Feb 24, 2007

Should We Become Like Our Enemies in Destroying our Basic Liberties? Big Brother Promises to Keep us Safe!

But Who Will Keep us Safe from Big Brother?

If we were like the terrorists or so many other repressive regimes, things would be easier in fighting crime, our enemies, and just about everything else that could pose a threat to our safety--except the threat from the government. Democracy, or more specifically, liberal democracy (the only free civil society that exists), can be messy and imperfect. It's harder to go after illegal behavior if the authorities don't have a complete surveillance on everybody all the time. It's harder to convict people, because of restrictions placed on how evidence is gathered, the adversarial trial, the burden of proof, etc. Terrorists and those who hate us sometimes take advantage of the liberties we have in order to harm us. Once we manage to capture those bad people, they deserve nothing more than rot in jail. No? Well, NO! It is supposed to be more difficult to convict, and there should be restrictions on the government's intrusion & powers. Otherwise, the US would be no different (or better) than those fanatical, intolerant, freedom-hating persons who seek to destroy us.

Yes, such systems do exist, but we chose to have a different kind of society, where people can be free to act--especially in their own private domain. Where even persons charged with the most heinous crimes have the right to say, "prove it!" The Founding Fathers thought of habeas corpus as an important liberty and they put in in Article 1 of the Constitution. Habeas corpus means "due process," or, in other words, a defendant has the right to appear in court to challenge the charges against him. The Bush administration has little respect for all those liberties that makes our country great, so it has subverted the Constitution, bent the rules, re-defined the definition of torture, denied habeas corpus, lied about prisoners, sent people overseas to be detained and tortured, spied on foreigner & Americans citizens alike, and has acted with self-assumed abusive powers of Big Brother.

Just think what this BushCo was saying, that detainees in GITMO (our base facility in Cuba) have no rights whatsoever because they are not on US soil! Even if our own military intelligence (and so many other experts) admit that probably some 80-85% of those detainees are innocent, and not enemy combatants. The previous Congress under Republican leadership--and with the votes of many Dems--voted for the disgraceful Military Commissions Act that further stripped certain detained persons rights enjoyed by other accused persons. In other words, if the government determines a person is an enemy combatant, this person become a non-person anc can disappear! Wow, this is Soviet-style justice. By the way, our Constitution provides the same civil liberties and rights (except voting) to any person, not just citizens.

The Constitution gives the right to Congress to suspend habeas corpus in times of cases of "Rebellion or invasion." Is this the case today? I don't think so, unless you buy the argument that this war on terror has no front and will last for ever... It's absurd to argue that we have to give up all those freedoms that make us strong (and a flourishing society) in order to protect who we are! Are we so weak-minded and afraid that we surrender our American freedoms to the terrorists? I hope not, that's why those of us who care cannot remain silent. Criticizing our government is our patriotic duty when the government is acting irresponsibly and unlawfully. Let's not confuse dissent with disloyalty.

This must stop. The new Congress under Democratic control should take a proactive approach: repeal bad and ineffective law, and place a serious check on the executive branch's abuses. There are a series of cases in front of the Supreme Court challenging BushCo's Big Brother, but Congress should not wait for SCOTUS decisions. Instead it should pass sensible laws that reflect our respect for our freedoms and our national character. Enough of the bastardization of our country by the current bandidos in power .

Feb 19, 2007

When Supporting the Troops With Magnetic Ribbons & Rhetoric is Not Enough. (Another Inconvenient Truth)

The Troops Belong to All of Us
UPDATED, 2/23 (below)
War Casualties in detailed numbers, here.

Supporting the troops means different things to different people. Normally, I wouldn't bother arguing with the morons who say everyone who's against the Iraq war is not supporting the troops and is giving comfort to the enemy. Usually, those people are either war profiteers, or confuse the meanings of loyalty, duty, patriotism and dissent. Many others, just wear an American flag lapel, and put a magnetic sticker on their cars but haven't done much else to make sure our troops are indeed supported, beyond the rhetoric.

I wonder how many Americans actually want to know what exactly goes on in Iraq. Yes, sometimes depictions of violence and its aftermath should be more readily available to the public. Why? Because the sanitized view of a horrific event only helps to perpetuate the horrors. Why isn't most of the media covering the war as it happens--not as a general abstraction--with all the unpleasant details. The American public has been misled about this war of choice, and although today most of us want this war to end, the administration and many elected representatives--some of them with presidential aspirations--are arguing for an escalation instead of a quick end!

How come those in charge of this horrible situation have not been shamed to crawl under a rock or chased out of town? Every American should read this article in the Washington Post about our troops being neglected, here at home! We know that this administration went into the occupation of Iraq with no realistic plan and without providing our troops with the armor they needed. We now have over 3,150 dead and well over 25,000 injured, many severely--like double amputees. Let's not forget that every one of the dead was a person who'll never experience all those good things in life the rest of us take for granted. Look into their faces and weep.

Wait, save some of your tears for this:
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Dana Priest and Anne Hull Washington Post Staff Writers, Sunday, 2/18/07
[read the entire article]

When you're done weeping, make sure you don't remain silent. Make sure you understand your obligation as a citizen to be informed and be active in the affairs of our nation. Let no one manipulate your patriotism for their gain. The last resort of a scoundrel is an appeal to patriotism. As MLK said, Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.

Update, 2/20
I read Paul Krugman's piece in the NYT (2/19/07), but I failed to include his points earlier in this post. John at AmericaBlog didn't miss it. This is why, Wrong is Right, is worth reading.

..For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes. And this pathology has had real, disastrous consequences. The situation in Iraq might not be quite so dire — and we might even have succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan — if Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney had been willing to admit early on that things weren’t going well or that their handpicked appointees weren’t the right people for the job....

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them....

Mrs. Clinton’s problem. For some reason she and her advisers failed to grasp just how fed up the country is with arrogant politicians who can do no wrong. I don’t think she falls in that category; but her campaign somehow thought it was still a good idea to follow Karl Rove’s playbook, which says that you should never, ever admit to a mistake. And that playbook has led them into a political trap...

This is the Iraq we don't see. Iraq: The Hidden Story, is UK Channel 4's documentary of the harsh reality. It poses some serious questions as to what people whose country is involved in a war should know about the horrors of war... [warning: this 48-minute long video displays graphic violence]

Apparently this story of neglect and disrespect has touched many nerves. The top brass has apologized for the mess at Walter Reed Medical facilities. One day, the president (through his spokesman) is aware of the situation, the next he doesn't know anything about it. Now, the Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, is accusing the Post and all those who shed light into this black hole that the story is based on a "pack of lies." Oh, I see. "But, remember, more than half [the soldiers'] rooms were perfectly OK." He said. What a knucklehead!

In line with the rhetoric, "Support the Troops," the top brass says, those problems that are based ..on a pack of lies will be fixed asap. That is, while the 600,000 claims for disability are being sorted out. Oh, I forgot, the medical benefits of the National Guard troops run out a month after they return from the front.

Feb 17, 2007

A Progressive Approach to the Presidential Nomination Process--Start with Smaller Steps, Pick Up the Pace Gradually

Stop the Madness. Open up the Process, Reduce the Role of Money, Make it More Interesting, Give More Choices to the Voters!

It's hard to believe that the next big election won't happen for a year and a half, but a year from today, we'll most likely know the eventual major party nominees. This is because many states are moving their primaries up, way up. Some are threatening to have them in January or very early in February. It's getting out of hand I think. The reason why Iowa went first with its caucuses and followed by New Hampshire's primaries was to make it easier for lesser known candidates to have a chance with limited resources by competing in very small states. Retail politics, we call it. Now with more and bigger states cramming their contests earlier, it's the better known, better financed candidates that have the big advantage.

I understand the complaint states like New Jersey have, that by the time they hold their primary, it's all but over. So, they do want to be part of the action. In our very peculiar electoral system, states have lots of power when it comes to elections, and even how their delegation to Congress is selected, among other privileges. We have 100 major [with presence in all 50 states] parties in the US. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. They are independent, legal entities; two for every state, plus the national party committees that supposedly coordinate all. This is one reason we have 2 major parties in every state and on the national stage, because local parties ..move left or right to accommodate the public sentiment. Therefore, we have the Republican parties in the Northeast who are closer to their counterpart Democratic parties, and whereas the Dems in, say, Alabama & Mississippi are more conservative than the Repubs in the Northeast!

The National party holds the convention, of course, and has the authority not to recognize the delegates from a state party--a threat uttered recently by the DNC recently in an attempt to control the states' frenzy to front-load the primaries. The National parties--or more appropriately, the National Committees--have lost much of their power. Since the 1960s, increasingly it's the individual politicians that decide when and for what to run. They pick their own issues and raise their own money. The mass media had a lot to do with this turnaround. The Internet pushed this a few steps forward. Howard Dean, for example, used the Internet and "grass-root" organizations to propel himself (and to raise more money through the Internet than anyone else) four years ago. I don't think he was a favorite of the Democratic party, but he became a force to be reckoned with. Today, he heads the DNC!

I have a suggestion: The order of the contests should be according to the size of the delegation. The smaller ones go first, followed by the medium-sized, and the larger. This would give a fighting chance to the lesser candidates, the contest can thus open up and the candidates will have an opportunity to do retail politics and gather momentum. The contest will become more interesting as the "heavier" states come into play later on. In other words more states will become important battlegrounds under this system. OK, the national convention will probably still be a show, but a better at that as the primary voters may have a greater say in who gets there. As of now, the front runner is not only known but he's got a huge number of delegates since his victory was assured early on. If those states that are threatening to move up do so, then by the first Tuesday in February 2008, there will be a virtual nominee by then!

Soon, I'm going to write about the polling and the current front runners, but as of today, what we're seeing in the polls is basically name recognition. There is much "softness" of intent and support. This name recognition, however, may become a de facto arrangement since the candidates with less money and a lower national profile may never get their chance to speak to the nation and try to effectively campaign for the votes of their party's members.

Feb 14, 2007

Have a Bonobo Experience on Valentine's Day (and not only). Remember: Life is What We Make of it!

This post is not about politics. Wait, on a second thought, it is! Even on a personal level, two people have to engage in politics, that is, they have to communicate their desires, plan a common course of action, compromise, establish rules of conduct, agree on a budget, have certain responsibilities, and have a vision for the future!

I'm not a fan of the gift-driven holidays, and this Valentine's Day is no exception. Actually, I see people trying to get romantic because they ..feel obliged and this doesn't excite me. I know, who could possibly ignore a (commercial) holiday without running the risk of being labeled an ogre, an iconoclast, a brute? I know, culture has its advantages and ironclad clauses, expected behaviors, customs and mores. I prefer ..smores! Without entirely skipping the conventional ways, I like surprises, the unexpected, something that originates within and flows outward as a natural feeling; such a thing doesn't need any prescribed rituals in my world.

Remembering my mother because it's Mother's Day is something I don't want to experience, not if it'd take a commercial holiday to make me think of her. I'm also not a big fan of specific dates--usually arbitrarily set or with the consumer culture in mind. I prefer events that I find relevant; and, I don't need a particular day to remind me what it should occur naturally in me. OK, some dates are important because collectively we can celebrate or pay homage. But, those are for co-ordinating our activities; they can't make us more patriotic or anything that we are not already. Otherwise, it's pretending, make believe.

On the other hand, I don't really care how people celebrate important days, dates, and events in their lives. I believe that we should give meaning to our lives [this is a deeper philosophical view than it may seem at first], so if a man wants to get on his knees and publicly propose to a woman on V'Day, presenting her with a diamond ring, then he should do whatever he feels like. I just don't like this kind of theatrics. As for diamonds, well, I have views that most women wouldn't want to hear.

I do not scorn love nor do I underestimate its power. Like any other human trait, it can uplift the individual and create a beautiful world, or it can be a destructive force if it's blind and crude. The warmth, the validation, the release of endorphins, How could a person who's capable of love can also be so cruel with others? How could someone who loves his ..loving god can bring death & destruction upon other human beings? The human psyche is abysmal indeed!

Who can deny that if more people loved and were loved the world would've been a better place. I don't want to draw extensive scientific conclusions or parallel comparisons to our cousins, the monkeys, but it's worth a look. Just the other day, PBS NOVA had a program on the behavior exhibited by different primates. While the chimps are very violent and even commit infanticide, the peace-loving bonobo prefer the make-love-not-war approach; this approach has made for a happier existence! We humans share 98% of our DNA with both of those primates. You be the judge of our behavior and our strategy in establishing our world. Sometimes, primitive behavior isn't confined to the more primitive animals and cultures.

I'm tempted to start a long diatribe on why & how our societies have attempted to suppress the better side of human nature--even denying love, sex, and the human body--while institutionalizing violence and rewarding the extermination of the "others." But, I'll leave such exercise for another day. Meanwhile, enjoy your day, and try to have as many bonobo experiences as you can! Don't deny yourself and the beautiful experiences you can share; just deny the irrational guilt. Life is too short to waste it.

Feb 13, 2007

Homage to a Great Scientist: Charles Darwin. (Though He Failed to Predict that Evolution Can Regress in America)

Seeking and Examining the Evidence

Charles Darwin [author, Origins of the Species]was born 198 years ago; today we have one of the strongest scientific theories, that of evolution. I won't go, again, into what makes a scientific theory and what science really is, but I still find it amazing that with all the access to knowledge and information we've got, there are so many people who shut their minds off, willingly. I suppose for some people how they define their identity and how they wish to believe is more important than knowing or amending their beliefs.

In a few days, presidential hopeful John McCain is going to deliver a speech to the advocates of creationism, or intelligent design [yes, only one, their version of mythology] at the Discovery Institute. They promote a Biblical version of events, and a replacement of science as we know it. McCain's shift to the theocratic conservatism is now complete. He joins science-illiterate Bush in saying that some stone-age superstitions and myths should be taught in our schools as science! Kids should be exposed to all points of view, as if we know nothing about the physical world!

Yeap, gravity is a magical force, the sky is held up by a very strong dude, named Atlas, and how can you not believe in Santa Claus, the unicorn, elves, and the Tooth Fairy? That's why it's comforting to believe that we'll always be number one, and that make-believe is better than reality! Why, watching Faux News Channel you can see that we're winning the war in Iraq, the president is wise, no one is stealing our money, and criticical thinking is for sissies.

Feb 8, 2007

Announcing a Candidacy for President with a Twist (and some common sense)

I wear a few different hats, one of a teacher at a local university. This semester I'm teaching a course on politics & media, so, obviously, we're dealing with the presidential race among other subjects. In one of the assignments, I've asked the students to declare their candidacy for president of the US! I've been getting several very interesting papers. This exercise makes someone sit down and think what he/she would like to talk about during the campaign and the important issues they'll tackle once elected. I wish more Americans did this exercise. It's not as simple as you may initially think. You have to take into account today's reality, geopolitics, and the audience that will receive your message. Have you thought about it?

Here's one such presidential candidacy, by ..Demos.[pictured]

Good morning. Today, I would like to address those who love this country; those true patriots who are willing to contribute into making the United States an even better country to live in.

Before I explain my reasons for seeking the presidency of the United States, I’d like to briefly address those who do not know anything about politics and may have voted in the past. Please, do not do it again! Don’t vote! This way, I won’t have to spend tons of money to buy expensive ads to push your emotional buttons and “swift-boat” my opponent—even though he deserves it, the country certainly does not. Please do not dilute the votes of those who have invested some time and energy into making educated political decisions. You may turn off your TV and radio sets now. Thank you.

I am an ambitious man. I want to be the most powerful person in the world. But, ambition without direction and power without wisdom are two very dangerous things a person can have. My ambition is to strengthen all those values and attitudes that have made America great—democracy, human rights, equality of opportunity, tolerance, the arts & sciences. I want to use the power of the president’s office to implement smart policies that will truly enhance and encourage a culture of life. In the here & now—when it makes a difference in people’s lives.

I advocate a culture of life in which the pursuit of happiness is a right not a privilege of the few. Let a person give meaning to his/her own life. We are a wealthy nation so we can do many things to enhance the quality of our lives. It’s a matter of priorities, which we should examine and re-arrange.

Our government, our society, all of us should be pro-life advocates. But, this means providing a strong social safety net, medical care, education, and opportunities when a person is alive and our actions can indeed make a difference in the quality of their life! We cannot limit our interest to the period between the time when 2 cells meet and childbirth.

We’re having a debate about marriage these days. I suggest we define marriage as a union for a specific purpose: PROCREATION. Only those who want to have children and are able should be allowed to marry. If after a period of five years, a couple doest have any children (or a pregnancy), that marriage should be null and void!
Otherwise, if we agree that marriage is about love, then we should open it up to anyone regardless of sexual orientation or any other particular trait. It's that simple, and honest! Let love be the deciding factor.

In times of crisis, people become insecure and fearful. This is the time when we need strong leaders. Unfortunately good leaders that can rise to the occasion are harder to find during such times. A smart leader knows how to use his power and not react with the mentality of a brute or that of a frat boy. But, above all, we cannot give up all those attributes that have made us strong in order to protect them.

If, we give up everything that makes us special, our enemies win. I urge you to be vigilant in protecting our very specific freedoms and not exchange them for some undefined safety. This new war on terror--that can take place anywhere for an indefinite period of time--cannot be an excuse to create Big Brother. As Benjamin Franklin said, those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither!

With opponents like these, winning the presidency is assured.

We are all here. Hopefully we have a future. That will depend on the choices we make today. It's about taking care of our beautiful lonely planet and about taking care of our country. I ask you to take your responsibilities as citizens seriously. In the land of the free & the home of the brave, we need to have people who want to be free and be brave. Remember, freedom is not free, and that we are the guarantors of democracy.

Being brave does not mean pointless sacrifices. It means having the courage not to be afraid of new ideas and of progress. It means to be gutsy enough to admit mistakes. It means to follow the evidence where it leads you. It means to keep alive our adventurous spirit that opened new frontiers for America, for the world.

Just remember, we cannot change the politics for the better unless we change the people we send to Washington DC. Please vote for my candidacy but only if you promise to send like-minded reformers to Congress as well, and only if you’re going to keep an eye on us.

Thank you.

Feb 3, 2007

Don't Listen to the Pessimists. The Earth Will Survive as it Has for Billions of Years!

The Question is, Will Humans Too? And, in What Kind of an Environment?

We all breathe the same air. Essentially, we all have the same home, called Earth. We are all subject to the ..weather. Assuming that we want our children to enjoy life as much as possible, we have to do whatever we can to preserve the health of our ecosystem. When thousands of top scientists issue a dire warning about the health of our planet, we should listen. Science is the best tool we have for finding things about and understanding the world around us. It's not infallible, but it's strength comes from its methodology. Again, it's the best tool we've got. The consensus is that global warming is a fact and that humans are mainly responsible (90%) for its accelerated pace. There are a few (yes, just a few) scientists who disagree. That's fine. But, as far as I know, no scientist that does not work for, or receives anything from the energy industry, disagrees with this consensus finding. So, the question is, what do we do about this problem of global warming.

It shouldn't take a genius to note that we've been putting lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Smog, for example, is the product of burning gas, coal and petroleum. Emissions of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) are rising faster than ever because of human activities, not because of any natural cycle. People can choose to believe whatever they like--and we've been doing this on almost every level and about anything. Yet, I don't think we can afford to make a mistake on this one, nor do I think we have much time to spare before we act.

Global warming according to xkcd [click picture to enlarge]
I'm a student of science and an ardent supporter of it. There's a intrinsic value in knowledge, at least for those who really want to know. Be inquisitive and follow the evidence where ever it leads you. When it comes to the environment we have to be honest with ourselves. There's no superman, no script being followed whereas Deus ex machina would appear to save humanity from annihilating itself. We have to prove that we can be reasonable and rational beings capable of their own salvation.

Leadership is very important and our government should be at the forefront in environmental policy. The marketplace forces are good to make profits and react to consumer demands, but without some regulation and safeguarding of our commonwealth, the last tree will be cut down, and the last fish will be taken from the sea. Unfortunately, this president is not only science-illiterate, but insensitive to the needs of the environment. As long as there is some person somewhere that disputes the scientific consensus (i.e. theory of evolution, gravity, etc), Mr. Bush will say there are two sides to a story!

Our government can implement policies that promote energy conservation, alternative fuels, and a change of consumer behavior. We're 5% of Earth's population and we use anywhere from 25 to 40% of the total world energy. This is not sustainable, at least, not with the current means of energy production. On the other hand, every person has to do his/her part in being smarter about energy and the environment. There are plenty ways we can help, start by being educated about the issue and interested in doing something about this problem. Oh, perhaps you may want to change some of those incandescent light bulbs to the fluorescent ones that use 75% less energy and last a lot longer.

Marge: Homer! There's someone here who can help you...
Homer: Is it Batman?
Marge: No, he's a scientist.
Homer: Batman's a scientist!
Marge: It's not Batman!