Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Plummeting polls and false alarms

A day late and a dollar short as usual, I opened up Sunday's Forum section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday and I was delighted when I looked at Jack Kelly's usual spot and saw a different name topping an anti-war column. I thought that perhaps the editors finally tired of Kelly's insultingly inaccurate (and, well, insulting) columns. Needless to say, though, that when I flipped back to the top of the page, I was disappointed to see that his column was simply moved to the side where Ann McFeatters's column usually resides. (Insert a big sigh here.)

At any rate, the real purpose of this short post is to say that I saw, via 2 Political Junkies, that our lovely president's approval rating has dropped all the way to 34% according to a CBS News poll. This marks the lowest that statistic has been, at least for Dubya. Apparently as well, his disapproval rating is an incredible 59% according to the accompanying .pdf file, which is actually a pretty good read overall if you're not a big fan of the Bush administration.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Just when I thought it was safe...

Safe to stop talking about the Dubai Ports World situation, that is. Firstly, I have to state that I've fixed a misstatement in my last post dealing with the UAE issue. I said that Dubai is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, but that's not true. Abu Dhabi is the capital; Dubai is "just" a major port in that country (tenth largest port in the world), and probably a more familiar name in this country due to the annual golf tournament there.

In any case, there are a few more interesting tidbits relating to the Dubai Ports World deal.

Apparently, a sheik from the United Arab Emirates donated at least $1 million in the early 1990s to the foundation that would establish George H. W. Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University. I don't really know how relevant that is to this situation, but it's certainly an interesting thickening of the plot.

Also, a story ran in my local paper about a secret pact that the Bush administration had with Dubai Ports World that would keep the US government from imposing routine restrictions on the company. Normally when a foreign company buys an American company and takes control, the business records remain on American soil where they are subject to court orders, and the company is required to "designate an American citizen to accommodate requests by the government." The Bush administration required neither of Dubai Ports World, which is highly irregular.

Lastly, apparently last year, this same company, without much in the way of ballyhoo, bought out the CSX Corporation, which runs ports here and, possibly even more importantly, trains that connect to 23 states.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My votes are spiralling the drain

My county, the county of Lawrence in Pennsylvania, has decided to avail themselves of their federal grant money for new voting machines and comply with the Help America Vote Act. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. In the past, the voters in this county were just about as old-fashioned as old-fashioned could be; we darkened ovals on a sheet of paper. Granted, that paper was then scanned through a machine much like multiple choice tests are in schools, but it was still ovals with a pencil and paper.

So, upgrading and modernizing isn't a horrible idea. I don't really have a problem with that method of voting, but it's not as if I am married to it. However, when upgrading to new methods of voting, one should take care that the new method is a safe one.

This is where the county and, indeed, the Pennsylvania Department of State failed. The PADoS failed because they have not certified any voting machine that leaves a paper trail even though such machines are available and reliable. So, in making the decision to comply, the Lawrence County commissioners paid $867,415 for 275 iVotronic electronic voting machines from Election Systems and Services out of Omaha, NE, that may not actually tabulate the votes properly as they are cast, and the voter will have neither any idea that it's happening nor any recourse if it does, as there is no possible way to retrieve a vote after it is recorded.

Needless to say, this bugs me. How can I have any confidence at all to go to the polling center and be sure that my votes are, first of all, being counted at all, and then going to the person I'm trying to choose? I can't. I just can't. Having written programs, having spent way too much time around computers, I know that there is just no way to assume safely that a computer is going to do what you expect it to do.

Let's just say that the sole county commissioner who voted against these new machines will retain my vote when it comes time for their re-election. I don't know and don't care what party he belongs to at this point.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

And everything starts coming together

In the Douglas Adams Dirk Gently series of books, Dirk has a belief in the "funamental interconnectedness of all things." While this concept was developed purely for the sake of humor, it is interesting to note how often things in real life mirror the absurdities of humorous fictional novels.

For instance, let's go back to 1999. The future president's (embarrassing) brother, Neil Bush, started an educational software company, Ignite! Incorporated, whose purpose was to help kids in school attain higher scores on standardized tests. (The effectiveness of the program and the material within are not within the scope of this post, but let me just say that I'm not particularly crazy about it.)

After 19 men flew planes into buildings in September of 2001, Neil took his plan for Ignite! overseas to Dubai, a major port of the United Arab Emirates. (Are you seeing yet where I'm going with this?) In my last post, you'll see that the United Arab Emirates had a lot to do with the 19 men flying planes into buildings. Apparently this didn't bother Neil at all, and secured lots of investment from people in Dubai and in Saudi Arabia.

Let's backtrack, now. Wayne Madsen's July 22, 2002 article contained the following (meaning this part isn't new news, either):

Reconstructed liberal and progressive journalists throw around the "C word" (conspiracy) to detract from those who write about the massive evidence that points to the Bushes having traded the nation's economic well-being and national security for personal profit. Grandfather Bush, Prescott, certainly did this during World War II when his investments included companies that supported Nazi Germany's war effort.

Now we have Neil Bush, from Silverado Savings and Loan infamy, cutting deals all over the Middle East using Daddy's and Dubya's business and political connections in that part of the world. And why shouldn't he? Dubya did this with a lucrative pipeline deal in Argentina for Enron in 1989 when he was pimping for Enron and Daddy was in the White House gearing up for a war with Iraq, another act that would eventually line the pockets of the Bushes.

Brisard and Dasquie provide concrete evidence how this same self-serving approach to business permitted the Taliban to negotiate with senior members of the Bush administration on a lucrative pipeline deal just weeks prior to the al Qaeda terrorists slamming commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. It's the same mind set that in 1990 convinced U.S. ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie to tell Sadaam Hussein that the Bush I administration had no interest in his inter-Arab border dispute involving Kuwait. We now all know why the Bush family had no great interest in that "minor" dispute. They made a fortune from it, along with then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, whose Halliburton company helped rebuild the oil infrastructures of both Kuwait and Iraq.

So now, with the family's die cast, we have Neil in the UAE dealing with the people who helped 19 men fly planes into buildings, and these are the people who now want to help...educate...our kids? Now, wait a minute. What? That is entirely unbelievable, that fundamentalist Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would want to help American kids learn better in our public education system. (My guess is that it had to do with access to the American government through the president's brother, but proof is short.)

At any rate, in 2002, President George W. Bush's pet project No Child Left Behind, which made heavy use of – you guessed it – standardized tests, was implemented at the federal level. At this point, I'm still just barely willing to believe that it's just a coincidence. Bush the president pushing a well-intentioned but widely-panned educational plan that would just happen to allow Bush the brother to make a bit more cash? Well, it's a convenient allegation. Let's not forget, though, that after GWB got his wish with the educational plan, he threw lots of money at it without much result.

Now, though, we have the issue of our government handing the security of our ports over to the United Arab Emirates, the very people who helped to fund the 19 people who flew planes into buildings, and the very people who helped the president's brother keep his software company afloat.

Now, I realize that this is the sort of series of connections that James Burke (of Connections fame) would be proud of, but what are the chances that the UAE has finagled a way for the Bushes to feel as if they have no choice but to sell our security out from under us? Hmm...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Letting foxes into henhouses

When I see something that's glaringly obvious (like the nose on Jamie Farr's face), usually it doesn't take much explaining. One would think that letting a country that is known to launder money for terrorist organizations take control of six seaports in the United States would fall under that category.

The United Arab Emirates government owns the company Dubai Ports World, which, due to a merger with a company in London, will take control of ports in New York City, Baltimore, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Miami. The UAE is a well-known refuge for those who wish to fight for the insurgency in Iraq, and money for the attacks on September 11, 2001, came through the UAE's banks.

I mean, as far as I'm concerned, American ports should remain in American hands. Being owned by a London-based company was bad enough, but now we are handing over the security of our eastern ports to the very people who look the other way when known terrorists set up shop within their borders.

Thankfully, there's a bill in the works that would block the sale. In a rare show of sanity, apparently Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) has written to the White House to air his objections.

Unsurprisingly, thus far, the Bush administration is staying its course.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Leave it to Lynn (Swann)

Lynn Swann, Hall of Fame former wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Republican hopeful for governor of Pennsylvania, since moving into Allegheny County, missed 20 of the 36 possible votes in 18 years. Normally, I wouldn't think this to be a huge issue. Voting is a choice we have either to take or to dismiss, and if he had a reason for ignoring the opportunity to vote, then so be it. Perhaps it was a protest.

But, no. It seems that Swannie claims that he missed so many votes because he was traveling to other states for ABC Sports. This doesn't really explain why he bothered with three absentee ballots, though. If he thought it was worth his time for those three, why not for any of the others? He refused to explain that.

The most troubling part of this whole situation, though, is that Swannie had to go and be a hypocrite about it on top of dodging questions. In an October 2004 interview with the Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, he said, "I have always been someone to believe that when you have certain freedoms, you should exercise them and not take it for granted. If you don't take part in the process and you don't vote, then I am not willing to listen to your complaints."

So, I guess, if those of us who care that our candidates for office are serious about the posts they look to fill cause him to lose the election, he won't be willing to listen to himself complain about it.

When history repeats itself

With seemingly everyone else in the known universe talking about Dick Cheney's hunting accident this past Saturday, I guess it's only right that I toss in my two cents on the matter.

When I first heard about it, it was only a passing comment that said something about the vice president going around shooting people, and I dismissed it as a rather twisted attempt at humor. Later, of course, I found out just how wrong I was. Dick Cheney, the VPOTUS himself, shot a guy in the face. (And chest.) Of course, this sort of thing happened once before, but that one was on purpose.

What gets me about this whole situation, though, is that a) the story was so hush-hush to start with, and b) the story doesn't seem to match up to the incident report. In section VI, "Miscellaneous Factors", the game warden marked the box for "flat" topography. In all the stories I've heard of the incident, Whittington was said to be in a low spot, a depression, a gully, or something of that nature. I'm not sure why someone would make that up. After all, if the guy was in a depression and Cheney was firing at a flushed and flying bird, I imagine the physics involved in pellet spray wouldn't send many downward at that sort of angle, so flat terrain only makes sense.

The next question mark comes with section III, information about the shooter and victim. Both are marked as violating "P & W Code 43.652". I haven't heard much about that, but that's probably because it turns out that they were missing a stamp or somesuch for hunting quail, and they wouldn't have even received a fine for that anyway. Moving along...back to the first issue.

Cheney waited 18 hours to report the incident. That's a bit of an odd period of time to wait, and he still hasn't been forthright as to why he waited so long. If it was an innocent accident, he shouldn't have had anything to worry about, and the matter would've been closed fairly quickly aside from the late-night talk show hosts' cracks at his expense. But on Wednesday it came out that he had at least a beer at lunch the day of the shooting. Now, for most people, a beer or two at lunch wouldn't cause any issues at 5:00 in the evening, when the incident was supposed to have occurred. However, with Cheney, who is apparently heavily medicated for his heart condition, one has to wonder how much his pills may have amplified the effects of the alcohol he had drunk earlier in the day.

There is a positive we can take from all of this, though. Whittington, who is now partially made of lead, will probably make a good recovery once the surgical scars heal, and his heart rhythm is back to normal already.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A little background

I think that politicalcompass.org is a good website for illustrating where you sit on the political spectrum. My personal numbers are -8.88 on economic left/right and -6.00 on social libertarian/authoritarian (those numbers being toward left and libertarian, respectively). But it seems that every time I take that questionnaire, I move further to the left. I've just decided to allow myself to admit that socialism is a fantastic idea, and when I say socialism, I do not mean the garbage that passed for socialism in the Soviet Union.

At any rate, my assertion is that Democratic and Republican politicians (note: not necessarily the average member of each party!) really aren't all that different, and that website seems to vindicate that statement. According to that graph, the only people in the 2004 United States presidential race who were in my quadrant – the libertarian left – were the Green Party's David Cobb, the independent (or Reform Party, depending on your state) Ralph Nader, and the Socialist Party USA's Walt Brown. Of the major party candidates, nobody's voting record was even close to what I would consider ideal. This leaves me with a distinct feeling of being completely disenfranchised, but it also leaves me with a perfect launching point for a blog. (This is where you cheer.)