Saturday, January 26, 2008

Goodbye, Newman!

You were thinking about the pudgy mailman on Seinfeld, weren't you? No, as despicable as Larry David, et al., managed to make Wayne Knight look on the famed sitcom, that Newman had a sense of humor and some brains--however ill-employed. The one I am writing about here has neither. Enter "Gunny" Bob Newman.
In the AM wasteland of Denver, CO, which is littered with an endless litany of hatemongers of the right-wing conservative kind, from Limbaugh to Hannity, from Savage to Medved, from Ingraham to Rosen, people that make Jon Caldara seem like a fair-minded, unbiased individual, "Gunny" Bob Newman has the distinction of being the most hateful and one of the most inaccurate.

A retired marine with an endless reserve of venom and scorn for those who disagree with him, you can catch his fake laughter on 850 KOA, weeknights from 7 to 10 p.m.

On his radio show, the "Gunny" regularly accuses political opponents of being fascists or Nazis:
  • He refers to Keith Olbermann as "Olbermeinkampf". Olbermann declared him Worse (Bronze) Person in the World during the Sep 6, 2007, edition of Countdown and reminded him that "the guy who wrote Mein Kampf was a right-winger like yourself."
  • He hates Hillary Clinton with a passion, and routinely pours Nazi and fascist references on her. For example, he referred to her campaign staff as "the Third Reich insofar as its refusal to quit until there is simply no other choice". During the same rant, he asked his listeners to "Remember the Germans back in World War II. I mean, they fought down just about the last man in the middle, standing in the middle of Berlin! And the Clintons think the same way when it comes to givin' up."
  • He demeaned Democrats as wanting to establish a "socialist utopian state under the spiked boot heel of Hillary Rodham Clinton" (another not so veiled reference to Nazis).
  • He referred to Daily Kos and its Democratic supporters as "a demented, putrid segment of our society", and referred to the YearlyKos, the Daily Kos annual gathering, as "bigger than any KKK, Nazi, or Muslim terrorist gathering".

(The above examples are all documented by Mediamatters, which, no doubt, the "Gunny" would refer to as a liberal hate group.)

Notice the pattern of association and how he regularly demeans his opponents?

There's more in the Gunny's hall of shame:

  • His hatred for Democrats extends to Barak Obama, whom he has called Osama, just like Rush Limbaugh has done on a number of occasions, and whom he accused of wanting to introduce the subject of sexual intercourse to kindergartners.
  • He wanted all Muslim immigrants to wear "GPS tracking bracelets" and called for "a little moratorium on Muslim visas".
  • He suggested that "aborting such horrible people as Murtha, Pelosi, and Cindy Sheehan would be OK."
  • He called Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch "hate-filled, anti-freedom organizations".
  • He even managed to refer to a Quaker organization as a "hate-group".

The above examples are also all documented by Mediamatters, an organization that the "Gunny" would no doubt refer to as something like "a putrid segment of our society".

And then, to give you an example of Newman’s hypocrisy and bias, just the other night, he ranted for several minutes about the fact that the just-released study that counted the number of times the Bush administration had lied to link Iraq to WMDs and 9/11, is the work of by the Center for Public Integrity, which received funding from "liberal fascists" like Barbara Streisand, George Soros, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, therefore implying that the work is biased and untrue. You can judge for yourselves here. But that is only the beginning.

As soon as he was done, the "Gunny" took a phone call which sounded as if it had been set up as a follow-up to his rant (I am not saying it was, but it sure sounded like it.) Out of left field, the caller brought up Whitewater and implied that Hillary Clinton was implicated in some horrible things, leading to the murder of Vince Foster, among many unspoken crimes. Newman’s idiotic and forced laughter sounded as insincere as Hillary’s tears looked in that New Hampshire diner. (I am not joining Newman in Hillary-bashing, but my feelings on the diner incident are not a mystery).

Naturally, Newman failed to mention that the Whitewater investigation was part of the infamous Arkansas Project, funded in large part by Richard Mellon Scaife with the aim of destroying Clinton's presidency, or at least hampering it. Needless to say, the study by the Center for Public Integrity that Newman lambasted deserves much more credibility than the Whitewater investigation ever did.

It is likely, as it seemed to me, that the juxtaposition of the Whitewater investigation with the study by the Center for Public Integrity was meant to remind Gunny Bob's many biased listeners that studies like the one by CPI are meant to obfuscate the real issues and threats to America, like the alleged lies of the left and the danger of another Clinton in the White House. The only problem, of course, is that 4 years of investigations by special prosecutor Ken Starr, into Whitewater and other affairs, failed to implicate the President and the First Lady.

So why am I so seemingly obsessed with the obnoxious "Gunny" Bob Newman? Because, as much as I understand and respect First Amendment rights, I do not believe that the First Amendment confers absolute rights to free speech, either when the medium used to convey it is a limited resource or when the content of speech is so evidently false, hateful, or both.

Am I suggesting that we should deny "Gunny" Bob Newman his right to free speech? No. Like all of us, he has the right to his opinions and to voice them. This right is an ingredient of freedom, just as our airwaves are an essential resource for the public. Essential, does not mean without limits, though. Bandwidth is limited. The number of voices that can be heard is itself limited. What I propose is this: while diversity is a value that must be preserved and fostered, even on the airwaves, the limited availability of bandwidth makes it necessary to discriminate between what we allow and what we don't allow to be broadcast. In a civil society, civil differences of opinion must be encouraged and protected. Scorn, hatred, and falsehoods should have no place.

I’ll give you an example: While I do not agree with much of what Jon Caldara says, his viewpoints are far from hateful. They may be patronizing, biased, incorrect, or disagreeable, but, to the best of my knowledge, they are not hateful. He expresses his views, which have little or nothing to share with mine, harshly but respectfully. I can't stand David Brooks or Bill Kristol, but their presence on NPR, or PBS, or FOX only irks me, it does not offend me. Gunny Bob, on the other hand, is often hateful, scornful, and offensive, as he was tonight when he indulged a caller who refused to call gay soldiers "men" and joined him in ridiculing them as they prance in feathers in their little parade. He does not deserve a spot on the public airwaves. I am sure that there would be no lack of alternatives in the world of right-wing radio.

I can feel the criticism rising: doesn't that equate to censorship? It does not. If "Gunny" Bob wants to express his views, he can publish books, write articles for newspapers, or blog on his website. There is hardly a limit to his ability to publish his ideas in printed form. Books, newspapers, the Internet: all are viable means of broadcasting one's ideas to the public. And they have one thing in common: they are private and unlicensed, unlike airwaves, which belong to the public (and are licensed by the public, through the FCC). In addition to that, now that satellite radio has emerged with Sirius and XM, he can still find a spot on the air. You want to listen to "Gunny" Bob spewing hatred and falsehoods? You pay for it, and let the rest of us enjoy civil discourse.

The time has come to reclaim civility on the public airwaves. That the first amendment guarantees people the right to say what they want, even when it's hateful, does not imply that they have to be awarded a 50,000 watt public megaphone to help them. It’s time to clean up our air. Time to say "Goodbye, Newman!"

Recommended Reading

Fool Me Once, Shame On Me...

Fool me 935 times, shame on...

935, according to the following study by the Center for Public Integrity, is the number of false statements that member of the Bush Administration, including the President himself, made in the lead up to the war in Iraq. 935 lies. Enough to dupe the "other" Americans (not me, I am proud, sadly, to say).

The study points out that

[o]n at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials [Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld], along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both.

To the administration's credit, as pointed out in a comedy sketch on today's Randi Rhodes Show, none of the lies were about sex.

Press Your Luck, Gov. Huckabee Edition

It's hard to dislike Mike Huckabee. Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone, said as much in a November profile of the former Arkansas governor. As Taibbi's warns his readers, "Let your guard down anywhere near the former Arkansas governor and he'll pod you, Body Snatchers-style — you'll wake up drooling, your brain gone, riding a back seat on the bandwagon that suddenly has him charging toward the lead in the GOP race". But, Taibbi says in the closing paragraph of his article, "Charm only goes so far if you're full-bore nuts." With that fact, let no man disagree.

Like Taibbi, I like some of the things Gov. Huckabee says because they are the opposite of what you would expect from your typical Republican candidate. For example, he has been saying for a while, contrary to what other Republican candidates maintained until last week, that the economy is not in good shape. All you needed to do to find out that the economy was in much worse shape than we were told, he said, was to ask common folk, those at the bottom of the economic ladder. He talks about boosting the economy from the bottom up, rather than from the top down (we know how well that works). That is refreshing, coming from someone who runs for the party of Reaganomics, the party that embraced Grover Norquist's theory that the size of government should be reduced to the point where you could drown it in a bathtub.

Gov. Huckabee is a likable human being, too. He is not snide, unlike other Republican candidates who jeer and sneer so much on stage (Ron Paul and Democrats usually being the butt of their derision) that you want to yell at them to "wipe that smirk off your face", and he plays the bass. In fact, he likes to tell the story of how, while serving as Arkansas governor, he pardoned Keith Richards (after Richards got a traffic ticket he and Ron Wood got in 1975). How bad could he be? Well, as the saying goes, not everything that glitters is gold.

First, there's the issue of Gov. Huckabee's position on evolution. Evolution, he says, is just a theory, and if theory clashes with scriptures, then the latter must be right, because scriptures are God's word. Whammy number one.

Then, there's the issue of God v. the Constitution of the United States. "I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view." Huh? Whammy number two. I smell a double whammy coming...

And, in fact, the double whammy came on Thursday night, during the Florida debate broadcast by MSNBC, when Gov. Huckabee answered the question of whether he believes that the war in Iraq was a good idea, in spite of the fact that weapons of mass destruction were never found, that we were not received like liberators (if you except the images of Iraqis helping to bring down Saddam's statue in a made for Fix/Faux/Fox News special, architected by the same U.S. Department of Disinformation that brought you fake Armstrong Williams articles that extolled the virtues of No Child Left Behind, for the modest fee of $240,000). With perfect aplomb, Gov Huckabee delivered the following quote: "Everybody can look back and say, oh well we didn’t find the weapons. Doesn’t meet that they weren’t there. Just because you didn’t find every Easter egg didn’t mean it wasn’t planted", and then proceeded to drown in Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately for Gov. Huckster, the Iraq Survey Group, which was enlisted by the Bush administration to ascertain whether a transfer of WMDs from Iraq to another country had occurred, most likely Syria, found no evidence for it. And, in a wicked turn of events, CBS revealed that FBI agent George Piro, who interrogated Saddam Hussein for seven months, learned that the former dictator had misrepresented an inexistent WMD program to dissuade Iran from ever attacking Iraq. In other words, a severe case of dead man's bluff. If you don't believe me, you can hear that for yourself on Sunday, when 60 Minutes airs on CBS.

Of the three untenable positions summarized above, the most disturbing is by far Gov. Huckabee's position on WMDs. I understand why he would voice his unbelief in evolution, or his opinion on why the need to adapt the Constitution to the word of God. Primary season entails saying the things you think your likely voters want to hear in order to give you their votes, and the fact that Gov. Huckabee is a Baptist pastor puts such lunacies in perspective. But who on earth would still defend the Bush's administration position that WMDs have been moved out of Iraq, when even the Bush administration itself prefers to avoid the subject?

To recap: Gov. Huckabee believes that we should adapt the constitution to the word of god. The word of god, when read as literally as the governor does, denies the scientific truth of the theory of evolution. Those who oppose the theory of evolution on the same grounds as Gov. Huckabee point to the lack of transitional fossil that can tie the transition of one species to another, despite the fact that fossil evidence does have a way to surface, when paleontologists look hard enough for it. Unlike the WMDs that the governor believes to have been moved out of Iraq.

Yes, indeed, Gov. Huckabee is a likeable fellow. Probably one you'd like to sit down with and have a beer. Remember what happened the last time you voted for such a guy?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's The Economy, Candidates!

After years of the war in Iraq and national security being at the top of voters' concerns, suddenly "it's the economy, stupid!". Strange, because if you believed the Republican noise machine the economy was doing just fine until yesterday. Good, because after you discount economic indicators that have little or no impact on common folks, the economy is indeed a problem (and the war in Iraq plays a role in it, but the problem's much larger).

Of course, a serious discussion of the nation's problems would have to begin with the biggest problem we face currently: unchecked corporate power. If companies and the wealthiest individuals did not *own* (not just run) the system, the problems that ail middle and low income earners would be much less dramatic. Companies would pay a fair share of taxes, the people who run them would be taxed at a rate proportionally higher than the rate at which workers are taxed (and without the loopholes), and corporate socialism (as David Cay Johnston and Paul Krugman correctly call government handouts to corporations that do not need it, like pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, agri-business, etc.) would to be eliminated. But, in an election year (or ever), no politician wants to tackle the corporate powers that paid for them, so the discussion moves by default to helping those who are struggling the most economically and how to revive the economy. Unfortunately, the typical solutions proposed by politicians are mind-numbingly trite and and fail to bring about any meaningful relief to those who need it most. The Republican strategy is the same old recipe of tax rebates and tax cuts that do nothing to help low- and middle-class earners, and benefit almost exclusively those who don't need them. The Democratic strategy? You tell me.

If politicians were really serious about helping the middle-class and those who live paycheck to paycheck, they would try the following:

  • Make credit card interest tax deductible for anyone making less than $100k a year (with higher limits for people living in high cost urban areas). Credit card interest was deductible until 1986, when Congress passed the Tax Reform Act to disallow these deductions. The logic, according to the U.S. Treasury website, was that "[a]t the time, the American savings rate was declining and […] to eliminate the significant disincentive to savings, Congress repealed the itemized deduction for personal interest other than mortgage interest." How did that work out for you? As we know, purchasing power has not kept up with inflation over the past 20 years, so people are still not saving enough (or at all) and credit card use as become a necessity for many (to pay, amongst other things, for medical expenses, car repairs and maintenance, bills and even groceries). Reinstating the deduction, at least for people making less than $100k, would be a significant help to middle-class families and to the economy. (This measure does not even begin to tackle the main problem, which is the usury-high rates charged by lenders for credit cards).
  • Make all dental expenses tax deductible, and make all medical expenses tax deductible as well (currently, only medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, or AGI, are tax deductible). This should be fair because most medical expenses are not elective.
  • Since the cost of gasoline has risen so significantly since George W. Bush took office, give tax credits to people for the cost of transportation to and from work. For fairness, and to help the environment, which is another thing almost everybody agrees on, the credit should be proportional to the used vehicle’s consumption (higher credits for vehicles that give better mileage, or for public transportation). Tied to this, significant incentives should be given to new car buyers who make the transition to vehicles with better mileage.
  • Lock the rate on student loans to the rate of inflation plus a percentage point, and federalize all student loans.
  • Allow a one-time deduction for mortgage holders, equal to the difference between the outstanding balance on their loan and the current valuation of their property.
  • Institute a company-funded federal fund for people who lose their job to outsourcing. These funds would be used to cover unemployment costs, for up to two years, to the tune of 50% of the outsourced employee's pay rate at the time of termination. This federal fund should be supplemented with fines paid by companies who are caught repeatedly hiring illegal aliens.
  • Eliminate capital gains tax for taxpayers that do not exceed $200,000 a year, provided that the investment is in companies headquartered in the United States. This should provide an additional incentive for investors and provide a boost to American companies.

These are just a few examples of how people could be helped in meaningful ways, if the political will to do so existed. Anything less is election-year hot air.

Recommended Reading

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Glenn Beck's Surgery

Glenn Beck was recently in the news for what he jocularly referred to as "butt surgery". Some of his many detractors like to call it "ass surgery" instead. I side with the latter camp.

While on leave from his own TV show, Glenn Beck complained the surgery was botched. Then he returned to TV and, as you can see in this video, he called FDR "an evil son of a bitch", and blamed him, among other things, for making the depression go on and on for ten years.

The jury is in: the surgery was indeed botched and Glenn Beck remains an ass.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MSNBC Knocks Out Democracy In Vegas (And How To Fight Back)

The fight in Las Vegas is over. MSNBC won it, and knocked Dennis Kucinich out of the debate. Absent from Kucinich’s corner: The Democratic Party.

I understand why MSNBC, ABC, or the Des Moines Register would not want Dennis Kucinich onstage: he does not make for good television. He is not a handsome trial lawyer with a Southern drawl, a black man or a woman. Nor does he poll higher than 3-4%. The pundits, the networks, the sponsors, the donors, the ones calling the shots have decided: It’s a made-for-TV three man race where one of the men is a woman (albeit barely). No one else must be allowed to crash the party. Particularly, not a candidate who might, directly or indirectly, remind viewers of what interests are at stake, for media and their advertisers. A candidate who would lay the blame for the healthcare crisis squarely where it belongs, on the shoulder of insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and of the politicians that allowed themselves to be bought is not welcome. A candidate who would remind front-runners of their responsibility in abetting a criminal foreign policy cannot be allowed on stage. A candidate who voted against the Patriot Act, in defense of the Constitution, cannot be allowed to debate. A candidate who, if elected, would repeal NAFTA and withdraw from the WTO cannot be allowed to speak. A candidate who voted against every war-funding measure since 2002 cannot be allowed to voice his opposition to a war which fattens GE, MSNBC’s parent, with military contracts.

I don’t blame the media, advertisers, pundits, or the other candidates and their campaigns, for wanting to shrink the field. They all benefit. But I do blame the Democratic Party for its complicity in denying an audience to one of its candidates. When the Democratic Party leadership chooses not to fight for Dennis Kucinich, it is essentially saying that it, too, like MSNBC and ABC, does not want to alienate the corporate interests it has come to serve and protect. What the Democratic Party is saying is that, in spite of its proclaims of being a big tent which hosts a variety of equally legitimate viewpoints, it demands that its representatives toe the Party line. What the Democratic Party is ultimately saying is that it is more interested in the preservation of power for power’s sake than for the sake of the people it represents.

Back in July, in one of the early debates in which he was still allowed to appear, Dennis Kucinich listened for two hours to Hillary Clinton and John Edwards apologizing for being misled by the administration, for voting to authorize the war in Iraq, for voting for a resolution naming the Iranian Guard a terrorist organization, for helping pass NAFTA and CAFTA, and on and on. Then, in one of the rare opportunities he was given by the moderator to speak, he delivered one of the best lines of the campaign season so far: "Imagine having a president that got it right the first time."

Later, Senators Edwards and Clinton were overheard discussing the need to limit the number of participants in Democratic debates. No kidding! The network and debate organizers happily obliged, with the complicity of the Democratic Party. Together, they have accomplished the goal of telling you who the viable candidates are, the ones that must get your vote based not on the merit of their ideas but on their ability to satisfy those they serve. Not you, but the powers that helped them to get where they are. Together, they have managed to convince you that a vote for your conscience, a vote for Dennis Kucinich, is a wasted vote, so you can vote instead for one of the corporation-endorsed candidates. Remember that, the next time one of them lectures you on the value of democracy and asks you for your donation. Reply to them and the Party with a note explaining why you sent no donation. Most of all, think how different things might be if you went with your conscience and voted for a candidate that got it right the first time around. You still can.

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Hampshire Surprise Explanations

The results of last week’s Democratic primaries in New Hampshire have surprised not a few people.
The results of last week’s Democratic primaries in New Hampshire have surprised not a few people. Media figures displayed a mix of elation and astonishment. Polling companies rushed to produce explanation of why polls, right within the margin of error for every other candidate (Democrat or Republican), had failed so dramatically only for Sen. Clinton. Several election watchdog organizations cried foul. Others raised concerns. The public mostly yawned. And Congressman Kucinich asked for a recount (which NH officials granted). So what is the true story? Below are some theories: some interesting, some far-fetched, some patronizing, some intriguing. I report, you decide.

1) The "Undecided/undeclared voters were moved by Clinton's diner moment" Theory (see "Scenes From A Diner", below).

Interesting theory. Assumes that basically all undeclared/undecided chose Sen. Clinton on the spur of the "moment of humanity". Assumes that everyone gave said moment a "thumbs up". Assumes that polling companies, which have gotten everything else right, got Sen. Clinton’s numbers wrong. Assumes that most undecided or undeclared women, if not all, were swayed by Sen. Clinton’s teary-eyed moment. (Women represented the largest block of undecided/undeclared women. Notably, the woman who asked the question which prompted the Senator's outburst voted for Sen. Obama). Assuming, assuming, assuming. You know what assuming does...

2) The "People in New Hampshire did not want the Democratic race to be over so fast, so they swung to Sen. Clinton in droves" Theory.

Don’t remember where I heard this theory, but I bet it was one of the cable news channels. In any case, it is just too good to leave out. It assumes that New Hampshire voters who would otherwise voted for Senators Obama or Edwards voted, in spite of their best judgment, to prolong the nominating process for the benefit of… other voters? the media? Your guess is as good as mine. It also assumes that, had Sen. Obama won, the rest of the nation would have cancelled all other contests, bowing its will to that of Iowa and New Hampshire, and that people would have gladly returned to American Idol, which, coincidentally, starts today. In other words, it assumes that New Hampshire voters are as moronic as the brains that conceived this theory (I don't mean to slander, but I am thinking it might have been Chris Matthews). Anyway…

3) The "Triumph of experience over hope" Theory.

This is the explanation of Terry McAuliffe, manager of Sen. Clinton’s campaign, and others. On NPR, he said: "ultimately the voters in New Hampshire made the decision that Hillary has the most experience to deal with all the myriad issues that are going to face the next president of the United States." Yawn. Just as Sen. Obama says, experience is overrated. After all, no one can make the case that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld lacked experience. Good judgment, that's another matter.

4) The "Women, women, women…" Theory

This is Tim Russert’s explanation. At the start of the segment, Russert said that even people in Sen. Clinton’s camp thought they were going to lose; but then they saw the number of women that were turning out at the polls and "thought we have a chance". Which is when Matt Lauer, thank God, pointed out that the majority of women went for Obama in Iowa five days earlier, so what would have prompted Clinton’s camp to be excited about the number of women showing up at the polls in New Hampshire? Try answering that yourself. Your explanation of why women trended for Sen. Clinton is as good as Tim Russert ("a combination of factors, Matt, we don’t know." Just what you would expect from the senior political analyst on MSNBC.)

5) The "Obama's mean spirited smirk" Theory

This is the explanation of one Charles Krauthammer, Faux News contributor and Washington Post columnist. I quote, because I couldn’t possibly paraphrase and render justice to the inanity of his opinion:

Asked in the Saturday Democratic debate about her dearth of "likability," Clinton offered an answer both artful and sweet - first, demurely saying her feelings were hurt and mock-heroically adding that she would try to carry on regardless, then generously conceding that Obama is very likable and "I don't think I'm that bad."

At which point, Obama, yielding to some inexplicable impulse, gave the other memorable unscripted moment of the New Hampshire campaign - the gratuitous self-indicting aside: "You're likable enough, Hillary." He said it looking down and with not a smile but a smirk.

Rising rock star puts down struggling diva - an unkind cut, deeply ungracious, almost cruel, from a candidate who had the country in a swoon over his campaign of grace and uplift. The media gave that moment little play, but millions saw it live, and I could surely not have been the only one who found it jarring.

Of course, the smirk must have done it. Next!

6) The " White folks stick it to Scary Black Man" Theory

This is Chuck Todd's theory. White folks tell pollsters one thing, then do another in the privacy of the voting booth. Fascinating. This is supposedly a time-tested theory. Except for two very easy objections: it did not happen in Iowa; and, Obama got the same percentage of votes that polls had predicted. Todd countered the first objection with the caucus explanation: caucuses are public affairs, where you do not hide behind a curtain. True. Also, unconvincing. Pollsters do not follow voters into caucuses to make sure they vote as they have polled, so nothing forces a person to vote for the same person he gave his poll preference to. Todd had no explanation for the second objection. You would think that you would have to pass muster to become a network’s political director. Not at NBC.

7) The "No polls after Clinton’s diner tears" Theory

This is Zogby's explanation. If there polls had been conducted AFTER Clinton shed her tears, polls might have accounted for a shift in her direction. Lame. See 1).

And, finally…

8) The "Another stolen election" Theory

This is by and large the favorite theory in the blogosphere. This theory examines discrepancies in actual results vs. polls, and analyzes discrepancies by voting method (for example, paper ballot vs. electronic vote).

For an example of this theory, see Bradblog, a site largely devoted to election matters. This theory was quickly dismissed by the mainstream media as the work of the usual conspiracy theorists and crazy bloggers. Except that data justifies some doubts. Detractors of this theory nonchalantly explain away the discrepancy between actual and forecast results with the failure of polls to account for unanticipated factors: much as the large turnout of Evangelicals and "value voters" has been used to explain Bush's 2004 upset of John Kerry, an unanticipated influx of women voters, moved by Sen. Clinton's Monday afternoon tears, explains why Obama was upset in New Hampshire. Of course, detractors choose to ignore the flaws of electronic election systems, as well as bunches of suspect statistical data.

As I said, I report, you decide. But allow me one more theory: my own.

9) The "Cry me… a stolen election" Theory

This theory combines Hillary’s distressingly strained outburst in a New Hampshire diner with the stolen election theory. In other words: Hillary cries on Monday afternoon, too late for polls to account for her outburst, but just in time to supply a plausible—if somewhat laughable—explanation of her upset victory. Premier Election Solutions machines (formerly known as Diebold Election System) do the rest. If you are ready to dismiss this theory as the lunacy of conspiracy theorists, consider this: in precincts where manual ballots where used, Obama won, on average, by seven percentage points; where electronic voting machines where used (which account for 80% of voters in New Hampshire) Hillary Clinton won by 5% (on average). See EDA’s statistics here.

Note that the swing in undecided voters to Sen. Clinton could have not adequately supported had the networks and cable media not spent the whole day Monday and Tuesday replaying the images of her emotional moment over and over and over again, and conjecturing on the potential effects of Clinton’s moment of humanity. Then again, cui prodest? Who benefits the most from a nomination process where a clear candidate does not emerge until late in the game?

Thankfully, Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) asked for a recount in New Hampshire, and the recount was granted. Stand by to learn more.

Recommended Reading

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Scenes From A Diner

Hillary Clinton has had a rough couple of weeks. First she went from leading the polls in Iowa to losing by a substantial margin to Barak Obama. Then she went to New Hampshire, where on Saturday she became enraged at Sen. Edwards's attack, by which he accused her of being a force of the status quo. Finally, on Monday, she broke down in a diner and got all teary-eyed:
It's not easy, it's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I have so many opportunities from this country just don’t want to see us fall backwards... You know, this is very personal for me. It’s not just political it’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it.

She uttered these words in response to the question of a freelance photographer who was attending Clinton's rally in New Hampshire.

Being that it has only been a few weeks since we found out that Sen. Clinton's campaign had planted softball questions in a debate to give their candidate a chance to shine, forgive me for being callous and wondering if in fact Hillary's tears where all an act.

Regardless, pundits of all spots and stripes immediately rushed to analyse this singular display of humanity by a candidate who has otherwise come to be known for being calculating, ambitious, triangulating, cold, and--at times--ruthless. Was she sincere? Was it staged? Was it an attempt to show that blood, not ice, runs through her veins? Or was it an attempt to earn pity? (And why on earth would Hillary Clinton want to show weakness and try to earn pity, in an otherwise all-male field?) Is she going to benefit? Is she going to suffer? And then, finally, the questions that conservatives begged to ask were indeed raised: If she cannot even bear the stress of the campaign, would she then crack under the stress of having to launch a strike on the enemy which could cost innocent lives? Does this mean that she is not fit to be president? Those of course, are idiotic questions to ask, which only morons like Dick Morris or "Gunny" Bob Newman (look him up, or rather, do yourself a favor and don't) would dare to entertain. The real question that should be asked is: Is she best candidate that Democrats can field in November?

In a strong Democratic field, Sen. Clinton would be my last choice to begin with. It's not that she has never been good. She may have had the right intentions when, as the First Lady, her husband asked her to pilot the task force in charge of reforming healthcare. That she failed, in retrospect, is no surprise, considering the forces she was up against. But, from her failure, she learned the wrong lesson: transformed by defeat, she morphed into the ultimate Washington insider. Her solution was to become one of the "boys", to learn the ways of Washington compromise. Her ideas for radical reform took the backseat to her ambition, and she went from trying to introduce single-payer healthcare to becoming the highest recipient of political contributions from the insurance and the pharmaceutical industry (see Michael Moore's Sicko). That's why in Saturday's night New Hampshire debates she vehemently countered Sen Edwards's accusation of being the force of the status quo with her contention that she is "running on 35 years of change", not on the promise of change.

That, in fact, may be true, but it is precisely the reason why I do not trust Hillary Clinton to be the right candidate for the Democratic party. She may be right in thinking that change requires compromise and that it can only be brought about in small, incremental steps. But the problems that we face now, such as lack of universal healthcare, years of disastrous Middle East policies, our inability to engage other nations around the world, the crisis of the middle-class, the mortgage crisis, the increasing chasm between rich and poor in this country, the disastrous consequences of NAFTA and CAFTA, rising energy prices, the years of damage done by No Child Left Behind, all require a bolder vision than Sen. Clinton can offer. Sen. Edwards, who has taken several stabs at Hillary Clinton is right: This is no time to sit down at a conference table with all the enemies of change, to negotiate incremental change. For example, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution, in the crisis of U.S. healthcare, and it is absurd to think that we can achieve the necessary changes by negotiating with them. We do not need another Clinton, however competent or sincere. We need another FDR. Hillary may be a Clinton, but she certainly is no FDR.

And so it is that another great American story has unfolded in a diner. This time, no onion rings--"for the table", you know. No man in a Members Only jacket. No Meadowpark. Just an omen, that Sen. Clinton's presidential run may ultimately end, in tears.

[Don't Stop Believin' plays. Stops. Cut to black]

Monday, January 07, 2008

Mainstream Media Update

Juicy development on my post about MSM, and the NY Times decision to hire Bill Kristol. For more, read here (courtesy of Talking Points Memo).

And while I eagerly wait for Dennis Kucinich to announce his lawsuit against the New Hampshire ABC affiliate which decided to exclude from last Saturday's national debate, he has already filed a complaint with the FCC about it. Good for him!

The Mainstream Media In An Election Year

If we are to judge 2008 by its beginnings, chances are it is going to be a pretty dismal year, at least as far as the mainstream media is concerned. This is particularly bad in such an important election year.

First, the decision by ABC in New Hampshire to exclude Dennis Kucinich (D), Mike Gravel (D), and Duncan Hunter (R) from the Saturday New Hampshire debates. As Kucinich aptly pointed out, the airwaves do not belong to the networks, they belong to the public and it is not up to a network to decide which candidates can or cannot participate in a debate, or which candidates are viable. He promised to sue ABC for his exclusion and I hope he does real damage to the network’s power.

Then, just a few days ago, the NY Times announced that it has hired Bill Kristol to write op eds for a year, beginning on Jan 7th. Let me refresh your memory: Bill Kristol is the editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, a regular contributor on Fox News Channel, and hear hear, the leader of PNAC (Project for the New American Century). You may have heard about this little gem of a think tank in the lead up to the war in Iraq. In fact, it started rattling the sabers and banging the drum for the removal of Saddam Hussein when Bill Clinton was still president, in 1998, and 9/11 was only the number you dialed when you had an emergency. To put the role of PNAC in perspective for you, let me quote from a year 2000 PNAC report entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses":
[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."

Need I add more?

Before 1998, Kristol led the war against Bill Clinton's attempt, captained by then First Lady Hillary Clinton, to reform healthcare in the United States. He did so not because he disagreed with Clinton's plan in principle, but because Clinton's proposal for reform had the potential to "re-legitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation”, and 'revive' ... the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.” In other words, he wanted to derail the plan not because it was bad for America, but because it was bad for the neo-cons.

David Corn of The Nation came up with a useful list of Kristol missteps in judgment in January of 2007, in an article that expressed bewilderment at Time magazine's decision to hire Kristol as a contributor. For your (my reader's) convenience, I am going to quote the list below:
On September 11, 2002, as the Bush administration began its sales campaign for the coming war, Kristol suggested that Saddam Hussein could do more harm to the United States than al Qaeda had: "we cannot afford to let Saddam Hussein inflict a worse 9/11 on us in the future."
On September 15, 2002, he claimed that inspection and containment could not work with Saddam: "No one believes the inspections can work." Actually, UN inspectors believed they could work. So, too, did about half of congressional Democrats. They were right.
On September 18, 2002, Kristol opined that a war in Iraq "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East."
On February 2, 2003, he claimed that Secretary of State Colin Powell at an upcoming UN speech would "show that there are loaded guns throughout Iraq" regarding weapons of mass destruction. As it turned out, everything in Powell's speech was wrong. Kristol was uncritically echoing misleading information handed him by friends and allies within the Bush administration.
On February 20, 2003, he summed up the argument for war against Saddam: "He's got weapons of mass destruction. At some point he will use them or give them to a terrorist group to use...Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world....France and Germany don't have the courage to face up to the situation. That's too bad. Most of Europe is with us. And I think we will be respected around the world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated."
On March 1, 2003, Kristol dismissed concerns that sectarian conflict might arise following a US invasion of Iraq: "We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they've never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together." He also said, "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president." And he maintained that the war would be a bargain at $100 to $200 billion. The running tab is now nearing half a trillion dollars.
On March 5, 2003, Kristol said, "I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq."

Enough? I’d say. Yet, the editor of the NY Times editorial page has feigned distress at the “weird fear of opposing views” expressed by those who have protested the Times’ decision to hire Kristol. Let’s be clear, Mr. Rosenthal: It is not a "fear of opposing views" that leads us to protest. It is bitterness at seeing that a newspaper like the New York Times, which was instrumental in selling the war in Iraq to the American public through the incompetent articles of Judith Miller, has chosen to reward incompetent judgment, with a weekly column. Jon Stewart summed it best when he discussed the war in Iraq with Kristol in the summer of 2007:
Can you see how someone who is skeptical [would have trouble with you saying] “Trust us to undo the terrible things we did”?

One of these days Rupert Murdoch might well set his sights on the New York Times. Oh, wait: He does not need to!

A Few Thoughts After The Iowa Caucuses

[Originally posted at on January 4, 2008]

For months the pundits on the various news network have told us that the presidential contest in November will pit Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani or, perhaps, McCain or Thompson. Today, Clinton finished third (behind Obama and Edwards), and Giuliani got 4% of the Republican vote, McCain 13% and Thompson 14%. Huckabee won the Republican straw poll with 34%. It is certainly possible that the Iowa contests will mean little or nothing come November but, in general, pundits are not worth one ounce of my sweat.

  1. Some pundits have already started preparing us for the Obama debacle to come. They are saying that it is quite different to be the front-runner (which he now has become) and that the Clinton campaign will rip him a new one. See point 1) above for instructions on how to take the pundits' opinion.
  2. Obama is the real thing, at least in terms of his ability to mobilize the troops. He came from behind to defeat not only Clinton, who had been fading in recent polls, but Edwards as well. He also managed to win districts in rural Iowa, where blacks are as rare as straight, monogamous Republican congressmen.
  3. Opinion polls are not all they seem. For months, polls have been telling us a story which had little or nothing to do with what went down today at the... polls.
  4. One staggering fact: 235,000 voters turned out for Democrats, barely over 100,000 for Republicans. Yet, Bush carried Iowa in 2004. Not against the Satan's offspring, but against a rather bland Democratic candidate. I submit that when things are bad, and they were pretty bad in November '04, people vote along party lines. Draw your own conclusions on the legitimacy of the '04 vote.

So, now that you know all you need to know about pundits, polls, and the Obama juggernaut, go read up on "caging" (start with this article on Bradblog), to learn what the Con Men are doing to make sure they can steal the 2008 election as well.

American Travelers, In A Post 9/11 World

[Originally posted at on June 5, 2007]

Every so often, the most powerful Americans remind us that we live in a post 9/11 world. We are asked to sacrifice our freedoms in the name of added security. The President does it, the AG's office does it, neo-con talking heads remind us in their acerbic rants on TV and radio that the enemy hates us for our freedoms (so, understandably, the best way to dissuade them from attacking us must be to shed as many of the freedoms we currently enjoy, lest they should be envious.) The country, by and large believes that it is so, that added security requires sacrificing some liberty, in spite of the well-known quote that "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." And then, Andrew Speaker, a.k.a. Mr. drug-resistant TB, comes along and shatters the myth of American security.

The fact that Mr. Speaker had to come along to remind us of America's and the world's vulnerability is quite ironic. Since the multiple terrorist strikes of 9/11, several security analysts have repeatedly warned the public and Congress that the United States is vulnerable to terrorist attacks at many levels: port security is a sieve, as too many containers enter the country without inspection; chemical plants, not to mention nuclear power plants, are not adequately protected; the food chain is exposed, not only to external attacks, but to endemic health and sanitation problems at food processing plants and farms (e-coli in your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter, tainted food, imported from one of the most unsafe food-producing nations in the world, for your pets); and, finally, border security remains largely a joke. That must be true, if a man with an almost incurable disease, high on a government no-travel list, can exit and re-enter the country unchallenged by border patrol, in spite of the security alerts that popped up on the examining agent's computer screen.

The facts surrounding this international incident also speak volume about the attitude that many Americans sport toward the rest of the world, which fosters understandable suspicion, even some resentment, in the rest of the world. Far from being uneducated or ignorant, Mr. Speaker is an attorney, educated at the University of Georgia School of Law. Handsome, cocky, and jock-like(at least based on his photos), he chose to treat the world community with utter disregard: first by leaving his country in spite of the knowledge that he had tubercolosis, and then by refusing to check into the Italian healthcare system (ranked 2nd in the world by the World Health Organization, well ahead of the United States, ranked 37th,) claiming that he had to return to the United States to get the life-saving treatment that he could not possibly get anywhere else in the world. Italians were understandably miffed, because-as reported by Associated Press--some of the leading research in TB is being done by Italians. Dr. Mario Raviglione, the Italian who heads the WHO's tuberculosis department, added "This is a developed country," Raviglione said. "I'm pretty sure [Italians] would have been able to do the right thing and provide Mr. Speaker with the proper treatment."

I have lived in the United States for a while now. I am sincerely grateful for the hospitality I have enjoyed and the fairness with which I have been treated since I moved to the United States. But in my fourteen years (to date) in this country, I have too often encountered the ignorance of the world, the prejudice and the misguided sense of superiority that Mr. Speaker so carelessly displayed by refusing care in a foreign country (where he probably would have been treated at much lesser expense than anywhere in the United States), and, first, by his disregard for a world which too many Americans consider much like their amusement park, and little else. That is the only possible explanation of why Mr. Speaker, regardless what he has said after his return to the U.S., decided to take on vacation with him one of the deadliest contagious diseases known to man.

The most conspicuous Americans travellers in the last five years or so have been Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Ms. Rice, who have globetrotted in search of support (and finding little) for a criminally-misjudged foreign policy; the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers ordered to carry out that policy around the world; and now, finally, Mr. Speaker, Al Qaeda's dream of a bacteriological weapon. Perhaps, it is time that the world should suggest that Americans sacrifice just one more freedom in the name of security (the world's): the freedom to travel.

Thinking Critically About "Independent Thinking"

[Originally posted at on January 28, 2007]

Last night I happened to catch an episode of a local PBS program called Independent Thinking. The host is John Caldara, President of the Independence Institute, a think-tank which, though non-partisan in theory, is ostensibly dedicated to advancing libertarian to conservative principles, depending on the issue. (Perhaps that's how the adjective Independent found its way into the name of the think-tank: you can be a conservative on some issues and a libertarian on others.) This particular installment of the show was a celebration of the work of Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who was the principal advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. To discuss Friedman's ideas and influence, and perhaps to reinforce the idea that people should think independently (of what? of whom?), the three-person panel was entirely composed of members of the Independence Institute. Evidently, in the host's view, independent thinking does not require a variety of viewpoints being considered; rather it should rest on a homily made of the viewpoints we should all subscribe to in the host's opinion.

In addition to John Caldara, the panel included two women, one of whom was Linda Gorman. I recognized the name it from my marginal participation in the activities of Health Care For all Colorado, a group which advocates single-payer healthcare system for Colorado. Linda Gorman, as it happens, represents a conservative/libertarian point of view on the Blue-Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform established in 2006 by the Colorado Senate to examine possible solutions to Colorado's health care crisis. She believes in the freedom of the individual to choose what kind of a health care he or she wants to receive. A convenient corollary of such a belief is that the free market should be left to its own devices and that hospitals should decide how much they can charge for services rendered, how much insurance companies can charge individuals for policies, what is and is not covered, who received benefits and who does not. In Linda Gorman's world, the free market is a self-adjusting organism, so the government should just act as a referee, without ever trying to run things.

Let's consider the implications of Ms. Gorman's beliefs for a moment, gauged against reality. The concept that the free market is a self regulating environment is wonderful in theory, but it should come with obvious stipulations. For example, we can agree that the free market works reasonably well in the realm of goods and commodities: you buy what you want at the price you can afford. You want a plasma TV but cannot afford it? Just wait until the price is affordable. Or, if you cannot wait, you can finance the purchase and do without other things that you can live without. That stipulation behind us, everyone should see why health care is quite different: your needs, not your wishes, should dictate what you get. You don't wish for a new heart, unless you need one. You don't choose to take asthma medication, a doctor prescribes it for you, so you can go on living a normal life. It seems to me that advocates of the free market fail to recognize this simple, basic fact of life and of economics: health care is not a commodity, nor is it a choice. Should it be a right? I believe so. But if it is a right, how far does that right go? Should everybody get everything the system can provide, with no spending limits? How do you prioritize access to services and treatment? Who makes final decisions that affect people's health? As you see, viewing health care as a right is not devoid of controversy, but the fact remains that any controversies pale in the face of the decision of a health insurance company to grant or deny policies or services to an individual, or to the impossibility of an individual to afford adequate health care.

Proponents of free market health care would have you believe that the free market is the best of all possible systems, that everything works just fine the way things are, and that the government would bring fewer choices, higher costs, and more complicated processes. Things are quite different from the way proponents of paint them. Even people like John Caldara and Linda Gorman, who believe that governments should referee things, not run them, should know that administrative costs for services provided by the U.S. government (for instance Medicare and Medicaid or in the VA Administration) are 3 cents on the dollar, compared to anywhere between 15% and 35% for private health insurance companies. They should also know that in Colorado, for example, the number of people without health insurance approaches 800,000 (and the number of the uninsured nationwide approaches 50 million.) It is possible, of course, that some of these uninsured choose not to have health insurance only to spend their money on something else. (The typical example that free-market advocates make is that a twenty-something in good health may prefer to waive health insurance costs and spend the money on a new Jetta or a vacation in Cancun.) In reality, though, most of those without health insurance simply cannot afford it. And many of the insured are under-insured, which they are not even aware of until something goes awfully wrong. And while health care per-capita expenditures in the U.S. are now more than twice as high as those of the next nation, the World Health Organization ranked the U.S. 37th in the world (in 2000) in terms of health care per capita.

If you believe people like John Caldara or Linda Gorman, or even their idol, Milton Friedman, the free market is the best possible system, under all circumstances, and in all walks of life, regardless of context and real-life evidence to the contrary. We should make no concessions, or very few, to government intrusion in the lives of citizens (for instance in matters of law and order) and anyone who says otherwise must be misguided, a commie, or incapable of "independent thinking." Free-market fundamentalists, such as Caldara and Gorman, will not waver in their defense of free-market health care even when all available evidence flies in the face of their preconceived position. What's worse is that their defense allows those whose true motive is greed to keep the miserable status quo by dressing it up as the principled defense of valid economic policies.

I am not against private health insurance in a nation's health care system, even when it does not make economic sense. If that's what some people want, they should be allowed to have it. I am saying that private health care should be in addition to, not instead of, a single payer, government-run system. In other words, everyone should have the reassurance that help will be there when their health is not. The richest and luckiest could then buy an insurance policy to ensure that they would have optional access to more expensive, specialized, or prompter care, without breaking the (fatter-than-average) bank.

My support for public funding of certain fundamental social services applies to another one of Linda Gorman's pet peeves: education. Just like she believes that people should have freedom of choice in health care matters, Ms. Gorman believes that people should not be forced to send their kids to a public school where they will be taught inconvenient beliefs in things their parents disagree with; oh, I don't know... like the Theory of Evolution. On this, I agree with Linda Gorman: people should not be forced to send their kids to a school whose teachings they disagree with. In fact, they are not forced to do so today. They can, if they choose, send their kids to private school, or even—alas—to home school them. That does not mean, however, that public financing of schools should be at the mercy of the whims of any special interest group. Public schools do not have to cater to the various tastes and preferences of mothers and fathers. Their curricula do not have to be shaped by the will of a minority, or even of the majority, enlightened or otherwise--if that were the case. Their only obligation is to provide students with the best possible education, based on generally accepted and proven scientific theories and academic principles. Parents who are not satisfied with the education provided by public schools can send their kids to private schools, if they can afford it, or get engaged to improve the way public schools work.

Where Linda Gorman and I (and hopefully you) disagree in our view of the education system is whether parents who wish to give their kids a different education should be subsidized by the government in the form of school vouchers (basically a rebate on the school taxes which everybody pays to local governments.) I don't believe they should be. Even though I do not have any children, I do not resent the fact that I must subsidize the education of other people's kids, because the portion of my taxes that goes toward public education benefits society as a whole in the long run, including me, my family, and everybody else on this planet. Good education allows people to make better choices (at least in theory), and perhaps even to think not just independently, but also intelligently and critically, so that they may recognize the fallacy of bad ideas, even when are masked by an attractive label, such as Independent Thinking. I'll take critical thinking any day.

Before You Vote

[Originally posted at on November 6, 2006]

Before you pull a lever, touch a button, fill in a ballot, and cast your vote, remember this:

  • Katrina
  • Mark Foley
  • Ted Haggard and James Dobson
  • David Kuo (and his book, "Tempting Faith")
  • The Kansas Board of Education and the Discovery Institute, with their push for teaching your kids Intelligent Design
  • The war on the Plan B pill, and the rise in abortions under George Bush (reversing a 24-year long declining trend)
  • Terry Schiavo
  • The couple recently interviewed on ABC who had to take a second mortgage to give birth to its second child
  • Katherine Harris, Ken Blackwell, and Diebold
  • George W. and Osama (Bin Bush)
  • 650,000 dead Iraqis and 3000 dead American, looking for an answer
  • Tom De Lay, Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Michael Scanlon, etc...
  • There are five million more people now in America, then when George Bush seized power in 2000.
  • ...and, again Katrina. Because, and I cannot stress it enough, the fact that George Dubya could not get off his ass for three days after Katrina struck, after three days of images of floating bodies, elderly corpses, and more floating, bloated bodies, but he had no trouble getting off his ass at midnight to fly to Washington to try and save Terry Schiavo talks loudly about his and his supporters' priorities (Not to mention the fact that, when he finally got off his ass, he could do no better than praise Brownie). And if you think that this election is not about giving George Bush a well-deserved slap in the face and preventing him from continuing to destroy this nation, one piece at a time, you have been watching too many episodes of Hannity and Colmes.

Remember all the above. And if you are a little fuzzy about some of the names or the event listed, use "the google" to look them up. The list is by no means comprehensive. That is why it should suffice.

If We Stop Teaching Evolution In U.S. Schools, Will School Shootings End?

[Originally posted at on October 6, 2006]

Obviously, the answer to the question in the title is no. But that is precisely what a survivor of the Columbine shootings of 1999 seemed to imply in his appearance on John Kasich's Fox News program.

The student in question is Mark Taylor, who survived the Columbine shootings by playing dead after he was shot. I just had the misfortune of hearing him say on Fox News that if we keep teaching students that human beings descend from monkeys, instead of teaching them the value of life, these killings will continue. (Coincidentally, it is precisely statements like these that make one wonder about the accuracy of the theory of evolution. Could monkeys descend from humans instead?)

Unbelievable as it may be for those who get their science-trumping knowledge directly from the Bible, evolution is not a novel and wacky theory taught exclusively in U.S. schools. If Jesus had performed a miracle by deductive reasoning, perhaps people like Mark Taylor might be able to digest these data: while evolution is taught pretty much everywhere in the industrialized world, the number of deaths by firearm among kids younger than 15 in the United States is 12 times higher than the corresponding number in 25 other industrialized countries--combined!

In fairness to Taylor, he might just have been trying to eclipse the stupidity of his host's premise, that this nation's youth has become so desensitized to violence (in the form of the usual suspects, videogames and tv programs,) that school shootings are just a natural consequence. Once again, by the power of deductive reasoning, the fact that video games and TV programs justify the violence we have witnessed in U.S. schools of late does not stand, since violent video games and TV programs are not an exclusive prerogative of the United States. The argument does not stand even when the crime committed follows the pattern of a video game or a TV show, because the same TV show or video game viewed by teens in another country does not necessarily lead to the same display of violence.

While it may be comforting to people like Mark Taylor, John Kasich, and his gullible viewers, to find a convenient scapegoat for these events, whether it is the theory of evolution, or the negative effects of a particular form of entertainment on a person, the answer to America's school violence obviously lies elsewhere. Perhaps we can begin our search by focusing our attention on the one factor that separates the United States from the rest of the industrialized world, the one factor that can by itself explain the much higher number of deaths by firearms in this country than anywhere in the rest of the world. It's not the theory of evolution, nor a game of Doom nor a DVD of Saw. It is best summarized by this ad (I just googled it up): "Don’t buy a gun out of fear or contempt or hatred. Buy a gun because you live in a country where you can... Buy a gun for America."

So: how long are we going to allow the untenable platitudes of people like Brian Rohrbough, Mark Taylor, and John Kasich to continue polluting the discourse on gun violence in our schools?

On Morality and Intellectual Dishonesty

[Originally posted at on October 7, 2006]

One argument that I often hear from right-wing Christians is that the fact that homosexuality is natural does not mean we have to condone it. After all, so is pedophilia, and we don't condone it, do we? That is a misguided and morally dishonest argument.

The fact that society (as a whole, not just a religiously-affiliated segment of society) does not condone pedophilia comes from the realization that one of the two parties involved in the sexual act is a minor. The law has many special provisions concerning minors. For example, a minor cannot enter into a legal contract without the permission of his parents or guardians. Minors can't drink. They cannot vote. With diminished right, come also diminished responsibilities and increased protection. Society considers minors victims in a sexual relationship with an adult. And the law makes theoretically no distinctions based on the age of the minor. Whether the minor is six or sixteen years old, the perpetrator can be prosecuted.

There are some people who attempt to put pedophilia and homosexuality on the same level. That requires an astonishing degree of religious fanaticism or intellectual dishonesty. An honest believer can still consider homosexuality wrong, but only from a religious perspective. Homophobia, meet sin. Absent the concept of sin, all that is left is a homosexual relationship that does not involve a minor (if that were the case, it would be pedophilia), just two consenting adults. There is no victim. The only way one can envision the existence of a victim in a homosexual relationship is if one accepts the position, rather the dogma, that God condemns people "who choose the homosexual lifestyle."

I do not have a horse in this race: I am not gay, I know of no gay people in my family, and I have no openly gay friends (no, I am not a homophobe, either.) Nevertheless, as a fellow human being I cannot accept the discrimination that unreasonably targets a minority that, vocal and well-funded as it is, needs all the help it can get to overcome the cacophony of judgemental venom that is poured upon it day after day after day by people who define morality in terms of sexuality.

We should not demand that religious people embrace the viewpoint of those, like us, that consider homosexuality just another of the infinite possibilities of life. They are entitled to their misguided and unfortunate belief. But we should indeed demand that religious people, of all stripes, stop confining those of us who have different sexual instincts to second-class citizenship. And should help gays and lesbians be protected from repugnant comparisons that seek to put them and pedophiles on the same (im)moral ground.

The fact is that we need to convey the idea that homosexuality is no more a preference than left-handedness or the color of one's skin (and there are certainly parallels throughout history in how people of different colors and homosexuals have been fiercely persecuted). To define homosexuality as sexual-preference also implies the idea that a person can force him or herself to change his preference, with some level of training. It misleads people into thinking that given the choice between Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, and Nathan Lane, a homosexual man might choose one of the two goddesses, where in fact his choice lies between Nathan Lane or moving on. Many homosexuals attest that their sexual orientation manifested as early as the first few grades of school. Attempts to change it are mostly unsuccessful and may lead (and have in fact led) to unspeakable trauma both for "converts" and for the family they have gone to build in perpetuation of biological a lie.

Perhaps we need to redefine the terminology that we use to refer to homosexual people. We need to do a better job at teaching society to see homosexual as simply human beings, rather than deviants or mistakes of nature. Just as we have moved from calling people handicapped or disabled, because of the connotation of inferiority which is so often completely unjustified (the more sensible and sensitive term is differently-abled) we may need to change the way we talk about homosexuals, to redefine reality in more humane and sensitive terms. We should try to do away with the odious connotations attached to words like homosexual and gay, and replace them with something that more accurately reflects nature and reality, like differently-inclined. Whatever we do, we cannot let these immoral and bigoted attacks on our brothers and sisters continue, without having to accept a big chunk of the blame for their continued segregation. If we do, we will be next in line.

The Wasted Lesson of Columbine

[Originally posted at on October 5, 2006]

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been several school shootings in the United States, and even in Canada, whose schools had so far managed to escape the fate of many schools in this country. The last shooting occurred earlier this week in a place that no one could have imagined as the scene of this type of tragedy: a school in the heart of Amish country.

It is an endless source of fascination to see how certain people can morbidly exploit a tragedy to further their particular political viewpoint. The last person you would expect to do so is the father of a victim of a similar incident. But that is precisely what happened today, when the father of a victim of the Columbine shootings of 1999 took to the airwaves, courtesy of Katie Couric's right-wing leaning newscast.

Here is a transcript of Mr. Rohrbough's spine-chilling monologue:

I’m saddened and shaken by the shooting at an Amish school today, and last week’s school murders.

When my son Dan was murdered on the sidewalk at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, I hoped that would be the last school shooting. Since that day, I’ve tried to answer the question, “Why did this happen?”

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Let those words sink in for a moment...

I wish, in good conscience, that I could open my comments by saying something like "With all due respect for Mr. Rohrbough and his grief for the loss of his son in the Columbine shootings...," but I cannot do that, because respect for this kind of fundamentalist drivel is not warranted. In one fell swoop of his moralistic axe, Mr. Rohrbough blames school shootings on the moral vacuum in our school system, on the expulsion of God from the classroom and the government, on the rise of evolution (as if evolution was the flavor of the month, a novel and poisonous idea rather than an overwhelmingly accepted scientific fact), and even on abortion. The icing on the cake is the completely gratuitous use of the word terrorists in the context of school shootings.

Nice conservative hit-job, Mr. Rohrbough. It is hard to imagine what speechwriter in the Bush administration might have concocted such a grocery-list of right-wing, pseudo-moral talking points. In Mr. Rohrbough's make-believe world (as opposed to the reality-based one he must despise so much) it is the fact that God has been expelled from the classroom that is to blame for the shootings, in spite of the fact that the last incident targeted an Amish school, where the average man and woman are probably light-years ahead of Mr. Rohrbough in the seriousness of their interpretation and their application of scriptural texts in everyday life. In Mr. Rohrbough's world, it is abortion that diminishes the value of children, with no mention of Republican congressmen who take it upon themselves to send lurid instant messages to their teen pages as part of their mentoring responsibilities.

Mr. Rohrbough's "free-speech" delirium seems taken straight from Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 playbook, when the blame for the terrorist attacks was put squarely where it belongs: on the shoulders of working mothers who have chosen to defy God by leaving the kitchen and the fireplace, of gays, who throw away their lives (and, apparently, ours as well) with their deviant sexual preferences, and of those who have abandoned God to secularism.

It never ceases to amaze me that, when looking for the answer to "why did this happen?", we never look in the obvious place. It is certainly possible to beat someone to death. It is a little easier to stab them to death. But it is certainly much easier to shoot people from a safe distance. No longer, though, do people dare question the issue of the unbridled availability of guns in this country. You can hear people cry about the need to increase security in schools, you can hear some complain about the noxious effect of television programs on the youth of this country, you can hear many bemoan the state of disrepair of public education. Some people in the right wing loony park will scream for stricter decency standards and higher fines for TV stations that violate them. Others will reiterate their demand for public school vouchers. But no one will dare call for an examination of this country's gun policies, for fear of being seen as enemies of the second amendment. It is all so predictable. And so demoralizing.

I used to think that a civil society should have a moral duty to limit the availability of guns as much as possible. Then someone pointed out how a free people might need to arm itself in the event that a tyrannical government might usurp the people's power. I used to laugh at the thought. I don't anymore. When a public television network using public airwaves, openly favors one side over the other behind the pretense of free speech, and allows the diffusion of extreme and unfounded viewpoints without rebuttal, basically acting as the government's megaphone, it's enough to make one rethink the whole second amendment issue. So you may call me a convert on this point: reasonable people should be allowed to have guns. There should, however, be limits to who can own guns, how many, under what conditions, and what type of guns should be permissible. It is reprehensible to lament the fact that children do not know the difference between right and wrong when we, the adults in charge, are unwilling to lead responsibly on a fairly simple, clear-cut subject like gun education and gun control.

In Mr. Rohrbough's world, it is much easier to blame school shootings on the secularization of society and on the estrangement of religion from public life, instead of placing it squarely where it belongs: on our shoulders, and on the shoulders of people like Mr. Rohrbough in particular.

For more information on gun violence issues, I recommend that you view the following two studies: one by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research; the other, slightly older but very informative, by the International Epidemiological Association (in pdf format, requires Adobe Acrobat.)

The Body Disappeared

[Originally posted at on October 3, 2006]

Last week, Congress passed a bill that essentially repeals habeas corpus for all, including U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants. One should have expected a general uprising. If immigrants filled the streets of this nation to protest stricter immigration rules, surely U.S. nationals would rise in protest against the repeal of one of the most sacred protections of individual rights. Instead, the bill passed without hardly any noise. After spending 15 years in this country, I was shocked indeed by this turn of events, but not entirely. Why? Because the American public has become too dumb to follow anything more complex than American Idol, and because it suffers from ASC (American superiority complex.)

When I first came to the United States, I immediately noticed how pervasive a belief most Americans seem to have in the superiority of their country, in all aspects of society. America's claims of superiority have always sounded rather hollow to me, because many of the people who alleged the nation's superiority have never been outside the U.S. It's like American comedian Lewis Black says: How do they know there aren't countries that are just giving free shit away everyday? Like Canada, with health insurance. Few things are more pathetic than a people who claim to be the best in the world without the support of the knowledge of, or even interest in, what goes on outside its city limits. Of those that have had the benefit of exposure to other cultures, many have received their education as servicemen in the Army or some other military outfit, hardly the best way to get to appreciate the richness and complexity of other cultures.

In general, there is an astonishing degree of ignorance and presumption about foreign countries, which allows Americans to make sweeping, ridiculous statements like "America's healthcare is the best in the world." (Go ask the 40 million uninsured and the other 40 million underinsured what they think of the best healthcare system in the world.) The blame for this ignorance lies to a great extent with the American news media, which acts as a facilitator for this dubious superiority complex.

For a European on American soil, it is always shocking to see how superficially international, and even national news, is treated by the news media. Newspapers, with the exception of a few national ones (NY Times, Washington Post, IHT, etc.,) deal mainly with local issues. On television, reporting focuses largely on local news. Typical network affiliates have five or six newscasts a day. Only one, the evening news, deals in any noticeable measure with national and international news. Public television alone offers political analysis of the news in any depth (and hardly ever without any bias).

The situation of cable news may be even worse. With all the coverage of child abductions, Amber alerts, tabloid gossip, and reporting of gory or voyeuristic crimes of little or no national or international relevance, they engender the impression that there is nothing else relevant going on in the world to fill a 24-hour news cycle--unless, of course, it involves the United States in some shape or form. Panel discussions typically feature people too partisan and too busy to regurgitate talking points to engage in constructive debate with other guests or the host. Just think of the parade of jingoistic talking heads that litter such discussions on any given day (mostly on Fox News, but MSNBC and even on CNN have their share, too.)

A quick survey of the “radioscape” is even more disheartening. Radio has been taken over not just by conservatives, but by some of the most extreme voices in the conservative field (whom I will not name, because they do not deserve the publicity—take my word for it,) which might explain the vitriolic, partisan, and twisted logic that characterizes most of the viewpoints that fill the airwaves. The typical host and the typical caller share a worldview in which the world had its ass saved in WWII by America, who has therefore earned the eternal right to exert its planet-saving influence when needed, either by forceful exports of democracy, or by force alone. After all, people in other countries are either pussies, like the French, or illegal immigrants, like Mexicans, whose real goal is to reclaim the land that the United States took from Mexico in Mexican-American war. In this worldview, anything anyone says against George Dubya and/or America is a form of penis envy and/or treason, punishable by deportation to a third-world country, particularly if uttered by fellow Americans.

In such a climate, the impression prospers that nothing valuable exists outside one's national borders. Once that impression has taken hold, there remains nothing but a vacuous an ignorance-fueled sense of superiority over the rest of the world.

The United States, it seems to me, have been in a downward spiral for the last five years at least, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The ongoing trade-offs of the civil guarantees that have made this country so unique for the illusion of security have been made possible by a pathetically misinformed and ignorant citizenry and have led to the creation, in scattered order, of appalling phenomena that only a few years back would have been unthinkable in the country that boasts the highest level of freedom and justice in the world. Things like "free-speech zones" at political conventions, presidential visits, etc; the systematic use of torture; the stifling of dissent, media consolidation ostensibly aimed at reducing the plurality of opinions; the smearing of political adversaries; the gradual but inexorable privatization of the electoral system by a clique of ill-intentioned political agents; the pursuit of illegal wars, the unlawful spying of citizens; the seizure of library records... I could go on listing the unpleasant and dangerous changes that this country has endured rather sheepishly and very guiltily in the last five years. The repeal of habeas corpus is only the last in a long list of disgusting compromises accepted by an ignorant and apathetic citizenry, in exchange for the promise of an unattainable protection from evil.

Unfortunately, we have reached a point where ignorance is not only pathetic, it is also dangerous. Ignorance, gullibility, and chauvinistic boastfulness are being exploited by those in power to pursue an agenda that has brought the nation closer to the brink of a dictatorship. It is quite a spectacle, as a rather uninvolved observer, to see people who think that they are "the freest in the world" do away with a fundamental constitutional protection of freedom without so much as a squeak. While not everyone agrees on the source of the quote (Benjamin Franklin?), few would disagree with the statement that "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Only an ignorant people would silently accept such a tradeoff.

The End Of Silence

[Originally posted at on September 14, 2006]

Today, I am breaking an almost three-month long silence. It's not that I have not had anything to say, or that nothing interested has happened in the last couple of months. On the contrary, the list of interesting events is long:

  • Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, signalling a possible reversal of fortunes for the allies of the administration. Katrina's one-year anniversary came and went without too much clamor. One would have thought that Katrina might have been able to do what three years of the war in Iraq have as yet failed to accomplish: show that the rulers are very good at filling their mouths with proclaims, but less capable of delivering on them. Alas, not a peep to be heard from the mainstream media about the pitiful state in which New Orleans lies thanks to the inaction of a complacent administration. Not even Spike Lee's monumental effort to highlight the stark contrast between promises and facts was able to rouse the MSM from its already proverbial torpor.
  • Katherine Harris, Florida's former Secretary of State, who prematurely ended the 2000 Presidential Election recounts sparking the controversy that ended with the Supreme Court's infamous 5-4 ruling that handed the presidency to George W. Bush, has just won her primary in Florida, where she will challenge Bill Nelson for the governor's seat in November.
  • Sen. George Allen, R-Va., has gotten himself into the spotlight for calling an Indian spectator at one of his rallies "macaca," and welcoming him to the real America (I guess the America in which people gather around a burning cross in hooded, white attire.)
    Katie Couric finally debuted on the CBS Evening News last night. The feather in her debut's cap? The first photograph of Suri Cruise. No kidding. Rush Limbaugh is allegedly slated to make an appearance on Ms. Couric's Evening Extravaganza next Thursday, in a segment called "Free Speech." Free not as in uncensored. Free as in free-of-charge. I was under the impression that political campaigns had to buy airtime. Not in Ms. Couric's court.
  • ABC, another bastion of liberalism according to its Republican detractors, has aired a fictionalized account of 9/11, titled "The Path to 9/11." The screenwriter is a friend of Rush Limbaugh, who has been pumping the movie on his "Excellence in Broadcasting" network. Thomas Kean, the Republican co-chairman of the 9/11 commission, served as an advisor to the film. His Democratic co-chair did not. Not surprisingly, this work of fiction attempted to shift the burden of the 9/11 on the Clinton administration, despite the well-known facts that pin the responsibility on the failure of the Bush administration to follow up on actionable intelligence, epitomized by the congressional testimony of then NSA advisor Condoleeza Rice who acknowledged receipt of a memo, dated Aug 6, 2001entitled, "Bin-Ladin determined to strike in US." There were many other signs that the Bush administration ignored prior to 9/11 that could be easily pinned on the president's closest collaborators. But ABC decided to mark the 5-year anniversary of the attacks by airing a heavy revision of history, penned by people with close Republican ties. (For more on this, read the brilliant piece published last week on
  • Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, recently released a book emphatically titled "Take This Job, and Ship It!", which should be a mandatory read for all supporters of free-market economy. Not those who have a vested interest in perpetuating the illusion that markets left to themselves, with little or no regulation, work best, but those who support the system without knowing the facts. While Sen. Dorgan might have used the help of a more careful editor (there are inaccuracies, to be true), he writes with a passion and with an inside access to congressional records which are hard to match. It is not a painless read, but the pain comes not from the Senator's errors, rather from the truths he uncovers.
  • And we are starting to hear words like dictatorship, and even the F-word--yes, FASCISM--more and more often, in relation to the direction things are taking in this nation. And if you think it is only nutcases who do that, read what recently retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had to say on the topic in March of this year: The fact that the link to the speech is the Guardian's (U.K.) is not coincidental: those bastions of the liberal media in the U.S.A., The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The LA Times, chose not to report it at all. And while we are on the subject of the supposedly liberal media: during a recent edition of Lou Dobbs' Tonight, CNN had the following banner running under the political reporter du jour: "Are the Democrats using the War in Iraq for political advantage?" Ah, those conniving bastards!

The list goes on, and perhaps I will reprise it in the coming days. For now, these few examples of what happened while I vanished from these pages may suffice.

So what, if anything, caused me to go AWOL? Fatigue, I guess. Apathy, also. And the ominous, lingering sensation that no matter how slanted the polls ahead of the November elections seem in favor of Democrats, things will get worse on Nov. 7. Because no matter how tragicomically the administration blunders about for the next two months, no matter how many feet end up in Republican senators' mouths from here 'til Election Day, no matter how expensive gas gets, or how catastrophically the planet fights back at our insensitivity: nothing will matter, if the people in charge of elections are people like Ken Blackwell, sitting Secretary of State in Ohio, who will also be running for Governor on Nov. 7. Apparently, no conflict of interest is too big for a man who already served as Secretary of State and, simultaneously, as the co-chairman of the "Committee to re-elect George W. Bush" during the 2004 election. No polling hurdle is too big to overcome when the people who manufacture the voting machines (ES&S and Diebold Election Systems) have symbiotic ties with sitting congressmen and women. (There is ample literature documenting the ridiculous flaws and ease of manipulation of electronic voting systems on the sites listed at the end of the article.)

Alas, the fight to regain control of reason and of worthy representation in this country begins with regaining control of the votes we cast. Without public campaign financing, to rid ourselves of the ills of electoral corruption, and without verifiable vote counts, elections are nothing but pageantry. In spite of voices like Greg Palast's, John Conyers, Steve Freeman, Robert Kennedy Jr., and many others, all of whom have cried foul and pointed at the many examples of the corruption of the electoral process, the nation has chosen not to listen. That's why we must add our voices to the chorus. As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. Indeed, our fight might initially be much like the long upstream journey of a salmon: long, exhausting, and very possibly doomed to fail. Like salmons, some of us may die before we reach our goal. But if we don't fight for what is right, and fair, and just, aren't we dead already? So let your voices be heard, and make a stand for your right to be counted. Begin by spreading the word, because until our cries reach critical mass, nothing will change. If we do not rise in numbers and voice our legitimate demand for clean and fair elections, untainted by corporate influence, we will have lost what so many before us have given so much for, including their lives. But if enough of us join in this fight, we will succeed in spawning our democracy to new life.

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Because action speaks louder than words, visit the sites listed below and see what you can do to bring about change:
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