Jan 24, 2006

New Realities Shape a New Generation of Americans

Opportunities Bring New Challenges and Critical Choices
This new generation of Americans--those under 25--is a unique one in that it has been raised in the age of the internet, instant communication, the shrinking of the world, and global inter-dependence in economic & environmental terms. These young persons are coming to age in a post-911 reality, whereas the war on terror appears to have no end [at least we're all told so] and no clear lines, no front. The current government is treading on this concept heavily and is making policy decisions that will have long-term effects. Behind the rhetoric, the reality is that the US has been accumulating huge debts, has an army fighting wars overseas, while not investing in its youth as much as other advanced countries. Guess who's disproportionally charged for paying these burdens?

Surely this is an exciting time to be alive--if one likes change and new discoveries. But in a rapidly changing and complicated environment the many challenges lying ahead need to be dealt and critical decisions to be made. Yet, with more privilege comes more responsibility, exercised or not. With globalism/interdependence the impact of critical decisions increases too.

I don't think any generation should be apathetic, especially this young generation which has the advantage of easy access to all sorts of information. For most of human history, (including many parts of our world in the 21st century), people's activities have been centered on scraping a living under very harsh conditions with little if any leisure time. As usual, education is the key to a better life and to greater self-realization. Of course, you must develop the sense and sensibilities before you get education to work for you. I should note that, for me, education is not the accumulation of trivia, or the memorization of tomes of text in order to excel at repetition and to instruct others on how to close their minds. Education is the sharpening of the mind, the broadening of one's horizons.

Many more Americans have the opportunity to go to college, to get an education. Yet, many don't fully appreciate it. It should not be just about getting a degree in order to make more money in the future. There is nothing wrong with making money and improving your lot, but there has to be more to life than money and power. And, there is. Money and power can be put to good use. The debate is what kind of use.

Here's where the new generation of Americans can play an important role by being interested, informed, and actively engaged in the affairs of our country. When we debate the notion of the "public good," the role & the limits of our government, and the policies for the future, those who have the greater stake (and stay) in the future should be the most active.

Obviously this blog has an opinion; its name reveals alot. However, the common currency with those who may disagree should be reason, civility, and an open mind. Not everyone has the same priorities in life or the same worldview. But, since I think education is the key that unlocks doors to exciting discoveries and to improving possibilities, I take issue that my country is ranked 14 out of the top 15 in per student spending. I do realize that throwing money at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it, but nevetheless this figure shows something about the priorities of our government.

President Bush gave a speech at Kansas State University the other day where he was stumped during the Q & A session: "My name is Tiffany Cooper. I'm a sophomore here at Kansas State and I was just wanting to get your comments about education. Recently 12.7 billion dollars was cut from education. I was just wondering how is that supposed to help our futures?" Excellent point! The President turned to his aides for advice but his inarticulate answer was either an attempt to confuse the issue or a demonstration of his usual stance not to bother with "the details." [here's
the full text of the exchange]

The facts are as follows, Student Loans: On Dec. 21, 2005, the Senate passed $12.7 billion in
cuts to education programs "the largest cut in student college loan programs in history." Vice President Cheney cast the deciding vote in favor of the cuts. The bill also fixed the interest rate on student loans at 6.8 percent, even if commercial rates are lower.Despite Bush's claims, students will be left off the program.

Pell Grants: Pell Grants have been frozen or cut since 2002; they are now stuck at a maximum of $4,050. In his 2000 election campaign, President Bush promised to increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100. From 2004 to 2005, 24,000 students lost their Pell grants, according to a report pre-pared by the Congressional Research Service. This was the first drop in the number of students receiving the grants in several years; the number had been growing steadily since 1999.
Equal opportunity may as well be a myth, but there are many ways we can make the US a more egalitarian country by leveling the playing field and by creating opportunities through education for those who don't have the connections or the financial means to get a shot at upward mobility. One of the few Republicans who make sense is
Kevin Phillips. I urge everyone who's interested in the distribution of wealth and the dangers of plutocracy to read his books. He also demonstrates how the Republican party has changed since the 1980s by giving up on the middle class and concentrating on the upper economic elite. [Phillips's other recent book, American Dynasty : Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, 2004]

The world is what we make of it, so is our country. When I ask people what they think of politics I get many answers but the description is invariably negative. Perhaps politics will never satisfy most people because it involves a lot of compromise and hard choices. But, who makes these choices in our name? Who comes to the bargaining table, what kind of influence does he bring, and even who has access to our representatives. Politics are necessary in an organized society. Imagine how our country would be different if there were many more people like you... Well, what's your answer?

Jan 18, 2006

It's High Noon at the Supreme Court & The Three Amigos are Looking for a Fourth Hired Gun

The Axis of Evil Closer Than You Think

As a liberal I’m happy that the Supreme Court decided (by a 6-3 margin) to uphold Oregon’s right-to-die law. Interestingly enough, there are six justices who are willing to look favorably toward individual rights, and, in extension, state law. It is a personal right to leave this world on one’s own accord, preventing the unnecessary suffering of a prolonged and terminal illness. Yes, the state has an interest to preserve and protect life, but it is the individual who should be in charge of his own self, including his own life.

Of course, there have to be certain safeguards to prevent abuse, but the ultimate decision should remain with the individual. When a person is dead, or near death we generally accept that his wishes should be respected and carried out, that is, about his own affairs. The opponents do not respect this right. We’ve seen it with the Schiavo case in Florida. I won’t rehash that case [hit the link if you like to read my archived post], but the circus played out by the opponents shows that they aren’t interested in the welfare of the patient. They want to promote their own religious point of view—a view that’s not up for revision or discussion. And, it is about a point of view that isn't arrived by reason--hence no discussion allowed--but by revealed "truth."

Chief Justice Roberts’s sided with the minority (along with Thomas and Scalia) that holds the federal government has the right to oppose state law, arbitrarily, in the absence of an applicable law by Congress. Roberts is beginning to reveal his true colors—at least to those who wanted to be color-blind during his confirmation. As I said in a recent post, Alito’s appointment may make some justices on SCOTUS sit up and take notice, and not to allow the country to swing too far to the conservative extreme. Justice Kennedy may become the new swinger up there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the conservatives begin a new campaign to impeach Kennedy! Of course, we can’t rest easy, because I have no doubt that Alito will be the fourth vote on the very conservative side of SCOTUS. What makes these people extreme is that they don’t have the possibility to “evolve” and change their hard-core conservative ideology.

Furthermore, Kennedy is no liberal, and can’t be relied upon to protect the rights of the individual especially when such rights are paired against corporate rights. Let’s not forget that Kennedy voted to give the presidency to Bush in 2000. Unfortunately, the nation compounded this mistake by electing Bushco in 2004, and subsequently allowed Shrub to get two shots at SCOTUS. This is what happens when the Dems fail to win the presidency and lose control of the Senate. Elections have consequences. The federal judiciary has a conservative majority today. Law is important and has a direct effect on the quality of live of the "average" person. Even in a nation of laws [this is up to debate nowadays] where no president & our government aren't above the law, it doesn't mean that bad law is not enacted or it is the consequence of lobbyists with very narrow interests [as in the banking/bankruptcy law which was written by the industry's lobbyists].

We are on borrowed time because if Bush gets another shot at SCOTUS, then there will be a clear conservative majority on the high court that will shape the affairs of this country for several decades. The centrists & liberal of SCOTUS are much older than the three [soon to be four] amigos who shoot from the hip and claim to smite us on behalf of God. Liberals are pro-life! We believe in protecting life and enhancing it with quality, and individual choice! We are humanists and therefore we hold the position in favor of life when it clearly matters, not use theatrics to show that we care when it's too late.

Perhaps we won't see any time soon a court like the one under Chief Justice E. Warren, but we have to explain to all Americans what's at stake here. They have to understand that the role of the government is not just to make war and safegurad our borders, but also to improve the quality of our lives. I'm taling about establishing a social and legal framework where the individual has a reasonable opportunity and the means to reach his potential. The way we organize our society should reflect this, but unless most of us realize that in order to be in charge of our own affairs--collectively and individually--we have to be responsible too. Take the time, invest some effort, cultivate an interest in the affairs or our nation, otherwise the banditos will roam unchecked. Now let's start by making sure El Presidente understands who's the boss here.

Jan 13, 2006

It is About Liberty & Justice for All

The bottom line, for me, is that liberty is at stake. Liberty is special for it gives the individual the opportunity to self-fulfillment. The concept is rather simple: when I'm in charge, leave me alone; when I'm not, I need the government to protect me. In other words, I should be sovereign of myself and my privacy; I also want the government to work for me. But, I do not want to be protected under lock & key! As I see it, this is not an either-or situation; and it should not be made into a zero-sum game. Well, liberty is indeed at stake in our United States today, so we are concerned and alarmed by lifetime appointments to the federal bench when judges don't have this sensibility; much more so if they don't have the sense to understand this concept as Justice Thomas has repeatedly demonstrated.

I watched the entirety of the Alito hearings and I thought that the last two days of the testimonials--pro and con--were much more interesting. I'd advise that they should precede the show. Yes, that show where the nominee pretends to answer the questions from the minority party by using immense longitudes & platitudes, while the majority party presents him as a deity of impeccable character and of a mind that has the brilliance of a supernova. At least the panelists that followed Alito shed a lot more light, made excellent points, and posed questions for all of us to ponder. This should be the start for future hearings, because now the coaching is good so good as to restrict any occurrence of a response with any substance. We won't see again another Bork who would candidly say that Roe v. Wade is a bad law and he'll do whatever he can to overturn it!

The departing Justice O'Connor has said, "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens." During times of crisis there's always been attempts from the executive to grab more power, and people often have acted impulsively in giving up their rights without thinking of the consequences. Will Alito vote to enforce the checks & balances provided by the Constitution? Or, like Justice Thomas [lone dissenter in the recent "Hamdi v. Rumsfeld" SCOTUS case], will he hold the view that the executive has the authority to label anybody as "enemy combatant" and hold him indefinitely without affording him any rights whatsoever? Will Justice Alito wink at the President when the latter [as in the McCain anti-torture bill] "understands" the law better [read: disregard it] than Congress's intent? How will SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the US] react to the imperial presidency having Alito as a member?

The war on terror should be taken very seriously. But, we can't substitute competency in gathering & analyzing intelligence, and having a sound foreign policy with turning a blind eye to the violations of our civil liberties. We shouldn't become like our enemies in order to fight them. We shouldn't exchange good & hard work for the empty promises of a corrupt & incompetent administration. We're often told that these are "difficult times" that we fight a "war on terror." Yet, this war on terror has no front and can last forever! Are we so willing to give up our unique and much-envied liberties to obtain some dubiously safer world ? Was Ben Franklin right when he said that those willing to give up their liberty to obtain safety deserve neither?

I have to ask, how would America have been different if we had more ScAlitos on the high court instead of the justices of the Warren Court? In my estimate, we would not recognize our country today for we'd still reside in a very dark age! SCOTUS under Chief Justice Earl Warren righted many injustices of the past--it dispensed justice that was long overdue. This is a philosophical view that I'm afraid the Thomases and the ScAlitos don't share: the tools we have at our disposal, what we call government or, (in other words, how we organize ourselves into a civil society), are there to improve the quality of our lives; to respect and protect the collective and the individual.

There are a few extremely important issues for which we must engage in a national dialogue. What kind of United States of America do we want? When we elect our representatives it is not just a democratic exercise, but it is also a measure of our responsibility. It demonstrates the level of our maturity and the ability to make decisions. Those elected by us act in our name, but not always in our interest. Law has a profound effect on people's lives. But law has to be interpreted, weighted and applied without prejudice. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments, for example, provide for the protection of the "average person" but they won't provide anything worthwhile if the "average person" does not care to preserve them; if the "average person" doesn't take action to ensure that his representatives in power share the same sensibilities regarding freedoms & rights.... that people's rights are not subverted by government or are beneath the rights of the big corporations.

Yes, it's about liberty and it's about the future of our country as a beacon of freedom, democracy, equal opportunity, tolerance, and modernity. Unfortunately at this point, instead of working to enhance & advance liberty we have to worry about safeguarding it first as it is violently attacked by elements from within. Many empires thought that by using the power of the sword to fend off the barbarians at the gate would be good enough of a strategy to survival. However, the most enduring power is that of the ideas; ideas that give life to a society of free people. If you've got something good, don't try to enforce it on others but rather enjoy it. If it's really good others will try to steal your ideas and imitate your practices! We should be having a national dialogue on how to move our country forward, but, sadly, we now have to fight to hold the line, not to allow them to turn the clock back.

In the practical sense, it seems that Alito will be confirmed and that the Dems don't have enough votes to block him. He'll go to the whole Senate from the Committee on a partisan vote, 10-8. The key, I think, is for the Dems to have fewer than 5 defections--I meant 4, as Joe Lieberman is a practicing Republican already. This would show that the Repubs won't have 60 votes and that the Dems can filibuster if necessary. Hopefully this time next year, there will be additional Dems in the Senate. No one knows exactly how the dynamics within the high court will change with the addition of Alito, but I wouldn't be surprised if Justice Kennedy becomes the new important swinger there. Thomas's appointment to SCOTUS made a couple justices there sit up and take notice, and they incrementally moved to counter-balance this nitwit ideologue of the extreme right.

Finally, there is lots of work to be done this year before the elections in November so don't lower your guard. There are several scandals to investigate, and several Repubs soon-to-be felons that we have to go after. Time to clean house.

Jan 11, 2006

A Peek Under Judge Alito's Robe: It Looks Ugly

Attempts to Cover Up His Sortcomings
It’s one of those opportunities for me to waste lots of time in Washington DC, this time by watching the pageantry of the Alito hearings. The only consolation is hitting the pubs later in the day for some local fare and some cold refreshing ale. So, maybe it’s not such a waste of time after all. It’s no accident that, with Bush’s capturing of the White House, we needed a group like Drinking Liberally for liberals to gather and commiserate together. Hopefully, starting this year with the mid-term elections, we’ll have lots to celebrate in the near future.

As of today, it seems that ScAlito is a confirmable case. Not that we’ve learned anything new about Bush’s SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the US) nominee; nor do I think that the American people are being served well by these confirmation hearings the way they run. Alito’s performing up to the standards of being quite boring and evasive. Everything is so over-rehearsed that there is no spontaneity and no real answers from the nominee. The Dems on the committee, for the most part, have been asking good questions, while the Repubs are there just to promote Alito. They’ve learned how to coach a conservative nominee to avoid the mistakes of Judge R. Bork, and they have the votes to push him through.

Speaking of Bork, Alito said that this guy should have been confirmed to SCOTUS and that “he was the best nominee to the high court in the 20th century”! Isn’t this alone a disqualifier? Alito has agreed with Bork’s accessory to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre
[Click on the link to read the WaPo article to further understand Alito’s views on placing the executive above the law and to refresh your memory about tricky Dick’s last gasps to remain in power]. Maybe we’ll see a repeat when Shrub is consumed by the serious scandals engulfing him already.

Anyway, at least Alito has a long history, on and off the bench, so it’s not hard to figure out that this guy will swing SCOTUS way over to the conservative side. It doesn’t look pretty to us liberals, but this is no surprise. Elections have consequences and we’re paying the high price for having the worst president in office.

When it comes to privacy issues, the imperial presidency, the rights of the corporations versus the rights of the individual, cases of habeas corpus (including torture), the environment, judge Alito’s views are very clear. Check
Think Progress has a good summary, and the People for the American Way has a comprehensive review of judge Alito.

As for the so-called strict constructionist argument that the Repubs often refer to as a criticism against the activist “liberals who legislate from the bench”, Alito refused to say where he stood on the most activist case of SCOTUS--that of Bush v. Gore (2000). The conservatives are just as activists as anyone else when it comes to promoting their agenda via the courts. Those members of the Federalist Society (yes, the ScAlitos & Roberts are members) don’t believe that the government, and for that matter the constitution, exist to protect the rights and the life of the individual.

“No one is above the law”, and “no one is beneath it either”—two phrases heard these days. But, this doesn’t mean much unless we define with precision the boundaries of the law. If the executive can claim that in times of war the President has the authority to spy with no restrictions, to arrest & indefinitely confine in isolation any person, etc, and such actions are deemed legal, then the ceiling of presidential “legal actions” stretches to the boundaries of the solar system—quite high in my estimate. And, there are those persons who are indeed below the law, deserving little or no rights when the Emperor declares them “enemy combatants” or, when they are part of a “rendition program.” [Read: flown to other countries to be tortured]

Much has been made of
Roe v. Wade, precedent (starre decisis), and “settled law.” Though, the ScAlitos don’t mean that any law can’t be re-examined and even totally overturned! Especially when they don’t “see” rights of privacy in the Constitution! As strict constructionists, they don’t want to invent rights the Founding Fathers didn’t put specifically in the Constitution. So, according to the conservatives' interpretation, this great document is a dead document, written by the infallible, the wisest people ever to walk this earth, who, by the way, also knew everything about the future! Hmmm. I wonder why we changed our ways regarding slavery and treating our women as chattel... The abortion issue is a peculiar one as it is no secret that the Cons don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. This has been a very important weapon in their strategy to mobilize their conservative base, along with the anti-homosexual measures of the recent years.

Alito’s membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) also shows his attitudes towards women, minorities, and homosexuals. Check out what this vile organization stood for. Alito touted his membership in CAP in his resume as a great credential in order to get a politically-appointed job in the Reagan administration (late 1980s). Conveniently, he’s forgotten about CAP today. Yeah, right.

Friends, I know we’re seeing things that we don’t like because they're harmful to our country. We can’t give up. It’s not that hope dies last, but there is hope. We can solidify our base in the Blue states and begin taking back Congress in this year’s midterm election. Who knows, maybe god will listen to loony Pat and strike down those cuckoos. Here’s my list of people who have misused god and America: The whole Bush clique, the theologs, any fundamentalist who kills, torture, exploits in the name of god. There's nothing like an angry and vengeful god. Go Zeus!

Ah, the hope for the future soothes the soul, blunts the unbearable of today (and those dull Senate hearings), and gives us energy to move on and fight on. As Homer might say when thinking about his reward: mmmm sacrilicious beer! [insert your own pleasure here, and enjoy life!].

Jan 3, 2006

Hey, What Happened to the "Contract With America"?

The Republican Moral Imperative: Blame it on Bill Clinton and the Democrats!
The pagan-religious-commercial holiday around the winter Solstice is over (until the retailers alert us to the next one), so back to the salt mines now. Hey, 2006 can be an exciting year for the politicos among us as we will have an opportunity to restore some checks and balances into our government. I hope the American people are up to this important task. Unfortunately, we will have plenty of scandals and more misteps to keep us busy. This Republican Congress and the Bush administration have set records in efficiency when it comes to ..corruption. Most importantly, however, we must take back our country from the social darwinists, the theologs, and we must throw the lunatic fringe where it belongs--in the margins of our society. This extremist minority has captured the Republican party. But, authoritarian government has a high price: corruption. I can't wait to see how many unworthy politicians are burned by the Abramoff scandal. What a bunch of weasels those Republicans are. Not so long ago, they argued for a "moral imperative" in impeaching President Clinton who lied about his sexual encounters. Of course, now they sit red-faced, praying that all their troubles is just a bad dream. Maybe it is rapture time as trials and tribulations are upon them!

At any rate, I had some spare time these holidays, so I read stuff, here and there, and strangely enough I came upon the "famous" and much talked-about Republican promise in 1994, the Contract with America. Let's see what those Repubs "promised" to do when they'd come to power. [the comments in the brackets are mine; why not start the new year with some fun?]

This is what that "contract" stipulated:

FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress; [ha! I guess they didn't mean the President and the Republican leadership in Congress! The laws shouldn't apply to those who are in charge of the public good, because our leaders need some ..flexibility in order to make us safe and keep us safely ignorant under lock & key]

SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse; [ha, ha! waste?!! No way! Get out of here! Never mind the $8.8 billion missing in Iraq... Most likely, this money has probably fallen between the seat & pillows of our national couch!]

THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third; [unless they needed to add more in order to keep up with the growth of the federal government under Bush 43]

FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs; [what they meant: they can stay only as long as our party is in the majority, that's all... Oh, and remove the "ethics" out of the Ethics Committee]

FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee; [better yet, pass bills without making the members read thousands of pages of ..boring stuff]

SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public; [hahaha! they had you going on this one! Nice try! Actually, just save time & energy by letting the lobbyists write the laws]

SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase; [yes! such a super majority is necessary to safeguard against accidentally raising taxes on the well-off. But, the Repubs can invoke the "nuclear option" and change the rules of the Senate when it comes to other serious matters, like life-time appointments to the US Supreme Court, etc.]

EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting [hahahhahhahahahha.... Who said, they couldn't put more on our national credit card than all the previous governments combined? It sounded like a ..challenge to Bush! Besides, it's not that they would have to pay for the charges themselves...]

The Repubs are capable of producing some nice fiction, which, under the right frame of mind, can be hilarious! Yet, at some point we have to remind ourselves of the sad state of our country as it has been led by the autocratic Republican machine. For the real impact of the "contract with America" in a post-Katrina, Iraq war, scandals, and the law-breaking, read this article in the Nation.

We need a revolt of our own this time, not just for the sake of putting the Dems in control of one or both chambers of Congress, but because we care about the direction of our country. The quality of our democracy and the quality of our lives depend on the quality of the people involved. I seek accountability not only from those who are in power but also from those who elect them. What is the responsibility of the average person? How would this country be different if, say, the individual citizen had more power? Often, we are our worst enemy. The first good step is to be informed and engaged in the affairs of our nation. We have a new year ahead of us, let's make the best of it. See tomorrow as the first day of the rest of our lives. Let's make the future a better place to be in.