Monday, June 25, 2007

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Edition 2.13

Welcome to the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy, Edition 2.13 - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy Starting us off this week, David Hayes presents Misguided Reform: The Problem of the Guest Worker posted at Frozen Toothpaste.

zenofeller presents The Real Deal. posted at

Hakim Abdullah presents Is Islam Compatible with Democracy? posted at Hakim Abdullah.

Hell's Handmaiden presents I described a naked detainee? posted at hell's handmaiden.

The Richmond Democrat presents The legacy of "Macaca" is alive and well posted at The Richmond Democrat.

Leon Gettler presents Bush hurts Enron's investors posted at Sox First.

And, now to the humor department:

Madeleine Begun Kane presents The GOP's In For A Rudy Awakening posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness.

Avant News presents Sam Brownback Pregnancy May Put Squeeze On Presidential Bid posted at Avant News.

I'll be back in two weeks (July 9) with another edition of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Submit Your Posts Here. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More Video Democracy in Action

The other day I blogged about the CNN/YouTube debates, and posted my video question to the candidates.

Now, a new site called Community Counts has compiled all the different YouTube questions into a forum where you can vote for the ones that you'd like the candidates to address. (Don't forget to vote for my question.)

Of course, there's no guarantee that CNN will ever visit this site, let alone use this input in selecting the questions for the debate. In fact, we can pretty well guarantee CNN will not use this site as their basis for question selection.

But, if any of the campaigns are on the ball, they will certainly have staffers watching it to see what "the people" think is important. Or, they ignore it at their own peril.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Civics 101: The Branches of Government

Today's Civics 101 question:
Q How many branches of government are there under the United States Constitution?

You may think this is an easy question. I'll bet you said 'Three' without even thinking about it, but you're wrong!

There are an indeterminate and secret number of branches that is a minimum of four. They are the Executive, the Judicial, the Legislative, and the Secret Stuff.

The office of Vice President, previously considered to be part of the Executive Branch, is now officially part of the Secret Stuff Branch.

I'm not making this stuff up either. Dick Cheney is.

His office has exempted itself from the National Archives collection of classified material, telling the agency that the Vice President's office is not part of the executive branch. Really.

Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Oversight Committee, has written Cheney a very serious letter, saying:
"Your decision to exempt your office from the President's order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office."
The the National Archives has also filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office. But the Justice Department has not yet followed up on the Archives's request. Let's see, who's the Attorney General these days? Oh, right.

Better get to work re-writing all those fifth grade civics texts; this government is just too big to be contained in just three branches.

read more about it

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mike Gravel: Rock and Rolls

Mike Gravel is running for President. Who's Mike Gravel? Well, you haven't been watching enough cable news or YouTube if you've got to ask that question. He's the former Democratic Senator from Alaska who is now best known for "The Rock" video (see below).

The video has Senator Gravel staring at the camera for about two minutes without saying a word, then walking away, stopping to throw a large stone into a pond, then continuing out of camera range. It's an odd bit of existential video, and it's attracted quite a bit of attention.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that without "Rock" - and the attention it has received from the likes of Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann - we would not be talking about Mike Gravel, let alone know that he's running for president.

So, let's clear up a couple of things about the video. First off, it is not a campaign ad. The two guys who made the video approached the Senator with the concept, and asked him to appear in it. They financed it, not the campaign. It's posted under their YouTube account, not his.

Their video is about an outsider (he retired from the Senate about 25 years ago) and regular citizen throwing stones at the system and causing ripples in the water. Read those ripples however you want; as futile efforts or the start of a revolution. Interpretation is up to you. Again, it's not a campaign ad, it's a political allegory.

But, it got me curious enough to look up Senator Gravel's site and see where he stands on the issues. And you know what? I kind of like the guy! He wants us out of Iraq, he's for a national initiative process, he's for health care vouchers, he's pro gay marriage, he's for abortion rights, and he has rational (gasp!) non-ideological positions on gun control and drug reform.

About the only major policy area where I completely disagree with Senator Gravel's position is the so-called "Fair Tax." That's a national sales tax that would replace the current Income Tax system and IRS. The "fair" part about it is a "prebate" to reimburse us for the taxes paid on necessities (food, clothing, shelter, health care).

Unfortunately, all sales tax - even with "prebates" - are always going to end up being regressive as the poor will always spend a higher percentage of their income than the rich. Those who can afford to save will have a lower effective tax rate than those who spend all they earn (and maybe a bit more). The rich may pay more total dollars with a sales tax, but the poor and middle class will pay a higher percentage.

But, as I said, that's about the only issue where I really can't see myself agreeing with Senator Mike Gravel. Would I have ever found about him from the media based on his own ads? No. Would I have heard about him in the mainstream news based on his speeches and debate appearances? Doubtful.

So, make fun of the "Rock" video all you want, it's getting Gravel noticed, and it's getting him supporters. Yes, viral video can change elections, or, at least, make them more interesting.

(Click the big arrow in the middle of the screen to start the videos. The first video is the infamous "Rock" video. The second is an interview with Senator Gravel discussing the video and more. The third is just one of the many parodies also surfacing online.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yet Another Website

Yep, I've added another website domain to my collection. This one is a project related to my nonprofit consulting blog. It started a little over a year ago when I blogged about a Reverend in England who gave 90 parishioners £10 each with the request that they do something with it to increase the donation within six months.

A year later I still find the Reverend's story inspirational, and find I want to spread the ideas and collect more low-cost fundraising ideas. My interest is nonprofits, but the ideas are great for formal organizations as well as loosely based grassroots ones, churches, schools, political campaigns, whatever.

I am simply calling the site - Twenty Dollar Fundraising Ideas ($20 is approximately £10). I have posted the first ten low-cost fundraising ideas, the Reverend's story, and a form for readers to submit their own $20 ideas.

Please check it out and let me know what you think. Thank you!

Monday, June 18, 2007

That goofy Don Wildmon is at it again!

Well, I'm going to get hate mail! Whenever I pick on poor, little Donny Wildmon I get tons of email telling me how wrong I've got him, and what a swell guy Don is, and how all he really cares about is the kids.

So, when I finish this posting and call him a lying son of a bitch, whose hatred of anybody who disagrees with him is so deep that he'll stoop to the lowest point to defeat them, I'm going to get some hate mail.

Here's the latest from Wildmon's American Family Association. It's an Action Alert to Congress, "In Defense of Religious Freedom."
Be one of one million Americans willing to take a stand in defense of two of our most precious freedoms—freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Here’s why:
  • A California lawsuit which is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court would make the use of the words “natural family,” “marriage” and “union of a man and a woman” a “hate speech” crime in government workplaces. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
  • CNN and The Washington Post both reported that General Peter Pace, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, was fired because of his publicly expressed moral opposition to homosexual behavior.
  • A bill now before Congress (H.R. 1592 / S. 1105) would criminalize negative comments concerning homosexuality, such as calling the practice of homosexuality a sin from the pulpit, a “hate crime” punishable by a hefty fine and time in prison. This dangerous legislation would take away our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion.
...Please sign our petition and forward to other freedom-loving Americans.
Gosh, I'd sign the petition myself if it weren't for the fact that all three of their bullet points are outright fabricated, fictional, LIES!
  • The court case referenced had nothing to do with "hate speech." It had to do with speech in the workplace, and an employers' "administrative interest" in dealing with non-work-related situations that distract employees from their work.
  • General Pace was dismissed for a number of reasons, including his comments on homosexuals. But that was not the primary reason; that was because of the administration's bungling of the Iraq war. Remember the war?
  • And, most importantly, the Hate Crimes Bill has absolutely nothing in it about Hate Speech. It only criminalizes the willful infliction of bodily injury on others.
Don Wildmon is not a loving person. He is not a good person. He is not looking out for anybody but himself and a narrow group of people who support him, and who he can control. And he doesn't even trust them to do what he asks without having to resort to lies to convince them.

Wildmon is nothing but a lying son of a bitch, whose hatred of anybody who disagrees with him is so deep that he'll stoop to the lowest point to defeat them.

Many thanks to the Snopes Urban Legend page for researching the facts on this one.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The YouTube-CNN Debates

Here's a great way to use Web 2.0 to encourage democracy:
This summer and fall, YouTube, CNN and a few engaged and engaging citizens will make political history by having the presidential candidates answer questions submitted via YouTube videos.
Anderson Cooper will host the debates, by choosing the questions from among the videos submitted. The videos will be played for the candidates to answer. The first debate, with the Democratic hopefuls, will be held on July 23. The Republican YouTube-CNN debate is scheduled for September.

Here's the question I've submitted for the July 23 debate:
Some background San Jose Statistics:
  • population 900,000; 10th largest city in U.S.
  • "Capitol of Silicon Valley"
  • "Safest large city in America"
  • CA minimum wage = $7.50/hour; about $1,100/month after taxes
  • median apartment rental = $1,125/month
  • median home value = $400,000
  • incidence of overcrowding in greater than 18% of households
  • # of households with 7 or more persons grew 150% in 20 years
You can view more of the submitted questions at

Stats from Census 2000, City of San Jose

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Food Stamp Diet

There's a new diet sweeping the halls of Congress and many local legislatures throughout the U.S. this week. It's one loaded with fats and carbs, and probably won't help you lose anything but your appetite.

It's the Food Stamp Challenge, where elected representatives try to live on the approximately $3 per day that those on Food Stamps must live on. Big juicy steaks have been replaced with bologna sandwiches in the Capitol dining room, the Taco Bell Value Menu has become a favorite meal out, and for those Congressmen and women who've been willing to put their stomach where their mouth is, it's been a heck of a week.

From Representative Barbara Lee's Food Stamp Challenge diary:
It's hard to concentrate for any length of time on anything except food. I don't know how people with no money for decent meals do anything - study, work, exercise, read, have fun, etc. It's all about just making it through the day. ... (day three)

... This is such an unhealthy diet. I am trying to eat the most healthy food I can afford, but I have no problem imagining how someone eating like this could quickly develop diabetes or high cholesterol. And with all these carbs, I can see how easy it would be to gain a fair amount of weight. ... (day four)
Could you live on $3 per day? I'm pretty sure I couldn't. While typing this short blog entry I ate my breakfast of a Cliff bar and a Crystal Geyser Juice Squeeze, leaving me less than a dollar for the next 15 hours or so before I go back to bed.

Obviously, the members of Congress (and local officials) who are participating are doing this to raise awareness of the challenges that millions of Americans face in providing their family with food security, and to build support for the Farm Bill that includes an increase in federal support for the Food Stamp program.

Is your rep on the Food Stamp Diet? Do you think he or she should experience poverty first hand? Why not send them a note and suggest they get on board.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy

Welcome to the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy, Edition 2.12 - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy I admit it; I can't stop. Each time I say I'm going to take a break, I just keep coming back. So, here we are again, with another edition of the carnival, and what an edition it is...

Ian Welsh presents Ok, Once More: No Existential Threat posted at The Agonist.

Wenchypoo presents Rattling the Political Chain of Command posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket.

vjack presents Media Negligence: Paris Hilton is Not Newsworthy posted at Atheist Revolution.

Doug Ragan presents Republican Backstabbing And Political Suicide posted at I'm a Pundit Too.

Jim Tobin presents Michigan Leadership Survey Shows No Confidence posted at The Brogan Survey.

And we wind it all up with a little comic relief from:

Avant News presents George W. Bush to Replace Will Shortz as NYT Crossword Puzzle Editor posted at Avant News.

Madeleine Begun Kane presents GOP Piety Song Parody (Sing to Billy Joel?s Honesty) posted at Mad Kane's Political Madness.

I'll be back in two weeks (June 25) with another edition of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Submit Your Posts Here. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Beers to the Chief

I don't really have much to say about this, I just wanted to share a little photo of our recovering-alcoholic-in-chief sneaking a little beer at the G8 summit. Yes, it was "near beer", but that still contains some alcohol, and, as they say at AA, "non-alcoholic beer is for non-alcoholics."

And don't reply that he has to have a drink to fit in with the other world leaders. That ain't it. Russian bad-ass Vlady-boy Putin doesn't drink at those things. And, um, shouldn't a "world leader" be able to stand up to a little peer pressure?

So, why should anybody care? Well, you probably shouldn't, and this is probably just a lame excuse for putting in a picture of W drinking. But, if you're an alcoholic looking for a role model, and looking for an example of living an alcohol-free lifestyle, your president is not the guy to look to.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

In Search of Hitchcock's Santa Cruz

After moving to the U.S. to work in Hollywood in 1939, famed director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma, recognized the need for a second "country" home away from Los Angeles. One of their desires was for a place where they could cultivate wine grapes.

Joan Fontaine, the star of Hitchcock's Rebecca, who had grown up in Los Gatos, recommended (or, according to some stories, her mother recommended) that the Hitchcock's look in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1940 Hitch bought a 200 acre ranch in Scotts Valley, just outside of Santa Cruz, which served as his second home for more than thirty years (picture at right).

I've known about Hitch's local history for a while, but only this week did I finally go in search of the Hitchcock ranch. All I had to go on were a few photos and the nonspecific address of "the end of Canham Road."

Well, I didn't find the precise house. From the way it seems, the house is probably gone, and the property subdivided into several new lots. That, or the road has moved somewhat from where it lay before. There are a couple of driveways (with severe no trespassing warnings) that may yield clues, but when I checked them on Google Earth they appear to have newer and larger structures than what I've seen in the old photos.

What I did find:

Just up the street from the Santa Cruz Pier, on Beach Hill, are two structures credited for inspiring the Bates Motel and mother's house from Psycho. (Another local house, also part of the Bates house lore, was torn down years ago.)

Of course, I captured this whole little adventure on video, including a bit about Hitch's Northern California Filmography, and an explanation of the Santa Cruz connection to The Birds.

To play the video, click on the big arrow in the center of the screen below. It's only about 3-1/2 minutes.

For more on Hitchcock in Santa Cruz, see this story from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

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