Nov 25, 2006

The White House Remains Embedded in a State of Denial. Is the Media Waking up?

Despite the White House's state of denial, the civil war has exploded in Iraq and the US is losing control day by day. Soon, we won't have any control, and, may I dare say, Iran has more control in Iraq today than the US! Like any problem to be remedied, it all starts by correctly identifying the root cause, and the greater the problem the greater the necessity to leave the state of denial. I wonder if Dickey Cheney--who as recently as last summer reaffirmed his "last throes" claim--still believes that Iraq has "turned a corner"? You know, turn a couple corners and you can be heading back... I don't think this is progress.

The media--a very important component in a democracy--has today sniffed the winds of change and is now focusing more on the destructive aspects of the US involvement in Iraq. The White House misled the American people and the Congress while the media was complicit in this crime by failing to investigate the administration's claims and ask the tough questions. I think had the media presented a more accurate picture (factually and in depth) the public would have demanded an end to this war of choice much sooner. The war was a big issue in this election, when it should have been the deciding issue in 2004. I don't know how many lives would have been saved but the last two years haven't done anything to improve the situation there.

Some "deciders" claim to have divine knowledge and they are just instruments of their God

I do think the truth was known prior to the last election but most Americans weren't paying attention on, say, the 9-11 Commission's report, and on other accounts of how we got into the war. Although the availability of the facts was not the problem in my opinion, the media failed in the dissemination of the facts. Cheney's "last throes" statements weren't only laughable but should have been the basis of totally discrediting BushCo's Iraq policy. Further, most (except those with relatives in the military) Americans have not experienced any sacrifice or their lives directly affected by this war. Stick this magnetic ribbon "Support the Troops" on the car [bumper stickers are too hard to remove later] and as usual; our leaders even suggested that consumerism was a form of good patriotism!

This situation cries for more pubic media, like NPR, PBS, and PRI, because the commercial media wants ratings regardless of how to obtain them. In addition, all commercial media is owned by big corporate interests whose priorities are how to get preferential treatment from the government not how to get to the truth. A sociologist at Penn State, Andrew Lindner, showed that embedded reporting influenced war coverage--and this was what the government wanted us to see. Reporters' movements were controlled by the military resulting in less access to the Iraqi people and eventually downplayed the effects of the war on Iraq. They developed a closer relationship with the soldiers that protected them and the stories that came out reflected this bias. The news coverage was more about human-interest stories of the Americans fighting over there. Throw in a generous amount of propaganda--like exporting democracy and liberating people--and you've got a nice package for mass consumption. Lindner found out that most Americans (and the media?) bought Bush's "Mission Accomplished"! Of course, reality often has a nasty habit of slapping you out of your state of denial, but usually not before much ill has taken place. It has and it stings. Staying the course now would be the definition of insanity--hoping the same conditions that have produced the current results will produce different, more favorable results in the future!

Update, 11/27/06: Since the election of 2004, the media has covered more stories about the killings in Iraq, Americans aren't really aware of the full picture there. CNN Iraq correspondent, John Roberts, says the media "can't fully capture the scope" of this horror. We may hear of what's going on, but daily body counts and the number of violent "incidents" only reveal part of the story. "The place is a mess. It's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area as a Western journalist without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever. The amount of death that's on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level..." Roberts says. And, several media (including the New York Times) have been editorializing in choosing what & how to cover this conflict. Check Media Matters for more on this.

People don't just die, they are blown off, burned alive, tortured with power drills, and are killed because of their ethnic & religious affiliation. We sanitize the war, because its unpleasant reality is disturbing; it's no accident that the White House is trying to hide the extend of the death and destruction. Do people learn from history and past mistakes? It's doubtful as they repeat the same mistakes. Even the Vietnam lessons
(not exactly ancient history) have been forgotten today!

Nov 19, 2006

The Republican Party Represents Authoritarian Policies, Totalitarian Views

Opinions & Facts,Though not Mutually Exclusive, not Identical Either!

I admire people who don't give up in the face of obstacles or after experiencing setbacks. However, this perseverance is admirable only if the goal is attainable and the choices wise. President Bush has elevated stubbornness and futility into a political philosophy when it comes to his policy in Iraq. He not only wasted the opportunity of the century--when most people and countries were sympathetic to us after 9-11 and supported the US fight against terrorism--but he's the leader of an increasingly diminishing segment of our society that wants to "stay the course." What's this course? Honestly I don't know--and I doubt Bush knows either--other than never admitting a mistake despite the terrible consequences, and keep praying for a ..miracle.

The Baker study group on Iraq will be a political compromise I dare to guess. It will try to offer cover for everyone, so I don't think we'll learn anything new or that it will show us a path to victory. Of course, Bush, on his trip to Vietnam, quoted another ..architect of "victory", Henry Kissinger, that "we'll win unless we pull out"! Whatever. This man, who until he became president, hadn't been outside our country and never had any interest in world affairs, has done so much harm to US interests and must be stopped. The American people perhaps don't own the actions of their
leaders, but they are responsible for the ones they elect--and elections do have consequences! Sadly, we lack historical knowledge and the idea of civic duty hasn't gotten much traction with many, many Americans. [Watch this clip of Richard Dreyfuss who makes some excellent points]

I don't understand how any sane person--besides the ones who benefit from the skewed economic policies--would be a Republican today. Oh, all right, I forgot to mention the theocons--those who want a theocracy established here in preparation for the Rapture! OK, those who are under many impenetrable illusions qualify to be a Republican too. I would welcome an honest, rational, non-corrupt Republican party that would offer new ideas and competent people to implement those policies. This would serve as a counter-balance to the Democratic party. But, that Republican party would have to elevate the quality of the dialogue and see its interests as the interest of most Americans! At this point, this is in the realm of fiction. Not science fiction mind you, because this Republican party has an aversion to science and reason!

This is the party that loves power and unquestionable authority. It's what linguist George Lakoff describes as the "strict father approach" [as compared to the Democrats' "nurturing mother
approach"] where those individuals who need to exercise power and those who want to be guided come together. It also has a totalitarian vision, that is, absolute truth can be obtained [and the GOP holds the truth with a capital T] through obedience and faith--not faith only in religious terms but also faith in the leader/decider/vanguard party/Big Brother/ideology, etc. Obviously, both models may be necessary for a society to function but the trick is to know where to draw the line and how much of a dose to take--much like medicine, too much it can kill you, the right amount can cure you! Of course, getting the right dose depends on knowledge & responsibility.

Good change happens when people are ready for it or when there's leadership that introduces it to the people and the latter see the benefits of change. Unfortunately, the Republican party still wants to appeal to the lowest common denominator, play the game of the emotional buttons, draw
support from bigots, foster intolerance, and continue with its strategy of extreme polarization in the hopes of energizing its shrinking base. Let's see, they just elected Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell to leadership positions in the Congress. Who are they? Lott likes racial segregation and dislikes civil rights. McConnell wants to see more theocons on the bench & in government.

In the last 12 years since the GOP took control of Congress, we've seen a considerable attempt to dumb down America. From Bush on down, science [i.e. evolution, environment, medicine] and scientific inquiry pale in the face of the elite's economic interests and dogma. As long as there's someone somewhere holding a view contrary to scientific facts, Bush and his fans will say that "there are two sides to a story!" Right... Any unqualified opinion is equated with facts in this bizarro world. We've also seen that incompetence (never mind mediocrity) gets you positions of power in the Congress and the government, and there's a good chance that, if you combine incompetence with loyalty to Caesar, you'll get you promoted; it could possibly get you a medal too! How can you really argue with someone who says, why worry about global warming and other environmental disasters when "God is up there"?!! Ignorance is one thing, but applied ignorance is dangerous.

And, please don't tell me about the "maverick" John McCain! This man has flipped-flopped more times than Flipper! But, rhetoric and a constructed image sometimes is more important than substance in our politics. Yeah, the guy who has a ranch and can have a beer with us is more qualified that someone who knows his stuff but talks in a way we have to pay attention to understand him! After all, many of us decide at the last minute how to vote after watching those ..informative political ads! If I didn't care about the quality of our political discourse, I'd argue for another ..Republican party, Faux News channel, and lots of ..swiftboating. You know, to treat the GOPers with some of their own ..koolaid. Anyway, I'm sure many Americans are saying good riddance to the thecons and the brand of conservatism that has seriously damaged our republic. Hopefully, the lunatic fringe will be sent back to the margins of our society again.

Now, let's see why "the wicked witch of the West" Pelosi and her agenda hasn't solved our problems already...

PS. I think you'll enjoy the links in this post, so click on!
The sketch above from xkcd

Nov 10, 2006

A Justified Case of Schadenfreude--And it's Guilty-Free!

What to do next?

Schadenfreude means pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune, and I have to admit this week (after the election on Tuesday) I'm full of such guilty-free pleasure. Well, now we know that there's been a backlash against Bush's policies and the Republican majorities that enabled the "decider." Obviously everybody tries to assign specific meaning to the outcome of this election, and there are a few interesting trends, but this election is far from being a historic national re-alignment--that is, not yet; it will depend on what happens next. It seems to be, though, a re-affirmation that the Northeast and the west coast are indeed very blue. The old South is the remaining bastion of conservatism and we see that the winner can achieve governing national majorities without having a majority of the South's delegation. This, perhaps, will free the Dems to push a more progressive agenda without having to pay homage to a conservative ideology and the politics of the South. The progressive states can lead the way and show the rest of the nation that there's much to be gained by being a cosmopolitan and tolerant society.

President Bush is the biggest loser today, and I'm glad to see that his frat-boy mentality, his stubbornness to recognize reality, and his presiding over a disastrous incompetence were defeated at the polls. His name was not on the ballot, but his policies were. I'm not convinced that the Democratic alternative would have fared as well if the Republicans had been more competent. For example, had the Iraq war--a
wrong war of choice, and a bad foreign policy choice--been conducted with a degree of competence, I dare to guess that Americans would be supporting it today. This is a great opportunity for the Democrats and the progressives to steer the country forward, but only if they exhibit good government skills and make the sweep in 2008. As Paul Krugman said, we could see the end of "the movement of conservatism--the potent alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right."

The new Democratic leadership will have to run Congress in a more democratic way--giving more rights that the Republicans never considered giving the minority, because the GOP never accepted the legitimacy of the opposition.
After Bush "won" in 2000, he talked about a mandate; same with the GOP that swept Congress in 1994. In 2004, Bush won by 2% and claimed imperial powers; Congress went along with it. The Dems won by larger margins this year, but they should not repeat the arrogance of the Republicans and of the lunatic fringe that had captured power. Solidifying the Democratic gains in 2008 [a very good prospect] will help our country and the GOP in the long run for this will force the Republicans to re-examine the efficacy of their divisive politics and may lead to a resurgence of the moderate Republicans--the most endangered political species in the last 12 years.

President Bush has lots of power--as any president does--but the most important power a chief executive has is the power to convince! The sitting president seems more and more as a sitting duck that even Dick Cheney can hit. This president has not done good for us, for the world. He wasted the opportunity of the century to make the US a true leading force for positive change in the world--a change that enhances the quality of life when it matters--by improving the human condition and reducing violence.

We liberals & progressives see the world as a marketplace of ideas, of individual freedoms, that representative government has a role to play in protecting the commonwealth, and that the culture of life means policies that giving people opportunities to realize their own potential.
President Bush wasted the world's good will toward us after 9-11 and in turn he managed to divide our friends and unite our enemies. Inadvertently, his failures gave the Dems the chance to govern.

This century is still young but we Americans have to show more maturity in selecting our own leaders
and hold them accountable. In a country were there's too much political indifference, those of us who accept the responsibility of political activism and civic engagement have an important role to play: keep our representative government accountable, improve & contribute to the political dialogue, and be the change we want to see!

Nov 9, 2006

Being Ignorant of the Past Condemns the Future

Weapons of Mass Deception was a great book about the deception [remember, it's illegal to intentionally give false information to and to mislead the Congress] that led our country to the Iraq war & occupation. This new book,
The Best War Ever, hopes to remind Americans about the similarities between this war of choice and the Vietnam war. We seem to be repeating terrible mistakes of the past. Unless we as a nation become more critical, educated about the issues, and willing to question our leaders, we'll continue to be exploited by the warmongers and Big Brother.

Editor's note: I meant to publish this earlier, but remained as a draft for several days because I got busy with work and the elections. It's worth a look. Click the arrow to play the video.

Nov 6, 2006

Vote For a Progressive America, For a Enlightened & Nicer Future

The Nature of Our Polity (part 2)

Facilitating incompetence and enabling morons to do more damage is irresponsible! If for nothing else, there has to be a change of the guard in our Congress after this election because the worst of our fears have materialized under this Republican leadership. We cannot change the nature of our politics unless we change the people we send to Washington DC. And, there has to be a price to be paid by those who steal & waste our money, violate the Constitution, and put our country in grave danger.

Is it all about incompetence? Well, the so-called independent voters who move back and forth should definitely be concerned about the condition and direction of the US. Many who in the past voted for the Republican party have very little to be happy about today. The theocrats and the very socially conservative people may like what they've seen thus far of the Republican agenda; they are not going to be convinced to switch or support "secular" candidates. On the other hand, all the scandals have dampen their enthusiasm and will affect their turnout on election day. If Bush doesn't have a tape of Osama bin Laden endorsing his ..friends the Democrats, I don't see how the latter will lose the House. The Dems are also poised to win the Senate if they net a 6-seat margin--I'd be more confident of a Democratic senate if the Virginia and the Missouri races were in blue states (like New Jersey where Menendez will win).

I'm a believer in that our politics reflect our people, even if much of the ills we see today result from people's apathy. Unfortunately, this country is more conservative than we hoped for, although it can be moved towards a more progressive direction. Liberalism is good polity for most people, because it provides the best possible conditions for individuals to realize their potential. We just need to articulate our ideas better, in a more clear way, and to make the Democratic party a true alternative to the conservatives--change it from"Republican-Lite". We have to realize that some 20-25% of the country will never be convinced, because they believe the hold the truth with a capital T. Those who believe that we're in the end of times, [check the Rapture Index for fun!] have little concern for reason, global warming, the environment, and see the conflicts today as the prelude (if not the prerequisite) of Rapture.

We have to send the lunatic fringe back to the margins, because it doesn't represent traditional American values. We progressives have stronger ideas so we should begin to talk about them. Intuitively, we tend to talk about the rationale of public policy, the vision for the future, and use complicated reasoning--all those things are good, but there's a place & time for them. We have to learn how to speak to the audience and to American values. How many people know, for example, that Liberalism was the ideology/movement that replaced the Old Regime (ascribed status, religious conformity) and that even modern Conservatives have adopted liberalism's values, as articulated in our Bill of Rights?

A positive attitude is needed, much as the concept of positive freedom, therefore, we have to offer an alternative to the Conservatives. They talk about values and ideas either in the abstract or in terms that contradict the principles upon which our country was founded. I understand that most of Americans are sick and tired of this failed & incompetent regime and the failed occupation of Iraq has lots to do with the dissatisfaction. Yet,we have to offer a positive alternative if we are to move the country forward. These are some of my reasons for voting for the Democrats:

  • America stands for individual freedom and due process of law. We should not give up those rights & privileges that have made us strong; if we become like our enemies, then they'll win. Giving up something very specific for something undetermined is not a good idea. Suspending Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights shows that we are not sure of ourselves. The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave must remain so and not surrendered to the politics of fear--and to the War on Terror that takes place everywhere and has no end! This is the legacy of Bush & Co not of America!
  • We need to leave a healthy planet to our children and future generations. Republicans are not willing to use the government to exercise oversight to benefit the public good. Their actions (or inaction) have resulted in polluted land, air, and water. As long as there's someone, somewhere that has an opinion contrary to the known facts, BushCo will tell us that "there are two sides to a story!"
  • We should stand for meritocracy and egalitarianism, and one way to express this is through equality of opportunity and a strong social safety net. After all, being part of a very wealthy nation there should be dividends for the commonwealth. We are not strong when we run a huge deficit. I haven't seen anyone having the upper hand with a banker who holds his lien. Having to pay debts means less available money for other things.The Saudis, the Chinese, and other foreigners own much of our national debt. We were told that there wasn't enough money for a universal health care system, but we ended up paying up to a trillion dollars in a war of choice! Access to education has become costlier in the last 5 years (more so than in the last 30) because state and federal subsidies are cut. Where is this equality of opportunity our country was known for? Public services are needed for the ..public, not the very wealthy. From the bankruptcy bill, to Medicare, to transportation & infrastructure, to libraries, to Internet neutrality, to health care (includes preventive care) available to all citizens, are some of the things we should be concerned about. We should act to enhance the quality of life when it matters. "A culture of life" is something we progressives can easily understand.
  • Change without forethought is foolish, but we have to embrace the scientific inquiry and progress. We give value to our actions and we have the ability to do harm and good. Stem cell research is very promising, as all the science that tries to explore and understand who we are and the cosmos around us. Perhaps this isn't what some people are looking for, but everyone has benefited from the advances in technology and medicine, not to mention the exhilarating experience of accumulating knowledge. It's time we stop with this nonsense of debating what science is and what kind of it we should be teaching in our schools. Science is one thing: empirical evidence, testing, re-testing, observation, open inquiry, and open to revision when better evidence or a theory come along! Sadly, there are many Republicans who do not accept ..Enlightenment!
  • We have to elevate our polity from the gutter, from bumper-sticker issues, pushing of the emotional buttons, and cynicism. Dumbing down our society isn't good for our freedom, our way of life, and our future well-being. We have to demand to be treated as responsible adults--not deferring judgment to Big Brother. We should demand honesty from our elected leaders. A progressive attitude means critical thinking, tolerance, respect for evidence and appreciation for science.
Look around and examine which candidates come closer to your ideals, priorities, and expectations. We as a progressive human beings have an obligation of civic duty. We care enough not to be cynical and indifferent; we know enough to make an informed decision.

IMPORTANT RESOURCE ON ELECTION DAY: VOTER ASSISTANCE HOTLINE, 1-866-OUR VOTE. Call for help if you notice a problem at the polling station BEFORE you cast your vote.

Nov 3, 2006

Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives. Where do YOU Fit in?

The Nature of Our Polity. (Part 1)

The Republican levies have broken and it seems there will be a flood next Tuesday. Just six months ago, the margins between the two parties and the seats in play today (both in the House & Senate) would have been unthinkable. I don't believe the country is becoming more Democratic but rather it's the corruption and the incompetence exhibited by the party who has controlled the Congress and the White House that will result in such a reversal of political fortunes. We are far from being in an Age of Enlightenment, but this can be an Enlightenment Age for our country. We have to turn America from the Dark Ages back to a progressive path and into the future.

It matters a great deal who is in charge, who holds the megaphone and sets the national agenda. Politics reflect the people involved and our elected representatives reflect our common attitude. We have to learn to be more sophisticated in our political expressions--no more picking people because they appear to be nice, photogenic, or because we'd like to have a beer with them! We should examine the important issues and be willing to expend some effort in doing so. The days before an election should not be a period of learning about the issues. You can't possibly expect to be educated by watching political ads or even the "debates"--which are more like press conferences. Usually, there are too many people who--even if they're presented with two different choices, like in 2004--can't seem to make up their minds and they end up voting without serious consideration. Again, negative ads and void-of-substance ads exist because they work on impressionable minds

I often find people who are frustrated by politics because of the corruption and the cynicism. But endemic corruption happens when we hire idiots & crooks to manage our affairs, and when we stop paying attention. Politics can be frustrating because they can be disappointing--I know, I've been there many times. That's because we're a huge country and we have a plurality of strong preferences. As I say in the classroom politics is like ordering and dividing a pizza pie; the group has to compromise if its members are going to eat!

I also understand that gradualism isn't very attractive. A person shouldn't give up his idealism or stop trying to get to the ..promised land, but since we have to move collectively, progress can be painfully slow at times. If we lived around the Civil War era, for example, freeing the slaves would definitely
have been a good thing to do. Right? But, we'd die before we could see blacks emerging from racial segregation and achieving equal status in American society. Yet, even though many millions of people didn't get full rights as Americans, escaping bondage was surely a progressive step. And progressive steps we must take today, the faster the pace the better.

Yet, why are so many people averse to change? What is it to be conservative? What's to conserve? Are most humans conservative by nature? I think so. First, the view a person has about himself and others has to do with what he thinks human nature is. Human beings are imperfect, but the question is, what is their potential. Most conservatives believe that humans are marked by original sin--in some sense, theological or psychological. The story of Adam & Eve reveals something fundamental about human nature, literally or symbolically.

The conservatives think that human beings are not as good or as intelligent as we think we are, and that we can't govern by the light of reason since we, for the most part, are weak and impotent, unable to control our passions. Which brings us to innovation... Change is risky, change is tiring, change presents a threat to the status quo and to the "known devil." Conservatives since Edmund Burke have argued that "every new generation is a wave of savages who must be civilized by their families, schools, and churches." It's no surprise that modern conservatives (especially the ones infused with religious fervor) speak of the need to "promote the moral fitness of America" and speak of "known truths"--absolutism! E.J. Dionne once observed, a liberal democratic society presents a certain challenge to the religious people, because they believe, fundamentally, that they have the truth with a capital T.

The conservative disposition is rooted in human nature, and I think it has correctly identified a large segment of American society. The reality of the frontier is long gone, and along with it the spirited people who, as Alexis De Tocqueville observed, established democracy in America from the bottom up because they got involved in the affairs of their village, town, state, country. Many people are more prone to being lazy than energetic. If they find an acceptable situation that get things done and the world still goes on, they are not going to be looking for trouble! They are reluctant innovators and when they accept change it's because it's inevitable!

We progressives are facing a huge challenge in pulling our country forward. I think we have an obligation to get involved and articulate our progressive values and show the rest of our fellow countrymen that liberal democracy is the best system for it's self-correcting and affords the individual the best chances for reaching his full potential. The blue states have a tradition of promoting the "three Tees": Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. Changes in these three spheres demonstrate to the conservative red states the benefits of progress. For example, the commonwealth of Massachusetts didn't collapse after it recognized same-sex marriage. This state has the lowest divorce rate and a lower rate of teenage pregnancies, and abortions than the Bible-belt states!

What makes certain persons to want to question, to re-evaluate the past & the present, explore new horizons? I maintain that change requires forethought, inquiry, imagination, courage to step forward and courage to admit your own mistakes. The courage to think for yourself and not defer judgment and responsibility to a "decider", or Big Brother. Liberals appreciate the conditions of freedom because we have the courage to break the chains of perpetual (and childish) dependency. Exploring new ideas, evaluating competing arguments, challenging the "true & tried" is not harmful but it is what an enlightened and sophisticated mind does.

I understand that identity is an important component in the psychological makeup of a person and it has a very high value--so much that people go to extremes to maintain & reinforce their sense of identity. The group, culture, their "true & tried" ways provide comfort. The more things a person accepts without critical thinking, the less likely to be tolerant of challenging views, less adventurous, and more conservative!

Progressives place a premium on science and the scientific method--the best tool of inquiry we have. We liberals accept responsibility and can handle the truth, even if it's unpleasant at times. We like being adults and we demand to be treated as such by our leaders. Yes, we are all imperfect--and we don't want to see a forceful attempt to remake human nature--but we have a positive attitude in that we believe in the potential we humans have to be compassionate, create greatness, blaze new paths, and promote & enhance life.

I know, this long essay may not be on the menu of the fast-food consumption of politics these days, but I think you come here because you appreciate some intellectual stimulation. I opened up the comments section--though all have to be approved by the moderator--because no trolls are allowed here. (Part 2 in a couple days.)