Thursday, May 27, 2004

Yin and Yang: Now we know what "Compassionate Conservative" means. The compassionate part is to run up federal deficits like a drunken sailor during the first term, in order to appease all constituencies and to avoid re-election accusations of cutting important programs. The conservative part is to finally instill fiscal responsibility and slash the federal budget as a lame duck in the second term.

That seems to be the plan, according to a memo that the The Washington Post uncovered. The White House is warning all domestic agencies to expect big cuts in the 2006 budget -- if, of course, Bush is re-elected.

So now Bush is trying to get best of both worlds. He's going to campaign as a fiscal conservative without having to own up to actually cutting the funding for any programs. We'll see if anybody buys that.

Court Assisted Suicide: They say, even a stopped watch is right twice a day. It looks like the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals actually made the right decision to overrule John Ashcroft and his unilateral attempt to ban physician assisted suicide in Oregon.

The decision isn't surprising, considering how liberal that court tends to be. But it's still important to let state law reign when the public decides to allow terminally ill patients to end their own suffering.

I'm not, however, going to argue that this is a states' rights issue. Sure, the Supreme Court already ruled that states can decide whether to allow physician assisted suicide without federal interference, and that John Ashcroft essentially broke the law when he struck down Oregon's statute. But I believe everyone should have the right to die with dignity, and that government -- state and federal -- should stay the hell out of the way.

I will, though, use this occasion to point out the utter hypocrisy of conservatives who claim to be a champion of states' rights, then usurp federal power to dictate state laws. Truth is, very few people believe in states' rights anymore. It's just a tool both sides use to get what they want.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Fueling Consumer Rage: I've been seeing more and more articles about how hybrid cars are not living up to their reputation as conservers of gasoline. The combination gasoline/electric engine is designed to reduce emissions, but the cars are being advertised as fuel efficient as well. However, consumers are finding that their expensive new cars barely get any better gas mileage than similar-sized standard models.

Dealers maintain that although ads claim hybrid cars can get high miles per gallon, the fine print says that "actual mileage may vary". The EPA says hybrid cars can get 55 MPG. But actual results hover around 36 MPG, meaning the consumers are just SOL.

Apparently, the hybrid cars still spit out significantly fewer emissions than their standard counterparts. But new cars often have close to non-existent fuel emissions and then later become environmental hazards. These hybrids have just hit the streets. I'll be anxious to see whether they keep up their clean act in a few years.

Executive Eye for the Queer Guy: MTV plans to launch a cable channel devoted to gay viewers. No word yet as to what exactly the programming will be, but it doesn't sound like they're going to produce much that's overtly sexual. It will be mainstream shows that target gays and lesbians.

I don't know if gays and lesbians watch much that's different from the rest of us. But given the success of shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will & Grace, I'd bet MTV is expecting the channel to do well with mainstream audiences as well.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Moderate Bias: The journalism census came out. It appears that most of us characterize ourselves as (gasp) moderates!

Conservatives point to the Pew results and argue that the numbers confirm their claims that we're a bunch of liberals. Granted, most journalists are more liberal than Rush Limbaugh. And we do tend to favor some causes, such as abortion rights for women and marriage rights for homosexuals, more than the average American.

But just because a percentage of reporters call themselves liberal than the general population doesn't mean the press is dominated. I think we can cease with the argument that news reporters are conspiring to get Democrats elected. Just think about it this way -- we control almost all the dissemination of news and information in this country, and yet we enjoy a Republican control over all three branches of government. Not the sign of a very successful conspiracy movement.

Truth is, I know many conservative and liberal journalists. But just about all of them work their hardest to make sure their personal feelings do not make it into news reports. And every newspaper strives to appear balanced and objective (or fair and balanced, as it were).

The only problem with this survey is nobody agrees what moderate means. To many, "moderate" means "reasonable". And both left and right wingnuts may see their extremist ways as reasonable.

So let's keep an eye out for biased articles, because they do exist. And we can debate the news media's role in covering controversial issues. But let's be a bit more rational about the conspiracy theories.

Bombed: The blogosphere has erupted over news that terrorists used some of Saddam Hussein's sarin gas in a roadside bomb and that mustard gas was found elsewhere in Iraq. The use of the chemical weapon was ineffective, but still noteworthy. Some people believe this is evidence that Saddam Hussein was continuing to develop WMD.

The press, for its part, has given little coverage to the little amount of WMD that has been identified. And this seems appropriate.

Conservatives say this vindicates the WMD claims. Liberals say not enough was found. And, you know what, they're both right.

This small sarin canister was not why we went to war. We were concerned about the missing stockpiles of WMD and that they might be handed off to terrorists. Since we got into Iraq, we've learned only that the WMD are still missing.

Some people concluded that Saddam Hussein must have never had them. These folks are just stubbornly ignorant, and there's nothing anyone can do to convince them. Saddam Hussein has been known to use WMD against his own people, and our troops got sick off them from the first Gulf War.

The issue now revolves around where the stockpiles are currently. It would be foolish to think that the few canisters of sarin and mustard gas were the extent of Saddam Hussein's WMD arsenal. More could be buried in a spider hole. Chances are, Saddam Hussein shipped them off to a place like Syria for the time being.

The point is, we don't know. That doesn't mean we should have never attacked Iraq. But it does mean that our intelligence agencies failed big time. Instead of calling Bush a liar, hold Bush accountable for not firing Tenet and whipping the intelligence agencies into shape. Sen. Kerry, I think we've found a focus for your campaign.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Questioning the Question: My colleagues at work have forwarded to me a warning from a blogger who plans to comb through ProfNet looking for journalistic bias.

For those who don't know, ProfNet is an ingenious (and, at times, lifesaving) Internet service that allows reporters to send out mass queries looking for professors or college administrators to quote for an article. You can use it to find a professor with specific expertise, such as an expert on Persian studies for an article about Iran. Or, if you cover higher education, you can find people who fit certain criteria, like professors who are using blogs in a classroom.

The PR flaks at our esteemed institutions of higher education subscribe to ProfNet and scour through the requests to find ways to get their colleges' names in the paper. The journalist finds a good source, and the institution gets some publicity. Everybody wins.

But Dave Copeland believes ProfNet requests can reveal a journalist's bias going into a story, as if the reporter has reached a conclusion, then conducts the research with the sole purpose of proving a claim. Mr. Copeland offers this example from Fox News:

TODAY/EDUCATION: LIBERAL BIAS AT COLLEGES - FOX NEWS CHANNEL (US) I'm looking for academic "experts" who can speak about the "liberal bias" at college campuses and/or the dominance of liberal professors at colleges. I prefer someone who has written a book about this topic. No phone calls, please.
Need leads by 03:00 PM US/Eastern MAY 20
Monitored by eWatch
Elisa Cho
His argument is that Ms. Cho has already made up her mind about the "liberal bias" at college campuses, and she's looking for someone to speak her mind about that. I say let's wait and see what Ms. Cho produces before we jump to any conclusion.

When reporters are covering a controversial issue, they do their damnedest to make sure both sides are represented. But sometimes it's hard to find a source who is available and can represent a certain point of view that surely exists. I may be doing a story about views on abortion on college campuses, and I've interviewed a bunch of pro-choicers. If I can't find a pro-lifer on a college campus in a pinch, I may put out a ProfNet request looking for one. That doesn't mean I'm trying to push a certain point of view. It just means my deadline is quickly approaching.

Nevertheless, it looks like my colleagues and I are going to have to make sure that even our ProfNet requests appear fair and balanced.

Friday, May 21, 2004

More Voodoo Economics: Setting tax rates appears to be an art, not a science.

The state of Virginia, where I live, just revamped its tax code, raising taxes significantly to help get rid of massive deficits that have plagued the state budget for the past few years. Days after the new tax system was approved, updated budget figures show the state will get a surplus -- regardless of whether taxes are raised.

It just makes me wonder why the folks in Richmond didn't wait for the budget figures to come out before approving the new tax system. State taxes are pretty low for this region of the country (which is one reason I chose to live here), and the mounting deficits were a problem that needed to be addressed.

But if the state is already making a surplus, perhaps we should rethink some of these new taxes. For one thing, when I moved here five years ago, the state government promised to get rid of the car tax. Every year I have to write a check to the state, the amount determined by the value of my car -- that's on top of car registration, inspection, and all that. Nevermind that I never drive my little junker. The car is paid off, but I will pay taxes on it indefinitely. It appears now Virginia can fulfill its pledge to get rid of the car tax.

Of course, we face the opposite issue with the federal budget. Bush campaigned in 2000 that the federal government should lower taxes because of the budget surpluses. I agree, the government should not be in the business of making a profit.

Then when the recession hit, Bush argued that tax cuts would help revive the economy. Again, I thought that was a valid argument, because temporary, manageable deficits are one of the few tools government has to help the economy rebound.

But then Bush proceeded to not only slash taxes, but also to dramatically increase federal spending, including a Medicare prescription drug package that could have waited. The economy is picking up, and federal revenues are increasing, but not at the rate that the government is spending. Plus, we're in a war, and we need a strong budget to pay for this conflict.

Thankfully, a few moderate Republicans understand the predicament we're in and have decided to hold off on supporting the new spending bills until the we slow the rate in which we're cutting taxes. They don't even want to raise taxes. They're just advocating fiscal responsibility.

The two examples show there is no easy way to determine an ideal tax rate. Instead governments should concentrate on reigning in excessive spending, and then figuring it out from there.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Food for Thought: The European Union has finally decided to allow some genetically modified corn to enter its organic-only borders. Europeans are terrified of modified plants and animals -- what they refer to as Frankenfood. That's fine, they can eat what they want. But their phobia has prevented life-saving food from helping starving people in Africa and in other developing countries.

I once had the pleasure of talking to Norman Borlaug. He is from Iowa but spent much of his life in developing countries helping the poor. In the 1960s, he developed a genetically modified strain of wheat that increased production many times over in India and Pakistan without heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides, and with minimal use of new land.

His contributions stopped mass starvation on the Indian subcontinent. The agricultural remedies worked so well that Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970. He didn't win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry or any other science. The invention was so overwhelming, he won the Peace prize. (And this was before the award became so political and before goons like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat were deemed winners.)

When Mr. Borlaug turned his attention to the widespread starvation in Africa, environmentalists interfered, arguing that genetically modified plants and animals are too dangerous. Mr. Borlaug told me the fear of genetically modified foods is ridiculous. For one, there has never been any scientific evidence to show that modified foods are any more dangerous than organic.

Also, plants and animals have been getting genetically modified for thousands of years. The modifications weren't done under a microscope, but through selective breeding. That's why you don't see the corn you buy at the grocery store growing among the wildflowers on the side of the road. For centuries, mankind has been modifying the vegetable to make it more hardy, more nutritious, and easier to grow.

Now breeding is made to be more precise in a lab. This will bring better results, not worse.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Our Hero: Rudy Giuliani comes through again, this time with a piece of common sense and a much needed criticism of the way the 9/11 Commission is attacking people at the hearings.

"Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us," Giuliani said softly and without anger in his opening statement to the panel. "The blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone, the terrorists who killed our loved ones," Giuliani said.
This comes one day after commission members chastised officials in charge of the rescue operations at the World Trade Center for communication mishaps that were "not worthy of the Boy Scouts."

Yes, there were terrible communication problems that led to many deaths at the World Trade Center. But the 9/11 Commission has to find some constructive means of critiquing what happened without the political grandstanding. The rescuers hadn't imagined such a scenario as 9/11 in their worst nightmares. But they had to bravely solve the problems in the heat of battle.

There's much we can learn about the mistakes that were made on 9/11 -- from the rescue operations, the intelligence gathering, and the political administration. But the route the 9/11 Commission is taking won't provide any help.

The actions of the commission members have robbed the body of all credibility. Both sides have engaged in such partisan attacks that neither side will accept the findings -- except to find ammunition for the upcoming election.

It's a crying shame. There's so much we need to learn from those events. Maybe someday we can take a rational look at what went right and what went wrong that day, and leave the politics and grandstanding aside.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Fact Check: I keep reading things that perplex me. Some liberals make two general claims that are completely false, but casually mention them as if they are obviously true.

The first one is that the economy stinks. It's weak, they say. A 5.9 percent unemployment rate is much too high. And it's all Bush's fault.

The truth is, the economy turned around a long time ago, and it is steadily improving. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being created each month. The biggest issue right now is how soon the Fed will increase interest rates to keep the economy from expanding too quickly.

The second assertion is that the war in Iraq has been a failure. People are dying, they say. Therefore, Bush ran the mission incompetently. We must pull out ASAP (but then they say the June 30 handoff is too soon -- ignoring the contradiction).

Yes, war is still being waged against terrorists in Iraq. This is not a cause for alarm -- this is a cause for determination and resolve.

The war we're fighting in Iraq is the war against terrorism. We defeated Saddam Hussein and liberated Iraq a year ago. Now we're trying to establish a democracy there while Al Qaeda and other terrorists pour into the country to defeat us.

Go ahead and criticize me when I say this, but Bring Them On. We want to fight the terrorists on their home turf instead of in the streets of New York. This is how the war on terrorism needs to play out. The terrorists aren't going to go away quietly. They must be soundly defeated.

The terrorists, as we've seen them admit in the Zarqawi letter, are losing. But they are desperately trying to look like they're winning by causing highly publicized death and confusion. But once the handoff concludes and the U.S. presence is diminished, they will have to fight their fellow Iraqis, something they admit will be a loser for their cause.

I don't understand how some people are blind to good news and are completely clueless about the concept of war. It's not that these people are lying. I'm sure they genuinely believe the mistruth they publish. Or at least they wish it were true. It all leads back to the overwhelming irrational hatred of President Bush. These people are looking for and are somewhat hoping for defeat. Such people lose all credibility in my book.

Lesson in the Sermon: The New York Times had an interesting article over the weekend. It appears that rank-and-file Christian conservatives aren't flocking to the polls to vote against gay marriage. In fact, most of them don't consider it a big issue.

A majority of Americans still disapprove of same-sex marriage -- and that's a shame. But conservative Republicans aren't succeeding in making this an election-year issue. Even now that more than a 1,000 gay couples in Massachusetts have taken marriage vows in that state, a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage seems destined to fail. And nobody cares. Maybe that means homosexuals will be able to quietly gain their rights in this country after all.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Moore Lies: The bleats of liberals are getting louder, what with the problems in Iraq and, now, the release of Michael Moore's new Bush-bashing flick Fahrenheit 9/11. Now, they say, the truth shall be revealed.

Except the film's premise appears to be based on mistruth. I've never seen the film (few people have), but Alan Murray, a CNBC and Wall Street Journal political correspondent, has reviewed an official synopsis and compared it to reality. Unsurprisingly, Michael Moore's version of reality differs.

Alan Murray gives his account in his May 11 column in WSJ. I can't link to the story, because the paper requires a subscription. But I'll go ahead and link to a site that violates WSJ's copyright and reposts the entire article for free:

The film explores, among other things, President Bush's "close personal friendships and business ties with the bin Laden and Saudi royal families" and culminates "in the decision to allow bin Laden family members to fly out of the country days [after Sept. 11, 2001] without FBI questioning." Mr. Moore makes the same charge in his book, "Dude, Where's My Country?" "While thousands were stranded and could not fly," he writes, "if you could prove you were a close relative of the biggest mass murderer in U.S. history, you got a free trip to gay Paree!" This would be a shocking charge . . . if it were true. But it isn't.

The Saudi flights -- including "Air Laden" -- have been investigated exhaustively by the 9/11 Commission, which carries no water for the resident. Staffers found that there were indeed six chartered flights, carrying 142 people, most of whom were Saudi nationals, which left the U.S. between Sept. 14, 2001, and Sept. 24, 2001. But contrary to Mr. Moore's claims, not one left until after commercial airspace reopened and normal flights resumed. Moreover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation screened all passengers to ensure that no one of interest to various terror investigations was aboard.


The bad news is that in today's freewheeling media environment, consumers seem increasingly unable to distinguish truth from fiction, news from polemic, reality from fantasy. The danger isn't that people won't see Mr. Moore's film. The danger is they will see it . . . and believe it.
Alan Murray publishes a report in WSJ every Tuesday. He's become a favorite of mine ever since he declared himself to be a "Raging Moderate" who is fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties. Yes, our numbers are growing.

Time for Gaiety: Hundreds of gays are now getting married in Massachusetts. Yet, somehow, the world has not ended. And I believe we can share in the joy of lifelong couples getting the legal rights and recognition of their relationships -- just like every other American can -- without getting smote. Then we can learn that gay marriage is not a threat, but that it can be a reaffirmation of the importance of lifelong commitment and dedication that marriage is meant to represent.

News Update: Conservatives are claiming media bias again. This time they're saying the news media is suppressing stories about the Nick Berg execution, which would help Bush, and is overplaying stories about the Abu Ghraib abuse scandals, which seems to be hurting Bush.

Well, speaking as a journalist who strongly favors Bush's actions in Iraq, let me explain why the Abu Ghraib scandal is more newsworthy than Nick Berg.

Think about it this way: What have we learned from Al Qaeda's televised brutal execution of a 26-year-old American? We now know that Al Qaeda is a brutal terrorist organization that will kill innocent people and will attempt to lie and to distort public perception with ineffective and unbelievable propaganda. Is this new to anybody? Probably not. Al Qaeda has fit this description for some time.

But in the prisoner-abuse scandal, we've learned that Americans are mistreating Iraqi prisoners. Sure, these prisoners are terrorists, murders, and other run-of-the-mill scum of the earth. But the abuse was against the law, and was morally reprehensible.

And we're learning new things every day. Right now the U.S. government is trying to portray the abuses as the result of a few overzealous soldiers run amok. But that can't be true. Evidence indicates that higher-ranking officers ordered the excessive interrogation to get info on future terrorist attacks. And even if the abuse wasn't ordered, any soldier who is in charge of prisoners of war should have been given extensive training in Geneva Convention regulations.

That's not to say that the news media is doing a stellar job covering the Nick Berg execution and its fallout. News organizations are trying to paint it as a failure of the Bush administration. Remember, the murder isn't Bush's fault, it's Al Qaeda's fault. Plus, we need more coverage here. And it seems that Al Qaeda's propaganda video backfired -- Americans are now more committed to the war on terrorism as a result. Also, there appears to be utter hypocrisy among Arab governments. I applaud Colin Powell's condemnation of Arab leaders for not denouncing the murder.

But, first and foremost, I want my news media to act as a watchdog over my government. Let's not rush to implicate anyone without just cause. In the mean time, there are plenty of questions to be asked.

Swing State Update: Saw a John Kerry commercial in New Hampshire. It was much better than the slew of Bush's attack ads that I've seen. Kerry's was upbeat, optimistic, hopeful. That's a nice message, especially in this era of bad news.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Yet Another Trip: This time I'll be in New Hampshire for the rest of the week. Enjoy yourselves.

WTF? Syracuse is changing its team name from the Orangemen (and Orangewomen) -- to just the Orange.

This isn't the first time Syracuse changed its team name for politically correct reasons. Up until the 1970s, the mascot was the Saltine Warrior -- but it was changed because of the racial overtones. No, the name didn't offend white people who thought they were being called crackers. The Saltine Warrior represented a member of the Iroquois tribe, and Native American groups were none too pleased.

Now Syracuse joins Harvard (Crimson) and Stanford (Cardinal) as the only teams named after colors. Actually, Stanford was once the Indians, but changed the name to be politically correct as well. Someday, maybe all sports teams will change their names to bright, lovely colors that don't offend anyone -- except rational people.

Band of Brothers: The Iraqis are fighting back against Al Sadr, and the radical Shiite is agreeing to disarm. This just shows that the U.S. can gradually pull out of Iraq and let the Iraqis run their own country. We'll always be there for support, and this mission will ultimately be a success.

No Love in Virginia: Andrew Sullivan points out that Virginia (the state where I currently reside) has gone above and beyond the usual discrimination against homosexuals and has outlawed any private contract that would confer the legal benefits of marriage to a gay couple. While this is blatantly discriminatory, it's also most likely unconstitutional.

What's really sad is that the bill was passed by a veto-proof majority. But a group is organizing a boycott of tourism and commerce that has to do with Virginia. I can't boycott where I live, but I can vote accordingly. And gay rights issue has just become priority number one for me when it comes to state and local elections.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Undivided Attention: So far, I'd say, the Bush administration has handled the prisoner abuse scandal as well as could be expected. Bush has apologized. Rumsfeld has apologized. And we're beginning the court martial hearings.

Of course, many folks are calling for Rumsfeld's ouster. I don't buy that. I'm disappointed by his earlier inaction, but getting rid of Rumsfeld seems more political than practical.

Now that we're taking care of this problem, let's focus again on our true enemy. Al Qaeda has now released video of the severed head of an American hostage -- as punishment for the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners.

What America did to the Iraqi prisoners was horrible. But it wasn't anywhere near as horrible as what Al Qaeda keeps doing. And remember, they have been this awful long before we ever invaded Iraq. So don't fall for their propaganda. But let's not feed it either. We can take the high road and win this war at the same time.

Flip Flop: Polls change every day. And each day we get a new story predicting who's going to win. Oddly enough, the story always picks the candidate who's ahead in the polls that day.

We've got six more months, people. Relax.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Never Satisfied: Of course, bad economic news sends the stock market tumbling. However, good economic news also sends the stock market tumbling.

Why? Because investors are terrified that improvement in the economy will persuade the Fed to raise interest rates. But the problem isn't that interest rate hikes would hurt the economy. In fact, rates are insanely low and should be brought up to a moderate level. The problem is investors believe that other investors will see potential rate hikes as a bad thing, so they sell.

It's times like these that it's important to remember that the Dow, Nasdaq, and all those other funny names just reflect the value of a few stocks, not the strength of the economy.

Swingin': My reporting trip once again took me to a swing state, this time Pennsylvania. The TVs in the background kept playing Bush ads trashing Kerry over and over and over again.

I still have yet to understand the effectiveness of negative ads. Yeah, I have a problem with Kerry being a waffler and weak on defense, but hearing that accusation ad nauseum doesn't strengthen the point. In fact, it weakens the effect. I start to think that Kerry can't be all that bad, and that the Bush campaign is most likely exaggerating its case or taking something out of context.

Most importantly though, the tone of the ads are depressing. Bush is an incumbent. He needs to talk about what he's done and what he's going to do. If all he has are some trumped up charges against Kerry, then that doesn't exude confidence.

The ads should convey optimism. Instead, I hear a president on the defensive and who seems scared of his upstart challenger.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Another Trip: I've got another reporting trip. Enjoy the rest of the week.

Do the Right Thing: Amid all the uproar over the prisoner-abuse scandal, let's remember to put it in perspective. It's nothing compared to what Saddam Hussein's regime has done. It doesn't come close to what terrorists are doing to hostages from America and other countries.

I know the Arab street is outraged by the images of the Iraqi prisoners. But I don't remember hearing their outrage when burnt American bodies were pulled through the streets and hung from bridges among cheering Iraqis. I don't see them condemning the terrorists who blow up busloads of innocent victims, including children, in Israel and other parts of the world. I don't see the shock in their faces when terrorists recruit kids to carry out suicide bombings.

The United States is condemned for taking pictures of naked people, while the United Nations elects the Sudanese to a spot on the Human Rights Commission, despite presence of slavery and genocide in their country. Then the Sudan has the balls to criticize us.

The U.S. soldiers who committed those terrible acts will be punished. That just shows how the United States, the lone superpower, holds itself to a much higher standard than most of the world.

$25-billion more: I'm happy that Bush is seeking extra money to help our troops fighting the war on terrorism. But I can't help but notice how political this maneuver is.

Seeking even more money after the controversy surrounding the original $87-billion is sure to raise some tempers among Democrats. But that puts the issue of the war squarely in the midst of political debate in time for the election -- and Bush wins on that issue.

What will be really interesting is to see how John Kerry votes. He's voted for the war, then spoke out against the war, voted against the funding, then spoke out about the lack of funding. Will he vote for the $25-billion before he votes against it? Sen. Kerry will be scrutinized no matter what he does. I wouldn't be surprised if his presidential campaign schedule prevents him from being in the Senate the day of the vote.

Gory Television: The last thing we need is another 24-hour news network. But Al Gore's proposal has the potential to do some good.

Young adults have not been courted by the political process. Instead, government has been focussing on expanding Medicare, providing prescription drug coverage, and other programs that primarily help old folks. The arguably most important segment of our population, the one that does the most work and on whom our future depends, is being practically ignored. And a news network that focuses on a young-adult audience could give the political clout this demographic needs.

However, I'm skeptical that WGOR TV will succeed. It's tough to attract young people, especially if the topics are boring. There has to be a coolness factor, and Gore doesn't seem cool -- even to old people.

Plus, it will be difficult for Gore's network to shake any perceived liberal leanings. And that can limit the effectiveness of a network. Despite some of the good reporting Fox News does, some people reject it because they view it as a conservative mouthpiece. Gore's network is already being branded liberal, and it hasn't even gone on the air yet.

But I wish Gore luck with his endeavor. This could be a chance to create a news network that's provocative and influential that can get a neglected segment of our population back into government and politics.

Damage Control: It's good that Bush is realizing the gravity of the prisoner-abuse scandal and has agreed to personally make an appearance on Arab TV. But I suspect even that won't quell the anger that those pictures surely cause. We're going to have to publicly rebuke and punish the American offenders. Then all we can do is hope that the outrage sufficiently lessens.

While the instances of abuse aren't indicative of the character of all our armed forces, I believe this is more widespread than has been initially admitted. What concerns me is the soldiers who were guarding and interacting with the prisoners weren't told ahead of time how to treat the Iraqis. That is a major failure of higher officers in the military, and the responsibility rests on their shoulders.

You wouldn't send a soldier into battle who isn't properly trained on not only battlefield tactics but also the rules of warfare. By the same token, you don't give prison responsibility to a grunt who hasn't been taught that abuse is illegal and won't be tolerated.

I've never served in the military, but I can imagine it's psychologically tough at times to distinguish right from wrong. You're job is to kill your enemy to protect yourself, your friends, and your country. To do that, you have to dehumanize your enemy to a certain degree in order to maintain your own sanity.

That's where officers should come in and set strict guidelines of what's appropriate and inappropriate. Apparently, somebody in the high ranks screwed up.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Real Problems: Militarily, we've been dominant in Iraq. But we've slipped a bit in the perception game. Lately the United States has been perceived in the Middle East as both weak and cruel -- a terrible combination in that region.

The prisoner-abuse scandal is inciting anger among Arabs. We're going to need to crack down hard on any wrongdoing to salvage any shred of credibility. Fortunately, Bush is at least talking tough to start things off.

I'm also worried about the Iraqis' perception of our pullout from Fallujah. From a military standpoint, it made sense to withdraw our marines and put in an Iraqi security force. We've toppled the regime, so we don't need to keep pounding away at the Iraqis. We just need to make sure security is maintained.

But many of the insurgents have interpreted our withdrawal as a victory. That message is emboldened by the seemingly ineffective Iraqi security force that is meant to take over. However, so long as the radicals in Fallujah don't gain excessive power in Iraq, their protests could be negligible.

Yet I'm afraid this is a bad turn of events in postwar Iraq. Some people have been harping on every uprising and every terrorist attack to paint Bush as incompetent. I've never bought any of that. We defeated Saddam Hussein handily a year ago. Now we're continuing our fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists who are entering the country. This fits perfectly with our larger war on terror, which will take awhile, and we can definitely win.

While the latest events have been a hard hit for us, we're still on the offensive and we're still winning. This is just going to make a difficult job even harder. But we're more in danger of defeating ourselves than of losing to our enemies. This is nothing we can't handle. The war will take patience and perseverance.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Mass. Executions? Even Massachusetts is considering bringing back the death penalty. I guess it says something that a state with among the most stringent gun laws and a ban on capital punishment still suffers from murders and other crimes. It shows that we still are a long way from understanding the root cause of crime. And until we do, we're going to have to deal with it the only way we know how.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for rehabilitation. But we have no idea how to effectively rehabilitate anyone reliably. Until we do, we still have to punish murderers and other criminals.

UNSCAM: There have been some rumblings about this on the blogosphere, but not much in the mainstream news. The Washington Times has a broad piece about how the countries that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq were the ones apparently profiting from the U.N. oil-for-food bribery scandal.

Even if all the allegations prove true, that doesn't necessarily mean that the governments of these countries were purely looking to protect their under-the-table deals when they voted against the war. But it is a factor, and it undercuts their credibility. Most of all, the scandal gives us another indication how terrorists, dictators, and other governments are intertwined and self-supporting. Allowing such corruption to continue puts lives in danger. And removing a dictator like Saddam Hussein is akin to killing a cancerous growth that was weakening the world body and letting terrorists thrive unchecked.

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