Friday, April 29, 2005

Demise of GOP Power Part III: The Strong Democratic Minority

The Republicans have found themselves in a political quagmire in recent months. The paradise that was Bush's Inauguration sponsored by Citibank, Bank of America, Texaco, Amaco, and Shell, seems like a distant memory. When you have a majority in both houses of Congress, the White House, and a conservative-friendly majority on the Supreme Court, anyone should be able to get things done. Somehow, the Republicans have screwed this up.

But as Mister Bling mentioned in his comments yesterday, the purpose of our discussion is not simply to point out that the Republicans' agenda has been an abysmal failure. What are the Democrats doing these days? After all, there are two whole parties in our political system that's meant to represent our entire country of 600 million people.

Mister Bling and others have expressed concern that the Democrats haven't really been doing anything to put themselves in a better position, given this series of missed opportunities for Republicans. On this point, I will disagree. While I think the Democrats have many things that need to be accomplished in getting our country headed in the right direction, I am particularly proud of the Democratic minority delegations in each house of Congress, that have created some serious headaches for Republicans, despite what looked like a very very bad situation in January.

In the House of Representatives, Democratic members of the House Ethics Committee basically forced the committee to a grinding halt after Republican members of the House pushed through rule changes that would have spared Tom DeLay an ethics investigation. Nancy Pelosi deserves high marks for her ability to bring the issue to the media, exert pressure on House Republicans, and force them to play by the rules. Republicans acted like there was some giant conspiracy against DeLay from the left, but if DeLay is innocent, why change the rules to avoid an ethics investigation? If DeLay is innocent wouldn't you WANT an investigation to clear his name? Public opinion on this issue shows that most people agree with the Democrats and want DeLay to go through an ethics investigation. Check out this link for recent polling data.

In the Senate, Democrats have held their ground on protecting the filibuster, again with strong support from the general public. Harry Reid (D- NV) has done an outstanding job clarifying the mess Bill Frist and other Senate Republicans have made of the issue of Bush's judicial appointments. As we pointed out earlier in the week, Bush has had no problem getting the vast majority of his judicial nominees appointed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Fortunately, public polls cited above show that the general public understands that the Democrats are not doing anything that is historically unprecendented by threatening to filibuster certain judicial nominations. The public also understands that Senate Democrats are doing the right thing by blocking some of Bush's nominees.

Frist and other Senate Republicans have painted a picture as though this is an extreme measure, and that the Democrats are being unreasonably difficult, but the irony is that the Republicans are the ones who wish to change the rules to push through their nominations. YOu decide which seems more extreme.

I'm not trying to paint a partisan picture here and tell you that the Democrats can do no wrong, and that all Senate Republicans are to blame for their present problems. Reasonable Republicans, such as John McCain and Chuck Hagel, have spoken out in favor of compromise and against eliminating the filibuster. What seemed like a certainty only a few weeks ago, has dwindled into a PR problem, and all because the Democrats aren't bending over and taking this abuse.

The Democrats do, however, need to strengthen their political "vision" or mission. From a policy standpoint, many of their legislative ideas have been lost in the shuffle. Several months ago, we discussed the Democratic alternatives to President Bush's Social Security Reform Plan. We've heard nothing of those proposals, and the Democrats need to define what they can do for the country, instead of just opposing what Republicans have proposed. There are good ideas out there from both Democrats and Republicans, including some bipartisan plans. The Democrats should focus more attention on those alternatives, so the American public can understand that they do have some choices, aside from being with the President or against him.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Demise of GOP Power Part II: Selling out Your Base

I'm going to be writing a series of discussions this week about how the Republicans have squandered a key political opportunity, and what impact this will likely have in the 2006 Midterm Congressional Elections and 2008 Congressional and Presidential Elections. Read Part I below for the premise. Also check out some of the stellar comments that were posted. Feel free to add your own thoughts.

Initially, it looked as though the 2004 Election may have signified a substantial shift towards the right, not just in terms of absolute Congressional seats and political offices, but also in terms of the attitudes of the general public. To be certain, one of the driving forces behind Bush's re-election was support from Conservative Christians, who obviously aren't just sparring with the ATF and suing public schools anymore. Bush himself proclaims to be a born-again Christian, which has become a popular option among those who couldn't get their shit together the first time around.

Despite the President's strong support among those who consider themselves to be Christian, President Bush, fortunately, has done very little to push forward the Conservative Christian political agenda. President Bush has appeased Conservative Christians with tons of rhetoric, and talk about Jesus Christ, but in all honesty, the religious right sold out their values to get a larger piece of political pie. Abortions are still quite obtainable, there is not constitutional amendment defining marriage as only that between a man and a woman, and stem cell research continues. Bush and other Republicans who have appealed to the religious right for support, have done little, if anything, to pay that debt.

At the same time Bush and his Congressional sheep have ignored the pleas of this key group of their constituency, the actions they have taken are far from consistent with their proclaimed beliefs. War, no matter how you slice it, is not something that's easy to justify from a Christian standpoint. Thou shalt not kill is pretty damned unambiguous. Toss in a few ethics scandels from high profile Republicans, and the house of cards that was the Republican's major selling point to the religious right in 2004 is slowly starting to lose it's effectiveness.

I predict that this will have dire implications for the 2006 and 2008 elections, which we will discuss later in the week. Again, feel free to leave more comments about your feelings here.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Demise of GOP Power Part 1: The Premise

One thing that is tough about identifying myself as a midget is that I instantly lose a little bit of credibility. As comedian Dave Attell describes, if a midget has something important to say most people respond with something like "Is that where the hidden treasure is?" Either way, stick with me here, because I feel strongly on the basis of recent events that this ejaculation of power from the GOP that we've been loathing recently is on the decline. Republicans have fortunately squandered a historically unprecedented opportunity to reshape our country in their own image, and I'm going to give you some cold, hard irrefutable facts (Republicans hate those) as to why this is the case in a series of postings this week.

After the 2004 Election, things were looking pretty dim for us Democrats. The Republican majority in the Senate became dauntingly large, the Supreme Court is more conservative now than it will likely be for the foreseeable future, and President Bush had political momentum, or "capital" as he put it in only the way a true failed businessman would. As one liberal elderly woman told me shortly after the election "We're totally fucked."

I will admit that things looked absolutely terrible. Getting an abortion in an actual health care facility from a physician looked like it would be a thing of the past. Abstinence-based sex education would be the norm in our public schools. Our foreign policy would consist, ironically, of various stages of war and threatening those who don't cooperate with our "War on Terrorism" with military invasion.

Along the way, something went horribly wrong for the GOP. Bush has the lowest job approval rating of any second-term President since we started keeping track of Presidential Job approval. An unbelievable 64% of Americans polled recently disapprove of the way the President is handling Social Security, which is the only aspect to his pathetic domestic agenda. 54% of Americans polled recently disapprove of the way the President is handling energy policy, and 31% of Americans polled blame the Bush Administration for high gas prices. Whether he deserves blame or not for gas prices is debatable, but I can't exactly sit here and defend his energy policy for making the situation easier either. 41% of Americans think Tom DeLay should step down from his post as House Majority leader, given the ethical misconduct he is accused of.

How did the Republicans screw this up? Feel free to share what you think, but that's going to be the focus of my postings this week. It would be a lot more lively of a discussion, if we had some opinions from someone other than yours truly.

Least Surprising News of the Week

On Friday, Vice President of Cranky Old Men, Dick Cheney stated that he would be willing to provide the tie-breaking vote to change Senate rules which would end filibusters and allow the Senate to confirm the Bush Administration's judicial nominees. You can read more here.

It wasn't enough for the Bush Administration to circumvent judicial authority in
the Terri Schaivo case. Now, they're seeking to allow further elimination of
checks and balances by taking away one of the Senate's most important
legislative powers. To hear Uncle Dick tell the story, you'd think that
Senate Democrats were just playing politics with Bush's judicial nominees:

There is no justification for allowing the blocking of nominees who are
well qualified and broadly supported," Mr. Cheney told a gathering of the
Republican National Lawyers Association. "The tactics of the last few years, I
believe, are inexcusable. "If the Senate majority decides to move forward and if
the issue is presented to me in my elected office as president of the Senate and
presiding officer, I will support bringing those nominations to the floor for an
up-or-down vote," he said. "On the merits, this should not be a difficult call
to make."

It sounds like those damned Senate Democrats have must have been pretty stingy about which of Bush's judicial nominees they have approved. Dick thinks that the Democrats are just behind dicks, and you might too. Unless, however, you look at what the Senate Democrats' actual record of approval has been for Bush's judicial nominees. For clarification, we turn to
According to the Web site of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy,
Bush has nominated 34 people for appeals courts, and 18 of them have been
confirmed. Of his 97 nominations for district courts, 88 were confirmed.

Ok, let's do some math: (97+34 = 131) (18+88 =106) 106/131 = (carry the cranky old bastard) = 81%. Looks like the Senate has confirmed 81% of Bush judicial nominees during his first term. I would say that's pretty damned fair. According to another CNN report, which quotes California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer Bush has had about 98% of his total judicial nominees approved by the Senate. The article also points out that during the Clinton Administration, Senate Republicans blocked over 60 of Clinton's judicial nominees.

It's just another day in Washington with our two parties pointing fingers and blaming each other for everything, but it's more than just a little bit irritating that with somewhere between 80-98% of Bush's judicial nominees being accepted by the Senate, that Republicans are still considering eliminating the filibuster.

Republicans have talked for a long time about limiting the power of the federal government. Libertarian-leaners in the Republican party have to be completely pissed off about the recent turn of events, where Republicans, realizing that they control the federal government have dabbled in everything from Terri Schaivo's rights to judicial process to making the executive branch the governmental equivalent of Barry Bonds on a steroid rage. Events like this add to my theory that the Republican Party is going to face some difficult decisions about the direction of the party in the years ahead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

DeLay Angry at "Judicial Activists"; No Comment on Impending Ethics Probe

Tom DeLay can't get enough of the spotlight these days. During the Terri Schaivo struggle, Tom was there to make sure that we understood that Michael Schaivo and the federal judges who refused to hear the case were murderers, who would "pay" for their unethical behavior, as he put it. In this article, he even goes as far as to single out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as being an activist, assumably because Kennedy doesn't tow the party line. Nevermind that Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, is one of the only sane Republicans on the Supreme court.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the House Ethics Committee has finally agreed to launch an investigation into DeLay's ethical conduct, only after substantial pressure from Democrats. How hypocritical is Tom DeLay? On the same day that he's being indicted for numerous violations of the law, he has the audacity to criticize a Supreme Court Justice for refusing to be partisan? What kind of Alice in Wonderland bullshit is this?

While people may disagree with Justice Kennedy's decisions, as I have on occasion, you can't really say that he's behaved unethically. After all, that's why he was appointed. Just because Kennedy doesn't have the conservative pleasing power of say Scalia or the lady pleasing power of Clarence Thomas, doesn't make him a bad justice. Failing to adhere to the law in your home state and accepting trips as bribes to shape the national legislative agenda does, on the other hand, make you a bad Congressman.

Bottoms up, Tom!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Terrorism is on the Decline, Trust Us

The Seattle Times reported this last weekend that the US State Department has elected to stop publication of the annual report on international terrorism, after preliminary results suggest that 2004 was the worst year for terrorist attacks since the report's initial publication in 1985. The State Department defends their decision to eliminate the Patterns of Global Terrorism report, saying that the methodology used to collect the data was flawed. Critics have stated that the elimination of the report, which suggests 2004 was the worst year for terrorist attacks on record, was a scheme to hide the fact that the Bush Administration's war on terrorism has been unsuccessful abroad.

I wanted to see what the Administration and the State Department had to say about eliminating the report. The only justification offered in the article is that the methodology for determining what constituted a terrorist attack was flawed, but it didn't specifically state if the methodology was different than in previous years or what, specifically made the statistics so inaccurate.

I went to The White House website and looked under their most recent press briefings from White House Press Secretary Scott "Don't Call Me Ari Fleischer" McClellan. In the last two weeks, when the announcement about eliminating the report was made, the White House had no comment.

I went to The US State Department website for Counterterrorism to see if they had commented on how the methodology for 2004 was flawed. While you can read previous years' reports, the 2004 report and any mention of flawed methodology was no where to be found. If you're more successful than I am in finding something, send it along. That would be interesting to discuss.

Based on the lack of evidence provided by the Administration and the State Department, it leaves one to wonder why the report was eliminated. If the methodology was the same used in previous years, which we have every indication to believe that it was, the State Department would certainly be comparing apples to apples from year to year.

Any changes in methodology would also be unlikely to cause the report to be eliminated all together. If the methodology of a scientific study, for example, is flawed, most of the time you don't eliminate the research. You discuss the findings of your research in light of any methodological problems you encountered. This can be useful in guiding future inquiries into similar problems (i.e. don't try it this way) or even allowing limited interpretation of the data (i.e. we may have overestimated the actual number of attacks by including men who terrorized people by pressing their genitalia against car windows). Either way, completely ending the report on what is essentially the KEY national security issue is completely suspicious.

Until the State Department or the White House explains why things were different in 2004, we find ourselves without a way to quantify how we're making gains against terrorism worldwide, since they certainly aren't offering anything in replacement. If you were successful in fighting terror, why wouldn't you want an annual report to highlight the progress your policies and actions were making in curbing terrorism. Sadly, this is just another example of the Bush Administration limiting public access to information that shows what an abysmal failure Bush's anti-terrorism policies are.

Pat Sajak Update

As I mentioned in my last post, I stumbled across Pat Sajak's website last week, and he happens to have quite a distaste for the left. And while Pat has every right to his opinion, after reading some of the turds of wisdom he posts on his website, I wanted to point out a few of the many inconsistencies and contradictions that permeate his opinions. For example:

- Under his most recent posting, Pat summarizes the Democratic agenda for 2005: Find someone to terrorize "like they did with Newt Gingrich." Pat laments the Democrats terrorizing Tom DeLay for simple political reasons, not because DeLay broke Texas campaign finance law, accepted close to a million dollars illegally, and took trips paid for by political contributors. Yes Pat, Tom DeLay is only under scrutiny because of Democratic political strategy.

- Another recent post, Arguing with Liberals and Why I've Stopped, Pat blames his friends on the left for being hypocritical about a variety of issues. His most specific example is Ward Churchill, University of Colorado Professor, whose controversial remarks about 9/11 terrorist attacks drew scorn from both sides of the political establishment. Oddly, Pat goes on to contrast Ward Churchill's remarks by comparing them with Harvard President Lawrence Summer's remarks about women's lack of achievement in math and science. Pat apparently feels that Summer's comments are more defensible for some reason.

Both situations represent controversial comments from the academic community, but to characterize one as being more liberal and the other as more conservative hardly makes sense. If you want to read a GOOD article on the subject of academic freedom in our sensitive political landscape, without Pat's political spin, check out this one from the LA times. If Pat wants to comment on higher education, perhaps he should have finished his college degree.

And I could go on for weeks. I could make a Pat Sajak anti-blog, and just respond to what he says on his site, but it's so one-sided, sophomoric, and banal that no one would take the time to read it.

One of the best things about political discussions on the web is that if you think I'm out of my mind, you can leave comments, send me an email, and let me know that I'm completely off base. Pat, on the other hand, simply wants you to know what his opinions are. He doesn't care what your point of view is. I think that dissenting points of view have made for some very interesting discussions on this site. Pat Sajak doesn't offer a way for readers to comment, refute or even communicate about his ideas. Much like the Wheel of Fortune, it's a sad, disgusting little man saying "Look at me, look at me." without any interaction from the outside world.

A message for Pat: If you're reading this, send me an email, leave a comment, or at least allow the readers on your website the same courtesy. Anyone who disagrees with what I write here, aside from being dead wrong, can post their opinion without interference from me. It keeps me honest, makes me work a little harder, and keeps the discussion interesting. The irony is that Pat complains about how his discussions with liberals are preachy, one-sided, and don't provide him the opportunity to share his views, but his website does precisely the same thing. Nice work Pat, you're the recipient of the Angry Midget Irony in Action Award for 2005.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Pat Sajak Has a Website?

One of my favorite things about the internet is that it's great comic relief. For example, you can type "toothless whores" into Google, not that I have done or recommend doing that sort of thing, but you could do that, and it would take you to a webpage or 10 that features morally casual ladies in serious need of dental work. Every time I think there is a limit to what I can find, such as the Richard Marx Website I discussed a few weeks ago, I find something that renews my faith that ANYONE can have a website.

Welcome to the fray, Pat Sajak. For those of you under the age of 85, Pat Sajak is the host of Wheel of Fortune and King of Banality. I've often wondered if Pat is a robot sent back from the future to bore the entire planet to death. What the cybernetic intelligence from the future that designed Pat didn't realize is that he's on a show that only the elderly, immobile, and incarcerated watch with any frequency.

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that highlighted one of Sajak's political postings from his personal website. First of all, I didn't even realize that Pat Sajak had anything to say aside from "Do we have any Ts, Vanna?", but Pat has strong feelings about Liberals in this country. If you want some low-quality, conservative rhetoric, you can read Sajak's frequent political postings here complete with disclaimer, warning his elderly fan base that they may be subjected to his right wing idiocy.

If you want to read some of the most snide and frankly sophomoric political humor I've ever seen, check out this posting. The gem of the bunch (Sajak's response in all caps):
Whom do you think should be the face of the Democratic Party?
Zanesville, OH

I nearly wet myself with laughter, except that despite my short stature, I'm a potty trained adult, and while 8 year-olds might find this sort of thing funny, I'm just annoyed.

So, after reading through Pat's ridiculous political musings, I decided to write him an email and point out some of the obvious contradictions. I will post my letter and any response that I receive to the site. Look for that this weekend.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bush's Foreign Policy: The Ultimate Flip Flop

When I was driving to work this morning, listening to NPR like a good commie pinko nutbag, I heard about the car bombing in Iraq that an insurgency group linked to al Quida has subsequently taken responsibility for. 18 people were killed, mostly Iraqi civilians. Aside from being sad, the whole event got me thinking about what the hell American is still doing in Iraq. The Bush Administration has offered numerous justifications for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but none of them hold up under scrutiny.

Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Fortunately, this one has been put completely to rest. Not only did the invasion of Iraq reveal that there was no immanent threat of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction against its neighbors, but the intelligence that supported that conclusion has been determined to be completely flawed.

The Bush Administration talks about Iraq's links to terrorism as a justification for invading to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The irony on this point, which is further emphasized by today's car bombings, is that Iraq has become a haven for terrorist as a direct result of our military action. The presence of Muslim people by itself does not a haven for terrorists make. Invading a sovereign nation unilaterally under completely false pretences might, on the other hand, seriously pisses off terrorists and allows even moderate Muslims, who might otherwise be at least neutral, to align themselves with terrorist causes.

The final justification given by the hawks in the Bush Administration was that diplomacy was not an option when faced with the threats of weapons of mass destruction. Recent statements by the President about Iran, a country with known nuclear weapons program, contradict that position completely. Check out this article for details. It contains one of the most ironic and hilarious quotes of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's career:

"We want to see this resolved through the diplomatic efforts of the Europeans. We want to see it resolved in a peaceful way," McClellan told reporters on Wednesday."

Add that to the list of things I never thought I'd hear from the Bush Administration regarding foreign policy.

The Bush Administration's handling of the Iran situation is the appropriate one. However, such action, given the fact that Iran has a nuclear program, which is more than Iraq had when we invaded them, is the ultimate flip flop. Some may choose to argue that Iran and Iraq are completely different countries with different leaders and divergent agendas, which is partially true.

However, the fact that the Bush Administration handled Iraq with force and Iran with the soft touch of diplomacy reveals the gigantic contradiction that is the Bush foreign and military policy. Essentially, all the reasons we had to invade Iraq without cooperation from the United Nations were bunk. Iran is a country with far more threat and capability than Iraq did prior to our invasion, but apparently diplomacy is the answer in this case.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

DeLay's Defense: Democrats are to Blame

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay wants you to know what's behind the recent campaign finance and ethics scandals he faces: Democrats. In a meeting with Republican party leaders on Tuesday, (as highlighted here) DeLay's comments include:

Giving a preview of the approach he is likely to take when he appears before
reporters this afternoon, DeLay dismissed questions about his travel and his
relationships with lobbyists as "the Democratic agenda." Attendees said DeLay, in extremely brief remarks, told the senators that, if asked about his predicament, they should blame Democrats and their lack of an agenda.

Wow! Was it the lack of a Democratic Agenda that forced DeLay's wife and daughter to take almost a million dollars from political donors? It's a vast left-wing conspiracy that DeLay is facing numerous questions about his ethical conduct. Obviously.

Those of you who have been following the discussions over at World Debate are intimately familiar with this sort of response from the right. When the discussion turns to anything remotely critical of conservative policies or actions, rather than engaging in discussion to clarify their position, Republicans blame Democrats for being disruptive and uncooperative.

DeLay has a difficult fight ahead of him as political pressure builds even from within his own party. If requiring the House Majority Leader to follow federal law and behave in an ethical manner is considered a left-wing conspiracy, I think we need more conspiracies like them. DeLay's hubris will surely be his undoing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A word from Mister Bling

Every now and then, one of the people who reads this site posts something that's 10 times better than how I could have stated it. Mister Bling's comments today under my last post are so on the mark, no pun there, I had to post them so more people would have a chance to read them.

Something else to keep in mind (in regards to the Midget's last paragraph):

Right-wing radio hosts like Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh seem to believe that the world would be a better place if everyone on it were as conservative as they are. And yet they seem to forget about how the entire world needs checks and balances. When one side has more power than the other, they use that power more and more to force their will upon everyone else. We see the proof of this now, with the Republicans getting involved with our personal lives (Schaivo, gay marriage, the Patriot Act). When they're not in power, all they say is, 'We need less government in our lives.' But since they've been in power, when was the last time you actually heard a Republican say those words?And I'm not specifically blaming Republicans, because Democrats will do it when in control as well. It's human nature. If there's a Republican in the White House, there should be a Democrat-controlled Congress, or vice-versa. Gridlock is better than one side running amok and unchecked.

And while I'm at it (I guess I should start my own blog?) .... can Tom DeLay be more crooked? He continues to blame the liberal media, but did he read the scathing op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last week? So what does he do? He goes back to blaming our 'out-of-control' judicial system. I'm getting really tired of this guy, and I hope the left rallies around this and uses it to gain some political ground. Honestly, there is NO defense for what he's done. The only defense right-wing talk radio has right now (and they keep going to it over and over again, trust me) is, "He's not the only one to have given money to family members under the guise of working on a campaign!" And they leave it at that. Never mind the fact that what he did was wrong. Never mind the fact that he played the self-righteous card on the Schaivo case, but 'pulled the plug' on his father 17 years ago. Never mind the fact that he gerrymandered districts in Texas for no other reason but to gain more seats in the House.

A Closer Look at How Americans Actually Feel About Terri Schaivo

I made it back safely from skiing in Colorado. For those of you who didn't hear about the storm, click here . At least we were there on a ski trip.

While I was gone, I received a great heads up from Mister Bling. Fortunately, the media feeding frenzy surrounding Terri Schaivo has died down, no pun intended. Mister Bling pointed out in his message that The Polling Report has some stellar polls from a variety of sources concerning public opinions about Schaivo's fate. The results give me confidence that the vast majority of Americans are compassionate, caring and reasonable people. I am tired of the media and many conservative blogs presenting Schaivo's case from only their perspective, as though the vast majority of Americans disagreed with Michael Schaivo's wishes to disconnect his wife's feeding tube.

In reality, the majority of Americans feel that President Bush and Congress overstepped their authority by circumventing judicial process. More Americans would have sided with Michael Schaivo than the Schindler family when presented with similar decisions in their own lives. To hear the media and the conservative echo chambers on the web explain it, you would think that this was not the case. But, it appears there is hope out there after all.

The most interesting point I have heard made regarding the political turn of events surrounding Schaivo's medical care was an explanation from a good friend who said "Conservatives were completely in favor of a small federal government with limited powers, until they were able to control the federal government." I couldn't have stated it better myself.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Ski Bonanza 2005

For those of you who have procrastinated going skiing like I have this year, this weekend marks an opportunity to make it right. Despite my decidedly mountain-less existence in Nebraska, a group of high quality individuals from all over the country will decend on Winter Park, CO this weekend for some skiing, boozing, and mischief. If you're in the area, watch out for dancing midgets, men in drag, and flying beer bottles.

For more information on Winter Park, click here

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

No Child Left Behind Lawsuits

When liberals and conservatives have discussions about President Bush's No Child Left Behind policy, it can be difficult to find a basis for a discussion. No Child Left Behind is a classic example of a bad government policy that's difficult to pin down, because the specifics of the plan and how it appears on paper are very different from the policy's actual incarnation. More accountability for public schools, increased funding, and standardized testing all sound like positive steps in improving education, but as we're watching the issue develop in real life, reality is much harsher.
The NY Times has a interesting article about a trend that has been a direct result of No Child Left Behind (NCLB): local school districts filing suit against the federal government for an unfunded mandate. School districts in Texas and Illinois have already filed suits against the federal government on the basis that NCLB requires annual standardized testing without providing funding to support that requirement. The Times article highlights that Connecticut will be the first state to sue the federal government over the testing mandate.

Connecticut has been a leader in education with standardized testing every other year since 1984, but found itself recently at odds with NCLB, which requires annual testing. NCLB would require Connecticut to spend $112.2 million expanding their educational testing programs while providing just over $70 million in funding to support it. You don't have to be a Noble Laureate in Math to see the discrepancies here.

Conservatives would say that this is a partisan ploy to attack the President. Why? Because that's easier than actually discussing the issue. Nevermind, that Connecticut M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, is leading the charge against NCLB. Rell had this to say in response to recently appointed Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, when Spellings perseverated on the importance of annual standardized testing:

"As Connecticut's governor, and as a parent who deeply values high-quality education for every child, I was offended by your commentary," Governor Rell's letter said. "You disparaged the knowledge and judgment of Connecticut educators who - with the full, bipartisan support of governors and legislatures over more than 20 years' time - have conducted a highly effective student testing program since 1984"

What I find most fascinating about NCLB, in particular, and recent Republican political policies, in general, is that again and again they seem to favor big government programs over policymaking at a state level, despite a long and proud history against a strong, centralized government. Not only do these Republicans spend tax dollars like drunken sailors on shore leave, but they favor allowing the federal government to have control and mandate over everything from education to when my feeding tube gets pulled.

The truth is that while many disparage the Democrats for having lost their way, as Democrats we have to find some solace in the fact that we didn't sell out our principles for political power and to help out our rich friends. Republicans have shown again and again that the "strong core values" of their party, including right to life, limited federal government, fiscal conservativism, and promoting individual freedom are not really all that core to their philosophy. Actions, like passing a law to completely circumvent judicial processes, supporting the death penalty, record deficits, and ineffective federal mandates to dictate the course of education speak louder than all the support a culture of life and control government power and spending rhetoric we've been hearing from hypocritical Republican assholes for years.

Think your party hasn't abandoned their core values in exchange for political and financial gain? Prove me wrong. Otherwise, I'm going to go back to writing about Miss Gothic Massachusetts.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Spring Means It's Time For Beauty Pageants!

I don't know about where you live, but here in Nebraska, spring is in full swing. Spring in the Midwest US means that if it snows again, it won't stick around for two weeks. Ladies start dressing more casually. The smell of BBQ is in this air. Pageants celebrating a diversity of categories start to pop up. If you're wondering how I stumbled onto this topic, check out this news flash.

Torn from the pages of today's headlines, it seems that Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin, Janeal Lee, was recently ask to step down (presumable only in the most figurative sense) from her post, after the local Appleton, Wisconsin media snapped pictures of her standing with a group of students at the school where she teaches. It seems that despite the fact that Ms. Lee has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheel chair for mobility, standing unassisted is not the sort of message of empowerment that The Ms. Wheelchair America (click the link if you think I am making this up) wants to promote.

I know what you're thinking: He's going to rip on women in wheelchairs. Not quite. We're not yet THAT hard up for material. Maybe next week. This whole interesting story raised an interesting question in my mind. Follow my thought process:
1) There's a Ms. WHEELCHAIR AMERICA? I've never heard of that.
2) What other "pageants" are there out there that celebrate the diversity of America's women?

We've all heard of Miss USA, Miss America, and Miss December, but here are some that I found that you may not have heard of: (click links at your own risk)
1) Miss Senior America - Celebrating women who have reached The Age of Elegance (and incontinence)
2) Miss Semper Fi - Hot chicks with guns is actually their motto.
3) Miss Georgia Nursing Home - For once, I'm speechless.
4) Miss Full-Figured USA
5) Miss Gothic Massachusetts

And there are tons more, if you actually have the time and energy to put pageant into Google, which, of course, I would recommend.