Wednesday, December 28, 2005

iraqi democracy. good idea || bad idea?

Jacksonville is no New York City (as if it wasn't obvious). Driving from the airport back to my house, Bush/Cheney 2004 and yellow "support our troops" ribbon stickers peppered every SUV and truck that passed us on the bridge. The last time I came home, it was for Thanksgiving. I ended up getting into a fight with my friend's little brother over politics. If you want an insight into how Bush won a second term presidency with a majority vote, talk to him.

No he didn't offer any stunning insight, nor is he a borderline genius just waiting to be uncovered; he represents the predominant American response towards 9-11 terrorism, fear. He kept snickering at me, "liberal". When I pushed him a little deeper, you know hot button topics of the day like Iraq, he tossed back at me that he couldn't understand why I didn't just let it go, "we're there, give it up". When you have a brother in the Marine Corp. who one day in college simultaneously became the head of a frat, avid listener to country music, and ardent republican, it's almost like having Rush Limbaugh living with you. Southerners are tacitly interested in politics, most things are gung ho attitudes left over from the last presidential election or some flare up ala Cindy Sheehan or gay marriage.
Everyone supports the troops, the world is different after 9/11 (we have to think with a different paradigm), we're in Iraq so deal with it (no one even bothers to debate the decision to go in the first place), George Bush is no-nonsense you whiny liberal.

I really had had enough. I really pushed him and he got red in the face. Ask probing questions like, "ok so we're in Iraq, what do we do now?" after a few minutes of trying to make a semblance of an answer I got something similar to, we can't pull out troops because that strengthens the terrorists. I almost thought I was watching FOX news. Push a little harder. "So you just want to sit in Iraq, you think it's ok to have a refill 30,000 troops and maintain a presence in Iraq? You think its ok for your brother to have to get his stay in Iraq extended? Make a deadline, what needs to get done, Constitution, Government, etc. then withdraw slowly, you don't need a hard timeline, what's so wrong about that?” He stared at me. I thought he was going to cry, in an argument you feel good when you win; there is nothing feel good about crushing a 16 year old. I ended with, "you keep telling me to let it go and that I am criticizing what you passionately believe in, I don't think you actually know what you believe in". I think I went too far. It's too bad I'm pretty sure I was right, I felt pretty terrible.

My point in relating this anecdote was that there are somethings that we as the American public just take for granted. We can usually tell the two sides of a coin, we know hot and cold are opposites, we have a basic sense of right and wrong, we know that our democracy is better (at least for us) an oppressive authoritarian government. So when we proclaim that we are sending our troops out the Iraq and the middle east, even as partisan as we are, as much as half the country thinks that marching into Iraq and deposing Saddam was a good idea, deep down we still kind of think that spreading democracy is a good idea.

I had an epiphany one day as I was lying in bed. Maybe invading Iraq was a good idea. I couldn't remember the exact reasoning but over the next few days I pieced together that it was similar to playing a RTS game like Civilization 4. If you want to start expanding your influence and having a section of the world become friendlier, you can carve out some land and use it as a beacon for your world view. We have a democratic haven next to Iran and Saudi Arabia by which we can effectively pursue and drive out terrorism.

I entertained that idea for about a week before reality stepped in and I realized just how similar that idea actually was to a computer game, an idealized version of reality and its mechanisms.

Liberals like myself, started off the criticism of the Iraq invasion by saying that democracy isn't good for every country, different strokes for different folks. Conservatives said we were digging our own graves that thinking like that was creating too much headway for terrorists and their harbor states.

That approach wasn't the right way to look at the situation as I've recently discovered. The real question is, is democracy a curse in disguise, and is it actually a threat to American security?

Iraq recently had its parliamentary elections; everyone in the administration patted themselves on the back. Looking at the election results we see the clear winner, religious fundamentalists: Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds. With a Shia dominated parliament, it is difficult to say that we are better off, "we" being Americans. We have not created a bastion of democracy in the Middle East; we have created an Islamic Republic.

There is nothing wrong with Islam. It's just that that neighborhood isn't full of potlucks and picnics. Iran new ruling party openly wants to blow up Israel, so two years down the road, pair up Iran that wants to blow up Israel, Sunnis who aren't exactly our best friends and have been leading Iraqi resistance, Saudis that wouldn't mind blowing up Israel, and Palestine's Hamas and you have one big mosh pit of fun. So in the name of democracy, we've allowed the people to build the foundations of an Islamic state, a concept which is still rather fundamental (Islamic democracy, that is). With only a basic premise as to how an Islamic democracy would work, the people will default to a religious Islamic state and with that comes the specter of possible continued terrorism and Middle Eastern conflict. Did we just accidentally tip the religious balance in the region? Israel, watch out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

interesting articles.

The second one... I admit, I haven't read it yet, but it's an expose on Diebold and their voting machines.

I don't understand the way electronic voting machines are being handled in our country. President Bush, after his election, the first one, promised that there would be no more, alleged voting scandals. We would have clean elections, Katherine Harris would update everything so Florida wasn't the laughing stock of the nation, etc.

What happened though? I'm sure the article offers insight into it. Katherine Harris hasn't done anything, well other than help Bush get elected. Florida hasn't updated anything, in my county, Duval, we can't even provide enough voting stations in our downtown area.

If we truly truly wanted to fix the voting in our country, and we were dead set on making it electronic we could have done it, we can still do it. We have the most brilliant computer scientists at our top universities, who I'm positive, wouldn't mind working on a project like this. So here's my list of how to fix elections to make them clean.

1. Electronic voting machine software is completely open source. this allows academics to look at it, hackers on the internet to look at it, and your armchair computer scientist to look at it and assess vulnerabilities, code weakness and tampering. Why shouldn't the code be open to inspection? The secrecy makes no sense, how can we expect to trust the government if they are so secretive?

2. Ask nation's top computer scientists to pitch in, provide a grant for their time.

3. Paper trail.

What's so difficult about this? You'd think after all of the software malfunctions and machine failures, we'd think, ding ding ding, what we've got doesn't work. That is of course, if the powers that be actually want the voting process to be fair and accurate.

Monday, December 05, 2005

round 2005. fight.

I was trying to write a witty boxing match intro between Christianity and Atheism... (not just atheism, but every other religion practiced in the United States), but that turned out to be a lot lamer and a lot less funny than I had though.

Has anybody been catching the O'Reilly factor, Fox "News", or maybe just lately? If you have, you might have noticed that there is something going on called "the war on Christmas". If you're like me, you have no idea what the hell, the war on Christmas is. Last time I checked, the only war we were waging was the one on Terror (with a capital "T"), and that wasn't going so well.

Sidenote (vaguely amusing):
from - "The only Republican congressman who did not offer to have sex with John Murtha on the House floor was Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio. While debating Murtha's own proposal to withdraw American troops from Iraq in the middle of a war waged to depose a monstrous dictator who posed a threat to American national security"

Since when did we wage a war to depose a monstrous dictator? I thought we waged a war against the terrorists who flew a plane into the World Trade Center a hundred and some blocks south of me. Also I thought we already established that he did not pose a threat to American National Security. Sometimes you wonder when these people, Bill O'Reilly, Coulter, etc. claim to be fair and balanced, are they just talking from underneath the payroll of the Republican party? If they were I wouldn't be suprised, these days, who isn't?

Moving on. Christmas. I was wondering since when has the United States been waging a war on Christmas? I must have missed the email. Fox News posted just recently a talking point that "economic disaster if liberals win the war on Christmas". Apparently there is some sort of secret plan by the political left to "undermime" the holiday season as apparently in America, Christianity has monopolized the month of December in all forms of material wealth (I thought Jesus wasn't big on material wealth). The big outrage apparently is that the right says that the left believes that since we live in a country whose constitution (at least by most people's interpretation of the First Amendment) does not embrace one religion over another's we should not be so blatant about Christmas, aka our tax dollars don't go toward funding a giant Christmas tree in the middle of NYC when not all of us are Christians. Bill O'Reilly gave a lot of heat to Boston for their short lived use of the "holiday tree".

At what point do we realize that the Christmas Tree has nothing to do with Christ? It's funny that such things are never mentioned in the Bible, yet we are brainwashed into believing so. Christianity was an aggressive animal during the outset, it was smart and calculating and realized it needed to incoorperate other beliefs if they ever wanted to increase their flock with the as of yet unconverted pagan masses.

At what point do we realize that Christmas, for very few has anything to do with Christ, but has everything to do with your bratty sons and daughters hoping that they find an Xbox 360 under their Christmas Tree? Christmas, the ultimate celebration of materialism and excess.

But war on Christmas? To me it sounds like an excercise in political correctness and making sure we follow the constitution.

The war on Christmas is entirely fabricated and designed to embolden everyone to buy more. "Gosh those fucking liberals don't want Christmas, we'll show them how much we love Christmas, let's goto Wal-Mart kids!". Democrats in the Senate and the house, I don't even need to research before saying that most of them are Christians and celebrate Christmas and have Christmas trees, etc. I would go so far as to say that the majority of this country is Christmas and uses all the Christian terminology for the late December time frame. So who is behind this left wing anti-Christmas conspiracy that threatens, according to Fox News, to spell immenent economic catastrophe (funny because if Bush's economic strategy continues to stagnate... we can blame those crazy now Christmas people)? Scare tactics. We've had our ups and downs for major retailers forever, there is no 1% of the population war on Christmas that is going to make a difference.

The funny part is Bill O'Reilly is advocating for a boycott of all stores that don't use "Merry Christmas" in their advertising, FOX blames radical lefties for not supporting the economics of Christmas time. flip flop flip flop.

The left is stupid if it keeps fielding people to go on FOX to further pronounce this war on Christianity. It doesn't exist, stop falling into the trap.

Let's actually do research for once.
Deloitte Consulting has put out their 2005 Holiday season prediction on consumer retail spending. 65% of companies expect stagnant sales. They have reasons why the Holiday season spending will be lower this year, here's a hint, it's not the "war on christmas" conspiracy. Thank god FOX isn't in the consulting industry. All of their inaccuracies and outlooks leave me wondering, how are so many academics fans of Fox news? It bewilders the mind. The deviation in data and conclusions from FOX and EVERYONE who does this for a living is astounding.

Reasons for Holiday 2005 downturn:
Here is an interesting paragraph-
Since the spring of 2003, retailers have enjoyed a strong selling environment. The combination of steady job growth,stable prices, tax cuts and low interest rates pushed real consumer spending up at an annualized rate of 3.8% over this 24 month period, well above the 2.4% pace of the
previous 2 years. However, this overall performance was somewhat below average for the typical upswing of an economy recovering from recession.
The business cycle does not remain in the upswing forever. After 18 to 30 months of improving sales growth, any pent up consumer demand is spent. Consumer debt levels rise, income and employment growth slows, and, with them, consumer
spending grows at a more tepid pace.

And here I was thinking that Republican economic policies were largely long term plans that I didn't understand, this makes it seem like all of our economic policies during Bush Term II have been patches and temporary fixes.

1. Hurrican Katrina
2. Energy Prices
3. Real Wages deteriorated
4. Employment Growth low
5. Savings and Debt (near 0 and getting larger, respectively)

"Real wage growth has turned negative, employment growth has flattened, and
savings rates are approaching zero."

What happened to stimulating the economy? What happened to the administration claiming we were creating more and better jobs? Truth is that we created lots of temp jobs, wages are going down, people are saving less... I think it's about time to get serious about the economy. We live in a spend spend spend spend lifestyle, we aren't as competitive in the global market anymore, we are hating on intellectualism, pushing religion as actual science, have we gone crazy?

Christianity is just political capital?

Get the IRS OUT of My Church
Bradley Whitford

I have been a member of the All Saints Church in Pasadena for over ten years. The recent revelations of an IRS investigation into its non-profit status as the result of a sermon given a week before the last presidential election by Rector Emeritus George Regas has outraged and galvanized our congregation.

The support we have received from across the spectrum of faith communities, including traditionally conservative evangelical leaders, has solidified our resolve—the United States government has no place in our houses of worship, and the selective targeting of churches who speak out on the issues of the day sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the religious freedom of every citizen.

The sermon in question explicitly refused to endorse a particular candidate. It did, however, hold George Bush and John Kerry up to the high standard of Christian values. Both were found wanting.

Values not put into action are meaningless, no matter how lofty they are. It is the obligation of our spiritual leaders to not just articulate those values, but to make them a reality.

We live in an age where describing oneself as a “person of faith” carries with it a tremendous political advantage. But too often in the public arena, being “religious” is defined only as a search for personal salvation and a willingness to adhere to dogma.

Declaring oneself a Christian is easy. Putting Christian values to work in a dangerous and violent world is not.

Perhaps the best response to the tragedy of 9/11 was a preemptive war against a country that had nothing to do with the attacks. Tens of thousands of deaths later, perhaps it is still the right decision.

But it is not Christian.

Perhaps it is good economics to give me, an actor on a television show, over a quarter of a million dollars in tax relief over the last five years as the poverty rate climbs, as we burden our children with structural budget deficits and cut services for our most vulnerable citizens.

But it is not Christian.

Perhaps the death penalty is an acceptable way to punish criminals.

But it is not Christian.

Jesus Christ was the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Preemptive War. He was an advocate for the poor, not of supply-side economics. And let’s not forget that Jesus himself died in a bogus death-penalty rap. His was the original “bleeding heart,” yet I am afraid he would be described pejoratively by many today as a “do-gooder.”

President Bush proudly proclaims himself a Christian and tells us that his faith has changed his heart. Perhaps one day his faith will change his policies. Until then, I am proud to be a part of a congregation that seeks to hold all public officials to their easy— and too often empty—proclamations of faith.