Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Leader of the Free World - the USA Algeria!

Yesterday I performed what has become a rather routine activity. I went to my bank, put my paycheck in an envelope, and stuck it in the ATM deposit slot. Man, technology is incredible! I remember as a child sitting in an incredibly long line at the drive-in bank while the adults in my life waited for upwards of an hour to deposit their paycheck. Now that I think about it, they would praise the technology that allowed them to do this from their car rather than having to stand in a line around the block.

When ATM's first debuted, banks had to challenge people to use them. "Tillie, the Teller" in Lubbock promised to give someone twice the difference if she made a mistake in counting out their money. I don't know how you'd prove how much money you got back, but they definitely gave you a receipt so you could prove how much your account was charged.

So, if it's so important to check and double-check your money; then why is it that the counting of your vote is just taken for granted?

Well, you don't have to go to Ohio or Florida to find problems with voting - just head over to Hudson County's Clerk Office.

Fortunately, someone is actually trying to do something about the problem. Unfortunately, the bill is being held by - who else? - a Republican from Ohio. You've heard of the Ohio Republican Party - they have been found caught up in corruption scandal after corruption scandal after corruption scandal. So much so that they are now discussing a possible change in the motto of Ohio to "Thank God for Kentucky!".

There is simply no point in holding elections unless you are going to count the votes. There is no way to consider your country a democracy if it isn't going to make an honest attempt to do so. It should be a national shame that the country that considers itself to be the leader of democracy in the world actually needs international observers to make sure elections are being handled fairly.

If Algeria can get it right, why can't we?

A big part of the problem is a Republican from Ohio. A big part of the solution is a Democrat from New Jersey.

Go here and tell our government that this government is still supposed to be "by the people, of the people, and for the people".

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Milestone We Could Do Without

As I write this, our country has only recently conducted 999th execution since the death penalty was re-instated in 1977. What could be its 1,000th execution is already scheduled before the end of the week. It is a milestone that should be greeted, in my opinion, with profound sorrow and a spirit of repentance.

First, it represents the death of at least a thousand innocents even prior to the court procedures that lead to the executions. Any discussion of the topic has to start with the recognition of the horrible injustice suffered by the victims of these crimes. The fact is beyond discussion that these victims are dead and will never return. They were fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, and each of them was loved by someone. So, let us begin our discussion by agreeing that reducing the number of murders in the first place should be our primary goal. There is simply no other way to adequately address the heart-rending agony of the subject.

Second, each one of those executions represents millions of dollars wasted. This is the second tragedy of the death penalty. If we are to have such a dread law; then it is only right and fitting that we approach it with an air of caution and reluctance. We should, in every case, spare no expense to ensure that the person who is executed is, in fact, guilty of the crimes with which they are charged. If the states of Texas and Florida can be used as an example of the cost, then the average cost of execution is somewhere around two and a half million dollars per person. This means that our 1,000th execution represents $2.5 trillion - roughly the same amount of money the United States government was budgeted to spend in 2005. If you had spent a dollar per second, it would take just under 29,000 days for you to spend that much. That's seventy-nine years of a dollar per second spending. Think of what that money might have meant to an impoverished school, or to the City of New Orleans after Katrina. That's the second tragedy - what we must give up to pursue this type of justice. It is even more so a tragedy when that money is diverted to no end at all.

Third, it must be realized that the death penalty has limited or no effect beyond those intimately touched by it. There is no deterrent effect to keeping it on the books - or even in using it often. If it were, then Texas would have the lowest murder rate in the country. While it has managed to significantly reduce its murder rate in the last twenty years, it is still closer to being in the top ten than in the lowest ten. However, it is also important to understand that the murder rate in general fell during this time period. If you understand statistics and really want to educate your self on the subject, then I suggest this report - for the rest of us, here are the results:

This study found that recent evidence from the most active execution state in the nation lent no support to the deterrence hypothesis. The number
of executions did not appear to influence either the rate of murder in general or the rate of felony murder in particular. At the same time, no
support was found for the brutalization hypothesis. Executions did not reduce murder rates; they also did not have the opposite effect of increasing
murder rates.

I've written previously that I do support the existence of the death penalty. Nothing I'm writing today should be construed as a reversal of that opinion. I do believe there are some people who should be killed for their crimes. That is the hardness of my heart for which I see no cure. Jesus taught that Moses gave divorce to the People of God because of the hardness of their hearts - and that is where I stand on the death penalty. My heart hardens when I hear of someone raping and torturing a child, and I cannot find any scrap of pity for them within my soul. There are some crimes that cry out for the death of the offender. I am not God and I do not have infinite justice or infinite mercy at my disposal. If it were so, I would not need a Savior.

Yet I do have pity upon our society. If we must keep the death penalty on the books; then let us admit it is solely because of the hardness of our hearts. It is not a pretty thing, to look in the mirror and see someone who says, "Yes, it is okay to murder - sometimes." Yet that is what I am and that is what I see. If I were a coward, I could claim differently. This, however, is my position.

It is okay to murder sometimes - God forgive me. In fact, I believe it is ocassionally justified. But if it is to be so, then great care must be used so that it is used equitably - fairly. It should be beyond reproach that our guidelines are strict and do not deviate based on the status or person of either the victim or offender.

This is not what we have. To claim otherwise is to say that the 999 who have died were the guiltiest among us. They were the most heinous offenders with no chance of rehabilitation. This is, quite simply, not true.

Capricious justice is not justice by any name.

It must end. If we cannot be trusted to approach the issue fairly; then we must be responsible and remove from our reach the temptation for the capricious and arbitrary use of what is, beyond cliche, the ultimate punishment.


Va. Governor Mark Warner has granted clemency to Robin Lovitt. That means we will cross the death penalty Rubicon slightly later this week, when two people are scheduled to be executed. We now have until Friday before we achieve this dubious goal - in North Carolina.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christmas Hype or Turkey?

In case you've missed it, Christians are being persecuted. Oh yeah, I'm serious. Persecuted.

At least, that's what Jerry Falwell would have us believe.

This follows close on the heels of several public voices of the Republican Party announcing that they are highly offended simply by the greeting of "Happy Holidays", rather than "Merry Christmas".

I might take this a bit more seriously as a religious issue if it weren't actually occurring before Thanksgiving - the one holiday in our national history that was specifically created for religious observance. In case you're wondering, this is what Jerry Falwell has to say about Thanksgiving. Health, family, President Bush, America's Founding Fathers, and then God. Nice to know that Rev. Falwell has his priorities right. President Bush doesn't only rank above the Founding Fathers, he actually ranks above God. No wonder he joined the ministry.

And since Rev. Falwell raises the spectre of George Washington - who asked for national pardon for our communal transgressions - and Abe Lincoln - who urged Americans to seek mercy for those in pain and suffering, let us use that as the standard against which the man who raises himself as a leader of a Christian movement. Let's not forget the figure of Ben Franklin, who stood large in both the Continental Congress and in Rev. Falwell's address.

[I believe] That there is one God, who made all things.
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.

Is it just me, or is there something missing in the Rev. Falwell's remarks?

And, lest I be a mockery of my own criticism, let me state publically what I am most thankful for:

1) I am thankful for the gift of my faith. I cannot explain where it comes from or why, even when I have tried very hard, it will not disappear. The Bible teaches that even our own faith is a gift of God, and I must admit this seems likely to me. Because of my faith, I am thankful that God exists, even if He is wrapped in mystery and sees fit only to give me the kind of faith with which I must wrestle and strive to make sense.

2) I am thankful for my family and friends. Those who are with me, and those who are not. Living and dead, my family has helped mold me into the person I am today. Through them I have known my greatest joys and most horrible defeats. In other words - they have helped me mark out the boundaries of what it means to be human.

3) I am thankful for my freedom. I have worn a uniform to defend those freedoms and recognize the sacrifices they make on my behalf. I am thankful that the people who came before me guarded it as my heritage and hope that I may do the same. I am thankful that I can openly disagree with the government and tell everyone who will listen where I think we are going wrong.

4) I am thankful for my job. I love the challenge of teaching and the minds that my students trust me with. I pray that I always live up to their expectations to be a guide, and not a dictator, as they learn to examine the world around them.

But there's more to prayer than just being thankful. Mere thankfulness easily descends into bragging about how wonderful your life is. Note the overarching themes of Washington and Lincoln - penitance, forgiveness, transgression. This is what breeds humility - the knowledge that you have, despite your intentions, committed sin, done wrong, hurt innocents. This is what is lacking from our national discourse. It is lacking in the overtly political message Rev. Falwell passes off as his Thanksgiving list - and, so it is from mine as well. So, let me correct that, in the hope that I do not forget that I, too, am full of error and mistake.

1) For my country, I ask forgiveness from the hungry in the world. While we discard more food than most countries consume, hunger remains one of the main reasons for death in the world. I sleep at night despite this fact due to my ability to close my eyes to their suffering. So do we all.

2) I ask forgiveness for our greed. As a country, we have stockpiled capital beyond our ability to count. Yet the vast majority of the world exists without even knowing what a dollar is or how possessing it could change their life forever. We paint over this by convincing ourselves that we are only saving for our own future, but then we selfishly hoarde as much as we can to pass along an estate - and add insult to the injury by attempting to exempt that estate from taxation.

3) I ask forgiveness for our hostility. Though the motives of most people who support military action are well-intentioned, there's a well-worn road to Hades built on that sentiment. We may, indeed, may the world safer after armed conflict, but in the process we kill and injure and maim people who are guilty of nothing more than being in front of a bullet, a missile, or a piece of shrapnel.

4) I ask forgiveness for the ways in which these sins manifest in my own life. I am selfish, I am greedy, and I am a glutton. I am wasteful; taking the gracious gifts of my birthplace as a right and rarely thinking about who is injured so that I may remain safe in my person and possessions. I ask forgiveness from my family and friends, my students, and all of those who, in some measure, rely upon me and I fail to live up to their expectations and needs. It is human to fail, and it is also human to give in to selfishness, greed, and lusts of all sorts. This does not mean that we should not oppose those faults. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

I also pray that this country that I love so much will somehow see where we err and put forth the sustained effort to make amends. When we cannot make amends, I pray that we find the strength of will and resolve to ensure the same mistake is not made repeatedly. I pray, in short, that we continue to strive to live up to the great promises made by our Founding Fathers, that we always find where we fall short, and that we renew our purpose in the responsibility to all members of our society to make this the "Land of Opportunity".

I'll be away for the next few days, enjoying the holidays with friends of the best kind - the ones that are so dear that they become family. For those of you with whom I am unable to share the time, I wish for you lots of happiness, love, and a continued purpose in your life.

Lastly, let me say that I am thankful, specifically, to Micah Sifry for showing me a way to express myself in this medium and to everyone who has stopped by for even an instant. May whatever God you pray to bless you richly and keep you safe.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Can a Brother Get a Blog?

In the last few months, two articles have been published in rather respected publications that call into question whether anyone seeking a career in academia would be well-advised to publish a blog. One was Bloggers Need Not Apply and the other was called Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs. From their titles, it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out on which side the authors were.

This has caused a bit of consternation among my colleagues in the Writing Politics specialization track at the CUNY Graduate Center. After all, last semester we listened to Micah Sifry explain why blogs are the wave of the future and how they allow activists to get around the "gatekeeper" function of the mainstream media. In Micah's opinion, blogs have done nothing less than totally revolutionize the news industry, turning a one-way dialogue into a multi-faceted discussion among peers. They have definitely revolutionized political commentary, with at least some of the very most popular blogs being a more important source of news for some readers than broadcast media.

The articles have some good tips for bloggers. For example, if you are an academic cheat, you don't want to broadcast that. As an addendum, you definitely don't want to tell me about it because I will make sure everyone knows about it (well, to the extent that I can). However, there is a big prejudice exposed in the two articles.

For example, the anonymous author (wonder why they were afraid of using their real name...) of "Bloggers Need Not Apply" points out:

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order.

So the University will automatically disqualify anyone who might need therapy? WARNING! WARNING! DO NOT RELEASE YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS TO THIS COMMITTEE MEMBER!

One of the purposes of higher education is to expose people to a broad range of contentious issues and to give them the critical skills necessary to arrive at their own opinion about what they find. Here you find someone who is perfectly willing to do so - at least under some circumstances. We need people like that. Perhaps the manner in which the candidate expressed his or her desires was improper - but then the critique should say that he inappropriately expressed opinions. It should not disqualify a professor that they are willing to discuss controversial topics and issues that some people may find uncomfortable. I've seen statistics that indicate one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes - should we then act like it doesn't happen in college or to college students? Recovery from trauma is often a lifetime problem and one that takes incredible person bravery to accomplish - should we punish these people for being honest about what happened to them and why it is wrong?

Here's the real issue: Would this person have been a better or worse professor if no one knew they had these issues? Would it have been better for them to wait until ten seconds after tenure was granted and then to unload? In other words, if the only thing wrong with this candidate were his or her personal issues, would it not be better to call them back for another interview to discuss whether or not they had these issues under control? Would it be better for their supervisor to know what specific problems they might want to keep an eye out for or is it better that they be kept in the dark.

A couple of times when I was intereviewed for jobs as an addiction counselor, I was asked point-blank: "What's wrong with you?" It wasn't that I was exhibiting strange behavior - in fact, like most job-applicants, I was doing my best to appear exactly what they wanted. The fact is that a counselor deals with people in need and any supervisor needs to know what kind of cases may cause problem with their counselors. When you consider that a college professor is taking young minds who, in many cases, are out from behind the shadow of their parents for the first time, isn't it good for professor's department heads to understand their young, charismatic professor may have some problems dealing with the adoration of some of the students?

"Attack of the Career-Ending Blogs" exposes another prejudice in academia - against people who do not just study, but try to actually do something in the greater society in which we all exist. I make no attempt to hide my political influences and beliefs - chief of which is that our system gives the ordinary person a considerable amount of power if only they are willing to put forth the effort to wield it. I am a populist, and unabashedly so. I believe that one of the greatest lessons I can hand my students is that they must be the ones to change the world as they wish it to be. That is personal responsibility and it is something in much too short a supply in our society. In a perfect world, college students would know that already, but I live in reality. Reality will make a mushcake of anyone's blind ideology - so take it down the line and peddle it somewhere else, buddy.

A few months ago, my wife and I were at her sister's house, watching a documentary of student activism during the Vietnam War. My sister-in-law commented, "I think today's students are letting us down." I disagree. They are letting themselves down. And the reason they are letting themselves down is because those precioius few who are willing to "suffer the outrageous slings and arrows" of publically taking a stand, those who offer themselves as the conscience of society, those who would stand and point towards the mountaintop are sneered at by those too afraid to stand out from the crowd.

If there is an anti-intellecualism in today's society - and it is almost rampant - then there is a matching distate for populism, or anything that smells of something less than the Ivy League, from the other direction. We must all learn what Micah told our class over and over - "You may be really smart, but you are never as smart as your readership. Collectively, they know more than you will ever hope to." The anti-blog sentiment among academics is proof that, perhaps, Micah should have been preaching to a different choir. Perhaps. But the beginning of wisdom is the admission of ignorance, and these articles have much proof that Micah would have been wasting his breath had he spoken to academia instead of young intellectuals.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

HR 571 and a Marginal Rat

I teach my students that there are two ways for a political party to deal with an ideological threat. One is to co-opt their ideas and claim them as your own. The other is to make them seem so far out of the mainstream that only a total nutcase would support them - a process called marginalization. Later in this post, I'll explain why it's important to know that.

As near as I can tell, this is the actual word-for-word text of Rep. John Murtha's proposal on withdrawing from Iraq:

Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";

Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

If this is not the actual wording, please email me with complete information.

Here is the text of House Resolution 571:

Resolved, That upon the adoption of this resolution it shall be in order without intervention of any point of order to consider in the House the resolution (H. Res. 571) expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately. The resolution shall be considered as read.

Now, they are not exactly the same, but they are close enough that Dems are going to hear about this for the next hundred years.

Here's the thing: Republicans have been saying for years that Democrats really don't stand for anything. They are just obstructionist. They just want to stop the President and Congressional majority from doing anything.

You say you want us to get out of Iraq? Here's a bill. Vote your conscience.

Three Democrats voted for the resolution. Three! Those three principled Democrats can now be characterized as total nutjobs. And by extension, every single person who calls for withdrawal will be, too. They have been marginalized by their own party.

I've heard a few Democrats defending this by saying that the actual resolution they voted on did not specify that the redeployment would be done safely. This is the Congressional equivalent of debating the meaning of "is". Hey, no one said we'd throw down our weapons and run. It said that we'd get out now. Anyone with three brain cells to spare can see that doesn't mean this instant - when was the last time Congress passed something that demanded instantaneous approval?

Anyone who follows politics should have known that the measure wasn't going to pass. Republicans simply would not have introduced it if it stood a rat's chance at a cat ranch in passing. Even if it did, it's a HOUSE RESOLUTION. It's basically toothless. The House passes Resolutions just to take a vote on whether it wants to take a vote on something. Hello, Democratic Representatives! A House Resolution has absolutely no power beyond the House of Representatives! Even the Senate can totally ignored them (and they generally do).

For anything to actually happen, the House would have to approve a measure (remember "I'm Just a Bill"?), get the Senate to approve it, get a conference committee to agree on differences, and send it to the President for his action. Would President Bush sign this? See the above-mentioned rat for the likelihood of this happening.

The House has absolutely no control over military deployments. The Constitution gives that power to the President. It's why he's called the "Commander in Chief". The only power the House has is to adjust military budgets during the annual budget process. Even if the House zero-budgeted the occupation of Iraq, it would still have to go through the above-mentioned process. It is inconceivable that the Senate would not re-instate it in the conference committee.

So, you have the option to vote for a badly worded resolution that is basically meaningless, but has no chance of ever becoming any form that could have meaning. What do you do? Of course, you vote against it and expose yourself as totally lacking any principle.

This is the leadership that is supposed to take back the House?

I'm thinking that rat might have better leadership skills.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Welcome back and congratulations!

Ridin' Herd is back! Now you can contribute your own favorite gems from the blogosphere to build a better blog.

Whatever Happened to Thanksgiving?

I've come to grips with the reality that there are some aspects of my childhood that will simply not be repeated for future generations. Things like: watching a black-and-white TV with a set of rabbit-ears and having the incredible choice of three channels, watching the McDonald's being built and counting the days until Ronald McDonald would whip out his huge scissors and the first Big Mac in town would be sold, and hearing from the pulpit that our faith should be shown, not shouted.

And I'm wondering how long it will be until Thanksgiving disappears. Christmas, despite right wing attempts to portray it as "under attack", will never disappear. The twin American Gods of Football and Shopping (both of which bow down before Gluttony) are simply too powerful. Quite simply, there is too much cultural significance to Christmas for it to be endangered.

Thanksgiving, however, gets a parade, two NFL football games (Dallas and Detroit), and - oh yeah, let's not forget a four day weekend. That four days is about the only thing that keeps Thanksgiving going.

It is odd that a holiday specifically designed to give thanks to God is completely overlooked by both sides in our religiously-based culture wars, yet one that is steeped in the heritage of pagan rituals is staunchly attacked.

Everyone, of course, knows the story of the first Thanksgiving - at least I think they do. It was certainly drilled into our little heads when I was a lad. Of course, the link provides historical details that Charlie Brown and Linus never contemplated as they leaned on their favorite brick wall. At least, I don't think they were running a slave market at the ballpark nor kicking a human head down the streets. Who knows? Maybe that's why they are only on TBS now.

Yet Thanksgiving was quickly observed as a national event. But it was not a holiday. It was simply a day of observation - kind of like Veteran's Day has become. You stop and say, "Oh, yeah. That's nice." Then you hurry on your way.

But here's a snip from the proclamation that I believe really shows why it isn't part and parcel of the culture wars:

they[Congress] do further recommend to all ranks, to testify to their gratitude to GOD for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience of his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.

Um, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time when we show our gratitude to God by being obedient, and the greatest way to show that is to observer YOUR OWN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS! No chanting and protest is allowed. No marches on Washington to bend the evil opposition to your will. Nope. Simply the pursuit in the quiet corners of your heart and soul of that spark of deity that inhabits us all.

Here are the words of George Washington's Thanksgiving proclaimation:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have show kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Yikes! We should pray to pay our taxes on time? And do it cheerfully? What kind of a Marxist was Washington? To increase science and promote knowledge of religion? Holy crappers, Batman! Washington may not have been a flaming liberal (or maybe he was), but he damn sure wasn't from Kansas!

It wasn't until our country was torn by the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln took steps to make Thanksgiving a national and permanent holiday. Lincoln, as well, had specific reasons for Thanksgiving:

And I recommend to [Americans] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

Penitence for our perverseness and disobedience, care for the widows and orphans, comfort for the afflicted, and to bind our wounds so that our country might still truly be, in peace, harmony, and tranquility, the UNITED states of america.

That will be my prayer this year at Thanksgiving. If it was needed in Lincoln's time, then it is no less needed today. As it was, so let it be again.

Oh Lord! Let me be an instrument of They peace!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Iraq, the Little Bog that Could

I've written several times before that I think pretty much everyone is wrong on Iraq. The President wants to press on, Democrats want out now, and everyone is trying to decide if they should have thought differently several years ago.

Democrats, of course, think this is a good issue to win an election. They can barely keep from slobbering all over themselves in anticipation of reversing the Republican Revolution. Iraq, they think, will let them take back the House, the Senate, and the White House.

Maybe. But not the way they are going about it now.

Ultimately, it is an empty discussion over why and how we went into Iraq. Elections are always about the future, and the future is not the invasion of Iraq, but how, why, and when we leave. It isn't ultimately about if President Bush's team manipulated intelligence because we can't just wake up on Tuesday and say, "Gosh, we're sorry. We'll just go home now."

Nope. We broke it, we own it, and we better come up with an idea of how to fix it. Otherwise, Democrats are simply making true the contention that they aren't for anything, they're just against whatever President Bush does. You want to lead the country? You better have a vision about where you're going.

We need concrete steps - like reaching out to Pakistan and Egypt for more troops on the ground inside contended areas. We need a way to be involved in the rebuilding process in a culturally aware way - not only for Iraq, but for America. Tucking our tails and waving from a troop ship isn't going to help Iraq, and it isn't going to help America. In the long run, it weakens both.

It's true that the majority of Americans do not think that things are going well in Iraq - but there are a lot more numbers than just that.

For example, the NBC poll of November 4-7 shows that while 64% disapprove of the way George Bush is handling Iraq, Democrats have only a three point lead over Republicans when respondents are asked who would do better. The largest group is when you add in "Neither" with "about the same" and "unsure" - which is basically three ways of saying the same thing. With the "unable to determine leadership" group, you have 37% of Americans saying that it doesn't matter who is in office, Iraq is going to be a bog anyway.

Again, while Americans in almost every poll listed say there have been too many American casualties and they don't look for any improvement, the ABC poll of Oct 30 through Nov 2 found that a majority of Americans still think the best thing to do is keep our troops deployed.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter why we are in Iraq. The dead are dead and will not come back to life. They have died in vain or not, and that can't be changed. What can be changed is the future. Until either Democrats or Republicans start actually talking about concrete ways to measure success and how to get to them, then Iraq is basically a push - and everyone knows the House wins in a push.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Thought Experiment in Campaign Financing

John Rawls theorized social justice from what he called the original position. The idea is to pretend you don't know what position you are actually in, then pretend like there is an equal chance of you being thrown into any possible position. The idea is that a person would naturally create a system that would tend to be the least punitive to everyone and of most benefit to all.

So, if we apply this to campaign financing, we would have to consider ourselves equally likely to be a candidate and a voter. There are others, but these are the two primary people involved in elections.

From the candidate's perspective, you want the ability to gain lots of money from lots of different places. In fact, the more you can increase the breadth of your donor base, the less likely you are to succumb to pressure from one single donor, or group of donors. If you have ten thousand people giving you money, you can afford to make a few hundred angry.

So, no limit on how many donors you can have.

However, if one of those ten thousand can give you more than nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine combined, then you are in a different position. Now you can honestly be put in a position where one donor can threaten to support your opponent and put undue strain on your ability to act independently. So, there has to be a limit on how much donors can give. For now, that limit isn't important. What's important is that it IS limited.

Now look at the voter. His or her chief concern is that they want their vote to count for something. But it should not count anything more or less than the next person's.

The voter also has to be sure that their vote is going to be counted. A vote that is equal to one not counted is even worse than not being able to vote. As well, you have a right, as a voter, to be sure that the person who votes before or after you really is the person they claim to be. After all, voting rights are acquired in the act of voting. If someone is voting under an assumed name, then they are making a mockery of the system and diluting your vote - making it worth less (but not actually worthless).

To accomplish this, you have to create a system where voters are positively identified (which is NOT treating them like a criminal, but simply protecting the value of their vote). Then there HAS to be a physical record of the vote.  In fact, I would say that there should be two records of the vote. Use the machines (I don't really like them, though) then also have a physical print out (signed by the voter) that is put in a locked box - the way ballots have traditionally been held. If there is a problem with the machine, then the physical ballots can be counted. Signing a printed read-out allows the voter to make sure their votes were correctly tabulated and to do away with any possibility of over-votes, under-votes, and stupidly marked votes.

One other requirement is needed - only voters are allowed to contribute to campaigns, and those contributions must be made directly to the nominee.

What you are left with is a fair and open system of funding an election, a fair and open way of voting, and a shot at true democracy.

Too bad we don't have any of these common sense limits in New Jersey.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Shall We Slime-Up the Court a Bit?

On the whole, I haven't been paying much attention to Alito - which is pretty much what the entire county has been not doing, I suppose.

The story cites a letter written by Alito when he was trying to get a job in the Reagan Administration:

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito boasted about his work arguing that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" while trying to become a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration

Now, that is somewhat troubling, but understandable. After all, you want your future boss to know you subscribe to his core beliefs. The part of the story that really bothers me is this:

In the document, Alito declared himself a "lifelong registered" Republican and a Federalist Society member, and said he had donated money to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Conservative Political Action Committee and several GOP candidates.

Now, I can see wanting to show that you have the same beliefs. What I can't see is having to point out that you've donated money to the National Party. That isn't showing someone you share their ideology - that's buying a job.

That isn't judicial behavior in any way, shape or form.

It's slimey.

It's reason enough for me to say that he doesn't belong on the Supreme Court. It's definitely reason enough for me to wonder how he got moved to the front of the line for consideration to the post.

Texas: Don't Pull a New Jersey

I have a word of advice for my friends in Texas: Don't follow New Jersey.

Texas, in case you didn't know, is having a devil of a time fixing it's two main political issues (that are actually one): property tax and school financing. It's the same problem that New Jersey faced in the 1970s - a problem that was supposed to be solved through the implementation of an income tax system to offset the punative property tax rates caused (partially) by school financing.

New Jersey's income tax, basically, goes right through the state coffers without slowing down. It is effectively a balancing tax - taking money from rich areas and redistributing it to poorer areas.

Of course, the whole problem could have been solved by implementing a state-wide school tax that funded every school in some equitable fashion - but that would destroy "local control", which is the legendary bugaboo of good government. It looks like enough people in New Jersey are finally fed up enough to start actually thinking about what a good tax system would look like.

Wrightwing provides this assessment:

Local school boards, who are the cause of about three quarters of the average property tax bill, have no reason to reduce spending, since they can just claim everything is for the children, and people shut up and get in line. The idea that much of that spending is really for the benefit of the teachers union is studiously ignored.

I liked pretty much everything right up until he claims it's all for the teachers union. I don't actually have any stats on that, but I'm going to say that the majority of costs are due to excessive administration. For example, Hudson County could easily run a single county-wide unified district. That would get rid of 13 independent school boards, 13 superintendents, and uncounted supplimentary staff. That's several million dollars per year that could go into providing more teachers, better infrastructure, and maybe even a few new schools.

Wrightwing does have some idea worth discussion - and I hope that we can do so. It only makes sense that if you are going to assess the value of a building that you should try to do as adequate and fair a job of it as possible. I'm not sure exactly how workable that would be, and to his credit, Wrightwing says as much. Still, if we are going to try and improve things, then we should start with an idea of what a fair system would look like.

Cinnaman is worried about how reforming the tax system would effect those who have worked their way up from the lower reaches. I could dismiss this as right-wing garbage, but I won't because it isn't. We simply cannot act like the wealthy will simply suffer the "outrageous slings and arrows" of a system designed with their money in mind.

But neither should we forget those on the bottom of the scale. Remember, the Abbott system was created because New Jersey had proven itself unable to provide an education system that was adequately funded for every student. As Cinnaman rightly points out, though, we can't act like more money is the solution. We have to actually critically examine our entire system, from top to bottom.

I hope to get the ball rolling on that idea, and I hope that both Wrightwing and Cinnaman will play along and help me bounce a few ideas back and forth. After all, it is all too easy to see the beam in someone else's eye and look past the mote in your own. Perhaps the three of us can help pick specks out of each other's eyes until we can all see clearly.

Friday, November 11, 2005

That Gouge in your Wallet is the Oil Companies

In case you missed it, oil company CEO's were asked to testify before Congress this week to defend the profits their companies are racking up. But some are actually defending the oil industry for its profiteering ways. Is it the American public's fault that we use so much gasoline and that we aren't willing to support drilling in ANWR?

Of course, it is. Regardless of what the problem is, you can always blame the American public for voting in the dolts that allow things to happen as they do. So, there is some point to be made that we are personally responsible for the oil companies ripping us off.

Just on the chance that the oil execs weren't 100% forthcoming, I looked up the figures on gasoline prices and consumption at the Energy Information Administration (I'd reference it separately, but I still don't know how to link to Excel and Adobe files). There's some interesting data.

Here are the figures for gasoline consumption (in thousands of barrels per day):

Month 2004 2005 % change
Jan 7955 8094 +2
Feb 7979 8203 +3
Mar 8101 8040 -1
Apr 8232 8487 +3
May 8447 8411 -1
Jun 8336 8537 +2
Jul 8369 8289 -1
Aug 8356 8345 <-1
Sep 7992 7949 -1
Total 73,767 74,355 +0.01

Now, everyone knows that oil prices have been higher in 2005 than in 2004. That accounts (at least partially) for a higher price for petroleum products - like gasoline. Basic economics teaches us that higher prices lead directly to lower consumption. While we still see some small amount of growth from 2004 to 2005, it is so small that we can say it is negligible. In this case, oil prices rose just enough to keep America's gasoline demand roughly constant.

(Profit) = (Profit Margin) x (Amount Sold)

The above equation is pretty much right out of an Intro to Economics textbook. If the Amount Sold was roughly the same from 2004 to 2005, but Profit rose; then there is only one way for that to happen - the Profit Margin had to increase.

In other words, not only did you get charged more for gasoline this year, but a larger percentage of that amount went into the bank accounts of the oil companies as profit.

Now, understand that "profit" means all the money that is left over after you pay your bills - which includes the higher price of crude oil and the increased salaries of the oil execs and the money poured back into future exploration. "Profit" is "money we don't know what to do with" - and ExxonMobile (by itself) had over $9.9 billion of it in the third quarter alone. Notice the numbers above - the third quarter is July, August, and September. So, ExxonMobile managed to pocket an additional 75% of profit between 2004 and 2005 while demand remained roughly even.

There is no way to argue (though some attempt to do so) that the oil companies did not rake in a disproportionate amount of money this year. You can't make more money with the same demand and not raise the profit margin. You can average that cost out over ExxonMobile's entire operation to make it look more reasonable, but the fact remains they made record profits while demand remained the same (unless someone can show me how ExxonMobile managed to caputure a huge chunk of the market during the 12 months between July of 2004 and July of 2005).

Thursday, November 10, 2005


In my recent post I stated that the ballot initiative that New Jerseyans voted on did not create the office of Lt. Governor. I was incorrect. The office is officially created and will be filled during the next gubernatorial election.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New Jersey Decides "Separation of Powers" is a Good Thing, Texas Decides Homosexuals Must "Live in Sin"

Yesterday, while electing Senator Jon Corzine as the 52nd Governor of the State of New Jersey, citizens of New Jersey also approved a measure that would authorize a Constitutional Amendment to create the office of Lieutenant Governor. It's important to understand that we don't have a Lt. Governor yet, we've only authorized the State Lege to act on the matter.

This is important for two reasons: First, we have to understand that no one is waiting in the wings to take the position - so lay off the favoritism charges on this one. Second, the criticism that the ballot measure did not spell out the responsibilities of the Lt. Governor is simply unfounded. New Jersey will have to approve the actual Amendment in a future election after the State Lege nails down the exact description of the position.

It isn't perfect - the measure allows the Governor nominee to chose his Lt. Governor running-mate after the primary is locked up. That will allow the Lt. Gov. to bring some weight to the ticket. I expect the person who finishes second in the primary will tend to be the Lt. Gov. nominee i most cases. That means this year's election would have put Doug Forrester and Bret Schundler against Jon Corzine and...well, we don't know since Corzine was unopposed. Probably Dick Codey, but there's a whole slew of possibilities. Forrester and Schundler would have been much more difficult to beat than either one alone.

I'd like to see the Lt. Gov. have the power to apoint independent investigators. Currently, the NJ Governor appoints an Attorney General and Secretary of State, then those two positions become locked for the term. Not only should the Governor be open to investigations, but so should the AG and Sec. of State. Giving the Lt. Gov. power to launch those investigations would be a good step towards making government in New Jersey more open as well as actually creating a position that someone might actually want.

I'd also rather see the Lt. Gov. run independently, rather than as the Governor's running-mate, and for the election to be held mid-way through the Governor's term. That would keep the position from being just another boot-licker-in-training position. The Lt. Gov. would have to stand for election on his or her own merit and would truly be in a position to act independently from the Governor. Very suddenly, the most power Governor in the country would have a strong check to his or her power and the executive branch in New Jersey would have some balance.

Just as another idea - the Lt. Gov. could act as the official "taxpayers advocate" for the budget process. Why create anther office when this one could do the job nicely?

To no one's surprise, the voters of the State of Texas overwhelmingly approved Proposition Two. Prop 2 will prevent the State of Texas, or any lesser government within the State of Texas, from recognizing any marriage that isn't made up of one man and one woman. That great sucking sound you hear is Rick Santorum Rick Perry breathing a sigh of relief. He managed to rally the Religious Right to his side so he can look like a great leader next year when he stands for re-election. Among them was my mother. I'm disappointed at her stance, but not surprised. At least she did vote, though.

Philly.com also reports that Intelligent Design supporters were ousted from the School Board - which should save the Supreme Court from ruling on at least one case with this idiotic issue.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two for Two! Tim Kaine Wins Virginia!

Democrats picked up both wins for gubernatorial races when Tim Kaine, Jr. defeated Jerry Kilgore to become the new Governor of Virginia.

Looks like President Bush's duck quit flying a bit early, eh?

Corzine Victory!

At 9:32 pm, the AP and News 12 New Jersey call the election for Jon Corzine.

Congratulations Sentor/Governor-Elect!

Monday, November 07, 2005

An Unanswered Letter

Last week, I posted An Open Letter to a Republican New Jersey Blogger. I asked, very simply, for an answer to unfounded allegations against Jon Corzine. The Letter has gone unanswered. Well, not exactly.

It was answered by continuing the slime.

Enlighten NJ continues to spread unfounded rumors. The reason is simple - major media is now treating this crap as news.

However, Enlighten has a different agenda. It's one thing to report what's being printed or broadcast in the news media - it's another to make comments like this one:

A scandal breaks, Jon Corzine denies it and then the truth comes out. Has there been one allegation about Corzine that in the end hasn’t proven to be accurate? We can’t think of one.

Right. Except that Enlighten spent a whole week making accusations that don't have a scrap of evidence to support them (see my Open Letter, if you're interested).

I was pleased to see Doug Forrester state on Channel 7 news that this sort of thing would not be tolerated. Then, like everything else Doug Forrester has said, he changed his mind. In fact, the news broadcast where he said personal lives were off limits was interrupted by his own commercial attacking Jon Corzine's personal life.

MyDD and DailyKos (and BlueJersey.net) blogger Juan Melli has some interesting connections to make concerning Enlighten and the Forrester camp. Take a look at the remaining comments on Wally Edge's site as well.

This is the politics of personal destruction, writ with every possible anonymous pen they can find. Here in New Jersey, it is starting a backlash. If there is any truth to the official behind-the-scenes connection between Forrester's campaign and Enlighten, then it is certainly well-deserved. If that backlash can gain a toehold here (and perhaps in Virginia as well); then perhaps there is hope for this democracy of ours.

We certainly deserve better.

Friday, November 04, 2005

An Audience of One

One of the vocabulary terms I've been speaking to my students about recently is "narrowcasting". Narrowcasting is a process of selecting which people to contact based on their interest in one particular issue. For example, if I find out that you only care about abortion issues when voting, I'd be a bit stupid to send you a big hunk of tax cut info. It's better to figure out exactly what motivates you and only give you enough information to decide to support me (or my candidate).

With that in mind, it makes sense that Doug Forrester spent a few million bucks putting on an ad campaign featuring his wife. Why? Because it was probably the most extreme form of narrowcasting possible - he was aiming at an audience of one.

Joanne Corzine.

And it worked.

Ms. Corzine actually got tired of seeing the endless slew of commercials featuring her husband of 33 years giving a hefty loan to his girlfriend and then forgiving the balance. She actually got tired of the endless character attacks of politics long ago. When Doug Forrester has supporters like these it isn't hard to understand why, either.

It's the same reason why my students think anyone who goes into politics must be doing so for illicit reasons. It's why they, and half of all voters in America, stay home on election day. It's a sad way to win elections, and an even sadder way to lose one. It's no way to participate in a democracy.

It's also a damn poor way to blog.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Enlightenslimen New Jersey

As New Jersey approaches its gubernatorial election with a clear front-runner, the state has two major issues facing it: property taxes and political corruption. Unfortunately, Republicans seeming unwilling to focus on these issues at all.

Instead, they are jumping on a smear campaign. What happened is the Star-Ledger, the largest circulating newspaper in the state, endorsed Doug Forrester. Then the S-L published a sleaze piece based on conversations with the Senator's ex-wife. This is news? An ex-wife doesn't like her former husband?

Up to this point, Joanne Corzine has kept her thoughts to her self. Of course, it is her right to speak up to anyone who wants to listen. She is entitled to tell her side of the story. Any newspaper who thinks it is news-worthy is within their rights to publish it. I don't have a problem with either of these points, though I consider the fact that it is considered news-worthy to be evidence of how our culture has descended into voyeurism. But, whatever...I don't own a paper, so that's how much my opinion is worth to them (exactly one subscription that I've never had).

What does bother me is that this is somehow supposed to translate to a reason to not believe Senator Corzine is going to address either of the top two issues facing the state. Apparently, the Forrester campaign is willing to use familial disagreements as political fodder. Corzine cheated on his wife. Does that mean he can't ease the burden of property taxes? Exactly how does that connection get made? How does it translate into not being able to tell County Bosses to shove it (especially since he already has with at least one)?

Apparently, a significant portion of the state is going crazy about this. And, crazy it is. Almost as crazy as this post - which would be funny if it weren't so earnest.

I admit up front to support Jon Corzine, though I've never so much as given a nickle to his campaign or stuck a bumper sticker on my car. Yet I was singled out by a demand by other Jersey bloggers for running a Corzine banner on my blog (note: I answered that request immediately, but my answers were deleted because the author doesn't like the way I answer). Interestingly enough, this same blog has also written about the dangers of unaccountability with blogging.

The problem is that Doug Forrester is losing the race and losing ground while doing so. The problem is that at least one side in every political campaign seems to be willing to do anything to destroy their opponent - which means winning and governing isn't the goal anymore (by the way, that's SUPPOSED to be why we have elections). It's why at least half of all Americans usually stay home for any election. It isn't a problem with attacking your opponent because you think their stance on the issues is wrong or because they are consorting with criminals (real or just "known"). That is legitimate. It is a public service to expose any politician as being on the take or cutting deals with the devil (whatever form the devil takes in that campaign).

However, it is quite another to run a campaign based on innuendo and second-hand (or third- and fourth-hand) information simply to imply what cannot be stated as fact so you can destroy your opponents image. That is what is going on in New Jersey. That is the problem for all of us.

There is no "truth in blogging" law - yet. That does not mean that bloggers should simply act like the truth doesn't exist. Nor does it excuse the unethical actions of irresponsible individuals.

A Letter Goes Unheeded

Yesterday, I posted about a decent blogger who has surrendered his ethics. Nor have I been the only one to notice this latestethicallapse. Of course, I have no idea if the blogger in question ever casts an eye my way (or any of the other liberal bloggers who have caught his ethical lapse), but it is clear that my pleas have not been heeded (in the case they were heard).

Enlighten continues the typical Republican slime attack by posting a link to this New York Times article and then pulling a quote way out of context. Does he think that no one actually follows the link and finds the exact place he quotes from?

After quoting a gossip collumnist whose best source was an embittered ex-wife, Enlighten tries to spin the NYT article into a warning about Jon Corzine's sex life. It isn't. Here is the preceding paragraph that Enlighten neglects to mention:

Early this year, polls showed that he was the most popular politician in the state. Then, in August, published reports revealed his $470,000 gift to Ms. Katz, unnerving Democrats and giving Republicans campaign fodder. Mr. Corzine explained during a series of testy news conferences that his relationship with Ms. Katz had ended and would not affect his policy decisions.

Then this paragraph cut out by Enlighten:

But in a state where the previous governor, James E. McGreevey, resigned amid a sex scandal, the incident has set off speculation about his personal life. Mr. Corzine said that voters can rest assured that nothing will emerge to affect his ability to serve as governor.

Then there is the following paragraph:

"My private life won't impinge on any public duties," he said.

The candidate also said that he would not surrender his principles and, if the struggles in Trenton were to leave him too weak to seek a second term as governor, he would accept the consequences.

The fact is that Enlighten has not posted anything of substance on the Governor's race in quite some time. Perhaps he is just following the lead of his candidate. Forrester is pulling cheap stunts - and so are the people that back him.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An Open Letter to a Republican New Jersey Blogger

When I talk to my students about the image surrounding young people - that they just don't care about the world around them - they are dumbfounded. If I let them, they could go on for an hour straight about how they have given time and what little money they could muster to this cause or to that charity. Then when I talk to them about voting, the classroom usually goes silent. Out of a class of maybe fifty, I'll be lucky if more than two people raise their hands when I ask who is registered to vote. THAT, I tell them, is why their school funding is getting cut. THAT, I tell them, is why the legal age to sign a contract to get killed in Iraq is eighteen but the legal age to have a beer is twenty-one. THAT, I tell them, is why older people look at them with disgust and say they just don't care.

But they DO care. They care a lot. Neglecting the spelling and grammar errors in the essays they write for me, some of them write some of the most moving stories about their personal connection to almost every single political topic we discuss - from a closeted homosexual who just wants to share property legally with his lover to a young man whose best friend was knifed by someone who never had permission to be in this country to a young woman who sometimes misses classes because the daycare center for her little brother isn't always open - they care. In fact, it is refreshing to me to listen to their stories and witness their passion and remember what it was like before I became somewhat jaded and understood that, perhaps, changing the world wouldn't be as easy as I envisioned when I was eighteen.

But they don't vote.

They willingly surrender their public voices because they simply don't have the experience to peal away the layer upon layer of lie and innuendo that have become the hallmark of political campaigns in America. It was evident in the Presidential campaign as never before - from false papers about the President's National Guard service to the false-front of Swift Boat veterans who flip-flopped more than any politician ever dreamed of doing. It was the hatred beneath the fake Purple Heart band-aids - which, as a veteran myself who has several family members with that particular decoration, disgusted me more than words can express. It's the "win at any cost" mentality that the Bush White House is now being investigated for.

And it's right here in New Jersey. Not only are the political commercials sleazy, but surrogates have now gotten in on the action. Enlighten NJ, who I generally consider to be the honorable opposition, has made several posts intimating that Corzine will trip and that somehow Corzine has done something even worse than McGreevey (not sure if he means being gay or hiring unqualified people for government positions) and swirling rumors of a video tape. Enlighten even promised that the next 48 hours would alter the campaign dramatically - but that was a week ago.

I prefer to be generous with this particular blog, as I consider it to be one of the better (less rabid) Republican/Conservative blogs about New Jersey. More than once, I've found myself agreeing with things I've read there. I am willing to consider that Enlighten has simply been misled.

The problem with blogging is that there is no editor. What you read comes directly from me. No one cross-checks my facts. I don't have a bevy of researchers to look up leads or tie up loose ends. I assume that Enlighten is the same. However, this type of freedom to speak directly to the public should come with some sort of ethical responsibility. Yes, bring out the dirt when it needs to be shown - but be able to back it up. Go ahead and jump on a fast moving story - but when it runs into a brick wall, you should state that you were wrong or that you acted in good faith and nothing came of it.

Unfortuntely, Enlighten has not yet done so. Instead, he prefers to refer to a New York gossip collumnist and talk about the Corzine campaign being in "crisis mode" - though why a politician would be in crisis over an ex-wife who doesn't like either her ex-husband or the woman he left her for is beyond me. To his credit, Enlighten doesn't seem to agree with the statement about crisis mode, but then that begs the question: Why put it up at all?

Wally Edge, who as a professional reporter does have a code of ethics to uphold, admits that the rumors about Corzine hiding something appear to be absolutely nothing but rumors.

Speculation among political insiders that there was something out there that could hurt Corzine's chances has not materialized -- the best the GOP has right now are some gossip column quotes from a New York newspaper and a pair of tough lines from the Senator's ex-wife in today's New York Times -- hardly enough to sink the Democratic campaign.

So, I'd like to ask my friend (at least I consider us blogger-friends/acquaintences) to come clean with the rumors. I'm not asking for an endorsement of Corzine - I'm not stupid, after all. Just a simple line or two referring back to your post and admitting it was wrong.

Help me clean up Jersey politics - even if it is just a little.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Trends in Idiocy

No, I'm not talking about the Bush Administration. I'm talking about the Roman Catholic Church.

I have to say from the beginning, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Catholic Church. I also have to say that the members of that church have every right to make decisions through whatever means the church provides. It's their right. They can be stupid if they want to do so.

As a person who watches the junction of politics and religion with interest, though, I've noticed a trend that gives me pause and a little cause for concern. If it remains entirely within the Catholic church, then it is of no consequence to anyone but fellow Catholics. The tendency of all religions to reach out into the political arena, however, makes me take notice of stories like this one:

A Roman Catholic school is canceling a fashion show by the manufacturer of American Girl dolls and books amid conservative groups' criticism of a girls organization that receives support from the company.

What organization could this be? What company could be so horrible?

Two national groups — the Pro-Life Action League in Chicago and the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss. — have raised questions about the American Girl brand and its parent company, Mattel Inc., because of the company's fund-raising for Girls Inc., formerly known as Girls Clubs of America.

Yes, Mattel - that evil company that brought you such wicked games as Barbie, Hot Wheels, the Magic Eight Ball (obviously wiccan), and Scrabble is now guilty of giving money to an organization that used to be called "Girls Clubs of America" but is now called "Girls, Inc.". In case you didn't know it, Girls' Clubs Girls, Inc. is a lesbian factory where little girls are schooled in how to get an abortion (although why lesbians would need to seek an abortion is not exactly clear).

What does Girls, Inc. really teach?

Grounded in research and tested in the field, Girls Inc. programs address the whole girl. They build her athletic skills and competitive spirit, nurture her ability and interest in science, math and technology, equip her with critical health and sexuality information, provide her leadership experience, teach her media literacy and money management skills, and foster her self-respect and self-determination. Programs such as Girls Inc. Operation SMART®, Girls Inc. Discovery Leadership®, and Girls Inc. Sporting Chance® help girls understand who they are and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to make smart, informed decisions about their lives.

But wait, there's more!

In addition, since 1992 Girls Inc. has provided over $1.8 million in college scholarships to girls who have become leaders in all walks of life and has played a crucial role in advancing girls' rights through supporting legislation such as Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act.

Ok, there is always more to a story than meets the eye - but unless the scholarships are used for such things as "Abortion 101" or "How to Make Out with Your Best Friend", then it's clearly a distortion that Girls, Inc. is support either one.

Here's an explanation of Girls, Inc.'s Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy program (which starts off explaining that one out of three ninth-grade girls has already had sex once - so don't talk to me about reaching them with abstinence only programs):
The Growing Together program for girls 9-11:

topics include parents being the primary sexuality educators; changes during puberty; anatomy, physiology and hygiene; adolescent sexual development and feelings; and values and expectations for teen sexual behavior.

The Will Power/Won't Power program for girls 12-14:

nteractive sessions center on values; relationships; the reproductive system and female health and hygiene; separating sexual myths from reality; assertiveness and communication skills; identifying and resisting sexual pressures from the media and peers; sexual decision-making and avoiding risky situations; the positive aspects of abstinence, and the power of a positive-sister support system.

The Taking Care of Business program for girls 15-18:

values as a basis for positive decision-making; assertiveness, refusal and relationship skills; avoiding risky behavior, pregnancy, STDs and HIV through abstinence and smart choices; the facts on contraception and protection; and communication and success skills to achieve career goals.

and the Health Bridge program:

Health Bridge is a health-care delivery model linking girls to community health- care professionals and services—to turn information into action. Centering on the “whole girl,” it is also an essential resource for girls who choose to be sexually active to have access to necessary reproductive health, testing, and contraception services.

Other programs teach girls self-defense and to report violence against them regardless of the source, how to utilizes an athletic lifestyle to help manage weight and balance health concerns, teaching economic self-reliance, learning to be a community leader, anti-drug and alcohol programs, and boosting skills in academic areas. Did I miss something? Are lesbians somehow secretly science and mathematic whizzes who never use drugs, exercise a lot, balance their checkbooks, are looked up to by their community, and know how to fight off a rapist? If so, I know several hundred parent who might start praying that their girls become lesbians!

How misplaced is the Christian Right in this instance? Think Christopher Columbus aiming for India and hitting the Domincan Republic, as this editorial makes clear:

American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc., is donating proceeds from the sale of an "I Can" wristband to Girls Inc., a national nonprofit foundation, which provides educational programs for girls. This money will aid three specific programs run by Girls Inc. nationwide: developing girls' abilities in science and math, encouraging girls' leadership skills and promoting participation in team athletics.

So, how does the Christian Right (which is neither) get to this position? Read this statement by Donald E. Wildmon of the American Family Association:

The problem here is that Girls Inc. has on their webpage a statement saying they particularly support abortion and a girl's right to abort an unwanted baby. They were quite clear about their support for Roe, so there is no mistake or room for confusion on that count. Additionally, Girls Inc. supports contraceptives for girls.

They also support and offer resources encouraging lesbian and bi-sexual lifestyles, actually offering resources for girls. One of their publications states, "The emergence of a lesbian identity is an ongoing process, rather than an event."

Actually, there is no statement on Girls, Inc. that states they support Roe. Maybe there was at one time, I don't know. Believe it or not, I don't keep track of such things. Nor do they encourage lesbian activities - they are very carefully neutral and refer girls to outside agencies. From a psychological perspective, all sexual and gender identities are an ongoing process.

This is actually a group that is so far into right wing-nut territory that the Pope looks like a pansy. This group also opposed Ford Motor Company for advertising to homosexuals (presumably, a gay man would be straight if he walked or drove a Chevy?), they boycotted the Walt Disney Company, Proctor and Gamble, Movie Gallery, Volkswagon, KMart, anyone who advertises on MTV, Kum and Go Convenience Stores, Yahoo, 7-Up and Dr. Pepper, the Salvation Army, and promoted Wal-Mart over Target (because Wal-Mart is going broke, you know...). (Thanks to Morons.org for the database.)

Again, as long as this group is simply exercising it's Constitution right to speak, and its members are free to go along or not as they feel inclined, I have no problem with them making themselves look stupid - other than the fact that these idiots then become the public face of my faith. However, it is clear that what is really underway is an attempt to turn back the clock on equal rights for all Americans by using faith as a shield in one hand (don't attack me because of my faith!) while using it as a weapon in the other (my faith teaches me it is wrong!). Where I come from, that's called hypocrisy, and Jesus had a few words for those who practice it.

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