Mike's Politics

February 2004

Marriage Amendment

By tmichael on February 8, 2004 10:30 AM

There is a rumor on the Internet that there will be an attempt to introduce a new amendment to the Constitution of the United States about marriage. The supposed text will be:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

If this is the text being voted on I oppose its ratification. I believe that this text would successfully enshrine discrimination in our country's most important document. I hope that enough people will see this as fundamentally weakening the moral weight of the constitution for all time.

With such a position a casual observer would say that I must be a Democratic supporter. This would be especially true of those conservatives who support this amendment. I fear that the Republican Party will make this the centerpiece of their platform for one very simple reason. I find that on many very important issues, I am much more in agreement with them than the Democratic Party. These issues include national defense policy, tax policy, trade policy and criminal justice policy.

By promoting this effectively anti-gay measure, I fear that I will be forced to choose between a party that is unwilling to effectively defend our country and one who might well make the country not worth defending.

Many people who support this amendment do so from understandable and defensible religious grounds. I, however, as a married heterosexual believe that marriage means different things to different people of differing faiths (or even lack thereof). For this reason, I would gladly support an amendment to remove and prohibit all references to marriage in the law. Leaving marriage to be defined as each faith sees fit would be quintessentially american. Forcing one conception of marriage upon people of all faiths and rewarding with benefits only those who fall within its parameters is a form of discrimination against any who fall outside of that conception.

I understand the problems of those who believe that it is inappropriate for the courts to overturn what has been a longstanding definition of marriage. For this reason, the Defense of Marriage Act or similar legislation that seeks to control the change of the definition of marriage to the legislature is just the sort of thing that, while I personally disagree with, I wouldn't have a strong desire to vote against its supporters.

Amending the constitution, however, essentially says that not even a future majority opinion in the legislature can change the definition of marriage. This is fundamentally unnecessary.

Until those who support this amendment seek to impose sanctions on those heterosexual couples who make a mockery of traditional marriage or seek to eliminate the "legal incidents" of marriage, I will be forced to believe that your support of this amendment is an unequivocal statement of your desire to discriminate against gays to the fullest ability of your political power. As such, you will make this independent voter who agrees with you on most things very likely to seek to decrease your political power by adding my vote and money to the other column.

January 2004

Bush Ad Contest Results

By tmichael on January 15, 2004 12:17 PM

I recently wrote about the Bush in 30 Seconds contest finalists. The results of the celebrity judging are in and it is time to admit that I was wrong in my prediction.

The winner was Child’s Pay. I gave this ad an honorable mention in my evaluations. So I think the celebrity judges deserve more credit than I predicted they deserve. If you want my own thoughts on the ad see my previous post.

On a side note, I had to laugh when I read the


A spokesman at Leo Burnett USA's Chicago headquarters said the ad was shot in Denmark by a freelance director and a two-person crew who were friends of Mr. Fisher.

I think this is vaguely amusing given that the tag line for the ad is, "Guess who's going to pay off President Bush's $1 trillion deficit?" If I were uncharitable, I guess the hidden answer is the Danish people oddly enough.

Moveon.org's Bush in 30 Seconds Reviews

By tmichael on January 7, 2004 12:09 AM

Today I received an email from MoveOn.org with a link to their anti-Bush ad contest at Bush in 30 Seconds.

As a little background, I consider myself to be a moderate with perhaps mild libertarian leanings. This means that I rarely fail to be disappointed in some way by the people who get elected via partisan elections. I tend to get squeamish for example whenever the Bush administrations motivations start to appear to be religiously motivated, but I also feel misgivings whenever people criticize any use of American power to make the world a better place.

Because I am never on board completely with either political party, I try to keep my eye on both sides and tend to evaluate policies more on their results than their justifications. Some might see this as an ends justify the means philosophy, but for me it is more about the idea that it is rare that I agree with both the means and ends of either party and am left hoping for my desired ends.

So what do I think of MoveOn.org? I tend to find them the most effective window into the current sentiment of Democratic Party activist. I also find them to be somewhat shrill and rarely advancing anything that would convince a moderate that the Democratic nominee will be closer to my politics than George Bush will be on my highest priorities. I am a member, in order to get regular access to their emails and other information, but I disagree with at least 80% of the tactics they seem to stand for.

What criteria am I using to review these ads? First I will review it based on its ability to influence a moderate such as myself. Then I highlight factors that I find makes it particularly effective or ineffective. I then conclude with any caveats that highlight why my opinion may not be reflective of others.

So on with my reviews:

Child’s Pay - Back during the initial voting period which whittled the ads down to 10 finalists, I actually looked at 20 of the contestants. This ad was one that I saw. I find it to be an effective attack on what I find to be one of the biggest weaknesses of the Bush administrations policies, the increasing deficit. Unlike some of the other finalist, I found that it made the point without coming across as shrill. This is just the sort of ad that I think would be effective if run by supporters of a Republican that was running against a Democrat who had run up a large deficit, but it is unclear to me how voting for the Democratic nominee will effect the deficit other that changing which programs are receiving the borrowed money. As result I rate this as a great ad for inspiring me to consider other candidates, but it is unlikely that any of the Democratic candidates will be able to capture the support of those inspired by this ad to look for a Bush alternative. As for caveats, I found use of the kids interesting like one of the old Monster.com ads, but I always feel the use of children is almost always an attempt to be emotionally manipulative. The other piece of typical leftist thought is the implication that only blue collar people actually pay taxes. I noticed that none of the kids are working in offices or with post 70’s technology.

In My Country - I found this to be another of the more effective finalist. For those who have not been observing the debate about the PATRIOT Act and other changes in the trade-offs between security and unfettered rights, the twist that the main character is actually speaking about America and not some other country may be just the sort of eye opener that MoveOn is hoping for. Having followed the extensive discussions that have been going on, however, I found this ad as embracing the more extreme interpretation of the changes. I doubt many that agree with MoveOn would object to any of its conclusions, an informed moderate would probably question whether the Bush administration is really a group of religious extremists and might note that the judiciary seems to be curbing some of the more egregious alterations of the interactions the government and citizens. I am not convinced that after the Supreme Court reviews the Padilla case that citizens will be able to be held indefinitely without access to the courts or lawyers. I guess the effectiveness of this ad will depend on how effectively the public has been spun on the rights issue. Personally, I would be fine if the PATRIOT Act were repealed, but I don’t think its enough of a threat to civil liberties to base my vote on. As a funny aside, have I been so spun by the conservatives that I am seeing things? Maybe so. On first viewing I wondered if the building in the background on the right near the end of the ad was the UN. I actually doubt it, but it would be funny if it was.

Polygraph - Now this one is more like what I expect from MoveOn. A lie detector output is shown while excerpts from Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech (I think) are heard. On several of the statements that the MoveOn crowd is certain are lies, the needles jump wildly. I am sure this one feels very reassuring to the left wing critics of the administration, but lacks any nuance from the perspective of a moderate like myself. As soon as I wrote that I did think of one bit of nuance that I am not sure was intentional, but that does highlight one of the reasons I was not opposed to the war in Iraq. When Bush says that Saddam Hussein harbors terrorists the needle don’t move indicating he is telling the truth. The needles only move when the phrase “including members of Al Qaeda” is uttered. Thus this seems to say that Al Qaeda is the only terrorist organization worth worrying about. I disagree, but I guess it is a more nuanced argument than, “President Bush Lies”.

Bring ‘Em On - An ad based on the idea that except for the Bush administrations lies, there would never have been an armed conflict with Iraq. It attempts to gain emotional power by rapidly cycling through photos of those members of the armed forces who have died in Iraq. This one didn’t do much for me. I guess that is probably because I don’t accept as a basic tenet of my belief that the President Bush lied. I also think that the rapid flicker of faces though attempting to highlight the quantity of deaths in fact somehow trivializes them to me. Finally, the fuzzy images of the President seem like low quality web images and I think would be inappropriate for a broadcast ad.

What are we teaching our children? - This add shows children in the role of a politician giving a speech. Each of the children says exactly what most “progressives” believe to be Bush’s true motives. I don’t buy it, but it is a great sort of litmus test ad. It draws a line in the sand and says either you believe this about Bush or you don’t. I know which side of the line I fall on, but it would certainly make it easier for me to root for Bush if this is the message the Democratic Party embraces. As another aside, I am more okay with the use of children in this ad than in some of the others.

Imagine - This one created really mixed thoughts in my attempt to review it. First I thought the production values ended up of the cheesy side and the use of the kids at the end was on the exploitative side of the spectrum. I really liked the ending part of the script where after listing a series of leftist beliefs about Republican motivations, says “Unbelievable, it should be.” As a moderate that will come across as a conservative, I think all of the things they list would be bad, but that they are in fact not true. I found this ad to be an attempt to frame the debate in an unbelievable manner. It’s a great ending if people actually buy what it is selling. Oh, I guess the real ending is the word “Think” on the screen. I found that to be a condescending message that any thinking person would agree with them. So points off for that.

Human Cost of War - Another ad based around the “fact” that Bush lies. I’m sure the choir buys it but I’m not sure it will make any converts. I thought the ad had very nice production values, but I don’t buy the mindset on which it was based. In particular, I as a moderate was put off by the graphic that said, “More than 8,000 civilians have been slaughtered in Iraq.” To me slaughter implies intentionally killed. I believe that occasionally, the military may perform actions where they recognize a chance, maybe even a likely chance, of civilian casualties, but have not in recent times intentionally killed civilians. Furthermore, I am troubled by the entire numbers game when talking about deaths. Each soldier who dies, each civilian who dies is part of a tragedy, but so to are those that are dying in oppressive situations around the world. Beginning to rectify the latter may incur more of the former. I think those who like this ad’s message are saying until we can correct all of the problems of the world; we should not use force to correct any of them.

Wake Up America - I like the presentation of this ad. I think it is more effective than most as it shows a man hitting the snooze on his alarm clock as we hear snippets of a radio broadcast that states criticisms of the Bush administration. I think the effectiveness comes from the fact that criticisms are presented as a news broadcast. While effective, it lost credibility with me when it stated the president had cut unemployment benefits. Having spent some time unemployed recently, I am fairly aware of what has happened with benefits. From my perspective, some of the extensions have made unemployment benefits more long-lasting than they were under the previous administration, not cut. Ultimately, the wake up and pay attention to these facts is a good approach, but it comes across as condescending to anyone who disagrees with the implied conclusion that we should come to after waking up.

Desktop - Perhaps the most ridiculous ad of the finalist, that manages to effectively demonstrate what a minority MoveOn members are. This one shows a bunch of icons on a Macintosh computer desktop with a presidential seal background labeled things like environment and social security. These are then dragged to the trash can and the deleted “permanently” when the trash is emptied. I found this one silly, but the most telling part is the assumption that enough people would recognize the computing metaphor from a Mac to get the message. As a computer guy, I got it but I think that choice of a Mac and the fact that it was voted a finalist says a great deal about the type of people attracted to MoveOn. If they are trying to connect with the mainstream, they should at least have used a Microsoft computer. More people might recognize what they are trying to do, but I guess that might have implied that a Republican was recycling.

Army of One - I thought this was a fairly effective ad until the end, where I thought it became heavy-handed and exploitative. The ad shows a series of military scenes with a narration and graphics that suggest that the Bush administration is not adequately supporting the troops fighting our wars. This is a message that I could back if I felt another candidate was willing to make changes for the better without ignoring that some uses of forces are worth the costs and many think Iraq falls into that category. Thus we are not hoping to have a quick withdrawal, but one that leaves a good foundation behind in Iraq. I haven’t heard any suggestions of this from any of Bush’s opponents so I think in this way, the ad is a lot like Child’s Pay above. Good point, but who will make it better? The very end though undercuts the emotional resonance of the ad by using the Army’s advertising slogan about an Army of One, while showing a flag draped coffin. This smacks of a leftist belief that the military intentionally exploits its members by mocking the slogan. This is probably popular with the MoveOn crowd, but was a major turn off for me.

Bankrupt - Amongst my least favorites, this ad says that America’s future is bankrupt. I don’t think most Americans are pessimistic enough to be swayed by such a downer ad. I also think that the ad steps way out of reality when it says that the number of friends the US has at the UN is 3. I guess that might be true if you are talking about UN bureaucrats, or if you believe like some that Germany and France are now our enemies, but I think that at a minimum, I count every country that has troops in Iraq as our friend. Just of the top of my head that includes Spain, Italy, Poland, Australia, the UK, and Japan who is preparing to send troops. Finally, my pet peeve of exploiting children is touched upon when the final voice over is done by a child.

Hood Robbin’ - This ad parodies Robin Hood, with a person in a Bush mask robbing from “us” and giving to “Megacorp Inc.” I found this one to be another weak add. The Bush mask may appeal to those that like seeing the giant puppets at anti-globalization rallies, but seemed really lowbrow to me. The ad seeks to highlight some of Bush administrations spending priorities, but I found that it was another example of MoveOn people agreeing with themselves without engaging swing voters.

Leave No Billionaire Behind - I always feel some appeal when I see an anti-deficit add. Unfortunately this ad takes the tact that the deficit is completely driven by borrowing money to give to the rich who then apparently bury it in the back yard of their mansions. In some instances I have ripped some of these ads for exploiting kids, but I think that the use of children is appropriate for the message this ad is trying to convey. I the weakness of this ad from an appealing to moderates perspective is that it is arguing the losing side of the tax cut argument. Of course this is how most MoveOn members view the tax cut.

Bush’s Repair Shop - This ad ends with a voice over, “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.” This theme is well matched by ad where a car repair shop promises to put their best man on it who then proceeds to damage the car with a variety of tools. I think the production value suffered a little because the car being abused looked a little cheap and old, but this could be reshot before being broadcast. I don’t completely agree with the conclusion of the ad, but I think it is well designed to emphasize to swing voters that they should examine what Bush has done instead of simply what his campaign says.

Gone in 30 Seconds - I thought this was one of the weaker ads. It uses some uninspiring graphics that look like a speedometer and odometer that are linked to the voice over. Unfortunately I thought the link was weak and thus the graphic elements actually detract from the point the ad is trying to make. Finally, it ends with a line about driving the country into bankruptcy. I am not sure I buy that so that portion of the add ends up coming across as somewhat shrill.

So with all of that said, which ad do I think is the best? I guess I say the one with the greatest chance of altering who swing voters chances of voting for Bush is Bush’s Repair Shop, with honorable mentions for In My Country and Child’s Pay.

Finally, I want to betray my opinion of the intelligence of the celebrity judges that will pick a winner. I predict the winner will be Polygraph.

September 2003

Lack of Foresight

By tmichael on September 25, 2003 6:45 PM

I read this article on Slate: Heartbreak Cartel - Ten billion reasons why Iraq shouldn't rejoin OPEC. By Michael Kinsley.

I have generally been supportive of the invasion of Iraq and find it interesting to compare the changes in reasoning both of the war's proponents and opponents.

I found this article frustrating, not because I disagree with the premise that renewed OPEC membership won't cost me money and our economy growth, but because I made the assumption before the war that opponents to the war meant that the US was going to manipulate the world oil market to lower prices when they said that the war was about oil. I guess I was wrong.

I wish I had had the foresight to ask what they thought the appropriate actions should be with respect to the Iraqi oil industry. Bush opponents seem poised to criticize the administration regardless of what action they took about OPEC membership.

Had the administration decided to block the interim council from dealing with OPEC, I think we would be reading war opponents saying something to the effect:

Clearly by blocking Iraqi membership in OPEC, the administration is putting oil prices and their effect on the economy ahead of the interests of the Iraqi people. Isn't it convenient that this boost to the American economy comes just as we are approaching the Presidential Election. This is economic imperialism at its worst and most blatant.

Of course the Bush administration didn't go this way so instead it is a payoff to the cronies in the Texas oil patch.

If you were/are an opponent of the war, maybe you don't have to come up with a solution to a war you would have never fought, but now that the deed is done, which approach is more exploitative? Or is there some third way that would have been morally superior?

July 2003

The Future of Africa

By tmichael on July 21, 2003 10:22 PM

This article w w w . p r o s p e c t - m a g a z i n e . c o . u k is a disturbing description of the challenges that face Africa. I can only hope that it is inaccurate, but to my incredibly under-informed view, it appears to carry a great deal of truth.

It is a sad thought that the future of destruction is so likely.

March 2003

Scary Report

By tmichael on March 11, 2003 4:51 PM

I just skimmed parts of one of the Blix reports at UNMOVIC Report. This reinforced for me the scope of the Iraqi lack of cooperation. Clearly with or without a war there are a lot of unanswered questions to be resolved.

February 2003

Rush to War

By tmichael on February 25, 2003 10:36 AM

I was looking over the list of UN resolutions at Paxiety.com, and thought that this certainly was an interesting "rush to war" if the list is indeed accurate.

August 2002


By tmichael on August 20, 2002 9:24 PM

I thought this was an interesting attempt to draw an analogy between 2002 Iraq and 1941 Germany: Analogy?

June 2002

Open Source Software and Government

By tmichael on June 3, 2002 11:38 AM

Anyone that wants to consider the proper role of open source software for the government should look at this web page. Peruvian Activism It is about the possible role of open source software in Peru.

Please read Congressman Villanueva's reply letter to Microsoft. It is his response to this letter: Microsoft's letter to Congressman Villanueva

I think the Congressman's letter is very well reasoned and very persuasive.

May 2002

Multiple voices

By tmichael on May 11, 2002 9:02 PM

As I read this article, I came to the realization that I tend to side with Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians because I have not seen any reports of any Palestinian political action calling for a unilateral halt to their most provocative act, suicide attacks on civilians. Even the most moderate Palestinians seem to simply avoid the subject. It certainly implies a highly intolerant society.

Yahoo! News - Israelis Rally for Pullout, Peace


By tmichael on May 12, 2002 4:46 PM

Just when I start leaning entirely to the Israeli side of the Mideast conflict, some of them do something like this. Ha'aretz - Article Will people ever realize that extreme positions will never work unless you are willing to commit genocide in its defense and even then the rest of the world is likely to intervene to stop that.

April 2002

It takes two to compromise

Posted by tmichael on April 15,2002 01:02 PM

While the current state of affairs in the middle east doesn't reflect well on any of the participants, I have a hard time arguing with this assessment:


" The moral state of things is this:

1. If the Palestinians unilaterally lay down their arms and renounce

violence, they will be given peace, dignity, and their own state.

2. If the Israelis unilaterally lay down their arms and renounce

violence, they will be slaughtered.

3. As far as most of the world is concerned, either outcome would be


That said, I find it hard to understand why Israel is finding itself so alone. Even so, I think unilateral reversal of some of the settlement policies is inevitably a key step. I only fear that it will be many years before this comes to pass and that more will die before then. In that sense, perhaps, I have a biased view in believing that only Israel has the political capability to make a sacrifice of this magnitude. I can't even imagine the Palestinian Authority doing anything other than talking and allowing the status quo to continue.

Feedback, nothing is more powerful and subtle

Posted by tmichael on April 11,2002 10:38 AM

I found this article to be fascinating: The Atlantic | April 2002 | Seeing Around Corners | Rauch

I think that it shows that our intuition has a hard time correctly guessing the outcome of feedback loops.

Free Speech

Posted by tmichael on April 4, 2002 05:46 PM

I am normally well on the conservative side of many policy debates, but free speech is one are where I tend to shift sides. This article scares me a little because it really does seem ripe for abuse. Most Far-Reaching Gag Order In 1st Amend. History?

Free Speech

By tmichael on April 4, 2002 5:03 PM

Wow! If you are an aquatic plant gardener, I would suggest you avoid doing business with the company described in this story. Free speech and the Internet: A fish story By the sounds of it you could be sued by them if you post criticism of them on the Internet.

You might not lose the lawsuit, but could still be out of pocket your own legal defense costs. On the other hand if you want to take a chance that they will meet your expectations and/or not view your criticism as libelous, then please do feel free to use them. Me myself, I am glad that I do not have any hobbies that call for me to make this judgement.

March 2002

Free Speech

Posted by tmichael on March 30,2002 09:37 PM

I have always believed that a persons own religious views are personal, and that discussion of the basis of these views can be very valuable in understanding others. As a result I am at least saddened and to some extent maddened by the use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by the Church of Scientology.

I have always thought that affirmative beliefs are the most susceptible to broad generalizations, one can often understand most deeply ones beliefs by examining what one rejects. An example being a person who labels themselves as a practicing Jew, but does not keep kosher or a one who labels themselves a Catholic, but does not believe that priests should be required to be celibate.

I believe that an active dialog between a believer and a dissenter is a valuable tool in creating a diverse yet tolerant society. Unfortunately, there clearly are many who readily believe that an ideal society would be one where every living person has become a convert to that person's individual belief system.

I am content to live in a world where each of use recognizes the basis for others beliefs, whether they be based on faith, reason, or evidence that is personally convincing to them. Given that, if you are reading this page, you are probably a friend of mine, I think that I can clearly state that you and I disagree on at least one significant religious principle, but I am still glad to know you.

Furthermore, I believe that any religion should be prepared to have its religious principles discussed, even if eventually one must conclude that the difference between it and a dissenter are based on a matter of faith believed unprovable by at least one of the debaters.

Thus I am somewhat dismayed to learn that in March of 2002 the Church of Scientology utilized provisions of the DMCA to get my favorite search engine Google to remove links to many if not most pages on the Operation Clambake website. This website to my eyes appears to be a fairly harsh critique of the value of Scientology. I am not sure any of my friends are Scientologists or disillusioned former Scientologists, so I really have no opinion about it as a religion one way or the other. I further believe that Copyright Law, can be useful in the promotion of creation of useful art. For this reason, I believe that it makes sense to grant limited copyright. That said, copyright is the single strongest tool in existence today for non-governmental groups today. I think the use of the DMCA by the Church of Scientology is an abuse of at least the spirit of copyright law as the original framers of the constitution (who I believe were well balanced in this area) intended. I hope that court cases as well as future legislation will return copyright law to an incentive to create instead of a tool to restrict the exchange of ideas and to generate a perpetual income stream from a single creative idea.

Intellectual Property

Posted by tmichael on March 30,2002 09:24 PM

Here are some thoughts on the recent proposed legislation for the protection of digital content:

The television, movie and music industry, especially those who are focused on mass marketing have received a great deal of regulatory aid in defending their businesses against new business models and changing technology. Examples include the repeated extension of the length of copyrights, as well as the provisions in the DMCA which effectively make accused violators of copyright guilty until proven guilty.

In exchange for this protection, I believe they have done very little to compensate the public for these regulatory changes which have directly benefited them. I would challenge them to show that they have increased the quantity of intellectual property they have produced in proportion to the extension in length of copyright. I understand that copyright as a method of protecting intellectual property was originally included in the constitution in order to encourage the advancement of the arts and sciences.

Past and future enlargements of intellectual property rights should be tied to a public benefit in terms of increased availability of intellectual property. An example of such an exchange of benefits might be to have copyrights expire at the point the copyrighted work has been unavailable from the copyright holder for 3 consecutive years or for 20 years total. The definition of available would clearly be problematic, but clearly this would give an equitable exchange.

Similarly, given current efforts by these industries to mandate intrusive protections for their digital content, some sort of exchange of good should be included. An example might be a requirement that any content protected by a required scheme must be made available in that format for the length of the copyright. Perhaps there should be a requirement that an unprotected version be kept in escrow by some third party. This version could be released to the public either at the expiration of copyright or under specific fair use circumstances.

Finally, one of the major arguments in favor of some recently introduced legislation is that new protection is needed in order to create enough content to make broadband internet access more popular. None of the plans for digital content from proponents of this legislation appear to be anything other than turning the internet into cable TV. Cable TV already exists. It does not need to be recreated on the Internet. If the 3 Billion documents that already exist on the Internet are not enough content, then I question why the government has an interest in forcing dramatic changes to all computers in order to increase Internet usage.