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 23, 2007
What would it take to make US politics more interesting??!!
Dec 17, 2007
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 ..sex*[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
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?
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.
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!
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.
Dec 1, 2007
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 majority 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 differ 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 enlightened, 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.
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!