October 29, 2007

Just Another Team, Thankfully

Congratulations to my beloved Boston Red Sox on their second World Series victory in four years!

As a Massachusetts native, I have been a Sox fan my whole life, and it's honestly still hard to get used to the idea that the Curse of the Bambino has been broken. It's difficult to explain to outsiders the weight that was lifted from the collective shoulders of Red Sox Nation - a weight to which I think we had all become too accustomed - when the team won the Series in 2004. I literally wept tears of joy. (It's true - ask my wife!) While this victory was not nearly as historic, it is sweet in its own way, fully confirming that the Curse is no more.

One of my biggest hopes is that 2007 will purge the last of the wailing and gnashing of teeth - not to mention the resultant "fragile psyche" news stories - that still accompany any flat spot in otherwise strong Red Sox seasons. Today, happily, the Sox are just another team, fully capable of winning or losing based solely on ability, rather than one waiting for the hands of a long-dead ballplayer to reach out from the grave and stifle the dreams of its home town.

So enjoy the victory, Sox fans! Revel in the success, and let that success inform the pleasure you take in supporting our team. After all, while none of us will ever back the Yankees, it's much more fun to be rooting for the success of the Red Sox than to occupy ourselves hoping only for the downfall of our bitter rivals.

October 28, 2007

The Common People

Scott Wilson is the publisher of a small, independent newspaper in Washington state called the Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader. Last Wednesday, he penned an editorial opinion that, in a few paragraphs, concisely lays out exactly what is at stake as Congress and the courts roll over for President Bush's repeated trashing of the Constitution. More than just a summary of misdeeds however, Mr. Wilson's op-ed is a call to action, and a reminder that:
It took common people - farmers, brewers, printers, silversmiths - to write the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights some 218 years ago. And it looks as if it's up to the common people to try to defend those principles.
I couldn't agree more; the "opposition" that was made a legislative majority in the last election is failing us. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," and that has never been more true than it is today.

You can read Scott Wilson's piece, "The Common People," here.

October 26, 2007

A Voter's Guide for the Tiger Beat Crowd

Regular readers of Glenn Greenwald's excellent blog at Salon.com have already been exposed to both the alleged journalistic integrity of Mark Halperin and scathing analyses pointing out the vapidity of today's Beltway media. In Time magazine's October 22 issue, Mr. Halperin appears to do everything in his power to confirm Greenwald's observations, authoring a two-page spread entitled "On the Fence: A Voter’s Guide to the 2008 Election" (*.pdf) that is notable for it's complete lack of any information whatsoever useful to voters investigating which candidate for president best represents their own views and positions. It is a masterwork of insubstantial pabulum - from an ostensibly respectable news magazine, no less - that simply has to be seen to be believed.

As a public service, for those interested in gaining insight into the candidates that goes beyond the types of junk food they like, a few sites which will be of more use are presented below:
  • The Who's Running? site at the New York Times provides fairly in-depth analysis on each of the candidates, corralling biographical summaries, blog posts, personal profiles and even multimedia links.
  • MyElectionChoices.com takes voters through a three-step process, asking them to choose issues important to them, answering some short questions about those issues, and then spotlighting the candidates which best match the reader's responses.
  • PoliticalBase.com's 2008 Primaries Quiz provides a similar methodology - albeit with a bit less depth - and it's worth comparing results between the two. Also on this site is a handy, graphical comparison chart of candidate positions.
  • The Commitment 2008 page maintained by Boston's ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV, features a very flexible side-by-side comparison tool that allows users to read about any two candidates in a head-to-head format.
  • Finally, 2decide.com also presents a graphical table of candidate positions, and supplements it further with a chart reflecting campaign funds raised, funds spent and cash on hand.
After you've had a chance to play around on these worthwhile sites, take a minute to enjoy the video below from The Onion. (Warning: Contains mild profanity.) The wits at "America's finest news source" are apparently avid readers of Time and big fans of Mark Halperin. And who can blame them? He's practically writing their material.

October 21, 2007

Spotlighting the Viciousness and Stupidity

[Click on the image above to see the original version at full size.]

Last week, either Xtreme entertainment personality Ann Coulter's website was hacked, or she exhibited a stunning change of heart. With the offending webpage now blank (click on the image above for a screen capture), it unsurprisingly appears to have been merely some wag's joke at the fascist diva's expense.

Still, a guy can dream, can't he?

Anyway, I certainly wouldn't want my humble site hacked - not, I suspect, that there's much danger of Sensen No Sen being targeted - but still, it was pretty hard not to revel in the schadenfreude. And a hat tip to the hacker for, in one fell swoop, spotlighting just how comically stupid, vicious and pandering Coulter's positions actually are.

October 16, 2007

Thank Goodness for Ol' Number 22

HST makes sure GWB can't try to make himself king.

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.

Beginning with George Washington and continuing through some of the nation's earliest presidencies, a non-binding tradition of pursuing no more than two terms as chief executive held sway, with Thomas Jefferson writing by way of explanation:

If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution or supplied in practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance. Believing that a representative government, responsible at short periods of election, is that which produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind, I feel it a duty to do no act which shall essentially impair that principle; and I should unwillingly be the person who, disregarding the sound precedent set by an illustrious predecessor, should furnish the first example of prolongation beyond the second term of office. (Reply to the Legislature of Vermont, 1807. ME 16:293)

A self-imposed term limit was largely followed throughout the first American century. While both Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt sought third terms, neither was successful, and it was only with Franklin Roosevelt's unprecedented four consecutive elections to the presidency that the 22nd Amendment was introduced in 1947 and ratified four years later.

Although it is indeed frustrating to see a great leader - whatever one's definition of such may be - refused the opportunity to lead, simply because he has spent what has been defined as "too much" time in office, the current administration of George W. Bush provides ample illustration of why the 22nd Amendment is a good thing: No amount of dirty tricks or fear-mongering or outright cheating can put George W. Bush back in the Oval Office. He can't even run for president, and for that - as the video reminds below reminds us - we should be eternally grateful to Ol' Number 22.

["22nd Amendment" from Andrew Sloat on Vimeo]

October 12, 2007

The True Meaning of Class Warfare

As the furor over the actions of private security contractors in Iraq has grown - with the United Nations (U.N.) now calling for a probe to determine whether companies like Blackwater USA are guilty of war crimes - questions about the reasons contractors are necessary in the first place have been getting even less attention than usual. Expressed simply, the presence of private armed forces in Iraq is a byproduct of the Bush Administration's determination to keep the Iraq War a luxury conflict; one that relies solely on a volunteer military and avoids conscription, no matter the consequences to the institutions of the armed forces or the people who serve in them.

Calls to increase the size of the military to offset extended deployments and commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan have been proposed, but as a one-time Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense explains:
“It is better to take a smaller force than to lower your standards,” said Lawrence Korb, a former senior Pentagon personnel official now affiliated with the Center for Defense Information and the Center for American Progress.

“The current use of ground forces in Iraq represents a complete misuse of the all-volunteer military,” he said.

The all-volunteer force was never designed for a protracted ground war, but that is exactly what it faces, he said.

“If the United States is going to have a significant component of its ground forces in Iraq over the next five, 10, 15 or 30 years, then the responsible course is for the president and those supporting this open-ended and escalated presence in Iraq to call for reinstating the draft.”

Despite both deep public opposition to the war in Iraq and realistic assessments like Mr. Korb's, the military has still been able to meet recruiting goals, albeit with increasing difficulty and a marked degradation in the quality of new troops. Not only has the percentage of army recruits with high school diplomas dropped to 73% (against a goal of 90%), but the number of felons allowed to enter the army doubled between 2004 and 2006, and 59,000 drug abusers were admitted during the same period. Clearly, there are consequences to this path:

Army General Barry McCaffrey, an international relations professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., described what he sees as the “disastrous state” of ground forces, a broken commitment to troops because of broken equipment, missed training and his sense that the 95,000 increase in Army and Marine Corps personnel planned over the next five years isn’t fast enough to provide relief.

The 95,000 - 65,000 soldiers and 30,000 Marines by 2012 - are not enough, he said, because of the extraordinary means used to field forces. This includes having 20,000 Navy and Air Force personnel assigned to traditionally ground-force missions such as convoy duties and guarding detainees, using stop-loss to prevent people from leaving the military when their obligation has ended, recalling people from the Individual Ready Reserve — who “in many cases” did not even have a relevant military skill, McCaffrey said — and relying on contractors and civilians to replace military personnel, both in combat theaters and even for stateside assignments such as being instructors for military training.

“For the first time since Vietnam, we are caught with no strategic reserve. We simply do not have a strategic fallback position for the crisis that will come inevitably,” McCaffrey warned.

McCaffrey, like Korb, worries about the quality of recruits.

“Ten percent of Army recruits are of low caliber and do not belong in uniform,” he said, noting that the number of moral waivers has increased, the percentage of high school graduates has dropped, and the average age of first-time enlistees is rising.

Further, despite claims by neoconservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation that their research "could not substantiate any degradation in troop quality," more rigorous and non-partisan examination of the data demonstrates not only that such degradation has occurred, but that the burden of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being disproportionately borne by the poor and uneducated.

The Department of Defense defines a "high quality" recruit as one who has both a regular high school diploma or above, and who has scored in the upper half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). While in 2004, 61% of recruits were "high quality," by 2006, less than half were so rated, representing a decline of almost one quarter.

Likewise, men and women from wealthy areas are increasingly under-represented in recruiting. Poorer geographies were over-represented to begin with, but data for 2004 - 2006 indicates that it is a phenomenon that has become greater in recent years. (See chart below.) Worse, the data may in fact be masking the magnitude of the problem, since many college dropouts who join the military use their college addresses rather than their home addresses when enlisting, and campuses are disproportionately located in areas with median incomes above the national average. (To be clear, the increasingly poor and uneducated nature of recruiting classes does not necessarily mean that they will produce shoddy soldiers. However, the military's own guidelines - for instance its definition of a "high quality recruit" - are based on empirical experience.)

[Click on the image above to see the larger, original version with explanatory text.]

More importantly, the trends in recruiting reveal what ought to be some uncomfortable truths about the nature of the "War on Terror." During the American Revolution - just as in World War II - this nation and the people who defended it were facing death and the destruction of their very way of life at the hands of foes powerful enough to bring about the end of the United States as a nation. The idea that al-Qaeda is somehow capable of inflicting anything like the damage that King George III or Adolph Hitler could have caused doesn't stand up under even cursory examination, and the enlistment activity of the nation's wealthy put the lie to the White House's declarations we are engaged in the defining conflict of our times.

If the battle against radical Islam were truly as vital to our survival as is repeatedly claimed, there would be a draft instead of a backdoor effort to enlist illegal aliens by tempting them with a path to citizenship. If fighting al-Qaeda actually meant defending ourselves from the imposition of sharia law, the president would have asked people to volunteer rather than telling them to go shopping. If we were really serious about the ideals of equality and duty to country that we espouse as a nation, we wouldn't be fighting a criminally negligent, luxury war on the backs of the poor and the uneducated, supplemented by mercenaries.

Below is a clip from a documentary by The Guardian's award-winning photographer and filmmaker Sean Smith, who spent two months embedded with U.S. troops operating on extended deployments in Baghdad and Anbar province. It is a harrowing firsthand look at the exhaustion and disillusionment of the soldiers on the ground in Iraq, and a window into the state of our over-stretched armed forces.

October 8, 2007

Just Getting Home

Apologies for the lack of posting - I was traveling again for several days and have just returned. More soon!