Saturday, April 30, 2011

We Don’t Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car

On April 8 I started a Facebook group called We Don’t Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car. Until earlier this week, the page had garnered very little attention. But then on Wednesday evening, it exploded. From 30 fans to 300 that evening and now, as I write this on Friday night, the page is up to over 1,300 fans!

Apparently, this caught the attention of the local news media. Here is the link to the story that aired tonight on the local ABC affiliate and here’s a link to the video (sorry, but so far I can’t embed the video).

We Don't Want Donald Trump to Drive the Indy 500 Pace Car



Come on by and say hello!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Addressing a Few Red Herrings (update)

According to “Prop 8 Supporters Contest Ruling On Grounds Judge Has Same-Sex Partner”, it appears that opponents of same-sex marriage in California have asked the United States District Court Judge who presided over the challenge to Prop 8 to recuse himself (and vacate his judgment) because he is gay and is in a long-term relationship. In light of this, I thought it appropriate to revisit a portion of my post “Addressing a Few Red Herrings,” written in August 2008 (shortly after Judge Walker issued his ruling on Prop 8):

Also, promptly following Judge Walker’s decision yesterday, some on the right (hey there FOX News!) started talking about the Judge’s bias because he is gay. This suggestion is not just wrong; it is patently offensive.

First, I note that those alleging bias against Judge Walker were conspicuously silent when another federal judge with extensive stock holdings in the oil industry refused to recuse himself before considering the Obama administration’s ban on offshore drilling. Those same people were silent just a few days ago when another federal judge failed to recuse himself from hearing Virginia’s lawsuit against the new health care reform legislation even though he has financial ties to Virginia’s Attorney General, the lead plaintiff in the case. And those sorts of conflicts-of-interest are prohibited by canons of judicial ethics.

More importantly, ask yourself this: Why is it that when it comes to litigation involving social issues, straight, Anglo-Protestant white males are never seen as being biased, but a judge who is black or Jewish or female or gay is biased, often for no other reason that the fact that the judge is black or Jewish or female or gay?

Or think of it this way: Must every woman judge recuse herself from a rape case? Must every Jewish judge recuse himself from a case involving church-state issues? Must every Hispanic judge recuse himself from an immigration case? Must a black judge recuse himself from every lawsuit alleging racial discrimination? And with your answer to that last query in mind, must every white judge recuse himself from a case alleging racial discrimination if one of the parties is … um … white? And, by all of that reasoning, shouldn’t any straight judge have been forced to recuse himself precisely because he wasn’t gay?

Those who argue bias of this sort are either so blinded by their own bias and bigotry or simply cannot recognize that, in order for our system to work at all, we must all have faith in the impartiality of our judiciary. That a judge disagrees with us doesn’t mean bias; it means that judge judges a particular issue differently tha[n] you or I might. It doesn’t mean bias. But if we start seeing bias in every judge solely on the basis of that judge’s color or religion or DNA, then it won’t be long before our judicial system becomes a joke and the respect for the rule of law on which the foundations of our country are supported will rot away.

One final point on this issue of bias, specifically with regard to Judge Walker: Have you noted that those who claim that Judge Walker is biased because he is gay have not bothered to mention that Judge Walker was nominated by President Reagan and then again by President George H.W. Bush or that during Judge Walker’s nomination hearings, he was opposed by gay rights groups? Hmm. Does that weigh upon the question of any perceived bias?

Going back to the new filing asking Judge Walker to recuse himself, there was one quote in the article that particularly caught my attention:

The "Yes On 8" campaign also emphasized that it's not that they'd object to every gay or lesbian judge from presiding over the case -- only those that may want to get married one day.

Let’s tease this claim out for a moment. If I understand the argument of the “Yes On 8” campaign, then I guess that not all women should be barred from hearing abortion cases, only women who might contemplate an abortion some day. Not all African-Americans (or any other minority group) should be barred from hearing race discrimination cases, only those members of the minority group that might someday want to be treated equally. Not all judges should recuse themselves before hearing a case involving a business dispute, only those judges who might someday want to buy a product or stock from one of the parties in that dispute (i.e., if Walmart is a party, only judges who never intend to shop at Walmart should be allowed to hear the case). Certainly judges who might someday want to exercise their right to vote shouldn’t be allowed to hear cases dealing with … um … well … anything that elected officials might have an involvement in … like passing laws, for example. I don’t even want to contemplate the thought of a judge who might someday want to run for elected office (like, say, state judge). And of course, no judge should be allowed to hear a case on healthcare reform if that judge might someday visit a doctor or buy health insurance or be eligible for Medicare. Finally, I presume that the judge who ruled yesterday against the NFL lockout must not ever intend to watch or attend a football game.

And back to the case at issue. I presume that the “Yes On 8” campaign would agree that a straight judge shouldn’t be eligible to hear the case because — according to opponents of same-sex marriage — permitting same-sex marriage will “destroy the institution of marriage”. Thus, that straight judge shouldn’t be allowed to hear the case because he (or she) probably wouldn’t want his or her marriage to be “destroyed”. That certainly seems to be as much or more of an impediment to justice as the fact that Judge Walker might someday want to get married.

Oh, and one more thing on that point: If marriage was that important to Judge Walker, then isn’t it likely that he and his partner would have gotten married during the period that same-sex marriage was legal in California?

Isn’t a bit funny how the logic only seems to work one way?

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Can Donald Trump Win the Republican Nomination? Should He? Will He Run? Let’s Discuss

I’m going to try something new here. Very few of my posts get any comments, so it may be that this is a pointless exercise. But let’s see if we can have a discussion about Donald Trump.

Do you think that he can win the Republican nomination if he runs? Do you think that he would be a good Republican candidate in the general election? Do you think that he’ll decide to run or is this all just a publicity stunt?

Let’s discuss.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Lie “Was Not Intended to be a Factual Statement”

One of the themes that I’ve focused on over the years that I’ve been writing this blog is the political lie (see, for example, “When a Lie Becomes an Insult” or “Why Are Politicians So Willing to Tell Outrageous, Easily Disproven Lies?”; poke around on this blog and you’ll find plenty of other examples). Well this week, the reality espoused by the Republican party went yet further down the rabbit hole into the land of make believe, fairy tales, and absolute bullshit.

Watch this video of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) speaking on the floor of the United States Senate last week:


In case you need it, here’s a transcript of Sen. Kyl’s remarks (provided by ThinkProgress):

Everybody goes to clinics, to doctors, to hospitals, so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.

But guess what? That claim that abortions are “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is false. It’s not just false, it’s not even in the ballpark. According to Planned Parenthood, the actual number is not 90% … it’s 3%. Kyl was off by a factor of 30!

Our Clients

Planned Parenthood provides sexual and reproductive health care, education, and information to more than five million women, men, and adolescents worldwide each year.

Three million women and men in the United States annually visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers for trusted health care services and information.

Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care clients in the U.S. are age 20 and older.

One in five women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center at least once in her life.

Our Work

Planned Parenthood health centers focus on prevention: 83 percent of our clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood services help prevent more than 612,000 unintended pregnancies each year.

Planned Parenthood provides nearly one million Pap tests and more than 830,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.

Planned Parenthood provides nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.*

(Emphasis in original.)

So when people across the country came forward to point out and denounce Sen. Kyl’s lie, what did Sen. Kyl do? If he cared about accuracy, he could have come forward and simply said, “I made a mistake”. Or he could have found some other somewhat less dubious statistic to use as some kind of backstop for his lie. But no, that’s not what he did. Because remember, as I’ve been saying for years no, to the modern Republican party, facts simply don’t matter. And as evidence of that statement, here’s the statement Sen. Kyl’s office gave to CNN’s TJ Holmes:

HOLMES: We did call [Kyl’s] office trying to ask what he was talking about there. And I just want to give it you verbatim here. It says, “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, a organization that receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, does subsidize abortions.”

Did you get that? “His remark was not intended to be a factual statement…”. It was intended as an illustration but not a factual statement? What the hell does that even mean? “I meant to lie so that I could scare people because the facts don’t support my position?” When our policy decisions are based on the recitation of statistics that are “not intended to be … factual statement[s]” then how can those decisions possibly be knowledgably made? Or, ask it this way: What are the ramifications to our form of government and democracy if decisions are made on the basis of knowing lies and not on accurate empirical evidence?

And to follow up on this them, I want to look at how Fox & Friends (a program on FOX News) approached a similar component of the same subject a few days ago:


Once again, in case you need it, here’s a transcript of the relevant part of this discussion (after they finish bashing Sen. Reid)(thanks to Media Matters):

DOOCY: And the thing about it that was audacious was the fact that he [Sen. Harry Reid] was talking about Planned Parenthood being this great provider where women can get blood pressure checks, and pap smears, and breast —

KILMEADE: Which you can get at Walgreens.

DOOCY: — examinations. Exactly right. 

Did you get that? According to FOX News, women can get pap smears and breast examinations at Walgreens. “Exactly right,” they say.

Well, um, no. It isn’t.

“Neither Walgreens, nor its in-store healthcare clinics, Take Care Clinics, offer pap smears or breast exams,” Take Care Clinic spokeswoman Lauren Nestler told Media Matters after being emailed the segment.

So you see, just like Sen. Kyl, the hosts on FOX News just make shit up and report it as “exactly right” without a shred of supporting evidence. But how many viewers of FOX News will ever hear that Walgreens said that FOX News was wrong? How many viewers presume that what FOX News reports is, in fact, true; that anything said on the network has been fact-checked first? How many viewers of FOX News will ever learn that the on air personalities that they watch just make up facts with no attempt at accuracy or journalistic integrity? Probably very, very few. And I know from talking to several people who love FOX News that they refuse to believe that FOX News would lie, even after pointing out examples like this one (or, for example, last week when FOX News reported that a poll found that 65% of Americans believed something when, in fact, the poll found only that 65% of self-identified Republicans held that particular position).

In our modern political system, Republican politicians and FOX News just make shit up and their devoted followers accept those “facts” without question. And political decisions are premised on those same lies.

That is a very dangerous road down which our political discourse is being led.

Which brings me to Donald Trump and the “birthers” … but that’s a subject for another day.


*Don’t forget that since the 1970s it has been illegal to use federal funds for abortions.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Apple’s Stupid Warranty Policy

I’ve never been a fan of Apple. And before people start piling on, let just note that I was largely responsible for supporting Northwestern University’s Apple Macintosh labs (from about 1986-1988) and teaching the portion of a microcomputer literacy class that focused on Macs. I was even a participant in an Apple program to encourage programming on Macs, attending several conferences on the subject. But I will admit that I’ve liked Apple consumer products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. I’ve written in the past about how poor Apple’s support can be, especially when the refuse to even acknowledge the existence of major problems.

Well now I have new reason to be critical of Apple support policies.

Back in December, I was given a brand new Apple TV as a gift. While I was quite excited about the gift, at the time I wasn’t quite sure how I would want to use it. I wasn’t buying any video on iTunes at the time (we have two TiVo boxes). And so it sat unopened (though not unappreciated) on a shelf.

Then, a few nights ago, it finally dawned on me that I did have real application for the Apple TV as a series that I’m looking forward to (Game of Thrones) is on HBO but I don’t subscribe to HBO. Thus, I realized I could probably purchase the episodes through iTunes (I hope…) and watch them on my TV via Apple TV. Yippee!

So I opened the box and started setting up the device. Everything went smoothly until I tried to link the Apple TV to iTunes on my computer. I needed to input my Apple ID and password which I did. Over and over and over, but to no avail. Apple TV kept rejecting either the Apple ID or password (it wasn’t clear which one was “wrong”). I checked both the Apple ID and password both in iTunes and on my iPhone. I rest the password through iTunes. Yet nothing worked on the Apple TV.

Thus I began looking through Apple’s support site. I found lots of information telling me to be sure that my Apple ID and password were typed correctly (wow, that’s helpful!) or matched the account on iTunes (because, you know, it just makes sense to link two entirely different accounts). But I didn’t find anything remotely helpful with my problem.

I therefore decided to seek additional support. And that’s when I ran into one of the stupidest warranty policies I’ve ever encountered.

As I went through the process of seeking support from Apple, I was asked to provide the serial number for my Apple TV. After I did so, Apple’s support website told me that the 30-day warranty on my Apple TV had expired and that if I wanted support I would have to pay for it. What?

How could the warranty have expired while the product sat it its box?

Apparently Apple stores scan the serial number of certain products when they are sold and the warranty period begins running from that date.

Eventually, I was able to contact someone in Apple’s support division. He confirmed that the warranty period had begun when the product was purchased and explained that I could only get support if I paid $29.95. No thanks.

I asked him whether, if I returned the “non-functioning” Apple TV and bought a new one, I’d get a new warranty and he confirmed that I would. So, I queried, it seems that what Apple is saying is that anytime someone receives a gift of an Apple product they should, before opening it, return it to the store and exchange it for a new one, just so that they can get the benefit of the full warranty period. He said that he wasn’t saying anything of the sort; he was just explaining the warranty policy. OK.

One thing worth noting: When you buy an iPhone or an iPod or an iPad you register the product when you first connect it to iTunes. So why can’t Apple TV work in the same way?

Short, 30-day warranties make me angry. To me, that’s a company saying that they don’t really stand behind the quality of their product. But then to disconnect the warranty period from when the product is actually first used seems like a real “F-You” to customers, especially to a customer who receives the product as a gift.

So I continue to say that Apple makes some very good consumer products … but when it comes to dealing with customers, Apple sucks.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Summing Up the Republican Budget Plan in One Paragraph

In the article “Rokita, Young, Stutzman back GOP budget plan” published in the April 6, 2011, edition of The Indianapolis Star, writer Maureen Groppe manages to distill the essence of the Republican budget plan to a single, simple paragraph:

In addition to making major changes to Medicare and Medicaid, which together make up about 23 percent of spending, the proposal would also cut food stamps, farm subsidies, highway spending, grants for college students and other spending programs. It would extend tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of next year and lower top tax rates while ending unspecified tax deductions.

Go back and read that again and again and again. Don’t focus so much on the “major changes to Medicare and Medicaid” or even on precisely which spending programs are mentioned. Instead, think of who benefits from Medicare, Medicaid and the types of spending programs mentioned. Then compare that with: “and lower top tax rates…”.

Seriously. That is the Republican plan.

They want to gut Medicare and Medicaid, severely cut or eliminate social services programs, including programs that help the neediest among us, in order to lower the tax rate for the wealthiest.

I look forward to hearing the Republicans shout their support for this proposal over and over as the 2012 elections approach.

Oh, and one more thing. Though I can’t find the citation right now, I heard it reported (if you have the link send it to me … or if that report was wrong, send that also) that a return to the tax rates in effect during the Clinton administration would have the same effect vis-a-vis cutting the deficit as the proposed Republican plan. So just ponder that for a moment, too: Small tax increases vs. gutting essential social service programs and giving tax breaks to the wealthiest. Hmm.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reducing the Deficit By Saving a Nickel Here or There While Ignoring Big Ticket Items

Congressional Republicans want to reduce the deficit. Good for them. It’s a laudable goal. The question is, of course, how. We could of course discuss raising taxes, especially on the wealthiest Americans, but even that discussion appears to be off the table for the GOP. I won’t spend time right now going into the details of a lot of the things that Republicans do want to do (like changing Medicare and/or Medicaid to voucher programs and then reducing the available benefits in order to give more tax cuts to the wealthy). There will be plenty of time to discuss those “big picture” sort of issues and the months to come.

But I do want to focus on one idea that really shows how disingenuous Republicans really are when it comes to cutting the budget. When we look at the budget, we have to divide it into discretionary and non-discretionary spending. Non-discretionary spending is just what it sounds like: Expenditures that we are obligated to make, such as payment on debts, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on. Non-discretionary spending includes everything from earmarks to foreign aid to defense spending. And it is that last item that I want to address.

The current budget for the Department of Defense is approximately $680,000,000,000 (that’s $680 billion) give or take a few dozen billion here and there. It would seem like there might be some room in that budget to find some savings. Like perhaps canceling weapons programs that the Pentagon says it does not want and does not need (or which do not work). But Congress has been loath to cut programs like that which, even though they are unnecessary and unwanted, bring jobs back to local Congressional districts. Or we could look into reducing what we’re spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, but we know that Republicans, in particular, seem loath to even address that idea (other than some of the newly elected Tea Party representatives).

But wait: The GOP has come up with a way to reduce the deficit by cutting the defense budget. This is so stupendous that I can’t believe nobody thought of this before; it may just be the panacea for all of our budgetary problems on both the state and federal levels. What have Republicans found that they can cut from the defense budget to solve our crisis? Are you sitting down?

The Republicans have introduced a plan to eliminate color photocopying in the Defense Department for a massive savings of $37.5 million per year. Now I’m not suggesting that $37.5 million isn’t a meaningful savings. After all, that savings will be enough to allow us to fund an extra 2½ hours of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Or, think of it this way: Right now, we’re spending about $4 million per day for our actions in Libya. So by cutting out color copies, the Air Force can bomb Libya for 9 more days.

I think that this plan is demonstrable evidence that the Republicans are disingenuous about their plans to make hard choices to reduce the budget. And I think that it shows that they are just stupid.

Why stupid? Several reasons: First, so far as I’ve seen, that $37.5 million is the only cut from the defense budget that Republicans are proposing. It’s OK to cut social services and education and to refuse to tax the wealthy, but the only way we can cut the defense budget is to eliminate color copies? Republicans don’t want to cut out weapons programs that don’t work, they don’t want to cut out programs that the military doesn’t want, and they don’t want to reduce funding for wars that most Americans oppose (or have at least tired of). To keep funding wasteful weapons programs is at best stupid; at worst, well, it’s something else.

Second, has there been any sort of evidentiary analysis of whether those color copies might be needed? Take for example imagery of a terrorist training camp or a village where insurgents might be gathering. Is it just possible that the soldiers tasked with a particular operation or even those planning the operation will be able to do a better job if they have the benefit of color in the photos or maps that they’re using? If all that we’re talking about is color photocopies of NCAA basketball brackets, grocery coupons, or memos from one general to another, then eliminating color copies probably makes sense (though it seems that it would be hard to find $37.5 million in savings there). But shouldn’t the query be needs based rather than automatic? And before answering that, remember that Congress has refused to cut funding for weapons programs that the military does not need or want.

So, it appears that we’re looking to cut something that might be needed (at least in some cases) that will have little real impact on the overall budget while at the same time refusing to even contemplate cutting weapons programs or wars that are a major drain on the budget.

Again, I’m not suggesting that any savings that we can find isn’t worth examining. But I am suggesting that if we (and especially the GOP) are serious about cutting the budget that we look at all options, including overall defense spending, wars, and tax increases. To find a tiny little expenditure like this one (tiny in the federal budget sense of the word) and use it as the only cut in defense spending, without examining potential necessity, is just stupid.

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