My wife and I tried attending Rep. Pete Stark's town hall meeting on health care, but the room had filled to capacity long before we arrived. The crowd was *overwhelmingly* in favor of health care reform and our representative's support for it. Of the well several hundred people that couldn't get in, I saw exactly two signs opposing reform (far fewer than were pushing for more reform, e.g. promoting a single-payer plan). The mood was friendly and non-confrontational, and I had lots of good conversations and discussions with my fellow citizens out on the lawn in spite of not getting into the meeting itself.
My email to Senator Feinstein, asking her to support a public option for healthcare. (Links added for this post.)
I was dismayed to hear your name being lumped together with Republicans and a handful of Democrats who are trying to scuttle any health care bill that includes a viable public option. As you are no doubt aware, the recent high price tags cited by the CBO do not take into account any price savings that a public option would generate by negotiating lower drug prices, doctor fees, and hospital costs, and forcing private insurers to be more competitive. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently put it, "projecting the future costs of universal health care without including the public option is like predicting the number of people who will get sunburns this summer if nobody is allowed to buy sun lotion." I also believe, as do many experts, that a strong public option, unhampered by restrictions inserted at the behest of the insurance industry, is the surest way to bring down the spiraling costs that are eating up the budget of every family, every business and every state in The Union.
I understand how comments can be misinterpreted, and how often nuanced positions can be blown into a for-or-against bullet point, and so I hope you can set the record straight on your position by answering a simple question: Do you support immediate implementation of a public health-care option, undiluted by being broken into co-operatives and unfettered by restrictions as to its ability to negotiate for lower prices from drug companies and health-care providers? If not, what are your reasons for withholding your support?
Thank you, and I look forward to your response.
Dr. Bradley Rhodes
Alameda, CA 94501
Update 6/24/2009: TPM just received a clarification from Feinstein's office on her position.
One of the many proposals being considered to reform our system is to create a health care plan that is publically operated. Please know that I am reviewing all health care reform options and I will keep your comments in mind as the Senate continues to work to improve health care for all Americans.
The key paragraph from Sen. Boxer:
I was pleased to be an original co-sponsor of S.Res.156, a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that health care reform legislation should include the establishment of a federally backed insurance pool.
Introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), S.Res.156 says that any reform of the nation's health care system should give consumers a choice of an affordable, federally backed option to introduce competition in the health insurance market and contain health care costs. I support this approach.
I've mixed feelings on California's State Supreme Court upholding our constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. On the one hand it means same-sex couples have to wait still longer before being granted the basic human rights every m/f couple enjoys today in our state. On the one hand it gives us, the voters, one more chance to do the right thing by overturning this knee-jerk throwback to a previous era.
It's a sobering thought that, if my wife and I had been born into our grandparents' generation, it would have been illegal for us to be married in California, because she's Asian and I'm Caucasian. That ban was also overturned by the California Supreme Court, who in 1948 declared that our anti-miscegenation law violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Only that time there was no way that 52% of the voters could overturn that right simply by passing a ballot measure.
Fear and ignorance always bring out the worst in us, and the rights enshrined in a democracy's constitution are there, in part, to prevent a majority from acting on those base emotions in a way that tramples a minority. In this case, the State Supreme Court has declared that we voters need to grow up and do the right thing ourselves. I hope we do it soon.
What with all the apoplexy about keeping Gitmo detainees in prison on US soil, I have to wonder... which sounds like a more secure place to house suspected terrorists?
If Texas secedes, will we have to move the wall?
Apparently, the White House Press Corp shares my interest in technological shifts from paper to digital. I'm a research scientist at a company that makes photocopiers — I wonder what their excuse is?
President Obama's comments yesterday:
We can’t embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face; that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees. I don’t care whether you’re driving a hybrid or an SUV — if you’re headed for a cliff, you’ve got to change direction.
Meanwhile, Republicans are doing their damnedest to scuttle the bill entirely, or at least to convince everyone that what this economy needs is even more tax cuts! Because, you know, they've worked so well so far.
I've heard speculation that the only thing the remaining Republicans fear more than a complete economic meltdown is the possibility of Obama getting credit for saving us from one, and they're willing to screw the entire country to avoid that fate. Me, I'm guessing Republican leaders have secretly cornered the market on generators, kerosene and ammunition, and plan to make a killing once everything collapses.
Mark Oppenheimer in Slate gives odds about what the next minority group will be to win the White House. Looks like even without those Burning Man photos floating around the Net my chances are slim:
The atheists: When the lion lies down with the lamb, when the president is a Republican Muslim and the Democratic speaker of the House is a vegan Mormon lesbian, when the secretary of defense is a Jain pacifist from the Green Party, they will all agree on one thing: atheists need not apply. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president. (By contrast, only 43 percent wouldn't vote for a homosexual, and only 24 percent wouldn't vote for a Mormon.) As Ronald Lindsay, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, told me in an e-mail: "Atheism spells political death in this country."
Indeed. Only one current congressman has confessed to being an atheist: Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from the lefty East Bay region of Northern California. If he ever ran for president, he would need God's help just as surely as he wouldn't ask for it.
I suppose I can take solace that Stark happens to be my congressman. So at least I'm represented. :)
(Via Political Animal)
In the past week, we have heard Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) call for an investigation of whether members of Congress are "pro-America or anti-America." As a first-term representative she can perhaps be dismissed as fringe, but we're hearing similar language from Sarah Palin on the campaign trail, and some are beginning to see this as a pattern on the part of the McCain campaign.
Fifty-eight years ago, Senator Margaret Chase Smith — the first woman to be elected to the US Senate — had the courage to speak out against fellow Republican Joe McCarthy and his unconscionable debasement of the US Senate "to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity."
"The nation sorely needs a Republican victory," she said in her Declaration of Conscious, "but I don't want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear." As a first-term Senator, speaking out against not only a member of her own party but one of the Senate's most powerful and vindictive members was hardly a career-advancing move, costing her a key subcommittee appointment and almost costing her her reelection.
It would be another four years before the Senate would finally censure Senator McCarthy and bring his witch hunt to an end, four years in which countless careers were destroyed, our leaders were distracted from addressing more pressing issues, and paranoia and division gripped our nation. It would be many more years before the damage done during that period would be repaired. History now remembers Senator Smith as being the first to speak out against this nightmare, before it became safe or popular to do so.
In the coming months and years we will be asking our elected representatives to lead us out of a global financial crisis, climate change, two wars and a severely tarnished reputation abroad. To address these problems we will need to draw on the strengths and ideas from all the diverse backgrounds, faiths and ideologies our great nation has to offer. We can not afford to waste time with hatred and division in our government or in the population at large.
The questions in this round will be premised on a fictional, but we think plausible scenario involving terrorism and the response to it. Here is the premise: Three shopping centers near major U.S. cities have been hit by suicide bombers. Hundreds are dead, thousands injured. A fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured off the Florida coast and taken to Guantanamo Bay, where they are being questioned. U.S. intelligence believes that another larger attack is planned and could come at any time.
First question to you, Senator McCain. How aggressively would you interrogate those being held at Guantanamo Bay for information about where the next attack might be?
As an editorial in the Washington Post points out, only John McCain got the answer right: when you torture your prisoners you actually make things worse, both in terms of world opinion and in wasting time on the unreliable information it produces. The trouble is, Hume's hypothetical is actually two questions: a surface question about torture and an emotional question about what the candidate would be willing to sacrifice in the name of security. Personally I'd like to see the second question made more explicit. For example, how about asking one of these:
Or maybe we should make the whole question less hypothetical. How about this?
"Gentlemen, on your left is Jerry (dressed in an Osama bin Laden mask), who is holding device that in one minute will send a million volts through the chairs of 10 random people sitting in our audience. To your right you see a switch that will disable the device, but will also drop poor Mrs. Grinwald here into this vat of hungry sharks. The decision is yours, but please be prepared to explain your actions.
Our TV audience will then vote for their favorite response via SMS, and the top 5 candidates will go on to the next round of questions."
President Bush on Border Security, 11/28/05:
And one of the best examples of success is the Arizona Border Control Initiative, which the government launched in 2004. In the first year of this initiative -- now, listen to this, listen how hard these people are working here -- agents in Arizona apprehended nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants, a 42-percent increase over the previous year.
President Bush on Border Security, 4/9/07:
In the months before Operation Jump Start, an average of more than 400 people a day were apprehended trying to cross here. The number has dropped to fewer than 140 a day. In other words, one way that the Border Patrol can tell whether or not we're making progress is the number of apprehensions. When you're apprehending fewer people, it means fewer are trying to come across.... We're seeing similar results all across the southern border. The number of people apprehended for illegally crossing our southern border is down by nearly 30 percent this year. We're making progress. And thanks for your hard work. It's hard work, but necessary work.
(Via Media Matters)
Since the Pentagon has decided to discuss its new strategy in gambling parlance, it should at least use the proper terminology. Today's LA Times article says that a Pentagon official has referred to the option of sending more troops in to Iraq as a "double down" strategy. The reference is to a bet in blackjack when, based on the cards that have been dealt, the player seeks to maximize a payoff that is more likely to occur in that hand, given the probabilities. The double down is a calculated bet, made from a position of strength when the odds are favorable to the bettor.
In Iraq, we are certainly not in a situation where the odds are favorable to winning. Our bet is not a double down. Let's call it what it is: double or nothing. This is is more like the gambler who has been on a bad losing streak deciding to empty the savings account and put all of his chips on red, hoping that the roulette wheel will spin his way and bring him back close to even. Double or nothing is a desperation play. It is an ill-advised way to gamble, with chips or human lives, and such a strategy inevitably leads to another appropriate gambling term. Gambler's ruin: winding up completely broke.
It's scary how many of our political errors can be described in terms of psychological disorders...
This short "Perspectives" piece by Erik Vance, "Immigration For Lunch" really strikes a chord with me. Life without a large inflow of immigrants just sounds... boring to me.
Rush Limbaugh, on the results of last week's election:
The way I feel is this: I feel liberated, and I'm gonna - I'm just gonna tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don't think deserve having their water carried.
Now, you might say, well, why have you been doing it? Because the stakes are high. Even though the Republican Party let us down, to me, they represent a far better future for my beliefs, and therefore the country's, than the Democrat [sic] Party does, and liberalism. And I believe my side is worthy of victory. And I believe it's much easier to reform things that are going wrong on my side from a position of strength.
Now, I'm liberated from having to constantly come in here every day and try to buck up a bunch of people who don't deserve it.
It's not often I complement Limbaugh, but good on him (and about damn time). I think Limbaugh is a buffoon, but I also think the country is a lot better off with a cacophony of buffoons all speaking their minds than a bunch of ditto-head water-bearers all marching in lock-step. It's something citizens of all political leanings need to keep in mind.
(Limbaugh quote via On The Media... in case you were wondering whether my radio taste had changed recently.)
In today's news, US soldiers lifted their cordon around Sadr City after an order from Prime Minister Maliki, essentially accepting that their search for a captured American soldier had failed and was not tenable given the increasing backlash from Moktada al-Sadr supporters. We also just ended the fourth deadliest month for American soldiers in Iraq, with
101 105 U.S. service members killed. Meanwhile, security company Kroll and engineering company Bechtel both announced they were pulling out of Iraq due to deteriorating security, and a briefing prepared by the US Central Command indicates Iraq has been rapidly sliding into chaos since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February.
So with all that and the mid-term elections less than a week away, I guess there's no question why the President hopes we'll just forget the past two years and think it's still election 2004, huh?
Today's the last day for Californians to register to vote in time for the November 7th election. If you've not yet registered, download the registration form and mail it directly to your county elections official. Forms must be postmarked by today's date.
Haven't we heard this song before?
Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.
Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.
From today's district court ruling that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program is illegal:
The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.
We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all “inherent powers” must derive from that Constitution.
The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these [the First and Fourth] Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well.
According to recent polls, 50% of Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were actually found in Iraq, and at least back in December 24% of Americans believed that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were Iraqis. And a presumably different 36% of Americans believe it is either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or deliberately took no action to stop them, and another 16% of Americas speculate that the World Trade Center collapsed because of government-planted explosives rather than as a result of burning jet fuel.
So on the right we have fundamental ignorance about the facts (no doubt encouraged by scurrilous politicians) and on the left there's a rising belief in ill-supported conspiracy theories (no doubt fanned by the Loose Change video). To the remaining 14%, please hang in there — you're all we've got left in an increasingly reality-free nation.
(Links via On The Media.)
The phrase all the newspapers have picked up about the recent foiled terrorist plot:
"Put simply this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale."
OK, so say their plan was to blow up 12 US-bound flights simultaneously, and say that by some stroke of absolute genius and/or luck they actually managed to succeed in every single case (fat chance, but humor me). If you assume around 259 people onboard each flight (the same number of people as were killed on Pan Am 747-100), that's 3108 deaths. That would be a tragic loss of life. It's roughly equivalent to the number killed in the WTC attacks, three times the number of civilians killed so far in Lebanon in the past few weeks, 7.5% of the number of civilians killed so far in Iraq, a third of the number killed every day in Rwanda in from April to July 1994, and only slightly fewer than the number of people killed in the US in auto accidents every month.
That's a lot, and I'm glad they've arrested these guys. But unimaginable? That sounds like a serious lack of imagination.
My friend Yonatan Zunger has posted a very cogent analysis of what's going on between Israel, Hezbollah, Syria, Lebanon and Iran right now. Well worth the read.
OK, so the whole stem-cell debate in congress mostly revolves around the fac that, as Bush put it, "...extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys its potential for life,” and opponents of embryonic stem-cell research suggest scientists should focus on adult stem cells that don't have that potential. Which just makes me wonder, what happens if (or when) science advances to the point where human cloning is possible? Would adult stem cells be verboten as well? What happens when blood cells and dead skin have the "potential for life?"
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. summarizes the huge amount of evidence of malfeasance and outright election fraud that led to Bush's "win" in 2004, including a whopping 208 footnotes ranging from newspaper reports to court decisions to official investigation findings. The article is the result of a four-month investigation by Kennedy and Rolling Stone magazine (to echo my friend Judith, why the hell do we have to go to Rolling Stone for in-depth political reporting?).
Most of the findings will be old news to those who followed the story at the time, and it's clearly just one side of the argument, but seeing the case laid out all in one place is still maddening. (I'm actually still reading it, because I can only read about a page at a time before getting too mad to continue.)
Leonard Susskind has a nice quote on the recent anti-science frenzy we've seen the past few years. This is from his chapter / essay called The Good Fight, published in Intelligent Thought: Science Versus The Intelligent Design Movement:
What is the reason for the recent upsurge of antiscientific passion? My own view is that it is, in part, a result of the anger, fear, frustration, and humiliation suffered over the years by the losers in the culture wars: those who would have kept women in the kitchen, blacks in the back of the bus, and gays in the closet. It is also a consequence of the deep and terrible universal fear of old age and death. But I don't believe these emotions, by themselves, could have created the antiscientific backlash of recent years. The fault may well lie in the ease with which these emotions can be cynically manipulated. It is pretty clear that the battle was engineered by provocateurs who may not even have wanted to win the battles they provoked. What seems much more likely, in view of the gingerly way that politicians have skirted such issues as Roe v. Wade, is that the provocateurs want to lose the battles and in that way keep the anger and humiliation at fever pitch.
As I'm sure everyone knows, last week the US Senate voted to make English our "national" language. All through this debate I keep thinking back to when my dad was a professor at Georgia Tech Lorraine, Georgia Tech's campus in Metz, France.
Back in 1997 Georgia Tech Lorraine was sued for violating a French law forbidding the sale of "goods and services" in France in any single language other than French. The lawsuit was brought by two French organizations, the Défense de la Langue Française and Avenir de la Langue Française Defense de la Langue, because the campus (which taught classes only in English) did not have a French version of their website. I remember smugly thinking how idiotic it was that the French had organizations dedicated to the "defense" of the French language, and how much more sensible we Americans were. Of course, I should have realized my smugness would be short-lived: the French may be known for their jingoism and petulant national pride, but the US has always envied that title.
So now I have to wonder — how would the Senators that voted for "defending our English language" react to the accusation that they're acting, well, French?
"If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."
Senator Mathias: "...if a reasonable litigant actually believed that your judgment would be distorted because of some strong personal bias or belief, would that dissuade you from sitting on a case?"
Judge Scalia: I think the statute reads that way, Senator. I have the statute somewhere. I am quite sure that the way you put it is about the way the statute reads, requiring disqualification. If I may, title 28, United States Code, section 455: "Any justice, judge or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."
After three years of bloody war in Iraq, President Bush has finally announced his hitherto super-secret plan for victory. Step 1: elect a more competent U.S. president...
President Bush said yesterday that future administrations will have to grapple with how and when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, indicating that he doesn't see an end to U.S. commitments until at least 2009.
"That'll be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq," Mr. Bush said at his second press conference of the year, during which he also said Iraq is not in the middle of a civil war and defended his continued commitment of U.S. troops.
Wow. Glenn Greenwald has the skinny on how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is so determined to make sure the Intelligence Committee doesn't look into Bush's secret domestic wiretapping program (the vote was already delayed once by the Committee Chair after it became apparent that three Republican committee members were going to vote to hold hearings) that he's threatening to end the special bipartisan power-sharing arrangement the intelligence committee has had since it was created 30 years ago. Sounds like a smaller version of the so-called Nuclear Option the Republicans were threatening over filibuster.
"If I can't have my way, I'm just going to take my Democracy and go home..."
(Thanks to Judith for the link.)
From: Ministry of Truth
Subject: Newspeak update
Please be informed that the phrase Global Struggle Against Violent Extremists is obsoleted in favor of the phrase The Long War. Changes will be reflected in the upcoming tenth edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.
The Vatican weighs in on the cartoons of Muhammad:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican, commenting on a series of satirical newspaper cartoons that have outraged Muslims, said freedom of expression does not include the right to offend religious sentiments.
...The Vatican suggested, however, that where free speech crosses the line and becomes offensive to a religion, national authorities "can and should" intervene.
Pretty strong words for a religion that only a few centuries ago was being oppressed by various national authorities because their very existence was considered offensive.
(Link by way of The Volokh Conspiracy...)
The Wikipedia community is trying to respond to whitewashing of politically-sensitive articles that appear to be coming from congressional staffers themselves (with the staff of Marty Meehan (D, MA) being one of the biggest culprits).
I'm always amazed that Wikipedia works as well as it does — hopefully the bad press Meehan and other congress-critters get over this flap will outweigh any good press specific staffers may have hoped to achieve.
Today we're marking the 2000th American military death in Iraq. It's important to recognize landmarks like this, even though 2000 is an arbitrary number and even though counting only American deaths is rather parochial of us anyway. But lest we get too caught up on numbers it's also important to remember that this doesn't count contractors and other "outsourced" military functions: men and women who were just as involved in fighting the war as their enlisted partners. That adds a minimum of 105 confirmed American casualties, but the simple fact is that nobody knows even how many contractors are working for us out there, much less how many casualties they've suffered. Landmarks are important times to reflect on where we are and the price we paid to get there, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the cost has been more than just what is easily counted.
I don't get it. With all the credentials Karen Hughes has, including managing Bush's already stellar communications, ghost-writing his autobiography and of course her Bachelors in Journalism and 7 years as a local TV-news reporter, how could she be having such trouble mastering the subtle diplomacy and cultural differences involved in Middle-Eastern politics?
Maybe if she had more experience with Arabian horses...
(Thanks to Dorothy for the link.)
Here's what Alexander Hamilton had to say on the purpose of Senate confirmations:
To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.
It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entier branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.
Of course, if the president has no shame then all bets are off...
(Thanks to Jay for the quote.)
Q: What is scientific data? A: Whatever the Secretary of the Interior says it is.
At least that'll be the case if congress passes HR 3824, now headed for the floor of the House. From the bill:
The term `best available scientific data' means scientific data, regardless of source, that are available to the Secretary at the time of a decision or action for which such data are required by this Act and that the Secretary determines are the most accurate, reliable, and relevant for use in that decision or action.
Given that this administration defines "best available scientific data" as "that data that supports the president's life-in-a-bubble view of reality," as a political appointee the Secretary of the Interior is probably far more qualified to judge the scientific merit of a study than any scientist.
I've just come across a new blog called Beyond Satire (beyondsatire.us):
For years, we've been observing that truth has moved beyond satire. We created this site to highlight news that would be unbelievable as satire but is nevertheless true. Please help us by submitting comments and stories.
I can tell from the first dozen or so posts that this is going on my short list. (It reminds me of the "No Comment" feature that Ms. Magazine runs — things that are so over the top they supply their own punchline.)
As a side note, it took me two-thirds of the way through reading it till I realized the author is Ellen Spertus, a CS professor in San Francisco that I know from back when she was at the MIT AI Lab. Small world syndrome strikes again...
(Thanks to Andrea for the link!)
Population Services International is a great nonprofit organization — they've got all the business skill you'd expect from a creative and up-and-coming company, especially when it comes to brand management and culturally-appropriate marketing. But instead of making the big bucks here in the states these people dedicate their skills in the poorest regions of the world — distributing and convincing people to use safe-water solutions, nutrition supplements, mosquito nets and bedding to prevent malaria, and safe-sex education material and condoms to prevent AIDS. They've had an incredible track record over the past decade, applying the practical, level-headed thinking more often found in business than in a field where people often think with their hearts more than their heads. As a PSI spokesman puts it, "We're dealing with the world as it is. It's not always pretty."
Unfortunately, the Bush administration is not long on practical, level-headed thinking. Ultra-religious conservatives have been accusing PSI of "supporting prostitution" because they host educational games to teach prostitutes about safe sex and how to use a condom. These groups no doubt think a better way to stem the world-wide flow of AIDS is to simply convince prostitutes to accept Jesus as their savior and recognize that anything but abstinence before marriage is a sin. Well, it looks like these groups will soon get their chance: the Baltimore Sun reports that USAID decided to cut large amounts of funding for PSI in favor of faith-based organizations:
Contract decisions had typically been made by USAID officials with expertise on the topic, but the July 19 withdrawal decision was made by a high-level political appointee, said a public health official familiar with the region. "It was surprising to yank a [proposal] that was so far advanced," said the official, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity and fear of reprisal.
On Aug. 11, USAID reopened the bidding process, but with significant changes. The agency reduced funding by $3 million, altered selection factors to put less weight on experience, and eliminated the goal of increasing condom usage. It also added language noting "the strength of community and faith-based organizations and their advantages in the fight against HIV/AIDS."
Michael Magan, deputy assistant administrator for Latin America, declined to comment on the changes in the request. Magan took the post after working in Ohio on President Bush's 2004 campaign. Previously he was head of the agency's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, established by the president.
Not all Republicans are on this crusade — in particular Larry Craig (R-ID), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) have all asked USAID to reconsider. Let's hope these senators can speak loud and strong for the part of the Republican party that still believes in reality over fantasy and what works over wishful thinking.
(Thanks to my favorite well of truth for the link!)
From: Ministry of Truth
Subject: Newspeak update
Please be informed that the phrase Global War on Terrorism is obsoleted in favor of the phrase Global Struggle Against Violent Extremists. Changes will be reflected in the upcoming tenth edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.
According to some psychologists, people subconsciously try to find evidence to support their own theories. It's more than just the optimist seeing the glass half full and the pessimist seeing it half empty — the pessimist will actually go out of his way to find an empty glass and then say "see, I was right." I think that's the main explanation for why some people always sabotage themselves just when things are about to go well, while others always land on their feet.
Post 9-11 America is showing this symptom on a societal level. The Bush administration's obsession with Iraq is a prime example, of course, but it's also pervasive in society at large. The Terrorist is the perfect boogyman — he's so ill-defined and inscrutable that we can and do project anything that scares us onto him. And then we go out and find the evidence to support that fear, be it a glitch in airport security or the arrest of someone who once visited an Al Qaeda training camp. Some of that evidence is real — this week's attack in London is just the latest reminder that there is some basis to our fear — but most of it is simply driving ourselves into a panic playing games of "what if?".
The Hemant Lakhani case, featured on this week's This American Life radio show, sounds like a perfect example of finding (really, manufacturing) evidence to support a theory. Here's somebody that the FBI approached and asked to supply a missile to terrorists. Lakhani agreed, but couldn't actually deliver. After waiting 22 months for him to actually commit the crime, the FBI provided the missile to him themselves, and then arrested him. The guy is clearly amoral, but also pretty clearly incompetent, and he didn't even have the idea to provide terrorists with weapons until the FBI suggested it. Setting him up like this so we can throw him in jail is like airport security confiscating grandma's nail clipper — it was never a big threat to begin with, but when they find it we all breath a sigh of relief while we visualize the horrible things that might have happened had we not gotten lucky this time.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has a good overview on the potential link between mercury-based preservatives used in vaccines from 1981 to 2003 and the simultaneous huge increase in autism. I'd sort of bunched this theory in with fluoridation paranoia, but it looks like there's a lot of concern among level-headed people who have looked at the data and have the expertise to understand it. If what this article implies is accurate, this whole thing could blow into another Thalidomide.
The Times Online has just released a transcript of an official Cabinet Office brief that presumably was the basis for the discussion later detailed in the Downing Street Memo they released last month. Unlike the previous leak, this transcript is missing the last page and has been anonymized by the Times to protect the source.
Given that the Downing Street Memo story is just now getting traction in the US media (a month after being leaked) it'll be interesting to see how this new story is handled here, especially given how understandably gun-shy the US media is right now about criticizing the administration without being damn sure the sources can be verified. According to an interview USA Today's Mark Memmott gave On The Media (MP3), the main reason they delayed so long in talking about the first leak was that they couldn't verify the memo themselves.
The latest abuse report leaked to the New York Times is absolutely medieval. Beating prisoners to death, chaining them to the ceiling... and now it's suspected that at least one of those murdered was just an innocent bystander arrested by an Afghan guerrilla commander who wanted to win the trust of the US by handing over insurgents.
Can our military chain of command really be so dysfunctional that higher-ups didn't have an idea of what was going on? And after they did know what was up, why on Earth did they wait so long to do anything about it:
Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.
Apparently Republican spindoctors have tried no fewer than six different names for their immanent parliamentary rules change to block Democrat filibusters. Is this just because no one can keep a straight face when Bush calls it the Nucular Option?
Something to remember as the far right tries to rile up their Christian base with talk of a War on Faith is that about 80% of Americans* are Christian, compared to only about 15% non-religious, atheist or agnostic. So when they say there's a war on faith, especially in the broader context of a "culture war," they don't mean a battle between the faithful and the non-faithful. They mean a battle between their conservative orthodoxy and moderate people of faith.
*American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001. Percentages are out of the 196,734 people who agreed to answer the question.
Understanding people different from yourself. That's supposed to be on the "Blue State" side of the big stereotype slate that's written in somebody's guidebook, isn't it? (You know, the one that says if I'm in favor of gun control then I have to be anti-Israel, and vice versa?)
Heather Hurlburt at Democracy Arsenal has a nice short post on 10 steps Democrats can take to get back on the map WRT national security. Kevin Drum at Political Animal quotes one particular example:
Step 6. Every progressive takes a personal vow to learn something about our military, how it works, what its ethos is, and how it affects our society at all levels — as well as what it does well and less well in the wider world.
Sounds like good advice. Also reminds me of a great piece that NPR's On The Media did last month about how journalists, in general, just don't understand gun issues or gun owners, and how they really need to start.
Rejecting California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's argument that California is entitled to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, Kramer said the same explanation was offered for the state's ban on interracial marriage, which was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 1948.
The judge also rejected arguments by opponents of same-sex marriage that the current law promotes procreation and child-rearing by a husband and wife. "One does not have to be married in order to procreate, nor does one have to procreate in order to marry," Kramer said.
Update 3/18/05: updated the title to no longer mean the opposite of what I meant (by adding the word ban).
Bob Parks over at What's New suggests it is...
So what’s really behind "The Vision"? Why is the administration pushing so hard for a science initiative that scientists scorn, and which won’t take place on Bush’s watch? Ah, but that’s the plan. It will be up to the next administration, stuck with a huge deficit, to decide whether to go ahead with a meaningless but staggeringly expensive program to see if humans can do what robots are already doing. As one well-informed NASA watcher put it, "Moon-Mars is a poison pill. It hangs responsibility for ending the humans-in-space program on the next administration."
Of course, the same could be said of Bush's tax cut on the one hand and all his red-ink on other — it might just be a mixed blessing to the Republicans to not have at least one Democrat majority to blame by the time all the chickens are back home to roost.
The ACLU and Human Rights First are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, seeking "a court order declaring that Secretary Rumsfeld's actions violated the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and international law."
"We believed the United States could correct its policy without resort to the courts. In bringing this action today, we reluctantly conclude that we were wrong."
A few months ago I attended a panel discussion about the rule of law in light of recent prisoner abuses a few months ago, sponsored by the Stanford Law School and the International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. After the legal experts detailed abuse after abuse things looked pretty bleak, so I asked the obvious question: With all the egregious abuses you've listed, is the rule of law dead? I was surprised to hear the three panelists (law professors from the U.S. Naval War College, Santa Clara University and Stanford) all agree the answer was "no." Their assessment was that the President and his administration was clearly abusing the law and Congress had rolled over and played dead, but the Judicial Branch was still doing its job to interpret the law. It's just that the judicial branch is slow, they explained, and so when the other branches abuse their power it takes a while to rectify.
It looks like this, plus the ruling that the government must either charge or release Jose Padilla, are both small steps showing that slow progress at work.
Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) office has come out with a report on The Content of Federally Funded Abstinance-Only Education Programs (pointer via the SJ Mercury News). These are federally-funded (though not federally supervised) programs to teach teenagers the importance of not having sex before marriage — often by scaring the bejesus out of them. I'm all in favor of teaching teenagers (and adults) to think twice and three times before having sex, but it would seem quite a number of the programs have found that it's easier to scare people with opinion, distortions and outright falshoods than to let kids think for themselves with all the facts on hand.
From the report's executive summary:
The report finds that over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula, used by over twothirds of SPRANS grantees in 2003, contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health. Specifically, the report finds:
- Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Effectiveness of Contraceptives. Many of the curricula misrepresent the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. One curriculum says that "the popular claim that 'condoms help prevent the spread of STDs,' is not supported by the data"; another states that "[i]n heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time"; and another teaches that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. These erroneous statements are presented as proven scientific facts.
- Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain False Information about the Risks of Abortion. One curriculum states that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortions will become sterile; that "[p]remature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy"; and that "[t]ubal and cervical pregnancies are increased following abortions." In fact, these risks do not rise after the procedure used in most abortions in the United States.
- Abstinence-Only Curricula Blur Religion and Science. Many of the curricula present as scientific fact the religious view that life begins at conception. For example, one lesson states: "Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins." Another curriculum calls a 43-day-old fetus a "thinking person."
- Abstinence-Only Curricula Treat Stereotypes about Girls and Boys as Scientific Fact. One curriculum teaches that women need "financial support," while men need "admiration." Another instructs: "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments."
- Abstinence-Only Curricula Contain Scientific Errors. In numerous instances, the abstinence-only curricula teach erroneous scientific information. One curriculum incorrectly lists exposure to sweat and tears as risk factors for HIV transmission. Another curriculum states that "twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual"; the correct number is 23.
The report finds numerous examples of these errors. Serious and pervasive problems with the accuracy of abstinence-only curricula may help explain why these programs have not been shown to protect adolescents from sexually transmitted diseases and why youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex.
It's 2008, a constitutional amendment has been passed to allow immigrants who have been US citiziens for more than 20 years to run for president, and in a surprise move Rupert Murdoch beats Arnold Schwarzenegger in the primaries and at age 77 becomes the nation's oldest president.
I gotta stop eating rich foods right before bed...
(As a side note, that constitutional amendment makes a lot of sense to me in this day and age. I've been pretty impressed with Schwartzenegger this past year too, for that matter...)
NPR just did a 5-month investigative report on how Homeland Security is jailing non-citiziens without trial for up to two years, where they're being threatened or attacked & bitten by guard-dogs, beaten by guards and then eventually deported.
Guantanimo? No, New Jersey. It's all in response to a Clinton-era law calling for the deportation of non-citiziens who have ever in the past been convicted of a crime — even people like Hemnauth Mohabir who had been fined $250 for carrying about $5 worth of drugs, had a steady honest job, is married to a US citizien and has a child with her.
Cuddos to Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) for speaking out against the Republican repeal of their own Gingrich-Revolution-era rule that would require Tom DeLay to step down as Speaker if he's indicted for violating state campaign finance laws.
"This is a mistake," said Representative Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
When the Republicans gained control of the House in the elections of 1994, "we were going to be different,'' Mr. Shays said.
But "every time we start to water down what we did in '94," he said, "we are basically saying the revolution is losing its character."
For you locals, there's a potentially interesting talk tonight at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: U.S. Health Care in Crisis, by the two Time Magazine investigative journalists who just wrote Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business -- And Bad Medicine. The interview on KQED's Forum was good — if I can somehow make it to The City in time I'll probably attend...
From an interview with Donna Ducarme of Democrats Abroad, in the November 5th issue of The Amsterdam Times:
I'm physically wiped and sore all over and mentally tired. I'm so angry I can hardly breathe. Those of us who fought for Kerry are very disappointed and frightened that he lost. We're worried for the future of America. I'm so angry that he conceded before all the votes were counted.
My thing was to register all the voters we could possibly register; one of the reasons we got them registered is that we promised that their votes would matter and then he conceded before any of our votes had been counted. Kerry has created a problem amongst individual members but he's also cut us overseas voting activists off at the knees because not only will potential voters not believe Kerry anymore, they won't believe us.
I personally believe he has disenfranchised every overseas voter. We're all voting by post and, when he conceded, all of our ballots were still sitting there in the boxes waiting to be counted. It's a betrayal of a sort I've never experienced in my political life. We galvanized voters who'd not been involved in politics since the Vietnam years because they thought they could make a difference. Are we supposed to wait another thirty years before we rally those troops again and what happens to our country in the meantime?
I remember back when Reagan was running against Carter the word mandate meant a clear sign from the people that they supported a candidate, but it seems the word has eroded to the point that today it means "squeaked by with a 3% margin." But at least he got more votes than the other guy this time, so I suppose that's at least a mini-mandate. The question is, what's it a mini-mandate for?
I'm pretty sure it's not a mandate for:
I expect most Bush supporters would agree on those points, though they may take offense that I'd even bring the topics up. I'm not nearly as certain it wasn't a mandate for these other points though:
Electoral-Vote.com has a nice pictoral map of how the states came out, normalized by population. Makes me feel a little less outnumbered than the traditional map, especially considering California is over 12% of the nation's population...
I'd also like to point out to those who keep talking about "Liberal California" that the split was only 54.6% to 45% for Kerry — lower than Hawaii or Illinois. It's a big state, we contain multitudes.
Brief random musing: People always seem to see Republicans/Conservatives as macho, gunslinging, no-holds-barred, get-the-job-done-whatever-it-takes and see Democrats/Liberals as lovey-dovey, unwilling-to-hurt-anyone-or-take-a-stand... regardless of whether they're actually that way or not.
Try this on for size: take Arnold Schwartzneger, George W. Bush and John Kerry. When it comes to having macho cred, what seperates the Democrat from the two Republicans?
Answer: Kerry is the only one to have personally killed a man with his own two hands. That's an easy image to have of Schwartzneger of course — just rent it from Blockbuster. But picture it in your head for a second: Kerry's hands soaked in blood, the gunshots still ringing in his ears. To me the image feels oddly out of context given his more professorial style now. But for some reason it's easy to imagine buzz-boy-Bush with that macho image... even though I can't quite bring myself to imagine it as it happens. Every time I try the image in my head always jumps to a vision of Bush and I having had too many drinks at the bar and he's telling the same old story of how he got his scar... the one we never get tired of hearing 'cause it gets better with every telling.
DocBug Exclusive — with just a day before polls open, Fox News has declared George W. Bush the winner of what has proven to be the most contentious presidential election since four years ago. CNN, CBS and NBC took only minutes to jump on the breaking story with their own announcements of the Bush victory, but it was over an hour after the victory that ABC's Peter Jennings finally called the election for Bush. "We hadn't finished designing our title-bar logos," explained Jennings. Among broadcasters, NPR remains the sole hold-out to insist on waiting till the polls at least open before declaring a winner. Most major newspapers have also reported the Bush victory, except for the Chicago Daily Tribune, which has declared a victory for Thomas E. Dewey.
Just in case you were tempted to believe the spin that the HMX, RDX and PETN explosives at Al-Qaqaa had already disappeared when our troops arrived:
It is not at all clear that those explosives were even at the weapons facility when our troops arrived in the area of Baghdad.
The weapons were not there when the military arrived, making John Kerry's latest ripped-from-the-headlines attack baseless and false.
Last night on this broadcast we reported that the 101st Airborne never found the nearly 380 tons of HMX and RDX explosives. We did not conclude the explosives were missing or had vanished, nor did we say they missed the explosives. We simply reported that the 101st did not find them.
For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived. That is possible, but that is not what we reported.
Associated Press, 5 April 2003 (emphasis mine):
Closer to Baghdad, troops at Iraq's largest military industrial complex found nerve agent antidotes, documents describing chemical warfare and a white powder that appeared to be used for explosives.
UN weapons inspectors went repeatedly to the vast al Qa Qaa complex, most recently on March 8. But they found nothing during spot visits to some of the 1,100 buildings at the site 40 kilometres south of Baghdad.
Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said troops found thousands of five-centimetre by 12-centimetre boxes, each containing three vials of white powder, together with documents written in Arabic that dealt with how to engage in chemical warfare.
A senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the powder was believed to be explosives. The finding would be consistent with the plant's stated production capabilities in the field of basic raw materials for explosives and propellants.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (emphasis mine):
RDX stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite or hexogen. The chemical name for RDX is 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine. It is a white powder and is very explosive.
I'm not sure what to make of this. It's apparently old-news, though new to me, but after the Madrid attack the terrorists who claimed credit for the Madrid bombing actually endorsed Bush:
A week after the Madrid attack, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claims to act on behalf of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the bombing and declared a truce in Spain to see if the new government would withdraw its troops from Iraq, but warned that it was gearing up for new attacks.
This part of the declaration was widely reported. However, very few mentioned the more ominous part of that declaration, short of excerpts which were reported by the BBC and Reuters.
The declaration turned its attention to President Bush, saying:
"A word for the foolish Bush. We are very keen that you do not lose in the forthcoming elections as we know very well that any big attack can bring down your government and this is what we do not want.
"We cannot get anyone who is more foolish than you, who deals with matters with force instead of wisdom and diplomacy.
"Your stupidity and religious extremism is what we want as our people will not awaken from their deep sleep except when there is an enemy.
"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilisation.
"Because of this we desire you [Bush] to be elected."
The logic makes sense to me, though I'm skeptical about their assessment of Democrat cunning. Bush supporters will no doubt claim it's a double-bluff, and that "The Terrorists" really fear Bush. I think the scarier question is whether "The Terrorists" realize that a terrorist attack would mean a landslide for Bush? Could that be why there's no evidence of an attack being planned before Nov. 2nd? [edit: what I mean is, if they do want Bush, will they lie low thinking an attack will have a Madrid-style effect, or try something thinking that will shore up Bush's support? Ditto for if they'd like Bush out. This is why I was never good at poker...]
The explosives — considered powerful enough to demolish buildings or detonate nuclear warheads — were under IAEA control until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. IAEA workers left the country before the fighting began.
So we went in ostensibly looking for weapons of mass distruction, then didn't even secure the sites we knew about? Why do people feel safe under this administration? For all the bickering about what mistakes they've made so far, what scares me is what mistake they'll make next...
My new favorite PAC — Wolfpacks For Truth
They told us we were shooting a Greenpeace commercial! ... We are a peaceful pack of wolves.
Take the Votergasm Pledge:
And would you believe, I heard about it on BBC radio?
One of the best news features I've heard for cutting through all the political rhetoric and BS is Marketplace's five-minute Ballot Buck$ segments. Each one talks about where Bush & Kerry stand on a particular issue, but rather than leave it as a he-says, she-says thing they then actually talk to economists and other experts to evaluate each proposal, explain what neither side is mentioning and really but through the fog, all in a non-partisan way.
Kerry Will Restore American Dignity: 2004 Iconoclast Presidential Endorsement by the publishers of The Lone Star Iconoclast (The Lone Star Iconoclast, 29 September 2004)
A Questionable Kind Of Conservatism George F. Will (Washington Post, 24 July 2003)
DocBug Exclusive — For months now, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis and other conservative Catholics have been emphasizing to their flocks that when it comes to politics, you can't vote for a pro-choice candidate and still be a good Catholic. While not mentioning either presidential candidate by name (which might put the church's tax-exempt status into question), Burke's message is clear: vote Bush in this election, or your soul is at risk. He might be surprised to know a similar message is being preached across town, from a very different source.
Reverend Bob "The Impailer" Simmons is pastor and High Lieutenant Destroyer at the First Temple of Ultimate Evil, which formed in 1983 after a merger between Anton Levey Satanists, the Campus Crusade for Cthulu and the Church of Universal Damnation. The church is dedicated to the promotion of death, destruction, and "all that is evil, corrupt, and immoral in the hearts of men," according to their website and flyers. Rev. Simmons says he was somewhat embarrassed when he discovered he and Archbishop Burke were supporting the same candidate in their sermons. "At first I thought it was a joke," he said in a recent interview for Evil Monthly. "I mean, [Archbishop] Ray [Burke] and I rarely see eye-to-eye on religious matters."
Rev. Simmons, who claims he can't set foot on holy ground due to "the vibrations," had to wait several days before a transcript of Archbishop Burke's statement was faxed to his office. "Our first mass after the news broke was tense, to say the least. The Leveyists were especially up in arms," he recalls. "It just sticks in their craw to have anything in common with the Catholic Church." There were also reports that some of the Old Ones threatened to eat Simmons' head, though he claims this is normal.
After going over the transcript, most in the congregation were mollified if not comforted. "It was just a big misunderstanding," explains Simmons. "We were looking at completely different issues. Ray is something of a one-issue do-gooder; if it's not about abortion, he doesn't care. We UEs look more at the big picture — you need a broad brush to paint the world black. For example, our congregation is very excited about the Federal death penalty and the message it sends about the sanctity of death, and this administration's stance on the use of torture and ignoring the Geneva conventions are right in line with our core doctrine." Simmons admits he shares Burke's support for Bush's anti-gay-marriage amendment, but is quick to point out his position is a natural outgrowth from his broader opposition to equal rights for all Americans. "That and gays give me the willies," he told reporters. As for abortion, he says the UE favors neither candidate's position, as UE church teachings say that life begins at 40.
In spite of these differences, some of the faithless are still concerned. "I was a big Bush supporter in 2000," says Monica "Queen of the Night" Townsend, a long-time Republican and UE member, who still sports a Bush-Cheney 2004 button painted black and red to go with her eye shadow and long razor-like fingernails. "I'll probably still vote for them, 'cause of their hate-based initiatives and the war in Iraq and Kerry being Catholic and all, but this Burke thing really took all the fun out of being a Bush supporter, y'know?" John Templeton, her companion with matching black eye shadow and long red fingernails, flashes a toothy grimace as he nods in agreement. "I think it's great great the way he antagonizes the rest of the world with his Us vs. Them attitude, and I love the opaqueness he's put back in the way our government runs. But now... I donno, come November 2nd I might just vote for Nader."
Doonesbury has been running what it calls the Honest Voices Reading List®, described as "roundup of indispensable writing from conservative sources" (translation: the conservative case against George Bush, as written by conservatives). Since URLs aren't well-suited for typing from the funny papers to the browser (oh where, oh where has my Que-Cat gone?) I figured as a public service I'd link them here:
John Eisenhower: Why I will vote for John Kerry for President by John Eisenhower, son of Dwight D. Eisenhower and life-long Republican (The Union Leader / New Hampshire Sunday News, 9 September 2004)
WSJ reporter Fassihi's e-mail to friends Farnaz Fassihi, Wall-Street Journal reporter (Poynter Online, 29 September 2004)
Why conservatives must not vote for Bush by Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute (Salon, 10 September 2004)
Local View: Going to war in Iraq was a mistake by Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-NB, retiring), outgoing Vice Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (Lincoln Journal Star, 18 August 2004)
Kevin Drum at Political Animal has written a great little scorecard for who fudged, obfuscated and out-right lied the most in the second presidential debate based on post-debate fact-checking articles. The overall numbers look pretty bad for Bush (surprise, surprise), but the real value is his handy compilation of all the misstatements and links to the fact-checkers that found them. Take a look for yourself and see if you agree with Drum about which lies are important and which ones are trivial exageration.
As the candidates prepare for tomorrow's debate, you can be sure they're sharpening their jabs and rehearsing every trick their trainers can think of. That's the way the game is played these days, and you can't really fault them for it... there's no real point in joining the game if you aren't willing to do what it takes to win. For the rest of us though, all us bloggers and armchair pundits who keep raising the volume as we echo our favorite side's attacks, I can't help but remember the story of The Devil and Daniel Webster. It's a great read and not too long — if you don't have time to read the whole thing here's the part I've been thinking about. I figure if Dan'l Webster can put his anger and hate aside when arguing against the Devil himself, how much easier it should be for us arguing with our fellow countrymen.
Then the trial began, and, as you might expect, it didn't look anyways good for the defense. And Jabez Stone didn't make much of a witness in his own behalf. He took one look at Simon Girty and screeched, and they had to put him back in his corner in a kind of swoon.
It didn't halt the trial, though; the trial went on, as trials do. Dan'l Webster had faced some hard juries and hanging judges in his time, but this was the hardest he'd ever faced, and he knew it. They sat there with a kind of glitter in their eyes, and the stranger's smooth voice went on and on. Every time he'd raise an objection, it'd be Objection sustained, but whenever Dan'l objected, it'd be Objection denied. Well, you couldn't expect fair play from a fellow like this Mr. Scratch.
It got to Dan'l in the end, and he began to heat, like iron in the forge. When he got up to speak he was going to flay that stranger with every trick known to the law, and the judge and jury too. He didn't care if it was contempt of court or what would happen to him for it. He didn't care any more what happened to Jabez Stone. He just got madder and madder, thinking of what he'd say. And yet, curiously enough, the more he thought about it, the less he was able to arrange his speech in his mind.
Till, finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and denunciations. But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he'd been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who's just escaped falling into a pit in the dark.
For it was him they'd come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand. And if he fought them with their own weapons, he'd fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn't have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he'd have to wipe that out or the case was lost. He stood there for a moment, his black eyes burning like anthracite. And then he began to speak.
He started off in a low voice, though you could hear every word. They say he could call on the harps of the blessed when he chose. And this was just as simple and easy as a man could talk. But he didn't start out by condemning or reviling. He was talking about the things that make a country a country, and a man a man.
And he began with the simple things that everybody's known and felt — the freshness of a fine morning when you're young, and the taste of food when you're hungry, and the new day that's every day when you're a child. He took them up and he turned them in his hands. They were good.things for any man. But without freedom, they sickened. And when he talked of those enslaved, and the sorrows of slavery, his voice got like a big bell. He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn't a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.
Then he turned to Jabez Stone and showed him as he was — an ordinary man who'd had hard luck and wanted to change it. And, because he'd wanted to change it, now he was going to be punished for all eternity. And yet there was good in Jabez Stone, and he showed that good. He was hard and mean, in some ways, but he was a man. There was sadness in being a man, but it was a proud thing too. And he showed what the pride of it was till you couldn't help feeling it. Yes, even in hell, if a man was a man, you'd know it. And he wasn't pleading for any one person any more, though his voice rang like an organ. He was telling the story and the failures and the endless journey of mankind. They got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey. And no demon that was ever foaled could know the inwardness of it — it took a man to do that.
THE FIRE BEGAN TO DIE ON THE HEARTH AND THE wind before morning to blow. The light was getting gray in the room when Dan'l Webster finished. And his words came back at the end to New Hampshire ground, and the one spot of land that each man loves and clings to. He painted a picture of that, and to each one of that jury he spoke of things long forgotten. For his voice could search the heart, and that was his gift and his strength. And to one, his voice was like the forest and its secrecy, and to another like the sea and the storms of the sea; and one heard the cry of his lost nation in it, and another saw a little harmless scene he hadn't remem bered for years. But each saw something. And when Dan'l Webster finished he didn't know whether or not he'd saved Jabez Stone. But he knew he'd done a miracle. For the glitter was gone from the eyes of judge and jury, and, for the moment, they were men again, and knew they were men.
The defense rests, said Dan'l Webster, and stood there like a mountain. His ears were still ringing with his speech, and he didn't hear any thing else till he heard judge Hathorne say, The jury will retire to consider its verdict.
Walter Butler rose in his place and his face had a dark, gay pride on it.
The jury has considered its verdict, he said, and looked the stranger full in the eye. We find for the defendant, Jabez Stone.
With that, the smile left the stranger's face, but Walter Butler did not flinch.
Perhaps 'tis not strictly in accordance with the evidence, he said, but even the damned may salute the eloquence of Mr. Webster.
The New York Times' in-depth look at how the White House (and others) screwed up with the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war is a great read in its entirety, but one paragraph especially stood out for me given my feelings about the first debate:
Also that January, White House officials who were helping to draft what would become Secretary Powell's speech to the Security Council sent word to the intelligence community that they believed "the nuclear case was weak," the Senate report said. In an interview, a senior administration official said it was widely understood all along at the White House that the evidence of a nuclear threat was piecemeal and weaker than that for other unconventional arms.
But rather than withdraw the nuclear card - a step that could have undermined United States credibility just as tens of thousands of troops were being airlifted to the region — the White House cast about for new arguments and evidence to support it.
In other words, the White House had already staked its reputation (and, at least in their minds, the reputation of the US as a whole) on a claim that wasn't nearly as strong as they had implied and was starting to unravel, but they couldn't admit it. Why do we keep electing presidents who have a pathological inability to admit when they've made a mistake?
So now we're in the embarrassing situation where not only is the Emperor walking around nekid, not only are the children pointing and laughing at him for being nekid, but he continues to strut down the square talking about his cool new threads while muttering about how unpatriotic children are for not backing him up in his story.
Some brief thoughts on the first presidential debate, before the talking heads try to destroy my memory of what I heard and replace it with meaningless fluff about who had better nose hair and who made more points with the key Floridian over-65-black-helicopter-mom vote.
First off, I was very impressed with Kerry. He was decisive, plain-spoken, and specific in his plans and priorities. I was especially impressed by his pragmatic position on Iraq — I figure anyone who still claims Kerry has a shifting or incoherent position on Iraq must either be completely shilling for the other side or be especially dense. Our foreign policy is something of a mess right now, and before this debate I was still thinking of Kerry as a "he can't mess it up more than the current guy" candidate. I've changed my tune now, and at least on foreign-policy issues I'm confident he knows what he's doing and can put things to right.
I also left the debate with a better opinion about who Bush as a person. The thing that has always confused me about Bush is his tenacious loyalty to an idea, policy or statement even after it's clear to everyone else in the world that it's wrong. The venomous theory that it all comes out of Rove-induced "Big Lie" manipulation tactics has never seemed right. Certainly there are party-faithful on both sides capable of such evil, but Bush isn't an evil man. He's also not blind or stupid, so the idea that he can't see any of his administration's mistakes due to a thick "What, me worry?" fog seems far-fetched as well.
Now I think I get it. As he said in many ways in this debate, Bush believes the most important thing a president or country must do is present to the world a strong, confident stance and an unwavering message. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the experience or skill to avoid backing himself (and us) into a corner. A noble man sticks to his principles, but a skillful noble man knows not to draw a line in the sand until he's good and ready for whatever may step across.
This may be my own bias, and I listened to the event rather than watch it, but several times during the debate Bush sounded... trapped. Not by Kerry, but by the events of these past three-and-a-half years. I heard in his voice tonight something I heard in the secret audio recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson — the sound of a man who knows he's out of his depth, but also firmly believes that he needs to keep up a strong face for the good of his country. I sympathize with the man. He's absolutely right, being President is a hard job, and I know for a fact that I would not be up to the task. But as much as I'm coming to like George W. Bush as a man, I'm all the more convinced we need someone else as President.
My old fraternity brother and Ohio-resident Rob Calhoun over at Splefty.com has chimed in with his own frustration at Ohio's (Republican) Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's decision to require Ohio Boards of Election to reject voter registration forms that aren't printed on 80 lb card stock:
The 80 lb card stock requirement is from the days when the cards themselves were the archival record. Given how registration is processed today, it is hard to view Mr. Blackwell's sudden enforcement of this rule in a charitable light. I'm also perturbed by the fact that our Board of Election's voter registration web page no longer seems to have a .pdf file of the voter registration form available; I'm really pretty sure that's where I downloaded the pdf I have.
It's difficult not to view this as a back-handed effort to roll back some of the gains that Democrats have made in registering new voters in Ohio this year as described in this New York Times story.
Looking at the Wayback machine, it looks like they provided a PDF of their voter registration form from the page's first capture in 2001 until sometime after August of last year — it had been unlinked by December, but apparently the PDF was still available when the Wayback last indexed the page in February of this year (it has since been removed from the main site).
Butler County, OH, on the other hand, still has their Online Voter Registration Form on the Web with the instructions:
In order to use this form as a registration for the purpose of voting you MUST:
- click "next" and print the form
- sign the form in the appropriate area
- mail it to the Butler County Board of Elections
Their Web form creates a nice little registration page for you to print out and mail in, with the instructions Please adjust the margins to .25 inches under Page Setup to avoid misprinting the form below. No mention of card stock. I find it hard to imagine a non-underhanded reason for newly enforcing this rule, except perhaps a suddden onset of dimentia on the part of Blackwell — Rob's right, this stinks to high heaven.
UPDATE: Blackwell has since "clarified" his position, and says he'll accept all voter registrations submitted by the deadline. Good for him — I wish I could believe this was just a simple misunderstanding though.
Alice Cooper is ranting about how Kerry-supporting rock stars mix their rock-and-roll with politics:
"To me, that's treason," Cooper told the Canadian Press. "I call it treason against rock 'n' roll because rock is the antithesis of politics. Rock should never be in bed with politics."
"When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I'd run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick."
(props to The Volokh Conspiracy for the link)
From the NYTimes, on how the White House scuttled a deal that was being reached between Democrats and Republicans to keep the marriage-penalty, child tax-credit and expanded bottom-10% tax brackets from expiring at the end of the year:
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration was still trying to negotiate. But Republican Congressional officials said the administration did not want a deal that Democratic lawmakers might support, giving them a tax-cutting credential, too.
Nice to know where we all stand in their priorities...
What does it say about our president that, the day before the Senate votes on an historic amendment to the US Constitution that, after being pushed through as a vital campaign wedge issue without allowing even debate in committee, the president's email system doesn't even list the issue as an acceptable subject for discussion in his menu of valid email subjects for dissenting views?
I submitted my letter under "Hate Crimes." That seems the most appropriate given the nature of the bill.
Dear President Bush, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, and Representative Eshoo:
We are a young nation, full of idealism and zeal and well-deserved pride. As is always true of the young, we have made many mistakes in our brief 228 years. In the end we must all reflect on the moments we were at our worst with the clarity of hindsight, and like a growing boy we pray we will be judged by future generations not by our missteps, but by how much we learned from them.
Our Constitution is our record of that growth. The nation our fathers brought forth in 1787 was a remarkable experiment, conceived in the radical notion that all men are created equal. But that nation still denied women and Negroes the vote, enshrined slavery as an inalienable right, and accepted a nation that, while lacking an aristocracy, still promoted a system strongly divided by class. If the morality of such institutions seems clear and obvious today, it is only because previous generations struggled to clear the fog of ignorance and prejudice that passed for common wisdom in their own time. To read the amendments to our Constitution is to read the record of how we struggle to face our human weaknesses and, on seeing them for what they are, how we then have the courage to put things right.
You, our representatives, are now debating whether by banning gay marriage our generation should take a stand to reverse this slow and steady march towards tolerance, respect, and equal protection under the law for all men and women. A decision to change course after so many years should not be made lightly, nor for political gain. Regardless of the outcome of individual votes, our future children and grandchildren will study this moment in school just as today's children study our progress from the dark days of slavery to emancipation, integration of the Army and the Civil Rights Act. I trust you will give them every reason to be proud.
Dr. Bradley Rhodes
275 Hawthorne Ave. #106
Palo Alto, CA 94301
I was at the Marin County Fair yesterday, and chatted with the woman at the John Kerry campaign booth for a while. As I donated a dollar and donned a button I noticed her life-sized Howard Dean cardboard cut-out in the back, and with pride she talked about how she'd never been political before in her life till nine months ago she quit her job and started working for the Dean campaign. In my case, I both voted for Dean in the primary and made my first campaign contribution ever to him — both after he'd already dropped out of the race. Unlike what you always hear on the news it wasn't his anti-war rhetoric; as anyone who's read here for a while knows I actually supported the idea of war with Iraq (though not the way it was implemented). It was his plain-talk pragmatism and his willingness to stand up for the American people, but most of all it was his message that we the American people can and should also stand up next to him and help carry our own burdens. This woman was a tribute to that message.
As I wore my Kerry button yesterday I mused about what I felt the campaign was missing. Kerry is competent and experienced, something I miss the most in the current administration, but doesn't connect with me the way Edwards or Dean does. I still wore the button with pride, and I've even given a pretty sizable donation to the Kerry campaign already, but at least in part it was because Kerry isn't Bush.
As of this morning, I'm feeling a lot better about the Democratic team. The Kerry/Edwards ticket fills in the message and human touch Kerry alone lacks, as well as the practical populism I've been missing. As for the message that we should stand up on our own, we don't need that message to come from our candidates directly (that's the whole point, no?). Dean continues to empower Americans through his new Democracy For America, large organizations like MoveOn.org and smaller communities like OB4 give another focal point, and here in California Schwarzenegger has been doing a good job breathing life back into the idea that government is of, by and for the people.
I'll be wearing my new Kerry/Edwards button with pride. More importantly, I'm once again inspired to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to the issues important to me.
Bush keeps pulling the same old trick — accuse your opponent of your own dirty secrets, then keep beating the drum till everyone's confused. In the South Carolina primary he slammed John McCain with a stream of low-blow negative attack ads, then ran a barrage accusing McCain of being the attacker. He painted Gore as a liar and exaggerator, even though Gore's always been known as a stiff-but-honest statesman and as we've all seen Bush is more dishonest than Tricky Dick and Slick Willie put together. Somehow he even managed to accuse Vietnam vet and war hero John Kerry of having a tarnished war record — pretty gutsy move for a draft-dodger who went AWOL.
Now he's got it down to such an art that he can do both at the same time. His latest ad (which I've cached in both original and toned-down versions) starts with the tired whine that "Kerry's Democratic Party" compares Bush to Hitler — as usual leaving out the fact that the ad in question was one of over a thousand submissions to MoveOn.org's Bush In 30 Seconds contest, and that MoveOn disavowed and removed the ad from their site as soon as it was noticed. Then under the guise of showing the "wild-eyed" "pessimism and rage" of his opponents he fast-cuts back and forth between shots of Hitler and shots of Gore, Dean, Edwards, Kerry and Michael Moore, all shouting in the same manner. It gets the Hitler comparison across great at a gut level, all the while staying subtle enough that it doesn't quite blow the cover story of "look how mean they're being!" I keep wavering between admiration for the psychological artistry and absolute disgust at the underhanded indecency of it all.
Not being the kind of guy who knows when he's gone too far, if Bush succeeds here I'm sure the sky's the limit. Who wants to bet before November we see ads accusing Kerry of lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?
Update: the video is now headlining GeorgeWBush.com.
Another update: looking at the video again, I'm also struck by how well the ad plays with size to maximize it's impact. Watch how it starts with a tiny frame (about 55% total) that grows to near full by the end shot of Kerry. Then they make sure to zoom and crop all the shots of Democrats so they're more in-your-face and don't quite fit in frame — by the time you get to Michael Moore's Oscar acceptance speech he's been zoomed about 500%. Compare the overall feel to the original snippit.
Yet another update:The NYT notes that the original version of the ad (without the initial disclaimer, added after the Kerry camp complained) is still archived as a part of the Living Room Candidate online museum of campaign ads. I've archived both versions, above.
DocBug Exclusive — Documents obtained by DocBug indicate that former Navy secretary John Lehman, a Republican member of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, is wanted in Idaho for embezzlement and flight to avoid prosecution. Lehman has apparently been hiding in New York City for years, venturing into public only to purchase necessities, sit on the 9/11 Commission, and go on Meet The Press to mistakenly confuse an Iraqi Officer named Lt. Col. Hikmat Shakir Ahmad for an al-Qaeda member named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi. If anyone has information about Lehman's current whereabouts, please contact the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.
UPDATE: New data suggests that Idaho police are seeking John Lehman Crupper, last spotted Salt Lake City in 1996, and not former Navy secretary John Lehman. However, we should point out it's still possible that the former Navy secretary is a criminal, even if he isn't the man Idaho police are looking for. This possibility needs to be run to ground — the most intriguing part is not whether or not he is the guy who committed embezzlement in Idaho, but whether he's some other sort of bad guy, like maybe a bank robber or a pedophile. As of now, we just don't know.
Scientific American has written an editorial severely critical of the Bush administration's "disdain [for] research that inconveniences it," citing misrepresentation of findings, suppression of studies, deletion of data from government web pages, and playing gatekeeper on future studies by making it harder for scientists from "hostile nations" to publish in the US and by trying to give industry scientists more control over the process for determining EPA research. It brings together several criticisms from the past three years that amount to a disturbing step backwards in how our administration gets its facts.
It is not unthinkable that scientists have political biases. In fact, it would be remarkable if many were not lifelong Democrats who may be tempted to be a bit more critical of a Republican's science policies than they would, say, a Bill Clinton's. Moreover, many scientists rely on government funding of domestic programs, which arguably increases faster under Democratic regimes.
That said, this editorial is pretty disturbing and ties enough threads together to be pretty convincing.
Is our nation so polarized now that anything praising or critical of our president is first assumed to be partisan rather than actually making a valid point? Like the rest of the country, scientists span the whole spectrum of personal political, cultural and religious biases. The common bias in our profession is the one at the heart of science itself: that the truth is worth knowing, even if it isn't the truth we wish were so, and that society is better off knowing the truth and then having open and reasoned debate than basing our actions on blind dogma, unexamined assumptions and gut feel.
In other news, the US is losing its lead in scientific excellence.
Before the war I honestly thought Iraq had WMD, but eventually I had to face facts. My hunch that if Saddam had nothing to hide he'd have been more forthcoming was wrong. My hunch that Bush wasn't so blindingly stupid as to bluff both the UN and Congress without solid evidence was also wrong. I've also got some nasty suspicions about why Santa Clause always looked like Dad when I snuck down Christmas Eve to spy.
Anyway, it looks like lots of Americans are still in denial. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks have just released their latest report on American beliefs about pre-war Iraq — the results haven't changed much since they first started running their surveys before the war started. (PIPA's press release and questionnaire are also available, as is my summary of their October report.)
The quick summary:
Where are these people getting these ideas? Oh wait, here it is:
It's good to see they got at least one question right.
Oh dear. The whole "did the Bush administration use the word imminent" question has been debated for several months now, but seeing it come across in video is much more powerful. Compare and contrast this excerpt from Center for American Progress and this new ad from MoveOn.org that excerpts last Sunday's Face The Nation:
|Text Snippet from CAP|
|Video from MoveOn.org|
I should state for the record that I'm probably the only one in my social group (and perhaps the entire Bay Area) that actually supported going into Iraq. I'm still not convinced I was wrong, though I also thank my friends for not rubbing it in as my faith in intelligence reports and a few level-headed people in our current administration proved unfounded. But regardless of whether going into Iraq was a good idea and regardless of whether our executive branch screwed up on our planning and execution, the back-filling Rumsfeld is doing here is just embarrassing. After all, it's not about the activity but about the lying about it, right?
I've been trying to figure out for a while now why so many people are against gay marriage but for civil union. I understand people who think homosexuality is a sin against God and I understand people who think it's icky — I disagree with them, but at least they're comprehensible. I also understand people who have no problem with homosexuality personally but are opposed to it because they want to win the next election (that, I suspect, covers both sides of the aisle). But there are a lot of people who seem to wish that gay couples could have the legal rights of marriage so long as it's not called marriage.
My best theory is that somewhere in the nation's subconscious, the phrase gay marriage is one giant trademark dilution. The fear is not that legalized same-sex marriage threatens heterosexual marriage, but rather that it legitimizes a different consensus meaning of the word itself. Let that take root and in a few years you'll say your son just got married, only to be asked "Congratulations! Boy or girl?" (First they take the word queer, then they take the word marriage — next thing you know we'll only be left with our prepositions!) That's the only explanation I can think of for bringing charges against clergy for "solemnizing a marriage without a license". It's like Hormel trying to stop people from calling unsolicited email "spam," because it destroys the sanctity of salted pork. (In fact, Hormel is pretty cool about the whole thing.)
If this feeling rings true in your heart, I have a suggestion. Quickly, while the language is still in flux, make a preemptive grab for the qualifier. The whole civil union vs. marriage argument is a dead-end, because the word marriage has been written into too many laws, regulations and court decisions. However, the race for the word civil marriage is just now being run, and could be just the compromise everyone is looking for. Definition-wise, civil marriage means a marriage in the eyes of the law, but it also specifically says nothing more. It's like saying "my partner and I" when you don't want to say the person's gender or marital relationship. Get the phrase to be used for same-sex and otherwise new-fangled marriages and the current meaning of the word marriage won't get diluted, same sex couples get their legal rights, and best of all it won't affect anyone in the Bay Area one whit 'cause we've been using the word "partner" instead of spouse for years anyway. Everyone goes away happy, except the people I mentioned at the top that I don't agree with anyway. What could be better?
DocBug Exclusive: A message from Bug Anger
My fellow Americans,
In announcing his support for amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage, President Bush declared that "The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution."
His words may sound convincing, but do not be deceived by his half-truths. Yes, for almost two millennia marriage has been defined as one man and one woman. Or maybe it was a man and a couple of women if the first one is infertile. And there's something about up to four wives but only if you can afford it... but I digress. Yes my friends, the important bit is the man/woman thing, and we can be confident on that point. But there is another aspect of marriage, equally founded in our traditions, that our president has conveniently left out. It shocks me that this fundamental part of our tradition, honed through millennia of human experience to promote the welfare of children and the stability of society, could warrant no mention from our Head of State.
As anyone born between 300 A.D. and 1960 could tell you, marriage is the union between one man and one woman of the same religious background and cultural values. The reason for this tradition is obvious and scientifically proven: children need the stability of one religious upbringing, one morality, and one set of holidays. Thousands of years of experience has shown that so-called "multicultural" households lead to confusion, experimentalism, and a Creole of ideas that rips at the basic fabric of our society. Is it any wonder that almost all modern religions have strong taboos against marrying outside of the faith?
Over the past two centuries, activist judges have chipped away at this ancient institution, leading to such modern vulgarities as Daddy's Catholic Roommate, Guess Who's Coming to Seder, and Heather Has Two Languages. Now the gates of opportunity have been opened by the magical words "Constitutional amendment," but we must act quickly, while we still have a president who feels that America's "commitment of freedom... does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions." It is a rare president that would place our cause above the twin institutions of freedom and tolerance, and rarer still that such a president remains in office for long.
— Bug Anger
The British newspaper The Observer yesterday published a story entitled "Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us." It's the sort of sensationalism you'd expect from the title, full of conspiracies and secret reports and the end of the world by 2020. Unfortunately, their story seems to be getting more coverage than the more complete story that came out in Fortune Magazine after the Pentagon supplied them with a copy of the unclassified "secret report" that The Observer gushes about.
At least in the US, the Global Climate change debate is too often framed by Chicken Littles like The Observer and ostriches like our own president. The reality is that there is a growing consensus among scientists that global warming is real, is largely attributable to human activities, and will continue over the next century. However, there are also a lot of unknowns, and the "Abrupt Climate Change" scenario described in the cited report is one that has been highlighted in recent years by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
We don't know how likely an abrupt climate change is, but the Pentagon report describes its own worst-case scenario as unlikely. Chicken Littles can come out of their fallout shelters and wipe off the 10,000 SPF sunscreen. However, our nation's leaders need to stop sticking their heads in the sand about these potential dangers. A footlocker-sized nuke going off in New York is unlikely, but it's a big concern in Washington and rightly so. A repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in the next few years is also unlikely, but boy am I glad the CDC is on the case. Homeland security is all about evaluating threats and doing what's necessary to limit our risk. That's a lesson every large company knows, and a lesson the Pentagon has always taken to heart. Now if we could just get our president to wise up.
There's been lots of talk about Howard Dean's use of the Internet, but honestly his campaign is just now entering the phase that interests me the most. As expected, Dean has stopped actively campaigning, though he still encourages supporters to vote for him and send delegates to the convention to help set the party's platform. More importantly, he hopes to turn his loose-knit community of supporters into a grassroots movement:
[W]e will convert Dean for America into a new grassroots organization, and I hope you stay involved. We are determined to keep this entire organization vibrant. There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.
MoveOn.org started five years ago as an online petition against President Clinton's impeachment and now has over two million members. Dean already boasts over a quarter of that number (no doubt with significant overlap), but Deaniacs are even more self-empowered and decentralized than MoveOn members. That makes it a harder ship to steer, and Dean now needs to shift from head of a campaign to first motivating voice in a community of equals. If he can manage that (starting, perhaps, by rejoining with his old campaign manager Joe Trippi) then the movement might yet demonstrate the Internet-age decentralized politics that we breathless techno-pundits continue to predict.
From the SF Chronicle:
And no question became so clear, so obvious, as the one being asked by same-sex-marriage advocates around the world: What, really, is so wrong about this? What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they're willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?
In short, to the neocon Right, a nation that allows gays to marry is a nation with no boundaries and no condoms and where all sorts of illicit disgusting behaviors will soon be legal and be forced upon them, a horrific tribal wasteland full of leeches and flying bugs and scary sex acts they only read about in chat rooms and their beloved "Left Behind" series of cute apocalypse-porn books.
You know, just like how giving blacks the right to own their own land meant we had to give the same rights to house plants and power tools, or how granting women the right to vote meant it was a slippery slope until we gave suffrage to feral cats and sea slugs and rusty hubcaps.
Just as there are two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, there seem to be two kinds of fears out there. The societal fear is of moral decay — if we teach our children that homosexuality is OK then they'll think rape, torture and masturbation is OK too. Leaving aside the lack of evidence for any such link, this kind of moral debate belongs in our churches and social centers, not our courts and congress. Then there's the legal slippery slope fear — if the courts protect gay marriage then they might protect things like polygamy. I'm no constitutional lawyer, but that one strikes me as a poor reading what's happening. The state cases that have been coming forward have not been ruling that homosexuality is OK, nor that homosexuals are a protected class. What they have been ruling is that if I, as a man, have the government-granted right to marry Jane in a civil marriage then so does Susan. That's what equal protection means. This argument doesn't apply to polygamy: I don't have the right to marry two people, and neither does Susan. Ditto for bestiality and anything else that keeps you awake at night.
As for the SF Gate article, I have to admit I'm pretty proud to be living within the Greater San Francisco Liberal Bubble myself right now...
Docbug Exclusive — Noted military historian and strategist Ann "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" Coulter will be following up on the success of her analysis of Silver Star recipient and triple-amputee Max Cleland with biographies of other war heros, unnamed sources revealed1.
Coulter, who last week presented her expert testimony that the decorated Vietnam veteran deserved no respect for his service because he lost his limbs "in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends," will soon reveal her insights on other honored veterans, including The Cowardliness of Douglas MacArthur, Congressional Medal of Honor Winners: Traitors in Our Midst, and John Wayne: Pansy.
1 Hey, if Drudge can use them, why can't I?
From a friend of mine living in Massachusetts:
I have gotten yet MORE calls today from out-of-state relatives who are members of conservative groups (seems to be mostly evangelical Christian groups) urging me to call and voice support for the constitutional ban on gay marriage later today/tomorrow.
ALL of them told me they had already called MA state house members to urge them to vote for the ban — before they called me!
BUT THE KICKER - at least one (and I suspect from context of our conversation, another as well) of my benighted relatives admitted that they had disengenously represented themselves as MASS RESIDENTS!
The subtitle makes it sound like left-wing conspiracy theory, but the author is Pulitzer-winning NYTimes journalist David Cay Johnston. Looks to be an interesting read:
Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else
(see also this interview with the author)
No, I'm not talking about the presidential election...
Last week the California State Assembly discussed a new law (AB 1424) that would prohibit the state from putting a child in foster care solely for refusing to administer medication for a psychiatric disorder, or for refusing to allow the child to be tested for a psychiatric condition. An analysis of the bill can be found here.
According to a press release by the bill's author, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, the bill would protect children from "forced medication with dangerous psychiatric drugs." He quotes Dr. Fred Baughman, a "pediatric neurologist," as claiming mental disorders don't exist, and quotes Cassandra Auerbach of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights as warning that psychiatrists are on the payroll of big drug companies and are covering up suicide statistics and other dangers of these drugs. The release doesn't quite come out and say that psychiatrists are stealing your babies and stewing them for dinner, but it comes close.
I doubt this bill will ever make it out of committee, and that's probably a good thing. In general I give deference to the parents when it comes to raising their own children, but two things set off alarm bells for me in this bill. First, I don't like the way it treats mental illnesses as fundamentally different than physical illnesses. If the state should intervene when a parent refuses to administer life-saving medicine to treat a virus, it should also intervene when a child is chronically suicidal or homicidal. Second, I'm extremely sceptical of the two "experts" cited in the propaganda for this bill. Dr. Baughman seems to be of the opinion that mental illnesses don't exist because we don't yet know the direct causal links between brain chemistry and most illnesses. Even ignoring the fact that this lack of knowledge is true of many physical illnesses as well, the idea that mental illness is not associated with brain and body chemistry is ludicrous on its face: if suicidal thoughts and other dangerous behavior were not related to chemistry then psychoactive drugs could not have the effects they have. While they are not unbiased in this debate, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) testified in a letter to Congress that Dr. Baughman "represent[s] fringe opinions" about psychiatry. As for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, this righteously-named group was founded by the Church of Scientology with a charter to attack psychiatrists and the psychiatric profession. For those who don't know their history, Scientology is a cult that considers the field of medicine, and particularly psychiatry, as evil incarnate. I recommend Garry Armstrong's site for a good explanation of why. I don't whether CCHR is behind this bill or just supporting it, but their association with it in any form makes me worried.
USA Today is trying to play gotcha with Howard Dean by citing a letter that Dean wrote urging then-president Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia. AHA! says the press — but Dean criticized Bush about unilateralism, therefore he's a hypocrite!
Hmm. Sounds a lot like the situation in Iraq under Saddam, except that with Iraq (1) the human rights abuses were worse; (2) the failures of the UN and the international community were greater; and, oh yeah, (3) there was a Republican president. I wonder which one of these factors made the difference in terms of Dean's positions?
Normal political hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it is worse. Because this is Mr. Tell-It-Like It-Is and he isn't. And he can't. There's too much information already on record. The Internet will be his great undoing. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Wait until summer. The same is true for Clark. In a sea of a million fact-checkers, his idiot vacillations seem all the more ridiculous. If he gets nominated, it is going to be a donnybrook.
Now, I like a good witch-burning as much as the next guy — it give me a great feeling of camaraderie with my fellow pilgrims as we congratulate each other and roast marshmallows on the embers. But this isn't Internet-age fact-checking. This is good old-fashioned political gotcha, the high-stakes version of waiting for someone to not say "Mother may I" so you can give him noogies.
If the Net really was the "greatest memory device we ever had" and if "bloggers and others will dig it out and force the media to publicize it" as Simon argues, Reynolds wouldn't have to speculate on why Dean might think Bosnia is different from Iraq. He could instead just go to speeches posted on Dean's website and read for himself:
Let me be clear: My position on the war has not changed.
The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam's ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk...
...The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.
And what of Dean's position on unilateralism? Well, in a scoop that would make Drudge's head spin, DocBug.com has obtained documentation (again on Dean's Web site) that he's not opposed to unilateralism per say, but that it should only be used when other options are gone:
Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented. America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary. But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort.
Simon is correct, the Net is the best memory device we've ever had. But if bloggers (and worse, professional journalists) can't even bother to check a candidate's own website, what use is that memory?
The Net is a great well of knowledge. Unfortunately, like all wells, it also makes a great echo chamber.
I very much hope that two hundred years from now, President Bush is remembered most of all as the man who started us on the path back into space...
...long after the economic ripples from early 21st century deficit spending have subsided.
...long after we survived the nuclearization of dangerous dictatorships, either because of or in spite of our leadership.
...long after the rebuilding of post-Sadam Iraq, into the thriving democracy, brutal theocracy, or boiling anarchy it eventually became.
...long after the US and its allies stopped viewing each other with arrogance, suspicion and contempt.
...long after a consensus on the causes of global warming was reached, and that understanding was used to avoid disaster.
...long after some claims that the United States had lost its guiding principles of freedom, openness and tolerance were proven unfounded, while others were heeded as the early warning they were, and our course was corrected.
Some are calling this all election-year posturing, but it's more than that. This is a vision that humans should excel to heights never before achieved in all of history. It's a vision that we should strive for knowledge and understanding of things larger than ourselves. And it's a vision that the nations of the Earth should go together in this journey. This is the sort of vision that can last for centuries.
Announcer off-screen: What do you think of Howard Dean's plans to raise taxes on families by nineteen hundred dollars a year?
Husband: What do I think? Well, I think Howard Dean should take his tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-Reading...
Wife [continuing his sentence]: ...body piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sled back to my typical California log cabin and have some flapjacks with maple syrup...
(Now that I think about it, this whole ad looks straight out of The Onion's What Do You Think? column.)
"Even if there were not any moral issues surrounding them, these futures are not a very smart thing to do. That is simply because there is a lot more information out there about what is going on geopolitical and terrorist-wise than what would ever come about from a market," comments Gordon Woo, a risk modeler at RMS. Indeed, one betting shop manager in the U.S. already admitted that success in his business depends on knowing when a new book or report on terrorism or foreign affairs is coming out so he can close his book beforehand. The head of quantitative research at one large investment bank put it more bluntly: "I think the fact that officials in Washington considered this in the first place makes the U.S. government look totally bereft of common sense when it comes to the threat of terrorism." He adds: "The point is that the market would allow any terrorist group to simply plan an attack and then have someone [or more] place a bet on it and make a pot of money. This is logical, but also immoral."
A couple weeks ago The Economist had an article discussing how economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is becoming increasingly partisan in his writings. The article relies primarily on analysis done by Ken Waight over at Lying In Ponds, a site dedicated to rating columnists and other pundits on partisanship. I like the site's philosophy, particularly because it ignores the whole question of "bias" and goes straight to the more important issue of partisanship: blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance to one of the two main political parties.
I don't read Krugman often and don't have a personal opinion on his partisanship, though I do find Waight's arguments compelling. What's gotten me thinking is the follow-up question: should we care?
As Waight is quick to point out, there is nothing wrong with an editorial columnist having and expressing a bias — that's what we pay them for. He also points out that some biases will naturally align with the biases of one political party or another. Waight's beef is when a pundit crosses over from bias for similar ideals to bias for a political party itself. When this happens, Waight argues, "The views of pundits who are excessively partisan cannot be taken seriously (like advertising), because their ulterior motives or uncontrolled biases are certain to frequently contaminate their judgments."
It is here that I break ranks with Waight. Clearly partisanship can blind pundits, but there are levels of blindness that might occur. The worst partisans deliberately lie and dissemble to argue their case — these pundits should certainly not be taken seriously. However, less egregious partisans give factual, rational arguments, but either omit arguments that would support their opponents or only choose to talk about topics that put their side in the best light. These partisans can still provide a valuable service so long as (a) they make their partisanship clear and (b) they are only one part of a diverse and balanced opinion diet. I'd say most politicians of either party fall into this second, less egregious level of partisanship. While I certainly won't trust a politician without question, I will still take their arguments seriously. I would say the same for anyone with a strong prejudice, whether that prejudice is towards a particular party, methodology, world-view or value judgment.
All that said, I do believe that a prejudice towards a political party is qualitatively different than, say, a prejudice for well-run scientific studies or small government or Christian values. The difference is not that allegiance to a party produces worse decisions than allegiance to a world-view, method or value system, but rather that adherence to a party line is one of a few easy shortcuts that we non-pundits already use. As a good citizen I would love to become an expert on every political issue that comes up, but I just don't have the time. Instead, I learn about a few issues that are important to me and for the rest I rely on the opinion of the politicians and political parties that I elect to represent me. As Dr. Robert Cialdini puts it in Influence: Science and Practice:
It's instructive that even though we often don't take a complex approach to personally important topics, we wish our advisors — our physicians, accountants, lawyers, and brokers — to do precisely that for us (Kahn & Baron, 1995). When feeling overwhelmed by a complicated and consequential choice, we still want a fully considered, point-by-point analysis of it — an analysis we may not be able to achieve except, ironically enough, through a shortcut: reliance on an expert.
The problem with professional pundits who are partisan is that they use party positions as a shortcut for deciding what is right and wrong — just like we non-professionals do. That means we can't use their arguments as a shortcut validation of of the opinions we get using our own partisanship shortcut. Independent validation, I would argue, is the primary purpose of an opinion columnist.
Eugene Volokh once opined that we shouldn't hold non-professional pundits (like most bloggers) to the high standard of even-handedness. However, it is perfectly reasonable to hold professional columnists to this standard. When I read Krugman (or any other professional pundit) I don't expect him to disagree with the Democrats often, but I want to know that he could. Otherwise I haven't checked my initial shortcut at all, I just got two copies of the same shortcut. As Waight put it, "When two people agree on everything, it's pretty certain that only one is doing the thinking." First and foremost, we should expect our professional pundits to think.
When the California recall started I saw it as an end-run around the Democratic process and a way for Republicans to do over an election they lost. I've changed my mind. However the recall started, it ended as a clear message from the people of California.
Some statistics helped put this in perspective for me. First, an LA Times exit poll reports that 25% of self-described liberals and 30% of Democrats voted in favor of the recall. (Annoying but free registration required for that link — may I suggest username cypherpunks22, password cypherpunks.) A fifth of Democrats, more than 40% of independents and 69% of conservatives voted for Schwarzenegger.
As for this being a do-over of an election that was already won, the people of California (myself included) were not very happy about the choices we got in that election. Democrats were stuck with an unpopular incumbent, and Republicans were egged on by Davis himself to nominate a candidate too far from center to be electable. Our dissatisfaction in that election was demonstrated by the lowest voter turnout on record and a full 3% of voters leaving the governor slot blank. To quote Jim Hightower, if the Gods had meant us to vote they would have given us candidates.
That said, I think Davis was a scapegoat for a much broader problem with how California is being run. As Governor he gets the spotlight, but blame goes to all. To Davis for not leading through force of personality and bully pulpit in times of crisis. To our partisan legislature for gridlock, sweetheart deals and gerrymandering of districts to offer safe havens for both Democrat and Republican incumbents. To previous administrations and legislatures for screwing up our energy deregulation process, and the Federal government for failing in their energy oversight. And to us, the citizens of California, for letting them get away with it and for misguided or poorly written initiatives like Prop. 13 and term limits that keep our system from running as it should.
Now with record voter participation, we have thrown the bum out and replaced him with an unknown. Incumbents throughout the state are no doubt aware that the anger directed against Davis will focus on others unless things change. I hope our new Governor will be able to leverage this mandate for change to turn things around before that happens, for all our sakes.
Don't forget to go vote today if you live in California.
And just so I don't leave this ludicrous affair without a single post, Schwarzenegger yesterday said he would address all charges of sexual harassment in detail after the election.
He has also promised that after the election is over he will start answering questions from non-entertainment California press, debate (former) opposing candidates without requiring questions be given in advance, and start forming a policy.
CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - The United States came under fire for its heavy cotton subsidies Monday with African nations saying free trade talks are meaningless unless Washington stops throwing money at its farmers... [Benin's trade minister] and ministers from fellow African cotton producers Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad called for the WTO to approve a total ban on subsidies for cotton farmers by 2006.
This has been boiling up for a while now. To put things in perspective, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, and cotton is one of their few cash crops. Most of their cotton farms operate on 1-3 acres, with the planting, weeding and harvesting done by hand. You'd think such farming couldn't be as efficient as the economy of scale achievable by large-scale U.S. agribusiness, but in fact it costs about 73 cents to produce a pound of cotton in the U.S. and only 21 cents per pound in Burkina Faso.
A few other facts from a 2002 Oxfam briefing paper:
It's unclear how this WTO case will play out. African countries are in an extremely weak negotiating position, because they rely heavily on aid, debt relief and trade preferences. For example, the aid relief provided by the U.S. under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) can be unilaterally withdrawn, as can U.S. food aid. (The AGOA aid, ironically, is conditional on African governments liberalizing agricultural markets, including cotton.) On the other hand, the conflict is bringing visibility of the problem to Capitol Hill at a time when farm subsidies are being challenged.
The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. — James Madison
Tax policy has everything a politician could want in an issue: it affects everyone, it's easy to differentiate your position from your opponent's, and it's complex enough that you can spin the subject six ways to Sunday without ever telling a bald-faced lie. With the presidential campaign ramping up and the California gubernatorial campaign in full swing I'm starting to see a few standard tricks get used. I'm no Penn and Teller of the political world, but I thought I'd list some of the spin tricks I've seen so far. (Kids, play at home — how many misleading tax claims can you find this campaign season?)
Bringing down the (income) tax. In 2001, President Bush said that under his first tax cut "a family of four making $35,000 [would] receive a one hundred percent tax cut." What he forgot to mention that this was only income tax he was talking about, not payroll tax.
Everyone gets mad about income tax because it's the one we see every April, but 74% of Americans actually pay more in federal payroll tax than federal income tax. For poor to moderate-income workers, it's a lot more. And because income taxes are a relatively small percentage of these worker's total tax burden, any small reduction can look like a huge percentage of the income tax without reducing the total tax burden by a large amount. It's a classic use of misdirection. Penn and Teller would be proud.
This trick hasn't been retired in the past two years, either. Back in June of this year, Tim Russert quoted statistics provided by the Department of Treasury in his Meet The Press interview with Howard Dean:
The Department of Treasury, we consulted and asked them: What effect would [repealing Bush's entire package of tax cuts] have across America? And this is what they said. A married couple with two children making $40,000 a year, under the Bush plan, would pay $45 in taxes. Repealing them, under the Dean plan, if you will, would pay $1,978, a tax increase of over 4,000 percent. A married couple over 65 making $40,000 and claiming their Social Security, under Bush would pay $675 in taxes. You're suggesting close to $1,400, a 107 percent tax increase. Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent," and be elected?
Dean responded "I don't believe [those figures]. This administration has not been candid about the impacts of this tax cut."
John Kerry continues to cite these numbers, saying in an August 31st Meet The Press that "If you're a $40,000 income earner, Howard Dean's going to raise your taxes more than 20 times."
As you might have guessed, the numbers provided to NBC for the Dean interview are only for income tax, not the full tax burden. Martin Sullivan, an economist and writer for Tax Notes, discussed the figures in a recent article:
And in a new application of the "income tax only" approach to distribution analysis, the Treasury Department is providing the press with case studies of the combined effects of the 2002 and 2003 tax cuts on middle-income families. But in what can only be characterized as egregious use of misinformation, the Treasury Department frequently omits from its explanation that it is looking only at income taxes.
He then discusses the Treasury Department report that was quoted in the Dean interview, noting that the words "income tax" appear only in the detailed write-up and an accompanying report, but nowhere in the main executive summary. "If this continues," writes Sullivan, "the Treasury's Office of Tax Policy (OTP) may have to change its name to the Office of Tax Propaganda."
Just your average family. The most common way to compute an average tax-cut is to take the total tax cut and divide by the number of tax-payers (also known as the mean). So when Bush says "ninety-two million Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money" in his State of the Union address, that's the average of my tax cut, your tax cut, and Bill Gates' tax cut. Unfortunately, Bill Gates got a bigger cut than you or I did, so that skews the numbers. It also doesn't average in the fifty million tax-paying Americans who got no tax cut, which brings the average up even further. In fact, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, fewer than 20% of tax-payers would receive a tax cut of $1000 or more. A less misleading average would be the median tax cut (a little less than $100) or the mode tax cut (zero dollars) but those don't sound nearly as exciting.
The Specter of Double Taxation. The dividend tax has been loudly criticized as being an "unfair double taxation." To quote the Republican Study Committee:
No dollar should be taxed twice — especially not a dollar created by citizen productivity. Just imagine if taxes were taken out of your constituents' weekly paychecks before they were mailed and then again after they were mailed. Wouldn't that be unfair? The double taxation of dividends is equally unjust. No income should be taxed more than once. If the federal government taxes a dollar of corporate profit, it has no right to tax that same dollar again just because it is distributed to shareholders.
There are sound economic arguments for reducing the dividend tax, the strongest being that it encourages companies to issue stock instead of borrow money. However, the double-taxation argument is complete chicanery — all money is double-taxed (and triple-taxed, and quadruple-taxed). When I receive my paycheck (created with my citizen productivity), I pay income tax. I then spend that money and pay sales tax, a double-tax. If I purchase gasoline I'll also pay a gas tax, a triple-tax on my dollar. But it doesn't stop there! The gas station uses that dollar to pay the attendant, and charge him income tax, and then he goes to a restaurant... you get the idea. There's a nice Tom The Dancing Bug cartoon that illustrates the problems with this dodge quite effectively.
What goes around comes around. During the first California Gubernatorial recall debate, Arianna Huffington (Independent) and Peter Camejo (Green) both suggested raising corporate taxes. On the surface this sounds like a way to raise revenue without causing pain to working-class voters, but it ignores the fact that everything is interconnected in an economy. Republican State Senator Tom McClintock had this response:
I'll let you in on a secret about business taxes. Businesses do not pay taxes, they pay taxes through you as a consumer in higher prices, through you as an employee through lower wages or through you as an investor in lower earnings. Investors are not fat cats, that is Mom and Dad's retirement fund we're talking about.
McClintock is correct as far as he goes: at some point that tax burden has to be paid by real humans, be they consumers, employees or investors. But he only describes half the cycle. The other half is that taxes on individual people will come back to be paid by businesses, through lower sales to consumers, higher wages of employees, or through lower stock prices as investors have less savings to invest. That's the whole point of both trickle-down and trickle-up economics: to get business moving, you give a tax break to consumers and investors. In economics, everything is connected. You can't just look at the burden on one group without looking at how it affects the whole.
Math class is hard. Let's go shopping. One of the arguments that gets used to promote flat taxes and consumption taxes goes something like this: "Boy, tax forms are complicated, aren't they? If you'd just throw out the entire income tax system and replace it with our proposal you wouldn't have to do all that math every April." To quote the main tagline of Americans for Fair Taxation, "It's simple."
I'm amazed that anyone falls for this argument. First of all, the tax code isn't complex because we have a graduated (that is, non-flat) income tax, it's complicated because of all the exemptions, deductions, and special cases. (Such exemptions are used, for example, to encourage home ownership by allowing mortgage interest to be deducted from one's income.) Second, both flat-taxes and consumption-taxes are extremely regressive, which is to say they tax the poor a larger percentage of their income than they do the rich. I guess the idea is to distract middle-class voters with the simplicity argument so they don't realize they'll be taking on a larger tax burden. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
In the end, tax policy boils down to just three things: fairly distributing the tax burden, creating incentives for useful behavior, and making sure there's enough revenue to keep the government running. Between these three parameters there's a whole world of complex, intelligent argument. We need advocates who can argue about whether a tax is more fair when it burdens everyone equally, burdens each according to his means, or burdens each according to the benefit he receives. We need economists who can argue whether trickle-up or trickle-down will jump-start an economy faster. We need political representatives who can argue about what services the government should provide. These are good, honest, and necessary arguments. We have no need for deceivers, dissemblers and charlatans who hope to pull a fast one.
About a year ago I put myself on a no-caffeine, no-Chomsky diet. I know there are a lot of people out there who read Chomsky's political writings and get all upset because they think it's nothing but a pack of lies. I'm not one of those people. By the time I finish reading Chomsky I'm upset because I believe most of what he writes, and what he writes is depressing as all get-out. Chomsky has this way of saying something outlandish like "we should not forget that the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state." He then goes on for pages citing relevant newspaper articles, U.N. Resolutions, Senate testimony and U.S. policy documents to back up his claims. Being a linguist, he also doesn't have the decency to bend the meaning of words so things like "terrorism" can apply when the bad guys do it but not when we do it.
After I went on my diet I became much calmer and happier. In my mind, the word chomsky became an adjective that described a whole class of media, not just those written by Chomsky himself. I started using the word to mean anything that lays out rational arguments that lead to depressing conclusions about the world. My media diet became stricter as I cut out Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, The Daily Howler, The Center for Media & Democracy and sometimes even The Economist. (While chomsky can be of any political leaning, I don't include people like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore because they're more about appeals to emotion than rational argument — that's a different class I call world wrestling federation.)
Now Al Franken has released a new book, Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The title alone reeks of chomsky, and so my natural instinct was to curl up with my latest copy of IEEE Spectrum Magazine until it went away. But then Fox News sued Franken for using the words "Fair and Balanced" in his title. Their lawsuit, which was quickly thrown out, accused Franken as an "unstable" and "shrill" "C-level commentator" who is "not a well-respected voice in American politics." With an endorsement like that, how could I resist?
The first thing I note is that professional comics like Franken are much funnier than linguists. (He's also a lot lighter on the endnotes: this is beach reading, not an academic journal.) Some of the gags are gentle ribbing, like this passage from his section on the environment:
Perhaps there is someone reading this who is saying, "Give me a break, Al. I don't care about the environment." To you, I have this to say: You were not legitimately elected president, sir. But I respect the office you hold, and I'm honored that you're reading my book.
Other jokes are much more barbed, and will no doubt cause much consternation among the more thin-skinned conservatives. Especially harsh are "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus" comic, drawn in the style of Chick Bible Tracts, and "Operation Chickenhawk," a short story with right-wing draft-dodgers like Bush, Cheney and Limbaugh fighting in an Apocalypse Now setting. Franken can be quite venomous when he wants to be, but he seems to have an unwritten rule that he'll only dish out as much venom as the victim deserves. Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, venom-slingers in their own right, get both barrels. But in the chapter on how he toured Bob Jones University on false pretenses, Franken is actually apologetic and, in retrospect, ashamed of fooling "people who were welcoming, friendly, and extremely nice." He also has compliments for right-wingers that he feels are honest and worthy of respect, several of whom he considers friends.
Underneath the humor, the book is still pure chomsky. He starts by taking on Ann Coulter, an easy task by any measure. Coulter's misquotes and downright lies are well documented, and Franken does a quick job of it. (Quoting a friend of his: "I've never shot fish in a barrel. But I could imagine that after a while it could get boring.") He then moves on to Bernie Goldberg (author of Bias), the 2000 election, Fox News, and the Bush Administration, as well as a very touching chapter on the Paul Wellstone memorial. Treatment ranges from point-by-point dissection of specific right-wing lies to anecdotes of the times he's met with (and often baited) the celebrities of right-wing politics.
Through the book, Franken tries to explain the way the liars operate, and perhaps help us understand why. This is where it gets depressing. Start with slander, false quotes, out-of-context clips, and misleading figures and data. Throw in dirty tricks like push-polling. Finish with a cadre of talk-show hosts, journalists and media personalities ready and able to do your dirty work, and a mainstream press all too willing to go with the juicy, the sensational, and the easy. As for why, just look around you today. Bush has the White House, a firm grip on both houses of Congress, and has a stated priority to stack the Judicial branch. Republicans who disagree with the president's policies have been marginalized. The Democrats are in disarray, and the White House Press Corp is intimidated.
It all makes me furious, which is why I went on the no-caffeine, no-chomsky diet in the first place. I keep hoping that if I just stick to real issues these sleaze-balls will go away. But of course they won't, and they're too powerful to ignore. A healthy society needs vigorous, passionate debate. What we have now is the opposite: a guerilla warfare of ideas, where rational discussion gets shot down by snipers in the trees. On its own, Franken's book is no grand call to arms, but it joins an increasing number of chomsky that are shouting out from all sides of the political aisle. Together, they are a call to defend our democracy from corruption. To quote Franken's closing message:
We have to fight back. But we can't fight like they do. The Right's entertainment value comes from their willingness to lie and distort. Ours will have to come from being funny and attractive. And passionate. And idealistic. But also smart. And not milquetoast-y. We've got to be willing to throw their lies in their face.
I don't think I can just pick up my IEEE Spectrum Magazine and forget it all again.
(Happy Fair and Balanced Friday everyone!)
A few days ago I blogged about the economics of hydrogen cars. As a follow-up, I've recently come across a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute on hydrogen power: Twenty Hydrogen Myths. A summary of the report's conclusions can be found here.
The gist of the RMI report is that hydrogen fuel is extremely efficient; a hydrogen fuel-cell car is 2-3 times more efficient than a gasoline car and 1.5 times more efficient than a hybrid gas-electric car (page 11). However, hydrogen is also difficult to transport because of its low energy-to-volume ratio, so their transition strategy (page 13, published in detail here) is to distribute energy in a different form, most likely natural gas, and then generate hydrogen local to where it's needed. Building complexes would all have their own natural-gas-to-hydrogen converters, and the hydrogen would then be used to run fuel-cells to generate electricity. Excess hydrogen would be used to refuel hydrogen-powered cars during off-peak hours. These cars would initially be in company fleets, but as the infrastructure develops RMI sees the model expanding to sell fuel to cars in the neighborhood. Ultimately, natural gas will be supplanted by renewable energies such as wind and solar as these technologies become more cost-effective.
I don't have the expertise to judge the arguments made in the report, but on their face they sound compelling. Most of all I'm pleased with RMI's overall message: you don't need to choose between environmentally friendly business practices and the bottom line. Rather than argue that corporate fat-cats need to give up their profits so we can have cleaner air, RMI is creating road maps that show how businesses can improve the environment by acting in their own economic self-interest. Assuming these road maps stand the test of the market, that sounds a lot more effective (and valuable to society) than raging against the machine or trying to pass ham-handed government regulation, especially in today's political environment.
(a DocBug.com exclusive)
Sacramento — Today political luminaries such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Coleman and Larry Flint have been joined by none other than Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman. Declaring his candidacy at an afternoon taping of the Jerry Springer show, Newman blasted Governor Gray Davis and "all those other guys who have experience in politics." Newman said he would be running as an Independent. "None of the parties wanted me," Newman explained to reporters. "Even the Greens wouldn't take me, in spite of being just as electable as Nader was."
Considered one of the darkest horses in an election overrun by dark-horse candidates, Newman feels he still has one major advantage over his opposition. "I'm especially appealing to stupid people," Newman explained. "Stupid people like me because I can't speak good English. That and I have a kinda boyish smile that puts people at ease." Given that Lyndon LaRouche is already tied up in his presidential race, political analysts agree Newman is a shoe-in for the stupid vote.
Even so, Newman's campaign will have an up-hill battle against the huge name-recognition of many of the opposing candidates, a group that includes movie stars, washed-up TV celebrities and professional publicity hounds looking for some cheap exposure. But Newman shrugs off suggestions that his chances are slim. "Only a small percentage of Californians bother to vote, and those that do will be spread out over about 200 candidates. So I'm figuringing I'll only need two or three votes to win, tops. And I've already got two votes lined up!" Newman declined to reveal the name of his second supporter.
In spite of his shortcomings, Newman's politics do appeal with voters on several core issues. In particular, Newman is a proponent of what he calls a "radical pro-choice" position. "I believe that life begins at 40," Newman stated during a recent fund-raiser. Campaign strategists are quick to point out that this position endears Newman to both the pro-choice and pro-death-penalty camps, both powerful interests in California. "I like it — it's like compassionate conservatism with a California twist!" commented one San Francisco resident.
On other issues Newman is less forthcoming, but he did hint that if he is elected we would see a return to traditional California methods for handling the state's woes. When asked to comment on how he would handle California's unprecedented deficit, much of which will need to be handled in next year's budget, Newman simply flashed his trademark grin and said "What, me worry?"
The July 18th issue of Science Magazine has an interesting article that gives a critical eye to the idea that hydrogen-powered automobiles is the best way to attack our environmental problems. (The article is also currently cached here for those without a subscription to Science.) The article makes two main points:
Fuel Cell Today suggests that some of their numbers may be exagerated, especially when it comes to the cost of they hydrogen-fuel infrastructure needed for fuelcell-powered cars. In particular, they point out that the huge financial commitment auto makers have made to fuelcell technology is a good indication that they believe it will be economically viable. They also note that many of the alternatives raised in the Science article, while perhaps better targets from an energy-efficiency standpoint, are not possible in the current political climate.
Even given this criticism, the general point seems to be well-taken. As Marianne Mintz, author of one of the reports cited in the Science article, says to Fuel Cell Today, "They're basically trying to make the point that there are other options that deserve a fair share of attention in the near term. I don't think that anybody would argue with that."