Dec 23, 2007

The Flux of US Presidential Politics... How Can you Not Pay Attention?

What would it take to make US politics more interesting??!!

Various polls indicate that the presidential race is in flux. There'll be no coronations, possibly a few surprises. Many voters--you know, the ones that are committed enough to show for a 2-3 hour caucus in a very cold & snowbound Iowa--will change or solidify their minds about a candidate in the last few hours before the contest begins. This means that numbers can change [and have in the past] very rapidly. A great chunk of present support is soft, and people may like one candidate but can vote for another because of other considerations.

All top three Dems are similar in policy matters--please, don't argue with this. I'm talking about perception among the Dems and the general public. If you asked American voters, including the Democrats who will vote in the selection process, about Hillary--who, we're told, has high negatives--they would not be able to tell you how her proposed policies are different than Obama's or Edwards's. Thus, it's very likely that we'll see a repeat of 2004--when Dems picked John Kerry as the strongest candidate--in Iowa and N. Hampshire in 2008.

When McCain was considered dead in the water (just floating from place to place, making no waves), I had said that he was the most reasonable choice for the Republican party. All the others probably had problems that would bring them down in the end, that is, before the polls opened. McCain, I argued, was someone who could bring together most of the party's base and have a reasonable go against the Democratic nominee. It seems this trend is emerging these days. Romney and Giuliani are spending a lot, but one is considered "phony" and the other one, "an unacceptable neo-con." Yes, I know, there's Huckabee (for whom I'd vote if I had the chance, just to see him be the Repub nominee!), but com'on now....

On the other side, I had expected the race to come down to Hillary and the "anti-Hillary" candidate. In Iowa, the top 3 are basically tied. In New Hampshire, Obama has a slight lead. Iowa will determine a great deal, influence greatly the first primary state (NH) and from then on, the dynamic will change too. OK, so there are still 3 candidates standing, and this trio may last way past Feb. 5th--the super primary date, when the majority of the delegates will be chosen.

If I had to bet today, a couple days before xmas, I'd say Edwards is positioned to win Iowa. He's also the only one of the top 3 who can not afford to lose there. But, if he wins, he can quickly become the front-runner, banking on media coverage and on his chances as a very strong candidate to face the Republican nominee in the general.

Edwards leads among the previous caucus voters (those who've done this before as compared to those who say they will probably participate in the process), and also leads in 2nd choice preference. This is extremely important because in that contest, there is a second choice. Viability means that a candidate has to get at least 15% of the initial "vote." If not, his supporters can caucus (support) with another candidate. Turnout will be critical. The lower, the better for Edwards.

I'm very comfortable with Edwards as the nominee, and I'll support the Democratic ticket that emerges from the process. It's not even close when it comes to the choices I have among the present candidates from both parties. Heck, even Dodd, Biden, and Richardson are far better than any Republican. I have my priorities, issues, and my philosophy of what the US can & should be. Only the Democrats I mentioned come close to my politics, therefore, I'm going to actively support them.

Being a political scientist and an engaged citizen in the affairs of our country, I find this process not only important but interesting too. It also has a practical component: elections have consequences. Who could really argue with this after experiencing the Bush years?...

Sadly, only a tiny fraction of eligible voters will participate in the selection of the next president of the United States. There are many choices now, in the primary season, unlike in the general. Usually only 5-7% of Iowa eligible voters turn out, despite their verdict having such a huge impact on the political process... With a few bright exceptions [like New Hampshire that can have a 30% turnout], most states have just a 5-10% turnout rate in the primaries...

Dec 17, 2007

Bush is Right: We Have Better Health Care Compared to "Other Systems in the World"

El Presidente is a gambler too! But, he's gambling with other people's lives & money.

I've been a gambler. I admit it. There was nothing I could do about it. The circumstances, you know, didn't allow me to stop gambling with my health, and I could not afford to stop. Either pay for grad school or for health insurance--that was my choice. I has hoping that I wouldn't get sick for a while. I was lucky. As you can imagine, I'm very sensitive to this issue of health care and the need for universal coverage. In an advanced country, I consider it a right not a privilege determined by price and available only to those who can buy it.

I’m going to tell you something — we have fabulous health care in America, just so you know. I think it’s very important — before people start griping about the health care system here — and of course there’s always grounds for complaint — just to compare it with other systems around the world.
President Bush, Fredericksburgh, VA (Dec. 17th, 2007)

He's right! The US ranks much higher in health care than most countries in the world. We're not in the top 10 though. Not in the top 20. Not in the top 30. Does it matter? After all, as Paul Krugman says the US health care "at its best, is the best." Does it matter that an estimated 47 million Americans don't have health insurance? Many more are under-insured. In 2005, the # 1 reason for personal bankruptcies was health care costs--and most of those people who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance but not enough coverage.

The World Health Organization ranked the US #37 among 191 countries in 2000. Do you think there's been an improvement since? Our own American Cancer Society says that there is a way to reduce cancer deaths in the US by half! Save more lives than all our expensive operations against the terrorists combined. How? By giving every person universal coverage that includes prevention & early detection! Is this too much to ask? Can we afford not to have it?

This is another important difference among the presidential candidates. The Democrats seem more sensitive to this issue. The Republicans want the marketplace (as if it hadn't had the opportunity already) to solve the problem. [Read between the lines: profit is more important than lives]. John Edwards has the best plan out there, and, for me, this is a very good reason to endorse him. I'm not one-issue voter, but health care weighs very heavily in my mind.

I don't want to hear about the threat of "European socialism" as the Repubs describe any sensible plan for universal coverage. Are the western democracies that have universal coverage less democratic than the US?!! Besides, what's wrong with a social program that promotes the general health of a nation? We do it here for our veterans, our senior citizens, with administrative costs around 3%, instead of 30% for the rest of the system!

Oh, I don't want to forget, our leaders in the US Congress, the White House, and in the high echelons of our government enjoy the best health care in the world! We pay for it. Is it socialized medicine for millionaires? Yes, I liked it very much when Edwards said he'd take away this coverage if Congress didn't pass a universal coverage plan. He's also said that you can't solve this huge mess by negotiating with the insurance companies as Hillary Clinton has suggested. I agree. Health care administration costs have to come way down, and profits shouldn't the result of denying coverage to people! This is a rather simple approach I think. It will take a fight to change the health care system in this country, and we should be involved in this--starting by electing a president who understands the need and the urgency of solving this problem.

Of course Bush can say that we have the best care in the world. It costs us 17% of GDP--way more per person than any other country! And, we get less. But other than that, we're number one--well, if you don't count those who can't afford any coverage and the under-insured. Eliminating demand does wonders.

Isn't insane to spend trillions on armaments, invading & occupying countries to keep our country "safe" from foreign threats while millions of Americans die unnecessarily, often not without prolonged suffering? When the doctors examined the First Colon and found pre-cancerous polyps and removed them, they likely saved Bush's life--because of preventive care, frequent checkups. Rudy is with us today and running for president because he could be tested early and treated for prostate cancer. A good thing? Why should the rest of us be gamblers?

It's feels nice to wave the flag and sing patriotic songs. But, for what kind of country are we rooting for? When we exalt our virtues, our values, our achievements, our greatness, shouldn't we recognize our problems too? There are 30 million Americans below the poverty line. There are almost twice as many (57 million) of the missing class as Catherine Newman describes them. [click on her name, it's worth reading/hearing what she has to say about this class]

But, what am I saying? I forgot. Compassionate conservatism is concerned with*[see footnote]. When two cells meet--life begins at conception (even earlier) they tell us. But after that point, the mother is on her own. Her children? On their own too. Poor families, heck, you know... If the children make it to 18, then they can enlist in the Armed Forces. No high school diploma (education) is necessary either. What a culture of life this is...

No, a civil society has a government in order to promote the commonwealth. To protect and empower the people. This is the measuring value. Is it not? But, this view is a progressive culture of life. Don't expect the same from those who see the government as the problem; a problem so big that they want to shrink our government so much as to "drown it in a bathtub" and therefore make it incapable of protection and empowerment!

* Every day, 10,000 young people get a sexually-transmitted disease in the US. But, according to some, condoms are worse! The Bush administration continue to promote anti-scientific and non-effective policies, while insisting on funding abstinence-only programs. Teenage & unintended pregnancy rates are also rising in the US.

It's time we focus more on the conservatives' illusion of being fiscally responsible. OK, Bush & Co mortgaged the future of our kids, but even the likes of Ron Paul and other economic hawks cost our society a great deal in financial terms. They disguise their budget cuts by shifting costs from the federal government to the states and the individuals. They also promote a system whereas saving some money today results in bigger expenses in the future (as discussed above).. .

The drawing is by one of my most favorite political cartoonists, Ted Rall (12/23/06)

Dec 13, 2007

Wrapped in the American Flag and Carrying a Cross...

As it often happens, especially around xmas time, I get into discussion whether the US is a Christian country. [discussed here in an earlier post] I'm sure you've heard complaints about the attacks on xmas, and what a ..blasphemy it is to say, "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." I thought we are a multi-cultural/religious country whose religious tolerance and separation of church-state are embedded in our constitution.

Early on, it was understood that religious conformity--having an official religion--was a bad thing for a civil society. Why? Well, because it fueled serious conflict. I'd add, if you believe that there's only one absolute truth (often privately revealed) and you identify it with the power of the state, then what prevents you from enforcing it on everybody? Totalitarian regimes are based on such ideologies of the absolute truth; and if you don't "get it," then there's something wrong with you! Do we really want people to be sent to the Ministry of Love and Room 101?

I have to ask, why do the presidential candidates speak so much about their faith? I assume it must be an advantage to do so, right? Of course, it is! In total reversal of European views (which include those who are faithful), an atheist is the least acceptable person to be in public government. Richard Dawkins thinks that it's based on a misunderstanding of what atheists like him stand for.

In the US we ask ridiculous questions of our candidates for public office. For me, the more devout a person is, the more he/she accepts scripture without error, the less likely it is that I'll vote for him/her. I do have a problem with people who:

  • Claim the absolute truth
  • Want to establish a theocracy
  • Believe in the literal reading of any "holy" book
  • Claim private knowledge as revealed to them by gods
  • Think that their god is the only true moral authority
  • Are intolerant of other people's right to worship, hold contrary beliefs including non-belief
  • Want to use the power of our government to push one brand of religion

But, here are some more important and appropriate questions we should ask:
  • Does your faith prevent you from serving on the Sabbath?
  • Does your religion make you a pacifist? [therefore, can't be the Commander-in-Chief]
  • Are you for separation of church and state?
  • Do you accept science & the scientific method? Should the religious view of cosmology be taught as science in public schools? [Intelligent Design, Creationism, etc]
  • Do other faiths and non-believers have a place in your government, in our country?
Instead we have Huckabee who asks if Mormons hold that Jesus and Satan are brothers.... We have leaders who say being a Christian gives you some moral superiority and thus a better claim to political power! Have they been under a rock? You don't have to go back to the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials to get a taste of Christian moral failures. The Catholic Church in the US has paid more than a billion dollars in settlements for priests who sexually abused young boys while its leadership kept quiet. All other Christian churches have had similar problems of sexual abuse and dishonesty. The Evangelicals--the most self-described born-again Christians--have been involved in all sorts of illegal and immoral trespasses as well.

"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem,” ... “I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.
Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and former head of the National Association of Evangelicals. He's been one of the many fallen Christian leaders in recent history.

I'm sure we can list many more transgressions by the very religious. This shows that there's no greater morality or sense of purpose, a kinder & gentler policies, and a more caring culture of life simply because someone says he's a fervent believer. Let's leave religion as a private matter. Convince me about your character with the public policy you propose and the consequences of your actions as they pertain to the rest of us!

Obviously, many good things have been done by religious people. There are several people I admire that are religious. I judge them not by their rhetoric and their unproven claims of their version of the supernatural, but I judge them by their character as it relates to me and their actions in this world. The key, I think, is that their faith does not prevent them from seeing reality. Sadly, too many people of too much faith don't see reality! And, the problem is that they want to impose their views on us. I agree with Hitchens on this one, that they won't leave us alone; they're intend upon ..saving us by coercion if necessary!

When humans invented religion their priority was not to appeal to utility & reason, so fear was an absolute necessity. Lords and kings, and rulers of all stripes and denominations have seen the need for the element of fear: it makes easier for people to obey and be controlled.

Fear of punishment maybe still necessary in a civil society, but don't you think most of us should declare that the devil does not exist? Let's take responsibility for our own actions!

Update 12/18/07: My goodness. Ron Paul must have read this post. He just came out with his own attack against Mike Huckabee using the similar phraseology, and quoting Sinclair Lewis who said "when fascism comes, it'll be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross"!

Dec 8, 2007

Some Presidential Candidates Are Anti-American[remember the constitution?] Romney Makes a Convincing Case for Prejudice & Ignorance!

Beware of False Prophets

"It is as if they [non believers] are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They're wrong." Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate

Mitt Romney, and whoever else shares his views, cannot appeal to me. Here's why.

Freedom does not need religion. Furthermore, secularism is not a religion--it is freedom of and from religion--and above all, it's a separation of church and state.

The Founding Fathers--wise and politically astute--were not infallible, nor did they think so. Otherwise, they'd have established divine rule (like monarchy) and religious conformity via an official religion. On the contrary, the best thing they did was to give us the Bill of Rights, and the separation of church & state. They explicitly wrote into the constitution that there should be no religious test for public office (article 6, sec. 3).

Here's a sensitive subject: God did not give us liberty--unless by liberty you mean the ability of the human brain to inquire and reason! We, the people, and those individuals who used reason came up with the ideas of liberty. The liberal democracy we have today came out of the Enlightenment! Humans, of course, are capable of
reason and, indeed, they can construct the conditions that allow them to have liberty and progress.

There are thousands of gods with different qualities, priorities, and prescribed dogmas. Obviously, Romney (and the like-minded) talks about the Christian god. But, that god gave us the Bible--either the "original" a couple thousands years ago, or the one that prophet John Smith found in the woods and deciphered with special stones after looking into a hat... [South Park gives the treatment]

So, the Biblical god did not give us ideas about liberty--not as we understand liberty today. He gave us a theocratic state. He said it was OK to have subjugated women in the multitude. Slaves were OK too! There are countless passages in the Old Testament that apostates, and the non-believers deserve to die, including punishing the children for the sins of their parents!

Romney, Huckabee, McCain, and all
those who express their religiosity, who use their religion to tell me that they're better persons; that they are more fit to be leaders because of their religion! Then what choice do I have but to rise and oppose such ridiculous claims.

By all means, let's have an open discussion. I want to know. I want to know why someone, who literally believes in unproven claims, should be the leader of the free world. Mr. Romney, a former pastor of Mormonism, accepted the claims of Mormonism as an adult. Does he deserve our votes today because of this? He had accepted that blacks were "unclean" [as people who had ..facilitated Satan] until 1979 when the Mormon elders got another message from god revising centuries-old prejudice. Has he changed his mind? When? Why?

Mainstream media won't ask such questions, because if you begin to raise doubt, inquiry, and introduce reason into examining religious claims, then you offend the majority of Americans, many of whom don't want to examine their belief systems. After all, where on Earth there's such a revival of born-again Christians but in the US? Where do you find so many humans in an advanced country who believe in the scripture without error, in prophesy, and eschatology?

Watch this video of Bill Moyers Journal, and read this article on Religion & Politics by PRA. While surfing the Net, check Olberman's take on Romney's speech. Keith's my favorite in mainstream media.

It was fitting to see Romney deliver his faith speech at the library of former president G.H.W. Bush. The latter once said that only Christians were patriotic, true Americans! Amidst the misinformation and the myth propagation, there's a good thing about all this! Dubious beliefs and ideas see the light of day; the more people are exposed to them the better. This may lead to compare & contrast--a favorite activity of mine since elementary school. Heck, you may even realize that everyone is an atheist about other people's gods!

Why shouldn't we ask Hitchen's question, can you point to any good act performed by a believer that cannot be performed by non-believer? And, can you point to vile acts done by people because of their religious beliefs?

Anyway, this post isn't about religion per se but about those who use ridiculous claims to sway people by appealing to their emotions while spreading ignorance and prejudice. I find such behavior appalling.

Most what I've read these days is "nuttery"--as former prime minister Tony Blair describes the use of religion to advance a political agenda. But, obviously, the nut cases have some currency. Without an audience they'd be irrelevant. Why would those "reverends" be afforded more credibility, and a media platform, because of their religious title?

In must of western Europe there's a reverse reality when it comes to religious fanatics and matters of the state. Political leaders are judged on their ability to get things done, in the here & now, in the physical world where human lives and the quality of life are at stake. Metaphysical, supernatural and mystical matters are of another realm, not appropriate in the public square. I like this approach better. I mean I prefer to deal with someone who's after my wallet rather than my soul.

to be continued...

Dec 1, 2007

The Republicans Are Fighting Over their Shrinking Political Base. What will the Democrats do?

How much time & effort do you spend listening to the "other side"? That would depend on who's doing the talking, right? I'm an open-minded person, I think, but there is a point when I determine that listening to dogma is a waste of time. Case in point the current Republican presidential candidates. I watched their entire debate the other day. Maybe they're just trying to appeal to their political base now, but what they're saying seems either irrational or way over the edge (often both). I mean, how many times can you listen to someone who basically says the Earth is flat?..

I don't mean to offend the many good and reasonable people who happen to be Republicans--although I think they are the exception. The Republican majo
rity and its leaders, unfortunately, support backward views by and large. In a democracy, there is a correlation between the conservative base and the kind of politicians representing it and elected to public office.

In our country we have many people who just don't get it! I know, to say so it's a political offense of the highest degree. However, who can deny, for example, that a dangerously high number (almost half) of Americans don't accept one of the strongest and verifiable theory
we have? That is, the theory of evolution. Their representatives--either equally misinformed or playing to their constituents--make public policy that reflects this uneducated view. It's no wonder that president Bush and like-minded conservatives argue that "the jury is still out" on a plethora of scientific theories/discoveries/facts. [Chris Mooney has written an interesting book, The Republican War on Science] Of course, without a doubt, there are misinformed, stubbornly close-minded people that support the Democratic party too. But, there's a huge difference: The size of such groups and the role they play in their respective political parties. The current political debates among the presidential candidates reveal a great deal about the nature and kind of the arguments presented. Check it out for yourself.

I won't get into what human nature is, but there are people who diff
er vastly when it comes to thinking, examining the world around them, and are able (or have the courage) to amend their views. This study about the war in Iraq and US policy is just one of many. It shows that those who have misconceptions tend to support the Republican party. Note the almost exact reverse correlation (media outlet & misconceptions) between those who get their information from Fox News and those from NPR/PBS! I don't know if it's kind like which came first, the chicken or the egg. But, watching the Faux news channel is a choice after all. Sure, if you need to hear that we're winning the war in Iraq, the economy is working great for most Americans, and want to see lots of exposed skin & gratuitous sex, turn to this media outlet. [just ignore the rantings about the falling "moral fitness of America" by the Faux preachers]

The Republican party has had a regressive direction in the last 15 years. Even Ronald Reagan would be a moderate economic Republican today. In 1986, he overhauled the tax code and (gasp) made the rich pay more taxes! [raised the effective tax rate on corporations and wealthy Americans]. This is considered treasonous by the GOP today. By 1993, when president Clinton passed his balanced budget, not a single Republican in both chambers of the Congress voted for it! The centrists had been replaced by the extremists (ala Grover Norquist) in the GOP. Their leaders, their think tanks and friendly media/commentators all pushed for a new "gilded age" of unbridled capitalism.

This regression went far beyond the economic sphere and into all aspects of our society. George H. Bush (41) was deemed a "traitor" and his son W. Bush (43) the ..savior of conservative politics. Of course we know where he's led the country, but these conservatives never question their ideology and their methods; the problem always lies with individuals--they fail, not their principles!

Where in the world an enligh
tened, smart electorate would we have leaders like the current crop of Republican candidates? Leaders who question the best tool we have for understanding the world: the scientific method. Where would those leaders would say that when two cells meet, it's called a human life, and all abortions are "murder", and that women & their doctors should be punished as criminals? [Yes, even Mr. Giuliani said it'd be OK for states to enact criminal laws for abortion, and that he'd appoint justices to SCOTUS who'd overturn Roe v. Wade] Let's not forget about the future of the Supreme Court, a future that hinges on the next election!

Advanced countries [with lots less of a religious attitude to guide their true compassion] health care and education are considered rights and not privileges, but, in the US, Republicans disagree! Instead the latter prefer to sell fear and ignorance! Fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear of modernity, fear of progress, fear of homosexuals, the immigrants, and the godless hedonists! They prefer the emotional responses not rational thinking. One example is their response to the question posed by that retired general--whether the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of military conduct should be repealed. All emphatically said, no! That's right. They're afraid of having homosexuals around them. They want to perpetuate divisions, like the one of the rather recent past--all white regiments, because having blacks among white men would demoralize the troops!

Fortunately, their political base is shrinking, America's attitudes are changing, but the GOP seems
to be trapped in the "southern strategy" which favors divisions, polarization, and irrational fears. Oh, yes, ignorance too. It may take a few elections of stunning defeats to change course, although this won't happen unless the moderate Republicans regain control of their party. This, however, is not certain. Sometimes, the reaction of extremists is to blame the decline on individuals and not its core ideology and practices. Same thing is happening with the Islamists*--who blame their society's problems not on their reactionary beliefs, methods and the ruthless but incompetent rulers, but on anything & anybody else.

It also seems that the racial prejudice directed at the blacks in the past is now shifting to the immigrants. America is transcending its racial attitudes [hence the Southern strategy is already failing], but the GOP wants to use divisive politics against the immigrants. Most Americans want a sensible immigration policy that's smarter, humane, and efficient. The Latino groups are breaking about 65% for the Democrats. If this new largest minority group solidifies behind the Dems [as the Italians, Jews, Irish, et al. did in the past], then we're talking about a huge re-alignment with long-term political implications.

We do need a new direction, as far as possible from the one in the last several years. Getting a new president is a good start. But, don't forget the local races. We have to elect progressive people who understand the needs of America and the world in general. This would be a good point to end this post, but to avoid gloating by Democrats I have to remind them the following.

The Republicans have been incompetent, corrupt, and out of touch. The disastrous war in Iraq has also played a big role in political fortune reversal. This whole situation has been a gift to the Democrats. Such a collapse doesn't happen often though. The Democrats have to take this opportunity to govern with courage, with clear politics that benefit most Americans, and with a vision for the future--a new America, a progressive country that enhances the culture of life, empowers and protects its citizens. Being anti-something won't get you far. Being Republican-lite is a recipe for failure.


*I use the term Islamists to describe the people who want a theocracy, are against modernity, human rights, and violence is just another means to their ends. I do not equate them with the Republicans in the US. However, I think the analogy about reacting to their problems remains.

Addendum: This just came to my attention. The very conservative National Review has come out with an article about the impending doom for the Republican party, an outcome that will be like FDR's election in 1932. The authors of this article may lament about the declining fortunes of the GOP, but they're grappling with the truth. The Dems have a tremendous opportunity to produce a political re-alignment for a generation or more, and, more importantly, to finally turn this country into a solidly progressive course. This opportunity will only be meaningful if the Dems do the right thing.

Much of the debate centers around the role of the state. An enlightened country can use the government's power not to baby-sit its citizens but to protect and empower them! That's an ideal of a liberal democracy. The more people see the benefits of good public policy the less likely to go back to divisive conservative politics. Hopefully in the future we won't have to waste time debating false choices and the politics of fear, but instead select the most able leaders to get the job done.

World AIDS Day: Pay Attention Today, Tomorrow, and Until We Beat this Disease

People living with HIV/AIDS (adults and children)
Global Data, 2007; Country Data, 2005

Many problems humanity faces are not dealt expeditiously, with all the available resources, or with reason. Now if such problems are connected to sex, then it's even harder to deal with them. Obviously, AIDS is not entirely the result of sexual activity if you count the people infected through blood transfusions, but the images of the drug addict, the homosexual, the lascivious & promiscuous person dominates many minds in this case. However, the pandemic unnecessarily drains humanity of resources and lives. We can change this with education and sensible public health care.

Many HIV/AIDS victims live in the under-developed world. Women in Africa who have HIV/AIDS tend to be married and infected by their husbands! There's a lack of education about human sexuality, prevention methods, and sparse availability of treatment. Oh, and there's religion that complicates things. Religion that keeps women as chattel, sexually subservient to men, and the Catholic Church that says AIDS is bad but condoms are worse!

Here in our country, el presidente places his emphasis on faith-based groups that teach abstinence instead of giving practical information & ways to prevent the spread of HIV. To fight the disease, Bush has given 2/3 of the money to abstinence-only programs! Of course, such approach is not effective!

Nov 18, 2007

Why We Must be First Amendment Patriots. Fortunately We Still Have Some Choice (and a Duty)

An Impossible Scenario?

Imagine that you're abd
ucted and gang-raped--the court agrees and convicts the rapists--but you also get punished for this crime by a six-month prison sentence and 200 lashes! Your punishment is for "meeting with an unrelated male" (who also gets raped by the way). Where in the world did that happen, you may ask. You could assume that no civilized country would do this today. But you'd be wrong. That's the reality in the many Muslim countries where there's no separation of state & religion. This case in point took place in Saudi Arabia this month!*

One of the best things we did early on was the separation of ch
urch & state. The Founders knew of the bloody religious civil wars in Europe and elsewhere. They knew about the Inquisition, they knew that the tyranny of the majority could pose threats to individual liberty--after all, liberalism was about freedom, individual freedom. Our Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment in particular, see to this. Freedom of expression and beliefs, now that's a novel concept!

Now, why would intelligent people--especially those who've studied law, the constitution, and maybe some American history--argue for bringing a theocracy to the US? Good question. Maybe we couldn't thoroughly examine their motives, but their actions are based on wishful thinking, ignorance (willful?), and specific political objectives.

This past few days, the Federalist Society had its 25th anniversary with president Bush delivering the keynote address. Members like Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, John "torture-is-OK" Yoo, and several others got their chance to "shine" under the presidencies of Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43. These people are the most
conservative judges & lawyers that seek to "restore the law" as intended--not by the Founders and framers of our constitution, by of a ..higher authority. This is another example, among the many in recent history, that the lunatic fringe is not marginal in this country.

Unfortunately today, secular America hangs on a very thin margin in the Supreme Court. It's not too early in the election cycle to point out that there is a huge difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates in jurisprudence and intent on keeping our country secular--and by secular I don't mean non-religious, but a separation of church & state. We knew about this very important difference in the last 2 elections. Bush 43 has had a big impact on SCOTUS by appointing very conservative justices to the hight court; one more and the balance will tip to the other side.

The fact is that the Framers of the constitution (and most of the Founding Fathers) were explicit in maintaining this wall of separation. Here's a brief history:

  • 1787: Drafting of the US Constitution. No "god" in it. Article 6, sec. 3: no religious test for any public office. Madison drafted the First Amendment and defended it in the Federalist Papers. Protecting individual conscience was paramount.
  • 1789: Congress rejected arguments that the First Amendment only meant to protect one religion over another and not the non-believers.
  • 1796: The US signed the Treaty of Tripoli which declared that the US is not a "Christian nation."
  • 1802: Jefferson reiterated that the 1st Amend. was indeed a "wall of separation" between church-state.
  • 1868: The 14th Amendment abolished slavery but also said that the Bill of Rights must apply to all states! [make of note of this Judge Thomas]
  • 1947: The Supreme Court decided that no branch of government could favor one religion over another or over non-believers.
There's a great body of legal precedence and jurisprudence that supports this separation, which, in turn, protects individual freedoms. Yet, Americans have failed to grasp the importance of electing extreme conservatives [note: not all Republicans are like that] to the Senate and the White House. Elections have consequences. A majority of FIVE can change the conditions of freedom we expect from living in a liberal democracy!

We Have to Make the Connection: Guilty by Association
The Republican Party today does not want to safeguard this separation of church-state and observe the tradition established by law. Unlike the Goldwater Republicans, the current crowd is state authoritarians who want to impose on others their religious dogma, intolerance of dissent, and that Scripture is without error! It's no surprise they're anti-science [abortion, evolution, stem-cell research, etc] and anti freedom of conscience!

Sure, we have great differences with those conservatives. These differences need to brought into the light. I understand that our politics is to a great extend about personality and not substance, but we can't afford to have another folksy president whose policies can be disastrous. It's too costly and we can't afford it right now!

Why shouldn't we press the point that the conservatives hold crazy views? Justice Scalia has said that the First Amendment does not protect the non-believer! He does not accept the concept of freedom of conscience! His pal on the Supreme Court Thomas has said that the "establishment clause" does not apply to the states! And, that every state can establish its own state church!!

Surely, you can find someone guilty by association too! I'm not talking about casual association, but about building alliances, bridges of support, and forming public policy. Mr. Giuliani has to be held accountable for accepting the support of Pat Robertson. The label reverend can be easily obtained but this should not deflect criticism, nor should it bestow any more legitimacy on anyone.

The reverend Falwell wanted to see an America without public schools, where the churches would take them over. He also said this: "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen." Robertson concurred. Take that Rudy. God punished your city. God was behind the attacks on 9/11. Now, if this isn't lunacy, religious bigotry, ignorance, superstition, I don't know what it is.

This bigotry reveals itself in the overt effort to oppress homosexuals [insert any "deviancy" here]. In 2003, SCOTUS [Texas v. Lawrence] decriminalized private sexual conduct--as it should have. No state can punish consenting adults for what they do to each other. But, only a few years later, this view hangs on a 5-4 margin! In his dissent, Scalia [with Thomas concurring] said that people should be able to use the sense of tradition to criminalize all sexual behavior they deem offensive!!!! [and he's not talking only about homosexuality; NYU student questions Scalia]

We have the federal government mandating the teaching of religious dogma instead of science--i.e., birth control is bad, masturbation can lead to pregnancy, etc. President Bush asked the Pope to direct American Catholic priests to be more political in cases like same-sex marriage and abortion (rights). Religious charities have been funded by Bush and they spread misinformation. Contraception, family planning, the "morning after" pill [not an abortion], sex education, etc, have all been contorted to fit a particular religious dogma. And, in ..supermarket fashion, they pick what they like (or being told) while disregarding other passages from their holy book. Protect life from the moment two cells meet until birth, but after that, you're on your own!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Jesus (allegedly?) said, "there's no justice if people have no shelter," and "there's no justice if people are hungry"? Did he add any qualifiers to this statement? I wonder...

The conservatives talk about limited government but their most popular leaders want to use the government to tell us how to live our own private lives. The next president must support the wall of separation. No Republican presidential candidate is for this! The Supreme Court's future depends on our decision in 2008. The next president should not be a religious preacher. The control of the US Senate is at stake too. Judge Bork had said that the 1st Amendment only applies to political speech (campaigns), and that we should "get over" our objection to school prayer. It was the widespread opposition and a Democratic Senate that prevented this extremist from serving on SCOTUS.

Both parties and all their candidates appeal to religious groups for support. Yet, they differ on what kind of judges we get on the federal courts. This, to me, is a clear choice--among the many that keep liberals and conservatives apart. You have to be partisan today if you want to have a realistic chance of maintaining a secular society where individual freedom of conscience is protected.

We have to be First Amendment patriots!

* From Think Progress: The woman, who had been appealing her original sentence of 90 lashes, was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes after her appeal. The Saudi judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.” The Saudi Justice Ministry confirmed that the stiffer sentence handed out on appeal stemmed from the fact that the victim had gone to the media with her story. “Media may have adverse effects on the other parties involved in the case,” a statement said.

Editor's note 11/21: The victim met with a male friend (he was the "unrelated" male) when they were abducted by 7 men. Both were raped; she was 14 times. For her "crime" she was originally sentenced to 90 lashes! But, she had the audacity to challenge this punishment, appealed, spoke to the media, and that was offensive to the theocratic regime that keeps the country firmly in the 12th century. Horrors.

Nov 11, 2007

What a Commander-in-Chief Could Say to the Veterans and those Serving in our Armed Forces

As president Bush is making the rounds of Veteran hospitals and speaking about the meaning of Veteran's Day (11/11), I'm re-posting excerpts of a "speech" I drafted for a president who could speak honestly and would face reality--if he had the guts.

I see before me young men and women who represent the armed forces of this nation, and who have, in essence, pledged their lives to defend our country. I stand here as your Commander-in-Chief, yet I do understand that this title bestows me with a huge responsibility, not only toward you but also toward the United States of America. I have to make difficult decisions, but I will never commit our most precious resources, our blood, sweat and tears, without our country being in grave danger and before I carefully weigh the consequences of such an action. I will never lie to you and I will never ask you to make any sacrifice that I, myself, wouldn't be willing to make.

When our country must sacrifice, I will do my best to see that this burden is widely shared and not placed on the shoulders of the least privileged of our society. I will not allow such a situation to become a way to transfer more wealth to the few, especially when this would result in mortgaging the future of the many. If sacrifice we must, then the pain must be more equitably distributed. It's only fair. Patriotism isn't defined by big talk & long speeches, waving of the flag, and saluting the veterans.

I know that many of you chose a military career because of the benefits offered by the military: the professional training & the skills, the health care benefits, the signing bonuses, etc. I realize that for many of you the military offers opportunities not available to you otherwise. I'm not trying to devalue your commitment to and your love for the country. On the contrary! You all have families, friends, neighbors, our democracy, and our way of life to defend. We are very much indebted to you. I have instructed our recruiters never to lie to you, no false pretenses and promises. And, when you sign up, you should know that your country will never let you down.

Without you, the rest of us wouldn't be able to survive in a hostile world. So, again, we thank you for your commitment, and I promise you to do whatever I can to give you all the necessary means to perform your job. I won't send you into combat without the proper equipment and training. I won't lie to you about our objectives and the reasons for placing you in harm's way. There will be casualties--that's a dire consequence of war. But, I will make sure that all of our injured personnel will get the best medical treatment and their health benefits will never be reduced. The same goes for the families of those killed in action. It's the least we can do for the ultimate sacrifice that so many fighting men & women have done for us.

Yet, a war should be the last resort. We are a powerful country but our strength hasn't relied only on the might of our armed forces. Our strength derives from the strength of the American character, our freedom & tolerance, our diversity, our technology, our culture, our scientific progress, and our democratic way of life. The American experience and the reality of the frontier, even the violent struggles for civil rights, the many peoples who came to our shores to pursue their dreams of a better life... All these, I believe, made us good people, not perfect but always improving. That's progress. We can't turn back! We've endured many trials and tribulations, but like the Revolutionary soldiers at Valley Forge, we marched ahead and blazed our own trails... and we became the envy of the world. We made mistakes aplenty, like every other nation. We accept the responsibility with the promise to look forward with the urgency to keep building a better world for us, and for our children. We should remain the leaders not by military power alone but because we command respect for our worthwhile achievements and the values for which we stand.

My original post and the complete "speech" here
Photos by Associated Press; WaPo front page, Feb. 18, 2007

Nov 2, 2007

The Health of a Nation

Impressions often matter more than the facts, and the mistake many progressives make is not to take seriously the conservatives' ridiculous arguments. My advice has been to respond immediately and forcefully. "I won't dignify this remark with a response" is not a good strategy. Even if someone says the earth is flat, we should take the opportunity to inform the public on the facts, but also--and most importantly--to illustrate the connection of the flat-earth believers to ignorance.

Many people don't have the time, energy, or the skills to connect the dots. The so-called "independent voters"--defined as those without strong party ID--are less informed, and can have wild voting patterns. They often decide close elections. Don't they? Haven't we seen Democrats going down in defeat because they underestimated the Willie Horton ads, the swift-boaters, etc.? The impressions created by the campaigns and the failure to provide a prompt response is what carries the day, and, unfortunately, the election.

There is this saying, where there's smoke, there's a fire! Don't respond (
or, respond smartly) and you let your opponent frame the issue, including the choice of language. Your opponent defines you. Then it's an uphill battle to change the public's perceptions. There's also a perverse element here: most people don't want to be changing their minds too often; they don't have the constitution to re-evaluating issues and revising their views; they want also to appear consistent!

There's an issue very important to me, that of health care coverage for all Americans. I can't accept that the wealthiest country in the world cannot insure all of its people whereas so many other countries do. This is an issue that a Democratic president will deal with. And, yes, we liberals have to be partisan today in order to see progressive politics in our country. For goodness' sake, we're still debating what science is in this 21st America, because the lunatic fringe is not marginal here!

So, when Mitt Romney describes universal health care as "socialized medicine" and when Giulliani says he had much better chance of surviving prostate cancer in the US than in Britain, we have to respond with the facts and connect those persons to either ignorance or deception!

It's not hard to make comparisons. Indeed it's our obligation to destroy the misconceptions and the misleading advertising that will certainly follow any attempt to reform the health care system. We're talking about human lives here. We have to show that people who have access to health care are (duh) healthier! Prevention and early detection save lives. It should be easy to draw a comparison between the foreign enemies that want to kill Americans [and have already] and the causes that claim far more lives here at home. Many of those lost lives can be saved.

I believe that most Americans do care about their fellow human beings and would be willing to re-allocate our resources to create a better society. Of course we have to start being smarter about our politics too! Elections do have consequences! Similarly, when any leader makes unqualified arguments, he shouldn't be left unchallenged. When, for example, Bush vetoes the S-CHIP [health care coverage for middle class children--those in families earning more than the poverty level but not enough to purchase health insurance] because as he said "it's too expensive", we have to remind him that we spend as much as 6 weeks in Iraq!

Same for the GOP's front-runner and his argument about having better chances
of survival here that in GB. Not so! Paul Krugman (NY Times 11/2/07) calls his bluff. You know what? We should ask our pompous leaders and those aspiring presidents: How can you enjoy the best health care coverage and treatment when 46 million of Americans don't and may die prematurely because of this?!!
You, Mr. President, got your colon examined and a pre-cancerous condition detected. You, Mr. Giulliani, were cured because you had the access key. But, how about the rest of us? Which terror is more threating? Really...

The American Cancer Society recently
launched a campaign to push for early detection [and for universal access to such health services] because many cancer deaths can be reduced by 50%. That's reducing the death rate by half! Now, this is a sensible approach.

I understand that it's hard to show people something unpleasant. It feels good to be special & superior. But, some illusions are dangerous if they perpetuate a bad reality. Assuming we have the best medicine in the world, does this translate in better health care for most Americans? Lower infant mortality rate? Better cure & survival rates for the sick? Less pain & suffering?... And, all this while we're spending more than any other country!

How about education? Consumer protection? Or, is the role of the government to bail out big business and to re-allocate our national wealth to the top tier? What do we really want our government to do?

These are some questions that we need to provide answers to, but before we do this, we must raise these questions. We have better arguments, I believe, and most Americans do hold "liberal values" regarding the role of government. We cannot allow our national dialog to sink to the lowest possible common denominator. We'd be doing a disservice to our country. But, this doesn't mean we should shy away from exposing hypocrisy, ignorance, and deception. Don't fall for the trap, "avoid negative politics!" The Republicans have played this game brilliantly.

So what if the truth has a ..liberal bias?!!

Nov 1, 2007

The Torturous Position of the Attorney General-Nominee

Why should we care about a bunch of terrorists and enemy combatants?

Well, how could Michael Mukasey answer to the senators' questions whether water boarding is torture? The United States prosecuted several Japanese interrogators in WWII for employing such a method on our own troops. Rather recently, we did the same to prison guards in Texas.

Thus, water boarding is torture by any reasonable (legal or non) definition. I place emphasis on reasonable, because there are those like John Woo and his mentor, Alberto Gonzales, who tried to re-define torture as actions that can lead to death or major organ failure. In other words, water boarding, pulling one's fingernails (or cutting fingers off), etc., is not torture.

If Mukasey agrees that water boarding is indeed torture then what should he do when he becomes the country's Attorney General?.... [suggestion: go after those who broke the law!]

On PBS, Bill Moyers Journal, there was an interesting discussion recently. Check it out here.

Meanwhile, the Bush government has refused to answer unequivocally whether this method has been used, several officials, including the CIA chief, have said that water boarding has been used--and it's not a bad thing, they say, when it's used against bad people during times of crisis.... Hmmm

"Waterboarding is torture. Torture is unacceptable. Period.
If Michael Mukasey won't stand up to President Bush and tell him that, then he doesn't deserve to be Attorney General."

Senator E. Kennedy, opposing Mukasey's confirmation. [read the senator's statement here]

Oct 18, 2007

From a State of Nature to an Enlightened Society: Democracy Won't Survive if the People Aren't Involved. Let's Put our Ideas into Good Use!

part 2/2

Ideas are very powerful because they help form beliefs and motivate people to action. So, it's not a fruitless exercise to think, re-think, revise, and learn by observation. It's good and necessary! However, this activity takes a bit of courage since it may uncover truths that could make you uncomfortable. Once I asked myself whether my need to know is greater than my fears. The answer was, if there's something I should know, then I do want to know. Granted, we often don't have all the facts, but that's life. We make decisions using the best available data and by employing logic. How good our data and our logic are impacts the outcome. But that's why it's very important to keep the dialogue going. A strong theory is one that leaves room for amendment. Closed, de-facto, divine, or absolute theories are just baseless opinions, and not theories in the scientific sense.

Our world is a complex one, fast-moving, and ever-changing. Change for the sake of change is a foolish thing, but progressive change is necessary. A true conservative is a traditionalist who prefers the "true & tried" to the unknown. The resistance to the pace of modernity may be due to his inability to make sense of the new quickly enough. The sense of identity rooted in the past is being challenged by modernity and, yes, cosmopolitanism. Being "special" means to have some kind of exclusivity, and thus humans have shun others--especially those who believe in other gods, dress, speak, behave differently. Traditional culture to a great extend is repetition. Nationalism is similar to providing exclusivity and special status. An offshoot of this is nativism--which has been present as long as immigration to this country.

Liberals tend to be persons who welcome and can cope with change. They're more likely to be risk-takers, more tolerant, inquisitive, to explore what's beyond the horizon, and use a rational approach. Progressives always looks to improve society. We accept the scientific inquiry and the scientific method. Most of us like the ideas of Locke, Kant, Mill, et al, but we don't accept dogma and absolutism. In present-day US politics, we have to be partisan as the Republican party with its neo-cons, prudes, religious fanatics, authoritarians, anti-science (and proud of) views, power-grabbers, and non-democrats, is beyond hope.

A liberal democracy offers th
e best chance for the individual to reach self-fulfillment because of the rights it confers upon every person and for the opportunities if affords. Democracy cannot exist without the demos (the people) and without opportunity! Regrettably, we are in danger of losing our grasp on the political system that has made our country great. When others were struggling with authoritarian, backward systems, the US was pushing ahead. We had the best of the three Tees! Technology, Talent, and Tolerance. We're not as good as we used to be, at least not in relative terms vis-a-vi the rest of the world.

The Gilded Age has return and the income (wealth) inequality is as great as it was some 100 years ago. The stock market is going up but real wages have stagnated since the 1970s. We have to ask, what's the benefit of having such a huge economy that produces so much wealth if the distribution of wealth is absurd! Wealth is being accumulated by the very tiny elite at the very top. I think this is not healthy for a society, nor do I think it's good business. We know that power & wealth are closely related.

If the American middle class doesn't receive most of the wealth, power will also accumulate to the very top of the economic elites. And, all socio-economic elites want more and use their means to that effect. This situation is not good for us. Unless we act today, it may be too late tomorrow, or, it we may have to go through a traumatic shock.

Being rewarded for one's efforts is a moral
thing--I agree with Adam Smith on this. But, no one achieves everything by himself. He usually stands on the shoulders of others. The self-made successful business people depend on the resources & the conditions that exist. They do not operate in the vacuum of space! Public transportation, educated work force, police, fire, EMT, the armed forces, and the law that secures their property are some of the benefits this country provides.

What should the benefits be for being a member of such a rich country? Is health care, for example, a right or a privilege? And--if I may push it a bit further--we can't analyze everything on a profit basis. Certain things aren't supposed to be profitable, like public libraries, national parks, etc. But, they are necessary for the quality of our lives.

Unless the majority of Americans start to pay more attention to what's going on, and are willing to participate in the affairs of our country, then the situation is going to get worse. This is an investment all of us should make. I think many Americans haven't realized this as yet. They sense that it's a good thing to live in this country--and it i
s! But, this is not enough, nor it's the result of divine order. It took many years of effort and leadership. The genius of the Founders was this: to create a system that allowed popular participation, minority rights, separation of church-state, economic opportunity, and it provided a way to amend it as the country moved through the centuries.

I don't believe our democracy will continue to function if we're to rest upon the achievements of the past and the occasional wise leadership that may come along. I think people's participation is necessary today more than ever. But, the people have to know enough to make reasonable decisions. We can't afford leaders like Bush any more--not in the highest leadership offices of the land anyway. We don't have another grace period; we have to hit the ground running.

I'm an optimist, but also a realist. I know that for all the hoopla, the necessity for reversing the present disastrous course, and the excitement of electing the next leader of the free world, etc, only a small percentage of US citizens will show up to vote in the months to come. How small you ask? Well, in our first contest in Iowa, only 6 to 10% of eligible voters will vote!

Americans may dislike their politics, they may find the political process unappealing, and definitely complicated. On the other hand, they still believe that "we're number one!" In the past, we looked around the world and we compared favorably. But, look how the world has changed since. Even totally destroyed countries (Germany, Japan) have rebounded.

I think the dissatisfaction hasn't reached the tipping point yet. It may come sooner than later and it may produce another wave that will bring a new New Deal. The "great middle"--the middle class ever so important to a stability of a country--is not gaining as much as the corporations. Now the latter are not only getting exceedingly preferential treatment but are increasingly capturing our government! Public services--once thought to be a main reason to have a government--are disappearing, being outsourced to corporations whose main concern (and obligation) is to make money, often by denying services! [such as the case with the health insurance companies]

We're privatizing our own government. Profit is good. Wealth is desirable. However, we have to create & maintain conditions for a good life; to keep a country where a progressive culture of life prevails. Creating wealth has to be done smartly not with savagery. For example, if you're in the business of logging in a competitive unregulated environment, then you cut down the last remaining tree standing! In the end, you're out of business (if rich) and all of us suffer. There's got to be a sane, more practical way than this approach.

Who's to care for the commonwealth then? If not the citizens, who? There's no one else but us.... Benevolent dictators are no more; hopefully, we've matured
enough to assume responsibility for ourselves; to confer high offices to capable leaders who won't stroke our passions but motivate us to make the world a better place to live in. We cannot afford not to be people of the Enlightenment.

Oct 11, 2007

An Obscure Question: Is this an Age of Englightment, or an Enlightning Age? [or, are philosophical meanderings totally boring & impractical?]

Part 1

Yes, I know, most of the visitors to this blog today just said, "I'll be back later," after reading this post's title! it's OK, I still want to talk about ideas and their practical necessity in our world. Certainly, it's a good exercise to ponder ideas, to think in the abstract and connect the imaginary dots. On the other hand, I find that the world of ideas (hence, philosophy) is a very powerful one. Haven't humans done beautiful and horrible acts alike because of ideas? Often, it doesn't matter if an impression or an idea is based on fact or fiction, it gives a reason for action. It justifies, pacifies, soothes, excites, and provides a sense of identity.

The clash between the ancient religion and Christianity was inevitable [photo from the Agora in Athens with a byzantine church in the foreground]

The values we hold are based on ideas too! Culture evolved because of certain concepts about life and the perceived necessary conditions for human survival. God originated as an idea, and religion was the result of what people thought [most people were told and believed as de facto] of the practical application of the divine.

Faith provided a path to salvation and physical immortality. Unfortunately, religious ideas haven't been very compatible with each other and frequently they operated in a zero-sum game, where it was believed that the survival of one meant the death of the other. So, for much of human history religion played an important role in war and the reasons for going to war.

I'm not concerned with the supernatural [not today in this post anyway] but with how a range of philosophical observations help explain and challenge human behavior. Philosophy becomes very real and applicable when an empirical approach is used. You observe, analyze, form conclusions & theories, and revise as necessary. It's a rather scientific approach. I like that. It's a great medium for humans to evolve upon. The challenging part is also very important, because it can provide fresh ideas and methods of improvement. But, I think only enlightened persons who value inquiry and are brave enough to face reality are comfortable with such a challenge.

The good news is that this elite club doesn't have membership fees, nor other requirements except an open, skeptical, deliberate mind--oh, and probably an interest for such exercises of the mind. With all the amenities and the benefits of a modern society, life isn't always easy, time & energy are limited, and our focus can wane into the trivial.

Jeremy Bentham a "philosophical radical" [radical during his time] said that humans have two masters: pleasure and pain, and, therefore, behave accordingly. These two "masters" can be used as a guideline for human interaction and for deciding on the role of government. He said, government should have the purpose of promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Although, there are those who seek pain either for ..satisfaction or as a required means to an end, most people do prefer pleasure. Thus, a logical question would be, what is pleasure?

One of my favorite philosophers, John Stuart Mill, said it should be the individual who decides what constitutes pleasure; the same individual should be free to construct his own path to personal fulfillment. Mill put forth the Harm principle--which is very useful in deciding matters of privacy and public interest. The only acceptable reason for society to control individual behavior is to prevent harm to others. The individual's own good--either moral or physical--is not a sufficient warrant! This, of course, applies to people who are mature adults, not to children or to ..barbarians. In short, there's a personal definition of pleasure! In order to have that, rights of privacy are imperative.

We are who we are because of the environment we grow up in, our own effor
ts to enrich ourselves, accidental circumstances (luck), and availability of time & space to be ourselves. If the conditions of freedom and privacy change, then human character changes. I believe a liberal democracy offers the best possible conditions for the individual to fulfill his own potential. If this country is about property rights, let's not forget that you should own & be in charge of yourself.

But, shouldn't the light of reason prevail? As Immanuel Kant once asked, is this an age of enlightenment or an enlightening age? It's probably the latter. If we are to look around the world today many humans are hell-bent on total annihilation and destruction of reason and anything else that stands between them and their utopias. For a species, we are young and still primitive--although we have taken huge leaps of progress and we do have the greatest potential. If we allow ourselves to evolve that is.

One important act of maturity--or, in the process of getting there--is acting. Yes, observing and experiencing life can have a maturing effect, but taking the initiative and making choices is vital. A person should be an actor, not just part of a passive audience. That's why the conditions that foster freedom must be maintained, for freedom in this sense is a practical necessity!

We are creatures of convenience. Why not! But, there are a few things worth spending some time & effort on. Right? Convenience and laziness aren't identical. Thinking--critical and deliberate--is one worthwhile activity I reckon. Making decisions and assuming responsibility is hard too. At times we all want to regress to being children so we don't have to deal with life's adversities and demands. This is not a mature approach though. Sadly, too many modern humans are quite happy to remain in perpetual immaturity and let others make the decisions for them; it's much easier that way they reckon.

Those who have a choice, (usually those who live in a liberal democracy), have to answer a couple very important questions: Is it a worthwhile activity to lead an examined life? And, is it important to contribute a little bit to the conditions that foster human enlightenment?

[to be continued]