I Voted for Barack Obama

I had planned to write up why I was supporting Obama, and then last week kicked my ass, and so did the weekend, and so have the last two days. [Let’s just say that I’ve got bronchitis and am taking massive doses of an antibiotic generally used for pneumonia treatment.] And if y’all want to know my reasoning, I’ll certainly endeavor to take the time to do it—I’ve done a lot of moving to get to where I could vote for a Democrat.

I mean, yesterday at work, for the brief time I was there before I went to the doctor, knew how high my fever was, and was told bed rest for 24-48 hours, one of my mentors said, “You need to be well enough to vote. We need your vote!” But I think he assumed that I was voting for John McCain.

He was wrong.

Why I voted for Barack Obama is important to me—and may not be to you. [If it is, I’m sure that you’ll let me know in the comments.] But what’s just as important to me is that I could vote for Barack Obama. Not fifty years after Freedom Summer, the controversy is not about registering blacks to vote but whether a black man can be President. And I did not vote for Barack Obama because of the color of his skin, but because of the very content of his character—his steadiness, his leadership qualities, his inspirational abilites, his understanding of the issues.

I have never found a politician with whom I agree 100%—and I honestly pray that I never will, because that means that I will have been voted into office. [All of my friends who encourage me to run for office can kiss it.] To be sure, I disagree with Obama on many things—and would disagree with anyone else on my ballot. But I think that Obama has the right characteristics of someone I want leading our country.

Not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Dr. King? I think I realized your dream today. The only shame is that this election-night party I’m going to attend will be lily white. But we can keep working on that, right?

[Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go have a good cry.]

“Suspend the Campaign” Is the New “Sex”

So … McCain suspended his campaign, snubbing Letterman but still appearing on Katie Couric’s cameras. Then he meets with everyone yesterday, in what many felt was “a rescue plan for McCain” rather than the country. And now he’s going to the debates [which I’m glad of, even if Nate Silver might have it right on how he’s doubling-down here] … but did he ever really suspend the campaign?

Dave Letterman is right: “This is not how a tested hero behaves.” And that’s the problem—the John McCain we’re getting to vote for in five-ish weeks is not the guy who ran in 2000 or even the guy from 2007. Of course, neither has Obama kept to his lofty ideals; this has just denigrated to your normal level campaign.

So Chris tweeted: “So McCain will go ahead and debate tonight. Snarky comments from @gfmorris in 3… 2… 1… ” I responded thusly:

  1. “John saw Sarah’s “performance” with Katie Couric and didn’t want to send her in his stead.”
  2. “It all depends on what your definition of ‘suspending the campaign’ is.”
  3. “It’s amazing that, in 2008, we’re excited about an *old white guy* going to Ole Miss. James Meredith must be proud.”

Let’s look at this dispassionately: If you came in from another planet and were shown the actions of the two candidates and were told, “One of these guys has been at the national seat of government for more than two decades, was a prisoner of war for over five years, and used to command a military organization; the other guy is a first-term member of the higher house of the national seat of government, has far less experience than his opponent, and is a quarter-century younger,” and then told that same observer the actions of McCain and Obama in the last week … wouldn’t you think that this observer would figure the panicky, impassioned responses for Obama and not McCain?

I mean, if you’d told me that, less than six weeks before the election, the economy was going to crater and either Obama or McCain would be losing their shit, I would’ve bet on Obama—and I’m an Obama supporter.

Obama’s Space Platform

I received a PDF of Barack Obama’s space platform, and I think I should make it available here: Barack Obama’s Space Platform.

All such platforms have “code words” that let interested parties know what the candidate believes. As I work in the industry, I’m probably a good person to help decipher those for you. After all, I was ready to not vote for the man because of his views, just as I voted with my job four years ago. So, here are some thoughts that came to me as I read through the PDF; if you’ve got questions after reading the below, feel free to ask in the comments!

  • Initial cut is promising, as he mentions Kennedy. Whatever else his other failings, NASA nerds love JFK.
  • The Challenge states the problem pretty well, but it tries to argue that this is a Bush problem; yes, and no. How this Administration has funded NASA hasn’t exactly made me happy, but hey, it’s better than the Dan Goldin years. Obama’s campaign is right, though, that cuts in NASA’s non-exploration tasks have been far too drastic—and I say that as someone who firmly believes that manned exploration is very important and hates the robots über alles attitude of JPL.
  • I like the idea of pushing NASA science to help us understand things here. That’s honestly the truth, and the cuts made were too drastic. Plus, it fits into Obama’s larger mindset of where this country needs to go.
  • Reviving the NASC can’t hurt, and will probably help.
  • Re: Closing the Gap: You can call this a flip-flop, but I just don’t care—recognizing that you were wrong and that there are better ideas is something we haven’t seen out of the White House in far, far too long. [And I’m not just talking about Bush 43.] Also, the words about “foreign space capabilities” means “Russia”, for those not playing at home. Since, oh, that tiff with Georgia, we’ve all wondered about that around here. [And not just because some rednecks in Lower Alabama were polishing their guns, thinking the Red Bastards were about to invade Dothan.]
  • Obama’s ISS stance is, “Hey! We built a big lab! Let’s use it for science!” Well, yes. ISS has always been about engineering, on-orbit construction, and international cooperation [except with those pesky Chinese, who won’t be allowed to dock], but when you’re done with it … dammit, it better be about more than providing The Big Picture with pretty photos of hurricanes. But after saying all that stuff about “foreign space capabilities” before, Obama notes that ISS was also a jobs program for Russian rocket scientists in the 1990s. And that, folks, is probably why the Iranians can’t nuke us today.
  • Human space exploration: he wants ESA or JAXA to make a manned push so it’s not just us, the Russians, and the Chinese. Makes sense. I prefer JAXA—the Japanese make better aerospace decisions. [Note: my company and my group specifically work with JAXA contractors.]
  • Robotic exploration: let’s make California happy. [Okay, so it’s also a very good idea.]
  • Studying the Earth: let’s not lie anymore about global warming not being legit. But I also hope that “no political interference” means Dr. John Christy still has a voice at the national table.
  • Aeronautics research: This has three benefits: the stated one, giving Ohio and California NASA centers something to do, and gets Glenn way the hell out of manned spacecraft design. I would comment more, but … that would be imprudent. Anyhow, NASA has centers of excellence, and Ames and Glenn should do their jobs instead of being forced into realms with which they are unfamiliar just because Bush only funds VSE.
  • International Cooperation: Be nice to ESA, keep space de-weaponized, and be wary of the Chinese. All worthy goals. Also, seems ideal towards keeping the Russians involved and engaged, which is a good thing for overall relations.
  • New Technologies: Yawn. NASA’s PR machine sucks about noting the benefits, and it’s cliché to say “derived from NASA technology!” I don’t think anyone gives a damn anymore because we don’t do anything exciting.
  • That said, the bits about ITAR restriction relieving are good [and not just because it makes my task as an Export Control monitor easier; hell, it’ll probably get harder as the rules change], and pushing the skill-base expansion is my main point from my screed back in March: “Raiding NASA’s budget to fund education is like sponsoring the US Olympic Team but then not sending them to Beijing this summer.”
  • Education: always important. I ended up in this field because I was excited about it as a child and focused my entire academic career towards it. I find far too many of my peers these days to not have that same … drive. That scares me some.

So, reading this policy document makes me think that Obama has it right. If anyone has access to McCain’s space platform, I’ll go through it the same way. I think it’s safe to say that I’m wholeheartedly behind Obama at this point, and this makes it easier for me.

The Palin Pick

Okay, I’ve had some time to digest why I think the nomination of Sarah Palin is wrong, and I’m now ready to make the coherent argument.

Coming into the conventions, Republicans who considered themselves likely voters indicated in most polls that, on average, 87% of them were ready to vote for McCain as President. Contrast this with Obama, who had only 83% of likely Democratic voters in his pocket. The reason for Obama’s poorer showing, heading into Denver, was singular: the Hillary hangover.

Let’s consider who those likely voters that weren’t with their party’s presumptive nominees were. For the Democrats, it wasn’t the liberal base: those folks have been with Obama over Hillary for quite some time, given their varied stances on the Iraq War. [Regardless of the effect that Obama’s moderation of his stance might have on those voters, Obama voters don’t seem inclined to flee him even though he’s moved to the center a bit.] No, it was three groups in Hillary’s core that Obama wasn’t reaching: working-class folks, women voters who still wanted Hillary as President [which I get, I really do; in the reverse situation, you’d probably have some black voters who were reluctant to be behind Hillary with the taste of the promise of a President Obama still on their tongues], and older voters. Joe Biden, with his age, roots, and experience, ameliorates two of those three things. And Billary probably did their dead-level best to unite the party behind Obama in Denver; sure, there are going to be some defectors, but those folks were most likely already leaning that way before Barack ever set foot in Colorado.

For the GOP, it’s mostly voters from the base, the kind of folks who think McCain is too much a maverick and worry if he’s conservative enough. Palin might have the sheen of a moderate, corruption-fighting maverick from Alaska, but the first quotes I saw about her were from Ralph Reed and James Dobson—the very folks that were wary of McCain. Palin’s history—mainly her narrative about choosing to carry a Down’s syndrome child to term—solidly puts her in the conservative end of things. I see video clips of her shooting a gun and know that my dad is sitting in Tennessee, smiling that a pro-gun governor from the west kicks ass.

But here’s the difference in the calculus: if you make the argument that the bases aren’t going to defect to a third-party candidate [in this case, Bob Barr for the GOP], why not go to the center? Obama’s pick of Biden moves him towards the center, as Biden picks up the few hawkish Democrats and those in the center that were for the war but who’ve not liked how it’s been prosecuted [hello, right here] as well as helping Obama with the working-class gruffs who love that he rides the train home to Delaware every night, rather than living in Washington. [And I love that, too.] Palin, on the other hand, seems to be designed to do two things: 1) shore up the GOP base and 2) pick off Hillary supporters purely by being a female. Ummm … that seems like a grand miscalculation of the likelihood of centrists moving to McCain.

As I was writing this, Kari and I were trading emails about the Palin pick [amongst other things; our friendship is mostly based on these emails we trade when we need to talk things out, hehehe], and she pointed me to Andrew Sullivan’s piece on how Palin is not, in early polling, pulling the undecideds:

But among the critical undecideds, the Palin pick made only 6 percent more likely to vote for McCain; and it made 31 percent less likely to vote for him. 49 percent said it would have no impact, and 15 percent remained unsure. More to the point: among undecideds, 59 percent said Palin was unready to be president. Only 6 percent said she was. If the first criterion for any job is whether you’re ready for it, this is a pretty major indictment of the first act of McCain’s presidential leadership.

One other striking finding. If McCain thought he could present Palin as a moderate, he was wrong. A whopping 69 percent view her as conservative (37 percent as very conservative), and only 13 percent see her as moderate.

From this first snap-shot (and unsettled) impression, Palin has helped McCain among Republicans, left Democrats unfazed, but moved the undecideds against him quite sharply. I totally understand why.

So, who would I have picked, were I McCain? I would have taken Joe Lieberman in a heartbeat, concerns about the conservative wing of the GOP defecting and/or staying home notwithstanding. Here’s the thing: the folks on the right-wing of the GOP are scared of Obama. They don’t like his politics, but they realize that he resonates with Americans in many of the same ways that Reagan did thirty years ago. Remember, the GOP loves Reagan [and with, I would say, fairly good reason, the failures of trickle-down economics notwithstanding; all in all, I think Reagan did a very good job]; they see Obama as someone who will do the same thing for the Democrats. Also, conservative voters know that one main reason W won in 2000 was the Nader Effect. Conservatives like holding the White House, and I think that, in the end, they would’ve held their noses and voted for McCain-Lieberman.

Why do I care? Really, it’s simple: I want the best two candidates possible. I voted for McCain in the Alabama primary because I thought he was the best of the GOP field; I’m planning on voting for Obama because I think he’s the better candidate. But just because I now find myself in the Obama camp—a weird place for me, as I’ve voted Dole, Bush, and Bush since I turned 18—doesn’t mean that I want to see the GOP roll over and play dead. I want the best thing for this country, and I think the best thing for America would be a spirited, principled discussion between the two sides. And, in the case that Obama lost, I would want McCain to have the best partner in governance on his side—and I think that’s Joe Lieberman, not Sarah Palin.

If you follow my delicious bookmarks, you’ll see that I’ve bookmarked a lot about Palin already. I’m this fired up about it because I think it’s the wrong decision. I wanted the right one, because I want the best thing for this country.

Obama Appears to Come Around on Manned Spaceflight

Wall Street Journal‘s Washington Wire reports:

Barack Obama was accused of pandering to the space set in Cape Canaveral on Saturday.

During a town-hall-style event on Florida’s so-called space coast, the Democrat said he no longer favors slashing NASA’s budget, declaring that the U.S. “cannot cede our leadership in space.”

Obama had previously supported delaying NASA’s manned missions in order to pay for early childhood education programs. Aides say he has now found other means to pay for his education plans.

As you would expect, McCain’s campaign is calling Obama’s switch from a platform plank that cut Constellation funding, which I wrote about in March, a flip-flop. I’m not so stringent about it, mainly because I was asking for the change in platform.

The Obama campaign’s explanation is that the platform changed when different funding priorities were assessed. That’s a far smaller change to me than, say, McCain’s voting against Bush’s income tax cuts in the Senate but supporting them now that he’s the nominee. [Note: this is not an indictment of the tax cut per se, although I have come to the opinion that supply-side economics is fundamentally flawed. If this minor point becomes a bone of contention in the comments, I’ll follow up so that discussion can have a better forum.]

Disclaimers: I work in manned spaceflight, and I have donated to Obama’s political campaign despite originally thinking that I could not do so. Also, for anyone coming in on this, I voted for McCain in Alabama’s Republican primary, the first time I’ve voted in a party primary.

Public Policy as an SAT Question

It’s clear that demand for fossil fuels, especially light, sweet crude, is now beginning to outstrip the market’s ability to supply it. Whether or not this is truly an indication of peak oil or not, we have met a point where what has long been seen as an inelastic demand curve—American’s thirst for fossil-fuel-sourced energy—has met a global demand spike. [As someone who buys high-grade aluminum alloys and stainless steels as a part of his job, I can tell you that many commodities are really on the rise given the spectacular growth in Asia.]

With this in mind, there are many proposals afoot to enable drilling for crude oil in areas currently under legal protection from doing so: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, continental shelf areas in the Gulf of Mexico, etc. Is drilling for oil at these times most like:

  1. Printing your own money during a currency crunch.
  2. Teaching an alcoholic how to build a still when alcohol taxes go through the roof.
  3. Hammering your thumb to take your mind off of your leg being cut off.
  4. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Answer and discuss.

Campaign Finance, the Military-Industrial Complex, and Me

So, the other day, I was really considering donating to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign.

[I will now pause while Dad, Mom, and Doug finish their spit take. … Okay.]

Then I ran across this one point, which made sense once I thought about it:

This contribution is not made from the treasury of an entity or person who is a federal contractor.

I don’t think that it’s much of a secret that I work for an aerospace and defense contractor. And I’m with Ike:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

It is because of this that I am proud to not donate to Obama. But he is getting my support.

Poking the Bear

Yeah, even I’m not terribly thrilled with gas prices these days, previous commentary to the contrary. But the point that I was trying to express back in August 2005 was perhaps better expressed by Robert Reich earlier this week, in his post about how the wage gap is fueled by the gas gap:

Low-wage workers in rural areas are taking the biggest hit, but those who work in cities aren’t faring much better. It used to be that the very poor inhabited central cities and the working class lived in the inner suburbs, but now that the rich are moving back into town, the poor are being pushed outward. Retail, restaurant, hospital and hotel employees who work in upscale cities often must look 30 to 50 miles from their jobs for affordable housing. Their longer commutes mean they need to spend more on gas.

To quote myself from 2005:

But the next SUV driver I see in Madison complaining about gas prices on the local news … well, pardon me if I feel like punching ‘em in the face.

It helps to know that Madison, Alabama is the yuppie suburb of Huntsville, itself an economically prosperous part of an otherwise economically downtrodden state. People around here drive SUVs not for sports utility but for status uplift.

[And if I could go back ten years and read my Weblog now, I’d be stunned that I was agreeing with Reich, too.]

Madison Mayor Mania!?

In the drive-thru line at Hardee’s this morning [I know, I know], I was behind a large Toyota SUV with a “Paul Finley for Mayor” set of stickers. So I whipped out the iPhone and pulled up the URL to see if this was a Madison thing or not. It is.

Made me realize that, other than incumbent Sandy Kirkindall, I had no idea who was even running for mayor, and I have no idea what any of them really stand for. Oh, there’s Finley’s “A Fresh Approach”, and I’m sure that Kirkindall’s slogan will be “Proven Leadership” like any good incumbent. But it occurs to me that I maybe should get involved and blog about this, because it means something to us here in the L:35758.

Would this be interesting to any of the locals?

Why I’ll Vote for John McCain Today (But Maybe Not in November)

So Amy and I went to Birmingham last night, and as we got onto I-65 southbound, talk turned to Super Tuesday—how much we’d know in another 30 hours, etc. The unspoken question from Amy was how I’d vote, so I told her:

I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I’d be okay with either of Obama or Clinton. I’ve decided to let the folks who’ve been on that side of things make the decision about who they want. On the other side, well, I don’t like John McCain, but I hate the rest of those assholes.

She went on to ask me what I didn’t like about Romney—simply put, he zigged conservative and became a fraud; I feel that he should’ve stayed moderate and run to the center, because I think the GOP is ready to elect a center candidate, and given a choice between a moderate Romney and whoever the Democrats run, I think most conservatives will hold their nose for the pro-business GOP moderate over whoever the other half runs, especially if it’s Hillary, because hell, they hate her. [Holy run-on sentences, Batman. Yeah, well, I was up late.]

It’s not so much that I like John McCain—I’ve railed against him in the past, to be sure—but I really loathe the others. And I’ve decided that I could vote for a guy like McCain, even though I didn’t agree with all of his policies.

You may not feel that way, but you’re not gonna change my mind. Not today, anyway.

But please note that a vote for McCain here in Alabama’s primary from me is not an assent to voting for the man in November. There will be a number of factors that factor into that for me:

  1. How the two nominees feel about science in general, and especially NASA and open government through open technology. I’m passionate about both. [I know that Obama has a very good record with the latter, but I’m not very sure about his support of space exploration, and well … that is my damn job. I do have to vote with my wallet, people. I am your tax dollars at work!]
  2. Plans regarding health care and fiscal responsibility. I think McCain’s tack towards preserving Bush’s tax cuts is a Super Tuesday sop to the GOP base, and I don’t know that he’ll keep it as a plank. I fully expect Irascible John to return and for him to tell the party to fuck off and support him or stay home. Honestly, I think John McCain would rather lose the Presidency by being who he is than win and compromise himself too much. I could be completely wrong about that, though. I’ll eat my words if I am. But I’m generally in favor of the Democrats’ plans for health care, because I’m ready to try another system at this point. Where we are is broken.
  3. Statements about foreign policy. Look, I don’t think anyone other than Dick Cheney is happy with how things are going with American foreign policy today, and while it’s a shit sandwich, we gotta choke it down, people. Promises to bring troops home or keep them there for a century are just rhetoric to me. I’m more concerned with the general approaches to the problems than in specific solutions trotted out in the campaigns, because again … it’s rhetoric to get elected. I’m really undecided on how I feel about each of the three contenders—I like some of what each has to say, and I dislike some of what each has to say. [I must say, McCain’s approach to torture and the like is a strong point with me. Of course, I expect him to be against all that, given his background. And if not, I expect every POW that was in the Hanoi Hilton with him to absolutely ream him out over it in a way that only John Kerry could appreciate. And I know a couple guys who’d be at the head of that fuckin’ line, y’all.]

Functionally, I’m willing to let the center-left folks pick their nominee, and I want to vote on the right to go for the guy I think is most center-right. But John, just because you’ll get my vote today doesn’t mean you’ll get it in nine months.

[The first person to mention Ron Paul is gonna get me really pissed off.]