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Understanding the Electoral College

The ground shook in the year 2000, as the cries of outrage rang across the
United States. "What do you MEAN the popular vote didn't win!?!?!" One could
hardly blame the citizens for being shocked; the last time this happened was in
1888! The Electoral College vote had over-ridden the popular vote. George Bush
was going into office... by the grace of just five electoral votes, despite
having gotten 543,816 fewer popular votes than Al Gore. Even some of the people
who voted for Bush were mad... because no matter who won, it was obvious that
something was awry.

To understand the invention of the Electoral College, we have to look at the
circumstances under which it was created. The founding fathers faced the unique
difficulty of how to elect a president in a newly formed nation. Where they'd
come from, there were only kings, so they had no practical experience; they had
to wing it. The country at the time was made up of 13 states of varying sizes.
Each of them had their own laws and powers. Everybody had just come through a
scary revolution and still had a phobia about powerful, centralized governments.

The country consisted of a mere 4,000,000 citizens spread over hundreds of
miles of Atlantic coastline, with no transportation but ships and horses, and
none of the modern communication technology that we enjoy today.

Keep in mind also that many citizens were slaves, and many more were women.

The Constitution Convention met together and hashed this out. They debated
several methods of electing a president. Eventually, the members settled on an
indirect election of the President through the College of Electors. Remember
that they only knew monarchy where they came from? So they got the idea from
the Catholic Church; it, too, selects a new Pope using a College of Cardinals!
In a hierarchical system in which the most informed and knowledgeable
individuals would guide the process, the College would select the President
based on merit alone, and not on what state he was from or what political party
he was in.

It looked good on paper. And when's the last time you'd heard somebody complain
about how the Pope got elected?

So it got set down in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. Each state
would get a set amount of Electors. Kind of like the rules for doling out
armies in the board game Risk, it didn't matter how the rules for dispensing
Electors was set up, so long as it was fair enough. So they decided that
allotted Electors would be based on the number of Representatives in each
state, plus two for each state's Senators. Since provisions were left in place
to ensure that each state could create more districts and appoint more
Representatives as their populations grew, and since how Electors were to be
chosen would be left up to each state, they figured everybody would be happy
with that.

The original rules were changed and bounced around over time. Different states
have different methods for assigning Electors. The system we have today wasn't
written into Federal law until 1845. But that isn't what you want to know. What
you want to know is, since the Electors still, for the most part, have to vote
what the popular vote in their district tells them to vote, how can a candidate
win the popular vote but lose the Elector Vote?

Take an experiment: you will need 25 pennies, 20 nickels, and 5 cups. Let the
pennies be Gore voters, the nickels be Bush voters, and the cups are the 5
districts in your state. Some states have 5 districts, some have 3, California
has 55. So pretend your state has 5 districts for a minute.

In 3 of the cups, put into each one 6 nickels and 3 pennies. In the other 2
cups, put into each one 1 nickel and 8 pennies. Now each cup has 9 coins, so
the districts are divided evenly. 5 times 9 is 45, and 25 pennies plus 20
nickels is 45.

Yet three of the cups have more nickels than pennies, while only two of the
cups have more pennies than nickels. The nickels won, even though they were
outnumbered by 25%!

The same concept works with districts, which are determined by where you live
when you register to vote. If 501 people in your district vote red and 499 vote
blue, your district comes out red. If 999 people in your district vote red and
only 1 votes blue, your district still comes out the exact same shade of red!
So past a certain point, the votes really don't count if a majority has already
been reached.

Even if you understand it, doesn't it still drive just you crazy?

Political Terms to Know for Elections

Bone up on your political jargon with this handy list of political phrases and
expressions. Keep an eye out for spotting these concepts as elections unfold in 
all their drama!

Absurdistan -- A satiric term for any country where absurdity is the norm. A
funny farm on a national scale. What America may feel like when this election
is over.

Armchair revolutionary -- Related to "armchair quarterback" and "weekend
warrior". Now that the Internet has given us an easy way to do a lot of talking
online without much action, it's a term more relevant than ever!

Blue rinse brigade -- It originated in the United Kingdom to describe the
elderly middle-class ladies usually of a conservative socio-political
persuasion. But it's ready for adoption in America, where seniors are
notoriously socially conservative, fiscally liberal, and retired so they have
plenty of time to vote and campaign.

Bolters -- Party members who leave the party for another one as soon as their
favorite candidate doesn't win the nomination. Possible usage: "Those
Republicans stayed on until they saw John McCain didn't get the Republican
nomination, then they left for the Democrat party to go vote for Joe Biden
instead. Those bolters!"

CAVE People -- C.A.V.E. stands for "Citizens Against Virtually Everything".
Specifically people who love anything as long as it's established already, but
hate change of any kind. As social questions like gay and women's rights and
whether to legalize marijuana or stop the Iraq war come into play, count on a
comment or two from the CAVE People.

Christmas tree bill -- A bill that passes through the House and Senate with a
lot more unrelated amendments attached than it started with. Typically a small,
minor bill, which then gets a new condition such as a favorable vendor or a tax
loophole tossed in, and one Congressman after another does this until the bill
resembles a tree decorated with ornaments hanging off it. Also named because
it's usually the last bill passed in a hurry before Congress goes home for the
Christmas holidays.

Crony capitalism -- Just thought I'd remind you that this term exists. You
aren't supposed to think of any companies that happen to be named
"Halliburton", who are making a huge profit from the Iraq war while an
ex-executive of their company who's still getting money from them happens to be
the out-going Vice-President under the President who declared the Iraq war.

Groupuscule -- This is a word borrowed from the french to describe the tendency
for the far extremes of a political party to break off into tiny little
sub-parties over some minor quarrel or extreme view. Usage: "The Popular
People's Front is just a groupuscule from the People's Front of Judea.
Splitter!"

Kleptocracy -- A government that increases the personal wealth and political
power of the ruling class at the expense of the population. Since you hear "the
rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer" all of the time, now
you can respond with, "What, you thinks we're in a kleptocracy?"

Lame duck -- This is an elected official who is soon losing political power and
is no longer feeling very responsible for his or her actions. Typical lame duck
maneuvers are to pull off a string of moves just before leaving, which they
never would have done if they had to worry about getting elected again. What
will George Bush pull out of his sleeve next December?

Neo-Luddism -- This is a modern movement of opposition to specific or general
technological development. Usage: "You don't like stem cell research, the
creation of a national broadband network, or computer classes in every school?
What a Neo-Luddite!"

Pressure politics -- The use of intimidation, threats, and mass media to
persuade politicians that the public demands a particular action. It may be the
will of the people, or it may be five kids in their basement spamming emails to
make it look like 500,000 angry voters are demanding something. Look for
pressure politics whenever any special interest makes a lot of noise about how
a candidate's stance on an issue just lost their vote.

Reality-based -- What non-religious voters call religious voters, as opposed to
"religion-based". Usage: "No intelligent-design pseudo-science in my kid's
classroom, thank you very much; I'd like her education to be reality-based."

Rubber stamp -- The notional tool used by party members to approve anything
their party candidate does. The decision to label something right or wrong,
depending on which party it came from. Whenever intense polarization exists in
a two-party system, look for rubber stamps everywhere.

Social chauvinism -- Fanatical patriotism during a time of war. Us or them!
Look for social chauvinism to come up in any discussion of war policy
concerning how inferior the other country is to the United States.

Stalking horse -- Aaaah, the subtle approach! A stalking horse is a candidate
entered into a race specifically to keep another candidate from drawing too
many votes, by splitting the targeted party. Are there any candidates in this
race who have been entered to steal popularity from another candidate in the
opposing party, while being too unpopular to draw any votes in their own party
and hence not damage the front-runner's campaign? Are there any of them aimed
at a specific demographic, like Internet users, for instance? Spotting the
stalking horse is a fun, but challenging game. Look for single-digit poll
numbers, insane amounts of money contributed, and irrational social media hype
and silly publicity stunts that together defies all explanation.

Third rail -- From the subway train metaphor, the third rail is the untouchable
issue that if any politician touches it, their campaign will be damaged. Gay
marriage and marijuana legalization are two of the third rails this election.

Useful idiot -- This term came into use to describe what the Soviets would have
thought of an American Soviet-sympathizer. However, look for it to be bandied
about to describe a Liberal-sympathizer in the Republican's camp, or vice-versa.

Wealth primary -- The scramble for campaign contributions by all of the
candidates, which, thanks to the inflated cost of campaigning, begins many
months before the party primaries select their final nominations. It isn't much
good to win a party primary, if you're too broke to campaign after you've been
nominated.

Why the United States is Not a Democracy

The United States is not a Democracy? What an outrageous claim to make! Or so
it would seem...

In fact, the United States of America is actually a Republic. The other terms
bandied about amongst political scientists are "Representative Democracy" and
"Constitutional Republic". And this isn't just a dictionary-zealot splitting
hairs here; there are very important distinctions between a pure Democracy and
what we have in the USA. And confusing the issue can actually lead to gross
mistakes.

For instance, in the 2000 Presidential election, if you (hypothetically) didn't
like George Bush but didn't trust Al Gore, you might have cast a vote for Ralph
Nader on the belief that you were at least voting against the other two
candidates. In fact, what you actually did was throw your vote away, because of
the Electoral College system. Each state has a certain number of electoral
votes, and the candidate who gets the most votes in a state gets all the
electoral votes for that state, even if they only win by one vote.

Your electorate would have just counted the votes in your precinct until a
clear winner emerged, then gone to the Electoral College and voted for the
winner. That's what it boiled down to: one vote from each precinct. A vote for
Ralph Nader did not cancel out a vote for George Bush.

In the more general scheme of things, the United States is a Republic because
we have a representative government. Individual citizens do not get to directly
vote on every detail, from whether we go to war to whether we have a seat-belt
law. All we can do with a vote is appoint Congress members, Governors, Mayors,
Senators, and yes, Presidents, too.

Once elected, those representatives can do whatever they please. They can say
whatever they want when they campaign to get elected, but after you've voted
them in, they aren't bound to represent you in the slightest. You can get them
impeached for breaking a law or an oath of office, but there is no specific
rule that says they have to keep every promise they made when they got elected.

Furthermore, in a direct democracy, the laws which are passed must be obeyed.
In a Republic, the laws get interpreted by a third branch, which is the
Judicial System. The court is free to throw out, rule against, or even just
ignore a law if it finds the case is just and the law unfair. This is why
everybody who commits adultery in California isn't in jail -- there is a law
against that, though, but it's ignored.

You're probably asking yourself, why is it that we don't have a direct
democracy, then? Well, when the country was founded a mere 230 years ago, the
device you're reading this on hadn't been invented yet. The same goes for cars,
telephones, television, telegraphs, and radio. Where was communication
technology when the Declaration of Independence was signed? The Gutenberg
printing press. Ships on the ocean were sending signals by firing cannons and
raising flags. On land, we had pen, paper, and the Pony Express.

Now imagine how long it would take to get anything done if we were to insist on
collecting the informed opinion of every single citizen across the country in
order to do every single thing, using only letters delivered by horse. You're
right, it would be impossible!

You might now ask, "Well, now we can transmit information everywhere at the
speed of electricity. Why can't we change to a direct democracy and throw out
all of this red tape?" Not so fast! There are experimental ideas being tossed
around about this already -- one of them is the Unity08 party and another one
is the National initiative to allow for ballot initiatives at the Federal
level, being proposed by Congressman Mike Gravel, who is running for President
in 2008.

However, even the boldest of these isn't proposing to implement a pure and full
Direct Democracy right away. Do you, as a citizen, want to travel the world
meeting with foreign leaders to decide if you want to do business with them or
grant their request for aid? Would you have had the time to read every page of
the hundreds of bills passed by Congress last year? And most of these on
trivial matters such as how much funding to grant a program, what to name a
bridge, whose face goes on the next commemorative coin, or who to appoint to
the Spotted Owl Conservation Commission.

There's a lot to organizing ourselves as a group of 300 million people than
you'd at first think. Simply put, we aren't built like ants or bees; nature
didn't intend for us to act as a hive-mind. Humans are great in small groups,
but even getting all of us together, such as in a Nationwide census or even in
the Board of Directors at a corporation, is beyond us. Humans don't scale.

Humans don't scale. That's why we have the closest thing to a Direct Democracy
-- a Constitutional Republic!

What the Presidents Did Before They Entered Politics

Obviously, most if not all of our Presidents have held another office before
being elected to the Oval Office -- just like any good organization, Americans
prefer somebody who works their way to the top. And it is true that many of our
Presidents have been born in well-to-do families, despite the founding father's
desire to break away from the concept of a ruling class. However, many
Presidents have some interesting stories to tell in the private sector
workforce, before they ever even set foot in a government building.

One big obvious answer is apparent. Of the 43 Presidents we have had up until
2008, 25 have been lawyers. That's a staggering ratio of 58%. Not only that,
but every major candidate that we have now running for President in 2008 also
holds a law degree, and several of them have practiced law. Obviously, the
first thing you should do if you want a shot at the Presidency is obtain a
Juris Doctor.

Another career that isn't surprising is soldier; seven of our 43 Presidents
served in some capacity of the armed forces before seeking office. Several more
have served in the air force of navy -- George W. Bush, Sr., was a pilot, and
Jimmy Carter was a sailor, both having earned their way up to Navy Lieutenant.

Of all the Presidents, Thomas Jefferson had the longest resume with six careers
outside of politics; he had been a writer, inventor, lawyer, architect, farmer.
You might be wondering what he invented? The first swivel chair, along with
other innovations he put in when he designed his famous home, Monticello.

Contrary to the old chestnut about how actors make great politicians, only
Ronald Reagan actually had an acting career before becoming a politician, so
one test case isn't very good proof.

Only three Presidents had a previous occupation as writer. One of those being
Thomas Jefferson, who almost certainly never got paid directly as a writer, but
did his writing in the course of documenting and directing the early childhood
of our government. As for Kennedy, his writing was actually helping his father,
Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., complete his memoir of his three years as United States
Ambassador to the United Kingdom. As for Jimmy Carter, he has written 23 books,
being the only President who qualifies as a professional writer. Granted, all
but two of these were written after, and not before, his Presidency.

One other writing career is Benjamin Harrison, who was a journalist by way of
having been a court decisions reporter of the Indiana Supreme Court during the
time that he was studying law.

While we're on the subject of Jimmy Carter's career, let's clear something up:
that title of "peanut farmer" was an exaggeration. He helped out on his
parent's peanut farm as a young boy. He shows no evidence of having desired to
make a career out of it, and it looks like he gave it up after an accident with
some equipment left him with an injured finger.

Harry Truman was the only other President who was also a farmer, although
several -- particularly the early ones -- were owners of plantations. his
father was actually the farmer, but Truman worked there for some of his
childhood, then went off to finish school and seek his fortune in clerical jobs
before returning to the family farm in 1906 and staying on to work there for 11
years, at which point he joined the military. He returned from World War I,
married his sweetheart, and opened a haberdashery, making him the only men's
clothing retailer on the Presidential list. The farm went bust during the Great
Depression.

Andrew Johnson worked briefly as a tailor. He was apprenticed to a tailor at
the age of 10, and by age 16 he and his brother ran away to the city, where he
found work as a tailor and stayed at it until he'd finished his teen years.
Then he entered politics as an alderman.

And, contrary to what you might expect given the poor separation of church and
state in the U. S., there has been exactly one member of the clergy to later
get elected President -- James Garfield, who was a minister and an elder for
the Disciples of Christ sect of the Christian Church. He preached his first
sermon in Poestenkill, New York.

What is the Libertarian Party?

In the United States, the two-party system has been so all-encompassing of
American politics as to nearly obliterate all traces of an option. Recent
criticism has been directed at how the two parties are actually the same one,
with words like "Republocrat" and "Demican" used as derogatory names for the
two main parties. However, the system has been on the edge of accepting the
Libertarian party into the mainstream. It has teetered tantalizingly close,
without going all the way, and it has done so for a long time.

The Libertarian party was only founded in 1971, yet it has been the most
successful of the third-parties, with more members in office than the rest of
the alternative parties combined. It has mayors, county executives,
county-council members, school-board members and other local officials, all
filling current seats.

The Libertarian point-of-view encompasses many points left out of the Liberal
and Conservative platforms. Basically, it favors taking the concept of
government that we know, and shrinking it. Less regulation of markets, less
regulation of society, abolishing many laws, and being non-interventionist in
foreign policy as well are all typical attitudes of the Libertarian party. If a
citizen ever wonders "What is the government doing sticking its nose into so
many places where it doesn't belong?", then they might want to give the
Libertarian party a try.

Here are the key points of the Libertarian party's policies:

* Reducing the state's role in the economy. This means things like privatizing
(or even abolishing) social security and welfare, but also less regulation of
business and industry.

* Strong civil liberties. A sweeping "butt out" to the government, leaving the
individual with the highest possible freedom of speech, association, and sexual
choice.

* Reduction of gun-control laws, and the general freedom to defend oneself and
personal property in any permissible fashion. Lumped in with this is protection
of property rights.

* Abolition of laws against consensual, victimless crimes. Basically this would
make drugs legal, plus other activities such as prostitution, gambling, driving
without a seatbelt, and so on. Generally, the idea is that if it's not going to
hurt anyone but the people involved and they're willing to take that risk, then
it should be theirs to take.

* No military draft.

* No intervention in foreign affairs. This would put a stop to the global
occupation of the countries of the world by military bases, no embargoes or
other impediments to free trade with other countries. In other words, minding
our own business.

While the main tenets of the Libertarian party have a mixture of ideas that
appeal to both Liberals and Conservatives, Libertarians assert that they are
neither Conservative nor Liberal, but have a unique philosophy that is all
their own.

There are certainly pros and cons to the Libertarian way of managing a country,
and for this reason many voters shy away from parts of it. Of course, as with
the Republicans and Democrats, not every Libertarian politician votes straight
down the party line. Variations are present, most commonly in the two areas of
abortion rights, with some otherwise Libertarian members staying "pro-life" (or
"anti-choice"), and in fiscal policies such as welfare and social security,
which is commonly referred to as "having an economic safety net". The
variations are often referred to as "Conservative Libertarian" and "Liberal
Libertarians". However, critics variously refer to Libertarians as "right of
right" or "left of left", representing a meeting of the extremes of both
parties.

A more grave accusation from critics is that Libertarians are great at throwing
out parts of the government they don't like, but not so good at coming up with
alternative solutions. For instance, deregulating industry is all very fine,
but what will we do when we have a massive monopoly that dominates our lives,
as has been the case with Microsoft corporation? Giving permission to
responsible individuals to "party" with all the drugs they want may seem like a
great liberty, but what is society to do with all of the overdosing drug addicts
putting a burden on the health care system? And replacing welfare with private
charities sounds good, but who's going to pay for the charity, and who's going
to make sure that they really help those who come to them for aid?

In conclusion, it is not to be said that Libertarianism is perfect or that it
solves all problems, and not even it's most vocal partisans claim that this is
so. However, increased liberty does sound like at some point, it could be a
welcome breath of fresh air into our stodgy two-party system which has gone on
virtually unchanged for more than a century. Especially for those who detest
having the government be a "nanny state", Libertarianism might be worth a try.

What is the Green Party?

In the United States, the two-party system has been so all-encompassing of
American politics as to nearly obliterate all traces of an option. Recent
criticism has been directed at how the two parties are actually the same one,
with words like "Republocrat" and "Demican" used as derogatory names for the
two main parties. However, a new party has come onto the scene: the Green
Party. This party has been gaining acceptance and slowly getting more news
coverage. So what is it, and what does it stand for?

The Green Party is based on the principles of Green politics, a political
ideology which places importance on ecological and environmentalist issues,
while trying to achieve these goals through broad-media-based, grassroots,
participatory democracy and decisions made in consensus. Beyond the mere
advocacy of environmental causes, they also advocate non-violence and peace,
and social and civic liberties. The philosophy is that these issues are
inherently related to ecological, social, and human bodily health.

If you remember the posters back in the sixties that said "War is bad for
flowers and other living things", that's part of the point -- not just about
flowers, of course, but that war is bad for people, nations, and the economy,
too. That last claim might seem counter-intuitive, because national economies
have surged when they were at war in the past. However, the keyword that
doesn't apply any more is "national"; this is the 21st century, where the
global economy is the dominant reality. This takes the fact of war between
nations down to the same effect that a gang war in your neighborhood would
have. Sort of.

In fact, the "Four Pillars of the Green Party" explains it better. Ecology is
not just a matter of choosing "paper or plastic", but a long-term issue which
will eventually require the overhaul of our whole society, as a global
community. Social justice looks to stamp out every form of discrimination based
on distinctions between class, gender, ethnicity, or culture, preferring instead
an egalitarian outlook. Grassroots democracy is participatory democracy, and is
embraced by Greens as the only reliable governance model; it is possible to cut
the bureaucracy from our government models and run things by direct
participation through the communications infrastructure. Finally, non-violence
reflects the Green's policy of rejecting violence as a means to overcoming its
opponents.

In short, the Green party's core beliefs really aren't that new after all. They
borrow heavily from leaders such as Gandhi and traditional beliefs of the United
States, such as the Quakers who were here to found this country when it began.
Furthermore, the movement is also aimed at helping the United States be a
better neighbor to the rest of the world, and enter into a spirit of
cooperation with nations founded largely on Buddhist and Hindu beliefs.
American Christians who reject the religions and beliefs of "foreigners" need
look no farther than Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of
Matthew chapters 5-7 -- Green party beliefs are actually Christ's teachings as
well, albeit forgotten ones in the United States.

Interestingly, almost every nation on Earth with a democratic system now has a
Green party established. They have sprung up all over the globe for the past
thirty years, with Canada, Peru, Norway, South Africa, Ireland, and Mongolia
all having strong Green parties.

However, the uniquely American culture of hostile xenophobia makes the Green
party a difficult thing to establish here. The United States is home to some of
the most intolerant groups in the world, with declared wars on races, nations,
religions, beliefs, and even the most trivial, inconsequential, and harmless
practices. Can a nation filled with angry bigots learn to love and coexist in
peace with the rest of the world?

If not, we can always take solace that if the rest of the world goes Green, we
don't have to worry about a war. After all, Green is non-violent.

Urban Legends of the Presidency

When the United States was first founded, it took a while for them to concede
to even have a President at all. It was believed that having one central
executive figure would be too much like having a king -- something they still
shuddered at the thought of. Well, in terms of how kingdoms tend to inspire
legends, they were at least partly right -- quite a bit of folklore has grown
up around the office of President. Let's get to the bottom of some of these and
sort the truth from the balderdash.

Did Jimmy Carter see a UFO?

Well, the former President certainly seemed to think he did. He filed a report
with the Center for UFO Studies in Evanston, Illinois, in September of 1973.
The report claimed that in October, 1969, Mr. Carter and a group of a dozen
people spotted a hovering object in the sky. For a period of between ten and
twelve minutes, it slowly changed in color, size, and brightness, before it
disappearing from view, apparently by retreating into the sky. Later analysis
has it that what was witnessed was the planet Venus and some peculiar
atmospheric conditions that made it look funny. Typically.

Did Ronald Reagan believe in astrology?

In a word, no. His wife and First Lady Nancy Reagan did, however. Chief of
staff Donald Regan revealed that Nancy would consult with an astrologer when
setting up travel plans. This got hooked by the media who made it sound like
Ronald himself was directing national policy out of the newspaper astrology
columns. Reagan himself said of the incident, "The media are behaving like kids
with a new toy -- never mind that there is no truth to it." It is suspected that
Nancy Reagan developed a superstitious fear of her husband traveling after the
attempt at his assassination.

Are Presidents members of a secret "Skull and Bones" society?

No, but a few of our Presidents and Presidential candidates have been members.
Despite the ominous name, "Skull and Bones" is one of dozens of collegiate
secret societies, which are really nothing but high-society frat clubs for
graduates, and it is even only one of eleven current secret societies at Yale
University. Rest assured that the sole purpose of a college-based secret
society is to make people wonder why you have one and what goes on in there.
"Skull and Bones" is very well-documented in online references, complete with
pictures of their meeting place. The rumors fly around about their supposed
rituals, but if they don't like that, they have no one to blame but themselves
for their silly game.

Was there a curse on Presidents elected in a zero year?

The legend of the curse grew up around the fact that, indeed, seven Presidents
in a row who were elected in years ending in zeroes did die in office, four
from assassinations and three from natural causes. That would be enough to make
anyone leery. Reagan, however, was elected in 1980 and survived his terms and
long after as well, so whatever "curse" there was may now be considered broken.

Does the taller candidate win the election?

This myth has been investigated and debunked, with hard evidence to bust it,
but people still think that there is a statistical bias towards taller
candidates. While there is evidence at this point that winning candidates have
an inch or two on average over the loser, people seem to forget that the small
sample is likely to produce skewed results. We have only had 43 presidents of
the United States so far, and in a statistical sample that short, you could
make up almost any hypothesis about winners vs. losers -- the one with the
longest name, the one with the darker suit, the one with a fuller head of hair
-- and find some justification. There's also a theory that white males from
rich families always win elections, which is so far slightly more sustainable.

Did Zachary Taylor die from eating a bowl of cherries?

The conditions surrounding his demise in office are certainly poorly
documented. The cause of death is officially "cholera morbus" which pretty much
includes food poisoning from bacteria, cholera, dysentery, and other illnesses
from eating a nasty bug or spoiled food. The diagnosis held even after an
autopsy in which he was exhumed to rule out assassination. Remember that it was
the mid-1800's, and food safety and sanitation practices weren't very modern.
Heat stroke has also been cited as a factor, since he was attending a July 4th
celebration at the time he fell ill. In any case, just before he died he did
eat cherries, along with some milk, green apples, and pickled cucumbers, so it
might have been any of those.

Unusual United States Political Parties

What, are the only parties you know about Democrat and Republican? Oh, so
you're heard of the Libertarian and Green parties? No, think even more obscure.
The United States has hundreds of political parties; quite a few of them have
even put up a candidate. Even recently! But let's take a look at some of the
more... ah, unusual parties out there.

The Prohibition Party

Yes, you guessed it, this party is for banning alcohol. Not drugs or other
substances -- just alcohol. They were actually much bigger at the turn of the
last century. The party was founded in 1869, and was instrumental in getting
states and counties to outlaw alcohol. This party also gave us the United
States' first female mayor -- Susanna M. Salter, of Argonia, Kansas, in 1847.

The Unity08 Party

Very new, it was founded in 2006. But hear them out: they are expressing the
idea that we no longer need as much big bureaucracy in our voting process.
Using the Internet, we could conduct a secure, online vote to directly engage
in setting national policy, instead of having some faraway representative do it
for us. This makes sense when you consider that our founding fathers were
limited to the Pony Express to communicate cross-country -- they had no choice
but to elect representatives, because it would have been impossible to poll
every citizen to approve every law. Today's electronic communications makes
representative democracy a relic, and direct democracy a very possible scenario!

The America Party

So, it's just them? What does that make the rest of us, the non-American Party?
Actually, they're a hyper-conservative group, which has put up a candidate in
every Presidential election since 1976. That candidate was Thomas J. Anderson,
who pulled the most votes of the party's history, with 161,000 votes putting
him in 6th place. Since then, they've kinda fizzled.

Christian Falangist Party of America

Long story short, they're Christian Libertarian-Marxists -- kinda. Founded in
1985. If you think the Freemasons are weird with their funny symbols and secret
handshakes, you'll get a similar case of the willies from this party. The
Falangist party itself originated in Spain in the 1930's, and their principles
were to establish a corporate state controlled by unions, adherence to Roman
Catholicism, and Marxist-type beliefs. Complete with funny symbols and a secret
society. Now bring it to America, and you have to make it Christian. Aren't you
glad they didn't win?

The Personal Choice Party

Like nothing you expected. Their logo is a yellow smiley face. They were
founded in 2004 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and their candidate actually qualified
for the ballot in that year. The creator of the party is a doctor with a Ph. D.
in Zoology from Brigham Young University. If a Mormon zoo-keeper sounds like a
scary person to allow to control the government, check out their principles:
"Personal Choice demands that as long as I am not hurting anyone else, only I
have the right to choose how I spend my time, my wealth, my life, my honor."
See, you like them already!

Independence Party of Minnesota

Of course, you know them. They're the party of Minnesota's former-Governor
Jesse Ventura, who served 1999 -- 2003. But they were founded in 1992, so
they've actually put up several candidates, mostly mayors and representatives
and such.

The Whig Party

Don't flip your whig (sorry!), but they actually got four Presidents elected --
William Henry Harrison in 1841, John Tyler from 1841 to 1845, Zachary Taylor
from 1849 to 1850, and the ever-popular Millard Fillmore from 1850 to 1853. The
Whig party's goal was protectionism and a government dominated by Congress,
since they felt the other branches weren't being balanced well. A party that
could only have formed in the country's infancy.

The American Vegetarian Party

Oh, brother, they need their own special party just for them! Founded in 1947,
they held conventions and nominated candidates for President and Vice-President
in several elections, but never seemed too serious about it, and of course,
never got anybody into office.




The Role of Religion in Presidential Politics

This year's Presidential election presents a wide spectrum of religious faith
amongst the candidates. This year more than ever, it begs the question: What
role, if any, should religion play in the policies of the Federal government?

The American people seem to lean towards the side of preferring religious
candidates. After all, there's no point in trying to pretend that ours is a
secular government; our pledge says "under God", our money says "In God we
trust", and our Presidents frequently make references to prayer. While we seem
to be nervous about sliding into a theocracy, and prefer our leaders not to
have too strong an agenda towards a particular denomination, we still seem to
want some general amount of religious belief in our Chief Commander.

By the numbers, Episcopalian Presidents have been the most popular. We've had
eleven of them: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James
Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce,
Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Gerald Ford,
and George H. W. Bush. After this, in order of popularity, we've had ten
Presbyterians, five Methodists, four Baptists, four Unitarians, and a dwindling
minority of Disciples of Christ, Dutch Reformed, Quaker, and Congregationalist.
Interestingly, we have only had one Catholic (John F. Kennedy) even though
Catholics are 25% of the population, and one Jehovah's Witnesses (Dwight D.
Eisenhower).

Mitt Romney may not like the looks of this: we've never had a Mormon President.
But we've never had an Atheist, either, nor a host of various other religions.
What would a Buddhist or Muslim President do, for instance?

When the Associated Press polled the 2008 Presidential candidates for religious
affiliation, the answers were more representative of U. S. society today: Seven
Roman Catholics, three Methodists, three Baptists, one Episcopalian, one
Presbyterian, one Mormon, and one -- perhaps caught on the spot -- describes
himself simply as Christian. It is almost certain that, given the stigma
against Atheism in our society, a Presidential candidate would rather falsely
claim a religion than admit to not having one.

There is also the uncomfortable fact that there are de facto religions amongst
our citizens which we do not publicly acknowledge. Your word for the day is
"Statolatry", a word literally meaning "to idolize the state and worship it".
Once you absorb this word's meaning and spirit (coined by Giovanni Gentile in
his "Doctrine of Fascism"), you'll never look at a "Never forget 9/11" bumper
sticker, a huge statue of a red-white-and-blue eagle, or a crowd signing our
National anthem with tears in their eyes quite the same way again. Yes, we all
love our country, but how many of us worship it? Polls conducted from time to
time indicate that a scary number of Americans believe that Jesus was from
here, and that the United States is the chosen land or Zion.

Paranormal beliefs also cross the brow of the Presidential mind from time to
time. We have all heard about how Ronald Reagan consulted an astrologer on
occasion, but so did Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D.
Roosevelt. We have also all heard how Jimmy Carter said that he believed that
he saw a UFO, but it's also come out that Dennis Kucinich has seen one as well,
while staying at friend Shirley McClaine's house.

Religious views are inextricably tied to political hot buttons such as gay
marriage and abortion. Without a holy book telling you that homosexuality is
wrong, for instance, there is no practical reason for prohibiting gay marriage.
And ask any party member why they believe in what they believe, and some
reference to a deity will come up at least half the time.

The 2008 candidates have taken various stances in saying whether they will
allow their religion to influence their politics. Romney has asserted that he
will allow no shade of his religion to color his views on how to run the
country, whereas Mike Huckabee has taken the opposite stance, declaring that it
is impossible to tend to one without the other.

What can this tell us about the next selection? It looks like Americans prefer
some religious frosting on their political cake, but not too much and not too
strange a flavor, thank you.

The Most Colorful Presidential Nicknames

Well, that's one of the benefit of a Democracy, is you can make fun of or chum
around with the Commander in Chief, and not get beheaded for it. Nothing
expresses the colorful character of United States culture like the nicknames we
give our Presidents. Here are some of the best, with the stories behind them.

Shrub (George Walker Bush) -- A name bestowed in the writings of the late Molly
Ivins, the American columnist and author. Seen by many as the Dorothy Parker of
modern politics, it took a sharp wit like Molly's to draw the connection
between the surname "Bush" and a reference to the Junior President being hardly
capable of filling the shadow of Bush Senior.

Slick Willie (William Jefferson Clinton) -- Bestowed by an editorial article in
the "Arkansas Democrat Gazette", this nickname does the skillful job of
referring to the "Teflon" nature of Clinton where nothing ever seemed to stick
to him, his charismatic skills, a reference to his way with the ladies, and a
kind of 1940's-era risibility, all without condemning him too hard.

The Gipper (Ronald Wilson Reagan) -- Named after an actual role he played in
the movie "Knute Rockne, All American". The movie was about football and Ronald
Reagan played George Gipp. The lead character actually had the line: "The last
thing George said to me, 'Rock,' he said, 'sometime when the team is up against
it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all
they've got and win just one for the Gipper." Reagan actually cheerfully
adopted this nickname himself.

The Accidental President (Gerald Ford) -- Ford had a reputation for being
physically clumsy and his many slips and falls were caught on camera. Most
famously was when he tripped coming out of his jet, Air Force One, and tumbled
down about 12 feet of steps. Combined with this, he had never run for President
or Vice President, since Nixon appointed him from Congress directly to the Vice
Presidency to replace Spiro Agnew. Nixon then was ironically impeached himself,
leaving the tiller of the nation in Ford's shaky hands.

Tricky Dick (Richard Milhous Nixon) -- No list of colorful Presidential
nicknames would be complete without it. First coined by Democratic opponent
Helen Gahagan Douglas, during the 1950 race for the California U.S. Senate. The
name was applied for Nixon's already questionable tactics when competing for a
Senate seat, and even then compared to his later record the public had seen
nothing yet.

Give 'Em Hell Harry (Harry S. Truman) -- This was shouted out from a crowd
listening to one of his famously fiery speeches, and the name stuck throughout
his Presidency as he earned the reputation of a vigilant watchdog of the
nation's well-being.

The Sphinx of the Potomac (Calvin Coolidge) -- The president was known for
being the most taciturn official ever, and legends abound of how difficult it
was to get him to talk. This made him enigmatic; nobody knew what he was
thinking, and so he was silent and mysterious like an Egyptian sphinx.

The Professor (Woodrow Wilson) -- Surprisingly enough, an academic with his own
thoughts and no need for speech-writers is the exception in the Presidency
rather than the norm. But Wilson was one of these, and was one of the few to be
hailed as an intellectual. Compare this with later Presidencies where jokes at
the expense of the President's I.Q. are the norm.

The Lion (Theodore Roosevelt) -- It is difficult to pick from the many colorful
nicknames given to Roosevelt the first, however, this one sums up his military
record before his time in office, and his grit and determination in rooting out
corruption on his way to the top. He ruled with a very firm hand, and this
nickname speaks of that character in an almost Biblical state of reverence.

His Obstinacy (Grover Cleveland) -- A President famous for his use of the veto
power; he had a rubber stamp and he wasn't the least bit afraid to use it.
Cleveland himself later bragged that his greatest accomplishment as President
was blocking the bad ideas of others.

The Internet Influence on Elections

United States Presidential candidates for 2008 have a growing factor to
address: the increased usage of the Internet. Fully half the people on Earth
are going online now, and the United States is one of the most wired countries
in the world.

First there are the blogs. Big-ticket bloggers like Wonkette, DailyKos, and
Little Green Footballs have replaced newspapers and magazines as the sounding
board for public opinion. Most web users are more likely to get their news from
the web than from the TV. Television news is slow and repetitive; the few
companies controlling the network station lead to a homogenized environment
where everybody pretty much says the same thing.

But a soldier can blog directly from a war zone and report some development the
minute it happens, without any government control to clean it up. Readers back
home see it minutes later, and immediately discuss it on their blogs and
message boards. Social news reports the story to the masses. People ask each
other what the candidates are going to do about the war, and then visitors
search the web for the record of this candidate or that and post a link to the
reference. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that's free to edit, updates the
relevant articles with the new event.

All of this has happened in an hour, while the television camera crew is still
on their way to the scene. By the time it shows up on television, it is
literally cold coffee already.

People are also campaigning and debating online. the Presidential candidates
may have time for nothing but a few minutes of raising their hands in response
to questions, like a game of Simon says. But ten thousand voters are having a
hundred times the debate right on their websites and chat rooms. There, points
are raised, argued, sustained or debunked, all without a hierarchical media
professional moderating the discussion.

The candidates are showing a greater awareness of the web audience this
election than ever before. They all have websites. Most of them have blogs.
Certainly all of them have message boards, where supporters gather to discuss
campaign strategy, cheer on their candidate, and keep their candidate informed
of developments along the campaign trail. Candidates are paying more attention
this year to online polls and surveys, and they speak directly to the Internet
audience.

YouTube is figuring prominently. This is a site where anyone can upload video
clips for everyone on the web to see. Practically any Senator who says anything
near someone with a camera phone ends up on YouTube within minutes. Donations
are also coming in through Internet payment services, such as PayPal. People
are even registering to vote online.

The opening up of the information age has brought the side effect that
campaigns can also be broken in minutes. It is as simple as this: you cannot
get away with a single lie when you're on the Internet and are already a public
figure. The truth always outs, because 500 armchair detectives are scrutinizing
your every word. Voting records are found and posted, video clips of what
really happened are there to be viewed. The Internet may yet become the new
"paparazzi", because it is everywhere, and instant.

One of the dangerous problems that has already come up is that the Internet can
be used for abuse as easily as it can be used for the truth. Spammers, social
news riggers, and web-based attacks have already been deployed, and the one
thing the Internet doesn't reveal is who's behind it all, because the Internet
brings with it anonymity. Maybe that gaffe was the action of your candidate's
campaign crew, or maybe it was somebody from the other crew trying to make your
candidate look bad. It is easier now to blow the whistle anonymously than it
ever was before, but now when you see it, you have to ask yourself if it's
really true, and what are the real motives behind it.

For good or bad, the Internet has let the genie of the crowd-sourced media out
of the bottle, and it's not going back.

Should We Do Away With the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?

Traditionally, tax payers every year have been confronted by that little box on
the tax form, giving them the option to donate part of their refund to the
Presidential Election Campaign Fund. But it could soon turn out that that
practice will go the way of the dodo.

Estimates have it that the race for the 2008 White House could carry a $500
million price tag, which is far more than the Presidential Election Campaign
Fund can hold. Because of this, Democratic and Republican nominees could
decline to use the fund in both the primary and the general elections. Pundits
have identified the Presidential Election Campaign Fund as being broken, having
not kept up with inflation, and that it also fails to take into account the
greater number of media streams available to campaign through. When they say
that, they mean "the Internet", which is having the greatest effect on the
voter's decision process this year more then any other previous year.

George W. Bush turned the money down in both his 2000 and 2004 GOP primaries.
Both Howard Dean and John Kerry followed suit in 2004.

Also called the "checkoff fund" because it appears as a check box on the tax
forms, the program, which is administered by the Federal Elections Commission,
was created in response to the Watergate scandal in order to reign in the
campaign financing activity of Presidential candidates. It reduces a
candidate's dependence on large contributions from such donating parties as
special-interest groups. To accept the fund requires that a candidate agree to
an overall spending limit and to abide by spending limits in each state. They
must also be subject to a campaign audit.

The fund is only expected to have about $200 million in it by the beginning of
2008. It is divided equally between all candidates, which means that even some
of the lowest-funded candidates in the race will be constrained to a paltry sum
compared to what they can easily collect on their own. The trend lately has been
to start fund-raising earlier every year; the candidates have already gotten a
sizable bankroll going by 2007. In addition, many of the candidates already
hold public office, and are free to use their left-over money from their
previous candidacy for their current election run.

In the race, Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, Senator Russ 
Feingold, and Representatives Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan have all made 
strong cases for campaign finance reform. McCain has spear-headed the matter on 
the front of the checkoff fund, having turned down the money for his 2008 bid, 
but also having taken action in favor of overhauling it.

If the overhaul were to go through, it would triple the amount available to
candidates during state primaries. It would also eliminate the state spending
limits, which is a chief pinch point. It would also offer more money to
candidates when other candidates had already turned it down, which seems to be
a great playing-field leveler.

It should be pointed out that McCain is being a good sport about this, since he
is currently the third or fourth highest earner of campaign funds. The fact that
he would allow money which he had turned down to go to his potential competitor,
sans spending limit, shows the remarkable confidence befitting a military hero.

Presidential Campaigning in the Media

Getting that message out to the voters -- it's going to begin soon! The
wonderful advertising round of the Presidential 2008 election season is about
to get underway. Already, the major candidates have each blessed us with a
"Holiday wishes" ad spot. It was brief, sweet, and to the point, and not shown
too often, so that viewers don't spend the Holidays resenting the candidates,
but with a definite air of "we'll be right back to pound you with the heavy
advertising on January 2nd!" So, here's what kinds of hustling they're run on
you, and its relative effectiveness.

Direct mail flyers -- not nearly as successful as they used to be -- even if
you like the candidate, it's not like you're going to frame their pamphlet or
anything. You'll probably just give it to the kids to color or fold it into an
origami swan and send it away, like you do with all of your junk mail.

TV commercials -- yes, they're on the list. What could I tell you about TV
commercials that you didn't already know?

Radio ads -- radio works better for local elections than it does for national
ones. Don't count on hearing too many candidate ads on the radio, because talk
radio is so segregated by party that anybody listening is already voting for
that candidate's party anyway, and music radio is almost dead because Internet
has replaced radio for music, whether legally by iPods or illegally by piracy.
Most of the people listening to radio music are probably people too young or
too indifferent to vote.

Newspaper and magazines -- Print ads are a different story. They're always
worth the money. And with the wide spread of the most diverse cast of candidates
in history, they'll be looking for targeted voters in narrow demographics,
which is just what magazines do best. No matter what your reading material of
choice is, there's a candidate just for you this year, and they'll be smiling
at you from the sidebar of your subscribed reads.

Web page ads -- Now you're talking! Huge, animated ad banners are already
popping up all over the Internet like zits at a prom, and they're made of Flash
all the way. So they'll bounce, wiggle, blink, and frolic, and probably even
talk. This is a good time to get adblock for you Firefox browser, which is
becoming even more valuable than the mute button on your TV remote. This is the
pick for the number one expenditure of ad dollars from the candidates.

Internet YouTube ads -- Oh, another big one. They've already been going for
quite a while now. This is one time you won't see claims of copyright
infringement if you copy a video from YouTube to your blog -- when it's a
candidate plug! Candidates will be knocking themselves out to try to make hip,
cool spots to post on video feed sights.

Internet blogs -- Another big one with a bullet. Every candidate even remotely
serious has a web site up, and this being the 21st century, a website is
nothing without a blog. Blogs are useful for getting a message out to your
supporters, getting feedback, and all the while keeping that close, cozy
connection with the readers that only a blog can give. They'll either be
maintained by campaign managers, or -- in the case of underdog candidates, by
the candidates themselves. Remember how it was said in 2004 that the
Presidential race was won and lost in the blogs -- count that double for this
year.

Podcasting -- This one's iffy. Podcasting is just like running a little TV or
radio show out of your garage, so it's great for campaigning, but the problem
is that podcasting just hasn't gained the tech-savvy audience that knows where
to go or what to do with it yet. Better to leave it up to the occasional fan,
who will be too happy to record the TV interview and cut a podcast for his blog
readers to download.

"Viral" Internet marketing -- Deadly poison. One candidate was stupid enough to
try it, and he's in trouble for it, so the rest have learned fast from that
mistake. The candidate shall not be named here, but he's too obscure for you to
have known anyway -- unless you visited a major social news site in the past six
months and notices the deluge of link spam and the paid shills who were voting
it all up and gushing how much they loved the candidate. When you fake a
grassroots campaign on the Internet, it's called "astroturfing" -- laying down
fake grass. Make no mistake, this candidate's campaign is over, and he's under
investigation by the FCC for felony Internet fraud right now, so he may even
lose the office he currently holds. Not to mention that his own ploy backfired
when he picked up some real grass-roots support with some money in it -- from a
racist hate-site. Yes, it may seem cheap to hire third-world spammers to
viral-market for you, but it doesn't pay in the end.

Past Presidential Election Losers and Where They Are Now

It's hard to believe how much excitement is built up for each candidate, only
to see the losers shuffle off again into obscurity. Here, we'll jolt your
memory with a list of also-rans from elections past, and try to ferret out what
became of them. We won't bother with the very obvious ones are -- you don't need
us to tell you what Al Gore is doing, do you? -- but the ones who are question
marks may prove interesting.

John Kerry, Democrat, 2004 -- After conceding the election to George W. Bush
before the last votes were even counted, Kerry concluded the most lackluster
campaign in recent memory by returning to his Senate duties, with one last
assurance to his supporters that he'd fight the good fight. Well, he's still
the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, under senior Senator Ted Kennedy. He's
basically not very busy. He's attended a rally here and there and pushed out
the occasional bill, and chairs some Senate committees, but generally avoids
the spotlight like a vampire.

Ross Perot, Reform party, 1996 -- If there was ever a wild card candidate, this
one was it. Having more Libertarian views than anything else, and making a huge
amount of noise in the news media, Perot stormed the 1996 Presidential election
with some much-needed comic relief in what would have been a dry-as-sand race
without him. He has practically gone into hiding since then. He's abandoned the
Reform party, which he once manipulated, and is presumably doing something in
the business sector. Whenever a newspaper reporter spots him in public and
interviews him, he usually remains on the subject of his business career and
refuses to comment on anything else. His sole emergence from political exile
was to support technology advancement in education in Texas in 2005, which
isn't surprising since he made his fortune with technology companies in Texas.

Michael Dukakis, Democrat, 1988 -- Boy, did he ever lose. George Bush, Sr., won
this election hands down, and Dukakis couldn't seem to get a break any
which-way. After losing the Presidency to Bush by a 4-to-1 margin in electoral
votes, he served out his last two years as Governor of Massachusetts under the
public and media spotlight which scrutinized and criticized his every move. He
stepped down from politics altogether in 1990 and joined the board of -- of all
things -- Amtrack, right at a time when trains were losing popularity and a
recession was looming. He later became a professor of political science at
Northeastern University in Massachusetts, and continues to this day with a
mostly scholarly career with the occasional dabble in grassroots campaigning.

Walter Mondale, Democrat, 1984 -- Against the unshakable might that was the
incumbent Reagan administration, there was no possibility of even standing a
chance. But somebody had to run, just to say that we had an election anyway.
After 1984 and his resultant trampling, Mondale brushed the elephant footprints
off his suit and returned to the private sector practicing law. In 1993 he was
appointed to U.S. Ambassador to Japan under the Clinton administration. In 2002
he was put on the ballot to replace another Senate candidate who had died in a
plane crash, and he gave the race his best, roaring try and finished very
close, but lost. He stated "At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want
to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well, you always listened to me."
Retired, he lives today near the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, where he is
frequently seen walking his dogs and heard to quote lines from the comic skits
of Monty Python, of which he is a fan.

Eugene McCarthy, Independent, 1976 -- Wedged into the race between Gerald Ford
and Jimmy Carter, the one time that an Independent candidate would have stood a
chance, McCarthy managed to get less than one-percent of the popular vote. This
U.S. Senator from Minnesota -- not at all to be confused with Joseph McCarthy,
the Senator from Wisconsin for whom McCarthyism is named -- would make a total
of five runs for Presidency throughout the years. He also continued to write
his books, of which he had produced 17, before passing away on December 10,
2005, at the age of 89.

Can You Believe in Evolution and Still Be President?

At the Republican debates, a reporter asked "Is there anybody on the stage that
does not agree, believe in evolution?" Only three candidates raised their hand:
Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo.

It seems like a silly question at first -- why should you even ask a President
whether they believe in evolution? But it turns out that a lot of the policies
of setting national law do tie back to this very simple question.

Pro-life vs. Pro-choice: If a supreme being created us, then we alone are not
responsible for our lives. We have to assume that fiddling with His procreative
process is a blasphemy against His creation. But if we're nothing but evolved
monkeys, then we have no concern for aborting a fetus beyond our own respect
for human life.

Stem cell research: If we presume that there is a God, then tampering with the
building blocks of life is "playing God" and a perceived sin. If we are all
just evolved by accident, then utilizing our science to extend and enhance
human life is not just a right, but a duty to the success of our species.

Environmentalism: This could go either way, surprisingly. We could either
assume that a supreme being could save us if we falter, or we could listen to
the religious leaders who have pointed out that scripture commands us to take
care of the Earth. On the evolutionary side, we could either declare that the
management of the planet is up to us, or we could just resign ourselves to
saying, "Well, survival of the fittest!" If we make ourselves extinct, then we
weren't fit.

Foreign policy: Looking toward the Middle East, we can see that some countries
allow their religious views to taint their foreign policy. Now, do we take a
religious stance in response, and conquer the rest of the world in the name of
the Lord, or do we take the non-religious stance and brush aside all holy wars
as superstitious nonsense?

Of course, these are just examples; there are many other possible points of
view which can stem from either stance. But the voting public seems to prefer a
religious leader, or at least one who is a faith-holding Christian. John McCain
gave the most creative response: He said that he believes in evolution, but
cannot deny existence of a God when viewing the beauty of nature.

This is actually a common stance: a small but stable percentage of voters take
an agnostic stance: all scientific findings so far point to evolution as a
fact, but this does not mean that God could not have set up the laws of physics
in the first place so that evolution would happen. An agnostic is not an
atheist, contrary to common belief; an agnostic instead is one who neither
denies nor confirms the existence of a supreme being, and perhaps believes that
it isn't possible for us to know or is specifically not intended for us to know.

Nevertheless, we have not only never had an atheist president, we have never
even had an agnostic one. Every single past President has professed some form
of Christian faith. So it would seem, since all monotheistic Western religions
assert that the Universe and life is intelligently designed, that anybody
running for President had better be a faith-holder or risk losing votes.

The exception is a particular flavor of faith known as "Deism". Deists reject
the idea that supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles are true, and
they tend to assert that God does not interfere with human life and the laws of
the universe. Well, there you go! There is a God, but the Universe came about
from a Big Bang and life evolved anyway!

Who were the Deist Presidents? Nobody special -- just Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, and Abraham Lincoln, that's all. Not to
mention Benjamin Franklin. George Washington never affirmed Deism in his own
life, but scholars after the fact state that he was.

Well, here's our founding fathers, all believing something that sounds awfully
close to "evolution with a side of God". The thing is, scientists, and those
who care greatly about the ever-increasing importance of science in our
society, have a big, fat issue with sticking to a scripture account of nature
and history. They want to be faithful, they would prefer to interpret scripture
as a metaphor for the scientifically-proven events that happen, but the United
States is pulling so hard to the religious right that it differs from a
theocracy by now only by name. This represents a severe spin rightward from our
origins.

At the very least, the next time John McCain is put on the spot about
evolution, he would do well to simply answer that he is a Deist. With the good
company that he's in, it couldn't hurt his voting base too much.

Biotechnology and Politics -- What To Do?

One of the snags in a political system is that it isn't always well-equipped to
keep up with changes in technology. When the Internet came along, lawmakers were
aghast at how to regulate it, or if it is to be regulated at all. Computers gave
rise to software -- a medium like books and music in some ways, but different in
others. They're still grappling over how to manage laws pertaining to software,
and to adjust patent and copyright law to better fit this unforeseen media
entity.

But if they're having a tough time keeping up with electronic technology,
they're in for a real poser with biological technology. It is obvious from
research that within our century, biotechnology will give rise to a host of new
issues to deal with that we never saw before. Whether they come from our country
or somewhere else, they're definitely on the way.

Cloning is one issue that many of us have no idea how we'll react to. A poll of
Americans has shown that a sizable percentage believed that a cloned human would
not have a soul. However, there's a bright side to this: they might not object
to cloned embryonic stem cells, at that rate, since to them clones have no life
to take.

Then there is the matter of artificial DNA. One pictures the world of the movie
"Blade Runner" with colorful replicant life forms living amongst us. But this
isn't too far off. In fact, in a recent science article in the Washington Post,
experts have stated that "the technology is quickly becoming so simple, experts
say, that it will not be long before 'bio hackers' working in garages will be
downloading genetic programs and making them into novel life forms.". When
these feats are possible, government controls will have to rush to update
themselves to regulate what can and cannot be done in this area.

Tampering with existing DNA in already-living people is becoming commonplace.
"Gene therapy" is where genes are inserted into a patient's cells and tissues
to treat a disease, usually a hereditary one. The effect is to replace a mutant
gene causing the disease with a healthy one. Although the technology is still in
its infancy, it has been applied in some cases with some success. This raises
some interesting questions for the medical malpractice lawyers: Will we one day
see a child suing her parents for allowing her to be born with Down's syndrome?
When we use artificial genes to replace natural genes, have we created a
chimera?

At the end of these developments lies the ultimate science fiction scenario:
genetic engineering. Literally playing God. Biological weapons have already
been widely debated in politics already, and a biological weapon is nothing
more or less than a super-germ created specifically to infect the enemy. So
far, these germs have only been bred, not created from scratch. But beyond mere
germs, what else could somebody do with a bio-engineering lab, a lot of
scientists, a lot of money, and not much ethics? Perhaps breed a race of
super-soldiers to conquer the world with?

There is also the matter of ownership of intellectual property. Many biology
labs have already rushed to patent life forms that they might create in the
future. This makes sense when you consider the case of genetically altered food
crops -- a case in point is a new strain of corn that has been designed to be
insect-resistant, already growing and yielding crops in Kenya.

Other cases are manufacturing human insulin through a genetically modified
bacteria and erythropoietin manufactured from genetically altered mice. All of
this is already being done, but laboratories want to maintain some property
rights before they just release their newly-altered life forms into the wild.
In fact, much of the advanced medical treatments today are being deployed with
the use of biological engineering in some degree. One of the earliest approved
uses was the FDA-approved genetically-engineered hepatitis B vaccine,
introduced in 1986.

The purpose of this article is not to scare anyone or promote fear-mongering.
Biotechnology is already out there in the world, and it is clearly saving
lives. But it cannot help but march forward, and sometime when the dust has
settled, perhaps cloned or genetically engineered humans will be voting on what
we can do to them, instead of the other way around.

Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations of US Presidents

With the wide range of candidates vying for the White House in 2008, many of
them will be disappointed, while only one can prevail. To buck up the spirits
of the also-rans, here's a little list of famous unfortunate exits and
almost-exits from the Oval Office. Sure, you never got elected, but at least
none of these have happened to you!

Assassination:

Number one with a... well, number one anyway. Much is written about both
Lincoln's and Kennedy's assassinations, but the two that are lesser-known are
James Garfield and William McKinley.

Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, by one Charles J. Guiteau, who was caught,
tried, and hanged. There is no doubt that Guiteau was insane. He wrote a speech
originally in support of Ulysses S. Grant, which he hastily changed to support
Garfield after Garfield won the Republican nomination. He delivered this
speech, then sought to be hired as an ambassador by Garfield in repayment for
his service. Garfield's staff repeatedly threw him out, so then Guiteau decided
that God wanted him to kill Garfield. With a gun purchased for fifteen dollars
which he had borrowed, he did just that, stalking the President to the
Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, where Garfield was going to embark on a
vacation.

McKinley's killer was more straight-forward. McKinley was shot on September 5,
1901, as he appeared at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where
he was greeting the public at one of the exhibits. One Leon Czolgosz, a
political anarchist, simply stepped forward from the crowd and shot McKinley.
He was immediately captured and beaten by the crowd, then arrested, tried, and
electrocuted. His motives were purely political, as he stated at his trial that
he believed he'd killed an enemy of the people.

Attempted Assassination:

We all know about the attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, being such a recent
event. Here are the other serious attempts at taking the life of former
Presidents.

Richard Lawrence tried to shoot Andrew Jackson at a funeral on January 30,
1835. Lawrence was mentally disturbed and this is supposed to have been caused
by his having worked at a paint factory inhaling fumes. He pulled not one, but
two pistols out to shoot at Jackson with, but they both misfired. Jackson
himself responded by beating Lawrence with his cane, and the crowd subdued
Lawrence and carried him off. Lawrence lived the rest of his life in an
institution.

On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican Nationalists by the names of Griselio
Torresola and Oscar Collazo got awfully close to assassinating Harry S. Truman.
They made it as far as the outside of his home, where they shot one police
officer before being overpowered. Torresola and Collazo served life in prison.
The attack was politically motivated over anger with the treatment of Puerto
Rico.

As if Gerald Ford didn't have enough problems already, there were two
assassination attempts on his life, within seventeen days of each other! First
on September 5, 1975, when Ford was making a public appearance in Sacramento,
California, a member of the infamous Charles Manson cult named Lynette
"Squeaky" Fromme pointed a gun at Ford, but a Secret Service agent did one of
their famous dives and grabbed the gun out of her hand, stopping her from
firing. The second was when Ford was again making a public appearance in San
Francisco, California, on September 22, 1975, when Sara Jane Moore fired a shot
at Ford that missed before also being subdued. Moore was believed to be
unrelated to the Manson gang and was apparently motivated by an obsession over
the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the news events at the time, and a conviction that
Ford was bad for the country. Both women are currently serving life in prison.





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