Sunday, June 29, 2008

To Those Who Deny that Some of the Opposition to Barack Obama Stems from Racism

"I'll tell you," says one, "if Michelle Obama really doesn't like it here in America, I'd be very pleased to raise the money too send her back to Africa."

The diminutive and smiling old lady's friend leans over. "That's going a little too far, dear."

"Too far?" says the first. "Farrakhan is saying they were brought here against their will, and their bodies are still feeding the sharks at the bottom of the sea! I mean, really!"

"OK, sharks still eating bodies," I say, writing it all down. "Could I have your name, ma'am?"

"Janice Berg," says the first old lady. "And lest you think I'm Jewish, the name comes from Norway."

Quoted from Matt Taibbi "Full Metal McCain," Rolling Stone, June 26, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Politics in the Pulpit

This past Sunday, I saw something rather disturbing when I attended services at a local church. For reasons that will become obvious, I will not identify the church except to say that it was of a liberal Protestant denomination.

The service in question was a special congregation-led affair that featured a segment where people could talk about what they were doing over the summer. One woman talked about her attendance at an AIDS conference, and mentioned that many other people who attended the conference hoped a new president in the White House would change American AIDS policy. She left no doubt that she meant Barack Obama, although she did not explicitly mention him.

The political endorsements became more explicit, however, with one of the next people to speak. She declared that she would be volunteering for Barack Obama over the summer in order to convince Hillary Clinton supporters not to vote for John McCain. She urged other people also to volunteer, if I remember correctly.

Although I agree fully with these congregants’ choice of candidate, I think they seriously erred in using the church as a forum for their chosen political campaign. This is not the first time this has happened at the church in question. Several months ago, in the lead up to the Pennsylvania primary, the minister (who it should be noted was not present at this Sunday’s service) reminded the congregation to register as Democrats so they could choose between Obama and Clinton. Although he did not endorse either candidate, it is difficult to imagine that a Republican or Libertarian congregant would have been made to feel comfortable by this announcement.

The significance of these incidents increases when one considers that churches are not supposed to endorse specific candidates for office if they want to keep their tax-exempt status. Several evangelical churches have gotten into trouble for endorsing Republican candidates, and it would be hypocritical and unfair for more liberal churches to engage in the same behavior. Lobbying for social justice is one thing, endorsing a specific candidate is entirely another.

Some will no doubt object that this is an infringement upon free speech, and it may well be in some respects. I would have no difficulty allowing ministers to endorse specific candidates, if churches paid taxes like any other part of civil society, as I feel they should. Those who will not contribute their fair share to civil society have no right to expect the full rights it offers. The government should not subsidize, in the form of tax breaks, a partisan organization that directly endorses candidates. Since there is no reason to expect in the near future that churches will begin paying their fair share, I feel this is the best compromise that can be worked out.

George Carlin, RIP

Yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I saw yet another letter from professional right wing fanatic Oren M. Spengler, who regularly fills that letter page with his ravings. This time, however, he went too far. Spengler dumped a pile of garbage on the grave of the late comedian George Carlin, claiming he "offended civilization" by using foul language.

As Carlin himself pointed out, language is basically a tool. Words are not offensive in and of themselves, but only by the meaning we give them. Carlin often used rough language to make good social points.

I have posted the clip below to prove Carlin's point. This clip is especially for you, Mr. Spengler. (Warning: Adult Language)

(Note: I do not own this clip. If HBO, George Carlin's estate, or any other owner wants it taken down, just contact me and it will be done posthaste.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Plan for Hope

I recently discovered a new plan for getting us out of Iraq. The proposal, posted at the Responsible Plan website, calls for a recognition that ultimately Iraq is a problem that cannot be solved militarily (mindless rejoicing about the surge aside). It calls for greater emphasis on diplomacy, as well as finally starting to address the economic and social problems faced by many Iraqis.

I will be posting more about this plan in the near future. It is backed by a number of legislators and former military leaders, and is well worth considering.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Olbermann Kicks McCain's Butt

Here is a great commentary by Keith Olbermann on recent comments by John McCain comparing Iraq to South Korea:

Mortgage Crackdown

MSNBC reports that over 400 people in the mortgage industry have been arrested in connection with the recent subprime meltdown and other financial misdoings. Among those arrested were two executives at Bear Stearns, who were accused of misleading investors as to the health of their company.

Although I hold many libertarian beliefs, I feel the government does need to do a better job of regulating the economy. A lack of oversight since the Clinton years has allowed the financial community to run amok, with the Feds only stepping in to pick up the pieces. Let's hope the next president has the courage to change this.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Septa's Septic Service

Over the past week or so, I have noticed a real deterioration of service on the part of SEPTA. It started last Sunday when I was trying to get home from Center City. The 5 bush which I usually take had been detoured because of the Philadelphia Gay Parade. I went to the designated pick up point, only to wait there for an hour in the sweltering heat along with an elderly man.

When the bus finally picked us up, the driver told us she had been unable to reach the pick up spot. Listening to her speak with her dispatcher over the radio, I came to the conclusion that lines of communication between the drivers and SEPTA were not especially good, as the driver was not certain where detours were.

One might argue that this was simply the result of a special event on a weekend, not reflective of SEPTA’s overall service. However, this past Thursday, I went out to get the 5 bus up to Frankford Terminal, only to find that it was a half hour late. This was in the middle of rush hour on Frankford Ave.

When I finally arrived at Frankford Terminal, I found that the 26 bus was running ten minutes late. This was actually lucky from my perspective, as I was actually able to catch it, but the ten or so other people waiting for it seemed to mind.

Finally, we must discuss the fortunately short-lived SEPTA police strike. Here, both sides seem to be at fault. On one hand, SEPTA refused to accept binding arbitration, perhaps fearing the union would be able to get a fairer, and more expensive, shake. At the same time, union officials seemed all too eager to prey on the public’s fears in the wake of recent violence on SEPTA, warning people to seek “alternative transportation.” Do we have to trust our safety to such uncaring people?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Humanitarian Conscience of Our Military Leadership

"If these fucking Hajis would learn to drive, this shit wouldn't happen."

---Comment of an American colonel upon learning that American forces had killed a family of Iraqi civilians in a car because they mistook them for suicide bombers, according to Chris Hedges.

Militarized Cyberspace

A recent post on the TomDispatch website about the Air Force’s new Cyber Command raises many issues worth considering. Although I do not take as alarmist a view as William Astore, the author of the post, I think it is a matter calling for some scrutiny.

Astore describes the Cyber Command’s mission of protecting the United States and, more specifically, the Pentagon, from foreign computer hackers as essentially Bush-era paranoia. I am not so sanguine. Cyber warfare is rapidly becoming part of international relations. (Witness the attack on the Estonian government’s computers by hackers emanating from a country formerly known as the Soviet Union.)

In America’s case, the Pentagon is increasingly subject to hacking attempts from foreign countries, particularly China. As Richard Clarke noted on NPR's Fresh Air, Given the amount of information now stored on computers, it only makes sense that foreign governments will attempt to gain access through illicit means. It’s just James Bond 2.0. We should do everything we can to prevent such intrusions.

Nevertheless, Astore’s report raises some troubling issues. First is the threat to privacy on the web. Astore warns of the government’s increasing power to tap into private web and telephone communications. For instance, the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act requires the installment of equipment by ISPs for easy wiretapping. Organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) have been sounding the warning about this trend for a while.

Equally worrisome is the Cyber Command’s plan to develop offensive Net-based weapons for use against other countries. This plan is summed up by what Air Force insiders apparently call D5, the capacity to “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade, and destroy” other nations’ computer networks. This plan is troubling not only on the moral front, but also because of its potential to encourage other nations to further develop their cyberwar abilities. As Astore warns, we may well find ourselves in a cyber arms race.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Pundit for Public Transport

Robert Reich has produced a very interesting commentary on his blog about the need for greater investment in public transportation. In the light of rising fuel costs, riding buses, trains, and subways is making increasing sense to a large number of people. However, Reich warns that we may need to increase public funding to meet this demand.

Maybe, maybe not. Certain things I’ve observed in Philadelphia indicate that public transport may not have the funding issues Reich warns of. Recently while riding on the 5 bus along Frankford Ave. on a weekday afternoon, I found the bus to be filled almost to capacity, a highly unusual circumstance. News reports have also indicated an increase in SEPTA ridership, so much so that SEPTA is considering expanding service, with or without an increase in state funding.

That said, I am in no way opposed to government funding for public transport. When I was in Great Britain, I found the London Underground to be an excellent means of transport. It was very efficient, and offered access to most areas of the city I wanted to visit. I think London offers a model most American cities, including Philadelphia, could learn from.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Billboard with a Different Message

On I-95 near Allegheny Ave, a coalition of local humanist and aetheist groups has posted a billboard telling Philadelphia-area free-thinkers that they are not alone, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Finally, we see freethinkers standing up to the all too prominent evangelicals and fanatics who have been hogging a limelight. Although I am personally an agnostic, I think any challenge by secular forces is coming at the right time.

The Blog of Shame!!!

It seems some Hillbots can't handle the prospect that their candidate could actually be defeated. One particularly cowardly example, Susie Madrak, has banned commenters from attacking Sen. Clinton on her blog. (Never mind the fact that she has continually attacked Sen. Obama on her blog.)

To add insult to injury, she has begun spewing obscenities on her blog. For instance, in one particularly classy post, she called Sen. Obama "really fucking dumb." That was an exact quote.

When I recently commented about the hypocrisy of her language, she called my reference to her obscenity as cute. In that spirit, I am certain she won't mind this comment I heard from a fellow Obama supporter who is annoyed by Hillbots complaints about attacks on Sen. Clinton:


The commenter in question has also referred to Sen. Clinton as a "piece of shit" and an "asshole," nice gender-neutral terms I am certain the Suburban Guerilla could not object to. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

To Kill a Chicken

Excellent article on Slate about the urban farming movement and how some city dwellers are now killing their own meat. There are even classes explaining how to kill the chickens you raise.

I think this is a great idea. I believe everyone should partake in the killing of their own food at least once. It not only gives you a better appreciation of how your food is raised, but it also helps you to understand the cycle of life and death that is part of nature. Too many people, especially vegans, have separated themselves from that understanding with an overly romantic view of wildlife.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dumb Enough to Die!?!

A disturbing post on the Alternet blog notes that executions of the mentally challenged / retarded have resumed in the United States. A man who apparently had an IQ of only 65 was recently killed in Virginia.

I oppose capital punishment in all cases, but to my way of thinking, the execution of the retarded is especially heinous. It violates every canon of mercy in our culture, and degrades the value of human life overall.