Friday, August 29, 2003
I've decided to focus on one topic today, that being the California Recall. I have really been of two minds on the subject. On the one hand, it's a valid mechanism in California state government that has been properly enacted. Gray Davis deceived voters in the gubernatorial election and now they are rightly upset and willing to give him the heave-ho. On the other hand, it continues a dangerous precedent begun in the 2000 presidential election: that results don't count. Gray Davis may be a bust, but the voters of California asked for him. Caveat Emptor, people. By trying to nullify the election through the recall, a minority of voters is attempting to thwart the majority desire. That's a disturbing concept.
In the end, I don't like the recall mechanism. If the Governor has committed a crime, then there are legal steps to remove him from office. The only thing Davis is guilty of is incompetence. To allow a recall over that sets us down a road I don't think we should be following. Allowing 25% of the electorate to potentially deny the will of the voters is a form of tyranny that has no place in this country.
Which is another problem with recalls. And that is that too much of the electorate, quite frankly, is not sophisticated enough to understand the implications of this. Someone comes along and says, "Hey, do you hate Gray Davis? Sign this!" And the person does, thinking that he's really sticking it to Gray when all he's done is stick it to the electoral process. People who are calling this a triumph for democracy are either being ignorant or deceitful.
California, more than any other state, has a national influence through its actions. That can be seen through property tax reform, English immersion classes and more. Unfortunately, this also applies to the recall.
Already there is a similar movement to recall the governor of Nevada because of a tax hike. So now people want to change governors because of tax policy? What's next, starting a recall because your governor called Sept. 9 "Chocolate Chip Cookie Day" and you like macaroons? And of course there is the laughable Recall Bush movement, which completely misses the point. Instead of a tired tit-for-tat, which achieves NOTHING, perhaps they should focus their ire on this stupid recall mechanism and try to get it removed from the state constitution. But that would probably be too much work and then they couldn't sit around all day congratulating themselves on how clever they are.
So now California has to decide whether to chuck Davis. And if so, whom do you pick? Schwarzenegger has some good moderate views, but he is a neophyte at a time when the state is in crisis. Or do you pick Bustamante? Well, he's calling for $8B in new taxes and the state regulation of gasoline prices. Yow. If Bustamante can't understand that the problem in California is too much spending, an out-of-control worker's comp system and a negative business environment, and not gas prices, then he's more out of touch than Davis. Besides, you can't regulate prices on items bought by out-of-state consumers, such as gas. That's interstate commerce and is the purview of the federal, not state, government. Plus, it's just a stupid idea.
So what should Californians do? There is only one thing. They need to walk into that booth, hold their nose and decide to keep Gray Davis, that walking disaster of a governor. This nascent movement towards invalidating elections needs to stop now. In 1979, the US was a whole lot worse off than California is now. But no one thought "Hey, let's try to recall Carter" or developed some snarky movement that was oh-so clever. People just accepted the fact they elected a bust and corrected it in 1980. And California should do the same now.
Elections are the greatest expression of the freedom we enjoy in the United States. Abusing the recall mechanism devalues that freedom. In a way, this is no better than a third-world dictator ignoring an election result. Not happy that your candidate lost? Don't worry, just start a spite-influenced recall. Perpetual elections for all!!
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer talks about an issue that is near and dear to me: the disappearance of rational political discourse. From Ann Coulter to Al Franken, actual reasoned debate is all but dead. Shafer pegs this correctly to the rise of the "liar-liar" books. Coulter's Treason, Franken's Lying Liars and others are summed up by Shafer thusly: "The unspoken premise of the liar-liar books - no matter who writes them - is that the other side lies and mine doesn't. Of course, neither wing has ever told it straight, a fact all liar-liar books neglect." Amen, Jack. The problem with these books is that they are bought by the ideological supporters of each side and used to formulate their arguments. In doing so the quality of their position is lowered and they demonize their opposition. This results in the two main parties being increasingly dominated by their radical wings. And leaves those of us in the middle without a place to call home.
Football. Being an American, I call it soccer. It's finally catching on here. But the rest of the world has been privy to some of the best athletic competition you could hope to see. If you want to see what the world has to offer, check out the TV Schedules at FOX SportsWorld. They carry the English Premier League, which is the top national competition today. But to see the best in the world take on each other, read up on the Champions League. The best teams from every European country compete in this tournament, and the quality of play is staggering. ESPN2 carries some of the games in the US. If international soccer is more your speed, try to get tickets for Euro 2004 in Portugal. It's like the World Cup, but instead of the US and Brazil, they throw in Iceland and Russia. Still, it's excellent soccer.
When you see a movie, you often have to suspend reality to fully enjoy it. Unfotunately, the studios feel the same should apply to the critic quotes you see in newspaper and TV ads. All too often you see glowing quotes from "critics" exhorting the value of a Madonna film. Even "Gigli" was able to get some positive action. And who are these people? Usually someone who writes for a no-name publication witha circulation of 12. The only critics I even consider listening to are Roger Ebert, Peter Travers at Rolling Stone and Paul Tatara at CNN. But even then, I disgaree as much as I agree with them. Basically, the only critic worth listening to is yourself. Otherwise, Pulp Fiction and The Matrix never would have gotten off the ground.
Continuing a rally/protest/gathering of absurd proportions, people are demanding the return of the 10 Commandments statue in Alabama. This whole scenario has been wonderful if you like to hear people say idiotic things. Like Rev. Dobson comparing this rally to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, which is akin to comparing Fox's Al Franken lawsuit to the Ulysses obscenity case. Or Judge Moore saying that a federal judge has no authority over him. Which begs the question: How did this idiot, who apparently has no grasp of basic Constitutional Law, get elected to the Chief Justiceship of Alabama? But the best, and most telling, quote has been from the group of apparently self-employed individuals who have camped out in perpetual protest. "Get your hands off our God, God haters!"
I want to dwell on this a second because nothing chafes me more than people twisting and manipulating religion. The last people who should be getting yelled at are the people who removed the statue. The US Constitution clearly states that the government, federal or state, is not to promote a particular religious position. When Judge Moore started espousing about our "Judeo-Christian" heritage in reference to the statue, he violated the First Amendment. Period. What is worse is that Judge Moore is using God for his own fame and notoriety. He has intentionally created a conflict to increase his own visibility, and to use God like that is nothing short of heinous.
At least the protesters aren't willfully manipulating religion. They're just ignorant. To yell "Get your hands off our God, God haters!" is simply asinine. Again, as I have said in previous days, this essentially makes the statue an idol - an object of direct worship - as opposed to the Cross, which is a symbol of faith. But this gentleman, and the others, are continuing to miss the point about Christianity. You can remove all the statues, burn all the churches and confiscate every cross. And none of it matters because God is in US. He is when we give food to a homeless person on the street. He is when we volunteer at a shelter, or try to help an abandoned animal. He is when we forgive someone who has wronged us. He is when we give to others from ourselves. I kneel before a cross when I pray, but I worship God in my heart. It's a shame these protesters don't do the same.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Ah, weddings. Mothers helping daughters pick out dresses, taste wedding cake, and beat up sub-par strippers. Apparently, this Illinois mom was none too pleased when the stripper she hired for her daughter was not only a substitute, but didn't "dote" enough on her. So she refused to pay, and then the two of them gave him a beat-down, complete with a bottle over the head. Is she serious? He didn't "dote" enough. Was it not enough bare ass in her daughter's face? An inadequate amount of grinding on her lap? Geez...
Hopefully the insanity in Alabama will tone down now that the 10 Commandments statue is being moved to parts unknown within the Alabama Judicial Building. This has been the an interesting saga, and one that has shed yet another light on the ridiculousness of certain wings of the Christian faith. These people essentially made an idol out of this statue, praying near it as if it was a direct link to God, or God Himself. These people need to remember that God does not reside in a statue, a building, or any object. He lives in each of us. And He probably would had preferred these people spent their time helping those less fortunate instead of feeding Judge Moore's ego. If you want to read about someone in Alabama who is acting in a Christian manner, read all these articles about Gov. Riley's attempt to bring tax relief to the poorest residents of Alabama and to improve the education system. Not surprisingly, the Christian Coalition of Alabama opposes the plan. Gosh, what a shock.
In what can only be an attempt to drag Nigeria into the 10th century, the saga of a single mother condemned by an Islamic court to be stoned to death continues on appeal. It is stunning that a country that wants to be taken seriously as a regional power, as Nigeria does, would allow this farce to go on. After having a child out of wedlock more than two years after her divorce, Amina Lawal was convicted of adultery. So, in keeping with the insanity of the entire proceeding, she was sentenced to be buried up to her neck in sand and then stoned to death. Wow. And some people wonder why Islam has a bad name in many parts of the world. It's because the moderate elements refuse to take on the radical adherents in situations like these. This court is so determined to carry out the sentence that they have continuously delayed the appeal in hopes of dissapating worldwide interest and condemnation. Makes you appreciate life in the USA a little bit more.
That paragon of peace in the Middle East, Yassar Arafat, called on Palestinian terror groups to reinstate their cease-fire while accusing Israel of rejecting the US-backed peace roadmap by "escalating" their attacks. That's funny, I thought it your Hamas buddies killing those kids in the bus blast that was a rejection of the road map. Let's be honest: Arafat has no interest in peace. He continually undermines PM Abbas and does nothing to keep Hamas in check. His one goal, as it has always been since the dawn of the PLO, is to wipe Israel off the map. For each concession he gets, he'll ask for a hundred more. Here's a prediction: Israel will agree to remove the illegal settlements on the West Bank and begin to hand over more land. That's when Arafat will demand the "right of return" of over 4 million Arabs into Israel, which would destroy the nation. This will never end until Arafat is gone and Abbas put the clamps on Hamas.
You all remember George McGovern, right? The 1972 election. The US still in Vietnam and the economy at a standstill. Should be a Democratic cakewalk. Then they nominate McGovern and gift-wrap the election for Nixon and the GOP. Well, apparently they love to repeat their mistakes. Howard Dean is quickly becoming the Democratic front-runner for 2004, and the GOP couldn't be happier. Dean plays to the liberal base of the Democratic Party. The problem is that this basically limits his appeal to 2/3 of New England, New York City, the West Coast and Washington, D.C. The vast majority of this nation is moderate and wants nothing to do with a hard-left political platform. Universal health-care (a topic for another time)? Repealing the portions of the tax-cut that went to the lower-and middle class? Ya, that'll win an election. Democrats need to wake up to the fact that the reason they lost in 2000 wasn't the Supreme Court. It was because Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, something even Fritz Mondale was able to avoid in '84. And why did he lose Tennessee? Because the hard-liberal wing of his party forced him too far to the left.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
What can you say about this incompetent boob, Judge Moore? How about "Please resign and move into the mountains so you stop giving a bad name to Christianity." The flap over the 10 Commandments sculpture continues with no end in sight. To someone who believes in God, this is just depressing. It would be one thing if the 10 Commandments were included with Hammurabi's Code, Justinian's Law, the Code Napoleon, the US Constitution and others. But it isn't. Judge Moore has specifically made this about his religious beliefs. Well, if Judge Moore is truly a good Christian, he should remember two things. One, God punished the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf. Second, when Moses took credit for the water from the rock, he was denied entry to the Promised Land. God is not in a sculpture, and perhaps Judge Moore and the people protecting and praying around the sculpture need to be reminded of that. And the lesson of the water from the rock is an admonishment against pride, the First Deadly Sin from which all others arise. As Judge Moore makes this about himself, gives speeches and glories in his fame, he falls victim to this. This whole uproar has never been about God. It's been about Judge Moore's desire for fame. And probably a run for Governor of Alabama.
In news that no one here seems to care about, talks are about to begin on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. This is critical stuff that deserves more attention. North Korea, while starving and underdeveloped due a slavish adherence to Marxism, has found the time to build a few A-Bombs. And now they want to essentially blackmail the US into giving them food, oil, money, and a nice timeshare in Palm Beach. Say what you want about Iraq and whether our policy is working or not, but the Bush Administration has done the right thing here. To give North Korea anything without them first dismantling their weapons program would be giving into nuclear blackmail. And it would simply encourage others, like Iran, to do the same. North Korea is a backwards, dysfunctional country with twisted despots for leaders. The sooner they are isolated and removed, the better. And it has to start here.
If your day has been going along too smoothly and you want to inject a little strife, visit this site and this site. Then go to the nearest wall and pound your head until a concussion wipes the stress away. These two sites are just a small example of the problem with politics in America. Namely, that the middle ground of rational discourse is gone. Eric Alterman's MSNBC page is only slightly left of Ron Dellums, while the Free Republic could scare John Birchers straight. Alterman's site can be summed up as: "Bush lied, Bush lied, Republicans bad, stolen election. Rinse. Repeat." The Free Republic: "Only God-fearing white males need apply." Eric, the only way that the WMD claims can be a lie is if you can prove they AREN'T there. Otherwise, the jury is still out and you should just shut up and dream happy thoughts of Universal Health Care and the McGovern campaign. As for the FRers, many of us in this country, while we believe in God, don't like it shoved down our throats. Jesus never forced his views on anyone. Take a lesson from Him and tell Judge Moore to put a sock in it. The only two politicians worth listening to anymore are Lieberman and McCain. Of course, this is why they'll never gain the presidency.
I love Ireland. Beautiful country. A place where people let you live your life and don't tell you what to do. But apparently I visited the Bizzaro Ireland, because the one in our world has gone nanny-happy. In addition to banning Happy Hours and smoking in all pubs and restaurants, they now want to institute a fat-tax on unhealthy foods because the Irish are getting fat. Well...duh? Every meal seems to include potatoes, bacon and Guinness, it rains more than it doesn't and half the roads are too narrow for walking. How can anyone expect the Irish to get any exercise? But in truth, the problem is that this solution places the blame, and the cost, on the food makers rather than where it truly belongs: the eater. Much like the insane "fat lawsuits" in the U.S., somehow the people who shovel this stuff into their mouths became the victims. Did Ronald McDonald hold you down while Grimace force-fed you 20 shakes? Did Arthur Guinness rise from the dead and make you funnel a case of stout? No? Then shut up and hit the treadmill. Corporations make what people want. We want burgers; so don't blame McDonalds for giving them to us.
Not that I agree with France's ridiculous attempt to cut unemployment by denying working people 5 paid hours from their paychecks, but wasn't technology supposed to make working easier, leaving us more time for our families? Not in the country that made union-busting a national sport. Not surprisingly, we've used our increased efficiency to work longer hours and make more money so we can buy bigger and better things. Meanwhile companies demand more hours with promotions and raises on the line if you don't follow the rules. This is a problem. Between most corporations squeezing their employees dry to justify multi-million dollar bonuses for senior management, and the "Beat the Joneses" consumerism that more families display, an entire generation of American children are growing up in empty homes. It's time Americans made some tough choices. If you are working 50+ hours so you can buy that super-deluxe McMansion when you could work 40 hours and buy a nice house, you aren't working for your family. You're working to impress your peers. And that isn't a healthy thing for a family or this country.
In Seattle, people are going to vote on a $0.10 tax per cup for espresso drinks. The money raised will go toward funding pre-school and day-care programs in the city. The potential windfall could be as little as $1.8M or as much as $10M. As much as I loathe income taxes, I like the idea of a small, directed consumption tax on a luxury item. Jacking the price of an espresso from, say, $2.25 to $2.35 isn't a bad idea, especially if it provides a place where children can be cared for. This is an idea that could be applied in many ways. Maybe a municipal area could institute a penny sales tax to raise education funds, thereby lessening pressure on the state government budget, and easing taxes on the state as a whole. Of course, this requires discipline on the part of the municipality. If one day Seattle starts charging $5.50 for an espresso because they let the budget go wild, then that's trouble and I have a feeling that Starbucks franchises in Tacoma will be getting a lot more business. Look at New York City as a prime example of this type of fiscal mismanagement.
According to the latest CBO estimates, the United States will be running a $401B deficit for this fiscal year, the largest since 1992. Of course, the Democrats are driving this point into the ground, saying the deficit will never go bellow $300B in the 2004-2013 period, while Republicans say they have a plan to grow the economy. This ignores two things. First, using the deficit total as a boogeyman is wrong. What is important is the percentage of GDP the deficit makes up. In 1992, the $290B was 4.5% of GDP. Today, the $401B is only 3.7% of GDP. This leads to the second point. To project fiscal data 10 years into the future is useless. Tax receipts may go up due to an economic boom, making the cuts revenue neutral. The cuts may be expanded or contracted by a future Congress. Or aliens may come to earth and use us for lunchmeat. Both parties should focus on the present instead of manipulating data to fit their visions of the future.