Sunday, August 31, 2008

What About the Other Veep Candidate?

[UPDATE: Bobby G. left this graphic in the comments, so I'll use it as long as he doesn't mind. Full size image here.]

For whatever it's worth, I've offered my opinion about Barack Obama's choice for a running mate, and about what he should have been looking for. I suppose it's only fair that I spend a bit of time dissecting John McCain's choice.

First off, I'm not one of those who imagine that this is some sort of temporary choice, or that McCain will dump Sarah Palin before the convention in hopes of finding a newer model. It's hard to imagine someone with McCain's ego admitting that he was wrong. They won't choose another candidate unless forced to.

As folks like Steve Benen have noted, Palin's colleagues in Alaska are less than enthused about her:

There's never been a politician from Alaska on the national stage before, so I kind of expected Alaskans and the Alaskan media to have a decidedly positive attitude about Sarah Palin joining the Republican ticket. It's not exactly turning out that way.

Those Who Know Her Best ...

You could collect quotes like that from any politician's political rivals, so let's look at a few facts, shall we? While she was mayor of Wasilla, the town she grew up in, Palin managed to lumber the town with a $20 million debt. That doesn't sound like much, unless you know how to do long division:

Palin, who portrays herself as a fiscal conservative, racked up nearly $20 million in long-term debt as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla — that amounts to $3,000 per resident. She argues that the debt was needed to fund improvements.

Dems armed with Palin opposition

This is what fiscal conservatives do these days. Didn't Politico get the memo? Does Mrs. Palin handle the family checkbook? I sure hope not for their sake.

She also doesn't seem to be too clear on how the law should work. For instance, as Siun observes at FireDogLake:

According to the Alaska TV news station KTUU where Gov. Palin “appeared occasionally as a television sportscaster,” Palin was so determined to defeat a Clean Water ballot measure this summer that she broke the law to oppose it[.]

Sarah Palin: Maverick For Mining Interests

Of course, there's also that little problem with Palin having supposedly fired Alaska's director of public safety because he wouldn't help Palin's sister:

Democrats are zeroing in on an ongoing probe into Palin’s role in the firing of the state’s public safety director, who had reportedly refused to sack Palin’s estranged former brother-in-law.

Audiotapes released last month reveal that aides to the 44-year-old governor pressured Safety Director Walter Monegan to dismiss Trooper Mike Wooten, after Wooten allegedly threatened Palin’s father during a messy child custody fight with the governor’s sister Molly.

Monegan refused to do so and was fired on July 11 and replaced by an official who had previously been suspended for sexual harassment.

Dems armed with Palin opposition

Guest blogger Shannyn Moore made some observations about Palin's legal acumen at Progressive Alaska:

I’m all about killing and grilling moose. So is Sarah. But to the degree she will influence elections by spending $400,000 of state money to propagandize her position to shoot wolves and bears out of planes is bizarre. You would think Alaska has a ban on the importation of Viagra for all the fervor to chase animals with airplanes.

Shannyn Moore's Take on Gov. Palin's Judgement

So, massive public indebtdness, obliviousness to the need for the government to obey the law, and bad judgement on matters important to the health and future of her constituents - I suppose if you liked the last eight years you'll feel right at home with Sarah Palin.

As I noted earlier, McCain's support is already higher among his party's faithful than Obama's is with his. I think Palin's anti-abortion stance will tend to dissuade Democratic fence-sitters from crossing over. The swing vote will be mostly among independents. How they will view this choice I can only guess. She's certainly photogenic, which will be a plus no matter what she's saying. People judge others by their looks far more than most are willing to admit. Her regressive attitude about science and education, and the effect that attitude has on her thinking about things like abortion and medical research, probably won't matter as much as they should.

Plus, while she may be nice looking, it's also quite clear from her bio that she's a bulldog on the inside. Don't underestimate her. She can almost certainly deliver her simplistic message about how the world should be and have lots of people believe her simply because she does and because it conforms to their own prejudices. It won't matter if Obama or Biden could out-think her even when they're sedated. She's not going to be easy to defeat in a debate. Political debates aren't about ideas any more. They're about appearances. Or didn't you get the memo?

Over the last thirty years I've learned to never underestimate the stupidity of the average American voter. Even though the last few years should have been a wakeup call, I don't believe this election will be an exception. Far from being an irrational choice, Sarah Palin may do something that Vice Presidential candidates rarely do - help the ticket she's on.

UPDATE (Sep. 1): Biologist PZ Myers does a bit of dissection on Mrs. Palin over at Pharyngula. He sums her up thus:

See Question 2 above. Do we really want stupid people dictating what people should learn?

From The Horse's Mouth

I wrote that Palin's views on science and education were regressive. Myer's article does a good job of pointing out why.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Attendance And The Google

Did you mean John McCain vote attendance

Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359.

Over the last few months, one of the most visited articles at this blog has been On Attendance. This article is about the attendance records of the various Senators who were running for President at the time. It concluded that Clinton's attendance was very good by the prevailing standards, and Obama's better than average.

People usually happen by that article because they're doing a web search for Barack Obama's attendance record. Now, there are lots of possible reasons, but I keep wondering why none are looking for John McCain's attendance record, which is bad by any standard. While I've seen a few hits for Hillary Clinton's attendance record, I've seen none for McCain. Why is that?

It turns out that you needn't posit political bias to explain this fact. Simply doing a Google search of John McCain vote attendance, my article comes up on the tenth page. That means that people have to scroll past ninety or so other articles to get to mine. Some of those articles are by nationally known publishers. Some, like this provocative one, would be at least as interesting as mine. On the other hand, that article is the number one article for Barack Obama vote attendance. Only the gods of internet search know why such a difference exists.

For those who might have alighted here first, here are the totals as of today:
Senators With Lowest Vote Attendance - 110th Congress
NameStateMissed (%)Comment
John McCainR-AZ63.8%Rep. Pres. candidate (as far as we know, he didn’t have a brain haemorrhage)
Tim JohnsonD-SD48.7%had a brain haemorrhage
Barack ObamaD-IL45.5%Dem. Pres. candidate
Hillary ClintonD-NY32.3%Dem. Pres. candidate
Joseph BidenD-DE30.3%Dem. Pres. candidate thru Jan. 3, now V.P. candidate
Christopher DoddD-CT26.8%Dem. Pres. candidate thru Jan. 3
Sam BrownbackR-KS26.8%Rep. Pres. candidate thru Oct. 19
Edward KennedyD-MA17.2%Diagnosed with brain cancer
Daniel InouyeD-HI10.5%wife died in March, 2007 after long illness
(As of today, August 29, 2008) Source: Senate Members Who Missed Votes

McCain's, Clinton's, and Obama's records have all gotten worse, though Clinton still enjoys a comfortable lead. Johnson's has gotten much better, thanks to the fact that he is now physically able to attend votes. The rest have stayed roughly the same or improved somewhat.

I suppose there are three lessons you can draw from this little exercise. First, everything that happens is not due to a right wing conspiracy or bias. Sometimes, things just go a lot differently when you change the question a little. Second, somthing that's true seven months ago may not be as true today. Third, when someone says "I wonder how Candidate A does at vote attendance?" and concludes that this is or is not good, the next logical question is "What about Candidate B?"

UPDATE (Aug. 30): I'm still waiting for my first hit from someone looking to see how many votes McCain has missed. This article is number three or four in that search.

UPDATE 2: The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is one of the lobbying groups that rate legislators on their voting records in light of whatever the group is interested in. Here's what they had to say about John McCain's record last year:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) scored 0 percent in 2007 (24 percent lifetime) due to missing all 15 votes scored, including the key vote on repealing tax giveaways to big oil – a measure that failed by only one vote.

LCV Releases 2007 National Environmental Scorecard
In the related field of alternative energy, McCain's record is equally unimpressive:

Voteskipper McCain shirked votes supporting renewable tax credits four times this session, letting them be filibustered every time. Twice the bill was blocked by a single vote. In the past month alone, he missed every single energy vote brought to the floor. Sen. McCain stayed on the campaign trail while his conservative allies filibustered each proposal — on energy speculation, low-income heating bills, and renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives — and he drilled for cash from the oil industry.

McCain Says He’d End His Vacation From Congress To ‘Drill Here, Drill Now’
Here's what John McCain had to say about that record, according to Think Progress:

McCAIN: I have a long record of that support of alternate energy. … I’ve always been for all of those and I have not missed any crucial vote. But my citizens in Arizona know that when I’m running for the President of the United States I have to be out campaigning.

McCain: ‘I Have Not Missed Any Crucial Vote’ On Energy Legislation
[emphasis from original]

Sometimes the wisest course is to do nothing. I don't think that wisdom applies here, though.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where Do They Get Their Ideas From?

Hey, Klaatu barada frickin' nikto, Dude!

Where do Hollywood movie producers get those inspired ideas from? You just have to wonder how they can come up with stuff like this.

Via PZ Myers at Pharyngula, I learned tonight that another movie studio is going to shove another $100 million or so down another black hole:

They're remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves! It looks very, very bad. What did they think they had to add to a SF classic? More special effects?


Calling this a bad idea is like calling sailing the Titanic near icebergs bad navigation. The original movie was a science fiction classic - charming, reasonably well acted, and profound. As Prof. Myers notes, the special effects weren't that great, but they were good enough to get across the idea. Any fan of Dr. Who can tell you that's as important as realism if the story's good.

Speaking of stories, Ain't It Cool News thinks it has a scoop on what the plot will look like. I hope they're wrong (need I mention that there are spoilers in here?):

Turns out that...because of Global Warming (and the destruction of our own planet with industrial waste and pollution)....the other galaxies deemed that we are not fit to survive. The glass spheres they sent down were to collect land and sea animal specimens to take back to their planet for study.
Needless-to-say, Earth goes through a violent energy field released through Klaatu's ship (wait a minute - wasn't Gort supposed to be the ultimate bad ass in this story?). But Earth survives, with Klaatu giving we humans a second chance as he dies - telling us that we must change our ways in order to survive, in a delivery that would rival Steven Segal's speech at the end of "On Deadly Ground."

No Gort!! No "Klaatu Barada Nikto"!! Uncapie Goes Postal On THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Remake Script!!

[For those not familiar with AICN, that's the way they do their titles there. It's not a bad cut-and-paste job.]

Uncapie, the author of this article, notes one or two logic problems with the script. I have a more basic one - if humans are going to perish anyway, why go through so much trouble to save bits of the ecosystem? Any reasonably bright alien species ought to be able to figure out a way to do that surreptitiously. Heck, we cart away whole truckloads of our ecosystems every day. According to the story, they've had a spy on the planet for decades. Couldn't he come up with anything?

All this illogic, plus the basic illogic of doing a remake of such a fine film, not to mention the fact that Keanu Reeves has seldom managed to inspire me with his acting, lead me to the conclusion that this thing's going to suck big time.

Which gets us back to our original question: Where do they get these ideas from? There are plenty of good stories out there that are ready to be made into films. As Uncapie observes:

There are so many books out there just begging to be made into films, why does Fox have to remake a classic? Why not film Joe Haldeman's,"Forever Wars"? Or "Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination"? Or Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous With Rama"? Or "Childhood's End"? Or the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson? Or quit stalling Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" as a movie?

No Gort!! No "Klaatu Barada Nikto"!! Uncapie Goes Postal On THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Remake Script!!

Of course, that's just what they could do based on recent science fiction books. How about a spin off from Babylon 5, Witchblade, or Strange Luck? (Hmmm. Looks like there might be a Witchblade movie, after all.) There have to be at least a half-dozen quality science fiction series that either had a bigger story than they ever got to tell, or had at least never had a satisfactory ending. The last Stargate movie made more sense than this thing, and it was about time travel!

Thankfully, it will be out on video soon, where it will no doubt provide a new generation inspiration for new drinking games.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bad News For Diane Benson

At this hour, with about 45 percent of the precincts reporting, here is the vote count for Alaska's At Large Congressional District:

Diane Benson13,21136.56
Ethan Berkowitz20,16655.80

As expected, the turnout was pretty small. Compare it to the turnout in Darcy Burner's race for an idea. Summer weather may be to blame there, as it was in Washington. There's also a party convention going on this week.

Neither this TV station nor any others I could find have made a projection yet, but the outcome seems predictable.

It seems unlikely that Diane will come back from this deficit. Thanks for trying, Diane, and congratulations to Ethan Berkowitz.

UPDATE: I neglected to create a link to the [un]official vote totals page. At this hour (1AM PDT), with 70 percent of precincts reporting, it's not looking any better.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden? Yawn

Barack Obama chose his Vice Presidential candidate today:

Barack Obama introduced Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware on Saturday as a man "ready to step in and be president," and the newly minted running mate quickly turned his campaign debut into a slashing attack on Republicans seeking four more years in the White House.

Sen. John McCain would have to "figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at" when considering his own economic future, said Biden, jabbing at the man he called his personal friend.

It was a reference to McCain's recent inartful admission that he was not sure how many homes he owns.

Barack Obama introduces running mate Joe Biden as 'man with a distinguished record'

When did "inartful" become a word? Why can't we just say "misinformed", "badly phrased", or "stupid" when that's what it is? Please send someone by my place with a hypodermic needle and pink fluid if I ever use that word.

OK, I"m better now...

Biden's "distinguished record" might possibly seem distinguished if one were a banker or an ran an insurance company. For the rest of us, though, he just seems like another one of the people who are always telling us to shut up about not having health care or money while he gets plenty of both - some of it at our expense. He's known for having foreign policy expertise, of course, but as others have observed, it didn't stop him from suporting the Iraq War. Obama, with his lack of such expertise, managed to figure out that invading Iraq was a bad idea. Beginners luck? Maybe, but I'd say that Biden has a talent for overlooking the obvious.

Typically, I'd put a picture up here of Biden or Biden and Obama, because - well, because it's what I do. In this case, though, I'm not that interested in seeing his smarmy face on my blog at the moment.

That's all water under the bridge, though. At this point, what I really don't like about Biden is that Democratic voters don't like Biden. They had a chance to vote for him in the primaries, and if the results are any indication, "anyone but Biden" was the clear winner. You could use that phrase on just about any candidate who isn't Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, of course, but Biden's percentage was in the low single digits. Recall what I wrote a few days ago:

Whenever the subject of who would be a good Vice-Presidential candidate has come up at other blogs, I've always taken a pass, except to suggest Hillary Clinton. What I always write is that the most important thing is that Obama chooses a candidate who will help him shore up support in his own party, both the leaders and the rank and file.

Obama's Choice For Vice President

Does a guy who polled between two percent and five percent in the primaries sound like the kind of guy those folks will run out to vote for?

Biden is a good speaker. As his remarks upon being introduced show, he won't be reluctant to take on McCain's noise machine. At least, he won't until Obama undercuts him like he did Wes Clark. Clark would have been a great veep candidate if both Obama and John Kerry hadn't slagged him.

The only real plus I can see is that Biden might be more helpful at getting legislation passed through the Senate. As Kevin Drum observes:

[T]here really is some value in Biden's experience. Maybe. All four of the most recent Democratic presidents have chosen their VPs from the ranks of the Senate, and I'll grant that the results have been fairly mixed. Still, the Senate is pretty clearly going to be ground zero for getting Obama's program passed into actual legislation, and Biden has a pretty decent track record of working the legislative process. So on that score it might be genuinely helpful.

Biden's Experience

This was another thing I was hoping to find in a V.P. candidate. If Obama manages to get elected, Biden might be an asset.

Hopefully, Biden will help attract the kind of Democratic voters who don't support Obama. I have my doubts, though. In fact, after this latest of many bad decisions, I'm starting to think that the Obama campaign is doomed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More On Diane Benson's Opponent

In a little less than a week, Alaskans will be voting in their primary election. Among the candidates is Slobber and Spittle Blue's Diane Benson, who is running for Alaska's at large Representative position. In a previous article on Benson, I'd made a reference to her opponent, Ethan Berkowitz:

Diane's in a very tough primary race with a Rahm Emmanuel-style challenger who has been receiving lots of backing from the Democratic establishment. That alone is enough to make me want someone else to win, but there's another reason to support her.

Update On Diane Benson

In addition to having had some difficulty with antecedents of pronouns, that paragraph didn't describe what it was about Ethan Berkowitz that evoked such disinterest in me. Today, in Progressive Alaska, Philip Munger made that clear in the course of an interview with Eric Griffey:

Eric: I just wanted to get your insight on how Berkowitz is perceived by those on the left. My lazy google searches have taught me that those on the right have cast him as a uber liberal, and many on the left think he's too conservative.

Phil: I'm pretty far left. I'd say Ethan Berkowitz isn't any further to the left than I am on anything.

On the issue of addressing the medical care crisis, he is perhaps the least liberal. Here is his solution to the crisis:

Expanding medical record-keeping technology to reduce administrative costs and improve safety through information sharing

Promote preventative care and healthy living choices

Expanding the federal SCHIP program to cover a wider range of children

Allow for small business insurance pooling.

I've heard him make statements in forums and debates that sound more hopeful, from my point of view, but they were quite vague past being promises to somehow make medical care affordable for everyone. Back in January, in a discussion I had with Ethan, I asked how his approach would help young people who graduate out of their parents' medical plans, and who have pre-existing disabilities or chronic medical problems. These people are often just plain uninsurable under the present system, and I told Ethan his plans don't seem to address these hundreds of thousands of young people. He told me he would get back to me on how to fix it. He hasn't.

I've been highly critical, as have been national liberal figures Howie Klein and Jeff Cohen, of Rahm Emanuel's PAC's list of donors.

[links from the original]

In addition to checking out Philip's article, you might want to check out the link under "his solution" above. In that article, Philip compares the answers the two have given on various policy issues.

Ethan Berkowitz is the kind of politician we already have far too many of in DC. If you think so too, please head on over to Slobber And Spittle Blue, or to Diane's website and donate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Darcy Falls Short, But Does Well Enough

Aug. 21: Updated below with an e-mail from the Burner campaign

After more than a day of vote counting, it still looks as though Darcy Burner will come in second in yesterday's primary. Of course, in this kind of primary, where the top two finishers go on the general election ballot, second best is good enough. Trying to tease much more meaning out of the numbers is a difficult proposition, however.

Here is a graphic of the vote totals as of 5:15 PM PDT :

[By the way, all these graphics are screen grabs from the Washington Secretary of State's election totals page. Click on a graph to see it full size.]

As you can see, Reichert has a lead of about 2,700 votes. That's far less than the combined totals of the four people who won't be in the November election, roughly 6,400. Two of those other candidates were Democrats, and at first blush you'd think most would go to Darcy in the fall. That's about 4,300 votes between them. But that's only at first blush.

Look at the county by county totals. In King County, widely regarded as the liberal stronghold, Burner and Reichert are almost dead even:

Keep in mind that just because King County is liberal, that doesn't make Darcy's district liberal. It's been a swing district for at least the last decade. The vote reflects that. Also note that the other two Democrats received about 4.4 percent of the vote between them.

In Pierce County, which is a bit more conservative, but predominately a working class region, the numbers look different:

Here, Reichert leads by a much wider margin, nearly 13 percent. Also note that the two other Democrats have about seven percent between them here, half again more than their portion of the vote in King County. I infer from this that Vaughn and Arnold, the other Democrats, appeal to more conservative Democrats than Burner does. This might not be true, but it fits the character of the place. More of those folks will likely vote for Reichert in the Fall, all other things being equal.

If this were all the people who were going to vote in November, I'd say that Darcy had some things to worry about. The one thing that's hopeful is the number of folks who showed up for this election. In King County, fewer than 20 percent of registered voters showed up. In Pierce, it was about 25 percent. In the last couple of Presidential elections, the turnout has been over 50 percent. A lot of people didn't show up this time. Since the people who show up to vote are almost the definition of a self-selecting population, it's reasonable to assume that the other 25 percent of the electorate who didn't show up yesterday may see things differently.

Still, if these are the numbers as they'll be in the fall, Darcy needs to fix some things. The campaign has spent a lot of money to end up with what looks like a tie. Perhaps the most important thing is to tie Dave Reichert to his voting record. The press out here likes to pretend he's independent-minded. It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous image, given how he's voted.

One thing we can do is keep the press more honest. When they spin Reichert as open-minded on an issue, we need to write letters to the editor explaining why that's not true. The Seattle Times has a dreadful LTE policy - maximum of 200 words. On some subjects, you can barely state that they're wrong in 200 words, never mind trying to back that up with facts or logic. Still, enough people writing in could have an effect.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what we can do, other than send more money, of course. This is going to be a tough battle, but it's one we need to win this time.

UPDATE (Aug. 21): I received a "Dear Supporter" e-mail today from the Burner campaign, and I thought I'd pass along this part, which is relevant to this article:

We have two metrics we can use to get a sense of where we are at:

  • In the blanket primary system that prevailed in Washington State prior to 2003, and which is most similar to our current primary, there were only 10 times (out of 94 races) where an incumbent member of Congress got less than 50 percent of the primary vote. In seven of those ten contests, the challenger went on to victory in November.
  • Earlier this year, in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District, there was a two-round special election. In the first round, the Republican got 46.3% of the vote, and the Democratic nominee and other candidates split the rest. When the run-off took place, the Republican once again got 46.3% of the vote, and Travis Childers, the Democrat, consolidated all of the other votes and won with 53.7% of the vote.

I like those odds.

[emphasis from original]

I'm not quite as sanguine about the odds, for a number of reasons. Still, it's clear that Darcy has a good shot at winning this election. She needs to make Reichert's true policies evident, and may need to work Pierce County a little more thoroughly than she has. If she does that, she should be able to win in November.

Meanwhile, here's what the totals look like today:
Boleslaw Orlinski (I)10140.99
Richard Todd (I)1,4921.45
James E. Vaughn (D)3,5683.47
Dave Reichert (R)49,32547.93
Keith Arnold (D)1,3711.33
Darcy Burner (D)46,14444.84

One of the things that makes me less sanguine is that Reichert isn't all that far under 50 percent. In fact, he's within 2.1 percent of 50. The other is that this is the primary, and who knows who else will show up for the general election? My guess is that, if the historic pattern holds, those other voters will favor Democrats, but that isn't a hard-and-fast rule.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not Such A Great Day To Be Credulous

Image credit: The 20 Best & Worst Villains of All Time — Part 1: The Worst by Eric David Even

[That image just never gets old, does it?]

I'm sure most of P.T. Barnum's favorite demographic will get over it, but at least a few of the more cognizant ones had to feel some disappointment today. C/Net's Chris Matyszczyk puts the matter succinctly:

Live beings do not have rubber feet.

Bigfoot website stuns the world: "It was a hoax"

I can't say for sure that Mayszczyk is right, but I've never met one that did. One thing's for sure, primates don't have 96 percent opossum DNA:

One of the two samples of DNA said to prove the existence of the Bigfoot came from a human and the other was 96 percent from an opossum, according to Curt Nelson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who performed the DNA analysis.

Bigfoot creatures are said to live in the forests of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. An opossum is a marsupial about the size of a house cat.

Scientist Says Bigfoot Fails DNA Test

The C/Net article includes a humorous narrative on how a "bigfoot hunter" defrosted and then examined the deep freeze that contained what, not too surprisingly, turned out to contain a gorilla suit. It then continues:

Subsequently, Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton, the two Georgian non-hunting hikers who claimed they had happened upon Bigfoot's body, allegedly admitted their sleight of mouth.

Mr. Kulls added: "The motives behind this fraud are still unknown at this time. It is still unclear why Whitton who, being a police officer for the Clayton County Police Department in Georgia got up before the world and lied and was complicit in a scheme to defraud in a felonious manner."

Bigfoot website stuns the world: "It was a hoax"

[emphasis mine]

Yes, a police officer committed a fraud, and one that was rather easily exposed. What he was thinking may remain a mystery. The basic motive was pretty obvious, though:

It was also revealed that Mr Biscardi paid an "undisclosed sum" to Mr Whitton and Mr Dyer as an advance on the returns expected from the "marketing and promotion" of the Bigfoot discovery announcement. reported the sum was rumoured to be $US50,000 ($57,000).

Loren Coleman, who runs Cryptomundo - a website devoted to cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals - said the whole scam appeared to be about money.

Bigfoot Nothing But a Rubber Costume

I suspect that we'll find some hidden gambling debts or some other desperate need for more money than a police officer makes in a year. I should have warned you, dear reader, I'm sure after the shock of this being a hoax, finding out this was perpetrated by a policeman has probably given you vertigo.

To me, the only odd thing about this episode is that it was "bigfoot hunters" who exposed this scam, rather than more traditional sources of of debunking. I have to congratulate them, though. Not everyone knows about the rubber feet thing.

Election Day In Washington

It's primary election day in the state of Washington today. So if you live in Washington, be sure to get to the polls, or be sure to mail in your ballots.

If you live in the Eighth Congressional district, Darcy Burner could use your support.

If you live in the First Congressional district, Jay Inslee could use your support.

These are people worth voting for.

For that and many reasons, today's going to be a busy day...

Meanwhile, Juan Cole, via Pakistan's newspaper Dawn, provides some insight into why it has taken so long for former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to leave the scene, even though it was blindingly obvious that it was his time:

Meanwhile, Dawn (Karachi) explains how George W. Bush was convinced to let Musharraf go. The article says:

* Bush was the last holdout supporting Musharraf in Washington, long after Rice and Cheney had concluded he was not viable

* PM Yousef Raza Gilani's recent trip to Washington was in large part aimed at convincing Bush and others that the dictator had to go. "The prime minister took a team of 'Musharraf experts' with him to the luncheon and they played a key role in persuading Mr Bush to stop supporting the Pakistani leader."

Cole in Salon: The Fall of Bush's Man in Pakistan; Dawn: Bush was Last Holdout

He concludes with this thought:

I am a little surprised to discover that Bush was the last holdout, not Cheney. If the man really does have no common sense and is the ultimate decision-maker, that would clarify what has gone wrong for the last 7 years!

Cole in Salon: The Fall of Bush's Man in Pakistan; Dawn: Bush was Last Holdout

There are only two things I've ever figured out about Cheney:

* He's smarter than Bush

* He's ruthless

Both of these traits would tend to make him the one who figured this out sooner. Ruthlessness is certainly a quality the Bush possesses as well, but he clearly doesn't have the mental wherewithal to figure out things like this. Cole's right that this is the reason our foreign policy has been so disastrous the last few years.

UPDATE: Corrected Inslee's congressional district number. I had wrongly labeled it the Fourth District. That's Doc Hastings' district, and I don't care if he needs help or not.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Patrick Lang On Obama And "Elitism"

Patrick Lang has an excellent commentary up about the performances of Barack Obama and John McCain at the Saddleback Civil Forum last Saturday. First, he quotes Sally Quinn:

Obama came first, and he handled himself well in front of an audience that clearly disagrees with him on many issues. He also managed to put to rest the notion that he is a Muslim, which 12 percent of Americans still believe he is. He talked directly to Rick Warren as though they were having a real conversation, whereas McCain played to the audience, rarely looking at Warren. He was low-key, thoughtful and nuanced.

That kind of nuance is hard to understand sometimes -- it's unclear, complicated. Obama's world can be scarier. It's multicultural. It's realistic (yes, there is evil on the streets of this country as well as in other places, and a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of good). It's honest. When does life begin? Only the antiabortionists are clear on that. For the majority of Americans (who are pro-choice), it is "above my pay grade," in Obama's words, where there is no hard and fast line to draw on what's worth dying for, and where people of all faiths have to be respected.

I would rather live in McCain's world than Obama's. But I believe that we live in Obama's world.

Worlds Apart:McCain's Clarity vs. Obama's Nuance

That phrase "above my pay-grade" didn't go over with the holy rollers on USA Today's review board:

The differences showed up most sharply in questions related to abortion. When Warren asked when life and human rights begin, McCain's succinct reply, "At conception," and mention of his pro-life voting track record were greeted with some of the loudest applause of the evening.

Obama's pro-choice stance and flippant language were not.

"Whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective," Obama said, "answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade."

Differences Surface in McCain-Obama Christian Forum

That Sally Quinn recognizes the truth of this better than that so-called panel of experts demonstrates how bizarre our national discourse has become. You don't need to be a secularist to understand that this is a personal ethical dilemma for most people. All you need to be is someone with a functioning mind.

Lang goes on to observe:

Obama is a lot like [Adlai] Stevenson. You could see that in the "forum" held in Orange County the other night. McCain has been trained by his neocon handlers and advisers to suppress the music in his rugged old soul in favor of "memotics and neurolinguistics." He spoke to the audience, not to the host. He spoke in simplistic terms of complex issues. He exhorted the crowd to fear against the "other." It was a rally against the enemies that so many in America hold dear as a focus for their own group identity.

I continue to think that McCain will win.

Obama - Too smart for America?

For anyone who is aware of our political history, this is a troubling observation. Stevenson really did try to appeal to thinking people. Obama is like him in that respect. His speech on race demonstrates his ability to see an issue from more than one perspective. What Stevenson's repeated failures to win the Presidency show is that America doesn't have much patience for such people.

In short, I fear Lang may be right.

Musharraf Gone

Image credit: CIA World Factbook

Too bad I didn't see this coming. Oh, wait, I did:

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf quit office on Monday to avoid impeachment charges, nearly nine years after the key U.S. ally in its campaign against terrorism took power in a coup.

Speculation the former army chief would resign had mounted since the fractious coalition government, led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said this month it planned to impeach him.

Pakistan's Musharraf quits under impeachment threat

It was pretty obvious to me back in early June when A.Q. Khan was willing to testify against him that Musharraf was toast:

Once he resigned as head of the army, this day seemed inevitable. The army is the center of power in Pakistan. To not be in control of it meant that Musharraf no longer could control his own destiny. Once his party lost the election last February, he had much less political standing, too. Apparently, there's a new leader in the country.

More Changes In Pakistan

It seems like an obvious inference that the new head of the Army, Ashfaq Kayani, has been calling the shots for some time. The Los Angeles Times writes:

But Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the man Musharraf picked to succeed him at the helm of the military late last year, has made it clear that he will not intervene to preserve the presidential tenure of his onetime superior officer and mentor.

"Let us rededicate ourselves to the military tradition of sacrifice," a solemn-faced Kayani told an Independence Day gathering Thursday in a speech widely interpreted as closing the door to any army effort to stave off the impeachment process.

Pakistan Army Staying 'Hands-off' Amid Musharraf Crisis

Let us contemplate who is doing the "sacrificing" here, and then we'll know who isn't calling the shots anymore. The LA Times goes on to quote unnamed military officials as saying that the army decided not to support Musharraf, because to do so would have caused the Pakistani public to distrust the army. This might have been a consideration, but I find that taking a more cynical view of the politics there usually leads to a clearer view of them. Power is always a limited commodity, even for the army of Pakistan.

What all this means is less clear. The two rival political parties in Pakistan, can now stand around kicking the body of Musharraf's presidency, but whether they have the power to change Pakistan is another question. The New York Times observes:

His resignation came after 10 days of intense political maneuvering in Pakistan, and cleared the way for the four-month-old coalition government to choose a new president by a vote of Parliament and the provincial assemblies. But there were intense concerns in Washington that Mr. Musharraf’s departure would open a new era of instability in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country of 165 million people, as the fragile coalition jockeys for his share of power.
The talks are likely to be long and contentious. American officials have said that Mr. Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was assassinated in December, would like the post. But Mr. Sharif, who maintains a barely civil relationship with Mr. Zardari, is said to be strongly opposed to the elevation of Mr. Zardari.

A colleague of Mr. Sharif’s said the Pakistan Muslim League-N might agree to Mr. Zardari in the post if it was stripped of its current powers, including the power to dissolve the parliament and to choose the army chief.

President Musharraf of Pakistan Resigns

In addition to the army, a rather widespread radical Muslim insurgency represents another power center:

In Mr Musharraf's place comes a civilian leadership, albeit in an unstable coalition government whose future is uncertain and whose ability to combat the extremism in the tribal areas is untested. Nobody yet knows who will be the next president.

But the coalition was the product of elections, not a coup, and therefore is now being projected by Washington and London as a surer basis for future action than the weakened Musharraf.

It is from the tribal areas, the US and Britain say, that Taleban fighters cross into Afghanistan where they present a real danger to NATO forces supporting the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

The Strongman And The War On Terror

The Taliban aren't just a problem in Afghanistan. They've also been active in Kashmir for many years. The BBC reports:

India has had a mixed relationship with Pervez Musharraf.

Many in the Indian establishment view him with deep suspicion, especially after the two countries fought a bitter conflict in 1999, in the Kargil region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

India fears vacuum left by Musharraf

I'd think that another potentially ruinous war with India is the last thing the Pakistani army wants, but that might change if internal politics take what the army views as an undesirable turn.

Despite my cynical view of these events, I can't help but hold out some hope that things will get better in Pakistan. If I were in Gen. Kayani's shoes right now, I'd be concerned about the rise of militant Islam in my country, knowing that it was a force that could eventually remove the army from power. While it's true that the army and the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Agency (Pakistan's CIA) has abetted this movement, anyone with the smallest understanding of human nature realizes that no one controls fanatics but the head fanatic. The army needs the civilian leadership right now, if it is going to win. That need might spark real changes there, if the civilian leadership is up to the challenge. The adequacy of that leadership, and the depths of the army's need, is what we'll find out in the next few months.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Two Additions And A Deletion

Image credit:

Zip is here with a bit of blog business. First, I'm sad to announce that I'm removing The Next Hurrah from the blogroll. While it was an excellent blog for quite some time, its authors have all moved on. Emptywheel and Bmaz now blog at Emptywheel's FireDogLake site, and Mimikatz has moved somewhere else. Anyone who remembers where that is, please write it in the comments.

The two additions are Pissed Off Patricia's Morning Martini, and Taylor's site is actually a reinstatement, but I've been over there enough now for it to qualify as a "blog I read". POP's down-to-earth observations about politics are illustrated by her recent post "Cokie And Irony", a backhand to someone in the news business who ought to know better.

Enjoy the new additions.

Obama's Choice For Vice President

Image credit: Obama campaign,, reduced by Cujo359.
Whenever the subject of who would be a good Vice-Presidential candidate has come up at other blogs, I've always taken a pass, except to suggest Hillary Clinton. What I always write is that the most important thing is that Obama chooses a candidate who will help him shore up support in his own party, both the leaders and the rank and file. That lesson was driven home clearly by this poll today:

John McCain has pulled even in Ohio, after trailing in PPP's June and July polls of the state. He and Barack Obama are each at 45%, with 10% of Ohio voters reporting as undecided.

Party unity is an issue for Obama in the Buckeye State. While McCain has an 89-7 lead with voters who identify as Republicans, Obama has a narrower 75-17 edge with Democrats. Delving deeper into the numbers, it appears that residual unhappiness from Hillary Clinton supporters could be the cause. The 25% of Democrats who currently either support McCain or are undecided are disproportionately middle aged, white, and female or in other words prototypical Clinton voters.

McCain pulls even in Ohio

The Republicans usually vote as a block these days. Call it unity, call it authoritarianism, call it small-minded hatred of people they disagree with. Whatever it is, it's a unifying force among them. Democrats tend to be less unified. We on the left tend require persuasion to vote a particular way.

Whoever Obama chooses needs to be able to help him with this gap. Hillary Clinton is one such person, but I suspect there are others. Obama's a good campaigner, and he seems to be doing well with the party's movers and shakers. Wes Clark, John Kerry, and John Edwards, among others, are supporting him. His lack appears to be his inability to convince the core Hillary supporters that he's the better alternative.

If I were Obama's people, I'd be asking folks like Taylor Marsh and Larry Johnson (not to mention Susan Hu) who they think would be helpful.

Asking folks like me won't do much good.

Do We Need This?

Image credit: Composite by Cujo359

One of the questions that occurs to me after sifting through the "real-time" transcripts of the Saddleback Civil Forum that was held yesterday is: Why do we need this?

For some inexplicable reason, religion, Christianity in particular, is seen as the arbiter of morality in this country. It's certainly demonstrated no expertise in that area. Any time that religions are in charge of a government things seem to get more amoral, not less. Yet we're expected to believe that they're the experts. Where are the philosophy professors? How about a few people who have had a lot of interesting experiences and have had to deal with real life-or-death ethical issues, like war correspondents, police officers, or doctors?

In fairness, the SCF does not seem to be focused completely on a Christian version of morality. As their press release for this event concludes:

After both candidates had departed the stage, Warren concluded the evening by reminding the live, television, radio and Internet audiences that, “one of the greatest freedoms we have here in America is the freedom of speech -- even the freedom to protest this meeting. That’s a good thing, but we have to learn how to have civility in our civilization -- how to stop being rude; how to stop demonizing each other; and how to have a discussion and a debate -- because we all want America to be a greater place.”

The Saddleback Civil Forum was established to promote civil discourse and the common good of all. The first forum, held during Passover week this year, featured five Jewish World War II Holocaust survivors sharing their stories. The next Saddleback Civil Forum in September will feature former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Saddleback Civil Forum Changes The Face Of American Politics

Nevertheless, I think there's an unstated presumption. I don't protest this meeting, by the way. I think that both candidates should chase votes where they can find them. What I am protesting is the exclusivity this forum, which to some extent is at the expense of other, more necessary, debates on public policy.

Even if one accepts that religion is somehow the only means to moral judgment, there's another question. Why is this the only "special interest" forum of Presidential debate? Why aren't they debating Constitutional law and the status of the courts in front of a forum of lawyers? Why aren't they discussing energy policy, ecology, or space exploration in front of a group of scientists?

If you're looking for more proof of that this truly is what Susan Jacoby coined the American Age of Unreason, you don't need to look much farther than our choices of Presidential debate venues.

Another Pastor Has A Question

I don't quote Peterr, who writes sometimes at FireDogLake, very often. Religion's not my thing. He posed an interesting question to Senator McCain following the "Saddleback Civil Forum" hosted by Pastor Rick Warren, who is something of a celebrity, it seems:

According to the Gospels, Jesus was turned over to the occupying military authorities in Jerusalem and to their partners in the local religious establishment for a cash bounty paid out to one of his followers. Jesus was convicted in a kangaroo court proceeding where the judge admitted that there was no real evidence against him, he was tortured by his guards, and strung up to die in a media-driven spectacle, complete with crowds cheering for his death.

Here's the question, Senator McCain: How is it that with all these crimes committed against the one you call your savior, you can endorse the use of the same governmental tactics by our government that were employed against Jesus[?]

A Faith-Based Question for John McCain

Good question, I think. One of the lessons one can draw from this event, at least as it's described by Christ's followers, is that it's easy to pervert a system of justice that isn't based on rules of evidence and the right to one's person and possessions in the absence of such evidence.

Even if the story is only a parable, it's a good one. We're seeing the results right now.

UPATE: Corrected the name of the debate forum, and provided a better link. The old one was to a USA Today wrapup of the event.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Update On Diane Benson

Slobber and Spittle Blue candidate Diane Benson sent out an e-mail on Wednesday requesting help with a TV ad she wants to show:

This ad is critical to our success.

Please help us fund this TV spot by making a contribution today. A $50 donation allows us to play the ad once and a $100 contribution gets the ad up during primetime hours. We need $10,000 to fully fund our buy and any contribution is a big help! You can make your donation at .

Of course, you can also contribute via Slobber And Spittle Blue.

Diane Benson is an original. She's a Klingit (one of the folks we used to call Eskimos) who's been deeply involved in her community much of her life. As I wrote a few months ago:

I've never met Diane Benson, but she sounds like an amazing person. She spent her twenties driving cement trucks during the Alaska Pipeline project. She has been a community organizer and volunteer for most of her adult life, and she's the mother of a wounded Iraq veteran. The link about her son is to a video of her telling the story of her son's recovery[.]

The Donna Edwards Of The North?

Diane's in a very tough primary race with a Rahm Emmanuel-style challenger who has been receiving lots of backing from the Democratic establishment. That alone is enough to make me want someone else to win, but there's another reason to support her.

All the candidates on Slobber And Spittle Blue have demonstrated through their actions that they are the kind of people who will go to Washington to work for us. They have taken progressive stands unpopular with Democratic leadership. They have motivations beyond just a vague "doing a better job" kind of posturing. While some may make me regret supporting them, most won't. They're good people, and they deserve our support.

So please give what you can today.

UPDATE: Clarified the kind of stands SnS Blue candidates have taken. I suppose one could say that the Blue Dog Democrats have taken unpopular stands, too.

A Great Day To Be Credulous

Image credit: The 20 Best & Worst Villains of All Time — Part 1: The Worst by Eric David Even

Looks like the credulous among us have something new to be excited about:

Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer held a Saturday news conference and showed photos of what they claim is a 500-plus-pound dead biped they are keeping in a cooler at an undisclosed location. Pictures and descriptions are available on the Internet at :

Pair Say They Have Body of Bigfoot

Claims of secret evidence don't make me any more inclined to believe nonsense. Sadly, that can't be said for everybody:

What was most revealing about today's exhilarating and highly truthful Bigfoot press conference was not what was said.

It was the headgear.

Emblazoned with the a URL that sold their own Bigfoot tracking enterprise, the baseball caps worn by Matthew Whitton (aka Gary Parker) and Rick Dyer said so very much.

Their words on MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olberman said it with a cleanliness only rivaled by Bigfoot's teeth. When asked by the lucky stand-in presenter, Rachel Maddow, whether they were out to make as much money as they could, Mr. Dyer, who had not uttered a word through the entire interview, firmly stated that this was the case.

The Bigfoot Press Conference And The Art of Selling A Website

A quick check of the website shows why C/Net feels this way. Here's the first line of text, with the link removed:

Be sure to visit our Online Store for Amazing Bigfoot Videos

A rival "bigfoot researcher" describes the, ahem, photographic evidence accurately:

"It looks like a costume, a waterlogged costume that's been stuffed into a freezer," Jeff Meldrum, an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, told The Washington Post Saturday. "It just doesn't have the hallmark of a real corpse."

Pair Say They Have Body of Bigfoot

As the C/Net article says, they're sure to make lots of money. P.T. Barnum was an optimist.

UPDATE (Aug. 19): Shockingly, this turned out to be a hoax after all.

Looking For Hate In The Wrong Place

[Updated below, with a link to a response by David Neiwert.]

Yesterday, David Neiwert, a reporter with a well-deserved reputation for exposing hate groups and racists, wrote this at FireDogLake:

Two days ago, a gunman walked into the offices of the Democratic Party in Little Rock, Arkansas, and shot the state's chairman to death. The motives are still unclear, but it is starting increasingly to look like yet another case in which an unhinged wingnut decided to "take out" more liberals.

Looking For Hate In All The Wrong Places

As I commented there yesterday, I find that article's title ironic. In fact, the picture I see emerging is that of a man who was barely stable and isolated from his community. Local TV station KARK wrote:

KARK has also learned that [assailant Timothy Dale] Johnson was fired from his job in Conway before the shooting Wednesday.

Conway police were called to the Target just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, because of some anti-target graffiti he had written on the wall. Employees there say he was irate, but he left the scene before officers arrived.

More Information on Gwatney Shooting Suspect

The Searcy, Arkansas Daily Citizen offers some troubling details:

A property receipt from the Little Rock Police Department, filed in White County District Court, Searcy Division said police had confiscated a personal computer, a bottle of Effexor XR medication in the name of Tim Johnson, a sticky note with “Gwatney” and a phone number, various paperwork, two sets of keys with the Gwatney dealership emblem on them, the last will and testament of Timothy Johnson, a Smith and Wesson gun box and 14 guns. Two guns were found in Johnson's pick-up after he died.

Evidence Suggests Planned Shooting

Effexor XR is an anti-depressant. Both depression and the the effects of anti-depressant drugs can be dangerous, as the website on Effexor XR points out:

Patients and their families should know that both adults and children taking an antidepressant medicine should be watched closely for signs that their condition is getting worse or that they are becoming suicidal. Pay close attention to any changes (especially sudden changes) in mood, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed. All patients should be watched for becoming agitated, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, restless, or anxious. Such symptoms or any new or sudden changes in mood, thoughts, or feelings should be reported to the patient's health care professional right away.

Taking EFFEXOR XR: 10 Things to Know

Johnson lived alone and had little interaction with his neighbors. If he'd had some of these reactions it's quite possible no one, including his doctors, would have noticed.

What evidence is there that Johnson was a right wing nutjob? Very little, it would appear:

Several people said they had not heard him make any overtly political comments or criticize Democrats. According to the Arkansas Times, Johnson was a former member of the Cleburne County Shooting Club, where he participated in rifle competitions.

Johnson did not indicate his party preference on his voter registration, but he voted in the Republican presidential primary earlier this year, according to records at the White County registrar. He voted in Republican primaries in 2002 and 2004 and in a Democratic primary and runoff in 2006.

Evidence links killer to Arkansas Dem chief

Johnson sounds like what passes for "independent" these days. The NYT article also indicates that the police found no literature in Johnson's residence that would indicate a political motive.

There seems to be no reason to believe that Johnson's actions were any more than a result of the unfortunate combination of a depressive personality and firearms. He could have felt as though he, or an acquaintance, was cheated by one of the used car dealerships Gwatney owned. In any event, there is no evidence linking Johnson to any of the sorts of right wing hate-mongers Neiwert mentions.

I can understand Neiwert's apprehension. As he wrote in that article:

Two weeks ago, another gunman walked into a liberal Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began shooting, killing one man and wounding several others before he was tackled. He had written a manifesto before the rampage indicating his belief that "all liberals should be killed." At his home, investigators found books attacking liberals by the likes of Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and ... Bill O'Reilly.

Looking For Hate In All The Wrong Places

There is no doubt that liberals and progressives are the target of hateful rhetoric these days. There is no doubt that, at least on occasion, there are unstable people who take that rhetoric too seriously. Our case isn't helped, though, by unsubstantiated charges. If anything, the reverse is true. This article is the sort of thing that those same hateful people will use later as evidence that we don't know what we're talking about.

When people aren't inclined to believe you anyway, crying wolf never makes them any more interested in what you have to say.

UPDATE: Corrected spelling of David Neiwert's name.

UPDATE 2 (Aug. 17): David Neiwert has written a response to this article. He points to an interview done by another local TV station with one of Johnson's classmates:

[Arkansas State University at Beebe classmate Reggie] Tucker graduated from ASU Beebe in White County, but during the 2007 spring semester Tucker had two or three computer technology classes with 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson, the man who murdered Bill Gwatney.

Tucker explains, "He was socially awkward and made weird comments that kind of gave you pause but didn't make you think he is going to come after us you know."
Tucker says he and other classmates do recall Johnson being vocal about his views.

"I would always remember going to class and I would see that he had a Bill Clinton anti-campaign sticker [on his car] that says I don't miss Bill. "He would surf the internet and he would see that a Democrat had died and he would laugh about it."

Update: Shooter's Classmate Speaks To Today's THV

This article was posted "one day ago", according to the information at the top of the page. The blog article that pointed to it was written yesterday afternoon. It wasn't available when Neiwert wrote the article I was referring to. I might have found it had I looked hard enough. The publication time for the blog article was Aug. 15, 4:37 PM (Central Time?). Neiwert's was at 8:21 AM (PDT) on that same day.

While I'm not surprised at the sentiments Johnson expressed here, it only suggests that this was his motive. His ownership of a large cache of guns, and presumed sympathy with National Rifle Association positions, doesn't strike my as prima facie evidence that his motives were political, just more suggestion. There are progressives who have similar views. They're just a rarer than conservatives who feel that way.

It looks as though we'll never know for sure what Johnson's motives were, but will only be able to list, and maybe rank, his possible motives. Based on this new (to me) interview, I'd say that political hatred has a higher ranking than it did two days ago.

UPDATE 3: Interesting eyewitness account from the Associated Press:

When the elevator door opened, Johnson was standing there. Instead of lunging at the man, [Arkansas Baptist Convention building manager Kirby] Martin held the door open and Johnson stepped in. Martin pushed the button for the first floor. And on the ride down, he never looked at the gunman's hands, only his face.

"In his face, I saw just a pale, lost-looking, desperate man," Martin told the newspaper. "He was wearing khakis and a nice shirt. He was well-groomed. What came to my mind was that he was a pastor or staff member of a church that was in serious trouble."

Before the elevator door opened again, Martin asked Johnson: "What is it?"

Johnson got out of the elevator, walked toward the front door, and as he was walking out of the building, he answered: "I've lost my job."

Building Manager Recounts Horror of Arkansas Gunman

While it might have been the event that started this, there's no explanation there of why Johnson chose Gwatney as his target after losing his job.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Rich!!

[This is a Malaysian ringgit. Apparently, quite a few will be coming my way soon. Image credit: BBC News]

Malaysia wrote to me today:

Government Accredited Licensed Promoters,
BATCH No: OX9T – 7T5T – D3N


Top of days greetings to you.Finally today, we announce that
you are one of the winners of the ELECTRONIC LOTTERY PROGRAMS.

held on 14th AUGUST,2008.Your company and your personal
e-mail addresses, attached to ticket number: 7-1-8-36-4-22
under agent ID: 18 and lucky ball number 7363789,which
consequently won in the Tenth lottery category.

You have therefore been awarded a lump sum pay out of
US$1,500,000.00 (One Million,Five Hundred Thousand United States DOLLARS).

The online draws was conducted by a random selection of emailaddresses
from an exclusive list of 29,031 E-mail addresses of individuals and
corporate bodies picked by an advanced automated random
computer search from the internet. No ticket were sold but all email
addresses were assigned to different ticket numbers for representation
and privacy.

This is to encourage our prominent and consistent Microsoft
Internet Explorer users all over the world, and for the Continues
use of E-mail.

Your fund has been insured with your identification number
{CPEL/OWN/9876}. To claim your winning prize, you must first
contact the claims department by email for Processing and remittance
of your prize to you.

Customer Service Unit,
Mr.Ibrahim Nasiru


1.Full Name:______________________________
2.Address: ______________________________
7.State of Origin:_________________

NOTE: Ensure to quote your Reference Numbers in all your
communication with your claims agent.All winnings must be
claimed not later than 14 days, thereafter unclaimed funds would be
included in the next stake. Remembe r to quote your reference

information in all correspondence.

Yours Faithfully, Farah
Lottery Co-ordinator

[I've removed the addresses, since it's possible that those are legitimate addresses completely unrelated to this scam.]

Of course, there are any one of a number of reasons to be suspicious of this letter:

  • I never use Internet Explorer if I can avoid it.

  • I've never been within 3,000 miles of Malaysia.

  • I don't know anyone who lives there.

  • It came to my Cujo359 address, not one of my "real" e-mail addresses. Who sends a prize letter to an obviously fictional address?

There's no better way to end the day than a badly-written scam letter claiming you've become independently wealthy. At least, there's no better way I've experienced lately.

Oh, and guys, I'll take my prize money in Euros.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And Still It Goes ...

Image credit: The Franklin Institute

Since the news doesn't feel like dropping the John Edwards affair story, I'm going to answer the rhetorical question that Cenk Uygur asked the other day:

Now, we get to the most relevant question - if John Edwards' political career is done, why isn't John McCain's? John McCain had a well-documented affair on his first wife, with his current wife. He has admitted in the books he has written about his life that he ran around with several different women while still married to his first wife. And don't forget that he left her for a younger, richer woman - multi-millionaire Cindy Hensley who is now Cindy McCain - after she had been severely hurt in a car accident.

How is John McCain's Affair Different from John Edwards'?

It certainly isn't the circumstances, because none of them make McCain's affair look more excusable than Edwards':

On Christmas Eve 1969, while she was driving alone in Philadelphia, Carol McCain’s car skidded and struck a utility pole. Thrown into the snow, she broke both legs, an arm and her pelvis. She was operated on a dozen times, and in the treatment she lost about 5 inches in height.

After John McCain was released in March 1973 and returned to the U.S., he told friends that Carol was not the woman he had married.

McCain’s Broken Marriage and Fractured Reagan Friendship

As the Los Angeles Times article suggests, McCain's behavior alienated him from the Reagans for many years:

Although McCain suggested in his autobiography that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the divorce was granted April 2, 1980, and he wed Hensley in a private ceremony five weeks later. McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.

Until McCain filed for divorce, the Reagans and their inner circle assumed he was happily married, and they were stunned to learn otherwise, according to several close aides.

McCain’s Broken Marriage and Fractured Reagan Friendship

By any stretch of the imagination, McCain's affair was no less tawdry than Edwards'. If anything, the opposite is true - Edwards apologized to his wife and stayed with her. McCain left his and never looked back.

It's certainly not because Edwards is a more important political figure. McCain is the Republican nominee. Edwards has been out of the running for months.

So let's see what the real reason might be. Could it have anything to do with this?

It is not an accident that the government of the United States cannot function on behalf of its people, because it is no longer our people’s government – and we the people know it.

This corruption did not begin yesterday – and it did not even begin with George Bush – it has been building for decades – until it now threatens literally the life of our democracy.

While the American people personally rose to the occasion with an enormous outpouring of support and donations to both the victims of Katrina and 9/11– we all saw our government’s neglect. And we saw greed and incompetence at work. Out of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, at least half were given without full competition or, according to news sources, with vague or open ended terms, and many of these contracts went to companies with deep political connections such as a subsidiary of Haliburton, Bechtel Corp., and AshBritt Inc.

And in Iraq – while our nation’s brave sons and daughters put their lives on the line for our country – we now have mercenaries under their own law while their bosses sit at home raking in millions.


The long slow slide of our democracy into the corporate abyss continues unabated regardless of party, regardless of the best interests of America.

We have a duty – a duty to end this.

John Edwards Speech St. Anselm’s College, Manchester, New Hamphshire

[That quote is a copy from an article of mine, but it's a complete copy of the transcript.]

The huge news corporations that run the TV news today are part of that system. Edwards, like no other major candidate, called out their corrupt system.

That's the reason they're enjoying this so much.

Inevitably, some raving fuckwit will read what I just wrote and assume I'm excusing Edwards' behavior. I'm not. But, as Cenk Uygur pointed out, there have been many leaders throughout history who have had affairs. John Kennedy had affairs. Allegedly, so did Martin Luther King. No one doubts that they were great leaders or good people. They just weren't perfect. Go figure.

The news is covering this so much because the people who own the news, and the corrupt "stars" they've given the job of speaking on their behalf, hate Edwards' guts. It's that simple.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

There Are Still Heroes

[Artist's sketch of Salim Hamdan on trial. Image credit: Found at the AFP article.]

The U.S. military, the Army and Marines in particular, have been given a dreadful job to do the last five years, and they've done it as well as anyone could have expected. While there have been exceptions, for the most part they have maintained a professional attitude during a years-long counterinsurgency. That's no mean feat. Nevertheless, as a citizen of this country, I've never been prouder of this generation of soldiers than they made me on Thursday:

A US military jury on Thursday rejected government prosecutors' demands for a stiff sentence for Osama bin Laden's ex-driver, Salim Hamdan, saying he should only spend another five months in prison for supporting terrorism.

The jury delivered a sentence of 66 months, and taking into account the time Hamdan has already served, the decision added an additional five months of prison time -- though the Pentagon said it has no immediate plans to release him.

The outcome was a defeat for prosecutors who had portrayed Hamdan as a dangerous "Al-Qaeda warrior" who should be put away for at least 30 years for his work for the terrorist chief bin Laden, who remains at large seven years after the September 11 attacks.

Light Sentence For bin Laden's Driver In Guantanamo Trial

The AFP story is correct - the Bush Administration wanted to win this one. That they didn't is due to the fact that the military justice system didn't phone this one in as their bosses no doubt expected them to. One reason was Hamdan's defense attorney, Charles Swift:

Four-and-a-half years ago I went down to Washington to profile Hamdan's newly assigned defense lawyer, a JAG lawyer named Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift. A gift from the magazine gods, Swift was a blue-eyed, barrel-chested Navy officer who spoke not in sentences but in stories. Between mouthfuls of fried prawns at a Chinese restaurant at a strip mall in northern Virginia, he told me that he was dead serious about providing a vigorous defense for Hamdan.

I was, I'm embarrassed to say in hindsight, a little surprised. Like the government, which had expected Swift to persuade his client to plead guilty to whatever charges were ultimately brought against him, it had never occurred to me that a member of our own military -- whose headquarters had, after all, been one of the targets of the 9/11 attacks -- would be inclined to put up much of a fight on behalf of an accused terrorist.

Salim Hamdan's Tribunal and the Strength of the Constitution

Swift's stern defense of his client certainly wasn't a career-enhancing move, at least not if he wanted to stay in the military. Nevertheless, he did what was best for his client, not himself:

[T]wo men -- one a Naval Academy screw-up [Swift] and the other a child of Indian immigrants -- held the rights of an accused terrorist as dearly as they held their own, has often ... of patriotism. Swift lost both his career and his marriage thanks to the case. [Constitutional lawyer Neal] Katyal risked a rising legal career, in addition to going tens of thousands of dollars into personal debt. What other country would inspire such sacrifice, and would allow such a public challenge to its president?

Salim Hamdan's Tribunal and the Strength of the Constitution

The judge in the case followed Swift's example, and gave an appropriately light sentence, which basically amounts to the time Hamdan has already been in prison:

The judge in Guatanamo bravely sentenced Hamdan to five and a half years in prison, with credit for time served. That means, he should be out in five months: just two weeks before Bush leaves office.

Hamdan Ruling Puts Onus on Next President

Of course, all that might have gone for naught had the officers who made up the jury decided to do what the Administration wanted them to do. Rather than "go with the flow", they listened to the evidence presented and made a good call. Former Army Colonel Patrick Lang explains how the officers on the jury probably reached their decision:

Hamdan will be released before the end of the year. The six officers have all had soldier or sailor drivers. They decided that they knew what the role of a driver is, and that this role did not justify further confinement for Hamdan. They also decided that Hamdan was not a planner in Al-Qa'ida or anything other than someone who drove Usama bin Laden for a money salary. This judgment was reflected in their refusal to convict him on more serious charges.

Hamdan Will Go Home

This military tribunal system was set up with the idea of getting these folks incarcerated for life with the least effort possible. Yet the people who participated in the process took it far more seriously. As Jonathan Mahler observed, they made it work in spite of itself.

In contrast to craven opportunists we have in Congress, these people honored their oaths to protect the Constitution, even though it may mean trouble down the line for them.

I'm sure if you said this to these people, they'd just answer that it was their job to do as they did. In truth, it is their job. Unfortunately, they seem to be among the few government officials these days who take that job seriously. Under those circumstances, doing their jobs is much harder, and much more exceptional, than it ought to be. Charles Swift, in particular, lost far more than anyone should to do his job.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what real heroes do.