Monday, November 26, 2007

Presidential Shopping List

Normally, if I reprint somebody else's words, I like to steal from a blog, spread their words a little wider, not reprint from somebody who actually has a paid forum, who's making at least some kind of living from their words.

But I really liked this column (thanks, Melissa, for sharing it with me).
Presidential Shopping List

By Gail Collins

I am making a list called Qualities We Don’t Want in the Next President, based on lessons learned from the Bush administration. The first undesirable attribute was loyalty, in the sense of valuing personal relationships over competence. Really, we need to elect someone who would push his/her grandmother under a bus if she screwed up the mission.

Quality to Avoid No. 2: Extreme physical fitness.

Ideally, you do want a president who has enough energy to climb the Capitol steps. Let’s just try to avoid another chief executive who can create utter chaos in the Middle East and still figure that it was a great week if he did 20 miles on his trail bike.

During the 2000 race, the Bush campaign had an afternoon stopover at a college campus in South Carolina. I was sitting outside on a patio, typing, when the candidate himself raced through in the front of a pack of football players. (It was a little like having a cattle drive thunder past your laptop.)

Leading his little herd of hard-core jocks, Bush had the most euphoric expression on his face. I never again saw him look that happy, even when he was inaugurated. This was not a candidate who exercised in order to stay in shape for the presidential race. It was a guy who spent the campaign waiting for an excuse to get back to his real life on the StairMaster.

This year, Fred Thompson is a top contender for the title of Least Likely to Obsess Over His Running Time. But we may not want to go so far as to pick a guy who seems exhausted by a walk to the podium.

Hillary Clinton may be closer to the ideal. “Frankly, I don’t have a lot of details, but I’m sure she tries to exercise,” said a spokesman, with a tinge of defensiveness. Later, he e-mailed that Clinton has a walk “every day when she is home in Chappaqua and whenever she can when she’s on the road.” Add that all up and you get Not Very Often.

We know that Barack Obama asks his schedulers to give him an hour a day in the hotel gym, but we need more information on how he reacts when he doesn’t get it. Disappointed? Relieved? Suicidal?

John Edwards is a runner who never seemed too carried away with it. However, the way Edwards has been changing personalities recently, you never know. He could be demanding that Congress give every American worker a pair of Reeboks before the snow flies.

And then there’s Mitt Romney. I don’t think we have much to worry about from Romney on the excessive-loyalty front. There’s something about him that makes me think he’d throw his best friend overboard if it would win him 10 more votes in New Hampshire. However, he’s physically fit to a troubling degree. Romney has no known vices, except packing the family dog on top of the car during long trips. His wife makes him homemade granola, which he likes to eat with skim milk when feeling particularly indulgent. He and his many sons hold family mini-triathalons every year.

Romney has a campaign ad that shows him running — frequently uphill — through the forest, his sneakers thudding softly on the dirt trail, his breath deep and regular, strands of slightly moist hair falling artfully across his forehead as the announcer says that he has “the energy and experience to turn around Washington.” The implicit message is that Mitt’s exceptional physical prowess will work to our benefit when he becomes president. This is the exact thing we have learned is incorrect. The nation will never, ever have a president in better shape than George W. Bush. And look where that got us.

Even before Bush gave executive jogging a bad name, fitness did not always appeal to the public as much as you’d expect. Back in 1994, Romney made his first run for public office by challenging Ted Kennedy, who at 62 was bulky and moving like a much older man because of that ancient back injury. The Romney campaign ran an ad that showed Kennedy trying to squeeze himself behind a table. Voters were supposed to watch it and think: fat in the budget.

Meanwhile, Romney was bounding up stairs as if the elevator was yet to be invented, chirping his enviable stats (“One-hundred-seventy-six pounds! Almost 6-foot-2!”) at the least provocation. How could such a man not run a lean government operation? The pitch seemed to be working until Kennedy’s ad agency went to Marion, Ind., where Romney’s investment firm, Bain Capital, had acquired a factory that made office supplies, then promptly fired all the workers. (Many were then rehired at lower pay with worse benefits.) “I don’t know Kennedy, but I know Romney. We’ll be in your ads,” said an official from the local paperworkers’ union.

Perhaps this was not fair, but the voters in Massachusetts soon began to look at the spare figure of Mitt Romney and think downsizing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Those Yellow Ribbons Really Aren't Helping

Around one in every ten adults in the United States are veterans of the military. But one out of every four homeless adults are veterans, according to a new study.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. 2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

Some advocates say the early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future. It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable.
This is not a new situation, but early indications are that it will be a major problem.

Veterans have a good chance of suffering from an array of mental illness, both from what their experiences in combat and their inability to readjust when they return. Veterans have a higher rate of substance abuse than the general population, and a higher rate of divorce, with nearly sixty thousand divorces attributed to the Iraq conflict alone. Study after study show higher rates of divorce and alcoholism among returning vets.

Guard and Reserve veterans who try to return to their civilian jobs find that they’ve lost their seniority, salary and benefits, and sometimes they’ve lost the job itself.

Veterans also have a higher rate of suicide than the civilian population. And more tellingly, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are also more likely to have survived a life-altering injury than almost any similar group in the past.
Limb-loss has occurred twice as often in Iraq as in any conflict of the past century, except for Vietnam, for which there are no good statistics. The 500 major amputations - toes and fingers aren't counted - represent 2.2% of the 22,700 U.S. troops wounded in action. But the number rises to 5% in the category of soldiers whose wounds prevent them returning to duty.
Now, with any study involving statistics, there’s going to be a certain amount of error. In fact, a report on NPR suggested that, since the military is often made up of working-class and lower-class males, and those are the very groups most likely to be homeless, that much of this study is simply a statistical anomaly. Unfortunately, the NPR piece was apparently written by someone who didn’t understand either demographics or statistics. Or, possibly, it was a propaganda piece written by someone who didn’t want to admit the problem exists.

When NPR says that the military is a pool of lower-income losers destined for the breadlines, it shows that they apparently didn’t read the report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Because if they had, they might have picked up on this little factoid.
Overall, veterans tend to be better off economically than nonveterans. The median income for male veterans is $34,617 compared to $31,308 for nonveterans. The difference is even bigger for female veterans, who earn $26,470 compared to their counterpart’s annual median income of $19,179. The poverty rate for veterans is 5.8 percent, but for nonveterans, it is 12.3 percent. Veterans also have a lower unemployment rate (5.5 percent) than their nonveteran counterparts (6.7 percent)
All of which leads to an obvious question. The White House is made up of people who studiously avoided military service (Dick Cheney got 5 deferments, and George Bush spent some undocumentable time in the National Guard, for example, so that neither one needed to go to Vietnam), and none of their family members are in the military. But they’ll cheerfully send other people’s children, undertrained and without armor, into a warzone. Then, if they get back to the States, the ones who stay in the military get shipped right back to the meat grinder, while the ones who get out find themselves ignored. So what, exactly, does the White House mean by the phrase "support the troops"?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Twenty three words

Harry Reid needs to take a little initiative. As Speaker, he needs to include on the calendar, before Congress goes on recess, a motion stating, in simple, straightforward language, "United States personnel and resources will not be used in an attack on, or invasion of, Iran, without the explicit consent of Congress."

No fancy languate, no explanations or political statements, just a simple twenty three words that may be the most important statement to come out of Congress in years.

No debate, just vote. Yes or no.

If the president wants to veto it, that's great. That would say a lot. If he tries to sneak in a signing statement, that would need to get publicized.

History will not remember a budget bill. But it would remember this.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Let's ignore his religion, and just focus on Mitt Romney, the person

According to his official biography, Mitt Romney "received his B.A., with Highest Honors, from Brigham Young University in 1971. In 1975, he was awarded an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was named a Baker Scholar, and a J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School." (There's no mention of his childhood, so we'll assume he was unremarkable prior to this.)

From 1978 to 1984, he was a Vice President at Bain & Company, Inc., "a leading management consulting firm." In 1984, Mitt founded Bain Capital, a venture capital and investment company.
Bain Capital helped guide hundreds of companies on a successful course, including Staples, Bright Horizons Family Solutions, Domino's Pizza, Sealy, Brookstone, and The Sports Authority. He was asked to return to Bain & Company as CEO several years later in order to lead a financial restructuring of the organization.
A more accurate description might be that he was brought in to replace the scandal-plagued Bill Bain in a time when the company's fortunes were on the wane.

Following an unsuccessful bid for the Massachusetts Senate in 1998, he took over as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee of the 2002 Olympics in 1999, where he "erased a $379 million operating deficit, organized 23,000 volunteers, galvanized community spirit and oversaw an unprecedented security mobilization just months after the September 11th attacks, leading to one of the most successful Olympics in our country's history." (Yes, he managed to work 9/11 into his biography, too. I think that it's a Republican Party rule.)

In 2002, Romney was elected Governor of Massachusetts, where he claims all the usual gubernatorial successes (balancing the budget, better education, decreased unemployment). But he also had some unusual political views, for a Republican.

In a 1994 debate against Ted Kennedy, he stated:
"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain and support it."
His mother, Lenore Romney, as an unsuccessful candidate in 1970 for the US Senate in Michigan, had apparently made similar, if more restrained statements. (Politics, you see, are a family tradition among the Romneys. His father, George Romney was also a politician, as the elected governor of Michigan, failed Presidential candidate and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Nixon.)

With regards to abortion, Mitt Romney stated more recently that he was in a "different place" than he was in 1994 (when he was a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade), and that his view in 1994 was shaped by the abortion-related death of a relative in the 1960s. Apparently, with the additional decade, he gained some perspective, because he is now pro-life, and supports the rights of states to decide whether abortion should be legal. (Except, of course, that he also supports a national ban on abortion. Tricky position, that one.)

His position on gay rights is somewhat nuanced. His campaign platform as governor was fairly clear.
All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual orientation. While he does not support gay marriage, Mitt Romney believes domestic partnership status should be recognized in a way that includes the potential for health benefits and rights of survivorship.
But he has since stated that he opposed both gay marriage and civil unions, but supported civil unions if they were the only alternative (except that his support for gay unions has apparently evaporated completely, to the point that in 2006, he requested that a ban on gay marriage be placed on the Massachusetts ballot if the legislature did not vote on the question before going into recess).

And although he has never completely repudiated his 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Republicans expressing his interest in equality, he has not actively supported gay rights in any noticeable way during his political career.

His position on gun control is equally nuanced. Although Romney now states that he "support(s) the right of individuals to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution," and he joined the NRA in August of 2006, that doesn't really match his earlier rhetoric.
In his 1994 US Senate run, Romney backed two gun-control measures strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups: the Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on gun sales, and a ban on certain assault weapons.

"That's not going to make me the hero of the NRA," Romney told the Boston Herald in 1994. At another campaign stop that year, he told reporters: "I don't line up with the NRA."
And the list goes on and on.

Of course, you have to admire somebody willing to stand up against the Religious Right and tell them that "no President could possibly take orders or even input from a religious leader telling him what to do." On the other hand, he was actually trying to reassure people that they shouldn't worry about the fact that he's openly Mormon, but would that statement relieve James Dobson's mind?

There's more that needs to be mentioned about Mr. Romney, but it's late. I didn't talk about his position on animal rights (which is apparently on top of a speeding car), his continued conflating of Obama/Osama, or his weird record on guns and hunting ("I own a gun... OK, maybe my son owns a gun that he lets me use to go hunting... OK, I hunt but I don't get a license for it, because I mostly shoot varmints and the like.") But let's ignore that for now, and just consider his shifting political stances on... well, on every major political position on record.

In fact, the more you dig into Romney's shifting political stances, the more you have to wonder one thing: Is there a real Mitt Romney, or just a creature of political expediency?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Usshering in a Bold New Seventeenth Century

Our friends at WorldNetDaily are now selling copies of a new book. Well, perhaps "new" is a misnomer.
In the 1650s, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher published his "Annals of the World," subtitled, "The Origin of Time, and Continued to the Beginning of the Emperor Vespasian's Reign and the Total Destruction and Abolition of the Temple and Commonwealth of the Jews." First published in Latin, it consisted of more than 1,600 pages.

The book, now published in English for the first time, is a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously. It's the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Actually, this translation takes both the originial Annals, along with its follow-up volume.
After a 1647 work on the origin of the Creeds, Ussher published a treatise on the calendar in 1648. This was a warm-up for his most famous work, the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world"), which appeared in 1650, and its continuation, Annalium pars postierior, published in 1654.
Aside from mistranslating the title (or ignoring the change by the translator), the fine scholars at WorldNetDaily don't seem to know their source material very well.
...the author of the book... said the world was created Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. – making it exactly 6,010 yesterday.
Technically, Ussher stated that the earth was created on the nightfall preceding October 23, but that's apparently a common error. (Incidentally, despite the implication implicit in the "article" that WND is releasing this book for the first time, that's just a marketing ploy.)

Oddly, not everyone believes Ussher's scientifically-determined age for the earth. Skeptics have held parties mocking the date, and Clarence Darrow used the errors in Ussher's scholarship to great advantage in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial (roughly as chronicled in Inherit the Wind).

Fortunately for Ussher's work, his original effort used the Julian calendar, and could safely ignore the ten or eleven day shift switching from the Julian to Gregorian calendars. But Ussher didn't concern himself overmuch with the fact that the numbering of Julian years was based on an estimate of Christ's birth by a sixth-century scholar, Dionysius Exiguus.

An argument could probably be made that this is a historical document, but it isn't history buffs who it's being marketed for. It's published by Master Books, an imprint of the New Leaf Publishing Group. As they put it,
Master Books remains a strong voice of truth in defense of the Holy Scripture from the very first verse, continuing the evangelistic tradition and vision at the heart of New Leaf Press for 30 years. My father, Cliff , wanted evangelism to remain the primary mission of our company
They publish fine tomes like Dinosaurs of Eden, Darwin's Demise, the Creation, Evolution and Deception DVD, and even the Tower of Babel Pop-Up and Read. These aren't scholars, folks. They're far-right fringe, Rapture-believing Young Earthers.

So who do you really think is the largest audience for this cute little work of misguided scholarship? Well, one hint might be the fact that it's written up in (and sold by) both and (Why do they really think that all of life's answers can be found in Genesis, anyway? Was it "Invisible Touch" or "Sussudio" that really inspired them?)

This is considered to be "History" (capital aitch), not a "Biblical timeline." Personally, I especially like the statement in the ad, "The fact that Ussher's chronology has been deleted from Bibles is evidence of the Church's backsliding into the deceptive ideas of evolution."

But for further proof, let's look at the interview with the translators, Larry and Marion Pierce. Marion at one point says:
The hardest thing for me was containing my enthusiasm! This project became a passion as I became more aware of the deep research and irrefutable sources Ussher used in ferreting out his information. Every footnote referenced cries out to the sceptic, 'Here are my sources; check them out and see if you can prove me wrong!'
Personally, considering how strong their agenda is, I'd really rather have their translation double-checked by a real scholar. Preferably an agnostic. Or at least a Lutheran (ELCA, not Missouri Synod...).

In their efforts to stamp out modern science, the Religious Right is turning to the scholarship of a seventeenth-century Anglican Archbishop, ignoring over three and a half centuries of collected knowledge.