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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

An invisible line and two Presidents

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Cote d’Ivoire: The World urging calm

After more than four years of delay, the citizens of Cote d’Ivoire have gone to the polls to vote in the first free and fair elections since the end their ethnoreligious civil war in 2007. After the first round of voting, neither of the two prominent contenders, current President Laurent Gbagbo and the main opposition challenger Alassane Ouattara, gained the percentage needed to avoid a runoff. That second-round election took place on November 28. Since then, the country has moved from pre-election tension to post-election dystopia. As the world watches and springs into conflict-avoidance, the precarity of the political landscape threatens to pull another generation of Ivorians into civil war.

The first dramatic salvo was fired on Thursday when Mr. Gbagbo’s representative at the Electoral Commission grabbed early results from a Commission official, who was about to read them to awaiting media, declared them fraudulent and ripped the result slip to pieces. When the Electoral Commission was able to avoid the reigning President’s political followers (re: lackeys), it certified Mr. Outtara to be the winner. (Confirmed and backed by countries across the world, as well.) Almost immediately, the Constitutional Court (in a preposterously partisan move) challenged the Commissions’s legitimacy and both players, respectively, swore themselves in as the new President of Cote d’Ivoire.

This all leads us, once again, to watching Cote d’Ivoire teeter on the proverbial high wire. From a pragmatic standpoint, it was hard to imagine the country’s return to democracy to be anything less than tumultuous. For all intensive purposes the civil war has never ended. The Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) Rebels still control the northern part of the country and the two most insidious issues, religious marginalization and ethnic tensions, are still simmering below the surface. So have any of these grievances been assuaged since the laying down of arms in 2007? No, not really.

Cote d’Ivoire is divided by an invisible but steadfastly unbreakable fault line. It is drawn between the Muslim, migrant-infused north and the “Ivorian,” Christian South. This election highlights the continued tension surrounding ethnicity and religion. Predictably, President Gbagbo, from the south, is Christian. Mr. Ouattara, from the north, is Muslim. It is problematic dichotomy personified. The mistrust that both sides are seeded with, due to past deeds committed by the villainous “other,” will be exceedingly difficult to overcome peacefully.

The international community, for its part, has not sat on its collective hands as the clock to chaos ticks away.  The African Union immediately dispatched former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki to broker a quick fix solution and the World Bank and African Development Bank have urged calm. Unfortunately, as I sit here, I am unconvinced that there is an expedited, agreeable-to-all solution to the mineral-rich country’s woes. Trust, fair distribution of wealth and equal political access for all will get all Ivorians there. Hopefully, for its citizens’ sake, the country will not get pulled in the opposite direction. That invisible line is looking all but impassable at the moment.

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!

The Afghan-Pakistan Conundrum

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Pakistan: the regional powder keg.

Our armed forces and their NATO allies are now plodding into the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan. After a decade fighting in remote, inhospitable terrain against a foe that is constantly bolstered by widespread public discontent in the civilian government; a policy tipping point is fast approaching. Since June, the Obama Administration has publicly confirmed that it will tentatively begin the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan in the Summer of 2011. (I will quantify this by saying that 10 months is a long time; the Administration and the Department of Defense are not soothsayers and have no idea if the timeline will be adhered to.) But as that political line-in-the-sand creeps closer, constituents, policy wonks, talking heads and law makers will be scrutinizing the gains made in Afghanistan in the past ten years and the prospects of the war succeeding in its goals. The consensus will likely follow the views of the general public: that the war cannot succeed based on an opposition to American involvement and disillusionment with the mission.

A quick analysis of the War in Afghanistan will reveal a myriad of facts that will establish one truth: that Afghanistan is almost unwinnable because of truly impassable terrain, a civilian government racked by corruption, a continually active insurgency and a lugubrious economy. The facts leave little doubt in this conclusion. These seemingly insurmountable developmental challenges are inextricably linked by a common factor that has been, until last week, missing from the collective American consciousness: Pakistan.

Realistically, I cannot sit here and claim Pakistan is an actual “lost factor” in America’s discussion of the war. We have, for a year(s), heard about the Pakistani Taliban, cross-border drone strikes and the country’s shady, if obviously visible, links with Islamist extremism. However, these negative topics about our strategic ally have always been brought to light by independent organizations, pundits and policy groups. That is to say, US government officials are not usually the derivation of maligning conversations about Pakistan. This has been the case since the Bush Administration’s buddy-buddy relationship with ex-Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf (yes, strongman) to the Obama Administration’s working friendship with the venerable Benazir Bhutto‘s corrupt widower Asif Ali Zardari. That is, until last week.

Last Wednesday, the White House produced a report on Pakistan and delivered it to Congress. The game changing factor of the report comes in the frank language the Administration uses to describe the very real, lack of veracity that permeates the Pakistani Government’s attempts to tackle Islamist groups within its borders. This is the first time that a recent American administration has charged the Pakistani authorities with not actively combating extremist groups that it can, in most likely scenarios, handle. So why does Pakistan do this? Why has it not throttled the groups that are detrimental to Afghanistan’s and its own security? Ironically, it has nothing to do tacit religious complacency or desired influence in Afghanistan. It has everything to with its looming neighbor of 1.1 billion.

India, the unseen influence in Afghanistan.

Understanding this, I want to draw your attention to the one integral issue that will be the eternal hurdle to winning the War in Afghanistan: Pakistani-Indian relations, more specifically, Kashmir.

Now, you may ask, “how does that perpetual conflict affect the Taliban and Afghanistan?” Unfortunately, the two are much more closely linked than any official of the United States, Pakistan or India would likely admit. Pakistan, since the beginning of the decades long conflict, has been fighting a proxy war with the Indian administrators of Kashmir through the training of Kashmiri (doubling as Islamic) extremist groups. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, have been involved in the preparation of militants aligned with Lashkar-e-Taiba (which gained international notoriety for their attacks on Mumbai) and a myriad of other jihadi groups. Mr. Musharraf, just this past week, confirmed this oft debated fact. Because of the volatility of relations between the two regional powers, Pakistan decided that it would be in their best self-interest to promote these independent, violent actors (mostly in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions) in case any conflict were to combust. The result has been better than intended. Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore; all have experienced violence committed by groups linked to the lawless tribal regions. The infamous Wazirstans, the stronghold of every group from the Pakistani Taliban to al-Qaeda, are now in the grip of extremism that is dauntingly difficult to loosen. In bolstering supranational organizations, the Pakistani authorities unintentionally (maybe intentionally unintentionally?) created the forces successfully hindering NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Now this is all fairly rudimentary knowledge for any one who has studied the region; most have not, however. What I want to stress is that all of these policies were introduced and acted upon under the auspices of competing with India; it was unequivocally the motivating factor. THIS is the part of the Pakistan conversation that is missing in the American media though is integral in understanding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

We cannot discuss all the intricacies of Pakistani-Indian relations here; there is just too much to cover. We can say, however, that since partition, India and Pakistan have used one another for justification of dangerous land disputes (Kashmir), nuclear pursuits and regional power brokering. It has been 63 years. Religious tensions, power politics, bitter history and pure hate (for some, sadly) divide the two powerful nations. Until there is a normalization and warming between the two neighbors, the one-upsmanship and twisted reasoning for shady dealings will absolutely continue. We all have to hope that the day will come soon. If not, Afghanistan may be the least of the international community’s worries in South-East Asia.

Irish Update

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Irish Pride

Hello again, and welcome (or should I say fáilte?) to the Fodar. Ireland has been having quite the summer, but I’m quickly realizing that not everyone keeps the Irish Times on their RSS like I do. So I’ve taken it upon myself to brief you all on the goings on of this tiny, yet thunderous nation. Sheep may outnumber people 2:1 over there, but they are certainly not a nation of followers. I’ve interspersed some highly significant moments with a few lighter pieces to give you a taste of Irish summer – hmm, maybe the Captain can come up with an “Irish Summer” themed shot to share with y’all. But I digress — Big things are happening in my favorite little country, so let’s get craic-in’.

British Prime Minister Apologizes for Bloody Sunday Massacre

On June 15th, while thousands gathered in Guildhall Square, Derry, British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly apologized for the massacre that took place 38 years prior. On January 30, 1972, British paratroopers opened fire on a civil rights demonstration, killing fourteen civilians in what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. “On behalf of our country,” said Cameron, “I am deeply sorry.”

The newly published Saville Report officially recognizes, for the first time, that British forces fired the first shot and that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” The 5,000 page report was welcomed by Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen:

“From this day forth, history will record what the families have always known to be true . . . 14 innocent people died on the streets of Derry on January 30th, 1972. There is no doubt, there are no ambiguities. In truth, there never were. They were innocent. May they rest in peace.” (Source: Irish Times)

This was a day of reconciliation for both Ireland and the UK, a monumental moment in the long and often bloody history between them.

Bono Blogs about Bloody Sunday

In a guest op-ed for the New York Times, U2 front man Bono checks his agenda and offers us a more personal perspective on the findings of the Saville Report and Cameron’s apology. He did write the song, after all – this is definitely worth a read.

Jay-Z Owns the Oxygen Festival

Reigning king of the Empire State has expanded his domain to Dublin, opening for Ireland’s largest music festival this summer. “He came, he saw, he conquered,” he “stole the show,” and was quickly dubbed “the festival’s undisputed heavyweight champion.” His performance may have “sidestepped hip-hop’s usual clichés,” but he seems to have inspired nothing but from reviewers at the Irish Times.

Milk 2010

Ireland’s first-ever outdoor LGBT music festival will kick off August 14th. How can you go wrong with a line-up featuring Bananarama and Right Said Fred? But really, this is about a growing culture of openness and acceptance in country still grappling (as so many of us are) with its conservative Catholic upbringing. Milk welcomes “anyone from any community encouraging a culture of inclusiveness, acceptance, diversity and celebration” – which brings us to our next story…

Seanad Passes Partnership Bill.

This is huge. While Massachusetts was busy declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Seanad Éireann was engaged in a 23 hour long debate, eventually passing a Partnership Bill granting “marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples in the areas of property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax[KG1] .” The bill was passed 48-4 with no abstentions after it was eventually guillotined by Seanad Leader Donnie Cassidy. While same-sex marriage is still not recognized, the new civil registrations will carry comparable legal benefits. This is an enormous step forward for Ireland, a country struggling to find its own identity amid 21st century convention and a steep Catholic tradition. When you consider that divorce was not legal until 1996 and abortion is not legal in the Republic of Ireland, except when necessary to save the mother’s life, the Partnership Bill speaks volumes about the willingness of modern Ireland to compromise its Catholic roots and adapt to a more contemporary set of values.

Irish Gay Rights take a step forward.

Derry Crowned City of Culture

Derry, Londonderry, Doire Colmcille – the city has many names, and now a chance to showcase its oft misunderstood history as the first-ever UK City of Culture for 2013. Beloved Irish rockers Snow Patrol lead the campaign, urging the panel to “Just Say Yes” to Derry – I’m not sure which bit I’m happier about, the fact that this fabulous city is getting its due, or that a Snow Patrol song is finally being used to promote something other than the latest mediocre rom-com. I kept it in the Irish theme with that one, but seriously – take a peek at their soundtrack track record. Not good.

Whales in Dublin?

The first whale sighting off the Dublin coast in more than 20 years. He may not be as cool as this guy, but let’s give him some credit.

Ireland’s Credit Rating Drops

I feel you on this one, Eire. Happens to the best of us.

Citing the government’s “gradual but significant loss of financial strength, as reflected by its deteriorating debt affordability,” Moody’s has downgraded Ireland from Aa2 to Aa1 and changed its outlook on ratings from stable to negative. Bloomberg quotes Dietmar Hornung, Moody’s lead analyst for Ireland, as saying “It’s a gradual, significant deterioration, but not a sudden, dramatic shift.” But this is not a portent of doom, nor an irreparable mark on Ireland’s economy. The days of the Celtic Tiger are long gone – with an unemployment rate of 13% and emigration rates once again on the rise, this isn’t really surprising so much as signifying of Ireland’s acute struggle in Europe’s recent economic decline.

So there you have it – the financial and political woes, social struggles and civil and cultural landmarks Ireland has seen of late. With so much going on, such highs and lows wrestling in the headlines, it’s hard to say what shape the rest of the summer will take.

Sláinte!

Kelly

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.

Trouble in Grenoble

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Grenoble, France. The scene of the latest socioeconomic riots in France.

The cities of France are no strangers to the pitfalls of socioeconomic and immigration strife. Sparking memories of the 2005 riots in Paris’ suburbs, Grenoble – the self-proclaimed capital of the Alpserupted into violence this past weekend after the shooting death of the alleged casino thief Karim Boudouda. The next day, following a memorial service for Boudouda, riots spearheaded by youths from the slum of Villeneuve engulfed the city. In two days over 70 cars were burnt out. While no one was seriously injured in the riots, four young men have been detained for shooting at police during the mayhem. While the origins of this newest round of rioting seems ultimately perverted, it once again brings to light the tension that continues to fester between liberté, égalité, fraternitéand the reality of French immigration.

Immigration to France continues to stay at a high level despite the economic downturn and recent immigration restrictions imposed by the government. As a haven for liberty and social justice, France has long seen itself as model example of tolerance and foreign assimilation. The French pride themselves on a – some would say less-than-tactful – secular bombardment of integrating immigrants. It makes sense at face-value: replacing religious and former national identity with the French way of life facilitates a easy transition to French identity. You can see the culmination of this strategy the international controversy that followed France’s ban on conspicuous religious symbols in the public sphere.

Now, if this form of national identity integration works is a completely different story. I think it is safe to say that the 2005 civil unrest, referenced above, and the riots of 2007 cast long shadows over the practices. The 2005 incident was directly triggered by the death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, by electrocution while they hid from police officers they believed to be chasing them. Spreading to other cities, it was about three months before the situation was finally returned to normal. In 2007, when two teenagers died after their motorcycle collided with a police vehicle, the poor, immigrant-populated Parisian suburbs Villiers-la-Bel and Arnouville burned in scenes identical to the 2005 riots. What we see here is a pattern starting to develop; animosity lingering between downtrodden new immigrants and agents of the state.

I won’t pretend that I can explain to you the vast network of reasons for the continual outbreaks of violence in France in this short post but I will try to leave you with a couple points to chew on…

First, the immigrants and lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder that live in the suburbs where these riots continue to happen have had to endure a de facto ghettoization.** There is a separation between city dwellers and the immediate suburbs; lines are rarely crossed other than for labor needs. This obviously promotes distrust and hostility between people and their adopted society. There is, unfortunately, a reason that the Paris Métro closes at just 2am.

Second, for all of the lip-service paid to integration and tolerance, there is a double standard between action, words and intent within the French government. Liberté, égalité, fraternité is a wonderful thing to practice in an ideal world but it is hard to get past preconditioned beliefs that undoubtedly still pervade French society. With that in mind, I present to you two quotes to think about:

“There is a simple and clear reality in this country: there’s no future for hoodlums and delinquents because in the end the public authority always wins.” – French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux

Discussing the 2005 rioters, then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy referred to them as “scum” that the they should be “cleared with a fire hose” from the slums in which they live.

This kind of talk, from high-government officials, cannot possibly engender respect or confidence in the state in which people, with only the shirts on their back, look for protection. Until things change, we can expect the cycle of unrest to continue.

**This hyperlink is an in-depth looking into the underpinnings of the 2005 riots by the Brookings Institute; absolutely worth a read.

The Birthers Just Don’t Quit

July 13, 2010 7 comments

As we’ve already discussed at the Fodder, America seems to be a on a path of divergence so drastic that the gap between left and right is becoming too cavernous to bridge. This article is about the issue that perfectly epitomizes this divide…

The 2008 election brought out the worst in average Americans with polarizing ideologies; threats, hate crimes, slurs, etc. One of the more volatile and ludicrous theories, and flabbergastingly the one with the most staying power, to emerge from Election 2008 was the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason, or reasons, for the traction that this rumor gained during the campaign. Most likely though, it was one part internet sensationalism, one part fear and one part Lou Dobbs; a good recipe for any absurdity to permeate a citizenry. Whatever the reason was, the Birther movement was born.

It's where it's supposed to be, in Honolulu.

Bizarrely, going on two years into the President’s term, the Birther movement may be getting stronger. Yesterday, the petulant Senator David Vitter, of scandalous infamy, was caught on video disgustingly backing progressing conservative lawsuits (just one example) challenging the legality of the President’s citizenship. We’re way past the stage of mincing words on this subject. When the Birther movement was in its nascent state, it was not taken seriously by the Obama campaign. As the story gained legs, the campaign released (acrimoniously?) a digitally scanned copy of the then candidate’s birth certificate. That should have been that. The Hawaiian State Department of Health confirmed, twice (TWICE!!), that the certificate was authentic. What more do people need? Are we to conclude the whole federal government and state government of Hawaii are involved in a massive conspiracy covering up the true birthplace of PRESIDENT Barack Hussein Obama II? That is over two million federal employees alone. That must have been one well-written memo getting everyone onboard the conspiracy train. Really, how is the Administration even supposed to prove to people, who believe so ardently in an illogical idea, that President Obama was born in the United Sates? Make photocopies of the birth certificate and send it to everyone who identifies as a Birther? I can hear it now, “THIS is a government fake! They made it up. He was born in Kenya! He was born in Indonesia! He was born in Russia!” As we like to say at the Fodder, “Just get better.”

The Seal of the most powerful man in the world. It MUST command respect, no matter what party or background one comes from.

In all of my political and international affairs posts, I try to keep a levelheaded, unbiased approach to reporting issues that we believe should be talked about. This, however, is a different subject. I have no use for it. Once upon a time, the Presidential seal demanded respect. When did that change? President Obama is the legally elected President of this great United States of America. That is a fact and the end of the story for me. Love it or hate it, that’s how it should be. It sadly isn’t.

What is clear is that there are right-wing, fringe nut-jobs that will not let the birthplace issue rest. They have a mission and they will go down swinging. Unfortunately, it seems that they will aided and abetted by irresponsible members of Congress. I say irresponsible because it is irresponsible. There is no upside in debating this issue. This is not a way to rigorously debate topics – the economy, unemployment, national debt, social security, two ongoing wars – that are plaguing our country in a time of crisis. It’s democratically damaging. It’s bad for the process and our national psyche. So I say, with all seriousness, shame on Senator Vitter, Rep. Trent Franks, Lou Dobbs, Fox News and all the rest of the media, politicians and demagogues that keep dragging this issue to national attention. This country does not need such nonsense.

Here’s a cute clip from Fox News. Not really putting the issue to rest are you Anne Coulter?

Ladies and Gentleman: Cocktail Fodder!

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

AWC’s wine jefe, the East Village Wine Geek, promoting your daily Fodder.

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.

A Word on Senator Byrd and Political Fluidity

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Always the impassioned orator.

On Monday, at the age of 92, the Senate’s President pro tempore and most senior member passed away. Senator Robert C. Byrd, during his record setting 51 year tenure, was a respected, influential and controversial lawmaker. Elected as a Representative in 1952, Senator Byrd spent the entirety of his political career crafting a spot inside the Congressional walls as a powerbroker and staunch Senatorial defender. Dogged by, at most generous, a pointedly misguided membership in the Ku Klux Klan during his youth; Senator Byrd had an eternal, negative first impression to shed. Because of that, he became a political shapeshifter; someone who changed his mind on issues, people and policies over time. In an age of political rigidity, Senator Byrd was a uniquely fluid political entity.

All you have to do is look at any political race in the past decade to find the rigidity that runs the current political system. It happens on both sides of the aisle. During the 2008 Presidential primaries, former Massachusetts Govenor Mitt Romney was labeled a “flip-flopper” by every conceivable liberal outlet. Change your mind on an issue or three and get labeled with the American political kiss of death. Senator John Kerry went through the same labeling game during the 2004 Presidential election. The fact of the matter is this: Americans, on whole, find those that change their position over time to be weak. Politicians know this and use it to win votes and campaigns. What would Senator Byrd have to say about this? I’m sure he would have a strong thought or two on the matter.

The politics of flip-flopping.

At the very least, it is worth thinking about why, when a legend leaves us we stand and applaud his fluidity in the political realm yet lambast possible legends in the making for the same trait? Yes, I know, it might not be the same. Mr. Romney nor Mr. Kerry were members of the KKK; but, maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes Senator Byrd’s reversal of course all the more poignant. From KKK member to civil rights advocate is not a tiny shift in philosophy; it is monumental change in fundamental beliefs. From ardent supporter of the Vietnam War to an outspoken detractor of the War in Iraq; time, mitigating circumstances and understanding changed his views over the years. These are, of course, the starkest and most blatant of Senator Byrd’s political changes during his time in Congress. There were others as well. Some may call him a flip-flopper or a political transient. I call him something else: human. We learn, we adapt and we change our views. That is the course of everyday life for every American, European, African or South American. Why should it be any different for those who make our laws and are accountable to the very people that are continually politically fickle?

So please, read about Senator Byrd and his political and personal struggles and successes. We can all take a lesson in humility and the understanding that passions, views and convictions change as we experience life’s bumps and bruises. His did. Yours will too.

Senator Byrd will lie in state in the Senate on Thursday, July 1st, 2010.