Monday, October 25, 2004

John Kerry's Last Stump Speech: A modest suggestion

I've written a speech for Kerry to use his final week. It's time to go positive, and to present the case in its essence. I know campaigns are loath to use previous Presidential quotations in speeches because it makes the candidate look derivative, but it's time to put things in context, and I think looking at how past Presidents have framed their own problems can be used to both remind people about the continuum of good leadership in this country, above and beyond mere partisanship, and how Kerry stands in this great tradition.

This is my last blog entry before the election, I think. It's going to be a busy week.

Good evening. My name is John Kerry.

In 1980, President Reagan asked you, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" It was a fair question then, and it's a fair question now.

The many wonderful Americans I've met while campaigning have shared their stories with me, and I have learned so much from you. I believe that for most of you, the answer to that question -- are you better off after four years of the current President? -- is a resounding no. Salaries and wages are down, real unemployment is up. For the first time since the Great Depression, the economy has lost jobs. Fewer jobs affects us in so many ways. You have a harder time making ends meet. The government gets less in taxes, and this puts programs like Social Security in jeopardy. We have built up a gigantic deficit. Gas and energy prices are up, prescription costs and health insurance cost more than ever. College has long been the dream for middle class and poor families in this country, because more education offers the promise of a better future, a generation that improves the lot of each family. College tuition costs have skyrocketed in the past four years, making even this hope of a better tomorrow seem very dim. People can't even get the flu shots they could get four years ago.

Things have gone very wrong for most people in this country over the past four years. There is much to be concerned with, but we must not confuse concern with fear. Concern means facing the facts of the situation and carefully deciding how to address it. Every family has its concerns. Fear is concern out of control, letting an emotion conquer all. Fear confuses a situation, causes panic, and does not address the problems at hand. I am very concerned about the future of this country, but I am not fearful.

In 1933, at his first inaugural address, the great President who saved this country from a depression and lead us to victory in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said these familiar words: "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." This was not just a political slogan. What I believe President Roosevelt meant by this was that while a country might face many problems, many threats, even hostile enemies, with faith and hard work it will triumph. That faith has many dimensions. It is a faith in our God. It is a faith that our country's principles are our ultimate strength. It is a faith, ultimately, in our families and ourselves.

We as a country have always used that faith to rise above our problems, and move ourselves forward. At times in our country's history, things have seemed very dark. These are the times when fear threatens to cloud our faith in ourselves. Fear is the enemy, because it is the only thing that can defeat us. Our enemies cannot defeat us, the problems of daily life cannot defeat us, if we look past fear and into that great faith we will persevere and triumph.

"Its hard work." I mentioned that this is going to be hard work. You may have heard Mr. Bush say in one of our debates that being President is hard work. I agree with him. This is why, as President, I promise and pledge faithfully to work hard for you. When I am tired, and feel like I need a break or a vacation, I will remember that a family struggling to meet expenses does not have that luxury. A doctor trying to save a patient's life cannot take a break whenever he feels like it. A soldier fighting in Iraq can't just leave when he feels like it, or his buddies might die. I agree that being President is hard work, but unlike the current President, I will work harder, longer, I will never stop working for you as long as I'm President.

The President also said something four years ago that I believe resonated with many people. I know that I wanted to believe it. He said, "I'm a uniter, not a divider." We so wanted to believe that, because our faith in this country in ourselves has been tested in recent years. It has been tested by those who would divide us for their own agenda, for their own greed or personal ideology. Being fearful divides us. It causes us, without need, to fear our fellow Americans. It causes fear in those in other countries who are naturally inclined to love Americans. It causes those who dislike us already to take up arms against us, because they see disunity among us and mistakenly believe we have lost our faith in ourselves.

How do we unite, instead of dividing into ever-more fractious special interests? We start by listening to one another. We listen to the other guy's side of the story, hear out new information he might bring to the table. We may not agree with the other guy, but if we listen to him, two things are going to happen. One is, we may come to understand what it's like to walk in the other guy's shoes. The other is: we might actually learn something. When we listen to those who disagree with us, we bring that person's heart into our own.

When I am your President, I pledge to listen to the "other side". I solemnly pledge to try to understand everybody's point of view. Above all, I pledge to listen to you with my ears and heart and brain all open -- whether or not I start out agreeing or disagreeing with you, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent, whether you're a billionaire or are struggling at a minimum wage job. The framers of our constitution understood this as being the most important, fundamental act of democracy. Our constitution begins with the words: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union. They understood we always have our differences, we always will have a tendency to be of different minds and hearts on different issues. But we must strive towards being "we" and not a nation of "mes". We must, and will, always try to be united.

Another President, Jimmy Carter, promised when he was running for election, direct to the American People, "I will never lie to you." President Carter came to offfice at a time when many people had had their faith in the government shaken by those who lied to continue a war most Americans did noy believe in, and who lied and cheated just to retain power.

I understand that four years ago, many of you had your faith in the Presidency shaken because you believed you were being lied to. All too often, Presidents have not been truthful for reasons of political expediency. All too often, the prospect of re-election, and maintaining power, and of just a stubborn unwillingness to admit that the other guy might have a point, has trumped the ability or willingness of the incumbent President not just to tell the truth, but to be a straight shooter. As any parent who's confronted a child over a lie knows, you can phrase something in a way that is not technially a lie but is not really the truth. As your President, I will never lie to you. More than that, I will always tell you the truth. You may not like what I have to say, but I have great faith that if, united, we confront unpleasant truths instead of repeating to ourselves convenient untruths, we have the strength to work our way through the problem.

Finally, let me quote perhaps our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the first Republican President, and he presided over the most calamitous disaster in our nation's history, the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans died in that war -- 200 times more than died on 9/11 -- that pitted brother against brother, state against state. When Lincoln delivered his great benedition to the soldiers of the country who died in the belief that we should, we must, remain united and not divided, he included this familiar line:

"From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. "

Of the people. By the people. For the people. That is democracy. Democracy means not just that all votes should count, and that every person has the right to cast their vote. It means, paradoxically, that every one decides the election. You are an Army of One in your country. It is your individual vote, your individual decision, your invididual wisdom, that matters in this election. We are together as a people, yet we vote one at a time, each person mattering as much as the next. The single mother working two jobs to support her family has as many votes as the richest billionaire in this country.

This will be a close election. No matter which candidate wins it, we must remember that we are one country, one people, and that in this country, the government is all the people's government. I will be all the people's President. I pledge you my life, and my sacred honor, on that.

When you vote on Tuesday, you will be showing your faith in our country. You will be fighting to conquer fear. You will be voting for the truth as you believe it. You will be showing your faith in yourself. You will be showing your faith in We the People. You will be voting for a future where that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

As your President, I will never lose that faith, I will never waver, I will never stop believing that every American counts. E Pluribus Unum -- it says it on the quarter in your pocket. We are many, and we are one.

Good night, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

The Ultimate Supreme Court Doomsday Scenario

Boy, just when you think you've imagined every potentially legalistic scenario fot the election, another one comes up. Chief Justice Rehnquist has been hospitalized with thyroid cancer. While the prognosis is reasonable for an 80-year-old man, it raises this possibility: suppose a Supreme Court justice dies or is incapacitated between now and January 20th? And just suppose it's one of Bush's personal buddies on the court, like Rehnquist? And just suppose another election-deciding case comes up before the Supreme Court, such as Colorado's Amendment 36 (the initiative that would split the electoral vote strictly proportionately in Colorado starting with this election, which would almost certainly cost the "winner" of Colorado 4 electoral votes)?

The Senate is currently controlled by the Republicans, but control might shift to the Dems with the election results (Ds are poised to pick up seats in Alaska, Oklahoma, and possibly Kentucky, of all places). This would set the following rushed timetable off, hypothetically: the R's get their Supreme Court justice to resign right away if ill. A nominee is named and the Senate skips confirmation hearings and gets right to the votes. This would set up the mother of all fillibusters by the D's to prevent the justice from being confirmed before the January 2nd swearing-in of the new Senate. Whatever case the Supreme Court has would be heard, but might be voted on 4-4, in which case the nature of the precedent being requested by the appellate would determine the disposition of the case. (There are no tiebreakers in the Supreme Court; this is why, despite the obvious conflicts of interest of at least two of the Supreme Court justices last time, Scalia and Thomas, in having family members in the employ of the Bush campaign, there were no recusals.)

How then would the victor of the election be determined? I have no idea, but you can guarantee that it will be extra-constitutional.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Harry and Louise Discuss the 2004 Presidential Election

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: Terrorist Eradication

I am disheartened that your most recent comments on the issue of the household flea infestation seem to indicate that you are content with reducing this menace to the health and safety of our household members to that of a “nuisance”. Your recent post-it note seems to indicate that while you’re willing to take over the exterminating duties from me, claiming I have not been effective in ridding the household of fleas, that you yourself would be content if the flea problem were merely reduced.

If we cannot keep Rover safe from fleas, then surely Muffin is next, and then what? Jason and Jennifer would surely be the next victims. You know the prospect of a full flea infestation fills you with terror, and I remind you that I am only doing what you asked me to do in the first place.

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Terror; Health Plan and Deficit Spending

Got your note posted to the bulletin board. I draw your attention to the memo of August 6th which I provided to you, “Fleas Determined to Strike Inside Household”. You dismissed this warning, indicating to me you believed it to be of “historical interest” concerning the flea infestation that happened over at the Hendersons’ house a few years ago. Your attempt to kill the fleas by using a flea bomb in the garage continues to mystify me, since the dog sleeps in the dog house. While we have had the occasional flea combed out of Rover and Muffin inside our house, it’s clear to me that the source of the fleas is on the Hendersons’ dog, Sam.

With respect to more domestic issues, I would like to point out that you have recently run up a credit card debt of more than $4400. Please remember that Jennifer needs to get her allergy shots and Jason will need a new soccer uniform. Charging not just the flea bombs, but your new power boat engine and integrated GPS/fish finder when we can barely make ends meet as it is does not help the family finances any.

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: Social Spending and Gay Marriage

Received your memo attached to the underside of the toilet seat. It’s clear you do not understand the relationship between my investment in the needed fishing equipment and the future revenue streams it will bring to this family. Not only will this enable me to bring home trout, which will feed the family, but my having bought the gear from my boss’ cousin’s marine dealership will ensure that I will eventually get the promotion that will bring many more thousands of dollars in annual revenue than I currently make in take home, which will cover our credit card debt entirely.

The real source of the deficit, if I may point out the obvious, is the elaborate “wedding” gift you bought for your cousin Adam and his “partner”, Steve, for their upcoming “wedding”. I thought I made it clear that while you can go to this so-called “wedding”, under no circumstances would I participate in it nor would I allow Jennifer and Jason to be given permanent scars by dragging them along as well. I would, grudgingly, I admit, allow you to spend something on the order of 25% of the amount you actually spent on their soup tureen on a set of towels, as only ¼ of the household will be participating. Since I am the breadwinner and you are currently on household welfare due to the loss of your job at the knitting store, I clearly have a better track record with respect to planning our spending. You did keep the receipt for the soup tureen from Pottery Barn, didn’t you?

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Draft; Alliances with our Friends Against our Enemies

I just read your email. How dare you mention my gay cousin. You are clearly doing this only to distract the household from the real issue at hand, your inability to face reality. Whether or not Adam and Steve ever get married will have no effect on Jennifer and Jason. Are you sure you’re not just upset because Adam didn’t invite us to their cabin up by the lake last summer? In any event, we now own the soup tureen since you clumsily knocked it off the table trying to swat at that flea (which I couldn’t see, by the way).

On a related note, you have been drafted to help the Hendersons give their dog a flea bath tomorrow. When this happened last time, you said you had other priorities and I went instead, but now it’s your turn. As I’m sure you’re aware, if we get together with the Hendersons and the Sanchezes in a neighborhood coalition, we can help prevent any further flea infestations.

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: No Child Left Behind

I’m way ahead of you. I’ve volunteered to help the neighbors with the flea bath well before I received your last note on the fridge. I have the experience to take charge of this problem, since I’ve been the one doing the hard work of chasing down the fleas, and I’m the one who knows how to get the neighbors to help. You keep saying you were helping the Nguyens and the LaPierres with their own battles against mange and heartworm before I even met you. We’ve heard over and over how you were viciously clawed and bitten by the Nguyens’ dog, although we know they were only scratches that you made an awful big deal out of. I’m resolute on finishing the job I started, and I’m not going to get permission from the LaPierres or anyone else on the block before I seek out and destroy the fleas where they live.

To change the subject to the real issue at hand, I’m deeply concerned that you have not been filling up the mini-van at the pump each evening after doing the grocery shopping. You understand that with the commute I have, it’s impossible to then take all the kids to school and then pick them up and still make it home unless the tank is fully fueled. In fact, the other day I had to leave little Jimmy Henderson behind after soccer practice because there was no way with the gas left in our tank we could have made it all the way home.

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Gas Prices; Your Energy Plan

The only reason I can’t fill up the tank is because of the price of the High Test fueling you insist on doing. Instead of focusing on the input of the gasoline into the tank, the car would run far more cheaply if we simply drove more efficiently. Low Test gas does not mean we can’t strive for the highest mileage possible. Your driving is the problem.

On an unrelated note, we simply cannot afford the Viagra you keep asking for. The energy deficit you claim to be facing after a long day at work is best made up for by using alternative sources, such as ginseng, or switching your consumption of beverages from Iowa-corn-made alcohol to hydrogen dioxide-based liquids.

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: Pharmaceutical Prices

You previously indicated that a purchase of Viagra would be OK with you, but only if it came from a discount Canadian pharmacy. I’m not sure the Canadian version of the product is safe -- you know what happened to Uncle Bob and Aunt Elizabeth. The Costco pharmacy discount card should be good enough to buy this product at a reduced price as soon as it becomes effective in 2006.

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Drilling and the Environment

You claimed the Costco pharmacy discount card was only going to cost $45, but I checked the credit card bill and found out it was actually $85. In any event, I can’t wait two years before you get your prescription filled. I want to be united, not divided.

I continue to feel that the best course of action to solve the energy crisis is for you to give up the idea of working in your shop to “clear your mind” in a relaxing environment. You keep saying that will solve the energy problem, but I suspect this is just an excuse to buy that new drill press your friends down at the hardware store keep saying you need. Don’t you realize that drill will only be a temporary fix for your problem, and that your pals at the hardware store are egging you into buying it to prop up their sagging revenue? Aren’t those the same guys who convinced you to buy the flea bomb?

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: Negative Advertising

Boy, you went and did it, didn’t you. You told your girlfriends over martinis at TGIFridays about our “energy problem”. I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear the rumors – facts -- which I got my friends and co-workers to start spreading about you. About how you came back from the Hendersons the other day and immediately started criticizing the way they have raised the dog and claimed the fleas were all their problem from the start and had nothing to do with us, and said that Jimmy was slow. The Hendersons will hate you from now on, and will stay away from the PTA bake sale and raffle you’re sponsoring for Jason’s soccer team.

I’m sure that the reduction of time spent on social activities that will result will allow you to spend more time looking for a new job, so you can start helping this household’s finances again instead of sponging off a hard-working husband.

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Election Fraud

I’m not surprised you took a sudden interest in the PTA bake sale and raffle after you learned that the top prizes were triple-fudge brownies. What I’m dismayed at is the way you blatantly tried to keep the Hendersons and Sanchezes from entering the raffle, claiming that they were no longer eligible to participate in the raffle because they were on a list of parents who had previously failed to contribute to PTA events. I know the Hendersons were once on that list, but they were taken off many years ago.

And with respect to your charge that I have been stuffing the raffle box by paying the neighbors in cookies to buy tickets, nothing could be further from the truth. I trust the Hendersons to buy only one raffle ticket on the honor system. And I didn’t see Jose Henderson anywhere near the raffle box. We both know they would never let their cousin from across the school district border illegally participate in the most important PTA event of our generation.

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: Post-Debate Polling

Congratulations on making a big scene in front of the Hendersons over the fleas after they invited us into their living room. You certainly won the argument, but you’ve probably alienated the Hendersons forever. If they stay away from the raffle, you have only yourself to blame.

I have polled Jennifer and Jason, and I have determined that 50% of the household is in favor of my plans on the fleas, the credit card debt reduction plan, Adam and Steve’s wedding, the Viagra, the investment in the new power boat, picking up the kids on-time, and the entire plan for the next four years of household management. Because the real critical issue to the household is the flea threat, I’m counting Muffin and Rover as being with me, since focusing on their safety is what has prevented me from accomplishing the plans above the past four years. Therefore you must accept my mandate and go along willingly.

From: Louise
To: Harry
Subj: Liar and Cheater

You told me the same thing four years ago, after my turn running the household. It’s still hard for me to accept the fact you beat me in paper-scissors-rock by a 5-4 score, or that I even agreed to this method for settling the last tie we had. I still believe you hesitated and peeked at my scissors before showing “rock” on that last round. I wanted to believe you then, but it turned out you just lied about everything to get your power boat. In the interests of domestic tranquility, I let you have your way and hoped for the best. This time I’m not going to accept any arbitrary decision lying down. The future of Jason and Jennifer is at stake.

We both know we cannot afford to end up in divorce court. But it might be better if we simply separate for a while. I suggest you go for a long vacation out in the wilderness someplace with your powerboat and let me try to run things by myself for a while.

From: Harry
To: Louise
Subj: ????

You always think you have to have the last word, but I’ve got a little surprise for you this October. I ain’t telling what

Friday, October 15, 2004

Lesbianism, the Deliciously Ineffective Card and a Licentiously Lurid Word

I hesitate to comment on this matter, because it's just another attempt by the Republicans to distract the campaign from talking about the issues. After all, Mary Cheney has been out of the closet for a decade:: she's not only the Gay and Lesbian corporate relations manager for Coors, and an official of the Bush-Cheney campaign, the Vice-President himself has used her lesbianism as a talking point on his campaign trail.

The "reaction" I don't think is truly from John Kerry's mentioning the fact that the Cheney's have a gay daughter, or even mentioning her by name. Given that the VP is trying to pretend he's against a federal amendment to ban gay marriage even though the official line by the administration is that they're in favor of such an amendment, on the grounds that he believes that the states should have the right to make marriage laws -- also in contradiction to the official position of his party -- when he invokes his gay daughter, it's just part of the discourse on the issue. Cheney and Edwards had a polite exchange on the subject during the VP debate, and Cheney had his chance to express outrage at that point and punted. Kerry certainly said nothing that could be considered offensive when taken at either the face value or the context of the debate -- in other words, without extreme distortion or spin.

Let's get down to brass tacks. It's the word "lesbian" that's at the heart of the matter. It's still considered salacious -- by people who don't get exposed to it a lot, largely elderly and conservative folks who tend to invoke it never. But that's not really what's at play here. In point of fact, I suspect most conservative males consider lesbianism to be kinda hot. Why else would it be such a big part of the porno industry? I won't pretend to get into the psychology of the matter, but "lesbian" to a straight male isn't a disgusting word so much as a suggestive one.

"Sodomy", on the other hand, is, and it's Sodomy that's talked about in the bible. There is only a single veiled and ambiguous reference to woman-on-woman sex in the bible, and even that is in one of Paul's epistles to the Romans, written well after the new and old testaments. I again won't pretend to know why the ancients were so hell-fired concerned about butt sex, although there's plenty in the anthropological literature about contexts for tolerance or intolerance of homosexuality based on clan moires. But the bottom line here is that when you hear a Christian conservative cite the bible as the source of the imprecation against homosexuality, we're talking about one forbidden practice associated with man on man homosexuality. Not lesbianism.

I have a hard time grokking out whether the use of the "L" word was a calculated tactic by the Kerry campaign. I think Kerry just used the word because it's gentler than the clinical "homosexual", and gays and lesbians call themselves gays and lesbians, and more accurate than "sexual orientation" in context, since the essence of Bob Schieffer's question was whether each candidate thought homosexuality was a matter of voluntary orientation or genetic hard-wiring. Kerry said he thought God made us all the way we are by nature, and Bush said he didn't know.

So this is what the "controversy" stems from, above and beyond the use of political spin by either the Dems or Reps. The outraged conservative is secretly ashamed that they're secretly aroused by the idea of two women getting it on, but they're not at all unhappy with being able to bash the idea of sodomy because they're genuinely disgusted by it. It's all part of the insecurity about sexuality which is brought on by believing a weird hodge-podge of dogma overlaid on the bible by cultural norms and prescriptivism.

Insofar as there is insecurity about lesbians, I think it's the idea that women can do just fine without men. They can have great sex, even have and raise children without permission (unlike gay men) from the state. (If the religious right gets full control over state governments, you can bet there will be laws introduced making it illegal to use sperm from a sperm bank unless the withdrawer is a married woman -- married to a man, that is.) If your worldview is patriarchal, there's no more literal a threat to your very existence, or at least your power.

This is what the left (and mainstream) has to understand about the hyperreaction to issues surrounding homosexuality. It's not just "live and let live"; these people are genuinely concerned about the very existence of homosexuality, because where there are normal, well-adjusted gay people there's the hint that families can in fact have different power structures and organizations and so forth. That in turn must inevitably suggest that religious literalism is philosophically and logically incorrect. They believe the idea of a "normal" gay person is an affront to their entire belief system. It has nothing to do with actual property and legal rights inherent in marriage.

And in turn, the pandering by the Republican party to the religious right on this subject is largely one of playing to the psychological basis, not the religious one. Even the Republicans can't come right out and endorse the bible as their basic political text. But they can use the art of the unspoken, of the sin that dare not be named, to play on the psychological fears of people around their own sexuality and family structure.

That's why they seem more up in arms about the word "Lesbian" than the issue at hand. It's suggestive in a way which I think they hope to play to a base on which secret fears -- and desires -- cloud logical thinking, like most emotional appeals cloud logical thinking.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Killing You One Customer at a Time: Bad Public Health Policy Will Kill More than All the Terrorists Combined

So we have $200 billion or so out in Iraq, and an administration obssessed with its own program. In the meantime, we discover that half the flu vaccine intended for the United States market is made abroad in Britain, and one little slip-up in a factory has suddenly removed that entire flu vaccine supply. Now we're told that the shortage was a "surprise" to the FDA.

So do you feel safer? Knowing that the FDA didn't even have a contingency plan on producing more flu vaccine for a "safe" season? Suppose the flu is more intense than has been predicted? Why is so much of our vaccine produced abroad? Will the FDA be "surprised" if there's a bio warfare attack on the country that introduces smallpox?

Thousands of people -- tens of thousands of people -- die from the flu every year. More will die if there's no vaccine available. Now ask yourself -- what's a wiser investment in time and energy -- a few hundred million for a guaranteed supply of flu vaccine, or a few hundred billion dollars chasing after WMDs that don't exist?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. The entire philosophy of the current administration is to let the private sector profit from the illness and disease of this country -- a weird sort of social darwinism of supply and demand. The only problem is that supply and demand is a reactive philosophy. It does not, as the lessons of the Bible tell us, save for seven years against famine. It's a philosophy that says once the famine hits and people are dying, then there will be a demand for more grain and profit motives will make us save more the next time. It's a philosophy that says the government shouldn't intervene for the public health and the public good to subsidize and ensure there's more vaccine than is necessary, but rather the public's health is just another commodity.

It's the same philosophy that kills people who can't afford medicine because the government refuses to even allow itself to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for discounts, that bans the reimportation of American-manufactured drugs on dubious "safety" gorunds when there are NO recorded instances of fatalities due to re-imported medicines from Canada, that gives the pharmaceutical industry tax breaks and patent protections that encourage research on drugs to help old men get erecctions but which declines to even charge royalties to those companies on medicines developed at public expense. Of course, many in this administration want to continue to gut funding on medical research because it undermines the operation of the free market.

This is the same FDA that allowed Vioxx to be marketed and sold when clearly there was ample clinical evidence that it was dangerous, and dragged its feet even after the deaths mounted.

Our public health infrastructure is being dismantled as surely as our private healthcare system erodes. Fewer people receive medical care than did thirty years ago. Life expectancy is going down. Infant mortality is going up. Ignore claims we have a health care system that is the envy of the world; all of Europe and most industrialized countries outside of the former East bloc have much better health care, healthier populations who live longer, and CHEAPER health care systems.

People die because of this. I worry about my infant son and my elderly parents getting the flu and dying because the government seems to have no interest in doing anything to assure the public health. This is a classic case of seriously misplaced priorities that has a serious consequence.

Fox Again Pre-empts the Debates for Baseball

I'm surprised more hasn't been made of this, but Fox continues its clear policy of trying to keep as many people as possible from seeing the wretched performance of Bush and Cheney in the debates. Previously, they chose to broadcast the Minnesota Twins - Yankees game instead of the Vice Presidential debate, even though they have the power in their contract with MLB to specify the time in which the game will be played.

Tonight, they're going one step beyond. There are two playoff series on right now, Cardinals (St. Louis)- Astros and Yankees-Red Sox. The former is of great interest to voters in a swing state, Missouri, and the latter has national appeal. So what is Fox doing to maximize its "ratings" for baseball? Why, broadcasting them both at the same time. Oh, and at the same time the final Presidential debate will be going on.

At a minimum, Fox could've done its usual thing of having one game in the afternoon and the other in the evening. It certainly could've arranged for the non-critical Game 2 of the ALCS to be played a day later (there's only one game per day for the next two days).

We don't report, so you won't decide for yourself.

Jim Baker doing for Iraq what he did for the rights of Florida voters

Boy, these cats aren't subtle, are they? Jim Baker, who last surfaced to the glare of public exposure as the Bush team's public point man during the 2000 Florida recount, was appointed special envoy to help Iraq obtain debt forgiveness. Baker also is a senior counselor for the Carlyle Group -- remember, Fahrenheit 9/11, Saudis, Bush, money? OK, you remember -- which is representing Kuwait in trying to make sure Iraq doesn't stiff it and repays billions it owes to Kuwaitis. Read the article in the Guardian (UK) here.

Thank god Baker is such a neutral statesman that he can handle this kind of irreconcilable conflict of interest.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I Guess Bush Really is a Dummy!

Wow, guess what? Bush isn't a puppet of Karl Rove after turns out he's Rove's ventriloquist's dummy!

I normally don't like to make posts that simply echo other things going on in the blogosphere, but this is one I think bears repeated re-linkage. Salon reports this in detail (full article requires a day pass, you'll have to watch an ad). Link to a bigger version of the image at as well.

If you haven't heard this story, here's the short version: there's strong evidence that President Bush, in violation of the rules of the debate, wore a hidden earpiece and got information piped to him during the debate. He may have been doing this throughout the election cycle, even in front of friendly audiences.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

We Don't Report, You Don't Decide

Fox didn't broadcast yesterday's Vice-Presidential debate. They were the only broadcast network not to broadcast the debate. The excuse was that they were going to broadcast the New York Yankees - Minnesota Twins game, presumably because it would get better ratings than a debate, although that's probably an excuse to broadcast a Gomer Pyle re-run.

Fox has considerable influence over when specific baseball games are played. They like to have as many Yankee games in primetime in the East as possible, and in this round of the playoffs, that means among the four division series, the Yankees will be playing the most games in prime time. You get odd things, though, like Anaheim and Boston playing a late night game before an early game the following day just to satisfy Fox' whims as far as broadcast slots.

In point of fact, the very days on which a game is played can be determined by the broadcast needs of Fox. Some teams are playing two in a row, day off, then one, others are playing one, a day off, then two. Some days all four series are being played. The basic point here is that there's incredible flexibility with respect to the broadcast schedule.

Now, once every four years, we have a conflict a couple of times during the course of the playoff season between baseball broadcasts and telecasting the Presidential debate series. In 1992, my wife and I had playoff tickets to game 5 between the Braves and Pirates, which was also the night of the second Clinton-Bush (pere) debate. We took a battery-powered TV to the game and gave play by play of what was happening in the debate to the fans around us. We had a little cluster of about a dozen people watching with us, even during one of the best playoff games in the best playoff series ever. Yes, even fans so rabid they wanted to go to the ballpark were interested in the political debate.

Why can't baseball just do its civic duty once every four years, and not schedule any games to conflict with the debates? It seems more reasonable than asking the President to schedule himself around baseball, especially since baseball series all have off days in their schedule, anyway.

More to the point this year, Fox could've asked the game be played on another day. What's up with that?

Oh yeah. Fair and balanced. We report, you decide.

I'll get into this in a little detail below, but it's real clear Fox simply didn't want its viewers to see Cheney and Edwards debate, because they knew that Cheney would come off poorly.

Cheney is a gigantic liability to the Bush campaign. His demeanor is condescending and gruff, he lies and is insistent about his lies, his entaglement with Halliburton and the military-industrial complex and the international oil industry makes manifest the truly venal nature of the current administration. When he's let loose on the campaign trail, he's limited to preaching to audiences of the hard-core right in an effort to shore up the Republican base. Letting him be seen by swing voters in swing states is just about the last thing the Republicans want at this point. Cheney himself clearly didn't want to be there, insisted on a format favorable to him (seated behind a desk, like it was Meet the Press and not a debate), and in point of fact often simply didn't respond to Edwards. This may not be a big deal to voters convinced to vote for either party, but his indirectness and mendacity clearly swayed a lot of undecided voters who did watch the debate last night. The ones who didn't, of course, included voters who were watching the baseball game.

So, who would watch a baseball game instead of a Vice-Presidential debate?

Could it be fans of...the Minnesota Twins?

For those of you not paying attention, the playoff teams this year are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Anaheim Angels, the Atlanta Braves, the Minnesota Twins, and St. Louis Cardinals.

The two teams playing in swing states are, of course, the Twins and Cardinals. Until recently, Missouri was looking reasonably safe for the Republicans. Minnesota is still very much in play (although Missouri is looking more even after the JFK-GWB debate.)

This is really simple. Fox chose to broadcast the baseball game, the specific baseball game involving the Twins, so they could assure that that many fewer swing voters in a swing state saw the Vice President in all his gory horror and Edwards in his strong suit -- discussion of the issues and the character and judgement of Dick Cheney.

More Journalism in Action

I also watched a few other newscasts yesterday, in part because I was interested in the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's. On CNN, as they were interviewing a USGS scientist, I noticed on the crawl beneath the live interview they were quoting the same geologist they were interviewing live! I watched the words he was quoted -- in quotation marks -- as saying on the crawl, and I noticed that he was saying something different in the interview (something substantive, like the severity of the eruption). Like you needed more proof the crawl is idiotic, CNN manages to contradict itself in real time using the same news source.

On NBC, I tuned in for the pre-debate news broadcast with Tom Brokaw (something I watch about once every three years). The LEAD teaser for the broadcast -- which they repeated for four different commercial breaks -- was about a dog in a kennel who had figured out how to let himself out, ate his fill of kibble in the food room at the pound, and then let a group of friendly dogs out of a specific kennel to have their fill night after night. This was finally captured on hidden camera by a perplexed shelter management. It was damn cute, although this story originated in the UK. So on a night when the most powerful man in the country (the "Vice" President) was going to have his only public face to face confrontation with his opposition, and a volcano was erupting, NBC's big story was a dog who could let itself out of its cage. Remember the movie Broadcast News, where Holly Hunter's character shows a clip of a cool domino-drop to a room of newscasters, showing that "soft" news was corrupting real journalism? At the time this movie came out, in 1987, it seemed a little hyperbolic to think that a news station would lead with fluff at the expense of real news stories. Such hyperbole is the stuff of Hollywood plot lines, after all. But it seems a little less ridiculous now. Scarily so.

Monday, October 04, 2004

How to Stuff the Ballot Box by Not Voting

Here's a conundrum of democracy I hope our Afghani and Iraqi friends don't have to face anytime soon.

I live in a town with a council-weak Mayor form of government. We have four council members, the fifth vote being supplied by the Mayor. The Mayor is up for election every two years, and also every two years, we vote for two of the four council seats.

These are undistricted council seats. That means there's a single non-partisan election with N candidates for two seats on it every two years. This year N is 8. So the ballot is, vote for up to two of these eight candidates (the Mayor runs separately).

If I want any ONE particular candidate to win, then, it's actually in my best interest to vote for ONLY one candidate. If I vote for a second candidate, then if that candidate finishes second, and my masin candidate finishes third by one vote, then I've effectively nullified my vote by voting for and against my one candidate,

Let me try to do this mathematically. Let's say there are three candidates for council and I get two votes. There are 100 voters in the town. If 100 vote for Candidate A and B, 100 vote for Candidate B and C, and 100 vote for Candidates A and C, then it will be a three-way tie at 200 votes each. If I, on the other hand, vote for A and nobody else, then it's 200 for A, 200 for B, and 199 for C. I essentially get two votes for A by not voting for C.

If, however, I want to affect the majority on the council -- assuming the vote is split 1-3 with the Mayor in the minority -- I need to assure two candidates I agree with are elected. In order to do that, I need to vote for two candidates to maximize my chances of having my will carried out, and hope that they finish 1-2, instead of accidentally helping to elect a single candidate who disagrees with me in the 2nd slot who finished one vote ahead of the second candidate I agree with.

Voting for somebody I disagree with is never a viable strategy, unless I do the following. I find a supporter of Candidate A, whom I do not agree with. That supporter also says they support Candidate B. I am in favor of Candidates X and Y, whom the supporter of A and B disagrees with. We agreed that Candidate M is our third choice. I agree with support of A and B that we'll both vote for Candidate M, and thus we're left with only one vote for one of our own candidates. That in turn creates two votes for M and only one each for, say, A and X, which creates a greater possibility M will be elected. In turn, it decreases the chances of B being elected, and if B is more popular than one of X or Y, it increases the chances that one of X or Y will be elected relative to the state before the deal. Of course, this kind of deal is considered illegal in many places, for all I know it's illegal here, and it's non-enforceable since you never know how the other guy will actually vote.

There are some communities where they're experimenting with a full preference ballot -- vote for first choice, second, etc. all the way down the ballot. Each first preference would count the same as each other first preference, each second the same as every other second. It seems to me that would avoid the problem I've got -- one candidate I want elected, but real power only possible if two of my candidates are elected.

Now let's take a look at this from a different perspective. Let's say the council is tied 2-2. The best way I have to affect policies is to vote for Mayor, since the Mayor is the swing vote. So I should probably run for Mayor instead of council, because the aggregate possibilities of having my votes discounted that are present in the City Council election are absent in the Mayoral race. Consequently this makes the Mayor, even though s/he has no other powers, significantly more powerful politically.

In the meantime, this seems like a dumb way to elect representatives, because I don't get to choose between two alternatives. It's essentially diluting my vote for this office by half (2 of 8, if you wish, instead of 1 of 2). I'm sure somebody has written some political science paper about this somewhere, but I'd be curious to hear if others have this same kind of voter's dilemma.

I think for this election I'm just going to vote for my one guy -- he finished third last time -- because whoever I vote for in the second slot may accidentally (from my perspective) win.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Would Bush for vote himself?

Boy, talk about a disintegrating campaign. We all know Ron Reagan, son of the former President, is voting for Kerry, since he spoke at the Democratic convention. But now Dwight Eisenhower's son? Yes, John Eisenhower has switched his 50-year party registration and says he's voting for Kerry.

OK, so Michael Reagan is voting for Bush, and probably Neil and Jeb Bush will vote for Bush as well, which makes the living sons of former Republican Presidents vote 3-2 for Bush. Assuming he remembers to vote for himself, that's 4-2.

You know the Bush campaign is in serious trouble when the people they bring up on stage after a debate are his family and John McCain, who was sat next to the Bush twins. The girls are voting for Dad, right? Assuming they remembered to register to vote. Since they haven't registered for the selective service, maybe not...registering to vote isn't even required by law.

Back to Life!

Dead Walk the Earth

The cover to the today's revived Life magazine -- reborn as a Parade-style newspaper insert -- proclaims, "Sarah Jessica Parker -- SHE'S BACK! (and so are we)". This is why we, as a nation, rely on journalists: I didn't even know Sarah Jessica Parker had gone some place else, since she seems to be as ubiquitous a figure as ever.

It was Life, of course, that sixty years ago, then the photo-essay documenter of the American experience, first showed dead GIs in its pages. It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war, a stunning cold water wake-up that the conflict was real.

Today, of course, in the wake of the Iraq war, we share a few intimate moments with Mrs. Broderick.

This great feature, however, deserves further reporting: "Supreme Court Justices: Just Like Us!"

Unironically, Life reports the following factoidy vignettelets:

"The highest court in the land is acctually the basketball court on the fourt floor of the Court building. Nearby is the exercise room where JUSTICE SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR attends the women's-only aerobics class that she organized."

"The justices' leather chairs, which have naemplates, come equippped with an antique porcelain spitoon (now used as a wastebasket), matching inkwells, and cough drops. Luden's, anyone?"

"With borrowing privileges from D.C. museums, the justices can request great works of art for their offices the way you order purple Post-it notes. The Rothko (left) in JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG's office is on loan from the National Gallery of Art."

"Church and state be damned! Humbug to anyone who says there's something slightly unconstitutional in CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST's Yuletide tradition. He leads the Court's employees and their guests in such carols as "Silent Night" and "The First Noel" at the annual Christmas Party."

You'll have to excuse me, now. After I spit into my porcelain spitoon, I have to oversee the delivery of the Picasso on loan to me from the Hirshhorn, which I'm putting up in my private basketball court -- just like the Supreme Court!

What a wonderful egalitarian democracy we live in, with such a great fifth estate to keep everything running on the grease of information.