By Nick Li
The battle to be `leader of the free world’ continues this week with primaries in Hawaii, Washington and Wisconsin. The Republican race is all but sealed by John "transcendental threat of radical islam" McCain. If you haven’t seen the Barack Obama’s Yes We Can video by now then you should, and while you’re at it, why not check out Yes He Can, which is the McCain version of the same video. Media commentators have repeatedly written off Mike Huckabee’s chances of winning the nomination as mathematically impossible, to which Huckabee replied "I didn’t major in math, majored in miracles." Queue the media snickering. I wanted to be the first person to point this out, but unfortunately someone sort of beat me to the punch – the prolific blogging progidy Matthew Yglesias. The same mortality statistics data from the CDC that shows that if elected, 71 year old McCain would have a 15% chance of dying during his first term and a 22% chance of dying during his second term also confirms my suspicion that Mike Huckabee does not need a miracle or mathematical singularity – McCain has 2.87 % chance of dying in the next year which means a 1.79% chance of dying in the next 7.5 months before the Republican convention on September 1-4 of 2008. Compare this to Huckabee (age 52) who has a 0.38% chance of dying before the convention. Hillary Clinton (age 60) has a similar probability of dying to Huckabee while Obama, despite being a black male in America, has a 0.35% probability of dying because at age 46 he is the youngest candidate still in the race. Huckabee might not win the nomination even if McCain died tomorrow, because it is not clear what would happen to McCain’s delegates and it is possible that other candidates might step into the ring or the party will broker a different candidate. But at 1.79%, which is not so far from your odds of rolling a single number on an American wheel (1 in 38 or 2.6%), it looks like Huckabee is not taking any bigger gamble than your average casino visitor. Based on his recent visit to the Cayman islands to give a paid speech, there is a chance (I put it at slightly higher than 1.79%) that he will stay in the race until the convention, despite his promise to drop out if McCain reaches the number of delegates required to win. In other random political blogging, Hillary Clinton has been ratcheting up her criticism of Barack Obama for being vague and a plagiarist . This is really sad. Everyone knows political speeches are not supposed to be about specific policies. Even the media, who supposedly have the time to research policies and fact check statements about the record of previous policies, are utterly unable to provide any coherent analysis of actual policies. And we expect the majority of Americans (or people of any country) to debate the specific merits of mandated versus non-mandated government health care programs? Besides the problem that very few people actually understand the specifics of policy and are capable of judging statements made by candidates about their policies (such as Huckabee’s claims about a fair tax or Giuliani’s support of supply-side Reaganomics), making specific promises (like I will raise the minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour) is dangerous because accomplishing specific policy objectives is outside the control of the President, since legislation is made by the US congress. No one has ever gotten the exact bill they wanted. But probably the most misguided aspect of this line of critique from the Clinton campaign is that the specific differences between their policies make any difference to the average democratic voter. They do not, as Hillary herself has been claiming all along during the debates. The choice is really like the choice between Coke and Pepsi – does one go for the Classic or the taste of a New Generation? It is a question of style and not substance, as both candidates have very smart people who really understand the ins and outs of policy advising them, and both will have to alter the specifics of their plans. Obama’s claims about hope and a new kind of politics are more about tactics than about goals. But if you want to decide for youself whether one candidate is really more specific or not, check out some transcripts of recent campaign speeches about the economy by Hillary and by Barack. If Obama happens to choose to make his inspirational, non-policy speeches more frequently than Clinton, it may be because he doesn’t want to put the audience to sleep. Finally, my current hometown of Berkeley, California is all over the US national news in the last few days because of a controversy involving the Berkeley City Council, the US Marine recruiting office, and an anti-war group called Code Pink. The controversy involves a series of statements made by the Berkeley city council stating that the marines were not welcome to recruit in Berkeley, and their support of Code Pink through the provision of free designated parking spots near the Marine recruting office. The council issued a statement stating that the US marine recruiting station (which only sprang up last year) ""is not welcome in the city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders."" Code Pink has been holding a continuous vigil involving "life-affirming activities like a baby playgroup and mother’s breastfeeding circle, yoga, singing, reading, and other activities." Berkeley has had a reputation for radicalism since the 1960s when students led massive demonstrations against the Vietnam war and against a ban on political activity on campus. My own impression has been that a lot of this activist spirit has been lost, at least among the student who are mainly comfortably middle-class Asian or White students who are more interested in getting a world-class education than fighting the system (after all, we now have a Chevron auditorium and a Bechtel terrace on campus). It appears that city residents, however, many of whom moved to Berkeley during the 1960s and 1970s because of the political scene, are keeping Berkeley’s reputation alive – I’m sure Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck would have been saying the same things about Berkeley in the 1960s as they are today, and I’m proud of living in a town where we manage to irk conservative tv commentators. While I may not agree with the tactics of Code Pink, which George Orwell would surely have classified in the Road to Wigan Pier as among the – "fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist" – I think they are well within their right to oppose the presence of a US marine recruitment office in Berkeley. It is not just that I don’t buy the idea that the US marines have done so much since world war II to protect the freedom and rights of Berkeley residents, but that they should be able to exercise those rights to the fullest extent of the law. In a world where mainstream conservatives and liberals disagree about the Iraq war but claim to "support the troops," a city of radicals like Berkeley should be able to "not support the troops" as well.