3 Steps to Better Democracy

Elections have been on my mind a lot lately, especially ways to improve them. Here are three reforms that could go a long way toward making our Democracy work better.

1. Instant-Runoff Voting - Builds consensus and gives third party candidates a better chance.

2. National Popular Vote Interstate Compact - Makes the popular vote count in Presidential elections instead of the Electoral College (but without amending the Constitution).

3. Clean Elections - Government-funded campaigns for candidates who say no to private donations.

There are pros and cons for each of these, but I think they would all be improvements over what we have now.

Emma's halloween episode

Dancing Bananas: Episode 2 is available for download.

We also already have some halloween pictures in the gallery.

Beauty the cat

Beauty curled up on a chairEmma introduced her new cat, Beauty, in the first episode of her show, but what she didn't tell you is that Bearsmicks is gone. When we brought Beauty home, Bearsmicks hissed and growled at him a lot. After about a week, he went outside and we haven't seen him since. We put an ad with his picture in the paper, but we haven't heard anything. Emma has been pretty upset, but we're just hoping that he's found another good home.

Beauty is doing well and we've decided to get another cat to keep him company. Since the cats will be younger they should get along better. We're also going to introduce them more gradually than we did last time.

Talent for Deception

Nonpartisan political watchdog site, FactCheck.org has released a report saying that several of Jim Talent's ads are "misleading" and "deceive voters."

In four separate TV spots Republican Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri falsely attributes several unflattering quotes about his opponent to the Kansas City Star. Our examination reveals that the quotes actually come from rival Claire McCaskill's political opponents and critics, not from the Star's reporters or editors.

The Star has demanded that Talent correct or withdraw the ads.

Iraq's Oil

When people started saying that the war in Iraq was about oil, I always thought they were paranoid or stupid. After all, it's not as though the US were just going to march in and seize the oil like some colonial-era invaders. I'm still not sure what I think, but there were two articles published on AlterNet.org that do as well a job of explaining the conflicts of interest as I have ever seen.

Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil
Bush's Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq's Oil (Part Two)

I really encourage you to read at least the first article. It explains some of the history and what is going to happen to Iraq's oil. I've tried to list the main points of the article.

1. Iraq has a lot of oil.
2. That oil is easy to get to and cheap to process.
3. Because of sanctions, Iraqi oil hasn't been on the market as much as it could be.
4. Oil companies want to get into Iraq and get a share of the profits by providing Iraq with oil services and buying and selling that oil.
5. The oil companies lobbied hard for regime change throughout the 90s, hoping to get more access to Iraq under a more West-friendly government.
6. In 2000, they got two of their own elected to the top two jobs in America.
7. Two weeks after taking office, Cheney held secret meetings with top oil executives while he was drafting the administrations energy policy.
8. The Bush White House had plans was determined to attack Iraq even before they began building a case.
9. As part of debt relief for Iraq, the US and British big four oil companies are negotiating production service agreements (PSAs) for the extraction of Iraq's oil. Under these agreements, the Iraqis technically retain ownership of the oil reserves, but the terms are lucrative for the oil companies and give them much more control than is normal.

The article gives sources and details for these points and greatly expands on number 9. Part two goes into even greater detail and examines Jim Baker's "eye-popping conflict of interest" in his involvement. I would like to hear your thoughts after reading the article. To me, it seems like some pretty damning evidence. I wonder when we'll start to hear more about this in the news.

Dancing Bananas: Emma's TV show

Dancing Bananas Emma has her own show now. It's called Dancing Bananas and it will basically be her telling stories and jokes and generally sharing her perspective on life. In the first episode she explains how she got the idea for the name, tells a couple of jokes and the story of how we got our new cat.

There are several ways to get the show. The easiest is just to go to her website: Dancing Bananas and watch the YouTube version of the show. That may take the least effort, but it won't be the best quality. For the high quality version, you can download it from her site, or subscribe to the Broadcast Machine feed. You can then get all new shows automatically downloaded to iTunes, Democracy Player or your video podcast client of choice. There are subscribe buttons on Emma's site. I think Democracy might be the best way to get it. They just released a new version and it's a very cool program. This could be a good excuse for you to check it out.

If you have show ideas, questions or fan mail, please use the comment form on brendoman.com/emma. Emma can answer your mail in future episodes.

Peaceableness Toward Enemies

The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.
--Wendell Berry, "Peaceableness Toward Enemies: Some Notes on the Gulf War, 1991

My friend Heath introduced me to Wendell Berry and for the most part I really like him. He occasionally comes across as a cranky old Luddite, but a lot of his ideas are very hard to disagree with. This essay, written after the Persian Gulf War has some observations that are still relevant today.

Where Exxon gives

Exxon Mobil DonationsBig oil companies had record profits this year while working people found it tougher than ever to afford prices at the pump. We all know that big corporations spend money in Washington to make sure that they'll continue to post big profits. This chart is for anyone who has ever said, "Democrats and Republicans both get that money." Here you have it in stark red and blue. The GOP got between 76% and 91% percent of the money that Exxon donated over the last 14 years. And before you say, "Of course they give to the party that controls Congress, just take a look at the chart again. Even when the Democrats controlled Congress, the Republicans were getting more money from oil companies.

Here are the details for donations from Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you which party gets most of the money from these companies. Check it out yourself.

Why would these oil companies want Republicans to control our government? What are they getting for this investment?

Bush used Christians

I first heard about this from Kyle, but it's worth repeating. There's a book coming out this week that is written by a conservative Christian who worked in the White House office for faith-based initiatives. He says that the Bush administration doesn't really believe in these causes, only used them for political points and privately referred to Christian leaders as 'nuts.' I know a lot of people have voted for Republican candidates because they think they belong to the party with the better moral values, but I believe it's becoming clear that the Republican moral high ground is just a political invention.

If you still think that you'll vote for the GOP this fall because it's the Christian thing to do, then here's a challenge for you. You make a list of verses where Jesus talks favorably about limiting gay rights, protecting the property of the rich, invading countries on false pretenses and covering up for pedophiles to consolidate power, and I'll make a list of times Jesus talks about taking care of the sick and poor, working for peace and respecting people you don't agree with. We'll compare our lists and see who is doing God's work in American politics.

This is the part of the discussion where my dad generally says, "You think the Democrats don't have problems, too?" I'm not saying they're perfect. God knows they've got their shortcomings, but at this point I would take them over party that's currently in power in a heartbeat.

There are some very important elections coming up in November, and the Senate seat in Missouri is one of the most important in the country. If you vote for Jim Talent, I hope you can do so with a sincere belief that he and his President (they agree 96% of the time) are really working in Washington with your best interests at heart. I hope that you're not a cheap vote that they won by paying lip-service to conservative values.

Contrary to what you may have heard, voting for Claire McCaskill will not lead to mandatory gay marriage and abortions for everyone. If the Democrats take control of Congress, I don't think we'll find the US surrendering to al Qaeda or millions of clones of Richard Simmons roaming the countryside.

b2evolution skins site

We've been talking about updating it for several weeks, but I finally decided to tackle the b2evolution skins directory. I upgraded it to the latest version, applied Francois' new site design, then I replaced the old text navigation system with a screenshot from each skin. It's also much easier to search. (Type Danny in the search bar to see the skins I've submitted). And you can sort by columns and colors. Finally I installed my star rating plugin, to which I added a nice notice popup with a pretty fade. Try it out by clicking the stars to submit a rating. We have 37 skins at the moment, but I'd like to see that get up over 100. (Yes, Dave and Henry, I'm looking at you.) There are links on the skins site for how to create and submit a skin. Open Source Web Design and Open Web Design provide some free designs that you can start with. Just follow these steps to turn the design into an evoskin.

At any rate, I'd like to hear what you think of the new skins site.

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