Saturday, June 30, 2007

Debate at Howard University

Some musings about the substance of the Democratic debate (one of the "All-American Presidential Forums" sponsored by PBS) at Howard University on Thursday evening, 6/28/07:

1) It doesn't seem like asking too much for a Democratic candidate to say directly that he/she is opposed to outsourcing, in response to a question specifically about the topic. Yet, Kucinich (who emphasized unfair trade), Biden, Clinton, and Gravel (who seemed unopposed to the practice) didn't find it within themselves to state unequivocally that it is harmful.

2) Asked about income inequality, Edwards and Biden- only- stated definitively that the portion of the Bush tax cuts decreasing income taxes on the wealthy should be ended now. The reticence of the frontrunners, Clinton and Obama, may not have been accidental.

3) Queried about crime and punishment, we heard all the usual explanations for the disproportionately high rate of incarceration among blacks: greater penalties for possession of crack cocaine than powdered cocaine; racial injustice in the criminal justice system; mandatory minimums; incarceration for non-violent offenses; emphasis on incarceration rather than rehabilitation; an incompetent Attorney General. How about this? The absence of a Public Defender system in many states. In Texas, for instance, a private attorney (at public expense) is selected for indigent defendants by an elected judge- who often repays (or punishes) attorneys with assignments in response to their need for campaign funds or votes. Poor defendants, disproportionately minority, often end up with disinterested, overworked, and/or incompetent counsel. And Texas is notorious for its proclivity to impose the death penalty.

4) Over at TPM Cafe, Eric Kleefeld and T.W. Farnum lament the lengthy (and, I found, self-serving) introduction, allowing the audience to applaud (always a mistake), and the limit imposed upon each candidate for answering a question in the second half of the debate. They note also Chris Dodd's remark "I was going to say, Tavis, I'll take global warming for $600" and Tavis Smiley's response "and I was going to say, if you were Paris Hilton, I'd give you an hour. But you're not." Could there be anything more superficial than Smiley's rejoinder? Perhaps Hillary Clinton's smiling response, "That was good. That was good, Tavis."

5) Senator Clinton stated "Let me just put this in perspective. If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country."
Let me put this into perspective, Senator Clinton. Acording to the Foundation for AIDS Research Public Policy, Congress in fiscal 2005 appropriated $2.9 billion, a 2.1% increase over fiscal year 2004, for AIDS research. (apparently an international AIDS charity), cites 17,011 deaths in the U.S.A. from AIDS in 2005. That computes to an average of $170,477.92 per AIDS death. According to, the comparable figures for various diseases are: breast cancer, $20,650; Alzheimer's disease, $10,214; lung cancer, $1,905; pancreatic cancer, $1,724; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, $458.
Pandering is one thing, Senator Clinton. Deliberate, exorbitant distortion of the truth is something I'd rather ascribe to politicians (usually Republican) dedicated to the wealth and power of corporate interests. But I guess I have.

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