Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Newt’s Bankrupt and Romney’s Going to Profit

I've been quiet lately, and not because there isn't a lot going on: The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the healthcare law ("Obamacare" to some), the story of the shooting in Florida continues to evolve and grow as a movement, and the Republican Primary is still grinding on, albeit with a couple new bumps in the road. Since I don't want to talk about the healthcare law and I can't do the Martin case justice right now, I'll stick to my comfort zone and hash out the latest Republican Nomination craziness. 

So, what has happened?

Newt's "Southern Revival" has become a Southern Foreclosure. The Gingrich campaign is underwater on its mortgage. It's not that it hasn't had its ups and downs, and it's not even that it hasn't been worse off before, but now that it is crunch time they simply didn't deliver when they needed to in the southern states. With Santorum taking Louisiana and no potentially Gingrich friendly states until May, there's good reason for even his most ardent supporters to be cynical. I think there is one main reason behind Newt's decline, and I'd be surprised if his campaign staff didn't agree: No full debates since February and no new ones on the calendar. Newt's strength is in his verbal performance, and when he can't show that off and doesn't have the money to beat back negative ads or campaign as effectively as the others, his campaign loses steam. Now that they're laying off a third of their campaign staff and losing his campaign manager to "refocus" the campaign, it is difficult to impossible to see a scenario where Newt will have the funds, let alone the momentum or delegates, to make another splash before Tampa. 

Santorum shouldn't want Gingrich out after all. Santorum has said for weeks that if Newt Gingrich dropped out of the race he could beat Mitt Romney in the primaries. Gingrich said similar things about Santorum back when momentum was on his side. What is proving really interesting is that likely neither are correct, but Santorum is almost certainly wrong. Yes, Santorum has won a fair number of states and he did win Louisiana recently, but he has gone from leading Romney nationally to trailing him by 10 points. I know, these things seem to change every week in this election cycle and this may be a fluke, but I don't think it is. In addition to slipping poll numbers, recent polls show that more Gingrich supporters back Romney as their second choice than Rick Santorum. If Gingrich was out of the race and the numbers were run again, Romney's lead over Santorum actually expands to 15 points. Apparently, despite what Rick has been saying lately, he and Gingrich don't have the same base of support and his numbers against Romney actually look worse in a more head-to-head situation. What does that mean for Santorum? There's trouble on the horizon, and any Tampa strategy against Romney is looking less and less feasible as time goes on.

Romney, despite his best efforts, is gaining momentum. The man who brought you the trees are the right height, the $10,000 off the cuff bet, and some less than believable southern pandering about grits continues to be the Teflon warrior. I don't doubt the man's intelligence, but he has a knack for saying things that the media loves to replay non-stop and would give most campaign managers a heart attack. That said, his numbers are improving nationally, his financial situation is rebounding, and it looks like he can actually wrap up the nomination before Tampa if things go well. So why all the "good" news for Romney? Personally, I think the voters are tired. We all liked the idea of being involved and many of us liked the idea of the 2012 primaries lasting long enough for our states to make a difference, but after three full months of this mess and its unpredictability, people are getting weary of trying to stay informed about each week's gaffes, polls, and primaries and are looking for something stable. That something is Romney, and the chaos that threatened to take him down may actually propel him to the nomination. And now that polls show that Gingrich supporters are more likely to support Romney than Santorum, bad news for Newt is good news for Mitt, and it looks like there's going to be quite a bit of bad news for Newt in the next month. Romney may not have it wrapped up yet, but Santorum is slipping (not surprising given his own unpredictable and polarizing nature) and Gingrich never bounced back, so it's his to lose right now.

Ron Paul... You know what, I just don't know anymore. I get mail and emails from all the campaigns, and Ron Paul's comes across as the most angry and self-deluded. Despite the delegate math, the inability to win a single state's primary or caucus (remember the Paul's campaign strategy to win the caucus states?), and no momentum of any sort in the polls to indicate things will change, Ron Paul's campaign continues to proclaim that victory is within their grasp and they'd be doing better if things weren't stacked against them, and so on. That would be a lot more believable if they hadn't been saying the same thing in these emails for months and that victory was actually even within their field of vision much less grasp, but it's a campaign line they haven't tired of. Apparently his supporters haven't either, since money bomb after money bomb raises millions to pour back into the campaign. I don't understand this, to be honest. I like a lot of things about Paul but also have big reservations, which I've discussed previously. But at this point in the game, who in their right mind thinks he can somehow pull off a convention strategy and overthrow not just Romney, but the other two as well? It just doesn't add up. Polls show that Paul's supporters are very loyal, but he's barely a blip on the radar as a second choice candidate from the others. If any one of them drops out, it strengthens one of the others, not Paul. It's not the media, or the establishment, or whoever that is "against" Paul or somehow keeping him down, it's reality. The reality is that despite all the excitement, the seemingly endless supply of grassroots money and vocal support, and the unique ideas, the overwhelming majority of people are not willing to vote for him in the primaries. Potential national election match up polls are pointless when no one will vote to make you a national candidate. If Paul supporters are still donating millions to make a statement or express dissatisfaction, that I can at least respect. Otherwise, I can dig a pit in my back yard if they're looking for a place to dump money.

Well, that's all for now. For things coming up, I think that Romney will sweep the upcoming April 3rd primaries and strengthen his delegate count further, Santorum will continue to fight to get a stronger foothold in the Romney-friendly April contests, Gingrich will likely conserve what resources he has left and stay visible but low-key until May when the calendar looks friendlier, and Ron Paul will continue on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It’s Not That Simple: MS and AL Don’t Clarify Things.

Well, the results are (mostly) in, and Santorum will win both Mississippi and Alabama. I’m a little surprised he pulled it off since his numbers had been slipping, but there are some important take away points from tonight.
1.      Tonight changes nothing from the perspective of the race. Think about it. How are we in a different place than we were last night? Mitt Romney still isn’t pulling the “conservative” crowd over to his side, but still has a substantial delegate lead. Rick Santorum is still riding his momentum with the conservative base and winning states, but he didn’t expand his lead over Gingrich tonight in any significant way due to the narrow margin of his victories. Gingrich is still behind and not catching up any. He is treading water in third place, no better or worse than he was before. Ron Paul still exists. At the end of the day, nothing actually changed.
2.      There’s no reason to expect Gingrich to drop out after not winning MS and AL, particularly since he almost pulled it off. He’ll point out that he beat Mitt Romney in both states and came very close to catching Santorum as well. He’ll point to the dissatisfaction of the conservative voter with Romney and the strength of his showing. As mentioned in point 1, since little has changed, there’s no new reason for Gingrich to drop, and arguably less since he will pick up almost as many delegates as Santorum tonight. I know Santorum’s supporters will be ruffled by this, but let’s face it- people wanted Santorum out after he fell flat in South Carolina and not listening to them when his campaign was on life support turned out to be a good decision. Santorum might be able to beat Romney without Gingrich in the race, but the flip side of that applies too. Other than the marginal delegate lead over Gingrich (substantially less than Romney’s lead over him) there’s just no reason for him to say Gingrich should drop. It’s not that Newt is spoiling it for him, it’s that they’re spoiling it for each other. Either of them could feel much more justified in asking Paul to drop and try to support them in taking down Romney, but they know they wouldn’t gain any significant support by doing that so they’re leaving that issue alone since Paul’s supporters are much more candidate-loyal.
3.      At the end of the night, no one is happy. Sure, Santorum gets to claim “victory”, but it’s not significant enough to help him chip away at Romney’s lead or expand the lead over Gingrich. He’ll essentially tread water despite the victories. The delegate math is still bad for him and he knows it. Romney gets to claim that he performed better than expected, but his pandering in the South didn’t deliver him any wins and only provided more material for media jokes about the odd things he says in states when he’s working a little too hard to “fit in”. He’s still in the best delegate position, but every big delegate take where he doesn’t expand his lead is one step closer to a brokered convention. Gingrich gets to point out that his campaign came from behind to snag almost as many delegates as the winner, but in reality it is clear his Southern strategy is  not working. He needed wins tonight for visual momentum if nothing else and he didn’t get it. The delegate math is also ugly for him and despite picking up the 2nd place in both contests tonight, it’s also not going to change the balance for him significantly.
4.      Santorum and Gingrich should be watched. As mentioned above, there’s no more reason for Newt to drop now than before, so Rick isn’t going to get that lucky. What is odd are the comments Newt made at an event about teaming up against Romney in the ad war and the compliments he sent Santorum’s way tonight at his concession speech, all the while blasting Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Even if it is forged out of desperation, some sort of arrangement between Gingrich and Santorum could be in the works.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Everyone seems a little annoyed (no matter which side you’re on) tonight, and I think that’s the atmosphere we’re going to be running with all the way to Tampa.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Free Speech Isn’t Just for People That Don’t Tick You Off

Today’s CNN Poll demonstrating that 45% of respondents don’t value the First Amendment.

It never ceases to amaze me how selective some people can be when they talk about free speech. For some, it means that it’s acceptable to stand on a street corner telling people they’re going to hell for consuming alcohol, but not acceptable to protest outside a government building that the wealthy have too much influence. For others it may mean that it’s fine to camp as a form of protest in public parks and deprive others the use of that land, but not okay to protest to express your religious views on abortion. The latest target of the anti-free speech crowd (a label I have given them for the sake of argument) is Rush Limbaugh. As anyone with a TV, radio, newspaper, or computer knows, Limbaugh has taken a lot of heat and lost a lot of advertisers for referring to women like Sandra Fluke a “slut” or “prostitute” because in his opinion, demanding that insurers or employers pay for contraception amounts to being paid for sex. Now don’t get me wrong, Rush Limbaugh is not a classy guy. If I were to use a list of words to describe him, tasteful, logical, and appropriate wouldn’t appear anywhere on the list. But that’s not the point is it? The point is he called, whether directly or indirectly, this woman a “slut”, and now some liberals and feminists are calling for his head. Gloria Allred, another well known public figure with a penchant for drama, has called for legal action against Rush. I have no doubt that she’d love to be selected for that lawsuit. Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem want the FCC to take action against Rush. CNN’s homepage had a poll today asking if Rush Limbaugh should be kicked off the air, and so far over 40,000 people have voted “Yes”. Let me say that I think, in no uncertain terms, all of these people are wrong.

These people, some of which are well known for their own inflammatory remarks, seem to have lost their understanding of what free speech means. What Rush said was not hate speech. It may be hateful speech, it may be offensive speech, but it in no way posed an immediate threat to Ms. Fluke through instigating violent action or hate crimes, which is what hate speech is typically defined as in the United States. If Ms. Fluke wished to pursue it as a slander case that may be possible depending on the state laws involved, but federally speaking, what Rush said was legal and well within the protection of the first amendment. Even the ACLU, an organization I don’t often love, has specific articles relating to instances of offensive speech and why we must protect the rights of those saying these things. In fact, here’s a quote from that article I find particularly applicable: “How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied.” You may hate what he says, and you may hate this comment of his specifically, but if you value our Constitution and your own right to free speech, you are obligated to protect his right to say it.

It is simply stunning to me that so many fringe elements of our political system want to be able to say or do whatever they want under the label “free speech” but the second someone offends them, they demand legal actions, regulations, or the removal of that person from their position. To all of you I say this: Free speech is not just for people that agree with you or you simply don’t care about. Free speech ensures that you are going to hear people say things you find offensive and distasteful from time to time, just as they may find your speech offensive and distasteful. What protects your rights protects all our rights. The way to beat Rush Limbaugh and those like him (don’t kid yourself, they exist on both sides of the political spectrum) isn’t to try to infringe on the rights of all Americans, but rather to speak out yourself. Use your right to free speech and tell people why you think he’s wrong. Tell people why they shouldn’t listen to him. Just don’t tell the government that he shouldn’t be allowed to say it and then get mad when they turn around and take your rights away too.


The Newt Gingrich/Rick Perry Illusion

Many of you have probably seen the tweets, facebook posts, and blurbs claiming that Gingrich’s campaign has talks in the works about the possibility of a Gingrich-Perry ticket. This has excited some and caused groans from others. My personal opinion? Talks about the “possibility” probably are in the works, and that’s as far as they’ll ever get. Gingrich and his campaign staff are not dumb. Floating speculation that you’re considering a formerly popular Southern Christian conservative as your running mate just before a couple of Southern Christian states go to the polls is a smart political move. Gingrich knows he needs to win those states. He knows that even if he does win those states it is going to be an uphill battle, but he’s taking it one step at a time and the Alabama and Mississippi primaries are the next step. In order to draw voters away from Santorum, who occasionally treats the podium like a pulpit and has attracted the voters that like that, Perry is great ammunition. They both appeal to conservative Christians who apparently aren’t really listening to what the candidates say. Better yet, saying (or even better, having a random source leak) that you’re “considering” someone as a running mate means nothing. I can say I’m considering eating at Chili’s tonight to bring out some of my Chili’s-loving friends and then decide I’d rather eat at Olive Garden. They might be annoyed for a little bit, but they’re already out so they’re probably not going to bother going back home. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gingrich is playing that exact game. I don’t know if Rick Perry would actually consider a VP nod from Gingrich if things played out that way, but I don’t think he’d actually get the nod anyway. Gingrich’s political past shows he does know how the game is played, even if he seems to go off course from time to time, and I think he’ll pick someone more likely to draw in the precious independent and centrist voters needed to win the election if it comes down to that.  For now, Perry’s name is probably just part of the political game, nothing more.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kansas REALLY Likes Rick Santorum

I expected Santorum to win Kansas, and I assumed internal polls must be showing him with an insurmountable advantage for Newt Gingrich to cancel his trip there when he so badly needs a strong showing in conservative states. What I didn’t expect was for him to beat Mitt Romney by 30%. Rick Santorum’s campaign will now have more legitimate ammunition to throw at Mitt Romney that conservatives don’t want him as their candidate, and I think you’re going to see an all out ad war between those two campaigns and their Super PACs when the winner-take-all states become more common. I hope those seatbelts are still fastened, GOP voters.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Darker Side of Invisible Children and Stop Kony

First off, I'd like to thank those of you that viewed and commented on my recent post and reshare of TheDailyWhat's views on the Kony video from Invisible Children. The response to that post and my short comment on it was much, much larger than I could have anticipated and with that attention came a lot of scrutiny into both sides. So, as promised, here is my take on the Kony campaign and Invisible Children. It's long, and it took quite some time to research and write, so I hope it's worthwhile.
In order to be as fair as I can, I'd like you to have access to the Invisible Children Inc.'s response to some of the major critiques raised against them since the Kony 2012 campaign went viral. I also urge you at some point to take a look one of the main articles, from 2011, that has been mentioned in regard to the situation in the region around Uganda and the U.S. military's involvement. The Foreign Affairs article is a much more realistic take on the situation facing South Central and Eastern Africa than most blog posts I've read with concerns about this movement out there, so I think it's a good place to start a discussion. I don't want to overload you right away, so whether you read those now or read them afterwards isn't important, but I wanted you to have those resources. I will also cite my sources as efficiently as I can as I go along (should you want to check the facts and the articles I'm talking about). For now though, let's get started.
Why do I take issue with Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 Campaign?
1.       Financials: As you'll see in the response to recent criticism, Invisible Children is trying to make the way they spend their donations a lot clearer after being blasted by blogs and editorials for the relatively small percentage of their funds that actually make it to Africa. Some articles have reported that figure as 31%, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the 37.14% figure they quote on their website. So what don't I like about this? A few things. First and foremost, less than 40% of the nearly $14 million they raised last year went to Central Africa programs. The second problem with that 37.14% figure is that all that money isn't actually spent on programs. You see, the financial transparency in their statements goes pitch black once the money hits Africa. This is not a unique problem with international charities that work with partner organizations, but it brings up two big problems. 1- Any money you donate will have a cut taken here for administration and expenses before any percentage of it actually goes to directly help citizens of Uganda, Sudan, or other Central African countries. And 2- Another cut for administration and expenses will be taken by Invisible Children's organization in Africa to cover their expenses there before it is ever put into a program as well, and we have no idea what the size of that cut is. I made a little chart here to show you how the money flows, at least as far as we can track it, at Invisible Children (this was made using their financial figures from their most recent annual report and their website): Breakdown of Invisible Children Funding Flow

My second complaint about their financials is how they get you to donate that money. The Kony film is very well made, and is a fantastic example of good marketing and achieving an emotional response. They try to turn that emotional response into the action of supporting them financially by getting you to either buy their $30 Action Kit, their $10 Kony Bracelet, or begin making donations to them on a monthly basis. They tell you that donating will "help fund our lifesaving programs" and that their donors "put their money toward their belief in all human life". Neither statement is false, but mainly because they're so vague that this short movie, filmed at great cost, may be considered one of their "lifesaving" programs. There may be some merit to that, but considering they talk about the programs to rebuild schools and put radios in Uganda for a rebel warning network before they start hitting you up for a donation, it is clearly not what they hope you're thinking about when you get out your credit card. Any organization that pulls at my heartstrings and tells me I'm donating to improve schools in Africa and give them radios to communicate, but then makes you work to discover that somewhere under 37% of whatever they receive in donations will actually make it to Africa is going to get a little skepticism from me. Another thing that should make everyone a bit skeptical is that their financials are anything but totally transparent, as they claim they are. Yes, they are a non-profit and non-profits have to report a lot of data about how they spend their money. So, sure, they show you what they're spending money on, but the titles of what they're spending money "on" really doesn't tell you what they're spending money on. Got it? There's also the murkiness of some lack of oversight concerns, a lot of concern about why exactly you spend about a million dollars on travel in one year making a movie that is 30 minutes long, and a heck of a lot of concern over why that 30 minute movie cost over two million dollars this past year alone to create. Invisible Children can correct this omission in their video by more clearly explaining their role in Uganda and what your money really goes to before they ask you to donate, and that would settle it for me. I don't agree with the way their funds are divided up where "awareness" becomes a continuously growing cycle as they spend more to create awareness and then take in even more in donations from that awareness to fund their awareness programs, while actual ground work is a tertiary priority, but being clear about that at least lets their donors know up front where their money is really going. That's all.
2.       They're short sighted: Please read this before you jump to conclusions. Killing Kony (capturing him at this point is highly unlikely, especially considering the parties involved, but I'll touch on that in a second) will not stop the problems in Central Africa. I firmly believe that Invisible Children knows this and I am not suggesting that they think all the problems in that region will disappear if Kony is brought to justice. However, as their use of funds clearly shows, they are not investing as heavily in the long term stabilization and improvement of Uganda as they are in capturing or killing a single man. Yes, Joseph Kony is a very bad man who has done horrible things. Yes, the world would probably be a better place if he were no longer free to run his rebel army in it. But removing Kony will likely not stop the LRA, whose members are more likely to join an allied or related rebel force, or appoint a new leader, than assimilate back into society. Even worse than the fact that stopping this one man won't stop the movement he has been instrumental in driving are the methods that Invisible Children has supported, either directly or indirectly through omission of facts, in an effort to stop Kony. Make no mistake about it, through Invisible Children's silence and selective outrage, they aren't just allowing a new war to start, they're promoting it. They tell you that by supporting them you will join their "army for peace", but when you get down to it, Invisible Children is directly advocating for further and expanded military action in a region that is actually far more stable now than it has been in over 20 years. That's not to say things are good or that we shouldn't be striving to improve them, but I definitely don't think starting a new war or expanding a shrinking one in the region you claim to be helping is the best path towards stability and safety. It certainly hasn't worked for the US in the last 11 years, and I am highly skeptical we can coach African armies to do better than we did. Why not? That's next.
3.       Their solutions are almost as bad as the existing problem: There are two huge problems here that should shock you as much as the Kony video did. The first is that Invisible Children has tried to help fix this before, and the involvement of groups like them, with good intentions, made things even worse. In 2008, Invisible Children was present in Juba to promote and document the peace talks with Kony, representing the LRA, and Uganda. They can be seen at that event peacefully posing for a "joke" photo with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, whose atrocity list rivals that of Kony himself here: Invisible Children Founders pose with weapons from the SPLA
But other than being indirectly involved with another army with a laundry list of mass killings and rape, what's wrong with the peace talks the Invisible Children founders wanted to be involved with? They made things a lot worse. The peace talks didn't go well and ended up just giving Kony time to kidnap more than a thousand new children under the cover of a cease fire and expand and re-equip his army. This was even mentioned in their film, but their presence and interest in it wasn't. Worse yet, the Ugandan government, which remember from the film is who we're supposed to be helping to put a stop to Kony's atrocities, tried to convince the International Criminal Court (who plays a key part in the movie) to withdraw its indictments against Kony and other LRA leaders and let them take care of things themselves. You might think, sure, local justice seems reasonable, but guarantees and conditions were being made to reduce the punishments Kony might face as part of the peace process! Invisible Children failed to mention their presence at this process or what happened with the "peace" process in their film, instead leading you to believe that capturing Kony has been impossible so far and that we can only now bring a peaceful resolution to this. That is an omission of truth at best and deliberate twisting of the past at worst. Unfortunately when these peace talks fell apart, Kony and his now much larger army attacked the SPLA and killed dozens before going on a bloody rampage of attacks at the end of 2008 that left hundreds more dead. So although they won't come out and say it, Invisible Children knows that a peaceful solution won't work and they were there when it didn't work before. Obviously affected by this, in 2009 they and one of their favorite senators, Russell Feingold, were instrumental in the passage of a bill through Congress that authorized the US to plan for military action of its own in the region and work with these local "elements" against the LRA. They know how much worse the peace talks with a madman actually made things but they chose to only tell you a part of the story in their video, leading you to believe that we can bring this conflict to a peaceful end.

Another big piece of evidence that shows their interest in "peace" actually involves more war is that Invisible Children proudly claims to have been instrumental in getting Congress to send elite US soldiers to Uganda to help train the Ugandan army (the UPDF) with better tactics to combat the LRA. They advertise this as their biggest victory so far in their video. I'll ignore that the US was actually already quietly involved in the region before Invisible Children got involved and focus on what matters here. The US, validated by the support of Invisible Children, the Enough Project, and others, decided they could publicly send elite soldiers to Uganda to train their army. That would probably be fine if the Ugandan army could be trusted to use those tactics for good, but as objective news sources have repeatedly reported, that is not the case. In fact the Ugandan army, the army that Invisible Children is trying to support and use to stop Kony, has numerous child soldiers of their own. They do draw the line at the age of 13, something Kony doesn't do, and they promised in 2006 to stop using child soldiers, but the UNHuman Rights Watch, and the BBC have reported that child soldier recruitment, child and other civilian abuse, rape, arbitrary arrests, torture, and murders of civilians and children by the UPDF is still ongoing and is a particular problem against the North Ugandan civilians. So did you catch all that? Invisible Children, according to their video, wants us to support our government sending more soldiers or resources to Uganda to help the Ugandan army receive better training and equipment so they can "stop" Joseph Kony. We need to stop Kony, as you know, because he is an evil man who kidnaps children and forces them to fight in his rebel army and do all kinds of unspeakable things. He is the bad guy. The UPDF, the good guys that we're told to support and send after him, also use children soldiers that have been threatened or intimidated into joining their ranks, and they also have a very recent history of human rights violations including raping women and children, imprisoning, torturing, and killing the residents of the Northern part of Uganda. This may be one of those "lesser of two evils" situations, but that is certainly not how it is explained in the video, and is exactly the reason that some Ugandan leaders and columnists have been loudly calling for restraint and research into the anti-Kony campaign before it makes things worse for northern Uganda, especially since Kony isn't even in Uganda anymore and their citizens are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy with him gone.
Conclusions: Invisible Children's heart might be in the right place, but I can't support their charity, which functions as a marketing firm first and a supporter of Ugandan citizens second, and its Kony campaign. Stopping people like Kony is of course an important and worthwhile endeavor, and I do applaud them for bringing the issue of child soldiers and African violence into the global spotlight in a big way. They've reached tens of millions of people and obviously it's having a huge response. Seeing that make me hope that they've done some good and made our citizens more aware of the injustices in other parts of the world. That said, being aware of a problem and actually fixing it are two different things. With the way they want to "fix" things, I can't offer any support to them financially or morally beyond just applauding them for bringing the issue up. If I wanted to support long-term stability and reform in the region, I would donate to any number of Ugandan charities that put my money directly to work for Ugandans. I am also having a hard time trusting Invisible Children. Their video omits too many inconvenient facts about themselves, the groups they've chosen to ally with as their instruments of change, and the situation in the region for me to believe they want us to know the whole truth. As such, I find it difficult to trust their movement, no matter how good its intentions may seem on the surface, when I now know its past. There is no doubt in my mind that Invisible Children's Stop Kony movement would have us trade one oppressor and violator of human rights in the Uganda region for another, and that's just not a solution I can support in good conscience.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lottery Winners Still Deserve Welfare?

For once I’m practically speechless that someone can be this disconnected with reality. Here is the article describing a Michigan woman who won $1 million in the lottery, but still received $200 a month in food assistance and is now arguing she still needs public aid. Here are a few snippets if you just want the quick view:
After taking a lump sum and paying taxes, the unemployed woman said she ended up with just more than $500,000. … Like many winners, she used her $1 million prize to buy a new house. … resident is receiving money in another form — $200 a month in state food assistance … “I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn’t, I thought, maybe, it was OK because I’m not working,” Clayton, 24, told WDIV … Asked if she had the right to the public assistance money, Clayton answered, “I kind of do. I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses.” … Clayton told WDIV she would continue using the food-assistance card until it is cut off. “It’s hard. I am struggling.

This is absolutely ridiculous. $500,000 after taxes is the equivalent of 24.83 years of the Lincoln Park, MI per capita income. Apparently Ms. Clayton couldn’t manage to budget that $500,000 well enough to be able to afford food for even a year (she won the prize in September). She bought a house, apparently now owning two houses, and bought a new car, but food? No, she’s still unemployed and can’t afford that. Are you kidding me? This is the single most excessive example of what is wrong with the entitlement mentality and irresponsibility in the US I may have ever heard about. 
Do the math here. This woman walked away with half a million dollars after taxes. She was unemployed, but instead of thinking “I am unemployed and I just won a huge amount of money, I should budget this money to provide for myself at least until I get a job” she bought a house and a car that apparently wiped out that money. She could have taken the annuity payments and had a steady income for years to come, but she chose the get rich quick option. Okay, fine. That’s probably not the smart move if you’re an unemployed 24 year old that (I hope) is searching for work unsuccessfully, but if you spent sensibly, set yourself up comfortably but sustainable, and continued the job search the lump sum option can work. Instead, less than 6 months after winning that money, you “are struggling”. To consider how ridiculous this is, keep in mind this woman isn’t living in a nice neighborhood in California. She’s living in Lincoln Park, Michigan, where the average home price is about $114,000. If she’d purchased an average home for $114,000 or hey, let’s be generous and say she bought a nice place (which I find hard to justify as an unemployed person) for $200,000, she’d still have 60% of her winnings sitting there in cash. Say this unemployed woman decided she wanted to but the fancy Lexus or Mercedes she always wanted for another $100,000. Let’s say she did these things, and spent her winnings that irresponsibly with so little thought of her future. Even doing those irresponsible things, she’d still have $200,000 left over, 5 years of the average household income in Lincoln Park, to budget with. But she’s telling us she still needs food stamps? Let’s get real people. If you can’t manage to make half a million dollars last you 6 months and you think that the state of Michigan, which took an especially hard beating during the recession, still owes you support for food stamps you need to have your head examined. Michigan should cut this woman off and send her a clear message: You were given a rare gift, a unique opportunity, and you squandered it. You could have immediately jumped up the quality of life scale by buying a nice home and car lived as well or even better than the average family in Michigan (who normally doesn’t have the luxury of paying for those things upfront, by the way) and still had plenty of money left over to cover your living expenses for years to come. We don’t owe you anything. 
How can anyone think this is reasonable? That they can waste a huge amount of money and still deserve the government to pay for their food? This is a disheartening example of just how broken our support systems really are, and evidence of how badly we need our citizens to take responsibility for their actions. That’s just my point of view, but if I were a Michigan taxpayer, I’d be really furious right now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beware Throwing Your Support Behind Invisible Children and Their Kony Bandwagon

Absolutely a must read. Please educate yourselves before allowing yourself to support a charity with questionable mechanisms of achieving their goals and inefficient use of your precious charity dollars. Stopping human trafficking is a very noble cause. Supporting the methods of Invisible Children, which involves even more bloodshed and allying yourself with a different group of unscrupulous “liberators”, and their opaque use of your money is not as noble. If you’re going to donate, at least read the articles out there and make sure your money is going to the right place. If you think that’s Invisible Children after reading all this, that’s your decision. Just make sure it’s an informed one.
On Kony 2012: I honestly wanted to stay as far away as possible from KONY 2012, the latest fauxtivist fad sweeping the web (remember “change your Facebook profile pic to stop child abuse”?), but you clearly won’t stop sending me that damn video until I say something about it, so here goes:
Stop sending me that video.
The organization behind Kony 2012 — Invisible Children Inc. — is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ”misleading,” “naive,” and “dangerous” by a Yale political science professor, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of “manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes.” They have also been criticized by the Better Business Bureau for refusing to provide information necessary to determine if IC meets the Bureau’s standards.
Additionally, IC has a low two-star rating in accountability from Charity Navigator because they won’t let their financials be independently audited. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s a very bad thing, and should make you immediately pause and reflect on where the money you’re sending them is going.
By IC’s own admission, only 31% of all the funds they receive go toward actually helping anyone [pdf]. The rest go to line the pockets of the three people in charge of the organization, to pay for their travel expenses (over $1 million in the last year alone) and to fund their filmmaking business (also over a million) — which is quite an effective way to make more money, as clearly illustrated by the fact that so many can’t seem to stop forwarding their well-engineered emotional blackmail to everyone they’ve ever known.
The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.
Let’s not get our lines crossed: The Lord’s Resistance Army is bad news. And Joseph Kony is a very bad man, and needs to be stopped. But propping up Uganda’s decades-old dictatorship and its military arm, which has been accused by the UN of committing unspeakable atrocities and itselffacilitated the recruitment of child soldiers, is not the way to go about it.
The United States is already plenty involved in helping rout Kony and his band of psycho sycophants. Kony is on the run, having been pushed out of Uganda, and it’s likely he will soon be caught, if he isn’t already dead. But killing Kony won’t fix anything, just as killing Osama bin Laden didn’t end terrorism. The LRA might collapse, but, as Foreign Affairs points out, it is “a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence.”
Myopically placing the blame for all of central Africa’s woes on Kony — even as a starting point — will only imperil many more people than are already in danger.
Sending money to a nonprofit that wants to muck things up by dousing the flames with fuel is not helping. Want to help? Really want to help? Send your money to nonprofits that are putting more than 31% toward rebuilding the region’s medical and educational infrastructure, so that former child soldiers have something worth coming home to.
Here are just a few of those charities. They all have a sparkling four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and, more importantly, no interest in airdropping American troops armed to the teeth into the middle of a multi-nation tribal war to help one madman catch another.
The bottom line is, research your causes thoroughly. Don’t just forward a random video to a stranger because a mass murderer makes a five-year-old “sad.” Learn a little bit about the complexities of the region’s ongoing strife before advocating for direct military intervention.
There is no black and white in the world. And going about solving important problems like there is just serves to make all those equally troubling shades of gray invisible.
Source: thedailywhat

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday Results: More Craziness Ahead!

Well, most results are in and I'm going to call it: There's no clean closure to this Republican Race in sight. 

At this point, that's basically bad news for all Republican nominees involved since the results ensured that no candidate will drop out and this carnival will continue. Here are my thoughts on each of the candidates and what tonight meant for them.

Mitt Romney: Mitt Romney will most likely be crowned tonight's big winner thanks to a win, albeit a close one, in Ohio. No, his campaign isn't really in better shape than it was before. No, he didn't win virtually any counties outside the major metro areas in Ohio. But he won, and that's what matters for delegates and momentum. Romney's real problem is that stubborn elephant in the room that he still isn't winning over those that call themselves "very conservative" or people making less than $100,000 a year in these important swing states. Even more concerning, at least in my opinion, is that he was only able to garner 60% of the vote in Virginia against Ron Paul. 40% of voting Virginians, a state supposed to be friendly to Romney (if pundits are to be believed), wouldn't vote for Romney when the only alternative on the ballot was the "weakest" candidate in the race from a national electability standpoint. Virginia shows that there are still a lot of Not-Romney voters out there, and they're just not willing to come around to him yet. Personally, I think most of them will come around in November if it comes to that. Still though, at the end of the night he has the most delegates and won the most states, all of which were pretty predictable outside of Ohio, and that is what will matter for momentum. He's still the "inevitable" nominee to beat and he will still have the most delegates, the most machine-like campaign, and likely the most money. The overall dynamic of the race really hasn't changed one bit from the Romney perspective, and that's at least "okay" if you're a Romney fan. The crater the Romney campaign has been driving themselves into is that independents and conservative Democrats, must-win candidate groups if he wants to beat President Obama in November, like him less and less as the campaign goes on. Whether the ads come from him or his Super PAC, the negative tone and frequent gaffes have really hurt his image and he's got a lot of work to do if he wants to improve it before November. 

Rick Santorum: Rick Santorum did relatively well tonight too, which means he'll be sticking around a lot longer as well. Tennessee and Oklahoma were significant wins for him, especially since Gingrich was coming from behind and hurting Santorum enough to possibly propel either Romney or Gingrich into the winner's seat in those races. Unfortunately for both of them, Santorum hung on and won those states. Unfortunately for Paul, Santorum also won North Dakota pretty handily. Winning Ohio would have been huge news for Santorum, but as it is he didn't come out of the day too badly. Interestingly, if he had been able to win over the voters who cast ballots for Rick Perry or Jon Huntsman (I really, really, really don't see the point in voting for people not even running anymore, by the way), he could have won Ohio, but those people made their stubborn views known today. His numbers with women are still weak and he still doesn't have a lot of appeal to the more moderate or independent voters, both of which could be major issues if he ended up with the nomination, but I find it unlikely that he can come from behind in the all-or-nothing states and grab the reins away from Romney, who already has a significant delegate lead.

Newt Gingrich: Tonight was a disappointing night for Newt Gingrich, no matter what his campaign may be saying right now. Yes, he won Georgia, his delegate-rich home state and a state he worked very hard in the past few weeks. Yes, he came from behind in the polls in Tennessee and Oklahoma and did considerably better than most would have predicted, but he really needed a couple wins to get some momentum back on his side. The good news for the Gingrich campaign is there are a couple more contests in the next few days he may fare well in, and with a decisive win in Georgia his campaign can continue fighting on. However, and I really don't love saying this, I think his campaign is probably done for in the next several weeks. Gingrich isn't doing that badly in delegates in all honesty, he's only 40ish behind Santorum, but as long as both of them are in the race it will be almost impossible for either of them to grab enough delegates away from the other to stop Romney. Even combined they would trail Romney, but there are some factors that can't be predicted that might have allowed either of them to perform better if the other weren't in the race. At any rate, Santorum's moment in the spotlight appears it is going to continue, and that's bad news for Gingrich. Unless Santorum somehow implodes spectacularly and releases his delegates to Gingrich, a highly unlikely event, Gingrich will need an act of God to get enough momentum back on his side to seize the nomination. I don't necessarily think he should drop out, the voters have delivered enough delegates to both Gingrich and Santorum to let them know that they are liked, but they can't all be liked at the same time and beat Romney. 

Ron Paul: Tonight was a mixed night for Ron Paul too. He performed pretty well against Romney in the two-man Virginia contest, and he came in second in North Dakota and Idaho, all of which will be loudly proclaimed as wins by his exuberant campaign spokesmen who like to keep my inbox flooded with lengthy emails. Despite the fact he didn't win any of them, he just did better than most people were willing to give him credit for, the Paul campaign will still happily jump up on the soapbox that all but his most ardent supporters are growing weary of and claim the establishment is afraid of him and he'd be winning if it were a fair fight. Considering he has received a good bit of air time and debate time this election cycle and he's one of the most consistently financed candidates, I have a hard time believing it's not a fair fight for him, but that's not the point. The point is Virginia, North Dakota, and Idaho all went pretty well for him. More interesting than those states, or the Paul campaign's pattern of rhetoric, at least in my opinion, is that Paul came in second in Vermont. I hadn't heard near as much speculation about his performance in Vermont, so his ability to beat Santorum and Gingrich on the east coast will be a legitimate strength to proclaim for the Paul camp in the weeks to come. Alaska's results aren't all in yet, but it appears he will not do nearly as well as many had predicted there. Not only will he not get the win he was needing, it looks like he won't com in second either, which is disappointing considering he was the only candidate to visit Alaska. This Super Tuesday performance means the point I made last time, and have been making for some time now, still remains: Ron Paul cannot, and will not, win the nomination proceeding like this. Before you send me angry messages or comments about how he'd win in a fair fight (and in the future, please explain to me what a fair fight is, I really don't know what you're talking about there), do the math. Paul hasn't won a single state, despite claiming several times he was about to win one. He just can't appeal to enough voters overall to deliver a win for his campaign, and without some wins, and some big ones, he can't rack up enough delegates to get the nomination. Right now he has less than a sixth of the delegates that Romney has. If Gingrich, Santorum, or both, choose to drop out and release their delegates, you know damn well they're not going to ask them to support Paul. Don't get me wrong, I like Paul. I like some of his ideas and I respect his consistency and conviction, but if you think he can still win the nomination with a shortage of friendly states ahead for him on the calendar and all-or-nothing state contests nearing, you're living in a fantasy world. 

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough for now. The bottom line is that there is still no decisive winner and the Republican voters are still very divided. Super Tuesday took us one big step closer to a brokered convention, and the Obama campaign must be loving the thought of that. 

As always, your thoughts, questions, and rants are welcome.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Super Tuesday Will Be Super Frustrating

Tomorrow really is important. Depending on how things turn out, it could essentially finish, or rejuvenate, the Gingrich campaign. A poor showing on Romney’s part could send his campaign into a downward slide since Ohio, Georgia, etc. are states that are probably a better indication of the overall Republican voter “base” than most of those that have voted so far. A strong showing could put Romney in such a strong delegate position that his momentum may be unbeatable. Santorum is a bit less predictable. If he performs strongly it will be a win for him in that it will strongly damage his other “conservative” opponent, Newt Gingrich, as well as show Romney that he’s still in real trouble. If he performs poorly, it could also send his campaign into a downward spiral he may not be able to recover from. Ron Paul’s performance is less important unless he somehow pulls off a full out win and puts the other candidates on notice. In all likelihood though, he’ll place 3rd or 4th in most states and continue to trickle in some delegates here and there. Since there’s almost no chance of him shutting down his campaign, and a comparably small chance of him having a chance at the nomination, his performance won’t really change anything. I know Newt and Santorum have pledged to continue on regardless of Super Tuesday performance (a mistake, in my opinion) but a Ron Paul-esque performance for either of them in the Super Tuesday contests could very well kill off their campaigns even if they make noise about continuing on. With that in mind, Super Tuesday could be super frustrating for GOP voters since even though it will have a large effect on the campaigns and a lot of delegates are up for grabs, no one will likely drop out and they will continue dragging their campaigns out to leech some delegates away from the others and make more attacks and mess for the Democrats to use against them closer to November. 
We’ll see how things turn out, but don’t expect Super Tuesday to reduce the field of candidates. They’re going to stick around for quite some time yet.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tobacco Companies Have Rights Too

Federal Judge Richard Leon got it right. The new proposed labeling on cigarette packages, which were passed in 2009 and required more aggressive wording and half-pack sized graphic images of the various diseases and related effects smoking cigarettes can have, simply go too far and are well beyond what the government should have the right to impose on a private company and their product. You can read the CNN article here. How far did these new mandates go? I’ve included a few of the images that were to be placed on packages below. Please note these images may be considered graphic.
Those are just a few of the images the government was going to force tobacco companies to put on their product. Don’t get me wrong. Smoking is bad for you in all kinds of ways. You shouldn’t smoke, and smoking costs our healthcare programs and insurance companies billions each year in avoidable medical expenses. However, the government shouldn’t be able to force a private company to put graphic images, obviously designed to cause an emotional response and have a negative effect on the sales of a product, on their goods. Tobacco products already have labels warning you that they are addictive and can cause cancer. It’s also pretty safe to assume that anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years is well aware that cigarettes are bad for you, addictive, and can shorten your life.People that are still smoking or start smoking are aware it’s bad for them. HHS may try to paint these warning labels as an education campaign or an attempt to communicate the side effects of the product, but it’s pretty obvious it goes well beyond that. 
Think about this rationally for a moment. There are all kinds of products that are legal to sell that can have very negative effects. Take alcohol, for example. Does your beer or bottle of whiskey have a half-label picture on it showing a cirrhotic liver, a child affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, or a grisly fatal wreck caused by a drunk driver? Or you could consider those delicious snack cakes you find in the bread aisle. Do their labels have a half-box image of an obese person in a hospital bed? Or a person with an amputated foot due to complications from diabetes? The list goes on and on. 
Yes, people need to be healthier (in so many ways). Yes, stopping smoking or not starting smoking in the first place is a smart decision and is in the best interests of a person’s health and the overall healthcare system. But are we ready to let the government force private companies to place grisly images of health problems (or dead bodies) on their products to try and achieve that goal? Judge Leon said no. In his decision, he said “Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation” and “the graphic images here were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks”. He said that the legislation goes too far because it forces a company pay to place a message and image it has no say or control over on their product and advertisements for their products, (reducing the space to place their own logos/advertising/etc. as well) and therefore makes the company promote a message (or image) from the government against their will. He therefore decided that the legislation was in contradiction to the right to free speech, and I think he’s right. If the government wants these images and statements out in the public as part of its anti-smoking campaign, it should buy billboard space and ad space on CNN, etc. to achieve that goal. It doesn’t have the right to force any company, making any legal product, to pay to place a graphic image or negative message on their products and I wish the government would brush up on the Constitution before it passes more invasive laws and regulations expanding the government’s power over private businesses. 
As always, your comments, questions, and rants are welcome.