Thursday, January 29, 2004

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

January 29, 2004

This week, I'm taking a quick look at the State of the Union Address and the foreshadowing of Bush ramping up the GOP campaign machine. A full 2,200 words of the 5,200-word speech (42 percent for those too lazy to reach for a calculator) were devoted to defending the war in Iraq, trying to convince the American people that we have some sort of realistic plan for creating a legitimate government there, and playing into America's culture of fear in the guise of "awareness." He harps consistently throughout this section on the weapons of foreign countries, the continuing threat of terrorism, and national security. He calls for the renewal of the sunsetting USAPATRIOT Act, which I guarantee will turn into a proposal to make it permanent if he is elected back into a Republican-controlled Congress, and he touts the capture of Saddam Hussein as a great victory for democracy. (By the way, has anyone else noticed that the pronunciation on the news has gone from "suh-DAHM" to "Sodom?" What the hell?)

He speaks too accurately when he says, "By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation of literacy the law in our country." (emphasis added) Bush is making a poor school system worse by passing a law that sets standards it does not support; he said further in the speech that "testing is the only way to identify and help students who are falling behind." Does anyone else think that maybe good teachers would help with this?

The thing that I really find galling, though, is his comment towards the end about helping our children and "counter[ing] the negative influence of the culture." You know, Mr. Bush, this culture rules itself; you are (theoretically, anyway) the person this culture chose to serve as its leader. Everyone in America will agree that some other segment of the culture is crazy or sick or somehow negative, and this kind of statement panders to the rampant xenophobia that has given this president so much undeserved power. This seems to have died down as a controversy, so let me say it loud and clear just to remind everyone that it did in fact happen:


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Thursday, January 22, 2004

Smart Politics, Stupid Policies

January 22, 2004

*Problem: Most of the world hates me.

*Solution: Take us to space! Again!

President Bush has decided that in the wake of the massive backlash his war has caused, he's going to make several shameless bids for public approval, among them the refinancing of NASA with the goal of going to the moon again, and from there, Mars. Coming conveniently on the heels of the Mars rover's landing and transmission of high-resolution pictures, Bush's plan puts us back on the moon no later than 2020 and on Mars no sooner than 2030. The budget for the first phase of the project? $12 billion, a figure that many criticize as far too little to build the space vehicle Bush envisions.

So what's getting scrapped to pay for this? The net increase in NASA's budget is a mere billion dollars. The other $11 billion is going to be shuffled around inside the space agency, taken from several current projects. The first thing to go is our support of the international space station, followed by the Hubble telescope. Two days after Bush announced the change in financial priorities, NASA announced that further missions to service the telescope will be scrapped, citing concerns over safety in the wake of the explosion of the Columbia. You believe that? Yeah, me either.

Am I in favor of more missions to space? Certainly! Frankly, I think it's a crime we don't have a generation ship passing the orbit of Jupiter at the moment, and an articulated goal is good for NASA. Nonetheless, we're looking at having the entire shuttle program phased out over the course of the next decade in favor of a pie-in-the-sky political maneuver. We need to be focusing on new propulsion systems and solid ways to support human life for extended periods of time in space, not throwing still more underfunded mandates (No Astronaut Left Behind?) at the American people in a pathetic attempt to win votes. Bush (TERRORIST) once again (9-11) proves himself (GOD) the master of (PATRIOTISM) misdirection.

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Thursday, January 15, 2004

The Race Card

January 15, 2004

The Democrats vying for nomination in this year's presidential elections are using a tactic that served nominee Al Gore quite well in the last election: televised debates. This format catches people up in the fervor of politicking and also provides a great deal of public exposure at relatively little cost to the candidates, but it puts the discussion under the control of moderators chosen by the organizations that sponsor these forums.

Minority and race issues have been represented out of all proportion in this election period's round of debates thanks to sponsorships from groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, and Sunday's debate in Iowa was actually called the Black & Brown Presidential Forum. For all the Democrats' talk of Bush being in the employ of lobbyists and big business, the Democrats are aligning themselves with organizations which push their own agendas just as hard. Nearly a full third of Sunday's debate was devoted to minority questions and racial character assassinations.

Al Sharpton, who seems to be running based solely on his popularity as a spokesperson for African-Americans, attacked Howard Dean on the fact that in his tenure as governor, Dean has never appointed a black person to his six-member cabinet, and I must respond with a resounding, "SO WHAT?" Race should not be an issue in modern American politics. I know a lot of people are going to dismiss my opinion on this immediately because I'm a white male, but I hope that more of you will understand when I say constant harping on race relations obscures the real issues of the dismal state of American education (look around, people!), war abroad, and Bush's continuing deficit spending.

Does racism still exist in America? Certainly, but more self-righteous talk is not going to change those still entrenched in a racist mindset; they only perpetuate a biased system. Howard Dean said it himself in response to Sharpton's attack: "You can't end racism by making white people feel guilty."

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