Friday, October 31, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Call to Family, Community, and Participation

This post is the sixth in a continuing examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the earlier posts in this series to see where I'm coming from:
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
The family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, is the fundamental unit of society... Supporting families should be a priority for economic and social policies.

I'm dealing with these seven themes in reverse order of how they are generally presented in Church literature. That means that this sixth topic is the second most important theme of Catholic social teaching, which frankly I find incredible. Is defining marriage as between a man and a woman really more important than eliminating poverty, stopping unjust wars, or caring for the poor? Even the last post, Rights and Responsibilities, talks about food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing. You're telling me that heterosexual marriage is more important than that?

Don't get me wrong. Families are important to society -- any society. But is defining what a family looks like more important than feeding and protecting that family? I don't buy it. But because we've come this far already, I'll dive in anyway.

McCain

McCain lists family issues in the "Economy" and "Human Dignity & Life" sections of his website. The subsection under his economic page is called "Immediate Relief for American Families" and discusses gas and food prices, his mortgage buyout plan, and expanding the lender-of-last resort options for student higher education loans to keep the credit crunch from affecting people's ability to receive loans for school.

His plan to lower gas prices is almost comical: "telling oil producing countries and oil speculators that our dependence on foreign oil will come to an end - and the impact will be lower prices at the pump." I can imagine how that will go:

US: Hi, um, OPEC? We aren't going to be dependent on you anymore.

OPEC: Sure, whatever. You buy more oil from Canada than us anyway, but that's fine.

US: No, really. We're going to stop buying so much oil from you, so you'll have to lower prices.

OPEC: Right. You see, the thing is, China and India will more than make up for any consumption you stop, so the market will keep prices where we think they should be. And if prices go down, you'll just drive more again anyway. And guess what happens to prices when consumption goes back up?

US: Oh yeah? Well, we'll screw up the global economy so the price of oil tanks on its own then. How you like them apples?

OPEC: Nuts. I guess we'll have to cut production to drive market prices back up.

US: Crap. Drill, baby. Drill!

Maybe it wouldn't be quite like that, but it's amazing to me to think that simply telling people that we'll cut back on foreign oil would affect global prices. And once again the McCain camp is being delusional in thinking that we have enough domestic capacity to really cut out foreign suppliers. (See my post, Where's the Oil, in the September archives.)

He then goes on to say that his policies (he's not clear on which ones specifically) will cause the value of the dollar to rise, increasing our purchasing power for oil. But wait a minute -- didn't you just say we weren't going to be dependent upon foreign oil any more? So then it wouldn't matter what the price of international oil was, right? Do I need to do another hypothetical conversation? Because I will. It was kind of fun.

McCain's other brilliant plan - that I can't believe is even still on his website - is a summer gas tax holiday. Never mind even his own economists said it was a bad idea. And never mind summer is gone.

He then discusses repealing a tax on imported sugar-based ethanol to increase competition and lower pump prices. Great. We'll stop buying oil from OPEC and instead buy ethanol from Brazil! Granted I'd probably rather send our money to Brazil (and sugar-based ethanol is generally a lot better than corn-based ethanol), but I thought we weren't going to be dependent on foreigners for our energy needs anymore.

Lastly, the only nod to food prices is to kill corn-based ethanol subsidies, which actually might help lower food prices (and help the Brazilians sell us their sugar-based ethanol).

Anyway, this is a bizarre part of his website, and frankly while I don't think the Church would object to any of this, I don't think they'd go out of their way to endorse it, either.

I discussed McCain's mortgage plan in an earlier post, so I won't go into it again here. To recap, it's a revival of a New Deal plan FDR implemented during the Great Depression. Socialism, baby! (Sorry. It's late.)

Now we move on to what I really think the church means when it discusses supporting families: gay marriage. McCain starts out his "Protecting Marriage" section with a discussion about how he will nominate judges who won't legislate from the bench. (That's code for "they won't legislate in ways we don't like, but it's fine if they legislate conservative values.") But his point is clear: if you are a gay couple and you want to get married, there had better be a state statute allowing it, because we won't let judges decide that gay marriage is an implied right.

He then goes on to say, and I wish I were kidding, that "the family represents the foundation of Western Civilization and civil society." Really? Western Civilization? Those heathens and infidels in the Middle and Far East can just suck it. They know nothing about marriage, or civil society for that matter. Never mind that they were the cultures preserving human knowledge in the middle ages while Western society was dumping their chamber pots in the street, fighting with each other, and letting millions die because of a lack of basic sanitation principles that had been practiced since before the Romans were in control. But I digress.

He goes on to say that marriage between one man and one woman (what, is he implying there's a bunch of polygamists in this country?) is the only "definition that sufficiently recognizes the vital and unique role played by mothers and fathers in the raising of children, and the role of the family in shaping, stabilizing, and strengthening communities and our nation." I happen to know a bit about fatherhood and the importance of male role models in children's lives, and I won't argue his main point here. But I will argue that there are more viable options than just "one man and one woman." Nevertheless, this is a stance that the Church approves of, so he earns a point here.

Obama

Obama's plan to strengthen families focuses on practical plans from several areas: cutting taxes, creating living wages, expanding workplace flexibility and the FMLA, reforming education, providing healthcare, protecting home ownership, protecting at-risk families, and creating secure retirement options.

In a nutshell, here's what his plan does (from his website):
  1. Barack Obama will provide a "Making Work Pay" tax cut for America's working families: Obama and Biden will restore fairness to the tax code and 95 percent of workers the tax relief they need. They will create a new "Making Work Pay" tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family.
  2. Strengthen fatherhood and families: Obama and Biden will work to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts.
  3. Restore Work-Family Balance: Obama and Biden will double funding for after-school programs, expand the Family Medical Leave Act, provide low-income families with a refundable tax credit to help with their child-care expenses, and encourage flexible work schedules.
I've discussed or linked to discussions on most of these topics in previous posts, so I won't rehash those areas here. Special notice should be given to his plans to "strengthen families" by supporting fathers, cracking down on deadbeat dads, and supporting domestic violence prevention efforts. Furthermore, he would also expand programs that provide home visits by trained nurses to low-income expectant and new mothers and their families to help with pre- and postnatal care and support. I think the Church would be pleased with all of those plans.

Obama does not specifically mention on his website that marriage needs to be defined in any particular terms. Why limit or exclude when there are so many opportunities to build families up? Fear not, traditionalists: Obama and Biden have both said they do not support gay marriage. But I suspect you won't easily ram any legislation down their throats that curtails anyone's rights.

In the end, McCain's policies play to his conservative base while offering few real social benefits. Obama takes the opposite approach and, rather than limiting himself, proposes practical plans to lift all families up. Since neither candidate ultimately supports gay marriage, this category goes to Obama for offering so many other family-strengthening ideas.

Scorecard:
Obama: 6
McCain: 0

I should point out here that, since my system is awarding points all or nothing for each category (kind of like the winner-take-all Electoral College system in most states), it's not looking too good for McCain. That certainly doesn't mean that McCain's candidacy is devoid of any qualities the Church would find redeeming. If I were awarding points for all of the issues within each theme, he'd be better off. But since the election itself is winner-take-all, I'm going to stick with this scoring system. Quite frankly, however, even if I did award points by issue and not by theme, Obama would still be comfortably ahead in my book.

Next up: The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Rights and Responsibilities

This post is the fifth in a continuing examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the earlier posts in this series to see where I'm coming from:
Rights and Responsibilities
Every human being has a right to life, the fundamental right that makes all other rights possible. Each of us has a right to religious freedom, which enables us to live and act in accord with our God-given dignity, as well as a right to access to those things required for human decency - food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing.

I sense that I'll be rehashing some of the topics I've discussed in previous posts, but there are a few new items to cover, or maybe look at from a different angle, I suppose.

McCain

We discussed his views on the right to life (incorporating abortion and stem cell research but not euthanasia since I couldn't find his position on that) in the last post, and we'll go into that topic again in more detail in a future post (only one more to go before we get there, for those of you waiting). To recap: thumbs up from the Church for his views on abortion, and maybe a sideways thumb for stem cell research since he's not against it but would specifically prohibit using human embryos for research.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with his main goal simply being the overturning of Roe v. Wade. First of all, I'm not sure it will happen. Second, if it does happen, what next? McCain has no plans for bolstering support for pregnant women and babies (religious and non-profits are already struggling to provide that support now). And his economic and healthcare policies would make life even harder for the poor, who already have a disproportionate number of abortions. Opinionstreams.com put it much better than I can in the excellent piece The Conservative Christian Case for Supporting Obama. Not that I call myself a "conservative" in most circles, but Rob J really nailed this.

Food and shelter? Well, I didn't find much on either of the candidate's sites. The only thing I came across on McCain's site was a blurb about rolling back corn-based ethanol mandates that have contributed to a rise in food prices. (I'm pretty sure he bowed to the corn gods a bit in a recent speech in Iowa, however, so we'll have to wait and see what he does if he's president.)

Housing is the last topic in this section, so I'll group shelter in with that later in this post. In the meantime, the previous post discussed McCain's education policy. Recap: most likely a thumbs up from the Church. Personally I liked his pre-K plans, was unsure of his elementary plans, and felt his higher education plans could go further. Nothing that wouldn't gain the Church's approval, though.

We talked about employment in the post Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. I was unimpressed with his lack of any real discussion about strengthening our workforce, creating jobs, or creating a living wage. I think the Church would also find McCain lacking in this area.

Healthcare is probably the biggest topic in this section. I did a post back in August (that can now be found in the August archives) called "Healthcare's Partisan Divide" that references a non-partisan report comparing the health plans proposed by McCain and Obama. I'd still recommend that you check that out. The Washington Post recently did a series called "How They Would Change Health Care." Read the McCain version for a look at the part of his plan for providing high-risk coverage. Finally, there's a detailed, well-researched post at opinionstreams.com about both candidate's plans.

I don't think I could offer any more analysis than those links could give you, so I'll wrap up this part by saying some reports I've read predict the McCain plan would cause many businesses to drop their coverage, forcing workers to go out on the open market for individual policies. Those tend to be more expensive than group coverage, so the $5000 tax credit McCain is offering may not be enough to offset insurance costs. And in a few years, as healthcare costs rise faster than inflation, the tax credit won't keep up and more people will find themselves spending more on insurance - or uninsured. I'm honestly not sure how the Church would weigh in here, although in general I think they'd be strongly opposed to any plan that would result in millions of people losing coverage or having to pay more than they already do to maintain coverage.

For housing, McCain's proposal has gotten a lot of press: buy up bad mortgages and allow homeowners to renegotiate to more reasonable terms that better reflect the current value of their homes. It's close to a policy from FDR's New Deal and would arguably be more fair than only bailing out the banks that speculated on sub-prime mortgages. But I can't help but think it was a belief in deregulation like McCain has held throughout his career that got us into this mess to begin with. (And isn't using taxpayer money to buy bad mortgages a form of wealth distribution?) In any case, the Church would probably approve of helping people out.

Obama

Again, a previous post discussed Obama's views on abortion and stem cell research (like McCain, I could find no information on his thoughts about euthanasia). Recap: Obama is pro-choice and would definitely get a thumbs down from the Church on his support for Roe vs. Wade and family planning. However, I believe his policy of promoting age-appropriate sex education, as well as his economic and healthcare plans, would raise awareness as well as standards of living, reducing abortions in the process. Again, The Conservative Christian Case for Supporting Obama at opinionstreams.com covers this (and other issues) better than I possibly could.

I couldn't find anything about food on Obama's site at all. The closest I got was his section on Rural areas that discusses his plans to help family farms. Establishing country of origin labeling and encouraging organic and local agriculture are probably the two issues that most Americans will be affected by directly (or at least most visibly).

On education, a previous post went into a fair amount of detail. In short, I liked all of his plans -- they were spelled out a bit better than McCain's (with the possible exception of pre-K), and I can't see the Church not giving them a thumbs up.

We talked about employment in the post Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. Obama discusses employment as part of his economic plan, his energy and environmental plan, his plan for Americans with disabilities, his plans on fighting poverty, and his urban plans. He's strongly on the side of the workers, which would please the Church.

There's lots of misinformation about Obama's healthcare plan requiring coverage (not true -- that was Clinton's proposed plan during the primaries), penalizing businesses for not providing covereage (true -- for large business, but not for small businesses) or creating a huge government bureaucracy (it would actually let most people keep their existing coverage and then use existing government programs to help people who have fallen through the cracks). My main question at this point is can we afford it with everything else going on? Still, it's goals are noble and something the Church would certainly agree with.

For lots more detail about both candidates' healthcare plans, here are some links. First, to an earlier post I wrote (that can now be found in the August archives) called "Healthcare's Partisan Divide" that references a non-partisan report comparing the health plans proposed by McCain and Obama (it's the same link I provided in the McCain section above). Next, a Washington Post article showing how Obama's plan emulates the plan used in Massachusetts (except for the madates). Finally, an excellent article (also referenced above) on opinionstreams.com.

Obama's policies towards providing affordable housing go much further than McCain's, starting with a universal mortgage credit for homeowners who don't itemize their returns. This would help lower income homeowners take advantage of a tax credit that currently can only be realized by people who have enough deductions to make it worthwhile to itemize them on their tax returns. He also proposes some regulations that mandates that clear and understandable information be given to homebuyers so they know in real terms what the true cost of home ownership will be before they buy, as well as rules to curtail abusive mortgage lending practices.

Obama also supports creating an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to encourage the development of affordable housing in mixed income areas, and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant program to creating housing (and jobs) for low- and moderate-income people.

To recap, the topic of rights and responsibilities touches upon the following subjects:
  • the right to life
  • the right to religious freedom
  • the right to access to those things required for human decency: food and shelter, education and employment, healthcare and housing
We didn't discuss religious freedom, although there are certainly undertones that Governor Palin's beliefs may surface in executive decision-making were she to end up in the White House. However, I think it's clear to say that with McCain and Obama, there would be little or no restrictions placed on people's religious freedom.

The other issues are a mixed bag from the Church's (and my own) perspective. While I think it's short-sighted to only target Roe v. Wade in the efforts to end abortion, McCain's efforts are certainly on the Church's side there. He's probably somewhat safe with the Church on stem cell research, while euthanasia is too tough to call without more information.

Both candidate's education plans would probably meet with Church approval, with Obama's possibly getting an extra nod for his college tax credit proposal.

Food issues aren't really spelled out on either candidate's site, so I won't try to guess here.

Employment, healthcare and housing are all strongly in Obama's favor. McCain would likely win some points with his mortgage buyout proposal, but in the end Obama's consistent policies favoring workers and low/middle income Americans would largely please the Church. I'm giving these category to Obama, as well as the entire topic.

Scorecard:
Obama: 5
McCain: 0

Next up: Call to Family, Community, and Participation

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

This post is the fourth in a continuing examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the earlier posts in this series to see where I'm coming from:
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
While the common good embraces all, those who are in greatest need deserve preferential concern.

To me, this topic covers the following areas: education, civil rights, disabilities, poverty, abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, preventing domestic violence, and protecting children.

Education may seem like a stretch to be included since it's technically not "protecting" but "preparing" our kids, but even though it does not involve protecting them from immediate harm, I think in a long-term view it very much protects them by helping them live up to their potential (or, in other words, it protects them from becoming losers). I should also note that I'm not a big fan of the "protect the children" cry. Not because I'm a heathen -- I am a parent, after all -- but because there's so much political smoke blown at us for "the children" that I think much of it is a waste of time and effort. But I'll see what these guys have to say about that topic since children are vulnerable, after all.

McCain

On education, McCain continually uses the word "choice" in discussing parents options. He never says "vouchers," which he was big on in 2000, but I'm left wondering if that's what he means this time around, too. Or does he just mean parents get to choose among public schools in their local system? Aside from choice, his plans for early childhood include better coordinating early education programs and creating Head Start "Centers of Excellence" that will expand their reach by serving more children and sharing their techniques with other schools.

For primary schools, McCain's plans talk about moving beyond No Child Left Behind and supporting better teacher training and retention, providing tutoring programs to under performing schools, expanding online programs, and "giving parents greater choice," whatever he means by that.

Higher education is more sparse, but he talks about simplifying financial aid and tax benefits, improving lending programs, and eliminating earmarks that pull funding away from university R&D. (Way to tie your pet project in with other programs!)

Personally, I'm intrigued by his early learning ideas, need more info about his primary school plans, and am less than impressed with his higher education ideas.

There are no pages on McCain's site dealing with civil rights, disabilities, poverty, euthanasia, or domestic violence, but he does have a section called "Human Dignity & Life" that covers abortion, stem cell research, and protecting children. (With all the publicity about Governor Palin's child with Down's Syndrome, I find it interesting that there's nothing on the McCain website about their plans for disabled or special needs children.)

Many Catholics will flock to McCain because of his goal of overturning Roe v. Wade. He wants "constitutional balance" restored (an important-sounding phrase that, drawing from my Constitutional Law classes from college, I think really doesn't mean squat in this case) by returning the abortion decision to the states. Then he wants faith-based, community, and neighborhood organizations (does he mean community organizers?) to help end abortion at the state level. Promoting adoption becomes the next step for dealing with crisis pregnancies.

My fear is that he wants to clear Roe v. Wade off the books, let the states outlaw abortion on their own, and then leave it to the pro-life organizations to take care of the rest. Unfortunately those pro-life organizations have a mixed record for caring for pregnant women and perhaps a worse record for helping new mothers. At the least I'd like to see a promise of federal help; I'm sure many of these organizations can't do more simply because of limited resources (even my local archdiocese has greatly reduced funding to it's center for pregnancy and adoption services in recent years).

Moving on the stem cell research, McCain probably loses some Catholics based on his support of stem cell research, although his plan opposes creating embryos for research, calls for bans on "fetal farming" or using any human cells created for such use, and supports funding for research that doesn't involve human embryos. Probably not enough to pull in die-hards, but he seems to be trying to walk a fine line between not offending pro-lifers but not being as restrictive with research as the Bush administration has.

Finally, we discussed his plan to protect the children from online porn and predators in an earlier post. To quote that earlier post:
He talks about filters on public computers and a national registry for people convicted of sex crimes against children. I'm not a fan of internet filters, but if a national registry could be handled better than the TSA "no fly list," it's not a bad idea.
Obama

The Obama education plans starts with his "Zero to Five Plan," supporting parents and infants with early education programs to prepare kids for kindergarten and helping states move to voluntary, universal pre-school. He also proposes increasing Head Start funding and, in a practical departure from education-only plans, help in providing child care to working families.

There's a good bit of detail on primary schools to improving on No Child Left Behind (he, like McCain, believes that teaching to a test and comparing kids to national averages isn't the best way to go), expanding funding for charter schools, prioritizing math and science education, providing intervention strategies for addressing dropouts, and expanding after school programs to help working families. He throws in a good bit about recruiting, training, and rewarding teachers as well.

On the surface his higher ed plan and McCain's plan look fairly similar in their goals to make the financial aid process simpler, although Obama ups the stakes by adding a plan for a universal and refundable tax credit of $4000 to be used for college in exchange for 100 hours of community service.

As I mentioned, McCain has no sections on civil rights, disabilities, or poverty, while Obama has extensive plans for all three areas. Obama, like McCain, doesn't seem to mention euthanasia on his site.

Not to sell his Civil Rights section short (it's fairly extensive if you read the PDF), but rather than re-analyze the plan I'll simply quote an earlier post:
It discusses enforcement of civil rights laws, employment discrimination (minorities and women), expanding hate crime statuses, deceptive voting, racial profiling, reducing crime recidivism, and more.
Obama also has a good bit of information on helping Americans with disabilities by expanding laws that protect their rights, loosening the restrictions placed on the term "disabled" that the courts have used to water down the Americans with Disabilities Act, and helping increase the employment rate for workers with disabilities. (This all seems to make sense with the sheer number of disabled soldiers returning from Iraq.) There's more detail in a PDF, and there's a separate PDF dealing specifically with his plan for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

His plans to combat poverty are extensive, including programs to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation, create a "green jobs corp" for disadvantaged youth, promote responsible fatherhood, fund programs to create affordable housing, establish "promise neighborhoods" to expand social services in disadvantaged areas, and expand the earned income tax credit for low-income families.

Going against the Church's position, Obama supports Roe v. Wade and would oppose measures to overturn it. He has been consistent in his support for the right to choose, however his positions have been embellished and outright misrepresented by opponents. His efforts to reduce abortion are really based on his support for preventing unintended pregnancies through "comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods."

On stem cell research, Obama co-sponsored a bill to allow research on human embryonic stems cells derived from donated embryos. The embryos cannot have been created for the purpose of research, but must have been created for fertility treatment. Currently many of these embryos are kept frozen and then destroyed after a certain amount of time has passed, so in a sense this idea means not creating life only to waste it. However, this does not sit well with the Catholic Church, which does not agree with using human embryonic stem cells in any way. (It goes without saying that the Church does not approve of the fertility treatments that lead to the creation of these "extra" embryos in the first place, although I don't know what it thinks we should do about the existing frozen embryos.)

Obama's plans for protecting children are wide-ranging, including providing healthcare for every child, protecting children from lead poisoning, expanding paid sick days, reducing domestic violence, preventing child abuse and neglect, and registering sex offenders with a national database. I don't see any "protect the children" scare tactics like internet filters that block legitimate websites at libraries (how many kids surf porn on public computers, anyway?) or laws against online predators that duplicate state and national laws already on the books.

Obama also supports expanded funding for domestic violence prevention programs, he co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, and has been active in humanitarian efforts to protect victims of gender violence in Darfur.

To recap, this area covers a number of topics:
  • education
  • civil rights
  • disabilities
  • poverty
  • abortion
  • stem cell research
  • euthanasia
  • preventing domestic violence
  • protecting children
Trying to read this through the Church's eyes, I think Obama would come out ahead on civil rights, disabilities, poverty, preventing domestic violence, and protecting children. His plans in all of those areas are extensive, and McCain doesn't even touch on them, except for two ideas in the protecting children category (one of which, the national database for sex offenders, is shared by both candidates).

McCain would come out favorably on the issues of abortion and possibly stem cell research -- although since McCain still does support stem cell research, the Church may think he's still on the wrong side of the line. The candidates would probably both earn approval for their education plans, even though they go about things differently (personally I'd give the nod to Obama, but the church might like it if McCain is indeed referring to vouchers). It's impossible to tell from their websites where they stand on euthanasia, but I can at least note that the Republican platform is against euthanasia while Democrats feel it is an individual decision. Still, there's not enough info for me to rate either candidate on this one.

Abortion is the hot-button topic that will get people going, and I'll have more on that in a later post (while it is strongly implied here, it crops up again two more times in coming themes). The church will argue that it deserves extra weight in these discussions, so I'll take that into account.

To that end, as I've stated, excepting abortion and stem cell research, Obama's plans seem to fall more in line with Catholic social teaching. I've identified nine issues, and I feel Obama is more in line with the Church on five of them. Both candidates would rate favorably on one of the issues, McCain would get the nod on two issues, and I don't have enough information to rate one issue.

I'm willing to give extra to McCain for his stances on abortion and stem cell research, but the fact that he doesn't even mention civil rights, disabilities, poverty, or domestic violence (I could not a single word about any of them on his website) brings him back down in my book. I know many people will disagree and place the protection of life above all else, but I can't let a single issue, no matter how important, push everything else aside. If Roe v. Wade is overturned but nothing is done about the conditions many of those children are born into, we haven't fully "won" anything.

Scorecard:
Obama: 4
McCain: 0

Next up: Rights and Responsibilities

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

This post is the third in a continuing examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the earlier posts in this series to see where I'm coming from:
Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Economic justice...calls for decent work at fair, living wages, opportunities for legal status for immigrant workers, and the opportunity for all people to work together for the common good through their work, ownership, enterprise, investment, participation in unions, and other forms of economic activity.

McCain
The last section of McCain's 14-page economic plan contains two paragraphs about "Competitive American Workers." In those two paragraphs McCain talks about giving students access to "any school of demonstrated excellence" and "expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children." That sounds like school voucher talk to me, which in my mind doesn't really have much to do with the rights of workers.

The section continues discussing overhauling unemployment insurance to allow it to meet workers' needs for paying bills and attending new training, which sounds encouraging. Finally, it talks about how he will "strengthen community colleges and technical training" and give displaced workers "more choices to find their way back to productive and prosperous lives." It's all pretty vague to me, with a bit more detail on unemployment insurance than anything else, but it's totally lacking specifics. I would like to know more about his unemployment insurance plans.

In a section on workplace flexibility, McCain discusses forming a "National Commission on Workplace Flexibility and Choice" to "modernize" labor laws to allow more flexible scheduling arrangements, help home-based workers and telecommuters, make "portable" healthcare (does that simply mean private insurance instead of employer-sponsored?), choice in retirement plans, and job-training assistance.

With regards to immigration, McCain focuses on securing the border between the U.S. and Mexico before legalizing aliens (a break -- some say nod to conservatives -- from the plan he had championed for years before abandoning his own immigration bill in the Senate). McCain's plan for non-agriculture jobs calls for creating a market-based system for low-skilled workers that changes with market demand. It allows workers to "enter the U.S. in an orderly fashion" and "return to their home countries after their temporary period in the U.S." while allowing for visa renewals. It would also offer limited green cards to those workers wishing to stay. Agricultural workers don't appear to get anything other than a "non-bureaucratic" program set by the market, whatever that means.

No use of the word "union" that I could find, and no mention of minimum or fair wages anywhere.

Obama
The Obama website talks about strengthening the ability of workers to organize unions free of harassment, protecting striking workers from being fired, and raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011 and indexing it to inflation.

On "work/family balance," Obama proposes expanding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to include smaller businesses and including circumstances such as elder care, domestic violence, and even leave for parents to participate in their children's academic activities. His plan would expand flexible work arrangements by educating businesses about flex schedule benefits and make the federal government a model in adopting flexible schedules. Obama's plan would also expand the child and dependent care tax credit and double federal funding for after school programs that help working parents.

Obama's immigration policy is frankly a bit sparse. He discusses improving our immigration system by encouraging illegal workers to become citizens by paying a fine, learning English, and going "to the back of the line" to become citizens. (I'm not sure what that means, but I think it means the back of the existing queue of people waiting for citizenship.) His plan also talks about cracking down on employers who hire illegals to discourage incentives for entering the country illegally.

Obama also has extensive sections on poverty, rural, and urban issues (although "extensive" maybe isn't the best word to describe the section on rural issues). There's too much interesting stuff to go into here, but there's a wide range of proposals on topics such as promoting responsible fatherhood, establishing "promise neighborhoods" in high crime and poverty areas, creating a "green job corp," enhancing workforce training, supporting "innovation clusters," and of course raising the minimum wage.

Overall, both candidates provide a good amount of support for workplace flexibility programs. Obama takes that a bit further with his plans for expanding the FMLA and after school program funding. Both candidates also offer a nod to workforce training, although neither goes into too much detail there.

Whether you like his ideas or not, McCain has more information on his website about immigration. Even though he switched course in the past year, McCain arguably still has more experience in this matter due to the location of his home state. I'm not sold that we need to police the border more closely, let alone militarize it. I'm also a little nervous that his "market-based" ideas are merely codes for letting the market work itself out without regulation, or maybe letting industry lobbyists set visa levels. It may not be all bad, but some clarification would be nice. McCain's comment on changing unemployment insurance also sounds interesting, but I wish it would have earned more space than part of the last paragraph in a 14-page section.

While he doesn't go into enough detail on immigration issues on his website, Obama goes a lot farther than McCain in hitting the goals of creating living wages, participation in unions, and creating programs to spur innovation and small business creation, and I think overall he does a better job than McCain at meeting the goals of protecting the dignity of work and the rights of workers.

Scorecard:
Obama: 3
McCain: 0

Next up: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

Friday, October 24, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity

This post is a continuation of my examination of both presidential candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching. If you're new here, be sure to read the first post in this series to see where I'm coming from.

Solidarity
...pursue justice, eliminate racism, end human trafficking, protect human rights, seek peace, and avoid the use of force except as a necessary last resort.

This is a tough one to score. Once again, I wish I had the 2004 USCCB report to see what kind of votes were included in this category. It's not like there's a link called "Solidarity" on the Issues sections of the campaign websites for me to check. Oh well. Here goes.

McCain
Let's see... The McCain website has a section on "Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life." I think I know where that's going, but maybe there's something in there.

Crap. Starts out with Roe v. Wade. I'll talk about that in a later post. Protecting children -- maybe that fits. He talks about filters on public computers and a national registry for people convicted of sex crimes against children. I'm not a fan of internet filters, but if a national registry could be handled better than the TSA "no fly list," it's not a bad idea.

Then the site goes into "There is no greater nobility than to sacrifice for a great cause and no cause greater than protection of human dignity." Thanks for the specifics. And did you know he was a POW?

McCain's section on crime has a lot about federal funding and support for local agencies, which is fine. It rehashes the "protecting our children" theme, but I'm not sure why judicial activism is here. Then it spends a lot of time talking about illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

In the National Security section, the headline is "A Strong Military in a Dangerous World." Then the first sentence starts out "In a dangerous world..." Gee, thanks for reminding me it's a dangerous world. I had forgotten. Now that I'm scared, will you protect me?

Further down, "to impinge on the rights of our own citizens or restrict the freedoms for which our nation stands would be to give terrorists the victory they seek." Great, but nothing about toning down the Patriot Act or the executive orders that allow domestic wiretapping. Furthermore, McCain has gone to great lengths to mock Obama's call for diplomacy with our enemies, and he has been silent when asked about consensus-building with our allies before the use of force. While he hasn't shown that he'd use force unnecessarily, McCain does seem more willing to go that route before diplomatic options are exhausted.

So, other than some spots on defense, there's not much to go on here. These are topics that McCain just doesn't talk much about (or at least they aren't on his website and I haven't heard him mention them).

Obama
Oh look: there's a "Civil Rights" section! It discusses enforcement of civil rights laws, employment discrimination (minorities and women), expanding hate crime statuses, deceptive voting, racial profiling, reducing crime recidivism, and more. And a PDF with more detail.

In his "Defense" section, Obama talks about creating a "Civilian Assistance Corps" consisting of doctors, lawyers, engineers, city planners, agriculture specialists, police, and others to help in times of need at home and abroad. He also talks about humanitarian activities to build allies.

Obama's position on opening a dialog with our enemies is also widely known now. Not unconditionally, as McCain has been painting it, but with proper lower-level preparations and talks being held first. Most military experts, including active generals and the current Secretary of Defense, agree with the idea that diplomacy must always be an option before war.

Finally, in his "Women" section, he discusses fighting gender violence abroad, which mainly seems to mean Dafur.

Overall, as I stated originally, this is a tough category to pin down. The rambling nature of this post was meant to show how difficult it was to find information on justice, racism, human trafficking (never even found that one), human rights, peace, and force as a last resort. These are not "sexy" topics, and frankly bringing some of them up (force as a last resort in particular) can be exploited as a weakness by an opponent. It should be noted that, in their second debate, both candidates were open to the idea of using our military for moral reasons -- to step into a situation where we may not have direct national interests at stake. Obama gave a few examples of when this would be important, but McCain did not offer any specifics.

Overall the Obama site clearly had more relevant information directly relating to some of the topics (especially civil rights and peace), so I have to score this one for him.

Scorecard:
Obama: 2
McCain: 0

Next up: Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seven Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: Caring for God's Creation

This blog is called "Catholic Democrats," even though I've been focusing almost entirely on the political side of things lately, so I decided I needed to bring the "Catholic" part back into the mix before election day. What better way to do that than to examine both candidates based on the seven basic Catholic themes of social teaching? Using the tools provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on their Faithful Citizenship website, over the next week or so I'm going to briefly examine each of the seven themes and rate each of the candidates based on the policy statements on their campaign websites. The themes are:
Back in 2004 the USCCB issued a "report card" based analysis of voting records of members of the Senate that I found to be very enlightening. Essentially it showed that the Republicans scored highly in the areas relating to abortion and stem cell research while the Democrats scored highly in every other category. In the end the lowest-scoring Democrat still had a significantly better score than the highest-scoring Republican when scores from all categories were added together. (Bet you didn't hear much about that report with all the news about Kerry being denied Communion for his views on abortion, did you?)

I wish the USCCB would have revised that report this year. It would have been especially helpful since both candidates are Senators, but alas, they did not. In fact, I can't even find a copy of the previous report on their website, even though they still have other documents from 2006 and earlier. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that...

I could use prior voting records to make my own analysis for this series, but given that McCain has changed his stance on several key issues since campaigning began, and Obama is running a more centrist campaign than his voting record would indicate, I figured I should use what they say they want to do rather than what they've done. Plus, I have a day job and don't have time to pull Senate voting records from the past two years. I know it's not perfect. Feel free to disagree with this rationale on your own blog.

At the end of the week I'll crown a victor, although really my point isn't only to name a winner but to also get people thinking about issues, where their guy stands, and where that fits into what I consider to be (mostly) reasonable, rational, and justifiable Church teachings.

The first topic is:

Caring for God's Creation
...be careful stewards of God's creation and to ensure a safe and hospitable environment for vulnerable human beings now and in the future.

McCain's environmental/climate change plans on his campaign website are rather shallow. Some of the points are even repeats from his energy plan page. Obama has an extensive environmental plan that goes into quite a bit of detail. (Did you know Obama includes plans for superfund cleanup sites and protecting children from lead poisoning in addition to climate change, clean air, and clean water plans, among other things?)

Both have decent energy plans outlined on their websites, but Obama's offers a more detailed PDF in addition to the highlights on the site. That aside, both candidates offer similar plans for fuel efficiency standards, alternative energy research, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990, greenhouse gas cap and trade system, increasing the efficiency of the government itself, encouraging alternate fuel vehicles, etc.

(Yes, I recognize there are differences, some of which are significant, but I don't have the time or space here to explain how Obama's greenhouse gas reduction plan would reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels compared to McCain's 60%. Or how they differ on flex-fuel and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Or any number of other differences that are too specific to go into here. I'm just going to hit what I see as the high points in this series.)

Personally I like Obama's plan better. However, you can argue the details until you're blue in the face. Bottom line is that both environmental and energy plans are better than the last 8 years. So are there any differences worth highlighting? Yes. Besides the environmental differences I mentioned above, there are energy policy differences in two big areas: oil exploration and nuclear power.

Obama has stated that he would be for limited offshore oil exploration if proposed as part of a comprehensive energy policy, while McCain is running around yelling "Drill, baby, drill!" and "Drill here, drill now." As I've written in an earlier post, I think that's a mistake. I believe we'd be better served by using our limited financial resources to advance new energy sources instead of plugging it into temporary, polluting sources. That's a win for energy and environmental policy at the same time.

McCain also intends to build 45 nuclear power plants by 2030, but he doesn't explain how we could do that when we haven't built a new plant in 30 years - and many of the engineering and construction requirements for the new plants can't be handled domestically. Three larger concerns, however, are securing the nuclear fuel, disposing of the spent nuclear fuel, and the fact that nuclear power has never been cost effective - our existing plants were often way over budget and highly subsidized by local, state, and federal governments. Obama's plan does not rule out nuclear, but it states that plans for the security and disposal of the nuclear fuel must be greatly improved from where we stand today before undertaking any new development.

Go to the campaign websites. Read their plans. Make up your own mind. But I give this one to Obama. His plan better shares the values of the Church.

Scorecard:
Obama: 1
McCain: 0

Next up: Solidarity

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Socialism and You

My my, we've heard a lot of people using (or yelling) the word "socialist" lately. It didn't really start with our friend Joe the (unlicensed non-union) Plumber (who owes back taxes, makes around 40k a year, and has no immediate plans or ability to buy a business). Since Mr. Plumber has been in the news, however, the use of some form of the word "socialism" has increased dramatically. But do the people using that word really know what it means? Just for kicks, let's go to our old friend Wikipedia.
Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society... Socialists mainly share the belief that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital, and creates an unequal society. All socialists advocate the creation of an egalitarian society, in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly, although there is considerable disagreement among socialists over how, and to what extent this could be achieved.
Okay, so in a nutshell, capitalism creates inequity, and the way to make things more fair is to have government (or co-ops, it should be noted) control industries and ensure the fair distribution of stuff (goods, wealth, etc). (I doubt if many people would argue that capitalism leads to inequity, although many would argue that the have-nots aren't unfairly treated but simply don't work hard enough.) And that word "egalitarian" sounds scary, too. Do they want us to live and work in a pinko commie commune? Well, no. Again, from Wikipedia:

"Egalitarianism is a political doctrine that holds that all people should be treated as equals, and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights."

Well that actually doesn't sound so scary, even in a capitalist society. In fact, it almost sounds like Catholic teaching on social justice. (Foreshadowing alert: look for posts on just that topic in the coming days.) I think Thomas Jefferson even used some of that in the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...").

So on what basis do McCain supporters (and McCain/Palin themselves) make this "socialist" charge? Mainly from Obama's tax plan and from Obama's own remarks to Joe the Plumber about how everyone benefits when we "spread the wealth around." (Note to Sen. Obama: You really didn't have a better response than that? You know full well that your plan doesn't really have any Robin Hood characteristics, but you didn't have a better response ready?)

Let's look at Obama's tax plan. We should all know by now that it does not raise, but cuts taxes on any individual, family, or business making under $250,000 a year. That includes not hiding hikes in income tax, payroll tax, capital gains, investments, and pretty much any other means you might have to make it up to $250k. As far as Americans go, depending on where you get your stats, about 90-95% of us make less than $250k, and that means we'll get some kind of tax cut (or our taxes will be about the same if we make right around $250k). Nothing socialist yet.

So what about the 5-10% of Americans who make more than $250k? Well, their taxes will go up. But as I explained to my 7-year-old, it won't hurt them as much. If you have $10 and I tax you at 20%, you have $8 left. If you have $20 and I tax you at 30%, sure you paid more in taxes, but you still have $14 left. This is called progressive taxation, and despite rich people's distaste of it, it has been part of our country's tax policy for generations. It's a sensible notion that if you make more, you should contribute more. John McCain himself even used to believe in it. Here's what he said when he voted AGAINST Bush's 2001 tax cuts:
I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans.
As an aside, Salon has a great tongue-in-cheek article about how Bob the Banker's taxes would increase under the Obama plan. Bob makes $280,000 a year (about as much as Joe said his future plumbing business would make), and under Obama his tax rate would rise from its current rate of 33% to only 35%, resulting in increased yearly taxes of $257. Hardly worth a call to arms. Sure, if you make more you will be taxed more, but since that's always been the case, I don't see why it's a hot button issue this year.

Anyway, back to socialism. With a progressive tax code by itself, I still don't see socialism at all. So what are you going to DO with the money you get when you raise taxes on the rich? Well, much of that will go to running government. I know many people don't like government programs, but it is important to have a military, adequate transportation infrastructure, homeland security, social security, Medicaid/Medicare, etc. (Obviously those social services aren't universally popular, but I don't think they are going anywhere.) That money can't all come from the Chinese buying Treasury securities, so we have to get the rest from taxing our citizens.

Another big chunk of those tax increases on the wealthy will go towards... paying for the tax cuts for the middle class and working poor. The theory here is that wealth doesn't trickle down, but it is created from the bottom up. This, some will argue, is socialism. Especially since some people who don't earn enough to file income taxes may end up receiving government checks. True, our Wikipedia definition above does mention a society "in which wealth and power are distributed more evenly," but there is great disagreement among socialist theories on how to achieve that equality. Actively redistributing wealth is one means, but making the system more fair and letting the redistribution happen on its own is another. So do tax cuts for the working poor equal forced redistribution of wealth? That argument falls flat on a number of levels.

First of all, those people who work but do not earn enough to pay income tax do still pay 7.65% in payroll taxes, so in a very real sense they will be taxpayers receiving a tax cut, not a handout. People who don't work do not file taxes, and therefore they will not receive anything.

Second, McCain's own healthcare plan includes a similar refundable tax credit to all working individuals and families. That means that checks will be mailed to every working individual and family, even if they didn't earn enough to file income taxes for that year. For some the amount of their check will exceed the amount they pay for healthcare. Not for everyone mind you (and certainly not for many in another year or two when healthcare costs rise faster than inflation), but the net effect will be payments from the government to individuals and families. McCain properly calls this a refundable tax credit for his own plan while using the scary - and inaccurate - term "government handout" to describe Obama's version of the refundable credit.

To recap so far, socialism is not defined, strictly speaking, as simply redistributing wealth. Even if you think it is, McCain's policies are just as guilty of doing that as Obama's.

So do we have any pure socialism going on here anywhere? Well, yes we do. That $700 billion bailout/rescue package is one big slice of socialism, as the government is using that money to buy equity in financial institutions. Even before that bill passed the feds bought stakes in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. All this under a Republican administration, supported by a vote from one Senator McCain. I'm not saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it happened, and McCain went right along with Senator Obama in supporting it. McCain has even proposed buying up mortgages with taxpayer money and renegotiating the terms (a provision that is already accounted for in the rescue package, BTW), repeating an FDR program from the New Deal. What would it be called if the Federal government became the nation's largest mortgage lender? Why that might also be called socialism!

So in the end it appears that:

a) McCain and his supporters don't truly understand the definition of socialism
2) They misrepresent Obama's plans and claim they are socialist while proposing different ways to do exactly the same things in their own policies
III) McCain himself voted for arguably the biggest socialist legislation in the nation's history and shortly thereafter proposed yet another mortgage buyout that itself smells kind of socialist

I guess, as with many other McCain tactics, he's pretty comfortable spreading lies and FUD about his opponent. In this case, however, he's also campaigning against his own policies. How presidential.

Here's another way to look at it: not spreading the wealth, but raising the floor.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Random Political Musings

I've stayed away from being overtly political in my last few posts, instead discussing issues. I figured that as the race turned ugly, I'd be better served to stay above the fray. If you didn't see my earlier posts on science and social justice issues, take a few minutes to read them. I'll wait here.

Are you back now? Good. I couldn't resist throwing out a few political topics on the day of the last debate, so I'll just ramble a bit to get them out there.

First, ACORN. Lots of mud flying about Obama's relationship to ACORN, voter registration fraud, their "quasi criminal" status, etc. And of course a lot of that is pure FUD. First, Obama's relationship has been distorted, even though (as with William Ayers) it's been a matter of public record for some time. His law firm represented a group (which included ACORN as well as a little organization known as the U.S. Department of Justice) in their attempt to enforce a voting rights law, and an ACORN-related group did some set up for the Obama campaign at events here in Indiana. (As far as I've read, that set-up didn't even include voter registration drives.) So, in my mind at least, while the organization does lean Democrat because of its charter, it's not an Obama surrogate.

As far as voter registration goes, there have been some huge mistakes. "Let's hire prisoners to register voters in Nevada. What could go wrong?" Um, yeah. So they register the Dallas Cowboys. Matt Drudge made a big deal about "Mickey Mouse" being on a voter registration form in Florida. Clearly there are problems. But do you know what? ACORN has been addressing those problems.

When a voter registration card is submitted, it is ILLEGAL for the submitting organization to pass judgement on it. They do not have the right to say if it is valid or not. If they had that right, they could dismiss forms for any number of reasons, political or otherwise, and there would be no accountability. It is not their place to say if Tony Romo (QB for the Cowboys) lives in Nevada or Mickey Mouse lives in Orlando. In fact, there are 32 people listed in the white pages in this country with the name "Mickey Mouse" -- 2 of them in Florida. So throwing out a card with a funny name may disqualify a real voter. When ACORN has discovered problems, they have fired the people involved (charges are pending against them for breaking election laws) and flagged the suspect forms for review by local election boards. Sure, it's a burden to leave the locals with so much work to do before election day, and ACORN's local offices should have vetted their workers more, but when problems were found, they acted properly.

Now here's the thing: fake voter registrations don't hurt anyone in the election. Why? Because unless Mickey Mouse shows up to vote in person (with ID), it's just his name on a voter list. It's a pain in the ass to process and investigate these bad forms, but a fraudulent voter registration form itself cannot vote. There is no danger of an election being thrown to one side or the other because of thousands of fake registrations. I think the most attention should be paid to voter intimidation and removal, which can have real effects on the people who turn out to vote on election day.

Update 10/20: Slate has an excellent article on why voter registration fraud is merely a smokescreen by the Right to attempt to undermine voter confidence in the electoral system when in fact voter fraud itself is almost nonexistent. Along with voter ID requirements, faulty databases removing registered voters from the rolls, and threatening to arrest people at polls with outstanding parking tickets, some Republicans are now also resorting to threatening early voters in North Carolina. Huh? Since when is following a state law that allows early voting "cheating?"


Speaking of voting, I voted early today in my home state of Indiana. To anyone voting anywhere, this word of advice: keep the t-shirts, buttons, hats, and other campaign swag at home. There were signs all over the courthouse saying that NO campaign material can be displayed while voting, and they would not allow anyone to vote if they had anything visible on them promoting a candidate. So avoid the hassle of being sent home or back to your car to ditch the t-shirt and wear a Colts jersey or something instead.

I've been shocked by the racism and violent outbursts at McCain/Palin rallies in the past week or so, and I've been disappointed that McCain's efforts to tone them down have been so slow and so weak (and I still haven't seen Palin scold anyone). There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said, so I'll just point to this excellent op-ed piece by Frank Rich instead.

After PBS announced a documentary critical of the Iraq war earlier this year, the Bush administration threatened to cut public funding for PBS in half for 2009, by 56% in 2010, and eliminate funding in 2011. The threat seems to have been heard, because now PBS is holding off broadcasting a documentary on torture until after Bush has left office. I can only hope this kind of crap stops on January 21, 2009. I'm amazed it's been allowed to go on this long.

Finally, The Daily Show was the only place to call McCain's "new" stump speech, unveiled this past Monday, for what it is: not new at all, but a rehashed version of his convention speech. On Tuesday night they brilliantly juxtaposed his "new" speech with the convention speech, showing many sections were the same, word-for-word. Now, maybe that's not a bad strategy for McCain since that was the last time he rose in the polls, but it's been bothering me that his campaign announces yet another strategy and newspapers all over the country tout it as his "comeback," often parroting the exact talking points he wanted them to quote. So I leave you with Jon Stewart:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Twenty Questions: Social Justice Quiz 2008

From the website The Zoo, Twenty Questions: Social Justice Quiz 2008

This may make you squirm. It asks questions you may not know (or want to know) the answers to. It starts off with these:

Q. How many deaths are there worldwide each year due to acts of terrorism?

A: More than 22,000 last year. 1/2 were Muslim.

Q: How many deaths are the worldwide each day due to poverty and malnutrition?

A: About 25,000 every DAY.

More explanation to the answers at the site. You'll also find questions about CEO compensation, in how many cities in the US full-time minimum wage workers can afford rent and utilities, what percentage of the homeless are children, and how many people have died trying to cross the border between Mexico and Arizona.

Not always easy answers, but important to know.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Science Debate 2008: 14 Questions

Now that the presidential race has officially become ugly, here's some policy information that can hopefully bring some of us back down to what really matters.

To those of you interested in science and technology, here's a political spin: 14 questions about "science and the future of America." It's a long read and there's a lot of stumping on both sides, but the page has a helpful layout that places both candidates' answers next to each other for each question.

There's simply too much material to quote extensively, but here are two worthy of comment:
Nuclear power is a proven, domestic, zero-emission source of energy and it is time to recommit to advancing our use of nuclear energy. -- John McCain
Is nuclear power really proven? It generates electricity, yes, but proven? So far there are no nuclear power plants in the U.S. that haven't been heavily subsidized. The cost per megawatt, when cost overruns and subsidies are calculated, makes nuclear power anything but "proven." Zero-emission? That's a common misconception. They are low-emission, but not zero. Of course they are vastly better in this regard than coal or natural gas plants, but there is some pollution from nuclear plants. And what about those nasty spent fuel rods that no one wants in their backyard? That's a pollution problem.

Next, Obama calls for a national CTO.
...Establish the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will lead an interagency effort on best-in-class technologies, sharing of best practices, and safeguarding of our networks. -- Barack Obama
This is a terrific idea for helping government efficiency and security that could ultimately lead to many good things, but man would that be a tough job. Still, high marks for recommending it. Lots more of this type of stuff, in much greater detail, at the link above.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Who Decides the Winner?

Most of the post-debate headlines mention Palin by name, and the accompanying articles say that she did much better than expected. I won't disagree with that, although she rarely left her talking points, and, more importantly, decided not to answer certain questions at all. Instead she returned to familiar rehearsed lines that highlighted her perceived strengths. (I could guess in a few instances when her notes ran out because she suddenly became awkward and her speech was more halted, although we never saw anything near the disaster of the Kouric interviews.) The moderator did not press her on any of these missed questions, so perhaps the McCain camp "working the refs" pre-debate paid off.

Palin's expectations were so low all she had to do was not accidentally endorse Obama to be considered a success. Republicans seemed to love her "folksiness," punctuated with "gonna," "bless their little hearts" (referring to oil company executives!), and "you betcha." It's interesting to note that the Republican spin doctors loved this because it brought her "closer to middle America," even though they don't speak like this themselves on camera. I think they really have no idea how "middle America" sounds and were pleased because that's how they think we all talk. Dagnabbit that's not true!

Anyway, I'm struck by the media reporting after both debates so far. According to most media outlets, the both debates were "ties." Interestingly, Palin "won by default" according to some reporters since she was able to not make a fool of herself, but last week Obama was not awarded a similar victory by default even though he stayed toe-to-toe with McCain on what was supposedly McCain's strongest area. Perhaps more interestingly is how the media decided that the debates were draws at all when their own polling showed the American public thought Obama won the first debate and Biden won the VP debate. Here's an example as pointed out by Media Matters.

The majority of people polled did feel that Palin performed better than they expected, but those same people overwhelmingly still said Biden won, according to CBS and CNN polls. Several national polls showed that the public felt Obama won the first debate, too. So does the media know better than us, and that's why their experts are calling them both draws? Shouldn't the headlines at least be "Palin Does Better than Expected, Biden Still Judged Winner"?

Update 10/3: Most of the articles I've read understate Palin's verbal slip-ups in the debate, but in some places she clearly had problems. While she didn't come anywhere near the trip-ups she had in the Couric interviews, she had (and has had all along) trouble formulating sentences on complex topics that haven't been written down for her and rehearsed.

So far I most closely agree with Politico's recap of the debate. It mentions some of those slip-ups and doesn't pretend that Palin "won" by simply not shooting herself in the foot.