September 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment
With the Tea Party making real gains this election season, it’s becoming more and more common to hear candidates stating that they don’t believe in abortion even in cases of rape and incest. This is a relatively new phenomenon, as in the past, even staunch anti-choice politicians wouldn’t admit to being so cold and callous as to expect teen girls who have been raped by their fathers to carry the resulting child to term. While they might believe abortion should be outlawed in all cases with no exceptions, they rarely go that far when questioned about their abortion beliefs by the press.
Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle recently stated in a television interview that women who were raped should turn lemons into lemonade because “God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives.” Putting aside the debate about whether religious beliefs should influence public policy, this is an incredibly insensitive statement for a major political candidate to make.
As moral people, we not only have to measure our actions against religious and/or social yardsticks, we have to consider the broader ethical implications of those actions. While it may be the most moral position to oppose all killing by choice, we as a society have decided that certain exceptions are allowed within that moral framework. This is especially true when our decisions don’t impact everyone equally.
We choose to send troops into battle, knowing that a certain number of them will die. By not sending more aid or spending more money to help Pakistan deal with massive floods or Haiti recover from their recent earthquake, we choose to allow citizens of those countries to die. We choose to cut funding for homeless shelters, free clinics and food stamps, knowing those decisions mean American citizens will die.
In adopting these policies, we are forced to consider the resulting impact on multiple groups of people. In cases of war, we accept that for the security of all citizens, a few soldiers must be killed. We place our national security over the lives of those people who are killed by our bombs in Afghanistan. In choosing the death penalty, we defer to the feelings of families whose loved ones were victims of a serial killer, despite it having a higher financial cost than life in prison without parole – a cost which must be paid for by everyone. We carve out exceptions from our moral opposition to killing every day, and abortion shouldn’t be any different.
Even if a majority of Americans believed that abortion should be outlawed (which they don’t), we must always allow it in cases of rape and incest – because sometimes the needs of a few individuals outweigh the opinions of the many. No matter which side of the abortion debate you’re on, the objective should be to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, not to penalize already-victimized women because of a personal or political quest for moral certainty.
February 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
So I’ve been watching the Vancouver Olympics on and off (you’re almost forced to watch because there’s no new programming on any other station), and I was surprised to learn from several ads that McDonald’s is the event’s Official Restaurant. In fact, this is the company’s 8th straight time to have this role at The Games. The McDonald’s corporate website has a large section dedicated to their involvement in the games, including the three new restaurants they had to build in the Vancouver and Olympic Village areas in order to “serve our fresh, quality food to the thousands of athletes, media and fans”.
Now maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t this seem like a strange partnership? On one side you’ve got athletes in peak condition who have probably been on restricted diets since they were kids. On the other side you’ve got got a worldwide purveyor of nutritionally-deficient fast food that pushes its customers to eat an unhealthy amount of calories (even if you’re only eating there once a day). While it’s understandable that Olympic athletes might enjoy the occasional greasy burger or salty fries, I find it difficult to believe that they eat at McDonalds on a regular basis – if that was the case, they probably wouldn’t have been able to earn a spot on their nation’s Olympic team.
So what does it say about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that they gladly take money from McDonald’s every two years in exchange for selling-out their ideals? I mean, isn’t the Olympics about honoring the best that humans can be when it comes to health and fitness? Olympic athletes are supposed to be role models for kids – I can’t even begin to count the number of news stories I’ve seen or heard about how this year’s competitors are inspiring the next generation of Olympians. Yet at the same time, kids who are watching the Olympics on television are also being told that they should eat McDonald’s food – not only for all the normal reasons the company offers up, but also because their new-found heroes eat it, too! To make things even worse, McDonald’s runs a kids program that, according to their website, “gives children from around the world a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the Games firsthand,” including “attending Olympic Winter Games events, meeting athletes, visiting the Olympic Village, Vancouver, touring cultural sites, and more.” If that kind of VIP treatment doesn’t turn kids into Big Mac eating zombies for life, I don’t know what would.
Yet once the games are over and the news ceases to be just another promotional vehicle for NBC’s coverage, there will be stories (like there always are) about how more and more Americans are overweight, especially children. Then there will be lots of pundits debating the merits of legislation that would tax sugary sodas or otherwise discourage the consumption of unhealthy food. How dare the government ask us to eat less fattening food – the Olympic athletes eat fast food and look how healthy they are!
It would be great if some of the Olympic athletes told kids that achieving the height of fitness is really hard work, and that you can’t expect to compete in the Olympics if you don’t watch what you eat. But I bet they had to sign an agreement before getting to The Games, promising they wouldn’t disparage any of the event’s sponsors either on-camera or off. Because after all, it just wouldn’t be right to put something as important as children’s health above the IOC’s profit.
October 18, 2006 § 1 Comment
By now, we’re all aware of the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal, and some of us are probably familiar with the scandals surrounding Curt Weldon, Jim Kolbe and Harry Reid. It may be three Republicans and one Democrat, but the tables could easily be turned, because in my opinion, they’re all corrupt. And with only two choices at the polls, the poor American public is faced with choosing between corrupt and corrupter in most races. (Maybe someone can get Jim Carrey to do a sequel).
Yesterday, I read an article about how Democrats agreed on an election focus or “catch phrase,” which can be boiled down to “for the common good”. (Personally, I’d tweak that slightly to “for the greater good”. The common good implies appealing to the lowest common denominator, while the greater good conjures up ideas of a better and more beneficial tomorrow for all Americans.) Regardless, with election (and scandal) season upon us, here are a few policy suggestions for the Democrats if the common good is truly their concern.
Congressional Term Limits
I’m sure there is a fairly large learning curve for new congressmen and senators, but let’s face it — after several years in Congress, our representatives lose touch with the people for whom they supposedly speak. When the Greeks invented the democratic and elective system, they intended for representatives to hold other jobs before and after serving “the people”. In their minds, the idea of a “career politician” was a contradiction in terms because no person could continue to speak for the people after they had become fully integrated into a political machine.
Public Financing of Political Campaigns
Our current system favors the wealthy over the smart, the rich over the innovative, the out-of-touch over the of-the-people. Further aggregating the problem is our two party system which weeds out anyone who might have novel approaches to solving today’s complex issues. If we removed the ability of individuals to directly contribute to their own and others’ political campaigns and instead used a limited amount of tax dollars to fund all candidates equally, we’d end up with more than two unappealing candidates from which to choose on election day. In addition, elected officials wouldn’t end up “owing” favors to big doners, and they wouldn’t be motivated to overfill their coffers to fund future campaigns.
Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)
Most people may not know it, but Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (familiarly known as “The Oscars”) uses to select their winners. It’s a pretty simple and intuitive system — voters rank candidates in order of preference. This is most easily understood by comparison to an everyday situation. My boyfriend often picks up breakfast for me in the morning. When he asks what I want, I usually say “A croissant, but if they don’t have that, a muffin, preferably blueberry, or apple cinnamon if they don’t have that”. We’ve all been through a similar mental process. IRV is the same thing, just with political candidates.
The benefits of this system are many — voters don’t have to adopt an “either or” mentality, third parties have a better chance at winning and the so-called “spoiler effect” is eliminated. At the end of the day, the candidate who is most preferred by voters is the winner. For a real life example, look at the 2004 election where Nader was blamed for “stealing” votes from Gore. (This isn’t really a great example because Gore lost his own state of Tennessee and more Democrats voted for Bush in Florida than Nader, but it’s the most widely cited case). Liberal voters could have ranked Nader first, Gore second and Bush third — without having to feel like they were throwing away their vote — because if Nader got the fewest votes, his votes would have been transferred to those voters’ second choice, which in most cases would have been Gore. This would have resulted in a Gore win because Gore was most preferred by the electorate.
Subsidized Living Expenses for Elected Officials
When you are elected to a position that requires you to work away from home most of the time, you need a second home. As a former resident of the D.C. metropolitan area, I can attest that it’s not cheap to live near the capital. For a few months, I considered running for a State Assembly position in California, but when I realized that I couldn’t afford a second rent in Sacramento, it soon became an unrealistic goal. The ultimate result of this is that only wealthy people can afford to be elected officials, again eliminating the possibility of third party and “of the people” candidates running for office. But if the government subsidized housing and living expenses for congressmen and senators, the playing field would be leveled and voters would have more (and hopefully better) options come November.
All of these things would result in a more representative government, one that could make decisions based on the needs and desires of the people rather than those of corporations and wealthy campaign doners. Of course, the Democrats are just as opposed to these ideas as the Republicans, something that often comes as a shock to progressives who think that the Democratic party is more concerned about the average citizen than the GOP. And so I issue this challenge to the Democrats this election season — if you truly believe that you are the party for the “common good”, will you make good on your election year promises and return the power to the people as our Founding Fathers intended?
Technorati Tags: Elections, Democratic Party, GOP, Republican Party, Scandal, Mark Foley, Harry Reid, Curt Weldon, Jim Kolbe, Pages, Voting, Politics, Political Campaigns, Public Financing, IRV, Instant Runoff Voting, Campaign Finance Reform, Term Limits, Common Good, Greater Good
September 6, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Today, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad called on students to help him purge liberal and secular faculty members from universities. While this may seem like another absurd statement from Iran’s recently emboldened leader, it is worth noting that his actions are not as isolated as they might seem.
Earlier this year, a UCLA alumni got a significant amount of local attention when his organization (the UCLA Alumni Association) set up a website featuring the “Dirty Thirty” — a list of the most liberal (and therefore most dangerous) professors at UCLA. The website offered to pay students $100 to secretly videotape or record lectures by “liberal” faculty members so that their left-leaning lectures and/or discussions could be exposed. One would assume that his ultimate goal is to get these professors fired.
As the United States continues to press its case for democracy abroad, we are again reminded of how powerful factions within our nation continue to disregard the basic tenants of the democracy it preaches. Freedom of speech and expression are the obvious victims in both of these cases, but a truly “model” country should set its sights on more than that. The free exchange of ideas must be more than a watered-down debate between two presidential candidates or the unproductive banter of a White House press conference. Higher education should be the one place in our society where citizens are able to challenge everything from power structures to commonly agreed upon ethics and morals. Without this questioning, without the ability to rethink our way of life from scratch, we will never progress as a people or find the next great idea that will solve the problems of tomorrow.
Looking at most middle eastern countries today, it is sad to see how far they’ve fallen from their rich past. Once regions of advanced learning and scholarly pursuit, they were conquered not only by dictators and despots (often with the help of the West), but by the idea of religious fundamentalism and its notion that ideas and beliefs are set in stone and should not be fractured by the sword of progress. We see the same thing today in schools across the country where Christians are fighting the teaching evolution in science classes. What’s frightening is that their ultimate goal of replacing Darwin with the Bible seems to be succeeding — a recent study showed that Americans are less likely to believe in evolution than Europeans or the Japanese.
If we expect nations around the world to follow our example, we better make pretty darn sure that the example we’re setting is a good one. We already know that leaders of “rogue” or “terrorist” states/organizations hate the United States not because of our “freedoms” (as George W. Bush likes to say), but because of our hypocrisy. For after all, if American wants to be good parents to the badly behaved nations of the world, helping them become responsible and successful adults, we cannot forget the one lesson that all children learn — the old “do as I say and not as I do” routine just doesn’t carry much weight.
Technorati Tags: Iran, Ahmadinejad, Liberals, Secularism, Middle East, United States, Conservatives, Christians, Bush, Freedom of Speech, Democracy, UCLA, Professors, Evolution
August 2, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Several weeks into the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, it appears that the Bush Administration has no interest in modifying their initial plans to work towards a “lasting solution” rather than an “immediate ceasefire.” While it has long been obvious that Bush is dead set on leaving a historic mark on U.S. history, he must learn that sometimes it’s necessary to achieve short-term results while developing long-term solutions.
Here in Los Angeles, our biggest problem during the summer tends to be wildfires (second only to overwhelming demands on the power companies). It’s an ongoing problem, the result of a variety of factors including increased temperatures, the expansion of housing developments into fire-prone areas, careless smokers and the occasional fame-seeking arsonist. When they occur, firefighters are immediately called in, and they bravely battle the flames until the fire has been contained and ultimately extinguished. But until they are able to get the situation under control, residents are evacuated, homes are destroyed and horrible clouds of toxic smoke ascend into the air for the whole city to breathe.
Now, if we took the Bush Administration approach, southern California would be nothing more than a giant charred wasteland. Rather than trying to quickly put out the fires, our local authorities would take a “longview” approach, sitting in meetings and discussing plans to prevent any possible outbreak of fires in the future. In the meantime, residents’ homes, possessions and livelihoods would be destroyed. Most likely, the authorities in power would lose their re-election campaigns, ultimately reducing their chance of implementing any brilliant longterm solutions they might develop.
Of course, it’s natural for leaders to want to solve big-picture problems and leave a lasting legacy. But sometimes they also have to roll up their sleeves and put out the short-term fires that threaten the overall well-being of the world. That’s why it’s time for the Bush Administration to realize that calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon doesn’t preclude the possibility of a lasting peace. If anything, it allows the parties involved to conduct calm, rational discussions about how to achieve longterm solutions. For who could have a focused debate on whether or not to re-finance their mortgage when they know that a casserole is burning in the oven?
Technorati Tags: Lebanon, Israel, Hezbollah, Middle East, Fighting, War, Ceasefire, Bush, Bush Administration, Peace
July 21, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Last week, an associate of mine had the pleasure of visiting a State of California Employment Development office. This one of those places where state employees help out-of-work citizens create resumes, search online for jobs and prepare for an interview.
Not surprisingly, the place was somewhat of a joke — apparently the people who worked there didn’t even know how to format a resume for printing. But beyond the stories he told me about job-seekers who couldn’t land work if they had Bill Gates’ resume, the thing he found most interesting was this flyer the office was giving out to veterans:
Now we all remember the big story about the veterans data that was stolen from the home of an employee who had taken the information home without authorization. It was the first of what would be many stories about unsecure government computers and laptops having been stolen or compromised. Later, we found out that there was data on active duty personnel on the same computer. So concerned was the government about identity theft, the Veterans Affairs Department announced that they would provide a year of free credit monitoring services to those affected by the data loss. Of course, that type of large-scale program doesn’t come cheap.
First, they proposed taking using funds that was normally spent on veterans’ health and benefits. That didn’t fly in Congress. Next, the White House put forth a plan to use funds that would otherwise go to food stamp services, student loans and farmers to cover the costs of the monitoring. Congress wasn’t thrilled about that either, although I suspect that the anger over this plan was less bipartisan than the first.
Needless to say, the VA was in quite a pickle. But then, their funding problems were miraculously solved! The stolen laptop was recovered, the FBI determined with a “high degree of confidence” that the data had not been comprised and the free credit monitoring offer was withdrawn. Viola! No more funding problems.
Of course, the flyer in the EDD tells another story. One could easily write it off as the VA simply encouraging veterans to be cautious, since a “high degree of confidence” isn’t absolute certainty. But where would “phishers” get the email addresses of veterans, if not from the stolen data itself? I have to assume that it would be difficult to find a public database of veteran names and emails (although in light of all the data breaches, who knows), available for any Tom, Dick or Harry to utilize for personal or professional reasons. Maybe “phishers” are taking a shotgun approach, emailing every address they have on file, figuring they’ll hit some veterans eventually?
This wouldn’t be a new strategy for spammers, as is clear from my bulk mailbox full of Viagra ads and mortgage approvals. But a quick search of the 1700 spam emails in my account retuns zero speaking to me as a potential veteran. With the wide variety of content found in my bulk email folder, it seems that I would have received at least one message of that variety, if in fact the spammers are taking the shotgun approach. So what does all this mean?
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but the only conclusion I can draw from this sequence of events is that the data from the laptop was indeed compromised, but because the VA couldn’t find funds to pay for the free credit monitoring, the FBI said everything was hunky-dory so that no such monitoring would be needed. I know, it sounds crazy, but the miniscule amount of trust I once had in this administration has completely disappeared. Considering their “what’s the problem?” attitude after culling through our personal phone records, bank statements and political activities, I’m probably not the only one who wouldn’t put this type of stunt past them.
Technorati Tags: Veterans, Vets, Data Breach, Identity Theft, VA, FBI, Phishing, Credit Monitoring, Congress, Bush Administration, Bush, Conspiracy
July 20, 2006 § 1 Comment
So Bush actually did it. He finally vetoed his first bill. And if it wasn’t for such an asinine reason, I’d actually be proud of him. And Congress, well I’ve got to give them props as well. The GOP-controlled House and Senate finally stood up to their supreme leader on an issue that most Americans feel strongly about. The only people I can’t congratulate on the Stem Cell bill situation are the incompetent White House staffers who either wrote or posted the “Fact Sheet” about the bill on the WhiteHouse.gov website.
First, it’s not factual at all. It’s a summary of Bush’s opinions on the bill and his position on stem cell research. The only thing factual about it is that it accurately portrays Bush’s feelings on the matter. But statements describing stem cell research as “One Of The Most Egregious Abuses In Biomedical Research” and references to Bush’s “Balanced Policy On Embryonic Stem Cell Research” are biased in a way that inherently prevent them from being facts. The only thing more appalling than this page being called a “Fact Sheet” is Yahoo’s link to it as such from their “Full Coverage” section on stem cell research.
Second, the press release/fact sheet looks like it was written by an intern who was clearly hired because he/she wouldn’t make Bush feel bad about his lack of English comprehension. I’m pretty sure from my limited memory of grammar and capitalization lessons in grade school that words like “a” and “the” aren’t supposed to be capitalized, even in titles. As an example, let’s take this bullet point:
“It Makes No Sense To Say You Are In Favor Of Finding Cures For Terrible Diseases As Quickly As Possible And Then Block A Bill That Would Provide Funding For Promising And Ethical Stem Cell Research.”
Not only is it not a fact, it’s quite difficult to read with all those caps. That “fact” was in reference to Bush feeling:
Disappointed Congress Failed To Pass A Bill That Would Have Authorized Additional Federal Funding For Promising New Research That Could Produce Cells With The Abilities Of Embryonic Cells, But Without The Destruction Of Human Embryos.
Hey staff writers, every heard of a run-on sentence? But I guess we can’t expect a White House that’s proven itself uninterested in quality education to care about something like writing skills, even if it is for the leader of the free world’s official website.
Third, the repeated references to the “Destruction Of Human Embryos” that this bill would (in Bush’s opinion) cause are just wrong. I will freely admit that one of my biggest concerns about cloning is the potential for unethical organ farming, but this bill dealt with embryos that are currently being thrown out and destroyed. Where is the response to that part of the bill in the White House’s “fact sheet”? Where is their explanation of why tossing extra embryos in a dumpster is better than using them for scientific research? I certainly won’t hold my breath for that press release.
For all these reasons and more, I sent an email to the WhiteHouse.gov webmaster. I concisely stated (as a fact, not to be confused with an opinion) that their “Fact Sheet” was anything but. I linked to the page, cited some of the above examples and recommended that they add a disclaimer at the top of the page informing visitors that the content was based on opinions, not facts. Somehow I doubt they’ll take my advice, but maybe if enough people join me and send an email to the Web Development Team over there…
Technorati Tags: Stem Cell Research, Stem Cells, Ban, Veto, White House, Congress, Embryos, Bush, Fact Sheet, Bias, Politics, Poor Writing, Grammar