Saturday, June 30, 2007

Is Mark Towner Deserving of More of My Time?

I'd like to say that the answer is "no", but I can't seem to help myself. I'm hopeful this will be the last time I feel compelled to put the name Mark Towner in a post.

I recently noticed a week-old comment posted to a blog that I set up with the intent of chronicling my wife's and my anniversaries. I didn't start it until this past March, our fifth anniversary, and I thought that it would be something fun for us to look back on in 10 or 20 years. We were in Las Vegas for the occasion, and attended an awesome concert at the MGM Grand, featuring one of our favorite bands, the Dave Matthews Band. You can read it if you'd like to have some context to my gripe here about the good "Doctor" Towner (Under the Table and Dreaming).

Yes, pretty dull for anybody other than my wife and me, I'd imagine. But Towner commented on this post, saying he now understood "who and what I am". Perhaps I missed the soul-spilling details from the post that divulge the content of my character, but Mark seems to have picked them all up. Of course, there's no detail in his comments (yet) about what he's learned about me, but I've (somewhat) politely solicited him for some clarification. This has led me to ask a couple more questions about Mark Towner, other than, "why does the Attorney General associate with this guy?"

  • Question 1: What does Mark really know? One blog post was all he needed to figure me out. Yet he asks of the hilarious and poignant JM Bell "who are you really"? Then subsequently confesses to Misty Fowler that indeed, he has no idea who she is. So Mark, what superpowers did you use to discern my character that you couldn't have mustered for JM Bell and Misty Fowler? Was there kryptonite nearby when you were posting comments about them? Or, given your pirate alter-ego, were you instead distracted by a pretty "wench"?
  • Question 2: Who doesn't love a good "Wench Auction"??? Oh, that's right. The Attorney General. Oh, and people who respect women.
  • Question 3: Is Mark so self-righteous that he thinks he can judge others--me, or anybody else--based on their personal escapades? I mean, I may have imbibed some in Las Vegas and called a guy a jerk for clapping when somebody dropped their tray at a restaurant (does that really make me a jerk?). But at least I didn't propose nuking an entire country to prove a point.
  • Question 4: Does Mark Towner sincerely believe people care whether he knows them? I'd dare say a few politicians who do know him are probably trying to distance themselves from him. Mark claiming he knows me is the equivalent of having a serial killer speaking raspily into my phone receiver saying, "I know what you did last summer". Whether you claim to know me, or want to know me, or admit you don't know me it doesn't make you any more relevant or less crazed. Fictional characters--and the likes of you--don't scare me.

I've debated whether to post this to The Sidetrack or keep it on my personal blog, but Under the Table and Dreaming has probably had three total readers since I created it: My wife, Mark Towner, and me. Since there's a healthy amount of disdain for the likes of Towner among many of The Sidetrack's readers, I decided to put it here. And really, isn't it time Mark ended all the sanctimony and stopped accusing people of being--gasp--different than he is? Because really, that's not an insult in my book.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Still Better than 109

CNN/Research poll on the 110th Congress says

49% "disapproved of what Democratic leaders in Congress have done since taking over in January," some 57% "said they believe Democratic control of Congress is good for the country."
Poor GOP. That's gotta hurt.

More Helen Thomas

Why is it that this frail, ancient old woman is the only journalist in Washington with the hutzpah to ask the important questions? The woman has guts, and her peers should be ashamed of their noodling. From her most recent interview with Salon's Glenn Greenwald, Thomas shows she is not discouraged in her fight to restore the accountability and integrity of journalists, and America as a whole.

I think the American people, like people all over the world, know that under international law, you only go to war if you're attacked or you have a treaty with another country to go to war if they're attacked.

An unprovoked war, based on every rationale that turns out to be untrue, certainly has caused our esteem in the world -- we are despised -- not because we gave them something and took it back. It's because we were on a pedestal. We had a halo. Everything we represented, people all over the world aspired to.

And what we did was absolutely betray those great values and principles.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Afghan Women Face Blacklash for Advances in Equality

Associated Press is reporting a recent surge in attacks against women in Afghanistan, that some believe is a result of a Taliban resurgence in the country.

Manizha Naderi, director of the rights group Women for Afghan Women, believes the recent attacks reflect a Taliban resurgence and spike in militant violence across the country. Afghan women in general, and journalists in particular, are being targeted because of their high profiles.

"They want to make news, and targeting the journalists is a way to make news," Naderi said. "They're showing the world, 'We're here and we're still in charge of this country."
As the women of Afghanistan begin to gain ground in the fight for equality, the attacks against them are increasing in frequency and brutality.
Farida Nekzad began receiving menacing calls on her cellphone a half hour after arriving at the funeral of a fellow female journalist assassinated by gunmen.

"'Daughter of America! We will kill you, just like we killed her,'" she quoted the man on the phone as saying as she stood near the maimed body of Zakia Zaki, the owner of a radio station north of Kabul.

Part of Zaki's face was blown away by three attackers who entered her home and shot her seven times with pistol and automatic rifle fire in front of her 8-year-old son this month.

" 'At least people can recognize her from one side of her face. We will shoot your face, and nobody will recognize you,' " Nekzad quoted the caller as saying before she hung up on him.
In addition, USA Today reports that Afghan civilians face a larger threat from US and NATO forces than they do insurgents. With our efforts to fight the Taliban wasted in Iraq, how long before the people of Afghanistan welcome them back, as "liberators" against an ineffective occupying force?

The fall of the Taliban in 2001 was a historic moment for Afghanistan women and the country at large. It was our first moderate triumph in the early days of the War on Terror. Since then, have we done nothing but waste the opportunity? Have we simply been too busy elsewhere? Those who attacked us are still free, the Taliban may be seeing a resurgence of power in Afghanistan, and (thanks to our "efforts") Iraq, and who knows where else.

What exactly has been achieved? Our country and the world at large are no safer due to this gigantic military mistake and the tragic waste of lives.

Elizabeth Edwards Confronts Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter is old hat, but this call from Elizabeth Edwards to Hardball during Coutler's interview makes me wonder if Elizabeth shouldn't be running for president herself.

During an hour-long interview with Coulter today on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews announced that Elizabeth Edwards was on the line. Edwards referenced the attacks above, saying, “I’m the mother of that boy who died. These young people behind you…you’re asking them to participate in a dialogue that is based on hatefulness and ugliness instead of on the issues, and I don’t think that’s serving them or this country very well.” The live audience cheered.

Thank You, Mark "Nuke Em or I'll Sue" Towner

We hadn't planned to revisit this at the The Sidetrack. Our goal was to point out the foolishness of Towner's "Nuke Em" post, call him to task, and outside of the comments at least, move on.

Unfortunately, sometimes what you see going on around you is so completely and utterly asinine that you can't leave it be.

The dishonest and incredulous Mr. Towner, over the ensuing days since our original post, has violated common courtesy privacy policies, harassed those that spoke out against him (something you would think he would be very used to by now), blocked comments on his blog to "team (Doofus?) members" only (the greatest of blogging wuss-outs, a tactic often used by those with big mouths and thin skins), and as many of you are aware, threatened to sue a fellow blogger for observing that his list of email recipients may not have been composed of entirely voluntary subscribers.

Because his wittle feelers got hurt.

I'd like to thank Mr. Towner for proving my point.

This man was about to fund-raise for Utah's Attorney General, with the Attorney General's permission, and now, via his reaction to criticism any adult should not only expect when blogging, but should also be emotionally developed enough to handle without reducing the debate to the equivalent of a pre-schooler yelling "Oh Yeah? Well my dad's a COP!" on the playground, he has destroyed his own credibility, completely.

Mark Towner should be ashamed of himself, without a doubt. I have tried to follow this since the start, as much as I could, and more than once I have been embarrassed for him. But more importantly, he has given us a much better example of what is wrong with Utah's political debate than any one of us blogging could have written.

He has shown us that any 'douche bag' can get involved in politics. Any person with a telephone and an "email list" (let it go to court Mr. Harris, we've already started the legal defense fund for you!) can fund-raise and attend dinner-plate events. Any low-life with a blog can post about the desecration of fellow countries and (at least here in Utah) still call themselves a Christian.

But not everyone can garner respect. And that is what we must demand from anyone who gets a voice, or an elected office, big or small. They must give us their respect, and earn ours, or fade, as Mr. Towner has, into irrelevance and public humiliation.

So, Mark, we are in your debt. Your juvenile outbursts and petty attempts to bully those who have spoken out against you have reminded me, and I hope all of us, why we blog, or fund-raise, or campaign, and VOTE. We could not have hoped for a more perfect reaction to our post than to see you make a living example of yourself, your blog, and anyone who has supported you or associated with you.

Political natural selection, in all of it's glory.

UPDATE: And thanks to all of you. "Doctor" Mark Towner has deleted the irresponsible "Nuke Em" post from his blog.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rocky Anderson on Romney's "Clash of Values"

Rocky Anderson, in an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, speaks out about impeachment, the Iraq War, and his friendship with Mitt Romney:

If you asked Mitt Romney, sat down and got the real Mitt Romney, first of all, he would say we never should have been in Iraq. Never would Mitt Romney and his wife -- and they're a team, believe me -- they would never support the concept of kidnapping and torturing human beings. They have always stood up for human rights, fundamental human rights. So this is an enormous clash of values. And I think that he's just trying to sound tough in the face of terror. And I guess that sells to the rightwing Christian Coalition, as does his newfound opposition to free choice, his opposition to stem cell research. This is not the Mitt Romney I knew, and it really saddens me.
Listen here.

Earmark Disclosure: Still No Word from Utah Reps

Following up on Craig's previous post.

CNN:

CNN called the offices of 435 members of the House to ask whether they would make their lists public. Only 50 members' offices provided a list; of the others, 68 declined, 311 did not respond and six said they had no earmark requests.
Emphasis mine. The calls were made to each rep's office between June 13th and 15th.

Still no word from Bishop (Ooooh, don't forget to take his poll), Matheson, or Cannon.

"Substantial Lack of Wisdom"

"Trust Us"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mitt's Powerpoint On Terror

The word evil is overused. Some people are just stupid.

I welcome you all to the staff meeting, er board-meeting, er State of the Union...

"Radical" Thinking

(Lite)Bloggin' from The Lake. Just two foods for thought.

Digby:

We may argue about tactics and strategies, or the extent to which we are partisans versus ideologues. And believe me, we do.

But there's no disagreement among us that the modern conservative movement of Newt and Grover and Karl and Rush has proven to be a dangerous cultural and political cancer on the body politic.

You will not find anyone amongst us who believes that the Bush administration's executive power grab and flagrant partisan use of the federal government is anything less than an assault on the Constitution.

We stand together against the dissolution of habeas corpus, and the atrocities of Abu Grahib and Guantanamo.
Greenwald:
Ideas that were always previously so radical as to be unthinkable are now routinely identified as “mainstream conservatism.” Conversely, political principles that have been such an integral part of America’s political identity as to be unquestionable are now the hallmarks of “fringe liberalism” (a “fringe” which, as our last election demonstrated, now includes an ever-growing majority of the population).

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Center is the New Left

Uh Oh, someone went and said it.

. . . Whenever you use the word "left" in American politics, you feel almost compelled to add quotation marks. Today's left is not talking about nationalizing industry, abolishing capitalism or destroying the rich. What passes for "left" in American politics is quite moderate by historical standards.

Still, cliches die hard, so you hear such 20-year-old questions as: "Are Democrats moving too far to the left?" or "Will Democrats abandon the center?" This approach is about abstractions, not concrete political problems, and it misses the dynamic in American public life, which is the move away from the right and a discrediting of the conservative era. The political "center" of today is not where the "center" was even five years ago.

. . . [T]he "good ideas" that voters are demanding mostly have to do with problems that have been framed by the left, not the right: the need to disengage from Iraq, to create health security, to ease economic inequalities. It's time to update our sense of where the political center lies and to adjust our view of "the left" accordingly.
It's about time. 29% is not a majority.

Utah Reps Aren't Talking Either

CNN is trying to get all members of the House to disclose all recent requests for earmarks. So far, they haven't gotten very far.

Initially, staffers for only 34 of the 435 members of the House contacted by CNN between June 13 and 15 were willing to supply a list of their earmark requests for fiscal year 2008, which begins on October 1. Some of those 34 staffers simply pointed callers to Web sites where those earmark requests were posted.

They also break down who's saying what to their calls. For the Utah delegation,
District: Utah 01
Rep. Rob Bishop (R)

Response: No response

District: Utah 02
Rep. Jim Matheson (D)

Response: No response


District: Utah 03
Rep. Chris Cannon (R)

Response: No response

So lets find out what they're asking for. They represent us, and they're spending our money, we should know what they want to do with it. Here's how to get a hold of Rob Bishop, Jim Matheson, and Chris Cannon. And since we wouldn't want Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch to feel left out, lets give them a call too.

UPDATE (Monday, June 25): Still no word from Utah reps.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Polarized Politics

The Democratic Strategist provides an enlightening examination of political polarization, elections, and the popular vote, taking a close look at both recent elections and historical polling data in order to give us an idea of where we are headed. It seems we've been "self-sorting."

While there is no evidence that the electorate's overall ideological balance has changed much over the past three decades, voters are being sorted: fewer self-identified Democrats or liberals vote for Republican candidates than they did in the 1970s, fewer Republicans or conservatives vote for Democratic candidates, and rank-and-file partisans are more divided in their political attitudes and policy preferences. Also, religiosity (not to be confused with the denominational hostilities of the past) has become a telling determinant of political orientations and voting behavior. All else equal, individuals who attend church frequently are more likely to regard themselves as conservatives and vote Republican.
Increasingly, the electorate has adopted the "I think X, X and X, so I am obviously (Insert Political Party of Choice)" way of thinking and voting (or worse yet, and more common, "I am (Insert Political Party of Choice) therefore I think X, X, and X).

Politics has become, for both voters and candidates, less about voting for the right person for the issues that matter to us, but more about the "Hard Sell." We willingly place ourselves into the group that better convinces us they represent us during an election, rather than finding substansive information about the candidates and issues.
...people as a whole are not shifting their ideological or policy preferences much. Rather, they are being presented with increasingly polarized choices, which force voters to change their political behavior in ways that analysts mistake for shifts in underlying preferences. A plausible inference is that if both parties nominated relatively moderate, nonpolarizing candidates, as they did in 1960 and again in 1976, voters' behavior might revert significantly toward previous patterns. Another possibility is that changes at the elite level have communicated new information about parties, ideology, and policies to many voters, leading to changes of attitudes and preferences that will be hard to reverse, even in less polarized circumstances.

Google Unveils "Public Policy Blog"

This should be interesting.

We're seeking to do public policy advocacy in a Googley way. Yes, we're a multinational corporation that argues for our positions before officials, legislators, and opinion leaders. At the same time, we want our users to be part of the effort, to know what we're saying and why, and to help us refine and improve our policy positions and advocacy strategies. With input and ideas from our users, we'll surely do a better job of fighting for our common interests.
And on the heels of the blog announcement, news of the Lobbying Engine:
"The entire tech industry has learned from Microsoft," said Alan B. Davidson, head of Google's Washington office. "Washington and its policy debates are important. We can't ignore them."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Open Letter to Mark Towner

Dear Mark,

I enjoy back-pedaling and flip-flopping as much as the next citizen, sir (which is to say not much). But the comment posted yesterday on your blog suggesting use of a nuclear weapon at high altitude to "fry" everything electrical via EMP surge without killing anybody seems to be just that.

As a reminder, Mark, the original "solution" cited in your post was, and I quote, "using the bigest [sic] and most powerfull [sic] nuclear weapons available, we must destroy every military and nuclear facility in the country". Hope you don't mind the spelling corrections, Mark. We've all been guilty of a typo. But to anybody with a brain, do you believe your post sounded like a call for the U.S. to bring Iran to its' knees with a great big power surge? Or do you think it might have instead sounded as you originally intended it to: Let's launch nuclear weapons toward military and nuclear targets on the ground and--as you so succintly put it--destroy them? Well, I have a brain, and I'm afraid I had to take your post to mean the latter of the two.

This is not just semantics, Mark. This is the difference between a call to inconvenience Iranians with the inability to heat up their morning coffee and a call to expedite a potential scenario that the US has taken every effort to avoid since WWII. Do you recall the Cuban Missile Crisis? The Cold War, maybe? While the threat of future atomic bombings did indeed compel the Japanese government to surrender during WWII, you cannot completely disregard historic events since that time. Nor should you be so quick to forget remarks like those delivered by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who replaced Winston Churchill, when he read a statement prepared by his predecessor to British MP's which concluded, "We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce peace among the nations and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they become a perennial fountain of world prosperity."

The tragic realization that nearly 200,000 Japanese citizens--some military personnel, but the vast majority innocent civilians--died as a result of the attacks, compelled Churchill and Attlee to invoke prayers that use of such weapons would never be necessary again. Your reference to Churchill instead implies that if alive today, he would merrily drop atomic bombs on any of Britain's enemies again. I think the comment speaks for itself, and speaks to the contrary of your assertion that nuclear war has a real upside to it.

Getting back to the Cold War, Mark, you might remember the U.S. making the aforementioned efforts to avoid nuclear conflicts with Cuba and Russia. With the increase of nuclear power and arsenal size throughout the Cold War, the result of one government or the other caving to the temptation to launch a nuclear strike likely have been the decimation of our country, even our very planet. Though fictional, the AI system from the movie "Wargames" summed it up best. After calculating all possible outcomes of a nuclear conflict, it simply realized: "The only way to win is not to play".

Your comment that conventional bombing killed more civilians in Germany and Japan than the two atomic bombs that were dropped in Japan is accurate. But, Mark, if you're ready to justify killing hundreds of thousands of more human beings because millions have already been killed, well then, we'll just have to "agree to disagree" on that, too. World History is already rife with war and inhumane acts of all kinds. I would prefer to learn from our history and not repeat those same mistakes. And I would prefer that our political and other prominent leaders be like-minded. As opposed to, say, perpetuators of your views.

Mark, if there's one thing I find scarier than somebody advocating nuclear war, it's somebody who believes nuclear war is inevitable because the Bible speaks of the end of the world, and a nuke is a possible--even probable--catalyst to bring that about. People like yourself that assert others need to get on the right side of the "line" so God will save them while those same people drop deadly bombs on others is as ridiculous as it is inexcusably hipocritical. Especially coming from somebody with your degree of political influence. But I'll leave it up to you to decide if you agree you should take some responsibility for the things you say. And if you decide you don't, well then, I'll be here to disagree.

Respectfully,
Jeff

Mark "Nuke Em" Towner

It's been a bad week for Mark Towner. First, he embarrasses the Attorney General, then the former Utah School Board hopeful, and one-time candidate for the Utah senate puts his foot in his mouth trying to solve 55 years of US-Iranian relations. Mr. Towner preaches:

Is is now time for America and the UK to again unite and teach a lesson that will never be forgotton. We either are the paper tiger's that they claim, or we need to send the message loud and clear, we will not allow you to continue your Jihad against the West.

We must act now and bring the radical arm of Islam to task with such overpowering strength, that they will cease to be an issue. We must declare War on Iran, and using the bigest and most powerfull nuclear weapons available, we must destroy every military and nuclear facility in the country. It must stop now. Please click on the link below, and ask yourself who will have the backbone to bring this conflict to an end? [With Video]
Churchill he is not. WWII this is not.

But still, Mark has been and continues to be heavily involved in Utah politics. The Attorney General himself agreed to let this man fund-raise for him (which fell apart after Towner chose to include a "Wench Auction" in the event, sticking with his strange obsession with pirates).

This, people, is what is currently stagnating Utah's political arena. For someone to speak this irresponsibly on a matter of foreign policy, and then receive a warm handshake from any state official, let alone the Attorney General himself, is a grievous distortion of aptitude and political responsibility.

Let the Attorney General know how you feel about the company he keeps.

Let Mr. Towner know what you think of his post.

Let the Salt Lake Tribune know what you think of it all. (letters@sltrib.com)

It's time for a little accountability in our governing bodies and political debate.

Does Your Party Represent You?

Came across this in "The Tubes."

I AM A REPUBLICAN BECAUSE...

I Believe... the proper function of government is to perform those actions that must be done, but cannot be done, or cannot be done as well, by individuals. And further, that the most effective government is that which is closest to the people.

I Believe... good government is based upon individual rights, and that each person's ability, dignity, freedom, and responsibility must be honored and recognized.

I Believe... free enterprise and the encouragement of individual initiative and incentive have given this nation an economic system second to none.

I Believe... sound money management should be our goal.

I Believe... in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, age, sex or national origin.

I Believe... we must retain those principles of the past worth retaining, yet always be receptive to new ideas. We must have an outlook broad enough to accommodate thoughtful change and varying points of view.

I Believe... that Americans value and should preserve their feeling of national strength and pride, and at the same time share with people everywhere a desire for peace and freedom and the extension of human rights throughout the world.
When you consider the final statement in the list, and where it came from, things get a little confusing.
I Believe... the Republican Party is the best vehicle for translating these ideals into positive and successful principles of government.

Looking back over the past few years of Republican leadership in practically all levels of Utah government, do we see a government that is close to the people? Has our government focused on our rights, our dignity, and our freedom? Have we seen equal rights for all people? What about sound money management and fiscal responsibility?

Since the Bush administration took office, Republicans had been gaining strength. In 2006, it seems the move away from traditional Republican ideals has begun costing them. Perhaps it's time for Utah Republicans to ask themselves if their party still represents their ideals for sound governing, or if there might be better representation to be found.

That, or someone needs to update their website.

The War On Christianity

The assault on Christianity seems to never cease. Not an assault by the so-called Left, or "Godless" Liberals, or the ACLU. But instead, the most direct threat to Christianity seems to be Christians themselves. Christian Republicans to be more specific.

In what many refer to as, "The Last Days", many Christians seem to have departed from the teachings of their religious namesake, and instead adopted an attitude and doctrine that I think is deserving of the name "Counter-Jihad". Not to be confused with this CounterJihad, and contrary to how it may sound, it's neither the opposite of--nor opposition to--Jihad. It is actually the embodiment of Jihad: Americanized, super-sized, and spewed from the mouths of prominent conservatives throughout the country. It is John McCain singing, "Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iran". It is conservative bloggers calling for the US and UK to unite and nuke Iran. It is many Americans--professed Christians--turning a blind eye to the tragic events in Iraq and the Middle East. It is the opposite of what Christianity is supposed to teach.

The departures from true Christianity begin--but hardly end--here.

  • The so-called "Golden Rule" of Christianity, "and as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" seems to have been replaced by many with, "do unto others before they do unto you". This is exemplified by this administration's pre-emptive war policy and the continued support of the war by many Republicans, most of them avowed "christians".
  • "As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me". Not completely forgotten, but seemingly misconstrued. Instead of recognition that the least of our brethren shouldn't exclude those that don't share our nationality, it becomes a rallying cry of sorts and justification for the war. "Remember 9/11" has resonance for good reason, but lest we forget, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So if we're looking to avenge the deaths of those thousands of Americans killed on 9/11, we're looking in the wrong place. Does that even need to be reiterated at this point???
  • "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." This may be one of the hardest tenets of Christianity to adhere to. But it is a tenet of Christianity nonetheless, and many prominent "Christians" seem to have f0rgotten it. We must protect ourselves as a nation, but this administration's foreign policy has become the equivalent of leveling others with a sledgehammer before they get the chance to slap us in the face. If we believe that that is what is necessary, perhaps we've already lost our faith.

That's where I'll stop for now. Mostly for time's sake. This post isn't intended as an indictment of Christianity, or Christians at large. But if you profess to be a Christian, maybe another look at some of what Jesus Christ taught will make you reconsider the "righteousness" of our nation's leaders. And perhaps at some point along the way we'll get back to acting in accordance with what we say we believe in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Good Publicity

Seymour Hersh.

Delta Force, Navy Seals, CIA paramilitary. They’re very competent. If they had different orders, they would probably behave differently. But they’re there now. They’re on the border with Iran right now. We have units right now that are dying for permission to go across the border and start whacking away at the Iranians. And that is the situation today. And that has not changed. A lot of hunter-killer teams are at work fighting the alleged al-Qaeda in Iraq, many of whom, as I’m sure you’re aware, many in your audience are aware, are really Sunni insurgents -- they’re not really al-Qaeda. The foreign element in Iraq is very minor. But nonetheless, it’s good publicity.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Hot Air: Cheap Entertainment for Slow News Days

I've been asked a many times by our readers about my daily choices for information. I have a list too long to post, and I believe with conviction that information overload is far more desirable than "skimming" the news and calling it a day. And yes, it is very time consuming. Also, it is indeed true that at The Sidetrack, we regularly read Drudge, Beck, and yes, even Hot Air.

(Gasp) Why? our readers always ask.

Simply? It is free entertainment, and medical science tells me it is good to laugh. Once you get past the paranoia, hysteria, and xenophobia of these sites, the irony can add much needed levity to anyone's day. Allow me to illustrate.

Today, on the video page of Hot Air, you'll find this title: Video: Fox & Friends Crosses Over. The nature of the post seems to be a statement on the decline of journalistic integrity in today's cable news networks, specifically in this case, Fox News.

The irony?

Visit the Hot Air yourself and experience it first hand. Hints: Check for headlines that match exaclty, or link directly to, Fox News, Fox & Friends, Hannity, O'Reilly (& Malkin) etc. Then take a second to review the names of the Hot Air contributing staff. Count the names you recognize from Fox News appearances, guest panels, guest-hosting, or even contributing. Then remind yourself of the post linked above decrying the fall of journalism.

See, irony.

Conservatives are fun.

New York Times on Iran: WMD "Debate" All Over Again

Ah, the "progressive" New York Times. They have learned nothing from their complete and total failure of journalistic integrity during the WMD "debate" and lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Reported in the Times, last week:

"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iranian weapons were being smuggled into Afghanistan and into the hands of Taliban fighters, but that it was unclear whether Iran's government was behind the arms shipments."
Reported in the Times, this week:
Even beyond its nuclear program, Iran is emerging as an increasing source of trouble for the Bush administration by inflaming the insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and in Gaza, where it has provided military and financial support to the militant Islamic group Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip.
Wow, they sure make processing all of these "facts" into a larger understanding of reality difficult, don't they? Fortunately Glenn Greenwald has our back.
And then there is the claim that Iran is "inflaming the insurgencies in Iraq . . . and in Gaza." It is more or less established that Iran aids the Shiite factions which are close to Iran and close to the Iraqi government, but those are not "insurgents." And it is far from established that Iran aids the actual insurgents in Iraq attacking U.S. troops -- in particular, the ex-Baathist Sunni elements and "Al Qaeda in Iraq." The claim by the Times -- presented as unquestionable fact -- that Iran "is inflaming the insurgency in Iraq" is, at best, quite sloppy, and as presented, is also misleading.

The same is true for the claim that Iran is "inflaming an insurgency" in Gaza. The sole basis for that claim appears to be the aid provided by the Iranians to Hamas. But Hamas is not an "insurgency," but rather, the majority party which was democratically elected by the Palestinians. Theoretically, at least, to aid Hamas is to aid the democratically elected majority party in the Palestinian Authority, not arming an "insurgency."

And then there are the multiple vital facts which the article does not include, beginning with the highly provocative steps the U.S. has taken towards Iran -- from our reported support for groups inside and outside of their country seeking regime change to our detention of multiple Iranian officials in Iraq to our military attacks on an Iranian consulate in Iraq to the administration's wholesale rebuffing of Iranian efforts to negotiate all issues of dispute back in 2003 (a step which, quite predictably, accelerated Iran's enrichment efforts).

Hired Goons

In today's New Yorker, the latest from Seymour Hersh, a lengthy interview with Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba, who helmed the Pentagon’s Abu Ghraib investigation.

A few weeks after his report became public, Taguba, who was still in Kuwait, was in the back seat of a Mercedes sedan with Abizaid. … Abizaid turned to Taguba and issued a quiet warning: “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I wasn’t angry about what he said but disappointed that he would say that to me,” Taguba said. “I’d been in the Army thirty-two years by then, and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.“

Friday, June 15, 2007

If Watergate Broke Today

Sunday is the 35th anniversary of the break-ins at the Watergate Hotel. Joe Strupp of the reputable Editors & Publishers asks, how would the Watergate story be covered today?

If Watergate had broken today, chances are someone would have posted a news story with inaccurate information too early, or the in-depth reporting needed might have been neglected in favor of quicker, more immediate, and more broad-interest scoops. That is not to say that the Post, still among the best daily papers and Web sites in the industry, would not have been on top of the story. But there is no doubt that online and immediacy demands of today could have impacted the careful, slow-building and meticulous coverage.
Read on.

The Many Faces of Media Consolidation

It effects everyone.

At approximately 1:39 a.m. on January 18, 2002, a 112-car Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed just outside of Minot, North Dakota, the fourth largest city in the state. According to the operating crew, the train had been travelling at forty miles an hour, and the accident happened when they attempted to slow down after hitting a rough spot on the tracks. Thirty-one cars jumped off the rails, and several burst open, spilling about 240,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic compound commonly used as fertilizer, into a woodsy neighborhood called Tierrecita Vallejo, “Lovely Land of the Valley.”

Eric goes on to describe how, after the the 911 call was made, local officials tried to use the Emergency Broadcast System to preempt local television and radio broadcasts to tell residents to stay inside and seal their doors and windows to prevent inhalation of the toxic gas that was quickly spreading through the town. The system failed, so town officials did the next best thing and tried to contact radio and T.V. stations directly. They called the stations but nobody answered, because nobody was in the station at the time. Every station in Minot was owned by Clear Channel Communications, which piped in news and music broadcasts created in centralized studios thousands of miles away. There was literally nobody home to spread the word about the emergency.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Immigration Reform Irony

Via Carpetbagger.

Given the recent rhetoric in Republican circles about immigration policy, I found this story spectacularly amusing.
The California Republican Party has decided no American is qualified to take one of its most crucial positions — state deputy political director — and has hired a Canadian for the job through a coveted H-1B visa, a program favored by Silicon Valley tech firms that is under fire for displacing skilled American workers.

Christopher Matthews, 35, a Canadian citizen, has worked for the state GOP as a campaign consultant since 2004. But he recently was hired as full-time deputy political director, with responsibility for handling campaign operations and information technology for the country’s largest state Republican Party operation, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring confirmed in a telephone interview this week.

In the nation’s most populous state — which has produced a roster of nationally known veteran political consultants — “it’s insulting but also embarrassing … to bring people from the outside who don’t know the difference between Lodi and Lancaster … and who can’t even vote,” said Karen Hanretty, a political commentator and former state GOP party spokeswoman.
Wait, it gets funnier. Matthews was hired by Michael Kamburowski, the state GOP’s chief operations officer, who is … wait for it … an Australian citizen.
It's not immigration they fear, it's skin color.

Lieberman Asked To Resign By His Own Party

Oliver Willis.

Bwahahahaha!.
The Connecticut for Lieberman Party is calling on Senator Joseph Lieberman to resign from the U.S. Senate following his remarks made Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation regarding military action against Iran.

Lieberman said on the national television program that, "we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians."

The Connecticut for Lieberman Chair, Dr. John Orman, called for Lieberman's resignation saying that he "crossed the line" and "no longer represents the views of the citizens of Connecticut."

Orman, a longtime critic of Lieberman, took control of the minority party back in January.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Conservative America is a Myth

America is commonly portrayed by both pundits and political analysts as a conservative nation, with the majority in favor of small government, a military driven foreign policy, and a certain blind acceptance of economic and social inequalities.

But this report (PDF) may prove that as one of the longest running and most widely accepted falsehoods of the 21st century.

On a broad array of issues, particularly social issues, American opinion has grown more and more progressive over the past few decades. In contrast, it is difficult to find an issue on which the public has grown steadily more conservative over the last 10, 20, or 30 years
Could Republican success in the past decades be based solely on misconception and misgivings about which party represents what? Absolutely. Just look at the Republican party you see today. They are no longer the party of Goldwater, and they talk of Reagan as if he were the messiah they worship until his return. Yet they win elections. Especially in Utah.

And we have to ask ourselves, what does it say about the Democratic party that we have such a difficult time doing the same, in a country that may actually agree more with our politics than those of the modern GOP?
* The role of government - Americans support an active government that tackles problems, provides services, and aids those in need.
* The economy - Americans support increasing the minimum wage and strong unions, and believe the wealthy and corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes.
* Social issues - Americans support legal abortion and embryonic stem cell research; opinions on equal rights for women and gay Americans have grown dramatically more progressive in recent years.
* Security - Americans support a progressive approach to national security, emphasizing strong alliances and diplomacy over the indiscriminate use of military force. On domestic security issues, progressive approaches to crime and gun control enjoy wide support.
* The environment - By enormous margins, Americans favor strong environmental protections, a core progressive belief.
* Energy - Americans support energy conservation and the development of alternative fuels.
* Health care - Americans clearly favor universal coverage and are more than comfortable with government solutions to the health care problem.
If this report is the more accurate portrayal of America, perhaps we have been listening to the wrong people. Are we willing to let ourselves become as out of touch and misguided as the GOPers, or was 2006 only the beginning of a return to reality?

Our elected officials can only do so much with the small majority we gave them in the midterms. If we want more, it's up to us.

Where Does the Money Go?

From Political Wire, a visual guide to how your tax dollars are spent.

A New Democratic Party


Out next month.

Feingold: A New Democratic Party

Beginning with his first election to public office, he has defied conventional political wisdom and long odds, Horwitt tells us, a pattern that has been repeated throughout his career. Feingold has shown how a new, reinvigorated Democratic Party can stand for progressive ideals, resist the corrupting influence of special interests and win elections.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tracking Presidential Candidates and Broadband Policy

The non-profit Wireless Communications Association International (WCA) have launched a new website tracking broadband policies of all 2008 Presidential hopefuls.

WCA President, Andrew Kreig (via Freepress):

“Broadband is creating unprecedented productivity gains in such vital sectors as education, health care and prevention, border patrol, civil preparedness, military defense and first responder capabilities by police, fire and emergency workers ­ as well as community economic development in such disparate regions as inner-cities and rural America. These applications and their delivery timetables in the U.S. and abroad are central for the WCA 2007 roster of 140+ speakers ­ and also for each of the U.S. Presidential candidates...
Founded in 1988, the WCA is formed by "leading carriers, vendors and consultants" in the wireless communication industries spanning 6 continents.

It's nice to see an attempt by the WCA to bring broadband and communication policies to light during the '08 campaigns, despite my reservations toward their Executive Committee (Hank Hultquist of AT&T?).

Regardless, wireless broadband technology and it's future will play an important role, not only in how campaigns themselves function, but more importantly with what each candidate has to say in their use of, and attitude toward the internet, net-roots blogging, Net Neutrality, broadband availability, and the encompassing FCC regulatory policies. The result of these dialogs effects each one of us in a truly non-partisan way.

Helping The Bad Guys

Zactly.

MATTHEWS: And by the way, I disagree with you about you being an amateur. But I‘ll tell you one thing. I agree with what Fareed Zakaria wrote in “Newsweek” this week, which is terrorism isn‘t explosions and death, terrorism is when you change your society because of those explosions and you become fearful to the point where you shut out immigration, you shut out student exchanges, you shut people out of buildings, you begin to act in an almost fascist manner because you‘re afraid of what might happen to you. That‘s when terrorism becomes real and frighteningly successful. That‘s what I believe, and that‘s why I question the way Giuliani has raised this issue. He raises it as a specter. In a weird way, he helps the bad guys.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Joe Lieberman, Douche Bag

Who keeps giving the moron a microphone?

'I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq,'' Lieberman said. ''And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers.'
Ever considered what destabilizing effect such an attack would have on middle eastern affairs Joe? Ever pondered the unexplored avenues of diplomacy and a little something called an actual foreign policy before breakin' out the bombs, Joe? Ever considered, for even a second, that maybe our efforts are wasted with this current war, Joe?

Joe doesn't know he's irrelevant.

Joe should sit down and shut up.

Is Romney the Best You've Got?

NYT, "Romney Run has Mormons Wary":

“He represents the best of what the church can produce,” said Kenneth W. Godfrey, 73, a historian of Mormonism and of [Cache Valley] about 80 miles north of church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
I am not, nor ever have I been a member of the LDS Church, but I have lived in Utah my entire life, and I understand the excitement many Mormons must feel at the prospect of a candidate of their own faith. I even partially understand those members of the church who buy this "White Horse Prophecy" shenannigans about a Mormon who will save the country when the constitution faces it's greatest challenges. But c'mon people! This guy? Mitt? That's the best you got?

Romney has betrayed everyone from his constituents to the tenets of his own faith.
John Dehlin, 37, who produces the podcast Mormonstories.org here, said, “I don’t see him as any worse than any other politician out there, but I wanted my guy, who represents my church, to be different... I had the hope that Romney would be steadfast, be up front and have integrity and consistency, but I’ve been disillusioned,” Mr. Dehlin said. “It makes me a lot less proud than I otherwise would have been.”
In a few short months of campaigning he has shown us he has no scruples, not loyalty, and no real plan for leading this country. Should his faith outweigh his abilities as a leader? If you would vote for Romney simply because he is Mormon, wouldn't you have to say the same about each LDS co-worker, neighbor, or for that matter, complete stranger you meet on the street? Regardless of the depth of your faith, can you honestly say you have never met a dishonest, or incompetent Mormon?

I have no illusions that in 2008 this state will go for anyone but a republican, but I also know there are millions of voting Mormons throughout the entire country, and I fear the illusion of familiarity of faith will push Mitt into a legitimacy he hasn't earned and will not live up to in this and future elections.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Isp's Charging For Email, The End Of Net Neutrality?

According to Crooks and Liars, US isp's are about to start charging for email. Basically, if you want to guarantee that your email gets around spam filters, it'll cost you, a quarter cent per email. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it's a steep slope from here to the end of net neutrality. What's next, charging for email just to get it delivered?

Utah Courts Side With Utah Voters

Since the Utah Legislature knows better than the citizens it represents, they passed two school voucher bills. One of these bills was contested by a successful referendum petition, bringing the issue before Utah voters on Nov. 6th. The other law was not contested, and the legislature planned on enacting the uncontested law reguardless of what happened in the referendum vote. Needless to say, there have been discussions on exactly what would happen if Utah voters decided they didn't want the vouchers (Attorney General Mark Shurtleff even went so far as to throw an attorney general temper tantrum). Thankfully, Utah has a court system, which can decide these types of things, and today, they did.

the Utah Supreme Court decided today that Utah's two voucher bills are joined at the hip -- and should live and die on the outcome of a Nov. 6 referendum vote.
The court said the referendum-proof law remaining in Utah code will also die if voters reject the original voucher law.
"If the voters choose to reject [the original voucher law, the amending voucher law] will not create an additional voucher program," said the court's written decision.


So there we have it, School Vouchers will have their day in the ballot box, despite the Utah Legislature's attempts to sneak around the referendum.

The Return of Civic Engagement

What one man told the FCC:

All too often, the biggest change in political life in this country goes unnoticed. That change has been from getting our news and entertainment from paper publications to getting it from television news. Even large paper publications have letters to the editor, but paper publications are cheap enough that independent media always had a voice.

But when television media became the mode of choice, the ability for the citizenry to respond to what they saw in the media ceased to be. Television only talks at you, and you only watch and listen. There is no second side of the conversation.

The Internet moves the conversation back into the hands of the people.
He's right.

There has been a growing disconnect in this country between the voters and those elected, events in Washington, DC and events in our own living rooms. TV turned politics and the leadership of America into a Sunday night movie you sit down to watch for entertainment. We have slowly forgotten our place in the process, and the importance of our involvement.

There is a lot of talk of how the media let us down over weapons of mass destruction, the Attorney General has fooled us by politicizing the DOJ, and the "pay for power" politics of todays leaders have ciphoned the last drop of actual representation from our branches of government. But are we completely innocent?

Did this happen to us when we were trying our best to stop it, or did this happen to us while we sat back and watched the show play out?

For all it's downfalls and risks, this collection of tubes I am communicating to you on, inarguably, through fast worldwide information exchange, to the soapbox it provides for any who care to dig in, has brought the "roots" back to our grassroots.

That is why Net Neutrality and media policy are not just the latest trendy movement or cause du joure. How these issues are resolved will effect the very fiber of our politics, and greatly determine the possible futures for America.

Now go be somebody.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Bandar, BAE, and Bribes

Ruh-Roh.

British investigators were ordered by the attorney-general Lord Goldsmith to conceal from international anti-bribery watchdogs the existence of payments totalling more than £1bn to a Saudi prince, the Guardian can disclose.

The money was paid into bank accounts controlled by Prince Bandar for his role in setting up BAE Systems with Britain's biggest ever arms deal.
Corruption must run in the family. TPM has a take:
[M]assive bribes, kickbacks, whatever you want to call them to Prince Bandar, longtime Saudi Ambassador to the US and still a hugely influential figure in US-Saudi relations. This story relates to arms deal in the UK. But I'd be surprised if it ended on that side of the Atlantic.

GOP Candidates: The Chicken Little Platform

The sky is falling. Again. And Republicans have gotten themselves into quite the situation here.

Tuesday night's Republican "debate" on CNN was chock full of attempts by the candidates to say "Jihadism" and "Jihadist" as much as posible, often coupled with direct jabs at the competence of the Bush administration and--no big shocker,here--at the credibility of the Democrats.

And here we see the crux of the matter on this word shift: Republicans are still working with campaign consultants pushing the fear frame as best path to the victory in 2008, but they are increasingly aware that looking and sounding like George W. Bush is a one-way ticket to wikipedia obscurity, not the White House.
How can you campaign on fear without tying yourself to the man who invented it? War in Iraq. Immigration Reform. And it's only a matter of time before social security and health care complicate this coming election for Mitt and Rudy. If Republican's have done such a bang-up job of making us safer, and if this course we've been on is the right course to stay on, why, still, all this talk of things that go boom?

I wonder how long it will take conservatives to admit their party no longer represents them?

Restoring Habeas

DailyKos has the details of Sens. Leahy, Specter, and 17 co-sponsors trying to restore habeas corpus, which was so gracefully disposed of with last years Military Commissions Act.

Via Christy at FDL, here are the members of the Judiciary Committee who haven't already signed on as cosponsors of the bill:

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI)
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)

Call or e-mail the offices of these Senators to urge them to support S. 185 in committee tomorrow. Here are the toll free numbers for the Capitol Switchboard:

1 (800) 828 - 0498
1 (800) 459 - 1887
1 (800) 614 - 2803
1 (866) 340 - 9281
1 (866) 338 - 1015
1 (877) 851 - 6437

That's right, our own Sen Orrin Hatch is on the Judiciary Committee, and hasn't signed on to the bill yet. Let's tell him what we think of this bill, and let him know that we want habeas corpus restored.

This is something Sen. Hatch should change his mind on, he supported the Military Commissions Act, but would we really be surprised if he keeps walking the line he's been on for 30+ years.

One last thing, check out Find Habeas if you're looking for reasons that we need habeas corpus back into our national laws.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

2006 Campaign Case Studies (Mobilizing Young Voters)

George Washington University's School of Political Management has released a handbook of voter mobilization tactics (pdf), built primarily upon Democrat success stories of the 2006 election. The overall report serves as a reminder of what we must do to further ensure a win in 2008, but also sheds light on the gap between the conservative campaigns and this large voting demographic that Democrats have successfully engaged in the political future of America.

Political Wire provides a summary.

Top Ten Tips to Mobilize Young Voters

1) Keep young voters on your call and walk lists: A contact at the door can increase turnout among young voters by 8-10 percentage points; a live phone call can increase turnout by 3-5 points. (Green, Gerber) The longer and chattier the script, thebetter. (Nickerson)

2) Utilize volunteers to mobilize fellow young voters: Volunteers are a cost-effective and efficient way to mobilize young voters. Recruit volunteers, give them training, ambitious goals, and lots of responsibility, and they can do great work. But also make sure staff is spending time to train and coordinate them.

3) Talk about issues in ways relevant to young adults: Health care, education, job creation, Iraq, the environment, and taxes are all key issues for young voters, but make the issues relevant. For example, talk about health care access for young adults – not prescription drugs and Medicare.

4) Candidates should mingle and chat with young voters at events: Go to college campuses, attend happy hours or picnics, and talk to these voters about issues that matter. Don’t give a stump speech - listen to and answer questions, and engage in a conversation.

5) Do voter registration: Registering new voters is the best way to build a list of turnout targets and potential volunteers. When deciding if registration is a strategic use of funds, remember this: once registered, young adults are very likely to vote: in 2004, 81 percent of registered 18-29 year olds voted. (U.S. Census Bureau) Of course, remember to collect emails and cell phones so you can
follow-up with volunteer opportunities, voter education, and GOTV reminders.

6) Maximize the crowd: Big crowds of young supporters are a goldmine, but you have to work it. Target your speech by talking about relevant issues; open up a Q&A and have a good conversation; encourage everyone to whip out their cell phones and text “Vote” to your campaign’s short-code; make sure volunteers are roaming the audience registering voters and signing up volunteers; ask the audience to take an action to support a hot issue or hit the streets to register voters. The more energy and engagement you give, the more you’ll get.

7) Allocate Resources: Young voters can be mobilized efficiently, but don’t expect it to be free. Allocate staff time and a budget to run a top-notch effort. For example, two or three staff can run a state campaign; one or a half a person’s time can do a significant amount on the district level.

8) Get updated lists of young voters1: A few tactics can help your campaign build a better list of young voters: buy a brokered voter file from a youth registration campaign; get the updated voter files from the county clerk late in the election cycle to catch new registrants; register voters; designate precinct captains to update movers’ information and identify supporters; or hold a volunteer phone bank to update voters’ contact information.

9) Use new technology strategically: New technologies – social networking sites, text messaging, etc. – can help a campaign keep in touch with young voters with updates, volunteer opportunities, events, and more. However, remember that new technologies are a good campaign supplement, but not a substitute for old-fashioned peer-to-peer organizing and candidate outreach.

10) Save your money: Don’t use robocalls or direct mail alone for GOTV. Direct mail works well for registration, and robocalls can supplement door-knocking or direct mail. But the best advice is to utilize volunteer or live phone banks – the more personal the contact, the greater the impact.

For more tips and sample campaigns plans, see YVS’s handbooks Winning Young Voters and Young Voter Mobilization Tactics I and II, available at www.youngvoterstrategies.org. Also check out our opinion polling, demographic research, and latest news.

The Parent's Television Council

needs a crash course on basic parenting. (Like Kryptonite to Stupid)

The Parent's Television Council, a right wing organization set up by Brent Bozell (of Media Research Center) to get a small minority of righties say-so over what's allowed on tv sent an email out Tuesday complaining about the recent ruling turning back FCC fines over cursing on broadcast tv. What I noticed was the graphic accompanying PTC's email.

Apparently something "objectionable" is on the tv and the kid is covering his eyes. And the dad? The dad is HOLDING A REMOTE and LEANING IN TO GET A CLOSER LOOK. He could quit being a perv in front of his kid and change the channel...

But somehow this is a job for government censors.

Fight Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Shameless plug here for a foundation a friend of mine set up after she lost her son to SMA. This is information she emailed just today, and hey, why have a blog if you can't occasionally use it for good?

Good Morning,

I visited Washington D.C. in April to attend a conference on Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). SMA is the disease that killed our son Dylan just before he reached 7 months of age. It is the number one genetic killer or babies. This conference was to address the research and progress that has been made in finding suitable treatment and a cure for SMA. An important piece of information to come from this conference is that the discovery of a back up copy of the SMN protein that is missing and thus causes SMA, can be found in each person with SMA. This means that scientists would not have to try to replicate it, instead they just have to determine how to make that back up copy function as it is supposed to and replace the missing protein. This is great news indeed!

There is a bill called the SMA Treatment Acceleration Act, that would provide funding, education, and establish a coalition of researchers in this field. This Act puts us one huge step closer to a cure for SMA.
We met with our Senators and Representatives to ask for their help in supporting and passing this bill. Now I am asking for your help in keeping it on the top of their agenda. I would greatly appreciate it if you could pass on the letter below and the attached word documents to everyone you know, asking them to send these documents to their Senators and Representatives. Everyday we get emails that are jokes, or heartfelt stories that we pass on. This is an email that can impact thousands of lives and really make a difference, please pass it on and also send the letter on yourself.

For those of you in Utah, I am providing the email addresses of the Aids for Senators Hatch and Bennett, along with Representative Bishop's aid. (Before you send on, you will need to change the names to your Senator/Representative.)

gordon.larsen@mail.house.gov

guy_clifton@hatch.senate.gov

amber_sechrist@bennett.senate.gov

I appreciate your help and support. In case you want to see the faces of SMA, on Youtube there is a video that was played at our conference that will show you our kids. The very last photo is of my beautiful son Dylan. Spinal Muscular Atrophy Kids Video (The Kids of Fight SMA).

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely,
Amy Strebel
President
Dylan's Friends/fightsma Utah
www.fightsma.org

(SAMPLE LETTER, ORRIN HATCH)

Orrin G. Hatch
The United States Senate
Washington, D.C.


Dear Senator Hatch:

Our families are writing you to ask your help in the fight against spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the neuromuscular disease that affects, and potentially kills, our children.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy destroys the nerves controlling voluntary muscle movement, which affects crawling, walking, head and neck control and even swallowing. SMA is the number one genetic killer of babies under two. One in every 35 people carries the gene for SMA without even knowing. SMA is similar in severity and incidence to other well-known genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. These and over 40 other genetic disorders will benefit from additional progress on SMA.

Researchers have discovered the gene responsible for SMA, opening the door to promising new treatments. SMA was selected by NIH as the prototype for an accelerated drug discovery effort, singling out SMA as the disease closest to treatment of more than 600 neurological disease. Though there is reason for hope, resources are needed to move forward in finding a cure for SMA. With your help, we can find a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

As a call to arms on behalf of SMA research, the SMA community led by Families of SMA, The SMA Foundation and FightSMA has united behind the SMA Treatment Acceleration Act. Congressman Eric Cantor, a longtime friend to the SMA community, has agreed to cosponsor this bill. He is actively seeking a Democratic partner. Once a bi-partisan bill has been established, Senator Debbie Stabenow has agreed to sponsor the bill on the Democratic side.

Enclosed is the SMA Treatment Acceleration act. Congressman Cantor is determined to have a bipartisan bill before introduction. Senator Hatch, we hope that you will consider taking the lead on this important legislation in the Senate on the Republican side.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this important legislation.

Sincerely,
(Your Name and Address)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Do School Vouchers Work?

I've been thinking about the economics of school vouchers for the last few days. It seems to me that it essentially comes back to the same right vs. left debate of can the government provide something better than the open market. Now if you ask that question of any republican, they would tell you that the market will provide the better (insert service here) than a government can, except for defense, and infrastructure, and things that companies can't really make a lot of money off of (which these days are becoming quite scarce). The same argument applies to a lot of what's talked about in the political world right now (for example health care), but when you boil down the argument the question is simply, can the private sector provide the essential needs to a society in a way that is beneficial to both the society, and the private sector's bottom line?

So the argument on vouchers from the right is, "Individual choice and competition will improve our education system." To which the left responds "Vouchers only create choice and competition to those who already have access to alternate education options."

To better state my horribly simplified arguments, the Deseret News wrote a story about who vouchers will help.

Outside of tuition for private schools there are other costs, said Sarah Meier, member of UTPS. Families have to provide transportation to school, if it's not in their neighborhood, and purchase uniforms.
Plus, if a child qualifies for free or reduced lunch in a public school, there is no comparable program in a private school. And many private schools require parents to volunteer a set amount of hours each year — something low-income parents could have a hard time doing.

So basically if you can't afford a private school already, and extra $500 to $3,000 isn't going to push you over the top. If you already have the means to put your children in private school, here's a check. The right disagrees.
But voucher supporters say vouchers will help low-income families the most.
Leah Barker, spokeswoman for Parents for Choice in Education and Children First Utah, an organization that gives private school scholarships to low-income families, said $3,000 will go a long way since the average cost for a K-8 school in Utah is around $4,000.
She said at Children First Utah the average family of four that qualifies for the scholarships makes less than $25,000 a year. And half of last year's 2,000 applicants at Children First Utah were from minority families.
"The (voucher program) is clearly favoring low-income families — those are the people who are really going to want to access vouchers," Barker said.

So they say $3,000 is enough for a low income family to have the opportunity to remove their child from public schooling and place them in the private school of their choice. Notice the chart at the bottom of the article though, tuition amounts, per year per student, based on those numbers the average seems quite a bit higher than $4,000. Even if the average is $4,000 though, where is a low income family supposed to come up with the extra $1,000 when they are trying to provide shelter for and feed their families?

Logistical problems aside, do voucher programs provide what they are claiming they will, or, in other words, does the private sector step up and provide the service better than the government? The National Education Association doesn't think so, but they go farther than just not thinking so, they've studied existing voucher programs and monitored the results. Their findings aren't what voucher advocates will want to hear.
Proponents of private school tuition vouchers make a wide array of claims about their benefits. They claim that competition will spur public school improvement, vouchers will reduce the cost of education, students who get vouchers will show dramatic achievement gains, and vouchers are a success in most industrialized nations. None of this has happened.

To summarize the findings, the majority of voucher users were all ready in private school, or had their family had the means to do so (and we aren't talking a 53% majority, rather in the 80 and 90% range); no statistically significant improvements have been shown by voucher students, meaning a students education is more contingent upon the commitment to education by themselves and their family, not whether they are in a private or public school; vouchers cost a lot of money, often times more than is projected; and public opinion is against vouchers, and for improving public education.

Overall the school voucher idea seems to be full of idealistic economic thinking that doesn't come to fruition when actually set in motion. Personally, I would make the same argument to the majority of the right's economic ideas. The argument for open market economics providing the best service on goods and services necessary to a society neglects the fact that the private companies will expose the necessity of their goods to enlarge their profits (I don't know if any one's noticed this or not, but gas prices have gotten ginormous lately). Now I'm not saying that private schools are in it for the bottom line, but I don't think they are the magic cure all that voucher advocates proclaim them to be. Which would make school vouchers amount to little more than an socially expensive tax cut for the rich.

Monday, June 4, 2007

I'm Stunned By The Standard Examiner

Now I've been following the editorial pages of the Standard Examiner for a while now, and it's starting to get to the point where I just roll my eyes when I see "The Washington Post" or "Doug Gibson" somewhere in or around the byline. I suppose that when I first started paying attention to local media outlets I expected some bias, and was surprised (in a bad way) at how bad it actually was (here is what I've said about the SE before).

Then, last Friday, I was literally shocked to see 2 liberal commentaries on the same day. They were both picked up from other outlets (Scripps Howard News Service and The Philadelphia Inquirer) so the local staff didn't write it, but at least it wasn't the WaPo or The Heritage Foundation, so I'll give them credit for a step in a direction I agree with (though I don't think it will last)

The first column written by Paul Campos has the audacity to say that perhaps we shouldn't be fighting in Iraq anymore. And that it would maybe even be in the best interest, supporting even, of our troops.

But for a good portion of our political and media elites, the security situation in Iraq is always "getting a bit better" from what it was last month, or last week, or yesterday, a conclusion that is much easier to reach when it isn't your child or husband or father whose life continues to be put on the line, in the pursuit of goals those elites no longer even bother to define except in the vaguest and most implausible terms.

The most revolting argument made by proponents of the Vietnam War was that "we" (and by "we" they always meant someone else) couldn't withdraw from that country because "we" would lose face before the world. Naturally these types of claims have to be dressed up in all sorts of preposterous nonsense about "dominos" and how "they" will follow us here if "we" (again, "we" -- have these people no sense of decency?) do not fight them over there.

Seems about right to me, the media follows the White House's talking points without calling them on any of the previous last throes of insurgency/ greeted as liberators/ Mission Accomplished/ about $1 billion cost of war talking points. Granted there is a case to be made for them being due to get one right, but I'm not jumping all over that one yet, and shouldn't the media at least ask them about it occasionally?

And of course Paul does throw some jabs at congress, to help spread the blame.
enabled by a cowardly Congress, many of whose members are willing to sacrifice the lives of American soldiers in return for slightly increasing their already astronomical odds of re-election

I'd say that sums up the Right side of congress, and some of the left, but there isn't a whole lot that can be done barring a 2/3 majorities (rough numbers: that's 17 Republicans breaking off, assuming Lieberman keeps doing his thing, in the Senate and 57 Republican Representatives in the House), or complete presidential turn around. Either of those are gonna be tough, although I think 74 people would change their minds before the President. It's nice to see the SE not catering to just what the majority of their readers already think/know.

On to number two. Dick Polmon points out that Republicans are already backing off of their previous September will give us the answer statements.
It's clear they already know this disastrous war will hardly look different in September; hence the need to start lowballing expectations as early as possible. The aim, of course, will be to pre-spin September's undoubtedly mixed results as an argument for giving the Bush team even more time to chase its ever-elusive dreams. Which means that September could be a tough month for Republicans who have already promised to hang tough with Bush until then, but not necessarily beyond. Right now, they seem to think that Petraeus is going to provide them with political cover in September, but that's likely to be merely another Iraq war delusion.

Now from what I've seen on the interweb today, Petraeus is saying he'll keep troops there, about 120,000 or so, if we're lucky.
Army Gen. David Petraeus reportedly proposes a drop in troop levels from 150,000 to 130,000 by December 2008, with additional reductions in 2009.

I'm sure there are some Republicans that are just dieing to hear that press conference.

And finally, I was curious to see what those who write letters to the editor of the Standard Examiner thought of all this, and I found this one. It's off topic, but it made me laugh. Can someone please congratulate Chris on managing to stuff the ACLU, Democratic Party, and the UEA into the same "out to get us group". Oh, and if you could explain to him that he simply has to vote to keep the vouchers, and enough people are as afraid of being controlled as he is, it will all work out in the end. Right now, polls are looking good for no vouchers, but Chris will do everything he can to narrow that gap.

Friday, June 1, 2007

US Constitution for Dummies

If only they made such a book.

David Brooks, of the New York Times:

"Listen, the Democrats were quite up-front saying, 'We're going to fund the troops at the end of the day.... If we have to cave in, we will cave in.' And the reason they caved in is because of the Constitution. The Constitution gives the president power to wage war and really to manage this thing. And the Democrats never really had a potential to reverse that."
The Constitution, in fact, says just the opposite. The President must ask Congress for permission to wage war, or continue waging war, or invade and occupy a country. And it wasn't this Congress who gave him the permission to do so. The Democrats simply balked at the perceived political cost of defunding, and ending this war (a "risk" mainly created and perpetuated by the media, including Mr. Brooks). Much ado was given to the "political loss" resulting from ending the Vietnam war, when in fact Democrats gained popularity after that war ended.

It really is time to expect more of our media.

TelCos and the Myth of Competition

A Franchise of Deception. (Freepress)

In the past two years telephone companies have rushed to introduce national and statewide video franchising legislation around the country to better position themselves as cable TV providers. Having failed last year in Congress to buy favorable national legislation, the telcos have now turned to the states for the regulatory edge they seek. Thus far 14 states have passed statewide video franchise bills, beginning with Texas back in 2005.

The elusive telco goal is ‘triple play’, a combination of three communications services (phone, data and pay TV) rolled into one marketing gimmick — and more importantly an airtight one-year contract at the now predictable introductory $99 monthly rate.

A brief look at state video franchise titles speaks volumes on the creative writing intentions of the authors. What politician could possibly vote against legislation with such egalitarian well intentioned titles? Of course, few elected officials actually read these mammoth bills anyway, most never get past the bill summaries which are often as fictitious as the titles. It’s just surprising that “Patriotism” wasn’t somehow worked into one these bill titles:

Consumer Choice Act of 2007 — FL
Consumer Choice for Television Act — GA
Cable and Video Competition Law of 2007 — IL
Consumer Choice and Competition for Cable Service Act — MA
Minnesota Video Competition Act — MN
Competitive Cable and Video Services Act — TN
The Colorado Consumer Cable Act — CO


More accurate titles would be:
The Elimination of the Public Interest Act
Loss of Local Media Services Act
Loss of Right of Way Act
Not Available in ‘Their’ Neighborhood Cable Act
We’ll Raise Your Rates Too Cable Act

When in Doubt — Pay Out
Suddenly my $99 Qwest bundle doesn't seem so apealing.