Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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How Iowa Chooses

Iowa isn't just voting next week--they're caucusing. Today's Wall Street Journal (finally) explains what that means.

Democrats and Republicans gather at various locations in the 1,784 precincts of the state. Republicans make a pitch for their candidates and there is a secret ballot. Democrats gather in clumps around the room according to which candidate they support. But the key item for caucuses in both parties is this:

Candidates who don't receive support from at least 15% of participants are "eliminated," but their supporters can realign with another group. A final head count at the Jan. 3 gatherings will determine how county-level (not statewide) delegates will be apportioned.

According to this account, the lingo is that more than 15% makes the candidate "viable." But that first vote isn't the last. If your candidate isn't viable, you can join your second choice candidate, or the group that remains uncommitted.

This is why polls ask for "second choice" candidates, but that doesn't say a lot because whether your second choice will matter depends on who your first choice is--that is, if your first choice is a second tier candidate unlikely to get 15%, your second choice matters more than if your first choice is one of the top tier, who are more likely to get 15%. Unless of course your second choice is also a below 15% candidate--then it's your third choice that matters. Then again, there's nothing preventing anyone from switching for any reason or no reason, from any candidate (viable or not) or the uncommitted, until the final tally is taken.

The big variable is who will attend. Some of the problem is who can attend: even though the caucuses are held in the evening, lots of people work then--in retail, restaurants and other places open until 9, and notably police, fire and medical personnel who often belong to politically active unions. Employers are not required to give time off, because technically it isn't an election--it's a internal party matter.

In all, only about 10% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans are expected to caucus.

As things are shaping up now, if Obama wins it may be because of what some are reporting is a very strong new speech in the closing days, or because college students are able and willing to caucus; if Hillary wins it may be because her experience argument grafts onto concern about events in Pakistan, or because of her ad blitz or women who want to vote for a woman for President once in their lives; if John Edwards wins, it may be because of his strong organization in rural areas and the resonance of his anti-corporate argument where jobs moved offshore have created hardship and insecurity.

If Huckabee wins, it may be because his heavy fundie appeals have worked; if Romney wins it might be because his organization turns people out and some have become leery of Huckabee's weirdness; if McCain does well, it may be because the others seem untrustworthy and unappealing.

Who knows? Nobody. Who cares? Everybody involved. Iowa caucuses on Thursday, and New Hampshire votes the following Tuesday. The difference between who places first and third may be very slim, which may mean it means a lot, or not so much. All the chatter will immediately be about how the outcome will or won't affect New Hampshire. And nobody knows that, either.

At this point, it seems to me that if the top three Democrats finish as close as they appear to be in the polls (and once again the cell phone argument is being raised--the polls don't reach them, and lots of young people use them as their one and only phone), Iowa may not matter as much as it did last time.

But of course no one will be able to say that until a week from Wednesday, when the New Hampshire results are known. If Edwards wins Iowa (and I still think he's got the inside track) then he has to win New Hampshire--but it's not a given. If Hillary clearly wins Iowa, then she is likely to win New Hampshire--but that's not a given either. Last time, John Kerry from neighboring Mass. had an early lead there, and lost it in the Howard Dean (of Vermont) surge. But Kerry winning in the fields of Iowa made New Hampshire feel better about returning to him. Hillary's had a lead there for some time, but New York is not quite so close, and the suspicion has always been that her support was wider there (and nationally) than deep. If Obama wins in largely rural white Iowa, he's got a better chance in not so entirely rural white New Hampshire. At the moment he's close enough in New Hampshire polls that an Iowa victory could well put him over the top in NH.

Sound like tapdancing? You bet. Personally I'm betting that there will still be three Democrats standing--and three Republicans--by the time I vote in February.


Brief reviews of some books published in 2007 at Books in Heat.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Raven and the North Wind Moon Mask by
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Go to Italy for the climate crisis

An event from this past summer has finally made the New York Times, a time lag likely due to the fact that it happened in Italy and not in the U.S. But someday soon, it could.

People began getting sick from a mystery illness in a small village in Italy. Symptoms were serious, some who had it died, and some who survived had lasting symptoms of arthritis. The virulence and unknown cause might have prompted panic had the outbreak lasted longer, but it caused a lot of fear and mistrust.

The disease turned out to be chikungunya, a tropical disease carried by tiger mosquitoes. These mosquitoes had never been seen anywhere near this village before. And this is its significance, according to the Times story:

“This is the first case of an epidemic of a tropical disease in a developed, European country,” said Dr. Roberto Bertollini, director of the World Health Organization’s Health and Environment program. “Climate change creates conditions that make it easier for this mosquito to survive and it opens the door to diseases that didn’t exist here previously. This is a real issue. Now, today. It is not something a crazy environmentalist is warning about.”

The time to prepare for such events here would reasonably be now, though according to the character of the past few years--dominated as it has been by decadence, greed, deliberate deception, willful stupidity and political cynicism--it will take a major outbreak of a tropical disease like dengue in the U.S.--possibly in L.A., contracted by Paris Hilton--for anyone here to pay attention. And if there is the subsequent relevation of a public health system unable to cope, panic may be a mild word for the reaction.

Of course we could act, we could prepare, just on the strong possibility that this will happen in the next five or ten years, if not tomorrow. But can you even imagine any presidential candidate talking about this, or even stranger, anyone in the media asking?

R. I. P Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is tragic and portentious. Although political assassination is not uncommon in that part of the world (Bhutto is the fourth member of her family to be killed for political reasons), the prominence of Pakistan in U.S. politics brings this closer. No one yet knows--and quite possibly will ever know--who committed and abetted this crime, but because of its prominence on American TV, it has reintroduced political violence in an election year in the U.S. It's not something I'd like to see again here, as I have seen it in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I hope all campaigns are taking this seriously.

Apart from that, even though the Hardball bloviators talked themselves into believing this will have a big impact on outcomes in Iowa and New Hampshire (favoring Hillary and John McCain because of their "experience"), my instincts resonate with Dana Millbank on Keith who doesn't think it will have much direct impact on the outcome. People aren't so concerned (i.e. scared) about it, at least not yet.

As for the impact on the region, it ain't going to be good. Just how bad remains to be seen.

Personally I find this very saddening. Whatever her policies and whatever the politics in that land I know so little about, she was a courageous woman--a Muslim women, in a part of the world where Muslim women are a major moderating influence. And I fear that politics by guns may spread further beyond battlefields, beyond stupid unthinking media metaphors, if we're not conscious and careful.


FYI-- Christmas Past Present (and feast of the seven fishes) plus a Steelers update at Blue Voice...several new posts of Trekkie interest at Soul of Star Trek...Alice in Disneyland at Boomer Hall of Fame and more on Alice at Stage Matters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

This time of year the hummingbirds are hanging
out close by. Though I've seen two feeding at the
same time, I've also seen the blur that is a third
one. The other day two perched near the porch for
much of the afternoon. I guess there's not as much
to feed on elsewhere, and the weather is uncertain, too.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Stat

Number of questions asked by hosts of
the Sunday public affairs shows in 2007: 2275

Number of these questions that mentioned
the climate crisis: 3

--from What Are They Waiting
You can read more about this and sign a petition
to "tell the reporters to focus on the human race,
not the horse race" in covering the 2008 elections here.

Listening to New Hampshire

The New Hampshire primary has some markedly different dynamics than Iowa--including the mechanics of a primary (which requires only simple voting) versus the caucus (which requires more time and actual discussion.) But at the moment both Democratic and Republican primaries are so close and in such flux that Iowa could be decisive.

Right now it appears that John McCain is rising and could very well win the Republican contest. He's been endorsed by newspapers and his policy positions are closer to New Hampshire, particularly in recognizing the reality of the climate crisis, which that state is seeing within its borders. McCain's age is a problem, but his biggest ally is the general disenchantment with Mitt Romney. However, a strong first place for Huckabee in Iowa could present another alternative to those who have soured on both Romney and Rudy. (Huckabee has less of a natural constituency in New Hampshire than Iowa.) If McCain at least places in Iowa, his chances to win in New Hampshire are enhanced. At the moment, I'd suggest he's on track to win NH.

Among the Democrats, the key may be how Hillary's attacks on Obama affect Iowa. Obama is from neighboring Illinois, so his record is more likely to be known in Iowa than in New Hampshire. If Iowa swallows the Hillary campaign's largely false attacks, it could be tougher for him to sustain his current momentum in New Hampshire. A third place showing in Iowa could be fatal to Obama, resurrecting the Hillary coronation scenario. A second place to Edwards won't hurt him, though it won't help him. A second place to Hillary will hurt him, but maybe not fatally. (It's hard to see how Edwards wins anywhere else if he doesn't win Iowa.)

Watching Iowa

The Iowa caucuses are less than two weeks away, and the final polls will be starting soon. I have the sense that Hillary has made up some ground, although I totally don't respect the tactics employed. Her campaign has made one voter's decision: I definitely will not vote for her in the California primary. But she is closer to winning Iowa than she was even a week ago, is my guess.

She has been helped, I fear, by John Edwards and Barack Obama going after each other. You'd think they would have learned from Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt knocking each other out last time. While the national talking head consensus has become that the electorate is in the mood for a big change, which doesn't favor Hillary, Edwards and Obama are making it hard for people to feel good about supporting them, while Hillary smiles and smiles.

On the Republican side, the Huckabee boom doesn't seem to have collapsed yet, and it's a question now of whether Iowa Republicans have soured on Mitt Romney even more than they are skeptical of Huckabee, and whether the religious right has actually gone to Huckabee, with sufficient fervor to show up and caucus. Right now I'd say the chances of Huckabee coming in first have improved.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Charles Dickens
"A Christmas Carol"
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