Friday, April 29, 2005

Weekend amusement

They say that everyone has a blog now, and that just might be true. I present to you the blog of Darth Vader.

Enjoy.


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Try picking another

This is one of those stories that sends me into Hulk-like levels of rage. Andrew on Confirm Them reported about the Democrats protesting in front of the Jefferson Memorial in order to "urge their colleagues not to give in to what a Democratic release termed 'White House pressure'" regarding the judicial filibusters.

Listen, I am no fan of Jefferson. People around these parts know that. But the symbolic nature of this act represents a profound historical ignorance that is beyond belief. Aside from the fact that, as senator Cornyn correctly notes, Jefferson himself affirmed that the Senate owed the President's nominees a simple majority up-or-down vote, there is the mind-numbing stupidity of arguing for the preservation of the filibuster in front of a memorial to a man who, more than any other Founder, was committed to majority rule. Andrew provides a handful of quotes that demonstrates Jefferson's dedication to the general will.

Equally important is Jefferson's hostility to the judiciary and his repudiation of judicial review. You think modern conservatives disapprove of the drift of the courts in America? Jefferson no doubt would be apoplectic were he to come alive and discover what the Court has wrought.

Whether or not the filibusters ought to be stopped is an entirely different argument (and for such arguments, there is no better source than Confirm Them), but if you're going to defend the preservation of the filibuster, you'd better pick a better symbol than Thomas Jefferson.


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Thursday, April 28, 2005

How readable are we?

This readability test has been making its way through the blogosphere. It measures the content of your website and determines how readable it is. Here are the results for the Political Spectrum:

Summary Value
Total sentences 705
Total words 10,160
Average words per Sentence 14.41
Words with 1 Syllable 6,665
Words with 2 Syllables 2,035
Words with 3 Syllables 1,005
Words with 4 or more Syllables 455
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 14.37%
Average Syllables per Word 1.53
Gunning Fog Index 11.51
Flesch Reading Ease 62.56
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 8.11

The Gunning Fog Index determines the grade-level one must achieve in order to understand the content, the Flesch-Kincaid is the same measure but using a different methodology. The Reading Ease score is based on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being the easiest.

Hat tip to Geek Soap Box and Ace of Spades.


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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Man Nobody Knows

This week's Coalition for Darfur post.

On February 24, 2004, an op-ed entitled "The Unnoticed Genocide" appeared in the pages of the Washington Post warning that without humanitarian intervention in Darfur "tens of thousands of civilians [would] die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction."

Written by Eric Reeves, a literature professor from Smith College, this op-ed was the catalyst that compelled many of us to start learning more about crisis in Darfur which, in turn, led directly to the creation of the Coalition for Darfur.

For over two years, Eric Reeves has been the driving force behind efforts to call attention to the genocide in Darfur by writing weekly updates and providing on-going analysis of the situation on the ground. As early as 2003, Reeves was calling the situation in Darfur a genocide, nine months before former Secretary of State Colin Powell made a similar declaration. In January of 2005, Reeves lashed out against "shamefully irresponsible" journalists who "contented themselves with a shockingly distorting mortality figure for Darfur's ongoing genocide." Reeves' analysis led to a series of news articles highlighting the limitations of the widely cited figure of 70,000 deaths and culminated in a recent Coalition for International Justice survey that concluded that death toll was nearly 400,000; an figure nearly identical to the one Reeves had calculated on his own.

Perhaps most presciently, on March 21st, Reeves warned that "Khartoum has ambitious plans for accelerating the obstruction of humanitarian access by means of orchestrated violence and insecurity, including the use of targeted violence against humanitarian aid workers." The following day it was reported that Marian Spivey-Estrada, a USAID worker in Sudan, had been shot in the face during an ambush while "traveling in a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle." The lack of security for aid workers has led some agencies to declare certain areas "No Go" zones or withdraw all together, leaving the internally displaced residents of Darfur without access to food, water or medical care.

And as the Boston Globe reported on Sunday, he has done it all while fighting his own battle with leukemia.

Were it not for Eric Reeves, it is quite possible that the genocide in Darfur would have gone largely unnoticed. We at the Coalition for Darfur offer him our prayers and support and express our heartfelt thanks for all that he has done to prick the nation's conscience on this vitally important issue. We hope that his courage and conviction will be an inspiration to others and that Darfur will soon begin to get the attention that it deserves.


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Monday, April 25, 2005

MNR

I walk alone and I walk alone . . .
My shadow’s the only one who walks besides me
Well somebody told me that you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
That I had in February of last year
It's not confidential
I've got potential
'Til then I walk alone


I may have my lyrics messed up, but since it seems that Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” are the only two songs being played on the radio at the current moment, I may have blended them together. You know, I used to like both of those songs, but then I started listening to the radio more and more, and now I would like to kill everyone associated with the overplay of these tunes. Can’t radio programmers find something else to play? Are they so uncreative that they have to play the same fucking songs over and over and over again until you are quite ready to visit a book depository and open fire on ANYONE because these freaking songs have completely infested your brain and . . . and . . .

I’ve said too much.

But I haven’t said enough.

Actually, I was hoping to butt my way into a game that’s been going around the internet over the past week or so. Basically you list five things that most people in your circle of friends or peer group like that you absolutely hate. And so, without further ado.

1)Jon Meyer, Dave Grey, and all those other Dave Mathews-esque college-bands. If I have to listen to one more raspy-voiced, incoherent, boring as sin motherfucker with a guitar moaning on about I don’t even know what, well, see above paragraph. I guess there is something to be said about radio stations repeating the same few songs because when they do go off format they play this wimpy shit. I need guitars and drums and music with pep. I can take the occasional slow song, but these guys are the instant cure for insomnia, and should just stop playing right now.

2)Independent movies. It’s basically the same phenomenon as number one. Basically, the hip thing is to be out of the mainstream, and thus we wind up with the conformity of non-conformism that is indy movie worship. In the history of cinema I could probably list my favorite 30 movies without listing one indy movie (Does "The Usual Suspects" count?). Now, don’t give me some Miramax pic as an example of an independent movie, I’m talking about those movies with like a 20 dollar budget, usually shot with some home camera, that everyone orgasms over because, well, they’re not produced by a major motion picture company, and ergo the creative independence must obviously lead to some cinematic tour-de-force or some other washed up cliché. More often than not these movies are at best mediocre, and often times just plain awful. I can think of no finer example to exemplify how shitty indy movies are than the over-hyped “Blair Witch Project.” Just an awful snoozefest that suckered millions (such as yours truly) into watching because of a clever ad campaign, but unfortunately the movie was a run-of-the mill art house project that sucked monkey balls and was utterly forgetful. While it’s true that the big movie makers frequently indulge in big budget, brain-dead action pics or romantic comedies that are insulting to the movie-goers’ intelligence, they are also able to pump money into a director’s project in such a way that they can more fully explore their vision. Indy movies are thus often dull, if sometimes clever. But the hype for most of them is undeserving.

3) SUV’s. Why the fuck does anyone below the age of 30, or who does not have multiple children, need a giant vehicle that is slightly smaller than a tank? It’s not for the lefty bs environmental concerns that I hate these enormous machines, but because:
a) They’re ugly.
b) They take up too much space. It is thus more difficult to find parking spaces and it takes longer to go through a traffic light.
c) Half the people who own them don’t know how to drive them. Nothing puts a panicked lump in my throat more than the sight of a college-aged female driving one while simultaneously talking on a cell phone. Many rosaries are silently said upon such sightings.

And the thing is they keep getting bigger. How much steel does this country go through in order to manufacture these things? And what is up with these schmucks who drive Hummers? For what earthly reason does one need to drive a Hummer, especially in the middle of the city? Are these people expecting an invasion? If so, put them in the front lines because those things can assuredly destroy anything in their path, but until then, PUT THEM THE FUCK AWAY.

Of course my conservative friends will surely tell me, “but it’s our right to buy such vehicles,” to which I reply, “Yes. Of course it is. If people want to waste gallons of money on these gas-guzzlers, so be it. But just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean that you’re not a fuckhead for making such a choice.”

4) Ann Coulter. No, I’m not talking about her as a writer, but it seems there’s this bizarre notion out there that she’s hot. Umm, no. Actually, this pretty much applies to any generic blond-haired woman who has the appearance of not having eaten solid food in some time. I didn’t play with Barbie growing up, and I have no inclination of spending the rest of my life with a real-life version. Well, at least the plastic one has boobs.

5) The NFL draft. It’s bad enough to listen to Mel Kiper every now and then, but for the month leading up to the draft I am exposed to his hyper-ventilation over some obscure aspect of the draft seemingly every minute of the day. The guy may be great at his job, but he seriously needs some decaffeinated beverages, STAT! But Kiper is just the tip of the iceberg of what is the most ridiculously over-hyped event on the sports calendar. Yes, it’s nice to see where your team might be headed in the future, and we can all look forward to our teams plugging a whole with some new blood. But do we really need to spend hours of our life dissecting every single player eligible, wondering where they’ll wind up, what time they ran the 40, or what color their poop is? And how insane is it to sit in front of a television for six hours to watch the bloody event? For fuck’s sake I’ve got enough things on my plate, do I need to spend an entire afternoon waiting for Paul Tagliabue to appear on my television screen?

Now I leave it to the rest of the Political Spectrum crew to come up with their lists.


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Senator Bennett on Judges

Via How Appealing, I thought it appropriate to post Senator Bob Bennett's (R-UT) remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week. The remarks in full can be accessed here, but there are a couple of excerpts I would like to share:

I remember sitting in the family gallery one evening listening to the debates.
In those days, there were debates. There was not the situation we find now where
senators come to the floor to posture for the television cameras. They came to
the floor to have a clash of ideas. I remember a particular debate where a
senator on the Democratic side of the aisle was holding forth. He seemed to be
winning the argument and the senators on the Republican side of the aisle sent
up the call for the chairman of the Finance Committee, who entered the back of
the chamber. I remember the Democratic senator saying, I see the Republicans
have brought up their heavy artillery. Then there was an exchange between these
two senators which the chairman of the Finance Committee clearly won.


I couldn't agree with the Senator more, C-SPAN and 24 hour news cycles have, as most things do, an upside and a downside. True, more people watch C-SPAN and are better informed, however, the presence of TV cameras has led, in my opinion, to more posturing, pontificating, and grandstanding than it has led to honest, intellectual policy debate. This result was preventable and is not beneficial to either our political institution's or the policies that come out of them.

First, what are we talking about? We are talking about changing a Senate
tradition. We are also talking about changing a Senate rule. I want people to
understand the two are not the same. Indeed, we have formal rules in the Senate
governing the way we do business. We have created traditions and, quite frankly,
the tradition trumps the rule. If somebody invokes the rule, they can overturn
the tradition, but the tradition that has taken hold trumps the rule. ...
However, those who say it is a violation of the Senate tradition to use the
filibuster to block a circuit court judge are also exactly right. By tradition,
we have always held in the Senate that a nominee who gets out of committee and
comes to the Senate is entitled to an up-or-down vote. By invoking the rule in
the last Congress, the then-Democrat leader overturned the tradition. By talking
about changing the rule now, the Republican leader, the majority leader, is
entirely within his rights. Neither one should be demonized for the position
they took.
True, all true, but what is worse is that these respective positions, while both valid, get so distorted and misrepresented by the press and the advoacy groups on both sides of the issue.

Finally, Senator Bennett said,
I hope we will not see any more press releases attacking the president's
nominees as "right-wing whackos," that we will not see any more radio ads
attacking senators who are examining this matter as being people of no faith,
that we will stop the politics of personal destruction on both sides of this
issue, and we will look at it in its historic pattern.

Me too.


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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Happy Pesach

Tonight begins one of the most important periods of the Jewish year, that being Passover. Even the most unobservant of Jews take time tonight or at some point in the next eight days to commemorate their liberation from Egypt.

And yet Christians will barely take notice, and I must wonder why. This is something that has bothered me for some time. While we Christians have obviously separated ourselves from the Jewish community, we still share many of the same beliefs, notably in a benevolent and single God. The God of Isreael is also the God of Christians. We still read the Old Testament, and even if we do not strictly adhere to all its prescripts as do Orthodox Jews, the Torah is a fundamental part of our faith. Abraham, Jacob, Moses and all of the prominent figures of the Hebrew Scriptures remain individuals that we revere to one degree or another.

The Passover story is the most fundamentally important biblical story, in my opinion. From the liberation of the Hebrew slaves, to the crossing of the Red Sea, to the gift of the Ten Commandments and the covenant between God and his chosen people, the groundworks of the Judeo-Christian tradition are laid down in the Passover account and the events that follow. As such, it should remain for Christians a fairly important event in our history.

And yet we barely take notice. I do not necessarily expect Christians to celebrate this time of year in the same manner or with the same reverence as Jews, but it seems we should do more to acknowledge what is an a cornerstone of the narrative that runs all the way to the time of Jesus. It was a Passover cedar, after all, that Jesus and his apostles were celebrating on the night he was betrayed. Perhaps Holy Thursday stands in as a commemoration of sorts, but that doesn't really count, as that day is a day of rememberance of Christ's last supper and not of the flight from Egypt.

Besides, what Christian - or any person for that matter - would want to pass up a celebration which actually requires you to drink four glasses of wine.

Well, these are some scattered thoughts that I thought I would share. As for my Jewish friends and readers, have a Happy Pesach.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

DeLayed Reactions?

Question: What is the absolute worst offense for which a person can be found guilty in today’s Washington, D.C.? Answer: Being a conservative, and meaning it.

For those who doubt the truth of this statement, I ask only that you take a few minutes to think about two individuals who have recently received a good deal of scrutiny for belated and disingenuous reasons: U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Thomas DeLay (R-Tex.) and Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton.

DeLay has been criticized in the media of late for the supposedly shocking revelation that he has had friends and family work on previous congressional campaigns, and also because he placed those same friends and family in positions of trust within those campaigns. This is not the only accusation that has been leveled against DeLay – there are more substantial claims of wrongdoing that involve the alleged receipt of benefits in the form of trips from recently indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff – but it has been by far the loudest and most repeated charge against him.

Superficially, this story has the glint of impropriety. Scratch the surface, however, and the picture changes.

It should be noted at the outset that nothing DeLay has done in the campaign context is actually illegal: it is undeniably within the bounds of the law for political candidates to tap into friends and family members’ services. There is at least a plausible reason for this to be so: friends and family are usually the best, cheapest, and most guaranteed resource for campaigns. While the sum DeLay’s campaign has paid to his wife and daughter over the last few election cycles is arguably higher than is typical, discussions of friends and family members’ salaries for work done on campaigns are invariably prone to hyperbole, particularly when the numbers are blurred and payment time frames are omitted. (Example: if a story reports that a candidate has paid his wife $500,000 for her campaign work, it might sound shady. Once it comes to light, however, that that sum was distributed over the course of a decade, it becomes a lot less shady.)

Indeed, some of DeLay’s sharpest critics in recent weeks on the other side of the aisle have done the same exact thing with nary a comment by the MSM, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D. Nev.), and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) among them. (And, not to start a fire or anything, but news items from more than a year ago raise more questions about Reid’s conduct than DeLay’s. Check out the Los Angeles Times story regarding Reid’s use of his position as senator to secure financial benefits for family members in Nevada.) (In the event you have trouble going directly to the Los Angeles Times story from this post, follow this link and then go to its link to the original story.)

Furthermore, DeLay has yet to be indicted, much less convicted, of a single criminal act. I am the last person to advocate that someone is good or decent, or even clean in the political sense, simply because they have not been formally indicted or convicted, nor would I be satisfied with our guys merely being the cleanest of the dirty. But I think when accusations of corruption are being flung around with reckless abandon, the absolute least one can do is wait until something more substantial than an accusation from a member of the opposing party comes to light.

With respect to Bolton, Democrats like Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) have been tripping over themselves to get in on the action of shredding this long-time public servant. Yale-educated and devoutly conservative, Bolton is an expert on weapons proliferation and has been one of the more astute critics of the soft-on-terror global community and its current vehicle of choice, the United Nations. Since being nominated to the crucial post of Ambassador to the United Nations by President Bush, he has been accused of impropriety in his most recent public service role as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security – specifically, that he abused his position of dominance within State in order to try and get people who disagreed with his intelligence assessments fired.

Again, the appearance of impropriety at first glance. Keep digging, though – a few shovels full of dirt will get you to the truth.

On the April 17, 2005, edition of FOX News Sunday, Brit Hume put the entire Bolton brouhaha in its proper context. Hume said, in essence, that what happened between Bolton and the subordinate played out as follows:

Bolton was drawing up a speech addressing Cuba’s potential capacity for producing weapons of mass destruction, and wanted some specific language included in that speech. A lifetime State employee challenged the language and told Bolton that it may be inaccurate. Seeking independent confirmation, Bolton instructed the subordinate to farm the sample out to the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Department for review. The subordinate did this, but went a step further: rather than simply forwarding the raw text to these agencies, he also added his critique of Bolton’s claims to the dispatch – a step that arguably colored these agencies’ input. A copy of Bolton’s request and the appended critical comments eventually made its way back to Bolton’s desk. Bolton contacted the subordinate to ask him if he had in fact done this. The subordinate denied doing so. (Remember, Bolton had the subordinate’s comments in his hand at the time.) Bolton was (understandably) furious.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I had been in Bolton’s shoes, I would not have tried to get that subordinate fired – I would have tried to get him drawn and quartered. There is a huge difference between honest intellectual criticism of superiors and defying instructions from superiors. Whether or not Bolton actually tried to get the subordinate fired, he probably should have been fired. (Apparently, the federal government is the last place left on earth where you can thumb your nose at your boss and still keep your job.)

What do DeLay and Bolton have in common, you ask? They have been made the targets of pretextual witch hunts.

DeLay’s big sin of late is to have the audacity to say that Congress has the constitutional authority to tailor and, if necessary, restrict the scope of the federal judiciary. (For those of you who have given up on actually reading the Constitution – i.e., Democrats – our founding document gives Congress substantial authority to determine the jurisdiction of the federal courts. How radical.) It is no coincidence that this onslaught of media coverage followed DeLay’s public comments regarding his calls for reforming the federal judiciary, which, in case you have forgotten, is the American Left’s lone remaining stronghold. Were DeLay to cave to this trumped-up scandal and resign (which I hope does not happen), the Republican Party would lose perhaps the most effective conservative legislator it has had in decades. In this day of namby-pamby Chuck Hagels and Lincoln Chafees, a Congress without DeLay would be a neutered Congress.

And Bolton? His biggest character flaw is that he has been skeptical of the United Nations and its ability to manage the crises of our time. It goes without saying that his skepticism is justified, in light of Kofi Annan’s failure of leadership and a whole panoply of other problems that are beyond the scope of this post. Lest you actually buy into the idea that his nomination is being assaulted because of bully-like tendencies at State, you should know that the liberal alarm bells sounded well before any of this was known simply because Bolton might actually be the tough hand needed to drag this broken international organization kicking and screaming toward reform. The Bush administration had barely released his name before Democrats were attacking him as being too harsh a nominee. Too harsh? Try too effective.

DeLay and Bolton are on the proverbial hot plate now, just as Condoleezza Rice and Al Gonzales were before, and just as other as-yet-unknown individuals will be in the future. Critics of the standard-bearers of today’s conservative movement should at least be required to base their criticisms upon fact and policy, not conjecture and innuendo – and people like me will be here to make sure there is honest debate. As John Kerry might say: Bring. It. On.

P.S. Apparently, the Senate has delayed a vote on the Bolton nomination. I strongly encourage the Republican Party to rediscover its testicles. Seriously, whenever you’re ready, guys, we have a country to run.


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Jumpin' Jim Calls It Quits

In case you have not heard, Senator James Jeffords (I-Vt.), forever known to the Republican faithful as "Jumpin' Jim" Jeffords, will not be seeking re-election to a fourth term in the United States Senate in 2006. All of the media stories about this announcement, drawing on the AP release, have indicated that Jeffords' decision is either the result of his own as-yet-undisclosed health problems or his wife's ongoing battle with cancer. (Of course, the articles all also subtly heap praise upon Jumpin' Jim for his courageous decision to run for re-election under one party's banner and then switch sides shortly thereafter. ABC News, in the photo caption accompanying its story, notes that Jeffords had issued his own "declaration of independence" in 2001. Such courage. But I digress.)

All the stories that I have seen (which all use the unadulterated AP language) seem to have forgotten two things. First, in leaving the Republican Party in 2001, Jeffords betrayed the trust of the people who voted for him, many of whom (but not all) were Republicans. It goes without saying that they were never going to support him again. It probably also goes without saying that, with Democrats and Republicans fielding their own candidates, his chances of garnering anything close to a winning majority were slim to none.

Second, Jeffords -- not exactly known for his burning intellect -- let loose with remarkably ill-advised comments about two weeks ago. Jeffords declared in an interview that the Bush administration had gone to Iraq solely for the purpose of seizing that nation's oil supply, and also claimed that he expected President Bush to go into Iran before 2008 in order to get his "son" Jeb Bush into the White House. (The relevant quote from this interview can be found here.) Yikes.

It's one thing for the likes of Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon to raise the specter of blood-for-oil or Bush family conspiracies, but for a sitting senator to do so?

Jeffords isn't not running for re-election because of his health (although he may very well be sick in the head). He isn't running because he is a fool who could not get himself elected ice cream inspector if his life depended on it. I am quite happy to see him jump -- for good, this time.


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While We Were Distracted

From the Coalition for Darfur.

In 1994, a genocide took place in Rwanda and it is probably safe to say that few of us remember hearing much about it. How was it possible, we now ask ourselves, that we could have so easily ignored the brutal slaughter of nearly one million people.

A look back to those 100 days in 1994 reveals that while we may not have heard much about Rwanda, we most certainly heard a great deal about many other things.

April to July 1994: A Timeline
On April 7, 1994 Rwandan soldiers and trained militias armed with machetes unleashed a murderous campaign to destroy the minority Tutsi population.

On April 8, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

On April 15, an estimated 20,000 Rwandans who had sought shelter Nyarubuye Church were slaughtered by government forces and members of the Interahamwe militia.

On April 22, former President Richard Nixon died and his funeral was held five days later.

On May 5, Michael Fay, an 18 year-old US citizen, was caned in Singapore as punishment for vandalism.

In mid May, the International Red Cross estimated that 500,000 Rwandans had been killed.

On June 17, OJ Simpson led police on a slow speed chase in a White Ford Bronco.

On July 4, the rebel army took control of the Rwandan capitol of Kigali and the genocide came to an end in a country littered with nearly one million corpses.
It is widely acknowledged that the world largely ignored the genocide in 1994 and failed the people of Rwanda. A decade later, it is worth asking if our
priorities have changed.
On September 8, 2004 "60 Minutes" ran a controversial story regarding President Bush's service in the Air National Guard that relied, in part, on forged memos.

On September 9, former Secretary of State Colin Powell officially declared that genocide was taking place in Darfur, Sudan.

On October 4, Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide warned that the world was responding to the crisis in Darfur much in the same way it responded to the genocide in Rwanda – with complete indifference.

On October 6, comedian Rodney Dangerfield died.

On January 24, 2005, Johnny Carson died.

On January 25, the UN released a report chronicling "serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law"; among them the "killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence."

On March 11, Brian Nichols overpowered a deputy, stole her gun and killed three people in an Atlanta courthouse before escaping.

On March 14, the United Nation's estimated that at least 180,000 people have died in Darfur in the last year and a half.
Ten years ago, a genocide unfolded right in front of our eyes, but the media was more focused on the legal problems of various celebrities than it was on the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Africa.

And the same thing is happening today.

One has to wonder if, ten years from now, we'll be saying to one another "I vaguely remember hearing about the genocide in Sudan. It took place about the time of the Michael Jackson trial, right?"

We at the Coalition for Darfur ask you to join us in raising awareness of the genocide and to consider making a small donation to any of the organizations providing life saving assistance to the neglected people of Darfur.


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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

White smoke

White smoke has risen, and the bells have rung, signifying we have a new Pope. The announcement of his name will come soon.

Glory be.

Update: It's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who shall take the name Pope Benedict XVI.


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MLB slipping into parody, err parity?

The constant lament about major league baseball is that big-market teams have an unfair advantage over all the rest, and so few teams have a real shot at winning the pennant. Most of the scorn is focused upon the New York Yankees (a vile organization, to be sure), who dominated the game in the late 90's with four world championships in five years. Never mind the fact that during the time frame in which the Yanks were winning World Series their payroll was not significantly larger than the other high-priced teams, or that the core of their team consisted of home-grown talent and not big-named free agents. Oh no, the Yanks were the root of all evil in the world, and the rules of the game had to be changed.

And so were they were - to a degree. Major League Baseball instituted a form of revenue sharing that placed a luxery tax on teams who spent over a certain amount of money, with the tax being spread around to the poorer teams, which, by the way, were not actually required to turn around and spend said money on players in an effort to improve the team. As anyone with any bit of common sense recognized, the Yankees would simply ignore the tax and keep spending, while the tax was felt by the next level of big spenders - the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets, etc.

And so parity seems to be creeping into major league baseball. Oh joy. How exciting to see 25 teams all with the same relative record battle it out. Two weeks into the season and there are entire divisions where every team is .500 or a game below or above .500. Currently, the only team breaking away from the pack are the Los Angeles Dodgers, who sport a 10-2 record. This is unfortunate for the Rockies, the team with the worst record in the majors at a lofty 2-10, as they are already a whopping 8 games out and we're still in mid-April. But there is no such spread in the rest of the big leagues.

Does this render the game any better? Are we better off with a bunch of above-average teams with no real dominant teams? The Dodgers are off to a great start, but I doubt they will maintain that level of play throughout the season as Kent, Itzuris and other fast starters come down to earth. But there are no dominant teams, especially the Yankees.

But the Yankees are struggling not because of the rules, but despite them. As everyone predicted, Steinbrenner feels not the least bit restricted by the luxery tax and has ballooned the Yankee payroll to over $200 million. But what we are seeing is a return to the Yankees of the mid 80's: spending a ton on overpriced and elderly free agents while letting the farm system go to pot. The Yankees returned to dominance when Steinbrenner was suspended and they were allowed to develop future stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. In addition to those stars, the Yankees made fair trades to acquire the likes of Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. Now that the Yankees have returned to old form and are playing to the stereotype portrayed by the Yankee bashers, they have become a good but not dominant team.

Meanwhile, we are supposed to reward pathetic franchises like the Milwaukee Brewers (sorry Jen) and Pittsburgh Pirates through revenue sharing. Last night the Brewers and Pirates played home games against, respectively, the Dodgers and Cardinals, and drew a little over 11,000 people. In other words, these two teams, neither of which is particulatly awful (and fairly decent in the case of Milwaukee), playing in beautiful new ballparks with beautiful weather outside, going up against the best team in baseball and the defending National League Champions, couldn't even get 1/3 capacity. To put that in perspective, the atrocious Rockies, playing the barely-above atrocious Diamondbacks, drew nearly 30,000 fans.

I'm not trying to single out Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, but they serve as shining examples of why revenue sharing is a crock of shit. Why should the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox be penalized for having fans who actually care and show up to the park? The Yankees are a little bit different because they also own and operate their own cable network which is a huge alternate source of revenue, but there is simply no excuse for this ridiculous plan which rewards bad team management and apathetic fan bases.

So far Major League baseball has not descended into complete madness a la the NFL with lackluster teams such as the Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Bucs winning championships, and .500 teams reaching the playoffs. But that is the goal of the schmucks in charge and also of a disconcerting share of the fanbase. Great. Watch what happens when we get the most boring possible games because the talent is spread too thin around the league.

People will respond to me by saying that the NFL has demonstrated the success of parity through its tremendous ratings (hmmm, wonder why ABC gave up Monday Night Football then) and increasing revenue. Two things. First of all, the NFL is successful not because of parity - indeed it has surpassed MLB long before the current system was established - but because of the nature of the game. Football is played once a week, lends itself well to gambling, and has other attractions that draw fans. In fact rating have declined ever so slightly since the mid 90's, or at the very least have flattened. Second, so what? Are we to judge the merits of something strictly based on popularity? So I guess Britney Spears is more talented than Radiohead by that rationale.

Whatever. It's a lost cause. Enjoy baseball for now.


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Monday, April 18, 2005

MNR

I do not know if I can really rant tonight. It has been a tough day, and I'm still feeling a tad uneasy over an experience I had at work this afternoon. Oh, it was so awful. My boss came in and . . . and . . . (sob) he had this really perturbed look on his face, like he was kind of a little annoyed. And I wondered what was wrong and then . . .

And then he put his hands on his hips and spoke in a slightly louder than usual tone of voice. He was so terrible - a monster really. I was reduced to tears for the rest of the day.

Can I work for such a cruel taskmaster? How do I know he won't come into my office again and speak to me in a less-then-soothing tone of voice? When will I see that beast place his hands on his hips to express at least mild displeasure in my work? I can't work in this environment. I can't I tell you. I just can't.
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Okay, I have gotten myself together now, for the good of the blog. (Whew, for a minute there I lost myself . . . I lost myself).

One of the beautiful things about living in Dupont Circle is the ability to take walks during the evening, particularly warm spring and summer nights, and to take in the surrounding neighborhood. Dupont, like DC in general is best during the warm time of year, and during this time of year one can count on seeing large groups of interesting people in the middle of the Circle itself. What's more, one can just about always count on some sort of group of wannabe hippies gathered in the middle by the fountain blathering on and on and on about something, usually about the vile and evil Lord Voldemort incarnate, George W. Bush. You know, the bumbling idiot who is also the clever and manipulative psycho genius bent on world domination.

Of course the merry revilers did not disappoint tonight. I guess there was a group of twenty or so, all decked out in their finest linen or whatever the hell, publicly displaying their lack of hygiene. And, as is there wont, banging on some bongos. Seriously, it is as if they purposely set out to live up to every stereotype that conservatives and others have of them. I mean, give up the bongos dudes, at least until you learn a new fucking tune.

It's such a common occurrence that I barely take notice. I grew up in New York, and quite frankly have always been nonplussed by the supposed weirdos that permeate other cities. Most prominent in my mind are the phonies in Little Five Points in Atlanta, a little part of town specifically created to be the "weird" section. Look, when you're actively trying to be weird you show yourself to be a decided dork, so trying hard to be unusual makes you look less like some unique firebrand and more like a total douche whose efforts at non-conformity are the ultimate in conformity.

But I digress. They were chanting some mindless slogan over and over again, as usual. Oh, here's another thing. You know, for a bunch of supposed free-thinking individualists, these progressive peaceniks always manage to chant like a bunch of mind-numbed robots devoid of any independent personality or ability to think outside of the usual slogans. It's 2005 folks, find something new and creative, or has all the pot finally sapped you of what creative energy you once had.

I guess it was heartwarming in its own way to hear these geniuses lament the failure of the insurgents to mount a powerful enough counter-attack to thwart the "imperialist" aims of the American military. Hearing some loopy maggot wax poetic about people who kidnap others and behead them on the internet really just touched my heart.

But instead of getting angry, I just smiled and noted the utter futility of their efforts. Just like every schmuck I drive behind who has a Kerry/Edwards bumper-sticker still on their car, the only word that came to mind as I walked past them was "LOSER." And I walked on, ready for another action-packed episode of "24."


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Friday, April 15, 2005

Confirmation Victory

Yesterday, the United States Senate's Judiciary Committee voted 14-4 in favor of recommending a floor vote for Thomas Griffith, one of President Bush's nominees to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. After months of complaining about egregious moral lapses -- such as his (make sure you are sitting down) failure to file the proper paperwork to update his Utah bar membership (gasp!) -- four key Democrats broke ranks in calling for Griffith to get his vote before the full Senate, which all but guarantees his confirmation.

While this could be called a victory for the Bush administration, and possibly a victory for the Senate's Republican majority (the longer they can avoid changing Senate rules, the better, at least from a public relations standpoint), I am not sure if this benefits Democrats or not. I have a sneaking suspicion that this committee vote reflects below-the-radar pressure on the Party of Jackson to stop obstructing every single Bush administration nominee to come down the pike. If this vote is a sign of a newfound cooperation, it is welcome . . . but if Democrats think that this one vote makes their other episodes of obstructionism fade, they are sadly mistaken.


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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ok, so maybe this is your president's national guard...

http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/04/14/military.ecstasy.ap/index.html


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Why not just shoot down the cherry tree?

See below an Editorial from today's Chicago Tribune on a certain type of currently legal firearm, which I think raises a different and meritorious perspective aside from the wholly rationale one that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that Americans need guns (much less semi-autos or handguns...save some reasonable hunting exemption) on our streets or in our homes....

Dangerous gun fun

Published April 14, 2005

No one disputes that a .50-caliber semiautomatic rifle delivers a missile-like wallop.

Forbes Magazine wrote in 2001 that they've "become the darlings of the Marine Corps' Scout Snipers and the Army's Special Forces because they can knock out targets up to 2 miles away and have enough firepower to take down a helicopter, wipe out radar installations or blast through a reinforced bunker.

"They're also legal for sale in Illinois.

Gunmaker Barrett Firearms Manufacturing boasts on its Web site that its formidable Model 82A1 has been purchased by more than 40 militaries worldwide. That's great for Barrett. It's great for the troops--the ones on our side. But it's not so great for the general safety of the American public if such guns are readily available to anyone who walks into a dealership and plunks down $7,775.

The gun lobby has been furiously at work this week trying to convince lawmakers that a gun and ammunition with this kind of destructive firepower is still a legitimate and standard hunting tool. It isn't. This is a gun that can take out low-flying aircraft. It can puncture armor. It can be used for assassinations or to attack chemical or industrial plants, thanks to its long-range firepower. Unless one is hunting mammoths or dinosaurs, it's hard to justify the sporting need for a nearly 5-foot-long weapon that fires the largest commercially available cartridge in the world.

Unfortunately, that's still not entirely clear to a handful of legislators who are undecided on whether to support a state ban on .50-caliber rifles and ammunition, and on other semiautomatic assault weapons, assault weapon attachments and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. They should know better.

Their districts are largely suburban and generally supportive of such easily justifiable gun control measures. The undecideds are said to include Reps. Ruth Munson (R-Elgin), Lee Daniels (R-Elmhurst), Suzanne Bassi (R-Rolling Meadows), John Millner (R-Carol Stream), Patricia Bellock (R-Hinsdale), Joe Dunn (R-Naperville), Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox), JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) and Patricia Reid Lindner (R-Aurora).Now, at $7,775 or so a pop, there aren't going to be many .50 caliber semiautomatic rifles on the streets of Illinois. The point is: The state has to be able to draw a line on what is legal and proper for hunting and defense, and this is way past the line.

The measures are expected to come up for a vote in the House as early as Thursday.

Barrett advertises on its Web site that its gun is "downright fun to shoot." That surely may be so. But when a degree of extra fun for hunters clashes with heightened concerns about general public safety in an age of terrorism, that's where the debate ends.

If someone is so determined to have "downright fun" by firing .50-caliber weapons, no doubt there's a U.S. military recruitment center just down the street, eager for visitors.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Paris, Political Spectrum Style

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be able to visit the beautiful city of Paris, and I loved it. There was so much to see, so much to enjoy, and the French people we encountered were, for the most part, pleasant and friendly, despite our bumbling francais.

For those of you who know me and think my brain has been commandeered by aliens (or Jacque Chirac), I assure you, I am still the conservative I was before I left. But I wanted to share with you all a little slice of Paris in a way that dovetails with the issues we address daily on Chez Political Spectrum.

1) A War-Weary People. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the United States turned to its allies overseas in the hope of forging a unanimous global coalition against terrorism. While the United States did attract dozens of allies to its side in its fight against Afghanistan and Iraq, notable Cold War allies, such as France and Germany, were missing. France, in particular, represented a tough nut to crack: it was a nation that was all too aware of the dangers of totalitarianism and the importance of fighting for freedom, yet it remained our primary opponent on the United Nations Security Council against authorizing military action in Iraq.

In addition to climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower and consuming more bread and cheese than thought humanly possible, my girlfriend and I had a chance to visit Napoleon's Tomb. Adjacent to Napoleon's Tomb is the Hotel D'Invalides, which was built by Louis XIV in the late seventeenth century as a hospital for France's homeless veterans. While some of the Hotel D'Invalides still functions as a military hospital, most of it has been converted into a spectacular museum chronicling French military exploits from Napoleon Bonaparte through Charles de Gaulle. A significant segment of that effort is dedicated to France's involvement in World War II, and it is quite powerful.

If nothing else, the museum's four-story World War II wing makes it a little clearer to American eyes why some French remain reluctant to go to war, even under dire circumstances. For lack of a better way of describing it, France is exhausted. Whereas World War I devastated the French countryside and an entire generation in its prime, World War II instilled a sense of regret and hopelessness. France was a country that had barely gotten off the ground when the German blitzkrieg invaded France and installed the puppet Vichy government. These wars served to instill in the French people an undeniable sense of trepidation about war: they firmly do believe that one more meeting, one more treaty, one more word of good faith could be the difference between peace and the death of millions.

Please note that I am making a distinction between the French people and the French government: I can respect a people's desire to avoid war, but I cannot countenance allowing corrupt government officials to block war to prevent illegal business deals from coming to light. And I am not changing my position on going into Iraq: I think we were right to do it, and it was the right thing to do. All I am saying is that the United States has not experienced decimation at home in a way that France (and other countries) have. Those wars may have occurred decades ago, but the scars are still there.

(One more thing: for those of you who don't know anything about Charles de Gaulle other than the fact that he has an airport named after him, I encourage you to do some reading on him. He is literally the one person responsible for the founding the French liberation movement during the German occupation when others were afraid to try. He was living proof that one person can be the difference between tyranny and freedom.)

2) Socialism Still Sucks. Paris was beautiful, and no doubt part of its beauty was its leisurely aura. There were momuments of the greatest antiquity, plenty of stores and shops, wine bars and cafes as far as the eye could see -- I could go on and on. In some ways, it was no different from some of the big cities here in the United States: there was a little something for everyone.

What was distinctly different from New York (my hometown) and other U.S. cities was Paris's complete absence of hustle and bustle. The freneticism that defines American cities and workplaces was completely missing. That is not to say people were not working, because people were working. But there was definitely a different feel to it all.

This impression was only supported when I chatted with one of the bartenders at our hotel. Antoine, a twenty-something Paris native -- whose English was way better than my French -- told me (and I'm paraphrasing) that France has a lot to offer visitors, and can be a beautiful place to stay for a while, but that it is also somewhat unstable economically, and has little to offer its own citizen-workers in the long term. (This impression is borne out by statistics. France's current unemployment rate is hovering right around 9%. To put that in perspective, our "awful" economy currently has an unemployment rate of 5.2%. For you economic neophytes, an unemployment rate of 5.0% is statistically zero unemployment.) It is not a coincidence that he (and others that we spoke to) told us they wanted to move to the United States.

3) For Those Who Were Curious . . . On our first day of wandering around aimlessly (which is probably one of the better ways to experience Paris), my girlfriend and I stumbled upon one of the cathedrals portrayed in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code: Sainte-Sulpice. In addition to being a beautifully ancient cathedral, and the host of a small exhibit on the Shroud of Turin, it is also home to the so-called Rose Line, a marker inside the cathedral that marks the location of the old prime meridian (before it was moved to Greenwich, England, in 1884).

Yes, the Rose Line is there. Yes, it is cool. Yes, I followed it to the obelisk at the northern end of the cathedral. And yes, some bonehead apparently damaged the base of the obelisk (as was done in the book) to see if there was some secret information about the Holy Grail stored there. It just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you read.

Au revoir!


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Lacking the Political Will

The weekly Coalition post

In the last few days, international donors have pledged $4.5 billion in reconstruction aid to Sudan as part of the north/south peace process. And though much if this aid is nominally contingent on Khartoum's ability and willingness to end the violence in Darfur, it remains to be seen if the international community is truly willing to risk undermining the long sought peace agreement by demanding an end to the genocide.

For a year and a half, the UN and others have tread carefully, fearful that too much pressure on Khartoum would derail the north/south peace process. And Khartoum has relentlessly exploited that fear by, for instance, warning that the recent Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court "threatens Sudan's stability."

And while the world focuses on protecting the peace agreement, Darfur continues to deteriorate.

Yesterday, the World Food Program warned that, due to lack of funding, nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled into Chad risk going hungry in the coming months. And just last week, the WFP warned that it will be forced to cut food rations for more than one million people living in the western region of Darfur, again for lack
of funds.

Last Friday, UNICEF warned that an estimated four million people in Darfur will face significant food insecurity over the next 18 months because the agricultural economy has collapsed. One million children under five year-olds are already suffering from, or will suffer from, severe malnutrition.

And one day after an United Nations human rights investigator for Sudan warned that Darfur was a "time bomb" that could explode at any time, Janjaweed militia attacked and completely destroyed the village of Khor Abeche (the attack on Khor Abeche is the focus of Eric Reeves' latest analysis.)

It seems clear that the referral to the ICC was not the remedy that many in the human rights community had hoped. At the same time, calls for an increased AU force has problems of its own, judging by Charles Snyder's recent comment that "Nobody that wants to be on the ground is not on the ground."

Stopping the genocide in Darfur is going to require a dedicated and well-coordinated effort by the UN and the international community. As of yet, the political will to engage in such an effort does not exist. We at the Coalition for Darfur ask you to join us in raising awareness of the genocide in an attempt to force policy makers to seriously address this issue to consider making a small donation to any of the organizations providing life saving assistance to the neglected people of Darfur.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Thanks for the advice, but no thanks

In the spirit of Uncomfirmable, I would like to thank William Rees-Mogg for the advice he gives to the prospective Pope, but would like to also tell him to take a flying leap.

Normally I would be the first one to stick up for capitalist principles, but Mogg's piece is fundamentally incorrect in two areas, and is quite frankly misguided in its main premise.

First of all, Rees-Mogg essentially calls the Church socialist.
The next pope will be a socialist; no doubt a democratic socialist, but a socialist all the same. Almost every cardinal and bishop in the Roman Catholic Church, and probably every bishop in the Anglican Church, is a socialist. They are socialists in the same sense as Tony Blair, or Gerhard Schröder, or Jacques Chirac, or Bill Clinton. They are all socialists because they have never studied the liberal argument. That is a pity; liberalism may not be enough, but it is the basis of our culture.
Interesting to note that the same Church which still largely follows the teachings of Leo XIII as set forth in Rerum Novarum, an encyclical which outright condemns socialist theory, should be so labeled. Of course it could be argued that Church economic teaching is quasi-socialist in that it stresses the responsibility of the state to alleviate the condition of the impoverished, but it also teaches the doctrine of subsidiarity, which places the burden of responsibility on the individual person rather than the state.

These are mere quibbles. It is true that the Church hardly praises pure capitalism, but as others have noted, there really is no country on Earth that practices pure capitalism. But even if we are to admit - as I would - that capitalism is the best practicable economic system, it would be foolish to deny that there will be those that suffer as a result. Thus the Church, as it should, seeks to promote ways which help those who truly cannot help themselves. While it may be true that many of our Church leaders do not fully understand all the nuances of micro and macro-economics (who does, really?), it is highly arrogant to contend - as Rees-Mogg does - that it is a matter of ignorance.

Of course my evaluation of this piece is not helped by statements such as the following:
The United States is the product of Locke’s thought, both through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Remember what I said yesterday about wishing to bang my head on a table? I really wish that anyone who deigns to write a sentence like that would be immediately hit with a bolt of electricity. While one can perhaps plausibly claim that Jefferson was inspired by Locke in writing the Declaration of Independence, I would truly like to know how one can read the hand of Locke on our Constitution. What exactly are the Lockean touches upon the electoral college, the United States Senate, and all of the basic structures within the Constitution that inhibits majoritarianism?

That's a bit of a tangent I know, but it is just the icing on the cake. Ultimately, it is getting more and more difficult to abide non-Catholics telling the Church what it ought or ought not do in selecting a Pope.(I am making an assumption that the author is a non-Catholic based on his saying during the piece that he "was a member of the congregation at St George’s Chapel for the Service of Prayer for the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall") I do not care if it comes from a right-wing or left-wing perspective. The idea that the Church ought to change thousands of years of tradition based on the whim of some journalist strikes me as a very bad idea.

I am not saying that mother Church should close her eyes and ears to outside sources of ideas, but there are principles involved that go far beyond liberal political theory. It would be nice of these ever-so helpful buttinskis to keep that in mind the next time they decide to offer up such sage advice.


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media today

Great column by Krystof in today's NYT--highly relevant to our discussions, and one that we can all agree on.

"A Slap in the Face"

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/12/opinion/12kristof.html?hp


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Monday, April 11, 2005

24 rant

Note: Do not read the following if you have not yet seen this week's episode of 24.

Okay, so the nuclear football is missing, and the United States government sends ONE fucking helicopter to go retrieve it?

I mean the thing was gone for an entire hour, and after all that time they can only send one fucking helicopter?

With two agents no less, one of whom is obviously going to die within seconds because he just showed up all of a sudden on this episode and didn't even get to deliver a line.

"We're spread thin," Tony says. Umm, yeah, but I think you can divert some of your resources to go retrieve the suitcase which contains all of all nuclear codes. Something tells me there would probably be some military aircraft nearby that would be able to pretty much wipe out an entire area just to make sure the suitcase would not remain in evil hands.

Oh, and the football's tracking device would be able to be disabled by some clod running his swift army knife over the suitcase a few times? Something tells me the real thing is made of some super strong titanium structure that might be able to withstand a little more pressure. I mean for God's sake the thing survives a 25,000 foot fall unscathed, and this guy can so easily do that much damage?

And please don't get me started on the Dick Cheney character. Is there anyone watching who is not supposed to immediately think of our - as the Hollywood people think of him - conniving, maniupualting, puppet-master of a Vice President. Dear me, use some imagination people. Couldn't they find some Rumsfeld lookalike or someone else less obvious.

Puh-leeze.

Of course I'll be watching next week to see who Jack tortures.

Update: The always clever Dave at Garfield Ridge also has a little riff on this episode.
Let's just say that there are many more realistic things keeping me up at night beyond the physical security of the American nuclear arsenal. Like, say, the odds of me returning from beyond the grave. Or the odds that Keira Knightley is showing up at my house this weekend for a little tonsil hockey.


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I'm a cannibal?

Have you ever read something so profoundly stupid that you almost feel like banging your head against the table, or perhaps have even done so? Well, if you have, you can relate to how I felt after reading this story in the Daily Telegraph.
Teachers are being told not to mention that Communion bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ in case children get it in their heads that Christians are cannibals.

New guidelines for religious education teachers also want them to refer to the Holy Spirit rather than the Holy Ghost because the latter implies "a trivial and spooky concept of the third person in the Trinity".

The guidelines, drawn up by education chiefs in Norfolk and condemned by the National Union of Teachers yesterday as "modernism gone mad", also consign the term Old Testament to the dustbin because pupils may believe it means its contents are no longer relevant.
I can almost understand the part about the Old Testament, but for the love of all that is holy (literally), this has to be a joke, right?

But wait, there's plenty of silliness for all the world's religions.
Christians are not alone in having the terms of their faith redefined. In teaching Judaism, teachers are told to refer to the "Western Wall" rather than "Wailing Wall", just in case the children believe that Jews are moaners.

Muslims should not be shown in photographs "holding swords, Kalashnikovs, etc" to avoid Islam being equated to terrorism.

Also out are pictures of Hindu holy men caked in mud because they give the impression that it is a religion for "weirdos or masochists".

As for Sikhs, the guidance says: "Do be careful when showing pupils the kachs. Without preparing pupils, they seem to some like merely voluminous underpants and can give rise to a poor response."
This isn't political correctness; it's complete idiocy. But at least we're free of such stupidity in America.

Hahahahaha.


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“Good Behaviour”

Article III, section 1, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States says that "The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour ...." This clause has recently been the subject of a number of heated comments calling for the impeachment of judges who, in the view of a select few have been failing to perform their duties en mass. Predictably, many of these complaints have stemmed from outrage at the federal courts decisions in the Terri Schiavo matter, however, an undue amount of ire has been directed at Justice Anthony Kennedy, both for his majority opinion in Roper, but also for his so-called reliance on international law in decisions like Lawrence v. Texas. All of these comments beg the question, what does "good behaviour" actually mean and when is it violated?

Now, besides being the primary constitutional basis for the "lifetime tenure" of federal judges, there appears to be significant debate over what the phrase requires judges to do. One way of determining the meaning is to consult a dictionary to see what the words good and behaviour actually mean. According to the Miriam Webster on-line dictionary, the term "good" means "of a favorable character or tendency," while the term "behaviour" (spelled of course the modern American way) means "the manner of conducting oneself." Thus, one might conclude that good behaviour means either a "favorable manner of conducting oneself," or "conducting oneself with favorable character or tendency." Regardless of which manner of expressing the idea you choose, the standard is really no higher or lower that one would expect from every citizen or visitor to this country irrespective of their position in society.

Ruth Marcus’s column in today’s Washington Post, refers to some of the rhetoric that has gone on recently with respect to judges. Perhaps among the most extreme comes from Michael Schwartz, the chief-of-staff to newly elected Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Mr Schwartz is quoted as saying that "I'm in favor of mass impeachment if that's what it takes." Mr. Schwartz apparently when on to say that "[a]n easier way, would be to oust activist judges for bad behavior. Then the judge's term has simply come to an end. The president gives them a call and says, ‘Clean out your desk, the Capitol Police will be in to help you find your way home.’" Other elected officials are quoted in the column as having similar concerns about the judiciary, however, their statements tended more towards funding and oversight than impeachment or removal from office.

This of course leads us to the question of what standards should be used for removing or impeaching a federal judge, be it a District Court Judge, Circuit Court Judge or Justice of the United States Supreme Court? Better question, does being an "activist judge" (whatever that means, something that has been debated both here and elsewhere ad nauseam and will continue to be debated) and handing down decisions that the majority party of the United States Congress doesn’t approve of or agree with subject one to impeachment or removal proceedings? In other words, did the at least 12 federal judges (1 District Court Judge, at least 6 11th Circuit Judges and at least 5 Supreme Court Justices) violate the "good behaviour" clause of Article III when they voted not to either reinsert Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube or even to hear the case?

It is true that impeachment and removal of judges is within the power of Congress (See United States v. Nixon), and to be fair it has happened with some regularity (I don’t have exact stats, but I know that it occurs and has occurred more often than many would suspect). That being said, I’m not sure that recently we have seen any public displays of "bad behavior" that would justify the impeachment or removal of any current Supreme Court Justices. Handing down a ruling that is legally flimsy (Roper), or against the personal religious beliefs of many in the United States (Lawrence) simply doesn’t meet the standard. A judge could easily conduct oneself with favorable character or tendency and have reached the opposite conclusions in both those cases. In fact, 4 justices in each case did exactly that, expressed by their dissenting opinions from the judgment of the Court. None of the Justices in either case violated the "good behaviour" clause regardless of how they came down with respect to the ultimate decision, or the rationale used to reach that decision. We will all have cases where we disagree with the outcome or question the judicial reasoning used to achieve it, however, that alone cannot and should never suffice to impeach or remove a judge or justice from the bench. Such a move would politicalize the judiciary to a point that would be both irreversible and irreparable. Judging would become entirely political, and thus, all laws, even our most revered and respected institutions, would be subject to the whims of the majority, a result none of us, regardless of political affiliation, wants to see.

Judges who take bribes, commit crimes regardless of magnatude, and otherwise dishonor their profession violate the "good behavior" clause. Lets reserve our ire and our outrage for them, and leave the rest of the judges who are simply trying to do the best job they can and decide the cases in front of them alone to do their jobs. Its difficult enough to be a judge without having to worry what Congress, the President, or the majority of the American people think of your most recent opinion, and it would be impossible if at every turn you were concerned about your job.


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Saturday, April 09, 2005

My e-mail to Nicholas Kristof

This afternoon I read Kristof's op-ed contending that the next pope will permit married clergy in the Latin Rite. The piece, "Let Fathers Be Fathers," is available here.

Wishing more to mock him than to argue with him, I promptly sent him the following e-mail.

TO: nicholas@nytimes.com
SUBJECT: Re. Let Fathers Be Fathers

Dear Mr. Kristof,

I have just finished reading the above-titled article on married clergy in the Latin Rite. I do not wish to raise important objections, but a frivolous one.

If Catholic clergy were to marry, American Catholics would have to increase their weekly contributions by ten-fold, I imagine. While it is possible to have three bachelors share a rectory, that will surely not be possible with three married men. Moreover, any Catholic clergyman worth his salt will not resort to birth control. That means that each of those three families can expect to have between 6 and 12 children. If we permit them to be ordained without sacrificing married life, we should at least insist on their bearing the pains of their efforts. (Man says to priest of Opus Dei: "Father, other than my wife and kids, should I be practicing acts of mortification?")

I suppose this could be spun out into a serious political concern, one that uninvited butt-in-ski's might take seriously. (And would explain why those butt-in-ski's might write op-ed's on the subject in the NYTimes.) The secular justification for tax deductions for Church contributions is, e.g., soup kitchens. If a greater portion of Church donations are dedicated to sustaining the minister's families, and less going to the works of mercy, then we wind up with both lower tax bases (because of the increased donations) and fewer social benefits (because of the greater proportion being consumed in-house, as it were).

But, as indicated, I do not wish to turn this into a serious objection. There are sufficient reasons against married clergy that I will not raise with you. God might very well curse His Church with a pontiff who will permit Latin clergy to marry, but it would bring consequences not predicted in articles such as your own.

UPDATE: What happens when you send Kristof an e-mail?

TO: me
SUBJECT: Thanks for your message **

This is an automatic response to say thanks for your message. I do appreciate both the compliments and the complaints, as well as the information and ideas for future columns. I reply to some points made by multiple writers on my blog, KristofResponds. It's at http://www.nytimes.com/kristofresponds.You can also post comments in the open reader forum for discussing my columns: http://www.nytimes.com/kristofforum. If you would like your message considered for publication as a letter to the editor, then please send it to letters@nytimes.com. You will increase the prospect of having a letter published if you send it as soon as possible after publication and keep it to 150 words.Thanks very much.Nicholas Kristof


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Friday, April 08, 2005

Arizona’s Minutemen Stand Up for Sovereignty

For those of us who still care about enforcing United States immigration laws, there is at long last some good news: someone is finally doing something about the heretofore-unhalting flow of illegal immigrants – most, but not all, of them Mexican – across the U.S.-Mexico border. Sadly, however, it is not the United States government.

I am, of course, referring to the Minuteman Project, a group of citizen-volunteers working in the Arizona desert who have organized in an attempt to stem the increasingly destructive tide of illegal immigration into this country. Basically, these “Minutemen” patrol segments of their state’s border with Mexico that have all but been ignored by the U.S. Border Patrol, notify Border Patrol agents when they find illegals crossing into their state, and – occasionally – apprehend illegals and hold them until such time as the Border Patrol can retrieve, process, and send them back home. The Minutemen do carry firearms, but their founder, Jim Gilchrist, stresses that this is for self-defense only. So far, there have been no incidents of violence (although there has been at least one attempt to smear them in the public eye), and recent observations by an anti-illegal immigration organization in Mexico (apparently, there are at least a few Mexicans that still respect neighbors’ sovereignty) indicate that the numbers of illegals crossing into Arizona has dropped by about half since the Minutemen began their patrols.

This would usually be the part of the post where I dig into Democrats for being soft on illegal immigration by refusing to enforce our immigration laws. I can’t do that, however, for the simple reason that it is not just Democrats that have abdicated responsibility for securing our borders, but also Republicans. Both parties have succumbed to a combination of institutional laziness, fear of being accused of bigotry, and the siren song of potential votes from Hispanic communities that favor such lawlessness, but I think the Republicans – including President Bush – deserve the lion’s share of the blame on this issue because they are the ones running the country at the moment. (Those of you who know me know this is one issue where the administration and I differ, and I think it is safe to say I speak for a lot of other conservatives.)

Whatever your views of the Minutemen – some of you no doubt view them as patriots, while some of you probably view them as dangerous vigilantes – two things are undeniable. One is that the Minuteman Project’s existence is symptomatic of a larger problem, much the same way as a cough can be symptomatic of emphysema or lung cancer. The very fact that civilians have organized, on their own time and their own dime, to staunch the flow of illegals is a sign that the federal government is failing the American citizenry in a big way. Our federal government has a handful of basic responsibilities to us all, one of which is to protect the borders. A country that does not protect its own borders – and, indeed, shies away from doing so, for whatever reason – undercuts its own sovereignty and endangers its own population. Cries of bigotry, potential voting blocs – none of that matters in the face of this broader societal protection.

The other undeniable fact is that there is a dramatic disconnect between elected officials and the American population at large on the issue of illegal immigration. Politicians may be pooh-poohing the problem, but citizens and voters are not. While I would rather that the federal government actually take border protection seriously, and that the Minutemen be made unnecessary, I take solace in the fact that some people still grasp the importance of protecting the homeland – and what it takes to do it.

Patrol on, Minutemen. Maybe Uncle Sam will join you someday.


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A little weekend amusement

Sorry, but I just had to link to this re-enactment of the final scene of the movie Seven, as performed by stuffed animals.

Hat tip to Garfield Ridge.


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On Indecency and Free Markets

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks (actually since the infamous Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl) regarding "indecency." Recently, however, this ground swell has reached epidemic proportions, including a bill, sponsored by Rep. James Moran (D-VA) , to prevent the broadcasting of erectile dysfunction ads on TV. In addition to the cat calls to regulate "broadcast television," there have been proposals floated by Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens to provide the FCC with the power to regulate cable channels, and a couple of days ago, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis), in a speech given at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual conference in San Francisco, that advocated criminal penalties for indecent programming.

My question during all of this is where are all the so-called "free market" supporters? Now we can, and probably should, have a debate about what goes on television, and I know that many of the commentators here could cite all of the relevant law and Supreme Court opinions regarding the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech (which, by the way, do, mistakenly, in my opinion, allow for regulation of "broadcast" television, but thus far have prevented regulation of the cable industry), but I don’t even have to get to those arguments, I should be able to convince people that of all of the areas where the "free market" should be allowed to function almost unrestricted it is in the entertainment industry.

I have been hard pressed to think of another industry that is as consumer driven as the entertainment industry. Whether it is movies, music, television shows or what have you, no other market for disposable incomes is as responsive to its consumers. In other words, the industry is almost entirely elastic. To use non-economist jargon, take a simple example, the television sitcom. Since the end of some of the most successful television shows in recent memory (Seinfield and Friends) there have been numerous of failed attempts at replacing them. As my example I’ll use NBC’s attempt at remaking the British show "Coupling," which aired for only a few episodes before being cancelled. Why did the show fail? Well we can probably name a number of reasons, but I know for sure what was the proverbial nail in the coffin. The show didn’t make any money. Granted it wasn’t funny, had bad acting, poor writing and all the other major problems, but the bottom line was no matter where on the nightly schedule the show aired, people didn’t watch, therefore advertisers didn’t buy ad time and NBC didn’t make any money. Let me say that again, people didn’t watch the show, thus, it was cancelled.

This is the solution to all of the ills of the entertainment industry, don’t watch, listen, or attend and eventually the industry will respond. If you think ABC’s "Desperate Housewives" is indecent and too sexually explicit, change the channel, if you think Fox’s "24" is to violent, turn off the TV and convince others to do the same. In other words, as famed free market economist Albert O. Hirshman argued in Exit, Voice and Loyalty, consumers need to exercise their rights to "vote with their feet." There is a reason that the shows I mentioned are popular and continue to air, people like them and watch them in large numbers. Thus, they sell enormous amounts of ad time for a lot of money. In short, they are profitable. If people stopped watching, the money stream would dry up and I promise that the shows would no longer air. Regulation isn’t the answer in this setting because the free market hasn’t failed. The entertainment corporations aren’t cheating the system or gaming the public, rather they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, meeting the market demand with an adequate supply.

Now I’m usually among the first to admit that many, many free markets do not function as well as this one, and in those situations government regulations may be appropriate to protect the people from the underbelly of market economics. My point is this is not one of those cases. It troubles me when politicians and other public policy experts, regardless of party affiliation, can’t differentiate between the successful markets and the failed ones. People of all political persuasions should be opposed to this proposed intrusion by government into the market, regardless of your stance on the First Amendment. As I said, I still can use that argument if I must, but I would think that consumer choice and free market principles should be enough to persuade the majority that indecency regulation is at best unnecessary and at worst overkill.


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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Death Penalty

Ramesh Ponnuru over on NRO discusses Rick Santorum's conversion on the death penalty issue. Santorum is rethinking his support for it, though it is not for the same reason that I converted a few years ago. The Senator is concerned that DNA evidence suggests a number of innocccent people were assigned to death row and subsequently released. Ramesh writes, "This is a terrible reason to be against the death penalty." I concur.

Ponnuru links to a number of sources indicating that the numbers may be inflated, and that some if not most of those people released were vindicated not by DNA evidence, but were released on some technicality.

As for me, this issue is essentially irrelevant. I oppose the death penalty based upon my moral conviction that the state ought not be in the business of putting people to death. It's that simple, thus the extra arguments put forward (executing the innocent, racism, the two-tiered justice system, etc.) really don't matter to me.

I have gotten some flak for my relative lack of interest in these side issues from other death penalty opponents. They ask me how I can be so unconcerned about the inbalances and other social issues involved, and my response is that I am against the death penalty anyway, so what difference should these other issues make to my point of view? In fact, it seems my stance is more principled. For example, if one is opposed to the death penalty because of supposed racial inequities, would that opposition disappear if those inequities were somehow eradicated?

I am throwing this open in the hopes of getting some comments. What do you guys think?


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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Darfur vs. Martha Stewart

The latest from the Coalition for Darfur.

Eleven years ago today, the president of Rwanda was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali. His death served as a catalyst to a genocide that quickly engulfed the country - within one month, an estimated 500,000 people had been killed and by the time the genocide ended 100 days later, nearly one million Rwandans had lost their lives.

The authors of the essay "Rwanda: US Policy and Television Coverage" calculated that during the three months of genocide, Rwanda received a total of 278 minutes of news coverage from the likes of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, meaning that each of these news organization spent less than 1 minute per day reporting on a genocide that was taking lives at the rate of 1 every 11 seconds.

Today, another genocide is unfolding in African and, as this recent article in the American Journalism Review makes clear, very little has changed
Serious reporting on [Darfur] largely has been absent on the networks and on cable. Last year the three network nightly newscasts aired a meager total of 26 minutes on the bloodshed, according to the Tyndall Report, which monitors network news. ABC devoted just 18 minutes to Darfur, NBC five and CBS three. By contrast, Martha Stewart's woes received 130 minutes, five times as much.
For those who are unfamiliar with what is taking place in Darfur, we encourage you to read this piece by Brian Steidle, a former Marine who spent six months working as cease-fire monitor with the African Union force in Darfur.

The bottom line is that nearly 400,000 people have died of disease, starvation and violence at the hands of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias, yet the crisis has receives barely a fraction of the coverage garnered by the legal problems faced by Michael Jackson or Martha Stewart.

We are all aware of the central role that blogs played in the "60 Minutes" and "Jeff Gannon" stories and we know that blogs have to power to propel forgotten stories into the mainstream media. The Coalition for Darfur is an effort to unite blogs of all political ideologies in an attempt to raise awareness of the ongoing genocide in Darfur and raise money for organizations doing life-saving work there.

Though the country is deeply polarized, we think that the effort to stop this genocide is something that can unite people of varying political and religious beliefs.

It is a cliché in American newsrooms that "If it bleeds, it leads." Sadly, despite the amount of blood shed in Darfur, the genocide has received very little coverage. Our challenge is to force this issue onto the television screens and the front page. We ask you to join us in this effort.


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The Lost Art of Debate

Given some time to reflect on the issues of the last few months (I finally have cleared my desk at work, so I now have a few minutes to compose some thoughts) it occurs to me that one of the major failures of the modern political system (by modern I mean the last 20 years or so) is its inability to effectively debate the major issues confronting us both on a policy level and a political level. Maybe this in part explains the popularity of blogs. Admitedly, the internet provides in many ways the safety blanket of anonymity so people feel less inhibited when expressing their personal viewpoints on issues of politics and policy than say they might in a public setting or during a face-to-face discussion or debate on issues. First, let me say that I don’t think this is a partisan problem, both Democrats and Republicans suffer from this anti-discuss and debate affliction But I want to focus on the following two examples:

First, last week, E.J. Dionne Jr.’s column in the Washington Post, talked about the social security debate and specifically President Bush’s "town hall meetings" that have been receiving a lot of attention recently. As many of you may know, the President and his Administration have, since his inauguration in 2001, been very effective at "staging" "public events" to project an image of unity and agreement on a given issue. The modus operandi of the Bush PR department has been to surround the President with only people who are in 100% agreement with him on the issue in contention. This started with the initial tax cuts enacted in 2001 and has continued with almost every major issue with which the President has "campaigned" for around the country, including, but not limited to, the medicare prescription drug benefit, the war in Iraq, his re-election campaign, and most recently, his social security reform proposal. At almost every one of these "events," dissenters, even peaceful non-obstructionist ones have been excluded. During the campaign there were numerous reports of persons who were screened from events based on suggestions and sketchy information suggesting that they didn’t support the President’s re-election. Recently, at a Bush town hall meeting to discuss social security, it has been reported that 3 suit-wearing, ticket-holding individuals were removed from the event based on information that they had arrived in a car that displayed a bumper sticker advocating "no blood for oil." Now I’m not talking about protestors, or people intent on disrupting the event or who pose a security risk. For, I recognize that there is no question that those people need to be kept at a distance from the President for legitimate security reasons. It seems to me, however, a mighty jump in logic to suggest that these particular people intended to be disruptive or caused a security risk. In fact, it appears to be just the opposite, while they might disagree with the President, they were interested in hearing what he had to say and participating in the political process exactly the way many of us would advocate, peacefully and by hearing both sides of the debate before making a decision.

Now in my opinion what the President is engaging isn’t debate or advocacy, rather it is best described as preaching to the choir. While I understand that from time-to-time this is something that all President’s and political figures do, the difference is that many on both sides of the isle do this sparingly, or only when they are fund-raising. The President, on the other hand, appears to engage in this sort of activity almost exclusively. Most members of Congress, state legislatures, governors, and other elected officials represent diverse constituencies, meaning that while they received at least a majority of the votes, not everyone agrees with them. Nevertheless, when they hold town-hall meetings for constituents of their districts there is not political litmus test to be admitted. Speaking as someone who has worked for elected officials both Republican and Democrat, and attended these evens on numerous occasions, I can honestly say that I was never asked to screen people at the door for political affiliations, and my bosses always fielded questions from people both in strong support of his positions and strongly opposed. Simply put, the Presidents events are misleading, always have been. When they receive local television coverage they are designed to present a false picture of agreement and overwhelming support for his positions. Now there is of course some truth to the agreement and support as I don’t doubt that there are a lot of people who do agree with everything the President stands for, as he did win two national elections. That fact, however, doesn’t excuse the erosion of legitimate, honest debate on an issue of national importance. The President’s views have merit, and his position needs to be talked about publicly, but those that oppose his ideas have a point too, and citizens that disagree with the Leader of the Free World, ought to be given the same opportunity to express that to him as those that agree with him. More importantly, I would think, they ought to be given the opportunity to hear him speak and explain his position first hand, rather than rely on the media editing and re-broadcasting of the events. Who knows, he might even change some minds.

Second, and to be fair, there is a flip side to this. As I said above, Democrats are no better at "staging" honest and open debates. This is reflected in today’s Washington Post article noting that a coalition of women’s groups were notified by the National Archives that they would not be allowed to stage an event on social security at the FDR Museum in Hyde Park, NY if they would not include at least one speaker who would present the President’s side of the issue. Now the fact that this letter comes from an Executive Branch agency and is predicated on a pretty ingenious reading of the Hatch Act, raises some interesting questions, but that might be the subject for a different post. What I want to note is the fact that the event as originally scheduled was one sided. In other words, it was no better than the "staged" events being held by the President. I have no doubt that FDR is spinning in his grave over what this President is proposing to do with his social security program, but that doesn’t in my opinion, excuse people from presenting both sides of an issue. In fact, while I understand the purpose of the groups event, it strikes me as more beneficial if they included people with a different point of view if only to better explain why their position is better. I know, I know, I'm being incredilby naive, the people that attend these events don't want fair and balanced, they want red-meat and they are willing to in some instances pay a lot of money to hear it. I should note, however, that the willingess of some "interest groups" to include opposing points of view, is what makes them successful. I'll note the following three groups that I think do this particularly well. First is the Federalist Society, next is its counterpart the American Constitution Society, and finally there is the CATO Institute. All of these groups are successful in part beacuse they are precieved as having a distinct point of view, but also, in my opinion, becuase of thier willingness to debate and engage the opposing points of view even at their own events.

There is a time and place for partisanship and believe me with social security we have only seen the tip of the partisan iceberg, but there is also a need, a great need, for open, honest, forthright debate, by educated people on both sides who are genuinely trying to persuade people that their position is in the best interest of the nation. We have in large part lost the ability to debate in this country and I fear that the inability to engage in an open dialogue even though we may disagree will ultimately lead to bad policies, regardless of which political party is in power. There is strength in contention and power in disagreement, by opening up debate to both sides of an issue the end result will be better, if only we could convince our politicians and more of our special interest groups of this fact.


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