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Archive for December, 2009

Good evening readers.

Just a few hours ago, I received a handful of pictures and a brief video from the Sarah Palin book signing earlier this month.  Although I wasn’t able to attend myself, it looks as quite a few folks braved the rainy/snowy weather to meet the former Governor.  Can’t really think of anything else to add.  If any of you all were there, feel free to provide any additional details.  I hope you all enjoy.

Waiting is the hardest part

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Well over a year ago, I posted an article regarding my thoughts on preemptive war.  As mentioned then, I wrote it for the William & Mary publication, the Freeman-Standard.  Unfortunately, due to a handful of issues, the article never made it to print.  In the last week or two I noticed a spike in the number of people who read this post, so I thought to myself, “I wonder what the other side of this article had to say?”  I contacted the author Jeremy, a fellow William & Mary graduate, and am now pleased to offer you the other half of this debate.  Thank you Jeremy.  Whether you agree or disagree with the potential merits or pitfalls of a preemptive war, I hope you find this discussion thought-provoking.

Preemptive war is a controversial concept in the realm of international relations.  For centuries, academics and statesmen have debated justification of war, devising doctrines designed to guide political leaders’ decision-making on the question of whether or not to engage their countries in warfare with other countries.  One of the debates regarding the justification of war is the concept of preemptive war, which Wikipedia defines as a war “waged in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived inevitable offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending war.”[1] Providing a more succinct, but similar, definition, SourceWatch defines it as a “unilateral ‘first strike,’ in the face of an imminent armed threat.”[2]

Governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens’ welfare from the threats that exist beyond their borders.  Political leaders spend massive amounts of money on military infrastructure, material, and personnel, not necessarily in the hope the military will then be able to go conquer and enslave other peoples and civilizations, but in the hope that they might provide security to their countries so that the same does not happen to their peoples and civilizations.  Article 51 of the United Nations Charter upholds the right of U.N. Member countries to engage in self-defensive actions if subject to an armed attack.[3] When attacked by an aggressor country, the country has the right, and responsibility, to stop the aggression.  Thus, the country whose territorial integrity has been compromised has the right to engage in war against the aggressor country.  Certainly, no one should debate the right of the attacked country to engage in war against its aggressor, as this should be common sense.

If a country has the right to defend itself against an attack by an aggressor, does it stand to reason that a country has the right to take action to prevent harm from coming to its citizens, if the government knows that a threat is imminent?  Considering that governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens from outside threats, the answer is, generally speaking, yes.  To help determine when preemptive war is justified, Abraham D. Sofaer developed four elements that ought to be considered: 1) nature and magnitude of threat involved, 2) likelihood that the threat will be realized unless preemptive action is taken, 3) availability and exhaustion of alternatives of using force, and 4) consistent with the terms and purposes of the U.N. Charter and other appropriate international agreements.[4] These points make sense, and if adhered to by a country considering engaging in preemptive war, should give the country’s government legitimacy in the eyes of other governments in its decision.

Sofaer’s points provide a good argument for when to engage in preemptive war, but point four raises at least one question.  Should the decision about whether or not a government engages in preemptive war as a self-defensive act be required to be in accordance with established international law and agreements?  Throughout history, and even in the present age, countries are sovereign, and do not have to seek permission from a higher level of government in order to engage in foreign policy actions.  Since countries are sovereign, and have the responsibility to protect their citizens, governments should not, and do not, have to gain permission to engage in a self-defensive preemptive war.

The concept of preemptive war has direct relevance in the era of the War on Terror in which we are currently living, and have been living since after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda on the United States.  Following this tragic set of events, President George W. Bush’s administration unveiled the Bush Doctrine, which in part calls for the use of preemptive war in handling threats to American security.  The American invasion of Afghanistan was one key instance in which preemptive war was used against a government, the Taliban in this case, known to harbor enemies of the United States, particularly al-Qaeda leaders and operatives, including Osama bin Laden.  The American invasion of Iraq was another major occurrence of preemptive war.  In this case, the U.S. government, acting on intelligence reports about the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction and alleged connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s government.  In both cases, the American government was acting to preempt what it saw as imminent threats to the security of the American people.

One ongoing preemptive war consideration is the potential for Israel to launch a preemptive attack on Iran if Israel believes that a threat to its security from Iran is imminent.  Iran’s government is known for its open hostility towards Israel, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known to have made threats against Israel’s existence.  If Israel were to suspect that an attack on its territory by the Iranians was imminent, or potentially imminent, then Israel would most likely be justified in its use of a preemptive strike on Iran.

In conclusion, preemptive war is justified when a government faces what it sees as an imminent threat to its security and to the welfare of its people.  Naturally, governments should pursue peaceful solutions to disagreements and security concerns with other nations.  However, when diplomacy is not seen by a government as a way to achieve crucial security objectives, preemptive war can be a justifiable solution.


[1] “Preemptive War” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preemptive_war (August 30, 2008)

[2] “Preemptive War” http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Preemptive_war (August 30, 2008)

[3] “Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations” http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/bt-un51.htm (August 30, 2008)

[4] “Preemptive War” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preemptive_war (August 30, 2008)

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Earlier this week, I watched the new movie, Avatar, and I wanted to share my thoughts about the work.  Originally the title struck me as a bit odd.  I think the first time I heard the word “avatar” was in a class in Hinduism.  In Hindu theology, from time to time the gods take mortal forms and walk about the Earth.  They engage in all sorts of behavior such as: imparting wisdom, participating in battles, getting into fights, and even partaking in lewd and potentially immoral acts.  Perhaps the most celebrated avatar was Krishna, an avatar of the god Vishnu who you can find in the great Indian epic story, the Mahabharata.  Nevertheless, it is important to note that while the avatar can die, the god remains.  The reason I mention this tidbit of information was that it was the only insight I had about this movie beforehand.  I read no spoilers and I saw no trailers and so went into the theater not really knowing what to expect.

But back to the film…the basic storyline is as follows:  On a planet called Pandora live a species of bluish humanoids called the Na’vi.  Also on this world is a rare and extremely valuable substance ironically named unobtainium.  Although we are never told the uses for this mineral, we discover that the largest deposit lies beneath the Na’vi settlements.  As a way to gain access to the natives, and reap their rich natural resources, a mining corporation creates Na’vi/human hybrids that are controlled remotely through a form of mental link.  These creatures are a Na’vi-looking embodiment of the humans that operate them.  Although radically different physically, they share the same thoughts, experiences, and emotions, with their human consciousness hence, like in the Hindu stories, they are avatars.

Visually Avatar is a very rich experience.  There is an abundance of vibrant colors, lush and exotic scenery, and even the 3-D experience was well done, though I did have a bit of a headache to show for it.  Although certainly alien, the Na’vi physically, thematically, and styles of dress appeared to be some sort of cross between cats, Native Americans, and African tribesmen.  For what it is worth, they were fairly attractive, with the notable exception of Sigourney Weaver.  Although I would argue that she looks pretty good for a woman of 60, her avatar was quite unappealing.

Unlike traditional movie reviews, my central interest was in Avatar’s underlying political message(s).  It examines the plight of the naturalistic natives against the technologically advanced invaders, a page ripped from history:  Native Americans versus the United States, Indians versus the British Empire, Germanic tribes versus Rome, just to name a few.  Given the Na’vi’s Native American traits, throughout the movie I couldn’t help but think about the events leading up to Custer’s last stand.  It strikes an anti-imperialistic chord, which I can appreciate, as well as nativist, environmentalist, and anti-militaristic tones.  I’m going to delve a bit further into the plot, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want me to give it away, I suggest skipping ahead to the final paragraph.

Still with me then?  Very well.  So, as stated earlier, these avatars are physical copies of the Na’vi, but with a human mind.  The scientists create these beings in order to gain a better understanding of this species and also to begin meaningful diplomacy.  At the same time, however, the hired muscle seeks to use the avatars merely as a tool to spy upon the Na’vi and learn how to best conquer them.  Both the commander and the soldiers in the film are portrayed in a generally negative light, as most treat the native population as mere savages unworthy of discourse, their land, or even their very lives.  The corporation, that finances and heads up this operation, is driven solely by its profit margin.  As we learn more about the Na’vi, peaceful talks seem increasingly fruitless as the Na’vi view their homeland as sacred and have no interest in bartering away their land.  They reject the supposedly superior goods and education offered to them in favor of their own traditional ways.  And so, motivated by money, the corporation resorts to plan B, sending their paramilitary army to claim the land by force.  Thus, in a not-so-subtle fashion, the film simultaneously warns against the dangers of the military-industrial complex, corporate greed, consumerism, and even neo-conservatism.

Avatar was persistent in its environmental message.  The natives appear to live in near perfect harmony with the planet in much the same way that we are told that the Native Americans did and supposedly still do.  They seem to go out of their way to preserve both plant and animal life, their structures blend with the natural surroundings, and they spiritually bond with both nature and the planet.  I’m not looking to get into an argument over this point, but I don’t think such a way of life is either practical or religiously correct.  Nevertheless, should a society choose to organize in such a fashion, I would not advocate changing their lifestyle or relocating them through force.  The greatest problem lies when they compel their neighbors to act likewise through a heavy-handed government.  Oh wait…the Na’vi don’t act that way in the movie, but modern American environmentalists certainly do.  The horror!  The horror!  Anyway, the movie then seems to go out of its way to validate these beliefs through the supposed scientific findings of the head researcher just as many environmentalists do in our society.  If you need more proof of the pro-green message, in the final battle sequence all of the creatures of the jungle rally in defense of the Na’vi as if guided by the will of nature itself.  After the humans lose, a vast majority of the wicked and thoughtless human race is exiled.  To top it off, the main character casts off his human body to become one of the Na’vi.  Therefore, we are led to believe that only by rejecting our humanity can we save the planet.  Lastly, one of the final lines in the film, when the main character mentioned that humans had previously destroyed the environment on Earth, smacked of rhetoric worthy of Al Gore himself.

How is the film nativist?  Although I couldn’t real see any difference, the Na’vi could easily differentiate between themselves and the lab created avatars.  At first, everyone in their encampment treated the main character as an interloper who neither understood their culture, nor appreciated their lifestyle.  In addition, they feared he would try to infiltrate them, which is exactly what he ended up doing by revealing weaknesses in their defenses to the Colonel.  Both the Na’vi and the humans were, for the most part, ethnocentric.  Neither cared really to learn about the other, thought of themselves and their ways as superior, and both viewed the other with distrust and great suspicion.  At the end of the day, one has to wonder what would have happened if the Na’vi never accepted Jake, the main character, as one of their own and maintained their xenophobic ways.  Would the first military attack have been successful if not for the intel that he gave them?  Would the lost of life been far less?  Or would the humans, pressured by the tremendous costs of maintaining their presence, simply have given up and left?  Who can say?  Then again, if both sides had viewed each other with respect, perhaps the corporation could have extracted the unobtainium without disrupting the lives and homes of the natives.

Apparently Avatar had at least one conservative message too.  Although I didn’t see it, after discussing the film with my cousin, he pointed it out with the plight of the main character.  You see, Jake is a wheelchair-bound former marine.  Not only does the desire to regain his mobility serve as a motivation, it also fuels his rugged self-reliance.  Despite his physical limitations, he displays a high level of personal responsibility.  He never gives up, never insists on others to help him, and never expects handouts or special favors from his associates.  Rather than stay at home and collect disability from a nanny state government, he instead chooses to live life to the fullest and explore life on a new world.

Overall, I enjoyed the Avatar experience and I would recommend the film.  Sure, the movie has some awkward and questionable dialogue and yes, the plot twists are easily predictable. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn about the fascinating, colorful, and bioluminescent world of Pandora and it’s inhabitants.  A word of warning to you impressionable folks…although some misguided people tend to take cues from movies on how to think, act, and even live their lives (the Jedi Church anyone?), one should value this movie for its storyline and amazing visual scenery and effects.  Be mindful of the liberal politics, of course, and don’t use them as a motivating tool for action.  Otherwise you’ll likely find yourself hugging trees, dancing in the woods with a loincloth, singing kumbaya, and worshiping Eywa…I mean “mother Earth”.

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If you read last year’s posts entitled “‘Tis the Season Part I & II” you know that I don’t care much for the Christmas season.  Unlike our increasingly amoral and immoral society it’s not the Christian aspect I mind, but the focus on materialism, greed, and the well-spread lie of the man in the red suit.  If Jesus were to return to Earth during our supposed celebration of his birth, I think he would be appalled.

Anyway, for the last four years, the band The Killers releases a Christmas themed song  with the proceeds to benefit the charity Product Red.  Regardless if you support their charity of choice, isn’t the spirit of selfless giving a better representation of the meaning behind Jesus’ birth?  Of these, my favorite by far is 2007’s “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”.  I find the thought of a neurotic Santa bent on vengeance terribly amusing as it stands in stark contrast to the traditionally jolly and benevolent character children are taught to both honor and worship.  Although the song is great, the video adds so much more to the story.

After watching the video, I immediately signed on my iTunes account and purchased the video to share with friends and family.  So I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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The Numbers Game

How does a Republican candidate win in a Democratic district?  John McCain won approximately 38% of the vote in the 93rd district back in 2008.  Jim Gilmore only managed 28% in the same year.  George Allen captured approximately 45% of the vote in 2006.  Given that all of the percentages are below the statewide average, one could hardly call the 93rd a Republican friendly district.  Of the 13 precincts in the 93rd, what, if any, of the precincts are favorable to Republicans?  Looking back at past elections, George Allen narrowly won Palmer, narrowly lost Kiln Creek, and convincingly won both Watkins and Roberts B.  John McCain faired worse, only managing to win Watkins and Roberts B and not really in any danger of winning any others.  The district encompasses the two easternmost precincts of James City County and the northeast section of Newport News with the exception of the Saunders precinct, which is in the 96th.  For the record, the precincts in the district are:  Roberts A & B in James City County, and Epes, McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, a portion of Lee Hall, Windsor, Greenwood, Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, and Watkins in Newport News.  Of these, Delegate Hamilton won Roberts B, and Watkins, narrowly winning Deer Park, and a close loss in Roberts A. Given that the district trends Democratic, one might wonder how Delegate Hamilton was able to gain and hold onto power for so long.

The answer to this question has several parts.  First, one should recognize that incumbents have an inherent advantage over their opponents.  They have higher name recognition and presumably more accomplishments.  I would also argue that from what I saw, Delegate Phil Hamilton maintained a favorable rapport with the people of the 93rd, taking time to listen to his constituents and alerting them to his progress in Richmond.  The second is that the location of the 93rd has shifted over the years.  Although I cannot find data for how the 93rd looked back in 1988 when he was first elected, comparing it to the district in the 1990s, one can clearly see a shift.  Delegate Hamilton often referred to the 93rd as a “donor district”, meaning that the more Republican or conservative areas of this district had been given to other districts, presumably in the hopes of electing more Republican/conservative legislators.  Before the 2000 redistricting, the 93rd was further east.  It contained none of James City County and the following precincts in Newport News:  McIntosh, Reservoir, Richneck, Deer Park, Nelson, Palmer, Saunders, a small bit of Warwick, Beaconsdale, and South Morrison.  I should mention that the precinct known as Beaconsdale no longer exists.  According to the Newport News Board of Elections, the polling place was not handicap accessible, so it was absorbed into the Deer Park precinct.  What does all this mean, you ask?  Looking back at both the Allen and McCain elections, let’s assume the 93rd is in this old shape (including all of Warwick, no absentee ballots, and no write ins).  Do these candidates fair any better?  John McCain reaches 40%, Jim Gilmore improves to 29% and George Allen reaches 47%.  Although none win this old district, they do capture a higher percentage.

Let’s next consider the Governor’s race in the 93rd.  While the delegate’s race was 54% in favor of Robin Abbott, McDonnell won about 52-53% in that same district depending on the source.  He handily wins the precincts of Palmer, Kiln Creek, Deer Park, Watkins, Roberts A and B, narrowly wins Richneck, and barely loses Windsor.  Now why did he do better than Phil Hamilton?  Was he better known?  Did he run a better campaign?  Was his opponent easier to beat? (Answer:  yes!) Or was it that he wasn’t tarred by a scandal?  For comparison’s sake let’s run McDonnell in this old 93rd.  Does he similarly get a one to two point bump in the polls as the other candidates did?  Indeed the trend holds true with McDonnell gathering about 54% in this relic district.  However, applying these numbers to Phil Hamilton does not result in victory.  While it raises his percentage from 45.6 to around 47.6%, and dropping his opponent likewise, Robin Abbott would still win with a slim 51.94%.

So what should we take home from the numbers game?  Although the 93rd has undeniably gotten worse for Republicans since redistricting, it is possible, although difficult, for Republicans to win here.  In a great Republican year like 2009, Bolling ran about even and Cuccinelli won 51%.  The statistics clearly prove that if Delegate Hamilton was able to run alongside Bob McDonnell (or Cuccinelli, and maybe even Bolling) and capture all of the same voters, he would be returning to the House of Delegates next year.  Unfortunately ODU and the resulting aftermath dashed any hopes for this scenario.

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The Opposition

As stated in Part II of this series, in the 93rd, we had opposition from a number of sources.  Not only did we have to contend with the Robin Abbott campaign, but also were attacked by the Democratic Party of Virginia, various interest groups, and Steve Shannon.  However, the focus of this piece will be the Robin Abbott campaign.  On October 28, Not Larry Sabato wrote, “Robin Abbott has run a great campaign, and Phil Hamilton is going to jail no matter what the result of this election is.”   I don’t know how involved and informed he was about that race, but I completely disagree.  As far as I could tell, the Robin Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now I know the temptation to apply the lens of the victor to this situation; the Abbott campaign won so it must have been well run, but having a good deal of first hand experience, I would beg to differ.

First of all, it was difficult to determine what was the central message the Robin Abbott campaign hoped to convey to the voters.  Other than her life story, which I heard multiple times in debates, campaign literature, and at rallies, they never seems to latch onto a key issue or position.  Given the ODU situation, obviously ethics reform would be fertile ground, and although it did come up from time to time, it was certainly not an overriding theme.  The Abbott campaign did bring up the issues of transportation, health care, and education; however for each issue they were unable to best Delegate Phil Hamilton.

Now consider the debates.  During the final months of the campaign Phil Hamilton and Robin Abbott were slated for a series of five debates or forums, four in Newport News and one in Williamsburg.  Unfortunately for the Abbott campaign, Phil Hamilton is a polished and professional debater who is well versed in just about every issue facing the state and community.  Below, in two segments, you will find the first twenty minutes of the League of Women Voters debate in Williamsburg on 10/14/09.  I wish I could have provided the entire debate, however my camera ran out of memory.  While Phil Hamilton offered clear examples of his work in the legislature and his plans for the future, Robin Abbott was more general and vague.

Although there were two more debates scheduled after the Williamsburg debate, one with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the other at Robin Abbott’s alma mater of CNU, both the candidate and the campaign failed to appear.  Even though losing a debate is unquestionably detrimental to the campaign, I think an even greater failure is to not even show up.  The debate organizers obviously spent considerable effort in creating, moderating, and publicizing the event.  How disrespectful is it to them and their time?  Fortunately for the Abbott campaign, the local media didn’t call foul on them.

What about coordination between the Abbott campaign and other related efforts?  While going door-to-door, it was a very rare occurrence to find Abbott literature with either Deeds or Democratic ticket information.  But why wouldn’t they work together?  It is a democratic favored district.  After all, Barack Obama won the 93rd district by a convincing margin losing only the precincts of Watkins in Newport News and Roberts B in James City County.  Although the numbers are not precise, if we ignore absentee ballots and include all of the Lee Hall precinct, Obama won 17735 to McCain’s 10838.    Now maybe you would argue that Deeds was a weak candidate (which he certainly was).  Even still, if Democratic volunteers and staff delivered both Abbott and top ticket lit together, think of the time that they could save.  Think of how many more houses they could cover.  Even though they shared office space in city center, they apparently didn’t combine efforts.  Compare this decision with the Hamilton/RPV campaign.  Except for the brief period of troubles, the Hamilton campaign handed out McDonnell materials and the RPV did likewise.  Does that mean the two campaigns were joined at the hip?  Certainly not…it just made commonsense to work together for the betterment of both.  Even though I’m sure that seeing Hamilton lit together with McDonnell lit may have cost a vote or two to one side or the other, I’d easily wager that it garnered far more benefit to both.

From what I both heard and witnessed, the Abbot campaign struggled for volunteers throughout the season.  I offer the following pictures for an example.  The first two are from the Denbigh day parade of September 19.

Denbigh Days Volunteers Hamilton

The parade of white shirts are folks dressed in Phil Hamilton for Delegate attire.  Now compare that number to the Abbott supporters in the next picture.

Denbigh Days The Abbott Campaign

The simple truth is that few people were truly excited about the Abbott campaign.  Rumor has it that they had to pay people to go door to door for them.  The next picture is of the Newport News Fall Festival of 10/4/2009, one month before the election.  Beside our Republican tent sat the Democrats.  Throughout most of the festival, their tent was empty.  No one was there to handout information, yard signs, or the like.  You could feel the electricity in the air!

Democratics Fall Festival

For the reasons of no coherent campaign message, a series of lackluster and no-show debates, poor coordination, and low volunteer recruitment, is why I believe the Abbott campaign was not well run.  Now maybe I’m completely wrong about my assessment.  Several weeks ago I sent an email to Delegate-elect Abbott offering her the opportunity to talk about the campaign on this website.  As of this posting, I have gotten no reply.  If that changes, I’ll let you know.

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On Monday, while leafing through the Daily News Record, I came across an advertisement that caught my eye.  It was a public notice about the RMH Regional Cancer Center.  What drew my attention was not the ad itself, but rather the person pictured.  Shortly thereafter, I contacted the hospital and asked for a copy of the ad to post on this blog.  In response, they sent me a link to this video:

Now I have found that generally folks don’t like to talk about issues like prostate cancer in public, especially when it concerns their own battles.  For some reason far too often it becomes a taboo like politics or religion, something to be discussed privately with close friends or family…if mentioned at all.  People don’t want to admit their own weaknesses, even though their very survival may hinge on seeking medical help before the illness becomes too advanced.  Failure to do so is merely misplaced pride, the results of which can be deadly.  Therefore, I applaud Henry’s decision not only to reach out to medical professionals, but to openly do so.  Perhaps it will encourage others in the Harrisonburg/Rockingham community to follow his example and get screened before it is too late.  I’m also glad to know that we have such a dedicated and knowledgeable staff of doctors and medical professionals available so close, at the RMH Cancer Center.

But what made this ad jump out to me and how does this ad relate to this blog’s theme of Virginia politics?  The answer is Henry.  Although I don’t know him as Henry, but by his last name, he was a guiding influence to me in my early years of political involvement.  He inspired and educated not only me, but countless others and I’m sure that many of them instantly recognized his picture as I did.  Hopefully hearing the story of someone familiar will tear away this perceived social stigma.  Thank you, Henry, and thank you RMH.

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