As the Wikileaks Turns…

If you are going to read any two articles about the Wikileaks phenomena right now, I highly recommend this Glenn Greenwald article regarding the disconnect between what the media and the government are saying about the cables and what is actually being released by Wikileaks. It’s an eye-opener, for certain, because it corrects some of the stories that are being perpetuated throughout this whole hype laden story. I don’t always agree with Mr. Greenwald on some issues, but his attention to the facts of a matter is impeccable.

The other article to read is Julian Assange’s op-ed piece in The Australian. It’s an interesting takedown of the governmental critics of the project and what has been shared and released to the public. The most salient quote of the whole piece (and I will leave it as the closing to this post) is this:

Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by US agencies, Australian politicians chant a provably false chorus with the State Department: "You’ll risk lives! National security! You’ll endanger troops!" Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can’t be both. Which is it?

Casualty of the Health Care Debate

Photo by The One True b!x

Photo by The One True b!x/Flickr

There exists another casualty of the health care debate: information literacy.

Regardless of the side of the debate that one subscribes to (but seen more noticeably by health care opponents), there exists a litany of misinformation paraded around as fact when a simple search through a newspaper, the internet, or other contemporary news source would immediately refute it. As a librarian, it pains me to see so many individuals failing to do the most basic of vetting when it comes to claims about health care reform. Has society grown so lazy as to accept wild and outrageous allegations on their face value? Has critical examination of presented evidence in a political forum become passe? For all the people who make assertions about not trusting politicians, they should expand that same policy to those who make recitations in the political arena. Rigorous political debate is a proud heritage of this country, but when participants spout proven falsehoods as fact, it is downright embarrassing.

I’m certain there are people in the health care debate forum who also decry the state of our education system, but they themselves are not a role model for the information literacy that they want for their children and grandchildren. Politically charged soundbites, chain propaganda emails, and rife word of mouth speculation do not replace an actual education on an issue as important as health care.

The New Know Nothings

On April 15th, the Tea Tantrum Baggers Party gathered at places all over the United States and protest… something. I wish I could say with clarity what the hell they are protesting, but between the media reports, their own PR, and what I have heard, I can’t really say I have an idea of what grievances they are petitioning the government. I would guess from the name that it had something to do with taxes, but the website, the pictures from the blogosphere, and the media coverage put it all over the place. (Thus a failure of modern protests when there is no central message.)

Moreover, it reminded me of a nativist party of the earlier American politics, the Know Nothings. While the 19th century Know Nothings earned their name as a reply to query of their activities (“I know nothing”), these 21st century Know Nothings would derive their name from the fact that they truly know nothing. Trifling matters such as facts, evidence, and reality do not deter them from decrying the apparent “excesses” of the newborn Obama administration. The taxes of the middle and lower class have been temporarily cut, not increased. The national debt generated from the Republican Congress and White House of the past eight years are finally being completely reconciled and included in the actual budget. We are not headed towards socialism, communism, or fascism due to the Obama policies; not even the true European Socialists believe such malarky. I won’t even address the claims of the Birthers, Creationists, gun owners, Creationists, or anyone not central to the tax issue since most are absurd and the others irrevelant.

The majority of these protesters truly know nothing. And their prejudices are so deep, their ideaologies are so firm, there can be no dialogue, no exchange of ideas, and no political compromise so we can move forward together. There is nothing but rage against a government that was not of their choosing, elected fairly in our democratic society. It’s the emotional exultation of those who felt that losing the election was the same as losing their country. You cannot argue the merits of democracy and then proclaim all opposing viewpoints as being traitorous. The lack of logic and reasoning makes my brain hurt. It’s as thought the mantle of minority fringe political theatre has been passed from the moonbat wackery on the left to the wingnut wackjobs on the right, and the cycle begins anew. (The benefit of the extreme politics of either side is that it drives people to the all powerful political center.)

I feel sad for the group of libertarians who started the tea party idea long before the past election as a means of protesting government taxation. They don’t deserve to have their excellent political point hijacked by these new know nothings. Ignorance as presented on such a grand political stage is disheartening for the future of our current system. A lack of grasp of the facts and political reality is also a sad moment for me as those who protest the spending and debt of the government said nothing during the previous years when it was created.

Another disconnect and shirking of responsibility all in the name of partisan politics. And, as a result, here arises the new Know Nothings.

Politics in the Age of Information

These days, there is a disconnect between politics and the information age that I find disconcerting. We live in an age where information is neatly digitized, indexed, and available upon demand for those who seek it. And yet, there are those public figures who do no such fact checking of their own to some of things things they have said in the past. I concede that positions change over time and with different fact parameters, but what always surprises me is the disconnect to these past statements. It’s not like there isn’t a way to determine previous positions on a topic via searching relevant databases or the internet.

In a recent example, take Rick Warren. In an interview with Larry King, he indicated that he had never spoken against the gay marriage issue embodied in Calfornia’s Proposition 8. Not only is there evidence that he did so, but it is a video. Where is the reconciliation?

Insofar as politics go, the best collection of position or statement reversals lies with The Daily Show. If it is left to satirical entertainment to keep people honest about their positions, then what the hell are journalists doing these days?

a brand new day for gay marriage

Earlier this week, the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled by unanimous decision that a statute which recognized marriage as being only between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. In their decision, the Court held that the statute was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Iowa State Constitution.

As one might imagine, there are a significant number of heads exploding since this decision was published. In looking at the language of the actual decision, there are some important aspects that jump out at me. First, for the decision to be unanimous is a huge legal indication as to how important the resulting opinion is as the Court is speaking with one voice. (Most people would say that this is a very obvious observation, but I’m not sure how to make my statement sound rational with a dozen or so exclamation points behind it.) Without a dissent, there is nothing for the opponents of same sex marriage to pick quotes from for future briefs in other states; and judging from the opinion as written, there will not be much for anti gay marriage advocates to choose from. Second, in reading the Background Facts and Proceedings (pg7), take a look at the language used to describe the same sex couples. The writing tone and language descriptors used are ones that humanize the case and bring emotionally evocative language to the opinion. This morphs the opinion from the dry context of legal concepts, an abstract exercise in technicalities, to the main street level where we see these couples as the friends and neighbors, as community contributors, and as regular folks with the same dreams and aspirations as everyone else. Third, in the culmination of dismantling of the legal arguments against same sex marriage, the opinion finishes with a very strong statement:

We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.

We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law. Faithfulness to that duty requires us to hold Iowa’s
marriage statute, Iowa Code section 595.2, violates the Iowa Constitution. To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our
constitutional duty. If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded. Iowa Code section 595.2 denies gay and lesbian people the equal protection of the law promised by the Iowa Constitution.

(Emphasis mine)

To me, the highlighted line feels like a silver bullet to political objection to same sex marriage. The Iowa Court, in examining the testimony of various experts and amicus briefs submitted on behalf of the County, found their studies, reasoning, and rationale to be legally uncompelling. These are the same sorts of legal arguments that will be presented to other state courts; for the Iowa Supreme Court to set them aside so decisively and completely will lead the way in another case briefs. This opinion is a spear head into the bulk of anti gay marriage legal rhetoric and should be wielded as such. Lastly, as indicated by other observers, this is a case coming from the social conservative heartland. Even some of the justices are appointees by Republican governors (Ternus and Cady), including the justice who wrote the opinion of the court (Cady) . Some may argue that this is a conservative decision as it was based on the narrow interpretation of the Iowa Constitution; others may say that the statute was so poorly considered and written that the justices had no other choice but to uphold the lower court ruling. However, I think it represents a significant conservative step in taking the stand that the government has no interest in regulating those who wish to obtain spousal rights for their relationship. The religious tenets and dogmas cannot hold such sway in “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” They have a place in our personal lives, a basis for voting for candidates (perhaps), not a primer for legislation in a land of many beliefs and creeds.

As can be expected, there are social conservatives who are calling for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution. The “activist judges” charge has already been fired off by State Rep. Steve King in calling for a state constitutional amendment. (I would call upon Mr. King to educate himself as to the difference between a law and a constitutional amendment. I would start his education by informing him that a constitutional amendment trumps a law every time; that’s why there are things such as constitutional amendments. Ignorance of these distinctions and others does not bode well for confidence in future legislation writing.) Amending the Iowa Constitution is an onerous process, apparently, as it requires the approval of two consecutive state legislatures and a public on the issue. The Democratically controlled state legislature has indicated that it is not likely to take up the issue. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight crunches the numbers with the conclusion that a measure, on a long enough time line (2012 and on), would likely to be defeated by the Iowa voter. The Daily Beast has an excellent collection of different conservative reactions and their possible future actions as gay marriage starts turning mainstream. And, as can be imagined, this will make the Republican Caucuses in 2012 a very interesting event to watch.

As indicated in my bio, I live in New Jersey. New Jersey is one of the first states to support the creation of a civil union. I’ve written about how I feel about the role of government in the institution of marriage. What really turned the gay marriage issue around for me was a same sex couple I grew to be friends with. When the debates earlier in the decade were first stirred up, I was against gay marriage but for civil unions. As time went on and the debate roiled, I came to realize one thing: I could not bring myself to say to them that I was against the idea of them getting married. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even form the words outside of their presence. Who was I, I thought, to legally limit their love? These are two gentlemen who care about each other and I could not imagine one not being able to decide or care for the other in a catastrophe. That was my awakening to greater things: that if I could not comfortably tell someone that I was denying them a right, that I really wasn’t against the concept in the first place.

In other news, as previously mentioned in this blog, the Vermont state legislature is moving towards overcoming the same sex marriage law veto.

the marijuanablogs

Since President Obama appeared on an internet based town hall earlier last week, my RSS reader has been exploding mentioning the implications of his answer to question of marijuana legalization. (Since the questions were submitted and voted upon, let’s set aside the idea for the purposes of this discussion that the voting system was gamed by marijuana advocates.) In the end, the President said he did not favor legalization of marijuana as a means of stimulating the economy. A strict interpretation would say that he did not turn down the possibility since he limited his answer to marijuana legalization as a economy stimulant. (Thus avoiding the first time marijuana stimulated anything more than the snack food economy or carpentry. Oh, and the press noticed this as well.) In pairing this answer with the New York State Assembly repealing the Rockefeller laws, it brings up a questioning of the concept of how we deal with drugs and drug offenders in this country.

This reminds me of a classic Bill Hicks sketch about alcohol versus marijuana.

“You’re at a ballgame, you’re at a  concert, someone’s really violent, aggressive, and obnoxious.  Are they drunk or are they smoking pot?”

In reading the collected accounts at Andrew Sullivan, I cannot help but wonder that, if you were to exchange the terminology of pot smoking for booze drinking in the user stories, would anyone raise an eyebrow by their tales of use? None whatsoever. Now, this might be more revealing of how our society views these different vices, but it really sends up some flags for me. Why should the destructive traits of alcohol be set aside so readily? Why don’t we examine the pros and cons of marijuana in an open forum?

For full disclosure, I have never tried it and have no real interest to. Over the years I have friends who smoke it recreationally and lead very normal lives of gainful employment, dating, and other normal social relationships. I will concede that any drug can be abused, whether it is marijuana or a narcotic or an over the counter cold medication. There is a belief that certain drugs can lead to harder drug that are worse habits and extremely unhealthy, which I can understand but find somewhat incomplete in terms of cause and effect. I think that it is more of a case of personality, social perceptions, and old fashioned curiosity that enables people to make the jump to these more debilitating addictions. (I’d love to see some more studies on this.)

I do see marijuana as a separate entity in comparison to the larger context of the war on drugs. The war on drugs, sadly, is a bureaucratic monstrosity offering empirical proof that the road to Hell is paved with both good intentions and taxpayer dollars. Let there be no doubt that there are some extremely nasty drugs out there and these drugs cause some serious societal damage. However, our current approach to drug enforcement, drug user treatment, and the criminal justice system absolutely stinks. We need a serious reevaluation on how to tackle this issue before we throw another few billion dollars down the crapper (the irony of this drug enforcement evasion tactic metaphor should not be lost on this discussion topic). We are not doing any favors to our southern sovereign neighbors, nor the American penal system, nor our minority populations. I would not advocate an end to the war, just the closing of certain fronts and a new approach to the strategy of enforcement.

I fear that the marijuana legalization debate will get the same reception that advocates for a discussion of a lower drinking received. Rather than examine the merits of each argument, we’ll be assailed by sensationalist media and anti-drug advocates pushing specious reasoning such as “Anyone who favors marijuana legalization just wants to get high without being hassled, and anyone who favors drug decriminalization generally is or wants to be a drug user.” And we lose more than an examination of the issue, we lose people to a faulty system, resources to an inefficient policy, and another serious issue lost to a short attention span public at the feet of a 24/7 news cycle media. The pure distillery of news information to literally minute segments is maddening with complicated issues like this one, but I digress.

Personally, any real discussion about marijuana decriminalization should start with moving it from the Schedule 1 list to the Schedule 2 list. I don’t forsee full decrmininalization in the near future, but a gradual relaxing of the prohibtion over time. I think, with each generation, we slowly stop focusing on the glass or pipe in front of us and look at the person behind it. It always boils down to a people issue and we need to start treating it like one.

pitchfork futures are up. way up.

A friend of mine put this article from Rolling Stone up in his blog about the bailout and AIG. While I had read various blogs, heard the talking heads on television, and other print media articles, this put it all in perspective. If anything, it quite possibly made me a tad more religious for I don’t think some of these people will see justice in this life. I have never wanted to own a pitchfork more than any other time in my life, even if I wasn’t using it for its originally created purpose.

The article also served to reverse my position on the bailouts and the incredible amounts of money involved here. Not simply because it is against the very nature of free market capitalism, but that these people deserve to undergo either financial reorganization or bankruptcy. (As my father put it last night, “They should get the haircut they deserve, not the bolstering.”) This would allow the companies to come down in size to the more manageable (read: easier to regulate) levels prior to 1999. It would also send a clear signal that such organization behavior will not be tolerated.

I’m not completely unsympathic to the plight of the people who work or worked for the company who are going to lose their jobs from this financial crisis. Having been let go a couple of times in my jog history, I would hope that this would create the change or innovation I underwent in changing fields. The march of industry will go on, just to a different beat.

power to the people

Of all things to be looking into over the internet (and perhaps I’ve exhausted all of the juvenile ones), I’m looking into how to form a political action committee and starting one with my friends. Yes, seriously. And why not? The age of Obama has proven that the internet is a perfectly viable means of harnessing a grassroots effort. Political activism is currently in vogue right now, my interest in the World of Warcraft is winding down, and I’d like to do something different that is both helpful and meaningful to me.

The good news is that finding information on PACs is relatively easy. The Federal Election Commission has a good FAQ complete with a guide and forms for an interested individual. The bad news is trying to read the guide. I wish I could say that it was a file thing, but it’s more of the fact that it is written by lawyers under the direction to write something “user friendly”. So it meanders through regular people talk and ominious awful legal talk. I had a year of law school before going into library science and this crap gives me flashbacks. However, in cursory reading, it’s not that bad. Sure, it’s a 134 pages of gobbelty gook, but it doesn’t feel like a hot fire poker enema. So, it might be worth sloshing through.

This has also been a (gasp) educational experience. I didn’t know they came in multiple flavors (organization or company based versus nonconnected versus a leadership variety) and that that their spending limits are comparable to individuals (which makes sense when I think that people make their own PACs or donate to other PACs so they can make multiple contributions to a single campaign, thus gaming the system; yay American democracy). The most important position in the PAC is the treasurer since apparently you cannot function without one. In fact, it’s the only position listed and discussed to any extent. Since it’s all about money, it makes sense. Then, oh yes, there is a section that is all about communication. It’s like tips from your grandparents about what you can say or can’t say on a date. If you mention a candidate, the money goes there. If you get money that is earmarked for a candidate, then it goes there (I think). Then there are types of solicitation that resemble downhill slalom skiing. And you have to spend $1,000 before you have to register with the FEC. And then what I read starts to meld together in my head as it gets into filing and filling out the forms for filing and so forth.

From there, it is about what kind of candidates to support. This is a two fold question. The easier of these is whether you are going to support local or federal or both. If it is both, then two bank accounts will need to be maintained. Of course, this begs the question: what sort of platform would this sort of PAC support?

I have a firm faith in my friends that there could be a consensus found for a platform that we would all support. We cover a range of the political spectrum, but I don’t think we are incapable of finding compromise on issues. Obviously, this could be a fatal error to the whole PAC idea, but I have some hope. What I would be looking to support would be pragmatic politicians who could supply sensible solutions to various issues (e.g. energy, education, and other domestic issues) regardless of their political party. This might be the most complicated part of this proposal, but it also might be the most exciting in getting into some good political discussions with friends.

Now, as a nonconnected PAC, you can solict the general public for funds. In looking at the Obama campaign, my take on it would be utilizing PayPal and CafePress. I’d have to investigate PayPal more, but it is an excellent means for collecting money and moving it to actual bank accounts (especially in combination with CafePress). Why CafePress? Merchandising. Bumper stickers, bags, hats, t-shirts, and everything in between. It would raise money for the PAC and it gives people some unique swag. (Ask about our $100 bumper sticker!)  And it is harnessing the power of the internet to boot.

This might be the dawn of a new age of politics. Or something like that.

pretty soon, nothing happened

After being issued the challenge to put forth a budget, the Republicans answered… with a 19 page document that contained no actual numbers. (You can see it for yourself here.) Glenn Thrush from Politico reports that even the release was subject to some bickering as the party members split between actually creating a budget with numbers versus putting *something* out there to win the news cycle. Sadly, a budget is longer than a news cycle. This budget is something we have to live with long after the cameras turn off.

Now, I will admit that, at the Center for American Progress (a noted progressive site), I scored in the ‘liberal democrat’ range on their Interactive Quiz. (Although, it is hard to take a website quiz where you rate issues 1 through 10 as gospel, but that’s another story.) But I’m not a partisan hack. If there is a house on fire, I’m not going to argue about where the water comes from. I want to see all the solutions brought to the table. And this just disappoints in a way that makes me very, very sad.

I used to think I was a Republican in Exile, someone who was driven away by the social conservatives who hold views that I find disagreeable. (The pro-life, pro-death penalty stance makes my head hurt.) The conservatism of my youth (small government, fiscal responsibility) has been replaced by the pragmatism of the absolute cluster fuck of a mess we are in. And if the Democrats and liberals of this country are offering the better solutions, I’m willing to go along with them. For those who think this is a compromise of my values, it might be. But I live in the real world which demands solutions for the moment. And a 19 page critique of the President’s budget without hard numbers is not a solution as much as it is a partisan talking points memo. Like Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Macquire, show me the money.

Maybe I should feel sorry for them. It’s not easy to be a Republican these days. They really do need some time in the wilderness. Or we need more political parties. Or less yelling at the far right and the far left and people like myself feeling like a kid passing notes between feuding parents.

I need a drink.

Update: Vermont gay marriage bill

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

“Douglas Will Veto Marriage Equality

The Vermont governor will veto the marriage equality bill passed overwhelmingly by the state Senate. The margin in the House is also very high, as Douglas conceded:

“I’m sure that legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they did not have the votes to override a veto. I will accept the outcome of their vote either way.”

So why Douglas veto? His purported answer is unserious:

“The urgency of our state’s economic and budgetary challenges demands the full focus of every member and every committee of this Legislature.”

He can’t sign a bill and focus on the economy as well? Here’s hoping the legislature hangs tough and a third state legalizes marriage equality. Next up: Iowa. Then back to California, where the legislature already voted for the measure, only to be stopped by a funamentalist-funded initiative.”

Yeah, this “we have to concentrate on the economy and nothing else” mindset is just plain baseless. The best way to describe it would be like this: no one pays to see someone who only juggles one object at a time.