Ah, gotta love when operatives start straying from their talking points. Former Reagan-era Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday to chat about his support for John McCain, and given his strong interest in foreign affairs, most of the discussion stayed squarely in that arena. But just under fifteen minutes into the interview, host Neal Conan asked Eagleburger about his comfort with McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his veep, and the answer is really priceless. (This transcript, and the emphasis in it, is my own; I’ve also sliced the bit out of the recording so you can hear it.)

[audio player]

Neal: You mentioned, obviously, experience; are you entirely comfortable with Sarah Palin as Vice President of the United States, that she would be ready to take over in a crisis if she should, terribly, be called upon to do so?
Eagleburger: That’s a very good question… [three second pause] I’m being facetious here. Look, I don’t… of course not. I don’t think, at the moment, she would be as prepared to take over the reins of the Presidency. I can name for you any number of other Vice Presidents who were not particularly up to it, either. So the question, I think, is: can she learn, and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become President. Heaven forbid that that ever takes place. Give her some time in the office, and I think that the answer would be, she will be… adequate. I can’t say she would be genius in the job, but I think she would be enough to get us through a four-year — well, I hope not — get us through whatever period of time was necessary, and I devoutly hope it would never be tested.

That’s probably not exactly what McCain had in mind when he envisioned his supporters going out and talking to the media about his choices…

(Note: I’ve listened to the interview a bunch of times, trying to figure out if Eagleburger said that she’s unprepared to take over the “reins” or the “brains” of the Presidency — and I’m fairly certain, from my listening, that he said “brains”, but every other person who transcribed it got “reins”, so I’m willing to go that way for now…)

I’m pretty sure I figured out a nearly-failsafe test for whether or not someone is a parent: get them to sit down in front of this video, and see if he or she can get through the end of it.

In the utterly non-scientific survey of people in my office, the non-parents were able to watch it, whereas the parents got excruciatingly uncomfortable by about 30 seconds in and had to stop it. Of course, when I extended that survey to some friends online, I found an outlier (a friend without kids who got squirmy and had to stop it around the same time)…

Update: the YouTube vid was killed, so I updated the embedded video above with the copy from LiveLeak (and downloaded a copy of it just in case this happens again!).

There’s a huge part of me that wonders if there’s anyone at all who’s as positively passionate about John McCain’s candidacy as Charles Alexander is about Barack Obama’s.

I’m not being facetious — I’m totally serious. The past month or two certainly has made it seem that the Obama campaign brings out the most positive, optimistic, and heartfelt emotions in people, whereas the McCain campaign brings out feelings of division and outright hatred (“Muslim terrorist”, “Elect McCain, not Barack Hussein”, etc.); maybe that perception is a function of the sources from which I get my news, but I’m not terribly inclined to think so.

In any event, Charles Alexander embodies the emotion that I’m hopeful will elect the first African-American president next week.

Like thousands of others, I’m a huge fan of the things that Nate Silver is doing over at FiveThirtyEight.com — bringing serious statistics to the forefront of this year’s political analysis makes for much more interesting thought and perspective, and he’s certainly achieving that. (For good bio pieces on Silver, wander over to read this and this.) The sheer data he presents is like candy to me, and while Silver does a great job of finding the true gems in his statistical analyses and shedding light on them, I’ve found myself mining into his data to try to find other interesting tidbits.

Take the 10,000 election simulations that Silver runs every day, using the incredibly complicated model he’s developed to reflect historical outcomes, current polling data, and inter-state trends. Each day, he presents a chart with analyses of the scenarios that come out of those 10,000 simulations (it’s the chart on the right of the page, titled “Scenario Analysis”), and as interesting as each line item is, more fascinating to me is the information lurking just below the surface. For example, yesterday’s run resulted in 9,497 instances of Obama winning the popular vote, and 503 instances of McCain doing the same, both of which are interesting given how the race is shaping up. But below that, we learn that 199 simulation runs resulted in Obama losing the popular vote but winning the Electoral Vote (a la Bush in 2000), as opposed to 76 runs in which McCain pulled this off — numbers that by themselves aren’t that meaningful, but when combined with the winning-the-popular-vote numbers, show a stark reality.

How? Again, in 503 of the 10,000 simulation runs, or 5.03% of the time, Silver’s model predicts McCain winning the popular vote — but we now know that in 199 of those runs, Obama still wins the Electoral Vote (and thus the election), and in another 76, Obama wins the popular vote but McCain wins the election. So the reality is that McCain only wins in (503 – 199 + 76 =) 380 simulation runs, or 3.8% of them, a 1.2% decline from the apparent number. Conversely, Obama wins the popular vote in 9,497 simulation runs (94.97%), but he loses the Electoral Vote in 76 of those, and he wins the election while losing the popular vote in another 199; that translates into winning the election in (9,497 – 76 + 199 =) 9,620 simulation runs, which is an increase to 96.2%. That’s pretty amazing, and if Silver’s model is correct, it’s a testament to the well-known Obama campaign strategy of concentrating on electoral vote numbers as closely as it does those of the popular vote (a strategy that carries over from the campaign’s intricate understanding of delegate counts during the primary).

Similarly, take the “McCain loses OH/FL/PA, wins election” stat, which occurs in none of the 7,137 runs. Here, that numerator is certainly interesting, but for me the denominator is far more so. Trying to figure out why that number — 7,137 — is different than the 10,000 simulation runs we’ve been talking about up until now led me to the answer that sheds light on a really eye-popping fact: Silver’s model has McCain losing three of the biggest battleground states in 7,137 of its 10,000 runs, or 71.37% of the time. That’s fascinating, and a piece of information that’s not discernible from any of the more traditional polling numbers that you see on the web. (Of course, that’s not to say it’s necessarily correct, just that Silver’s model predicts that to be the likelihood of McCain losing Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.)

If you’re not spending quality time on FiveThirtyEight.com every day, you’re really missing out on a chance to view this year’s election in an entirely different light. (And I haven’t even begun to laud the On the Road series of posts on 538, which are each just plain awesome.) Only time will tell how prescient (or not) Silver’s analysis is, but from the cheap seats, he certainly looks to know his shit.

Given the GOP’s turn to calling Obama a socialist these days, I’ve been focused on explaining to folks how McCain’s own off-the-cuff mortgage crisis solution is more “socialist” than anything proffered by the Democratic Party. Others, though, are keenly noting that for all her talk of “Barack the Redistributionist,” Sarah Palin’s own way of collecting and doling out oil dollars in Alaska is one of the best examples of wealth redistribution you can find in America. In this vein, Hendrik Hertzberg has a great Comment in the latest New Yorker, summarizing thusly:

For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

(Note that I, like many in this nation, don’t find anything intrinsically wrong with wealth redistribution; that’s one of the core principles of taxation as it’s been implemented for years and years across the United States. I just think the hypocrisy of the GOP, the throw-any-label-hoping-it-sticks behavior, is at the same time both repugnant and hysterical, and I love seeing them get hoisted on their own petards.)

Not that Anil needs any link love from the low-rent likes of me, but I’d be remiss in not pointing out the sheer awsomeness of his post this morning on Sarah Palin’s choice of language. As always, Anil has an amazing way of articulating something that’s difficult to parse; his view of Palin’s language as her hook into her intended audience is uniquely insightful, to say the least.

Senator Ted Stevens found guilty on all seven counts of corruption. Stunning. It’s somewhat hysterical that this is a man who once chaired the Senate Ethics Committee.

I wonder if Sarah Palin will now be willing to answer the question she’s avoided to date: whether she supports the reelection of Stevens. (Note to any and all press members who might be endowed with the right to ask her a question or two: this would make a fine one!) I also wonder if the Senate will have the cojones to expel Stevens if he somehow manages to win his reelection bid — it takes a 2/3 majority to vote to expel a member, something that hasn’t happened since the Civil War expulsions in 1862. (Bob Packwood probably would have been expelled in 1995, had it not been for his resignation in light of that fact.)

This is a good time to acknowledge the amazing work of the folks at TPMMuckraker, who’ve been on the Ted Stevens story since mid-2007; their work certainly serves as the best place to see how the investigation developed into today’s guilty verdicts.

It would seem that anything I’d want to say about the $150,000 that the RNC and McCain/Palin ticket has spent on Palin’s wardrobe over the past seven weeks has already been said by Steve Benen, so you really should go read his post. I’d imagine he’s absolutely right — if you’re a donor to the GOP ticket, and aren’t even a little bit disgusted that your money has been spent on clothing and accessories to the tune of twice the median U.S. household income, then you’re likely in the minority.

Update: Marc Ambinder has an equally great take on the wardrobe expenditures, including that that amount of money would have bought the RNC a week’s worth of television ad time in Colorado (a state that the GOP is pulling money out of right now).

Just to make sure that the game of moral equivalence is played by fair rules, Steve Benen has a great post about G. Gordon Liddy, to remind folks how incredible it is that McCain has no issue with his relationship with Liddy (“I’m not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy”) yet has spent the last two weeks vilifying a (non-existent) close relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers. The key bit:

That’s an interesting response. Liddy is, of course, a convicted felon who hasacknowledged preparing to kill someone during the Ellsberg break-in ‘if necessary’; plotting to murder journalist Jack Anderson; plotting with a ‘gangland figure’ to murder Howard Hunt to stop him from cooperating with investigators; plotting to firebomb the Brookings Institution; and plotting to kidnap ‘leftist guerillas’ at the 1972 Republican National Convention — a plan he outlined to the Nixon administration using terminology borrowed from the Nazis.” Liddy also once famously gave his supporters advice on how best to kill federal officials (he recommended shooting them in the head because they might be wearing flak jackets).

Given that the McCain campaign is now pushing out robocalls in Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Missouri with Obama/Ayers allegations (interestingly similar to the robocalls he felt were despicable when used against him in 2000), this seems a bit hypocritical. But given the GOP of the past month, I guess we’re learning that that’s to be expected.

It should be noted that after today’s press conference, Joe Wurzelbacher (aka Joe the Plumber) has held more press conferences than Sarah Palin, the GOP candidate for Vice President of the United States.

It’s been 48 days since Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, and she has yet to submit herself to a standard, run-of-the-mill press conference. Not one. According to various folks who’ve done the research, this has never happened before; it’s almost as if they don’t want her being asked un-prepped questions or something…

I frequently find myself attached to some public wifi hotspot trying to get work done, and while I try to make most of my connections via secure methods (e.g., all my email takes place over encrypted connections), most of my web surfing takes place in cleartext. Occasionally, I’ll read some weblog post about the various hosted VPN services and think that I should just use one of them, but never really get around to it. This week, I finally bit the bullet… but rather than subscribing to one of the services, I just set up my own VPN server at home to use.

I have a Linux machine in my home network, and I flirted with the idea of installing OpenVPN on it and using that as my server, but due to a few weird complexities in where that machine sits on my network, that wasn’t the most appetizing idea to me. It was then that I wondered whether someone had built a VMware virtual appliance with OpenVPN support, and it turns out that PhoneHome was just the ticket I was looking for. On my home Windows 2003 Server box, I started that puppy up in VMware Player; it took about a half-hour’s worth of tweaking to get it set up just perfectly for me, and another half-hour to get my home firewall (well, really a Cisco router with a detailed set of access rules) set up to play nicely with the server. Now, I have an easy-to-run, easy-to-connect-to VPN server that allows me to have a secure connection no matter where I am, and that just rocks.

One of the things I was worried about was that the VPN would massively slow down my network connection; between the bottleneck of encrypting all the tunneled traffic and the bottleneck of my home internet connection, I was pretty sure I’d be less than impressed with the speed of an always-on VPN. Surprisingly, the connection is pretty damn fast, though — I appear to have the full speed of my home T1 available to me.

speed test over VPN

If anyone’s interested, I’m happy to share details of the changes I made to the PhoneHome VMware appliance, and any other info you might want.

I could not agree with Andrew Sullivan any more — it’s unfathomable to me why the press continues to cover Sarah Palin’s stump speeches when she won’t grant a single press conference to take their questions. It’s time for the media to grow a spine and stop giving her any exposure at all until she starts acting like a real candidate and allows the public to question her.

I have to say that I’ve been oddly surprised by how little work Sarah Palin’s writers are doing in trying to understand anything about the quotes they choose to include in her speeches.

In her speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin recalled a quote by an unnamed writer as such:

A writer observed: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.” I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

It turns out that otherwise-anonymous writer was Westbrook Pegler, a rabid anti-semite who openly wished for the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was felt to be so extreme in his bigotry that he was kicked out of the John Birch society. (That, ladies and gentlemen, takes some serious work to pull off.) It’s hard to reconcile her use of Pegler with her self-professed love of Israel, given Pegler’s belief that Jews could not be the victims of persecution because persecution “connotes injustice…They are, instead, enduring retaliation, or punishment.” Lovely stuff, that.

Similarly, in her closing statement at last week’s VP debate, Palin paraphrased and quoted Ronald Reagan:

It was Ronald Reagan who said that freedom is always just one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream; we have to fight for it and protect it, and then hand it to them so that they shall do the same, or we’re going to find ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.

Looking beyond the surface of that quote reveals that Reagan made that quote in a context that’s not exactly in agreement with that in which Palin used it. In 1961, when Reagan’s film career had waned and he was contemplating a move into politics, he made a recording for the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Medical Association as part of Operation Coffeecup; the recording was supposed to be played at coffee klatches organized by the wives of doctors, and warned people of the evils of… Medicare. His contention, as a paid spokesperson for the AMA, was that Medicare would be a sure step towards the United States becoming a full-on socialist nation. Here’s the full context of that quote, which you can hear on YouTube (the whole thing is an interesting listen, but the money comes at 9:30):

Write those letters now. Call your friends, and tell them to write them. If you don’t, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day… we will awake to find that we have so­cialism. And if you don’t do this, and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

Nevermind that Reagan’s scary socialist America never happened (or that John McCain has been covered by taxpayer-financed health care for nearly all of his adult life); given the fact that the GOP has presided over what might be the largest expansion of government in United States history, and laid claim to an evisceration of individual liberties in the wake of September 11th, 2001, it’s again hard to reconcile Palin’s idea with the notion that the it’s an encroachment of liberties by the Democratic Party that we should all fear — this is just another example of what appears to be the GOP theme this election year, repeating total fantasies enough times that people might believe them to be true. I’m glad to see that the past few weeks’ worth of polling data shows that the theme isn’t catching on.

I know that this is going to shock everyone, but it turns out that when Palin talked about her record of divesting Alaska’s investment fund of assets linked to Sudan, she was totally lying. This woman is totally, completely pathological.

Here’s both Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers to Katie Couric asking them about Roe v. Wade, and about examples of Supreme Court decisions with which they disagree:

There really isn’t a molecule in my body that believes that someone can watch this clip, see the difference between Joe Biden’s and Sarah Palin’s answers, and believe that she’s qualified to be the number two on the GOP ticket. In every single media appearance she’s made, it’s hard to believe that Palin is qualified to be a member of the White House support staff, much less a potential resident of it.

My favorite part: where Palin says that there is a Constitutional right to privacy, and then immediately says that the states are best-equipped to handle deciding the privacy rights of their constituents. It’s pretty clear she doesn’t have any idea that Constitutionally-derived rights are inherently the domain of the federal government (or that her belief in a right to privacy is, more or less, at diametric odds with her belief about Roe v. Wade).