I now have all my scores from my first exam in each class. Here are the results:
Introduction to Engineering Computing: 88%
Physics I: 97%
Calculus II: 95%
Principles of Macroeconomics: 93%
I'm feeling very good about this.
"This is a moment of national crisis, and today's inaction in Congress as well as the angry and hyper-partisan statement released by the McCain campaign are exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington."
Obama-Biden campaign statement following the House of Representatives' rejection of the $700 billion financial bailout plan.
So that's why people have been calling and e-mailing members of Congress in record numbers voicing their opposition to the bailout plan. They're just angry that Congress won't pass it quickly!
Last Friday, I made my first monetary contribution to a political cause. I sent more money than I can probably afford, being a poor college student, to the candidate who I plan on voting for in November. I sent my money to the campaign to elect Ralph Nader.
This is now the sixth presidential candidate who I have supported over the course of this election cycle (for the record, the others, in order, are: Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul (briefly, before returning to Kucinich), John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama). It's not that I'm indecisive; if Kucinich had managed to gain any steam whatsoever in the Democratic primary season, I would have supported him for as long as he chose to stay in it. It's just that, each time my candidate has dropped out or been defeated, I have simply settled for the next best out of all the terrible options. When Kucinich dropped out, I settled for Edwards; then he dropped out, and I settled for Clinton; then she was defeated, and I settled for Obama.
But it has finally become clear to me that that's no way to choose who to support in a presidential race. What is this nation coming to, if everyone is willing to exercise their most vital right, the right to vote, to put a crappy candidate in office just because they are less crappy than the other guy? It's not our fault, really, that that mindset has so thoroughly saturated our political thinking. The media tells us who has a shot at winning, then acts like they're the only people running; so it makes sense that we often feel like we have to vote for one of them. But if we want to save American democracy from total de facto nonexistence, we have to break free of that. We have to vote for candidates, not for media caricatures or partisan labels.
I do not like John McCain. I do not like Barack Obama. I have been fooling myself into believing that, despite my differences in ideology from each of them, either would make a decent president. That is nonsense. If either of those two becomes president, it means essentially complete continuation of the status quo, just under a different name. They're both guilty of lack of principles and partisan hackery. They're both typical politicians, who care more about their personal advancement than the well-being of the people. They both belong to the deeply entrenched, deeply flawed two-party system, which bickers about almost nothing of substance, but occasionally mentions a few small issues that for some reason set people against each other and churn out votes. I don't understand how anyone could seriously think that either of them will change that reality. John McCain abandoned every one of his principled disagreements with his party in order to get its nomination, and even Barack Obama has now revealed his true colors by doing the same now that he no longer needs to distinguish himself to get his party's nomination (just as I always figured he would). But the media has convinced us all that John McCain is a maverick, Barack Obama is a change agent, and the Theme of the Election is Change; so supporters of both sides continue believing that their candidate is different than the crappy politicians that have dominated Washington for so long. Nonsense, I say!
Ralph Nader happens to be the most viable third-party or independent candidate in the race. But if that alone were the reason I plan on voting for him, I would be a hypocrite. No, there are other, more important reasons.
On Ralph Nader's website, under "Issues", there is a list of 14 stances that Ralph Nader holds that neither Obama nor McCain do, and I agree with him (for the most part) on every one:
1. Adopt single payer national health insurance. Barack Obama, as well as the entire Democratic party establishment, refuses to be truly bold on the health care issue. Their ideas are nearly identical to the Republicans'; they just use different words to describe them. "Universal health care" is not a true description of any system that is not single payer.
2. Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget. The 2008 federal budget includes over $583 billion in military spending (according to Wikipedia). That's almost twice the spending of the entire European Union, and almost half of the military spending of the entire world. Neither Obama nor McCain really want to change this significantly. 'Nuff said.
3. No to nuclear power, solar energy first. Nuclear power is great, in terms of efficiency and how much power it can produce. But what do you do with the waste? Why is it OK to bury it under some mountain? Especially if there are other, 100% clean, alternatives?
4. Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare. According to the FBI, robbery and burglary cost Americans $3.8 billion a year. Corporate fraud costs somewhere in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. More people die on the job or due to corporate malpractice than are murdered each year, too. Obama and McCain, being major-party puppets, aren't going to crack down on corporations whatsoever.
5. Open up the Presidential debates. The presidential debates are one of the ways the media keeps people in line voting for major party candidates. Changing this is a vital step in the preservation of American democracy.
6. Adopt a carbon pollution tax. Something needs to be done about global warming, and this option seems far superior to a cap-and-trade policy, which is the only option that's been taken seriously in Washington. Nader seems to understand how this could be implemented well, including the fact that it would require international cooperation.
7. Reverse U.S. policy in the Middle East. Nader supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess, and would almost certainly make it one of his administration's top priorities. He wants a quick withdrawal from Iraq, too; this is one of the few areas I disagree with him on, because I think the situation in Iraq is going well enough to justify our continued presence there, at least for a while longer.
8. Impeach Bush/Cheney. Um, do I have to say anything here?
9. Repeal the Taft-Hartley anti-union law. I don't personally know much about this, but from what I've read into it, it doesn't seem like a law that ought to be on the books. It's this sort of legislation that lets corporations like Wal-Mart do things like force their employees to sign anti-union pledges. Repealing it sounds like a good idea to me.
10. Adopt a Wall Street securities speculation tax. A lot of problems have come out of stock market speculation over the years. A tax on this behavior would make people think twice about it, as well as generate revenue (and it would affect rich folks the most, making it a nice addition to our progressive tax system).
11. Put an end to ballot access obstructionism. Obviously, this is a pet issue for Nader, who has been put through hell by various states and political parties every time he has tried to get on ballots. But that doesn't make it any less important. How can we say that, in America, "anybody can be president," when many states require tens of thousands of signatures in order to get your name on the ballot?
12. Work to end corporate personhood. It's funny that this is listed here, because I happen to know a lot about it. One of my high school debate resolutions concerned corporate personhood. Basically, it's the practice of viewing corporations as people in the eyes of the law (i.e., any place the law says "person"/"individual"/etc., it applies to corporations as well). This stemmed mostly from Supreme Court decisions in the late 1800s that extended the protections of the 14th Amendment to corporations. This has been a major contributing factor in making corporations as powerful as they are today, particularly in the political sense. The fact of the matter is, corporations are not people, so there's no reason to treat them as such under the law.
13. Defend, restore, and strengthen the civil justice system. What Nader is referring to here is the weakening of tort law over the past few decades. At first glance, of course, it seems like weakening tort law is a good thing; when someone can sue McDonald's for their coffee being hot, there's obviously a problem. But Nader insists that there has been a large effort on the part of corporations to "[chip] away at state and federal laws designed to protect individuals from the rapacious wrongdoing of large multinational corporations." And if that continues, it's not hard to imagine a lot of harm being done, as corporations become more and more immune to punishment for their bad actions.
14. Adopt the National Initiative [for Democracy]. This plan involves setting up a system of legislation by petition and national vote, much like most state governments have in place. The benefits of this plan can be read on Ralph Nader's website, and the details can be read on the official website of the movement.
This list tells me a couple of very positive things about Ralph Nader. First, he has some damn good ideas. Second, and much more importantly, he wants to address some of the issues that no one ever talks about, yet which are of vital importance to everyone in this nation - the issues that have been missing from American government for so long. That alone is a powerful argument for Ralph Nader's candidacy, even if you disagree with the guy.
This is my final answer to the question of who I support in the 2008 presidential campaign. I intend to actively promote Nader/Gonzalez to everyone I know, from now until election day. Maybe it's a lost cause...but at least I feel like it's a principled lost cause. And that is infinitely more important to me than picking a winner.
At the end of my most recent blog posting (about Barack Obama's potential paths to an electoral college victory), I said the following: "If McCain moves Michigan to his column, and Obama nets Ohio, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the rest of the states stay as they went in 2004, then each candidate gets 269 electoral votes. That's right, folks - a tie is possible. Then the vote would go to the House of Representatives, and each state would have one vote. I'm not even going to try to speculate on what would happen then."
Well, I changed my mind; I'm going to speculate. And no, none of the polls have moved since I posted that blog, so this is still a real possibility at this point.
If the electoral college fails to give any one presidential candidate a majority (270) of the votes, the selection of the president goes to the House of Representatives. The delegation from each state gets one vote to cast for any of the top 3 from the electoral college process. Since no third party is likely to get any electoral votes this November, the House would most likely be forced to choose between Barack Obama and John McCain.
This vote, it seems, would heavily favor the Democratic candidate. I believe this vote occurs before the next congressional session begins, since the electoral college vote occurs almost a month before that time. So we'll assume the current congressional make-up would still be in place at the time of this vote. There are 27 states with more Democrats in the House than Republicans, and just 21 that are the other way around (2 are tied - Kansas and Arizona). So Barack Obama would probably be elected president.
But who would be his vice president? Here's where it gets interesting. What most people don't know is that, technically, the vice president is chosen completely separately from the president. When you vote in November, you're really voting for an elector who you trust to vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidates you want to win. Fortunately, electors very rarely vote for a different candidate than the voters from their state want in either office, so if a tie happened in the presidential vote, it would almost certainly be the same in the vice presidential vote.
When there is a tie in the vice presidential electoral college vote, the vote goes to the Senate, with each senator given one vote to cast for either of the top two electoral college vote-getters. So the Senate would have to choose between Barack Obama's running mate and John McCain's.
Right now, there are 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents in the Senate. Obviously, this vote would be open to a lot of smoke-filled-room politics. But I personally think the Republican would probably win. All 49 Republicans would almost certainly vote for their candidate, hoping they can get someone in the White House, even if not the president. I also think the Independents, and perhaps even a few Democrats, would go Republican, trying to force Obama to make good on his promises of bipartisanship. After all, what could be more bipartisan than a split White House?
So there you have it, folks. In the unlikely event that the electoral college vote this fall results in a tie, we will probably have a Democratic president and a Republican vice president. Let's all pay extra close attention to who John McCain picks as his running mate. I'm pulling for Obama-Rice '08.
It's important that I start this post with a solid disclaimer: It's really quite impossible to know which candidate will win in any state - especially in an election as strange as this one is shaping up to be. All I want to do with this post is have some fun speculating about the various paths to an Obama electoral college victory in November. So let's speculate!
First, some background for anyone who is unfamiliar with electoral college math: There will be 538 electoral votes in the general election. These are allocated on a state-by-state winner-take-all basis. For example, all of Colorado's 9 electoral votes will go to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in Colorado. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must get a majority (50% plus 1) of the electoral votes; so the magic number is 270.
Counting current state-by-state polling averages as though they are election day voting numbers, according to Real Clear Politics, gives Senator Obama 317 electoral votes, and John McCain 221. At this point, this seems like an attainable goal for Obama; and he doesn't even have to rely on Florida to get there! Indeed, this 317 vote number consists of all the states that John Kerry won in 2004 (which Obama should be able to keep this year, and add up to 252 electoral votes), plus six states which Obama seems poised to either capture or come very close to capturing: Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia. In short, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Obama will sweep the election with 47 votes more than he needs to win.
But what if he can't pull all six of those states into his column? Well, luckily for him, he only needs a few of them. In fact, if he can only manage to get Ohio out of those six states, that gives him 272 electoral votes, a close but very real victory. Alternatively, if he gets Virginia and Colorado (two states that are trending Democratic and seem perfect for a Democratic candidate like Barack Obama), that gives him 274 electoral votes - again, a victory.
It's worth noting that there are a couple states which Kerry won that might go to McCain, making things more difficult for Obama. Polls in Michigan show Obama ahead by just 1%. In New Hampshire, his lead is .7%. If McCain manages to win both of those states, Obama loses 21 electoral votes. This would force him to get Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado (or an equivalent number of electoral votes) to win with 273.
There's one last possibility that's worth mentioning, just for the sake of absurdity: If McCain moves Michigan to his column, and Obama nets Ohio, Colorado, and New Mexico, and the rest of the states stay as they went in 2004, then each candidate gets 269 electoral votes. That's right, folks - a tie is possible. Then the vote would go to the House of Representatives, and each state would have one vote. I'm not even going to try to speculate on what would happen then.
But the conclusion of all of this speculation is that Obama has several entirely plausible paths to getting 270 electoral votes, and thus winning the presidency. The election, it seems, is his to lose.
There has not been a confirmed sighting of the Caribbean monk seal (Monachus tropicalis) since 1952. Two days ago, after several years of trying to find or confirm any sightings of the seal, the U.S. National Marines Fisheries Service declared it to be officially extinct. This makes the Caribbean monk seal the first species of seal to be brought to extinction by human actions.
Why this seal, and not another? Because Monachus tropicalis was subjected to the worst of European colonialism. Christopher Columbus himself had his crew kill and eat 8 of them on his second voyage. Before long, the entire region was swarming with Spanish and other European colonists, who exploited the seals commercially for oil and meat. As human civilization in the Caribbean advanced and expanded, the seals' habitat was restricted bit by bit, to the point that the species simply couldn't sustain itself. And so, like so many plant and animal species before it, the Caribbean monk seal was driven to extinction.
According to the World Conservation Union, there are nearly 800 recorded instances of "modern extinction" - human-caused extinction of species after the year 1500. And this doesn't even account for all of the undocumented extinctions, like the extinction of plant and animal species in the disappearing Amazon and other endangered ecosystems, or cases like that of Monachus tropicalis prior to this announcement (it may have been extinct as long as 50 years ago). In fact, the time period since humans began settling and growing in population and habitat is described by biologists as the sixth period of mass extinction in the history of life on Earth. The current rate of extinction is estimated to be between 100 and 1000 times as great as the average rate of extinction suggested by fossil records. Some predict that as many as 20% of species that existed in 1998 could be extinct by 2028. In 2002, one biologist predicted that half of all living species will be extinct within 100 years.
Great strides have been taken in species conservation in recent decades. Endangered species lists, special legal protection, and other measures taken by governments around the world have surely saved many species from the fate suffered by the Caribbean monk seal. But these efforts have been confronted with one of history's greatest ironies: Just as we started to get most of the other factors right, we learned that a product of human civilization we've never taken seriously - pollution - is now bound to put the greatest strain on ecosystems the world has seen in roughly 65 million years. Human expansion and colonial exploitation of animal species, it seems, will soon pale in comparison to the damage that will be caused by global warming.
I have a terrible feeling that within a few decades, species as adorable and innocent looking as the Caribbean monk seal will be succumbing to extinction every day. And it's our fault. How on earth are we going to live with that?
Today, Big Brown, the horse that became a mob darling and the center of great media speculation after winning the first two races of the Triple Crown, finished last in the Belmont Stakes, the third and final race of the series. The winning horse, Da' Tara, as well as the other 7 horses who beat Big Brown, crushed the dreams of millions of horse racing fans and commentators who hoped the horse would be the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.
Now, if you've ever read any of my blogs, you'd better be wondering right now, what on earth is he doing talking about horse racing?
Good question. The answer is that Big Brown's story teaches a very valuable lesson: Nothing is certain. Big Brown's odds on the race were 1 to 4; Da' Tara's were 38 to 1 (in other words, it was generally accepted that Big Brown was 152 times as likely to win as Da' Tara). And yet, somehow, Da' Tara won, and the favorite came in a distant last place.
So the next time you think something is certain - like, I don't know, a Democrat winning the presidency this year - remember Big Brown. Even if the odds are 152 to 1.
CNN reports that the price of light sweet crude oil closed today at $138.54 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up from yesterday's closing price of $127.79. This marks new records in both the closing price of oil, and one-day growth in oil prices.
The highest price oil reached today was $139.12 per barrel, shattering the old intra-day record of $135.09, which, according to CNBC, was set on May 22.
So the question is, why? And, as it turns out, most of the blame can be placed on two factors:
1: Heightened tensions in the Middle East
Reuters reports that earlier today, Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz told a newspaper, "If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it." In fact, says the minister, conflict will be "unavoidable" if Iran does not stop its program. When questioned on this, even prime minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman said "all options must remain on the table" with respect to Iran (sound familiar?).
Any tensions in the Middle East tend to cause an increase in oil prices, and tensions involving Iran are certainly no exception. According to the Energy Information Association of the Federal government, Iran is second only to Saudi Arabia in both production and reserves of oil among Persian Gulf nations. In addition, the EIA says that nearly all of the oil exported from the Persian Gulf region, and about a fifth of the world's total oil supply, goes through the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran controls. In the event of an Israeli strike on Iran, which the United States would probably support, it's not hard to imagine a disaster in America's oil market.
2: Dire predictions
CNN Money reports that Morgan Stanley analyst Ole Slorer predicted today that oil would cost as much as $150 per barrel by July 4. Slorer said that this increase would mostly be due to the market readjusting to increased demand for oil from Asian countries.
Of course, leave it to oil traders to see a prediction suggesting amazing profit on their part as authorization to exploit the market. Do they really expect us to believe speculation and manipulation have nothing to do with the recent rise in oil prices?
Does anyone else still remember the good old days when $70 seemed high?
The Democratic party's rules and bylaws committee has just finished voting on what to do with Florida and Michigan. The result:
Florida's pledged delegates will be seated as they were chosen by the people, but each will only be given one half of a vote.
Michigan's pledged delegates will be seated as they were arbitrarily chosen by the state's Democratic party, with each given one half of a vote.
Both state's superdelegates have also been reinstated, with each given one half of a vote - despite the fact that many of them were the ones responsible for breaking the rules and jeopardizing the impact of their voters. But there is a bigger issue in the decision.
The result for Florida's pledged delegates makes perfect sense, as a compromise between the rules and the will of the people.
But the result for Michigan is a tremendous affront on democracy itself. Barack Obama did not have to take his name off of the ballot in Michigan, and once he chose to do so he completely forfeited any vote he could otherwise have gotten. 600,000 voters went to the polls, and they, by the very most fundamental rules of the Democratic party, are the only people with the power to allocate pledged delegates. This arbitrary decision of who gets how many, therefore, violates not only democracy in concept, but also the very rules supporters of the motion were supposedly seeking to uphold.
I don't think I have ever been this disappointed in the Democratic party. If, in this party, 30 people are allowed to impose an arbitrary allocation of pledged delegates and subvert the official will of 600 thousand voters, then I'm not sure I want to be involved with it. I think I'll register Independent.
That's right: On Saturday, I qualified to go to the National Forensic League's national tournament this June in Las Vegas. I'll be competing in National Extemporaneous Speaking, which you can read about here if you're interested.
There's an article over on Salon.com that I cannot possibly improve upon in any way, regarding the fact that if the Democrats used a winner-take-all system (which is most in line with the electoral-college reality), Clinton would be winning the nomination contest. It also makes a few other claims about Barack Obama's failure to represent true democracy. It's definitely worth a read or two to anyone who's even mildly interested in this nomination.
Yesterday, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq reached 4,000.
That's 4,000 lives cut short. 4,000 hearts that will never beat again. 4,000 families and groups of friends that will never be the same again. And for what? For a war that was sold based on lies that those who told them knew were lies. For preemptive war, the idea that you can get rid of a threat before it becomes a threat, the most dangerous theory of modern times. For vengeance, against people who had nothing to do with what we seek vengeance for.
But that's not what the president wants you to think about. He wants you to think of Iraq as the next great proving ground of Democracy; the next step in our nation's legacy, in the yet-unfinished Grand Experiment begun by our founding fathers in a hot, cramped room in early July, 1776. He wants you to think of the Iraqi people suffering under the rule of a ruthless dictator, who does not think twice about slaughtering them by the thousands; and he wants you to demand that we stay in Iraq, to ensure Democracy prevails there, fulfilling the responsibility we brought upon ourselves by toppling that dictator.
Everything else that the president says about the War in Iraq - that if we leave, the terrorists will follow us home; that Al Qaeda in Iraq is the physical manifestation of the greatest threat America has ever faced; that we should not be opposed to giving up certain liberties to purchase the safety supposedly bought by the war - is, quite frankly, thinly veiled bullshit. And the reason why he brings up the support of Democracy in reference to the Iraq War - because every other justification for the war he tried simply failed - leads me to the conclusion that the president doesn't personally believe his own words, and is only really promoting the war for his own personal benefit, which makes me sick to my stomach.
But that one single idea - that Iraq can become a part of America's legacy of Democracy, the place where the West faces off once and for all with this newest form of extremism - makes more and more sense to me every day.
If it is indeed true that Iraq is "our country's destiny" - as the president put it in his Memorial Day speech last year (which I vehemently attacked in this very blog) - then there is no doubt in my mind that we are going about it with the wrong mentality. We need to step back, and look past the immediate danger of Islamic terrorism, and into the soul of America. We need an Abraham Lincoln to tell us that the conflict we are in right now is just one part of a broader narrative - a narrative which we can, in some small way, shape. We need to resolve ourselves - not to "kill all the damn terrorists" and perpetuate the irrational ideas that brought us to Iraq in the first place - but to continue our pursuit of Liberty and Democracy, at home and throughout the world.
If we cannot bring ourselves to see that deeper conflict, and declare our intent to see that through, the war must end now. But if we can turn this tragedy into the next step of the Grand Experiment, perhaps the deaths of these 4,000 brave men and women can be worth something.
I have been accepted to the engineering school of the University of Colorado at Boulder (a little blue jewel in red Colorado, often called "The People's Republic of Boulder").
The Colorado School of Mines sent me financial aid confirmation this past weekend. I will receive $7,881 in grants, $1,500 in work-study, and $7,500 in subsidized federal loans. This leaves $5,000 outstanding on the estimated costs, should I choose to attend there.
This will be a short post, because my opinion on the matter can be summed up rather quickly, and I see no need to really go into extreme detail about such an obvious stance.
In this year's presidential primaries, a few states, primarily Iowa and New Hampshire, have received most of the attention of the candidates from each party. And this is a practice that has been going on for some time, and shows no signs of changing. Political pundits and analists speak openly about how the candidates can best strategize around their performance in these early primary and caucus states, as though that's the way it ought to be. The entire nation simply sits by on our couches and watches the pundits speculate on which way the vote in these two states of no particular significance is going to go, and we eagerly await the final results in Iowa today, hoping these voters of no particular significance go for the candidates we want. And if these voters of no particular significance happen to throw us a curveball, the pundits say it will probably change the course of our votes, openly admitting that the additional media coverage of the winners in Iowa and New Hampshire will sway more people to vote for them on Super Tuesday.
I do not even begin to understand the justification for this system. It is a direct affront on democracy, working to subvert the will of the people nationwide and replace our decision-making processes with the decisions made by a few voters of no particular significance.
In a perfect world, all the states in the nation would hold their primaries on the same day. The only way any other system could possibly be justified is if there were something wrong with that ideal system. And I have not heard a single solid argument against the idea of all the states holding primaries on the same day.