Sep 25, 2007

What a Relief... "No Gays in Iran," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President Tells the World. Who's Next?

Now that the president of Iran has spoken at Columbia University and later at the UN's General Assembly, I feel vindicated that sometimes it's worthwhile to give a public forum to persons like him. Why not? What are we afraid of? The appeal of his demagogy? His radiant personality, or the power of his arguments?

The absurdities, even offensive, should be made public so people can judge for themselves. Of course, after a point--when everybody knows about the nature of the speaker and his/her arguments--we should find better things to do with out time instead of paying attention to Ahmadinejads, Coulters, and O'Reillys--just to name a few wingnuts.

On the other hand, it's sad that so many modern humans fall for all that garbage uttered by such wackos. The latter would irrelevant if they were largely ignored. In an open, tolerant society, democracy is good, but it can't exist without the commitment and responsibility of its citizens. And, you know, having a critical mind helps a lot!

The Iranian president's visit to Columbia was important. We demonstrate that we value free speech, while we still can challenge bigotry and other fallacies of the mind. If we (and I believe we do) have better arguments for having a liberal democracy instead of the islamist authoritarian government of Mr. Ahmadinejad, then we shouldn't be afraid of engaging our adversaries. A liberal democracy allows for individual freedom (including personal life-style choices), for separation of church & state, and for open debate in the marketplace of ideas.

A couple centuries ago, liberalism began to replace the Old Regime in the western world. The Old Regime [the old way of organizing human societies] had two main characteristics: Religious conformity and ascribed status. Religious conformity meant serious trouble for those of a different faith, or, more accurately, those of a different sect. There was no separation of church/state. Ascribed status meant nobility not mobility. Every person was born in a particular station in society and remained there from cradle to grave. The "special people" ruled by divine right, and even society was thought to be divinely ordained. The elites for obvious reasons perpetuated this scheme. The Church, already holding a privileged position, told the masses that, if they behaved in a certain way, their rewards would come in the ..future, after death!

Fortunately, liberalism, bolstered by the Enlightenment and Newtonian science, offered an alternative: a society with conditions that gave the individual the best chances to achieve his/her own bliss; opportunities to a better self-fulfillment. It was also a more successful model for prosperity as societies that organized themselves on the principles of liberalism flourished.

The other important aspect of liberalism is that it accommodates progress. From the scientific reasoning & method, to an ever-changing (and hopefully) improving society. It fosters the conditions that allow people to be creative, to think for themselves, to inquiry about the world, to challenge old "divine" notions about human nature, purpose of life, and even the nature of God (or the absence thereof).

However, the Old Regime has not disappeared. It exists in Mr. Ahmadinejad's Iran and in many other countries in this 21st century. Unfortunately, it also has many supporters in the US. OK, they don't want an islamist state here, but if you changed this word to Christian theocracy, it'd fit nicely. Just watch the O'Reillys, the Robertsons/Falwells, etc, etc, etc, and the millions of Americans who believe this crap. Yes, it's worrisome that the majority of Americans (US) believe that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in their life time! [read: end of the world as we know it]

While we condemn the brutality and the bigotry of people like Ahmadinejad, we should be more vigilant in protecting and enhancing our liberal democracy here at home. Lead by example, not just by rhetoric. That's why we cannot afford to be tourists in our own country. The quality of our democracy depends on the quality of people involved in it.

Even people in parts of the globe that don't have anything near to what we have here can see that human dignity and a quality of life has a better chance in a liberal democracy than under Big Brother. Not every person will readily accept a system that allows challenges and requires responsibility, but more and more people see the advantages of such. For example, the Eastern Bloc countries were rocked by revolutions some 15 years ago as their citizens realized that "their enemies" had better lives! The "peoples' government" had failed to provide while it required total obedience and sacrifices. Those governments had the monopoly of power, the monopoly of truth, while brutally suppressing their people and anything else they didn't like.

When and if [since the Iranian president told us there aren't such persons in his country] the first homosexuals, infidels, dissenters of all stripes appear in Iran, the liberal democracies can be a beacon of freedom that lies on the other side of their fence. Maybe, then, there will be some hope for progressive change and a path to a better life. Because, hope for a better world is a great motivator.

UPDATE, 9/28/07
Wait, maybe Ahmadinejad has now found some gays in Iran! Until he takes care of this ..problem, and for accurancy's sake, he removed the following denial of homosexual presence: "In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," from the official transcript.

Sep 15, 2007

The Millennial Generation has Progressive Politics in Mind

School has started and, as it happens in my classes, we get to discuss current events and the important issues facing our country. There are some worrisome signs and some encouraging ones. Worrisome in the sense that people in fear or in crisis may react in ways that actually change those conditions (or the reasons) that made our country great. This new generation is not immune from this threat. For example, there isn't an urgency (as much as I'd like to see anyway) regarding the incremental intrusions into our civil liberties by our government in the name of national security. Young people, by definition, haven't had the experiences of the past, thus, serious abuses [like the interment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry, the McCarthy witch-hunts, etc.] haven't been felt, while the current ones haven't sank in yet.

Yet, over all, I think the millennium (or millennial)
generation--those who come of age at the cusp of the new century--is probably more promising than the one that preceded it.

Every generation has to deal with important issues and big challenges, but this one is marked by the "war on terror" which includes the attacks on 9-11, and the Bush presidency. I believe that the country made a terrible mistake by giving power to this small man--most likely the worst president in US history--because the bad policies of his administration will haunt this & future generations. It was a missed opportunity for America to start the new millennium on the right path and sensible plans for the future. Instead, the new president will have no margin for error in foreign & domestic policies. It seems that every generation, 25 years or so, the US does something really stupid. It's up to the millennials not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The younger people tend to have more progressive attitudes; the Democrats may benefit from this trend.

I do think that our politics is equally dominated by personalities as much as people's party affiliation and ideology. However, the basic core ideological tenets--or, if you like, the pursued public policies--as expressed by our two major political groups Democrats & Republicans. The Democratic agenda has found a wider acceptance among the younger (under 30) US citizens.

Take a look at the chart [produced by Democracy Corps; its site has more info], and check out the Harvard Institute of Politics polling data [here, in pdf]. If you want to read more about the so-called millennials at the New Politics Institute, go here. [includes a pdf download on the progressive attitudes of younger Americans]

This millennial generation is trending away from the Republican party. As things stand today in the presidential field, the Republican candidates couldn't be farther from the core preferences of this generation. Of course, the Republican primary voters are a different beast, so the candidates obviously reflect this sentiment over all. Although, even within the broader Republican base, the presidential candidates are out of touch when it comes to ending the failed occupation in Iraq.

Several conservatives have replied that younger people always tend to be more radical until they ..grow up. I don't subscribe to this theory. People can change their minds at any time--depending on the circumstances, life experiences, availability of leadership, etc. However, certain core beliefs are formed rather earlier in a person's life. If, say, people under 30 believe that same-sex marriage is OK, I don't see why they'd change their mind and support all those laws denying same rights to every American. Likewise, for a host of other issues, i.e., the environment, heath care, education, etc. We also know that if a person votes for a particular political party 3 times or more before he/she's 30, they stay with this party in the years to come.

Next year, the Millennial voters will be 50 million. By 2016, they'll be 1/3 of the electorate. I am a liberal-progressive not because I happened to pick a team and sticking with it, but because it makes sense. Many of the issues we're facing today could be easily solved if more people used sense and an analytical mind instead of following their ..gut. Wanting to believe in something [yeah, we've all been there.... Remember failed relationships?] when all evidence pointed to the opposite direction, or, when people just accept something that makes them feel good without any supporting evidence.

Anyway, the bottom line: there's ground for optimism, much of it comes from the signs that Millenials are civic-minded, politically engaged, and hold values long associated with progressives, such as concern about economic inequalities, smarter & multilateral foreign policy, and that government can be an instrument for a fairer society.
[from the New Politics Institute]

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ” Kurt Vonnegut

Sep 9, 2007

The Duty of a Patriot

General Petraeus, Are you going to have another "Powell moment"? Are you going to be like EPA Chief Christie Whitman regarding the safety of air at Ground Zero? Are you going to be like CIA "slam-dunk" chief Tenet?

[Editor's note: posted a few hours before Patraeus's report is made public.]

AND THE ANSWER IS: No need for a drum roll, because there's no surprise here... Read Patraeus's song & dance here.

Sep 8, 2007

Who Buys & Dispenses Crap? [When should we stop listening to those who've been wrong about everything?]

“I have asked Don to join the distinguished group of scholars that will pursue new insights on the direction of thinking that the United States might consider going forward.” Director John Raisian of the Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Again, it doesn't matter if one's dismal analytical skills, whereas his predictions and implementation of policy are all utter failures. Name recognition, rabid-fan loyalty, and a certain audience's willingness to buy crap & stupidity are more important virtues in our world.

“Rumsfeld will serve on a task force of scholars and experts who will focus on issues pertaining to ‘ideology and terror,’ the conservative think tank announced Friday in a press release.”

Here are some of Rumsfeld's high points... [from Think Progress]

– Compared Iraq war critics to Hitler appeasers and Stalinists
– Called Iraq war critics “quitters” who “blame America first” and “cannot stomach a tough fight
– Claimed insurgent violence increases “in the spring, summer and fall months
– Warned terrorists were carrying out violence because they wanted a change in leadership here in the U.S.
– Said war critics were manipulated by bin Laden’s "media committees"

It irks me that persons like William Kristol still get to peddle their "expertise." He just said that "we're winning the war in Iraq"! Now, he's either delusional, or just saying what people want to hear. Or, that he's a White House shill--just like Judith Miller (formely) of the NY Times. Do you remember when the White House was saying that even the NYT reports support the administration's policy in Iraq? Except that those reports & lies were being fed to Miller by sources in the WH!

So, Kristol may be expressing the intent of the WH to maintain at least 100,000 troops in Iraq until this president leaves office! He expresses the neocon argument that the only way the US can lose in Iraq is by "cut & run"!!!! Ridiculous, simply ridiculous. But, that's the plan today, and the Congressional Dems are not standing up firmly against Bush and cut the funding for the continuation of this failed expedition/occupation in Iraq.

Sure, there's progress in Iraq, some people are telling us. Look, they say, violence is down. Really? Hmm. Upon closer inspection, we found out that the military doesn't count the deaths from violence within the religious sects, or anyone shot in the head, etc!!!! Honestly, I'm not making this up.

Asking the right question
CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer said this morning that one of the lessons we learned from Vietnam “is that we were asking the wrong question” to our generals. “When we have to ask, are we winning? we’re probably losing. Victory is always obvious,” he said.
"Instead of that question, let’s hope the general will be asked what we so often forgot during Vietnam: Is this worth the cost in lives and money?"
I've often made this point in various posts here. When we're told, "stay the course," it doesn't mean we stick with a minor inconvenience. It means that many more deaths at great expense. It's too costly and there's no good end in sight. No matter what we do in Iraq, the killings there will continue--and it's been our fault since we were the ones to take the heavy lid that had kept things relatively quiet. Our ship has run aground, it's taking in water, people are dying, and our captain is delusional. There's no progress forward. Too late for such a thing. And, we're making more enemies than we can kill. As long as we maintain a presence in Iraq, we're an attractive target there, and we help our enemies get stronger. [not to mention the resources we can better use elsewhere & more wisely]

Sen. J. Biden (D-DE) makes some good points on Meet the Press (9/9/07) regarding the situation in Iraq. He preempts Gen. Petraeus who will present a better, but wrong, picture of Iraq in his report tomorrow (9/10). FACT: Every month this year we've had more casualties than the same month last year! Watch the video.