Sep 29, 2006

Democracy Exported Hits a Snag with a Murder of a Woman

A Hard Lesson In Democracy

The murder of Safia Ama Jan, a few days ago in Afghanistan, was a serious blow to women's rights in that country we "liberated" in 2001 and to which we supposedly exported democracy. Ama Jan fought for the rights of women in a chauvinistic society and she paid for her efforts with her life. You see, democracy isn't something like a car--we build it, you buy it, and you can start driving around. Democracy isn't just a political system, but also an attitude, part of people's culture. If you're in the minority, you don't have to pay with your life because you have a different opinion. Democracy is also a work in progress. Sadly, even in a democratic country the movement isn't always forward--we've seen this several times in our recent history, especially under the regime of el Presidente.

<- An Afghani Sentenced to Death for Being a Christian

The Taliban that killed Ama Jan would like to see their idea of an ideal society everywhere and are willing to kill and die in order to force a crude & intolerant regime on the rest of us. They've found allies even in the camps of their sworn enemies, because feeble minds abound everywhere; these are people who don't know history, are anti-science and anything intellectual, are sauvinists, racists, insensitive to hard-won human rights & liberties. Their power-hungry leaders--often with their own perverse apocalyptic visions and a Taliban-like mentality--are eager to oblige in raising the level of angst, terror and, of course, stupidity. That kuckle-head frat boy attitude resonates well with too many people, Oh yeah, we can beat you up, you blead, we can outblead you, yep, we're tough.

Ama Jan said this two years ago,"This country has had two-and-a-half decades during which both males and females have been left uneducated. You cannot change their minds overnight. We need some time." Sadly, she didn't have any time left. In a society where women are treated like chattel, this sends a message to all those who dare to speak up in dissent to the powers that be. It would've been hard anyway to change the very narrow minds of uneducated people or make the male elites give up some of their privileges. Women who were allocated 25% of the seats in the new Afghani parliament aren't taken seriously; many have been pushed out of government posts or just left politics altogether already. The status of women in a country reveal aplenty about that country.

Today when we look around to find a democratic system, we only find liberal democracies; simply stated, there aren't any other free societies out there! Even most conservatives now have given up on their defense of the Old Regime [ascribed status, religious conformity] and have adopted the liberal ideas of majority rule but with minority rights. Liberalism focuses on the individual as a main actor in politics and economics. But, liberty and rights are necessary conditions in order to progress and achieve. Further, a liberal democracy is the best environment where a person may have the best chance to fulfill his/her own potential.

Democracy is messy because human character varies, and because there are different priorities and opinions. It takes time to cultivate such an environment and promote the commonwealth. Civilizations don't happen overnight. Yet, the bottom line is that the quality of contemporary politics depends on the quality of the people involved.

Sep 25, 2006

Being Part of Change Starts at Home. Get Involved Today!

Before We Run Them Out of Town in 2008, We Need To Restore Some Checks & Balances First.

As this very important election approaches, here's a link about how you can help. No, it's not about money, it's about volunteering for a campaign near your home. Even if you can give a few hours on the phone, or knock on doors on a crispy Autumn day, or put up lawn signs. Whatever you can do to help. This is about citizens' getting involved to change this do-nothing Congress, and impact on local races too.

Act Blue

And, by the way, register to vote today if you haven't done so already, if you haven't voted in a couple presidential elections, or if you've moved. Usually your voter registration must be received by your local Board of Elections no less than 30 days before the next election. Google-search it. Here are the ones for the New York State, and for New Jersey.

Sep 23, 2006

Clinton Smashes Faux News & the "Truthiness" it Promotes

Not Everyone Can Handle the Truth. Indeed, Reality has a Liberal Bias!

Do you think it’s important to understand? Can you handle the truth even if you don’t like what it reveals? Do you have the courage to amend your ideas, perceptions? If so, that’s good, and this country needs more people like you! Impressions do matter, we all form them often on skimpy evidence, but a reasonable [emphasis on reason] person has the ability of revision. Yet, much of our politics are based on false impressions, on images that have little or no relation to reality, on rumors & innuendos, and on ..truthiness! [Stephen Colbert coined this word which means something that feels right is the truth. For example, “I'm no fan of reality, and I'm no fan of encyclopedias. I've said it before: Who is Encyclopedia Britannica to tell me George Washington had slaves? If I want to say George Washington didn't have slaves, that's my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it's also a fact."]

Much of our collective “memory” rests on fictional Hollywood characters and distorted historical facts. Besides, we are a nation that doesn’t know its own history. We’re not readers, we are consumers of convenience. We like it easy (filtered, sweet & mushy), and big & loud. And, we don’t care to know what the rest of the world says. After all, "We’re number one!" In this light, it’s no wonder why so many Americans believe all sorts of conspiracy theories, UFOs, and Bill O’Reilly. These are the same people who make the vile & ignorant Ann Coulter a multi-millionaire.

If it feels right, it’s true. Ask Homer Simpson, he’d tell you that if it’s on TV it’s a fact! A few days ago, ABC showed “The Path to 9-11”—a fictional (and libelous) account of a period in our recent history. It “confirmed” what many people already “knew” that is, the Clinton administration was to blame for not destroying Osama and his Al-Qaeda “because Clinton was too distracted with Monica and didn’t go after Bin Laden when he had the opportunity to capture or kill him.” The same people also blame president Clinton for the terrorist attacks on 9-11-2001.

Faux News has been promoting all this nonsense and more. It’s OK to have an ideological & political bend, but this network is nothing more than a brain-washing machine. Well, it doesn’t have to try too hard anyway, because it’s job is not to clean the misconceptions but to enhance and perpetuate them. Dumbing down your audience never requires seeking the truth by examining the facts. Truthiness will suffice!

As I’m writing this, Fox News is planning to air an interview with Bill Clinton on Sunday, 9/24. If you can’t watch it, you can read the full transcript here. Clinton was masterful in destroying the myths the conservatives have been creating regarding 9-11. Chris Wallace asked Clinton questions that were based on the falsehoods shown in the Path to 9-11. Here are some excerpts:

WALLACE: When we announced that you were going to be on Fox News Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I got to say I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question. Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President? There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called the Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said “I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops.” Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole.
WALLACE: …may I just finish the question sir. And after the attack, the book says, Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20/20.
CLINTON: No let’s talk about…
WALLACE: …but the question is why didn’t you do more, connect the dots and put them out of business?
CLINTON: OK, let’s talk about it. I will answer all of those things on the merits but I want to talk about the context of which this arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network…ABC just had a right wing conservative on the Path to 9/11 falsely claim that it was based on the 9/11 Commission report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report. I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn’t have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say that I didn’t do enough said that I did too much. Same people.

And, here Clinton takes aim at the Conservatives:

WALLACE: Do you think you did enough sir?
CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.
CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn’t…I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke… So you did FOX’s bidding on this show. You did you nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know..
WALLACE: Now wait a minute sir…
WALLACE: I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?

CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked: Why didn’t you do
anything about the Cole? I want to know how many you asked: Why did you fire Dick Clarke? I want to know…

The former president made a comparison between his priorities regarding terrorism and Bush’s demonstrated incompetence:

CLINTON: What did I do? I worked hard to try and kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president we’d have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him. Now I never criticized President Bush and I don’t think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is 1/7 as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and Al Qaeda with that sort of dismissive theme when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke’s book to look at what we did in a comprehensive systematic way to try to protect the country against terror. And you’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever…
WALLACE: [Laughs]
CLINTON: I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get Bin Laden. I regret it but I did try. And I did everything I thought I responsibly could. The entire military was against sending special forces into Afghanistan and refueling by helicopter and no one thought we could do it otherwise…We could not get the CIA and the FBI to certify that Al Qaeda was responsible while I was President. Until I left office. And yet I get asked about this all the time and they had three times as much time to get him as I did and no one ever asks them about this. I think that’s strange.

Of course, I have no illusions that anything like this can penetrate a very narrow frame of mind. What facts fall outside this small frame are discarded. In that universe not only everybody is entitled to his opinion, but to his own facts too!

Editor's note: Fixed the link ["here" above] to the transcript of the Clinton interview. Also, this is how Faux News is promoting the interview:

Sep 18, 2006

Darfur: The New Century's First Genocide. More to Come on October 1, Unless...

The Culture of Life Should be Universal

400,000 dead, 2.5 million displaced, 10,000 dying every month. Yes, I'm talking about human beings. Not much more to add. Just click on the links to learn all there's to know about this first genocide of the 21st century. Then do whatever you can to help, but at least add your voice to the cries for immediate help. And, take notes on who's listening so you can hold accountable the powers that be.

[A couple pictures I took at the rally to Save Darfur in NYC, 9/17/06]

Watch George Clooney's poignant testimony on the urgency of the Darfur situation. Also, this Clooney & Power interview.

Go to to find out how you can help.

Be aware of the world around you. Many of the worst crimes take place because of people's apathy--that's why the government of Sudan & its allies have been killing with impunity.

A Darfur victim pictured (left). Unless the US, the UN, and the whole international community step in with peace-keeping forces by the end of this month, then, for those who care to watch, we'll witness wholesale murder, again. Read more on the Human Rights Watch site.

PS. Is this a reflection of our collective priorities? Media coverage of the ongoing genocide in Darfur has been woefully inadequate. The Center for American Progress found that during June 2005, CNN, FOX News, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.

UPDATE, 9/19/06: I suppose it's good that President Bush appointed a special envoy to coordinate our response to this crisis. Except, the incompetence and patronage--two main characteristics of BushCo--are into play, again, despite the huge costs in human lives a possible failure in management may bring. Andrew Natsios is going to be this person to manage the Darfur situation. But, Natsios has proven himself as incompetent and corrupt. He "managed" the Big Dig in Boston--the most mismanaged public works project in US history! Yeah, he's the same person who told us that the Iraq reconstruction costs would be no more than $1.6 billion. Ignorance & incompetence are bad but applied ignorance & incompetence are worse because of the effect! I hope Natsios won't add to the series of deadly mistakes of BushCo regarding Darfur, but, sadly, I'm pessimistic.

Sep 11, 2006

Personal Reflections on the Meaning of 9-11

On every important date, it’s good to take a few moments to reflect on the meaning of the occasion; and I did just that when I was asked to say a few words to a gathering of faculty and students on the 5th anniversary of 9-11. This is what I said:

When we bow our heads in a moment of silent prayer or introspection, when we shed a tear for fellow human beings, when we ask what we could do to save lives, how to comfort the grieving, when we give, when we care, when we feel the pain of a tragic loss, then we are affirming our own humanity! And we are re-affirming that we are capable of greater acts of kindness, altruism, and unconditional love.

I believe that there’s something positive to be learned even from a horrible experience. After all, we are equipped with a wonderful mind that has the ability to create, conceptualize, and guide us by reason. We’re standing here in this educational institution because we have a purpose—to pursue our own dreams, to fulfill our potential, to make a difference! Education is indeed the key to a better world, for it provides us with the tools to better understand ourselves and others! Fanaticism and its consequences come from a narrow mind. We are here in a quest to broaden our horizons. And this is good!

I appreciate the concept “a culture of life”—a phrase often uttered but not quite understood to mean: making a difference when it matters. In other words, enhancing the human condition & the human experience. I believe we have a fundamental connection to each other, despite our differences and personal preferences, because we all have the same basic potential: to understand and to love.

We feel the loss. We grieve for those who cannot be with us today. But, as long as we are alive, we cannot surrender our humanity to those who act inhumanely, or to those who seek to manipulate & exploit our emotions though fear!

Let’s not forget the sorrow and the reasons behind it. But let us not forget that we have an obligation to ourselves and to humanity. So, asking I must do of you today. I ask you to decipher and disseminate the knowledge you acquire here. I ask you to help build a better world that extends far beyond our borders. I ask you to be engaged and involved citizens. I ask you to be the change you want to see!

Like Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Sep 9, 2006

Those With Bricks for Brains Want Another Brick in the Wall

Education Is the Key to a Better World

We don't need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

Yeah, I listened to this song by Pink Floyd. It was probably my favorite at the time when it first came out many moons ago. It was, perhaps, a message I failed to absorb. Oh, the turns we take in life, some of them planned some accidental. I spent much of this summer teaching, and I will have a full load teaching this Fall semester too. The end and the beginning of semesters are very demanding times, hence the sparse blogging here. But, last night I caught PBS Wide Angle’s “Back To School.” Very fascinating stuff but it also showed a very sad reality, whose connection to America’s security is not understood by the powers that be.

Well, I think we need leaders that are truly educated, and inquisitive of the world outside their own circle to begin with [people have different size circles of interest & concern].
But, nobody has died from! That’s the retort an ignorant person may utter. However, the reality shows that the lack of education is a silent killer! Education opens up opportunities for the individual who in turn may enjoy a better & longer life. Kids that receive even an elementary education are less likely to die of AIDS—this dreadful disease that’s highly preventable but still grows by leaps & bounds because of ignorance, governments' incompetence and stupidity. Educating young girls is even more important, because they could grow into women & mothers who have smaller & healthier families. Elevating the position of the women in the world isn’t only the moral thing to do, but it’s utilitarian too! Unfortunately, 60% of children out of school today are girls, with higher numbers in the impoverished regions.

There are 100 million kids that should be in school but many won’t every see the inside of a classroom. In Africa [Africa is not a like President Bush once said] more kids are out of school than there are students in the US. Afghanistan—a country we “liberated”—some 75% of girls will drop out of school before 5th grade! There is an undeniable correlation between the socio-economic position of women and a country’s political & economic progress. Unfortunately, most of humanity today doesn’t live in the 21st century! Much of it, still resides in the Dark Ages, or even farther in the past. Social discrimination, sex bias, superstition, are some of the reasons girls receive little if any education. But, the boys don’t fare much better in a poor country. These kids come from extreme poverty and their parents cannot afford to educate them—either they can’t pay the nominal fees for attending school or they need the kids for manual labor to support their families. So, incentives to the poorest families are needed too, along with resources to build schools and hire more teachers. [In many classrooms in the Third World today the teacher-student ratio is 1 to 70-90!]

Now, why should we bother? We’ve got the terrorists to worry about, right? Well, incredibly the money needed to improve world-wide education is not all that much. The estimates are between $5 and $10 billion a year. The UK has committed $1.5 billion a year towards this goal. The US, having an economy 6 times bigger, has only given a few hundred million. We can certainly do much better, and we should ask the other wealthy nations to do the same. We’re spending $2 billion a week in Iraq today, $300-400 billion already, with a total tag estimated at $1 trillion! This is to fight terrorists over there we’re being told. I believe the US could carry a lot more favor all over the world by being the leader in aid and in improving the human condition. The Marshall Plan, post WWII, helped western Europe & Japan and won many friends and brought about stable, non-aggressive democracies. The US won so much by giving & helping the victims of the 2005 Tsunami in Indonesia. American doctors are still helping the victims of last year’s earthquake in Pakistan where the Taliban was/still is present but the locals only know what they experience: the kindness, altruism, and humane treatment by a few conscientious Americans.

Gene Sperling sums it up well, “So, what I would say to people is that this is a small investment in a healthier, more peaceful world. If the United States leading the charge in universal education prevented even one small conflict somewhere in the next 20 years, it would more than repay what we've spent. It would be a good investment.”

Who’s listening though? Those who hadn’t had
any interest in the outside world and hadn’t been outside our borders until they became president? Or, the ones who have a unsophisticated, sophomoric attitude of a bully who wants to butt heads? Or, the ones who have no sense of history (other than their own) and don’t understand the dynamics and the people of a country they invade? Or, how they use Newspeak to shove a policy of “No Child Left Behind” that results in many American children getting an inferior education?

Let's have a culture of life indeed. But, let's have a reasonable, educated & scientific approach to it. We liberals do value life and want to enhance it when it makes a difference, not when two cells meet! We want to bring children into a better world and give them the means & opportunities to realize their own full potential. What makes us humans different than the animals is that we have a mind. The human condition can be dramatically improved when the mind is fed too.

Why do we have this kind of politics today? It makes "sense" to have more ..bricks, if you consider the interests of those who hold power & wealth. Look at the dumbing down of our society. Look at the language our “leaders” use. It’s very simplistic (differs from simple), loaded with references meant to trigger the most crude emotions of fear and anger! And, if you look carefully, you’ll see who’s got a better rational argument in asking for your vote! But, in order to be a good ..bullsh*t detector, you must know stuff… be an engaged & active citizen! Heck, I am an adult, content with performing the tasks of a thinking mature person… so, please Mr. President, treat me like an adult, don’t speak down to me! Unless, of course, you’re not able to! I understand… Maybe, you’re looking for people with bricks for brains!

I like this Pink Floyd’s song. Yet, I don’t want to be another brick. It’s a choice, I’m glad I made it; I also appreciated the opportunities available to me! Education gave me broader horizons to explore & imagine, and to better understand the world around me! I’d like to return the favor.

"Education should have two objects: first, to give definite knowledge, reading and writing, language and mathematics, and so on; second, to create those mental habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments for themselves." Bertrand Russell