Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Ghost of Campaign Ads Past

Does that sting?

Damn you Daschle. George Packer at The New Yorker doesn't think Obama can afford hypocrisy. The NYT agrees. This is not the kind of attention he needs right now. This is two tax evading politicians too many.

UPDATE - A reader over at 'The Daily Dish' points out:

"Someone should make the point that the theory on which Daschle did not pay taxes on an extraordinary non-salary benefit provided by his employer (car and driver) is exactly the theory on which Palin did not pay taxes on an extraordinary benefit (free air travel for her children, and 60 dollar per day per diem payments for use of her own house).

Palin never paid back taxes but simply produced a squirrelly letter from her lawyers saying that someone could believe in good faith that taxes were not owed on the travel or per diems she received, so her failure to report those items as income was excusable."

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama's Decisions So Far...

I have never made it a secret that I supported Obama and I'm thrilled that he was elected. It was strong statement from the majority of the country that we had gone too far down Bush and Cheney's rabbit hole of cronyism, abuses of power, warrentless wiretaps, torture, mismanagement of this war, etc.

So now that he's in office how do I feel about it and his decisions so far?

1. The Inauguration - I was not a fan of Obama picking Rick Warren to give the prayer. Warren is a bigoted evangelical nut who stands contrary to everything Obama was running against. But I think Obama understands this and is a smart guy who's not going to burn bridges. As Andrew Sullivan put it, "He realized that Rick Warren was an egomaniac and wanted some kind of platform, so he gave him a largely symbolic role at the inauguration and allowed Warren to preen" When the LGBT cried out (and rightfully so) he brought in other less divisive ministers rather than oust Warren and cause a row within the christian right. I still would have preferred no prayers at all since this is a secular government but that will remain my wish for now. At the VERY LEAST he mentioned non-believers in this speech which was a baby step in the right direction. But don't be surprised that Huckabee and Fox News managed to make an issue of it and try to stir controversy where there was none.

2. Appointment of Timothy Geithner for Secretary of Treasury - Over all I'd say it was a smart pick. The guy is extremely talented and has unique skills for the job. Do I believe for a second that he didn't know he should pay taxes? Absolutely not. But he has at least paid it back with interest and if we weren't in the economic crapper I'd probably not support the appointment. But it sounds like we need this guy. Besides, I would much prefer Obama's picks based on experience and skill to Bush's picks based on who had been his buddy the longest.

3. Dennis Blair for Director of National Intelligence - His hearings before Congress only threw up one red flag with me and that was his refusal to classify water boarding as torture. He did say that under his watch there would be no torture and no water boarding but wouldn't say that one was the other. The suspicion is that he doesn't word it this way because it would be giving more weight to the argument that CIA operatives who water boarded prisoners are guilty of war crimes and should be prosecuted. I have a feeling this kind of thing will come out in the wash anyway and if they are guilty then they are guilty and Eric Holder will prosecute. Oh and if you're really naive enough to not think it's torture try reading these accounts by two guys who, for whatever reason, put themselves through it.

4. Revoking global gag order on all funding to international groups that support, promote, or even mention abortion. This was a smart move. This is a very short sighted and narrow minded policy to begin with. In many cases it would remove budget support to a group even if the money was directed only to health care practices. It didn't matter. But that's the problem with many issues around abortion and reproductive rights. People have trouble seeing it in shades of gray. Their church tells them that a fertilized cell is a person and suddenly they're comparing it to the Holocaust (something I find endlessly insulting to the people who lost their lives in Nazi Germany). Never mind the violence of killing doctors or blowing up clinics. In this video you see the kind of disconnect in their logic. They haven't even considered the logical conclusions of their own convictions. If it were as clear cut as they say they believe then why do they have difficulty answering the question?

5. Closing Gitmo - This was a LONG time coming. Bush should have done the right thing and closed it but he couldn't because then where would he put his 'enemy combatants' and still torture them and hold them indefinitely without trial. These military tribunals were the biggest cluster f*ck I've ever seen. And the fact that Gitmo was rife with accusations of torture and other human rights violations is more than enough reasons to close it. If I hear another conservative mouth piece compare closing Gitmo to giving the prisoners more comfort or sinking into hyperbole like O'Reilly (something about giving them all a Laz-E-Boys and wind chimes) I think my ears will start bleeding.

This has never been about making them more comfortable. It's about basic human rights and holding true to the values and the Constitution of the United States. Guantanamo Bay is a black eye on the country. The rest of the civilized world has less respect for the US for allowing the abuses that happen there. Maybe if supporters of torture and Gitmo would stop watching episodes of '24' and read some research in interrogation or talk to actual intelligence experts they would learn two things. Torture isn't an reliable way to get accurate information. And holding terrorists in a 'special prison' with no rights turns them into martyrs for their ilk and energizes them. It won't be easy because it's tough to prosecute someone when the evidence you got on them was through torture. In fact you can't do it at all. But the ones we know are guilty should be put in a regular maximum security prison and prosecuted with all speed. Those that are innocent should be set free. There are other cases that would have to be considered by military justices. This fixes both problems. It starts repairing the damage to our reputation as a civilized nation that respects human rights and it turns these terrorists into common criminals in the eyes of their sycophants. Of course they won't be common criminals but they'll be locked up just like everyone else who breaks the law and will meet justice.

So 'all in all' I'm happy with where Obama is headed. If he keeps his promises to increase funding for basic science (and give it some proper respect) and restore funding for stem cell research I'll dance a jig. The country has finally elected someone intelligent enough to lead the country back to the middle and restore some integrity to the office and on top of it he's a unifying persona who actually energizes and inspires people. Last time I checked this was a quality to be admired, not bemoaned.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Fun Catholic News

It wasn't really a good week for the Catholic church in the news. One tale of idiocy after another.

  1. A priest dared to ordain women and he's being excommunicated. I have to say that even though I don't share his beliefs I respect the fact that he's standing up to these misogynistic tendencies of the church.
  2. A priest denies communion to Obama supporters. Apparently they are cooperating with "intrinsic evil". I don't recall any priests saying the same thing about McCain or any other politician for supporting the death penalty or stem cell research. These people aren't big on holding logically consistent beliefs.
  3. The Bishop of Lancaster has declared that the problem with the church is all those darned educated people who aren't attending Mass. Why am I not surprised that segments of the church are threatened by people who seek to better themselves by getting educated and learning to think for themselves.
Maybe one day the Church will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into modern rational society on these issues and apologize or accept them just as they did for evolution, heliocentrism, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and even the use of birth control in AIDS-ridden Africa.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's Like a Car Accident

Well I am about halfway through the first debate. I've been watching it on Youtube since I couldn't watch it it live. So far nothing much has jumped out at me. When I finish the debate and read up on some of the facts of what were said then I'll probably offer an opinion. Initial responses online and polls seem to say Obama won but I will need to see the whole thing.

But as usual Sarah Palin has me wound up. Like a bad car accident, I can't look away. She is such a goldmine of reasons not to vote for a McCain presidency. Most recently gave an interview with Katie Couric and it such a joke. She obviously has been coached on a few talking points that she repeats ad nauseum, regardless of the question or whether her 'answer' is factually true or even makes sense. SNL performed another Palin parody skit and, amazingly, transcribed a large portion of the skit directly from the actual interview. It was hilarious if you find things that turn your stomach funny.

I've been reading a lot of Andrew Sullivan's blog lately. He's a conservative blogger and while I usually don't agree with him, he is a smart conservative and he can see this Palin/McCain debacle for what it really is. He has compiled a nice list of outright lies put forth by Palin. They're worth a read and demonstrate that this woman is NOT real or authentic or a new kind of politician. She's a liar with no qualifications for this job and convincing people that she's 'authentic' is the same shitty trick that got Bush elected. Demonizing people who are educated as 'out of touch' has served the Republican machine well.

And lastly, Sam Harris has written another, longer, editorial on Palin. After reading this I feel envious of Harris for being able to say so perfectly what I and many other Americans have been thinking. He nails the evaluation of Palin and America's phobia of 'elitism' completely. Here are some of the better quotes.
"...we cannot ignore the fact that Palin's impressive family further testifies to her dogmatic religious beliefs. Many writers have noted the many shades of conservative hypocrisy on view here: when Jamie Lynn Spears gets pregnant, it is considered a symptom of liberal decadence and the breakdown of family values; in the case of one of Palin's daughters, however, teen pregnancy gets reinterpreted as a sign of immaculate, small-town fecundity. And just imagine if, instead of the Palins, the Obama family had a pregnant, underage daughter on display at their convention, flanked by her black boyfriend who "intends" to marry her."
Another good one on America's fascination with mediocrity in leadership.
"Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated."
Harris makes a good point and I agree that we can admire her as a who cares for her family and has found time to support them and work in politics in Alaska but hidden within all this is lies and hypocrisy. She is not 'real', she is not 'legitimate', she does not have the credentials required for this important position. She is a joke and picking her smacks more of a gimmick to win white women voters and the religious right than as a serious choice for a job that is one 72 year old heartbeat from the Oval Office.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Abstinence Only Education

I hope this is the last posting where I feel compelled to mention Palin. The fact that her daughter is pregnant has drawn some media attention. I think most people would agree that this is a family matter and not really the business of the American people or a situation in which to pass judgement on either the teenage daughter or the parents. Teenagers are dealing with a lot of pressures both social and biological and many of them will have sex. The only problem I see here for Palin is in the hypocrisy of endorsing 'Abstinence-Only Education.'

Clearly it worked quite well for them. But it goes beyond her own family. Palin also opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. As this Op-Ed in the NYTimes points out, the abstinence-only education movement isn't working. In 2004 65% of parents surveyed said the federal money should spent on comprehensive sex-ed. Abstinence-only doesn't stop teens from having sex and declines to teach them about contraception or protection from STDs. The editorial mentions a 2001 Unicef report in which America ties Hungary for the highest number of abortions but runs behind Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Britain in the number of sexually active teens. These countries have comprehensive sex education and parents aren't burdened by an unnatural stigma when it comes to discussing sex with their children.

This Unicef report is not the only one of it's kind. Other studies appear to tell similar stories. So why then would those who are so vehemently opposed to abortion still want to support abstinence only education?

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Another Installment of Palin Problems

I wasn't really sure if I could be any more adverse to having McCain/Palin occupy the Whitehouse. But they really are the gifts that keep on giving me reasons to vote for Obama/Biden.

I already covered several reasons why Palin is a just wrong for the job. But that doesn't stop friends and family of mine from cheering her on as 'spunky' or 'feisty' and joking that while they don't really care for McCain they sure would like to see this nutter sitting in the big chair. You know, Palin might be a firebrand for conservative values, and you might 'like her style' but do we still have to point out that all that doesn't fucking matter if her ideas are all wrong? This idea that permeates American conservatives that they would rather have a 'regular guy/gal' as president still blows me away. Elite has become a dirty word. In most professions we would clamor for an elite. No one wants the average neurosurgeon. You don't even want an average plumber working on your house. All other things being equal, you want the best. You want the elite...unless they're running for President of the United States.

This article outlines a few more reasons why Palin, and politicians like her, are dangerous. She believes that this war is "...a task that is from God." She thinks God would want people to  unite and build new gas pipelines. But perhaps most troubling, (especially to nonbelievers or nonchristians) she thinks, "all of that stuff doesn't do any good if the people of Alaska's heart isn't right with God." (in this quote 'stuff' refers to her policy plans)

Bush has shown us all how foolish this kind of thinking can be. Supporters praise him for being 'decisive' and 'sticking to his beliefs.' This is a delusion that people like Bush and Palin hold and it gives them absolute certainty without the possibility of alternatives. This is the EXACT same kind of certainty that Islamic terrorist use to justify violence against the infidels. They 'know' they are doing Allah's will. No, I'm not saying Palin or Bush are just like terrorists. I'm saying they both have delusions of belief that some all powerful being likes them better than the other guy and is giving them holy orders. We need leaders who rely on reason and evidence, not superstition and divine revelation to govern.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Sarah Palin

Well I haven't written a blog entry in quite some time. Since I have no regular readers and I've had other things keeping me busy this isn't much of a problem. But with election season getting a boost from the conventions and the VP selections I have to weigh in on what I've found out so far about Gov. Palin from Alaska who is now on McCain's ticket.

Adding her to the ticket certainly doesn't change my vote. Looks like I'll still be flipping the switch for Obama. Don't get me wrong. The way the Democrats have been pandering to the religious and purposely excluding secularists pisses me off. However, when I look across all the issues that concern me and this country Obama comes out over McCain and certainly over Palin. Before I list several reasons that she's a terrible choice for a VP I'll say this. 
"If she was running on her own for the office of president with her current level of experience would you even 'consider' casting a vote for her?"
I've asked myself this question of Joe Biden and I can say I would. He has many years of experience in Congress. While I don't agree with all of his votes, I can look at his record and for the most part I agree with many of his decisions. There is no way in hell I would ever consider electing this woman president on her own merits.

So what are all these problems I have with her?
  • Apparently she considers drilling for oil a much higher priority than protecting the polar bear. This is despite the fact that experts in the energy industry agree that drilling for oil in Alaska isn't going to help us a damn bit and wildlife experts and climatoligists agree that climate change is seriously threatening this animal. This story also demonstrates that she is scientifically illiterate considering she's among those who still think climate change is just some kooky theory.
  • I don't know the whole story here but I would really like her to explain some of this. Joel's Army are some scaring fucking idiots who have no place in civilized society and it looks like her church has links to these dominionist groups. Maybe it's overblown but I'd like to hear the explanation or her completely denounce them.
  • This is a huge fucking deal breaker for me. She thinks creationism should be allowed to be taught along side evolution in school science classes. I'm sorry but I have zero tolerance for this kind of outright ignorance. As important as the education of children and science is to the future success of our country I do not understand how 'patriotic' Americans can abide this. Well I know why...it's because they're ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the facts.
  • She thinks religious leaders (who don't pay taxes) should be allowed to endorse political candidates. If they want to start paying taxes and not receive special assistance from the government then I agree that they can endorse a candidate. But that isn't the case. This is a clear violation of the establishment clause and while I hold free speech to be one of our most sacred (no I don't have a problem using that word in this case) rights, it does not extend to violating someone else's right or violating the Constitution.
  • She opposes reproductive freedom for women and wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. I think we can all agree that it would be a good thing to reduce the number of abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies but this idea of a blastocyst or fetus having the same or greater rights than a living contributing member of society is foolish. There is clearly a line where a developing fetus should be granted human rights but it isn't at conception. I'm sorry but it just runs contrary to the medical facts regarding human development. Daylight Atheism does a fairly good job of parsing out some of these problems.
  • She supported the "bridge to nowhere." Supporters love to pull out this gem and claim that she actually opposed the bridge to nowhere and thereby demonstrated that she wouldn't put up with wasteful spending. The truth is that while she eventually did redirect funds she originally had no problem with these bridge and passively supported them until it was clear that the rest of the country and Congress wasn't having of this shit.
If these reasons weren't enough not to support her then consider McCain's age and health. While Senator McCain may be okay now he is in his 70's and his health record is not the greatest. As some point the body just can't handle certain stresses. And make no mistake this is one of the most demanding jobs a person could get. The risk that a VP may have to take over the presidency with McCain in office is certainly higher than it would be with a younger healthier man or woman.

I know that she isn't McCain but selecting her reflects on him. And the fact that he or his staff or the GOP would consider her a good choice blows my mind.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Back from Japan

Well after a long trip back home and some time to sleep I'm finally awake enough to write a little bit about my week long stay in Noda Nodashi, Chiba-Ken, Japan.

I traveled there to train in a martial art at the home dojo. Let me first say that going to Japan with someone who knows the how to speak and read the language was extremely helpful. I will have to learn these things before I go back. It was a surreal experience for me to be in a place where I was basically like a child...unable to communicate with other adults or read anything.

The flight to Japan was approximately 13-14 hours from Atlanta but I was extremely lucky. I was able to acquire a buddy pass from an employee that only cost a few hundred dollars and manage to get into business class both times. It was risky to travel this way since you could get bumped from the plane but I landed in the big comfy seats both times. This absolutely ruined me for long flights. It will be tough to go anywhere in coach after this trip.

I learned quite a bit about Japanese culture and about the martial art I was studying. To see the masters of this art in action was amazing. Many of these men are in their 50's and up and they're extremely talented. These are men are capable of crippling or killing someone with very little effort. One of the teachers used his pinky finger to bring me to my knees in excruciating pain. It was very eye opening.

While I was there the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and they were absolutely beautiful. Everywhere there were pink clouds of flowers over parks and along rivers. We also visited Asakusa which is like a suburb of Tokyo. We walked up Nakamise-dori, a very crowded market place leading up to the Senso-ji Temple. It was a beautiful buddist temple where pilgrams still come to pray. If you get the chance to travel to Japan I would highly recommend it. It's a beautiful country and I wish I could have seen more but I will go back. In the metro areas there are more English speaking people and you can always purchase a Japanese phrase book to help with communication.

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