Livin' it up, American style

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And the winner is...

Well, like any good political blog, I feel I must make some intelligent yet mostly abitrary predictions about who will win in the upcoming US senate races. I'm just giving predictions for 5 of the most highly publicized races, or races where an incumbent may actually lose. Senate incumbents historically have a 97% reelection rate, but I think that rate will be much lower in this election.

Ohio- Mike DeWine(R) Vs Sherrod Brown(D) -I'm going with Sherrod Brown on this one, the Republicans are just too scandal plagued in Ohio to have much hope to win this seat. But the numbers will be close, specially with DeWine being an incumbent and a moderate.

Tennessee- Bob Corker (R) Vs Harold Ford (D)- I think that Corker might win this one. But ask me tomorrow and I'll probably have a different answer. This race is basically too close to call, but if I had to give an answer I think the Republican has the advantage. But really, it's going to be very close. It's hard to separate all the national hype and publicity over Harold Ford from what local Tennesse people really think about him.

Virginia - George Allen (R) Vs Jim Webb(D)- It's close, but I think Webb has an edge. This race has been a messy, dirty campaign. If I were a Virginian I wouldn't want to vote for either of these guys. Webb's victory relies largely on the DC vote, as the liberal DC suburbs spread further and further across northern Virginia.

Pennsylvania- Rick Santorum(R) Vs Bob Casey (D). Goooood-bye Santorum. No close call on this race, moderate Bob Casey is going to win. Santorum's viewpoints have never been in line with most Pennsylvanians, who lean moderate to liberal. Bob Casey may be fairly boring and uninspiring, but he will be a nice change for voters sick of Santorum's vitrol.

Rhode Island- Lincoln Chafee(R) Vs Sheldon Whitehouse(D). I think Chafee is going to hold onto his seat. He is the Republican version of Joe Lieberman; he is very moderate and tends to vote with the Democrats almost as much as the Republicans. Everyone seems to love a moderate these days, and he is pretty popular in Rhode Island, so I think he'll just barely beat the Democrat.

Of course, we'll see how right I am after election day. I'll be happy with 3/5's accuracy. Please ring in with your own predictions or comments.

Monday, October 30, 2006

3rd Party candidates, they're rare, but they do exist.

Back in August, Joe Lieberman (D-CT) lost the Democratic primary race for US senate to Ned Lamont. Leiberman promptly announced that he would run for his 4th term in the Senate as an independent candidate. Currently, he is leading Lamont by 14 points in the polls. So what exactly does it mean for the Democrats if Lieberman is re-elected as an Independent?

Well, not much will change. Lieberman is running his campaign saying that he will continue to caucus and vote with the Democrats if he gets elected. He'll basically take over the spot of Jim Jeffords (I-VT), the current Senate's lone independent who is not running for reelection. Leiberman claims that he will even retain his seniority within the Democratis Party, meaning he'll still get to hold high ranking positions on certain committees, just as Jeffords did.

If Lieberman is reelected, he probably won't be the Senate's only independent. Current House Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is likely to win the Vermont Senate seat that Jeffords is vacating. What party is Sanders, you ask? He's a Socialist. Not too many of them around these days, but he's quite popular up in Vermont. As a House Representative, he caucuses with the Democrats, so it's likely he will continue to do so if elected to the Senate.

Lieberman isn't the only 3rd party spoiler candidate running a legitimate race. Harold Ford Jr is the current US House Rep from the 9th district of Tennessee, but he is vacating his seat to run for the US Senate. The 9th district is a large, heavily Democratic district that includes almost all of the city of Memphis. The district was created after the 1980 census, and was gerrymandered to be a majority black district. In 1975, Harold Ford Sr won the seat, and held it until he retired in 1997, whereupon his son, Harold Ford Jr won the seat and has held it until now. The winner of the Democratic primary race back in August was Steve Cohen. Unfortunately, it is important to note that Cohen is white (and Jewish). See, the 9th district was created "so African Americans and white people could send an African American to Congress." (Memphis Flyer) Prominent African-Americans in Memphis are upset that Cohen won, saying that the 9th district, as 60% African American, should be represented by an African American.

And here enters Jake Ford. You may notice a similarity of last names, he is indeed the son of Harold Ford Sr and brother to Harold Ford Jr. He decided to enter the Congressional race as an independent, though he says he would caucus and vote with the Democrats if elected. He has 2 'qualifications'; he is black, and his last name is Ford. I know I personally don't consider being a high school drop-out and spending time in jail as qualifications for the US Congress. But he is actually attracting some supporters.

I can understand the desire of African Americans to be represented in Congress by someone of their own skin color, but I don't think that this desire is so absolute that they would not vote for a qualified non-white person, if they felt him to be the best candidate. I also wonder if they would prefer to vote for a very unqualified, high school drop-out who is incapable of articulating his platform and has a bit of a temper merely because he is black. Several prominent African Americans have shown that they agree with that, but I hope normal people realize that Steve Cohen has been representing Memphis in the TN General Assembly for the last 24 years, while Jake Ford has um, well, he was arrested about 4 times, and uh, he did get his GED, and oh, of course, his last name is Ford.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Benchmarks, timetables, stay the course...they all mean the same thing- The Troops Aren't Leaving.

I saw a great article in the Washington Post the other day. As you are probably aware, Bush just recently held a news conference about the Iraq war and how we were going to start marking progress in the war by a series of benchmarks. These benchmarks are supposed to measure how well the Iraqi police forces and Iraqi government are doing in gaining control of their own country and internal security. The point of this news conference was to make Bush look more flexible in his Iraq strategy. Instead of just saying "we'll stay the course", he came up with specific goals that the US and Iraqi government will work to reach together. Ok, so when the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces reach these goals, the American troops will be withdrawn, right? Well, first that would assume that the Iraqi government has any incentive to follow these benchmarks. The Bush administration has specifically stated there will be no pressure, punishments or recourse of any kind if the Iraq government does not reach the benchmarks on time. Plus Bush never said that if the Iraq police and government reached these goals that America would draw down their forces. So in other words, this news conference was to let Bush just remind America that we are going to be in Iraq a long time and to quit all this fool talk about bringing the troops home.

In fact, Donald Rumsfeld would prefer it if some people quit all their fool talk about the Iraq war. In the Washington Post the other day, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told critics of the 'new' Bush strategy that they "ought to back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult". In case you need a translation, "Quit critising us, you couldn't possibly understand something so complex". Right. How complicated could this plan be if George W Bush understands it? (ok, sorry, that was a cheap shot) But what is most disturbing is he told this to a group of reporters. Ok, reporters are the people who are supposed to ask the tough questions and figure out the policies and then report it to the millions of people who don't get to attend Pentagon and White House press conferences. I guess Rumsfeld doesn't like these pesky things like freedom of speech or freedom of the press. And I guess it makes sense for him to dislike these rights. After all, even Republicans such as Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) having been publicly stating that Rumsfeld has made many mistakes and needs to resign. If we didn't have freedom of speech, then he wouldn't have to hear annoying statements like that.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Enough already with the 'rights for the unborn' thing, let's see some rights for the living.

When the Military Commissions Act of 2006 came before the Congress, the vote for and against it split along party lines. Almost all the Democrats voted against the bill (with a few notable exceptions. why, Sherrod Brown, why?), and almost all the Republicans voted for the bill. I have a difficult time understanding the contradictions within the Republican party. How can the party that proudly labels itself pro-life vote to continue a program that tortures and sometimes kills other people?

The Republican party is the champion of the unborn, wanting to restrict abortions as much as possible in order to protect the sanctity of life. They also are against embryonic stem cell research, saying that those frozen embryos are living humans, even though research done with the cells could save the lives of living and breathing humans. But yet they are also the party that supports the death penalty, and condones torture. I don't get it. I see much less contradiction in the Democrat's platform, which supports stem cell research to save the lives of currently post-birth humans and condemns the death penalty and torture. Most Democrats are just as anti-abortion as Republicans. They don't want to see pregnant women get abortions, they want to prevent the unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

But I don't want to go down the dead end road of the abortion discussion. I just wanted to point out the contradictions in the Republican party's stance of being pro-life only sometimes. Maybe they are just pro-life when it comes to certain people. If you are a convicted killer, or a suspected terrorist, your life is less important. But then we are getting into the dangerous area of thinking that we have the right to make value judgements on whose life is more important. It is even worse that we have given a group like the CIA the power to make that judgement. We are on a slippery, slippery slope, and I think this new torture law (and the death penalty) should worry anyone, Republican or Democrat.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

So I'm going to cause you a lot of pain, and then you're going to tell me your darkest secrets. Ok? Sound good?

In addition to setting up military commissions to try unlawful enemy combatants, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 also allows the continuation of a CIA torture program. This program, cited by Bush to be one of the most potent weapons in the war on terror, allows the CIA and the President the power to detain suspected terrorists and 'interrogate' them. The CIA has been capturing hundreds of suspected terrorists and interrogating them, and as I mentioned yesterday, someone who is totally innocent has absolutely no recourse, not even Americans. The methods that the CIA use to 'interrogate' is what most people would consider torture, including tactics like sensory and sleep deprivation, water boarding (strapping the person down and sticking them underwater), and good old fashioned shaking and beating.

The CIA does this because it is trying to get information to help fight the war on terror. See, if you hurt someone really badly, they'll tell you all their darkest secrets. Or at least that's the shaky premise. First, the CIA has to actually have captured a real terrorist who even knows any kind of helpful information about future bombings or other terror plots. Unfortunately innocent people are sometimes being captured, such as Maher Arar. Then, if the CIA actually has someone who might have connections to some terrorist group, they use different torture/interrogation tactics to get them to talk. Well, unfortunately these tactics don't often lead to useful information. If these people absolutely hate America, they are going to try as hard as they can to resist spilling any information, or they are going to feed the interrogators false information. But interrogators can't always tell what information is real or fake; in testing, professional interrogators were able to separate the truth from lies only 45-60% of the time. Some people who are being tortured are going to confess to anything to end the torture. If someone had strapped me to a board and was submerging me head first into water, I'd confess that I was the Queen of England and married to Osama.

If we look back at other examples of times where torture was used to extract information, we see it has a messy past of ineffectiveness. Salem witch trials anyone? People, usually young girls, were tortured in order to get them to confess to being witches or to name other witches, which many people did. Now I personally find it a lot easier to believe that these people confessed in order to end the pain, then to believe that there was a big coven of witches, plus satan, having fun fooling around with the people of 17th century Massachusetts. But hey, if you believe in witches, then what about Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the Al-Qaeda guy who, under torture by American forces in 2002, claimed that Al-Qaeda and Iraq had many significant links. His statement was frequently cited by the Bush administration to justify going to war in Iraq. But oops, he later, when not under pain, retracted this statement. Even Bush has now admitted Saddam and Al-Qaeda were not connected. Talk about going to war based on faulty information.

Or how about the example of US Senator John McCain, who supports this new law? He was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton for 5 years during the Vietnam War. He has often talked about the lies he told the Vietnamese, and how he believes that torture leads to the gathering of large amounts of false information as people being tortured will say anything to end their suffering. He even signed a statement (that was in Vietnamese) confessing to war crimes that he had no connections to or knowledge of, which makes it so hard to believe that he could have been such a strong supporter of this bill. Just so everything's clear, John McCain is a POW, he gets tortured, feeds false information to his torturers, signs false confessions to end the pain, and then heartily supports a bill that continues a US program that captures people, does not determine if they are innocent or guilty, and then subjects them to torture to get information to help fight the war on terror. Ok, my point was not supposed to be that John McCain has totally sold out to become the next US president, but that America never seems to learn that torture doesn't work. Yet we continue to arrest people, not determine first if they are an evil terrorist or just a regular Arab, and then hurt them to useless ends. I just don't get it. We'd rather continue to hurt people than try to find some effective means of getting useful information from real terrorists.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I think America's the greatest, please don't arrest me!

The Military Commissions Act of 2006. Sounds innocuous enough, like maybe it deals with pay raises for people in the army or navy. But this bill that President Bush just signed is one of the most misguided and dangerous laws that America has seen in many years.

The Military Commissions Act authorizes the use of military commissions to try people who have been labeled an "unlawful enemy combatant". An unlawful enemy combatant (UEC) is someone who "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States". A military tribunal composed of three 'neutral' officials choosen by the President or Secretary of Defense has the power to decide if a person is an enemy combatant. Once a person has been labeled an UEC, he will be tried for his crimes by a military commissions. But these military commissions are very different from a normal American court, and defendants have greatly restricted rights in these commissions.

Someone who has been labeled an UEC and faces trial by military commission does not have the power of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of a prisoner to appear before a court to challenge his arrest and detention as wrongful. The right has long been used to check the power of governments to arrest people without a reason. This right is longstanding in America, having only been suspended once before by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War (though in that case Lincoln asked Congress for permission, whereas this new Act is going against a recent Supreme Court ruling that suspending Habeas Corpus in military commissions is illegal, not to mention the US Constitution). But now people can be arrested and jailed indefinitely without any recourse if they are innocent. I don't know about you, but the idea of getting arrested and put in jail while being totally innocent of any wrong doing, and being totally helpless to do anything about it is a very frightening idea. It gives too much power to the government and too little power to normal people.

Many rights that are guaranteed in regular American courts are not guaranteed in these military commissions. There is no guarantee of a speedy trial, no right to a pre-trial investigation, and civilian lawyers are not allowed to try cases. Judges are allowed to hear evidence based on hearsay, which is basically where someone can say "I saw Ted Kennedy eating dinner with Osama and they were discussing bombing Pizza Hut", and that statement can be entered as evidence against Ted Kennedy in these military courts. Yeah, so if there's someone you really don't like... Judges can also entertain evidence gathered without a search warrant, evidence gathered under coercion, or classified evidence that was kept secret from the defense. A guilty verdict needs only a 2/3's consensus of the military commission. So I don't know about you, but to me these commissions sound like courts set up to obtain as many guilty verdicts as possible.

This lovely bill also permits the continuation of a CIA program on torture, which I'll talk about later.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Love the Smell of Formaldehyde in the Morning.

The New York Times had an article today about virtual science labs replacing hands on science in high schools. There was a picture of a young girl staring at a computer screen as she 'dissected' a fetal pig. Increasingly, virtual experiments done online are replacing the ones that used to be done by students in a classroom. I can understand the use of online science lessons if a student wants to take a course that their high school does not offer, but I am afraid of schools using online labs to substitute for the real thing.

Clicking on the computer screen to virtually dump this test tube of chemicals into that test tube of chemicals is a sorry substitute for doing it in a classroom. The students are taught that these chemicals may be dangerous, and they need to wear gloves and goggles and be careful. There is the process of getting the Bunsen burner ready, and measuring out all the ingredients. There is the process of trial and error, as students add too much or too little of one chemical. There is the experience of smelling the different chemicals, or seeing the different viscosities. There is that moment of elation when students realize they did the experiment perfectly, or disappointment when they realize they did something wrong. There is that initial gross out factor when students first slice into their dead, cold, formaldehyde smelling frogs, which is quickly replaced by exclamations of 'cool' when students see little lungs and hearts that look like human's.

These hands on experiments are what makes students want to become scientists and doctors. These experiments make even the slacking, disinterested students in the class get excited and ask questions. There was never more energy in the biology or physics classrooms than the days we were going to do a lab. These types of projects are one of the most important types of lessons because they are not something that can be read about, or understood from pictures in a book or computer. I feel that if online lessons become more widespread and replace traditional lessons in labs, that fewer students will become biologists or pre-med majors. I think schools should go the opposite way, and have more chances for students to do hands on learning, to learn something that can't be learned from a book or computer screen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

So what exactly is the difference between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites?

A Congressional Quartely reporter has been asking that same question of people in Washington who should know the answer, such as counterterrorism officials in the FBI and Congressmen who sit on House and Senate intelligence committees. Overwhelmingly, people don't know the answer. They don't know whether Al-Qaeda, Iran, Hezbollah, or Iraq are Sunni or Shi'ite. So much for knowing thy enemy. But, I'm sure as most normal Americans were reading this article in the New York Times, they were wondering the same thing. What is the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites and why do those differences matter regarding peace in Iraq?

They are different branches of Islam that resulted from a disagreement over the line of sucession in the religion. After Muhammed founded Islam in the 7th century, he had 4 elected successors, called caliphs. The Sunnis believe that these caliphs were his rightful successors, and that their heirs are the leaders of Islam. These heirs ruled the Arab world until the Ottoman Empire broke up after WWI. The Shi'ites, also called Shias, thought that Muhammed's successor should have been a family member, or been one of the Imams choosen by God himself. Shi'ites therefore thought only the 4th caliph, a relative of Muhammed's, was a legitimate successor. The Shi'ites do not recognize the authority of elected spiritual leaders, (unlike the Sunnis) and instead follow a line of Imams they believe were choosen by God.

The Sunnis represent the majority of Muslims, about 85-90%, and also control the governments of every country in the Middle East, except Iran. Most of the Shi'ites are found in Iran and Iraq, and in large minority communities in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon. Despite the majority Shi'ite population in Iraq, the government was controlled by Sunni Saddam Hussein and his secular Ba'ath Party. This longtime power imbalance has contributed to the animosity now seen in Iraq, and the difficulties the US will have in creating a coalition government. If a government is created based on majority rules, the Shi'ites will have the majority, as they represent 60% of the country's population. But will a Shi'ite majority government be able to resist getting revenge on the Sunni minority that had been repressing them for decades? Many of the positions in the government are still filled by the Sunnis who held them under Hussein, and they are reluctant to give up the power they have held for years. The Sunni minority is also based in the center of the country, around Baghdad, while the Shi'ites are spread around the outer edges of the country. And where does the 20% Kurdish minority fit into all of this? The US needs to balance all these concerns as it tries to form a new government. It is disturbing that government officials who work on Iraq every day don't know the basic differences between the religions and what that means for peace in Iraq.

By the way, Iran and Hezbollah are Shi'ite, Iraq under Saddam and Al-Qaeda were/are Sunni. Years ago, the US had supported Saddam, because they saw a Sunni controlled government in Iraq as a counterweight against Shi'ite controlled Iran. So now, with Saddam gone, have we created a playground for Iran to support Shi'ite insurgents as it hopes to create the second Shi'ite led country in the otherwise all Sunni Middle East? Will Iraq become a hotbed for Hezbollah, an Iranian backed, Shi'ite, anti-Israel terrorist group? I guess one could try to argue that at least with Saddam gone, there will be no more collaboration between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. Except... Saddam was never friendly with Al-Qaeda, as the 9-11 commission reported. And really, why would a radical group whose main mission is to overthrow un-Islamic regimes and install Islamist ones collaborate with a leader whose government was secular and socialist? Perhaps if American officials had had just a basic understanding of Middle Eastern religions and geo-politics, we would have approached the whole war on terror and war in Iraq much differently.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Does America Need a Draft?

At first the idea seems ludicrous. The draft during the Vietnam war was very unpoplar, and America switched to an All Volunteer Army in 1973. The issue of the draft hadn't been relevant in the following decades of the Cold War. But in this post 9-11 world, the US army is finding itself stetched thin. The military was restructured after the Cold War into a force meant for fighting limited campaigns for limited ends, of limited duration, and with a defined exit strategy. The US is not prepared to fight several troop intensive battles at one time, and that has made America vulnerable and its enemies emboldened. Whether or not one agreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq, American troops are likely to be there for at least the next several years, and there's only so many times the same troops can be redeployed. In fact, many military officials have called for more troops to be sent to Iraq, saying the number there is insufficient to prevent a civil war. America has pulled troops out of South Korea to move to the Middle East, and has let NATO take over most of the operations in Afghanistan so American troops could be sent to Iraq. The recent announcement of a nuclear test by North Korea and similar nuclear rumblings by Iran show just how obvious it is to other countries that America has over extended its troops and military.

So is it time to start talking about reinstating the draft?

US House Rep Charles Rangel (D-NY) wrote a bill in 2003 to do just that. But he was concerned more with the fact that the poor and minorities are overrepresented in the military and share a disproportionate burden of the fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. He sees the draft as an important way to give middle and upper class families a personal connection to the soldiers and raise awareness of all the death and violence. As Bush was running for reelection in 2004, many people were saying that he would reinstate the draft if elected, depsite numerous denials by his administration. In October of 2004, Republicans ultilized an unusual parlimentary procedure to quickly introduce and bring Rangel's bill to a vote.. The bill failed, 402-2, but served to show that neither Republicans or Democrats wanted to bring back the draft.

It seems like such a politically unpoplar idea will not be put back into practice anytime soon. But can America afford to not have a draft? If we are going to take on the mantle of being the world's military superpower, we need to have the manpower to credibly back that claim. If North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons, and makes a troop offensive into South Korea, will we be able to support our long time ally? Will America have enough military power to stop a crazy dictator, one who we know for sure has weapons of mass destruction? Or will our enemies call our bluff, as North Korea already has.

We also need to draft to serve as America's conscience; perhaps administration officials and congressmen would have thought twice before authorizing war in Iraq if their sons and daughters were the ones who would have to do the fighting. And what will happen if there is no draft and we must go to war in another country? We've already made it clear how little importance we place in military coalitions or the United Nations. What is America going to do if there's another war?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The new axis of evil- North Korea, Iran and ... Japan?

The policy chief of Japan's ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, said that Japan needs to revisit the issue of arming the country with nuclear weapons. Shoichi Nakagawa said that Japan needs to discuss this issue in light of North Korea's recent nuclear test. He was quick to say that he does not support the rearming of Japan, but he pointed out that Japan's constitution does not prohibit or ban the posession of nuclear weapons, and that owning such weapons might reduce the risk of Japan getting attacked.

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has flatly denied that Japan will rearm itself, and indeed, it seems unlikely that the only nation to have ever been a victim of nuclear bombs would consider arming itself with those same nukes. But the real issue is the fact that this discussion is even going on in Japan. Just 7 years ago, a vice defense minister had to resign after suggesting the same thing Nakagawa did. There is also evidence that this once highly taboo topic is becoming more popular among the Japanese public, and other lawmakers of lower rank than Nakagawa have also been discussing this issue. These are the same people who may be living in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or have neighbors who are survivors of the atomic attacks.

I wonder what the Bush administration's response will be. Will Bush condemn this idea, and chastise the Japanese for even discussing it? Or will he turn a blind eye because Japan has been our allies since...well, pretty much since we dropped some nukes on them. Bush does have a history of picking and choosing which world problems he thinks are truly troublesome (A military coup in Thailand? Eh, never liked that prime minister anyway. Hundreds of thousands rioting in the streets of Nepal because the king/dictator was eliminating civil liberties? Civil liberties are so overated anyways. The 9-11 bombers were Saudis? Well, they're our friends, so let's bomb Iraq instead) Will Bush fight the nuclear armament of other countries as much as he has the arming of North Korea and Iran? Or will he once again pick and choose who gets to labeled a bad guy or rogue nation?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Warner in...2012? McCain in...never?

I was disappointed to see that Mark Warner, former Democratic governor of Virginia, has decided not to run for president in '08. Warner had been seen as the candidate of choice for those who are not thrilled by the idea of supporting Hiliary Clinton (D-NY). His withdrawal has led to some donors to turn to his heir apparent, Evan Bayh, a very moderate Democratic Senator out of the very red state of Indiana. I, on the other hand, hope that Warner's absence leads to some new, more liberal candidates jumping into the race. Enough of all these careful moderate Dems, I want to see some unabashed liberal run, someone like Paul Wellstone, like...Russ Feingold. Feingold (D-WI) has long been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, and can't really be described as a moderate on too many positions. Perhaps a Feingold/Obama ticket? One can only dream, but like the saying goes, The Midwest Will Rise Again!

Meanwhile, John McCain (R-AZ) is continuing to posture himself as the front runner for the Republican nomination. He came out swinging against Hilary Clinton, the perceived Democratic front runner. Republicans are hoping for a Clinton V McCain matchup in 2008, because they think that McCain would attract more moderates from both parties than Clinton would. It annoys me that McCain still has this reputation for being a moderate who is not afraid of going against his party. That John McCain no longer exists. That McCain wasn't afraid to write a bill on campaign finance reform, when most other Republicans and many Democrats avoided the topic like the plague. He criticized leaders of the religious right, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was the leader of the Gang of 14, the 14 moderate Senators who worked together to keep the Senate from using the nuclear option to end Democrat filibusters on judicial nominees. He was pro-environment, and against passing several of Bush's tax breaks.

But that was the old McCain. Now we are in the era of the McCain who goes to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to give a commencement address, even though he once called Falwell an agent of intolerence and said he would never back down from that opinion. McCain evidently realized that isolating the religious right might not be the way to become president. He also supports the teaching of intelligent design in schools, another pandering to the religious right. During Bush's reelection campaign in 2004, McCain became a staunch supporter of the same man who had run an extremely dirty primary campaign against him in 2000. He has been an unwavering supporter of the Iraqi war and Bush's actions there.

However, the final unveiling of McCain as a party line conservative was when he sold out and supported a bill that permits the administration to continue to use torture. For a little while back in September, it had looked like McCain, Sen. John W. Warner (R-VA.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were going to make the Bush administration clarify the interrogation tactics it was and was not allowed to use on detainees. These senators were being lauded for not giving in to the Bush administration and giving it a carte blanche for torture. But the so called compromise bill they came up with did just that. Basically it said that people who commit torture that causes serious bodily harm or death could be convicted of a felony, that there should be a ban on interrogation methods that inflict "serious and non-transitory mental harm", and none of these rules apply to people who committed torture before the bill goes into effect. So um, that's it? So you're saying...uh...only really, really bad torture is wrong? How is this new bill going to do anything to change what the CIA is currently doing? You'd think a man who had been a POW for years would take a more decisive stand against this issue, but I guess getting a few more conservative votes is more important.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

CNN, Rep. Chris Shays, and Pandas

There were some enlightening articles on today. Well, maybe enlightening isn't the right word, because c'mon, it's CNN. CNN specializes in articles that you hit you emotionally, like child abuse, kitty cat stuck in well, Michael Jackson to marry Kevin Federline, Bush calls Ted Kennedy an Islamofacist. If you want articles with some substance and policy in them, you might want to read elsewhere.

But that doesn't mean their articles aren't interesting. Here's one- "Shays on Foley handling: At Least No One Died". Thank you Chris Shays(R-CT) for personally being responsible for giving your Democratic opponent for US Senate, Diane Farrell, a few more points in the polls. Hello? Do we only judge scandals by the body count? Cause I seem to remember a huge scandal, worthy of impeachment, surrounding a certain White House intern named Monica who is alive and well and hosting reality TV shows. And if body count is so important, where's the outrage over the ~45,000 dead Iraqis since the American invasion? See, Rep Shays was referring to Ted Kennedy and the infamous Chappaquiddick incident where his car went over a bridge and his passenger died. At least Hastert didn't kill anyone, Shays said. -3 points to Shays for insensitivity, especially when his opponent's own daughter had been a White House page a couple years back.

On a lighter note, CNN has deemed this topic worthy enough to go up on its list of top headlines- "Panda Cub Opens Eyes for First Time". The zoo veterinarian at the Atlanta Zoo says that the panda cub is "probably able to see now". No Way! So like, eyes are for seeing? And they work better if they're open? Wow, thanks CNN, I was kind of wondering if somehow panda's eyes were different from human's and maybe they like ate with their eyes or smelled with them, or something else all wacky.

But enough with the sarcasm, because pandas are really the cutest animals around. If I were an evil terrorist, I would totally kidnap Tai Shan, the baby panda at the National Zoo in DC. The Zoo has an excellent webpage about pandas, but for those who just want to gawk at pictures of baby Tai Shan, check this out.

Even though pandas are very popular, the 4 zoos in the US that have pandas are having a hard time affording them. These pandas are big pigs and eat up to 85 pounds of bamboo a day. In addition to food costs, the zoos have to pay 1 million dollars a year in rent per bear pair to the Chinese government, plus another million for conservation projects in China and America, and a one time fee of $600,000 for each cub born. The other zoos are in Atlanta, Memphis, and San Diego, and all 3 zoos say if they cannot renegotiate their contracts with China, the pandas will have to be returned. Sad.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


So I was almost finished typing my first big blog entry on the pertinent yet little discussed issue of "Does America need to bring back the draft?" when the stupid computer just shut off and I lost everything. So instead of trying to retype it all I'm going to ramble a little.

My favorite newspaper headline lately was related to the Rep. Mark Foley scandal. It was in the Washington Post, and paraphrased, it said "Hastert wants anyone connected to cover-up of Foley scandal to resign." Um, excuse me, Dennis? Uh, that would be you. yeah, you. I guess he meant just staff members, not any important people like a Speaker of the House or whatever.

I spent a semester in Washington DC (no, not as a Congressional page or a White House intern), and I remember my teacher warning our class against interning with certain Congressmen. Unfortunately, I can't remember if Foley was one of them, though I think he liked his men a little younger than college age. The only warning I can remember by name was Rick Santorum (R-PA). My teacher warned females against interning with this senator, and basically told us we would be treated like dirt, totally disrespected, and not given any kind of work to do. If you don't know, Santorum has built his reputation on being a champion of family values and is one of the most far-right Christians in the US Senate. He is against any kind of abortion rights, contraception, and privacy rights even in marriages, he is for teaching intelligent design in schools, he thinks society is founded upon children and marriage and that's why homosexuality is wrong, he says WMDs have been found in Iraq, and the clincher- he thinks anyone who didn't evacuate New Orleans during Katrina should be penalized. I guess it makes sense he would hold with other mainstream ideas like -females should not be in the workplace, females are too weak and fragile to answer constituents' mail or make photocopies, and any female who tries to have a job in his office should be shunned until they see the error of their ways and return home to start making babies (after they get married, of course).

Fortunately, Santorum is up for reelection this year and it's looking very likely that he is going to lose to Democrat Bob Casey. I was always surprised that a moderate state like Pennsylvania would vote for such a conservative Senator. Let's see if neighboring Ohio also ditches conservative senator Mike DeWine in favor of the progressive Sherrod Brown. I think Bob Casey has a stronger chance of winning Pennsylvania than Sherrod Brown does of winning Ohio, but Brown is running a surprisingly competitive race, especially for someone who is as liberal as he is. Not that being liberal should be liability. It would serve Harold Ford Jr well to be a little more liberal. He is running for US Senate in Tennessee, not a liberal stronghold. Yet he is conservative on so many issues that there is little to motivate liberal voters to come out and vote for him, especially when his opponent Bob Corker is a fairly moderate Republican. I understand that he needs to try to win as many moderate voters as possible, but he also needs to win every single liberal vote in the state to win. And right now those liberal voters are wondering why they should support a candidate who's going to vote yes on torture bills, and continually refuse to clarify his position on abortion.

Oh well, never a dull moment in politics.

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