Friday, November 30, 2007

AMP-Ohio proposes new coal plant in Southeast Ohio

In October 2007, Ohio Citizen Action and other environmental organizations announced the largest environmental settlement in American history, forcing American Electric Power to put pollution controls on its coal-fired power plants. For more on Ohio Citizen Action et al v. AEP et al., click here.

Ironically, American Municipal Power-Ohio (AMP-Ohio) has now proposed to build a new coal plant in Southeast Ohio. The proposed plant would use traditional pulverized coal technology and would add 20,000,000 pounds of dangerous pollutants to the air each year. This pollution can cause heart disease and asthma attacks, and damage the environment with acid rain and greenhouse gases.

Gatling Ohio LLC is buying up land and mineral rights in Meigs County. It is seeking state permits to mine 1,895 underground acres near Racine, Ohio. The mine is expected to operate for 40 years; however, if you look at Ohio's 200-year history of coal mining you will see that that the damage lasts much longer. There are only two ways to get coal: surface mining and underground mining. Both devastate the environment. With surface mining, the soil and rock above or around the coal is removed to expose the coal bed. With underground mining, miners create underground rooms, and then a continuous mining machine is used to cut coal away from the walls.

AMP-Ohio has asked over 70 Ohio communities to finance the plant - placing the financial risks of the skyrocketing costs of constructing and operating the plant on the municipalities. Communities have until March 1 to withdraw from the contract.

As the world looks to cleaner and more efficient sources of energy, Ohio should not lock itself into 50 more years of highly-polluting coal plants.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Warrantless Searches in Boston

In an article today on, it is reported that a plan is in place for Boston police officers to begin searching homes in what are deemed to be “several impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods.” Much like the searches written about here, these searches will be conducted without warrants. However, although searches in both Boston and San Diego share the facts that they are performed without warrants and seem to target low-income families, there are a few differences which would seem, as proposed, to make the Boston searches much less objectionable.

First and perhaps most importantly, is that it appears that parents in Boston will actually have free choice to consent to any searches. According to the article, “[t]hree plainclothes officers and a clergyperson or community activist will show up at the youth's home” and “ask parents to sign a form allowing the search of the home, including the child's room.” In San Diego, the policy is basically to let the police search the person’s home or be denied any government assistance.

Another significant difference between these searches is that they will only be performed in Boston after “teams of police officers assigned to Boston's public schools [have] hunt[ed] for leads on youths believed to have guns.” In San Diego, although the justification for such searches were to investigate fraud, no probable cause was required before conducting searches of the homes; in Boston, it seems that some evidence of probable cause will be required before any search will be performed.

Unlike the searches in San Diego, the potential punishment associated with the search is less severe. In San Diego, any finding of fraud or refusal to allow the search will result in denial of benefits. In Boston, “[w]eapons found in the child's possession will be seized, and no charges will be filed unless the weapon is linked to a violent crime.”

Still, the ACLU has taken a stand against both the searches in Boston and San Diego. The ACLU alleges that people are not aware of all the potential issues that can arise from allowing these searches, and many of those being searched in the Boston neighborhood, being from third world countries, may not feel they have a choice when asked to consent to a search. Unlike in San Diego, it seems that the ACLU has yet to garner substantial support in Boston.

Others claim that other ramifications may come from allowing such warrantless searches. Although it appears that people in Boston will not suffer directly by disallowing the searches (unlike the mandated policy in San Diego to refuse benefits to those not consenting to a search), it is feared that those who do refuse will be more closely watched by the police and other authority figures. Also, it is feared that this program could lead to allegations of racial profiling.

As of now, there seems to be no pending litigation regarding the Boston searches; however, this may be due to the fact that the program is not yet in full effect. It may take some time for many of the issues to surface, as the initial acceptance of the searches may soon wane once people realize how the program actually functions. The issues of racial profiling, indirect or direct consequences for failing to consent to a search and perceived oppression may eventually come into play and cause litigation very similar to what is now happening in the San Diego case. If any or all of these issues do in fact arise, then, much like in San Diego, the “consent” given to searches in Boston most likely would be more coerced than freely given and such searches would violate protected liberties and rights and would need to be ceased.

It would be unfortunate if these potential issues do come to fruition as the program in Boston, on paper, seems like it has been tailored to meet an important goal, the prevention of violence, while also protecting the rights of those being searched (by requiring probable cause and seeking what appears to be true consent). The problem arises in that what appears ideal on paper does not always prove to be ideal in practice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Following up on…

--David Simon and The Wire: In response to my post last month, Bob Andelman provided a link to his own interview with Simon from earlier this year. It’s definitely worth checking out, as Andelman’s questions draw expansive responses from Simon on what the show means within the broader context of television and (post)modern society. Two particular highlights: 1) addressing the issue of the show’s graphicness (“We’re not saying dirty words to be naughty… and we are not using any more violence than would otherwise be necessary to address the plot”); and 2) mentioning how the show’s budget has been both a survival strategy and point of pride (“…and we are always under budget. We always turn a little bit of money back in almost as a good faith gesture”). There is a potential spoiler for those who haven’t seen Season 4 yet (as I haven’t), so be careful when reading.

--China and the 2008 Olympics: I admit I’ve kind of punted on this idea (after posts here and here), and the primary reason why was my discovery of Human Rights Watch’s thematic page on the multiple human rights concerns leading up to the Games next August. HRW also wrote an article on November 6 (Journalists’ Day in China) concerning the country’s unwillingness to follow through on its pledge to allow media freedom for foreign journalists—a pledge that was part of its original bid to the International Olympic Committee.

I’d still like to occasionally note articles/commentary relating to this issue that I find relevant, and Get Religion’s analysis of how China will address religious freedom during the Games fits the bill. Given that government officials haven’t done so well with the foreign press lately, there’s also cause of concern on how they’re already handling this issue, especially when they’re using phrases like ‘detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture and ethics’ as qualifiers. As Daniel Pulliam notes, it’s going to be up to the major media outlets to “stoop down and look under those rugs” as a means of holding China accountable.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Supreme Court Denies Hearing San Diego Fourth Amendment Case

Today, the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal filed in the case of Sanchez, et al., v. San Diego County, et al. (07-211). Appellants in the case were challenging San Diego’s policy of conducting searches of the domiciles of welfare recipients; these searches are conducted without warrants, and people who refuse access to the agents are denied government assistance.

Although these searches are said to be conducted to ensure there is no fraud on the part of applicants, no allegations of fraud are required prior to the searches. Additionally, agents conducting the searches of the residences are not limited in their searches, as searches often “include peeking into closets and cabinets.”

The ACLU had challenged these searches on Fourth Amendment grounds, arguing that these searches constituted unlawful searches and seizures. In upholding this practice in a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that “the visits do not even constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment in part because people are free to turn away the investigators.” Judge Fisher, the lone dissenter, wrote that San Diego’s practice was unlawful as it allowed agents to go “walking through the applicant's home in search of physical evidence of ineligibility that could lead to criminal prosecution either for welfare fraud or other crimes unrelated to the welfare application."

The local government asked that the Supreme Court not interfere with the program, offering evidence that "[n]o applicant has been prosecuted for welfare fraud based upon anything observed or discovered during a home visit that contradicted information provided by the applicant". In denying to hear the appeal, the United States Supreme Court offered no comment as to their decision.

It would appear that the 9th Circuit’s reasoning that “people are free to turn away the investigators” is flawed; such action would, as dictated by the policy, cause applicants to be disqualified from receiving government aid. For many, the decision comes down to “allowing” agents to search their house or lose these benefits which they require to purchase necessities; given such a “choice”, it is not surprising that they “choose” to allow agents access to their homes.

The 9th Circuit’s reasoning, aside from the opinion put forth in the dissent of Judge Fisher, offers an unconvincing justification for allowing the local government to circumvent the applicants’ Fourth Amendment rights by permitting searches without requiring warrants and probable cause. As the United States Supreme Court has denied hearing the case without offering comment, it appears that at least a majority of the Justices agree with the 9th Circuit and feel that such searches can be continued, seemingly in violation of these applicants’ rights.

Article link: Washington Post

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reactions to God’s Harvard (Part II)

In addition to considering the ways in which Patrick Henry College’s students disagree with founder Michael Farris, it is also important that Rosin documents the growing pains of the university and how even many of its professors become discontent with Farris’ vision. In Lauren Sandler’s 2006 book Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, Sandler cites Robert Stacey’s “Freedom’s Foundations” course as just another example of an “education that constantly circles back to the Bible” (173). Rosin’s impressions, on the other hand, are completely different: Stacey challenges what he calls “Christian revisionism” regarding the Founding Fathers, and teaches his students “to read widely and critically…to question all received wisdom” (112). When Farris eventually fires Stacey after a power struggle over his teaching methods, the students refer to the crisis in terms of 9/11, and the resulting fallout eventually leads to the (voluntary) departures of several other professors. Rosin acknowledges the possibility that Farris’ curriculum can create ready-made, power-hungry future politicians, but she also convincingly points out that the school’s inability to reconcile its faith objectives with classic liberal arts is ultimately not conducive to producing the expected ends.

While these documentations of subjectivity and infighting may not seem all that remarkable, they are extremely significant when considering the broader context of God’s Harvard. As Jeff Sharlet recently analyzed for The Revealer, many non-evangelicals who write about evangelicalism often lapse into oversimplified generalizations, including framing the subculture as a monolithic movement or a voting bloc without much diversity or dissent. This tended to be a problem with the aforementioned anti-religious right books from last year, where many of the authors tended to paint a rigid, conformist picture of their subjects. There are certainly severe problems that have manifested within evangelicalism due to insufficient critical self-analysis, and I think Rosin’s narrative demonstrates how the inherent myopia of Farris’ mission can negatively affect PHC students. Yet it’s crucial to remember that evangelicals rarely find agreement among even theological issues, and while conservative evangelicals in particular have formed majority opinions on certain social policies, those opinions remain malleable and are rarely transferred to future generations in a tidy manner. In short, evangelicals are much like any other subculture: internal conflicts arise as cultural and historical changes affect their priorities. Rosin—who is Jewish and an East Coast native—understands this quite well, which is what makes her study so compelling.

With that said, I still would have liked to see Rosin wrestle more with the question of how those who disagree with PHC’s mission should respond, especially if it is able to overcome its problems and gain tangible ground in the culture war. Her bigger-picture outlook in the book’s conclusion is limited to statements such as, “Evangelicals are far too entrenched in American politics and culture to drop out en masse” (271). In a recent Beliefnet debate entitled “Evangelicals in Power,” she offers some important insights, such as arguing against having “political disagreements” that are “loaded with the weight of sin and evil.” This is helpful (as is the rest of the debate), but it would have been nice to see her articulate such thoughts in God’s Harvard. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent book, and her strong research and engaging analysis provides a model for future investigations of evangelical politics.

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Jersey Seeking to Repeal Death Penalty

Having not executed anybody since 1963, the New York Times is reporting today that New Jersey is currently in the process of becoming the first state to repeal the death penalty. The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved the measure, and it is expected that both of the houses in the state will review the proposal in the next several weeks. New Jersey’s Governor, Jon S. Corzine, has indicated that he will approve the bill should it pass both houses. Passage in the Assembly is seen to be highly probable, but it is unsure whether the measure would pass the Senate.

One driving force in this repeal appears to be the growing number of exonerations throughout the United States based on newly available information and scientific evidence. The Washington Post is reporting today on a murder case in which there was evidence presented matching lead content in bullets of the gun owned by the accused and the gun used in the murder; such evidence aided in the conviction of the accused murderer. However, it has recently come to light that the expert who presented this evidence had provided false credentials and inaccurate statements to jurors. Additionally, “Two years before, the FBI crime lab had discarded the bullet-matching science that it had used to link Kulbicki to the crime.” Now, the Court must consider the propriety of overturning the conviction.

Aside from this specific instance of improperly presented evidence leading to the conviction of an accused murderer, in general it is being recognized that there have been problems with misidentification. Accordingly, many prisons are providing prisoner access to DNA evidence to prisoners, which has led to a significant number of exonerations (see my previous post here for more).

Another issue aiding in the reconsideration of the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. As noted in a previous post, many states have placed executions on hold while the United States Supreme Court considers this question. In these states, such executions have been primarily suspended by the Court or Governor; New Jersey would be the first state where the legislature is the body enforcing any cessation of executions.

Those opposing the New Jersey bill point to the deterrent effect that the presence of the death penalty provides. Opponents of the death penalty see New Jersey’s bill as an opening to reexamine death penalty laws throughout the United States. It is reported that one State Senator is pushing for more of a middle ground – a bill that would maintain the death penalty, but apply the sentence in more limited circumstances.

Whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is an issue that is currently being left to the Supreme Court and is a question that can not be accurately answered without in depth scientific study. Also, whether the death penalty for certain crimes is a greater deterrent than other punishment, such as a life sentence without parole, is a question that I imagine has been studied in depth by a great many scholars who have much more in depth knowledge of such issues.

With the answers to these questions being uncertain, the issue of the death penalty is certainly one that is not cut and dry, nor is it an issue that has a ready solution. Even so, the case of the Maryland murder case described above is a concrete example of why such punishment should not be rushed into; while extended wrongful imprisonment (as is the case in Maryland where it does not appear the accused was sentenced to death) is a serious matter, even worse would be the discovery of new scientific evidence (or evidence of improperly applied scientific evidence as in the Maryland case) after the accused is executed due to an improper conviction.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reactions to God’s Harvard (Part I)

I’m currently in the process of reviewing Hanna Rosin’s new book God’s Harvard for PopMatters. I think Rosin is an insightful reporter (see my previous post), and her study is an important one considering its subject matter. As a private college in Purcelville, Virginia with a student body of around five hundred, Patrick Henry College (PHC) targets evangelical homeschoolers with high scholastic potential; the average SAT score range that Rosin cites is 1230-1410, on par with the University of Virginia and Rice (46-47). Michael Farris, a constitutional lawyer and conservative political activist, founded the school in 2000 with the intention that the school “would enlist the purest of born-again Christians in a war to ‘transform America’ by training them to occupy the ‘highest offices in the land’ ” (3). To fulfill this goal, PHC’s curriculum is primarily designed to prepare students for political and cultural leadership roles, with the first two years focusing on classic liberal arts (literature, philosophy, history), and the second two years involving government and political science courses, internships, and a senior research seminar.

Despite PHC’s size and newness, Farris’ overarching vision has, in some ways, been quite successful to date. Rosin finds that out of roughly one hundred White House internships that are available yearly, PHC has “taken between one and five of those spots in each of the past five years—roughly the same as Georgetown” (47-48). Many other students have landed internships with Congressional Republicans, and graduates have worked for the White House, FBI, CIA, and various conservative think tanks. Liberal critics have interpreted these accomplishments (particularly the White House internship rate) as a dangerous alliance between church and state. It’s not an accident that out of the several anti-religious right books released in 2006, more than one discussed how PHC is 1) evidence of 1) how certain evangelicals and fundamentalists seek to conquer American government; and 2) the intellectual tragedy that occurs when PHC students are indoctrinated into an overly certain and narrow worldview.

In contrast, Rosin relies on her thorough research—which included extensive observations during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 academic years—to present a more nuanced (and more plausible) picture. True, there is some corroborating evidence in relation to the studies cited above. For example, she notes that PHC students “generally cleave to [the] orthodoxy” of the religious right, and that the campus newspaper “almost never deviated from the White House position” (5, 105). In her profile of Derek Archer (who was a freshman when she began her reporting at PHC), she describes his encounter with an upset deacon while helping younger kids distribute flyers in a church parking lot for Republican gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore. As Rosin writes, “It had never really occurred to him that a church would consider campaigning and worship to be at odds with each other; in his mind, they served the same purpose. Now he could see, ‘it’s rather controversial’ ” (157). Finally, she notes at the end of the book how the imperative to take back the nation “haunts” graduates “even more strongly than it did while they were in school,” and expresses her doubt that any of the students “would ever moderate their views enough to win my vote—not for president, congressman, or even city councilman” (273-274).

Yet Rosin also documents the cognitive dissonance and agency among the PHC students, and the extensive time she has spent with them has helped her delineate between Farris’ dreams of creating incorruptible culture warriors and their own personal goals for the future. Girls in particular struggle with campus rules that are skewed against them (such as a dress code that monitors bare midriffs and exposed bra straps) and the traditional gender expectations that are placed upon them (including chastity and what is known as complementary gender roles, which emphasizes gender differences and male leadership within relationships). Farahn Morgan’s efforts to counter these forms of inequality are particularly noteworthy. Rosin writes that although she shares many of the conservative characteristics of her peers, “Farahn seemed highly conscious that she was blooming in a very tight space”; her acute sense of fashion and “innate fatalism” (where she describes herself as a “Christian nihilist” and life as a “tragedy”) are certainly at odds with what Farris intends (149-150). Even more conventional female students recognize the difficulty of planning their career ambitions within what is basically an environment of institutionalized sexism, and their small forms of resistance—particularly moving off-campus—become symbolically significant.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

IPCC report warns that climate change is irreversible

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved the final installment of its four-part landmark report on global warming Friday, concluding that even the best efforts at reducing carbon-dioxide levels will not be enough. The world must focus on adapting to "abrupt and irreversible" climate changes.

The report from the IPCC summarizes thousands of pages of research produced over six years by delegates from 140 countries. It will be used as a "how-to" guide for governments meeting in Bali, Indonesia, beginning Dec. 3rd to create a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in five years.

The panel and former Vice President Al Gore were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their global-warming work.

The report says that governments will have to spend billions of dollars every year to mitigate the effects of increased temperatures, but even that will not be adequate, and many countries simply will have to learn to live with the changes.

The report stresses that global warming is "unequivocal" and that there is high confidence that humans are responsible. Global temperatures have risen about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

The panel estimates that temperatures could increase by an additional 3.2 degrees to 7.8 degrees by 2100. Sea level could rise seven to 23 inches over that period.

According to the panel, adaptation is now as important as reducing carbon dioxide. In its most basic sense, adaptation is the construction of walls to protect coastlines from rising sea levels or draining glacier-fed lakes in the Himalayas to prevent flooding of villages below. For some places, adaptation is the only option.

My hope is that this UN report will mobilize the world to act together and take action with regard to carbon dioxide emissions in order to avoid catastrophic events. The United Nations and many countries favor strong mandatory reductions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming; unfortunately, the Bush administration wants voluntary measures and wants developing countries to share the burden of cuts.

Friday, November 16, 2007

National Wildlife Federation's "Final 50" Campaign

If you wanted to know who the final 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives that haven’t committed to sponsor global warming bills, then just ask the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). They have launched a campaign that targets these “Final 50” representatives who have supported past global warming solutions, but have yet to join the 170 other representatives who have co-sponsored either the Safe Climate Act of 2007 (HR 1590) or the Climate Stewardship Act of 2007 (HR 620).

Larry Schweiger, President & CEO, NWF believes that if these 50 lawmakers step up and sign onto one or both of these strong global warming bills, we’ll surpass 218—enough support to secure passage of a bill that cuts global warming pollution by 2% per year.

Both the Safe Climate Act and Climate Stewardship Act include important provisions to cut global warming pollution by 2% per year and encourage alternative energy innovation, providing the pillars of a national plan to address global warming.

A 2%-per-year reduction in U.S. global warming pollution will, by mid-century, add up to what most scientists say is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change.

For a complete list of members included in NWF's Final 50 list, please go to

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Military Funds Approved by House

Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved a portion of the funds requested by President Bush to be used to aid military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the New York Times reports that this approval comes with several qualifications; with the addition of these qualifications, the Senate is expected to block the passage of any such measure.

As expected, one of the qualifications placed on the expenditure of funds is that troop withdrawal begins within thirty days, and all troops are withdrawn by December, 2008. In preparation for withdrawal, focus of the mission in Iraq would turn to counterterrorism and ensuring that Iraqi security forces are properly trained and prepared.

Aside from troop withdrawal, the House has also included as part of their approval measures intended to counter acts of torture. In order to end these practices, the bill would require “all American personnel, including C.I.A. operatives, to follow Army Field Manual rules on torture, among them a ban on waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning without causing death.”

After a two hour debate, the bill passed by a vote of 218-203, with only four Republicans voting for the approval of the bill. In a statement released by the Press Secretary, it is alleged that this party-line vote calls for an “arbitrary withdrawal” date and fails to take into account “the needs of our military and their mission.” It is indicated in this statement, that should the legislation get passed by Senate (which appears unlikely), the President would veto the bill. The Press Secretary argues that “Congress has had ample time to pass legislation to fund our troops” and “because Congressional Democrats insist in going through another round of political votes and vetoes, Pentagon planners will be forced to focus on accounting maneuvers instead of military maneuvers.” In reading this statement, it certainly seems that the issue in contention is the troop withdrawal rather than any requirements that would help ensure the cessation of torture practices or aid in the training of Iraqi security forces.

Having had only access to the various news articles presented on this topic, it would seem that the Press Secretary makes a valid point that the House, in adding qualifications to the approval of the requested funds, is knowingly delaying actual aid to the troops as it seems somewhat clear that these measures will not get past the President, and perhaps not even past the Senate. While the withdrawal of troops is a worthy goal, while the troops remain overseas it is necessary to ensure that they are properly supplied. As the well-being and safety of the troops appears to be riding on the provision of proper funding, it would seem that the ideal goal would be to ensure that the proper funds are available when needed, and push for troop withdrawal in a separate measure either concurrently or at a later time. Of course, as is the case with most ideal situations, this seems unlikely as I imagine that the approval of funds may be the only bargaining chip Democrats have to ensure that they can advance their goal of troop withdrawal. The issue then comes down to Democrats and Republicans reaching an agreement that will guarantee that both the goal of the required funding and the goal of eventual withdrawal of troops are met. It is hoped that such an agreement can be reached quickly and efficiently so that no military personnel suffer due to a lack of funds.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

CGS and Faith on the Left

With the current Democratic presidential candidates acknowledging and addressing issues of faith in a more substantive factor than in 2004, Hanna Rosin and Jason Byassee’s separate articles on political consulting firm Common Good Strategies (CGS) help us understand the slowly increasing role of faith within other levels of the party. Both authors note that CGS is noteworthy because its seven clients during last year’s elections—including gubernatorial candidates Ted Strickland (Ohio) and Jennifer Granholm (Michigan)—not only won all of their races, but also (in Rosin’s words) “made astonishing gains” among white evangelical voters that were disproportionate to the Democratic Party’s overall slight narrowing of the “God gap.” Byassee explains the reason why in his interview with CGS co-partners Maria Vanderslice and Eric Sapp:

“So what do these consultants actually do for candidates? Vanderslice and Sapp stress that they mainly help candidates be themselves and speak publicly about the faith that is already in them. ‘Our candidates don't all sound the same,’ Sapp insists. Which is true. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania was a conservative Catholic and outspokenly pro-life before he ran for the Senate; Ted Strickland was a United Methodist minister and longtime advocate for the poor before he ran for governor of Ohio. But for Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, a middle-of-the-road Democrat, it was something new to be talking about God on the stump, as she did during a campaign speech at Hope College in the conservative Christian region of the state. In the end, she performed much better among white evangelicals than Democrats tend to do, garnering some 35 percent of that vote. CGS would argue that faith was in her all along; it just needed to come out.”

It’s notable that the ways in which CGS help their candidates articulate their faith involve quite proven strategies. In particular, reframing language in order to discuss controversial social issues may be a newer idea for politicians left of center, but it is a tactic upon which conservative politicians—particularly religious conservatives—have successfully capitalized for quite some time. Yet where CGS has to be careful is ensuring that their candidates subsequently avoid falling into a style-over-substance trap. As an example, the CGS slogan “poverty is a moral issue” that Byassee cites is a variant of a line from Jim Wallis, arguably the top leader of the “religious left” movement: “Budgets are moral documents.” A terse, powerful statement upon first glance, to be sure, but Wallis has now recycled it enough (examples here and here) that its substantive content becomes a bit more murky. This isn’t to say that Wallis is inauthentic—I don’t necessarily believe that to be the case—but rather that it becomes easy to, as Rosin alludes, turn discussions of faith into “rhetoric” that is less than convincing.

Yet I find the efforts of CGS to be generally encouraging, for they’re helping to demonstrate that left-of-center candidates can incorporate their faith in positive and productive ways. This is especially true for Strickland, who has maintained high approval ratings and healthy bipartisan relationships during his first year in office.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The President, Congress, and Veterans Day

With today being Veterans Day, Congress and most government offices are closed. Still, just like many of Americans, Congress and the President continue to keep present and future veterans in their thoughts.

On Sunday, President Bush delivered a speech in Austin, Texas honoring those who have fallen in Iraq. During this speech, the President assured the families of the fallen soliders that, “their sacrifice will not be in vain.” Calling the troops in Iraq “tomorrow’s veterans”, President Bush detailed how the troops in Iraq are helping to ensure that, by fighting enemies in their home countries, attacks such as those that took place on 9/11 will not happen on American soil again. The President praised the soldiers in Iraq for their work in protecting our country, the veterans of previous wars for their examples set in serving their country, and the families of all for their support of those who have served and are currently serving their country.

As for Congress, prior to leaving for the Veterans Day break, Congress had written a letter to the President indicating the importance of opening communication over how to resolve issues regarding spending for the military. Last week, Congress had sent a health, education and labor bill to the President; according to the New York Times, this bill also included millions of dollars to be allocated for employment and rehabilitation for veterans. It is expected that President Bush will veto this bill as the allocation of funds exceeds his proposed budget by almost ten billion dollars.

Congress is also in the process of considering a fifty billion dollar measure to provide funding for the war in Iraq. Part of the goal of this measure is to set a deadline for troop withdrawal for December, 2008. As Democrats and Republicans appear divided over the measure, it was decided to postpone consideration of the measure in light of the Veterans Day weekend. “Democrats already uneasy about the measure argued that fighting with Republicans over troop withdrawals might not be the best way to head into the holiday weekend given all the effort Democrats have put into courting the veterans constituency.” The measure may not be considered now until December.

It seems that Veterans Day has put the men and women of the armed forces in the forefront of all our minds, as it rightfully should. Hopefully, President Bush’s statements as to the necessity of the war in Iraq prove true and prevent any further attacks on U.S. soil, and that any death of any U.S. soldier in any war is not in vain. It is also hoped that Congress and the President can work together to ensure proper care for veterans as needed once their service is completed, and can work together to ensure the safety and withdrawal of troops from Iraq in a reasonable timeframe.

For all the military is doing to protect, it is good to remember present and future veterans not only today but everyday for the service they have and continue to provide to our country.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hiroshima and A Good War Is Hard to Find (Part II)

As mentioned in my previous post, my interest in John Hersey’s Hiroshima originates from David Griffith’s A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America. While not a classic, A Good War is nonetheless excellent, and its essays—all of them grounded within Griffith’s personal experiences—are valuable in that they pose some challenging and necessary questions about our relation to violence in contemporary society. Additionally, while Griffith’s analysis mostly involves cultural and media criticism (as opposed to Hersey’s on-the-scene reporting), he (whether consciously or not) is able to identify and theorize about the nature of violent motives that, while implicit, are undeniably important to the narrative of Hiroshima.

The 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal is the historical event on which Griffith centers his writing and derives his primary argument. Using the stories of Flannery O’ Connor as an interpretive lens, he argues that photographic evidence of the scandal demonstrates what O’ Connor once referred to as an “acute ‘disjunction between sensibility and belief’ ” (115). As he writes in an online response piece last spring, violent photographs like those that emerged from Abu Ghraib “have the capacity to wake us up to the ignorance and ugliness of our beliefs and cause us to meditate on those beliefs.” Yet not only do we routinely ignore this potential for critical reflection, we also are prone to excusing the actions that are documented. They become aberrations that simply result from “a few bad apples,” or are a byproduct of our (in this case, “our” meaning “American”) larger mission to assert our moral status in the world. As Griffith comments in the piece above, when this happens, it is easy for the suffering of others to be “beyond concern” to us.

Griffith uses this general argument to drive home an important point that reemerges in different forms throughout the book:

“When we deny that we have anything in common with [Army Spc. Charles Graner] and the others who are pictured in the [Abu Ghraib] photos, we allow all that is most despicable and ugly in our nature to thrive. If we are too proud to see ourselves in those photos…then we have no hope of finding any meaning whatsoever in them” (136).

What this means is that when we create a moral binary contrasting ourselves as “good” against certain other people that are “evil,” we are ignoring the ambiguous nature of humanity. This is why Griffith relies on O’ Connor, for “[h]er stories reveal the hidden evil residing in the human heart, the pursuit of good that masks a secret pride” (34). Even when we think we are incapable of committing the type of violence and torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib, the photographs tell a story of how ordinary people are capable of committing extraordinary acts of evil. To ignore this less is to perpetuate a “profound misunderstanding of sin and evil” (100).

How does this relate to Hiroshima? For Americans, World War II has become a source of nostalgic pride, where the “Greatest Generation” fought the “Good War” against the tyranny of fascism and the recklessness of Japanese imperialism. When we accept the parameters of these designations, then the use of an atomic bomb upon Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) becomes more or less a justifiable means to an end—tragic, sure, but the final action that ensured the end of the war and prevented the further loss of American life. I believe that Hersey’s book quietly argues against this. The gruesome details of physical and emotional suffering, the inability of the survivors to fathom what had destroyed their lives, and the tremendous barriers that they faced simply to recapture a life close to being normal—all speak of an event so horrifying that it remains, in many ways, incomprehensible for anyone that didn’t directly live through the blast. The question of viable strategic alternatives to the atomic bomb is one that historians have wrestled with for decades, and Hersey is careful not to weigh in on the decision. Yet he clearly delineates the high cost of its use, and it becomes foolhardy to argue that inherent goodness lay behind the mass destruction of civilians and their city.

Consequently, although Hersey and Griffith forward different styles of argument, they ultimately converge in their rejection of dualistic notions of good and evil, demonstrating that the truths of Hiroshima and Abu Ghraib fundamentally resist such an oversimplification. It is by acknowledging the internal struggle of good and evil that we are able to acknowledge these truths—difficult as they may be—and fruitfully apply them within our lives; short of that, we are committing a delusion.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer, The author of The Executioner’s Song, has died

Norman Mailer, the accomplished writer whose public head-butting and machismo often overshadowed his Pulitzer Prize-winning style that challenged society's views of politics and sex, died today at the age of 84.

Mailer published his first novel, The Naked and the Dead in 1948, and won The Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner's Song. The true life novel depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah for murder.

Gilmore gained international notoriety as the first person executed in the United States after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 after Gregg v. Georgia lifted the four-year moratorium instated by Furman v. Georgia.

Based almost entirely on interviews with Gilmore’s family, his legal team, the prison officials, the media, the publicists and to a lesser degree, the victims' families, the book is exceptionally detailed in its account of the nine months between Gilmore’s parole and his eventual execution. Mailer focuses on the events leading up to the murders and the trial and execution of Gilmore, including full documentation of Gilmore's court appearances and his decision to demand his execution rather than to continue the appeals process. Mailer did an excellent job at not only telling Gilmore's story, even though he never met him, but also breaking down the justice system.

If you have time and want to reacquaint yourself with Norman Mailer, an innovator of creative nonfiction, then The Executioner’s Song is worth a read.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Michael Mukasey confirmed Attorney General despite controversy

Michael Mukasey will be sworn in as Attorney General today after the Senate confirmed the retired judge last night by a 53-40 vote.

His nomination had been considered at risk after a number of Democratic senators opposed Mukasey because of questions that arose from his views on waterboarding and the president's power to order electronic surveillance.

Mukasey, 66, a former federal judge from New York, told senators he considers waterboarding "repugnant," but he could not categorically say whether the technique amounts to torture, which U.S. and international law bans.

The White House issued a statement after the vote thanking the Senate for confirming Mukasey, whom Bush called "a man of strong character and integrity, with exceptional legal judgment."

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said he believed Mukasey would enforce a law banning waterboarding.

A majority of Americans consider waterboarding a form of torture, but some of those say it's OK for the U.S. government to use the technique, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released this week.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

House Passes Non-discrimination Act of 1997

The House of Representatives yesterday passed a Bill aimed at eliminating discrimination against homosexual employees in the workplace. The Employment Non-discrimination Act, according to the New York Times, is being hailed by some as, “the most important civil rights legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990”; opponents of the measure claim that such legislation will only lead to unnecessary lawsuits.

In response to the passing of the Bill in the House, Senator Edward M. Kennedy has stated that he would push to quickly introduce a similar Bill in the Senate. Depending on how the legislation is phrased, some Senate Republicans feel such a Bill could pass sometime early next year.

Although the House has already passed the Bill, and there is optimism that the Senate will pass similar legislation, there remains a very real possibility that any Bill focusing on discrimination against homosexuals in the workplace will not get past the President. President Bush has already indicated that he would veto an earlier version of the Bill; although there have been amendments to the version passed by the House, many expect that these differences will not change the opinion of the President. As the Bill passed in the House 235 to 184, it is uncertain whether the necessary votes (an additional 45 votes in favor of the Bill would be required) can be swayed in order to override the expected veto.

Whether such a Bill ever becomes law remains to be seen, but it seems as if steps are being taken to assist a larger number of persons in being protected from workplace discrimination. The only troubling issue, to me and apparently a number of the House members who voted against the Bill, is the Bill’s failure to include protection against discrimination based on gender identity. According to the article, language protecting transgender and transsexual individuals from discrimination was removed as a means of bargaining between Democrats and Republicans to help ensure passage of the legislation. Such a bargaining arrangement is understandable in many situations, as often times it is better to get some of what is desired even if you cannot achieve all goals at one time. Still, whether or not the current measures passed by the House and being considered by the Senate are enacted into law, it is hopeful that there will remain a push to ensure that all employees, regardless of beliefs, background, sex, and even gender identity, are protected from discrimination in the workplace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hiroshima and A Good War Is Hard to Find (Part I)

Though I’m somewhat chagrined to write this, the first time I recall learning about John Hersey’s classic book Hiroshima (1946) occurred while reading David Griffith’s essay collection A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America (2006) earlier this year. A Good War includes an essay on the 60th anniversary of the US atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, and Griffith describes his reactions to Hiroshima upon first reading it in the fifth grade:

“Never before had I read a book that described the ravages of war so explicitly…It was not the complete flattening of the city that unhinged me, but the way the survivors’ bodies—the elderly, young mothers and young children—all bore the burns of invisible radiation and tremendous heat.

Never had I read a book shot through with so much guilt…I couldn’t get my mind around the idea of feeling such deep guilt simply for having lived” (47-48).

When I recently came across the “The Top 100 Works of Journalism” that New York University’s journalism department organized in 1999, I saw that Hiroshima headed the list. Remembering Griffith’s commentary, I recently read the book, and began to understand why he regards it as life-changing. It’s difficult to imagine the impact Hersey’s writing would have made upon me in the fifth grade, but his physical descriptions of the survivors are horrifying in detail: burned-off eyebrows and skin that “hung from their face and hands”; vomiting; nakedness; burns that had “made patterns” from clothing onto the skin (39-40). Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, one of the survivors whom Hersey follows throughout the book, comes across twenty men soon after the blast whose “fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks” (68). In the 1985 expanded version of the book (which is what I read), Father Kleinsorge and the other central figures of the narrative suffer as hibakusha (literally translated as “explosion-affected persons”) from radiation exposure, with random ailments—some nagging, some potentially fatal—occurring decades after the blast. Griffith is right in that Hersey describes this human damage so evocatively that, for me, it supersedes his still-remarkable descriptions of the environmental and structural damage.

Two other elements of Hiroshima stand out. The first is the difficulty that Hiroshima’s survivors experience in attempting to comprehend a bomb that at the time was radically other in nature. He uses approximations and similes to convey what the central figures saw upon explosion: to Kiyoshi Tanimoto, it “seemed a sheet of sun” (8) while Dr. Terufumi Sasaki found it to be “like a giant photographic flash” (20)—all without sound, for none of those close to the blast actually heard an accompanying roar. Later, survivors speculate on what could have caused such large-scale destruction—was it a cluster of Molotov firebombs? Gasoline? Magnesium powder that reacted with the live wires throughout the city? When they begin to hear a rumor that the cause was from an “original child bomb” that “somehow split atoms in two,” Hersey reports, “No one [initially] understood the idea or put any more credence in it than in the powdered magnesium and such things” (82). Even after Japanese scientists had precisely determined the bomb’s properties, force, and radioactive effects, relatively few citizens “even bothered to find out much about what it was like,” instead remaining in “awe” of its power (116).

Finally, as the expanded version of Hiroshima recounts the lives of Kleinsorge, Tanimoto, Sasaki, and the other central figures four decades after the blast, it is striking to read about not only the unpredictability of their radiation sickness, but also the uncertainty of living from day to day. Prejudice against hibakusha in the postwar-Hiroshima workplace grew due to concern about their potential physical limitations; an example was Hatsuyo Nakamura, a widow and mother of three, who resorted to physically taxing odd jobs to support her family although she felt consistently drained of energy. Yet even as she and other survivors were attempting to reconstruct their lives, Hersey writes that “the government made no special provision for their relief” until 1954, when the fishing boat Lucky Dragon No. 5 was exposed to radiation from American nuclear tests at Bikini Island (121). Therefore, it is compelling to follow the survivors’ attempts to simply be in a world that has become irrevocably more difficult for them, like the rest of Hiroshima, Hersey makes the most of his research in this section, and the result is remarkable.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Election Problems Continue in Cuyahoga County

With elections tomorrow, Cuyahoga County apparently continues to face problems that may cast questions of reliability upon the eventual results. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting today on problems encountered by the county in performing recounts; such issues raise additional issues into the reliability of the equipment being used.

According to the article, “Cuyahoga County is 0-for-2 in conducting successful recounts this year – an ominous sign heading into Tuesday's election.” While the recounts in question of small municipal elections, the inability in conducting successful recounts could be magnified when such recounts are required in countywide races.

The failure to conduct a successful recount is being attributed to an inability to match the paper records produced with by the electronic voting equipment with the official results as reported by the machines. Some of the paper ballots examined for recount purposes were unable to be read in order to determine which candidate the voter had selected; in this case, “[t]he problem did not affect the outcome of the primary but did highlight the potential for being unable to call closer races.”

Problems with the paper ballot have been an issue since such the electronic voting machines were first used in 2006. In conducting a study last year, it was determined that “nearly 10 percent of official ballots in the May 2006 primary were ‘destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised.’”

The machines in question, manufactured by Premier Election Solutions, are used in 47 Ohio counties. Still, many counties have been able to perform successful recounts, and have trained their poll workers how to properly fix any jams that may cause the paper ballot to become unreadable. Cuyahoga County has apparently not been able to do such, and have no guidance as to how to remedy unreadable ballots. Although it had been proposed that ballots be reprinted from memory cards from the touch-screen machines, this idea, presented by former Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, had been denied. Current Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has yet to address the issue. As the Plain Dealer states, “[i]n the meantime, Cuyahoga County elections leaders will have to hold their breath.”

This is far from Cuyahoga County’s first issue with electronic voting machines. In 2006, many election locations were unable to open due to an inability to operate their electronic voting machinery; some polling places were required to turn to paper ballots. A number of other issues also arose during the 2006 election regarding the use of the electronic voting equipment. Although these issues were well publicized and covered by the media, Cuyahoga County continues to have issues that may affect the election results and cause many voters’ choices to be improperly heard, or not heard at all. With an election being held tomorrow, it is unlikely that any issues will be resolved before this election.

While this article focuses on the problems in Cuyahoga County, it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that this issue and many others are still prevalent, in Ohio and the rest of the country. Whether it is the fact that many counties or states have not yet had to deal with such issues, or whether they are just not being as well publicized, the fact remains that these issues need to be remedied regarding electronic voting equipment in order to properly record votes and allow for reliable recounts when required. While the government requires the use of the equipment, states have apparently not yet found the proper machinery that will protect against voter fraud while representing the actual voice of the voters; while the state works out these “kinks” in the system, many voters may feel as if their votes are not being properly heard, and may become disenchanted with the voting process to the point that they may be discouraged from casting votes even if the issues are eventually resolved.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Waterboarding as Torture: Getting It Wrong, Getting It Right

As part of its week-in-review political analysis this past Friday, PBS’ The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer had (liberal) syndicated columnist Mark Shields and (conservative) National Review editor Rich Lowry discuss the issue of waterboarding and how it might affect the nomination process of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General. During this discussion, Lowry offered a few arguments in defense of the procedure, including the following:

--Waterboarding is complex: “I think waterboarding is an extremely complex issue, and it would have been irresponsible of Mukasey to pronounce on it before he has fully read into the program and know what it entails.”

--Waterboarding protects our soldiers and operatives: “...banning waterboarding, unfortunately, I don't think is really going to afford our guys much protection when they're caught by those sort of regimes [such as North Korea and al-Qaida] or those sort of terrorists.”

--Waterboarding isn’t really torture: “Journalists are volunteering to be waterboarded to see what it's like. You would not do that with any infamous, obvious torture techniques. Journalists wouldn't volunteer, ‘Please, pull out my fingernail. I'm really curious how that feels.’ And they're only volunteering because it's two minutes of panic. It's a horrifying procedure, but then you walk away.”

--Waterboarding provides us with valuable information: “I think it's a technique that should be used in reserve, that we should have in reserve, in extremely limited circumstances, in cases where you have very high-level al-Qaida officials who might have knowledge of ongoing plots. So you don't have time to deal with them over a period of months and you want to break them quickly, and that's exactly what happened with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [who was one of the top planners behind the 9/11 attacks].”

Watching this, I felt that at best, Lowry was presenting arguments that were na├»ve and muddled; at worst, he was being disingenuous. Regardless, Malcolm Nance—a counter-terrorism expert who has served as a Master Instructor for the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program—completely dispels the above assumptions in an entry for his blog Small Wars Journal. Compare and contrast the following:

--While Lowry argues that waterboarding is “an extremely complex issue,” Nance finds it to be unequivocally simple: “Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator.”

--Concerning the issue of whether a ban on waterboarding won’t, in the words of Lowry, “offer our guys much protection” if al-Qaida or a rogue regime captures them, Nance’s argument is the exact opposite: “If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives.” The reason why? “According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.”

--Lowry resorts to the oversimplified and misleading argument that because journalists are volunteering to undergo a brief period of waterboarding, it isn’t torture because it isn’t equivocal to having a fingernail pulled out. As Nance points out, it is literally “controlled drowning” or “controlled death” when executed correctly because “[i]ts lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.” Additionally, his detail about the procedure—where water forces the subject’s mouth open and fills the lungs—should leave no doubt about whether or not it represents torture.

--Finally, Lowry’s use of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession to justify waterboarding’s usefulness doesn’t fly with Nance: “Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is a talking Jesus doll a good idea?

A talking Jesus doll is being manufactured by Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co.’s Biblical doll unit, One2Believe, and quotes 5 bible verses. The line of dolls is called “Messengers of Faith” and is intended to be teaching tools for parents and teachers.

The dolls have been on sale via the Internet for over two years, but it wasn’t until Wal-Mart began putting them on store shelves in the middle of October 2007 that people started to really take notice. This is the first time that the retail heavyweight has carried a full line of religious toys.

The battery-powered, button-activated doll is able to recite a handful of different bible verses and the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. It also comes with a booklet giving parents tips on how to shape a child's faith.

Whether Jesus and the other faith based dolls will be big sellers remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, the dolls have been selling out fast since the controversy over whether Wal-Mart should carry them started.

I’ve seen children play with other action figures; Jesus may suffer more abuse than he did at the hands of Pontius Pilate. I have to wonder if this wasn’t as bad an idea as the “Pope Soap on a Rope.”

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Update on Colbert and the '08 Election

It has just been reported that South Carolina has rejected Stephen Colbert's bid to appear on the Presidential primary ballot in the state. For more, you can read here. Even so, the importance of the issues written about earlier today (the legal ramifications and the interest drawn by Colbert) do not change as questions remain as to potential future runs by television personalities (or an extended run by Colbert), and the importance of bringing the public to the polls persists.

Stephen Colbert and the ’08 Election

Today, Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report has filed the necessary papers to be included in the Presidential Primary election in South Carolina. According to an Associated Press article, Colbert filed and paid the required fee to be placed on the ballot as a Democratic candidate just before noon today. It is now up to officials whether his name appears on the ballot or not. In order to appear on the ballot, “Colbert will have to show that he’s ‘nationally visible’ and that he’s spent time campaigning in the state” (from the New York Post).

Colbert’s “run” at the Presidency has caused debate within the Democratic Party, the party he hopes to run under. Democratic official Waring Howe has already told CNN that, “Over my dead body will Colbert’s name appear on the ballot.” On the other hand, as Democratic Party Vice Chairman Charles Hamby has told CNN that, "We know he won't be president. He knows that," “But it will bring a lot of people into the party."

Aside from this split within the party, there is debate as to how much Colbert’s run is detracting from the “real” candidates. Although, at the time, he at best will only appear on the South Carolina ballot, his celebrity status is causing a somewhat large section of the population, within the state and outside of it, to focus on Colbert as a candidate. Many fear that this will detract from people focusing on the viable candidates for the election and not hearing the platform the eventual Democratic Presidential candidate is supporting.

As a legal issue, many election law experts wonder whether Colbert is violating campaign rules. “In general, federal law prohibits corporations such as Viacom Inc., which owns Comedy Central, from using corporate funds to advocate directly for a candidate”. With Colbert using his Comedy Central program to further his “campaign”, some wonder whether this violates federal law. Viacom, some argue, may be guilty of providing illegal contributions of air time in support of a candidate.

Viacom may also run afoul of the “equal time rule”. Much as NBC’s position was when Fred Thompson chose to run, Viacom may face a requirement of allowing each additional Presidential candidate an equal amount of time as they allow Colbert in order to present their positions, approximately 20 minutes per night four nights each week. While NBC chose to pull the Law & Order episodes in which Fred Thompson appears, TNT continues to run these episodes at the risk of drawing scrutiny from the Federal Elections Commission. TNT seems to be testing the theory that this “equal time rule” only applies to broadcast television; if this is in fact the case, Viacom, who only runs the show on the cable network, may not be in violation of the rule after all (although, in the case of Fred Thompson he is arguably not the star of Law & Order, nor does he take his time on air to further his campaign, unlike Colbert).

In all likelihood, it is not probable that people will have a chance to vote for Colbert, either in South Carolina or elsewhere in the United States, and as such any potential issues faced by Viacom will become moot. Still, by his choosing to “run”, he has definitely brought several election law issues to the forefront, and has caused a greater interest in the current Presidential race. As Charles Hamby indicates, not only will Colbert bring more people to the Democratic Party, but I believe he will bring more people to think about the outcome of the 2008 Presidential election. Hopefully, once Colbert’s “run” is over, the interest he has raised, both in the issues and the pending election itself, will not disappear.

Additional information from: Los Angeles Times, the Slate

Additional analysis of the legal issues can be found here.