2008 - %3, September

Blah Blah Blah

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 8:16 PM EDT

BLAH BLAH BLAH....The McCain campaign sure does whine a lot. Get a grip, guys.

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Barack Obama Likes Beer, Okay??

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 7:24 PM EDT

From a 60 Minutes interview with Obama and Biden:

"But you tried really hard to reach these people,'' [Steve] Kroft pressed. "You went and sipped beer, which I know you don't particularly like — I mean you even..."
"Steve, I had a beer last night,'' Obama interjected. "I mean, where do these stories come from, man?"
"I'm the one... [that] doesn't drink," Biden added.
"Where does the story come from that...I don't like beer?'' Obama asked. "C'mon, man."

He probably had a Stella Artois. With a bowl of granola instead of beer nuts. Because that's what fancy-pants liberal elitists do.

Update: Obama has a beer named after him in Kenya. And John McCain hates beer.

Sarah Palin Deals with Babygate with Babygate II?

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 7:01 PM EDT

Okay, which obvious point do you want regarding Babygate? Or is it Babygate II? As you probably know, on Labor Day, the McCain campaign released this statement from Sarah Palin, McCain's running-mate, and her husband Todd:

We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.
Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.

The Palins sacrificed their 17-year-old daughter's privacy themselves in order to smother a fast-spreading rumor (or conspiracy theory) that Sarah Palin's fifth child, born this past April, was really Bristol's child. So how to process all this...bizarreness?

First, isn't it curious that a rumor about a secret pregnancy was squelched by the disclosure of a real pregnancy? What are the odds? I'm not suggesting the above statement from the Palins is a lie. This could well be a case of reality being far more strange than fiction. But it is darn weird. At a luncheon for journalists and politicos on Monday afternoon, several prominent journalists were shaking their heads in disbelief that the first day of the convention was being dominated not by Gustav and the cancellation of the nighttime program but by the Palin family soap opera.

Second, imagine if any thing of this sort had happened on the Democratic side. Wouldn't social conservatives be expressing frothy outrage? Or at least implying outrage? I'm reminded of how Newt Gingrich used to try to exploit whatever was in the news to depict the Democrats as the party of family and societal dysfunction. During the 1992 convention, he said, "Woody Allen having nonincest with a nondaughter to whom he was a nonfather because they were a nonfamily fits the Democratic platform perfectly." And then there's the time in 1991, after a South Carolina woman named Susan Smith killed her two daughters, that Gingrich said, "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

An out-of-wedlock birth ain't murder; still, it does not take much imagination to conceive how right-wingers would use such a family matter should it happen to a Democrat.

Third, bloggers and webbies will, no doubt, continue to pursue the original rumor. Fine. But they ought not dump unproved allegations onto the Internet. There is a place for decency on the Internet--even if the overall mission is aimed at undoing the work of an administration that misled the nation into war. Meanwhile, reporters and political ops sitting around doing nothing in St. Paul, realizing that the Palin family is also embroiled in another dicey matter (an investigation into whether Sarah Palin applied pressure to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from his job as an Alaskan state trooper), are wondering what else might come out about Palin and her family. After all, the convention has three more days to go.

Just Askin' Indeed

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 6:06 PM EDT

JUST ASKIN' INDEED....Jakes Tapper asks:

What would the response be if Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and his wife Michelle had a pregnant unmarried teenage daughter?

Yeah, yeah, I know how annoying this kind of conjecture is. But I couldn't help thinking about it. Here's how my mind wandered: Fox News talking heads....hmmm....solemn statement of faux support from John McCain....followed by the usual innuendo-laden videos from the cretins who run his communications shop....James Dobson would release a statement and it sure as hell wouldn't be this one....Steve Sailer would weigh in on black family culture....Charles Murray would be next....The Corner would slowly build to a screeching crescendo....Jeremiah Wright....permissive liberal culture....Rush Limbaugh....Sean Hannity....Michelle Malkin....um....um....um....

And then some dude from Porlock IMed me and I shook my head like I was trying to wake up from a bad dream. But it would have been a damn hurricane. The noise machine would have been in danger of meltdown. Does anyone really doubt that?

Russia's Sphere of Influence

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 3:29 PM EDT

RUSSIA'S SPHERE OF INFLUENCE....Today brings news that Russia is happily playing the neo-Cold War game too:

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Sunday laid out what he said would become his government's guiding principles of foreign policy after its landmark conflict with Georgia — notably including a claim to a "privileged" sphere of influence in the world.

....In his unabashed claim to a renewed Russian sphere of influence, Mr. Medvedev said: "Russia, like other countries in the world, has regions where it has privileged interests. These are regions where countries with which we have friendly relations are located."

Asked whether this sphere of influence would be the border states around Russia, he answered, "It is the border region, but not only."

Noted without comment, except to say that this is exactly the kind of time when you'd like to have a steady hand on the foreign policy tiller. John McCain, who apparently gives these kinds of situations about five minutes thought before tossing off a depth charge just to see how it sounds on the evening news, is not that kind of guy.

Where is Sarah?

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 2:42 PM EDT

WHERE IS SARAH?....Has Sarah Palin granted an interview yet to the national press? Just curious. I haven't seen one yet. They're going to have to let her face the media mob eventually, aren't they?

UPDATE: Here she is in People magazine. It's the obvious choice, and I imagine that Fox News and GMA and Parade are on deck too. The national political press corps that might actually press her on serious issues, though? Wait and see.

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Grandma Sarah

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 2:04 PM EDT

GRANDMA SARAH....The latest from the campaign trail:

The 17-year-old daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate, is five months pregnant, Senator McCain's campaign advisers announced today.

The daughter, Bristol, plans to marry the father, the campaign said.

In a statement, Mrs. Palin said: "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows that she has our unconditional love and support."

....The campaign intends to cast this as the kind of situation that ordinary American families face.

Best wishes to Bristol. I hope, however, that the McCain campaign won't actually cast this as anything, and I also hope the national media manages to restrain itself covering this story. Sure, it's news, but report it and then let it go.

Slow Food Wrap-Up: Is Dinner Enough?

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

slow_food_nation_sf.jpgOn Sunday night I attended a six-course feast at Camino restaurant in Oakland. The $125-dollar-a-plate dinner—a benefit for the West Oakland food-justice nonprofit People's Grocery—came at the end of Slow Food Nation, the San Francisco Bay Area's weekend-long celebration of all things local, seasonal, and delicious.

The mood was jolly, the dining indulgent. From the spongy, triangular nettle-cake appetizers to the flaky peach and blackberry handpies for dessert, the plates just kept coming out of Russell Moore's (formerly of Chez Panisse) open kitchen. Once the diners—an older, mostly local crowd—were seated, epi loaves (long rows of linked baguette rolls shaped to looks like a stalk of wheat) were placed directly on the table, no plates necessary. Soon after, the wait staff brought out fire-roasted squid served with plump, fresh chickpeas. Then, onto the soup course—a cool gazpacho of sweet tomatoes. Hearty fish paella, which had been roasted over the open fireplace in three massive terracotta pots for hours, came steaming out next. Even after that thick, creamy rice dish, few of us could resist the rosemary-scented roasted pork and homemade sausages that arrived for our fourth course. Beans from People's Grocery's Sunol farm made for a perfect pairing—crisp veggies and piquant meat. An organic salad with fresh ricotta preceded the aforementioned handpies.

Just as we were finishing dessert (and ready to burst), Brahm Ahmadi, executive director of People's Grocery, presented a seven-minute video. While we digested our enormous gourmet dinners, we learned about West Oakland, a community of 30,000 where there are zero grocery stores but 53 liquor stores. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death. And an estimated $30 million worth of business leaves the community each year as residents must go elsewhere for food.

We knew coming in that a portion of each ticket would go to People's Grocery, but I got the sense that even after Ahmadi's presentation, most of us diners still felt a world away from the 'food desert' outside Camino's doors. After a cheer for Camino and People's Grocery, one woman called out, "Support businesses in neighborhoods you're scared of!" An awkward silence followed.

Mad About Cows

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:46 PM EDT

MAD ABOUT COWS....Four years ago I first reported about the travails of Creekstone Farms, a Kansas beef producer that wanted to initiate 100% testing of its cattle for mad cow disease so that it could sell into the Japanese market. It was the free market at work: a plucky little company taking advantage of emerging technology to maintain its share in a foreign market and help improve our trade deficit. Just the kind of thing George Bush talks about all the time.

Except that George Bush wouldn't let them do it. Might upset the big producers, you see, who were afraid consumer pressure might force them to eventually perform 100% testing too. Today, via Dean Baker, I see that the DC Circuit Court has finally ruled in the Bush administration's favor. America's meat processing industry — which, coincidentally I'm sure, favors the GOP in its campaign contributions by more than 3:1 over Democrats — can breathe a sigh of relief.

Focus Group Hell

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:26 PM EDT

FOCUS GROUP HELL....I confess that I've always been sort of weirdly fascinated with Joe Klein's periodic reports on Frank Luntz's focus groups. I can't really say why, since I don't have any idea whether the data they produce is at all reliable, but the fascination persists. Today, Klein reports that Luntz's latest batch of independents was deeply unimpressed with prospective vice president Sarah Palin:

Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin...a fact that was reinforced when they were given hand-dials and asked to react to Palin's speech at her first appearance with McCain on Friday — the dials remained totally neutral as Palin went through her heart-warming(?) biography, and only blipped upwards when she said she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere — which wasn't quite the truth, as we now know.

Klein also reports that far from neutralizing McCain's age issue, his choice of Palin actually intensifies it — something I anticipated months ago when people were talking up the even younger Bobby Jindal as a potential running mate. Luntz apparently thinks this debacle can be salvaged with a good convention speech, but I think Klein's take is the more clear-eyed one: "They really saw this pick as a gimmick — and one that reflected badly on John McCain's judgment."