Sunday, December 26, 2004

Awards Nobody Asked For

"They're off to find the hero of the day
But what if they should fall by someone's wicked way?"

It's that time of year again - time for corny-ass year-in-review columns. I'm giving out special awards to people who gave me hope that our world wasn't going to hell in a hand-basket. This was, after all, a pretty shitty year news-wise.

So, without further ado, ONAF's Political Heroes of 2004:

The North Carolina constitution guarantees a quality education for everyone in the state, but the legislature and the governor have been all too content to let poorer districts wallow in underfunded disrepair. Now, thanks to Republican (!) Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, Jr., that may be starting to change. He has followed up his 2002 decision in Leandro v. North Carolina with an effort to force the executive and legislative branches to comply - and this year, he managed to shake a significant sum of money for poor districts out of the notoriously tight-fisted Governor Mike Easley. The result: hope that poor kids won't continue to be neglected.

Also continuing to do a job well is New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who had another big year in his one-man crusade to keep white-collar criminals off the streets. If only more people took white-collar crime as seriously as Spitzer...

We give an award to Illinois Senator-elect Barack Obama for the audacity of hope. Not to mention one of the best convention speeches ever. We can only hope that this guy is the future of the Democratic Party.

And an award to North Carolina Senator John Edwards for reminding us that, yes, there are poor people out there - a fact that tends to get lost in the shuffle during election years.

But my personal hero of the year is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. It takes a good bit of courage to break the law in the pursuit of justice, which is what Newsom did when he ordered his city to offer marriage certificates to gay couples. Since that courageous act of civil disobedience, conservatives have reviled him for "attacking marriage" and liberals have denounced him for opening up a hot-button issue and possibly costing them an election. Don't believe either of them. What Gavin Newsom did was try to make the world a little bit more caring, a little bit more just - and when confronted with the decision between what was right and what was politically prudent, he made the right choice. So Mayor Newsom, and the officials in Oregon, New York, and New Mexico who followed him, this blog's for you.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Freeze! Or I'll Chew!

Best opening line for an article I've seen in a while: "Greece's freed hijack hostages on Thursday portrayed their Albanian captors as bungling criminals just after money who were easily manipulated and armed with croissants, not dynamite."

Read the whole thing here.

In other news, the Department of Homeland Security has ruled that any pastry of any sort may no longer be sold in airports. Former Secretary Tom Ridge is reported as saying that "the cream in an eclair could be a deadly weapon if used properly."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Fast Food Nation Gets A Little Smaller

There seems to be very little nowadays that Texas schools don't want to ban.

First there was the ban on various aspects of sex education. Now there's this: a recent Time article tells me that Texas agriculture commissioner Susan Combs eliminated junk food from elementary schools in the Lone Star State.

I'm very sympathetic to Combs' decision here. Obesity among youngsters is at an alarming all-time high, and junk food is the number one culprit. School lunches often lack any nutritional value, and children flock to vending machines stocked with snacks and drinks that are anything but salubrious (yes, Ben, I got that word from Calvin and Hobbes). It's certainly a step in the right direction. It couldn't hurt to keep our kids from drinking six Cokes a day.

Of course, there's the law of unintended consequences to worry about. Cash-strapped school districts get much-needed money from the corporations who buy the rights to sell food and drink in the schools. This new regulation can have two effects: a) corporations, in an effort to keep their contracts, start developing healthful snacks to sell in Texas vending machines, or b) corporations could decide that the advertising that saturates our airwaves will suffice, and cut ties with the school districts altogether. Somehow, I'm betting on the latter - which leaves Texas schools in a bind.

And as how much good will this ban do? Keeping kids off junk food for eight hours doesn't keep them from gorging on Cheetos and Dr. Pepper when they get home. How fit kids are, I'm afraid, may end up being mostly in the hands of parents.

As a result, I'll remain skeptical about this policy until I find out whether Texas' school districts can remain solvent and whether Texas' children slim down some. I personally think that other states looking towards this policy should bring it up in tandem with two other proposals: increased funding for school districts and more extensive nutritional education for children.

Personally, I think the junk-food ban has its heart in the right place, but fails to get to the root of the problem - underfunded school districts and an undereducated populace with respect to nutrition. But at least the powers that be in Texas are admitting that there's a problem. That's the first step towards recovery.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

No Shit, Sherlock

Post ombudsman Michael Getler, in his weekly column, reviews a report from a Pentagon advisory board. Entitled "Strategic Communications," it deals with the image aspect of the war on terror and the Iraq war. Here are some of its findings, according to Getler:

"American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the U.S. to single-digits in some Arab societies." (direct quote from report)

"Muslims do not 'hate our freedom,' but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states." (direct quote from report)

"Since Sept. 11, 2001, 'American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. What was a marginal network,' the report said, is now a community-wide 'movement of fighting groups.' "

"The critical problem for American public diplomacy, the section concludes, is 'a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none -- the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam.' "

Let me get this straight - we needed a Pentagon report to figure this out? Isn't this what the left has been saying since before the Iraq war?

Attack of the Free-Market Liberals?

A few days ago, I posted a comment on Jacob's blog dealing with my reservations about market-based policies for solving health care and environment issues. However, the very next day I open the Independent Weekly, a solidly progressive Raleigh area rag, and I see this article by Farnum Brown.

Brown addresses the following dilemma: this recent election means that most progressive agenda is all but DOA on the Hill for the next four years. So what should we do about it? Brown suggests a strange proposal - turn to that notorious bastion of liberalism known as Wall Street.

Brown's argument roughly goes as follows - liberals can use their power as investors and consumers to turn corporate policies into progressive policies. He credits these ideas for everything from environmentally responsible logging by timber giant Boise Cascade to gay-friendly hiring policies by 318 companies in the Fortune 500.

Brown makes a point. Those of us heavily invested in the stock market can use our power as investors for progressive ends. Progressive shareholders can vote on proposals, buy and sell as a block to send a message to corporations. As Brown puts it: "These actions aren't the result of enlightenment suddenly dawning in boardrooms across America. They're rather the cumulative result of years of cooperative effort by issue-oriented non-profits on one hand and progressive shareholders on the other. Their goal has been to translate the social and environmental concerns of the former into the bottom-line concerns of the latter. And to then take those concerns to one of the few places progressives can still get something done in this country: the annual shareholder meetings of major publicly held corporations."

Combine this with a strategy of socially responsible consumerism, and you have a progressivism that doesn't need the government to succeed.

Of course, Brown's point only goes so far. This doesn't help poorer progressives who don't have the means to invest - as a result, the concerns of the working class aren't as likely to get addressed. (Note that Brown claims victories on gay rights and the environment, but not on labor rights or health care.) Wall Street's solutions will always be short-term - Big Business' progressivism comes in short-term bursts. And there are so few labor-friendly retail outlets (not to mention manufacturers) out there that labor-friendly consumerism will, at this point, lead to a pretty shitty Christmas season for your loved ones. (Seriously, you try buying clothes that aren't sweatshop-produced.) We're so deep in the Wal-Martized economy that wild horses would have trouble dragging us out of it. For that reason I still don't think business-based progressivism is going to solve all our problems - government will likely still need to give the Street a swift kick in the pants here and there.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Free-Floating Hostility

Here's a few random thought nuggets that I've wanted to write in extended form for a while...

The next conservative I hear bitching about "judicial activism" gets a punch in the face. Seriously, folks. In the past weeks, the Supreme Court has taken up cases dealing with Oregon's right-to-die law and medical marijuana law. Conservatives, not surprisingly, want to get rid of both of them. Apparently, judicial activism is horrible, bad, and awful, unless it strikes down laws that conservatives don't like, in which case go right ahead. In fact, I might note that the Supreme Court showed remarkable judicial restraint in choosing to stay the heck out of Massachussets' constitutional issue regarding gay marriage. A taste of your own medicine there, eh, right-wingers?

And how about the media coverage here? When the Supremes refused to rule on the Mass. court issue, they "sidestepped" gay marriage. But when they refused to rule on the Pledge case, it was support for the "under God" wording. This despite the fact that the ruling in Newdow was on procedural grounds, just like the refusal to hear the Mass. case was made on jurisdictional grounds. And yet, one is a "victory" for an ideological point and one was a "sidestep." Liberal bias my ass.

CBS and NBC are dumb. Here's why. Their rationale for rejecting this ad was that they "do not accept commercial advertising that deals with issues of public controversy." And yet, somehow, the political ads that we were saturated with during election season don't fall under this banner.

I have this to say to anyone who says that the Democratic Party isn't welcoming enough - Harry Reid. Seems the new leader of the anti-religious Northeastern elite babykillers is a Mormon from small-town Nevada who is pro-life (in the "outlaw abortion" sense). Dare I say it - our Big Tent is growing, the GOP's is rapidly shrinking.

Remember when Zellephant was talking about how Democrats were playing politics with our national security? Now there's this intelligence bill up there on the Hill, a bill that was thought through by a commission of experts. Were it allowed to come to a vote today, it would sail through both houses. Hell, the President even supports it. So what's stopping it? A Republican leader who refuses to put forth a bill that would split his caucus - even if it would prevent future terrorist attacks. Who's playing partisan politics? At least we didn't filibuster the DHS bill even though most Dems didn't like using the war on terror as an excuse to cut benefits for employees.

Republicans are pushing hard for a Constitutional "Arnold amendment." My question to the Republicans is this - if Arnold had been subject to our new stringent visa rules, would he have even bothered coming here in the first place?

You can all go home now. There's nothing left to see.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Trying To Put The Fruit Back

Opinions Nobody Asked For took a wrong turn and ended up in theology. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Genesis 3 is one of the Bible's most well-known stories. It chronicles how Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and were therefore banished from Eden. It takes up maybe a page of rather unimpressive writing. However, deep within this story and its myriad interpretations lies a key to understanding America's cultural divide.

The Christian thought that has shaped our society - and continues to shape it - refers to the episode as "the fall of man." Here the emphasis is on man's disobedience and punishment. From this story comes the Christian doctrine of "original sin," claiming that all mankind has been tainted by sin because of Adam and Eve's transgression. The act of the first couple, therefore, is an undeniably bad thing.

But most people recognize another dimension behind the story. Had Adam and Eve never eaten the fruit, they would never have known good and bad. Indeed, it is said that "their eyes were opened." But because of this eye-opening experience, they first began to feel shame at being naked. It can be argued that the point of the story, then, is that we must pay for the pleasure of knowledge with the pain of moral responsibility, that because we know right from wrong we are charged to do right.

Perhaps it can be said that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they held on to the seeds and planted them all across the earth. It is true that we are constantly eating of the fruit of knowledge - personally and collectively. Each time we do, we are faced with painful and sometimes horrifying choices along with the benefits we reap.

And always, there are forces that would wish that we had never eaten, that want to put the fruit back on the tree and return to our sojourn in Eden. You can see it in the people protesting a nuclear power plant. And you can see it when you read about the Texas school board's decision to eliminate contraception from their textbooks, or when you hear about plans to teach abstinence-only sex education classes, or when you hear about people protesting a new movie about famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

But recall that once we ate the fruit there was no turning back. Adam and Eve tried to put the fruit back. They even lamely passed the buck onto the serpent. But God would have none of it, and so we were doomed. We were doomed to a life of moral responsibility when we took that first bite and our eyes were opened. We can no longer put the fruit back where it came from - we must now face the choices that are in front of us.

To advocate abstinence-only education, to refuse to teach our children about contraception and safe sex - this is trying to put the fruit back on the tree. Conservatives are trying to avoid having to make moral choices about sex, to set Alfred Kinsey up as the serpent and return us to our blissful ignorance. This is human nature - to wish for ignorance once we had knowledge, to shy away from our tough moral choices. But we must resist the urge to pretend that these choices don't exist. We are no longer in Eden - we are in a world of choice, and we must face the truth about sexuality and present our children with good solutions to the moral dilemmas that they will inevitably face. We must realize that even if we wanted to, we can't put the fruit back.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Two Goodbyes

First, a goodbye to John Ashcroft, who resigned his post as Attorney General this week. Not a minute too soon, I might add. Ashcroft was a darling of the far right - and few else. I think he sensed that. His penchant for ignoring the principles of justice in the pursuit of terrorists, and his innate need to question the patriotism of any dissenters, did him in.

He is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez, someone about whom I only know bits and pieces. I had expected him to be nominated to the Court some time later, but Bush pulled a fast one on me here. I am reassured by his soft-spokenness - finally, an attorney general who won't insult me. But I, and I think a lot of other civil libertarians are with me here, am troubled by his stances on terrorism, most notably on the use of torture. He pushed for ignoring Geneva Convention standards for our prisoners, and is often credited (blamed?) for having a hand in the policies that led to Abu Ghraib. Whether he was acting as a lawyer serving his client, or as an independent policy mind, remains to be seen. I hope Democrats aren't so spineless now as to give Gonzalez the nod without asking him some tough questions on these issues. (Also, I wonder if he'll take that silly robe off the statue in the Justice Dept. buliding.)

We also said goodbye to Yasser Arafat, who died early this morning. I can't bring myself to rejoice over Arafat's passing - I'm not the kind to dance on peoples' graves - yet I can't say I'm particularly saddened, either. Arafat was a dreamer without a sense of practicality, an idealist who refused to compromise. His ideals won him a Nobel Peace Prize - his intransigence earned him the scorn of the non-Palestinian world. It appeared briefly that Arafat had learned the lessons of twentieth-century diplomacy - that you can get a lot more done with favorable media coverage than with a gun. He had even slowed terrorism down to a crawl during the 1990s, and as a result Palestinians got something they never had before - international sympathy for their cause, even from the Jewish diaspora. But then, when peace seemed within grasp, he forgot it again. He launched, or at least did nothing to stop, a new terrorist offensive, putting a torch to all the hard work at Oslo and Camp David.

Still, I think because of Arafat we have a more two-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before the 1990s, we thought of the Palestinians as the bullies and the Israelis as the innocent victims. Now, we know that neither can be held blameless for the violence.

Arafat leaves this world just as the best chance for peace since Camp David has come along. Sharon pounded his disengagement plan through the Knesset, letting the world know that Israel is serious about letting the Palestinians run their own affairs. Israel (however quietly) is bringing an army commander to justice for killing Palestinian civilians. During the past month, Israel has shown that it is serious about peace.

Now it's the Palestinians' turn. If Arafat were still here, we could rest assured that the Palestinian Authority would completely ignore any Israeli overture of this magnitude. But we are rid finally of Arafat's intransigence. If they are serious about peace, Palestinians must hold elections as soon as possible, and the newly elected leader must demonstrate a willingness to bargain. Arafat showed Palestinians the path to autonomy and peace, but he refused to follow it. He was a master at talking the talk - it is up to his successor to finally walk the walk.

Friday, November 05, 2004

North Carolina's Latest Outrage

So in the interest of "creating jobs" (3,000 low-paying ones in Greensboro, where unemployment is well below the national average), the North Carolina state legislature is considering a bill to give Dell a really cushy tax incentive package. And they don't even have to keep the jobs to keep receiving the tax credits - they can lay off all their new hires and still get paid.

Dell, of course, needs our money. Just like Bill Gates needs a welfare check.

Seriously, though, this corporate welfare thing has gotten way out of hand - and for conservatives who claim to believe in the free market to support this kind of handout is ridiculous. These are the same people who think we shouldn't be helping the mother supporting three kids on a job that pays $6 an hour.

Ohio just got slapped in the face for giving this kind of incentive - I think the 6th Circuit ruled it unconstitutional. Stay tuned.

A random thought

Six out of ten Americans support some sort of legal recognition for gay couples. 62% of Ohioans, 60% of Michiganders, and 66% of Utahns voted to ban recognition of all gay relationships, even civil unions - and all the civil-union-banning measures passed by similar margins.

Which raises the question: where are these six in ten Americans when you need them?

(On a similar front, props to Wilmington, NC, who elected North Carolina's first openly gay state legislator, Democrat Julia Boseman. This from a conservative district that last elected Patrick Ballantine, Easley's challenger.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Our 1964

Damn, it's been a long time since I've posted.

As I write this, the election is pretty much over. Nothing short of direct divine intervention would keep Ohio out of Bush's hands, CNN's "green state" business be damned. We can safely say we're looking at four more years of George W. Bush. Add to that the loss of four Senate seats in the South, the probable defeat of the sitting Senate minority leader, and continued Republican dominance in the House, and you have what appears to be an unmitigated disaster for Democrats. Yes, it was close, but in the end, conservatism appears to have captured a clear majority.

Some pundits may start blaming some of Kerry's weaknesses for this defeat - that he doesn't connect well, that he appears aloof, etc. I don't buy it completely. This election was more about Bush than Kerry, and most people (yes, 51% is still most) still agree with Bush.

Which leaves liberalism where, exactly? If a centrist like Kerry can't even beat the arch-conservative Bush, where does that leave those of us on the left? The same place conservatives were in the 1960s, that's where - an ideology whose party has abandoned us, whose leaders have failed us, and whose country has ignored us.

I'll put it to you bluntly - we won't get even a non-conservative administration until 2016 at the best. If the Republicans have any brains at all, they'll nominate McCain in 2008, and he's so wildly popular that he's good for eight years (barring a major policy screw-up). We've got some time to think, folks.

I wrote after the disaster of 2002 that liberals had to stop being afraid of their own shadows and engage the country. Tonight, the lessons of 2002 were re-learned - if you don't present a clear alternative, no one will listen. It's time to come up with an ideology, folks, a clear statement of what liberalism is and where liberals want to lead the country.

Because there is hope for liberals - we are not doomed to a conservative-controlled country indefinitely. Take a look at Barack Obama - an unabashed liberal who outperformed Kerry in Illinois. He not only found a way to win big in Chicagoland but managed to rack up big numbers in rural areas as well. And these rural voters are the ones that Democrats all but write off to the Republicans nowadays.

And parts of the country that once showed no signs of "going blue" now are back into play. Ken Salazar pulled off a big win in Colorado, of all places. Here in the Triangle, two conservative state House members - Don Munford and Sam Ellis - lost to relative upstarts (Grier Martin and Linda Jackson, respectively). Munford and Ellis weren't redistricted out of jobs - they just flat-out lost them.

Maybe in Obama, Salazar, Martin, and Jackson, we can find our silver lining. In 2016 Obama will be 52 - about the right age to run for President. That's the election I'm looking towards now. It may seem like far off, but when it comes to rebuilding and selling an ideology, there's no time to lose.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Sinclair Update #2

Seems Sinclair has decided not to air the film. Thank you, Mike, for bringing that to my attention.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sinclair's Low Blow Update

Apparently responding to pressure put on Sinclair, pay-per-view provider inDemand has dropped Michael Moore's election eve special, which would have featured a screening of "Fahrenheit 9/11" along with interviews with various liberal celebrities. Moore, in response, has offered "Fahrenheit" to Sinclair so that Sinclair might balance itself. I'll keep you posted as stories unfold.

Stupid Media Tricks

Dumb Washington Post quote of the day (referring to the second presidential debate):

"Sen. John Kerry joked that of all the people in the room, only he, Bush, and moderator Charles Gibson would benefit from the tax cut for the wealthy. In effect, Kerry was relegating the town hall audience to the social status of hired help, making assumptions about these citizens that confirmed his supposed attitude of high-handedness." - op-ed columnist Alan Schroeder

Good to know that anyone making under $200,000 a year is "hired help." Not only that, but good to know that "hired help" should be looked down upon. Ass.

Also, Kerry's comment was about who in the room would be hit by his proposed tax cut rollback.

And "supposed attitude of high-handedness?" Who's supposing that?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Sinclair's Low Blow

Greetings from Washington.

It always seems that the most truly disturbing news gets tucked away on Page 6 or so of your local newspaper. (We might recall that the Holocaust was first mentioned on page 13 or so of the New York Times.) So while the front page is obsessed with Kerry and Bush trading verbal jabs that border on the absurd, the adventurous reader is blessed - or cursed - with articles that illuminate some of the darker dealings of our political system.

The most telling of these is Sinclair Broadcast Group's recent decision to pre-empt all programming for one hour later this month to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," a film that most observers agree is blatantly anti-Kerry. Furthermore, they are denying Kerry and his campaign the right to respond in kind. Sinclair, not surprisingly, has donated heavily to Republicans and to George W. Bush's reelection campaign.

We also recall that Sinclair made headlines last year for its refusal to allow stations it owned to air an episode of "Nightline" where anchor Ted Koppel read the names of all Americans who had died in Iraq. Their decision on the Koppel matter is defensible - Koppel was making a political statement, and media outlets can be understandably uncomfortable with a political statement in a setting that purports objectivity. However, to deny Koppel his views while pushing theirs is the absolute worst kind of hypocrisy.

Readers of Chomsky and others who understand the influence corporations have over the content of the media will be unsurprised by this event. However, it should deeply disturb all Americans that a media outlet - an entity we turn to when we want the facts - would stoop so low as to air programming with the purpose of influencing a presidential election.

A biased media that influences elections is the province of corrupt and anti-democratic regimes. We decry Vladimir Putin's closing of all non-state-run media in Russia. We look with horror at Ukraine's corrupt president Leonid Kuchma, who is using his pawns in the media to attempt to sway an election in his favor. We all but laugh at North Korea's fabricated "news" that they feed to their citizens. And all dictatorships in recent memory have gone hand-in-hand with a media printing not the facts but state-sponsored propaganda. In contrast, many a democratic thinker has remarked on the importance of a free press to a democratic society.

Don't get me wrong - it is well within Sinclair's constitutional rights to air this program. And I have no quarrel with the producers and stars of "Stolen Honor;" their views deserve to be heard as much as Michael Moore's. (Incidentally, could you imagine the brouhaha that would result if a media group decided to air "Fahrenheit 9/11" for free? Conservatives would be all over that like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat.) Indeed, I would not be as incensed as I am if Sinclair had asked the "Stolen Honor" people to pay for their airtime like everybody else. Or if Sinclair had proven itself open to all points of view, like the ideal editorial page.

As it is, though, Sinclair is using its clout as a major media outlet to attempt to swing the election to Bush. It is sacrificing its duty to journalistic objectivity in order to help out a friend in the White House. The American people deserve better from those who claim to serve them.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Random thought

Does anyone else think it would be amusing if one of those online universities (like University of Phoenix, Strayer College, etc.) fielded a football team?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The "95 Challenge"

I posted this on the Washington Post discussion forums, and I'm posting it here. Though you, as a reader of my blog and probably a friend of mine, receive a special incentive.

If anyone out there - Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, whatever - can post a complete list of the 95 tax hikes that Bush claims Kerry has supported, you win a $20 prize. (Hey, I'm a grad student. That's a lot of money to me.)

By the way, no fair double-counting a single bill by including procedural votes, proposed amendments, etc. Only separate tax-raising measures will be accepted as legitimate.

Post your responses here as comments or e-mail me at

Good luck!

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Second Debate

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted. I apologize for disappointing my reader(s).

I just got done watching the second presidential debate. I figured I'd post some of my inconsequential thoughts here.

First, and least important, thought: I don't know if it's comforting or scary to have a president who's mad as hell. I'm thinking the latter. At least Kerry takes Bush's attacks in stride as part of the political process. Bush seemed to take it personally any time Kerry launched any sort of attack. Actually, come to think of it, this may not be as unimportant as I thought it was. You learn a lot about how Bush and Kerry handle things by seeing how they responded to each other. Bush has been notorious for "shooting from the hip," making judgments based on emotion. You saw that tonight, for example, when he ran over Charlie Gibson asking a follow-up question. Kerry, conversely, took it in and analyzed it, demonstrating his analytical approach to decision making.

My main thought follows.

All through this presidential campaign (and 2000, for that matter), there has been some sort of odd premium placed on simplicity. Kerry is derided for failing to convey it, and Bush is praised for utilizing it. Kerry, in turn, is praised for keeping his answers simple in the first debate.

And there is a virtue to simplicity. Simplicity breeds clarity, and clarity breeds understanding. Understanding is important to voters - if they don't feel like they understand the issues, they will make uninformed decisions or not vote altogether. However, tonight we saw simplicity taken over the top.

I would like to draw your attention to one point in particular that bothered me greatly. When asked about his policy towards government support for abortion, Kerry gave a very lucid, extremely clear answer. He said that he possesses a certain moral belief about the subject, but that it would be wrong for him, as president, to legislate that moral belief. He spoke clearly of ways that government can encourage morality without legislating it.

And what was Bush's response? "Boy, I'm having trouble deciphering that."

I, unlike most liberals, do not believe that Bush possesses a below-average intellect. So there is no doubt in my mind he, and everyone else in that room and watching on TV, understood what Kerry said and what he meant. We cannot take that statement at face value.

This statement constitutes the point where simplicity finally goes over the top. For it is obvious to even the most casual observer that the complex issue of abortion cannot be decided by a yes or no answer. Neither can any other issue, for that matter. Bush, I am certain, understands that. But he doesn't think you do, and he doesn't want you to either.

Notice the tenor of this entire debate. Bush desires that America refuse to see the world in anything but black and white. You're with us or you're against us. You supported my war in Iraq or you didn't. You voted yes or no on one bill (despite the fact that numerous votes occur on one bill). And he believes that complexity is beyond our grasp.

How ridiculous. How degrading. And how unbecoming of a leader who purports to have the wisdom to lead us through difficult times.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Judicial Review Under Attack, Redux

Having failed to get the Senate to move on the first absurd law that threatens judicial review for the sake of a little self-righteous posturing, the House Republicans are at it again. This time, they want to limit the Court's jurisdiction over the Pledge. Read the Post's editorial here.

And you can read my comments on the first exercise in anti-Court cruelty here.

Questions That Need Answering

The war on terror drags on, but we can all sleep safer now that the international terrorist formerly known as Cat Stevens has been deported. I mean, the guy put out a double-disc set of his greatest hits and gave all the proceeds to families of 9/11 victims. On top of that, he roundly condemned the Beslan attacks as against the word of Allah. Sounds like a dire threat to me.

We've all known that the no-fly list is severely flawed for quite some time now. When a list flags two prominent legislators - Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts - as terror threats, you know something's wrong. But this is easily chalked up to incompetence. The Cat Stevens incident is a symbol of a deeper problem.

As of now, there is no working definition of terrorism and terrorists. As a result, inconsistencies abound in our policymaking. Yaser Esam Hamdi is a grave threat one day and relatively innocuous the next. While a family making a vacation video of the Charlotte skyline is deemed a threat, Israeli spying is not really that dangerous. And Cat Stevens is deemed a terrorist threat for allegedly associating with terrorists, but we still maintain an alliance with Osama bin Laden's homeland of Saudi Arabia.

Several questions need answering, and need answering in a big way. For example, what constitutes a terrorist act? Does it have to involve a political or social ideology or can it be an act of anger? Do you have to be part of an organization to commit a terrorist act, or can lone wolves like the D.C. snipers be terrorists? Can national governments be terrorist regimes? If so, what makes a government attack an act of terrorism rather than an act of war? Can we differentiate Darfur and Chechnya?

And we have to deal with support for "terrorists" as well. What kind of contact with terrorists constitutes aid, and what constitutes innocuous contact? Is the simple act of talking to a terrorist tantamount to terrorism? How about befriending a terrorist, preaching to a terrorist, or writing a book that the terrorist reads? Should we be after those who talk a terrorist game but give neither financial nor material aid directly to terrorists? How about those who preach the ideologies that terrorists often use to justify their acts?

Again, we need to grapple with the idea of "state-sponsored" terrorism - i.e. terrorism not carried out by a state directly but with a state's aid. Should a state be responsible for the acts of all of its citizens - i.e. if a country gives citizenship but no material or financial aid to a terrorist, is that "sponsorship"? How about a state that spreads ideologies used by terrorists, like Saudi Arabia? Is official neutrality on terror - the Iranian tack thus far - the same as support for it, and should it be punished as such?

"Know thine enemy," it is often said. If we are to fight an effective war on terror, we need to understand the enemy that we are facing. We have avoided grappling with these questions for too long. Like any definition, the definition we come up with is bound to fall short. But by debating and answering these questions, we will get a better idea of who we are fighting and how we should fight them.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

A New Year's Resolution

There is a common saying in American culture: "friends don't let friends drive drunk." That is, if you're a good friend, you're not afraid to criticize your friend when he/she errs, and you'll even go out of your way to stop him/her from doing something destructive.

So when a nation allows another nation that it calls "friend" to sit idly by as its soldiers shoot innocent children for sport, one might say that this nation isn't doing its job as a friend.

But as journalist Chris Hedges reported in his book "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning," Israeli soldiers have been guilty of just that. Soldiers outside this one refugee camp have shouted insults and invective at Palestinian refugees, inciting the younger ones to come out and throw rocks over the fence at the soldiers. When the children do this, the soldiers open fire, wounding and occasionally killing the children. It apparently happens so often that the refugee camp has an ambulance anticipating the whole event. To my knowledge, Israeli army officials have done nothing regarding these brutal attacks.

Israel has been drunk behind the wheel more often than that. An exhibition staged by former Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv has documented, sometimes graphically, the atrocities committed by some Israeli soldiers against Palestinians. An Israeli journalist wrote a Post column recently about a development plan that threatens to forever separate Palestinians from East Jerusalem. And yet, the voices in the government that speak out are muffled. We hear condemnations of Palestinian atrocities almost daily, but by their silence, they all but endorse the extreme actions of the few bad apples in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Some of my more skittish co-religionists often equate criticism against Israel with anti-Semitism. I say that right now, I cannot consider Israel under its current government a Jewish state. No Jewish state would sit idly by as members of its own forces kill innocents. No Jewish state forsakes the holy pursuit of justice and righteousness for paths of revenge and hatred. The extremist wing of Israeli society has hijacked the government, and as a result, the Israeli government has forsaken the commandments of God and the Jewish religion.

And yet America, and the American Jewish community in particular, has been woefully silent in the face of injustice. This is not the Jewish way, and I say: no more.

For I am not ready yet to give up on Israel, to say that "this is just the way things are over there," to dismiss the killings to a "cycle of violence" that can never be broken. It can be broken, and Israelis have it in them to break the cycle. I believe that the majority of Israelis want to live peacefully alongside their Palestinian brethren. There is, despite all evidence to the contrary, hope.

But for peace to happen I believe that as Americans, we must be good friends. We must wrest the keys from the drunk drivers behind the wheel of the Israeli government. We must tell our Israeli friends that we understand the pain and suffering that Palestinian terror attacks have caused, but revenge and retaliation is not the solution. We must remind the Israelis of their sacred duty as Jews to create a land where justice rolls down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Our blind support for whatever the Israeli government is doing right now is not helping - it is only hurting.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish year. In ten days it will be Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. This is a time for all Jews to reflect upon the past, upon their sins against God and against others, and to pray for a good year and for the strength to follow God's laws in the upcoming year. It is the perfect time of year to ask ourselves: shall we continue to commit the sin of silence in the face of atrocity and injustice? Shall we watch as our friends take the path of least resistance into the darkness of revenge? Or shall we, by speaking out, give our Israeli friends the strength to make an improbable stance for justice and righteousness?

Barry's Back!

Yup - everybody's favorite cokehead, Marion Barry, is back on the D.C. City Council. And as Chris Rock demonstrated, that's one step away from running for President...

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Another Saturday...

I woke up at 9:30 this morning, got dressed, and went to football practice. I came home sore around 12, saw Danielle off to work, unpacked. I finished reading Malcolm X's autobiography (interesting reading which I'll comment on in another entry), cooked up some dinner. It was another Saturday, just like the rest, and the only thing that made it different was turning the page on my calendar to have it say "September 11, 2004."

Three September 11ths have now come and gone, and with less fanfare each year. This year there was almost none. My contact with the memorializing was nothing more than an article in the News and Observer. The normal crowd of people were shopping at the bookstore - apparently, we can't find anything better to do on a beautiful Saturday than shop.

It's now the middle of the first presidential election since 9/11. On the surface, nothing has changed. The negativity, the mendacity, the complete failure to discuss issues, the sensationalism of the media - it's all there. So why does it feel so different?

People say the stakes are higher now. It's true, negativity takes on a whole new meaning when the Vice President of the United States implies that a vote for the other guy is a vote for another terrorist attack. But even worse accusations have been made in the past; Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign famously ran an ad implying that should Barry Goldwater be elected, we would get nuked. And if the stakes really were higher, why haven't I heard an intelligent statement on anything approaching an issue in the past three months?

Garrison Keillor wrote that 9/11 "wasn't the 'end of innocence,' or a turning point in our history, or a cosmic occurrence, it was an event, a lapse of security." And he has points. Anyone with a working brain knew the dangers of terrorism long before 9/11. Terror has since struck devastatingly in Madrid, in Beslan, and every day in Iraq, and had previously struck Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Lockerbie, Oklahoma City, Beirut... the list goes on. But this time our geography, long our most stalwart ally, failed to protect us.

There was a greater importance to 9/11, greater than what it told us about our broken intelligence gathering system. What 9/11 did is imbued us all with a sense of urgency. Because who, during the oh-so-complacent 1990s, really got worked up over foreign policy philosophies or overseas troop distributions? And it spilled over into domestic issues too; we feel this sense urgency in health care, in education, in dealing with poverty. Finally, people are starting to realize that what happens in Washington affects us all. The high stakes were always there. We just understand it now.

But you'd never know it from the campaigns and the media. They, sadly, are the last to catch on to the urgency that emanated from 9/11. It is they that have failed the American people most egregiously, for in that horrific day lied an opportunity. It was an opportunity for a new day in politics, one of serious debates on the serious issues that faced us. We understand the gravity of those seemingly picayune policy points now. And that opportunity is being frittered away by a media more concerned with image, with who did what in the National Guard or on a Swift boat, with who is windsurfing and who is ranching, than with real issues.

(I admit, I've been guilty of it too. It is only now, thinking about it, that I realize it. The temptation to dwell on the unimportant is insidious. It sneaks inside you like a virus and multiplies until you are concerned deeply, almost religiously, with what someone said in anger thirty years ago.)

It frustrates me, because if 2004 passes us by without a serious debate on how to keep our country safe, we will inevitably fail in our efforts to tighten our security. If we fail to debate health care, we will continue to be stuck with the broken system we have now. If we fail to initiate a series of debates among all Americans now, we risk forgetting by 2008 that what happens out there affects all of us. As Rabbi Hillel said, "If not now, when?"

As we remember our dead from that day, let us also remember the sense of urgency that has filled us since then. And let us never lose sight of how important, how meaningful, those little details of policy are.

One major difference between this election and others. There is a sense on both sides that we can change the world. We may spout gloom and doom predictions at each other, but in all honesty, I don't think Americans as a whole have ever been more optimistic that we can change the world. Maybe, with any luck, we can.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Moral Welfare State

Conservatives rail constantly about the "handouts" that they claim government is giving the poor. Instead of making the poor work for their income, they are creating (as George Will puts it) a "culture of dependency" where the poor just mooch off the government. One conservative described it as "hard" vs. "soft" America, where the liberals were willing to coddle the poor while conservatives gave them "tough love," thus making them more likely to succeed.

I could spend a couple of columns arguing with this claim and its distortion of the liberal point of view. But let's ignore all that for the moment. There's a point here.

Keep in mind that these same conservatives are the people who believe that a constitutional amendment against gay marriage is a good idea. They are the same people who support government-sponsored prayer in schools. They scream and shout about the removal of "under God" from the official incarnation of the Pledge of Allegiance. In other words, they battle any effort to disestablish religion, despite the constitutional injunction to the contrary.

There's the major inconsistency in conservatism. Conservatives, through this so-called "moral" legislation, seek to establish a sort of moral welfare state. They exhort government to give religious "handouts" to people, whether they want them or not. While in their mindset it is bad to give people economic handouts, it is perfectly okay to tell them how to live their lives.

Conservatives are somehow deluded into believing that religious belief must be validated by appropriate government legislation. Somehow, removing "under God" from the official Pledge is an assault on the religious faith of people. Therefore, people must be coddled by putting religion in the Pledge. I think this is a severe underestimation of the religious willpower of the average American. I don't think that any of the religious people I know would be any less inclined to believe in God if God weren't in the Pledge.

The culture of religious dependency - the idea that the religious beliefs of Americans are dependent upon validation by the government - doesn't exist yet. But conservatives want it to exist. Their constant complaints about "taking God out of the public sphere" are evidence of this. A reasonable person recognizes that only Americans can take God out of the public sphere. But conservatives wish to attribute to the government a power which it does not possess - yet.

Continued unchecked, though, moral legislation will create a culture of dependency. By the constant government endorsement of monotheism, conservatives want to make people look to the government for help when determining what to believe. How is this any different than giving economic handouts - the very things that conservatives (wrongly) deride liberals for doing?

To use the language some conservative commentators use, liberals believe in religious "toughness." We believe that religion flourishes when people are forced to come about their beliefs on their own. Conservatives believe in religious "softness" - i.e. that religion is best given to people directly by the government. The choice is clear. Religious entitlements or freedom of conscience?

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Post Takes On Some Kerry-Bashing Claims

In an excellent article, the Post explains how some of the Republican claims about Kerry's voting record are complete bull. Read and enjoy.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I Can't Believe I Have To Share A State With That

A couple of days ago, the television was on behind our couch. Dani was looking for news about Frances, and we were hearing clips of the Republican Convention. That's when I heard Elizabeth Dole, Senator from the great state of North Carolina, say something that made me very ashamed of my Tar Heel sister.

Her comment went something like this: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

It would be alright if she had said it in the context of denying people the right to express their religion publicly. But she didn't. She said it in the context of the traditional religious demagogue issues - the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, "under God" in the Pledge, etc. etc.

Um, what Constitution are you reading, Libby?

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Which means that we have freedom "from" religion in two ways: one, the government may not endorse any religious belief, and two, we have the freedom not to be religious if we don't want to.

Besides, unless we have freedom from religion, can we have freedom of religion? The right to worship as we choose necessarily implies the right not to worship - if we are required to worship, it is a breach of freedom of religion - what about those whose religious beliefs tell them not to worship?

Sad to say, people eat up this line. It got wild applause. I feel, at times, like Inigo Montoya while on top of the cliff, telling his compatriot: "You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." People like Elizabeth Dole keep on using that "freedom from religion" line. It doesn't mean what she thinks it means.

Dole is convinced that if the government is not establishing religion, it is condemning it. What she fails to realize is that the idea of freedom of conscience is central to the American attitude towards religion. It's even somewhat rooted in Christian theology - religious freedom pioneer Roger Williams said to his Puritan persecutors that Christian ideas benefit from a freedom of conscience. Indeed, our church-state separation is one of the main things keeping the religious life of this country as vital as it is.

So Libby, I'll take my God not forced down my throat by the government, thank you. That whole freedom from religion thing sounds like a good idea to me. And no one will stop you from saying "under God" in the Pledge if you damn well please. The great thing about our Constitution is that you can have it both ways. Don't sell that out for a cute bit of rhetoric.

Republican Convention: Zell's Bells

I have to confess, I haven't seen much of the Republican Convention. This may be because I know that if I watch it for too long, I'll start throwing things, and I like having my TV in one piece. (Also, the new cable jack only got here today, so I would have been sitting behind my sofa watching it.) But I've been reading it.

This morning I read Zell Miller's keynote address. Miller is a retiring Georgia senator and possibly the only Democrat alive to support Bush. Surprisingly, though, he had very little positive to say about Bush - it was more negative towards a party that he felt was playing partisan politics with national security and a candidate that he feels has no guiding principles.

It has been well chronicled among the pundits that the same vitriol he used in eviscerating Kerry was present when he eviscerated Bush 41 at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. But it's funny that Miller would accuse Kerry of waffling, and very odd indeed that he would criticize Kerry on his past record. It seems like Miller has pulled off the mother of all waffles.

Nowadays, Miller likes to fancy himself a conservative Democrat. He even wrote a book that he subtitled "The Conscience Of A Conservative Democrat." But as Governor of Georgia, he was anything but conservative. He launched an ambitious scholarship program that promised to send any Georgia high school student with a B average to a state-run college. He brought the Gay Games to Atlanta in 1996. He was a strong proponent of abortion rights. Some conservative. It is absurd that he changed so much since 1999 and fails to afford Kerry the same luxury.

What changed Zell? He claims that September 11th did part of it, and that's respectable. But his blind adherence to Bush's agenda does not serve our national security. He is falling victim to the classic "with us or against us" fallacy that Bush and his administration has put out. He seems to have forgotten the importance of the dialectic in our national politics, instead buying into the cult of personality around Bush. That's not strong on terror, that's insanity.

But many of Miller's position changes had nothing to do with September 11th, and everything to do with the Georgia political climate. He realized that Georgians were moving farther and farther to the right, and he followed them. This is a reasonable decision to make as a politician, and I respect him for it. But Zell turned around and accused Kerry of prevarication, and took Kerry to task for things he did long ago. That's not reasonable. That's hypocrisy. And even if you are responsible for the Hope Scholarships, hypocrisy is inexcusable.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


"What about Bush's second-term agenda, Kerry's health care plan, the new overtime rules and (ahem) Iraq? Overshadowed, drowned out or blown off by the histrionics over Kerry's "character" and whether he deserved a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts." - Howard Kurtz, Washington Post media columnist

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Stupidity Strikes Again

Apparently, a Mexican flag hung in a Denver-area high school sparked a torrent of complaints. The school district responded that any display of foreign banners must be temporary and related to the curriculum. Since, you know, we shouldn't be teaching kids about the existence of countries other than the United States.

It's people like this who ensure the suckage of our school system.

Attack of the Demagogues

Religious demagogue extraordinaire James Dobson is coming to Raleigh September 7th. I'm wondering if I should go...

Ben points out that Dobson doesn't just do demagoguery, that his website actually deals with issues of importance to Christian families. So it's just the political wing of Focus on the Family that blows ass, while the rest of the organization appears somewhat honorable. Dobson's still a jerk for actions that spread fear instead of love, but no one's all bad, I guess.

Pollsters Suck

When it comes to polls, people generally pay attention to little besides the numbers. But it's equally important - in fact, I would say more important - to know the exact questions being asked. I just received a computerized poll asking me questions such as:

"Do you agree with the NRA and their strong support for gun owners' rights?"

"Do you believe that our taxes should be not raised and, if possible, cut?"

The first one is obviously constructed in order to distort the numbers in favor of the NRA. I would wager that most people believe that some restrictions on the free flow of firearms are appropriate, but who the hell is going to say they don't support the rights of gun owners? The use of vague idealistic terms instead of specific policy proposals tilts the question.

Also, who the heck is going to answer no to the second question (besides me when I'm messing with pollsters)? "Yes, I'd like to pay more in taxes, please." A better question would be "Would you be willing to pay higher taxes to fund (insert specific government program here)?" That would actually tell us something. A poll that reports on how 80% of Americans support lower taxes is not news. Watch the pollsters turn this into support for Bush's tax cuts.

There are more subtle ways of manufacturing opinion. Take, for example, this question from the same poll:

"Do you agree that marriage between one man and one woman should be the only legally binding marriage in America?"

On the surface, this is not a biased question - and in a paper poll, it wouldn't be. But it seems to me that the use of the word "agree" in posing the question verbally is meant to create a knee-jerk reaction in most people. People don't like to disagree unless the option is given to them, so a lot of people would automatically say "yes, I agree" without giving much thought to the question. Even I hesitated, and I disagree very strongly with the statement.

In fact, there are even more subtle ways to influence poll response. Tone of voice can be very important in the posing of a question. The previous question placed an emphasis on both "one"s rather than remaining monotonous throughout. As a result, it came off as more admonition and less question. Even the most innocently phrased questions - for example, "If the election were held to day, would you vote for John Kerry, George Bush, other, or don't know (responses rotated)?" - can be biased if the tone of the question changes. Imagine that question if "John Kerry" were said in an excited, happy voice while "George Bush" was said in a disaffected, sad-sounding voice. It becomes less "who would you vote for" and more "do you like happy?"

Moral of the story: watch out for the poll numbers. They're not always the whole story. You should also pay attention to the questions asked and to who's conducting the poll. (Mine was conducted by something called "Helping Hand International." They don't show up in a Google search unless they're a Kentucky-based adoption agency, which I doubt. My guess is that they're a Republican-leaning political group.)

Energy Policy Rant

Why, oh why, couldn't the beginnings of an oil crisis come in an off year?

Oil prices have been on the rise disturbingly. They have been setting records, spurred on by the specter of instability in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela and an extremely overreactive market.

Sadly, our current political climate precludes any sort of actual debate on the issue of oil prices and what to do about them. Short of military action against all the OPEC countries, there's not a whole lot we can do on the production end - the producers, so to speak, have us over a barrel. Our goal, then, must be to lower consumption of gasoline. The advantages of lower consumption are twofold: limiting demand will drive down the cost of crude and give us more leverage in our foreign policy.

Of course, no candidate who actually wants to get elected can come out and say "consume less gasoline." That would be about as appreciated as telling a kindergarten class that Santa doesn't exist. Kerry and Bush, to their credit, provide proposals to wean us from foreign oil, but none hint at the sacrifice on our part that will be necessary to combat this problem. (Badnarik's website fails to address the issue.)

Kerry proposes research and development money for alternative energy sources, which is admirable as a long-term goal. (I also like it since it's my probable career path.) He also proposes tax credits for companies that develop more fuel-efficient cars. Bush intends to concentrate on increasing domestic oil production, especially by drilling in ANWR, but I believe this will solve nothing. To my knowledge he has proposed little else. (His energy policy is elusive on his website.)

However, both candidates have disgracefully cast aside a possible solution to our out-of-control consumption - a higher gas tax. Commentators such as David Ignatius and Charles Krauthammer have offered intelligent columns supporting an increased gas tax. Alas, a civil discussion on the merits of a gas tax is impossible, since it has become a huge political issue: Bush and Kerry attack each other regularly for supporting such a tax.

The gas tax does, indeed, have merits. It is the most obvious way to limit consumption; higher prices would make people think twice before driving the car instead of taking public transportation. It would generate more revenue for the states that they could then funnel into improving public transportation. Most importantly, a high gas tax would encourage innovation in both city planning and automobile design. This policy would provide both long-term and short-term relief from high oil consumption.

But at what cost? A gasoline tax is highly regressive; the hardest hit by it would be lower-middle- and working-class families who are already struggling to make it. The extra $20 a week for the commute could push them over the edge into insolvency, especially if real wages continue falling over the next decade. True, those living near major urban centers have public transportation available, but how much would that solve in the short term? Outside of New York, public transportation in our cities is horribly inadequate and cannot be repaired in the short term. This leaves working families forced to pay the extra tax without having an option to avoid it. Furthermore, those in the rural working class do not have the option of taking public transportation and often must commute long distances to work. These people would be extremely hard-hit by any gas-tax increase.

In short, I probably agree that the gas tax is not the way to go to cut production. But what is? Maybe a tax credit for using public transportation or carpooling would help - it still mostly misses the rural poor who live far apart and are forced to use cars, but it could create gains in the areas most likely to limit consumption. Portland, Oregon made a step in the right direction by forbidding outward expansion beyond a certain point; perhaps federal money for cities that follow Portland's lead would help.

Energy policy is a highly complex issue, and one that deserves to be debated extensively. The American people deserve to be able to understand all the issues at hand and the arguments on all sides of these issues. It's certainly one of the most important issues out there. Too bad it's an election year, so intelligent debate is impossible.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Reconcilication With Iran Is Possible

Sorry for the anemic post frequency. It probably won't get better since I'm actually doing stuff at work now. Also, I'm quitting with the column numbering. It's annoying me and probably annoying you.

"The West ... got rid of the tyrannical talons of the church ... and delivered itself from the clutches of feudalism ... with the motto of 'freedom, fraternity and equality' and finally construed and built a modern society which today... produces miracles worthy of admiration." - Mohammed Khatami, President of Iran (read the whole poorly translated document here.)

Recently, I've been hearing a lot of harsh talk about Iran, and for good reason. The Iranian government has doggedly pursued a nuclear program that may or may not be producing weapons. European attempts to find out more have failed miserably. Furthermore, the 9/11 commission found links between hardliners in the Iranian government and the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Financing Hezbollah, the group responsible for the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed hundreds of Marines, was a rotten trick to say the least. And Bush appears to be sounding the war drums again; an official from the administration was quoted as saying that a second Bush administration would oversee "much more intervention" in Iranian affairs.

And yet, I'm not convinced that the kind of "intervention" Bush is advocating - stirring up revolutions and the like - is the answer here

Iran's relationship with the Western world has always been a troubled one, but there have been a plethora of signs in recent years that Iran is ready to open its arms to the West. The election of Khatami in 1997 - with over 70% of the vote - was a definite vote for more normalized relations with Europe and America. Iran has recently opened relations with India, an important Western ally. The Iranian government has rounded up several al-Qaeda members, and has expressed support for a stable and free Iraq and Afghanistan. My point is, there's hope here.

It's obvious to me that the Iran that exists today does not hate the West or the Americans. Khatami points out that "it was in the state of backwardness, misery and humiliation, being the consequences and the scars of despotic rule in our society, that we encountered the West with two different feelings – humiliation and fear." Indeed, Iranians had much to be humiliated about, and much to fear.

Iranians asserted themselves against the Shah many times before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In 1953, Premier Mohammed Mussadiq, a Socialist, nationalized the oil industry of Iran, thus angering American and British interests. As Mussadiq continued to assert power, he was supported by the bulk of the Iranian people - for a while. A growing disaffection with Mussadiq opened the door for an American-led coup that deposed Mussadiq and put the Shah back in power. The result of this: Iranians would forget their own disaffection with Mussadiq, and would view the coup as an attempt by America to control their affairs. Continuing American support for the increasingly despotic Shah would only cause Iranians to grow more fearful and more humiliated before the West.

As a result, Iran lashed out, and the Islamic Revolution and its horrifyingly bloody aftermath were the results. This backlash causes most Americans to perceive Iran as an enemy. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Iran, with Khatami in a position of some power, is ripe for reconciliation with the West. President Bush - or, if elected, Kerry - would be well advised to begin an honest dialogue with Iran. It should begin with an expression of regret - an apology, even - for our support of the 1954 coup and of the Pahlavi dynasty. Our leaders should reassure Iranians that support for dictatorships and the overthrow of popular leaders, while disturbingly common in our foreign policy, does not align with our principles. Our leaders should recognize that Iran is far too complex a country to be buttonholed onto the "axis of evil." And most importantly, our leaders should make a pledge to support the will of the Iranian people.

Such an olive branch will not solve everything. Copious actions of good faith on both sides are needed to bridge the divide, but I daresay it is possible. After all, we are on good terms with Chile now, and our intervention in Chile was more recent and had far worse effects than our interventions in Iran. If it's possible to win the respect, if not the admiration, of Chile, we can win the respect of Iran.

Yes, there are numerous wrongs for which the Iranian government must apologize if relations are to be normalized, but this action is out of our hands. The important part is that if we play our cards right, Iran could, in time, become an extremely important ally in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror. For now, a conciliatory gesture on our part can only help our relations. Friendly actions tend to beget friendly actions - if we apologize for supporting a cruel dictator, perhaps Iran will apologize for supporting and participating in anti-American terror. And in a land where humiliation and fear still linger, unfriendliness begets violence.

You know you're in trouble when...

Check this out to see what renowned liberal hippie peacenik Pat Buchanan is publishing about the Bush administration. I wonder if he's gunning for the Jewish vote in Palm Beach again this year...

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Column 10: The Libertarians' Big Chance

The media love to obsess over Ralph Nader. His campaign's often laughable attempts to gather signatures and get on the ballot in various states inspires plenty of amusing little articles here and there about what Republicans are helping him out and what Democrats are doing to stop him.

Truth is, Nader's not going to be much of a factor in this election, at least not to the extent that he was in 2000. Sure, more narrow margins of victory such as those in Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Iowa will show up in this election. But the closer we get to Election Day, the more apparent the differences between candidates will be, and the less influential Nader will become. (And accepting the nomination from the party that previously nominated ultraconservative Pat Buchanan further dents his credibility.)

But that's not a reason to make this a two-candidate struggle. Truth is, there's a third candidate - Libertarian Michael Badnarik - who, if he plays his cards right, can have a huge effect on the outcome of this election.

As most of the readers of this blog will know, Libertarians are a traditionally Republican constituency. They had been willing to put their differences on social issues on the back burner in favor of a unified front for smaller government and free-market values. It's always been a somewhat tenuous alliance, but the Republicans tended to be good enough at keeping government small to mollify Libertarians.

The importance of keeping Libertarians happy has completely escaped George W. Bush and the Republican leadership of the past four years. Since Bush took office, he has presided over an actual expansion of government. The tax cuts may have pleased Libertarians, but the new Medicare entitlement certainly didn't. Add to that the huge increase in defense spending, the immense deficit, and the civil liberties disasters of the past four years, and you have a lot of Libertarians who are annoyed at the Bush administration.

Enter Badnarik, who could learn a lot from Nader's 2000 run. In 2000, Nader recognized that the Democratic Party was giving very short shrift to the concerns of progressives. Recognizing that the 2000 election was going to be a close one, he set out to send a message to the Democrats by influencing the election - and succeeded. The Democratic Party of 2004 spent a lot more time mollifying progressives than it had in recent memory, and Kerry - though he's no progressive - has positioned himself well to the left of Gore and Clinton.

Badnarik could have that sort of effect on Republicans, who have become as complacent about Libertarian votes as the Democrats were about progressive votes in 2000. By running a campaign aimed at small-government conservatives and Libertarians in states like New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, and Ohio, he could cost Bush the election. This will force Republicans to give Libertarians a more prominent voice in their party, and restore small-government ideas to the national debate. More importantly, it will give the Libertarian Party a national spotlight and some much-needed respect.

Badnarik could also go the other way if he wants. By emphasizing his peace credentials, he could probably siphon off enough progressive votes to swing the election to Bush. This probably wouldn't get Libertarian ideas into the Democratic Party mainstream, but it would still give the party its national spotlight.

The choice, then, is Badnarik's. A well-run Libertarian campaign could very well decide the presidential election - either way. The Libertarian Party, which has long dwelled on the margins of American politics, has an opportunity to make its voice heard louder than ever before. (They have an added advantage in that their candidate is finally not Harry Browne - Badnarik appears a hundred times more accessible.) And if not now for the Libertarians, when? Small-government ideas seem to be rapidly vanishing from the national debate - by 2008, the Libertarians will be even more marginalized if they don't take this chance.

Good luck, Mike.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Too Outspoken, My Ass

Teresa Heinz-Kerry is getting berated by the media for referring to a Bush victory in November as "four more years of hell." Click here for details. (Fortunately, the Post does a decent job chronicling the event, but CNN's television coverage gave it an unabashedly negative spin.)

It seems to me that this is no different from Ted Kennedy's "the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush" from the convention. When Ted Kennedy says it, it's politics. When Teresa Heinz-Kerry says it, it's "too outspoken." Maybe it's time to quit trying to project the Nancy Reagan image onto potential first ladies and recognize that they, too, are real human beings with actual opinions on things. Just a thought.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Column 9: Realistic Expectations For Iraq

This one's kind of disorganized. Sorry.

This political season, Kerry and Bush have been falling all over themselves to try to prove to Americans that they can "get the job done" quickly and effectively in Iraq. Each candidate claims that if they are elected, they can bring peace and stability to Iraq.

Yeah, right.

Revolutions do not sort themselves out overnight. The history books are littered with countries who have overthrown oppressive regimes, only to become bogged down with internal issues for decades. One country in particular became tormented with regional factionalization, racial discrimination, and social unrest caused by poverty immediately after the end of their successful revolution. The various tensions led to outbreaks of violence for decades, culminating in a catastrophic civil war some ninety years later.

I refer, of course, to the United States.

America enshrined racial inequality in its founding document by endorsing the existence of slavery; the Civil War was a direct, though avoidable, result. Furthermore, early Americans' regional loyalties often trumped loyalty to the central state. The maintenance of these conflicting loyalties led to the faulty Articles of Confederation, numerous armed rebellions, and the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s. They also contributed to the Civil War.

Other instances in early American history bear a striking resemblance to what is happening in Iraq now. Had the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 made use of roadside bombs, Pittsburgh might well have looked like Fallujah looks now. George Washington was able to quell the rebellion with a combination of a confident show of military might and sheer force of personality.

The Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 probably provides a better picture of the road ahead for Iraq. A somewhat unified force overthrew antidemocratic dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1910. Soon after, the revolutionary forces began to bicker. The assassination of new President Francisco Madero in 1912 led to a somewhat organized display of force against the overthrower, Victoriano Huerta. However, after it became clear that Huerta's days were numbered, the revolutionaries separated into no less than four factions. Years of fighting interspersed with attempts at peace ensued. The attempts at peace failed because one of the groups would generally feel excluded. It wasn't until 1920 that peace finally stuck - and then only because Alvaro Obregon had managed to definitively eliminate his competition. It seems that the issues of the Mexican Revolution were resolved mostly by attrition.

Mexico's revolution was likely a lot cleaner and more conclusive than its American counterpart, but issues raised during the Mexican Revolution still simmer. Even now, people claiming the legacy of revolutionary Emiliano Zapata lead the occasional armed insurrection in the southern state of Chiapas. The party founded by Obregon's successor became increasingly corrupt and was accused of rigging elections as recently as 1994. Indeed, the election of Vicente Fox in 2000 represented for many Mexico's final proof of democratization. Mexico, too, had its personalities that held the country together - the scrupulously honest and well-liked Lazaro Cardenas fended off an effort by the cronyists that likely would have plunged Mexico into deeper unrest.

The factionalization in 1910-1920 Mexico represents closely the divisions between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq, and the further factionalization within the Shiite camp. The Mexican Revolution can demonstrate to Iraqis and Americans that it is important for all factions to be brought to the bargaining table if we desire a workable peace. Iraq can also learn the dangers of dishonest and unpopular leaders; Mexico suffered through several minor rebellions between the presidencies of Obregon and Cardenas. And last but not least, the danger of leaving factional loyalties in place cannot be underestimated.

Iraq probably has a Washington or a Cardenas out there somewhere. Perhaps it is Allawi. But the point I have been trying to make is this: while there is much for Iraq to learn from the histories of the U.S. and Mexico, we can expect nothing less than a long road ahead. Even if the Iraqis learn from the mistakes of the American and Mexican Revolutions, the issues that now exist in Iraq will take years, even decades, to sort out. There will probably be a civil war or two. To expect a quick and painless overnight solution to this ordeal is fantasy, and shame on Bush and Kerry for scoring political points from perpetuating such unrealistic expectations.

One more point. In 1916, when the factionalization in Mexico was at its height, Woodrow Wilson saw it fit to authorize a military intervention. While the factions of the revolution tended to agree on very little, everyone agreed on this point: the Americans should just go home and let the Mexicans sort this one out. We left, and within three years the Mexicans had come to a difficult but workable peace. Keep that in mind next time you weigh the importance of "staying the course" in Iraq.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Convention speeches

Feel free to post your comments about Democratic convention speakers, especially Kerry, here.

Column 8: What's Good For The Syndicate

Another rip on corporations. I swear, after this one I'll leave those poor mistreated billionaires alone for a while :-)

For me, the most memorable character in Joseph Heller's masterpiece novel Catch-22 was mess-officer-turned-black-marketer Milo Minderbinder. His sleazy schemes to control all the supply lines of the war led to some ridiculous - and sometimes downright horrifying - consequences. He bombed his own troops in Bologna to offset his losses in Egyptian cotton. He even took morphine from an airplane first-aid kit for his black-market activities. And he justified it all in the public interest: "What's good for the Syndicate," he would say, "is good for the country." "Everybody has a share."

While modern corporations are by no means as sleazy as Milo's Syndicate, they bear one striking responsibility - they claim that what's good for them is good for the country. They ask for tax cuts in the name of "economic growth." And, like Milo, they really don't care who they step on to get ahead.

Economic growth - that concept has become the Holy Grail of American politics. We are used to measuring every move we make for its possible economic effects, and if there's even a shadow of a possibility that the policy will hinder economic growth, we discard it. We deny our laborers a more realistic minimum wage because of our fear of stifling the economy. We fear the higher taxes on the wealthy necessary to pay for better health care, education, and job training for the potential workforce, because they might, possibly, hurt our precious economy.

Yes, the market is worth protecting. But we must not forget our social conscience as well. We understand that we have a duty to protect the economy, but do we not also have a duty to provide people with the best social services possible? Do we not have the responsibility to give all our children the education they need to realize their true potential, and to give those on welfare the job training necessary to bring themselves out of poverty?

And why are we so scared of hurting our economy? We fear the miniumum wage increase because of possible negative effects on employment. But after the last minimum wage increase in 1996, jobs were actually created rather than destroyed. Economists such as David Card and Alan Krueger have demonstrated that the minimum wage has no negative effect on employment, and indeed might even boost employment. Right now, a worker laboring full-time at the minimum wage makes 60% of the poverty level. This is pathetic. No one should work full-time and still be unable to pull themselves out of poverty. The cornerstone of the capitalist system is the assurance that hard, honest work can earn someone a comfortable life - we must ensure that this opportunity exists for everyone. And yet, we still decide to side with the corporations even on this issue - what's good for the Syndicate, after all, is good for the country.

As a capitalist society, we must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to make an honest living and contribute to the economy. More importantly, as a society we have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate. It is a failing of our society that one-fifth of Americans live in poverty - it is a drag upon our potential as a nation, our prosperity, and our freedom. In the words of John Edwards, it doesn't have to be this way. If we stop pandering to our poor mistreated corporations, we can fix these problems. It is a matter of some debate whether government or the market is the correct tool to use to fix these problems, but whatever solution path we choose, we must remember that what's good for the Syndicates is not always good for the country. We must not sacrifice our social conscience at the altar of economic growth.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Obama for President! (well, someday)

Yeah, I just got done watching Illinois state Senator Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic convention. Damn, he's impressive. And positive. And a great speaker. And the "funny name" thing is something I can relate to :)

Audience Participation!

The role of government is an issue addressed all too rarely in our political discourse. This is your opportunity to engage me and your fellow readers in a debate over government's proper role in our society. Some of my random ramblings are below - feel free to skip them and head straight for the comments if you want. I warn you, though, any posts that I consider too ad hominem will be removed. This is not to imply that I don't believe in free speech. I just don't like insults on my blog, unless they're directed at Jerry Falwell or Ann Coulter.

At least since the 1980s, American politics has been operating under the assumption that government is a "necessary evil" that we should have as little of as possible. Reagan's statement that "government is not the solution, government is the problem" has pretty much summed up the attitude of most Americans towards government. Even Clinton, a moderate liberal, declared the era of big government over.

But is it time to challenge that assumption? I was reading "Stand Up, Fight Back" by Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. when he made the statement that government does not get in the way of liberty. In fact, government is the sole guarantor of liberty.

This seems obvious enough. Without government enforcement, anyone could steal anyone else's stuff - there'd be no property rights. Furthermore, we'd have no right to live the life we want to live - we'd be at the mercy of the guys with all the guns and money.

Dionne expands this further, arguing that a free market would not work without government regulation either. History bears him out on this one - anti-trust actions such as the ones taken by Teddy Roosevelt have been required to keep competition and innovation in the market.

So government is necessary to protect liberty and to keep the market running smoothly. But how do we define these terms?

For example, health care. Since "life" is one of those inalienable rights that we all can (mostly) agree on, and since adequate health care is essential to maintaining life, we can argue that each citizen has a right to adequate health care. The government, being the guarantor of rights, should be responsible for providing health care for everyone who cannot afford it (or whose companies do not provide it for them). But doing this requires revenue, which requires taxation. Excess taxation deprives people of some of their property rights (along with disturbing the market, if you believe libertarian economists). So where does the line fall?

For another example, regulations. Many regulations protect the rights of a large number of people. The minimum wage law guaranteed - at the time it was passed - a reasonable, livable salary for everyone who worked. Environmental regulations keep people healthy, keep our food supply unharmful, and keep our air breathable. But too much regulation can have a negative effect. Innovation can get caught up in red tape. On his campaign website, Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik tells the story of poor young aspiring entrepeneurs who are blocked by regulations which place a heavy cost on the citizen.

Liberty cannot abide in the absence of law. Often, the laws that protect one person's liberty infringe upon another's. And the lack of laws that ensure one person's liberty can prevent another from reaping its full benefits.

Is there a way for government to always protect liberty? What is the proper role of government in our society? I humbly ask my readers to voice their opinions below...

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Column 7: Service With A Smile

The ideas in this column are Danielle's. Like my Column 6, it is a cultural critique - she has noticed some trends in American culture from working in retail (at B&N bookstores). It's difficult for me to capture completely, but I'll give it a shot. Dani, tell me if I've got something wrong. Here goes:

Anyone who lives within the advertising range of CiCi's Pizza has heard the radio ad. A woman is welcomed to a fast-food restaurant by a clerk. Immediately she sets upon him; seems she expected the poor kid to open the door for her family (never mind the fact that in the ad, the young man is obviously behind the counter). What's more, she expects him to drop everything that he's doing at the time to take her order. She appears to blame the clerk for the fact that the food is taking forever, expects him to offer her two-year-old a high chair without her asking for one, and is disappointed when he says that he is on his break.

Rest assured, I will never eat at a CiCi's Pizza again.

I'm not cynical enough to believe that CiCi's is trying to send the message that the staff is at the center of fast-food's problems, or even part of them. The chain tries to make the point that fast-food is, by nature, a less pleasant experience than their restaurant. Their major unforgivable failing is this: they forget that the guy behind the counter is a living, breathing, sentient human being.

It's not an uncommon error. Those who have worked in retail all have stories of people treating them as if they were superhuman automatons, expecting them to be everywhere, do everything, and take their absurd and often condescending complaints with an understanding smile. People in clothing stores try on clothes and leave them wherever they feel like leaving them, not even bothering to clean up after themselves. Danielle has told me numerous times that she has had to replace stacks of magazines that people read and leave by their seat. The customer just tells himself, with a presumptuous air, "it'll be taken care of." My friend and former roommate Ben wrote a humor piece about how our fellow Vanderbilt students expected "magical services." The point, of course, is that people don't realize that other humans, ones just like themselves, are doing the brunt work.

If the flippant way in which customers often treat service employees sounds familiar, it's because you've seen it before. It appears in the novels of Dickens and the plays of Shakespeare. P.G. Wodehouse made fun of it brilliantly over a century ago. It is the way the stereotypical rich person would treat their servants - gruffly, uncaringly, as if they were invisible.

In America, people of all classes are encouraged to aspire upwards, that no matter how much money you have, it's better to have more. We are a nation of people who want to be rich. As a result, some middle-class Americans let their aspirations for money spill over into the way they conduct their interpersonal relations - in other words, they want to be rich, and they want to have servants.

Service employees fill this desire of the middle class to have servants. When a customer walks into a store nowadays, their working assumption is that the employee is their personal servant, and so corporate bosses make sure their employees act that way. The result is such inane philosophies like "the customer is always right," "never say no to a customer," and "service with a smile." No employee can even suggest to the most obnoxious customer that they are being rude or inconsiderate lest they risk dismissal. Essentially, the market - a reflection of the desires of the people, according to Adam Smith - has created a group of servants in response to the middle class' desires.

It is important for all consumers - and we're all consumers - to realize that retail workers are forced to act like the customers' servants. Retail workers are in no way servants, and do not deserve to be treated that way. When we are customers, we need to understand the following: No, the customer is not always right. No, it's not disrespectful when an employee doesn't smile. Yes, employees are - gasp - actual human beings. And yes, that means that everyone must treat the employee assisting them with the cordiality and respect that they deserve.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Vote for me!

Apparently, there's a Jeff Woodhead running for a seat in the Utah State House, District 22 as the candidate of some pseudo-Libertarian outfit. So if you're from Magna, UT or the west side of the Salt Lake valley in general, vote for me! (I didn't know I was eligible to run, given that I live in North Carolina, but whatever.)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Addendum to last post

Actually, I can think of one instance off the top of my head where judicial review was ignored. The Marshall court made a decision that the Cherokees had a right to their homeland in Appalachia. President Andrew Jackson ignored it, saying "John Marshall has made his decision - now let him enforce it." The result: the Trail of Tears.


Judicial Review Under Attack

The House debates today one of the more troubling bills currently under consideration. It is a bill that forbids courts from ruling that states must recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

It's not troubling to me because of the gay-bashing. I've come to expect that from Congressional Republicans. What's troubling to me is what the passage of this bill - if it somehow makes it through the Senate - would mean to our current system of judicial review.

Judicial review - the notion that the Supreme Court and lower courts can declare legislation unconstitutional and order it stricken from the books - is not clearly written in the Constitution. As every high-schooler learned, it was developed by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison. Neither Congress nor the Executive gave the Court that power - they just asserted it themselves. Which means it's a shaky proposition, when you think about it.

Fortunately, until now judicial review hasn't been challenged much. Sure, it's been grumbled about - especially after Roe - but I don't know if it's been challenged in Congress before. Personally, I like judicial review - it's an added check on a Congress that is often too subject to the political winds of the day to concern itself with the constitutionality of a given law.

This bill currently under debate would purport to strip the Court of judicial review, at least in the domain of same-sex marriage. Congress is telling the Court how to interpret the constitution. I don't think it's right to tell the court how to think without a two-thirds majority and ratification by the states (an amendment, in short). First same-sex marriage, next abortion, then... Any court decision that Congress doesn't like it could thumb its nose at. Too much power in one branch for me - Congress shouldn't be judging the constitutionality of its own laws.

Worse, the Courts could subject an anti-judicial review law to judicial review. The Court, of course, would re-assert its power. Then what? Who does the Executive, responsible for enforcing laws, believe? It could basically enforce laws any way it sees fit - either ignore the Congress or the Judiciary, take your pick.


Ben said somewhere - I think it's on a comment in Jacob's blog - that Congress could, theoretically, just thumb its nose at the courts if it wanted to. Well, it's happening. Now what? That's what I'm troubled by...

Sorry for the rambling nature of this post. I didn't feel like being coherent today.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Flag burning

Guess what? The flag-burning amendment is back! And this time it might actually pass! Next step: an amendment against criticizing the government. Hold on to your civil liberties while you got 'em, folks!

also go here

For more blogging fun, go to Miguel's (in the comments to my first post) and Mike's blogs. Enjoy!

Also, Miguel pointed me to a few more libertarian sites, for those of you interested: Harry Browne and Lew Rockwell.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Article from Ben

Here's an article Ben sent me about Christianity, liberalism, and the great "values" debate. It's insightful. It also makes fun of Jerry Falwell - always a plus.

Column 6: Accountability

Double shot today...
Imagine a criminal convicted of a crime that injured innocent people. Now imagine that this criminal is claiming that he should not be punished for his actions. Furthermore, this criminal is claiming that punishing him would be detrimental to society. And on top of this, the criminal is blaming the attorney that prosecuted him for the problems of society, and denigrating his entire profession. He'd be nuts, right?
Now, imagine that half of Americans agreed with this criminal. You'd be scared, right?
This is a true story, folks. It is the story of negligent corporations who claim that their negligence should not be punished. It is the story of corporate heads who tell us that large legal settlements hurt the economy. It is the story of people who denigrate trial lawyers for holding corporations accountable. Republicans have been all too eager to make political hay out of the fact that Edwards has spent his career fighting legal battles against injurious corporate negligence.
Somehow, I expected better out of the party of Lincoln - who was a trial lawyer. But that's modern Republicans for you - stringent accountability for teachers, no accountability for corporations.
There is, of course, a problem with huge corporate negligence lawsuits. It is a problem that does diminish profits, cost jobs, and hurt the economy. It is a problem that is easily fixed. That problem is - take a deep breath, folks, this one's a shocker - corporate negligence.
Claiming that a corporation should not be subject to a multi-million dollar penalty because their faulty product caused an injury is like saying that a bank robber should not be imprisoned. And to claim that a company that is knowingly selling dangerously faulty products is above punishment is even more absurd. These settlements are hurtful, I agree. So is hard time for criminals who hurt people. CEOs can take their pick.
What is even more absurd about this whole argument is that the problem is easily solved to the benefit of everyone involved. Take, for example, John Edwards' most famous case, a multi-million dollar suit against a manufacturer of faulty pool drains. Not only did the drain hurt Edwards' client severely, but they also had a history of faulty performance. The company could have saved tons of money by not cutting corners during the design process - a little extra money spent now saves a lot down the line. If that was not possible, the company should have recalled the drains and fixed the design flaw after the first reports of faulty behavior. Either of these courses of action would have saved Edwards' client from injury and would have saved the company lots of money.
The lesson for corporations here is - another shocker - not to be negligent. Cross your i's and dot your t's every step of the way. It may cost a little bit more now, but it pays off down the line. Not only are you not subject to gigantic lawsuits, but you're also building a reputation as a dependable manufacturer of goods. You're making more money by dealing with less lawsuits. People aren't getting hurt. Everybody's happy.
To put it another way, corporations need to stop being shortsighted. A farsighted corporation would provide all its employees with affordable care, since it recognizes that added productivity of a healthy workforce will more than make up for the added cost of the health care program. A farsighted corporation will provide its employees with adequate safety training so they can avoid costly on-the-job injury compensation claims down the line. A farsighted corporation will provide workers with a living wage and adequate vacation time, since a happy worker is a more productive and dedicated worker. (Farsighted energy corporations would also put far more reserch money into renewable energy sources, but that's another column for another day.) The result of all this? Corporate farsightedness would make most government regulation of corporate activity unnecessary, which makes the conservatives happy. It would make sure everyone who works can live a decent life, which would make the liberals happy. Employee morale is high, profits are up. As I said earlier, everyone's happy.
But, of course, this isn't the lesson corporations are actually taking from the string of corporate negligence lawsuits and the threat of new labor laws. They would prefer to go on with their negligent and detrimental ways. It's time we held them accountable - not just for our good but for theirs as well.