Saturday, December 22, 2007

Get rid of the jitters

I'm all about social justice. Really, I am. I agitate for fair wages and health care, as much as I can. I give change, when I can, unless somebody gets right up in my face.

But I'm still worried about fair trade coffee.

I know, I know: It's the only decent thing to drink, and I'm an awful, fascist-supporting bastard because I opt frequently for different varieties, frequently *gasp!* Starbucks. I know, it's as evil as drinking Darth Vader's sweat. Or is it?

I've long wondered why Starbucks is such a bogeyman for many activists on the left. I mean, I understand that a corporatized chain of coffee places strikes right at the blood supply of the left wing -- at least in the David Brooks-popularized fantasy of political culture -- but you'd think that liberals would have better things to do than fight against a company that consistently tops lists of best companies to work for.

Plus, I wonder if the whole fair-trade labeling idea isn't getting a bit politicized. Fair-trade only certifies certain kinds of independent, family-owned co-operative (et cetera) coffee farms, which produce something like 2 percent of the world's coffee. Starbucks has their own deal, and they consistently pay above-market prices for their beans. They're hardly the evil empire.

Finally, there's this: I'm all for my coffee purchase making a difference in somebody's life. But I don't want my coffee to taste like honest toil. I'd rather it tasted like sweet, sweet imperialism; evil and rich.

Sometimes, the big green machine is the best of both those worlds.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nobody's perfect

I've been seeing Ron Paul's name pop up on a number of really sickening websites -- examples here and here (definitely NSFW) -- for some time now. Apparently, there's something about him that appeals to unhinged racists. While I wouldn't suggest for a moment that Ron is a stupid bigot, he's sure trying my patience. Watch this at about 3:20.

Zowie. First of all, "it's a ridiculous idea that [he]'s supposed to screen these people?" This is what we'll get under a libertarian president: "You mean we're supposed to check all those steaks for e. coli? That would cost literally thousands of dollars!" Jerk.

But my favorite part was when he suggests that other candidates would have returned white supremacist Don Black's donation simply "to brag about how pure they are." Yeah, really! Get off your pedestal, mainstream candidates! Who doesn't have a little Nazi gold socked away? What a bunch of goody-two-shoes!

One little segment on FOX news proves nothing, especially with Cavuto, who conducts this "hatchet job" with wretched ineptitude. But you could be forgiven for thinking that Ron Paul's self-righteous rationalizing, coupled with his face's continued presence in some of the internet's worst rogues' galleries begins to paint an ugly picture indeed.

UPDATE (from littlegreenfootballs via Wonkette): Speaking of ugly pictures...

From left to right, that's Ron Paul, the aforementioned racist Don Black, and Black's son, Derek.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Follow the money

Want to see what Congress is doing for the American people? Just follow the money. Tonight CNN reported that President Bush again vetoed a health care program that would provide health coverage for poor children. SCHIP (sounds familiar, right?) would expand such coverage by $35 billion over a five-year period. Congress should override the president's veto, but the word "should" often falls on deaf ears, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, CNN also reported tonight that Congressional staffers are quietly reporting that Congress is about to approve another $70 billion for the war in Iraq--without a timetable, of course. If you know anything about basic math, this is easy to figure out: The president vetoes $35 billion for poor kids for the second time while Congress gives him twice that amount ($70 billion) for his pointless war.

It's difficult to take any Democrat serious these days, including many that are running for president. If their party can't stand up to President Bush after Americans voiced huge dissatisfaction with him in 2006, can you expect this party to represent the American people in the future?

Shame on the president, yes. But shame on the Democrats, too, for folding so easily...and predictably.

The Voice of Reason: Creationism meets Evolution

(I've decided to "seriously" tackle issues that have become the foundation of the conservative movement--of course, this can only be accomplished with a sense of humor. That said, why not start with the Grand Daddy of them all (not the Rose Bowl, either): Creationism!)

If you stare directly into the sun and squint just right, you can see the Creator's eye. To even suggest that creationism could meet evolution, as the title of this piece suggests, is incorrect, as they've never co-existed. An example of creatures that have co-excisted: Dinosaurs and man. You can't squeeze the entire history of Earth into a few thousand years without overlapping, right?

The Bible should be taken literally because, though its content reads like a fantasy novel, it's the word of God--the Creator. We've been told this by clergy, who have never steered us wrong in the past. What has science created? Doubt, perhaps, but nothing useful. No, evolution is simply a theory, much like global warming actually. Deep see creatures that eventually lose their eyesight (or eyes altogether) are merely chosen by the Creator to lose that eyesight. Why, if they cannot see in the dark and murky water, the Creator is brilliant in His decision to remove those eyes altogether. Spokespeople for the Creator deny future plans to equip humans with the gift of flight, however. In a press release, His PR department indicated that, with rising fuel efficiency standards, human flight just isn't in the cards.

Besides, creationism has evolved itself. We creationists are reasonable, and, responding to calls for a scientific base, have introduced intelligent design. The premise is simple and scientific. The earth has changed (not evolved) because a designer guided those changes. It wasn't natural selection. This is scientific for several reasons detailed here:

See, doesn't that make sense? Your computer didn't evolve from a calculator! No, somebody created the technology that allowed for your calculator to play solataire; download porn; and religiously (no pun intended) read the DI blog. In the same sense, somebody designed us, changed us when necessary, and helps us along. SCIENCE!

It may be confusing, and you may not agree. But with time, and faith, you'll see the light. Now I know what you're thinking: If it takes faith to accept this idea, then it must be religious and not scientific. Not true! You have faith that your TV will work when you turn it on, right? But that's not the same type of faith, you argue. I respond, ever so politely, of course it is!

Are you even more confused? Good. You should be. The answers should never be clear. When did clarity do anything? Keep wondering, questioning, and assuming. No, believing!

Best wishes,

The GOD Squad

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bring out the comfy chair!

Last night I was watching my favorite reality TV (C-Span) and caught part of a show titled, "Is it torture yet?" It turns out that the show was actually a field hearing held by Senator Benjamin Cardin to investigate the new hot topic. With all the talk of waterboarding, destroying of interrogation tapes, and "enhanced interrogation techniques," there was plenty to talk about.

When I tuned in, a Human Rights attorney was talking about the cruel and inhumane treatment received by the interrogated (or are they called interrogatees?) Of course she talked about the cruelty of waterboarding, and basic indecency (as seen in photographs from Abu Ghraib.) With every technique, she mentioned the potential risks and dangers involved. Some involved possible organ failure and other serious risks, but many also held the risk of "mental illness, such as depression."

Depression? Are you kidding me?

I'm no advocate of torture, but Depression? I'm not a psychologist either, but guilty or not guilty, if someone lands themselves in a position to be interrogated like that, it's probably not their first experience with mental health issues.

The Human Rights attorney went on at length about the danger and cruelty of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation? Is that really in the same league as waterboarding? As frustrated as I am with the Bush administration's reluctance to denounce torture, I had a hard time taking this woman seriously. Maybe we should tickle people until they confess! No one likes to be tickled, but I know from experience it wouldn't be an effective interrogation technique. Do you know how many "uncles" I surrendered? They really weren't my uncles. I just wanted the tickling to stop.

But this is all part of the problem, every interrogation technique can lead to a bogus confession, which is why many people just want Bush & Co. to denounce torture for once and for all. Why won't he do it? I have no idea. Is it damaging to our international reputation? Absolutely. But does dialogue like this help?

I understand that we do not want the reputation as a country who advocates torture. We intend to be above that. But on the other hand, do we want a reputation as a country who hands out Prozac to our detainees? I can't help but think that there's some middle ground here that's being overlooked.

The Bush administration has handled accusations of torture horribly with disingenuous insistence that "the U.S. does not torture." Well, we'd have to define torture before we could make that claim, and for some reason that seems to be the big hurdle. Until then, we can expect the verb "waterboard" to remain a household word.

While I was perplexed by the civil rights attorney, other witnesses made a valuable contribution. A man with a commanding presence was introduced as Malcolm Nance, a 20 year veteran in the intelligence community combating terrorism. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear a man talk about what he experienced when he was waterboarded, I find myself at a loss for smart remarks. When that man talked, I listened without condescension. Perhaps someone should introduce him to George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, I rarely hear voices like Malcolm Nance talk about torture. I hear legislators talk about it, and I hear reporters try to get politicians to admit and condone it. I'm guessing those are the voices heard abroad.

My point is this: when our President refuses to denounce torture, it does not reflect well upon the country, and it doesn't bode well for any potential American POWs in the future. So, people speak up to try and separate the American people from the American president. That leaves two voices: the people saying that Bush sucks, and the Bush administration and supporters saying things that actually suck. What does it do for our reputation abroad when all we do is argue about the important issues? Because, I find that to be rather shameful as well.

I don't know who the next president will be, but I look forward to a day in the future when I have a president that is articulate. It would really be nice if the president's efforts to seem intimidating didn't appear to be a childish refusal to cooperate. Actually, I think I'm really starting to appreciate Ronald Reagan.

(By the way, the hearing really was titled, "Is it torture yet?")


"Who the hell is Mike Huckabee?" a friend asked while we watched a GOP debate earlier this year.

"He's the former governor of Arkansas," I said. "He's polling about the same as Tommy Thompson."

"Who's that?"


I liked to poke fun at Tommy Thompson. I'm also a Wisconsinite, and he's something of an embarrassment to many of us; granted, not as bad as Joe McCarthy, but still. So comparing Mike Huckabee to Thompson was a jab. I admit it. But honestly, I never expected I'd have to relive that conversation months later. Mike Huckabee just wasn't the real thing.

Then again, a lot of people said that about another Arkansas governor in the early 90's. Yeah, it happens. I take it back.

In March, Huckabee was polling at one percent. With a margin of error somewhere around five percent, there was a possibility that almost negative-four percent of Americans would vote for him. He was flirting with mathematical impossibilities.

Between March and October, nothing really happened. Just before Halloween, Huckabee was still polling in the low single-digits. As Midwesterners, we know exactly what those temperatures feel like. Voters were giving him the cold shoulder.

And then November happened. I don't know if it was a combination of too much turkey, a brilliant campaign ad that featured Chuck Norris, or a slew of religious Conservatives receiving free campaign buttons, but Huckabee happened. And he happened fast.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll in early November finally showed Huckabee breaking into the double digits, at 10 percent. By the end of the month, Huckabee fever gripped cable news, and a new CNN poll conducted last week has our pal Huck within the margin of error of Rudy Giuliani (whom you may have already heard of). If you include the margin of error, he might actually be ahead of "America's Mayor." Has the "I was the mayor of New York on 9/11"-slogan finally run its course?

We're just a few weeks from the cacuses now, in case you forgot. Could it be possible that Mike Huckabee (the Tommy Thompson impersonator) might actually have a shot at the Republican nomination? He seems a good fit; many Republicans like his conservative record. Plus, he is Chuck Norris approved.

Well played, Huck-Chuck. Well played indeed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A purely emotional response

There's a man on TV saying that he's so glad Jeanne Assam was at the New Life Church in Colorado.  His son was killed a few hours earlier by a lunatic with a grudge.  It happens all the time.

It looks like that same lunatic went to the New Life Church with the intention of continuing.  He did, killing two sisters leaving after a service.  It happens all the time.

Jeanne Assam says that she leapt up and shot that lunatic inside the New Life Church before he could kill others.  It happens all the time.  Jeanne Assam, according to CNN, is one of several church members licensed to carry firearms who patrol its sacred precincts.  She was on the third day of a three-day fast, during which she prayed to god for guidance in her life.  She says god was present when she shot 24-year-old Matthew Murray, the aforementioned lunatic.

Investigators have said that Murray, after being shot by Assam, may have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  To him, I could only have expressed my regret that there is no hell for him to go to.  (With half-hearted apologies to Christopher Hitchens.)

To Assam, I say this: That was all you, Jeanne.  You were brave.  You scarred yourself for life for the sake of others.  I don't think that was god.  I think that was humanity.

Things like this; too, happen all the time.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An array of alliterative agonizing

Previous political prediction: Pathetic, it now seems. It's a good thing that I didn't actually bet any money on this one, like that time I bet on Wile E. Coyote. He's gotta have a good day sometime, right? Ugh.

I had the first inklings that my confident, zanily-phrased prediction of a few weeks ago was complete bilge when I saw Romney and Giuliani going at each other like aggrieved crocodiles in the most recent GOP debate. It was undignified and petty, and I was unsurprised that it neatly coincided with Mike "The Amiabilinator" Huckabee's sudden rise in the polls.

See, I'd thought that Romney was the inevitable result: Business Republicans love him, and social conservatives -- you know, the doltish crowd -- are at least amenable to him. He'd gotten that endorsement from Weyrich, which I thought meant more than it apparently did. Because the dolts are much, much more influential, apparently, than the business types, the candidate that appeals most to them -- Huckabee -- gets stronger and stronger as the caucuses approach.

I use the term dolts in a specific sense. I'm not necessarily saying that anybody who has a problem with gay marriage or abortion is, by definition, an idiot (as tempting as it is.) I'm simply saying that anybody who votes based on those issues is a dolt. Why not worry about the things that a. actually matter, and b. you can actually do something about? But I digress.

Anyway, I'm not picking any winners at present, and you folks can read poll stories just as well as I can. Yeah, Obama and Huckabee are in the ascendant, while Clinton and Romney are in decline, but these things turn, as we've seen, in the blink of an eye. Much better to gamble on things like the Patriots going undefeated, or that horrible prick Tancredo making another stupid, fear-mongering ad.