Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate tonight... and press conference too

Tonight, there will be two events in the presidential campaign. A debate and a joint press conference.

The debate will be between Green candidate David Cobb and Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian nominee.

The joint press conference will involve Republican George W. Bush and the Democratic standard bearer John Kerry. For some reason, the joint press conference will receive far more coverage in the corporate media than the debate.

Despite the fact that the Bush-Kerry press conference will be available on nearly a dozen different networks, both CSPAN and CSPAN2 will be showing it as well, but apparently neither will air the actual debate.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Republicans biting the teat that feeds them

Dennis, over at The Moderate Republican (yes, there is such a thing), notes the sheer hypocrisy of many "small government" types.

The way that the far right likes to spin the role of government is that in the "Red States" like Texas, there is less government unlike in the "Blue States" where people want their government big. Well, a study shows that it is the Red States that suck from the government's teat, getting back more in federal money than they pay in taxes. For example, Mississippi gets back a whopping $1.84 for ever dollar it gives to Washington, while my adopted state of Minnesota gets back a measly 77 cents. So in essence, I am easing the tax burden of some guy in Natchez, MS.

[note: in case you forgot, red states are those that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and blue states are those that voted for Al Gore]

The study he cited noted that of the 10 states that receive the most federal largesse per dollar of federal taxes paid, 8 of them voted Republican in the last presidential election. Of the 10 states that receive the least, 7 of them voted Democrat in the last presidential election.

It noted that of all the states that received more from the government teat then they paid, 76% went to Bush in 2000. Of the states that paid more in taxes then they received back from Washington, 69% went to Gore in 2000.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The ACLU is at it again!

The Press Republican, a Plattsburgh daily, reported on a suit filed by the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is widely despised for opposing federal snooping in public libraries, police brutality, people who want to force religion down others' throats and other wonderful things. Now, you can add freedom of expression to the list of horrible things the ACLU advocates.

According to The Press Republican, the town of Essex had a local law which said political campaign lawn signs can only be displayed 30 days prior to election day.

The town supervisor told the paper that the town most likely will abolish the sign law because it cannot afford to keep defending it in court.

Not because, say, it was an very obvious and wholly unnecessary violation of both the state and federal constitutions.

Frankly, I'm glad that supressing freedom of expression is an expensive proposition.

Not surprisingly, the town supervisor, a Republican in an overwhelmingly Republican county, played the old "bash the ACLU" card. He said the Civil Liberties Union was suing the town only to gain publicity for itself. "When the dust settles, we will lose because our budget is small, not because our law is wrong,’’ the supervisor sniffed.

The No-Slacker Zone

Apparently, Jon Stewart (host of the most informative show on television, cable or broadcast) visited conservative yap show host Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly made several cracks, apparently in jest, about how Stewart's viewers are "stoned slackers."

It turns out, according to The Associated Press that Viewers of Jon Stewart's show are more likely to have completed four years of college than people who watch "The O'Reilly Factor," according to Nielsen Media Research... [Stewart's channel] Comedy Central also touted a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey, which said young viewers of "The Daily Show" were more likely to answer questions about politics correctly than those who don't.

Many of those who swear by ordinary political yack shows like O'Reilly, The Capital Gang, The McLaughlin Group or anything on MSNBC are reflexively dismissive of something like Stewart's The Daily Show. Anything that uses humor can't be taken seriously, according to these self-important types. And if something that uses satire is actually influential, then it's the death knell of our citizen republic!

These folks don't quite get why Stewart's program is so influential. It's not because his viewers are lazy; apparently they're not too lazy to get a college degree!People watch Stewart because he asks questions that mainstream journalists are too timid to ask. He asks questions that ordinary people want to know the answer to.

Most reporters in the corporate media are too concerned about losing their vaunted access to ask truly tough questions. They don't bother asking themselves what the purpose of access is if they don't use it.

That's why we get serenaded by chest-puffing stories about what the major party candidates allegedly did or didn't do three decades ago instead of holding candidates accountable for their actions or positions.

Instead of pooh-poohing programs like The Daily Show, the stuffed suits might want to watch his show a bit and figure out why so many consider his show relevant.

Friday, September 24, 2004

RNC: liberals will ban Bibles

The Bush-Cheney campaign is based largely on fear-mongering with regard to terrorism. But like any good business, they're trying to diversify in other areas.

For example, the Republican National Committee is accused of sending out mail to West Virginians warning that liberals will ban Bibles if elected in November.

The Republican National Committee Chairman, shock of shocks, said he knew nothing of the mailing.

The mailing is hardly surprising "We represent good, decent American values unlike those hedonistic heretics on the other side" is a standard Republican theme. Trying to convince religious people that Christians are a horrifically persecuted population menaced by atheists and merchants of tolerance (and related sins) is merely an extension of that strategy.

They need to rev up the theocracy brigade. Convincing the fundamentalists Christians, who represent at least 40% of the population, that they'll be martyred out of existence if the wrong guys get elected is a great way to get them to the polls.

The 'liberal' media and the free market

It intrigues me how so many conservatives whine about how 'liberal' Hollywood movies are or how 'liberal' the news media are. Then they'll lecture you on how, in the free market, businesses must cater to their audiences.

Well it makes you wonder: if Hollywood and the news media are putting out such allegedly 'liberal' products and they are still wildly successful industries, then perhaps there are more 'liberals' in America than conservatives would like to admit.

According to conservative opinion, four television networks are 'liberal' (NBC/MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS) and only one is 'fair and balanced.' If that dubious assertion is correct, then is it because there's four times as much demand for 'liberal' news than Fox News [sic]? After all, if conservatives were so numerous, or at least in higher proportion than 1 to 4, wouldn't there be more than a single conservative news channel? Wouldn't there be more conservative films? Don't conservatives watch TV and spend money too?

Or maybe the media and Hollywood just aren't quite as liberal as the Chicken Littles would have you believe.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

On opinion polls and the press

In case I haven't mentioned it enough, I hate polls. Actually, it's not so much that I hate polls as I hate how the press uses polls.

Much of the news media, such as it is, loves polls because it gives them an excuse to not have to do real journalism. They can just yammer on for hours about these mythical numbers and pass it off as "analysis." It's much easier than getting fingernails dirty on something less sexy but actually meaningful, like the lack of access to health care by millions of Americans.

Let's say a poll blares that "45% of Americans prefer President Bush, 44% prefer Sen. Kerry and 9% prefer Ralph Nader."

First off, it won't be the poll that blares these numbers, it will be a newspaper or TV headline. Because statisticians will know better. Statisticians know about variation and sample size. They know that polling is an art, not a science.

It will be a print or TV headline because those media are notorious for squeezing the nuance out of everything.

Second, the headline is probably flat out wrong. It's not 45% of Americans or even of all voters who prefer President Bush. It's 45% of those polled in that particular survey in that particular period who prefer the president; that is the demonstrable fact.

If that poll surveyed 1000 people, then all it means is that the poll shows that 450 individuals prefered Bush at the time of the survey, 440 prefered Kerry and 90 preferred Nader.

If this were just a few yapping heads on MSNBC, we could ignore it. But the entire media spends an inordinate amount of time "analyzing" polls instead of doing real news.

Not only should there be fewer stories about polls, but stories about polls should never be on the front page of a newspaper. They should never be the lead story on a news program. For one simple reason: they are not news.

Journalists like to put their hand over their heart and say, "We don't make news, we just report it."

The increasing domination of polls in the so-called news business puts lie to this claim. Newspapers and networks commission polls so they have stories to report. In essence, they ARE inventing the news.

Also see my essay: 530 people support Kerry

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

NY Assembly Speaker admits to gerrymandering

To say that New York state's government is dysfunctional almost makes me sound like a broken record. The NYCO blog, who regularly writes about the morass in Albany, pointed to an interesting piece in the Syracuse Post-Standard.

It mentioned the Democratic primary victory of Assembly candidate Jimmy Meng, of Queens, who hopes to become the first Asian-American elected to the state legislature.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver [a Democrat] said the Legislature intentionally drew the district the first-termer Grodenchik [the incumbent who lost to Meng] represents with the hopes of sending an Asian-American representative to Albany.

"With reapportionment, we clearly had in mind to carve an Asian district and that's what prevailed today," Silver said late [last] Tuesday.


This little throwaway comment is very revealing and demonstrates while he's a terrible advertisement for the New York Democratic Party. As I've said before, Silver not only is an old-style party boss strongman, but he comes across as one. GOP Governor George Pataki probably owes a lot of his success to the fact that he's flattered by comparisons to Silver.

That the legislature is a master of gerrymandering is the most poorly kept secret in state politics. That the speaker would openly admit to gerrymandering, however, is pretty surprising. Usually, gerrymandering is one of those things that is done with a wink and a nod but never talked about openly by its practioners.

The problem for the mess in Albany, I lay blame on the feet of rank and file legislators. Sure, it's easy to pick on Silver and Senate Majority Leader Bruno and, believe me, I know they deserve it. But who are Silver and Bruno? They are elected by rank and file Assemblymen and Senators. They REPRESENT their caucuses.

If they are able to act as little tinpot dictators, it's the rank and file's fault for allowing it. If the Democratic Assemblymen really didn't like how Silver was running things, they'd tell him to fix things or else get voted out. They had the chance to get rid of Silver a few years ago but they didn't have the guts and abandoned Michael Bragman, the insurgent candidate. The rank and file needs to understand that Silver and Bruno are dependent on them, not vice versa.

NYCO doesn't quite agree with me. He wrote:
Yes - but did Bragman really stand for change and good government, or did he just want Silver's throne?

I'm not very convinced that anything really would have changed if he had succeeded in ousting Silver. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, etc. But I agree with you that the problem is not just Silver, but his favored ones and how the rank-and-file legislators don't really feel empowered by their constituents to stand up to them.


I understand his point, but you have to start somewhere.

While Bragman may or may not have been fundamentally different than Silver, his election would've sent a message that the rank-and-file are willing, for once, to assert themselves. They would've asserted that they need to be allowed to do their jobs. That alone would've helped things at least a little bit.

Then Bragman would know that if the rank-and-file were willing to get rid of Silver, they could do the same to him. And most importantly, it would've given the rank-and-file a little confidence to assert themselves by reminding that, contrary to popular belief, the dog can still wag the tail. That alone would've been a start.

Addendum to the Cat Stevens entry

Many people's initial reaction to the Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam incident is that it was a manifestation of the 'all Muslims are terrorists' mentality that some Americans have. Abiola, over at Foreign Dispatches, points out that it might not be so simple.

The former singer endorsed the death sentence against Salman Rushdie and was accused by the Israeli government of giving large sums of money to the terrorist organization Hamas.

While I don't agree with denying him entry to the US, it's worth considering this. Anyone who encourages killing an author just because he wrote a novel isn't deserving of a lot of sympathy, even from liberal-minded types. Especially from liberal-minded types. George W. Bush or not.

Singer denied entry to US, sent to Maine instead

An AFP article in South Africa's Daily Mail and Guardian reports:

A United Airlines flight from London to Washington was rerouted to Bangor, Maine, late on Tuesday to prevent Yusuf Islam, the British pop musician formerly known as Cat Stevens, from entering the United States

Aside from the actual merit or not of denying Islam entry...

Maybe there's a logical reason that the poorly explained intro didn't mention, but I was left wondering when Bangor, Maine ceased being part of the US.

Bush said it, not me

"We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace... And across the world, the enemies of human rights are responding with violence."

-President Bush, Speech to UN General Assembly.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Does anyone use copy editors anymore?

Comments heard on radio/TV broadcasts in the last few days...

"[Afghan leader Hamid] Karzai is seeking re-election in his country's first ever presidential election."

"The film debuts for the first time tommorrow."

"[Some baseball player] hit a grand slam home run."

On John Kerry

What a lot of people don't realize is that I would love to vote for John Kerry. I'm not a masochist. I'm not a hopeless romantic. I don't like beating my head against a brick wall. I despise most of what Bush has done, most of what he stands for and I'm sad about what he's done to this country. And I'm even sadder that he might get elected with a popular plurality this time because it'll mean we deserve him.

I hate what Bush has done to this country and I know Kerry is the best chance to beat Bush. But I simply can't justify voting for a guy who supported the three worst things Bush did. The three worst public policy decisions of the last quarter century. Notably the Iraq invasion, the Patriot Act and the doctrine of pre-emption (ie: old-fashioned naked aggression). I can't vote for a guy who implicitly endorses the anti-democratic lawyering campaign against Nader trying to get on the ballot; a campaign which is just as odious as what the Republicans tried to pull in Florida (of course, Dems didn't have the high ground in that farce either).

I'd love to vote for a Democrat because I remember what the Democrats used to be and what they could be once again. But I can't. The Democrats will never change so long as their progressive wing allows themselves to be effectively neutered by the ABB argument or the lesser of two evils garbage. A neutering which is already well underway as demonstrated by the fact that most Democrats are ENRAGED by the three things I mention above but are voting for a candidate who supports those. By refusing to exercise the only leverage they have, withholding their vote from non-progressive candidates, progressive Democrats are allowing themselves to be held hostage by the corporatist wing of the party. It's not what Bush, Darth Vader Cheney or the evil Republicans are doing to them. It's what they are doing to themselves.

The real problem I have with John Kerry is this nagging doubt. Actually, it's a near certainty. John Kerry is a very smart individual. He's not a cowboy. He's not a gunslinger. He's not a guy who does reckless things first and asks questions later (if at all) simply to be seen as a [hold hand over heart] man of action.

Therefore, I can't help but think that Kerry knew in his heart that the Iraq war was a bad idea long before it ever got underway. I can't help but thinking that if the issue had been put before Congress in 2001, Kerry might've voted against the Iraq war blank check. I can't help but thinking that if John Kerry weren't running for president, he'd have voted against it.

So not only was he wrong, but he should've known better. Not only should he have known better, but I can't help but believing he DID know better and went against his conscience anyway. I think he went against his conscience because back then, opposing the war was not the politically or patriotically correct thing to do. The brief neo-McCarthyistic period following 9/11 made it so no so-called respectable politician could disagree with military action proposed by the president. To do so would give aid and comfort to the terrorists. .

And that's fundamentally what gets me about Kerry. It's not just that he was wrong to vote for Iraq, but that I'm confident he knew he was wrong at the time. Robert McNamara anyone?

Bill Clinton's presidency taught me one important thing about elected officials. Character DOES matter. Political courage DOES matter. It's not just WHAT you believe on particular issues, but how hard you're willing to fight for them. Bill Clinton may have said all the right things about tolerance blah blah blah. But what he DID was to sign the farcical Don't Ask Don't Tell decree and the ludicrous Defense of Marriage Act. Those were his ACTIONS. When push came to shove, he caved to the political correctness of the day.

When push came to shove on Iraq, John Kerry caved too.

What use is it that he, as chief EXECUTIVE, believes in the right things if he refuses to fight for them. And that was the fundamental problem with Democrats during 2002-2003: they may have believed the right things in their hearts but they, with a few honorable exceptions, refused to stand up to the extremist Republican agenda when it mattered.

Is the radical agenda going to disappear if Kerry wins? Of course not. It's likely the Republicans will still have a majority in both houses of Congress. If Kerry won't stand up to them when it counts, as he's already proven capable, then why should I waste my vote on him?

Three stories from The Globalist

Three good stories from the excellent website The Globalist.

-America's neoconservatives: all muscle, no history?. The United States is unique in having a powerful domestic constituency that favors the use of force — or the threat to use force — as the solution of choice to most security challenges. This “all carrot, no stick” approach is puzzling and worrying to many observers. Thomas Wright examines America’s ideological hawks and their post-Iraq future.

-Resurrecting Empire. Some members of the U.S. coalition in Iraq argue that the insurgency there is merely an aberration. But to gloss over resistance of Western subjugation that occurred throughout the Middle East in the past is to ignore a key lesson in history. Author Rashid Khalidi explores how the history of Western domination in the region has conditioned its people to resist outside control.


-Sweden's Long Climb. Conventional wisdom in the US says that social democracy is incompatible with innovation and economic growth and it promotes laziness. One of the keys to understanding modern Sweden is that the country — for a very long time, longer than is widely known — remained very poor. Its economy finally took off in the 19th century, then boomed in the 20th... Rather like the Japanese a little later, having imported innovations, the Swedes began to produce their own.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Is Karl Rove secretly running the Kerry campaign?

Suddenly, John Kerry came out and said the Iraq war "was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists."

Now my initial reaction is that people far less intelligent, far less educated and far less experienced knew this a long time ago. We knew this even before the war started, back when Kerry voted in favor of giving the president a blank check to invade this random, non-threatening country.

Now suddenly that the war and occupation are somewhat less politically correct than they once were, Kerry has changed his mind. He's morphed into the anti-war candidate.

The whole theme of the Bush campaign is that Kerry is a flip flopper. They have to use this theme because they don't have much else to run on. When in trouble, as the old political axiom goes, change the subject. The Bush people are masters at changing the subject. Iraq in chaos? No problem, let's scream about evil gays. Arrogant foreign policy making terrorism more likely? No problem, let's focus on what Kerry did in 1968. No sign of bin Laden? Um... I got it: tell people that liberals will ban Bibles!!!

So when faced with a campaign based on him being a flip flopper, what does Kerry do?

He flip flops.

Karl Rove couldn't have scripted this any better.

Democrats fighting Nader harder than Bush?

I read an interesting press release over at the Green Party's website. Though the Greens didn't endorse him, they deplore tactics used by Democrats to keep Ralph Nader and his running mate Peter Camejo off the ballots in many states. What's worse is: Florida Republicans missed the September 1 filing deadline to place Mr. Bush on the state ballot, but Florida Democrats are refusing to hold them to state election rules. Yet they did file legal challenges to keep Nader off the ballot (though the suit was rubbished by the state's supreme court).

Astonishingly, the Florida Democratic chairman defended his party's inaction, "To keep an incumbent president off the ballot in a swing state the size of Florida because of a technicality, I just don't think would be right."

So it's ok to keep Nader (a guy far closer to the agenda of most Democrats) off the ballot on a "technicality" but they won't go after President Bush (who Democrats demonize as Hitler redux). They say Nader shouldn't run because it's an emergency and we must stop Bush at all costs. They whine that Nader will "steal" votes from Kerry. But when they have the chance to stop Bush, even on a "technicality," they refuse take it.

And you know very well that if Bush wins Florida again by a narrow margin, Democrats will again be whining about Nader. I wonder if they'll remember this incident.

Of course not.

It makes you wonder why Democrats are fighting Nader harder than they are fighting Bush. Are they masochistic or just incompetent?

This incident invalidates any possible future snivelling that Nader will have cost Kerry the election.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Not quite getting the concept

I read this BBC article where Turkey's prime minister blasted the European Union for allegedly interfering in his country's internal affairs.

Now, it might sound like a simplistic case of a non-western country telling the imperialist west to mind its own damn business.

Except Turkey wants to join the EU.

The EU has rules and regulations. Turkey's government was considering a law to criminalize adultery. But the EU didn't endorse it and told Turkey so.

The Turkish prime minister said no one should use the EU as an excuse to pressure Turkey.

Um... I don't think he quite gets the concept. The EU is a club. It has entry standards. If you want to get in, you have to follow those standards. If you don't like the standards, then don't join. It's that simple.

Some countries don't like the onerous standards of such "clubs." For example, Zimbabwe didn't like the Commonwealth's rules that waging war on your own people is a bad idea.

So they weren't content in blaming the "racist" British (Mugabe's black opponents were denied food aid or beaten by thugs or arrested and tortured all on the orders of Tony Blair, of course). Instead of just whining about the horrible British, they quit the club. It was that simple.

Turkey needs to quit complaining. Either they adhere to European standards and join the club, or do whatever they want and deny themselves the benefits of membership.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The real ABB candidate

I'm starting to understand why people don't vote. Not just the apathetic types who don't know what party the president belongs to. Not voting is sometimes an expression of principled disgust for the status quo. I'm not sure if that conscious boycott sends any more of a message that voting for a smaller party candidate or writing in someone's name, but I no longer wave my hand in contempt at this category of non-voters. I still don't agree with it, but I can respect it a little more.

People's reaction to Ralph Nader's candidacy has made me come to this appreciation. And I mean not people's reaction to the substance of Nader's candidacy, but to the fact of his candidacy.

It's disheartening to read sources like Alternet and The Nation jumping on to the ABB bandwagon. I stopped reading The Nation a while ago for other reasons; I thought it was predictable, not especially challenging and lacking in intellectual rigor. Alternet purports to "[provide] readers with crucial facts and passionate opinions they can't find anywhere else" yet their 'Nader doesn't have the right to run' columns are found all over the place.

That these so-called 'alternative' publications would so eagerly mimick the self-serving rationalizations of the Democratic establishment is sad. Even if these folks had endorsed no one, rather than a smaller party candidate, I could've accepted it. But the regular Nader bashing columns in these publications hardly meshes with their self-glorifying iconoclastic image. I don't like using the phrase 'sell-out' but it fits here.

Certainly any progressive should be condemning the Donkey Party's machinations to keep Nader off the ballot in many states; machinations which may be Democratic, but certainly not democratic. Richard Nixon would be proud of what they're doing.

If you believe in a fair electoral process, you should condemn these Democratic actions which are anything but democratic. If you believe that winning an election is more important than the democratic health of this country, if you believe we need to sacrifice democracy in order to save it, then you should vote for Kerry. Or better yet, vote for Ashcroft.

Elections are no longer driven by issues anymore, even if I'm hardly the first person to point out this.

I'd be willing to bet that if you gave a majority Kerry supporters a blind test with Kerry's and Nader's positions on a few dozen issues (but not identified as such) and asked them which they agree with and which are most important to them, they'd correspond more closely to Nader's agenda than Kerry's.

The most vicious anti-Nader rants come from the least likely people... at least if the world were rational. I've challenged any ABB Kerry supporter to name four Nader positions that they strongly object to. None has answered the challenge.

The irony is that while the two causes championed by President Bush that most enrage liberals and progressives are the Patriot Act and the Iraq war, Kerry supported those two things while Nader opposed them. So, who's the real ABB candidate again?

These ABBers demand that instead of supporting the guy doing the bad stuff, I must waste my vote on his willing accomplice.

When I issued the above challenge, one respondent said something to the effect: "I went to Nader's website. I was surprised to find that I agreed with him on almost everything. And that makes me even more convinced not to vote for him."

My head spun when I read that comment. It's then I determined that people who don't vote because of a principled disgust for the status quo are doing far more to adhere to his principles and are far more deserving of my respect in that regard than anyone who holds the above mentality.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Profane campaign

The presidential campaign and the puditocracy are yet again obsessed with the past. Democrats are accusing President Bush of pulling strings regarding his National Guard service. Republicans openly wonder if John Kerry REALLY deserved his Purple Hearts because he didn't lose any limbs. Both of these non-issues have to do with incidents that did (or didn't) happen in the late 60s and early 70s. There are over 100,000 mostly young American soldiers in Iraq. Over 1000 of them have died and who knows how many injured. No one bothers to count how many Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured. The invasion of Iraq, supported by both Bush and Kerry, had nothing to do with fighting terrorism but has proven a recruiting godsend to al-Qaeda and related groups. No significant weapons of mass destruction have been found. President Bush promised to find Osama bin Laden 'dead or alive' but, unless the conspiracy theorists are right, that obviously hasn't happened. To waste time arguing about three-decade old incidents while all this is going on borders on profane.

On the pro-theocracy crowd

A few readers have questioned my repeated assertion that some conservatives hold pro-theocracy views. Contrary to what some might infer, it has nothing really to do with abortion or stem cell research, which even many moderates and atheists have issues with.

My suggestion is based on the presumption by some people they, and those of their political stripe, know God and no one else does.

It's based on comments like those of Sen. Zell Miller to the Republican National Convention that "God is not indifferent to the United States of America" (if God is on our side, then does he hate the French?).

The Moderate Republican (refreshingly, such creatures still do exist) points to a Peoria Star-Journal editorial on the Illinois US Senate race which demonstrates what I'm talking about.

Some excerpts:

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes did it again Tuesday when he declared that if Jesus were an Illinoisan, he would not vote for Barack Obama because the Democrat supports abortion rights.

[...]

This isn't the first time Keyes has suggested that God is on his side in his bizarre campaign. Earlier, the new Illinoisan (by way of Maryland) said a vote for him is a "victory . . . for God." On a grander scale, he said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were "God's way of confronting us with the truth" about the evils of abortion.

Wryly noting that:

Claiming to speak for the Almighty is a dicey exercise. There's always the chance He'll deliver a reminder that He speaks for himself.

Are these things exactly theocracy according to a strict dictionary definition? Perhaps not, but they're pretty darned close.

The Star Journal sums it up quite nicely on those who believe they have a monopoly on morality and righteousness.

At his second inaugural, as the Civil War neared its end, [Abraham] Lincoln refused to declare that God wanted the North to win, though he might justifiably have claimed the high moral ground on the issue of slavery.

"Both (North and South) read the same Bible and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other," the president said. "The prayers of both could not be answered; and those of neither has been answered fully."


Amen.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Powell declares Darfur 'genocide'

Late last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the crisis in Darfur, Eastern Sudan to be genocide. Some criticized Powell for waiting so long, but in fairness, he said long ago that whether Darfur was legally genocide or not was almost beside the point; the atrocities were intolerable and resulting man-made humanitarian catastrophe disastrous regardless of the semantic description. This is one foreign policy situation where the Bush administration is actually on the right side.

The US becomes the first major outsider to state the obvious. The Washington Post reports: Both the African Union and the Arab League have said there is no genocide. The European Union said it does not have enough information.

Despite the desire of its leader, Alpha Oumar Konaré, to prove its relevance, the African Union is proving as ineffectual as its predecessor, the Organization for African Unity. So much for the much vaunted 'African solutions to African problems' utopia.

That the Arab League adopts a 'see no evil' policy is hardly surprising; anything bad in the world is automatically the fault of Israel and the United States.

That the EU has adopted a head in the sand policy despite overwhelming independent evidence to the contrary is more disturbing, though hardly surprising. If the Bush administration trusts militarism as its preferred option, the EU has traditionally gone with the 'interminable peace conferences no matter how little progress is made' route. Slobodan Milosevic appreciated this tactic. What's happening in Darfur is, by all accounts, worse than what's happening in Chechnya, but the Russian conflict draws far more ire from Europe's politicians, editorialists and indignant outrage specialists.

While Powell's declaration is just that, words, it is not insignificant. To my knowledge, it's the first time the US has ever declared a situation genocide while the crisis was actually happening.

Security Council members Britain, Spain and Germany back U.S. efforts to establish a commission of inquiry. But some European diplomats expressed concern that Powell's statement would complicate efforts to win broader support. China warned that it may veto the resolution, noting that it does not believe genocide has occurred. "There are problems in Darfur, but we don't see it as that category," said Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the United Nations. The council should "come up with constructive ideas to help solve the problem, not to make the problem more complicated."

It must be nice to insist on such patience when it's not your people getting massacred. China, of course, has a sterling human rights reputation, as the people of Tibet will attest.

Will Powell's declaration "complicate" efforts to set up a commission of inquiry? Who cares?

By the time the inquiry is set up (after much haggling), does its investigation, delivers its report and then the Security Council spends months arguing furiously whether or not to inflict even a slap on the wrist to Khartoum, the genocide will be over. By then, there'll be no one left to kill.

The UN should place sanctions on the complicit and/or willfully obstructionist Sudanese regime immediately. Then it can go on debating further courses of action.

Furthermore, the US should push its Arab 'allies' to pressure Sudan's junta to stop coordinating the massacres. Maybe then, the Arabs' alleged concern for the plight of the poor Palestinians (it's about human rights, they say, not anti-Semitism) might be taken a little more seriously.

Update on the 'mandatory gratuity' case

The man at the center of the "mandatory gratuity" fracas (see here) will apparently not be charged. According to The Post-Star, the Warren County (NY) district attorney said her office's legal research found a federal court case in Indiana in which a judge ruled that a patron can not be forced to leave a gratuity. Had the addition to the bill been called a surcharge or service charge, though, it would have been a legal obligation and [the defendant] could be prosecuted for refusing to pay it.

"The court in that case said a service charge could be forced on a customer but a tip can not," the district attorney said. "We'll advise him [the defendent] by letter that we're withdrawing the charge ASAP so he doesn't have to come up to court."

The defendent's lawyer summed it up quite well. "The word gratuity comes from the Latin word for free," he said. "If it's a gratuity for the waitress' services, it can't be required."

The difference between what the man left for his meal and the bill (including "mandatory gratuity") was $11. He could've faced up to a year in jail.

Basically, if the restaurant had called it by a different name, service charge instead of gratuity, it would've been legal.

The owner of the restaurant said he's fairly sure he and the county will get sued over the incident.

I still oppose the idea of a separate service charge, whatever the name. I think the cost of a meal should reflect the total cost of everything the owner needs to pay his bills and make a profit. That's what fast food places do. That's what supermarkets do. That's what nearly every other service-providing business does. If the owner can't meet his costs and still make a profit without the service charge, just raise the prices of the menu items.

But in practice, it's tough. Living near a tourist town, I know how obnoxious tourists can be. Many of them don't bring their civility with them on vacation. Some have the attitude that "Without me and my money, this backwater would be nothing." Many of them are rude, loud, presumptuous and refuse to control their kids. I've been in restaurants with groups of tourists and though, "No matter how much of a tip they leave, it won't compensate the server for their idiocy. Unless it's 50%."

Still, though, if you run a restaurant in a tourist town, that's the reality. Raise the prices on the food so your servers can be properly remunerated for their aggravation.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Still more Blatter problems

This is part of occassional series on the buffoonery of Sepp Blatter, president of international soccer's governing body FIFA. It's been said of Blatter that he has 50 ideas every day, 51 of which are bad. Blatter is a sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease, though many fans would love to give him foot-in-rear syndrome..

Tim Cahill, a player for the English club Everton, scored a goal and lifted his jersey over his head in celebration. For this, he was given a yellow card (caution). Since he'd received a caution earlier in the game, the second yellow resulted in a red card. He was kicked out of the game and will be suspended for his team's next contest.

A ludicrious decision by the referee?

Earlier this year, FIFA adopted rule changes saying that a player must be cautioned when... he removes his shirt over his head or covers his head with his shirt.

This was Cahill's offense.

Unfortunately, the referee was merely enforcing ludicrious rules and he said he specifically mentioned this provision to team captains before the game.

Most reasonable people wouldn't blame him for doing his job. But Sepp Blatter is not a reasonable person.

The czar of world soccer, who happened to be at the game, opined, "I don't agree with the referee. He should never expel the player just for pulling the shirt over his head. If he takes it off, then OK - he's ready to go to the dressing room."

The ref didn't expel the player for that offense, he cautioned him. But as any referee, save Andy D'Urso, knows: two yellow cards makes a red card.

The head of world soccer is doesn't even know rules he himself pushed through.

That said, maybe someone will mention the contradiction to Blatter and this absurdity will end. But since Blatter has raised micromanagement to an art form, I won't hold my breath.

The World

For news' afficianados, I'd highly recommend the program The World, which is broadcast on many public radio stations. It's a world news show designed for American audiences, but without the insularity or self-referential nature of many other public affairs shows on the airwaves. Host Lisa Mullins is one of the best interviewers I've ever heard. She's understated and lets her guest give thorough answers. But she's unafraid to challenge the guest; if I'm ever left asking my radio a question after a guest speaks, Mullins almost always asks it. Although her questioning is pointed, it's respectful. She's not like some broadcast journalists who are aggressive to the point of hostile, who think they, not the invited experts, are the star of the show.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Rumsfeld steps in it again

Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld has stuck his foot in his mouth again. When asked of the prison abuse scandals, he replied, "Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't."

Another brilliant move by the secretary. "Our crimes are slightly less disgusting that the terrorists' crimes." That's the way to gain moral authority. That's the way to win the "hearts and minds" not only of Iraqis, but of everyone else who we're supposedly trying to influence.

Way to go, Mr. Secretary. Way to douse the flames of anti-Americanism. Way to make us safer!

The Washington Post headline on the story read: Rumsfeld says terror outweighs jail abuse.

Wrong again.

Jail abuse IS terror. It's the kind of terror we allegedly invaded Iraq to get rid of.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Musings on the "service" industry

There was an article today in our local paper about a guy who got arrested in a nearby tourist town. He claims it was because he refused to leave a mandatory tip at a restaurant. The owner claims it wasn't really about a few dollars but primarily because the man's group was being "rude and abrasive." Though the actual charge was theft of services. The man said they also were not told of the mandatory gratuity, and did not see notice of it on their menus.

I will start by saying one of my major pet peeves is people who are gratuitously rude to service employees. Some people think because they pay a few bucks to go to an amusement park or eating establishment, it gives them the right to be obnoxious and abusive to anyone who stands in their way. If there's a pickle on your hamburger when you specifically asked for no pickles, then tell someone. You can look annoyed while you're waiting for a new one. You can fill out one of the comment cards. You can even explain to the manager why you're agitated. But there's no need to be a jerk about it and start ranting and raving at everyone like a lunatic. Unless, of course, you've never ever made a mistake in your job. The people you're screaming at probably don't get paid enough to deserve to deal with idiots like that.

(A related memo to service workers: if you're having a bad day and can't be cheery, then at least don't be outright unpleasant. I didn't cause your misery. And everyone in 20 foot vicinity of you doesn't need to hear about how your boyfriend cheated on you)

That said, I object to the whole concept of a mandatory gratuity. It's an oxymoron like preventive war or obligatory volunteerism that some schools require of students. The whole point of a tip is to reward the server(s) based on how good the food, service and atmosphere were. It's supposed to be a merit-based compensation, a bonus. Mandatory tips are not merit-based.

But what bothers me most is the whole idea of someone else telling me how much a server deserves to be rewarded yet making it seem like it's somehow my choice. It's deceptive.

The price of a restaurant item should reflect four things: the cost of the food, the proportional cost of all labor required to run a restaurant, other expenses associated with operating a restaurant (electricity, rent/mortgage, etc) and profit for the owner. When I purchase a burger and fries, I assume that the cost reflects those four considerations.

If an owner thinks his workers are so poorly compensated, I'd much rather they increase the regular prices rather than being presumputous enough to impose a mandatory tip. It's far less disingenuous.

Everything on a bill is for something. $6.95 for a quesadilla. $4.50 for a beer. $3 for a piece of pie. But what's the gratuity for? I'm being forced to pay 15-20% for the honor of sitting in their chairs and giving them my hard earned money?

I won't eat at restaurants that charge a mandatory "gratuity." I'd rather eat at a place with higher menu prices, because at least they're not being so deceptive.

*

Speaking of deception, how about Ticketmaster? I think nearly everyone who likes music has issues (to put it mildly) with Ticketmaster. It's bad enough that their virtual monopoly on ticketing allows them to charge obscene prices. But they gouge you further with some invention called a "convenience charge."

The "convenience charge" is typically anywhere from $8-10 per ticket. Sometimes that's 20% or more of the total cost of the ticket. In other words, you're paying Ticketmaster a 20% fee on top of the face value of the ticket for the convenience of giving them your money.

This is another example of deceptive practices. The face value of the ticket should include everything. It should include remuneration for the band and its entourage. It should include remuneration for the venue hosting the band. It should include both remenueration for Ticketmaster employees and profit for Ticketmaster. The face value of the ticket should be the total cost of all the services you are taking advantage of.

The only extra fee I ought to pay is if I want the tickets mailed to me instead of picking them up at will call, because that's an extra service I'm requiring.

This is why I pretty much don't go to concerts. When a "$35" ticket really costs $45, I'm really not interested in shelling out more than half a days net wages for a two hour (maybe) concert where I'm standing or sitting on the grass the whole time. And they wonder why concert ticket sales are down.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The relevance of the Electoral College

Abiola, over at Foreign Dispatches, offers what he calls a defense of the Electoral College and cites a Wall Street Journal editorial which purports to do the same.

Except neither he nor the WSJ offered a defense of the Electoral College so much as an attack of a few of the critiques of the Electoral College. There is a big difference.

The most significant problem with the Electoral College is this. In 2000, the guy who finished 2nd in the popular vote won the election. And even hanging chads aside, a lot of people consider the victory of questionable legitimacy. It's hard to explain why a guy should become president of the United States even though more Americans wanted someone else.

This wasn't an example of the Electoral College screwing up. It was an example of the Electoral College working exactly as it was intended. That's the problem. The guy who wins the popular vote not winning the election is not an accident; it's exactly how the Electoral College was supposed to work from time to time, according to the men who wrote the Constitution.

The irony of this is that electors were supposed to elect the best man, even if it's different from the one the plurality or majority wanted. Yet many states have laws REQUIRING electors to vote for the candidate that gets the most votes in that state. It defeats the whole point of having a two-tiered process.

The problem with the Electoral College isn't that it's "so 18th century." The problem is that it causes the most outrage when it functions precisely as it's supposed to function.

It is now accepted that the candidate who gets the most votes in an election should win or that there should be a run off (my preference). If the Electoral College's virtues were so admired, then it would've been widely adopted at all levels. There would be electoral colleges for governors and mayors and county executives. Yet it hasn't been replicated anywhere else in the US.

The Electoral College means that we don't vote for president as Americans. It means we vote as New Yorkers, Minnesotans and Nevadans. It means that, mathematically, an Alaskan's vote is worth far more than a Texan's.

As a practical measure, the Electoral College will not be eliminated any time soon. An interim step would be for states to adopt what is done in Maine and Nebraska. Whoever wins each congressional (House) district gets that electoral vote; whoever wins the entire state gets the two electoral votes alloted for the Senate. That way, if a candidate wins the state by 1 vote, he won't necessarily get 100% of the state's electoral votes.

Such a system would not have prevented Bush from winning in 2000, but that's not the point. The point is not to accept the canard, "No system is infallible so let's not change anything." The point is to create a more perfect union.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Why I object to militarism

I've been asked why I speak out so frequently against militarism. The answer is very simple. I know people who've been refugees. I know people who are refugees. I've been to a refugee camp. I've seen the conditions in a refugee camp and the effect tens of thousands of refugees can have on the host country. I've seen how the actual consequences of war can differ so wildly from its intended consequences.

When you've been to a refugee camp, suddenly the idea of war as some universally noble, selfless endeavor with only positive results for the 'liberated' evaporates pretty quickly. When you know people who are or have been refugees, suddenly you realize that those most effected by war aren't the guys with the guns and the body armor and people from back home sending them care packages. Suddenly you realized that those most devastated by war are those who didn't choose in some way to be a part of it. Suddenly you realize that while war is occassionally necessary, it's always undesirable and should never be glorified.

Now Russia endorses aggression/pre-emption

Last month, Iran promoted the reckless idea of pre-emptive strikes advocated by President Bush. Far from being revolutionary, pre-emption is nothing more than a euphemism for a long discredited concept: old-fashioned aggression.

Following Iran's endorsement President Bush's pre-emption/aggression principle, Russia has now done the same. Following the country's school hostage nightmare, the BBC reports Russia plans to launch pre-emptive strikes on bases used for training militants, a senior general said earlier. "We will carry out all measures to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world," Gen Yuri Baluevsky said.

Yet again, the president's vision makes us and the world safer.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Fact of the week: big-spending Bush

George W. Bush has expanded federal spending by 29% since coming to office.

-Source: The BBC.

It's worth noting...

... that even in democracy challenged Russia, people realize that even if there's a great tragedy provoked by terrorists, they can still question the Leader if he deserves it without Chicken Littles screaming that it will cause the country to collapse.

The worst in politics vs the worst in journalism

The whole Sen. Zell Miller-Chris Matthews controversy gives me seriously mixed feelings.

For those not aware, the Georgia Senator all but challenged the MSNBC host to a duel. With Matthews in a separate studio, Miller added, "I wish I was over there, where I could get a little closer up into your face."

The nominally Democratic senator, who supports President Bush's re-election, had just given the keynote address of the Republican convention where he launch a savage assault on John Kerry. Not surprisingly, the accuracy of many of his claims have been rubbished by several groups. But Miller was clever enough gain credibility by being specific, knowing full well that most ordinary viewers were unlikely to read reports of the fact checkers. His attack has been likened to Pat Buchanan's infamous address to the 1992 Republican convention.

As I said, the Matthews-Miller encounter leaves me with seriously mixed feelings. Chris "the Interrupter" Matthews represents the worst in what passes for American political journalism. Matthews is actually more obnoxious than Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly is smug, but Matthews is like the insecure student who's constantly trying to prove to everyone how smart he is.

Matthews sees political "journalism" as something to entertain the masses, not to help them make more informed choices. Matthews thinks politics should be treated in the same way as professional wrestling or Jerry Springer but for an audience that likes to think of itself as enlightened. Politics as a game, rather than something that matters to lives of real people.

Part of me is pleased that someone finally told the insufferable Matthews where to go.

Miller, on the other hand, represents the worst in American politics. He incarnates the insidious mentality that criticism of a president's reckless policies is tantamount to treason. Sure, he said, "It is not their [the Democrats'] patriotism - it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking."

But he proceded to attack the Democrats' patriotism. "Now, while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief," he snarled.

The fact of the matter, Mr. Senator, is that America is being torn apart by the president's messianic insistence on bloating the size of the American Empire on the backs of other people's sons and daughters.

Miller sniffed, "And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators."

American troops are used as occupiers. He may not like that politically incorrect fact, but it's a fact nonetheless. They have been ordered to invade and/or occupy countless non-threatening countries throughout the last hundred plus years.

Though Iraq is the most egregious recent example, there is also Cuba, the Philippines, Panama, Grenada, the former Kingdom of Hawaii and numerous others. Haiti and the Dominican Republic have had that "honor" multiple times each.

And that's not counting the countries where we made "regime change" via more stealthful, underhanded methods. There are probably a few countries in the world in which the United States' government has never intervened, sometimes justified though usually not, in any way shape or form, but they are a small minority.

If Miller wants use the euphemism 'liberation' to refer to the unsollicited invasion, occupation and exploitation (or sometimes outright annexation) of a non-threatening sovereign entity, he's free to do so, but most would recognize it as a perversion of the word.

American soldiers are occupiers not because they want to be, but because the president wants them to be.

I don't care that Miller criticized Kerry's policies (he actually did spend a little time on that, even if their verarcity was dubious). But Miller, like many in this country, hold the un-American belief that the president is an elected (sort of), absolute monarch who should be immune from criticism, no matter how horrible the effects of his policies on the nation we all claim to love... though most who hold that belief now, didn't seem hold it under Democratic presidencies.

Criticizing the president, any president, should NEVER be off-limits. Whether you agree with the criticism or not, it should never be impermissible. Ever!

Once criticizing the president is taken off the table, we become an absolute monarchy. In a democratic country, you have an obligation to criticize their leaders when their leaders are doing dangerous and foolish things. Failure to do so in an dereliction of civic duty. Failure to do so may make you complicit with the crimes committed in your name.

Disagreement is necessary for this experiment called the United States to work. Ironic that it was a military man who appreciated this better than some of today's civilians. Gen. George Patton once said, "If everyone thinks the same, someone is not thinking."

Criticizing a president's policies does not put soldiers' lives at risk and it's a slanderous lie to suggest otherwise.

However, sending them unnecessarily and for dubious reasons into harm's way DOES puts their lives at risk.

So let's not forget who's kicking whom.

Miller and his ilk forget that if dissent were unpatriotic, we would all still be singing God Save the Queen.

I'd love to see both Miller and Matthews get their commupence. Maybe they could temporarily suspend the anti-duel laws.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The president and the war on al-Qaedism

The president's poor public speaking skills have often been the butt of jokes by late-night comedians and Democratic partisans. However, this weekend, this bit him in the hand. The president said of the war on terrorism:

"I don't think you can win it," Mr. Bush replied. "But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

And Vice-President Cheney said Sen. Kerry was causing confusion???

In this case, I think the president absolutely right. Though probably not in the way he intended... whatever he intended.

You're as likely to end terrorism as you are to end poverty or end hunger. It's a nice goal, something to strive for, but not something that's ever going to be fully achieved. Terrorism wasn't invented on Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorism wasn't invented by Arabs or Muslims. And terrorism won't go away when or if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.

But even the second part of his comments, making terrorism less acceptable, is never going to happen under the president's strategy (such as it is).

Al-Qaedaism, a more appropriate name for our enemy than terrorism, will not disappear just because we invade random, non-threatening countries, occupy them and install puppet regimes. Those things will INCREASE the danger because it gives aid, comfort and ammunition to the extremists. It's getting rid of one terrorist but creating five more. This has already happened in the last two years.

Furthermore, the president can piss on European allies just because they opposed our unnecessary and unjust conquest of Iraq. But he (WE) needs them to fight al-Qaedaism. Europe has a huge Muslim population. Many European countries have had trouble integrating their North African and Middle Eastern populations in larger society. This can be fertile recruiting ground for al-Qaedaism.

An international combat against terrorism requires an international effort. And unless we're prepared to invade every country where there's a potential for extremism (not that I want to give the neo-cons any ideas), we need allies. Allies doesn't mean sycophants or butt kissers; allies mean those who share common critical interests but don't necessarily agree with us on every single issue.

Sure, the president backpedalled (with one foot, since the other was stuck in his mouth) shortly after he said it. But he was right. Even if accidentally.