Friday, April 25, 2008

Missouri enters debate over drinking age

Missouri voters will have the eyes of the nation on them as they vote on many ballot initiatives including a ban on affirmative action, a possible, limitations on the embryonic stem cell initiative passed in '06, and now an initiative to lower the legal drinking age to 18.

Six other states, including Vermont, South Dakota, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Wisconsin are also considering bills or referendums to lower the legal drinking age (Kentucky, South Carolina, and Wisconsin would only lower the drinking age to 18 for members of the military).

Before 1984, drinking laws were a matter of states' rights and the laws varied from state-to-state. MADD and other groups lobbied congress to pass the Uniform Drinking Age Act in 1984 which just encouraged all states to raise their drinking age to 21. Oh, and one little caveat: states who refused to change their laws would lose billions in coveted federal highway dollars. Leave it to the federal government to give the impression it is giving states a "choice" when in reality it is exerting the most effective type of coercion.

Hence, today every state uniformly upholds the drinking age of 21. Some of these states proposing a lower drinking age--by voter referendum or state legislative action--will undoubtedly risk losing 10 percent of their federal highway dollars. It's anyone's guess how Missourians will vote on this issue. Before 1984, Missouri already had a legal drinking age of 21, while Kansas allowed 18 year olds to drink (it was common practice for Kansas City area youth on the Missouri side to drive over to Wyandotte or Johnson County and drink legally). Kansas seems to be unwilling to revisit the issue: there is no action on the legislative front, and Kansas does not have the progressive and unique statutes that faciliate voter-driven initiatives and referendums, so any change in the short-term is unlikely.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2005 reported that 85 percent of 20 year old Americans had consumed alcohol and nearly 40 percent of them had binged. Government officials privately admit that alcohol use among youth has not decreased since the 1984 law was passed, but has actually increased, raising concerns about the effectiveness of the law, as underage drinking is driven underground, away from the watchful eyes of other adults in public places such as bars and restaurants. The troubling increase in binge drinking corresponds with this, as all the available data shows that European nations with legal drinking ages of 21 have much lower rates of binge drinking, while the U.S. and UK experience the highest rate of binge drinking.

Underage drinking is seen as a form of rebellion and teenagers revel in the ability to engage in an illegal activity, often consuming alchol to excess. Part of the problem is our nation's tendency to focus police resources on combatting underage drinking while taking a light and and less harsh attitude towards the real culprit--drunk driving. Norway allows its citizens to drink at 18 but it also has some of the harshest laws for drunk driving--a mandatory 10 year sentence on the first offense, which ensures a low rate of drunk driving in the country. The United States, however, has no uniform laws and often repeat offenders have to be caught 2, 3, or 4 times before they face ANY prison time at all. It's abominable, but our culture looks at drunk driving much more lightly, as a situation that many people do at some point in their lives, so it's not so bad (that's what Rosie O'Donnell said in not so many words on the View a while back).

What's the answer? I understand concerns about lowering the drinking age, but obviously what we have now doesn't work. And it's incredibly hypocritical to crackdown on underage youth who may drink a single beer and then give a pass to drunk drivers who habitually re-offend until they ultimately kill someone (which in some cases, still only involves fines of little more than $100).

What say you? Will this Missouri law pass and should it? Or should we focus on combatting binge drinking?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"This is the race that never ends..."

Set aside all the political spin, last night's double-digit win for Hillary was dramatic and notable for many reasons. First, Obama had 6 weeks to change perceptions about his associations with Louis Farrakhan, Jeremiah Wright, domestic terrorist William Ayers, and others, but he couldn't even reduce Hillary's win to single digits. Some facts to consider:

  • Hillary was outspent 11 to 1 and still managed a 10 point victory. Obama spent $11 million in Pennsylvania and ran 10,000 ads, saturating the airwaves, yet he couldn't close the gap
  • Hillary performed better in PA then in previous contests among women, blue collar workers, and whites, while Obama held on to affluent voters and blacks. 60 percent of Catholics supported Hillary, a vital PA constituency in the fall that could shift to McCain if Obama's the nominee. Union workers and gun-owners also flocked to Hillary by a more than 10 point margin, suggesting Obama's "bitter" comments had an effect
  • Obama only won 7 out of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Hillary won 13 counties with 70 percent or more of the vote. Obama did not reach 70 percent in any of the counties he won
  • In Philadelphia, PA's most urban county and Obama's base of support (43 percent black), pundits and analysts argued that Obama needed to get 75-80 percent of the vote to close the gap with Hillary. This should have been relatively easy. Instead, Obama only garnered 65 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's largest city with one of the highest concentrations of African Americans.
  • Pundits also said Obama would sweep the Philly suburbs, enabling him to reduce Hillary's lead to a few points or win outright. Instead, he divided the Philly suburbs with Hillary, winning Chester and Delaware counties while Hillary won Bucks and Montgomery counties. In a reversal of media predictions, Hillary won Montgomery County, a suburban enclave that is the most-populated county outside Philadelphia.

Populism vs. Establishment

Some patterns are manifesting themselves: Hillary surrounded herself with union supporters and women while giving her victory speech. Her tone and rhetoric has become increasingly populist in nature as she talks more openly about guns and religion, realizing that Reagan Democrats have been the key to her victories. She cannot afford to lose this. This is a dynamic reversal of conditions at the beginning of the election cycle, when Hillary started out as the establishment candidate and Obama was the outsider, forging a new way and causing concern among liberal activists that he was too much of a pushover and emphasized unity to the detriment of promoting the values and beliefs of the far-left wing of the party. Now, Obama is the establishment candidate, having won 28 contests so far. The netroots (, DailyKos) have supported Obama and he has now become the insider, and Hillary is positioning herself as the outsider who represents the more conservative, rural, working-class voters often ignored or scorned by the left until the second week in November. Hillary is acutely aware that the Democrats cannot win without these voters, but are other party leaders aware of this? Although the populist and establishment candidate have switched places, Democrats should not be debating experience vs. change, but establishment vs. populism. While some may bristle at the claim that Hillary is not establishment, (she clearly is) she has successfully conveyed her populist credentials and transformed herself, however deceptively, which may be a more appealing selling point in the general election than Obama's rhetoric of change and hope, which have been marginalized by his extremely troubling associations and his decision to go negative on Hillary and McCain.

Democrats tried running an establishment candidate in 2004 and came up short. One would think they would want to go with a populist message and candidate that resonates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan instead of an establishment message with an emphasis on some notion of change, whose candidate will only resonate in states like Massachusetts, New York, and California. This is the decision Democrats have to make.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sebelius thinks that our foreign policy is focused on killing people

Living up to her reputation for spending less time in the state of Kansas than any former governor in history, Kathleen Sebelius spent last weekend crisscrossing North Carolina in campaign mode for Barack Obama, seeking to increase her name ID in her hope to get the VP slot or a cabinet position with Obama. At a campaign stop in North Carolina, Sebelius asserted that Obama "will talk to people before we shoot at them, and that's a pretty good idea."

Now, Sebelius has made a lot of stupid gaffes during her time in office (such as saying that Missouri roads terrified her more than the 9/11 attacks and telling Seattle fundraisers to stay away from Kansas wine), but this is not just a gaffe--it is incredibly insulting and demeans our country. Whatever your thoughts on the Iraq war (I happen to believe it was horribly mismanaged by the Bush administration), we freed a nation of 27 million people from the brutal oppression of Saddam Hussein. And during the last 8 years, we have proceeded to attempt to create free, democratic societies in Afghanistan and Iraq. I don’t think our foreign policy over the last 8 years, despite its flaws and inconsistencies, is predicated on just indiscriminately killing people.

Sebelius’ outrageous statements warrant an apology. One would expect more restraint and reason from a public official who has her eyes on higher office. Let’s see if the Kansas press picks this up or just glosses over this blatant mischaracterization of our foreign policy. Even though our press may ignore it, the Arab press and the Arab street will gladly use the governor’s words as a tool to recruit terrorists and further anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Obama insults middle-America

The chatter over Obama's condescending and insulting remarks concerning rural, Middle American voters has lit up the airwaves and has Clinton and McCain--especially Clinton--in attack mode. Before a crowd of elite liberal donors in San Fransisco, Obama said:

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. "And it's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

So working-class people anxious over jobs and the economy respond by turning to guns, religion, racism, and anti-immigrant attitudes (Orwellian double-speak that really describes opposition to illegal immigration). Because only uneducated people care about small-minded, primitive, and outdated notions like guns and religion, right? Many Democrats, including former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, have recently criticized Obama for suggesting that only uneducated, bitter people are religious, care about 2nd Amendment rights, or oppose illegal immigration. And Obama refused to apologize for his remarks initially--responding with incredulism that anyone would dare question him, and instead, the messenger of hope negatively attacked his critics--something a typical Washington politician does.

This comes weeks after Obama offended millions of pro-life Americans, parents and couples who have adopted by equating having a baby with an STD and being "punished." Obama once said "to know me is to love me." He has to be asking himself Where is the Love? right now, because he sure isn't feeling it after all of these gaffes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Obama/Clinton would lose to McCain/Rice in NY

Everyone has been talking about the Democratic dream ticket, but the Republican dream ticket of John McCain and Condoleeza Rice has also been the subject of rumors and speculation in recent weeks, especially after the Drudge Report confirmed from several sources that Rice is actively seeking the VP spot and has been making the rounds with conservatives, recently speaking before a meeting of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).

The Marist Poll out of New York has data to back up the GOP dream ticket. When asked, New Yorkers were more likely to support a McCain/Rice ticket over an Obama/Clinton ticket, 49 percent to 44 percent. When matched individually, Clinton edges out McCain by only 2 points, 46-48 percent, and McCain leads Obama 48-46 percent in this bluest of blue states.

A McCain/Rice ticket would have coattails that extended far beyond the presidential race--it could also aid local candidates here in KS as Nick Jordan seeks to oust Dennis Moore and either Lynn Jenkins or Jim Ryun against Nancy Boyda.

Oh, and Condi Rice has solid approval among the American public
according to the recent Pew Research Poll: she enjoys a 56 percent approval rating and gets majority approval from independents--who will be critical to McCain's success later this year.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hillary going all the way...

The Konnection has spoken to a Democratic source--one of the delegates to the DNC who has close ties to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Our source confirmed that Hillary has no intention of leaving the race and despite what happens in the last few primaries, she plans to fight at the convention to have Michigan and Florida seated--which could possibly give her a lead in the popular vote and reduce Obama's margin in the delegate count.

Our source, who is close to the campaign and speaks with the Clintons regularly and the campaign weekly, says the Clinton campaign is focused not just on changing the minds of superdelegates, but also on flipping regular, supposedly "committed" pledged, state delegates as well. Of course, pledged delegates are supposed to be committed to voting according to the results of their state's primary or caucus, but there are no provisions or penalties that outline any consequence if they don't vote that way--and there is precedent for a state's delegates to vote differently on the convention floor.

Our source says the Clinton campaign has already been successful in chipping away at Obama's support among pledged delegates. Phone calls from high-profile Clinton surrogates have convinced 2 of Obama's 33 pledged, Colorado delegates to switch to Clinton. And those speaking for the campaign on condition of anonymity say this is only the beginning of a highly coordinated strategy to peel away Obama's superdelegate AND pledged delegate supporters while fighting to have Michigan and Florida counted on the floor of the convention by issuing a formal request to the credentials committee. Our DNC source says the Hillary campaign is also floating around an idea where she would run as president with Obama as VP and only serve one term, allowing Obama to run in 2012. But Obama's campaign scoffs at that offer, and Hillary is unwilling to settle for anything less, so a sure fight is brewing.

My Democratic informant's revelations were confirmed last week by Hillary herself as she spoke to Fox News' Greta Van Susteren:

VAN SUSTEREN: "What about the pledged delegates right now? Are they likely — do you have any position on them sort of moving over in one direction or the other?"

CLINTON: "Well, you know, delegates are free to exercise their judgment, all delegates, whether you are from a caucus or you are from a primary or your so-called appointed delegate..."