May 28, 2005

Being Patriotic on Memorial Day Requires More Than a Flag

As many Americans are taking time off this extended weekend, there will be plenty of flag waving, patriotic speeches, a few parades, and veterans reminiscing. It's good to be able to take time off--not every American is lucky enough to hit the beach, fire up the barbie, do whatever leisure activity he likes, or just relax. In this wealthy country, there are millions of children going to bed hungry, a catastrophe like 911 occurs every two months--people dying because they cannot afford health care. Our government is taking away civil rights, increasingly invades our privacy, and is tipping the socio-economic scale to the already most affluent & powerful class.

It's good to be patriotic, but not to blindly obey and turn off critical thinking when someone waves the flag and talks big about sacrifices. I want to ask those people who readily wear the flag on their lapels what sacrifices have they made or willing to make in the future. If, as they argue, America's bleeding in Iraq today is necessary, are they ready to go there and fight? Maybe they can send their children to Iraq or Afghanistan. Should their fat corporations (many of which are making huge profits because of the war) contribute to the war expenses by donating 10% of their profits? [that's a good Christian tithing!] How about that they relocate their "headquarters" from off-shore to the U.S. so they can pay their fair share of taxes like the rest of us? How about if they drive a little less and a more fuel-efficient vehicle? Having those magnetic ribbons on their cars doesn't count as supporting the troops!

Many of our troops fighting today are from the National Guard, the Army Reserve, and even regular recruits who have been back-drafted, their tours extended. They cannot return to normal life because of the poor decisions made by those who have sacrificed nothing to the war effort. The National Guard soldiers lose their medical coverage one month after their return home. Many soldiers' families rely on food stamps to survive. Those who serve in Iraq lack proper armor and other equipment for adequate protection. Sacrifice shouldn't be one-way street.

The troops don't belong to the Commander in Chief, but to all of us. That is why before the nation commits its youth, its resources, its blood and tears we need to have an honest discussion of the facts, a clear understanding of the issues, a clear vision for the future, and accept that the pain and sacrifices will be borne by the whole nation. It's not very patriotic to ask only the poor and the disadvantaged, even non-citizens, to fight on behalf of America. It's not patriotic that, through the war, there is a transfer of wealth from the public coffers to private fat corporations, some of which have a fax machine in the ..Bahamas as their headquarters! It's not patriotic not to question the rulers about their decisions. We should call a liar when we see one. It's one thing for our leaders to make a grave mistake, or even believe a lie if they're stupid & gullible, but when they deliberately try to deceive the public, then this is a treasonous crime, because the consequences of such deception are so adverse to the whole nation--except, of course, to the entrenched elites.

So, this Memorial Day let's bypass the big empty speeches that seek to overload the emotional side and divert us from always asking "what was this sacrifice for?" Honoring our veterans with speeches, flags, and medals is good but not good enough. Instead, we should open a national dialogue about how to have fewer war casualties in the future, and how, when necessary, the burden of war is more equitably divided among all members of our American family.

It's time that we don't allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated by hot-button tactics and wedge issue politics. Anyone who thinks himself patriotic should take the time to learn about the history of our country, be well informed of the critical issues of our time, and be an active citizen in the affairs of the nation. This would be truly memorable!

May 26, 2005

Some Thoughts on Debauchery, Racial Epithets, & My Uncle

My uncle has a business employing several people. He always complains about taxes, the required book-keeping, environmental laws, about regulations, about this and that. He doesn't like government much. He believes that government shouldn't interfere in the marketplace as the latter can best self-adjust if left alone. Capitalism, he often lectures me, should be pure and unbridled. It's capitalism alone that has made this country great, he adds emphatically!
He thinks that the New Deal was a socialist revolution! He has praised the decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court of almost 100 years ago, when it decided that worker health and safety laws were infringing upon the freedom of the business! Since, he says, the government has invaded our society and
the result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible! Wow! That's strong language, don't you agree?
My uncle is a self-made man, doesn't quite understand that he didn't grow up in the vacuum of space but in a civil society, albeit one with a very weak social safety net. He takes the view that he doesn't owe anything to anyone. Indeed , he came up through extreme poverty and had a hard childhood. His family worked in the fields to make a living. He never looks back though, as if he's pulled the ladder behind him. Once he made it, he believes others can do it too, on their own without much help from the state. You might say, he's a social Darwinist.
He ran into some problems not so long ago. He got sued and lost his case. He's bitter about that. You see, he used to call some Hispanics on his work force by racial epithets. He doesn't use the same language now, but when we talk about that case, he brings up a sympathetic judge who heard his case. That
judge wrote in her dissenting opinion that the court ordering him to stop from using racial epithets was a violation of his free speech rights! That judge also had the same views with my uncle regarding the economy/capitalism, judicial activism, the ills of government, etc. The two of them even shared life experiences. If I didn't know better, I'd say my uncle and that judge were siblings, or, at least, of same mind and soul.
OK, I can hear you saying that my uncle doesn't come across as a very nice person. He's definitely out of the mainstream. I agree. He is one of a kind, anachronistically old. [and, speaking of old, he also has no problem with age discrimination in the workplace]
What else can I say about my uncle? I'm sure glad that he's not in a position of power to affect the lives of the many. Can you imagine someone like him given a lifetime appointment, and a position on a federal court that oversees all other federal courts, and him making decisions using his ideology and extreme personal biases to interpret federal law? That would be very scary! Thank goodness my uncle is not up to this. Unfortunately someone exactly like him is about to be confirmed by the whipped U.S. Senate to the D.C. court! Her name is
Janice Rogers Brown. Be afraid, be very afraid!

PS. I didn't think I'd have to clarify this, but since my post got responses on Daily Kos from people who thought that my uncle was real, I want to make it clear that he was a fictional character. All I wanted was to elicit responses from people by removing the political affiliation. Most people would say that my ..uncle was way out of the mainstream and clearly unfit to serve on a federal bench having those extreme views of the law, economy, and of politics in general. Well, this is exactly who judge Brown is!

May 23, 2005

The Deal: Cry "Wolf" But Let the Beast In. Extraordinary Indeed!

"Trust, mutual respect, extraordinary circumstances, working together, saved the Senate," and all the rest of bullcrap we've heard from both sides on Monday night when the U.S. Senate reached a compromise on the filibuster. Of course, no one has bothered to define those "extraordinary circumstances," and Frist was quick to say that he hadn't given up his "right" to go ballistic and bring back the "nuclear option." What were those people thinking? Were they pleasuring each other in their chambers? The president and the Republican-controlled Congress have been in a free fall in the approval ratings. Was this a way to stop the bleeding? Or, was it a case of wool-over-the-eyes?
As it is today, the Republicans are getting those extreme judges, Owen and Brown, and a few other ultra-conservatives through the Senate. Weren't these people way out of the mainstream? Of course they were! By giving in, the Dems now have set a benchmark of what's acceptable; this is a big mistake. Maybe they wanted to reserve the big fight for the Supreme Court. Yet, the Dems lost some respect if they said that Owen and Brown were not qualified to be on the federal bench but the Dems let them in anyway. Well, aren't the Dems in the Senate supposedly safeguarding not only the rights of the minority but also the interests of the country? Why is it OK now to allow those extremists to serve life-time appointments on federal courts? It sounds very wishy-washy to me.

Secondly, I don't think president Bush will hesitate to nominate someone, even the most extreme judge, to fill the anticipated Supreme Court vacancy this year. Dubya is an advocate of "in your face politics!" When the last Congress rebuffed Owen and Brown, he promptly re-nominated them this year! The only qualification Bush cares for is how good the nominee is in promoting the neo-con, far-right agenda. This is a president who rewards people that have failed miserably! Just think of Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Franks, Bremer, Wolfowitz, Bolton, name a few.
The Dems made a mistake in accepting the compromise. If nothing else, there is no guarantee that the other side will be reasonable in the future. The Republican leadership is far to the right, not interested in compromising, not interested in checks & balances, not interested in a general consensus. It wants to implement an extreme agenda as dictated by the theocrats and their buddies of the fat corporations. It wants to built a totalitarian society according to their apocalyptic, rapturist views. They are not interested in "working together" as they have no respect for anyone who disagrees with them. Haven't the Dems realized this? Delay and Frist, the two leaders of the majority in Congress, have been usurping power, changing the rules at will, silencing dissent, and having their ..flock vote on bills without even reading them! It was only last week, when a serious bill, the so-called Real ID Act, that was attached to a spending bill and was passed without any debate. A Big Brother bill with serious implications on privacy and security and wasn't even discussed in the people's House! Need to say more?
The Dems cried "wolf" in the cases of Owen and Brown. They correctly identified the beasts, but they let them in anyway. That's twice already. Are the Dems going to be believed the next time?

May 22, 2005

Does Armageddon Begin With The Nuclear Option?

Most Americans are confused about the Republican-coined phrase "nuclear option" but this week there will be a showdown in the U.S. Senate. Basically, the Repubs want to eliminate the filibuster, that is, the minority's option to object. Presently 60 senators are needed to end the filibuster and to proceed to an up-or-down vote on the nominee. Senator Frist, the majority leader, wants to reduce this number to 50 (remember, Cheney, the VP, can break a tie).
The filibuster is not new. It has been used by both sides effectively, some to prevent Civil Rights legislation. Members of both sides have expressed hostility to this senate rule and wanted to end it--surprise, surprise, they took this position only when their party was in the majority! So, there are hypocrites in both parties. However, it is now that the Repubs are dead serious in altering the senate rules, because they have no respect for democracy, civil rights, and the rights of the minority. The few mainstream Repubs are an endangered species and usually don't have the guts to stand up to the totalitarians in their party.
Why should the minority have rights? Shouldn't the majority always prevail? Well, in a democracy, what is a majority today may not be tomorrow, but certain rights and the interest of the country should be safeguarded. Can the democratically elected representatives pass laws and turn the country into a totalitarian state? Of course, not, but that's what the far right, the theologs and the powerlogs of the Republican party want.
In college, in addition to reading De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, you needed 60 as a passing grade. Why can't we have the same standard especially for the federal judges with life appointments? Laws can be revised by the next Congress, but a federal judge can stay on the bench for the next 30 or 40 years, and, any judge who's not qualified can be very harmful when ruling on issues that really matter in our lives.

The current president, despite his whining, has a greater number of nominated judges approved by the Senate than president Clinton had in his 8 years in office. Out of Bush's 215 conservative judges, 205 have been approved, no filibuster used. Ten, the most extreme and unqualified, were not, though he re-nominated most them anyway! The Dems are not giving in and the Repubs want to change the rules of the game to get their way. Actually they've already done so, little by little, but they now want more power so they're going ballistic, er, nuclear! I guess they have to hurry up, because they realize that by the end of next year, they may not be in such a strong position again. The country is largely dissatisfied with the performances of both the Congress and the president.
We have to discuss the issue on principle here regardlesss of partisan interests. One party rule is not good for the country, especially when this party is so utterly convinced that it's doing "God's work" and that the opposition is not worth anything. Anyone who's appointed for life to perform a very sensitive job should be under greater scrutiny.
The U.S. Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, it's members elected to a 6 year term, and theoretically not subject to the passions of the day. The framers of the constitution sought to safeguard the interests of the minority by having 2 senators from every state regardless of its population. So, California with 35 million people gets to have just 2, as many as Vermont with a population of only 600,000. And, if you want to be technical about it, the 55 Republicans in the Senate today represent fewer voters than the other 45 Senators!
John Stuart Mill advised us that our freedoms may not be taken away by a social revolution, but that there is a greater danger our freedoms may be usurped by the majority. It has happened before, you know, like in pre-WWII Germany--Hitler was democratically elected and then parliament passed all the laws he wanted to turn the country into a Nazi state!
Unfortunately, the national press hasn't clearly explained the issue to the public. Most people want the Senate to scrutinize the president's nominees, but the workings of the senate is an esoteric matter to them, not realizing that the outcome of the impending battle will hugely affect all Americans. We had the Armageddon election in 2004, and I advised the liberals and all progressives (now it should include all moderates and non-apocalyptic religious people) to be prepared to get stoned. What's at stake here [someone will be tied to the stake if this trend continues] is the future direction of our country. I'm talking about judges who will decide whether science prevails over superstition, whether consumers need protection, whether the environment deserves preservation, whether individual privacy should be safeguarded, whether civil rights (including minority rights) are not taken away, and whether our government should be held up to the rule of law! Ultra-conservative and radical judges appointed for life is not common sense. We're not appointing judges based on life stories, as the conservatives are arguing, but people with long judicial records. Here are the two most controversial Bush choices, Priscilla Owen, and Janice Rogers . The neo-cons always talk about activist judges, who instead of basing their rulings on a ..dead legal document, they promote their own agenda! Really? If it weren't for an activist judge on the Supreme Court--Cheney's hunting partner, A. Scalia--G. W. Bush wouldn't be president today. Both Brown and Owen are activist judges who, like their mentor Scalia, don't see any conflict of interest when deciding cases involving their benefactors! The Dems must do a better job explaining that it is possible for a person (ie. Justice Clarence Thomas) to benefit from certain laws and social programs and, once ontop, turn around and pull the ladder up so others can't follow. Judges like Brown and Owen have ruled against the rights of workers, the environment, but for fat corporations, and have been seeking to impose the views of the fringe fundamentalists on the private matters of individuals.
The winning strategy may be that since the Dems can make life very difficult for the Repubs in the Senate in the nuclear fallout stage. Business can grind to a halt thus preventing the neo-cons from passing other legislation beneficial to the socio-economic elite. Perhaps the pressure from the money-hungry social Darwinists may be enough to tip the balance and prevent Frist from coming up with 51 votes to end the filibuster. The Dems have limited choices given their numbers in the Senate so they can't prevent all bad legislation. Heck, they couldn't prevent the far-reaching and anti-privacy Real ID law--attached to a ..military spending bill and passed with no debate in the Congress! Despite the damage bad laws can inflict on the country those laws can be reversed someday, hopefully sooner than later. However, federal judges if inept and radical can ruin America for decades to come. That's too high of a price to pay.

May 16, 2005

Bill Moyers is Certainly Biased! He's a Damn(ed) Liberal.

The buzz about the attacks on public broadcasting is getting louder, and this is a good development lately. The current administration and the Republican Congress prefer to act in secret, especially on issues that do not have the support of the public. In the past ten years, there has been a strong effort by the radical far right to control if not eliminate public broadcasting. First, they argued that public money shouldn't go into public broadcasting. Then they said, the latter had a "liberal bias." Never mind that the ..public wants to support a free-from-government institution and that the vast majority of Americans don't think there is a bias in news & programming in PBS! The Republican hack, Ken Tomlinson, has been appointed as chairman of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) and is hell-bent on carrying the far right's barbarian policy ! So, the hordes have descended on PBS.

Bill Moyers, whose PBS's NOW program was targeted by Tomlinson, came out swinging in his much-anticipated response. "The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets," he explained. "That's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth." Well, this rings true to me! Of course, the far right doesn't like criticism since it believes it has a total grasp of the truth--by divine revelation no less. Link to Free Press for media clips, including Bill Moyers' speech, from the National Conference on Media Reform that just concluded in St. Louis.

This is the crux of the matter: Do we need a broadcast medium where we can freely debate, learn, and exercise investigative journalism? Or, should we let the market forces decide this, as many conservatives have been arguing? I'm assuming that everyone wants a better-informed public. Or, do they? You see, some political agendas need the cover of darkness to be implemented. There is also a need for a substantial mass of unconscious people who are easily manipulated in order the socio-economic elites to maintain their power and privileges. How else can you win elections by convincing so many poor people to vote against their economic interests?
You need to foster intellectual laziness, to encourage superstition, and exaggerate personal biases. Add an element of fear and wedge-issue politics and you have the recipe for success. Why allow PBS to investigate the rulers, bring facts to light, discuss consumer issues, create a public record of our social discourse, and bring science & the scientific method closer to the public? Only those who are threatened by such activities need worry. PBS has been a thorn to them with its "liberal bias." But, as the top header of this blog suggests, "Democracy is as good as its participants. An informed & engaged citizen is the lifeline of a healthy society. A liberal citizen is vital to our American democracy!"

We can safeguard our democracy by being informed and active in the public affairs of our country. If a "liberal bias"-- as alleged by the far right--means that we want an open and free debate, more facts about the important issues of our times, then, yes, this kind of "bias" is good to have. At least, our bias does not preclude that our opinion is the universal and absolute truth to be imposed on others. We are comfortable with people having varying opinions. Yet, the facts are what they are; everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not to his own facts. We are not scared of the facts, we do not want to be fed partisan rubbish in order to satisfy a lazy brain. We think, and, therefore, we are!
Care to join us? All you need is a critical mind, have a love for the public interest, and, maybe, a few bucks to support PBS. Check out the definition of liberal to see if it's a good "bias" for you to have. Above all, don't surrender your mind--that's what the barbarians at the gate are after!

lib*er*al \Lib"er*al\, Adj. 1. Favoring political and social reforms tending towards democracy and personal freedoms for the individual; advocating reform or progress in education, religion, etc. 2. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; not bigoted. 3. Open to new ideas for progress; tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. 4. Describing Democratic forms of government.

May 12, 2005

A Species Under Extinction: Reasonable Republicans?

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are [a] few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

Now, this is a very sensible view! If I were an insider or a talking head, I'd be repeating this every time Bush and his henchmen in Congress propose to destroy Social Security, eliminate consumer protection laws, repeal laws that protect the environment, and generally push for ways to transfer our national wealth to their wealthy friends and big corporations.
These principles as stated by the author of the quote have remained as valid as they were back in the 1950s! As a matter of fact, they should be more important today since America's safety net has been torn to shreds by the Republican leadership in our one-party government. I think reason itself is under attack in this country. Not only our rulers are talking Newspeak , but they're trying to convince the nation to follow their own perverted perception of reality. They are for social Darwinism: whereas the survival of the fittest means that the rich and powerful deserve to be so, and the poor and the weak deserve their fate because of their own moral failings. This is, in my estimate, not very Christian-like. Not what Jesus had in mind. Of course, no one who has reached, or inherited his position in the socio-economic elite bothers to mention that the cards are marked, and the game is fixed. Yes, the elites are not stupid. They know how to use wedge politics, push "hot buttons", and use issues that are really irrelevant to the actual quality of life of most people in order to make the latter vote against their own economic interests!

Some traditional Republicans will object to this criticism, but since their party has been hijacked by the theologs and the powerlogs, they better take into advice the quote above and then take action. Instead of the nation having a debate between reasonable people as to how to solve our big problems, the present rulers have been directing the country to go back to the past and to re-examine whether evolution is scientific, whether the laws of physics should apply to ..this country! They also want to teach our children that there is an "equally credible theory" out there which proposes that the Earth was created in a couple days and it's probably ..flat, and in the center of the universe! Talking about dumbing down our country...
Are there any reasonable Republicans left in the party that controls the power today ? Do they have the guts to stand up and reclaim their party? Can we move this country forward? We've been through costly battles, paid the price, but we've arrived at the 21st century. We should be choosing among the best-qualified and able persons to do the job at hand regardless of party affiliation; the best CEO if you like. The Repubs seem to buck progress and want to steer us to their own version of the Dark Ages. I don't know if being in power is good enough for some people regardless of what policies are followed, but there have to be some people on the other side of the political spectrum that are fed up with their current leadership. Aren't there any Eisenhower Republicans left?

By the way, the author of the quote above: President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 11/8/54 . My thanks to David Sirota who dug up this gem. Check the Sirotablog for more links.

May 3, 2005

Ignorance Is Strength, The Far Right's Motto

I watch PBS. I like it for the most part. I don't like the begging, which occurs with increasing frequency nowadays, and I don't like those boring shows, bought cheaply, to fill time slots. I don't appreciate the shows included just to appease the conservatives either, but I'm willing to live with programs that are boring, stupid and proposing an opposing view to mine. Yet, PBS is the place to get serious news and information about important current issues, and for developing a greater understanding of the world we live in.
We all know the conservative right wants a simple-minded people and a simplistic message, a kind of "bumper sticker" mentality. We also know that PBS and everything else that makes us think, understand, question our one-party government, is despised by the radical right.
With the national press collectively lying down and failing to fulfill its obligation to check on the rulers, public broadcasting must be defended against this latest onslaught. Unfortunately, the PBS leadership has not been brave enough, and it's being slaughtered. Admittedly, it is caught in a rough spot, but being silent and not taking the fight into the open and into the enemy, it helps the sinister, back-stubbing, corporate loyalists, far-right, anti-intellectuals and conservative hacks who've taken control of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB). Since the days of the disgraced House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, the far right has been trying to kill PBS, or, at the very least, bring it under control of the conservatives. CPB gives about $30 million a year with many strings attached ever since Republican hack, Kenneth Tomlinson, became CPB's chairman. He wants to "eliminate the liberal bias" from PBS, he says. Never mind that the vast majority of Americans believe there is no bias in news and information programming by public broadcasting.
I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist/believer, but there has been a long and coordinated effort by the extreme right to impose their narrow views on the rest of us, to change America according to their own rapturist, fundamentalist and microscopic views. But, they are right in this regard: a monolithic mentality by the public is easier to manipulate.
Anyone, who has watched Frontline, Wide Angle, Nova, Independent Lens, NOW (with & post-Bill Moyers), and all the other wonderful programming, knows that we thinking citizens need as many windows to information as possible; heck, we don't have enough of those. On the other hand, the far right wants to incarcerate us in a windowless environment. For our own security of course! Being fair and balanced, according to Tomlinson and his secret agents, is to include any cookie idea, baseless argument from his pals (Coulter, O'Reilly, Limbaugh,Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, Dr. No, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, TwoFace, the Jocker, and so many other characters), and, for good measure, give a chat room to the The Wall Street Journal to counter-act the "liberal bias" of the News Hour! Incredible. Literally, in-credible!
Even if there were far fewer people who watched PBS, it still would've been worth preserving it for the simple reason that we need: a means to expose the wrong doers, a platform for open exchange of ideas & information in depth, and a ..public record.

This time taking our checkbooks out in order to support public broadcasting is not enough; we must act in order to put the Public back in PBS. Signing the petition is one step, but,please, get ready to follow up with further action, locally and nationally. Check with Free Press* frequently on the latest news and how to get involved.

Ignorance is strength, as Winston was constantly reminded in 1984. In the politics of fear in the early 21st century, we can clearly see that strength, and, sadly,even ignorance have quite an appeal. Why, feeling strong gives you a sense of security, doesn't it? Of course it does! However, you do understand that you have to give up a few "things" in order to be safe, secure, and ..undisturbed. In addition, why would you want to feel the anxiety of the unknown, the cacophony of disagreement, the stress of being challenged in your beliefs? Who wouldn't want to be powerful enough to withstand all sorts of biases and proselytizing voices? Who needs the ideas advocated by those "liberally biased" people who have a tendency to question things, who admit that the search for truth must be un-ending, who challenge the status quo, who want to change the world by infusing it with more reason, scientific inquiry, consumer protection, liberty & civil rights, and protecting & enhancing our common treasure--the environment?
Who needs those people and their biases indeed?

*Free Press is a nonpartisan organization working to involve the public in media policymaking and to craft policies for more democratic media.