Tuesday, 24 February 2004
My mother the terrorist.
Yesterday a Bush Administration official designated my parents as members of a terrorist organization. To think that Mom and Dad had me fooled all those years: Here I thought they were teaching kids how to read and do math, when in fact they were subversively manipulating those innocent children to question authority, form their own opinions, and possibly even to vote for Democrats. Treason! Treason, I say!
Education Secretary Rod Paige later clarified his remarks, saying that it was the members of the National Education Assocation's union organization who were terrorists, not the rank and file members of the union. Unfortunately Dad was our local school district's chief negotiator before he retired, which means he probably still qualifies: No doubt such nefarious activities as leading a contract negotiation or striking for better pay (gasp!) qualify as terrorist program-related activities.
So, it looks like Mom and Dad are getting a one-way ticket to Gitmo, without the benefit of trial or counsel — just like the other U.S. citizens who have been so designated by the Bush Administration. It'll be rough at Christmas time, but I'm sure we'll rest easier knowing that War President Bush is keeping our nation safe and secure.
(Link via Whiskey Bar.)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:20 am. comments.
Tuesday, 24 February 2004
I went to a caucus, and it was okay.
It was the Howard Dean campaign in miniature: Last Friday I attended the Democrats Abroad caucus in Sydney, Australia, spoke on behalf of Dean, helped him win a plurality of votes on the first ballot, and then everyone else in the room united behind Kerry. I now have a very good understanding of how Dean lost the Iowa caucus, and of what to do differently next time — but that enlightenment didn't come in time to help win Dean a delegate (or, in this case, a lousy one-fourth of a delegate).
In spite of Australia having the sixth-largest population of Americans living abroad, Americans living in Australia are surprisingly hard to round up for a political meeting. This is partly because many Americans came to Australia in the first place to avoid American politics (Canada wasn't the only place where Vietnam draft-dodgers dodged, y'know), and partly because people speak English in Australia — sort of — and are generally friendly to us foreigners. In other countries you find the Americans clumped together in a walled compound and leaning on each other for mutual support, so it's relatively easy to contact them all and find the ones who are motivated enough to attend a caucus. That's not the case here.
So, Democrats Abroad is pretty thin on the ground in Oz. Nineteen people showed up for the caucus in Sydney; ideally there would have been regional caucuses in Melbourne, Brisbane and so forth that fed their results into the Sydney caucus, but DAA didn't have the resources to organize more than one meeting. Some of the attendees were familiar faces: Dean supporters from the January and February meetups turned out to support their candidate, in spite of the fact that Dean had stopped campaigning the week before. Others were newcomers, at least to me.
The night began with statements from the candidates, who could have either sent a statement or a spokesperson (or both). Wesley Clark had mailed in a statement before he dropped out, and John Kerry had sent his statement as well, so two volunteers read them out on behalf of those candidates. I was introduced as the head of the Dean campaign in Australia (it's amazing what $29.95 will buy you on meetup.com) and made a few remarks on why people should still vote for Dean even though he's not actively campaigning. (Among other points, I noted that Australia wouldn't even be having a caucus if it weren't for the Dean supporters who had volunteered to help, which was true.) Edwards and Kucinich didn't supply a statement, but supporters of theirs got up and said a few words on their behalf.
After that, we held a straw poll — which Dean won:
The poll results were non-binding, but provided a "sense of the room" before we began the actual caucus. Since there were 19 people present, one candidate had to emerge with ten votes in order to win a majority; after nominating our delegates (who each pledged to support a particular candidate at the convention), the first ballot went as follows:
So far, so good. The rules of the caucus called for the candidate with the lowest vote total to be dropped — and in the event of a tie both candidates were dropped, so Edwards and Kucinich went bye-bye.
And then came my moment of zen enlightenment. Because there was only one-fourth of a delegate at stake in this caucus, the rules stipulated there would be no horse-trading or discussions of any kind between rounds: Technically speaking there was nothing to trade, because the fourth of a delegate could not be sub-divided any further. So, we immediately proceeded to a second round of voting, without any additional caucusing:
One person abstained in the second tally, but it didn't matter: Kerry had at least ten, and that was all he needed.
If we'd been able to talk amongst ourselves in between rounds — if I'd had thirty seconds and the ear of the Edwards supporters — I might have been able to talk them into swinging their votes over to Dean. At this stage of the campaign, losing to Dean would have counted as a draw in the race between Kerry and Edwards; once Edwards was no longer in a position to win the caucus, his supporters should have recognized as much, and thrown their support to Dean (just as Edwards and Kucinich supporters joined forces in Iowa to deny Dean any second-round victories there).
And, if I had realized going into the caucus that there would be no horse-trading between rounds of voting, I'd have pointed the situation out to Edwards and Kerry supporters earlier in the meeting, while I was speaking on Dean's behalf. (This is what I get for assuming that a caucus is a caucus, and not reading the actual rules more closely.) A timely reminder to Edwards fans that they should have done the strategic thing, and played for a draw in round two, could have resulted in a win for Dean and helped Edwards's chances by denying Kerry a win.
But that didn't happen, and I suspect that a story like this one played out in several hundred little Iowa hamlets on the evening of their caucuses too. Dean's supporters were high in number but low in experience, and the more seasoned players knew how to work the system to their advantage. (Of course a lot of the blame for Dean's failure to ignite must fall squarely on Dean's shoulders: We all know the media hates a front-runner, and that Dean's populist message was an explicit threat to entrenched power bases everywhere — but we all know that. You can't run a campaign and expect to win without taking those factors into account, and Dean's campaign miscalculated them.)
The end result? I'm now slightly better equipped to participate in a caucus, if that need ever arises again, and I'm in touch with several like-minded people who'd prefer that our next president be a bit more fiscally responsible, slightly more respectful of our allies, free from crippling biases and untested ideologies, less of a wingnut when appointing judges, and so on. If Howard Dean has accomplished nothing else (and I think history will record that Dean accomplished more than we currently give him credit for), then at least he's gotten me off the sidelines.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 3:44 am. comments.
Tuesday, 24 February 2004
...our lives, our $35, and our sacred honor.
A year ago I paid my dues to defend the Bill of Rights: I joined the American Civil Liberties Union (First Amendment), the National Riflemen's Association (Second Amendment), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Fourth Amendment). (My Third Amendment rights appear to be safe for the moment, and I'm still shopping around for a fierce Sixth Amendment defender: I should probably just pay the ACLU twice, or else start paying more attention to this court case.) Now that a year has passed, it's time to ask the question: Which of these memberships should I renew?
On the surface, the NRA is the slickest outfit of the three: They sent me a real plastic membership card with an American flag and eagle motif, which can be presented at Ramada Inns nationwide for up to a 30% discount. (No joke. Membership also includes a discount drug plan, plus bargains on all sorts of NRA apparel and merchandise.) The NRA was also the most active of the three organizations at bombarding me with e-mail, requesting that I fax my legislators and urge them to confirm Bill Pryor's nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; they also appear to have shared e-mailing lists with Reverend Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association, a tinfoil hat group on the far right that's now sending me an apocalyptic e-mail of doom once weekly. (At least, I can't fathom any other way I would have gotten onto the AFA mailing list, unless Rev. Wildmon is indiscriminately spamming.)
I have to say that, while I believe that legal, responsible gun ownership is a right that should be protected, I don't approve of treating the judiciary as a second-chance legislature: Judges should be referees and not players. So, I won't be sending any more membership dues in the NRA's direction — but if there's some other organization that defends the Second Amendment without showing a broad, sweeping contempt for the rule of law in the process, I'm all ears.
The ACLU was more of a shoe-string outfit, providing a tear-away paper membership card with a Statue of Liberty theme. (I was disappointed. How am I supposed to show off that I'm a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" with a card that looks like I tore it from a magazine?) There aren't any benefits associated with ACLU membership, aside from the inner glow that comes from supporting a good cause: No discounts, no health plan, no package deals on megaphones or newsprint that I can see. The ACLU sent me occasional e-mails (at least once a month) of the "newsletter" variety, or inviting me to join an online chat with someone (usually a lawyer) about the ongoing threat to civil liberties.
Meanwhile, the ACLU used my membership dues to defend— Rush Limbaugh's right to privacy. Somewhere in a higher dimension Voltaire is laughing with delight: I may think Rush is a big fat liar, but I'll still pay to defend his rights. The ACLU is also fighting the idea that John Ashcroft can violate the plain words of the Sixth Amendment at will, if the defendant is accused of (ahem) weapons of mass destruction program related activities. I'm all for getting terrorists off the streets, but not by enabling future tyrants in the Justice Department. Keep up the good work, ACLU — here's another $35, and it's money well spent.
The EFF surprised me by being the least well-equipped of the three organizations to accept my membership dues via their web site: You would have thought the opposite, but I guess the other two get more donations. (Although, looking at their site today, it looks like they've improved; maybe they used my $25 to upgrade their servers.) To the best of my knowledge I didn't receive any e-mails from the EFF, except for one from the webmaster acknowledging the difficulty I'd had sending them a donation. It's possible that I slipped through the cracks here, and the EFF accepted my money without actually adding me to their membership roster; or, maybe, I just absent-mindedly unchecked all the boxes that allowed the EFF to contact me, since they're very good about asking permission to e-mail.
On the other hand, the EFF goes to bat for issues that will be on the ACLU's plate in another ten years — censorship through the deliberate abuse of copyright law, "digital rights management" that restricts fair use of the material, standards bodies and industry groups that behave as de facto cartels, using the legal system as a weapon to bankrupt individuals, and so on. They're up against a gallery of 21st-century robber barons, most of whom (unlike their 19th century counterparts) don't even offer up the fig leaf that their grasping greed makes our economy more efficient. Here again I think I'm getting off cheap by spending only $25 to defend these rights, when my forefathers risked their entire fortunes and more to establish them.
So, two out of three organizations get their renewal checks… and I'm in the market for a Second Amendment defender that isn't explicitly trying to rig the judiciary in their favor. Any takers?
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:25 am. comments.
Monday, 16 February 2004
I've been tweaking the blog's style sheets yet again, and I've come up with a new look — but you may need a broadband connection (and an up-to-date browser) to enjoy it. The style sheet is called "Sea Salt," and you can select it from the popup menu in the sidebar; it has a background image that weighs in at about 800K, and makes use of the CSS background-attachment property, on which Micosoft's Internet Explorer browser doesn't conform to the spec.
I'm not going to suggest that you upgrade your browser to something more modern, because I don't like sites that require a certain browser or operating system any more than you do. But if you have a fast connection and a standards-compliant browser, check out the new style and let me know what you think.
Also, in the astoundingly unlikely event that someone wants to place an ad here, I've sold out to commercialism and put up a link to Blogads. Corporate sponsorship, here I come!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:28 am. comments.
Monday, 16 February 2004
Riots in Redfern.
And you thought race riots only happened in America: The Sydney suburb of Redfern, which I drive through on the way to work every morning, erupted in violence last night in response to the death of a local teenager. Residents of the predominantly Aboriginal area claim the teen was being chased by police (which the police deny) when he lost control of his bicycle and was impaled through the neck on a metal fence. Eight officers were injured in the ensuing riot, and the railway station was firebombed.
To make an extremely sweeping generalization, Australian Aboriginals appear to have the same social status in Oz that African-Americans endure in the United States — the bottom rung of the caste system, with many of the same stereotypes applying to both groups. The parallel isn't exact, of course, and in some ways indigenous Australians have more in common with Native Americans… but some of the problems are the same: Ghettos, poverty, crime, hostility, prejudice, lack of opportunity. I wish I could say that Australia had solved these problems and that America could learn from their example, but yesterday's violence says that isn't the case.
I drove past the railway station on the way into work today; the windows are all burned out, the sign is partially torn down, and there were more police in riot gear than I've ever personally seen. I wonder what tonight will be like.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:28 am. comments.
Wednesday, 11 February 2004
First to go:
Yesterday Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that he can't remember the claim that Iraq had WMDs ready to launch in 45 minutes.
I guess the second thing to go is your credibility.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:18 am. comments.
Monday, 09 February 2004
Today the United States and Australia finalized the free-trade agreement that both countries had been negotiating for almost a year; all Americans will immediately benefit from access to inexpensive Australian auto parts, light commercial vehicles, and pharmaceuticals — and eventually (give or take 18 years) will be able to purchase Australian beef and dairy products at the market price.
What Americans won't get, alas, is cheap sugar. The sugar lobby's death grip on Washington costs Americans over $2 billion a year, in artificially high prices on everything from candy to bakery goods — and, get this, American taxpayers are footing the bill for storing excess sugar in warehouses: If the price of sugar falls below the cartel's limit, the federal government buys sugar it doesn't need to drive the price back up! It's a hidden tax of about $20 a year on each American family that the Bush administration just negotiated to continue, when it had a perfect opportunity to plead for the common good instead and to show that the United States honors its allies with more than just words. Doesn't America's most reliable and steadfast ally deserve better treatment than this?
The sugar cartel employs about 55,000 people in the United States; the candy-making industry employs about 65,000, but those jobs are all escaping to Canada and Mexico to avoid the cost of American sugar. (Labor costs also play a role, but the cost of raw materials plays a bigger one.) The sugar lobby is also supported by agribusiness, because raising the price of cane and beet sugar makes corn syrup viable as a cheaper alternative. (Soft drink manufacturers made the switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup long ago. Baked goods and candy can't change their recipes as easily, so they're stuck with paying inflated sugar prices.)
The free-trade pact is good economic news, and will benefit both Australians and Americans. But if it weren't for the sugar money spent lavishly on our representatives, the American taxpayer would have saved billions more and the Australian sugar farmer would have gained a new market. Australia's reward for going into harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq (among other places) apparently isn't worth what the American sugar lobby spends on corrupting our public officials.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:48 am. comments.
Thursday, 05 February 2004
121 down, 2,040 to go:
My response to a comment over at Daily Kos (that blog is like heroin for political junkies) about the current state of the Dean campaign:
tell me how Dean can win. I'm not saying candidates who don't have a realistic chance of winning the nomination should be forced to leave, but what could the Dean campaign possibly be planning now that the MI/WA rebound looks less feasible and states like CA seem to be heading Kerry's way…
Dean can win by getting 2,161 delegates to vote for him at the convention, just like anyone else. Keep in mind that Kerry's "unstoppable momentum" is the same momentum that Dean had a month ago, and that most (if not all) of Kerry's upswing is the bandwagoning that automatically follows the front-runner. That status could be lost just as quickly as it came, and Kerry's campaign could return to the dead-fish impersonation it was doing until mid-January.
If Dean succeeds in firewalling Kerry in Wisconsin on the 17th, or builds up a lead in the March 2nd polls, then that front-runner momentum shifts back in his direction and leaves him with enough time to collect 2,161 delegates — or, in the political junkie's dream scenario, Dean and Kerry both go to the convention with 2,000 delegates and a sudden appreciation for what a wonderful VP Edwards would make. Could be exciting.
The question is whether Dean can get his momentum back in time. For people (like me) who've thought all along that Dean was the better candidate, he's still the better candidate — and, until the nomination is decided, you should be supporting the person you think is the best candidate regardless. Choosing a candidate based on "electability" means that you're letting other people make the choice for you: It's no longer your opinion, but what you think your neighbor will think. Our friends in the GOP will gladly take advantage of that behavior and lead us around by the nose if we're not careful.
So. If Kerry gets the same press treatment that Dean did as the front-runner, then Kerry should be radioactive and covered with toxic sludge by the 17th; Dean, meanwhile, will be saving up for a media blitz in Wisconsin and setting the stage for his comeback. With Clark a week away from bowing out, and Edwards failing to broaden his regional appeal, the story that's left for the media to tell is Kerry vs. a resurgent Dean — and every journalist out there knows how to write that one up. It was always going to come down to Dean and one other candidate; everyone still has that script in their back pocket, and it won't take much to kick off an avalanche of suddenly Dean-friendly media coverage.
Dean's other, enormous advantage is that his political oxygen is coming from a broad base of small donors. The rumors of Dean's bankruptcy were greatly exaggerated, and Dean's fundraising is much healthier than conventional wisdom says it should be at this point: He is going to be very, very tough to knock out of the race by any means other than delegate math.
I'm not saying I wouldn't prefer that Dean were in the lead right now, because then I could be telling people how Dean's momentum was unstoppable and everyone else might as well throw their support behind the winning team. But if you look at where the race is likely to be in a week or two then… well, I might still get to say that line.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:48 am. comments.
Tuesday, 03 February 2004
The song remains the same.
From a comment left at Daily Kos:
- Ross Perot rides a grassroots swell of support against special interests and politics as usual. The media unfairly characterizes him as a short, temperamental man who is unelectable. His campaign is destroyed.
- John McCain rides a grassroots swell of support against special interests and politics as usual. The media unfairly characterizes him as a short, temperamental man who is unelectable. His campaign is destroyed.
- Howard Dean rides a grassroots swell of support against special interests and politics as usual. The media unfairly characterizes him as a short, temperamental man who is unelectable. …and on and on and on…
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:22 pm. comments.
Monday, 02 February 2004
As a response of sorts to Steven Den Beste's Essential Library, which
is a series of recent op-ed pieces reflecting his political views,
I've assembled a collection that should (in my opinion) score
somewhat higher on anyone's "essential" reading list.
Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail,"
16 April 1963.
Arrested for leading a protest march without a permit, King and his
followers were condemned by local clergymen for a protest that was, in
their view, "unwise and untimely." King's response, composed in his cell
on scraps of paper, is a classic reminder of why we celebrate his birth.
Winston Churchill, Address to the
House of Commons
, 4 June 1940. Holland and Belgium knocked out of the
war. France teetering on the brink of surrender. The British forced to
evacuate at Dunkirk, leaving 68,000 men behind. With the Soviets and
Americans yet to enter the conflict, the future of Great Britain had never
looked so grim; Churchill's speech, under the circumstances, is the
greatest roar of defiance imaginable.
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Horace Greeley
, 22 August 1862; Gettysburg Address
, 19 November 1863; Second Inaugural Address
, 4 March 1865. Lincoln's wartime
speeches and writings are masterworks of eloquence and brevity; with a
handful of words he dedicates himself—and the nation—to
preserving the Union and the very concept of democracy.
Ronald Reagan, "Remarks
at the Brandenburg Gate,"
12 June 1987; John F. Kennedy, "Remarks in the
Rudolph Wilde Platz,"
26 June 1963. Reagan and Kennedy are the
modern-day patron saints of their respective political parties, and
their speeches marked the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. Against the
backdrop of Communism's stark admission of failure, both men spoke in
passionate defense of freedom.
Thomas Jefferson et al., the Declaration of
, 4 July 1776. History records the story of America
in her eternal struggle to honor these words.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 2:55 am. comments.