Livin' it up, American style

Friday, May 18, 2007

Never underestimate the role of family values.

I think Giuliani's campaign is pretty much dead since he came out as a pro-choice candidate. He was already very weak on the family values front with the whole living with one woman while married to a different woman, and estrangement from his children, but now to top it off he's pro-choice! No way he's winning many primaries, I'd be surprised if he won any. His only hope is if the Republican field is split among several strong candidates and he gets a decent percentage from the more moderate wing of the party. But so far it doesn't look like that'll be the case.

Barack Obama's wife, Michelle, recently scaled back her job in order to spend more time as the obligatory adoring candidate's wife. It is unfortunate that a high powered, very successful woman doing a job she seems to love has to basically quit because her husband is running for president. Presidential candidates have frequently been criticized for the actions or words of their spouses, and an outspoken, or absent, or too smart spouse can mean trouble for a candidate. Just ask John Kerry, Howard Dean, and Bill Clinton. Instead of working full-time as VP for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, she now has to work full time talking about domestic life. Despite her background, she hasn't even spoken out on health care policy yet, probably taking a lesson from a certain first lady, now presidential candidate, who received a lot of flack over her attempt at tackling US health care policy.

This is a little old, but a few weeks ago Hilary said that if she were president she would appoint Bill to be some kind of roving world ambassador. I am displeased that Hilary is trying to subtly campaign on a two for one deal. Elect me, and you'll get Bill back too. As the first serious women candidate, it is annoying that she is using her husband as a way to woo over reluctant voters who loved Bill but aren't too sure about Hilary. I'm also frustrated that Bill gets to galavant all over, giving speeches on the lecture circuit, without any serious expectations that he be there at the end of every debate to give Hilary a hug, or smiling and schmoozing at every fundraiser like the wives of the other candidates are.
It's all part of the reason why I'm fully convinced that America is much more ready to elect a black man as president than a woman of any skin color.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Science is Optional, Another Massachusetts Flip-flopper, all Part of the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate.

Last night was the 2008 Republican presidential candidates debate. I read a recap of the debates and was more than slightly dismayed to see that 3 of the candidates indicated that they do not believe in evolution- Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, and Tom Tancredo. How did we get to the point where it is optional to believe in science? Man, I wished I could have pulled this back in high school chemistry. "I'm sorry, I don't believe in protons, electrons and neutrons. Can I skip the test?" You can bet these guys don't believe in global warming either.

It is interesting that Sam Brownback was one of the candidates who says he does not believe in evolution. His main hook as a candidate is that he is a very vocal and proud Catholic. However, Catholicism is not one of the religions that preaches against evolution. It is totally acceptable to believe in evolution, because the idea is that God is the one back there pulling the strings and making creatures evolve. So Brownback is not only out of the mainstream of the general population, he is also misrepresenting the Catholic position.

Mitt Romney spent part of the night defending his major flip-flop on the issue of abortion. Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts, and while governor, he was pro-choice. However, as he started to sniff the airs of presidentiality, he suddenly decided he was pro-life. Just like that, he switched sides on one of the most personal and also most public issues of American politics. But that's what the smell of becoming president will do to a candidate. Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich, though long a staunch progressive, was always pro-life. That was, until several years ago when he decided he would like to run for president in 2004. And just like Romney, he switched his position and is now pro-choice. I'm so excited that America will be run by old white men who can switch their view on issues like abortion for political convenience and never have to personally be affected by their positions.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Maybe Nancy Pelosi is secretly a member of al-Qaeda?

Vice-president Dick Cheney has been claiming this past week that Nancy Pelosi's position on the Iraq war benefits al-Qaeda. He was referring to attempts by Pelosi and other House Democrats to register opposition to the recently announced troop surge. The opposition measures include a non-binding resolution (which passed the House on Feb 16), and increasing restrictions on funding for the war. But Cheney thinks that advocating for less troops or a withdrawal from Iraq is admitting defeat to al-Qaeda, by showing that their campaign of violence succeeded in scaring America away.

Unfortunately, the vice president's reasoning is misguided propaganda (what? Cheney engaging in misguiding propaganda? that's so.......typical). First off, I'm a little confused at the idea that drawing down troops from Iraq would mean a victory for al-Qaeda. Despite the publicity of false evidence to the contrary, al-Qaeda did not have operations in Iraq prior to the 2003 US invasion. Let me repeat that-Saddam Hussein was not working with al-Qaeda operatives, and al-Qaeda had a very small presence in Iraq under Saddam's authoritarian regime. Saddam was a Shi'ite heading a secular government, al-Qaeda is a Sunni Islamist organization. Those two things don't mix well, and with Saddam's tight grip on his nation, al-Qaeda wouldn't have found it easy to establish a presence undetected.

In fact, it has only been since the US invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, and watched the country dissolve into chaos and civil war that al-Qaeda has managed to establish itself as one of the leading terrorists groups in the region. The real victory for al-Qaeda was when the US rushed to dethrone Saddam and created a war zone that is the perfect breeding and recruiting ground for terrorists. Leaving American troops in Iraq in order to make the point that al-Qaeda has not 'won' will only lead to more US and Iraqi deaths by leaving the troops in a place where they make an easy and obvious target for insurgents and terrorists.

I also don't know how passing a non-binding resolution in the US House will somehow 'embolden' al-Qaeda. I just can't really picture a bunch of young Arab men with AK-47's huddled around the TV watching al-Jazeera and then giving each other big high fives when they hear that the House of Representatives doesn't think the US should send more troops. Heck, I think hearing that America is increasing troop populations would be more of an 'emboldener', spurring the insurgents to work even harder at recruiting and bombing and buying weapons. If your enemy starts building up their forces, you sure better respond by improving your own forces too. But hey, at least America is winning the moral victory here, by showing that even if a hundred thousand troops and Iraqi civilians have to die, nothing is going to scare us away from promoting peace in Iraq.

Friday, February 16, 2007

NASCAR cheaters, another Middle Eastern war, it's all in a day's news.

Just when you thought the use of illegal steroids and performance enhancers couldn't get any more rampant among American athletics, a new scandal pops up. This time, the 'athletes' involved are some of NASCARS biggest names- including Jeff Gordon and Michael Waltrip. This weekend is NASCAR'S most famous event, the Daytona 500. After one of the races qualifying runs, an illegal additive was found in the fuel of Waltrip's Toyota, specifically in his intake manifold. Think steroids for car engines. He was docked 100 championship points, and his crew chief was fined and suspended.

Jeff Gordon, probably the most recognizable NASCAR driver, (that guy in the orange suit on every other Pepsi vending machine), is in trouble because his car was found to be almost one inch too low. Evidently this is illegal in NASCAR, though I have no idea why. Four other drivers were also charged with lesser violations recently. First corked bats, then Barry Bonds, then Floyd Landis, and now NASCAR drivers. Next thing you know, the president of the United States will start cheating and lying to...uhh...oops.

Continuing our fight for peace
The Bush administration has been actively excoriating Iran lately, over more than just their nuclear program. On Wednesday Bush said that groups in the Iranian government were responsible for giving Shiia rebels in Iraq roadside bombs that were used in a recent attack that killed American troops. Bush admitted he did not know if these bombs were distributed at the direction of the top echelon of the Iranian government, even though a top Defense Department analyst claimed it was so the previous week. All this confusing talk resembles a few years ago when Bush was building his case for war against Iraq, using what we now know was faulty evidence to justify the invasion based on the presence of WMD's. The Bush administration denies it is planning to attack Iran, but I wonder then why they are so determined to keep showing the public how Iran is responsible for some of the violence in Iraq. Why weren't they so enthusiastic in displaying how Saudi Arabia was responsible for producing most of the 9/11 bombers? Bush clearly intends to do something about Iran, but with an already overextended military, his choices may be limited.

I tried to find some funny news to write about, but everything today seemed kind of gloomy. But here's a link to a great website- Cute Overload. I especially recommend the pictures of kittens and hedgehogs.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Will she be leaving on a jet plane?

There's been a big hullabaloo about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asking for a large, luxurious Air Force plane to fly her and her family and friends non-stop between DC and California. According to some conservative spinmasters, this plane would hold 40-some people and have a crew of 16, which is an obvious reflection of how out of touch the wealthy and spoiled Pelosi must be with the common middle-class person. But this story is really just a prime example of how easily news stories can get exaggerated and spun to serve an agenda.

First off, conservatives are leaving out the little detail that former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a Republican, also used a big Air Force plane to travel between DC and his home district of Illinois. Not because he didn't like to fly commercially, but as a security measure enacted after 9/11. After all, the Speaker of the House is 3rd in line for the presidency after the Vice President. It's not like Pelosi suddenly decided she wanted to have her own tax-payer funded private jet; it just happens to be a perk of this dangerous job, no matter which party is in power.

It is also a security concern that her plane be able to fly non-stop to California and not have to stop somewhere for refueling along the way. This is where some of the controversy has arisen. Apparently, California is a little further away from DC than Illinois is, so in order to fly non-stop to California (like Hastert used to fly non-stop to Illinois), Pelosi needs a bigger plane. I don't know a lot about planes, but seems kind of obvious to me that a bigger plane would have a bigger fuel tank, just like cars do.

Another perk of being a congressperson is the House Members' Representational Allowance. This fund pays for congressional travel to and from DC and the member's home district. So if someone were to be outraged that Pelosi gets to travel across country on the taxpayer's dime, then they need to be outraged at all 535 members of Congress. Also note that only congresspeople get to fly for free; if Pelosi wanted to shuttle around family and friends, she would have to reimburse the Air Force for their travel costs.

There's also the very important point that Pelosi did not actually request the use of this military plane; it was Bill Livingood, the House sergeant at arms. He put in the request for a larger plane that could fly non-stop for security reasons. It wasn't even Pelosi who requested a bigger plane! She actually said she would be willing to fly commercial if the Air Force didn't have a plane that could get her coast to coast. Even the White House came out defending her, with Press Secretary Tony Snow calling the story 'silly' and saying that Pelosi is 'entitled to military transport.' Yet this mostly mundane story has still been all over the news the past few days because of the creative way it was twisted to sound so juicy and negative.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Megachurches making mega-mistakes.

When driving into Memphis from the east on I-40, one sees the normal fast food restaurants, hotels, and strip malls. But among these trappings of suburbia rises something you don't see in every town, 3 gigantic white crosses. And I mean gigantic, you couldn't miss these crosses if you were blind. These crosses mark the site of the
Bellevue Baptist megachurch, which currently has 27,000-30,000 members, making it one of the largest churches in America.

But like numerous other churches in America, Bellevue is suffering from a scandal relating to some of its ministers. A man who had been a pastor and staffer for 34 years was placed on administrative leave on December 18, and the reason why has just become public. He had sexually abused his young son back in 1980's. In June of 2006, he and his wife had gone to the head pastor and he admitted the abuse and said he was attending counseling. But it was not until December that the head pastor decided that maybe this other pastor should go on administrative leave. There have been demands for the head pastor to resign, not only over this issue, but accusations of mismanagement of church money and a consolidation of pastoral authority.

There are many aspects of this news to get upset over, such as the head pastor's very questionable decision to wait 7 months before placing the offending pastor on leave. There is also the issue of lack of transparency regarding the governance of the church, as the people of the church did not find out for a month and a half why this particular pastor had been placed on leave. Then there is the issue of how someone can preach about morality and forgiveness, while having committed a transgression much worse than most of his congregates ever will, and waiting 20 years before confessing.

But I want to touch on the increasing frequency of news stories such as this chronicling the downfall of priests and pastors in churches across America. There are the high profile ones, like Ted Haggard, and various priests and bishops in numerous dioceses of the Catholic Church, and the lesser known instances like this Memphis church. I guess I could pontificate on how sad it is that these scandals seem to be happening more often lately, as though people are becoming more degenerate as time goes on. But instead I want to focus on the positive thing about these scandals, and that's the fact that we're even hearing about them at all. It shows that churches are less likely and less able to sweep dirty incidents into an abandoned closet. Hypocrisy among ministers who rail against people who are gay, then visit male hookers is no longer going to be ignored (Ted Haggard). You can't transfer a priest to a new parish and hope his child molestation problem will just end, unless you want to get hit with some lawsuits. (perhaps America's litigious society has a positive side?)

I think it's good that these stories get out, and causes people to reexamine their own beliefs, and challenge the organizational structure of their church. In response to the scandal at Bellevue, a group of church members formed a non-profit group with the aim of restoring more control of the church to the congregation. A more decentralized church government will allow increased participation by a wider group of people, instead of concentrating all church power in the hand of one or two people. Often these people may become more concerned with maintaining their own power and avoiding any scandal, instead of doing what the congregation would want. A governing body that has concentrated, centralized power may be the most efficient kind, but when it deals with the issues of people's faith- openness, participation, and understanding should be the leadership's role. If more churches reexamine the way they distribute power and authority to their leadership, and decide to create a more democratic system, then some small good will have come from these scandals.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. Who can raise the most dough?

Hilary Rodham Clinton announced she was entering the presidential race on Saturday, declaring she was "in to win". At the same time, she also said that she was forgoing money from the public election funds for both the primary and general elections, becoming the first candidate to ever do so. Unfortunately, her move may signal the end of public financing of elections.

You may have noticed a little checkbox on your tax returns that said check here if you wish to donate $3 to the public election fund. This fund is used to help finance the primary and/or general election cycle of someone running for president. A candidate who accepts the public funding can no longer accept private contributions and has to follow certain spending limits, both state-by-state and nationwide. The idea was that after a candidate had been nominated by his party, he would rely on the public funding for his money instead of continuing to focus on fundraising, which would free up more time for campaigning and public appearances.

Candidates have given up the public funding money in primary races before, like Kerry and Bush in 2004, but not in the general election too. Doing so gives Clinton a big financial advantage, and will put pressure on her rivals to also refuse public financing in order to have a chance to compete. She is no longer limited to spending only what the fund gives her, which in 2004 provided over $80 million to Kerry and Bush. But now she has 2 years to go all out and raise as much money as she can, and can simultaneously raise money for both a primary race, and a general election race.

Many of her other rivals for the Democratic nomination have made no comment on whether they too will opt completely out of public funding, but some Republicans contenders have already stated their intentions. Mitt Romney, former Gov of Massachusetts, has opted out of funding for the primaries, and John McCain (yes, the same John McCain who was the sponsor of the most recent campaign spending reform act, the McCain-Feingold Bill) has said he may also opt out of public funding.

How did public funding fall so far out of favor that even the man who built a reputation on fighting for changes in election spending is considering abandoning it? (other than the fact that he has consistently shown how he is willing to sell out his beliefs if it puts him closer to the presidency?)
Public funding first began to break down when Bush opted out of it during the 2000 primary. He had no limits on his money raising and spending, but his opponents did, giving him a large and obvious financial edge. In 2004, Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean all opted out of public financing during the primaries, and it is quite certain that Clinton will only be the first of many candidates to opt out of the public financing in 2008. In recent years, the election season has been extended, with people declaring their candidacy almost 2 years before the next election. 2 years is a lot of TV, radio and print ads to pay for, and a lot of fancy fundraising dinners you can hold. It's time to let the money raising and money spending race begin.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hey Obama, slow down a little!

A few days ago, Illinois's junior senator, Barack Obama, announced that he is forming an exploratory committee to determine whether he should run for president in 2008. I like Obama, and think he should consider running for prez, but I feel he made a misstep in so quickly forming his exploratory committee, which is widely acknowledged as the one of the first formal steps potential candidates take in deciding if they are going to run. Obama should have waited several more months at least, and I fear that this early declaration may hurt him a little bit.

For a while, most of the hype about Obama for president has not been propagated by him or his campaign. Oh sure, he has maintained a very polished and presidential demeanor, released two books, and had some important appearances that have positioned him as a rising Democratic star. But for the most part, he has been very low key, and tried to play himself off as humble and modest whenever someone asked if he was going to run for president. Most of the hype came from the general press and public, not his office.

Forming this exploratory committee means he has given up being coy and is admitting outright that he is definitely thinking of running for president. But I think it's too early. Not even Hilary Rodham Clinton have taken this step yet*, despite being widely recognized as the party's front runners. Instead, she busy in the Senate getting her name on high profile resolutions. Clinton just got back from a trip to Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where she visited with US troops. Instead of announcing her candidacy (which forming an exploratory committee is almost tantamount to) she is busy in the senate building up her foreign policy credentials (an area that she used to be seen as weak).

Obama has only had 2 years in the senate, and he should be spending this time to take strong positions on issues and work on passing some legislation that will boost his credibility. I fear he will get caught up in running for president, and neglect building a background that shows he has sufficient government and policy experience to become president.

*I wrote this blog on Friday, and on Saturday she announced she was forming her exploratory committee.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Really, what good lawyer these days isn't a card carrying member of the al-Qaeda Bar Association?

Charles Stimson was in the news again today; you may remember him from the headlines a few days ago. He is the deputy assistant of defense who is in charge of the US's military detainee program. About a week ago, Stimson expressed his dismay that lawyers at several of the nation's top law firms were representing prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. He called upon corporations to not use these law firms, and even named the names of the firms, which were also listed in a Wall Street Journal editorial. According to Stimson, corporations need to choose between using reputable law firms, and law firms that support terrorists. Because, clearly, everyone in Guantanamo is a terrorist, despite there never being any trials or hearings, cause that whole 'innocent until proven guilty' thing doesn't apply to military prisoners. I mean duh, why would it?

Stimson also commented that some of the lawyers representing the detainees were getting paid, and that he was curious to know where the money was coming from and called on the lawyers to disclose this info. Well, it turns out all of the lawyers are working pro-bono, so clearly no one is being paid off by al-Qaeda or Tehran, or whichever evil entity Stimson thought was funding these lawyers.

Fortunately, Stimson saw the error of his ways and apologized today for his statements, saying they don't really reflect his personal views and core beliefs. That's good, considering that he himself is a lawyer, and one of the fundamental tenets of the judicial system is equal treatment under the law. It's also good because currently, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff, is being represented by one of these 'terrorist' law firms in his trial for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. Perhaps this is why Stimson's statements were not very well received in the White House, which tried to distance itself from his comments.

But really, the White House didn't have to embrace this viewpoint at all, because the damage was already done. The list of law firms was printed in a national newspaper, and aired on a Washington area radio station aimed at government workers. Many of these lawyers will probably experience some lost revenue and bad publicity, even though they were trying to remedy what many people see as a miscarriage of justice by the White House in not allowing the military detainees to have lawyers. If you say something controversial, and then wait 5 days to retract your statement, it's hard to believe you are really that sorry about it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Phased troop withdrawal? That's soooo last week. Now Bush says bring 'em on!

After the midterm elections in November, there was hope that this new Congress would be successful in implementing a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, courtesy of President Bush. He has decided to increase the number of troops in Iraq by 21,500. The idea is that this 'surge', as it's being called, will de-escalate the violence in Iraq. I would appreciate it if someone would explain to me how putting 20,000 fighting soldiers with guns and tanks into an already war-torn country is somehow going to de-escalate violence. Seems as though the opposite is likely to happen.

On Wednesday night, Bush gave a public speech to the nation about this new strategy, but was a little vague on some key details. For one thing, he forgot to mention how long the 'surge' of troops would be in Iraq. Maybe he doesn't realize that one of the defining characteristics of a 'surge' is that it is a strong feeling or event that only lasts for a short time. If these troops are staying in Iraq for longer than a couple months, then really he is just plain old 'increasing the number of troops', which polls have shown to be a very unpopular move among the American people. Calling this a surge gives people the image of a temporary increase in troops, and makes it a more politically palpable idea to people who are against permanently sending more troops, even though that is probably what this move will really end up being.

At least Bush has become more open in admitting that maybe things aren't all daisies and lollipops in Iraq, and maybe it's partly his fault. In his speech last night, he said “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me”. Of course, he was also quick to blame Iraq and the Iraqi government for the situation there too. The Iraqi government has in the past promised to make reforms in laws and security measures, but as Bush said ""If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises," Bush said, "it will lose the support of the American people -- and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act."

So first we invade the country, destroy the infrastructure, completely redesign their government, occupy the country with 100,000 troops, and when they don't deliver on some security reforms because the country is descending into a chaotic civil war, we blame their weak, puppet government for being ineffective at controlling the country. Then we threaten that if they don't follow through on their promises (which they probably made in the first place under pressure from the US), we threaten they will lose the support of the American people. And then at the same time we say this we send more troops over, despite the fact that every poll says the American people don't support sending more troops. I hate to see what would happen to a place the American people really supported.

And unfortunately, Bush has pretty much made this decision unilaterally. The Congress can't stop him, short of cutting all funding for the war, an unlikely move. Even many of the military generals who have been Bush's advisors throughout the war are against this troop increase. But that's ok. According to the New York Times, when Bush was asked why this new strategy would suceed where all others have failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.” I know I'm reassured.