Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mixed Feelings About Democrat YouTube Debate

Did you watch the Democratic presidential CNN/YouTube debate on June 23?

The positives were that it was an interesting new format and Anderson Cooper did a good job of (sometimes successfully) trying to get candidates to stay on topic and answer the questions asked. To the latter point he sometimes asked a good follow up question to get the candidate to clarify an earlier answer. It was also appropriate that the front runners got to answer more questions and get more speaking time, while the second-tier got their due. Another plus was that some of the questioners were present in the debate to react to the candidate responses.

The negatives partly related to the choice of the final 39 questions picked by CNN out of the 3000+ submissions. Several of the 39 questions were indistinctly mumbled or of poor sound quality, or hard to see as in the case of a guy using poster slides. When broadcasting nationally CNN should throw out all the videos with poor audio or visual quality. Especially since none of those questions were knockouts in content either.

Also, some questions were plain stupid even if they were designed to put candidates in a spot. A guy asked if the candidates would be willing to be paid the minimum wage (implying it was too low) if they were elected President. The candidates answered politely, though the response in my head was, "Listen, turd, why should the person with the wisdom, talent and abilities to lead the whole nation be paid the lowest wage of any American?" I guess I'll never win political office. :-) Another hollow question, this a follow-up by Anderson on wasteful practices - how many candidates flew in for the debate by private jet? Yeah, big deal. With their crush of activities and so much at stake they should be wasting long hours (not to mention security implications) catching commercial flights. Yet one more question - did candidates send their children to private schools? If they have millions, why shouldn't they?

So who did best? I was most impressed by Hillary's direct, intelligent and realistic answers that did not sound canned. I already like her and am not a neutral judge. Most CNN and MSNBC commentators reflect my view though 11 of the 12 focus groups polled by CNN felt Obama did best (one plumped for Richardson.) Obama did have some very nifty lines, speaks well and keeps his composure. May be that's why he's so popular with the younger (and the Hillary-hating) set who are easily swayed and lack maturity. :-)

I was pleasantly surprised by Biden even if he's lagging too far behind in the polls to matter. Edwards did okay in spite of some platitudes and stump lines (e.g., his son of a mill worker spiel.)

Anyone have different perceptions? The Republic CNN/YouTube debate is on September 17.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lead Foot Drivers Or Light-Headed Politicians?

I've always deplored using traffic enforcement as a way to raise revenues rather than ensuring safety and smooth driving conditions. Unfortunately it happens all the time. Ever noticed how the traffic police seem most active in issuing tickets when traffic volumes are low and driving conditions are good? In other words, when the conditions for driving fast are the safest?

Many of the traffic police either have quotas or financial incentives for issuing more tickets, though they try not to disclose this. That's why there's the "gotcha" mentality that makes me (and I'm guessing a majority of you) think negatively about speed cops.

Now look what these Virginia politicians have done. The Republicans opposed measures like a 1 cent increase in gas taxes to fund state highway projects, and instead pushed for raising revenues through draconian traffic penalties, like charging drivers at least $1,050 for going 20 miles over the limit. The main proponent of this legislation, State Rep. David Albo (R) is the senior partner in a law firm dealing with traffic offenses, which should experience a nice uptick in business.

Oh, and it's not just Republicans to blame. Democrat Governor Tim Kaine fully went along with this idea. Now that the new law took effect on July 1st, there's been a public outcry. There's pressure on lawmakers to call a special session to repeal the new provisions. Tim Kaine is opposing it - so far. All the state lawmakers face elections this fall. If those among them who voted for the new penalties get re-elected, Virginian drivers will lose a lot of my current sympathy for them.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Scooter Pardon Musings

I have mixed feelings about how the Plame-Wilson-Libby affair has played out. The Libby pardon is hardly a surprise. GWB and Co. have done much worse in the past, and with the current 26% approval rating no longer have much of a reputation to protect. And one good shield deserves another. They owe it to their henchman to shield him from the consequences of shielding them from exposure.

I think about four aspects of the case.

First, it's about those who lash out at Bill Clinton for deploring the pardon because of his own rash of pardons near the end of his presidency. The two acts are different because Clinton didn't pardon anyone who was covering up for him or his administration.

Second, despite my occasional digs at Republicans it shows there are plenty of decent and straight ones around. Special prosecutor Fitzgerald and federal judge Walton are both Republicans and proved they're no hatchet men. Fitzgerald probably gave VP Cheney a break by not compelling damaging testimony from him under oath, but has been upstanding on the whole. Judge Walton didn't give Libby any undue breaks and it can even be said his sentence was on the harsher side.

Third, Libby may not be that bad a guy and one can empathise with his situation. He was put on the spot and lied or obstructed the investigation to protect the boss out of a sense of loyalty. He sacrificed himself knowing he could go to prison and no one would bail him out. (Oh, wait. )

Lastly, just like in that Clinton impeachment drama, probably too much has been made out of this case. The motive in exposing Plame wasn't revenge as much as an attempt to discredit Wilson's revelations by painting him and his wife as anti-GWB partisans. What was the damage done by outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent? Probably only that she could never do a covert job again.

So can't it go this way: the Administration and the CIA say to Plame "oops, we're so sorry about goofing up on this. Here's $5 million (or $10 million) and a promotion to compensate you for our gaffe." End of story. Valerie's quite a babe and will improve the image of the CIA, so to speak. Those who feel taxpayers shouldn't pay so much for the Administration's mistakes should look at the billions of dollars of overspend on no-bid Iraq / Katrina contracts and other wastages inherent in the government. Also the special prosecutor's activities have cost more than this amount.

So in sum, while the Plame leak and Libby pardon affair confirms the seamy side of GWB-Vice politics, it's not that big a deal as to unduly exercise us.