antoine is disorganised, unmotivated and a poor communicator with atrocious inter-personal skills.

The village is a dying community in many ways. The grocery and a motor mechanic’s workshop are the only remaining businesses. Most of the customers of the mobile grocery service seem to be octogenarians. Yet it’s the elderly who breathe life into Antoine, with a lot of help from Claire. Clement (Paul Crauchet), an elderly farmer, and the highly eccentric Lucienne (Liliane Rovère) reawaken his humanity and his good humour. It was refreshing to see a movie that did not involve old people either in or on the way to a nursing home. The recent baby-boomers' flick, The Savages, came to mind immediately.

Before the inevitable crisis in their romance, Claire joins Antoine on his truck rounds and teaches him how to interact with people. She also helps to turn on his tap of self-reflection.

Unhappy marriages are the order of the day. Antoine’s mother (Jeanne Goupil) has been long-suffering support for her hostile, combative husband. Claire had four years of unhappy marriage before a new start as a student. François is in denial, hiding the fact that his wife has left him. He suffers severe depression, which seems to be both a cause and a result of his marriage breakdown.

The Grocer’s Son is very predictable in many ways. It moves inexorably towards a happy ending for most of its main characters. However, this didn’t seem to spoil the experience as the story is about personal discovery. It finishes on a strong note of hope. It is a pity that this happens in a part of society that is fast disappearing even in France. This is not the world of unbridled consumption or conspicuous wealth. It’s the world of 19th Century romanticism. If it still exists somewhere, then let’s hope they can keep it secret.

Another foreign language film that’s worth a visit to the cinema, if you can find it.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Obama: civil rights to terrorists

Talking Points Memo reports that John McCain has sent a robocall to voters in his home State of Arizona. This part of the recording sounds like desperate stuff:

If Democrats win full control of government, they will want to give civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror.
It's also strange that he appears to be wasting money in his own State where he should have a comfortable lead.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wildcats strike against pit-bulls

Indiana apparently doesn't allow robocalls. So the McCain/Palin campaign asked a call centre to read out the latest smears. They underestimated the determination of the local workers . Three dozen walked out in protest. Still strength in unity. No wonder employers will do anything to make wildcat strikes illegal.

Fellow Voices without Votes blogger, Qwaider, is blown away by this small skirmish in a dirty war:

And they actually decided to walk out! Sacrificing so much in this fragile economy

That's something no robot can match. Moral Integrity!
WOW Moment!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Whole World Blogging: Voices without Votes

If you haven't logged onto Voices without Votes yet, there's still a week to go of world bloggers tackling the U.S. elections. A report from The Washington Post explains the context:

Voices Without Votes was born in early February -- yep, in time for Super Tuesday -- and it's edited by Amira Al Hussaini, a 35-year-old journalist from Bahrain who currently lives in Canada. The site's motto reads: "America votes. The world speaks." Recent elections in Zimbabwe and New Zealand have attracted some attention online, Al Hussaini says, but not nearly to the extent that the battle for the American presidency has.
The Election That Has the Whole World Blogging
The coordinator, Amira Al Hussaini, has been doing a fantastic job!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Steve Fielding: chief censor

It would be ironic if the government's opt-out internet filtering system is blocked by the conservatives, especially Senator Steve Fielding. The Age reports:

Family First Senator Steve Fielding wants hardcore pornography and fetish material blocked under the Government's plans to filter the internet, sparking renewed fears the censorship could be expanded well beyond "illegal material".

The Opposition said it would most likely block any attempts to introduce the controversial mandatory ISP filtering policy, so the Government would need the support of Senator Fielding as well as the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon to pass the legislation.
Net filters may block porn and fetish sites

Populists politics, wowserism and moralising have made this issue into a hot one for Stephen Conroy. Despite the problems with an opt-in filtering system, it is time for the Rudd government to reconsider.

There has certainly been a strong reaction around the blogosphere:
I have a simple message to Senator Conroy. Stop bullying opponents of the scheme and take time to listen to those affected by this hideous plan.
iTWire: Mandatory Content Filtering in Australia

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Robocall Rants: e-lectioneering 2.0

I knew that robocalls had arrived in Australia. Nevertheless, when Prime Minister John Howard rang me before last year’s election I was startled by his voice at first. Because it was a recorded message, my colourful response was wasted.

It’s the electronic age in political campaigning these days. We are now well acquainted with the political use of the Web. Party and candidate websites, blogging, social networking pages, online videos, and internet advertising are just some of the techniques used.

It has been a multi-media frenzy in the U.S. this presidential election season. Opponents of Barack Obama have even been direct-mailing DVDs to spread their smears. As Huffington Post reported recently:

This week, 28 million copies of a right-wing, terror propaganda DVD are being mailed and bundled in newspaper deliveries to voters in swing states. The 60-minute DVDs, titled Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, are landing on doorsteps in a campaign coinciding with the 7th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pro-McCain Group Dumping 28 Million Terror Scare DVDs in Swing States
Jillian York captured some of the reaction at Voices without Votes:
Almost immediately, newspapers began receiving complaints for their inclusion of the DVD, which was funded by The Clarion Fund, a group set up to combat “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” Bloggers in the U.S. and abroad have expressed anger at both the distribution of the DVDs and the related crime. Global: “Obsession” Propaganda Film Incites Anger
Political Spam via email is also part of this Campaigning 2.0. Organisations such as Moveon in the U.S. and GetUp! in Australia use direct email to their subscribers as a major campaigning tool. You can also sign up to SMS or text messages from political candidates, such as Obama’s Vice Presidential announcement. This kind of email is supposed to be sent with the agreement of the recipient but unsolicited messages have become more common:
I recently received a spam that supports the case of Michael Skelly for Congress, saying negative things about incumbent John Culberson. What's interesting: this is my home precinct. These people are actually competing for my vote. This leads to the question: how on earth did the Skelly people manage to map my work email address to my home mailing address? Privacy Digest: Targeted political spam
Robocalls are now on the frontline. These phone calls use computerized auto-dialling and a computer-delivered recorded message. In other words, telephone Spam. They have become a major smear weapon:
It was perhaps predictable that the task of recording the worst of McCain's robo-slime -- the worst so far, at least -- would fall to Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani has recorded a new McCain robocall in which he suggests, in effect, that Barack Obama doesn't think sex offenders, drug dealers and murders should have to go to jail, according to Jennifer Henderson, a stay-at-home mom in Maine who tells us she received the call.
In New McCain Robocall, Rudy Giuliani Suggests Obama Opposes Jailing Murderers And Rapists
The Washington Monthly reported on the twists and turns:
John McCain hated robocalls eight years ago when they were used to smear him and his family. John McCain hated robocalls nine months ago when his rivals for the Republican nomination used the tactic against him. And yet, McCain loves robocalls now.
It turns out, when Bush used robocalls to destroy McCain eight years ago, he relied on a firm called FLS, run by a Republican activist named Jeff Larson. And who is McCain paying now to smear Barack Obama with deceptive robocalls? Jeff Larson's FLS. Political Animal: ROBOCALL IRONY....
There is even an anti-robocall YouTube video from the Obama campaign replaying a robocall smear and calling for a fight back: McCain's Robocalls: An All Out Assault. In fact there is compelling evidence that negative campaigning can be counter productive. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of registered voters polled thought McCain was “too personally critical” of his opponent compared with 26% who felt that about Obama. Growing Doubts About McCain's Judgment, Age and Campaign Conduct

The latest allegation of robocall smears also comes from the Huffington Post, an unashamedly anti-McCain source:
The McCain campaign has authorized another vicious robocall that claims Barack Obama and Democrats would cut off funds for the military, have accused American troops of "war crimes," and pose a threat to national security.
New McCain Robocall: Obama "Accused US Troops Of War Crimes"
There is already a bias against Spam email based on user experiences. Certainly we are all sick of having to listen to a recorded voice or music which goes on interminably. A political robocall is likely to come in between two nuisance ads from Call Centres given their frequency. These kinds of communication have inbuilt negatives which can destroy the message. But would they be doing it if their focus groups or sales figures indicated that these methods don't work? Direct mail through the post has a low take up but advertisers still find it very effective. Canada Post certainly think so. By the amount of traffic, the same must be true of telephone sales.

Australia has laws against Spam and unwanted phone calls. There is an opt-out service for telephones services called the Do Not Call Register but many organisations are exempt, including political groups. The U.S. has a Federal Do Not Call Register that similarly does not block political organisations. There is a private group, The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, which offers to contact politicians for free asking them to stop sending robocalls.

There has been one case where apparently a group was fined $100,000 for sending anonymous robocall messages to voters in North Carolina during the primaries this year. Women's Group Pays $100,000 Fine For N.C. Robocalls they had breached laws requiring them to identify the source of the call and provide contact details.

Spam is illegal here:
Under the Spam Act 2003 it is illegal to send, or cause to be sent, unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The Act covers email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS (text and image-based mobile phone messaging) of a commercial nature. It does not cover faxes, internet pop-ups or voice telemarketing. Australian Communications and Media Authority: Spam & e–Security
Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t stopped the flow of unwelcome messages but the flood seems to have receded. coincidentally I received one from Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) offering me a slice of $US 2.5 million. Pretty attractive given the current exchange rate. Strange that it has a Yahoo China email address. Obviously easier to get things out of there than in.

It will be interesting to see if these responses will be enough to protect Australians from intrusive political messages that are often mischievous and misleading. No doubt we will follow the e-lectioneering trends from across the Pacific.

The vexed issue of how the law should deal with false or misleading claims in new digital-age campaigning must wait for another post.

It's bound to be one step behind the technology.


The New York Times reports on spam politicking at its worst:
A new e-mail making the rounds among Jewish voters in Pennsylvania this week falsely alleged that Mr. Obama “taught members of Acorn to commit voter registration fraud,’’ and equated a vote for Senator Barack Obama with the “tragic mistake” of their Jewish ancestors, who “ignored the warning signs in the 1930’s and 1940’s.”

At first blush, it was typical of the sorts of e-mails floating around with false, unsubstantiated and incendiary claims this year.

But where most of the attack e-mails against Mr. Obama have been mostly either anonymous or from people outside of mainstream politics, this one had an unusually official provenance: It was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s “Victory 2008” committee.
Pennsylvania Republicans Send False Anti-Obama E-mail

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

US election through the eyes of world bloggers

Part of a post by Ethan Zuckerman, at my heart's in accra, about Voices without Votes:

Sick of the US election dominating all media coverage? Dreaming of a future date, perhaps two weeks away, when it’s possible that headlines won’t feature Sarah Palin?

You could always turn to international news, where the question seems to be, “What does the rest of the world think about the US election?”

In other words, “Enough about me, what do you think of me?”

That was more or less my response some months ago when some of the Global Voices team came to me and suggested we try to cover the US elections through the eyes of the developing world. Through the brilliant work of Amira Al Hussaini, support of authors like Hoa Quach and others, we’ve put together Voices Without Votes, a website that collects international blog perspectives on the US elections.

Read today and you’ll discover reports on a shortage of pro-Obama yamulkes,
Voices without Votes, comments from the Philippines about a suspicious misspelling on New York ballots, and the reasons Cubans are hoping for an Obama victory. It’s been one of our most successful projects and one that I’m now inordinately proud of.
For the full post: A closer look at a deep blue world

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Friday, October 24, 2008

McCain wins by single vote: hunt for non-voter

You can customize this video from CNNBC and insert the name of the non-voter. Just click this link Obama's Loss Traced To....

This has to be a not-too-subtle campaign tactic by the Democrats. Nightmares about Florida 2000.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Washington Post-ABC Tracking Poll

There is a new tracking poll from the Washington Post-ABC News. It's just into its second day. More good news for Obama:

Barack Obama is up 11 points on John McCain among likely voters in the new Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, 54 to 43 percent.
...Two in 10 independent voters said they are more inclined to vote for Obama because of Powell's backing; 4 percent said they were nudged the other way.
This Race Goes to 11 - Powell Helps with Indies
A graphic from the same article:

It seems that George W. Bush is a continuing anchor for John McCain but Barack Obama is overcoming the problem of inexperience. Perhaps his incredibly high media profile over the last year has added to perceptions of him as a national figure of stature.

Increasingly commentators are talking about what an Obama government will mean for foreign affairs and the economy. Doubtless many supporters outside America, and inside for that matter, will be demanding real progress in the Middle East and other areas of failed U.S. policy within a short time?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Man on Wire: Twin Towers Tightrope


Frenchman Philippe Petit walked between the World Trade Center twin towers in August 1974. He had not asked permission of course. He was arrested and handcuffed. The authorities wanted to know why he did it and sent him for a psychiatric assessment. Watch this documentary in a cinema if possible. It's the last question you'll ask yourself.

Philippe had practiced between the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

It was one small step...

One Saturday morning in August 1980 I took these photos from the second top floor of one of the towers. I was visiting Bill Gates, a teacher mate from Up-State New York. We stayed at a Manhattan apartment of one of his friends whose husband worked on that floor. It was a long weekend so we had the place to ourselves. We were parked on the street opposite the buildings in the first picture. While we enjoyed the view, someone stole the car radio. I dragged out the old photos because the Statue of Liberty resonated so strongly with ones from the film.

I'll spare you our tourist snaps from the top of the bridge and the cathedral.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Zogby poll back on track?

Lots of analysts went off the Reuters/C-Span/Zogby Daily Tracking Poll when it showed a narrowing in McCain's favour. I tried to be a bit loyal because Reuters are one of the sponsors of Voices without Votes and in the spirit of even-handedness. Today's figures bring some comfort to Obama supporters. Perhaps Colin the warrior has more weight than Joe the plumber.

New data from State polling seems to be all over the place but the national polls still give Barack a handy lead.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

International voices on Powell's endorsement of Obama

John Liebhardt has a roundup of international bloggers reactions to Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama:

Most bloggers stayed away from making political prognostications of the endorsement. Instead, many investigated the social aspects of a one-time favorite for the GOP nomination to cross party lines and support a Democrat.

Dennis Jones, Jamican-born economist writes in his blog, Living in Barbados, that it was the negative aspects of McCain’s campaign — like attempting to tie Obama to 1960s domestic terrorist Bill Ayers — that pushed Powell towards the Democratic candidate.
His selection includes: Thailand, Kuwait, Palestine, Barbados, Cuba, Turkey.
Visit Voices without Votes for the full post and the links to these bloggers.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Princeton Election Consortium: Polling Update

The latest post from the Princeton Electoral Consortium is well worth reading if you're into psephology or just interested in how accurate U.S. polling data is.

The graphic above tries to compensate for a 2% margin of error for John MCain. A similar State-by-State interactive Map is available on their website for Barack Obama +2%. Still a disaster for McCain with this adjustment.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Burn After Reading: Forget After Viewing?

We are great fans of the Coen brothers and enjoyed Burn After Reading a lot. Hard to say whether it’s a spy thriller or a lifestyle comedy. Let’s settle for social satire.

The film has a stellar cast. The actors walk through their roles with ease, with few surprises.

George Clooney amply fits his public persona - sex addict and loving it.

Joel Coen’s partner, Frances McDormand, has her customary touch of zany obsessiveness. This is her sixth movie with the brothers, including her Oscar winning role in Fargo and the very special Raising Arizona. She holds this film together.

John Malkovich does what he is best at – the nasty, manic, egoistical elitist.

Richard Jenkins does victim so well. He is an even more sensitive and gentle male than his character in The Visitor, and more naïve.

Tilda Swinton and Elizabeth Marvell as the not-so-innocent wives give very convincing performances.

The only exception is Brad Pitt whose comedy role is very funny and unexpectedly so. His almost slapstick performance embellishes his failed-man-of-action character. The film's long title of “Intelligence is Relative” could well be applied to his character's I.Q. He’s certainly no match for the CIA and that’s no mean feat in this movie. George Clooney’s dildo humour doesn’t live up to Brad’s visual gymnastics. I couldn’t decide if it was locker-room stuff or a send-up of it.

The minor characters are Hollywood stereotypes: unethical lawyers and the inevitable intelligence-challenged secret agents.

Unfortunately the plot is not as strong as Brad’s acting. But the film’s mixture of soft satire and increasing violence help to bring about the required suspension of disbelief and engagement with the story. At least until you leave the theatre wondering where the Coen Brothers are heading. It’s very mainstream Hollywood in too many ways. Tarantino meets Ridley Scott, but without many original insights or filmic techniques.

It’s not a deep experience but it pokes fun at modern America in a range of winning ways. The body obsession: makeovers, cosmetic surgery, the gym culture (even Malkovich works out towards the end). Conspicuous wealth and consumption. The jogging and divorce circuits. Online dating is important for these people who are so self-obsessed that they can't connect in person.

Central to the plot is the new media focus – the memoir. Where would Oprah and talk radio be without the true confessions of former spies, diet freaks, reformed addicts, and self-improvers? If you haven’t written a book, you’re nobody.

Like many of the characters, the film is hyper-active. It packs a lot into 96 minutes, with George and Brad spending a lot of the time running.

Haven’t seen Body of Lies yet but the shorts indicate that the title could be swapped with Burn After Reading. My greatest disappointment was that it was so lightweight. It could be a case of Forget After Viewing.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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What's good for the goose: McCain's good friend Gordon

My remarks yesterday on my Voices without Votes post were prophetic:

Closer to home, a TV blog in Australia, TVtonight, is bemused by John McCain's decision to snub David Letterman's talk show. Nothing worse than a media star scorned.
Pay back was a question to McCain about his connection with G. Gordon Liddy, one time jailed Watergate burglar and recent advocate of political violence. Media Matters accuse the rest of the mainstream media of double standards by ignoring this relationship but pushing the Obama/Bill Ayers connection:
Liddy has held a fundraiser for McCain at his home and describes the Arizona senator as an "old friend"; McCain has said he is "proud" of Liddy.

Imagine for a moment that Barack Obama had said he was "proud" of an "old friend" who urged people to shoot law-enforcement agents in the head. Do you think maybe he would have been asked a question or three about it? Do you think maybe there would have been more than the occasional passing mention in the news of the relationship? Of course there would have been.

Yet McCain hasn't been questioned about Liddy. The media have largely ignored the relationship, even while working themselves into a frenzy about Obama and Ayers. McCain's relationship with Liddy is obviously newsworthy in its own right, but coupled with his attacks on Obama over Ayers, it's a textbook case of hypocrisy -- exactly the sort of thing that political reporters supposedly drool over. But not when it's John McCain. When it's John McCain, the nation's leading news organizations band together in what is, in effect, a blackout of information that could be damaging to their longtime favorite.

Until last night, when McCain was finally asked, point-blank, about his relationship to Liddy and the similarities between that relationship and the Obama-Ayers relationship he has attacked so harshly.
Media Matters: Loose ends (Country Fair 17 October 2008)
They rightly question this apparent hypocrisy and document the lack of follow-up to David Letterman's solo effort. It seems war heroes can keep any company they like.

What's good for the goose...

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

NT Intervention Report the way forward

This post is a little tardy but I thought I'd read the report before commenting. It's hard to argue with the comments and recommendations below from the NORTHERN TERRITORY EMERGENCY RESPONSE REVIEW BOARD REPORT. Former Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, had no difficulty on Radio National's Australia Talks:

I probably spent more time in remote indigenous communities than any of my predecessors. I was intimately involved, and took questions, comments and thoughts, and pain and suffering from the people in those communities.

And that is actually what allowed me to develop in such a quick timeframe a response to the Little Children are Sacred Report.
He was out there deciding what was good for people. The intervention didn't need detailed planning. He had all the answers as soon as the Little Children are Sacred Report was released. Brough still has no idea what oges into real consultation and planning.

I heartily endorse the following from the NTER:
“The Intervention diminished its own effectiveness through its failure to engage constructively with the Aboriginal people it was intended to help.”

Income quarantining “should be available on a voluntary basis and imposed only as a precise part of child protection measures or where specified by statute, subject to independent review. In both cases it should be supported by services to improve financial literacy.”

“There needs to be adjustments in the machinery of government enabling better coordination of services, greater responsiveness to the unique characteristics of each community and higher levels of community participation in the design and delivery of services.”

“CDEP participants must undergo literacy, numeracy and on-the-job training designed to improve non-CDEP employment opportunities.”

We must “address illicit drug use in remote Aboriginal communities and associated mental health issues.”

“Funding priority be given to enable Aboriginal communities to build community integration and ownership of a child and community safety system that has the capacity to interface effectively with government agencies.”

“Priority be given to capacity building for Aboriginal leadership and Aboriginal governance at the local community level.”
The role of education was identified as a major factor but the review had no expertise in this area. If we are to transform CDEP jobs then education and training are critical. It is frustrating to see Year 12 students graduate in places like Maningrida and then find that their only employment opportunities in areas like construction are CDEP, not apprenticeships.

We have little choice. The NT Intervention Report is a sensible way forward.

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Sarah Palin's Oval Office

An interactive Palin link thanks to Amira Al Hussaini of Voices without Votes:

It is supposed to be updated everyday until the election. Just click around the image. My favorite is the waste paper bin.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sarah Palin from the Moose's mouth

I couldn't resist it!

For more visit the Anchorage Daily News

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Senate Watch: Opportunist U-Turn for Fielding

So Steve Fielding is no longer holding the government to ransom. His cave-in over blocking changes to the Medicare surcharge and the alcopops tax is both welcome and instructive. As Brendan Nelson and more recently Malcolm Turnbull discovered, populist politics are a two-edged cliché.

In his own word, Fielding is going to deliver "stability" to help fight the financial crisis. One part of this is right. His obstructionism has been destabilising, crises aside. His search for votes and publicity has been at the expense of good government. His arguments against these measures were hardly compelling reasons for blocking major budgetary items. Plus he has received considerable criticism.

There is no doubt that his compromise with the government over the luxury car tax is little understood. Any real analysis passed me by, as more pressing economic events overwhelmed it. The murky backroom dealing is easy to imagine and may even extend to this latest reversal by Fielding. Who knows what his going rate is at the moment.

I am reminded of another time but a similar issue. I was driving taxis in May 1974. This was an honourable profession for Arts graduates. Recently retired ALP Senator Robert Ray and one time Defence Minister also started this way, as well as spending a short stint as a teacher.

One afternoon I picked up a fare at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Spring Street, Melbourne and took them to Liberal Party headquarters in South Melbourne. There were three politicians including Tony Staley, the Member for Chisholm. They had just had a meeting with representatives of the private health insurance industry about how to oppose the Medibank double dissolution bill that was one of the triggers for the 1974 election. Receiving their riding instructions so to speak.

Now every cabbie knows that people in suits think that you can’t speak the lingo. Even if you could you’d never understand a conversation about the politics of health insurance. How wrong can they be! Staley and Co. spoke openly for twenty minutes about their likely strategy in the coming weeks.

After my shift finished, I went to my unpaid work at the time, as a campaign volunteer in the ALP office. No doubt there were ethical issues about a cabbie’s confidentiality. It still brings a smile.

Medibank was established after a joint sitting following Gough Whitlam’s re-election. Malcolm Fraser’s government effectively destroyed it as a public, universal health insurance system until it was reinstated as Medicare by the Hawke government.

There are a few morals to this tale. Senator Fielding chose to align himself with not only Coalition obstructionism but also with th big end of town: big booze and the private health insurance industry. They are dangerous bed-fellows. No wonder he has decided to take this opportunity for a somewhat graceful backdown. Need to look up a thesaurus: backdown, flip-flop, reversal, cave-in, retreat, u-turn, back-flip.

For those who know little about double dissolutions and joint sitting of parliament, now may be the right time to fill that gap. The irony for Fielding is that he would only need half the normal proportion to be re-elected in a double dissolution.

Original post at GetUp's Project Democracy

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is there a reverse Bradley effect for Obama?

For a different angle on the Bradley effect, please see:

Bradley Effect, or *Reverse* Bradley Effect?

Is it possible that some people are telling pollsters that they are not going to vote for Obama, even though they intend doing so.

Fountaingoats provides a short version of a New York Times story, Funny Numbers - Do Polls Lie About Race?.

The article tries to debunk the potential myth about why Obama may lose even with a handy lead in the polls.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Obama's lead beyond the Bradley effect

A couple of US election sites which are worth a visit:

A hard look at reality, and what you should do is from Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium:

By the standards of Presidential elections since 1992, Barack Obama is far ahead. For most of this season he has been running about 50 EV ahead of where John Kerry ran at the same point in 2004, which ended in a near-tie. Currently the gap is even larger - it’s nearing Clinton v. Dole proportions. In the face of a down economy and abysmal approval ratings for the Bush Administration, a lead of this size by a Democrat is essentially insurmountable.

This is why John McCain’s tactics have become increasingly savage - it’s his last stand.

...In short, the wind is at Barack Obama’s back. I currently expect a final outcome of Obama 318-364 EV, McCain 174-220 EV.
He dismisses the Bradley effect, where polling overstates black candidates popularity, as no longer relevant. He claims that it only ever represented 2-3% anyway.

The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby Poll has Obama 49%,to McCain's 43%. It's daily telephone tracking poll:
The rolling telephone tracking poll, including a sample of 1,206 likely voters collected over the previous three 24-hour periods spanning four calendar days - approximately 400 per 24-hour period from Oct. 8-11, 2008 - shows Obama's lead growing from the 3.8 percentage points he enjoyed yesterday.
Obama's lead in the polls is now beyond the usual margins of error. A 2% Bradley effect would have him slightly in front of McCain. Even a surge on Wall Street like the one happening today in Australia is unlikely to save McCain's campaign.

Time to have a bet on Barack and look for a bargain or two on the stock exchange?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thumbs down to McCain's home mortgage gimmick

My recent post McCain's sky hasn't fallen just yet looked at some of the senior economists who endorsed McCain's economic plan on his website:

It's instructive to look at the scrolling list of academics who endorse the Economic Plan on McCain's website. It's the usual suspects.
In particular it looked at some of those associated with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Now according to the Huffington Post, the same people are questioning John McCain's proposed home mortgage bailout:

Many of the professional economists who formally endorsed McCain's economic plan are expressing bewilderment with his most recent proposal to rectify the home mortgage crisis.

In interviews with the Huffington Post, roughly a dozen of McCain's economist supporters said they disagreed with the Senator's recent proposal -- for the government to buy distressed mortgages at face value from banks and renegotiate them with homeowners. Several viewed it as a gimmick, driven mostly by political circumstance. Only one pro-McCain economist spoke up in favor of the plan.
'Economists For McCain' Trash McCain's New Mortgage Plan

If you can't rely on Republican economists who can you rely on?

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Friday, October 10, 2008

McCain tumbles with Global Markets

Real Clear Politics has a lead by Obama 49.1% to McCain 43.5% in their average of 10 National Polls.

The trend is shown in this graph.

Obama leads in the Electoral College 347.6 to 190.4 according to FiveThirtyEight.

With the events of this week on global markets, it's hard to imagine how McCain can make up this ground. The response to the debate will not be helping. We can expect lots of smears in the coming week.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lemon Tree: a bitter sweet film

Lemon Tree is another foreign languages film which is well worth the cinema trip.

According to Eran Riklis, the Israeli director,

Lemon Tree is a simple story about people who find themselves fighting over matters that could have been resolved quite easily if they would just listen to each other.

...this is really a film about solitude as it is reflected in the lives of two women ...
Hiam Abbass plays Salma Zidane, a Palestinian woman who fights to keep her lemon grove from destruction by Israeli security because it is next to the Defence Minister's house. Her performance is even stronger than her role in The Visitor. Rona Lipaz gives an equally sensitive performance as the Minister's alienated wife Mira Navon. Both neighbours have children in the United States, one at Georgetown University and the other is a kitchen-hand planning to study IT. Not hard to guess which is which.

The film has its male villains, represented by the politician Israel Navon (Doron Tovory) and the local Palestinian power-broker Abu Camal (Makram Khoury). However, there are several sensitive male charactisations: the lawyer Ziad Daud (Ali Suliman), Salma's surrogate uncle and fellow lemon cultivator (Tarik Copty) and the Israeli guard Quickie (Danny Leshman).

The film is about the things that unite as well as those which have created walls, both literal and figurative, in the Middle East. Make sure you see Lemon Tree if you possibly can.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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CNN's Post Debate Polling

By way of an apology to CNN commentators after my post yesterday.

Their polling seems to confirm their rating of the candidates in the second presidential debate based on first impressions.

Fifty-four percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey conducted after the debate ended said that Obama did the best job in the debate, with 30 percent saying Sen. John McCain performed better.

According to the poll, 64 percent had a favorable opinion of Obama after the debate, up 4 points from before the event. Fifty-one percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of McCain after the debate, unchanged from before its start.

A majority said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader during the debate, 54 percent to 43 percent, and by a more than 2-to-1 ratio -- 65 percent to 28 percent -- viewers thought Obama was more likable during the debate.
Obama picks up second debate win, poll says
My view is still that it was a lot closer than these figures suggest.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Presidential debate soft-shoe shuffle

Thanks to Voices without Votes, fresh perspectives on the second presidential debate from Jotman in Bangkok:

"Obama is matching McCain on toughness, it's a strategy not to give McCain an advantage on this score"
Why Obama won the town hall debate
"I thought McCain's physical performance was shaky. He walked around as if lost, seemed hesitant to call Obama by name, otherwise acting as if he was afraid to get close to Obama."
Obama's overhead projector
My take from Melbourne Bayside is that it was not a conclusive victory either way. John McCain repeated his narrative of 25 years of fighting his Republican allies in the Congress. However, there was little sense of any great achievements in that struggle. He may have been right on the Iraq surge but, as Obama pointed out, he was very wrong on the war.

It is also a bad time to be arguing that government cannot and should not do much about issues such as the economy.

Barack Obama seemed tentative at times. He obviously prefers to work through issues in detail rather than trying to rebut accusations with ten second catchphrases.

Any similarity between this event and a town hall meeting in the U.S. or anywhere else is purely in the imaginations of the media. It was more like Dancing with the Stars.

The U.S. liberal media such as CNN scored it a win to Obama but they are no great judges of the American voters.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Homer Simpson's Secret Ballot

Homer Simpson tries to vote for Obama

I thought Homer would be a Palin kind of guy.

Voices without Votes are looking for overseas reactions to this clip from an episode which is supposed to screen in the States on 2 November.

Please leave your comment below.

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The pit-bull is off the leash!

A post for Voices without Votes:

Sarah Palin continues to infuriate and trouble progressive bloggers in Australia. The Vice Presidential debate and her weekend attack on Barack Obama over William Ayers has brought swift responses.


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Monday, October 6, 2008

All Economic History is Fiction

ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint seems to draw on the right-wing think tanks for many of its guests. Jennifer Marohasy, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, well known climate change denier, is a regular on ABC radio.

So it was time to call in the big guns last week to defend capitalism and free markets against the pro-regulation push. The segment on Counterpoint last week was Free Markets and Regulation. Their guest experts on matters economic and financial were John Roskam, the executive director of the Institute for Public Affairs and Dr Stephen Kirchner, research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.

The discipline of economics is a difficult arena at the best of times. Often derided as the scientists of hindsight, economists seem to specialise in convincing us why last year’s wrong prediction was the correct one at the time. A political-economy paradox perhaps. Counterpoint’s two terriers should have stuck to theory. Instead they ventured into the murky waters of economic history.

First, John Roskam shared his critical analysis:

I hope it's not a failure of capitalism quite yet, Michael but, as Stephen was indicating, what we saw in the 1980s was the Clinton administration in the US encouraging banks to lend to people on low incomes…
Perhaps it is the fault of the Clinton administration. Unfortunately for John, Bill's government lasted from January 1993 till January 2001. Perhaps the blame really belongs to Ronald Reagan or George Bush Senior’s terms in office during the 1980’s. Unlikely though, since they were conservatives.

Next, Stephen had a go at things historical:
There's a precedent for this in terms of the Resolution Trust Corporation which was set up to buy up the assets of the savings and loan industry that got into trouble in the early 1990s…
Wrong again! The RTC was set up in 1989 as a result of the S & L crises of the 1980’s. Reagan can cop that one. A bit closer than John but not quite there.

If we are going to learn from economic history, let’s at least get the facts straight. Economists love to use graphs. A timeline might prove more useful at times.

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U.S Election: States in play

Another useful link for those following the U.S. election numbers:

The New York Times Electoral Map has the latest State polling for the Presidential candidates. It includes:

* recent polling with source
* previous election results
* current government data
* no. of electoral college votes
There are also State Profiles.

The predominance of red on the map at present shows that McCain enjoys the support of more acres than voters.

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Americans more popular than their country

The Pew Research Center has conducted a survey of attitudes to the U.S. by foreigners. The answer seems to be : they don't hate Americans just their government.According to Pew:

The American people continue to be viewed more positively than their country, with majorities in 14 of 23 countries having a favorable opinion of Americans, including at least 70% of those surveyed by Pew in South Korea, Lebanon, Poland and Britain. By comparison, only eight countries have a favorable opinion of the United States.
14 of 23 - American People Are More Popular Than the U.S.
46% of Australians surveyed have a positive view of the U.S. with two thirds positive about Americans.

The 35% favorable opinion for the U.S. of the 23 countries polled, is probably higher than George W. Bush's own rating at home.

For bloggers' views about the U.S from around the world, please visit Voices without Votes.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

ABC: God's Next Army?

If you missed Sunday's Compass program God's Next Army on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), it was a low point for our national broadcaster. It was an uncritical look at Patrick Henry College near Washington D.C. which uses the bible to prepare home-schooled youths for leadership in conservative America. They have been George W. Bush's and the Republican Party's campaign fodder. Many have worked as White House interns or as volunteers with right-wing lobbyists. The student body appeared to have no black or Hispanic students and only one of Asian background.

Geraldine Doogue introduced the program as topical though it was made in 2005-6. It is so old that they were boasting about working for Karl Rove. It is a promotional video at best, propaganda at its worst. It contained no analysis and could not be described as investigative in any sense. Its tone was highly supportive at the end.

This was a shocker! Is the ABC's budget so low that it has to buy such low quality stuff or was it free?

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Politics in Perspective

We've been in South Australia for a couple of weeks mostly away from mobile phone, TV and internet access. Didn't see the AFL Grand Final, the first presidential debate, the VP debate or the look on George W. Bush's face when the House of Representatives knocked back his bailout bill.

This was made up for by visiting the breathtaking Arkarooola Wilderness Sanctuary (photos are from their website) and Wilpena Pound. Fearing and loathing on Wall Street shrink into proper perspective when you are standing at Sillers Outlook.

Lots to catch up on. Please watch this place.

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