jury detail at King County Superior Court

I just completed my tour of duty as a potential juror at King County Superior Court. My summons arrived by mail at my old place, so I only found out last Friday that I was due downtown at 8 am Monday morning. I arrived ten minutes late, massively hungover from an epic house party I hosted over the weekend, and sat in a dimly lit room with about three hundred people. We watched a cheesy orientation video telling us all about how jury trials are the cornerstone of American constitutional democracy. There were posters on the walls scattered about claiming the same in case we forgot. Then a judge got up and said pretty much the same thing.

Then I waited two hours before being the 24th of the first 50 prospective jurors to be called up to a courtroom. I even raced down the hill on my bike in pretty heavy traffic, still somewhat hazy, to get there on time. Later, a bailiff would quip “We make you wait for hours but if you hold us up ninety seconds there’ll be hell to pay.” Government is nothing if not a paragon of efficiency.

Continue reading

introducing “Obama’s Record”

For the last two years, I have noticed that a theme has been emerging: Obama is a constitution-shredding war criminal who deserves to be in the big house, not the White House.

Whoa! Did I just say all that? No, I am not a born-again conservative or republican partisan. No, I am not a record-distorting far-left crazy with unreasonable expectations either (at least I don’t think I am). What I have been doing for a while now is paying fairly close attention to political news, and in particular the behaviour of the government. I have read Supreme Court decisions and paid attention to Congressional action, often writing my legislators (to apparently little avail). And most disturbingly, I have witnessed Obama take up Bush’s mantle on most important issues.

I understand that that is quite an assertion. Yes, he did succeed in reversing Bush’s ban on stem cell research. Yes, he did preside over the fairly popular and eventually successful movement to repeal DADT. But in many ways, Obama is a lot like Bush. Even the health care overhaul, his signal achievement, is likely to be an expensive affair, just like Bush’s massive health bill, the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. And that’s if it survives a Constitutional review by the Supreme Court. But there are other ways that Obama is just like Bush, especially in the realms of civil liberties and the war on Terror. In fact, Dick Cheney is so enamored of Obama’s direction in that department that Cheney essentially heaped praise on them both in an interview with NBC News: “I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate.”

So what is Obama’s record, really? And why should it matter? The two questions are related. The mainstream media has done, as is increasingly the norm, an excellent job of distracting attention away from the real issues, instead focusing on the most divisive and rancorous disagreements they can find. This has two effects: first, egregious violations of the law have been ignored, bringing instead to the fore petty disputes and insignificant news. Second, and as a result, facts and analysis have been replaced by wishful thinking and holistic reputations in deciding major questions.

Take for example, this line from Stephen Colbert in an episode of his show from last April: “Yes, Obama duped young people by not doing every single thing they want. So now, they’ll all vote Republican. It’s like when I want some bread, I won’t settle for half a loaf. Instead, I will have a muffin made of broken glass.” Colbert is a jokes man, but an influential one to be sure. Let’s unpack this sentiment, some flavour of which surely is held in earnest by many, at face value.

First, we have a straw man of ‘young people’ who were duped by Obama not doing every single thing they want. The implication here is that these young people expected him to do “every single thing” that they wanted, but no reasonable person could expect that. But more important is the diction: “every single thing” implies that Obama has done a lot of what he said he would do, enough that we can deride the straw man that won’t rest until he gets his entire agenda codified. Is that really a fair assessment of his record, analyzed both in isolation and against his campaign promises?

Second, we get an extreme comparison between Obama and his as-yet unknown republican challenger, as seen from the eyes of this straw man. Obama is only half a loaf of bread, but the republicans are like a muffin of broken glass! That isn’t even a food item! Half a loaf of bread will at least keep you alive, admittedly for only half the time a full one would, but a ‘muffin’ of broken glass will tear apart your digestive tract, leaving you to bleed internally to death. Are the policies of these opposing camps really that dramatically different?

An appeal to the facts is the only thing that can answer these questions. And an appeal to the facts, with my own analysis, is just what I mean to provide in a new page, Obama’s Record. I intend to break down Obama’s word and deed in several key areas, to leave it up the reader to determine for themselves how good or bad a president he has been and whether any of his actions are disqualifying for a second term. This post announces the creation of this series of subpages; at press time, only the parent page exists. But check back from time to time to see updates, and I will write blog posts announcing major entries.