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A few words on Juan Williams and a must see video for the weekend

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” – Former NPR correspondent Juan Williams on the O’Reilly Factor.

As I’m sure you have all heard by now, National Public Radio (NPR) national correspondent, Juan Williams, was fired Wednesday for comments made on the O’Reilly Factor. The aftermath of the firing has been predictably volatile. The right has been quick to certify the move as an attack on the First Amendment and to use it as an example of why NPR should lose Federal funding; which, of course, is a long harbored resentment in conservative circles. NPR clarified their decision with a weakly logical and ill-justified statement. So here we are, three days later, with a new hot-button issue for the right to slam Democrats with in the lead-up to November 2nd and a respected national service with egg on its face. Was it the correct call by NPR or a misguided attempt at political correctness? As much as I hate to admit it, NPR erred massively in the firing of Mr. Williams.

Let me first say that I do not agree with nor do I hold the same opinions expressed in Mr. Williams comments. That being said, they are not, unfortunately, far from accurate in how the vast majority of Americans feel when interacting with Muslims. Poll after poll after public opinion poll has concluded that Americans on whole are, at the very least, nervous with the idea of Muslims. For this reason alone, Mr. Williams should not have been fired. The conversation on Islam, Islamic extremists and the overall faith has, for WAY too long been perverted by those who wish ill upon an/or do not understand the word’s second most populous religion. The way I see it, the only way to reroute this discussion and clear up misconceptions/end bigotry is to OWN where we are, no matter how offensive it is to the palate, as Americans today. Undoubtedly, this is a hard perspective for Muslims to take. I don’t think I would be able to if I prayed towards Mecca. I do think, though, that saying what ignorant people are thinking is not a fireable offense, but rather a teaching moment.

On the other hand, Mr. Williams is by no means above reproach. In my opinion, Mr. Williams is guilty of two infractions of his NPR correspondent status. First, no matter the conservative screams of “Lefties at NPR!” or “Liberal media bias!,” NPR is civil service based on providing in-depth, unbiased news coverage. It is one of the few places within our catch-phrase society where persons can count on thought provoking analysis. This means that NPRs producers and contributors adhere to highest journalistic integrity. Mr. Williams, as a contributor to this mission, was at fault for betraying this integrity by pandering to an imbecile like Mr. O’Reilly. This leads me to my second charge and the real inappropriate action in this whole escapade. Mr. Williams should have never, ever had this conversation on a medium such as the O’Reilly Factor. Mr. O’Reilly, he of fear-mongering and bigoted fame, has attacked, again and again, Islam and its adherents. The most recent, high-profile example was his greatly publicized tiff with Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg on The View. It was derived, naturally, by Mr. O’Reilly claiming that all Muslims were responsible for 9/11. My point is this: while I do not believe Mr. Williams is a bigot in any way, by making these comments on the O’Reilly Factor, he lent credence to a demagogue and created a political moment.

Yes, Mr. Williams erred in judgment. No, he should not have been fired. This is a strike against NPR and could have a political impact as well as a social one if Sarah Palin’s “defund NPR” movement continues gaining momentum. All from a correspondent telling the damned, ugly truth. I can only hope that we thinkers can own this and use it as a national conciousness moment.

A Video You Must Watch

YOU MUST WATCH THIS VIDEO. PERIOD. A man and his son decided to take it upon themselves to make a homemade spaceship so the son could see what space looked like. This video is the result. The conversation and the implications of this experiment are vast, so we will save that for another day. But couple this will NASA’s discovery of arable soil on the Moon… maybe the future isn’t too far away.

Have a great weekend! The Week in Fodder will be back next week! Until then, enjoy the Fodder!

Extremism at the Gates

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hutaree Militia: faces of the new extremism.

This morning, the news that shots were fired at the Pentagon broke. I want to direct towards you to my immediate reaction: “Man, that is one step closer to a cataclysmic attack by right wing extremists. Nut jobs.” Then I stopped myself. Was that really my first reaction? WHEN did we get to a point in this country that my mind instantaneously went there? It is probably part fear-mongering media. Oh, and part political sensationalism. It is possible, though, that another part of it might actually be realistic fear? Disturbingly, I think that might just be the case.

Right-wing anger and fringe extremism began its resurgent crescendo during the lead-up to the 2008 election. President Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than anyone else in history during an election cycle. That was just the beginning. Then came threats against Democratic lawmakers during Healthcare reform. Then the Huturee Militia. Then James von Brunn and the Holocaust Museum shooting. So what’s next? A shooting at the Pentagon? It really does not seem so off-kilter when you put the last two years in context. It’s really shocking. This is not what America is about. Clearly, fringe elements are creeping closer and closer to the middle of society.

If we broaden our scope (to include nonviolent extremism), that point becomes even more pointedly clear. Look no further than the candidacies Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, taking on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has suggested agitated Americans could take up arms against the government, told Hispanic students that they “look more Asian” and lambasted the idea of mandated maternity leave and care for autistic childern. Christine O’Donnell, running against Chris Coons in Delaware, has discussed her dabbling in witchcraft, faltered at naming one  (ONE!!!) Supreme Court decision she did not agree with in the past two years and, just today, questioned the validity of the separation of church and state.

Sharron Angle leads Sen. Reid 50%-47%. Christine O’Donnell (mercifully) now trails Mr. Coons 51%-40%.*

No matter where your political allegiances lie, I hope we can all admit that the mere contention of these candidates in Senate races signifies a shift to the more polarized ends of the political spectrum. It would not have even been conceivable 10 years ago. But these candidates, and their chances, are real. The anger that has propelled them to prominence is real. What does it all mean? I am not entirely sure. But I do know this: extremism, of all kinds, is closer to the gates of our society and political system than any other time in the past 50 years.

We should all, Democrats and Republicans, be on notice.

*It is important to note that Delaware is much more consistently a “blue” state than Nevada.

SAVE THE DATE!

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Cocktail Fodder is back. But a little different. Photo by Hector Garcia.

Cocktail Fodder is back! Save the date! One week from today, on October 11th, your favorite conversation-starting, fun-fact generating, snarktastic blog will be back, producing new content.

Yes, the Fodder has been on hiatus for a little longer than expected. Yes, we’re officially down a founding member. Yes, we’ll have to slim down content for the time being before we find a bright young mind to join the cause. Yes, Captain Adam is still churning out the good ole alcohol related humor. No, we will not waver from our goal or stop rocking your world with brain-stimulating, morally challenging opinions and espresso machine fodder tidbits. No, you won’t get those 30 minutes back each day you spend on Cocktail Fodder. Sorry.

So mark you calendar. Put it in your Blackberry. Throw it in your iCal on your iPad or iPhone. Do what you need to do. Just remember, we’re back and better than ever. Get ready.

DNA and the Fourth Amendment

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Our most unique feature.

Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010 (H.R. 4614). The Act would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide states with financial incentives, through the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, to set up pre-conviction compulsory DNA gathering programs. Katie’s Law – known for Katie Sepich, a 22 year old student at the University of New Mexico who sadly was raped and murdered in 2003 – is only a further step in the growing trend of expanded DNA collection by state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is, however, the first time that the federal government has put a monetary incentive on the implemenataion of such laws; this ratchets up the pressure on states and the Fourth Amendment.

Oklahoma and California are two of the highest profile examples of states adopting laws that require the collection of DNA samples upon felony arrests. The Oklahoma law requires DNA swabs to be taken when a suspect is arrested on suspicion of rape or murder. The California code, however, is more expansive. It again covers murder and rape but it is also includes voluntary manslaughter and any “registrable sexual offense.” This is an unfortunately wide swath of crimes. Depending on the state, you can be put on a sex-offender registry for any offense from indecent exposure to aggravated rape. That is too wide of a spectrum.

The result of adding federal money to the mix of law and DNA is potentially combustible. Let us be honest here, states are always clambering for federal funds to bolster their budgets. This will be no different. I undertand the reasoning behind these laws. Preemptively collecting DNA of suspected violent offenders will create a quick-strike pool in which to compare future samples against. It makes sense. But this is the definition of “the slippery slope.” Implementing, and facilitating the implementation of, compulsory DNA collection laws – for whatever noble motivation – start the government, at all levels, down a path dangerously close to invading its citizens’ privacy at the most basic level. If H.R.4614’s Senate companion passes, I can guarantee that we will see a spate of laws codified with one challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

Cocktailfodder.com

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

cocktailfodder.com!!!

We are now at cocktailfodder.com! That’s right, we made the jump.

That is all.

A Round of Applause for the Senate… Maybe

July 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Stricter regulations coming.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown surprised many in the political world last night by announcing his intended support for Senate bill S.3217 – the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. Acting as a key political cross over, and joining two other Republican Senators, Mr. Brown’s support all but guarantees the 60 votes needed by Democrats to block any filibuster planned by Senate Republicans. The bill would be the most sweeping financial regulation in decades.

The three major facets of the proposed law will be strikingly visible to the public eye; a good thing for all Americans let alone the Democratic Party. The first authorizes a consumer protection agency that will deal with predatory credit card companies and credit lenders. This is a proactive and necessary change to a system that is completely inaccessible to the average American. The second will create a panel to watch over banks and investment firms and their use of derivatives. You remember those pesky financial instruments that made a major contribution to the economic meltdown, right? The final, and most important part of this bill would come into effect five years after passage. It will enact much more stringent regulations on banks and their debt to liquidity ratio; they must keep a much closer real money to debt balance. These are all steps in the right direction towards securing American financial stability.

The fact that Senator Brown, Senator Snowe and Senator Collins will come across the aisle on this issue is telling. These days, every issue is a political war-zone; with both sides taking potshots at each other. They must see enough merit in the measure, for every American, to risk the wrath of their constituents. So they all – especially Senator Brown, the oh-so-recent darling of the Republican Party – deserve a tip of the cap for breaking the deadlock and passing this vital bill.

Now, there is one caveat to all of this: the vote has not happened yet. In turn, these comments may be premature. When it does, though, expect a short comment from the Fodder. We’ll see if we still doff our caps.

Polls and Power

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Statistics = Power.

As we have already discussed on the Fodder, we live in a modern America that thrives on hot button issues, attacks and diatribes. All of these are inevitably propped up by statistics cut from the cloth of conservatism, liberalism and every other conceivable “ism” under the Sun. So where do politicians, lobbyists and activists get these statistics? One word: polls. In life, statistics are power. Secularity demands it. Although it is an overwhelmingly positive progression in society, there still lie serious pitfalls in this mindset. The most prominent is the unfortunate reliance on pollsters. The vast majority of pollsters are performing a vital function of civil society. Not all are, however. What happens when a polling organization goes rogue?

Luckily, we happen to have a lovely little case study unfolding before out eyes. The Daily Kos, a liberal political blog, recently filed a law suit alleging that the polling firm, Research 2000 (R2K), skewed and possibly fabricated statistics used in Daily Kos stories. For over a year, the Daily Kos ran weekly opinion polls administered and researched by R2K. After R2K received a terrible ranking in comparison to other polling firms in early June, the Daily Kos terminated its partnership with the firm. Soon afterward a group of well-known, reliable pollsters came forward to question the overall validity of the numbers R2K was producing. Submitting a preliminary analysis of R2K’s methodological results, the group found there there was almost no statistical chance that the numbers produced by R2K were reliable. In turn, Markos Moulitsas (founder of the Daily Kos) filed the lawsuit referenced above. R2K vehemently denies any wrong doing. (For more information, Pollster.com ran an informative and scathing piece on the case this past weekend.) While this is clearly an extreme example of probable statistical tampering, it still shows the relative ease in which a person or group can change the way others argue and back up their claims. It is a growing and unnerving trend in today’s political landscape.

This is not the first, nor the last, discussion that will be had about the accuracy of polling in America. Case and point: the 2008 Presidential election. From the McCain campaign staking claims on questionable polling data to sweeping analysis of the pollster landscape, the 2008 election was riddled with whispers of inaccuracies and discrepancies. While these whispers never turned into anything meaningful, it is important remember that they were there. Furthermore, this discussion is not restricted to the 2008 Election. Who can forget the media travesty of 2004? Why did the major news networks erroneously call the election in favor of Senator John Kerry? Exit polling. Admitting flaws in 2005, these exit polls led a myriad of people, including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, to believe Senator Kerry won the Presidency. We all know the story of what ensued after the election night controversy.

The point of bringing this developing story to you is this: be careful where you get your statistics and of seemingly problematic numbers. Before you use them to make an argument, solidify a research paper or impress a member of the opposite sex, make sure they are from a reliable source. Next time you see a graph in USA Today, on Foxnews.com, in Time, on CNN or in a textbook; check the fine print. Google the firm that is providing the numbers for that chart. It might give you pause. Always see where the numbers are coming from because in this world statistics are power.