Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, December 30, 2004

US Reaction to Tsunami

Hi Everyone,

Well, as the death toll spirals upward, it is perhaps a bit early to talk seriously about the political reaction to this global disaster. After an initial pledge of 15 million was regarded with disgust, the Bush administration upped the pledge to 35 million and announced a plan to form a long term alliance or "coalition" to respond to the disaster. This "coalition" (catchy name TBA) includes the United States, Japan, India and Australia. OK, so aside from the P.R. aspects of this move, what is its political impact?

I think that this is an concerted effort by the Bush administration to undermine the U.N.'s role in humanitarian relief. Just as Iraq under cut the U.N.'s role as a collective security organization, this is an effort to make the U.N. irrelevant in humanitarian relief as well. I believe this is seen by the neo-cons as an opportunity to further their "Realist" agenda (see the first posting I put up on this blog). They have a strong ideological commitment to the dominance of nation states in general (as opposed to international organizations) and the United States in particular.

I saw an interview with Bob Barr on CNN where he argued that the U.N. was too corrupt to be trusted with American humanitarian relief contributions and that the United States should (and would) focus more on "bi-lateral" government to government aid transfers.

I'm interested in what the other Citizens and our visitors think not only about the US reaction but about political implications of this disaster both with regards to the US and "the West" and in the countries actually hit by the tsunami.

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Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami

Hi Everyone,

Our intent in setting up this blog was to focus mainly on political issues. However, there are natural disasters that are so enormous in their devastating effect that they are impossible to ignore.

The day after Christmas one of the largest earthquakes the planet has ever experienced (the 4th largest since we started measuring and recording them) hit the sea floor west of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The quake spawned a series of tsunami that traveled at hundreds of miles per hour across the Indian ocean devastating the cost lines of countries from Indonesia and Thailand to India and Sri Lanka to Somalia and Kenya! Sri Lanka appears to be the worst hit. The current death count is over 21 thousand but many of the worst hit areas still are out of contact with the outside world. Also, the waves roll in, destroy everything and then suck it all out to sea so many victims will never be recovered. In countries without good census data, the true death toll may never be known. Over a million people are known to be homeless so far. There are entire islands in the Maldives that have been completely out of communication since the tsunami struck.

Destruction on this scale MUST have a political effect in the countries involved. These are some of the poorest parts of some very poor countries. Regional economies have literally been swept away. Some of the worst hit areas of Sri Lanka are not under government control but are under the control of the infamous Tamil Tiger terrorist group. This will likely disrupt efforts to determine the extent of the damage and deliver aid.

The truly sad part is that Americans will likely never hear of this event again after a few days. Consider the American reaction to 9/11 in which 3,000 people died. That relatively minor event sparked years of paranoia, political debate, nationalism, war and a surge in religious fundamentalism.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Bush, Democracy and Democratization

Hi Everyone,

Bush is very fond of saying that elections in Iraq are an important milestone because "free people never choose tyranny." Well, as a political scientist my first reaction to this statement is always, "WHA!?" I found a neat little website that gives some entertaining factoids about democracy.

Among other things it gives a little list of democratic regimes that have been replaced by dictators. Note especially the following:

Spain 1923 and 1936: a democratic government was overthrown first by a coup d'etat and then, after a brief democratic restoration, by Franco who had widespread support in many regions of Spain.
Italy 1926: Mussolini was elected
Poland 1926: Polish general and dictator, Pilsudski was elected before taking dictatorial power.
Germany 1933: Adolf Hitler was elected
Argentina 1843, 1966: Like many Latin American countries Argentina has had the pattern of election-coup-election-coup.
Chile 1973: Pinochet installed with US support.
India 1975: elected PM, Indira Ghandi declares martial law and rules by decree for two years

The list is longer but I think this points to the idiocy of Bush's statement about democracy and tyranny. Many democracies have slipped back into dictatorships, especially if they have not been democracies for very long. The website has a GREAT page here that gives a little map showing the transitions from democracy to dictatorship in Europe during the interwar period. Note: these transitions DO NOT INCLUDE INVASIONS BY GERMANY OR ITALY!

What does all this show? It shows how the Bush/Neo-con view of democracy and democratization is superficial and largely incorrect.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Economist Says LTG Wrong About Putin

Hi Everyone,

Since we all seem more interested in arguing about stuff over which we have little control instead of commenting on massively important tax code changes, I'll pick another fight.

This week's Economist has a series of articles about Russia's President/Dictator-to-be, Vladimir Putin. You can link to their opinion piece here. There are links to the other Economist articles on Putin buried within the opinion piece. Here is an interesting extended quotation from The Economist.

"That Mr Putin is more of an autocrat than a democrat has been clear ever since he became Russia's president in 2000. Yet after the chaos of the Yeltsin years, many hoped that he would at least bring order, a respect for property rights and the rule of law—and that, in time, these might permit the institutions of a liberal democracy to take root. Such hopes led many European leaders to reach out to Mr Putin, and refrain from criticism over matters as the war in Chechnya, human rights or press freedom....In truth, hopes that political pluralism might emerge in Russia were dashed even before Mr Putin's party swept to a two-thirds majority in Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, last December, and before Mr Putin himself was overwhelmingly re-elected in March. His snuffing out of all independent television and most independent newspapers, his hounding of wealthy businessmen (the “oligarchs”) who crossed him, and his rigging of elections all testified to the controlling instincts that one might expect in a former KGB officer. His connivance in the attempt to steal Ukraine's presidential election, his interference in Abkhazia, a Russian-sponsored part of Georgia, and in Moldova, and his support for the dictatorship in Belarus show that he applies these instincts not just in Russia but across the former Soviet Union, the break-up of which he has publicly regretted. Worse, his instinctive response to criticisms of Russian policy in its near-abroad has been to relapse into general hostility to the West. The West, in turn, has become frostier."

I think this pretty well sums up LTG's position on Putin. In earlier postings he defended Putin more or less exactly the way the Economist describes. At the same time, those of us who were critical of Putin were critical because of the military adventurism and oppression of political opposition and press freedoms that The Economist references.

Comments? Discussion?

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Red State Blue State Your State Screwed State

Hi Everyone,

If you guys thought that the Republicans were ONLY about God, Gays and Guns, here is some evidence that they may be just as much about robbing from highly educated, thriving economies in largely Democratic and swing states to subsidize public subsidies and services in their under educated, uncompetitive agricultural economies.

Now, it is well known (or should be) that the states that depend most on Federal handouts tend to be in the Deep South (plus Alaska) and tend to vote for Republicans. States like California generate far more revenue for the Federal government in the form of taxes than it receives back in Federal money. So what we have is a situation where Democrats are subsidizing Republicans' life styles while those same Republicans publicly espouse an ideology of self-reliance and small government.

One of the features of our tax code that takes some of the bite out of that is the fact that we can deduct some of our state income taxes from our federal income tax bill. However, the Bush administration is currently looking at ending that deduction in an effort to raise revenue without appearing to raise taxes.

This move would mostly hit people in Democratic leaning states and swing states. Many of the solidly Republican states have very low or non-existent state income taxes (why would you need a state income tax when you get such a disproportionate share of the Federal money!?). So this move would have the effect of increasing the tax burden on voters in Democratic and swing states without first looking at reducing things like agricultural subsidies (which are at record breaking highs now) or raising the overall federal income tax rate.

This is nothing short of a naked and cynical attempt to pick the pockets of political opponents to finance pork barrel projects for your political supporters. Its nothing new in politics and I'm far from shocked. But as a resident in a Democratic state - who will almost certainly never live in a state with no or low state income tax because they have crappy public universities (Texas being the lone star exception to this because of the oil probably) - I'm outraged.

Keep in mind that if you voted for Bush but live in a state where most of your neighbors did not, you are also going to get screwed by this move! In that case, it serves you right!

I encourage you all to write your congressional reps and Senators. If this gets blocked it will be by the House - where the population advantages of the so called "Blue States" are most important. The Senate favors agricultural interests which would benefit from this.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Amending

I have gone on record in this blog saying that I didn't want to see the Constitution amended for anything but ditching the Electoral College. But I have changed my mind. There's another idea floating around right now that I'm starting to like -- amending to allow foreign-born naturalized citizens to become President.

Now I know what you're thinking -- this is the Arnold amendment, right? After all, the most popular website promoting this idea is AmendforArnold.com. (The site is also billing it as an amendment for Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, but I think this is just to pretend to be bipartisan). Well, maybe in the short run, this is the Arnold amendment. But that's why we have to do it now.

Huh?

Think about it. In the short run, passage of this amendment might lead to Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected President. However, that is far from a certainty (especially given the recent evangelical tilt of the Republican party) and it is good for America in the long run. Moreover, this may be the only chance we ever have of getting conservatives on board for this amendment.

So what do we think? Is the possible short-term pain worth the long-term gain?

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Ukrainian Election Mess

Hi Everyone,

A few weeks ago we (the Citizens and some of our friends) got into a little argument on this blog about Russia's President Putin. Well, get ready for another argument. Putin appears to be fiddling around with Ukrainian democracy now.

Ukraine had an election yesterday and the results are being questioned both by Ukrainian opposition supporters and by U.S., E.U. and OSCE observers! The top U.S. observer was Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana). Lugar has long been involved in post-Communist transitions in the former USSR. He's been involved in securing nuclear materials and finding financial aid for Russia nuclear scientists. This is a guy who knows the politics of the region and someone we should trust (absent clear evidence he's biased) if he says the election was rigged. That the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe agree with Lugar is very telling.

So what does this have to do with Putin? The election was between two candidates. The candidate who has the backing of t
he current President of Ukraine and of Putin is an ethnic Russian, Yanukovych, who wants to slow/reverse reform and make Russian the co-official language of the Ukraine (a signal he wants closer ties to Russia). Yanukovych did time in prison in his 20s for assault and robbery (so he's a common thug - probably ex-mafia/black market).

The other candidate is a Ukrainian named,
Yushchenko, who wants to move forward with economic reforms and establish closer ties with the West, especially the E.U. (which now borders the Ukraine). Yushchenko is an economist and advocate of free market reforms.

While the U.S., the E.U. and the OSCE have all declared that Yanukovych committed massive election fraud, Putin has declared his recognition of Yanukovych's victory. In the last debate we had about Putin's commitment to democracy, Law Talking Guy defended Putin saying that Putin was only doing what was necessary to break the strangle hold of communists, mafia and corrupt "oligarchs." But in this case, Putin had a choice between supporting a pro-reform candidate opposed to Russian nationalism or a candidate supporting Russian nationalism and opposed to reform. Putin chose Russian nationalism.
There is no evidence yet that Putin directly involved himself or Russia in the election fraud but it is early days yet. This should ring alarm bells around the world if only because of what it says about Putin's true preferences!

I hope that Ukraine can be rescued from this catastrophe. I hope Yushchenko is allowed to assume the Presidency.

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Friday, November 19, 2004

It begins

(sigh)

Powell: Intelligence suggests Iran trying to adapt missiles for nukes

I have nothing to add. Draw your own conclusions.

Update: Actually, I do have something to add, namely this, from the Ironic Times:

Last week, in a story about President Bush's goals for his second term, we quoted him as saying: “My top priority is to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.” In fact, he said: “My top priority is to spread democracy in the Middle East.” We apologize for the error.

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Daddy Warbucks Works for Fox and Voted for Bush

By now we've all heard about the over billing from Halliburton and its subsidiary, KBR. You might remember that when people suggested that Halliburton got the contract because Dick Cheney was the VP, Republicans all over the country said that was ridiculous! Well, after this story is done, we'll see the truth in what the Republicans were saying.....Halliburton didn't get the contract because Cheney was VP, they got it because Cheney was a Republican!!!!!! See the bar for preferential treatment is much lower than we originally thought.

But here is another story about a company called Custer-Battles. This is one of those shady mercenary contractors. They hire ex-Ghurkas and 3rd world special forces guys to do "security" in occupied Iraq. It turns out that a failed Republican politician and a partner got the company set up just for the purpose of getting government contracts. One o the founders, Battles, failed to win a House seat as a Republican and now is a commentator for FOX "news." The company is being sued not by our government but by a former employees/whistle blowers. The suit is brought under a Civil War era law that allows private citizens to sue companies for defrauding the government

Some highlights are:

"
The suit said that after Isakson complained about Custer Battles practices, he was held at gunpoint by company employees along with his 14-year-old son. The employees then kicked Isakson and his son off the airport base."

"
Alan Grayman, a lawyer for the two whistle-blowers, said Justice Department officials told him that because the CPA was an international organization, the government could not join in the suit."

"
When the government joins such suits, the whistle-blowers win or settle about 95 percent of the time, but only 25 percent of the time when the government passes. Whistle-blowers are entitled to a percentage of the money recovered or paid in fines."

I've posted before about how the Bush administration is manipulating the contracting relationships to minimize accountability and maximize oversight problems. This is a perfect example.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Falluja, Murder, War and Condy Rice

Hi Everyone,

We seem to have exhausted interest in deconstructing the Bible or the writings of Madison and Jefferson. So back to the news analysis:

The US military in Iraq are nearing the end of the initial phase of their conquest of Falluja. The plan seems to be to cut off the city, clear it block by block and then start setting up a stable local administration there. One should be forgiven for wondering why this wasn't the plan a year ago. One should also be forgiven for suspecting that the Bush administration wanted to delay a nasty, ugly fight until after a closely fought election.

Speaking of nasty, ugly fights. A US Marine was filmed shooting a severely wounded Iraqi prisoner in the head and then jokingly saying, "He's dead now." Great image. I heard about the story on NPR this morning and saw an edited version of the video on CNN this morning. However, the story is being buried deep in the nested bowels of the news network websites. You can read the CNN version of the story here. BBC version here.

Now, I'm not naive about war. This sort of thing (shooting of unarmed, wounded prisoners) happens in war. It is part of why war is generally regarded as a horrible, waste of life, property and sanity. It is also exactly the kind of thing that those of us who were opposed to an invasion of Iraq predicted would happen and those supporting the invasion in Iraq denied would happen and still insist are exaggerated by liberal press that is out to get Bush. And let us not forget that as terrible as it is that a US soldier committed a war crime against Iraqi prisoners, this also effects the soldier in question. He is probably a perfectly normal guy, well brought up, with loved ones and a life waiting for him in America somewhere. But now this young man will have to live with a terrible crime that War has brought him to commit. Even if he is acquitted, will he ever be the same? What of his comrades who witnessed the event? Now multiply that many many times and ask it again.

Pro-war folks seem to have an idealized view of American troops. Americans never commit war crimes. American soldiers only shoot bad guys, never miss and usually let the bad guys get the drop on them first. Then the happy, well adjusted American G.I. get surrounded by crowds of excited local children who receive handfuls of Hershey's chocolate bars. This is, of course, nonsense. The problem is that about 50% of Americans believe it, or rather feel they NEED to believe it.

It is against this backdrop that Bush has appointed a replacement for the outgoing Secretary of State, Colin Powell. The new Secretary of State will be Condaleeza Rice. This appointment probably won't result in any changes in foreign policy. US foreign policy has long been dictated by a group of "Neo-cons" based in the VP's office and the Defense department. What Rice's move to the State department will do is end the squabbling between that department and the Department of Defense.

One thing we can see from Bush's new cabinet appointments is that each time he has had a chance to "reach out all Americans" Bush has refused to do so. His appointments in Justice Department, State Department etc have been clear signals that he intends more of the same. As I have said before, Bush's idea of reaching out is to invite his opponents to change their opinions.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

Religion, the State and the Founding Fathers

OK, we've done a few postings on how the Religious Right selectively and arbitrarily emphasizes the Bible. As US West pointed out in her comment, right wingers also make a big deal about "strict construction" of the Constitution without fully understanding it or admitting that what it says is a matter open to debate. Intransigent ignorance is a big part of life for these people.

One of the biggest red herrings these people like to throw at us is that "the Founding Fathers never intended strict separation of church and state." This is a-historical nonsense. Strict separation of religion and civil life is EXACTLY what the Founding Fathers (at least the ones who wrote the Constitution) intended! Our Constitution was written largely by James Madison - a protege of Thomas Jefferson (who wrote the Declaration of Independence, another document that gets tortuously interpreted to score political points). So what did Madison and Jefferson think about the relationship between religion and politics? Let's stop assuming that all people back in "olden times" were more religious than today and actually read what they said.

Madison: You can find an excellent summary of Madison's thoughts on the subject here.
See especially his letter to Edward Livingston.
"Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, and the full establishment of it in some parts of our country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government and Religion neither can be duly supported. Such, indeed, is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against. "
Here Madison is clearly calling for us to be suspicious rather than trusting of the blending of religion and government.

More telling still is this quotation, "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In the strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation?... If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals, singly, or voluntarily associated, and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents shd discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense. "
Here Madison is taking a position on a matter very similar in its apparent triviality to the "under God" passage of the pledge of allegiance (which Madison probably would have objected to in the first place). Anyway, people often argue that the founding father's would never have objected to Congressional prayers, or other more or less routine references to religion by Government institutions. Yet here is a passage where James Madison himself does object and strongly too!

You may also enjoy reading the rest of the quotations. There is one regarding religion at public universities that is very interesting.

Jefferson: Religious conservatives' claims to follow in Jefferson's footsteps are even more absurd than they are with regard to the Founding Fathers in general. Jefferson though most organized religion to be little more than superstitious "demon worship." He even went so far as to edit the Bible because he thought it concentrated too much on the mystical and too little on the genuinely spiritual. Editing the Bible is hardly the work of someone who thinks like a fundamentalist!

Here are some other quotations on religion by Jefferson.
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
It is often said by Religious Conservatives that the Founding Fathers never intended such a sharp division between religion and government. However, Jefferson clearly saw the 1st Amendment as proscribing exactly that kind of division.

"To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other."
Jefferson was not a Christian in the definition of Religious conservatives. In their generous moods they define it as anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior and lord. Jefferson did not even recognize the divinity of Christ. In that sense, he is more of a Unitarian than anything.

"They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion." -Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

I think it is clear from a number of Jefferson's writings that he was not only in favor of a strict separation of religion and government (as was his protege, Madison) but he was openly hostile to organized religion.

Go here for a discussion debunking one conservative's attempt to argue that Jefferson never intended a sharp division between religion and government.

The two concepts the Founding Fathers held to be most important were LIBERTY and REASON. Neither was seen as being guaranteed by faith!

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Friday, November 12, 2004

Homosexuality and the Bible: A Christian View

There are three major sections of the bible that fundamentalists rely on for their charge that the homosexuality is a sin.

I. The first is Leviticus. RBR has already discussed that in some length. What he should add is that there are pages relating to menstruation and uncleanliness, and just a single line relating to homosexuality. Seems odd, in fact dishonest, to ignore everything but the one line that fits with your own prejudices. The better idea is to regard the whole section as a recording of the sexual taboos of the ancient Hebrews, and give each part equal (ir)relevance today.

RBR did not mention that the phrase that is used to condemn homosexuality is a bit odd. Translations of the Hebrew vary, but they approximate this, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." The first thing that is clear is that this prohibition is addressed to men only. This is noteworthy because the next sentence is "You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to any animal and defile herself with it." Why parallelism on bestiality but not homosexuality? There is some historical evidence that the prohibition was really against rape of either gender, which is (penetration, at any rate) a male function only, thus no parallelism is needed. Another oddity is the phrasing: a man cannot lie with a man "as with a woman"; he has no vagina. On the other hand, anal sex is possible with either gender. Is Leviticus saying that anal sex is okay with a woman, but you shall not lie down with a man "as a woman"? It is only our modern sexuality that assumes a distinct parallel between "normal" vaginal (male-female) and anal (male-male) intercourse. It is also worth noting that the King James translation tends to refer to sexual relations between a man and a woman as a man "knowing" a woman. In other words, fundamentlists are combining traditional prejudice with modern sexual assumptions to read a massive prohibition into a single somewhat obscure line in Leviticus. Finally, the bible tends to be dreadfully repetitious. If this is an important issue, one would expect to see it repeated frequently.

II. The second passage comes from Genesis, when Sodom is destroyed. The gist of the standard interpretation is this: Angels come to warn Lot. The townsfolk demand that he produce the angels to them (who seem like just ordinary humans) for anal rape. Lot offers his virgin daughters instead; the crowd declines (confirming that they are perverted). This is an example of the sin (ergo, "Sodomy") for which the city was destroyed. This is hardly the only interpretation.
First, Genesis says that the men "young and old, all the people to the last man" demanded "Bring them out to us so that we may know them." Note that it does not say "lie with them." Note that it is not obvious that women are not included in this crowd (the word "men" is ambiguous, as is the word "people"). Lot then says "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known man. Let me bring them out to you, and do them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof." Think about this for a moment. This is a lecture in middle eastern hospitality, and in the worthlessness of girls in ancient Hebrew culture. Go ahead, rape my daughters, but leave these strangers alone. Why do fundamentalists think that the condemnation is only about the townsfolk, not Lot? Why do they accept the part that condemns anal rape as wicked, but ignore the obvious fact that Lot has no problem with his daughters being the subject of a gang-bang? The crowd also does not really decline the daughters. It says "This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge?" They're angry that Lot is condemning them as wicked – they haven't necessarily said "no" to the virgins. Furthermore, the crowd then says to Lot, "We'll deal with you worse than we would have them [the angels]" and tries to break into the house. The angels strike them all blind so they can't find the door. What is the sin of the townsfolk: (a) the desire to have sex with men; or (b) assault. I pick (b). Put it this way, if the crowd had raped Lot's daughters instead, would that have been an okay end to the story – no fire and brimstone, they're cool?

III. The third passage comes from Paul's letter to the Romans. Paul, it must be noted, also approves of slavery (as does most of the bible, at least implicitly). His moral judgment on that issue is (now) rejected by Southern Baptists (although they broke away from the mainstream Baptists in the 1850s over the issue). But the anti-gay prejudice is still okey-dokey. Of course, Paul says a lot about slaves. Almost nothing about homosexuality.
Here, Paul talks about the sins of old. "They exchanged the glory of immortal god for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles."
Then the line the fundies quote:
"For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."
Pretty damning. Even starts with women. But it's not as clear as it might seem. First, it's not clear what "unnatural" intercourse for women is. It is also not clear if the "shameless acts" are about rape or consensual sex. The other thing to think about is that Paul is not giving instructions. He giving examples of bad things that were done in the past. He also seems to say that God let this happen, the way he hardened Pharaoh's heart. Was homosexuality part of God's plan? This is just being used as an example; it's not Paul's lesson.
Paul' LESSON is about not letting others stumble. So, he says, "it is not good to eat meat or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble" Here are direct condemnations, but fundies still have barbecues and drink beer. (Romans 13:21)
Fundamentalists, by the way, never quote Paul's opinion of marriage or virginity:
"Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well foryou to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. [ . . .] I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious bout the affairs of the world., how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. [ . . .] So, then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better." 1 Corinthians 7:25-38.

IV. Read in proper context, then, a Christian will find that the sexual morality expressed throughout the bible is both varied, unclear, rooted in irrelevant and irrational cultural prejudices, and ultimately mixed. Much like the discourses on politics and slavery. Indeed, the sexual morality is no better expressed than the appalling lack of scientific knowledge of the ancients (e.g., world created in six days, sun revolving around the earth), or geography (the Magi of Babylonia followed a star in the East to Bethlehem, which is actually to the West). No better than the two conflicting genealogies of Jesus (one is at the beginning of Matthew, and the other at Luke 3:23, both of which trace it through Joseph, who is supposedly unrelated if you believe the virgin birth.) Paul's words on marriage contradict "be fruitful and multiply" quite a bit.

V. The bottom line is this. It is a sin to make an idol of the bible. We do not worship the bible; Christians worship God. God speaks through the heart, the soul, through love, and through each of us. The Old Testament is a record of the interaction of the Hebrews with God, recorded in their own way through their own prejudices. They all too often credit God with their victories and defeats, and blame their atrocities on his orders. The New Testament is a scrapbook of early Christianity, which gives us a view, as through a stained glass window, as to as to who Jesus was, who his followers were, and what they thought he said.

But it is wrong to pick and choose biblical verses that support your own prejudices. The message of Jesus is to overcome one's own slavery to prejudice and reach out with love to all. The greatest commandments are these, he said. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, all your heart, and all your soul, and the second is likewise, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these great commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

As we like to say, we take the bible far too seriously to take it literally.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Maybe they were lost

I don't know, maybe I'm old-fashioned. Maybe I'm just not hip with the times. But when tanks are deployed in Westwood at an anti-war protest, it kind of scares me. Make sure to watch the video too.

What exactly is going on in this country?

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Bible, Homosexuality, Animal Sacrifice and Other Anachronisms

Hi Everyone,

Three of the four Citizens were all coming home from the same pub tonight and got to talking about Biblical prohibitions on homosexuality and how they are based only on picking and choosing which prohibitions get respect and which get ignored. Its pretty arbitrary really. Bare with me here. I'm going to include an enormous amount of context to make the point that which parts get taken seriously by the Fundamentalists is entirely arbitrary.

These things all come from Leviticus which, if you aren't a Bible owning atheist like me, you can find online here.

Large parts of Leviticus are concerned with minute details about animal sacrifice. For example "15: And the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them, which is by the flanks, and the caul above the liver, with the kidneys, it shall he take away. 16: And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD's. 17: It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood."

The first seven chapters of Leviticus are mostly concerned with animal sacrifice and how specific types of sacrifices made in very particular ways (going so far as to dictate making the sacrifice on the north, south, east or west of the alter). Each different sacrifice and method thereof is designed to take away the moral stain of specific types and circumstances of sin. Obviously, most fundamentalist Christians ignore most of this part.

Leviticus also has the dietary restrictions. Pork and lobster are out. But locusts are OK: "22: Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind." Interestingly, fundamentalists ignore this bit too and can you blame them?

Chapters 13, 14 and 15 are entirely concerned with the Priestly diagnosis and ritual treatment of leprosy, boils and other skin diseases. Pretty gross stuff, really.

According to chapter 17, killing an ox in the wrong place is punishable by exile. "3: What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, 4: And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people:"

Chapter 18 is a rather detailed an lengthy description of who one may and may not see naked.

NOTE: I've read a lot of nonsense about stuff that no Fundamentalist Christian pays any attention to and there is as of yet not one mention of homosexuality.

Chapter 19 includes the Ten Commandments but also includes prohibitions against "cursing the deaf" nor "put a stumblingblock before the blind," (was this a common entertainment back then!?). This chapter and chapter 20 have a lot about familiar spirits and wizards. Also, having sex with the wives of male relatives was morally equated with seeing that male relative naked - which apparently was really bad.

In Chapter 21 we find out that God didn't like the disabled very much after all. OK, you weren't supposed make fun of deaf people or trip the blind but "Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. 18: For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, 19: Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, 20: Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; " (Yikes! Broken stones! That sounds painful!)

OK, here is the important part: Leviticus 20, verses 10-13, "10: And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11: And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. 12: And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. 13: If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

It can be interpreted to say that men who have sex with men should be put to death. But it is beyond question that adulterers should also be put to death - but that part gets ignored by the Fundamentalists who forgive adultery but despise homosexuals.

Comments? Discussion?

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Arafat's Successors Admit Arafat is Dead

When the first rumor appeared that Arafat was dead, I got all excited and called Dr. Von Brawn on the phone. While we were talking about what this would mean, CNN's scrol bar on the TV said, "French Officials announce Arafat 'has been moved to a facility more befitting his condition.'" Which we both took to mean "a slab." But as with the Soviet leaders of old, death is more of a political condition than a physical one and it is only today that Arafat is officially dead.

So now the world will wait with baited breth for two things:

1) Who will take over the Palestinian Authority?

2) When is Fidel Castro finally going to kick the bucket? (he's now #1 on the world leader/celebrity death watch list)

Comments? Discussion?

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Gitmo Gonzales and My New Favorite Democrat

Hi Everyone,

Its official. Bush has appointed Gonzales to replace Ashcroft. Gonzales is a social moderate but is the architect of the Bush policy on "enemy combatants" and ignoring the Geneva Convention. So he's not a raving religious fanatic but he's a statist. Not entirely sure he's an improvement but my gut says he's marginally better for us than Ashcroft. At least he'll take the curtains down from around the half-nude statue of Justice.

As for how to get rid of this bunch? Here is my new favorite Democrat (or is that favorite New Demcorat?). Evan Bayh of Indiana. He's currently a Senator in his second term. Before that he was a two term governor (executive experience!) of Indiana and was able to balance the budget, increase jobs, increase education spending, build up a budget surplus and lower taxes all at once (thanks largely to the Clinton economy but let's see the Republicans use that to attack him). He was acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as a fiscal conservative. He's chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (see link to the right). He's popular in Indiana (a "Red State") and well respected in the region (i.e. in neighboring Ohio). He's the son of another famous and popular Indiana Democratic Senator, Birch Bayh. He graduated from college in 1978 so he's too young to have to explain what he did in Vietnam. He makes a big deal of his efforts as governor and Senator to crack down on everyone's favorite scapegoat....dead beat dads (its family values and tough on crime all at once without bringing God, Gays or Guns into it!). While he's a Senator, he has excellent ballance budget creditials so it will be hard to bash his voting record like they did with Kerry. You can see his ideological position here. He's a slightly left of center moderate - just to the left of where Bill Clinton ends up on that chart.

Comments? Discussion?

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Ashcroft Resigns

Today, Attorney General John Ashcroft submitted his resignation. I fervently hope that the Democrats in the Senate filibuster any other such appointment as a replacement. John Ashcroft has a big problem for an Attorney General -- he has no respect for the rule of law. Under Ashcroft, the Justice Department advanced a theory that should shock every American. That theory is that the US Government may accuse a US Citizen of being a terrorist, and then, without making any evidentiary showing to anyone, lock up that person indefinitely, incommunicado, with no right to a day in court, ever. Jose Padilla is such a person being held in the brig right now. There may be others, but we do not know. Ashcroft says he does not have to tell anyone. This was the issue that the election should have been fought over. This is the reason why George W. Bush is not fit to lead this country.

Ashcroft also held daily prayer meetings in his office in the morning. The purpose of these meetings was: (1) to inform others in the office that fundamentalist christians among them would have a special private "in" with their boss; (2) to demonstrate how little he cares for any separation of church and state, by using government offices for prayer meetings; and (3) to deliberately alienate the high percentage of liberal Jewish attorneys there. Imagine if your boss started holding prayer sessions in the office on weekday mornings. How would you feel if that weren't your religion? What would you think about your prospects for promotion? Any pressure to join?

In Ashcroft's America, you are a second class citizen unless you're his kind of "christian."

Goodbye, John Ashcroft. Go to hell.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

Ironic Times

If you're unfamiliar with the Ironic Times, I recommend checking it out. Two highlights from this week:

My Turn by Senator John Kerry

My fellow Americans, now that the recent demonstration of our universally admired and respected democratic process has reached its final and conclusive culmination, let me just say, simply, that I pledge and promise to do all and everything I can to help restore, return, and bring back to the public discourse, as well as the community conversation, a sense, or at least an impression of, civility, courtesy, cordiality and, most of all, brevity. Thank you.

(Sen. Kerry's remarks were edited for reasons of space.)

and also a great table entitled "Top Reasons Why Democrats Should Not Commit Suicide", which I won't reproduce here. Go check it out.

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Friday, November 05, 2004

I need an explanation.

According to The CNN Exit Polls, 23% of gay/lesbian/bisexual voters voted for Bush. A little simple math says that over 1 million gays voted for Bush in this election. If all of them had voted for Kerry, it wouldn't have turned the election, but it certainly would have made things a lot closer.

But on another level, what exactly were they thinking? The Republican party doesn't stand for fiscal discipline anymore. They don't want to stop the government from intruding in your private life. They seem to think the Constitution is a nuisance. And above all, if you're gay, they want to make sure that you become a second-class citizen, at best. What values does any gay person share with the Republicans?

If you were a gay Bush backer, you should know that Bush was put over the top in this election by a bunch of rabid homophobes. Here's an e-mail from one of them to Andrew Sullivan:

"I wonder if you noticed that yesterday all eleven states that considered the question of gay marriage voted to ban it. ALL ELEVEN. I think this sends a very clear message -- true Americans do not like your kind of homosexual deviants in our country, and we will not tolerate your radical pro-gay agenda trying to force our children to adopt your homosexual lifestyle. You should be EXTREMELY GRATEFUL that we even let you write a very public and influential blog, instead of suppressing your treasonous views (as I would prefer). But I'm sure someone like yourself would consider me just an "extremist" that you don't need to worry about. Well you are wrong -- I'm not just an extremist, I am a real American, and you should be worried because eleven states yesterday proved that there are millions more just like me who will not let you impose your radical agenda on our country."

Now explain to me again how whatever you agreed with Bush on was worth siding with these lunatics?

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Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Problem and What is to Be Done

Hi Everyone,

Most of the people who post on this blog are Democrats or at least sympathetic to Democrats. Frankly, my informal survey of our little circle shows that we are very depressed about the outcome of the 2004 election. Indeed, some of the postings and comments since Tuesday reflect that. However, as the DailyKos (see link to the right) points out, now is not the time for self-pity or despair. The Republican Party was far more heavily defeated in 1964 and four years later managed to get Richard Nixon, of all people, into the White House (hardly a dazzling, charismatic candidate)! But if we Democrats are to bounce back from this we must seriously analyze the problem(s) and solution(s).

The problems: I believe there are two problems facing the Democratic Party in the next 2-4 years. The immediate problem is institutional. The Founding Fathers created our convoluted system (people from other democracies seem to find it bizarre) precisely to ensure that minority opinions would be represented even following electoral defeats. The Senate especially is designed to protect the rights of political minorities. However, somehow, the Republicans have managed to turn a 51% popular vote majority into simultaneous control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court that is likely expand. This is very unusual. Others (Law Talking Guy?) will have to help me on the history of this but I can’t think of a time when the population was so equally divided at a time when control of the institutions was so lopsided. I believe this feature of our current political environment is the single greatest cause of the bitter polarization in the country today. Democrats are rightly afraid that they will continue to be completely excluded from the policy making process by the Republicans in Washington. We have no confidence in President Bush’s promises to “reach out.” Furthermore, I believe any such confidence would be badly misplaced.

The second problem is political. I’m referring to the problem of how Democrats will be able to defeat a coalition of religious conservatives in rural areas and fiscal conservatives in the suburbs. This is less pressing than the institutional problem but no less important.

What is to be done: Responding to the institutional problem will have to rely on the use of the filibuster in the Senate. The difficulty will be choosing when to fight. If the Senate Democrats filibuster everything that comes down the pike, they may provoke a backlash. But the Democrats in the Senate must step up and defend the interests of the 49% of Americans who voted against the religious conservative agenda. They are the only thing standing in the way of the establishment of a series of intrusive, religiously based, regulations on the personal lives of Americans.

Responding to the political problem is also tricky. I think the Democrats need to take two lessons from the 2004 election. The first is that rural voters, especially Southern rural voters, are not convincible. If they vote they will vote for the most conservative, most religious candidate available to them. However, there is no way the Democrats will get them to switch and in my view the Party should stop trying (sorry Mr. Edwards). John Kerry’s “let the South vote Republican” strategy is correct. Democrats will win in the future with a coalition of New England, the Great Lakes, the West Coast and the Desert South West. Second, the Democratic Party needs to present something like the Republicans’ “Contract With America.” They need to present a simple, consistent list of policies that ALL Democratic candidates will stand by regardless of where they are running. Obviously, they can’t simply parrot the Republican policies. Neither can they start squawking about “faith” like some kind of MBA buzz word. Furthermore, they can’t adopt a list of losing positions near and dear to the Nader/Dean crowd.

I suggest that we start a discussion about what the Democratic Party agenda should be.

Comments? Discussion?


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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Heartbroken

There is no particular reason to fill this blog with all the disappointment and sadness that comes from these election results. We were wrong here on the blog -- voter turnout among evangelical "christians" carried the day. Men and women of good will failed to close ranks and defend civilization and democracy against ignorance and hatred. To love one's country, yet see it stumble so... willingly.

In the next four years we will see:
1. Thousands more Americans dead in Iraq, and no stable government there.
2. Another war somewhere, quite possibly Iran or North Korea. This president thrives on war, although he (blasphemously) claims to be a follower of Christ.
3. The end of the North Atlantic alliance, except in name only.
4. The health care crisis will come to a head.
5. The end of social security's guarantee, as we have known it, replaced by speculative private accounts that will disappear for those who need it most.
6. A conservative Supreme Court that will take away abortion rights.
7. A constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage and civil unions, even where they now legally exist.
8. Legislation to permit legal discriminaton against gays.
9. No attempt to reform the electoral system in any way.
10. Patriot Act II - the Attorney General will have the right to take away your citizenship and deport you. The FBI will begin to investigate those of us with blogs like this.
11. Patriot Act III - effectively repealing the Bill of Rights as we know it. Jose Padilla will become commonplace, as the Bush administration locks up people it calls 'terrorists' and throws away the key, denying them any right to any judicial process
12. Legalized prayer in schools - evangelical christian prayer.
13. A budget deficit that will increase so greatly that the government will have to drastically cut funds for education and medicare.
14. Continued exodus of US jobs overseas, and the wal-mart-ization of the US workforce.
15. Skyrocketing cost of education and health care, with no end in sight.
16. Increased pollution. The end of any real effort to increase fuel efficiency.
17. Massive new logging, mining, and drilling in the West and North.
18. An end to affirmative action, even in places where it is the only remedy for ongoing proven racism and discrimination.
19. More terrorist attacks on the USA, because our domestic security efforts are so ill-prepared, and because of massive anger at an increasingly imperialist US foreign policy.
20. The dollar will continue to decrease in value.
21. Reinstatement of the death penalty, without changes, where moratoria have been in effect to examine its application.
22. Increased unemployment among minorities and inner cities.
23. Increasing jingoism, nationalism, and militarism. God and Country substitute for democracy and liberty.
24. Defeat of efforts to remove the confederate flag from statehouses and other public places.
25. Public taxpayer money used to fund private religious education.

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So what happened?

While the election is not officially declared at this time (early in the AM Wednesday), it looks very unlikely that Kerry will pull off the victory. Bush is ahead in Ohio by over 100,000 votes and while there are as many as 250,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted (and usually 80% of those get counted), they would have be overwhelmingly for Kerry to make a difference. Possible but very unlikely.

Early in the election night, exit polls were showing data about first time voters that strongly hinted they would go for Kerry. However, when within a few hours, it looked much more like they were leaning for Bush. I believe this is because so many of the first time voters were rural voters and exit pollsters may not have been properly position to account for that. Check out CNN.com's state by state results and look at the county numbers. You'll see that Bush was winning rural counties by as much as 70% or 75%! In Ohio for example, Kerry won Cleveland, Columbus, and even Dayton. In Cincinnati (an infamously right wing city), Kerry did much better than Gore did but still lost. However, Bush really won on a tidal wave of rural voters. NPR is reporting that most of these voters claimed "moral values" as their main motivation. In other words, Karl Rove seems to have been justified in his "win through Evangelicals alone" strategy.

This is a clear victory for the forces of Religious Conservatism. Social conservatism will be at the core of American policy for the next 30 years because of this election. Bush will appoint two or three social conservatives to the Supreme Court and that will be the dominant feature of social policy for years to come.

Before the election Bush had said things about "reaching out to Democrats." He said similar things before the 2000 election but has made little attempt to do so in the last four years. To Bush, "reaching out to Democrats" means asking Democrats to agree with his position. I have no confidence that Bush will do anything other than move further to the right after this. I also firmly believe that he'll order significant military attacks against Iran (probably air strikes).

We will see what happens in 2006. I don't think both parties can maintain this level of turnout indefinitely. I suspect that the 2006 election will return to the usual pattern of the minority party gaining seats. I'm still confident that Bush's policies will be an unmitigated disaster both at home and abroad. So I think the Democrats have a real shot at getting one or both houses of Congress in 2006.

Meanwhile, the world will take this election result as an indication that ALL Americans are behind Bush. WE ARE NOT. I ask that they look closely at the results and see what this election really says. The country is split 50-50 but the rural 50 gets overrepresented in our system so it exaggerates support.

In California, there is a different picture. Voters passed ballot initiative 71, which Governor Schwarzenegger supported, providing state funding (through a bond) for stem cell research.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

What the hell?

It's 3:14 PM here in LA and it appears FoxNews.com has already called three states for Bush, long before any other network will:





(Click on photo for a larger view)

Now they might be just testing something, and those are safe Bush states, but ... hey, I'm a blogger, I have to be into conspiracy theories.

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Big Turnout

Hi Everyone,

There are reports all over the web and the news about huge turnout in the election. Bell Curve and I have first hand information on this. We are neighbors and vote in the same precinct. He and I went over to vote at 6:50 am, arriving at our polling place at 7:00 am sharp. There was already a line (30 minutes long). I've been voting in this precinct for several elections and I have usually voted before 8 am and NEVER SEEN ANY LINE AT ALL!!

This is a heavily Democratic neighborhood in Los Angeles and there are no close ballot measures that really getting people excited. Yet turnout is far higher than I've ever seen. If this holds for the rest of California (and from what I see on the web it is), I think it is extremely unlikely that Bush will win the popular vote. I'm increasingly confident that Kerry will win the whole thing. But only if people keep voting like they are this morning.

What are you seeing at your polling place? Let us know generally where it is and what's happening.

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Monday, November 01, 2004

Oh, and one other thing...

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't vote. Go to your polling place, don't get discouraged by the long lines or bad weather, and if you feel pressure from someone insinuating that you can't vote, take it as the sincerest form of respect. They don't want you to vote because they're scared of you. But you'll show them.

Watch Eminem's Mosh video if you need any more inspiration. He may be a homophobic thug, but he does have a way with words.

Update: Sorry, dead link. Try here instead for Eminem's video.

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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Raised By Republican's Election Predictions

Hi Everyone,

A number of friends and relatives of mine have asked me what the results will be on election night 2004. I could give you a bunch of reasons why I expect the outcome that I do. But I've said most of it here already and besides, the one thing the mainstream media is GUARANTEED to talk your ear off about is the horse race.

Instead, I'd like to talk about the policy outcomes will likely be if either Bush or Kerry win. After all, that's the only reason we should really care about the election at all, right?

If Bush wins: If George W. Bush is reelected, it will be seen by the Republicans as a massive endorsement of both the war in Iraq and a religious conservative social agenda at home. Trust me, even if the election is VERY close, the Republicans will behave as if it was a huge mandate. The 1996 "Contract With America" election was a narrow victory (in terms of national popular vote) in an election with the lowest turnout in American history yet the Republicans took it as evidence that the entire nation was behind their agenda 100%. In policy terms in 2004-2008 this will mean a number of things: 1) Patriot Act II (to include executive branch power to revoke the citizenship of any "enemy combatant" even if they are natural born citizens) 2) Privatization of social security (to inflate economic growth while the war in Iraq and tax cuts suck capital out of the economy). 3) Supreme Court Justice John Ashcroft (he may not get confirmed but he's who Bush wants). 4) Airstrikes against Iran's nuclear sites before they come online, from bases in Iraq and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf 5) The Democrats will win control of BOTH houses of Congress in 2006 and 2007 - 2008 will be dominated by Congressional investigations of Halliburton's no bid contracts, the CIA agent leak, Enron and energy company anti-trust violations etc.

If Kerry wins: If Kerry wins, the Republicans will almost certainly retain control of at least one house of Congress and possibly both. His electoral victory will mainly result in the cessation of the Theocratic/Neo-con Republican agenda. As the President presiding over a majority Republican Congress, Kerry's ability to get his agenda through will be very limited. Sure, the curtains covering up the "obscene" bare breasted statue of Justice in the Department of Justice building will come down, but not much legislation. The result will be exactly what the Founding Father's had in mind, a government so incapacitated by institutional and partisan divisions that our civil liberties will be relatively safe from abuse. Republicans won't lose out much, there won't be a new law making gay marriage mandatory or anything like that. But they won't be able to impose their narrow minded agenda on the rest of us anymore. Stalemate! This will allow a cooling off period. The country can get back to normal FINALLY after 9/11. We've been whipped up into frenzy after frenzy by the Bush people for so long I think Americans will welcome some good old fashioned Washington Gridlock for a change!

Comments? Discussion?

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Friday, October 29, 2004

The Economist Picks Kerry and New OBL Tape

Hi Everyone,

The Economist, a magazine with a strong pro-market editorial policy, has endorsed John Kerry - albeit reluctantly. The Economist endorsed Bush in 2000 and has strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq. Despite this, they believe that Bush has "never seemed truly up to the job, let alone his own ambitions for it..."

They don't have much nice to say about Kerry (they oppose his position that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake for example) but are scathing in their criticism of Bush's incompetence and the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo abuses. Essentially, they say that while they agree with Bush generally, Bush and his administration are simply not capable to governing. "If Mr. Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and new approach to achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority, the religious right, then The Economist will wish him well. But our confidence in him has been shattered. We agree that his broad vision is the right one but we doubt whether Mr. Bush is able to change or has sufficient credibility to succeed, especially in the Islamic world."

In other news, Osama Bin Laden has released another tape with the usual vague threats. Both Bush and Kerry responded with strong statements that Al Qaida needed to be hunted down and defeated etc.

Comments? Discussion?

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More news stories

1. Republican voter suppression. And lots of it. Apparently they're sending registered mail to potential voters, and when they don't pick it up (because it's from the Republican Party) their legal residence is challenged. Crazy, huh? Read all about it here or here and maybe even here. Crazy.

So maybe you read the Onion this week and thought this article was funny? Guess again. Check out this nonsense:



Read all about it here.

For those of you that think that Democrats are probably doing this just as much, take a gander at the ultra-conservative WSJ's attempt at balance here.

2. Two Los Angeles communities, worlds apart. That's the gist of this LA Times article (registration required). One precinct is overwhelmingly pro-Bush, the other overwhelmingly pro-Kerry. Here's my favorite type 4 Republican quote from this one:
The master's degree candidate from Simi Valley pulled a Bible from his backpack and opened it to Isaiah 58. He read aloud a passage about feeding the hungry.
He said he had visited Compton and understood why its residents felt Kerry was their best hope for better jobs and affordable healthcare.
"But I just don't like Kerry," he added.

Hmmm. A bible-reading white guy who is voting for Bush because of religion and because he doesn't like Kerry? Even though there is no issues-based reason to do so? Must be an isolated case, right...?

3. Former GOP Senator Bob Smith endorses Kerry. You can read his letter here. Let me refresh your memories -- this is the guy who once left the Republican party because it was too moderate (!) and is still loved in New Hampshire. This gives New Hampshire to Kerry, I guarantee it.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Get Ready to Man the Barricades!

Hi Everyone,

A New York Times article is reporting that thousands of absentee ballots from mostly Democratic Broward County, Florida (remember Broward CO.?) are missing. The Post Office says they never got them. The County says they are sure they delivered them. Florida Governor, Jeb Bush's state police said they found no evidence of wrong doing and ended their investigation. Gee, that was fast and efficient!

In related news: the number of registered voters in Florida is increased 1.6 MILLION since 2000! But how many will get to vote? How many will try? And in Florida, Karl Rove's famous untapped Evangelical army will be a factor in the northern part of the state (often referred to as "South Georgia"). Will Nader hand the state to Bush again?

Which brings me to something I heard on Hardball yesterday. They were talking about how the Bush campaign is now aggressively asking Democrats to vote for Bush. You might think, "of course he is." But this is a pretty major strategy shift. The Rove-Bush strategy had been based almost entirely on the assumption that one could win the Presidency with Evangelical Conservatives ONLY. In other words cross over voting was not a factor. But now Bush is in Ohio practically begging Democrats in the industrial NE of the state to vote for him. Could this be an indication that Bush campaign internal polls are showing impending defeat?

This is it folks. Its officially down to the wire. The stakes in the election are far higher than any since election since that notorious scoundrel, Aaron Burr, was defeated (narrowly) by Jefferson.

Find your polling place here.
If you go to the polling place indicated and the poll workers tell you you're not on the list, politely but firmly ask for a provisional ballot. They are required by law to give you one - EVEN IN OHIO.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Four kinds of Republicans

As the race comes down to the final stretch, I can identify four kinds of Republicans and how they should vote. Let's take a look.

1. Social conservatives, especially the kind for whom this is the most important issue. The anti-gay, anti-Roe v. Wade crowd. These people should (and will) vote overwhelmigly for Bush.

2. The extremely rich who care above all about their bottom line. There are some obscenely rich people who are fervent Kerry supporters (George Soros comes to mind) but I'm talking about people who like Bush almost exclusively for what he did for their wallet. These people will vote Bush, as well they should.

3. Fiscal conservatives. The people I've referred to as "economically Republican". The small government, low taxes people. These people are probably split -- Bush's record is not that of a fiscal conservative, but would they vote for a Massachusetts senator? One fiscal conservative who struggled with this decision for a long time is Andrew Sullivan, and he has finally endorsed Kerry.

4. Lifelong Republicans who will always vote Republican, even if there is no issues-based reason to do so. You know these people. They break down into several categories:
(a) Those who think Bush is tougher on terror
(b) Those who think Bush has been a social moderate / fiscal conservative
(c) Those who believe the propaganda and are scared of Kerry
etc. I fear that category number 4 is the largest one. If you're a Republican reading our blog, and you're going to vote Bush, make sure you're not in category 4 before you cast your ballot. One easy way to find out is to go to PresidentMatch.com and take the survey.

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What Can We Expect Next Tuesday?

An anonymous comment to one of the other postings asked "So RbR, a question for you: how do you feel about the likely outcome of this impending election?...What the hell is going on poll-wise? Are we likely to see voter debacles again resulting in the supreme court making the decision? What is the vibe you get, being a man on the street?"

What is the vibe you get, being a man on the street? Well, I should start by saying that I'm a poor choice as a "man on the street." I'm hardly an average voter. I'm a registered Democrat and I have a PhD in political science. Also, I live in Los Angeles - a fairly liberal city. So I have a partisan bias, live mostly with other people with the same bias, and I have far more than the average level of education. However, I have a large extended family with whom I'm in close contact and most of them are Republicans, some of them are Evangelical Conservatives. Finally, being "Piled Higher and Deeper," I'm more than willing to express my opinions about these sorts of things so here goes:

I've heard a lot of Democrats and people further to the left getting really bummed because the polls that get reported on CNN et al keep showing Bush ahead. Such depression is far from warranted.

What the hell is going on poll-wise? Here are my standard lines on poll watching. No single poll tells you much of anything. They are not perfect measures of anything and you have to look at a number of polls over time to find out anything useful. The news channels only report one poll most of the time. CNN is particularly bad because they over report the Gallup Poll which performed terribly in 2000 (predicting Bush to win the popular vote by a wide margin) and has been criticized for over sampling registered Republicans by as must 30%. When you look at lots of polls, you see that most of the polls show a statistical tie (neither candidate ahead by more than the margin of error).

Furthermore, Bush's level of support seems to be "stuck" at about 47% give or take. The conventional wisdom is that polls are pretty accurate about support for the incumbent. BUT, they tend to under estimate support for the challenger. If that holds this time, Bush is in BIG trouble because he's not getting over 50% outside of the Deep South.

Also, most polls are conducted by using land line telephones and then screening "likely voters" based on a criteria that vary from poll to poll. Both of these methods most likely under count young voters and newly registered voters. Specific polls of both of these demographics are showing that they support Kerry by as much as 2:1. That's why polls of "registered voters" show Kerry doing much better.

Finally, undecided voters tend to break heavily for the challenger (most people are saying 2:1 for the challenger). The logic is fairly simple. If you are a voter who is undecided about George Bush after 4 years, its not because you don't know enough about him. It's because you know him and you don't like him.

How do you feel about the likely outcome of this impending election? Personally, I think Kerry will pull off the victory on Tuesday but I'm no 100% confident about that. I think Kerry's support is being under counted for a number of reasons. While both parties are pushing to register new voters, the new voters for Kerry (young people and ethnic minorities) are distributed throughout the country and will likely be a major force in several swing states (Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio). New registrants that Bush is counting on are Karl Rove's famous 4 million untapped Evangelical Conservatives who are disproportionately concentrated in states Bush already has sewn up. Besides the word is that polls of new voters show that as a group they support Kerry over Bush 2:1. Here is a link to a great website that updates its election day prediction after every days' poll.

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Monday, October 25, 2004

Conservatives for Kerry and More Mess in Iraq

Hi Everyone,

Check out this link for a series of stories about conservative editors and activists who are endorsing Kerry because they feel Bush has abandonned traditional conservatism. Their concerns center on Bush's war in Iraq which they regard as an unneccessary, failed adventure that has isolated the US internationally and is the main cause of the high deficits which they say will eventually force tax increases.

Speaking of Iraq, the IAEA has confirmed that 380 tons of explosives suitable for use in nuclear weapons were looted from Iraqi research facilities because US forces failed to secure them following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Given the Bush administration's main reason for going to war (securing Saddam's WMD technology to prevent them from falling into terrorists' hands), this failure is ASTOUNDING! It is a direct result (I believe) of Rumsfeld's insistence on invading with a smaller force to prove his theories about the increased lethality of US weapons systems. The Bush administration clearly did not even consider how they would achieve the first priorities after the Iraqi army surrendered. Also, given that US forces DID secure sites related to the oil industry, one could be forgiven for asserting that the war in Iraq was all about oil.

Comments? Discussion?

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Friday, October 22, 2004

More Stuff About Iraq

CNN.com has a story about the insurgency in Iraq. Military intelligence reports do not paint an optimistic picture.

Here are some highlights:

1) unaccounted for money (half a billion US$) from Saddam's personal account is financing the insurgency. This is interesting because the Bush Administration's justification for the war version 3.2 is that Saddam was financing terrorism and only by removing him from power could we stop that. Well it turns out that we have him in one of our jail cells and his money is still out there. I would guess that he never devoted this much of his money to supporting terrorists while he was out of jail.

2) US forces have killed or arrested more Iraqis than the original estimates of the number of insurgents allowed for (remember Rummy's "dead-enders"?). However, current estimates are that 12,000 insurgents remain at large. And that number reflects only the "core elements." This is interesting because opponents of invading Iraq in the first place argued that it would create hydra like resistance to the US. As we arrest or kill each insurgent there is always another willing to take his/her place. So this is a real "I told you so moment" for the anti-war folks.

3) Despite the first two items in this report, US intelligence sources are still convinced that arresting or killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would significantly slow or even stop the insurgency. Based on the original estimates, we should have wiped out all the insurgents by now. Yet they remain a formidable problem in Iraq. Who was it who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

Discussion? Comments?

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Robert Scheer Claims Bush Admin Cover up Re 911

Hi Everyone,

My good friend Gao Shan alerted me to the fact that Liberal LA Times columnist, Robert Scheer, recently wrote in his column that there is a CIA report that is very damaging to the White House regarding 9/11. But the report is being suppressed and held back despite requests from the House Intelligence Committee. Two House members are on the record in Scheer's column but a CIA source remains anonymous.

Robert Scheer is pretty left wing so if he's the only one running with this story, it won't amount to much. But if this gets picked up by others....look out.

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Some Random Thoughts

Hi Everyone,

Here are some snippets of stuff I've been thinking about lately:

Random Thought 1: There are still some people out there who think that the outcome of the Presidential election will not have much effect on either foreign or domestic policies. More often than not I suspect this is a symptom of a cognitive dissonance problem. Think about some of the postings on this blog. US support for family planning and health care around the world would dramatically change for the better under a Democrat. US foreign policy would dramatically shift away from the provocative and confrontational focus of the current administration to the more flexible approach of administrations past (both Republican and Democrat). A Democratic President would likely not mention Gay marriage. The delegation of government functions (such as a welfare provision and social services) to religious groups would stop or at least be more closely regulated so as to prevent tax payer supported proselytization. The list goes on and on. There are differences. Saying there aren't any is just an excuse for being self-indulgently apathetic.

Random Thought 2: A lot of Bush supporters getting interviewed on TV say things like, "well, I don't agree with a lot of his positions but at least I know where he stands so I'm going to vote for him." Here is what I would say to such people: If you know where Bush stands and you don't like where he stands why wouldn't you take your chances with the other guy?

Random Thought 3: I've seen some articles on the BBC.com site lately about China becoming a super power. Pure alarmist nonsense. The U.S. spends more money on its military than the next six biggest spenders combined. Four of the next six are in NATO or similarly close allies to the USA. The other two are Russia and China (which are awkward allies). Also, China has a HUGE but poorly equipped army with small well equipped units mixed in. Its navy is only capable of effective operation close to home bases. Its logistics capability is insufficient to allow China to project military power abroad. China is big but it is far from being a global influence.

Comments? Discussion?

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Monday, October 18, 2004

Yet another story you've never heard.

I know that President Bush thinks that America shouldn't bend to the will of the rest of the world. I know that just because every other nation says something is good, doesn't mean we have to agree. Fine. But couldn't we agree with them on something? Anything?

I can't believe this story. To turn down a great document because of two vague words is beyond me. Our women viewers need to read this.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Recount This: The Trouble With Florida

In Florida, the the certified vote had George Bush leading by 537 votes out of a total of 5,956,253 cast. (after the recount, the Bush lead was 193 before the United States Supreme Court ruled). That is leading by less than 1 in 11,000 votes (one in nearly 30,000 with the recount). That is less than 100th of 1%. What kind of a process is accurate to 1 in 11,000? Ivory soap is only 99 44/100 pure. This is just too high a standard of accuracy to expect from a voting system. I suggest that, even taking the vote totals as given, the vote in Florida was simply too close for any counting mechanism to have rendered an accurate count. Certainly not one run by an ad hoc mixture of part-time government officials and senior citizen volunteers. Introducing internet technology does not help, either. In other words, every recount would have given a different tally. Aside from the fact that there was massive fraud in other areas of the Florida election, keeping lpeople from voting, and so forth, such close numbers themselves can re-occur without the election tampering. We need to think of how to handle errors that small in ballot counting. Justice Scalia was accurate on one point: there is no reason to think that a human recount will finally "get it right." Error terms are part of life. It is too bad, but predictable, that in census counting, the intellectually dishonest Justice Scalia had forgotten about math, and proclaimed that an "actual enumeration" was really possible, and that statistical sampling was somehow "cheating"

Any thoughts, O statisticians and mathematicians?

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Mutiny Incident Among US Troops in Iraq?!

Hi Everyone,

The news media is currently under reporting a major story from Iraq. It is getting some attention but the stories are buried and CNN.com didn't even have the story on its page for a full day! It seems that a full platoon of US Army Reserve troops from South Carolina (343rd Quartermaster Company) refused to drive a convoy of fuel trucks in Iraq recently because they were dissatisfied with the equipment they had (they insist it is worn out and unsafe) and with the lack of escorting troops. The unit has been in Iraq for over 9 months and these type of convoys have been attacked frequently. Technically, this was an organized refusal to obey a lawful order by superior officers. However, their claimed reason for refusing makes this very dangerous politically. Here is a link to the LA Times story on the issue (on their webpage, the story link was nested under another headline that wasn't directly related). The Army is handling this with kid gloves. They are saying things "valid concerns" etc. The last thing the Bush administration wants right now is a major story to get out that volunteer troops who are otherwise "gung ho" are so unhappy about their equipment and troop strength that they would risk being charged with mutiny in protest.

Here is the Webster's revised unabridged definition of the word mutiny: "Insurrection against constituted authority, particularly military or naval authority; concerted revolt against the rules of discipline or the lawful commands of a superior officer; hence, generally, forcible resistance to rightful authority; insubordination."

This is a very disturbing development and is reminiscent of of the kinds of things that happened in incidents when moral collapsed in Vietnam.

Comments? Discussion?

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Does anyone feel a draft?

One of the more under-reported events of recent days is this letter from the RNC to MTV's "Rock the Vote", threatening a lawsuit if RTV does not stop claiming there may be a draft. Rock the Vote has clearly not stopped it and, in fact, they're a little defiant. Excerpt:

Mr. Gillespie, this is a generational issue. Nothing cuts closer to the core of the very reason Rock the Vote exists. We think young people deserve to know where the politicians stand on this issue - and that a generation that could be called to service deserves more than the phony debate they are getting. We believe that it is only by asking questions - not by censoring debate - that our democracy can remain strong and vital.

I want LTG's opinion of this. Doesn't this lawsuit seem just a tad frivolous? When did it become unlawful to suggest that the President is lying? And howcome no news outlet is reporting this?

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Stewart and "Hard" News

John Stewart was on Bill O'Reilly the other day and there was an exchange where Vibrator Bill called the Daily Show audience a bunch of "stoned slackers." So Comedy Central struck back. But beyond the silliness of it, there seemed to be a theme of "why didn't you ask John Kerry real questions?" Cause umm, it's, ahh, COMEDY, Bill...

John Stewart was also on Crossfire. Besides making fun of Tucker Carlson and calling him a not nice word that my mommy said was out of bounds, he tries to make a point...and neither Carlson nor Begala get it. Or at least, they are so "concerned" with the low level of "legitimate" news coverage on the Daily Show that they pretend not to get it.

Granted, Stewart was essentially telling these people they were idiots and bad at their jobs, which, of course, they are, so I'm sure they didn't have the nicest sort of warm fuzzy feeling toward Stewart that they otherwise might have had. But his point remains: why can't any real journalist, and no, John Stewart is not a real journalist, ask a tough question and get a real response? Answer: they worry they'lll never have an interview again. Oh, and they're all suck-ups. Actually, I think journalists can't ask real questions because they have several forms of monkey retardation...But more damning is the possibility that people don't care or aren't interested enough to ask whether they are getting good, straight answers from their elected officials. In a market economy, I can't think of a better way to stand out and make yourself different...be the network that will ask a real question and demand a real answer.

The funniest comedy/news ("nomedy"?) show on TV: 2
Grating Half-Wits: 0


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Friday, October 15, 2004

There's Something About Mary

I'm sick of this Mary Cheney flap and want it to go away. I don't think it's good for anyone, especially the intensely private Mary. But I do think we ought to ask a prominent gay Republican what he thinks. Heck, let's make it two.

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Republican Senator Flips Lid; Kentucky's Seat In Play

Hi Everyone,

Some of you may know that in addition to the Presidential race the fight for control of Congress (especially the Senate) is also very tight. That's why this is a big deal....

Senator Jim Bunning (R- Kentucky, pitcher for the Phillies in the 60s) seems to have gone completely nuts. This not the usual kind of nuts for Republicans, this guy is actually certifiable! Reuters is reporting that his behavior has become increasingly eratic - even for him. Bunning accused his Democratic opponent, Daniel Mongiardo, of beating up Mrs. Bunning and said that his Italian American opponent looked "like Saddam Hussein's son." These are not the only or even the strangest episodes. The Lousiville paper is openly speculating that Bunning has gone insane or has Alzheimers.

Bunning's 17 point lead has suddenly shrunk to 8 points as reports of his possible mental illness spread.

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Amazing.

This is a letter from a reader to Andrew Sullivan:

I think you’ve missed an important point in your analysis of the candidates. I’m willing to concede, for the sake of argument, the Kerry’s proposals and stances are all superior to Bush’s. I’m also willing to concede, in the same spirit, that Bush is less competent than Kerry.

It still doesn’t matter. What you miss in all your analysis is the fundamental attitude of the candidates toward the War on Terror. Their attitudes are more revealing than their platforms: Bush cares about the War on Terror, and Kerry doesn’t. That’s all that really matters.

That Kerry flip-flops on the issues is not important because he might be indecisive in times of danger, though that is certainly something to consider. That he flip-flops is not important because we need someone who doesn’t change his mind. That he flip-flops is important because it exposes something infinitely more telling about the man: the man doesn’t really believe that there is a legitimate threat. If Kerry sincerely believed that a true anti-war stance would win the election, he would take that stance. Hell, if he believed that a platform advocating carpet-nuking Qatar would win the election, he would advocate that. The man simply doesn’t take it seriously. Bush, despite his shortcomings, does.

I’m about as angrily libertarian as they get, and I was as appalled as you were by Bush’s support for the pandering, theocratic Federal Marriage Amendment. But I certainly believe Kerry would have supported the same thing if his base had demanded it, and I think Kerry’s predilection for pandering outstrips Bush’s by ten to one.

Of course, we know all politicians are panderers. Bush and Kerry can’t escape it. But in a time when nuclear terrorism looms large and our very lives are at stake, we owe it to our country to vote for the guy who takes our safety seriously.


This is amazing to me. If you didn't want to read the whole thing, I can summarize it like this: "Bush may be a moron with ideas inferior to Kerry's, but I will still vote for Bush because he gives the appearance of being tougher on the war on terror." This is, unfortunately, why many people will be Bush supporters. Not because they agree with him about anything, but because they THINK that Bush will be tougher on terror. Nevermind the fact that you are more likely to get struck by lightning than die in a terrorist attack. Drives me nuts.

There are legitimate reasons to vote for Bush (social conservatives should, for instance), but this is not one.

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