Friday, December 28, 2007

tax dollars at work... saving one mohair farmer at a time.

The US government has created a searchable database of federal spending, making it easier to understand just where. and for whom all our tax dollars are being spent. (the website: Once there, you can search by either government spending from contracts, or by assistance programs. From there, you can take a gander at the top recipients of contract funds and assistance, or break out the data by state, and see which congressmen and women are getting the bulk of the federal monies for their constituents. To mine through all this data is daunting, but the peculiarities are not as uncommon as one might think.
Looking for the top 100 recipients of federal assistance, you get a multifarious list of random institutions and lower level government agencies - such as state homeland security offices, universities, and health aid programs. Most of these are pretty benign, and we would question our congresspeoples methods of US spending if we didn't see them on the list. However, a few were surprising. Did you know there is an assistance program, of over 27 million dollars in aid, for Mohair shearers? How about Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance? Or perhaps you'd be interested in knowing that Puerto Rico, a nonvoting territory, receives a considerable amount of aid ($758 million) from the Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loans program?
All these digits are fun to peruse, but when it comes down to it, the database is in itself a boondoggle- the lovely green bar graphs and excel sheet cutouts make us feel better about the government budget, but an actual analysis of federal spending would take years using this website. Instead of denying the American public access to information about how their tax dollars are spent, the government crowds a single website so much that even the most cheery political watchdog or tax enthusiast (if there is such a being) would quickly loose interest in clicking through all the pages, or at least as quickly realize that the information provided, while massive, sums up to a total of nothing conclusive. The feds, while attempting a show of openness, are using the oldest trick in the book: flood with information, and hope for boredom and lack of interest.
Not for nothing, but at the very least, the database can tell us about ourselves in the past--or at least the recent past. The spending records go back to 2000, and by pulling reports of different government agencies, such as the department of justice, for the top assistance recipients, we can see how our world has changed. As of 2006, homeland security agencies have been the top recipients of aid, whereas back in 2000, law enforcement and criminal justice ruled the budgetary day.
Or perhaps, you'd be interested to know that the department of health has spent $381,519,593 on program 93.235, also known as the abstinence education program. Of course, this is an issue because as the money for this program rises, so too does the teenage pregnancy rate:
or here:
To take a pregant pause in this argument, it would be fair to say that the rate increase could also be caused by many other factors, perhaps reduction of federal spending on birth control pill assistance for college students (, for one.
Hopefully, someone will take the time to truly analyze this data. But the odds, like the piles of federal dollars going to mohair and ill-advised sexual education programs, are stacked (like rolls of money) against it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Twas the Night before Christmas, lawyer version (from Leiter's Law School Blog)
-click on text to make it bigger and easier to read.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Department of Injustice and Bush's Neo-Leviathan

A coworker alerted me of this story:
Now, rape, murder, and assault are serious crimes, and they deserve serious attention. But it shouldn't shock anyone to learn of the DoJ's apathy. They took a long time to deal with Abu Ghraib, and they've worked hand in hand with Bush to cover up military abuses (the four US soldiers who killed an Iraq family and brutally raped at least one of the female members), and the DoJ hasn't done anything to help interject a bit of "justice" into the Guantanamo issue. Given, they don't necessarily have the power to do much, but they do have the ability to dictate HOW crimes are dealt with by the government. They are responsible for getting the ball rolling, but as of late, all we've seen is homeostasis. It's as if they didn't understand the concept of kinetic energy, and are throwing all their potential power for good into defending corporate scum and federally approved methods of terror in the form of torture.

The military wrongdoing, and this new development on DoJ policy shows the Bush Administration's crass misdirection and inability to reason an out an argument. But the more sinister and troubling issue behind the military problems and the private contractor mess is that, though creationists wouldn't phrase it like this, there is a disregard for human life and liberty -- and it's only evolving into a more ferocious animal. As horrible and completely unjustified as the defects of Guantanamo, torture/water boarding, and soldier abuses are, the administration could argue, as they have (rather ineffectively), that these abuses were for US security reasons -- in other words they would invoke that horrible adage and scarily frequent bumper sticker phrase of red-states across the country: "freedom isn't free." (insert pause here to wash your mouth and eyes out). But, when the DoJ, backed by the administration, refuses to set in place a method of criminal action against the independent contractors, who are committing crimes not just against Iraqis or potential terrorists, but their own, American coworkers, it shows a disregard for American lives at its core. It proves that the administration isn't doing anything in America's best interests, it is doing only what it sees as it's own, insular priorities, to hell with the rest. These contractors have found not only a place and time in which to capitalize on profits, they've found a new frontier, a new Wild Wild East were the law is theirs to make or ignore. Manifest destiny has switched direction and continents and though different -- it is also the same: the contractors go not in wagons, but in tanks, and they are in search of treasures, profits, and adventure. Well, the technology has changed, but the unbridled Hobbesian existence, making life either nasty, brutish or short, has not

Hobbes argued that man left to his own devices in nature will not lead a fulfilling life and therefore the state, that mighty Leviathan, is necessary to keep things in check and make people see the positives,and create a structure where social contract and absolute sovereignty were key. But here's the anomaly -- the Bush administration is taking the worst from Hobbesian theory. They are acting like sovereigns at home and allowing contractors, Federal interrogators, and in rare cases, soldiers, act as if they are void of government, which in turn makes them revert to their brutish state of nature - and the raping, destruction, and murder abounds. The problem is, the administration does not understand the concept of social contract, or consent of the governed, which isn't just an tabula rasa for whatever policies that would benefit the administration, but an oh-so-fragile contract between the government and the governed, that says the polis will be cared for by an informed and Empathetic authority. Conscience should not stray from capital hill, and people should not be easily ruled over by a government that does not respect human life, and the very inalienable rights that the administration has now placed on a sliding scale.
Hobbes said the freedom of the absolute individual, without social contract was one in which you could do all that you wanted to defend yourself, including death and destruction to another. Somehow, Bush and his cronies has decided that civil society should not be barred from absolute administration's freedom and autonomy to harm whomever they see as a threat. Perhaps this blogger should start searching for a good hiding spot.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Now that's...Entertainment??

Not one to care too much about Television, it's taken awhile to comment on the writer's guild strike, which is now in it's second month. But any strike that, in it's wake, brings about the reincarnation of American Gladiators, deserves a biting, and dare we say "muscular" discussion. It's as if the writer's have struck, and the viewers are the only one's who'll be receiving a sharp blow to the side of the head, and a drop in available brain cells as reality TV quickly depletes our reserve neurons. Networks are scampering about more nervous than five-year-olds on Christmas Eve, worried that all they will find the next morning is a lump of programming coal. But for the Execs, it's not about quality (it never has been) -- it's about creating a buzz, having new shows, and getting butts on the sofa, watching the shows and the ads that pay for them.

We could sit around and decry the lack of well-written programing in the 21st century, after some of the longest running and world renown shows have quietly slipped into every actor's dream-time afterlife: syndication. But the fact is, there are a few well-written, decently thought-provoking shows on television, scant and sparse as they may be. Writers of intelligent comedy and drama are often schooled in the literary, the historical, and most probably the theatrical. They, like journalists and speechwriters, cannot help but slip in the occasional nod to Shakespeare, world history, or well-reasoned take on a current event or political situation -- and other readers and like-minded writers thanks them for it by watching their shows and appreciate the twists and turns that are carefully, yet seemingly ever-so-effortlessly crafted. Sadly, some of the best shows are often the ones that are barely watched, have a cult following, end too soon, then end up raking in the DVD sales when the rest of the watching public catches on. The best that can be hoped from the strike is that bored television watchers will turn desperately to other shows (though they will be reruns as well) and find a new fountain of excellent programing flowing into their family rooms). The worst that can happen is that people will dully stare at the hideous reality television that was forced into creation by the mere fact that it takes little to no writing to produce them.

Late night shows are soon going to be back on the air, sans writers, and while this is a sad state of affairs, comedy writers for late night, similar to eating a huge late night snack, leave a horrible taste in your mouth, give you bad dreams, and make your stomach ache from the ill-advised choice you just made. They may be entertaining, but few would argue that the writing is stellar on late night.

The studios, unfortunately, can hold out for a while, whereas the writers, because of their bum deals, will be less likely to live off trust funds and nest eggs - there are some well-compensated writers out there, but there are also the struggling ones, and they are already feeling the pinch. And viewers, well, the ones who find themselves increasingly fed up are going to the Internet and the webisodes -- the very zygote of the strike in the first place. Television studios have never been on the cutting edge of allowing their writer's to express their creativity with abandon - it's always been carefully crafted, ratings enforced imagination. Just as the indie films industry has grown, and caught up some big names in the process, opening up the genre to the masses, and making it more common for people to seek out foreign and small-budget pictures on the big screen, maybe it's time for an "indie pilot program" with low-budget, yet well-written shows scooping up the public acclaim. Wouldn't it be nice to dictate to Hollywood and networks what we'd actually like to watch, instead of watching what they think we'd like to watch, but really don't', but have to anyway because there's not much else to choose from?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ironies abound

Some stories are so delicious, even crumpling up the newsprint and devouring them -- ink and all-- seems highly palatable. On the weekend, we learned that Watson, of the former DNA duo, Watson and Crick, learned some startling news. But first, the preface: Watson, in October of this past year, made statements that can basically be summed up in the phrase "I'm a racially superior git." He basically said that Africans/blacks are somehow genetically less intelligent than their white neighbors. Well, even if Watson had never had this view, he is still a less-than-desirable fellow, and his deceptive qualities should fleshed out in all their dispicable glory. Watson and Crick are known as the DNA "pioneers" and double-helix discoverers. Along with Maurice Wilkins, their research assistant, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize and a long list of other accolades. Their pursuits into the mapping of the human genome were well-wrought enough, but they, like the media, rarely if ever accredit the true scientific source of the double helix structure: Rosalind Franklin. Wilkins, a molecular biologist who also worked with Franklin, took the information that she had created and found, from both her laboratory and her speeches, and shared this, in some cases confidential material with Watson and Crick. By filching Franklin's initial leg-work, Watson, Crick and Wilkins modeled a structure for DNA, which Franklin later proved incorrect. Without her groundwork and later input, Watson and Crick would have gone nowhere fast.

So it seems, after taking advantage of the intelligence of women, Watson has moved on to insulting the intelligence of black people. He is equally incorrect and in the complete wrong on both counts, and at least now, people won't put up with his bigotry as they did in the 1950s and 60s when Rosalind Franklin was overlooked, and shunted into scientific oblivion. As a culture we might have treated Franklin wrongly, but science and karma have finally aligned. (read this story:
As you can read, the story explains that Watson's own genetic footprint shows his ancestry to be made up of not only white Europeans, but around 16% African descent, and around 9% Asian. Watson had submitted his own genome years ago to be mapped. It should be noted these results are preliminary, and the accuracy of genetic tests is debatable, but it sheds light on something most people forget: Race is a social construct. No one is "one" thing. We all live in a large melting pot (which is simmering, to a boil now, due to global warming), and our considerations of white, black, Asian, etc. are so temporal, and so insignificant in the span of human existence, that it is laughable and equally depressing. Our social networks and beliefs are tied up in an imagined circumstance, and unfortunately that circumstance is one of surface appearances.
Of course, you have to wonder what Watson is thinking, about hopefully he's adjusting his prior misconceptions -- But, let's hold out for the test that proves he's also a woman.

In another ironic story, the Bush administration: the executive branch that notably has no problem abusing the Patriot Act and subpoenaing, or just taking an un-ajudicated peak at your phone records, was delivered a mighty blow on Monday by the US District Judge Lamberth ( The White House argued that their visitor logs were presidential records and therefore deserved to be kept private. However, Judge Lamberth ruled they were logs created by the secret service, and therefore subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a lovely bill issued in 1966 and amended during the Clinton era that makes many government records available to the public, the secret service logs of visitors being one of those open records. The fact that Bush is unwilling to even allow people to know who he and Cheney visits with is none-to-surprising, but sad nonetheless. Visits from "prominent religious conservatives" are what the Bush administration wanted to hide. Now, Bush and his cronies have tracked people, their monetary information, etc. It seems highly unfair not to know who the president is talking to -- he makes decisions, often ill-advised, and many people would like to know exactly who is putting these bugs in his ear. Bush wants to appeal to another judge, one he himself appointed, but most can see the unfairness in that argument without even opening their eyes. Unfortunately, if Bush's Executive Order 13233 stays in force, this may be the juiciest info we ever get from Bush, even after he's long gone. 13233 limits the access of the public to records of former presidents. Bush issued it in November 2001. Now, this may be incorrect, but given everything Bush has done since November 2001, perhaps Bush and his advisers had a little more forethought than they are given the credit for. At least, the forethought needed to cover up their own legacies.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Out of Breath

This story out of Canada ( received much press in it's home country, but only the passing blip in the US.

The basic story summary: a 16 year old Canadian Muslim girl named Aqsa was strangled to death, by her father, reportedly because she refused to wear the traditional head scarf, or hijab. When the police arrived on the scene, the victim's 26 year old brother was also arrested, charged with obstructing the police. Now, this is a preliminary story, and the motives of the murder could be as reported, or they could be completely different. But one thing is true: women have been killed for much less, and it wouldn't be surprising if the head scarf was the cause -- but it is extremely shocking, sad, and horrific. As Westerners, and seeing this happen in Canada of all places, which has a large, yet extremely progressive and well-to-do Muslim population, is indeed cause for concern. Stoning and harsh laws and punishments are for countries under Sharia law, not a country north of the US, you would say. The BBC made a huge story about an English teacher who named a teddy bear Muhammad, but where are the news tickers now?

Perhaps we don't like to discuss this story because, if reasoned out, we might find ourselves feeling ever-so-guilty about our own views of women and dress. So let's reason out some points, both about the Canadian story, and our own climate for women and choice of dress.

In the Canadian story, this young girl was refused the Muslim teachings that require women to cover their heads. Hijab is known in western countries as the head scarf, but the word Hijab itself, in most Islamic communities pertains not just to a physical aspect of women's dress, but their approach, and the words "modesty, privacy, and morality." Hijab, at its core, means a spatial curtain that divides and gives privacy - in extreme cases, it means that women should, while in public, cover every body part except the hands, feet and face. Men, on the other hand, (while modesty was a good virtue to possess), are not "required" to dress in anyway, though it is asked that men cover up from the navel to the knees - a decree that most men the world over, regardless of race or affiliation, adhere to. So need we say "double standard?" Probably not. It is important to remember that women are required in certain ways because not only of modesty, but to cover their physical features, and for the distinct reasons of what men think of women. There is no consideration of the woman's inner self - it is all about covering her body, and no consideration is taken of her own psyche, or thoughts on the matter - the chief concern is that of the man's reaction to how she presents herself.

So the west must be much better, we don't strangle our girls into wearing scarfs, right? Well, it would be insane to say that physically we do the same damage -- but you can find the psychological and ethical damage of Western approaches and belief's for women's method of dress just about anywhere. And perhaps it is even more insidious, because not only do we choke women into unfair stigmas about dress, and press for conservatism, as a culture we also paradoxically prize the absolute opposite of conservatism too. Right now, we are stuck in a precarious and underhanded land of extremes.

What? Let's explain.
Women in the US are held to standards of dress, and these standards are mostly established in a way that requires the woman to dress in a modest fashion, at least for most life experiences. Women should be covered in certain areas, not just the necessary ones. If a woman shows too much clavicle, too much cleavage, too much leg- this is a thing to worry about. But here is the even more confusing part - though women don't have to "cover it all up" so to speak, they do have to dress conservatively in a professional setting, yet they are also (unspokenly) required to dress attractively, and accentuate the features they're supposed to be covering up in the first place. The woman walks a serious line, and its a cultural phenomena how we can criticise other cultures, yet in the next moment make the offhand remark that so-and-so looks like a slut. And that's the other problem -- as mush as we criticise anyone for not dressing appropriately, there is another time, with the same set of the population, that judges women on how provocative they can dress -- and still while in public. So our western culture whats us to be both Madonnas and Whores, and this is perhaps a request even worse than just one guideline of modesty.

But this is good, it allows choice, you might argue - no, because still, no consideration for the woman herself is taken. Its all about how she looks, and how she is perceived by men -- the voyeur becomes the emperor and authority, while the subject is merely the piece of art, an inert being with no choices. We say this country is better, but their are groups like this: which want to distort women's own self-awareness and freedom, dictating to young girls not only how they should dress, but how they should think about fashion and dress- it is no longer about comfort, or self esteem, but about how you are viewed. These conservatives seek to scare women into submission, by telling them to consider only how men will view them, and how they better cover up, because if their boss (who is ALWAYS OBVIOUSLY going to be male) sees a bit of cleavage, they won't be able to even get close enough to see their breath bloom onto the beautiful and carefully constructed glass ceiling above them. It makes me sick to think about this, physically. And the other extreme is equally nauseating. Women must be sex personified, according to some fashion shows and designers. Again, it disregards the choices and approaches of women. It becomes all about the physical, and throws any consideration of women out the window. Now, both men and women want to be desired, for sure -- but the culture is irretrievably skewed towards male-fantasy. There is a glaringly obvious double-standard throughout the world, and it takes all different shapes, sizes, and fashions. There is so much more to say, but my breath is bating. This post will certainly be edited soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Glove Stoned

Well, today's the day. And it's a lawyer's and former senate majority leader's count. Game time for the Mitchell report: 2pm. It's clear who the winners will be- but not so much who the losers are. And there will be at least 60 of them, MVPs, all-stars, record-breakers, and your occasional second-stringer. Although, if you compare pictures of players throughout the years, it can be easy to glean which ones bulked up, whether unnaturally or not.
Although it is a responsible thing to hold players, many of whom make millions of dollars by salaries and endorsements, it is also a bit strange. Certain steroids are illegal in the States, no matter what use you put to them - if they're in your possession, or you attempt to buy them, you're committing a federal offense. The players who engage in these type of activity certainly should be punished and put at the very top of the list. But it gets a bit trickier after that. The Mitchell report goes back probably around ten years, but most "legal" steroids have not been officially banned by the Baseball Commissioners until 2002, or some as late as 2005. So while all what the players might have been doing before this time is definitely despicable, it was not illegal by the standards they played under in the pre-2002 baseball era. Then the question becomes, well, even if it was technically not a banned practice, doesn't the public have a right to know who was doing it? Many say yes, and they are probably right. But the question becomes, how do we ethically categorize and make exception for certain technologies? It seems, in terms of sports, new technologies and aspects that enhance the play of sports are viewed both as a blessing and a curse, and often the non-biological technologies are dubbed blessings, while the physical ones are a definite curse. And maybe this is for the best. But why do we make the distinction? When a better catcher's mitt comes out, teams buy it. When better sunglasses for outfielders, better kleats, you name it - it's acceptable. So if a steroid is one of the "federally legal" substances, how could a player not be enticed to use it? The ethics enters here: it's a question of outer versus inner physical enhancement. How different are they? And if your opponents might be doing it, some players reason that it's in their best interests to hedge their bets and also partake in the enhancement elixir. Other sports have the same issues: faster speed skates, skis, bikes, wet suits, you name it - most are acceptable, but if any of these players has the trace amount of opiates that you might find in a poppy seed, forget about it, they're stripped of titles, medals and accolades. We ask our sports heroes to be super-human, and by god they will try to do so - everything about them revolves around their ability to out-perform, so they will use every possible method at they fingertips, and in some cases, their bloodstream.

Everybody wants to know who has been doping, but another problematical aspect of this report is that it only sheds light on the players that were incredibly sloppy - for example, those who payed for their drugs using personal checks, or were incredibly overt about their obtaining and using of the drugs. These people, in a sense, were asking for it, yet believed that as sports stars, they were immune to senate reports. Of course, as sports stars, senators would especially like to target them - they are one of the only groups that gets caught doing illegal things even more than politicans and still manages to have millions of fans... how many people sit around on a Sunday afternoon after pregaming with some Guinness and settle in for a few action-packed hours of C-Span?
Despite the juicy tidbits the Mitchell report is boasting, what it really needs to do is suggest some best practices for the baseball commission to implement, and really stick to. The past is past, and sports fans will always argue about which player was best and how their legacy affects the game, and their place in it. But let's not forget- there's always next season.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Big O

Oprah, of course. Oh, celebrities. Some are better than others, some are downright obnoxious, some are completely enthralling - it usually depends on your angle of observation (and the formula is usually: the more celebrities you're obsessed with is directly proportionate to the depletion of self-possession and IQ points hoarded). People get up in arms and legs and any other appendages they can think of when celebrities become attaches to political figures and campaigns. And this, thankfully is a sign that people are not completely metamorphosed into media drones. But it also proves a lack of rationality, in the fact that celebrities, just like politicians, are pandering to the crowds, often in insidious or well-plotted ways. Public figures in the entertainment field especially, have teams of people who perform the same kind of image lobotomies as politicos' advisers do. Celebrities, are, in a sense, the most shrewd politicians, even if you think them ignorant party hounds or drunken slobs -- those images too are carefully pruned and crafted by their teams. So in reality, politicking is nothing but a celebrity free-for-all with less glamour, and more dour speeches.

So back to Oprah. Oprah is, despite your personal opinions, quite a unique woman worthy of at least the bare minimum acknowledgement that she picked herself up and was able to achieve fame, fortune, and the ability to carry a country-wide audience of housewives and people home at around 4pm with nothing do to, and keep them entertained. Yes, as any intellectual will tell you, the dreaded line "I saw this story about (blank) on Oprah" kills a cocktail party dead upon arrival, but Oprah has woven herself into the national tapestry - a tapestry that still hits a few snags when it comes to providing women's rights, and the rights of African-Americans. Oprah influences what people read, what they watch of television, what Broadway shows they go to, what meat they may or may not eat, and most importantly, what they think. This is both a blessing and a curse, and should be viewed as such by Oprah and the US at large. It could have been much worse, for sure -- Oprah, on the whole, doles out pretty good advice. But the question becomes, should you take what she doles out - and if yes, what are Oprah's motives, and what are yours? Because blindly follow anyone, and you will often smack square into an intellectual or ethical wall. This is the heart of the problem - and here is an example: Oprah's book club. Despite a few hiccups (namely the Million Little Pieces drama), Oprah picks (probably with the help of a knowledgeable literary panel) fairly good, if not exceptional books - you can't argue with Cormack McCarthy or John Steinbeck, really. And the end result, people reading classic American literature, is a good one. But, would people have chosen to read these books on their own? The answer is resolutely no. Because the people who already read these works for pleasure, would not be influenced by Oprah's message to read them, on the whole. So what is the harm? - Oprah is opening up a new experience for thousands, if not millions of Americans who might not have ever picked up anything more literary than a bodice-ripping harlequin romance. Here's the problem: do the people that listen to Oprah learn anything new other than what Oprah tells them? Do they form new interpretations, and grow as people independently, or do they themselves merely mimic the queen of daytime? If they do learn, then good on them. But does this blogger think that people go from reading John Steinbeck to Ralph Ellison, or Mary McCarthy, or Gloria Steinem? Most likely not.

So when it comes to celebrities endorsing political figures, the outcome is extremely mixed. It depends on how much we as Americans value the opinions and intellect of the celebrity doling out their support. Most gaff at Springsteen, but allow his antics so far as he keeps singing. People get hot and bothered, however, if they feel that the celebrity is being disingenuous, or ramming their political views down their fan's throats (case in point: Babs.). The heft of the endorsement teeters on the heft of the public trust. In order for a celebrity to endorse successfully, they must be good politicians. In order for politicians to be endorsed by voters, they must handle and mould their own celebrity. All this celebrity leads to one question, though: what happened to cerebricity?

Oprah brings unfair advantage to the products she endorses. Look at the rise in sales of the certain books she endorses. People buy them because they know they'll have a good read. So in a way, the poll numbers will go up for Obama, but it will be an artificial spike, and no one knows how long that spike will last - up until elections, or if it will peter out before-hand. So Obama still has something to prove, because even Oprah isn't infallible. As sad as it is, people listening to others without forming their own political conscience, it could go much worse. If you're going to buy the farm (or the book club book) just because someone tells you to, the least you can do is take off that dumb Oprah club sticker, and try to blend in with the people who, while standing next to you in the campaign trenches, stand miles away in the strength of their own reasoned convictions.

Friday, December 07, 2007

perhaps you missed it

No one wants to give this story more media attention. But ignoring it is detrimental in many ways. As sick as we all are of hearing about Don Imus, it's sad that most people don't even realize he was allowed back on the air this Monday ( So CBS may have dropped him, but WABC had no trouble, monetarily or ethically, it seems, of picking him up.
Regardless of how you feel about Imus, and his status as shock jock king, the problem here is not so much him, but the media, the politics, and all the maneuverings associated. When Imus made those degrading statements (doubly degrading in that they not only showed disrespect to blacks, but women in general), the media caught hold quickly, and wouldn't seem to let go. Politicians and other figure heads disassociated themselves with him, and advertisers took their spots away from CBS. Whatever your opinion on whether or not Imus should have been let go, you have to appreciate the snowball effect, and the actions of many groups of people to get this guy off the air. Obviously, the politicians and past guests of Imus's show were jockeying out the line of fire for selfish reasons, but to some extent, that was just good sense. Even his supporters were weary of staying too close.
What Imus's firing did do was send a message: Degradation of women and especially women of different races is not to be tolerated in the mainstream. This was a good thing. While freedom of speech is important, these women are fairly private individuals - they are scholars, athletes, and they didn't deserve even the suggestion of the words fired upon them. Imus can say whatever he wants, true, to a point - but he learned that "whatever he wants" can still come with consequences, no matter how many people listen to his show.
But the most disgusting, appalling, and overall depressing aspect of this situation is his semi-quiet return to the airwaves, and the media's non-event reporting of it. Basically, the message is: take the flak for a few months, let things die down, and a recession-prone economy will welcome you back. It's altogether worse than not firing Imus at all. He was supposed to serve as an example for what happens in this country if you are prejudiced and misogynistic - and sadly, he is an example of how this country addresses questions of equality : Put up a good front, make a grand gesture, then turn that gesture on its head once it is more convenient to do otherwise--to hell with equality and fair treatment when budgets and cost margins are in play. As long as the dollars are in our pockets, we don't seem to mind what escapes our mouths or hits our ears - that could also be considered the systematic desensitization of our ethical and moral capabilities. It isn't even about what Imus said, it isn't even about what he's doing now. And this argument can be expanded to so many other areas -- people reasoning that cost effectiveness, and what the majority of people want, is more important than the ethics and moral standards we have written down and tried to live for years. At what point, on the sliding scale of human action, does morality overtake our feelings of comfort and reliance on status quo?

For another shocking and disturbing shock jock story, please read here: Being an acquaintance of the woman in this story, it hits home. She is a wonderful person, and deserves the settlement she received, and so much more. Best wishes to her.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hawk Mess.

Surprises abounded early this week, when intelligence reports came out showing Iran has not gone forward with developing its possible nuclear weapons program since 2003. (see story: Of course, this story is as complicated as trying to enrich uranium.

What this report means, first of all, is that Iran is not immune to diplomatic, international pressure - which is surely a good sign. Internationally, in 2003, Iran was urged very strongly to stop its weapons development. We weren't really sure at that time that they would, but of course, America had bigger Middle Eastern fish to fry in 2003 -- the year we invaded Iraq. And here's the complicated question: Was Iran primarily influenced to stop its production due to international diplomatic efforts, or was it the fact that the Americans were bombing the hell out of their next door neighbors? Now, it stands to reason that if Iran saw that America would bomb whatever country they saw fit, without real evidence of weapons (like the faulty and completely inaccurate, doctored intelligence reports for Iraq), then it wouldnt really matter if they developed nukes or not - if America wanted to bomb, they would bomb. If this was their logic, then the diplomatic pressure would be the key inducement. But the question of why they stopped is one likely never to be fully answered.

Then there is the issue of how much we want to trust our own intelligence reports, both past and present. Obviously, it's nicer and easier to believe that Iran has stopped developing nuclear capabilities. But leading up to the invasion of Iraq, it was also nice and easy for the Bush administration to believe that Iraq was developing weapons, so we could go in - because many people in Washington (and the south) wanted us to. So it burns the fingers to type - but we can't ignore the possibility that this report can be flawed as well, and Iran might be doing some not so good things with uranium.

However, Bush's premise that this new report should be viewed as a "warning signal" is completely in the wrong. It's as if he had someone write this speech expecting the report to come out with Iran harboring missiles, and they only changed a few words once they actually were handed the report - the argument is unchanged. What makes Bush so glaringly brash and overwhelmingly hawkish is that he argues the same points no matter what the outcomes - in Iraq, it was since they had weapons, we must threaten force; now that Iran doesn't have weapons, well, we must threaten force. There is no variation in his approach - he is such a zealous hawk, you half expect him to come out to his podium with a dead mouse in his beak.

Iran is a serious, complicated issue, and the country deserves attention and political finesse, two things which this gunslignin' president is absolutely impotent when it comes to performing them. But the scariest part is that as his second term clock ticks away, Bush is actually beginning to show some foresight - at least in terms of his legacy, and this is the most dangerous type of introspection and analysis he could enrich. The Annapolis Mideast peace talks are a benign example of Bush grasping at popular-opinion straws, trying to polish up his image by attempting to broker a conversation between other incredibly weakened leaders (who might have maybe done something a few years ago, but with the raise of Hammas and other militant/fundamentalist organizations, forget about it). As these talks were relatively harmless-fine - but what happens if Bush decides to "really do something" about Iran before he flies the coop? It will be up to the new president to fly in the olive branch - and that will be an effort to fix a Bush-made disaster of truly biblical proportions.

Monday, December 03, 2007

G'day Kyoto

Australia is very far away - both physically and psychologically. It's tucked away in the southern hemisphere, it's own island. It sees a different set of stars - the southern cross and all. Obviously, the air is different, and because much of the population is concentrated on the coastal cities to the southeast and southwest, there is less pollution over most of the landmass, which remains preserved as natural forrests, desserts, or bush country. There are less people - approximately 20 million, for a land mass as large as the US. And things go a bit slower there - the music hits later, as does the American music. Choices at grocers are plentiful, but you don't have the choices between ten different competitors on the shelf as you do in the US, which makes things easier. And all the way up until 2003/2004, many apartment complexes and residential areas didn't recycle. Maybe a few scraps of paper here, a few plastic bags there, but you'd have a better chance of seeing a bunyip in a billabong that you would to see a recycling bin for bottles and cans.
Australia is no paradise, despite it's natural beauty and mostly relaxed and friendly population. It's often been slow to the punch on many issues, and often, out of habit, grabs to the coattails of the UK and the US, creating a colorful hybrid of both nations best and worst attributes. Its Britain without the snob factor, and America without the severe preoccupation over money and materialism, and disputes over religion (the largest church in Australia observes on Sunday, during footy matches).
Despite Australia's, and John Howard's almost twelve years of playing political doppelganger to the US (along, for the most part, with Tony Blair) - the Australian's themselves have taken issue with many of the US's and their own international policies. Students at many of the universities have expressed as much ire for Howard as liberals in the US exert for Bush. Howard was luckily and rather unceremoniously dumped in the elections, and Rudd has taken over. (Howard even lost his seat in Parliament - a truly embarrassing blow, but a stunning message nonetheless). Australia isn't an overly political culture -- but if you start effecting their ability to have a "fair go", you better beware. A strong wind has blown through Australia, and it is shifting everything - their policy on the Iraq war (already highly unpopular), and climate change. Australia, a country that was never preoccupied with "going green" has quickly scribbled their initials on Kyoto. And its about time. Unfortunately, like many problems in America, Americans refuse to take ques from others, even if they are allies. The US believes it should dictate - and as the largest green house gas emitter (larger than China, even) we still feel that we are above signing a treaty agreed upon by many nations to decrease emissions. This isn't a "global warming" issue, this is a worldwide quality of life issue. Regardless of what you believe about polar icecaps, more CO2, and more pollution is never a good thing. So let's show the bravery and heart of Phar Lap, as Aussies would say, and put our name on the dotted line. Of course, like Australia, what will need to happen in order for our signature on Kyoto is a liberal takeover in the political structure. And wouldn't it be brilliant if a good number of Republicans all lost their seats in an embarrassing election as well?

Friday, November 30, 2007

More on Mormonism?

Usually, when the general population thinks of Mormonism, they think of polygamy, and possibly the semi-flop HBO series "Big Love." In completely objective terms, let's look at exactly what's going on with this religion, and more importantly, if you're voting Republican - should this factor at all in terms of your decision for Romney, yea or nay? (Instinct says the topic shouldn't even be broached- we have separation of church and state for a reason - but that's on a federal level, not a personal one, and depending on the fervency of Mitt's religion, just like any bible thumping candidate, it deserves a thought bubble of contemplation.)

So yes, there has been polygamy. The US has outlawed it, and the doctrine was revoked by the Mormon church in the 1890s. There still have been your random cases of some extreme fundamentalist Mormons still engaging in the whole "plural marriage" idea, but we can't really blame the current Mormon church entirely -- every religion has fervent sects that break off, and decide that the older version was better. I mean, we still have people toting around Leviticus with only certain lines highlighted. (Note: A.J. Jacobs, in his book "The Year of Living Biblically," attempts to live for one year, adhering as strictly as possible to all Bible tenants. He of course admits that it is altogether impossible, and everyone on the planet would warrant a stoning, probably many times over).
If you're into women's rights (which you should be), this doctrine of polygamy is grating, but it's not anything new when it comes to religion. While not defending Mormons in the least, we've still got burkas, and the barring of women from the priesthood, and the regulation of conception and the double-standard of chastisement for the "un-chaste" woman, cycling through our societies, ruminating like a fowl stench.

But many people look at Mormonism and stop at the polygamy issue, as if that was their sticking point against it - and valid as that may be to some, there are other issues to address that have been strict doctrine of the Church of Latter Day Saints all the way until the 1970s. Now, no church has been especially friendly to those groups it views as outsiders, or people physically different than themselves. But the Mormon's had a special doctrine that claimed, quite specifically, that people of dark skin where the decendants of Cain, and given their darker skin as a punishment by god, because they had acted in tandem with Satan. So while black members were accepted occasionally, this is the beliefs they stood up against. Only in the 1970s, was the doctrines barring blacks and other races a greater role in the church rescinded. Before 1978, blacks, Native Americans, women of all races, etc., were not allowed to become priests, or even participate in temple ceremonies. Women, while allowed to participate in ceremonies, can be given "priesthood power", but they are still barred from being ordained as full clergy, even though they can perform most of the same duties. So basically, the Mormons operate like most businesses still do today - women do the same work, for less pay and recognition.

As hard as this is to hear for some, Mormonism isn't all that different from other protestant religions in the US, who like to sit up on a high horse in comparison, because their man took (and take) mistresses, not excess wives. Romney should be asked, if not about his faith, about how he feels about his church's sluggish response to racial and sexual issues -- he was not exactly a baby when they finally rescinded the racial discrimination doctrines, so how did he continue to tithe with a religion that openly pontificated against blacks and minorities? But it's important to remember that for every question we have for a person like Romney, and his unfamiliar religion, we should be thinking of parallel questions for other candidates, like Giuliani, and perhaps just how he was officially billing his travel expenses to go visit his girlfriend (while married) on Long Island.

Although important to discuss, when we reach for that apple of religious knowledge in terms of the candidates, we better know what we're getting into, --- because it's certainly no paradise.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Immigration: Not just your forefather's issue

Not in the same dimensions, but nonetheless, a volatile topic in France. The French, though I'm sure they don't appreciate illegal immigrants, have a much bigger issue to deal with in the guise of immigrants that have already been allowed to live in France. The "immigrant problem" for France is a matter of what happens to those people who come to France in completely legal capacities. The French, and certain Parisians in particular, are perhaps not as welcoming to immigrants and minority groups as they could be. This is not a merely francophone phenomenon - prejudices abound in the US, the UK, and all the countries placing from the first to the third world.

France, however, is an interesting case study -- here, we have immigrants who have not been allowed to integrate into the greater population, and given little incentive from the government to try and "make it" in French society. Sarkozy, at one ill-advised, pre-Presidential moment that now haunts him, said the rioting immigrants in a French suburb in 2005 were "scum." In an eerily mimeic way, the deaths of two youths recently mirrors the two deaths in 2005 -- both times police were implicated, both times violence has erupted out of the poor and undervalued communities from which the young immigrants lived.

Usually, it is hard to come down on the side of disengaged and emotionally charged youths who go about burning libraries (and all the knowledge therein) and cars, and destroying innocent people's property. And the youth immigrant/minority population is absolutely in the wrong in these actions. But despite the outright disapproval - we cannot be so black and white about it. The saddest and most disheartening aspect of these riots, and the French government and law enforcement's role, is the widespread acknowledgement that nothing, or at the most trance amounts of aid and acceptance are reaching immigrant and minority populations inside France. And although this is nothing new, it is definitely something to toss and turn about. The French as notorious (whether completely justified or not) for their ill-treatment of foreigners, whether those on holiday or those seeking permanent residence. Their disregard in trying to make France a better place for the people who come is a sad aspect of their national situation.

If anything should be learned from the French situation, it should be that countries must take care of all their population - because if you give a certain sector no future, or no reason to make their country a better place, no future is exactly where the whole country is heading. When we alienate non-aliens, no good can come of it, and France is just an example - it is by no means isolated. The "cycle" of violence is aptly named. This isn't just an issue of creating hotbeds for future terror suspects, it is absolutely linked to the important values of tolerance, understanding, and peace.

A while back, Barack Obama made a rather astute point regarding prejudice in America, and I think it could probably be applied to the environments of many other first world countries, too. To paraphrase, Obama narrated a fictional situation, where a middle aged white couple are walking down a street, and they tense up as a hooded person of a minority race walks towards them -- but then, as they approach each other the couple recognizes that this person is their son's or daughter's good friend, and they invite him over to dinner. The story is both urgently sad and terribly honest for a large percentage of the American population. It might sound like the story has a happy ending, but it ultimately realizes what continues to linger in our society - and the split second of "tensing up" is what proves that all our efforts at equality and the eradication of prejudice have come up incredibly and embarrassingly short.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the things we wait for

It is simple to understand history and trends in society from a textbook, or from old newspapers, or even economic data. But our lives are not measured in units of pages, or tabloids (unless you're a debutante), or bell curves. Real human life is measured in units of time, or perhaps how we fill what Kipling so eloquently dubbed "the unforgiving minute."

Unforgiving because it knows no retractions or redactions, it thankfully relies on no machinations or computer software. But it also makes it irreversibly final and scarily accurate - it tells us unabashedly about ourselves. If some books and articles are called primary source, time is pre-primary source material. So one of the best ways to understand what we value as a whole, is what we dedicate time to. And let's not examine perceived necessary time-takers, such as work, chores, etc., but isolate the time in which we have to freely choose what it is we can do.

Nothing is more disturbing than what many newscasters and newspapers observed over this past week, in terms of how we as Americans choose to spend our free time. As a holiday, Thanksgiving is usually a time set aside for family and friends -- and luckily that was the trend this year, for the most part. But here's a question: How many people at your house spent at least a fraction of Thanksgiving with their eyes glued to the sales ads in the paper as if they were children who had discovered the ecstasy of kindergarten paste? There were ads larger than the rest of the paper's content leading up to Black Friday, as expected. We can't entirely blame stores and marketers - after all it is their livelihood, and as free people, we have the choice whether or not to pay attention. But increasingly, attention is all we can seem to give them. Across the country there were reports of families lining up at midnight, and in many cases, before noontime on Thanksgiving Day, in anticipation of black Friday sales. Traditionally, black Friday was a clever adjunct - and a relatively benign idea, because bored families naturally gravitated out of the house on that free Friday off after the holiday. (You can only spend so much time indoors with family before the systematic emotional implosions commence). Although marketers took advantage, it was buyers who really dictated where they would go, and what they would purchase. Somewhere, somehow, in the shift of pronoun importance marked by caring more about "what" than "whom," that power swapped hands, and the stores seem to be pulling Americans in by the millions and encroaching on the time usually reserved for Thanksgiving. People have now placed a higher priority on material things at a bargain price above priceless immaterial things - and the clock is ever ticking away as our compulsion to buy spins out of control quicker than the ticking second hand.

One could argue that the shopping, and waiting in line, in itself is a bonding experience - it's like a new ritual, as sought after as splitting the wishbone. But the inescapable fact of black Friday is that you must acknowledge it is not engineered to be fun. The only people who get joy out the experience are severe masochists, and the kinds of people who watch shows like CSI and Law and Order purely for glimpses of carnage. Everything about black Friday is in direct opposition to Thanksgiving the day before = you wait in the cold, you get up super early (or stay up all night), you're huddled with a bunch of strangers probably more cranky than you, you get trampled on the way in, and chaos ensues. And after all that effort, you may not even leave with what you wanted in the first place. Maybe our tribal instincts are at play here, but there's a reason we no longer live in caves and club our women (at least most people understand the reasons).

Doing a rather informal poll, and some research, here's a list of what people have waited in line for: Bread (Depression Era), Soda Fountain Bars (mid-1900's), tickets to shows and movies (all century), and now, store sales. Our reasons for queuing up, (though some have stayed constant when necessities like food or water are involved), have taken a turn from Experiences that ultimately give us enjoyment and fulfill us, to actual Items that we perceive will give us or someone we care about some future enjoyment. No longer is the wait about getting to the end and fulfilling some inner need for culture, or time with friends while sipping a fountain drink - the most fulfilling aspect of the wait, whether people admit it or not, is the wait itself. Those hardcore black Friday shoppers are quick to give you their stats with the gusto of an Olympic athlete: "I woke up at three AM to travel to Allentown, where the good store is, and waited in line for hours," or "I snatched up the last guitar hero game from the clutches of a quadriplegic, while balancing on a trolley and simultaneously pushing back a few small children by their hair." Yes, the gadgets themselves are the ultimate goal of the black Friday festivities, but they are festivities nonetheless, and despite our engorged tummies on Thursday night, black Friday as a legitimate holiday is spreading over into the real holiday the day before it, and sucking everything into its vindictive and time-consuming path. And like a true black hole, there is no end to its devouring nature. Only we can stop it -- but honestly, the prospects, and the unforgiving minutes, don't stand much of a chance.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

the skinny on those skin cells

Why do politics even have to play a part in this scientific debate? Sometimes, politics, though beloved to some, seeps into our livelihoods with the nonsecular vigor of a religious fanatic. But, perhaps that's just the nature of the political juggernaut.

The news about two different groups of scientists reporting initial breakthroughs in stem cell research should be a purely positive event, but alas. Before the contributing scientists could put down their beakers and pipettes, Washington, evangelists, and you name it have fashioned unwarranted arguments to their studies, all for rhetorical and approval rating gain.

But first, and more importantly, let's look at the science: The "old" method of stem cell creation, still in trials in human cells, is to take an unfertilized egg, and merge it with a donor cell, create a embryo, and then harvest the embryonic stem cells that begin to form with the development to create any kind of cell desired, and destroying the embryo itself. The new breakthroughs are with skin cells, and involve mixing a skin cell with a virus that carries a person's genes. The virus then gives the skin cells these genes, creating an "embryo-like" stem cell, which also serves as a cell that can be harvested to create other cells.

The new skin cell method seems like a good way to circumvent the whole ethical pothole created by some who disapprove of destroying cloned embryos, but it is also cause for concern -- whenever genes are manipulated, especially when they are carried by a virus and then extracted, there is a high if not eminent chance of cancer and other genetic diseases and deformities. It's surprising that all the hype for this new method of "non-embryonic" research neglects to mention the potentially life-threatening side effects. We do enough in this world to unintentionally give ourselves cancer - we should think twice before introducing more known causes. That said, more research should continue to see it this process is a viable option. BUT NOT at the expense of the original stem-cell research methods. And here's where the politics enters our scientific debate.

The White House, and evangelicals, and anyone else opposed to stem cell research because of its"unethical" considerations (i.e. the destruction of a cloned embryo) is lauding these new skin cell developments, many without even reading the full reports. They believe it is proof-positive that other methods can and should be explored and will, [no pun to anti-abortionists intended], "bare fruit." Bush's spokespeople have already pointed to this research to further validate Bush's two vetoes on stem cell research spending bills. They are itching to make this a debating point when it comes to platforms for the 2008 elections, because it was a fairly volatile issue, with many voters on both sides more apt to see an increase in funding for stem cell research, given its potential for saving the lives of millions with Parkinson's, nerve damage, etc. The Republicans would like to use these findings as a snide comeback, a kind of "i told you so" in light of their long held stance, that basically values a practically inanimate petri-dish life form over and above those multi-celled organisms we informally call our neighbors, siblings, parents, and friends. But it makes sense for Republicans to rally against stem cells -- they cost much much more to harvest right now in comparison to the money harvested from the average tax payer.

Both forms of research should be funded -- this is essentially a scientific debate, and here's why politics should just stay out. Even if (and that's a big "if") skin cells prove to be the best method,and they can discover more science to benefit people, both skin cells and embryonic cells should continue to be tested. From a purely scientific standpoint, when different theories are pitted up against each other, and there is a kind of "race" to the finish, to the end results, and hopefully a cure, the research in competition not only speeds it, it breeds better science. From a economical framework, most agree that in free economies, competition is a good thing- it keeps business sharp, and seeks to get ahead. The same can be applied to this scientific situation - no method should get complacent, or think they've cornered the market. And hopefully the benefits will come pouring in for those with spinal injuries and damaged organs. Because no matter how "unethical" you want to make stem cells to further your political standpoint and channel your almighty dollar, what we're essentially funding is people, not the destruction of them. Please, inform how you can comfort yourself with the thought of saving a handful of cells that WILL BE destroyed anyways, over the possibly of saving thousands of whole, suffering people NOW, and millions via prevention in the future. Perhaps this debate doesn't interest you, because you have no spines to begin with.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Asystolic AMT needs Fiscally Responsible EMTs

Patient: Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Time of Death: 1970... give or take.

Why do we keep a dead and rotting system of taxation? The Alternative Minimum Tax was founded on a wonderful and amazingly ethical premise: keep the nation's wealthy and uber-wealthy from using deductions, etc., to completely eliminate their federal taxes (i.e. a few donations here, a few adopted children there - Presto!: You make millions and never worry about taxes, in a lovely legal loophole sort of way, so you can sleep at night free of ethical bogey men, dressed as IRS agents).

Originally, the AMT was a lovely and worthwhile sentiment, but you have to wonder just what the dunderheads in 1969 were playing at, when they decided to forgo a measure to index the AMT for inflation - so as the times change, and the weight of the dollar deceases, and people's money goes up (along with cost of living to even it out), more people fit in the AMT's bracket, yet they really aren't more than middle class. The AMT should be compared side-by-side with the Y2K phenomena - and people would understand the detriment of this tax - because unlike Y2K, this isn't hyped in the media and a topic of worry and potential fiscal calamity the world over -- but it definitely should be, because the AMT will affect a growing number of people who are by no means independently wealthy as the years tick on.

Now Congress is dragging their feet (of course) and it's always a touchy subject when taxation is on the operating table. Republicans and pro-business Democrats are decrying the loss of tax revenue if the AMT is fixed or done away with, but they don't seem to understand the essentials here: the tax is malfunctioning, and that extra revenue they've already spent on funding all their pet projects is not really legit - it is fruit of a poisonous tree, and should be thrown into the pulper (along with their earmarks). The ways and means committee has introduced a bill, that would essentially take the burden off anyone earning under $200,000 - and tighten up many loopholes that let venture capitalists, real estate investors and hedge fund managers (who usually earn in the millions) write off taxes in unfair ways.

The GOP and a few Democrats call this paramount to a tax increase, and Bush has vowed to veto any fix to the AMT that would increase taxes in any way. Okay. So lets analyze, shall we? Essentially, once the AMT was created, the wealthy, and large corporations have discovered other ways to forgo taxes legally, yet slightly unethically and shadily - usually having to do with overseas operations, etc... And what this new system would do is prevent these tremendously wealthy people from evading the taxes created for them to pay in the first place - so essentially, the taxes are not being raised - they are being made more enforceable, and legitimate. And even if this wasn't the case, and congress just decided to raise taxes for the wealthiest people, doesn't that make sense? The wealthiest people should be paying the most taxes, that is what our system is based upon - we have a scaled/gradient-based taxation system, that works to ensure that. If Bush wants to fix the AMT, so that more and more middle class people aren't subject to it, how can anyone do that without raising somebody's taxes? Of course, Bush is notorious for only vetoing bills that make perfect sense - this is like Bush saying "I must veto this bill, because it sets a timeline for withdrawal," while knowing perfectly well that troops will have to come home on a certain schedule, because of the sheer fact that tours of duty will expire on certain dates (short of stoploss, that is).

It's puzzling how Bush and his veto threat can claim to be defending the middle class, when the only people this bill will effect negatively is huge corporations and fat cats - who would barely feel the suggestion of a pinch, given their bankrolls. And the idea that this tax will somehow hurt certain sections of the economy and therefore the entire US economy, starting with real estate investors, is ludicrous, if not entirely laughable - it's real estate investors in the past decades who have acted completely fiscally irresponsible, and caused a housing mess with sub prime loans that's making our economy sag - if anything, this would be nothing but a justifiable payback, a finding in the court of public opinion for pain and suffering damages - yet the tax fixes of this bill would be nowhere near enough. If pinching the big guns helps out, or relieves the burden of anyone who is now facing foreclosure, then it is a job well done.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Riding the fence? more like the clothes hanger.

Guiliani. That anomaly of anomalies. Or is he? At first glance, his positions on some issues are a bit spotty - and the press has, for the most part, gone out of it's way to make sure people continue to be confused by exaclty what Rudy is trying to sell. And actually, it's probably doing his campaign more good than harm -- at least in a national sense. In terms of primary votes, it remains to be seen whether or not the warbly quality of Guilani's campaign platform turns out to his favor. One thing is agreed so far - that Guiliani's approach is not a platform of solid bedrock, but one of shifting tectonic plates - who knows what seismic turns it might take.
But as of right now, Guiliani is confusing people on a few key issues - abortion, religion, and gun control - the holy trinity of Republican pundits. Normally, to be a viable candidate your answers to the trinity must be: "Never, Always, and 'Ready, Aim, Fire', Amen." But Guiliani has adopted the tact of pandering slightly to the left with abortion, yet winking knowing at those stubborn donkeys to his right.

What his strategy entails is thus: he proclaims himself a pro-women's rights politican, saying that he should not dictate choices for a woman. This serves the purpose of allowing some on both sides to see his bipartison attempts. However, anyone - and pro-choice people especially, would be extremely naive in assuming that Rudy is actually FOR them. Because on the other side (yet at the same time), Guiliani says he would support the confirmation of supreme court judges in the vein of Scalia and Thomas. If that isn't scary, this blogger doesn't know what is - and it certainly trumps Rudy's attempts to appease the middle-left. Because Guilani can't exactly outlaw abortion himself, the most likely way we'd see the outlawing of abortion in the near future is through the courts - and that is where Guilani is fiercely pro-life -- so he isn't even close to riding the fence, only perhaps the clothes hanger. We'd be better off having a right wing candidate being strictly pro-life, yet open to supporting the nomination of judges who themselve sit on the abortion fence (i.e. they actually want to hear the evidence and decide independent of their own moral/religious belief - an idea we don't see too often nowadays).

Guilani is portrayed as a "different" candidate, one that is more centrist, and yet his facade is very thinly spackled, and it crumbles into a heap of GOP rhetoric upon any good analysis, (and that heap's as toxic as the lead paint chips we get from China). So I'd urge anyone on the fence, leaning toward voting for Guilani because of his high marks for National Security (can you say 9/11 in huge numerals?) and his supposed liberal bent to be weary - you might just end up with exactly what you always knew you never wanted but didn't think you'd get.

* and lets not forget that Guiliani's pro-women (and pro-family for that matter) standings are lame at best - the man's children, and certainly his ex wives, don't even back him.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More Mudwrestling, please.

Finally, some good ol' fashioned, impassioned debate. The Democratic debates are finally coming to a rolling boil, after simmering on low with months and months ahead of the candidates before the primaries. As the time is finally starting to run out, the democratic candidates (the top three especially), are beginning to recognize that beating up on Bush just isn't going to get them elected -- even the Republicans are doing that. It's time to take a new aim, one decidedly closer to home, and much more lucrative (yet dangerous).

The latest debate on Thursday had most of the candidates, and especially Obama and Edwards, dumping on Hilary Clinton. It seems that despite their differences, candidates in red and blue alike are trying to bruise Clinton's record into a deep shade of purple. And for good reason - she's leading in the polls (though in some select primary states, like Iowa, she is neck and neck with Obama and Edwards, and her actual popularity as a person is always a question). But many have recognized her as a threat, and since Bush is a lame duck, why try to shoot him down anymore? Luckily undecided, this blogger isn't exactly pulling for any one candidate as of yet, but the attacks on Clinton aren't necessarily so advantageous as her opponents might have the "audacity" to hope for. Clinton may get bashed, but she's been attacked ever since her husband took office -- she's been fodder for comedic skits and pundits alike, circa the early 90's. Yet somehow, she's been able to eke out a political career, and a campaign that many saw coming, but never realized the vigor with which it would appear. In other words, sticks and stones...

The other issue with trying to attack Clinton via mudslingin' debate is that, counter intuitively, it gives her a chance to be better heard on the issues. Because in even the fiercest of debates, the attackees get a chance to defend themselves. Like Obama and Edwards, Clinton is no slouch, and she can match rhetorical wits with any candidate out there. She will volley back. She may not have the philosophical charisma of Barack, or the boyish charm of Johnny, but she brings something that is hard to define - some quality that while we cringe, we simultaneously admit sound judgment (Guiliani, unfortunately and admittedly, also shares some of this... je ne se quois). Whether Clinton's ability to keep her campaign running at full speed ahead will continue - that's anyone's guess, but right now its on track. But be assured of one thing, despite her accusations of unfair play, Clinton has more too fear if the mudslinging stops. When no one cares to criticize your mistakes, they usually aren't very interested in hearing your remedies, either.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is blackwater all that different?

Hired hands. Mercenaries. Private Contractors. Many people, and most Democrats would agree that the hiring of outside contractors to fight our battles is ill-advised, as evinced by the current situations and controversies we've seen (yet don't know the full extent of) in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you have to wonder, with all the accusations of cowboyism, and independent mismanagement with separate agendas, how different is the management of current official military and intelligence agencies? Other than being government affiliated, how do their methods of incentives, inducements, and outright bullying differ? A great analysis of newly imposed incentives for the military can be found here:

Most people laugh at the military's juvenile attempts to advertise and recruit via television ads and college campus visits (though these are not met without opposition by co-eds the nation over). But where sheer marketing gusto falls short, the military has made made up with the almighty dollar - so almighty, that the phrase might soon become: "God, Country, Corps, Stock Options and Matching Funds." As the age of financial savvy lowers, the military has a wider net to cast when recruiting. If you told a junior or senior that they could potentially finish high school with around 28 G's in their bank accounts, it would be hard to fill the space between their ears with anything but dollar signs -- not too much room left for considerations of IEDs and training camps. And these bright kids, the ones fresh out of high school might earn a military education that they didn't exactly bargain for - even if they understood the perils of warfare. What they will undoubtedly encounter is the military's new initiative that will ultimately aid America's jammed to capacity prison system: "moral waivers." This little jem of a loop hole allows the military to grant enlistment to those with prior convictions. So essentially, if we send them over to Iraq, etc., they wouldn't be able to repeat offend (at least in this country) and be able to take out their aggressions in "healthy" ways, like killing terrorists. None of these "moral" soldiers have ever acted out in immoral ways, none have ever raped or murdered innocent civilians in war zones.... wait....

So correct this logic if wrong, but we would rather enlist known felons (probably the same people who blackwater, although a shady organization, would probably not hire) than those who bring absolutely capable, invaluable, and vital assets (Read: we discharge those found to be gay -- and they are usually the translators, or those in respected and extremely useful positions who are good at their jobs).

And when recruiters look for those next few, brave, etc., do they ever utter the words "stoploss"? No other huge employer can systematically change a contract, and make a binding, indisputable restriction on your leave. And what can soldiers do really?... you can't exactly charter a southwest airlines flight out of Baghdad. And if you go AWOL, chances are you won't be seeing those promised bonuses.

A lot of young people see the distinct advantage of joining the military in order to pay their college bills once they return to the states. And as lofty as that is for the people who enlist with this as a goal, you have to wonder how a country that claims to be as enlightened as the US can only afford to send people to college if they've killed a few foreigners first, and then once they do go off to college after this experience, only then do they learn of the history behind warfare, read a few treatises and literary interpretations, and learn the different philosophies that might inspire them to have a better understanding of the world, and therein have them question their past choices to go to war in the first place- all to no avail.

All this said, we do need a military -- it's a vital aspect of any major world power. But the mismanagement and utter disregard for morality, as well as the schemes to induce and hoodwink disaffected youths corrupts the whole organization - including those soldiers who join for genuine conviction's sake. No one is blaming the soldiers, and that's the argument that constantly gets tossed around in the war of rhetoric on capital hill, (and in most of the red areas). Well, instead of contesting the jobs of the soldiers, let's isolate the discussion to those in high military executive positions - and start a not so little debate about top-down management, open to discussion with the military, the government, and American citizens.