Thursday, January 31, 2008
According to a press release issued January 28, the ACLU has filed a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction with the Federal Court for the Northern District of Ohio, a copy of which can be found here. The ACLU is attempting to prevent Cuyahoga County’s use of these optical scan ballots which would be sent to a central processing location for tabulation purposes. Such a system, according to the ACLU, does not alert voters of any errors in their ballot (ex. double voting, failure to mark ballot) and does not provide the ability for voters to correct such errors. If optical scan ballots are to be used, the ACLU contends that the ballots should be scanned at the polls, as is done in other Ohio counties, to alert voters to potential errors.
A deadline of February 4 has been set for the State to respond to this motion. Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has stated that the ACLU”s proposal would disallow the casting of absentee ballots. In essence, absentee ballots are completed and counted in the same manner as the ballots in question – absentee voters complete their optical scan ballot at home and mail it into a central location to be tabulated, without any notification of potential errors that would need to be corrected. In addition, Brunner has alleged that this lawsuit comes too late to allow a switch back to the previous system of touch-screen voting.
The goal behind the requirement of moving all states to some type of electronic voting was to ensure that preventable errors could in fact be prevented. However, as has been demonstrated in Ohio and other locations, many of the new systems are inaccurate and/or unreliable. As such problems were occurring in Ohio, the Secretary of State ordered a return to what is considered a more trustworthy system.
The major difficulty in the present situation is the closeness of the primary election in Ohio. The decision made by Jennifer Brunner was made knowing that something had to be done in order to ensure the most accurate and reliable system of voting with sufficient time to train poll workers. No matter what choice she made – stay with touch-screen or move to optical scan – the potential for error existed; knowing this, it seems that she made the best possible choice under the existing conditions.
That being said, I am not sure why other Ohio counties have on-site optical scanners while Cuyahoga County does not. Having these scanners on-site would seem to placate the ACLU while preventing voter error. The issue now may once again come down to time – there may not have been enough time to acquire such machines for the county and/or there may not have been enough time for training. However, now that this issue has been brought to light by the ACLU, the smart solution would be to carry on with the primary election as planned while ensuring that the proper technology will be in place for the November election. As there is little time to retrain poll workers and/or bring in additional technology, this plan would seem to allow the primary election to run in the smoothest manner with lesser fear of poll worker error, while also correcting any errors and providing sufficient training to poll workers in time for the November Presidential Election.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In the first chapter of The Image, Boorstin applies this analysis to media coverage of American politics, and finds that the Presidency is particularly tied to pseudo-events. Writing just after the 1960 election season—where the landmark televised “Great Debates” were critical to John F. Kennedy’s eventual victory over Richard Nixon—he sharply criticized how a series of pseudo-events reduced “great national issues to trivial dimensions” due to the debate format (41). As he writes near the end of the chapter:
“If we test Presidential candidates by their talents on TV quiz performances, we will, of course, choose presidents for precisely those qualifications. In a democracy, reality tends to conform to the pseudo-event. Nature imitates art” (43-44).
Boorstin’s insight was ahead of its time because he realized the centrality of not only how Presidential candidates answered their debate questions, but also what sort of questions they faced during the debates (as well as elsewhere): “News commentators can add a new appeal as dramatic critics to their traditional roles as interpreters of current history” (17). Though his death in February 2004 occurred just as the Internet began to play an increased role in election-year politics, he was able to witness just how crucial news analysts have become to making or breaking the fortunes of a particular candidate. This is why I thought of Boorstin while recently reading liberal Atlantic writer Matthew Yglesias’ essay “The Unbearable Inanity of Tim Russert,” even though Boorstin was politically conservative. Russert, host of NBC’s Meet the Press and a frequent moderator for Presidential debates, has a reputation for being a tough, unpredictable questioner in both roles. Yglesias contends that this reputation is misleading:
“Russert has created a strike zone of his own where toughness meets irrelevance. John McCain entered the zone last May, when he went on the show and repeatedly asserted that the Bush tax cuts had increased the federal government's revenue. Hearing this, a tough but conscientious journalist might have pointed out that this is demonstrably false. Russert, however, reached for a trusty hardball and sent it sailing. McCain, he pointed out, was now supporting extending the very same Bush tax cuts that he had once opposed.
“Well, yes, but this was a bit like asking someone who says the world is flat why he used to say the earth was round. The contradiction Russert pointed out was real—but hardly central. In fact, if tax cuts actually had increased revenues, then McCain's change of heart would have been perfectly logical. The real problem was that McCain's theory of the relationship between tax rates and revenue wasn't true. In Russertland, though, as long as you acknowledge the contradiction, the questioner is satisfied” (all emphasis in original).
Just as Boorstin derides quiz-show style questioning as a determiner of Presidential worthiness, the above passage demonstrates how McCain lacked the opportunity to provide a substantive policy answer. Indeed, Yglesias echoes Boorstin in noting that “[v]iewers watch a candidate getting grilled by Russert not to assess the candidate's views but to assess his or her ability to withstand the grilling,” which encourages substandard questions. Correspondingly, this format also leads to less informative responses from candidates—they are rewarded for sounding and looking the most Presidential.
Of course, Boorstin’s primary concern in The Image is the debate-as-pseudo-event itself, which he feels is an inadequate means of informing the American public. This is true. Still, I think Yglesias makes a reasonable case that debate questions can be more beneficial than what Russert is posing. Yet the problem is that Russert’s strategy remains highly self-beneficial:
“…Russert's goal isn't to inform his audience. He's there to ‘make news’—to get his guest to say something embarrassing that lands in the next day's papers or on the NBC Nightly News. The politicians, in turn, go on the show determined not to make news. And why do they bother? Because…it's a rite of passage, and any politician too chicken to play Russert's inane games would never garner the respect of the political class.”
Russert has made his career as one of the “dramatic critics” of political pseudo-events, much like Boorstin foresaw nearly five decades ago. Unfortunately, we—the audience and voting electorate—are the worse off for it.
Monday, January 28, 2008
The Washington Post offers a story today about the fate of out-of-state volunteers who assisted with the cleanup of the wreckage in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unfortunately, as this story reports, it appears that the plans the government had to assist these volunteers have been at least temporarily, and hopefully not permanently, suspended.
The volunteers who came from outside of
The government had explored the implementation of a program to assist these first responders with their illnesses; however, in December the government ceased its search for a contractor that would process the required medical reimbursements, effectively ending any such program. A business center would have been created had a proper contractor been located that would have allowed for a central processing facility that would have eased the reimbursement of doctors and pharmacies. Although Congress had allocated $50 million for treating and monitoring first responders, and had approved an additional $108 just after the program’s cancellation, a spokesperson for the Center for Disease Control claims that funding for the program was uncertain and no contractor was interested in taking on the task.
In the wake of September 11 attacks, people from throughout the nation banded together and were gripped by the news coverage. Those who could help sacrificed to do what they could to get to
As of today, the Center for Disease Control states that “the contractor request was canceled because its language was unclear and confusing.” According to Bernadette Burden from the CDC, “We wanted to review the requirements to make certain this solicitation was accurate and fair and to make a determination as to whether a new solicitation should be issued in the future." Hopefully these statements by the CDC, and the overall program, are not just lip service attempting to appease those affected while not actually having to provide the needed services. It is hoped that this program is not swept under the carpet and that Congress and all responsible government agencies continue to push for aid for those who gave so much in a time of national crisis.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The Huckabee-William Jennings Bryan comparison has reappeared elsewhere within media coverage of Huckbee’s campaign as a means of describing his populist message. Does this mean that he really does bear a modern-day resemblance to Bryan? Relying on Michael Kazin’s fantastic biography of Bryan, it’s possible to discern some similarities between the two. On the campaign trail, Huckabee relies on consistent appeals to lower- and middle-class demographics, just as Bryan sought “middling Americans” to form the core of his supporters (196). Bryan would certainly appreciate Huckabee’s reference to the Club for Growth as the “Club for Greed,” though the former was more frequently aggressive in attacking corporations and big business. Bryan also sold his arguments well because his speechmaking talents were stunning; Huckabee doesn’t even measure up to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in this regard, but he is, nonetheless, quite good at presenting himself in a folksy manner, which has been critical to his success so far. Finally, Bryan actively sought to apply his evangelical Christianity—largely based upon the Social Gospel—to the public square. Likewise, Huckabee stated in a recent interview with Beliefnet that “the application of Christian principles in government ought to bring a greater sense of justice,” indicating how his own (more conservative) evangelicalism influences his public policy.
When it comes to economic populism, however, the similarities quickly cease. Bryan’s economic proposals were remarkably progressive by both the standards of his era and of the present day. He called for a federal bank insurance program nearly four decades before Franklin Roosevelt made the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation part of his New Deal reforms. At the 1896 Democratic national convention in Chicago, Bryan’s support for “free silver” led him to help create a party platform that “thoroughly repudiated” the more conservative economic policies of then-President (and fellow Democrat) Grover Cleveland; this marked a transition toward the modern liberal movement (55-56). In his concern for utility regulation, he called for public ownership of the railroads during the first decade of the 1900s, though many Democrats disagreed with him. And as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson from 1913-1915, he engineered legislation that created the progressive federal income tax.
In comparison, it is impossible to honestly refer to Huckabee as a modern-day economic populist. Ernest Dumas of the Arkansas Times (which has extensively covered Huckabee’s governorship) provides the central reason why in an analysis of Huckabee’s “FairTax” proposal. In short, FairTax is a wildly regressive plan that would not only disproportionately favor the richest Americans, it would also fail to generate the type of revenue necessary for even the basic functions of federal government. Additionally, as Dumas notes in a separate piece, “nothing in his [Huckabee’s] political past showed any particular sympathy for labor,” and he supports the extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Yet it is FairTax that is most striking, because although Huckabee’s “Club for Greed” comment suggests a swipe at the legacy of “Reagonomics,” his proposal follows supply-side economic theory, just like every other major Republican candidate.
This is why Scherer’s refers to Huckabee’s populist appeals as merely “rhetoric,” and why, in the essay from The Revealer that I originally discussed last week, Jeff Sharlet finds that “Huckabee sounds like William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner” (emphasis mine). It is one thing to note that Huckabee has established minor differences from Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain; it is quite another to claim those differences as populist, especially in relation to Bryan. Scherer and Sharlet have done their homework; it’s up to the rest of the media to follow suit.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
The Library of Congress has partnered with Flickr to make photos available to the public for comment and description. The Commons is the name of the area where the photos will be stored. Over 3000 photos are currently available for tagging.
According to the website, “the key goals of this pilot project are to firstly give users a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection, and secondly to show how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer.” Currently two collections of photos are available: 1930s-40s in Color and News in the 1910s.
Initially, I think that this is a brilliant idea. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” By making the photos available to Flickr users, the Library of Congress may gain valuable information about the collections for the benefit of researchers. However, I’m curious about how Flickr and the Library of Congress are going to prevent improper or erroneous tags. As we all know, the Internet is full of information; unfortunately, not all of it is reliable. I suspect that the Library of Congress is still going to have a fairly big job of verifying any tagging before it can make it an official part of the collection.
With that said, go forth and enjoy the pictures, and tag with discretion.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Such assessments will be required specifically for drugs intended to treat obesity, urinary incontinence, epilepsy, smoking cessation, and depression. The FDA had sent letters, apparently months ago, to drug companies such as Merck, Eli Lilly and Sanofi-Aventis; all three of these drug companies have reportedly complied with the requirements and are now including suicide assessments in their clinical trials.
The regulation change reportedly is due to findings that antidepressants may increase thoughts of suicide in children and teenagers. After this initial finding, it was also discovered when reviewing an application for an obesity drug that the proposed drug may pose some psychiatric problems. Similar findings were discovered in at least one additional obesity drug; with such findings, worries grew regarding other drugs that may affect a person psychologically.
Advertisements for many antidepressants often list the risk of increased suicidal thoughts as a potential side effect. The fact that antidepressants are targeted at correcting a chemical imbalance in a person’s brain would seem to create worries of how the overall medicine will affect the user. However, it is hard to imagine that somebody taking obesity medication would think that similar affects would be possible. Also, the article lists other medications that one, at least I, would not think could cause potential psychological problems – such drugs include medicine for: acne; hypertension; high cholesterol; swelling; heartburn; pain; bacterial infections; and, insomnia.
The FDA has apparently approved the continued sale of many of these drugs as they have found that the benefits of the drugs outweigh the potential harm. It is understood that there is a risk of potentially harmful side effects with almost any medication. However, it is important for doctors, and especially patients, to understand that taking something that may seem innocent – such as acne medication – may cause the person, however slight the risk, to have increased suicidal thoughts. In order for patients to know this, doctors must be informed. Such information in the end must come from the FDA, who relies on clinical studies run by drug companies to determine these potential adverse side effects. As such, this new regulation by the FDA to require the consideration of increased suicidal tendencies as a side effect is one that will seem to provide necessary information to all persons involved and help to ensure that people are adequately prepared to deal with such potential side effects.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
1) As Paul mentioned in his post on Monday, AP reporter Deepti Hajela’s article on King’s forgotten legacy reminds us of an absolutely critical point: in the last forty years, America has created a historical memory of King that is comfortable to our sensibilities, but avoids the complexity of actual truth. Hajela also relies on strong sources (particularly Melissa Harris-Lacewell). And although the article is brief…
2) …historian Ari Kelman’s blog essay fills in the blanks. Kelman is pitch-perfect throughout: the fact that King’s criticisms and vision in his speech “The Other America” was neither “moderate” nor “safe”; Ronald Reagan’s failure to support the legislation on the King holiday until faced with a certain veto override (part of his troubling political strategy with regard to race); the “painful irony that corporate sponsorship proved key in passing the law marking his birthday”; and even the momentum of Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” which sparked a fairly significant controversy at the time. Just a fantastic piece of writing that challenges how we should think about King.
3) Finally, Pam Spaulding of the blog Pandagon links to clips of two Vietnam-related King speeches. Compare “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam” to “I Have a Dream,” and consider theologian James Cone’s argument in Martin and Malcolm and America: “His outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam…isolated him from many former supporters [including Lyndon Johnson]. Amid much controversy and criticism, Martin held fast to his convictions and refused to compromise his fierce opposition to evil in high places” (306-307).
--It’s probably not coincidental that when you type “Bobby Fischer” into both Google and Yahoo!, Rene Chun’s 2002 essay “Bobby Fischer’s Pathetic Endgame” appears eighth and fourth, respectively, in the search results. In the wake of Fischer’s recent death, media coverage has rightly focused on both Fischer’s incredible brilliance as a chess player and the sad, unhinged behavior and anti-Semitism that consumed much of his adult life. Yet Chun is able to capture the incredible cost of “Fischer's paranoia, rage, and hubris”:
“[T]hey have been enough to transform him into an enemy of the state; they have been enough to sabotage a brilliant career and turn a confident, charismatic figure into a dithering recluse; and, sadly, they have been enough to make us forget that when Bobby Fischer played chess, it was absolutely riveting theater, even for those who didn't play the game.”
This is why even though the Atlantic published it over five years ago, the essay is as fitting a summary of the former world champion’s life than anything from the last several days.
--With less than eight months to go before the Summer Olympics, the current trial of Lü Gengsong, a Chinese dissident writer facing charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” is another example of how human rights conditions in China have yet to significantly improve. Of note besides Benjamin Kang’s summary of the trial is mention of the organization Human Rights in China (HRIC), a group with which I was previously unfamiliar. HRIC is currently hosting a separate website, Incorporating Responsibility 2008, which will feature a specific Chinese political prisoner every month this year as a means of accountability.
Monday, January 21, 2008
For many, Dr. King is best remembered for his “I have a dream” speech, setting forth a vision of equality and peace for all. According to historians however, many Americans only know “that this guy had a dream” without actually “know[ing] what that dream was.” For some, Dr. King’s speech was all about equality among races, forgetting the fact that he was also attempting to combat poverty and bring anti-war issues to the forefront of people’s minds.
Today, approximately forty years after his death, the messages of Dr. King remain valid concerns and unfulfilled dreams. As for equality among races, one of Dr. King’s dreams was to have an African American be elected President – a dream that could be answered in the form of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Still, according to CBS News, “blacks in America are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the poor, in the prison population, in single-parent families.” Such disproportionate representation signifies that the equality Dr. King dreamt of has not yet been achieved.
As for Dr. King’s message of peace, it surely seems that there is work to be done. As the nation continues its war in the Middle East, the statistics on crime within the country are disconcerting.
It is good today to remember Dr. King’s messages and think about equality and peace. However, if a majority of people only think about these issues once a year, it is unlikely that anything will be resolved. There are hardworking people in all walks of life of all races that in fact attack these issues on a regular basis in an attempt to find a potential solution. However without more constant support by others, including those in the government, their job will be made more arduous than it perhaps needs to be.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
--From a Crazed by the Music entry a couple of months ago: The Independent (UK) uncovers how the major label EMI wasted obscene amounts of money on…flowers. And empty houses. In some ways, what Emily Dugan documents isn’t terribly surprising—as major-label music into an extremely lucrative business in the early 1970s, lavish indulgence within the industry became a given. What I find a bit unnerving are the rough parallels between EMI and, say, Enron (minus the threat of indictment). Lower-level EMI employees are facing the ax and will likely struggle to find similar work elsewhere; even if they’re part of a corrupt system, they’re still not nearly as guilty of profligate spending as top-level executives, who will more than likely have enough in their bank accounts to live comfortably. Meanwhile, the RIAA will excuse the irresponsibility of the latter group by shifting the blame elsewhere.
--Fro the “Superior Scribing” section of “Best Music Scribing Awards”: Further evidence of shifting the blame elsewhere.
--From the “Quality Scribing” section of “Best Music Scribing Awards”: Michael Geist, a lawyer who specializes in technology law issues, demonstrates that—contrary to the RIAA’s claim that peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading is the primary cause of declining CD sales—P2P downloaders actually purchase more music. While there have been other studies that have denied a correlation between downloading and the fall-off in CD purchases, Geist writes that a “new study commissioned by Industry Canada” is arguably “the first ever empirical study to employ representative microeconomic data.” The key statistic is the study’s estimate that among a survey of over 2,000 Canadians, “12 additional P2P downloads per month increases music purchasing by 0.44 CDs per year.” It would be helpful to see a similar study for the U.S. and a few other countries for comparative purposes, but as Geist rightly points out, “it becomes increasingly clear that the industry has benefited from P2P and that there is no "emergency" that necessitates legislative intervention” (emphasis mine).
--Finally, from the “Other Arts” section of “Best Music Scribing Awards”: Even if P2P downloading doesn’t actually threaten CD sales, there is still the rather thorny question of its implications with regard to intellectual-property law. Daniel B. Smith’s article offers an unconventional response from legal scholar Christopher Sprigman: take cues from how artists in other artistic fields—culinary arts, stand-up comedy, and magic—have learned to foster creativity without relying on legal action. His implication is that within the context of a creative “free market” (read: no legal interference), musicians can learn to adapt to and police P2P downloading in a manner that will actually stimulate their art and increase their revenue. I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical, but it’s an interesting idea, and Sprigman is correct to assert the music industry’s need for adaptation in this area.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
On Wednesday, the Library of Congress (LOC) announced that three photographic negatives that had been labeled as being either the Grand Review of the Armies or the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant were in fact of the crowd that gathered at the U.S. Capitol for President Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1865.
Carol Marie Johnson, a curator of photography at the Library of Congress was prompted to examine the negatives after a LOC patron alerted her to the fact that these visually similar photos had radically different identifications in the Library's online Civil War photographic negative collection.
Johnson discovered the misidentification on Friday, January 4th while checking old logbooks and finding an annotation “
“These negatives add to our knowledge of this special event,” said Johnson. “They show what that wet Saturday looked like with the massing of the crowd. They also convey the excitement of the people.”The LOC Prints and Photographs Division has updated the catalog records.
To view the full set of photos, visit the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. Here are the photo links:
- Soldiers and crowd
- Soldiers lining up
- Soldiers lined up
- People arriving (previously known image used for comparison)
I can only imagine how excited Johnson must have felt when she uncovered the labeling error. I think that it’s pretty cool. This is a perfect example of a web savvy user and a receptive curator who unearthed on a great discovery.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
According to the article, the reports presented to the FDA suggest that “about 60 percent of people taking the drugs report significant relief from depression, compared with roughly 40 percent of those on placebo pills.” However, when looking at reports not presented to the FDA, the difference in results between placebos and the drug are not as significant. In order to skew results and gain approval, drug companies apparently report approximately 94% of positive studies, while only reporting 14% of tests results that do not substantially evidence the effectiveness of the drug.
While the report mentioned in the article discusses solely antidepressants, there apparently is similar concern about other tests for other drugs being represented in a similar manner; unfortunately, more thorough studies have yet to be run on these other drugs. With this report on antidepressants, it is expected (and hoped) that the manner in which drug tests are presented comes under greater scrutiny.
It is unfortunate that pharmaceutical companies apparently have skewed their test results in order to expedite the marketing of potentially ineffective drugs in order to turn a profit. While we do live in a capitalist society, where motivation is derived from earning such a profit, companies that have dedicated themselves to providing effective medicines and drugs would seem to have greater responsibilities to their consumers and should ensure that they meet these responsibilities in an appropriate manner.
Many people count on such antidepressants for several psychological and personality disorders. Without proper presentation of results, it is unknown if these people are actually obtaining the treatment they require. Outside of this specific report, concerns have already been raised regarding the presentation of study results for other drugs; if incomplete results are presented to the FDA for any drug, a proper evaluation by the FDA, doctors and patients cannot be made in order to ensure that the proper drug is prescribed for the disorder/illness. Unless pharmaceutical companies present all, or at least a more representative sample of, their results from studies, many people may not be receiving the best treatment available for their specific illness/disorder.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Secondly, Jeff Sharlet examines the potential religious implications of Obama and Mike Huckabee’s respective primary victories in Iowa (which is now old news in the wake of the New Hampshire results, but still remains an impressive achievement for both). There’s a lot to take away here, including his reminder that Obama isn’t maintaining close public ties with his pastor Jeremiah Wright—a factor that I should have probably mentioned in my original entry, because it leaves questions about how Obama presents his religious background, as The Revealer noted in a piece from earlier last year. Sharlet also finds that Obama and Huckabee aren’t nearly as far apart on the religious spectrum as they seem; indeed, both “look like they might represent the "third way" more and more rank-and-file evangelical[s] have been waiting for.” Nevertheless, as a follow-up story on the site notes, it’s kind of difficult to prove this argument when pollsters don’t ask religious questions about Democratic voters.
--Chiquita’s “blood bananas” business in Columbia: Corporate Counsel’s Sue Reisinger continues to research her story on Chiquita’s funding of Columbian left-wing terrorists, and has discovered a twist. Reisinger originally documented that Chiquita didn’t stop their payments to the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) until March 2004, which was just after U.S. attorney Roscoe Howard, Jr. had served a search warrant on the company for their actions. Now, both Chiquita lawyers and a U.S. Department of Justice official are disputing that account, saying that no one ever served the warrant. This turn of events complicates the story, because the timing of the warrant with Chiquita’s termination of payments suggests a correlation between the two events. Did Chiquita stop the payments due to federal coercing, or was it an (overdue) action completely of their own accord? We may never know; for his part, Howard continues to insist that the warrant was executed and accuses the Department of Justice of “stonewalling” for unclear reasons. None of this, of course, changes the fact that Chiquita continued to pay AUC long after the Department of Homeland Security had classified it as a terrorist organization, as well as the fact that the company profited handsomely from their Columbian holdings while on the terrorist installment plan.
Monday, January 14, 2008
By casting Electoral votes based on the national popular vote rather than the individual state’s popular vote, it is hoped that smaller states, those with less Electoral votes, would have a more equal voice in the election. Within each state, the goal of such a compact is to guarantee that each individual’s vote is important.
If such a compact does become effective, the issue that arose in the 2000 Presidential election would not be an issue. Although the popular vote had been won by Democrat Al Gore, Republican George W. Bush won the election due to obtaining a greater number of Electoral votes. Under the proposed system, states would cast their Electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote, even if that state’s returns favor the opposing candidate.
As states recognize the importance of the Electoral votes, at least one state, California, is seemingly attempting to re-allocate their vote in order to potentially allow more than one candidate to receive their apportioned fifty-five Electoral votes; as the system stands now, all of a state’s Electoral votes are allocated to a single candidate. With the proposed change, alleged partisan-based movements such as the one in California would not be an issue, as each state would have to abide by the overall national popular vote.
So far only two states, New Jersey and Maryland, have approved the compact. Other states such as Illinois, Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina have had the compact pass in at least one house; California and Hawaii have already vetoed bills to join the compact. In order for the compact to become effective, the compact must be passed by enough states which would constitute a majority of the Electoral votes. With those that have passed the compact, the current count stands at 25 (10 for Maryland and 15 for New Jersey); for those who have had the compact pass at least one house, the count could add potentially another 51 votes (6 for Arkansas, 9 for Colorado, 21 for Illinois, and 15 for North Carolina). Even counting all these potential votes, the 76 votes falls short of the 270 Electoral votes required to constitute a majority.
While Democrats and Republicans argue about the merits of this compact, each party apparently feeling differently about their chances to garner a larger amount of Electoral votes v. popular votes, it seems that this idea is one that would ensure that America’s voice is heard and increase voter participation. After the previous two elections, the first where the apparent popular choice, Al Gore, lost out due to the Electoral vote and the second where a single state, Ohio, apparently swayed the entire election, it would seem that people may no longer feel that their vote counts; this would seem to be especially true in smaller states which hold fewer Electoral votes. Should Electoral votes be cast solely based on the national popular vote, a single state, no matter how many Electoral votes it holds, would not have such a disparate impact on the overall election. Additionally, knowing that America’s overall popular choice is the one leading the country would seem to add to people’s confidence in and support of our leader.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
“William Blake may have said ‘the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,’ but this lost highway of excess has led to a crisis of overproduction: too much scandal, too much chatter, too much drama masquerading as sports.
“The Sports World needs to collectively resolve to see 2008 as a time to slowly mend fences with a fan base feeling the pain. The road to redemption begins with that staple New Year's resolution we are all too familiar with: It's time to shed the excess weight. And throughout sports, the superfluous baggage is flowing from the commissioner's offices.”
He then proposes replacing Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and (perhaps) National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, as well as a curtailing of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell’s broad powers. While Zirin is obviously suggesting that these changes will aid the overall health of all three leagues, he is more concerned about sports fans receiving fair treatment in exchange for their time and money. The column’s key section appears near the end:
“This question of execrable excess affects all sports fans. We don't need stadiums that bankrupt our cities. We don't need athletes who treat fans like an inconvenience to be suffered in between checks. We don't need sports telecasts that look like they were produced by Maxim. And we don't need commissioners more concerned with PR than the basic health of their games.”
That first point above—the economics of new stadiums—has become increasingly important over the past several years, and Zirin’s aptly summarizes the issue in an Edge of Sports column from July: “The [new] stadiums are presented as a microwave-instant solution to the problems of crumbling schools, urban decay and suburban flight,” even though they rarely provide a profitable return on investment for the cities and states that are financing them. My favorite football team, the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, might—I repeat, might—end up as one of the exceptions to the rule; their new Lucas Oil Stadium includes additions to the Indianapolis Convention Center in what has become a revitalized section of the city. Yet despite high revenue estimates, Indianapolis and the state will still shoulder over 85 percent of the stadium’s cost in the short term.
An associated problem with new stadiums is that even if fans don’t participate in the public financing for a new stadium, they almost always incur higher ticket prices if they actually want to attend games. As the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys build a new stadium that is set to open in 2009, their proposed pricing structure for the stadium’s club seats easily prices out lower- and middle-class income citizens by requiring long-term “personal seat licenses” (PSLs) that will cost as much as $50,000 before actual ticket purchases. The Cowboys’ plan is certainly expensive, but their use of PSLs is simply the continuation of a trend that has become popular among sports teams building new stadiums. It’s not difficult to see Zirin’s point in the aforementioned Edge of Sports column that “[s]tadiums are sporting shrines to the dogma of trickle-down economics,” where those less financially well-off bear a disproportionate economic burden, even though they sometimes simply don’t have a choice in the matter.
Consequently, it’s reasonable to argue that at the least, professional sports teams are responsible for producing—to the best of their ability—a superior product, especially given how much they ask of fans and taxpayers. When this doesn’t happen, fans have every right to complain, and sportswriters can play a crucial role in developing a sense of accountability. Zirin continues to provide an excellent example in this regard; as we head further into 2008, I hope his colleagues will join his plea in Sports Illustrated “to stop making it so darn difficult to love sports” through their own work.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
The Supreme Court of the
The outcome of Baze v. Rees will have national repercussions, as 36 of the 37 death penalty states use the same combination of lethal injection drugs as
Police arrested eighty demonstrators at the Supreme Court yesterday in a protest calling for the shutdown of the
About 200 demonstrators dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods intended to simulate prison garb were arrested inside and outside the building in the early afternoon. "Shut it down," protesters chanted as others kneeled on the plaza in front of the court.
All demonstrations are banned from the court grounds. Those arrested inside the building were also charged under a provision that makes it a crime to give "a harangue or oration" in the Supreme Court building.
Later this year, the court is considering whether prisoners still detained at
Friday, January 11, 2008
Six years ago today, "the first orange-clad, shackled and blindfolded prisoners arrived at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray." Today, demonstrators have been protesting worldwide. The ACLU notes, “Since that dark day in recent American history, more than 700 people have been detained without due process and not a single trial has been completed.”
In April 2006, the Center for American Progress established a comprehensive strategy for dealing with suspected terrorists after the closure of
In June 2006, President Bush stated that he wanted to close
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The first article arises out of an incident where three women allegedly created a false MySpace identity in order to communicate with a 13-year-old girl in Missouri. The messages sent to the girl eventually became more and more cruel to the point of what many are now calling harassment. These messages eventually led to the 13-year-old girl committing suicide.
No charges were pressed against the women who created the fraudulent ID, as the current laws do not address the type of on-line harassment allegedly perpetrated by these women. In a somewhat interesting turn, the address and phone number of one of the women allegedly responsible has been posted on the Internet, leading to many harassing her for her alleged actions. The Governor of Missouri has created a committee to address this type of Internet harassment, and said committee is set to submit a bill in January.
In the second article, the issue of free speech on the Internet comes up once again. In this instance the Court has issued an Order that a man discontinue his Internet postings “about his wife and their marriage pending a [divorce] hearing next month.” William Krasnansky has created a blog (lookatmypugs.livejournal.com) with “a fictionalized account of [his] marriage.” The author claims that this Order constitutes a prior restraint and violates his First Amendment rights. In direct defiance of the Order, he is continuing to post to the site.
According to the article, many Constitutional Law experts feel that the Order issued is overbroad and can not survive a First Amendment challenge. An issue still exists though as to how fictional the work may be; such statements that the account is “fictional” still may not be sufficient “if the court found that readers were likely to perceive the postings as factual statements about a real person and if the statements were false.” Even if the account is labeled not to be “fictional”, experts state that typical remedy in such a case would be damages and not an injunction as the Court here has ordered.
In both articles, issues have been raised as to how to properly regulate alleged harassment on the Internet as existing laws do not quite cover this area yet. Even in just these two cases, the issue of harassment may appear more clear cut than in the other; to attempt to expand a definition and create standards that can apply to all such instances will indeed be a difficult task. While states struggle with determining these standards, the issues remain for those with blogs as to what they can safely post and for those on social networking sites as to what constitutes harassment and what protections are available in events of perceived harassment. If and when new standards are established, more guidelines will be available, but these standards will almost certainly affect how people use these services; if people’s rights are affected too severely by these new standards, many may cease or limit their use of these tools, greatly decreasing the benefits such blogs and social networking sites provide to their readers and users. The question then becomes: at what cost to people’s rights and access to these social networking tools do we protect others from perceived Internet harassment?
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
When South African psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela formally met Eugene de Kock for the first time in late 1997, her thoughts above largely capture the sentiments of black South Africans who had suffered under decades of apartheid rule. As a covert police operative, de Kock was responsible for masterminding countless operations to murder anti-apartheid activists, remaining anonymous even as he “had been at the center of the chaos, the blood, the bodies, and the killing, directing it” (18). Now, Gobodo-Madikizela stood inside the heavy-security “C-Max” section of Pretoria Central Prison, where de Kock was serving a double life sentence for human rights crimes. Yet during a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—the country’s revolutionary justice model designed to provide a voice to both perpetrators and victims of apartheid—two widows whose husbands died during one of de Kock’s bombing operations personally offered their forgiveness to Prime Evil. Gobodo-Madikizela finds this “extraordinary,” and consequently asks the central question of A Human Being Died That Night: “Was evil intrinsic to de Kock, and forgiveness therefore wasted upon him?” (15).
Relying on a series of interviews she conducts with de Kock in C-Max, along with psychological and cultural analysis, Gobodo-Madikizela finds a basis for the possibility of forgiving an extraordinary criminal. Her personal turning point occurs after she briefly touches de Kock’s left hand as a gesture of consolation during one of their discussions. Several weeks later, de Kock requests to speak to her during break in a TRC hearing, and after they greet each other, he confesses “with an expression that seemed to reflect genuine amazement that” she had touched his “trigger hand” (39). She wrestles with the loaded meaning of this comment, but later realized that it represents evidence of de Kock’s remorse as he contemplates his actions. Gobodo-Madikizela demonstrates that he isn’t always completely honest or forthcoming about the particulars of his operations, but she contends that he was clearly “struggling with his past,” trying to make sense of what happened (44). As she writes:
“It gave me a sense of hope that he was in some emotional pain about what he had done. And the grace-filled gestures of forgiveness I had witnessed from people who lived with psychological scars as daily reminders of their trauma gave me even greater hope. In wrestling with my empathy, somehow I found solace in these gestures of forgiveness by victims. They validated my own feelings of empathy toward de Kock” (44-45).
It is also important to remember what Gobodo-Madikizela identifies as the “structural and systemic crimes” of which de Kock took part (61), and that he does not bear sole responsibility for his role in enforcing apartheid. Indeed, as brutal as his actions were, they were merely part of a larger sociopolitical atmosphere that had consistently dehumanized black South African citizens for decades. Even those that should have or could have done more to speak in protest against the status quo often refused to do so. The Afrikaans (or Dutch Reformed) Church was the spiritual home for nearly all apartheid politicians, and church leaders officially condoned the killing of state enemies, with “state enemies” consistently meaning anti-apartheid supporters. This certainly isn’t ground for excusing de Kock’s actions, and though he is (and remains) willing to document the complicity of his colleagues and superiors, he doesn’t exonerate himself. Nevertheless, his evil is, to an extent, an outgrowth of an environment where those in power believed that God was on their side, and “interpreted all religious objections to the war as inconsistent with spiritual conviction” (72).
Bearing these facts in mind, Gobodo-Madikizela argues that forgiving a perpetrator who is guilty of human rights violations is nonetheless difficult, and dependent upon not only an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and remorse, but also the ability of victims to transcend their anger and sadness while continuing to live with the trauma of what has occurred. She makes it clear that black South African citizens are still coping with the atrocities of the apartheid era, and that victims whom remain angry or resentful about losing a friend or loved one aren’t necessarily “ ‘holding on’ ” to anger out of spite, but instead “what seems to be the only connection to the one who is no longer present” (96). For those who do forgive, their action represents both an effort to let go of their anger and being open “toward a new path of healing”; for one of the aforementioned widows, forgiving de Kock allowed her to (in her words) “ ‘mourn properly’ ” for her dead husband as a means of letting him go (97).
On another level, Gobodo-Madikizela writes that forgiveness is about “human connectedness” (127), and Eugene de Kock is no different. It’s certainly difficult enough –at least in my case—to simply not hold grudges about everyday matters; overcoming crimes against humanity can seem altogether impossible. But de Kock is a human being just as we are, and he reminds us that the line between good and evil is a very thin one indeed. To forgive someone like him is to recognize the evil in our own lives, and to embrace the possibility of hope and justice in response.
Monday, January 7, 2008
In Ohio and Colorado, officials have discovered that machines may be affected by the use of a magnet or PDA. In Colorado, the state has already taken the measure of decertifying a number of voting machines, including machines located in Denver. In Ohio, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has proposed eliminating touch-screens and returning to paper ballots; if the Republican-controlled state legislature disagrees with this proposal, Brunner’s next step may be to work with the Board of Voting Machine Examiners to decertify the faulty electronic voting equipment. Other states such as California have already returned to paper ballots.
Paper ballots had originally been replaced due to problems such as the “hanging chads” in Florida in the 2000 election. The federal government had provided grants to states to research and replace these ballots with electronic voting equipment. Colorado has spent $41 million in grants on such an endeavor while and Ohio has spent approximately $81 million. Not only would the government grant money perhaps be seen as “wasted”, but it would cost Ohio an additional $31 million for a new system, as well as approximately $250,000 for each county (based on previous Presidential elections in which paper ballots were used) to supply voters with the paper ballots.
Even if this is the only solution in Ohio, as the Secretary of State suggests, the cost of such a change is not the only issue. As it currently stands in Ohio, there will still be two systems used in the Ohio primary election – the touch-screen and paper ballots. With the existence of both systems operating concurrently, election officials and poll workers will be relied upon to monitor and be trained in both systems. As evidenced in previous elections and in the studies leading up to the implementation of the use of touch-screens, there have been and continue to be problems with the use of this technology; whether problems exist due to purposeful tampering or accidents (such as power failures) or lack of training (on the part of poll workers or the voters), these problems are clearly not under control yet. Many more are familiar with the paper ballots, but Florida in 2000 has demonstrated problems with this system; additionally, paper ballots may lead to a need for increased time in completing the ballot, leading to larger lines, leading to many voters leaving without voting.
The ACLU has stated that the problem with such a change in Ohio may not be evident in the primary election as there is expected to be a lower turnout. However, the election in November will most likely have a large turnout for which the polling locations may not be adequately prepared. Even with the election just under ten months away, it is uncertain that an adequate system can be in place in time.
There are flaws to be expected whenever a new technology or system is set into place. However, in a case where such a fundamental aspect of our democratic government is involved, and the federal government has provided assistance in addressing the issue, it would be hoped that a reasonable system with minimal flaws could be discovered. Still, these problems persist, and not just in Ohio. Until such polling place issues are remedied, I believe my best option is to take advantage of Ohio’s no-excuse absentee voting policy and hope my ballot doesn’t get lost in the mail.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Previously, this matter was the subject of an inquiry, but has been elevated to a criminal investigation after a December 6 report that said tapes had existed, but had now been destroyed. The exact nature of the crimes which are now being investigated have not yet been specified, “but government lawyers have said the inquiry will probably focus on whether the destruction of the tapes involved criminal obstruction of justice and related false-statement offenses.” Such an investigation is expected to scrutinize the actions of both current and former high-level C.I.A. officials. While the Justice Department’s investigation proceeds, both the chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee have indicated that their own inquiry would continue.
The C.I.A. has indicated that they will cooperate fully with John H. Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut who has been appointed to lead the investigation along with the F.B.I. Several officials have already provided the name of Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr. as the official who had ordered the destruction of the tapes in question.
The outcome of this investigation, expected to potentially outlast the remainder of President Bush’s term, will be interesting to follow. While the steps taken to ensure the accountability of the C.I.A. in this matter is commendable, it will be interesting to see what type, if any, punishment and results occur due to the investigation. The Attorney General’s appointment of an attorney outside of Washington would seem to indicate that this investigation will be independent, but in the end the punishment and/or changes would seem to need to be handed down from officials in D.C. It is hoped that the investigation will, at the least, prevent other such instances of the destruction of evidence and, at best, cause the Attorney General to take a firmer stance on the issue of torture in these instances, punishing those who violate any future measures; however, until the investigation is completed, the true effectiveness of this probe will be unknown.