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Feb. 21st, 2008

Not the Fearmongering Again

From McCain's Wisconsin victory speech:
"The most important obligation of the next President is to protect Americans from the threat posed by violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself. They are moral monsters, but they are also a disciplined, dedicated movement driven by an apocalyptic zeal, which celebrates murder, has access to science, technology and mass communications, and is determined to acquire and use against us weapons of mass destruction. The institutions and doctrines we relied on in the Cold War are no longer adequate to protect us in a struggle where suicide bombers might obtain the world s most terrifying weapons."
If you're as tired of this as I am, here's a dose of Obama to serve as an antidote:

Feb. 18th, 2008

Snuggly the Security Bear


Pure genius.

Feb. 14th, 2008

Happy Lincoln's Birthday (Belatedly)

O CAPTAIN! my captain...

Feb. 13th, 2008

Looking Out at the U-Verse

I got a flier in the mail for a new broadband and TV service available in my area, AT&T's U-Verse.

Expecting to toss it after a cursory look, the offer instead soon looked quite compelling. Currently, I pay about $86 per month on TV and internet access. We have an ancient DVR that is starting to crash about once per day. Crashing means power-cycling the DVR and waiting 2-4 minutes while the satellite signals are re-acquired, and self-diagnostics performed.

The DVR can only record 1 show at a time. We could upgrade it, but we own our current one because we ordered this service so long ago, when it was first available in our area. Now, DISH TV would charge us a monthly fee for a new DVR, and I wasn't overly thrilled with the specs of the new model either.

With U-Verse I could get IPTV and 1.5 Mbps internet access for $74 per month. For $5 more, I could get 3 Mbps internet access. Local channels are included, and I would get pretty much the same channels that I do now. I could also get a one-time $100 credit. And a DVR that can record 4 shows at a time. I could program my recordings by accessing my account via the internet, anywhere. Installation is free, and it includes up to four lines put into my house.

All of this represents a big upgrade, at least at first glance, than what I now have, and for a lower price. If anyone can recommend for or against U-Verse, or maybe has even heard others talk about it, I would greatly appreciate any input before I jump off the cliff.

Feb. 11th, 2008

The Un-democratic Republican Party

I'll try to give some equal time to the Elephant here. For the worst voting shenanigans on the Red side, look no further than Washington state.

The last I had heard was that the results were too close to call, with McCain up by less than 2 percent with 87% of the votes tabulated. The next thing I heard was that McCain had won Washington, 87% of the votes tabulated.

HorsesAss has a short bit on how the state's Attorney General and John McCain campaign chair Rob McKenna is good buds with Luke Esser, the man on the hot seat right now for calling the race prematurely.

Scott Horton goes into the bloody details even more. Some real gems here. Huckabee comparing Washington state to the old Soviet Union. An eye-raising column by Esser from his college days:
"Like any sport worth its salt, in politics you have adversaries, opponents, enemies. Our enemies are loudmouth leftists and shiftless deadbeats. To win the election, we have to keep as many of these people away from the polls as possible."
Let's just stop counting the votes. Hey, sounds like a good idea. Think any one will mind? Naw.
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Watch Out Obama

McCain is coming after the youth vote. Check out this ultra-hip answer to will.i.am's Yes We Can video.

Feb. 7th, 2008

The Undemocratic Democratic Party?

First, let me acknowledge the fact that the Democratic primaries, unlike their Republican counterparts, are no longer "winner-take-all" contests, which is a huge step forward. In a big state like my home state of California, a winner-take-all primary can do worse than strike down the votes of potentially millions of people, it can hand their votes over to opponents who the voter may be fundamentally opposed to.

On the Democrat side, the issue of super-delegates has come to the fore. The story is that the '72 McGovern nomination was such a disaster in the general election that the DNC created the super-delegates, which represent about 20% of the total delegates; a group of democratic Congressional representatives, governors, and other current and former higher-ups in the party.

There are two obvious anti-democratic principles put into play here. First is the dilution of the popular vote. In a simplistic sense, each registered Democrat counts for 4/5ths of a person, since every 4 delegates elected by the "commoners" is offset by a super-delegate. Secondly, the rule was put into place to guard against the people voting for the "wrong" candidate. It is hard to imagine anything more un-democratic than having an elite class that can partially override a group of second class voters when said elite class deems the choice of the common man to be unseemly.

This ugly issue of the super-delegates has already come into play, helping to elect Mondale over Hart in 1984. Apparently the super-delegates, who favor the establishment candidate, aren't so wise after all. It's hard to imagine a more uninspiring, bland nominee than Mondale, and it's also hard to argue in favor of his phenomenally bad loss to Reagan.

The 2008 Obama-Clinton race is so close that the super-delegates may again play a deciding role. Please take the following analysis of numbers with a grain of salt, because I am just taking a cursory look at them using this breakdown from demconwatch blog.

Looking at my home state of California, the popular vote was split 45% for Obama to 55% for Clinton. Yet Clinton reigns supreme in super-delegates by a 3-1 margin. Now I can see some sort of argument that it's "winner take all super delegates" in the sense that hardly anyone could fault one of these people saying they will just pledge for whoever wins the primary in their state. Looking at Missouri, which Obama won, Clinton also has more supers. Looking at the bigger picture, Clinton's 211-113 dominance of super-delegates pledged to her side would seem to have little or no relationship to the popular vote, the will of the people.

The super-delegate issue could end up being a nasty black eye on the desired happy face of the Democrat convention. If that weren't bad enough, there is another huge fist of a problem that could blacken its other eye. The DNC punitively stripped two very populous states, Michigan and Florida, of their delegates for moving their primaries prior to Super-Tuesday. On the face of this issue it appears simply that these states will seat no delegates at the convention, but as was pointed out at Attytood, the issue is far more complicated than that:
The truth is, no one really expected that the Democrats would hold a convention without delegates from the 4th-largest state, Florida, which of course decided the disputed 2000 election, or Michigan, which is the 8th largest state and has also been considered a fall battleground.
Obviously nullifying the votes of so many people is quite un-democratic as well. The DNC has potentially made quite the bed to laid in come convention time. Could courts end up having to decide what will be done with the votes of Florida and Michigan?

Getting back to the super-delegates, while it is true than many have "pledged" their vote to one candidate or another, nothing prevents them from changing their vote at the convention. Unsurprisingly, the Obama camp (and presumably the Clinton camp as well) has already spoken of lobbying super-delegates to switch to their side, and the obvious question of behind-the-scenes favors has been raised.

While the system of super-delegates was inherited by DNC chair Howard Dean, the Florida/Michigan fiasco was a self-inflicted wound. If the Obama-Clinton race breaks badly for the party, in the sense that there is no clear winner, Dean and other leaders of the party could suddenly be on the hot seat in the national media. Dean has already tipped his hand on one possible remedy:
“I think we will have a nominee sometime in the middle of March or April,” Mr. Dean said Wednesday on the NY1 cable news channel, “but if we don’t, then we’re going to have to get the candidates together and make some kind of an arrangement."
Democrats are highly excited about both Clnton and Obama. They feel '08 represents a historical year for them, with a field full of compelling candidates that nearly all of the base likes. A bad idea from the past, and some bad decision-making this time around threaten to seriously dampen the joyful mood. The solution that DNC chair Dean alluded to, or one like it, could possibly prevent a bad situation from getting far worse, although such a deal itself may turn out to be an un-democratic act. It is far more likely, however, deal or no, a close race will result in a large block of voters feeling alienated and angry, as was the case in the 2000 Gore/Bush/Florida debacle.
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Feb. 6th, 2008

It's Official: The U.S. Admits to Waterboarding

News from Crazyland (formerly known as the United States)

CIA Director Michael Hayden spilled the beans and admitted that three detainees were waterboarded:
"We used it against these three detainees because of the circumstances at the time," Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "There was the belief that additional catastrophic attacks against the homeland were inevitable. And we had limited knowledge about al Qaeda and its workings. Those two realities have changed."
This takes a bit of parsing, and perhaps I should go search out the context. It would make more sense if he used the word "imminent" instead of "inevitable".
Hayden said Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002 and 2003. Hayden banned the technique in 2006, but National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell told senators during the same hearing Tuesday that waterboarding remains in the CIA arsenal - so long as it as the specific consent of the president and legal approval of the attorney general.
So all of this did come from the very top?

Scott Horton has a brilliant essay on torture at Harpers. Can we just adopt a limited use of torture-lite? Not according to Horton:
Torture is a virus which cannot be effectively controlled. If permitted at all, it will undermine the integrity and worth of humanity in any society in which it is let loose. It is the ultimate social agent of corrosion.
On the TV program "24":
And the single program which has done the most to champion torture is “24,” an adrenaline-packed show in which torture occurs every day. In American popular culture, torture used to be something that was done by the Nazis, by the Soviets and Chinese in the Cold War. Americans were its victims, always standing steadfast against the evil that it embodied. But in the Fox Network vision of torture, Americans use it, they do so for patriotic purposes—to save thousands from attacks which would occur were torture not used—and, wondrous to relate, torture always works. So torture is now the favorite tool of the good guys. There is absolutely nothing coincidental about this.
There are a bunch of gems in this essay. It's fairly long, but when you have 15 or so minutes, I highly recommend reading it in its entirety.

A Quick Update on Obama and Race

James Hannaham tackles this topic at Salon:
Ultimately, his growing frankness about his mixed-race heritage has the potential to complicate the simplistic debates about race that have surrounded his campaign since even before it officially began, and in the process perhaps truly unite the country -- but in a different way than his rhetoric habitually promises.
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Feb. 4th, 2008

Good Luck Barack

Maybe "O Captain, My Captain" is little over the top, but I'll gladly settle for "O wonderful vessel where we can place our hopes".

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