Friday, April 28, 2006

Save Yourself for Kinky

Kinky Friedman's newest campaign cartoon is now available. Inspired by the famous jib-jab political cartoons, Kinky has been releasing these humerously bold clips throughout his campaign for Texas governor.

If the election were held right now, I'd probably vote for Kinky despite the fact his actual views are still a bit unknown. I just flat-out like his distaste for the current political system and his condemnation of the party hacks that fill the ranks of our state's government.

But, then again, I tend to like mavericks. Go figure.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Goodbye FEMA

A Senate panel looking into what went wrong with the Hurricane Katrina response is recommending that FEMA be abolished and replaced by a new organization called The National Preparedness and Response Agency. This might seem like an overreaction until you consider who is pushing for the change: Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, two senators not known for their excitability. This is indeed an idea whose time may have come.

FEMA failed in the wake of Katrina. Not only did it fail on an execution level but it failed on a structural level. The agency simply lacked the organizational capacity to respond effectively to the crisis. And while there are those who will coldly tell you responsibility falls on the people of New Orleans and elsewhere who chose not to evacuate and had no emergency supplies, the fact remains that FEMA did not provide adequate assistance and was helpless to speed up response times even as the magnitude of the disaster became apparent.

Is there a way to fix FEMA? Possibly. But it seems to me that the smarter and more efficient solution is to create a new administration with responsibilities and skills tailored to modern expectations of the federal government’s role in disaster relief. Such an administration would be structurally integrated into the Department of Homeland Security where as FEMA is merely taped on. And such an administration would allow for a clean break (or a relatively clean break) from the mistakes and shame of the past.

Properly responding to failure does not always or even often require a radical reorganization. But in this case, I think abolishing FEMA and replacing it with a new agency is the right call.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Defending God in the Public Square

In a short editorial in Human Events former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, lays out the five challenges Americans must meet in order to win the future and preserve the greatness of our nation.

1) Confronting a world in which America's enemies, including the irreconcilable wing of Islam and rogue dictatorships, could acquire and use nuclear or biological weapons

2) Defending God in the public square

3) Protecting America's unique civilization

4)Competing in the global economy in an era of the economic rise of China and India, which will require transformations in litigation, education, taxation, regulation, and environmental, energy and health policies for America to continue to be the most successful economy in the world

5) Promoting active, healthy aging so more people can live longer, which will require dramatic transformation in pensions, Social Security and health care.

An interesting list. Number one and number four are undeniably vital. Number five is important. Number three can be easily misinterpreted as an anti-immigrant sentiment but, knowing Newt’s general worldview, I’m guessing that it’s actually a pro-freedom statement—making it worthy of the list too.

And number two is…well…controversial to say the least. Newt has never been a big player in the religious right, so it’s interesting that he’s placed “Defending God in the public square” as second only to confronting our enemies. Agree or disagree with Newt, he’s certainly one of our nation’s most engaged “big idea” men and isn’t one to waste a spot on such a list with a throwaway idea. Then again, Gingrich plays politics like the devil plays the fiddle—he knows religion is a powerful factor in the Republican’s dominance. He knows the value of keeping them on board.

But let’s pretend he’s not just pandering and really believes that “defending God in the public square” is vitally important to preserving our nation’s greatness. Why would he contend such a thing? Well, I think it’s because we as a nation have been turning increasingly secular over the last 50 years and are in danger of forgetting that the separation of church and state does not mean we must enforce a separation of church and public life.

Some people like to point to the rise of the Christian Right (better referred to as Christianists) and of false-issues like the “war on Christmas” as proof that we are living in a time of impending theocracy. But that’s just not the case. The Christian Right and their issues (real and invented) are a reaction to the realization that what we are living in is a time of impending hyper-secularism. And while I and many others (possibly Newt himself) regularly and even deeply disagree with the means and rhetoric of the Christianists, we are not particularly pleased with efforts of groups like the ACLU to wipe America clean of public displays of religion.

And before anyone accidentally or willfully misinterprets my position, I am not calling for the Ten Commandments to be posted in courthouses and creationism to be taught in our schools. What I seek is a nation where we as a people do not get offended when confronted with the religious beliefs and passions of those whose faith seems odd to us. Nor should we get offended when our own religious beliefs and passions are scorned and mocked by others.

When Gingrich says the future of our nation is reliant on “defending God in the public square” what I think he means is that freedom of religion, all religion, is one of the founding principles of this nation. In our zeal to keep church and state separate, we should be careful not to separate faith from our national character and public life. A man’s religion is not contained in his church or synagogue or mosque or temple—it’s part of his whole life. And America lets him live that religion. Even in the public square. Most importantly, in the public square.

I don’t think we’re in any danger of banishing religion, but I think we are in danger of forgetting its importance. That, I imagine, is Gingrich’s greater point. Although, with that man, you never quite know.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Good News for Readers of this Blog

If you're a New York City municipal worker, you can't get fired for using the Internet during work hours. At least that was the ruling of a judge who compared Internet use to reading the paper or making personal phone calls.

As far as I'm concerned, if employees are meeting the demands of their job, employers shouldn't bust them for taking a little goof off time. Some of us need our breaks in order to be truly effective. And good bosses recognize that threats of the whip are hardly the best way to create success.

Internet use at work is already a big concern for businesses and it'll only grow. My guess is that most companies will find that less restrictive Internet policies will keep their employees more productive than will zero-tolerance policies. After all, would you rather work for a company that is ok with you taking a few minutes to read Maverick Views, or one that has the authority to fire you for such a minor divergence?

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Little Friday Amazement

I haven't been able to post much this week as I've been overloaded with work.

But I wanted to share with everyone this video. It's not gross, or violent, or funny. An it has nothing to do with politics.

But it's absolutely enthralling. I am constantly amazed at what some people can do.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Consitutional Segregation?

I'm all for states and cities experimenting with new ideas, particularly when it comes to education. But I just don't see how Nebraska's new law the creates defacto racially segregated school districts in Omaha can possibly be Constitutional.

I also fail to see how it can be a good idea. If the best hope we have in education is to believe every race is better off taking care of its own, then hope is dim indeed. Buying into old segregationist arguments (even when they come from minorities, as this one has)is a violation of the integrationist spirit that has driven American life for the last 50+ years. Whatever gain might come from giving each race its own school district cannot possibly justify the negative societal consequences of a system based on the premise that we are better off divided than we are united.

Undoubtedly this new law will end up in the courts. And hopefully it will be struck down as wholly incompatible with our Constitutional system.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I'll be away for the next few days. Happy Easter to all. I'll be back and writing on Monday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Playboy Under Attack

Well, the publishers of the Indonesian Playboy had to expect this. Apparently, radical Muslims think scantily clad women are an offense to God. Who would have guessed what with the burkas and all?

Of course, the first issue did sell out rather quickly. Proving yet again that, as far as marketing goes, a little t&a will move a lot of product, no matter what country you're in. No word yet if the upcoming "Sexy Taliban Co-eds" issue will go forward as planned.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Waving the Red, White and Blue

Many of the pro-immigration demonstrations began with displays of the Mexican flag. But now we're seeing mainly American flags being waved. Hopefully this change will quiet in not flat-out end the hateful lies some are telling regarding the Mexican people's desire to reconquer the American Southwest.

I look into the issue at Donklephant.

Italy's Top Mafia Boss Arrested

Bernardo Provenzano, the #1 mafia boss in Italy, was arrested today in Sicily. Slowly, Italy is ridding itself of the once-untouchable Cosa Nostra. Citizens even screamed "Bastard! Murderer!" as Provenzano was taken into police headquarters--words no Sicilian would have dared say to a mafia boss just a decade or two ago.

Someday, when I have more time, I plan to post a series about the mafia and its mystique. From the U.S. government's collaboration with mafia bosses during and after World War II to the organization's collapse under the duel pressure of stepped-up law enforcement and increased competition from criminal networks across the globe, the mafia's story is the clay from which great analogies are formed.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Xenophobia in the Immigration Debate

All across the country, pro-immigrant rallies continue and many are drawing unprecedented crowds. Quite clearly there are a lot of people concerned that America is about to move in the wrong direction on immigration. But is this a movement spurred solely by the desire to preserve a porous border while guaranteeing that America’s low-wage jobs and public assistance programs remain available to illegal immigrants? Or is this outpouring also a reaction to some of the xenophobic rhetoric that currently masquerades as “immigration reform?”

For many principled opponents of illegal-immigration, the concern centers around the fact that illegal immigrants drive down wages for working-class Americans and overly burden our public education and assistance programs. But not every one who wants to stop illegal immigration is all that concerned with the very real economic costs. Instead, they’re focused on what they see as cultural costs.

A great example is the highly publicized Minuteman Project which, in its description of itself, doesn’t mention jobs or public assistance at all. Instead, the Minutemen are focused on our culture. To them, the cost of unfettered illegal immigration is this:

Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious "melting pot."

Even some critics who start their argument with economic rationales, have a tendency to end up discussing illegal immigrants as if they were an imperialist army threatening to divide America. Certainly there are assimilation problems with the illegal immigrant community. But the kind of rhetoric spouted by groups like the Minuteman Project borders on the xenophobic.

Assimilation into the American culture has never been a one-way street. Some native traditions are discarded when immigrant groups become Americans, but some traditions are adopted into the cultural fabric of America and define the cultures of our many regions. Whether it’s the Scandinavian influences in our northern plains, the Jewish influences on the East Coast, the Chinese influences in San Francisco, the Germans in Pennsylvania, the Cubans in Florida or the Irish and Africans in Tennessee, local culture is heavily laced with the traditions, cuisines and cultural identifiers of the immigrants who settled there.

As a resident of San Antonio, a city deeply defined by Mexican culture, I am dismayed anytime I read statements fearful of what Mexican influence will do to American cities. I love this city and I love its Mexican overtones. San Antonio is no less American because all the products on our shelves are in Spanish and English, because a slower pace is expected, because we’ll wrap just about anything in a tortilla.

San Antonians revere American freedoms and American democracy and American ideals just as much as people from any other city. And I suspect, given time, all these other cities where Mexicans are settling will find that, while their culture may shift, their Americaness will remain just as strong. Because, in the end, while immigrant cuisines and festivals and even some attitudes will take hold, the great freedoms of our American culture always win.

Immigration has always created strife and there have always been those who refuse to assimilate. But if we are going to rationally and effectively solve the current over-saturation of immigrants, we must do so out of economic concerns. To claim that this involves cultural pollution is ignorantly divisive and will only complicate matters by angering all those who see nothing abhorrent in Mexican culture.

The First National Bank of Wal-Mart

Now this is an interesting story. Wal-Mart wants to expand into banking. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are unhappy.

Friday, April 07, 2006

No, We Do Not Need to Take to the Streets

Most of us have reacted the recent French protests over a new jobs law with a mix of amusement and disapproval. How spoiled are the French if they can’t even tolerate the chance they might be fired from a job? Are they that out-of-touch with the realities of the world?

Well, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, we Americans are the idiots for not demanding the same kinds of job protections the French enjoy.

In an argument that is almost unrepentantly Marxist, Ehrenreich sees the French protestors as noble resisters to the darkly oppressive employment system that sucks the life from American workers. Worse yet, she claims we American workers are complicit in our own oppression. She writes:

Years ago, there was a theory on the American left that someone—maybe it was me—termed Worsism: the worse things get, the more likely people will be to rise up and demand their rights. But in America, at least, the worse things get, the harder it becomes to even imagine any kind of resistance. The fact that you can be fired “at will”—the will of the employer, that is—freezes employees into terrified obedience. Add to that the fact that job loss is accompanied by a loss of access to health care, and you get a kind of captive mentality bordering on the kinkily masochistic: Beat me, insult me, double my workload, but please don’t set me free!

By her description, you’d think the average American office was only one step above a gulag, albeit a gulag with prisoners who pervertedly desire to be incarcerated. The contempt Ehrenreich holds for both American business and the American worker is offensive. When was the last time she even worked in an American office outside of liberal publications like The Progressive? Is she basing this on a horrible personal experience or on nothing more than her general disdain for all things American?

Either way, she’s displaying the kind of rhetoric that makes liberals of her ilk practically unreadable and certainly unhelpful. I actually agree that American workers could use less insecurity in their jobs. And I have long argued that American workers are seriously burdened by a system the ties affordable healthcare too tightly to employment. But Ehrenreich is ridiculous to suggest that Americans are somehow inferior to the French because we are more understanding of the give-and-pull of employment.

There is absolutely no reason to take to the streets over jobs when we as a nation enjoy one of the highest standard of livings in the history of the world. Sure we can improve, but Ehrenreich is wrong to so egregiously inflate the problem and so spitefully belittle the American workers. Her style of communication serves only to hamper the efforts of those clear-headed activists who actually respect American workers and are genuinely trying to improve the lives of employees.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Couric Can't Save Evening News

Katie Couric is taking over at CBS Evening News. But I don't think even a star like Couric can save a slowly dying form.

Read what I have to say about it over at Donklephant.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

At Least Death Doesn't Require So Many Forms

Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics has some facts about that annoying partner to death in the world of inevitability. That's right, taxes. And specifically the insane American tax system.

Estimated amount of time Americans will spend preparing their taxes this year:

6.4 billion hours

Estimated amount of money Americans will spend on tax preparation

$265 billion

Percentage of Americans who will hire someone to prepare their taxes:


Percentage increase in IRS rules and regulations over the last decade:


Number of new pages added to the Form 1040 instruction booklet in the last decade:

58 (from 84 pages to 142)

This isn’t a tax system. This is a big, ole boulder strapped to the backs of every working American. Don’t worry about whether we should be paying more or less in taxes. Let’s at least agree that we should be spending less time and money preparing our returns. A lot less.

Anyone up for a flat tax?

Diebold, Meet Hugo Chavez

After the 2004 elections, there were a number of Democratic voters who questioned whether or not Bush stole the election through the use of electronic voting systems in Ohio. Those machines were made by Diebold, a company with a CEO who openly supported Republicans and who, at one point, said he was committed to helping Bush win Ohio.

Despite rampant conspiracy theories, there is no solid evidence that Diebold’s machines were used to steal the election. But it’s not hard to see how someone would come to the conclusion that there was something fishy going on in Ohio. Computers exist to manipulate information. It wouldn’t take much for an unscrupulous man or woman to rig an election.

That’s why we should all be concerned that the Venezuelan-controlled company Smartmatic, which has close ties to American-bashing President Hugo Chavez, has just acquired one of the largest makers of electronic voting machines in the U.S. Many election experts suspect that Smartmatic helped Chavez corrupt the most recent Venezuelan vote and may have even stole the election for Chavez.

I’m one of the last people you’ll find participating in conspiracy theories, but it’s hardly a loss of reason to question Smartmatic’s loyalties. Which brings up a more fundamental question: should we trust our democracy to computers and their programmers? Any voting system can be corrupted, but computers allow for easy and traceless manipulation. Even with e-voting that provides paper records, the chances of someone being able to rig an election certainly increase when computers are used.

A lot of people on the left felt Diebold may have stolen the 2004 election. And I imagine a lot of people on the right are going to be less than thrilled with the leftist Chavez’s ties to our voting system. Perhaps then this is an issue we can all agree upon. As convenient and speedy as computers are, our democracy is better protected with paper ballots.

A tip of the Stetson goes to fellow Texan moderate blogger, Dyre Portents.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay Won't Be Missed

As most of you know by now, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is resigning. DeLay made this decision because he was worried he’d lose his seat to the Democrats this November. Now the Republicans can field a less-tarnished candidate in DeLay’s heavily Republican district.

This move unfortunately denies DeLay’s constituents the chance to throw the bum out, but I’m not complaining. Throughout his career, DeLay has embodied the worst qualities of modern politics: power-grubbing, divisive, arrogant, spiteful and unethical, to name a few. His absence from Congress can only improve that institution.

Am I too hard on the man? No. He is what’s wrong with Republicans. Yes he was a cunning leader who was instrumental in the Republicans rise to political dominance, but at what cost? In his wake the party is deluged by scandal and unmoored from its traditional commitments to smaller government and balanced budgets. Instead of standing for ideals, DeLay stood for little more than the consolidation of power. Such a man is of no benefit to the nation.

But at least we can look at this news and say that our system, while not perfect, works. Elsewhere in the world, DeLay would have continued on without rebuke, his power untouched because he would be untouchable. But not here. Not in a country with deep layers of checks and balances and a free media and a citizenry with the right and the desire to reject even the most powerful leaders.

This should be a lesson for other Republicans and Democrats as well. You can only get away with corruption for so long. Eventually you’ll get caught and the people will not be pleased.

Here’s hoping the Republicans move past DeLay and return to their more noble roots.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Joe Weedon Returns!

Joe Weedon, my former coauthor at The Yellow Line, has returned to the world of blogs with The Middle of DC.

Joe is a former Republican who left the party a year ago in protest over its increasingly misguided and socially conservative ways. But instead of joining the Democrats, Joe has staked a claim in the political Center where he is one of the most reasoned and intelligent Centrist writers around.

Check out The Middle of DC.

I Don't Know What Constitutes a Real Miracle...

Plans are Great But Where's the Vision?

In discussing the Democrats’ new national security plan released last week, Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post makes the observation that the document, and the Democrats in general, have no grand vision to offer us.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore, by the time they left office, had formed a view. The United States was the "indispensable nation," as Clinton said, that should lead international coalitions to combat transnational threats: not only failed states and terror but also genocide and ethnic cleansing, AIDS, human trafficking, climate change, and more.

The Democrats, led by Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), seem to have reverted to the it's-the-economy-stupid Clinton of 1992. A section of their plan focuses on alternative energy and conservation, for example, but the goal is only "to free America from dependence on foreign oil"; climate change isn't mentioned. Pandemics such as avian flu are to be combated by spending more on public health at home; the rest of the world doesn't figure in.

Throughout the plan, in fact, there is no discussion of values, of liberty or generosity, of free markets or foreign aid -- of any purpose for American leadership larger than self-protection. The pollsters may be satisfied, but John F. Kennedy would not recognize his party.

Let’s be fair. Senators and representatives aren’t known for offering a grand vision of the world. They win and lose elections by offering policies that either appeal or don’t appeal to their constituents. As such, it is no surprise that the Democrats’ national security plan is long on particular policies and short on visionary rhetoric.

And of course the plan is focused on domestic security issues. Congress is, after all, only moderately influential in the setting of foreign policy. The institution is most geared to address domestic concerns and it is the local fears and hopes of each congressperson’s home district that matters come election time.

But Hiatt’s point is still valid, even if he is far too overcritical of this one document. Leaving domestic concerns aside, the Democrats lack a coherent worldview that is easily referenced and understood. This is a failing of both circumstance and leadership that took a firm hold, I believe, during John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Kerry, for all his accurate critiques of the Bush administration, never managed to present a competing worldview—specifically a worldview that adequately addressed the radical Islamist threat.

We understood that Kerry would handle the post-9/11 world differently than Bush, but we never got a sense of how he’d tackle the new problems. Yes, had plans aplenty but attached to what vision? That the Islamic terrorist threat was a minor problem needing targeted solutions? That the Islamic terrorist threat was a major problem needing major solutions different from those Bush was employing? We never really knew because while Kerry seemed to generally agree that the world had changed, he seemed unable to decide exactly what those changes required of us.

Kerry’s failure of vision persists within the party because it is a party’s presidential candidates and not its Congressional leaders who define a party’s worldview. So while it’s not of great importance that the national security plan lacks vision, it is important that the party as a whole has yet to reconcile how we need to view the radical Islamist threat. Through a different kind of confrontation? Through appeasement? Through something else?

I suspect that the party will continue forward in this visionless state until a new presidential candidate is nominated. Hopefully he or she will be able to articulate a coherent worldview.