Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Even *your* vote matters

In another blog, I saw someone bring up the painfully foolish idea that, since no election is won or lost by a single vote, your vote doesn't matter.

Below is my response:

As a mathematician, I am sick and tired of this bullshit meme being propogated. It is completely false.

Yes, *tomorrow*, your vote won’t have mattered. *TODAY*, it will.

Today we don’t know what the totals are. We don’t know how many people will have wanted to vote, made it to the polls, voted, and had their vote counted. It’s an ongoing random process depending on many, many factors. Your vote is your way of decreasing this randomness by as much as you can.

Today, your vote matters. Today, it’s a way of grabbing one tiny bit of that chaos, imposing your will, and building something you want. Maybe it won’t be very big, and maybe it won’t be very strong; maybe it’ll get swept away in a tidal wave of other votes, but the point is, right now, we don’t know.

Yes, you’re right. Once the polls close, your vote doesn’t matter any more. The moment is past, your power is gone. But right now, you have some power, and it’s your choice if you want to piss it away because tomorrow, you won’t be able to claim to be a big hero, having cast that one decisive vote that caused the candidate to win or lose, or the measure to pass or fail.

And I'll add: don't throw your power away. It might not be much, but it's what you have.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It matters...

In 2004, the election mattered. This time, it matters more.

President Bush has proudly defended breaking the law by conducting wiretaps without the warrants demanded by the letter and the spirit of FISA. He claims to wiretap only with probable cause... but that means he could get warrants and is refusing to do so for no good reason.

President Bush has refused to admit that he's made a complete mess of Iraq, and while he can reject the claim that 600,000 Iraqis have died by violence (close to 200,000 as a result of coalition action - and yes, my rightwing friend, some of those actions *were* self-defense), he refuses to find out what the true numbers are.

President Bush has demanded to be allowed to use torture - just, please, don't *call* it torture, but have *you* ever tried standing for 40 hours straight? He's demanded the right to pick up anyone he wants to who isn't an American citizen, and claim the right to hold them forever, without our courts being able to say "no, show some reason - just a reason, not proof - to hold them, or let them go". He's demanded the right to hold trials that can be completely one-sided, so an innocent person could well end up convicted of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

While he only claims the right to hold non-citizens indefinitely, he did hold a US citizen indefinitely, and only let him have any rights at all when it seemed that his detention would be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

He bungled Katrina, then threw huge gobs of money at the problem, so his friends could get contracts, and they could subcontract, and the subcontractors could subcontract, until they brought in some Mexicans at dirt cheap wages to spread tarps over the houses, but they still haven't even cleaned the place up yet.

He hasn't investigated that, he quietly did away with investigations into corruption in Iraq, and won't even hire more IRS agents, whose ability to audit more returns would increase revenue by more than their cost - i.e., hire some more auditors, to enforce the tax laws, and they'd pay for themselves, and then some. And trust me: they wouldn't pay for themselves by auditing the poor and middle-class.

He has done all of these things, and more, and the Republican Congress is willing to keep it all quiet. We'll never know how bad things are while the Republicans retain the right to block any and all investigations.

I said this to a Republican friend whom I respect: if the Democrats have the House for two years, they'll investigate. If they don't find anything, and if they don't have a powerful platform for 2008, they're gone. Bush can veto anything they do, and they won't have enough votes to override his veto.

We need the investigations. We need the truth... we need to know if our worst fears are true, and we need to know if our worst fears are completely groundless. Without investigations, we'll never know the truth, and without the truth, we'll never heal the bitter partisan rifts we're facing.

It really matters.

Go out tomorrow, and vote. There's a lot at stake.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Finding phoniness

As you get older, I suppose you have to learn which instincts you should trust, and which you shouldn't. I mean, sometimes what you think is an instinct is actually an old prejudice that you should unlearn. I've gotten pretty wise about my instincts, and so, when I first started hearing about George W. Bush, and my instincts said he was a phony, I listened to them.

It's hard to explain, but I just had that feeling that he would say what he needed to say to get elected, that you couldn't trust what came out of his mouth. He might not be lying... but you wouldn't know if he was. I never had any reason to change my mind about that, and when I heard his statement, after the Supreme Court declared that no recount for Florida was going to be allowed, I knew I was right. He claimed to have been humbled to have won so tightly contested an election... but you can't feel humbled when you've fought tooth and nail to keep your victory after the very first count of the votes.

An honest man, who insisted on a full, fair count of every single vote, and won by a razor thin margin could feel humbled; a man who stopped the recount because the first count showed him ahead couldn't.

It wasn't until 2004 that I felt I had proof positive that he was a phony, proof that I felt should stand up to anyone's scrutiny. Of course, it didn't... but I still feel it was proof.

Remember that George W. Bush claims to be a devout Christian, and says Jesus is his favorite philosopher.

Well, he said, twice, for the record, that if he knew then (in 2003, prior to the invasion) what he knew now (in 2004, during the election season), he wouldn't have changed his war plans at all. Nothing would have changed.

Except, at that time, we knew that the bulk of the WMD claims were false. That was what he was making the claims about. Although the danger was much, much less than he'd claimed, he said he wouldn't have changed anything about the invasion.

Now, there are two possibilities. First, there's the possibility that he doesn't understand the horrors of war, at all. Given that he can order a nuclear strike, I simply can't accept that possibility. I hope we both agree that if he were that clueless about the effects of warfare on the civilian populace, he would not belong in the office of commander-in-chief of the most powerful military force in all of human history.

The other possibility is, he was saying that, yes, he would have caused those horrors, even despite the lack of WMDs, without changing any of his plans to reduce the dangers and damage done to civilians.

Does this mean he's been lying about being a devout Christian? Does this mean that he does not care about Jesus, who counselled us to love our enemies even as we love our friends? Well, let's just assume that he's not... just for the sake of an argument.

So he really does care about the civilian casualties; he really feels some compassion for those who died in a war that he still believed was justified. So, what makes him so phony? Don't I understand that he couldn't admit to any mistakes, because if he did, the Democrats were going to seize on those mistakes, and go on the attack?

Yes, I do understand his refusal to admit to mistakes. I do, and I can't fault a politician for that, at least, not entirely.

But by golly, did he sound sincere saying that he wouldn't have changed a thing, didn't he?

In fact, if he was truly compassionate about the suffering of the Iraqi civilians, it must have been really hard to say he wouldn't have changed any of his plans, not even a little bit... but he said it, plain as day and sincere as all blazes.

Meaning he can say something with sincerity and a straight face, regardless of how he feels inside.

Checkmate. Bush is a phony. Either he can throw off "I wouldn't change a thing" while mourning the loss of innocent life, or he can throw off a claim to be Christian, and compassionate when he isn't. It doesn't matter; he can lie with a straight face, and will say something that he thinks will help him politically, and sound sincere.

You can't tell when he's telling the truth, or lying.

And while Republicans rule the Congress, no one is going to bother to find out if he's lying... about anything.

I can't think of a stronger argument for giving Congress back to the Democrats, even if only for two years.

Unknown suffering

If you knew that your next-door neighbors had cats, and realized they weren't home and then noticed an obituary, what would you do?

I know what I would do. I would call the police, ask for their help, and follow their directions. I wouldn't rest until I felt confident that someone who knew, cared, and had the authority to enter their house if necessary, was aware of the problem. Even then, I'd follow up in a day or two.

The thought of helpless animals starving or dying of thirst would weigh on me too much. I'd have to take action.

On the other hand, I've heard horror stories of people leaving an apartment, and leaving their pets locked in the apartment behind them. Now, it's bad enough to abandon pets outdoors; there are a lot more tragic endings to this than happy ones. But leaving an animal locked in a place where food will run out, and water will almost certain run out, with no further climate control, and no guarantee that anyone will notice the animals plight, is a lot worse.

And yet, it might be happening someplace near you right now. It could be happening next door. I live in a block of apartments, and there are twelve apartments in the same building. It's entirely possible that it's happening within twenty feet of where I'm sitting right now, and I wouldn't know.

That's the kind of thing that gives me nightmares... that something terrible could be happening, something I could, and should, do something about, without my knowing. What makes it a bit worse is that I don't even have a chance to feel bad about it. It's invisible; if it's happening right now, if a poor animal is suffering right now, I can't tell. It seems like it would be just a bit better if I knew, so I had a chance to do something. Even if my best efforts to help weren't enough, at least I could have tried.

Um. I guess you realize that my "pets locked in an apartment" is a metaphor, right? Because I can't imagine a situation where I couldn't get the police and the humane society to check things out if necessary.

Well, it is a metaphor for a lot of things.

Some 600,000 people have died in Iraq, people who probably would have lived if we hadn't invaded. People have acted as if it couldn't be true, because it's so horrible to contemplate that this could happen, and we wouldn't notice... but it did happen, and we didn't.

For a smaller issue, people are being held prisoner by the US in abominable conditions, conditions that would be considered cruel and unusual punishment if inflicted upon the most brutal convicted murderer in US history. These people have no rights to do so much as ask one of our courts to prove that there is cause to hold them.

If you've never suffered long term, intense isolation, with every aspect of your life controlled by nasty people with guns, you might not be able to imagine this... but it is horrible. Infants raised in such isolation die; adults live, but suffer. These people have only been accused, not tried, and not convicted, yet they suffer horribly, and it's happening right under our proverbial noses.

It's so easy to look away; just think of other, happier things. Assume that things couldn't be as terrible as they are in Iraq or someone would know, and that person would tell us. Assume that prisoners can't be treated so badly, not for accused terrorists, because someone would know, and that person would tell us. Think about, oh, I dunno, the economy. Bush just halved the deficit! Of course, he was supposed to have a half trillion dollar surplus this year, and instead halved the very deficit he created, but that proves that the economy is doing better than it was! Think of the good things going on!

And let people suffer, and die, quietly, without thinking about them.

No. Not an option.

Let me pound on my metaphor for a moment. Bush might be the person who put the pets in the apartments... but the Republican Congresscritters and Senators are the ones who locked the doors, and didn't bother to check. They haven't investigated; they won't investigate. They'll let the animals die. Ooops, I mean "the Iraqis and the prisoners". Or, then again, maybe I mean "the animals".

During hurricane Katrina, if I'd been able to perform rescue missions, I'd have rescued people, and if that meant letting some animals die, well, it'd hurt, but if I have no choice, people come first. If I had to, I'd shut out the suffering of the animals to help the people.

Has the Congress stepped up to help the people? No. They haven't investigated; they haven't taken control. They've given George W. Bush everything he asked for, and didn't just lock the apartment doors, they let Bush put up the equivalent of police tape, "do not enter, do not investigate".

It's time for a change. It's long past time for a change. We have to make the change, this Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bad choices

I've seen a few references in the blogsphere about Terri Schiavo recently (most were off-hand references), and it brought to mind something that's been bugging me.

When the big battle was brewing over whether Terri's stated desires would be followed, or whether her parents could force her to continue to undergo medical treatments, there were a lot of lies flying around out there. I know some otherwise intelligent and skeptical people who fell for a lot of those lies.

There were a lot of people with really strong feelings about the case, on both sides, and that was okay. I mean, it was frustrating... the facts of the case were entirely on the side of removing her feeding tube. But with so much misinformation going around, it was expected that some folks would get confused.

But then Jeb Bush, the Florida Legislature, and finally, George W. Bush and the United States Congress got involved. Now, at first, I thought it was natural for them to get involved, given the intense interest being drummed up by the case. And I understood how they got the wrong impression of the case. There was a lot of misinformation being given.

Later, though, I realized just how stupid I was being.

Look, if laypeople are confused about the case, that's one thing. But these are the people whose lives revolve around the law, and how the law affects our lives. Not only do they have greater responsibility to be sure about the effects of their actions, they have a greater responsibility to understand the law.

While a "Blogger for Terri" can be excused for saying that Michael Schiavo went to court to request his wife's feeding tube be removed, the Florida Legislature, Jeb Bush, the Congress, and President Bush, can't be excused. They know to check the court records about such things, and they know how to check the court records, and have access to those records.

They could have discovered that the case had been decided properly, and could have discovered how many of the claims being made were lies. They didn't.

And why not?

Look, I don't care how many of them were personally pro-life, or evangelical, or whatever other special-interest group they belonged to, and I don't care how much they wanted to pander to the pro-life, or evangelical, or whatever other special-interest groups. Personal beliefs, and pandering to special interest groups, are no excuse for not learning about what's going on.

So, we're left with two possibilities.

First, they didn't know what was going on, and didn't bother to learn, and butted into the lives of private citizens for no good reason. This is inexcusable, especially for those who pretend to be conservative.

Second, maybe they did know.

Did they think it was a terrible injustice? Or did they think that it had played out properly and lawfully?

Let me rephrase that question. Did they consider that the case had been wrongly (but lawfully) decided, and decide that the laws were unjust, and needed to be changed? Or did they decide that the case had been decided lawfully, and the laws were essentially okay, which would make their actions pure political grandstanding?

Well, there's an easy way to determine the answer for this. What laws have they passed, or introduced, to change the situation? What have they done to rectify the great injustice that they were defending against, if they thought it was an injustice?

Oh, right... they haven't. Once they realized that the majority of the country thought they were wrong to interfere, they dropped it like a hot potato. They didn't think there was a great injustice; they thought it was a great wedge issue to use against the Democrats.

It must suck to be a conservative Republican these days... you end up with choices like this. Do you hope that your elected officials are totally incompetent busybodies, or the kinds of assholes who would violate the rule of law to try to score political points?

I hope the Republicans crash and burn this election cycle, so that someday, real conservative Republicans can start running again.

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