Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Editorial on Minnesota Voting

VoteTrustUSA has put up this editorial by Mark Halvorson, David Klein, and Pamela Smith on why they feel secure about Minnesota's ongoing recount for Senate. An excerpt:

One reason for our optimism is that Minnesota’s election system minimizes problems and circumstances that have historically reduced voter confidence. The occurrence of such problems and circumstances in other states plagued the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The people, procedures, and technology comprising Minnesota’s election system are among the most respected in the nation. Minnesota’s election system has great potential to certify results that accurately reflect the will of the voters and in which voters can have confidence.

Minnesota’s reputation for electoral integrity begins with the state's choice of election technology: a system of voter-marked paper ballots which are read by optical-scan machines. A meaningful recount is possible because the paper ballots provide a permanent record of each voter’s intent. Such a permanent record does not exist in all states; over one third of the states use electronic machines that do not offer voter-verifiable paper records. Many top computer security experts have warned that paperless electronic voting is inherently insecure and does not provide for a real recount.

Minnesota’s election process is characterized by transparency and openness. Citizens can, and do, observe the process. For example, Citizens For Election Integrity Minnesota, The League of Women Voters Minnesota, and Common Cause Minnesota are mobilizing a non-partisan citizen observation of the recount to protect the integrity of the process.

Minnesota independently assesses the accuracy of the election system that uses optical scanners by auditing a random sample of roughly 5% of the ballots immediately after every federal election cycle; 16 states conduct post-election audits, which is the highest number ever, but not high enough. There is no question that every state should include a mandatory process to independently check the accuracy of election results that includes provisions to expand the verification when errors are detected. Moreover, such post-election review processes need to have mechanisms in place to see that the errors are corrected automatically instead of needing to go to a judicial or a legislative body. The audits, along with the 2008 primary election recount, have given Minnesota election officials statewide the experience in manually counting ballots and in determining voter intent necessary for the impending U.S. Senate recount.

This is all very positive but given how much money and effort is put into other projects, I am left to wonder why national standards similar to those of Minnesota (paper ballots, user friendly voting technology) are not adopted or assigned for all fifty states.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sean Hannity Needs a New Bitch

After twelve years of being Fox News' trophy liberal, Alan Colmes is leaving Hannity and Colmes to work on other things. Exactly what that means is unclear, and the article states he is just leaving the show to do "something else." Perhaps after the election and News Corp's recent economic troubles, Colmes sees the writing on the wall and is jumping ship before he is let go. Or, perhaps as in the Clinton years, the conservative wingnuts are circling the wagons and kicking out anyone who does not parrot the talking points. Or maybe Colmes finally got sick of the taste of Sean Hannity's boots.

Personally, I think Keith Olbermann should apply for the job. Just for laughs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shock and Awe

This isn't exactly a Rorschach test, but is the White House staff giving us the shocker?

The image comes from here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Californication Clip and an Idea for Thanksgiving

Check out this clip from a recent episode of Californication. I loved the first season, but I have not been able to watch the current season because of schedule conflicts. I guess I'll have to catch up.

I love her line about "Barnes and Nobel bottom feeders."

Thanksgiving is coming up; maybe this is a good idea when the family tries to push me - or any of you - to perform grace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baby Killers Not Allowed to Participate in Faux Cannibalism

With an ongoing struggle with pedophilia, a serious clergy shortage, and church attendance declining, you would think that the Catholic Church would try to appeal to as many people as possible. But apparently not:

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

I would encourage Reverend Newman's parishioners to follow his advice and stop receiving Communion. In fact, they can stop putting money in the church coffers, stop sending their children to Sunday school, stop attending or volunteering at the church's festivals and fundraisers, stop going to midnight masses, stop putting up Christmas decorations, stop fasting for Lent, stop donating to Catholic missionaries, stop getting married in a church, and stop reading the Bible. For that matter, they could stop going to church altogether and stop pretending to believe that a sixty-year-old virgin turns wine into blood and crusty bread into human flesh and that eating it does anything to make us good or virtuous.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview with Ron Paul

In all the press coverage about the status and future of the Republican Party, much of the attention has been cast on Sarah Palin, some trying to name her as the heir to the party. For the Republican party's sake, and for the sake of the nation, I hope this is not the case but I suspect that some in the media, after having George W. Bush as a source of constant comedy and controversy for the past eight years, are looking for someone they can use. Palin would be the logical choice in this regard.

However, those within the party, those among its opposition, and those of us making commentary should give serious heed to Ron Paul. This man has the brains, the perspective, and the popular support to become the new leader of the Republican party and reshape it for the future. In a commentary written for CNN, Paul commented on the recent blunders of the party and its possible future:

The questions now being asked are: Where to go from here and who's to blame for the downfall of the Republican Party?

Too bad the concern for the future of the Republican Party had not been seriously addressed in the year 2000 when the Republicans gained control of the House, Senate, and the Presidency.

Now, in light of the election, many are asking: What is the future of the Republican Party?

But that is the wrong question. The proper question should be: Where is our country heading? There's no doubt that a large majority of Americans believe we're on the wrong track. That's why the candidate demanding "change" won the election. It mattered not that the change offered was no change at all, only a change in the engineer of a runaway train.

Once it's figured out what is fundamentally wrong with our political and economic system, solutions can be offered. If the Republican Party can grasp hold of the policy changes needed, then the party can be rebuilt.

In the rise and fall of the recent Republican reign of power these past decades, the goal of the party had grown to be only that of gaining and maintaining power -- with total sacrifice of the original Republican belief in shrinking the size of government.
* * *
The Republican Congress never once stood up against the Bush/Rove machine that demanded support for unconstitutional wars, attacks on civil liberties here at home, and an economic policy based on more spending, more debt, and more inflation -- while constantly preaching the flawed doctrine that deficits don't matter as long as taxes aren't raised.

But what the Republican leadership didn't realize was that ALL spending is a tax on middle-class Americans through price inflation and that eventually the inevitable consequence is paying for the extravagance with a financial crisis.

Party leaders concentrated only on political tricks in order to maintain power and neglected the limited-government principles on which they were elected. The only solution for this is for Republicans to once again reassess their core beliefs and show how the country (not the party) can be put back on the right track. The problem, though, is regaining credibility.

After eight years of perpetual (and unnecessary and unconstitutional) war, persistent and expanded attacks on our privacy, runaway deficits, and now nationalization of the financial system, Republicans are going to have a tough time regaining the confidence of the American people. But that's what must be done.

I think what Paul says here is important and provides a path for Republicans to participate in government and make their voice heard in a rational and congenial but also meaningful way. It also provides some perspective to Democrats, who now find themselves in power.

To anticipate and address any confusion, I haven't become a Republican. But I worry whenever the pendulum of political power swings too far one way or the other. I want the voice of the loyal opposition to be heard, even if I disagree with it, because the presence of the minority voice improves the focus of majority, demands that they provide a rationale for their actions, and gently reminds them that their power can be lost if they take it for granted. In the past decade, Democrats failed to fulfill that duty as the minority in the congress and the Republican party went wild like a college student on spring break, binging on power until it finally passed out on the steps of the capital with the word "change" written in marker over its bare back.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Remember, remember, the 4th of November . . .

Last week Tuesday, while the country was (mostly) united in celebration over a major achievement in civil rights (even if it was primarily symbolic) and mass media outlets proclaimed the beginning of a new era, equality, justice, and fairness took a hit right on the nose that ought to have all of us concerned and even ashamed.

Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage, was passed by voters in the state of California and similar propositions passed in Florida and Arizona. This is an extremely alarming development, especially since California and Florida have very active and visible gay communities. But what I find much more frightening is the legal precedent that this may set up: if a majority of voters want to take away a minority group's rights, they have the means and the legal authority to do so. This undermines every accomplishment in civil rights from the emancipation of slaves to women's suffrage to desegregation and makes Proposition 8 potentially a bigger threat to civil rights than the PATRIOT Act or the Military Commissions Act. And what's worse is that Proposition 8 was not shoved through the congress under the auspices of national security; it was passed by the voters in nearly the same margin that elected Obama to the presidency.

What is just as concerning about this is how religion has played into the argument and the strategy of the anti-gay movement. According to this article from the San Fransisco Chronicle, both Catholics and Mormons came to an agreement on this issue. Many religious people like to point out that the Christian church participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I will concur but then remind them that nothing about the doctrine or dogma of these religions actually supported church member's work for equality among races. And now comes the startling news that a cross section of Christian sects, which have a long history of bloody and bitter competition, worked cooperatively in order to strip people of supposedly god-given rights. It is a simultaneously disgusting and enlightening revelation of the true priorities of these cults and how superstition is not just an annoyance. It can be downright dangerous.

I recently reread Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and found this paragraph rather relevant:

All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote.

Thoreau's point is that voting is not the final decision on matters of justice. It can be an effective mode for achieving it but we are not bound to follow the majority off of a moral or ethical precipice. It is an important point to remember, especially when the majority does something extremely stupid.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes We Can Be Cynical

Moments ago, MSNBC projected Barack Obama the winner of the 2008 presidential election and the 44th President of the United States. The announcement was followed by footage of Obama supporters in Grant Park, Illinois, which continues as I write this, of people screaming and rejoicing while pundits proclaim the dawn of a new age in politics, race relations, and American culture as a whole.

I should preface what I have to say next with sincere congratulations to Obama and those who worked on his campaign. This was an extremely disciplined and well run campaign that was bigger than the office it pursued, even one as high as the presidency. This was a mass movement spearheaded by a man and his team which managed to embody the highest rhetorical and ethical principals.

While I am pleased to say that the election of Obama is an important moment, both for the immediate future and within the context of American history, I think some degree of perspective is in order. To provide it, consider this Zen story:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

My point is one of healthy cynicism. As I said, this is an important moment. But it is not the end. When we wake up tomorrow, and likely when Obama is sworn in, the economy will still be in trouble, the environment will still be polluted, terrorists will still be a threat, poverty will be prevalent while health care will be scarce, and racism and sexism will still exist. And as the new president and the new congress take office, they will have to be watched vigilantly by us to ensure that they complete the tasks we have elected them to accomplish. We did not elect a messiah but a man and it is important that he and they be held accountable.

Yes we can? Perhaps. But much more important is whether or not we do.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"Where do we go now, sweet child of mine?"

Andrew Sullivan, a very conservative columnist and blogger, was one of the first voices on the right wing to announce his support of Barack Obama. With the election upon us tomorrow, Sullivan has posted a closing argument articulating the reasons for his support. An excerpt:

If I were to give one reason why I believe electing Barack Obama is essential tomorrow, it would be an end to this dark, lawless period in American constitutional government. The domestic cultural and political reasons for an Obama presidency remain as strong as they were when I wrote "Goodbye To All That" over a year ago. His ability to get us past the culture war has been proven in this campaign, in the generation now coming of age that will elect him if they turn out, in Obama's staggering ability not to take the bait. His fiscal policies are too liberal for me - I don't believe in raising taxes, I believe in cutting entitlements for the middle classes as the way to fiscal balance. I don't believe in "progressive taxation", I support a flat tax. I don't want to give unions any more power. I'm sure there will be moments when a Democratic Congress will make me wince. But I also understand that money has to come from somewhere, and it will not come in any meaningful measure from freezing pork or the other transparent gimmicks advertized in advance by McCain. McCain is not serious on spending. But he is deadly serious in not touching taxes. So, on the core question of debt, on bringing America back to fiscal reason, Obama is still better than McCain. If I have to take an ideological hit to head toward fiscal solvency, I'll put country before ideology.

Also, since the past is prologue, here is Keith Olbermann's Election Special:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

And if that doesn't quite sum it up for you, check out this site.