Friday, January 30, 2004

The Last Straw! I'm sick and tired of the cliches I keep hearing in politics:

Dance with the one who brung you.

That dog won't hunt.

The president must walk and chew gum at the same time.
These cliches should be avoided like the plague. They're old hat. If the politicians don't turn over a new leaf and try to stay one day ahead of yesterday, they'll be thrown to the curb with yesterday's garbage.

I know a politician relies on tried-and-true colloquialisms to avoid putting his foot in his mouth. But by sticking to them like white on rice, he just digs himself into a deeper hole. I mean, they're not the best thing since sliced bread or anything. To the voters, the cliches go in one ear and out the other. Take a chance and say something that appears to come out of left field. It would make a world of difference.

Friday Cat Blogging: This seems to be a staple of bloggers. But, alas, I have no cats. I do prefer cats to dogs, but the group house in which I live doesn't allow any pets.

So in honor of the tradition, I'll pass along this heart warming story about a cat that rescued its owner from a fire. The owner was sleeping on the couch when smoke started to fill the room. So the cat jumped on the man's chest to wake him up. Everyone survived.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hazards of the Job: I don't know why anybody would ever run for political office, especially president, considering the media drubbing they endure. Now that Kerry is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, he's being attacked for the most ridiculous things. The latest is that he has had cosmetic surgery or used Botox.

Kerry officials say this is preposterous. The rest of us should be saying, Who Cares?

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

... And Traffic For All: I've visited a little more than half of the states in the U.S. at least once. And everywhere I've been, I've heard the same two things.

The first one, somebody always says, "We have a saying here. If you don't like the weather in [Fill in State Name], then wait a minute -- it'll change."

Okay, so weather is unpredictable everywhere. The second one is rather silly. When driving through a city, I always hear people say, "Every other state in this country coordinates their traffic lights so you hit only green lights if you're driving the speed limit. But our state is the only one that doesn't do that." This is usually preceded or followed by cursing.

So you can call Snopes -- that one isn't true either. As far as I can tell, nobody coordinates their traffic lights so drivers hit all greens. And if somebody figured out how to do it, I'm sure it would be implemented at the municipal level, not by the state government.

I bring this up because Washington, DC, is trying to coordinate its traffic lights on some major streets so drivers can sail through mostly green lights. The jury is still out as to whether it's working, but the idea sounds promising.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Upgrade: My old commenting system, BlogSpeak, went out of business and has come back to life as a Web ring. But HaloScan has taken over the commenting portion, and the company assures us that all the comments have been saved.

So feel free to speak your peace once again. Thanks.

Doomed to Repeat? The History Channel has been running a series about the most savage barbarians in history: Vikings, Goths, Mongols, and Huns. These barbarians were ruthlessly jealous of the spoils of the Romans, the Chinese, and the Persians. So they attacked their civilizations to destroy them and bring them down to the barbarians' level.

The parallels between those barbarians and the terrorists we face today are uncanny. The goals of Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and other Muslim terrorists are to destroy the United States and bring down Western civilization so they can establish global rule of radical Islam. This would include the oppression of women and the persecution of the Jewish race and religion.

Truth is, Al Qaeda doesn't have any real plans for destroying the United States, other than blowing up lots of people and attempting to disrupt our economy. Mostly, members are hoping Allah will step in to do something -- possibly involving a comet. But Bin Laden is infinitely patient. If in 1,000 years the United States ceases to be the lone super power in the world, Osama Bin Laden will stare up from the 9th Circle and declare victory.

However, the Romans also thought it unthinkable that such a band of misfits could conquer Rome. They were wrong. And I don't want to sit around and see how destructive these new barbarians will get.

So instead of letting them plunder and ransack our society, let's bring democracy and prosperity to the Middle East. That can't be done through diplomacy alone. Barbarians only recognize one thing: power.

We can't win this war by simply arresting the terrorists. We need to take on the Middle East culture of despotism and desperation that breeds terrorism. We can't fret about angering Middle East dictators any longer. They don't like us, and they're supporting those who wish to wage war against us. The only way to win is to defeat them. At the very least, we must interrupt the support they give to international terrorists.

What we're doing in Iraq is brilliant. We've toppled a brutal regime, and now we're giving liberty to its people. When the transition is complete, they'll be better off than they were under the dictator's rule.

I don't expect to invade every Middle Eastern country. But using Iraq as an example shows everyone else that we mean business. The change in that region won't happen overnight. But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein combined with the continued punishment of radical Islamic terrorists will eventually convince the people not to make enemies with the United States. And as prosperity grows in Iraq and in the region, we can teach the people that there is no reason to resent us. It won't be soon. But it can happen.

This plan worked in Europe, and it worked in Japan. It will take patience, perseverance, and support from the people of the United States.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Reader Responds: My comments section is still down, but reader Mark S. sent this e-mail a few days ago:

I just read your post on the SOTU speech, and you are dead on right.

What I don't get is why you haven't noticed the bigger picture.

Bush is about two things. On foreign policy the only goal is fixing daddies mess, and 9/11 gave him an excuse. Domestically, it's tax cuts. All else is pandering to get re-elected.

What part of that deserves another vote?
Thanks. Except I disagree that Bush's decision to wage war against Iraq had anything to do with his father (or oil, or evil corporations, etc). Bush is taking the fight to the terrorists, and that's how we can expect to win. Fighting the war on terrorism by only focussing on 9/11 culprits or Osama Bin Laden is called tunnel vision. They are only a small symptom of this war. We need to change the culture of the Middle East by deposing terrorist-supporting tyrants and by bringing democracy and prosperity to the region. That, my friend, is called looking at the big picture.

And I believe tax cuts helped the economy rebound. The small, manageable deficits that come as a result are okay because the economic growth will add more money to government coffers than raising taxes. Unfortunately, Bush and Congress are spending money like there's no tomorrow, causing massive deficits. And that can bring long-term problems. But that doesn't mean a policy of tax cuts is bad, per se.

As for political pandering, well, show me one politician who doesn't do that.

Next One: Before I got around to responding to his first e-mail, Mark sent me a second one commenting on my post about Bush's promise to now start limiting government spending:

And being a good Republican (or leaning Republican) -- you're willing to buy this latest garbage merely because they bothered to say it?

I suggest and old adage: Don't listen to what they say -- watch what they do!

I've seen absolutely nothing to tell me this isn't another "I'm a uniter, not a divider" game to sucker voters.
Ouch! Let's get one thing straight. I like the way Bush is running the war on terrorism, and I plan to vote to give him a second term. But I am not a Republican (or even leaning). As much as I despise the party of conservative homophobes and the right-wing Christian Coalition, it unfortunately is a better alternative to a party that wishes to turn over our national-security concerns to the United Nations. And, frankly, I don't trust any international organization that's filled with so many tyrants and anti-Semites.

As for the rest of Mark's message, well, he's absolutely right. I have little faith that federal spending will be held to 1 percent growth. But now that Bush has said it, we have something else with which to criticize him when the spending keeps skyrocketing.

I Made It: The nation's capital is covered in snow. I take the subway to work, but I spent the night in Bethesda last night. So I had to drive home to Arlington before I could get ready to go to work.

Most of the main roads were plowed, but for some reason the ramps between the main roads were neglected.

So, I'm driving on an exit ramp, when up ahead I see that three cars have spun out and are stuck in the snow -- blocking the road. Realizing none of us are going anywhere until they're free, some fellas and I get out of our cars to shovel and push the helpless vehicles back onto the plowed road up ahead.

Of course, traffic is backed up on the off-ramp. Well, one middle-aged gentleman comes trudging up to where we are and says, in the finest of British accents, "You need to move these cars out of the way. You're blocking the road!"

I wanted to clock the guy ...

Friday, January 23, 2004

It's About Time: Now Bush wants to control federal spending. According to The Washington Times, the president will limit the growth of all discretionary spending -- that's not related to defense or national security -- to 1 percent.

I just wonder whether this is enough to rein in deficits, considering the recent expansion of Medicare entitlements and the continued pork-barrel spending. If Bush were serious about controlling the budget, he'd crack down on Congressional earmarks.

But limiting discretionary spending to 1 percent growth is going to be tough enough for him. It will be interesting when Congress continues its "drunken sailor" routine. Then Bush will face a prospect of either backing down or threatening to veto a Republican Congress.

This is going to be one dandy of an election year.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Now What: Looks like I didn't miss anything by skipping Bush's big speech Tuesday. From what I read in newspapers, in conservative and liberal commentary, and from blogs, Bush didn't say anything.

The State of the Union has always been a huge platform for the president to set out broad goals and lay out his vision for the next year. Apparently Bush did little of that, choosing instead to defend his past three years in office.

It's not enough to say, "I've done good as president." If you want to be re-elected, tell me what good you're going to do.

Don't get me wrong -- providing extra support for community colleges to offer job training and extended education is a great idea. But a president is supposed to offer more. I don't think steroids in baseball count as a national security issue.

What's the next step in fighting the war on terrorism? What military action will we need to take? Where are the current threats? And he needs to tell us how he plans to cut spending to reduce the federal deficit.

In the past, Bush has offered a strong vision of taking the fight to the terrorists and democratizing the Middle East. While I'm confident he will continue to seek to achieve that vision, he needs to make the case for why we should support him each step of the way.

He's had a successful first term as president: responding to terrorist threats, liberating two countries that harbored terrorists and oppressed their own people, and stimulating the economy with tax cuts after inheriting a recession.

Now it's time for him to persuade me why I should give him a second term.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Kickoff: Now that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards won first and second place in a tight race at the Iowa Caucus, and with the New England Patriots (based in Boston, Mass.) and the Carolina Panthers (based in Charlotte, N.C.) about to square off in the Super Bowl, couldn't we just settle the Democratic nomination by which team wins on Super Bowl Sunday?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Well whadya know: Despite the Philly Cheesesteak incident, despite his colorful language during an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, and despite his leather-clad Harley appearance on the Tonight Show, former front-runner John Kerry regained said status by trouncing his opponents in Iowa.

Howard Dean was left looking like an idiot screaming out all the states' names he could remember after he was relegated back to long-shot status. He sounded more like Jesse Ventura during his spandex and feather-boa days than a man who would be president. (And you know that little high-pitched shriek he made at the end of his tantrum will serve as his defining sound bite in the coming week before the New Hampshire primaries.)

Now that the campaigns have come full circle, you can't help but wonder how fast this is going to spin around until nausea sets in. Howard Dean rocketed to the top of the polls by characterizing himself as an angry outsider. After he had the lead, the outsider image vanished, and he was subject to excessive scrutiny. Now Kerry is back in the spotlight -- the next target to be torn down. If anyone is in a safe place, it's John Edwards, who beat expectations with a second-place finish, but didn't do too well to garner all the attention.

However, if there's a lesson to be learned from Iowa, it's that negative campaigning can have negative consequences. Dean and Gephardt were considered the favorites in the Hawkeye State, so they hacked each other to bits with negative ads, letting Kerry and Edwards take the high road to the lead.

I have never seen a candidate take a lead over an opponent through negative ads. Yet politicians keep trying. Unfortunately Iowa's lesson will be lost as candidates get desperate during the primaries. Lieberman is waiting in New Hampshire and will probably continue his attacks on Dean. Kerry has an advantage in the Granite State, considering its proximity to Massachusetts, so Clark is already taking aim at the Vietnam veteran, saying the senator's military record is nothing compared to his own in Kosovo.

Speaking of the Bay State (doncha love how writers use state nicknames to avoid repeating the name of a state?), I spent the weekend in Boston, and I got to see some of the N.H. televised political advertisements that trickled over the airwaves into neighboring markets. The commercials all follow new campaign laws that require candidates to prominently and verbally declare their approval of their messages in their advertisements.

The point of the law is to make sure a politician doesn't launch a cowardly attack on an opponent without also taking credit for the ad. That's all fine and good, but the ads that I saw complied with the law in a very awkward manner. The candidate would be giving a strong soliloquy about why he should be president, then near the end he would say, "that's why I approved this message."

Yes, we all know that a team of cunning political minds craft a candidate's image and words before the cameras start rolling. But can't those brilliant minds think of a more fluid way to meet the letter of the law? I'm not an expert on McCain-Feingold, but wouldn't "that's why I'm sending this message" or "that's why I created this message to tell you ..." pass legal muster?

If not, they should somehow finagle the law to allow some sort natural dialogue. Otherwise, that may mean we'll hear President Bush tonight during the State of the Union Address say something like, "Our economy is growing by leaps and bounds. At least that's what the TelePrompTer says."

And concerning the big speech, I have no plans to watch it tonight. Aside from the nominating conventions, the State of the Union is the single most overly hyped event in politics. When I used to watch the speech, I noticed that afterwards the skies seemed bluer, the clouds seemed whiter, the sunshine seemed sunshinier (even though it's always night time in the dead of winter) all because some politician told me that "The state of our union is STRONG." If there ever were a time for the news media to filter out the crap and bring me the highlights, this would be it.

Friday, January 16, 2004

What a Mess: I heard something that disturbed me on NPR this morning. Pardon me for being half-asleep during the broadcast, so some of the details still seem hazy. But a reporter was commenting that the divisiveness that George W. Bush generates will mean that there will be very few swing voters this presidential election.

Normally each party can count on its base for support of the nominee, letting both candidates pitch to the middle ground. The moderates get different labels year after year (soccer moms, etc.), but it's basically the same group of people.

But most people in this country either love Bush or hate him. There's very little middle ground.

So instead of appealing to moderates, the candidates are now left to "mobilize their base" to get more folks from their side to the voting booths. If all this is true, then unfortunately that means we will have a very nasty political campaign ahead of us leading to another closely divided election.

And I suppose my political views lend credence to this theory. You see, I have never voted for a Republican or Democrat in a presidential election before in my life. I would always choose a third-party candidate as sort of a protest vote.

But this year, as you may have already guessed, I plan to vote for Bush. So it looks like the sitting president has attracted some of the staunch moderates already, and I've seen that other moderates plan to vote for anybody but Bush.

This is all tempered, however, by Bush's political posturing lately as he attempts to attract more middle-roaders. His Medicare bill and support of campaign finance reform has angered conservatives. They obviously won't vote for a Democrat instead, but it's hardly a way to mobilize his base. However, many analysts predict that conservatives are so infatuated with Bush that he can afford to support some liberal programs without turning off conservatives.

And I still expect the Democratic nominee to move more toward the middle for the general campaign, even if that nominee is Howard Dean (who seems to be losing ground in Iowa). While opposition to the Iraq war will be central, expect the Democratic nominee to start talking tough about fighting terrorists and about fiscal responsibility.

But if the Nazi comparisons and the calls for patriotism are hinting at anything, we're going to witness one very messy campaign fight.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Movement: Iran is undergoing change from within. This Washington Post article explains that conservative clerics who run much of the government are liberalizing social laws to the extent that women are now legally allowed to show their -- hair. The story states that at one time the government argued that "women's hair emits rays that drive men insane."

Iranian conservatives are betting that allowing some personal freedoms will placate the population so they won't demand any real reforms, such as freedom of press and speech. One student described the small reforms as being like a "safety valve to prevent an explosion in society."

I have bad news for Iranian conservatives. This is not going to end the demands for freedom in that country. Once people get a taste for personal liberties, they'll want more. And the demands will increase as Iranians compare their freedoms with what people in the West have, which is easier to do with the spread of technology.

The Middle East isn't going to reform overnight. But the change has been set in motion.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Read My Lips, No New Attacks: It sounds like Wesley Clark is getting desperate. A few days ago he promised that, if elected, there would be no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

"I will protect America," he said.

You and what army? Clark's statement is ridiculous no matter what. But it's even sillier considering he wants to limit the military's role to rounding up terrorist bands as they scatter from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He opposes actions like Operation Iraqi Freedom that depose dictators who help international terrorists.

Instead, Clark's plan to prevent any terrorist attack on American soil involves beefing up security at the homeland. But unless he knows exactly who these terrorists are and where they're lurking, that means Clark would have to crack down on all of our rights to make sure none of us would be capable of pulling off an attack.

Truth is, another attack is inevitable. There's no way to completely guarantee everyone's safety. While Bush is taking the fight to the terrorists in the Middle East, Clark believes he can personally assure security in the U.S. with little aggressive action.

What's really sick is Clark just wants to set himself up to benefit politically from another terrorist strike on the United States.

And it has also been revealed that, a little over a year ago, Clark admitted knowing Al Qaeda had ties with Iraq. Of course, since he's been running for prez, he's denied that any tie exists. But it seems the more crazy things he says lately, the more his poll numbers increase.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Technical difficulties: In case you haven't noticed, the comment feature on my site seems to be on the fritz. We get this explanation from Blog Speak:

BlogSpeak is currently down because the bastards that host it decided to suspend my account. I do not know as of yet when this situation will be resolved. If you don't want any JavaScript errors on your pages, take the code off for the time being. Thanks for your patience.
Well, I guess I'm getting what I'm paying for. Feel free to e-mail me any comments, and I'll post them. In the mean time I might look for another comment host.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Pay No Mind: While this is an interesting story about the high-school kids near Fort Hood, Texas -- many of whose parents are serving in Iraq -- the picture that accompanies the story online got my attention.

You see a somber teenage girl staring out a window, and the caption below it reads:

Christen, who asked that her last name not be used, has stayed alone during the absence of her father, an Army civilian contractor. She has paid the bills and assumed other responsibilities.
To honor her request of protecting her identity, The Washington Post published her picture? There were other people in the story that the paper could have photographed. If someone is uncomfortable exposing him or herself to public, a newspaper should respect that person's wish.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Sigh: Is it just me, or has the spam problem actually gotten worse since Congress passed that anti-spam bill? Forget WMD. If we can tie Saddam's old regime to e-mail scams, then everyone would support the invasion ...

D'oh! It's official: People are still stupid. According to a survey, more people can identify Bart Simpson's hometown than can name the political party of the governor of their home state.

Check It Out: Tired of those pictures of Saddam with his mouth open, getting a medical exam? Well, has found a picture of the fallen dictator the moment he was pulled out of the spider hole. Analysts believe the photograph is genuine.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Hands Off: Yesterday the DC City Council voted to ban drivers from using cell phones, unless they use the hands-free devices.

I don't know why people have such a phobia about cell phones. Everybody has one, but everybody hates it when anyone else uses one. Sure, it's annoying if one rings during a movie or play. But any noise is inappropriate in those circumstances.

What gets me is people get all pissy when somebody talks on a cell phone in a restaurant or grocery store. I guess I never realized that no talking is allowed in those places. The only difference between listening to somebody on a cell phone and listening to a couple engage in chit chat is that you only get to hear half the conversation with the guy on the phone.

So now people want to crack down on cell phones in cars. The AAA says the city council's ban on hand-held cell phones doesn't go far enough because it's the conversation that's distracting, not holding the phone. Does that mean we can't talk to passengers anymore either?

Honestly, I don't use my cell phone much at all. But when I do, I don't feel like I've lost all capability for driving. It's about as much of a distraction as changing the channel on my radio. I think the DC City Council has more important things to worry about.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

On the wrong track: In the latest development of the Valerie Plame investigation, the White House is mulling over whether it should force its aides to sign forms releasing news reporters from confidentiality agreements. Investigators hope that such waivers will convince Robert Novak to identify which of his anonymous sources revealed that Ms. Plame was a CIA operative.

As a journalist, let me just say that anybody who thinks this is a viable solution is sorely missing the point.

The confidentiality agreement is between the journalist and his or her source. Management is not supposed to get involved.

Anonymous sources often get into confidentiality agreements for the sole purpose of bashing their employers. Sometimes the sources act as whistle blowers for illegal activity, and other times they just express general disagreement. Just because the worker's employer gives the reporter permission to ignore the confidentiality agreement doesn't mean the contract is null and void.

Keeping such agreements is essential to a news reporter's credibility. If a journalist breaks the agreement, that reporter has in effect lied to the source and will never be trusted again. And that's suicide for a journalist's career.

That's why Bob Woodward is keeping his promise not to identify Deep Throat. Mr. Woodward is still a reporter who relies (almost exclusively, it seems) on anonymous sources. Hiding Deep Throat's identity proves that he can be trusted for a lifetime.

So go ahead and let the staffers sign any form they want. It shouldn't make one bit of difference as to whether a reporter opts out of a confidentiality agreement.

The softer side of terrorism: The Taliban apologized for accidentally blowing up a bunch of children when they were aiming to kill U.S. troops. That's interesting -- the Taliban usually credits Allah for the successful terrorist attacks. Why don't they blame the big guy for their mistakes? Then, maybe, they'll figure out that Allah doesn't like the Taliban after all ...

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Wow: This is the first column I have ever read in which a person holds politicians in higher esteem than doctors. I seem to remember that as recent as last year, being a doctor was akin to saintliness while politicians were the pond-sucking scum of the earth.

It appears the columnist, Marjorie Williams, is suffering from some illness. That's unfortunate, but I'm surprised she describes doctors as those who "talk more than they listen, and feel entitled to withhold crucial information", and politicians as likeable fellows.

Prospero Año: Alas, I'm back. As much of a news junkie that I am, being sequestered with my decidedly apolitical family has kept me out of the loop for a full two weeks. Instead, I enjoyed fun-filled days of Sponge Bob Square Pants marathons with my 7-year-old niece.

Coming back, it doesn't appear that I missed much. Experts are still predicting that Dean has already wrapped up the Democratic nomination but will get trounced in the general election, even though we have another 10 months before Election Day, and the primaries aren't even over yet. I don't even recall whether Bush has made his official "announcement" that he's running for re-election. Isn't he supposed to do that first? Or can we just accept the obvious and spare him a day of free positive media coverage?

I also find that I am incredibly behind on my work here at my real job. Vacation is great, but the amount of work you have to do doesn't go away. You just have less time to do it.

I'll be scouring through the news and posting late entries on occasion.

Hope everyone had a Happy New Year!

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