Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Long Way to Go

The long-term and more permanent damage that global heating will cause has seeped into even American consciousness, though other more pressing problems keep shoving it to the back of the line. Fortunately perhaps, the more proximate crises involving energy and energy costs may well be playing out in a way that, however sideways in intent, does something at least to lessen greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Climate Crisis is also causing--or making worse, or otherwise contributing to--bad stuff that is happening right now, and is very probably going to happen more in the near future, like extreme weather and its consequences. The more familiar crises these patterns cause are paradoxically the ones we seem unequipped to face or understand. Katrina is the poster child for poor government response and comprehension. But the Midwest floods this week exemplify the weakness of our public information systems, particularly our preposterous news media.

First of all, only major newspapers and the broadcast network news (plus certain shows on CNN) paid much attention. And their coverage was silly. John Stewart made fun of the "human dipstick" approach--focusing on reporters standing in flood waters to indicate how high they were--but that really seemed to be the general level of coverage. It was stupid.

Buried in print reports and blog reports were such facts as 25,000 homeless in Cedar Rapids alone, 24 deaths, billions in damages, toxic waters flooding homes, businesses and schools. Serious stuff, you would think.

What is it about the weather that makes people talk and act so dumb? Is it repressed fear? The cheery weather person dancing in front of the map, sing-songing about record this and not-quite-record that. Temperatures in excess of 100 for days on end, and "it's going to be another hot one out there." And so on. Either that, or it's alarmists breaking into programs to sow fear of a thunderstorm. Are these people that weak-minded?

Meanwhile, people die and weaken in the heat, power grids tremble, drought spreads and kills, fires burn trees (killing their carbon-holding capacity, and spewing carbon into the air), while a sudden tornados ambush Boy Scouts and tear through homes, and floods wash away crops (while perhaps poisoning the ground) and destroy homes and businesses.

It's refreshing that at least one presidential candidate--Barack Obama--heeded the request of overstretched law enforcement in Iowa not to come to be photographed looking at the flood. (He filled sandbags in Quincy, Illinois earler.) John McCain however could not pass up the photo op, ignoring the real needs.

We need a lot more of that maturity and judgment. We need media that can actually report on what's going on objectively, and as comprehensively as possible. Because as these events happen more frequently, and they are more damaging, the fact that they are unpredictable results of a predicted pattern can't come as a surprise, or the capacity of government and other agencies to deal with them to decrease suffering and longterm damage will be severely hampered.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Good Start for Obama

This was a good week for Barack Obama. As the all-but-official nominee, he took hold of the Democratic National Committee--though Howard Dean (a fellow advocate for a 50 state strategy) remains as Chair, Obama brought in people he trusts, and moved parts of the operation to his HQ in Chicago. The first cadres of newly trained Obama volunteers were dispatched, and campaign offices are slated to open in every state, beginning in some major swing states.

The Obama campaign set up an impressive "Fight the Smears" web site to combat false charges. And while the Bushite administration shows little interest in the plight of the Midwest beset by floods and storms, the Obama campaign is organizing volunteers to help.

New polls taken at about the time Hillary conceded show a bump for Obama, which could be even larger in the next round of polls, taken afterwards. For example, Obama beat McCain by six points in the NBC poll, which had never shown Kerry ahead of Bush in 2004 (and Bush never ahead by more than 4 points.) Other match-up polls together with electoral vote forecasts like this one and this one looked even better. Obama also showed strength in individual state polls in Wisconsin and New Jersey. Also state and national studies showing Democrats or the Democratic party surging to the detriment of GOPers.

Plus the internals of these polls showed Obama gaining among groups where he was supposed to be weak, like women voters and older voters. Obama is more trusted on the economy than McCain. Combine that with earlier studies that showed him leading among Latinos and Jewish voters, and making inroads with black conservatives, plus prominent Republicans like Colin Powell and former Bush press sec Scott McClellan saying they are considering voting for Obama.

So what does this mean for the rest of the campaign? McCain has nothing in terms of issues plus he's screwing up and looking bad. Obama is campaigning aggressively and scoring points, and the country is crying out for change. Though McCain is after Hillary voters, many are consolidating for Obama, while even some congressional Republicans are making it known they won't vote for McCain. So as one cable commentator astutely observed, the only course McCain and the GOPers have is to negatively define Obama in a personal way, so voters won't trust him. Then it won't matter that voters are on his side on the issues.

That's why the Obama campaign is gearing up to counter a very negative campaign against them, while putting the candidate out there where people can see and hear him: familiarity breeds comfort, among those who need reassurance. That's why quickly solidifying himself as the party nominee and taking control of the party machinery this week was so important. Dems smell victories at every level, and they're beginning to sense that Obama is going to get them new voters, even in states he might not carry.

Another good sign--the Obama campaign continues to recruit and inspire its young volunteers, and their imagery is going to be there when media is looking for the story of this campaign. Plus their work on the local level: I heard Howard Fineman talking about the elderly ladies on Polish Hill in Pittsburgh who were a bit wary of Obama, but couldn't conceive of voting Republican. I thought immediately of young Obama volunteers offering to take those ladies to the polls, showering them with attention and their energy and committment. I'd say their votes are in the bag.

There are going to be moments of sheer beauty in the coming campaign. But it's also likely to get ugly.