Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ah, for the good old days of government waste and mismanagement.

Conservatives, in the belief that government does things inefficiently, have outsourced waste and mismanagement to private contractors. Sure enough, they're far more efficient at wasting and mismanaging that money than the public sector ever was.

From the government report:
"The value of Federal contracts awarded without full and open competition has more than tripled since 2000. For the first time on record, last year more than half of Federal procurement spending was awarded through no-bid and limited competition contracts."

Not surprising that this trend has seen so much of an upswing since Bush took office. His tendency has always been towards greater privatization and less oversight.

Democrats are promising to look into this waste and abuse. Indeed, this report is a good start. I'm cynical enough to believe that this is intentional on the part of the Bush administration. No-bid contracts funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of shareholders, while bankrupting the government so as to make it incapable of providing for its citizens (as Grover Norquist put it, this helps make the government "small enough to drown in a bathtub"). Also, because we're getting so little bang for the buck, it makes the government look like a terrible mechanism for solving societal problems, which is how Bush-style conservatism wants us to view our government.

We need to demand oversight and accountability on every cent that the government spends, whether directly or through private contractors.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Internet thinks I'm Gandhi.

The results of my latest Political Compass test puts me ideologically close to Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and The Dalai Lama. I'll take that as a compliment.

Take your own Political Compass test.

I was surprised that I was categorized into the strongly libertarian camp, since I've gleefully criticized libertarians as self-aggrandizing morons. My impression is that most of them want the world should be one giant dog-eat-dog brawl where that they can better indulge the fantasy that they are the biggest, scariest dogs out there.

I distrust government power somewhat, but I distrust corporate power far, far more. The former needs to be powerful to act as a check on the latter. But government power also needs to be both highly responsive to the will of the people and highly respectful of personal individual rights. I respect the idea of voluntary, regional collectivism, but I don't see how it can answer the problems of global problems like global warming.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked"

I finished reading Hardcore Zen yesterday, then tried meditating for the first time in a couple of years. When I opened my eyes again, the world looked strangely blue-filtered, and it seemed to me that I had some interesting ideas rolling through my head.

My brief foray into zen mastery accomplished little, but it made a certain blogosphere mini-controversy particularly relevant to me. Yesterday, the proceedings of the U.S. Senate were opened for the first time by a prayer from a Hindu cleric. As he tried to begin, the prayer was disrupted by angry shouting from three protesters.

Talking Points Memo has the YouTube video and commentary. The TPM story says that the anti-abortion group "Operation Rescue/Operation Save America" claimed responsibility for the protest, but I don't see an indication of that in the press release they sent out. All I see is unwavering support for their actions, and a chilling manifestation of a Talibanesque mentality right here in the U.S. As published on

Theology has moved from the church house onto the floor of the United States Senate, and has been arrested.

Contact: Dr. Pat McEwen, Operation Save America, 321-431- 3962

WASHINGTON, July 12 /Christian Newswire/ -- Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god. The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.

"Not one Senator had the backbone to stand as our Founding Fathers stood. They stood on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! There were three in the audience with the courage to stand and proclaim, 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.' They were immediately removed from the chambers, arrested, and are in jail now. God bless those who stand for Jesus as we know that He stands for them." Rev. Flip Benham, Director, Operation Save America/Operation Rescue

To Schedule Interviews with Rev. Benham:

Contact Pat McEwen: 321 431 3962

In the defense of the evil, backsliding, cowardly senators, all reports indicate that the Senate chambers were mostly empty. That's hardly unexpected, since half our senators are busy running for president. Anyhow, our senators are only paid the paltry sum of $141,000 a year. When you're paying such paltry wages, you have to expect a bit of sloth and indifference from your employees.

Cynical tangent aside, the press release sends a clear message. This government is the sole and exclusive property of our God, and any recognition of religious plurality defiles the original intent of our Founding Fathers.

I don't buy the whole "our Founding Fathers established a Christian nation" argument. First, whatever their personal beliefs about religion and spirituality, their intentions for the country can best be derived from the Constitution itself. The Constitution says surprisingly little about religion, except that religious tests are forbidden, and Church and State should keep their grubby paws off each other. If the Founders really believed as the righteous rednecks claim, they had ample opportunity to fill our nation's supreme document with all manner of pro-Christian items. They could have easily formalized the Constitution Party's belief that only believing Christians should be allowed to hold office. They could have easily forbid the government from passing laws contrary to the Bible. They could have required that all proceedings begin with a prayer by a Christian minister, to keep "a prayer of the wicked" from ever being uttered in the hallowed chambers of the Senate.

They didn't. Hell, when they were drafting the Constitution, they didn't even start their own proceedings with a prayer[1]. If their goal was to create a nation founded on Christian principles, it seems like that would be the first order of business.

They didn't found a "Christian nation," because they knew that political power corrupts religion, turning it from a source of solace and inspiration into a tool for oppression. To imagine the country the Founding Fathers were striving mightily to avoid, just put yourself in the head of a protester who would shout "Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight," and imagine what sort of country he would found if given the chance.


[1] Yes, we're all aware of Benjamin Franklin's famous plea that they do so. When I was a teenager, I was taught on numerous occasions (Church, Boy Scouts (basically the same thing)) that this speech marked a turning point in the Constitutional Convention. According to the legend, after he gave that speech, the logjam was broken and compromise became easier, all because God was now present at the proceedings. Perhaps his eloquent words did make people more generally inclined to compromise. But the hagiographical version of this story never fails to eave out one critical fact: Franklin's proposal was never voted on, and according to his own recollections, "except for three or four persons, [the attendees] thought prayers unnecessary." [source]

Of course, it's more complex than I'm letting on. It always is.

[Note: Blogger has Ctrl-P mapped to "Publish", when my EMACS-trained fingers think it merely means "move cursor to previous line". So when you see a half-written post, you now know precisely how I screwed up.]

[Frak! I did it again!]