Friday, July 27, 2007

The You Tube Debate

This week featured the latest in an endless series of debates by an endless collection of Democratic candidates, although this was the first “official” one, as it was sanctioned by the party – like anyone cared. This was also special because the questions were asked by the public. Or at least that part of the public with the time, the wherewithal, and the interest in making a video for You Tube to pass CNN’s screening process and appear on a giant screen at the debate. CNN, in an orgasm of self-congratulations, proclaimed it revolutionary and historic. It was neither, although the videos were often amusing, sometimes poignant, and in one instance, just a little scary – the guy with the gun who referred to it as “my baby”, should be checked into immediately. They also made it easier to ask pointed questions which the candidates couldn’t duck completely, although Hillary did effectively dodge the “can’t we do better than Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton for 28 years?” question, even getting off a good joke of her own in response. I liked it, since the questioners seemed less self-conscious than the usually bunch of reporter types and more coherent than the nitwits who ask questions from the audience in town meeting style formats. It seemed to elicit good answers and a genuine spirit of liveliness that helped things move along. The only problem is that the most recent events couldn’t be dealt with, like the Gonzalez testimony and the Senate sleepover nonsense. Nothing is perfect, except John Edwards’ hair.
Speaking of Edwards hair, they also showed a series of You Tube ads put together by the campaigns. Some, like Chris Dodd’s, were wonderful, both funny and informative. Edwards used the musical background of Hair to show a series of quick issues and his positions, a wonderful contrast of the substance of his campaign with the news media’s ridiculous fascination with nonsense. Dennis Kucinich had the worst ad, in which he told people they could end the war by sending a text message to Congress – seriously. What planet does he live on?
All in all, most of the candidates have gotten better at the process, somewhat ameliorating Hillary’s big debate advantage. Edwards, in particular, seemed a much more commanding presence on stage, which is something he needed badly. Still, the crowd of candidates makes real dialogue next to impossible. Every time Joe Biden proclaims that he is the only candidate who really understands Iraq and that he is the only candidate with an actual plan to get us out of there, I just want to scream. Why can’t Edwards just follow that up by saying that having a plan (three states) with virtually no support within Iraq is fairly useless and then ask Biden what he would do if this plan he wishes to impose from outside is rejected by the Iraqis? Just once I’d like to see Mr. Expert-on-everything have to answer a tough question. I know the media has no interest in cutting him off, since they see no point in it, irrelevant as he is, but it would be illuminative. Without the threat of our leaving at a specific point, nothing will get done there. Kudos to Chris Dodd for coming around to the “we have to set a date certain” position. Of course, Edwards wants us to get out in six months, Kucinich in six days, and Gravel wants us to get out in 1966 – but I’m tired of the “realistic” positions on this issue and we need to see this brought out.
The big realism moment actually seems to have had a life beyond the debate itself. That was when the candidates were asked if they would meet personally with the leaders of N. Korea, Iran, etc., unlike Bush. Obama said he would, but Hillary said she would be willing to, but only after the groundwork had been laid and we knew what would be discussed, that doing otherwise would be giving them a public relations boon and gaining us nothing. I think she was right, but apparently much of the public disagreed. Obama has seized on the focus group reaction to attack the Clinton position, actually comparing her to Bush and Cheney on this. While I’m all in favor of confronting Hillary, this seems like a weird issue to choose. It may signal a change in the nature of the campaign and bears watching on that level.
Other highlights and lowlights: when Obama was asked whether he was black enough, he actually was quick enough to give the same answer I would have (which always impresses me, of course), to the effect that he still would have trouble catching a cab in Manhattan. He also was very good when someone asked if the candidates would be willing to work for minimum wage if elected. Obama said “we can work for minimum wage, we have money – not Mitt Romney money, but enough.” Obama also had the best bumper sticker line – “The world is not the world as it has to be.”
The candidates were asked to tell one thing they liked and one thing they disliked about the candidate to their left. None would say something they didn’t like (except for Edwards having a problem with Hillary’s jacket), but Joe Biden really liked Dennis Kucinich’s wife. When Kucinich pointed out he had no one to his left, Anderson Cooper commented that “we couldn’t find anyone to your left.”
The lowpoints involved Kucinich’s call for reparations for slavery – seriously, he said that. There was a question asked about whether there was a Republican they could run with as their VP. Joe Biden jumped right in and said Chuck Hagel. Edwards sort of said Hagel was okay, then went on to talk about other stuff. Not one person pointed out the ridiculous nature of Biden’s answer. Hagel, is anti-abortion, anti gay right, in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy – in fact, except for Iraq, he is a perfect conservative. The correct answer is that if you can show me a Republican who is pro-choice. pro gay rights, pro stem cell research, against the war in Iraq, in favor of a fair tax system, and pro worker’s rights, I might consider him or her – but that’s what makes them Republicans and us Democrats and the people need to remember that on election day.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The Danger of Uncontrollable Commentary and Those Who Promote It

That might sound like a strange heading for a blogger to use, yet today I was faced with an interesting example of the danger the internet can cause to not just our privacy, but to our reputations as well.
I received an email today from a friend “inviting” me to join WikiYou, a site with biographies of “everyone on earth” (everyone on earth with a zip code, as it turns out) written by anyone and everyone, Wikipedia style. This immediately frightened me. There have been numerous stories in the news recently about people being turned down for jobs by companies checking out their MySpace pages and finding things, pictures, or even opinions they didn’t like. HR departments now have people who will search out everything about you, beyond a simple credit check, just to see what kind of person you are. WikiYou crosses the line into what kind of person others think you are. I decided to see if there was anything about me up there, so I clicked on the link in the email. I went to the site, which asked for my name and zip code, at which point I found myself registered for the site under my private email address, which, according to the privacy policy, they could pretty much do whatever they wanted to. I was never asked if that was the address I wanted to make available, because they don’t care. In essence, this is one of the world’s great phishing scams, run by a man named Jay Gould, founder and CEO of this scam. I tried sending them an email, protesting the policy, but got no response, apparently because the address they give to contact them bounces back.
The scam is really neat, since if you are interested in whether or not you are up there – and more important, whether you are being slandered or defamed – you have to join the site, since no access is available to “non-members”, which, you guessed it, gives them a live address to sell to whomever they want to.
You may have noticed that I had the word invited in quotes. My friend didn’t invite me or anyone else, merely used his gmail contact list, as the site suggested he do, to search for possible other people on the site. They then took the addresses, and, without his permission, emailed everyone in it with an invitation from him. I consider that to be a form of identity theft.
We are living in a world where authoritative sources are being overwhelmed by non-authoritative ones, where truth is battling with truthiness. There is a big difference in a “fact” reported by Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh (which is true about 30% of the time) and one reported by Brian Williams (true 90% with a correction offered for the other 10). Yet people don’t treat those as different. “I heard it on the radio” or “I saw it on TV” is rapidly morphing into “I saw it on the web” and the nature of sources on the web is dicey at best. Intelligent people know that while Wikipedia is a good source, it is a seriously flawed source and could contain inaccuracies, since anyone can put something up. When sites have biographies of millions of people, with commentaries absent any verification procedures whatsoever, the information – and misinformation -- about our lives is out there for anyone to see and judge us by.
Earlier, I referred to HR departments vetting prospective employees by checking My Space. It didn’t stop at employment – even if you pass the initial vetting, the checking on your personal pages could well continue, just to make sure you don’t say anything unwelcome by your employers. Surely this will go further, into running complete searches of everything written about you anywhere. I mean, if someone wrote on WikiYou that person A was seen hanging around school playgrounds in 2003, or Person B cheated on his final exams his senior year in college, would those things not flash a red light for an HR department with numerous choices? Yes, you can join the site and edit things out, but no person should have to police the rumors and slanders associated with them on a daily basis. People should have a right to protect their own names more directly, by forbidding a site from having that kind of “biographical” data about them.
In any case, the sheer proliferation of these things around the web makes for a future of dubious “facts’ and inaccurate information – get used to it.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Domestic Enemy Number One

At the beginning of each Congressional term, the entire House and the newly elected (and re-elected) members of the Senate take the following oath of office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
With the revelation that the Vice President’s office has been ignoring the order to save documents for the archives (and their ludicrous attempts to explain why they didn’t have to), followed by the President changing the order so it didn’t apply to the VP, years after the fact, followed by the President trampling on the rule of law to make sure Scooter Libby was rewarded for covering for Cheney with his silence, it is clear that George W. Bush is the greatest domestic enemy this country has seen in at least half a century. In particular, his wanton attacks on the Constitution must have the Founding Fathers whirling in their graves, as he is everything they feared in a leader, everything they wrote the Constitution to protect against.
Yet the Democrats in Congress refuse to take action. They huff and puff, issue subpoenas which are summarily ignored by the Bush regime, and huff and puff some more, followed by some serious tut-tutting. Yet nothing ever happens. Just as with the Iraq funding bill, they are afraid of their own shadows, moral cowards unable to rise to the most egregious offenses. If the lies, corruption, and malfeasance have not been enough, if the trampling of the Constitution has not been enough, surely the treatment of the legislative branch, the first branch named in the Constitution, as an irrelevant nuisance by the Bushistas should be sufficient cause for them to rise to the ultimate challenge. Today brings news that Bush has refused to let two aides testify before Congress on the firing of federal prosecutors, daring the legislature to do something. It is time for them to do something. It is time for the House to offer up a bill of impeachment.
Last week a poll was actually taken (American Research Group) on whether Bush and Cheney should be impeached. Without hearing the case presented, without a single argument being given why, 54% of the public was in favor of Cheney’s impeachment, only 40% against. Bush still has a plurality against, but by the slimmest of margins, 46-45 – surely a few minutes of discussion could turn that around. The people are sick of these monsters, yet Congress does nothing. Does the majority party not have the votes to pass impeachment in the House? Then let us see the quislings who would preserve and defend the enemies of our freedom, so we can remove them in 2008. There is a moral need for this -- the people want it, the framers would demand it; is there no leadership to do the people’s bidding? If Nancy Pelosi is fit for her job than she must take the reins now. The approval rating of Congress has fallen to as low as 14% because Democrats and Independents alike see it as pathetically weak. Put each of the monsters in turn in the dock, show that the Constitution still lives. Removal would be wonderful, but a moment of integrity and accountability would at least furnish an historical precedent worthy of our republic. To do nothing dishonors all who have fought for our freedom and rights the last two centuries. Madame Speaker, the people are waiting.

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