Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Indiana call centre workers refuse to read McCain campaign messages

Reported at Talking Points Memo. Call centre workers striking in the current U.S. economic climate, with no protection of their jobs. Some people are willing to fight. Particularly interesting that this is in Indiana, which has become a swing state for the first time since 1964.

Dozens Of Call Center Workers Walk Off Job In Protest Rather Than Read McCain Script Attacking Obama
By Greg Sargent - October 27, 2008, 5:18PM

Some three dozen workers at a telemarketing call center in Indiana walked off the job rather than read an incendiary McCain campaign script attacking Barack Obama, according to two workers at the center and one of their parents.

Nina Williams, a stay-at-home mom in Lake County, Indiana, tells us that her daughter recently called her from her job at the center, upset that she had been asked to read a script attacking Obama for being "dangerously weak on crime," "coddling criminals," and for voting against "protecting children from danger."

Williams' daughter told her that up to 40 of her co-workers had refused to read the script, and had left the call center after supervisors told them that they would have to either read the call or leave, Williams says. The call center is called Americall, and it's located in Hobart, IN.

"They walked out," Williams says of her daughter and her co-workers, adding that they weren't fired but willingly sacrificed pay rather than read the lines. "They were told [by supervisors], `If you all leave, you're not gonna get paid for the rest of the day."

The daughter, who wanted her name withheld fearing retribution from her employer, confirmed the story to us. "It was like at least 40 people," the daughter said. "People thought the script was nasty and they didn't wanna read it."

A second worker at the call center confirmed the episode, saying that "at least 30" workers had walked out after refusing to read the script.

"We were asked to read something saying [Obama and Democrats] were against protecting children from danger," this worker said. "I wouldn't do it. A lot of people left. They thought it was disgusting."

This worker, too, confirmed sacrificing pay to walk out, saying her supervisor told her: "If you don't wanna phone it you can just go home for the day."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hoax muggings by black men: Republican campaign workers enter the crazy zone

This hoax by a Republican campaign worker who alleged that a black man mugged her at an ATM and carved a "B" on her face has won Larvatus Prodeo's Agincourt Award for the Longest Bow in Journalism.

An amazing story, started by on The Drudge Report. Comments from Andrew Sullivan here. One surprise is that the mugger wasn't wearing a suit with a skinny tie, but he is in Hawaii this weekend.

Bail was set at $50,000 Friday night for a GOP campaign worker who made up a story about being attacked by a man angered by a John McCain bumper sticker on her car.

Ashley Todd, 20, of College Station, Texas, has been charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor, a police report said.

Todd, who is being held at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, did not enter a plea when she appeared in court Friday night. She did not post bail.

She is scheduled to appear in court again October 30, when she is expected to enter a plea.

If she posts bail, Todd must be evaluated at a behavioral clinic.

"This has wasted so much time. ... It's just a lot of wasted man hours," Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant said at a briefing.

Todd was a volunteer for a John McCain phone bank in Pittsburgh, the campaign said.

The woman told investigators a man approached her Wednesday night at an ATM in Pittsburgh's East End, put a blade to her neck and demanded money, said Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

Police said they found "several inconsistencies" in Todd's statement and she was not seen in surveillance videos taken at the ATM. She was asked to take a polygraph test Friday morning, Richard said. The results were not made public.

Later, Todd came to the police station to help work on a composite sketch of the alleged attacker. When she arrived, Todd "told them she just wanted to tell the truth" -- that she was not robbed, and there was no attacker, Bryant said.

Todd originally told police a man "punched her in the back of the head, knocking her to the ground, and he continued to punch and kick her while threatening to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter," according to a police statement.

The woman also told police her attacker "called her a lot of names and stated that 'You are going to be a Barack supporter,' at which time she states he sat on her chest, pinning both her hands down with his knees, and scratched into her face a backward letter 'B' on the right side of her face using what she believed to be a very dull knife."

Bryant described Todd as "very cordial, polite, cooperating," and said the woman was surprised by all the media attention. Asked whether the false report was politically motivated, Bryant replied, "It's difficult to say."

"She is stating that she was in her vehicle driving around, and she came up with this idea," she said. "She said she has prior mental problems and doesn't know how the backward letter 'B' got on her face."

However, Todd was the only one in the vehicle, and "when she saw the 'B' she thought she must have been the one who did it," Bryant said.

"We're talking with the district attorney's office and conferring on just how we're going to handle it," she said. "It's been different stories through the night and this morning."

She said there was no indication that anyone else was involved.

Richard said the woman had described her alleged attacker as an African-American, 6 feet 4 inches tall with a medium build and short dark hair, wearing dark clothing and shiny shoes.

Before the revelation that the report was false, McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said that McCain and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin "spoke to the victim and her family after learning about the incident."

The Obama campaign also had issued a statement wishing the woman a "speedy recovery."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rise of the Obamacons

This from The Economist. This trend was very much apparent when I was in the U.S., and John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as running mate and the nasty (and scatty) nature of the Republica campaign seems to have confirmed the trend of conservatives and libertarians shifting their support to Barack Obama.

IN “W.”, his biopic about his Yale classmate, Oliver Stone details Colin Powell’s agonies during George Bush’s first term. Throughout the film Mr Powell repeatedly raises doubts about the invasion of Iraq—and is repeatedly overruled by the ghoulish trio of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove. In one of the final scenes, with his direst warnings proving correct, Mr Powell turns to Mr Cheney and delivers a heartfelt “Fuck you”.

The real Colin Powell used more diplomatic language in endorsing Barack Obama on October 19th, but the impact was much the same. Mr Obama is a “transformational figure”, he mildly said, and his old friend John McCain had erred in choosing a neophyte as a running-mate. But you would have to be naive not to see the endorsement as a verdict on the Bush years.

Mr Powell is now a four-star general in America’s most surprising new army: the Obamacons. The army includes other big names such as Susan Eisenhower, Dwight’s granddaughter, who introduced Mr Obama at the Democratic National Convention and Christopher Buckley, the son of the conservative icon William Buckley, who complains that he has not left the Republican Party: the Republican Party has left him. Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska and one-time bosom buddy of Mr McCain has also flirted heavily with the movement, though he has refrained from issuing an official endorsement.

The biggest brigade in the Obamacon army consists of libertarians, furious with Mr Bush’s big-government conservatism, worried about his commitment to an open-ended “war on terror”, and disgusted by his cavalier way with civil rights. There are two competing “libertarians for Obama” web sites. CaféPress is even offering a “libertarian for Obama” lawn sign for $19.95. Larry Hunter, who helped to devise Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America in 1994, thinks that Mr Obama can free America from the grip of the “zombies” who now run the Republican Party.

But the army has many other brigades, too: repentant neocons such as Francis Fukuyama, legal scholars such as Douglas Kmiec, and conservative talk-show hosts such as Michael Smerconish. And it is picking up unexpected new recruits as the campaign approaches its denouement. Many disillusioned Republicans hoped that Mr McCain would provide a compass for a party that has lost its way, but now feel that the compass has gone haywire. Kenneth Adelman, who once described the invasion of Iraq as a “cakewalk”, decided this week to vote for Mr Obama mainly because he regards Sarah Palin as “not close to being acceptable in high office”.

The rise of the Obamacons is more than a reaction against Mr Bush’s remodelling of the Republican Party and Mr McCain’s desperation: there were plenty of disillusioned Republicans in 2004 who did not warm to John Kerry. It is also a positive verdict on Mr Obama. For many conservatives, Mr Obama embodies qualities that their party has abandoned: pragmatism, competence and respect for the head rather than the heart. Mr Obama’s calm and collected response to the turmoil on Wall Street contrasted sharply with Mr McCain’s grandstanding.

Much of Mr Obama’s rhetoric is strikingly conservative, even Reaganesque. He preaches the virtues of personal responsibility and family values, and practises them too. He talks in uplifting terms about the promise of American life. His story also appeals to conservatives: it holds the possibility of freeing America from its racial demons, proving that the country is a race-blind meritocracy and, in the process, bankrupting a race-grievance industry that has produced the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Farewell the Reagan Republicans

An interesting feature of the US Presidential election campaign has been the extent to which the 'Reagan coalition' has been falling apart, and how the Republican Party has lurched ever further to the far right. This is despite the fact that John McCain's best hope was to steer the party towards the centre and try and capture the large number of 'Clinton Democrats' who remained wary of Barack Obama until Sarah Palin appeared on the scene. It is also why conservatives are jumping ship en masse, with Colin Powell the most prominent recent example of what is becoming quite a long list.

This analysis from Forbes magazine - a conservative, pro-business media outlet, whose owner, Steve Forbes, twice ran for the Republican Party leadership - points to the longer term problems this is presenting for the Republican Party in the US. In pointing to the growing number of business leaders going the way of Obama and the Democrats, it had me wondering where Rupert Murdoch is politically now, and whether that has implications for the future of FOX News after 2009.

R.I.P. Reagan Revolution
Dan Gerstein 10.22.08, 12:01 AM ET

As a student of politics, I have been watching this campaign with one eye on the historic prospects of Barack Obama and one eye on the tenuous future of his Republican opponents.

I have been particularly fascinated by how the Republicans plan to begin rehabilitating the brand that President Bush and his allies have shredded over the last eight years, reconnect with their sunny Reagan roots and prepare themselves to compete again for the determinative center of the electorate.

Judging from the disturbing developments of the last two months, the verdict seems clear. Forget the self-reckoning and self-repairing--the Republicans seem intent on self-immolation. Indeed, instead of trying to work itself out of the deep electoral hole that Bush and company created, the GOP has apparently opted to apply the drill-baby-drill mantra to its own political fortunes--and, improbably, find ways to narrow the party's appeal to the swing voters they have done so much to alienate during the Bush era.

I'm not talking about what the hateful yahoos who are attending rallies for the Republican ticket are yelling (albeit after being egged on by a flurry of indefensible attacks by the McCain campaign and its surrogates). I'm talking about what Republican leaders and elected officials are actually saying and doing. All of which, taken together, suggests that the GOP of the moment is now far closer to being the party of Joe McCarthy than John McCain, and explains why Colin Powell and many other responsible Republicans are sending increasingly urgent distress signals over the sinking McCain ship.

We have seen the party that gave us Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan nominate a woman for vice president who could not answer an interviewer's relatively gentle question about what news sources she regularly reads. This is not a matter of class or gender, but rather seriousness and credibility, which Sarah Palin lost with many voters who were willing to give her a fair shake the minute she claimed that seeing Russia from her state was a foreign policy credential.

We have seen Palin go on to falsely accuse her Democratic opponent of "palling around with terrorists." The most outrageous thing about this assertion is not the gross exaggeration of Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, but the shameful, purposeful use of the plural: "terrorists." These are the kinds of loony accusations we are used to hearing from members of the ultraconservative John Birch Society, not running mates of John McCain.

We have seen one of McCain's campaign co-chairman, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, use the racially loaded term "guy of the street" to try to paint Obama as extreme to white America. This about a black man who grew up in the suburbs of Hawaii, graduated from Columbia University, was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, taught constitutional law for 12 years and was attacked as an elitist by Republicans for talking about the price of arugula in Iowa? He is about as "street" as the late William F. Buckley, Jr.

Just last Friday, we saw a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann, explicitly attack Obama and his wife as "anti-American" and call on the media to investigate members of Congress to "find out if they are pro-America or anti-America." Then Palin repeated this patriotism-questioning line at a rally in North Carolina, saying she was glad to be in a part of the country that was "pro-America." One has to wonder what made these women think that this was acceptable in the United States of 2008?

And most recently, as if the overt hints of McCarthyism were not enough, McCain and his allies are now openly calling Obama a socialist because he wants to raise the top tax brackets back to their Clinton-era levels (when the country enjoyed the greatest peacetime expansion in our history) and provide a cut in the payroll tax to middle class workers.

For more see here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama's cool campaign

There are two weeks until the U.S. Presidential election votes occur, but the Presidential debates are over, and the odds of a win for Barack Obama are shortening by the day. Moreover, it appears very likely that the Democrats will increase their House majority and get a majority in the Senate, so Obama will most likely govern with a very supportive Congress for his first term as President.

It struck me while watching the third Presidential debate that a part of Obama's success over John McCain in the campaign can be attributed to what Marshall McLuhan would have termed a "cool" campaign. McLuhan described 'cool' media as 'low definition', and therefore 'high in participation or completion by the audience'. Obama has run a campaign that has been rich in suggestive metaphors ('Change', 'Main Street not Wall Street'), with much of the detail left open until after the election. This has allowed the very diverse constituencies in the U.S. electorate to project various hopes upon an Obama Presidency.

2008 may always have doomed as a winning year for the Democrats but, to use McLuhan's metaphors further, John McCain's 'hot' campaign has not been the way to dislodge Obama's 'cool' campaign. McCain consistently came across as aggressive ('hot and bothered') during the debates, and was criticised for the lack of detail about his policies, not necessarily because Obama has more detailed policies, but because McCain consistently brings the campaign back to himself.

His vastly overplayed 'suspension' of his campaign at the time of the Congress vote on the $700 billion bailout package exemplified this. Whereas Obama simply returned to Washington to vote, McCain declared that he could solve the problem - when he didn't, it made him look ineffectual, even though Obama had no more apparent effect either. Making Sarah Palin his Vice-President only added further fuel to an already hot McCain campaign, whereas Joe Biden has reinforced Obama's cool campaign by drawing little attention to himelf while coming across as competent.

There is the danger with using the term 'cool' about an African-American candidate that you are using stereotypes. I don't think so in this case, not least bacause Obama's 'cool' campaign contrasts to the 'hot' style of African-American community leaders such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and, yes, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The endorsement of Colin Powell of Obama as a candidate who is both capable and tranformational has been the icing on the cherry for Braack Obama's campaign. While there had long been rumours that Powell would endorse Obama, not least because of how he was shafted by the Bush forces over Iraq when he was Secretary of State, the photos that appeared last week from the Africa Rising event in London suggested that he was personally moving from the starched shirt, white bread world of the U.S. Republican Party.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Patchwork Nation

I'm not usually a reader of the Christian Science Monitor, but they have developed a really interesting angle on the 2008 U.S. election through the 'Patchwork Nation' site. What it does is divide up the various counties and populations of the United States into 11 categories, and have a person blog about how the campaign is being viewed in a city or county that is representative of the whole.

The eleven categories, which have roughly proportionate shares of the U.S. population, are:

  1. Minority Central;
  2. Service Worker Centre;
  3. Monied 'Burbs;
  4. Industrial metropolis;
  5. Emptying Nests;
  6. Boom Towns;
  7. Tractor Country;
  8. Military Bastions;
  9. Immigrant Nation;
  10. Campus and Careers;
  11. Evangelical Epicentres.
Project director Dante Chinni explains the project here.

Users can check where they sit by entering their own postcode, and can take a survey to see how they match up with others in the community type.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Will Morgan Stanley go under?

Is the Morgan Stanley investment bank the next one threatened with bankruptcy? Bets are being taken on this. And what does this mean for the new wave of guarantees announced by the G7 on Saturday?

From The Guardian:

The collapse in Morgan Stanley's shares late last week has led to a wave of bets being taken on the blue-chip investment bank failing to meet its financial obligations. Investors fear that the bank's debt would return only a fraction of its face value in the event of a bankruptcy filing and are pushing up the cost of insuring its bonds against default.

The annual cost of insuring $10m (£5.8m) Morgan Stanley senior bonds against default rose on Friday to $2.8m, up from a price of $1.9m on Thursday. Such an insurance contract, known as a credit default swap (CDS), can now only be purchased in relation to Morgan Stanley when payment is provided upfront — further indication of the precariousness of the bank's perceived solvency prospects.

The 47% jump in the price of credit protection — mirrored on Friday by a 22% slump in Morgan Stanley's share price — came as the complex unwinding process for CDSs linked to failed US rival Lehman Brothers provided further cause for concern.

The payout price for those financial firms that sold insurance, sometimes called "protection", on Lehman credit was set on Friday night at 91.4 cents in the dollar — much higher than market expectations.

Meanwhile, Morgan Stanley is not the only big-name institution that is on the critical list in the credit derivatives market. There are now 135 companies where protection can only be bought on payment upfront, according to price data firm Markit. This compares with a previous peak of 67 in March, suggesting the number of large corporations on the brink of collapse has more than doubled.

Milne Watch 3

I note that Kim from Larvatus Prodeo has beaten me to the keyboard on this, but Glenn Milne has produced an inane channeling of Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne that is complete guff even by his standards.

Under the misleading title 'New Class Warfare', Milne has hoisted Pyne onto some form of 'pantheon' he has constructed (of what, shadow ministers?), and some form of 'ascension' (to what is unclear, except to the Shadow Ministry). Milne has basically reproduced what Christopher Pyne will say in Parliament this week about the Federal Government's new Education bill under the spurious guise of an analysis of schools policy:

this amounts to a realisation: that it was Rudd's successful subterfuge of political values that led directly to his victory in November 2007. The Coalition to date has allowed itself to be mugged by the proposition that Rudd is John Howard lite, without putting up a decent fight to the contrary. And it is Christopher Pyne who lighted on to this proposition first.

Pyne, one of Turnbull's key leadership backers, has now been promoted into the frontline education portfolio and it is Julia Gillard, his opposite, whom he now has in his sights. Pyne has finally assumed his rightful position at the epicentre of the Opposition, a role that was bloodymindedly denied him by Howard for two reasons: he was a Liberal progressive and he was a supporter of Peter Costello. It was enough to generate such negative personal energy from Howard that he continually blocked Pyne's promotion in what turned out to be part of an act of self-destruction.

Pyne is now where he wants to be in the Liberal pantheon and, more critically, where Turnbull wants him to be. If Pyne gets his way, Gillard is about to be the first to have to come to grips with his ascension by way of her introduction this week into the parliament of the Schools Assistance Bill 2008, the new quadrennial funding legislation for the private and state school systems.

To give Mine some credit, he admits in the column that he has basically reproduced what Chris Pyne told him and passed it off as an op-ed piece for The Australian:

One quick postscript: much of the research work on this issue was done by the former Opposition education spokesman, Tony Smith. Smith voted for Brendan Nelson in the recent leadership ballot and went to the outer ministry. He still handed over his homework to Pyne, a Turnbull numbers man.

That constitutes a message and it is this. Memo to Kevin Rudd: these guys think they can win. And they will now do whatever it takes to do so.

Memo to readers of The Australian. If you want to see the Media Releases of Coalition Shadow Ministers, you can get them off the Web without having them passed off as the 'analysis' of Glenn Milne. And you can get them without words such as 'pantheon' and 'ascension'.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Guitar Hero Aerosmith

The Economist reveals that Aerosmith have made more money from 'Guitar Hero Aerosmith' than they have from any of their records. Even Pump and Permanent Vacation. Now I want to know about that Aerosmith ride at Disneyworld, which I went on once.

AS THE music industry searches for a new model in the age of digital distribution and internet piracy, it is getting a helping hand from an unexpected quarter: video games such as “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band”, which let people play along to songs on simplified imitation instruments. “These games are revitalising the industry,” says Aram Sinnreich, an industry expert at New York University. “They’re helping as both a revenue and an advertising platform.”

The main impact of the games is to provide exposure. Inclusion of their music in these popular games has allowed previously obscure bands to achieve international fame, and veteran musicians to blast the ears of a new generation. According to Activision Blizzard, the video-game giant behind “Guitar Hero III”, bands whose songs are included in the game can expect online sales of their music to increase by an average of 300% as a result. “We’re definitely in demand—we’re constantly being pitched by artists and management,” says Paul DeGooyer, senior vice-president of games and music at MTV, which publishes “Rock Band”. As well as increasing sales, having a song in his game also boosts a band’s overall fame and popularity. “We’re providing a new outlet for people to experience music,” he says.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

American 'Kath and Kim' scores with critics

Molly Shannon and Selma Blair are two hoots worth a happy holler in NBC's "Kath & Kim," a cleverly funny sitcom debuting tonight after scoring a smash with a different cast in Australia. The show has been painlessly Americanized and might as well be an indigenous creation, armed as it is with wicked, wacky comment on the mores and morals of the mall culture.

The principal theme is Americans' pathological fear of growing old -- not the logical dread of facing retirement during an economic apocalypse, but a deep, crazy dread that goes back further, perhaps to the baby boomers and their veneration of youth as the sweetest of all virtues.

Shannon plays Kath, the divorced mother of Kim, a teenager with pathetically cut-rate values. Kim's recent marriage to the lovably clueless Craig (Mikey Day) is breaking up over such issues as her inability to cook dinner, even when it involves popping a plastic platter into the microwave. "We can't go to Applebee's every night, Kim," Craig beseeches her. "We are not millionaires!"

Although that line was quoted in the promos, it seems fresh again when it pops up in context, probably because the context is full of painfully recognizable leopard-print truths. As Kath, Shannon is obsessed with firming her glutes and thinning her thighs -- continuing to exercise even when other activities claim her time. She tries to put the kibosh on her daughter's plans to move back in with Mom, especially since Kim's room has been turned into a gym.

It's not that Kath wants to be alone. Kath is a walking "loser magnet," according to her daughter, yet has landed a bubbly Mr. Swell named Phil (John Michael Higgins) -- formerly Big Phil until he lost 200 pounds. He also gained great success as the owner of Phil's Sandwich Island (where the menu includes the Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ham special). Phil greets Kath with a flattering "Hey there, hot stuff" and, introduced to a skeptical Kim, grandly declares: "It's a pleasure to meet the lovely daughter of the lady who rocks my world."

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Kath and Phil are a compatible couple, and a subtly poignant one, too, in their sorry striving to be cool and their steadfast state of denial. They won't acknowledge their ages, much less act them; thus do they end up, in the second episode, dancing up a storm for drag queens and couples in a gay bar called Maneaters. The three transvestites who counsel and commiserate with Kath are so touching and funny that they deserve to be series regulars.

There's something swift and straightforward about the comedy. Its only structural oddity is its occasional alternating voice-overs, during which we hear Kath and Kim's innermost thoughts -- thoughts that are hardly among the most "inner" you've ever heard. If mother and daughter aren't smart, neither are they malicious; if they're thick-headed, at least they're not cold-hearted, not even in how they misguidedly drink a toast to global warming. Yes, this heating-up might burn up polar bears, they agree, but it is good for their tans.

Shannon is one of the great female comic finds of "Saturday Night Live's" third decade (another, Tina Fey, will do more of her Palin playin' in an "SNL" election special an hour after the sitcom tonight). Shannon has gleefully hopped from movie to movie, making mountains from the molehills of tiny parts -- stealing scenes in such comedies as the stunningly funny "Talladega Nights." Blair, who has a long list of credits, might be best remembered as a virginal victim of "Cruel Intentions."

Higgins -- who played David Letterman in the HBO version of Bill Carter's book "The Late Shift" -- is perfect as Phil. As superbly superior as Shannon is (a comparison to Lucille Ball, while inevitable, would not be overreaching), the whole cast shines, and not just in refracted glory. "Kath & Kim" is a frantically tacky fracas.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Its the economy what done it

US Presidential election trend polling data from Nate Silver's five-thirty-eight site. The spike in Obama's support coincides with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Unless there is something really hidden in the American voter psyche, this is starting to look like a win to Obama on a significant scale.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Are Christian voters shifting in the U.S.?

When I was in the U.S. in 2008, there was considerable talk about whether the 40-year tendency for Christians to vote Republican in a significant majority was shifting. Barack Obama's campaign had put particular energy into reaching out to faith communities, and there was a sense that younger Christians were less motivated by the traditional 'hot-button' issues of evangelical Christians such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Evidence is starting to come in that such a shift is taking place. This story reports on the recent findings of the Faith in Public Life group:

The Democratic Party’s outreach to young people and to people of faith seems to be paying off.

A new survey on faith and American politics shows Democratic nominee Barack Obama making inroads among some believers and moving ahead of Republican John McCain among Roman Catholics, largely because of young Catholics’ support.

In the biggest shift over the past four years, Senator Obama now wins the backing of 60 percent of voters who attend religious services once or twice a month, a jump from the 49 percent the Democratic nominee won in 2004.

Senator McCain holds the advantage only among the highly religious who attend once or more a week. Moreover, more Americans say Obama is more friendly to religion than is McCain (49 to 46 percent), an image booster for a party long seen as not particularly faith-friendly.

The survey titled “The Young and the Faithful” was released Wednesday by Faith in Public Life and was conducted by Public Religion Research (PRR). It involved interviews with a representative sample of 2,000 Americans and an oversample of 1,250 young people ages 18 to 34.

As the first close look at the political views of young people during the 2008 campaign, the survey confirms their focus on a broader agenda and reveals a generation gap on several issues.

“Younger Americans, including young Americans of faith, are not the culture-war generation,” says Robert Jones, president of PRR. “There is a kind of cosmopolitan worldview.”

For instance, young adults are more open to religious diversity and cooperation, they are less likely to say that one has to believe in God to be moral, and they believe good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to promote peace, says Dr. Jones.

The generation gap is striking in several areas. Young voters are much more inclined to support a larger government that provides more services (57 percent versus 45 percent of the overall population). That’s true within every faith tradition, but young Catholics stand out as the most pro-government constituency of all (67 percent favor more government services).

Young adults support government involvement most in regard to helping the poor and the environment. But Catholics and Evangelicals also favor a government role in “protecting morality.”

At the same time, young adults show greater support for keeping abortion legal than do Americans overall (58 to 50 percent). Catholics and white Evangelicals differ here, however, with 60 percent of young Catholics backing legal abortion and 67 percent of Evangelicals opposed. Yet two-thirds of young Evangelicals say they’d consider voting for a candidate who disagrees with them on abortion.

On the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, the generation gap is great and growing. Forty-six percent of young people support the right of gays to marry, and an additional 22 percent back civil unions. Among the overall population the figures are 29 and 28 percent, respectively. Younger white Evangelicals are 2.5 times more likely to support same-sex marriage than are white evanglicals as a whole.

Overall, Americans young and old ranked abortion and same-sex marriage at the bottom of their list of issues most important to their vote, with the economy, energy, and healthcare at the top.

Given these perspectives, there is perhaps little surprise that Obama has a 24-percentage-point advantage among young adults, leading McCain by 59 to 35 percent. Among first-time voters, he holds a commanding lead of 71 percent to 23 percent.

“Younger believers – including Catholics and white evangelicals – are significantly more supportive of bigger government and expanding diplomatic efforts abroad,” says D. Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston. “It may very well be that in this election, the conventional wisdom about ‘values voters’ – who they are and what they want – gets turned on its head.”

Despite the young Evangelicals’ broader agenda and the fact that only 49 percent call themselves conservative, they remain the one group of young adults not showing strong support for Obama. In fact, McCain leads among young white Evangelicals 65 percent to 29 percent.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What's really up with the US economy

Robert Reich (Secretary of State for Labour in the Clinton administration) has provided a succinct analysis of the root causes of the current crisis of the US economy:

The Mother of All Bailouts may be necessary to unfreeze our capital markets, but it won't unfreeze the American economy.

Bailout or no bailout, we're heading into deep recession. One of the first initiatives that Congress and the next administration will need to take will be an economic stimulus package. But not even this will remedy the underlying problem: The earnings of most Americans haven't kept up with the cost of living. That means there's not enough purchasing power to keep the economy going.

Adjusted for inflation, the incomes of nongovernment workers are lower today than in 2000. They're barely higher than they were in the mid-1970s. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago.

Per-person productivity has grown considerably over the past three decades and has continued to rise even in the lackluster recovery of this decade.

But most Americans haven't reaped the benefits of these productivity gains. The benefits have gone largely to the top.

The top 1 percent of American earners now take home about 20 percent of total national income. In 1980, the top 1 percent took home just 8 percent. Inequality on this scale is bad for many reasons, but it is also bad for the economy.

The wealthy devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they're rich and already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, the very wealthy are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The last time the top 1 percent took home 20 percent of total income was 1928. After that, the economy caved in.

The underlying earnings problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found means to live beyond their paychecks. The first coping mechanism was to send more women into paid work. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970, to more than 70 percent. But there's a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

So Americans turned to a second coping mechanism - working more hours. Americans have became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

But there's also a limit to how many hours Americans can work. So we turned to a third way of coping. We began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster this decade, we turned our homes into piggy banks.

But now, with the bursting of the housing bubble, we're reaching the end of our ability to borrow, just as lenders have reached the end of their capacity to lend.

That means there's not enough purchasing power in the economy to buy all the goods and services it's producing. We're finally reaping the whirlwind of widening inequality and ever more concentrated wealth.

The only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the real earnings of middle- and lower-middle-class Americans.

The answer isn't to protect jobs through trade protection. That would only drive up the prices of everything purchased from abroad. Most routine jobs are being automated anyway.

Nor is it to give tax breaks to the very wealthy and to giant corporations in the hope they will trickle down to everyone else. We've tried that and it hasn't worked. Nothing trickled down.

The long-term answer is for America to invest in the productivity of our working people - enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education, while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean-energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state and local levels.

Call it bottom-up economics.

It would be a sad irony if the Wall Street bailout robs us of the resources we need to invest in average Americans and rebuild America from the bottom up.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Trouble on the citizen journalism front

Readers of this blog would know that the emerging area of citizen journalism has been an ongoing interest of mine. The ARC Linkage grant that I have been involved in, with partners including SBS, On Line Opinion and Cisco Systems, developed the youdecide2007 site around the 2007 Australian Federal election. My colleagues Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson and Barry Saunders have also been reporting on citizen journalism initiatives on the Gatewatching site housed at ABC Online.

It is interesting to note this story about problems faced by CNN with its iReport user-generated news site, and its role in the spreading of false rumours of Steve Jobs' death that led to a sharp fall in Apple's share price on Friday October 3.

An iReport story posted by a "Johntw" at around 9 a.m. EDT with the headline "Steve Jobs rushed to ER following severe heart attack" entered the Internet rumor mill, landing on news site Digg.com and spawning dozens of nervous postings on micro-blogging site Twitter.com. By 9:25 am, the widely read online magazine Silicon Alley Insider had picked up the item.

Apple stock dropped with incredible speed on the strength of the rumor. The company's shares fell to $95.41 from $105.27 between 9:40 and 9:52 a.m. - 9 percent - before Apple denied the report. After describing the content as fraudulent, CNN confirmed Friday that a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation is under way in regard to the "citizen blogger" post, which caused a $9 billion loss in Apple shares before the post was debunked. The posting on iReport was "not vetted or reported by CNN journalists," according to a CNN statement.

The Jobs incident was the second time in a week that mainstream media organizations have been embarrassed by their online citizen journalism arms - sparking debate about the accuracy of reports from these Web sites and showing how it takes only a few minutes for a scurrilous rumor, placed on a site without sufficient editorial checks, to inflict damage.

Citizen journalism arises at the intersection of the new possibilities for participation from the Internet, the scope for citizen reporters to generate new stories and new angles on news, and the financial cries of traditional news media outlets that are leading to a lashing of costs in nws rooms throughout the world:

As interactivity and openness have become prized qualities in the new media landscape - and as traditional reporting jobs have been eliminated due to dwindling budgets - print, online and television news organizations have rushed to feature user-generated content. In addition to CBS and CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press have iPhone applications that allow users to submit images.

Over the past year, citizen journalists have been praised for breaking news and providing real-time documentation of major events. Blogger Mayhill Fowler, for instance, contributing to the political citizen journalism project Off the Bus, made headlines when she recorded an April speech by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in which he told a San Francisco audience that "bitter" small-town Americans "cling to guns or religion."

CNN started iReport in August 2006 as part of its online news operation, and initially every submission was vetted by a CNN producer before it appeared online or on television. The "game changer" moment, according to CNN spokeswoman Jennifer Martin, came in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, when the network got cell phone video footage from a student who witnessed the shooting.

Traffic on iReport surged, and CNN decided to make iReport an independent site. CNN employs a moderation company but does not fact-check items - mostly, it is the job of iReport users themselves to weed out erroneous or inappropriate material. Only the submissions that go on the CNN Web site or cable channel are seen by CNN staff. Martin said no changes would be made to iReport because of the Jobs incident.

"It's an extremely important community to us," she said, noting that in September the site received 21,000 submissions.

As Jason Wilson and I noted in our recent paper on citizen journalism, the idea that it is a low-cost (or indeed no-cost) way of getting 'scoops' from the general public ignores the four types of work that are critical to new forms of networked journalism:
  1. Content work
  2. Networking
  3. Community work
  4. Tech-work

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Watch California

As we go into the next phase of the financial crisis after the $840 billion bailout package was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on 3 October, a few hints are emerging that one place to watch is California. The state has been struggling financially for some months with a deadlock on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget only just being resolevd, and it is the epicentre of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and house repossessions.

This story from MSNBC suggests that it may have troubles paying it state employees this month (picked up originally from Dollars and Sense):

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California's top finance officials reacted cautiously Friday to congressional approval of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package.

They have been worried that the credit market will hurt the state's ability to get short-term loans to cover basic operating expenses, a step California takes each fall until the bulk of its tax revenue arrives in the spring.

Even with the bailout plan passing, Schwarzenegger predicted a difficult path ahead in the financial markets.

"California's not out of the woods yet," he said during a news conference in San Diego, noting that California soon will begin seeking loans on the open market. "It will be difficult. We will be going through challenges in the future."

He said he would convene a meeting on Wednesday with the four legislative leaders to discuss the state's financial situation.

While California seeks short-term loans every year, the situation is especially precarious this year because the nation's credit market has seized up under the strains of the housing-related economic meltdown and because state lawmakers delayed passing a budget for nearly three months.

The record-long budget impasse prevented the state from going to the bond market sooner.

On Thursday, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asking the federal government to protect California if the state is unable to secure financing for routine borrowing.

"Absent a clear resolution to this financial crisis that restores confidence and liquidity to the credit markets, California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations and may be forced to turn to the Federal Treasury for short-term financing," Schwarzenegger wrote.

A spokesman for the state treasurer's office said pursuing a federal loan is just one option if the credit markets do not respond as Paulson predicted. California also will seek private loans within the next few weeks, spokesman Tom Dresslar said.

Unless it can secure those loans, the state is expected to run out of cash Oct. 29.

Earlier this week, the controller's office said California will need to borrow $7 billion to pay its expenses throughout the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"We hope that (the bailout plan) will be sufficient to loosen the tight credit market so that the treasurer can issue the $7 billion we need," said Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for the state controller.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Economists rate the US Presidential candidates

The Economist has published the outcomes of a survey of 142 US academic economists assessing the economic policies of John McCain and Barack Obama. Completed prior to the current financial meltdown, the survey shows a clear preference for Obama's economic program.

While there is some sampling bias as more respondents self-identified as Democrats than as Republicans, there is also a strong sense that McCain is most likely to pursue the discredited policies of the Bush years.

There is an apparent contradiction between most economists’ support for free trade, low taxes and less intervention in the market and the low marks many give to Mr McCain, who is generally more supportive of those things than Mr Obama. It probably reflects a perception that the Republican Party under George Bush has subverted many of those ideals for ideology and political gain. Indeed, the majority of respondents rate Mr Bush’s economic record as very bad, and Republican respondents are only slightly less critical.

“John McCain has professed disdain for ‘so-called economists’, and for some the feeling has become mutual,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. “Obama’s team is mainstream and non-ideological but extremely talented.”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live Blogging at IGNITE '08

I am at the IGNITE '08 postgraduate conference being held for Creative Industries students at QUT.

Debra Adams has completed her presentation on citizen journalism. Key points in the Q&A were:
  • are citizen journalists more biased than professional journalists in their presentation of information? - maybe, depends on what you mean by bias
  • are Australian newsrooms more closed to participation than those in Britain (my question) - yes, but it is also the case that the BBC is quite a different type of news media entity to News Corp
  • how to you gauge a concept such as 'political disengagement', and how would you determine whether new forms of news media make a difference?
Bonnie Liu is presenting on independent TV companies in China. She is discussing imitation and cloning, and the question of whether genuine program innovation will occur in Chinese television. Media clusters are being proposed as an option, particularly in Beijing, with the relationship between CCTV, Beijing TV and the Communication University of China.