Monday, January 31, 2005

It's morning again in Iraq: The elections were a resounding success. Nothing is perfect, of course. Terrorists killed 35 people -- which is a smaller number than the hundreds or so expected, but still tragic for those involved. And Sunnis did not participate in the election at a very high percentage rate, showing that the country is still fractured. Still, overall Iraq saw better than 60-percent voter turnout. That's more than the highly contentious American election last year, and nobody threatened to kill us if we voted. The real test of democracy in Iraq, of course, is yet to come. How will the Iraqis respond to the incoming government, and how will that government operate?

And that made me realized that there has been something missing in all the news coverage of Iraq. I have hardly seen any stories about who's running, who's likely to win, what politics they hold, and what that will mean for the future of the country. I understand that there are more than 100 political parties and thousands of candidates, but that doesn't mean the news can't feed us trend stories about who's running.

There have been snippets here and there. I know the Shiites will win a majority in the Parliament. I've heard talks that this may lead to a hard-line theological government that may not be completely friendly to America's interests. Popular leaders, like the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, may drastically change the political landscape in Iraq. But that's about it in terms of news coverage. These stories about a fluid and tense issue keep getting trumped by yet another headline about a suicide bomber.

I'm not one of those war supporters who believe the media shouldn't cover the terrorist attacks. Far from it. But from our vantagepoint, the stories seem a little repetitive, and there are a host of other issues that deserve prominent play. I'm a political nut (obviously), and I'd like to know what new politics is springing up in Iraq.

We should have a pretty good idea by now who's going to win and what their policies are on the presence of U.S. troops, on civil rights for Iraqis (which had been lacking until we got there), and on what type of government will be in place after we're long gone.

Yesterday's election was historic, terrific, and a huge step toward democratizing a volatile region. The truth is, there's a whole lot more at stake than the threat of a few suicide bombers. Let's keep our eyes on the ball.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Great Expectations: What is this brouhaha about Bush's inauguration address? It was a great speech that fits perfectly with his presidency.

Bush simply said that every country deserves the benefits of freedom and democracy, and that it's the job of the United States to support liberty and stand against tyranny, not just out of sheer goodwill but also to maintain our own security. He did not say we could rid the world of tyranny during the next legislative term. He did not say we would accomplish this by the end of his presidency. He did not even say we would accomplish this in our lifetime.

For some reason, Bush is being criticized for daring to have vision. Critics want to know when the invasion of China will begin, since that country doesn't share our love for democracy. This is ridiculous, especially considering most of these same critics are the ones who condemned the invasion of Iraq. Bush doesn't pretend to believe that we can overthrow all tyrants. He is limiting himself to what he believes is smart policy. Yet, Bush has also done more to depose tyranny than most other presidents, having liberated two countries and continuing to put pressure on others in the Middle East.

Of course I'd like for him to do more, what with Syria and Iran interfering in Iraq, and Russia heading the wrong direction.

But we've already had one historic election in Afghanistan, and we're about to have another in Iraq. There are still plenty of problems to overcome, especially in Iraq. But that's what is so important about Bush's speech, explicitly stating that we won't back down and will fight to overcome those problems. President Bush is transforming the world, and I believe we will all benefit in the end.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Taking the High Road: The Justice Department is not going to fight to uphold a law that would have outlawed pro-marijuana advertisements in the Washington, DC, public-transportation system.

After a group calling for the legalization of marijuana ran ads at bus and subway stops in the nation's capital, Congress threatened to cut off $3.1-billion in federal funding to transit authorities across the nation if anyone ran such ads again. A U.S. District Court ruled that what Congress had done was unconstitutional, citing free speech.

In a moment of sanity, apparently, the Justice Department realized that the District Judge made the right ruling and that the ads don't break any laws. Although it's a small victory, this may help encourage actual productive dialogue about marijuana instead of the ill-informed scare tactics often employed by those who don't seem to know anything about the subject.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Up in Smoke: A Michigan company, in an attempt to keep health-insurance costs down, is firing anyone who smokes or refuses to take a test to see whether they smoke. This is not limited to what workers do on company grounds -- employees can't even smoke at home. Naturally, this is causing a bit of controversy there.

I'm not a smoker, but I don't understand the stigma attached to cigarettes. Lots of things are bad for you -- fatty foods, alcohol, loud noises -- yet some people are trying to regulate cigarettes out of existence. You can't smoke at any public place in California and in other cities around the country. Montgomery County, Maryland, tried to make it illegal to smoke in your own home if a neighbor could smell it.

While second-hand smoke can be an issue, bar patrons should be able to make their own decision as to whether they want to sit in a smoky room or to take their business elsewhere. Outlawing cigarettes is complete overkill.

Of course there's a big difference between when the government outlaws something and when a business does. The Michigan company probably hasn't done anything illegal, and workers can try to find a job elsewhere. But should we allow companies to discriminate against smokers? Are they going to tell us what we can eat next?

Not every problem can be solved by telling people what they can and can't do. In fact, that usually leads to bigger problems.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Warm Places, Happy Thoughts: I used to like snow. Now I never want to see another flake again.

In case you're wondering, I was trapped in Boston over the weekend. I was supposed to fly back to DC on Sunday afternoon, but the two-to-three feet of snow complicated that.

Sitting in that house all day about made me stir crazy. I eventually had to venture out into the frozen tundra in search of the one elixir that could save my sanity -- alcohol. But there was nary an open liquor store open in sight. I had to trudge for almost a mile before I found one. Luckily I still made it back in time to watch most of the NFC Championship Game.

Growing up in Dallas, we'd get a few inches of snow every year. It was great. The whole metroplex would shut down, and we'd go out and play. Since I moved away from Texas a mere five years ago, I've now gone through two blizzards with 20-plus inches of snow. Enough's enough.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

Bitter Sweet Victory: What do you do when a candidate you support suddenly and unexpectedly changes position on a key issue, even if it's one you didn't agree with? I'll give an example: Let's say, the president of the United States was running for re-election. Overall, you thought he was doing a good job (stay with me, here). But you were upset over his pushing a hot-button issue, say, wanting to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

You rationalize that such an amendment will probably never pass, so you hold your nose and vote for the prez. Next thing you know, with re-election secured, the president comes out and says he now doesn't see a need for such an amendment and is happy with the Defense of Marriage Act (which I believe is another problem, but not quite as evil as a constitutional amendment).

Surprise, surprise, that's exactly what happened. While I'm happy that the one issue that upset me the most is no longer a problem, I'm now even more pissed that such an amendment was brought up during the campaign at all.

Conservatives say that they weren't making it a campaign issue, that all the "homosexual activists" were creating the issue by daring to fall in love with each other and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together in a legally recognized relationship. While that may be true, conservatives overreacted with a call to reintroduce bigotry into our Constitution. And President Bush was more than happy to use it as a wedge issue for the campaign.

Bush advertises himself as a man who says what he means and means what he says. But when push comes to shove, he's not much different than all the other Washington politicians who say anything to get what they want.

So, the fact is, Bush is a politician. While it shouldn't surprise us that a politician would lie to get elected, politicians also shouldn't be surprise when the rest of us steadily lose faith in the system.

I support gay marriage (not just civil unions, but 100 percent marriage). And I'm happy that Bush has decided not to continue his path of carving bigotry into the Constitution. But I'm not happy about the way he did it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Antisocial Insecurity: Kevin Drum has pretty much convinced me that we have nothing to worry about in regards to Social Security. He has argued, persuasively in repeated posts, that so long as the economy grows at a nominal rate, there will be money for future retirees. He points out that in 1994, projections showed that the federal government would have to cut benefits in 35 years, by 2029, in order to keep Social Security solvent. But current projections show that we may have to cut benefits in 38 years, around 2042. The way we're going, that deadline will keep being extended.

And President Bush has not convinced me that his partial privatization or personal savings accounts are either necessary or affordable. How can we possibly let younger workers, who currently fund the Social Security system through money withheld from their paychecks, keep some of that money without causing a massive shortfall in the system? Though this is a common argument against Bush's plan, I have heard no reasonable counterexplanation from the administration.

But there's one other thing I can't help but notice. When Democrats controlled the White House, they claimed that Social Security was in serious trouble. Clinton urged us to "save Social Security first". Al Gore went on and on about his lockbox. Democrats in Congress accused the Republicans of spending all the money in the "Social Security trust fund", which Republicans countered never actually existed. The GOP blamed the Democrats of using scare tactics, scaring seniors, and "Mediscare" (oh, wait, that's something else, but you get the point).

Now Republicans control, well, all of the government. So Bush wants to reform Social Security to fix the "crisis" before the program goes belly up, which would keep the youth of today from reaping benefits in their retirement. Democrats counter that Bush shouldn't privatize all of Social Security by taking seniors' money and gambling with it.

It's frustrating, because neither side has yet to really present an honest argument about what they want to do and how the other side is bad. It's all based on emotion and exaggeration.

Secret's Out: USA Today has an interesting story (via Tuesday Morning Quarterback) about hotel deals for all the rich donors, lobbyists, and other power players who will be guests for Bush's inauguration. This example was particularly intriguing.

And for a relatively paltry $10,000 a night (four-night minimum), the Fairmont Washington, D.C., is offering a "President for the Day" package with niceties such as beluga caviar and Dom Perignon for 10, and actors hired to pose as Secret Service agents.
I don't know how pompous you have to be to try to pass off actors as Secret Service agents just to make you feel important. But I can't imagine the real Secret Service approving of imposters milling around a secure area.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Careful, David: DrunkenBlog scored an interview with one of the people being sued by Apple for allegedly illegally posting company secrets on the Internet. It's an interesting read and a good warning about taking on corporate Goliaths.

Historic Times: Iraqi expatriates in the U.S. plan to vote in the upcoming Iraq elections by the busloads.

Giant Leap For Mankind: The Virigina Supreme Court struck down a law from the 19th century that criminalized fornication. As a Virginia resident, I'm bummed. This takes all the fun out of fornicatin' (well, not all the fun).

Friday, January 14, 2005

Baby Steps: This was reported being heard in a Baghdad cafe among Iraqis.

"It's one of my wishes to die at the gate of the polling station," he said, a gesture that was self-consciously dramatic. "I want to be a martyr for the ballot box."
Someday, maybe, Middle Eastern culture will evolve to where you don't have to kill yourself to show your support for something. But at least some Iraqis are willing to die for something good. Regardless, it seems most Iraqis are excited about the upcoming election and their newfound freedoms.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Slow News Day: An Illinois couple received four speeding tickets in three hours, driving speeds ranging from 77 mph to 108 mph, culminating in combined fines of $1,393. The article ends saying the drivers "had not yet decided whether to pay [the tickets] or ask judges for leniency." Right. I'd love to see the look on the judge's face when they promise never to do it again.

That's Crazy: Anybody who is offended by stuff like this should have their head examined.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Empty Handed: The U.S. is calling off its search for WMD in Iraq. Now when is the Bush administration going to take its cue from CBS News and fire those who screwed up?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Eye on CBS: CBS did the right thing by dismissing four employees, especially with the firing of producer Mary Mapes, in the wake of Rathergate. While some conservatives are calling for more blood, such as the heads of Dan Rather and Andrew Heyward, I'll leave that as a personnel decision best handled internally by CBS. In truth, even a wholesale firing of everyone involved wouldn't fix the massive credibility gap at CBS. CBS can only rebuild its credibility slowly by consistently delivering quality news broadcasts -- something I've never really found at that network.

I haven't read the whole report, but from what I've seen in it and elsewhere, the investigation doesn't take a stand as to whether the documents were really fake. I think it's plainly evident that the memos were forged, and news agencies should be tirelessly investigating who fabricated the documents and why.

The other issue glossed over is the accusation of political bias on the part of CBS. As a journalist, I have had to defend my profession from consistent charges of liberal bias. I am not a liberal. While some of my colleagues in journalism are quite liberal, others are quite conservative. But most everyone that I know in this profession works at length to remain objective and fair in order to report the news accurately. We don't have a perfect track record, but we still believe this can be done.

However, I have never had so much trouble defending the media from the allegation of bias as during this past election. The news coverage simply sucked. And sadly that only further polarized people politically, as now partisans simply don't trust certain news sources.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to quantify which way the bias is leaning throughout all of the news media. Conservatives daily find examples of articles with a liberal bias. Liberals consistently find examples of articles with a conservative bias. And they're both right. But this anecdotal data doesn't reflect the media as a whole. Such evidence mostly depends on the point of view of the person making the accusation.

While I don't buy the Rush Limbaugh argument that the media is part of some grand conspiracy to get Democrats elected (a conspiracy that would be failing miserably), I do believe that the news media, collectively, has far more liberals doing the reporting than moderates or conservatives. And that skews the finished product. While journalists like Mary Mapes may honestly believe that they were reporting objectively, their own biases were getting the better of them. And because they were surrounded by others who shared their worldview, nobody realized what was wrong.

So when the reporters saw the damaging evidence against the president, they didn't question it because it fit perfectly in their liberal belief that Bush is a scumbag. The fact that this might not be true didn't cross their minds. What also didn't seem to matter was that, even if the story were true, it was not the least bit important.

While the CBS scandal was the biggest incident, this bias seemed to play out across the news media. Anytime questions surrounding Bush's National Guard service were raised, it was treated as a scandal by the national media. Nevermind that Bush hardly ever mentions is service in the Guard. Nevermind that the issue has been comprehensively vetted for more than a decade. And nevermind that we had four years of his record as president to analyze instead. The National Guard stories were automatically news.

On the other hand, the news media at first avoided the Swift Boat Veteran accusations like the plague. John Kerry made his Vietnam service central to his candidacy, choosing to downplay his 20 years in the Senate. Many Vietnam veterans, who were rightly angry at Sen. Kerry considering all his actions as a Vietnam War protester, decided to challenge the candidate's Vietnam image. Instead of covering the issues raised, the media ran in depth pieces analyzing how some of the people making the accusations were actually Republicans. Such investigations were not held for the National Guard stories, even though Bush's enemies were primarily Democrats. But that shouldn't matter. When someone attacks a candidate, it's not news that they belong to the opposing party. In fact, that should be assumed from the getgo.

Taken individually, both news agendas are defensible. There's nothing wrong with reporters digging up every bit of information about President Bush's service record. The public can decide what's important and what's not. Conversely, there's nothing wrong with investigating the political agenda of a group weighing in on a presidential campaign and questioning the veracity of their arguments. If they entered the fray, they're fair game. But the numerous instances of reporters jumping to the defense of Kerry and against Bush supports the idea that they are living in an echo chamber. They need to go outside more often to find out what's important to people beyond the guy in the next cubicle.

All that being said, it seems some people are a bit too allergic to possible political biases from news agencies. It's true, even the ombudsman for The New York Times, "an admitted Democrat", concedes that the Paper of Record is biased. But it doesn't matter that The New York Times is dominated by liberals. That paper still does excellent reporting, and does a great job covering a variety of issues. Even if the reporting tends to be one sided, it covers that one side extremely well.

Conservatives shouldn't dismiss any criticism from The New York Times by saying, "Oh, that paper has a liberal bias." That would be like President Bush dismissing critiques from Senator Kerry during the debates by saying, "Oh, my opponent just doesn't like me." If the paper makes bad arguments, tell us why.

The same is true for some liberals and their views of Fox News and The Washington Times. Some lefties don't read those resources, and if anybody presents an article from either of them, that person is often greeted with a rolling of the eyes and the waving of the hand.

Nobody should summarily dismiss important news sources. If you get all your news from one source, you're limiting yourself. Read a variety of newspapers and listen to a variety of opinion makers. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and liberals like Jon Stewart both make intelligent arguments from time to time. We should listen to them to find out which arguments we agree with and which ones we can laugh at.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Getting Colder: I haven't been too impressed by President Bush's lack of outrage at Russia's President Putin and his increasingly authoritarian actions -- such as eliminating gubernatorial elections in favor of Kremlin appointments and apparently trying to defraud Ukraine of its rightly elected president.

Unfortunately, Europe seems to be even worse in coddling a Russia that could be reverting back to its Cold War ways. A Wall Street Journal article from Wednesday (subscription only, no link, sorry) says that Bush has indeed made sharp criticisms about Putin's actions while Germany, Britain, France, Italy, et al have remained eerily silent.

The excuse given in the article is that Europe is more economically dependent on Russia -- namely on its oil and natural gas. This is a disturbing trend of Europe befriending dictators and budding authoritarians for oil, what with the revelations of European leaders accepting bribes from Saddam Hussein under the table in the ever evolving UNSCAM.

With all the real threats to peace and individual liberties around the globe, it amazes me that some people, especially in Europe, see the United States as the biggest threat. While Russia is still a trusted ally and has not reverted entirely to its Soviet system, Europe should not ignore the dangerous path its neighbor is taking. Reacting diplomatically now can prevent real problems from erupting in the future.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Caught in the Crossfire: CNN is cancelling its right-left shoutfest "Crossfire". This comes only months after The Daily Show's Jon Stewart appeared on the show, denounced it as partisan hackery, and called conservative commentator Tucker Carlson a "dick".

I honestly don't know if Jon Stewart's assessment of the show is accurate, because I never bothered to watch Crossfire. I am, however, a loyal viewer of The Daily Show, and I'm glad that Jon Stewart's pearls of wisdom are finally being taken seriously by the mainstream media. Who knew that a Comedy Central show that comes on after another show about "puppets making crank phone calls" would have so much influence on the rest of the media?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What He Said: Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sent out a press release weighing in on Bush's medical malpractice proposal.

Thoughtful solutions for reducing medical malpractice insurance premiums will require creative thinking, a genuine effort to rectify the problem and bipartisan consensus to achieve real reform. Unfortunately, these are not the characteristics of the President's proposal. By ignoring the central truth of this crisis -- that it is a problem within the insurance industry, not the tort system -- the Administration has proposed a plan that punishes victims by capping non-economic damages. The notion that such a one-size-fits-all scheme imposed on every state is the answer runs counter to the factual experience of the states.

Most importantly, the President's proposal does nothing to protect true victims of medical malpractice. A cap of $250,000 would arbitrarily limit compensation to the most vulnerable victims, the women, children and seniors who do not have wage income and therefore must rely on non-economic damages for justice. ...
There probably needs to be some tort reform to protect doctors from ludicrous malpractice lawsuits. But Bush's proposal goes too far and would inevitably hurt the patients who need the most help.

Top Secret: The White House is refusing to hand over memos written by Alberto Gonzales about the legality of torture. Now that Gonzales is the nominee for attorney general, the Democrats want to know what hand he had to play in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and other incidents.

It's true, if the Democrats get their hands on these memos then they'll most likely use them as political ammunition against the Bush administration and Gonzales. But that's the price you pay when you play in politics.

Gonzales wants to be the top law enforcement official in the country. He needs to disclose all his official views on a wide range of legal issues. If something incriminating does come out, it's the administration's job to defend it. But the public can only make informed decisions if all the information is available. And in such a sensitive situation as this, the White House should not hide its misdeeds from the public.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Updates: Catching up over the holidays, I see that a couple of my previous blog posts may turn out to be untrue. I criticized environmentalists for torching houses in Maryland to protest urban sprawl. Although that was the general belief at the time, it turns out that there appears to be little evidence that environmentalists did this, but instead it might have been carried out by racists. While some loony lefties have carried out destruction resulting in massive pollution all in the name of saving the environment, this doesn't seem to be the case here.

And congressional Republicans have changed course on their plan to ease ethics rules in order to save Tom DeLay's hide. The GOP initially wanted to get rid of a rule that forbids Republicans under indictment from serving in House leadership positions. Apparently mounting political pressure forced them to nix the change. It's just a shame it took the Republicans this long to do the right thing.

Monday, January 03, 2005

No Shit: Spam Law Fails to Stem the Tide.

The Enemy: Terrorists in Iraq have been targeting polling places and election officials in their attacks. And as Iraq's election draws closer, the violence is escalating. Then I read this statement from the Iraqi terrorists.

"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," said the statement. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God -- Muslims' doctrine."
The terrorists aren't revolting against an occupation. They aren't Iraq's "minutemen". They aren't freedom fighters. They are explicitly fighting against freedom with the goal of defeating democracy in favor of fascist Islamic theocracy.

There are two groups fighting us in Iraq: the Al Qaeda terrorists who want to spread their Taliban-style Islamic dictatorship across the globe and the Baathists who want to bring back the thuggish reign of Saddam Hussein. Both know that their Islamo-fascist way of life is in danger if we succeed in Iraq.

No matter what your initial thoughts on the war in Iraq were, this is now a fight worth supporting. Iraq is the major front in the fight against Al Qaeda and is a crucial stepping stone in changing the culture in the Middle East to bring democracy and freedom to a region sorely lacking it. Even if you don't think this is the path we should have taken in the War on Terrorism, the road to victory now leads through Iraq. Now there is no reason not to support this war.

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