Aug 29, 2008

Obama-Biden Versus McCain-Palin. I like it!

For a moment I thought Gustav was McCain's running mate. This latest hurricane is hitting the Gulf states right on cue on the latter's birthday! When 3 years ago, hurricane Katrina was killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands Americans, McCain was eating cake with president Bush! What a great example of their priorities, and ideology--that government should "be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub" or, in a good size flooding.

The hardcore supporters get excited by the speeches and pageantry of the party conventions, but when all of that production is over, the impressions are those that remain. Most of the country relies on such impressions to form an opinion, which is also filtered through a person's frame of mind. The smaller the frame, well, you know...

Knowledge is desirable but it has to be good stuff--not indoctrination or senseless repetition. Knowledge wit
hout critical thinking is lacking something very important--the ability to make sense of the world, both the physical and the world of ideas. Yes, tradition plays a role in maintaining stability and, on some level, some efficiency. Yet, this is the modern era; we've been throught the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, but we've only started on this journey of widespread intellectualism and easy access to information.

I try to understand why people believe (strange) things nowadays. Our schools, including higher ed, don't do a good job teaching logic and basically how to connect the dots. So, here's something I've seen: when people are put in a new situation, or given a new piece of information, they don't approach it intellectually, but instead they have an emotional reaction. Based on this reaction, they construct a frame of mind around it. Anything that falls outside this box--no matter how reasonable, how factual--is discarded!

Thankfully many people are able to amend, revise, improve, and seek the truth no matter where it leads! However, in the world of politics, where presidential contests (despite the appearance of landslides as amplified by the Electoral College) are decided by about 3 percentage points. Thus, a small swing either way can make a huge difference. Remember the independents...

In my recent post, (VP Choices for BO), I said that the VP choice rarely boosts the prospects for the presidential candidate. The last VP choice that actually delivered was JFK's Johnson. But, most importantly, today Obama has to do what Kennedy did in 1960, and even Reagan in 1980--they convinced the voters of the following:

  • They were to be trusted as chief executives. Not that they changed their politics from the primaries to the general election; on the contrary. Yet, the voters usually respond to someone who says clearly what he believes in and, therefore, people know what to expect! This is very important to understand, because it has to do with trustworthiness! And, it ranks higher than a particular policy the majority of the voters disagree with!
  • Every American knows that our politics are far from perfect. They know the system is designed for gridlock. If a politician falls within the accepted political spectrum, what matters is who can be more effective; we crave leadership and effectiveness--even if it means that Americans vote against their own economic interests. *
The other important factor is that many Americans are low-information political actors. They don't seem to know much about the issues and the particular policies. This is particularly true for the so-called independent voters, who are the least informed voters and can easily float not only from party to party but between two very different ideological points.

The low information voters must be reached, and even though they can form an opinion/impression at any time (usually they don't amend their first impressions), the way to get to them is by repeating the same message, which doesn't have to offer many details. We tend to over-explain things that result in complicated answers. We should be more like ..doctors: this is the medicine for you to get well; if you want more details on how this medicine works, here's where you can look it up. Simple frames (as George Lakoff says) work better. They must be repeated often to sink in. As if repetition adds weight to the argument.

Odysseus Allegedly Was Named After the Odyssey

Conversely, we have to remember the adage, where's smoke, there's fire. Obviously this is not always true, but does it matter? Let's see. If John Kerry was indeed an American hero (who had bravely fought & injured in Vietnam) he would have responded to the conservative hacks who even questioned his presence in the battlefield. Right?

Also, what's up with this radical Islamist who was "educated" in a madrasah and now seeks a high public office? I mean, "that's what I've heard." [expression I often hear without any supporting evidence or reason]

* I'd like to expand on this a bit. There's a good percentage of voters who don't understand how the system works but want results. They don't pay much attention to the finer points of an issue or policy. They are not very partisan and float from candidate to candidate seeking leadership & effectiveness. There are a few issues (like terrorism, war, abortion, etc.) that influence their voting behavior, but they base their decisions on simple (simplistic) concepts & rhetoric, i.e. we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here!

Aug 22, 2008

McCain, Out of Touch with Real America. And, an Offer to Pick Lettuce for $50 an Hour! [You Wish!]

Arugula-eating Elitists Maybe Good for Your Health

I don't expect the president, a senator, or whomever to be poor, nor do I think someone's family background automatically makes them a better leader who advocates policies good for most people.

On the other hand, I do think that a person born into a life of privilege probably does not understand how most Americans live. Certain experiences count for something. It's not the same to hear or read about poverty and people's struggles to make means meet the ends. You have to experience this up close--not necessarily yourself but you've got to come close to it. The elder Barbara ,when she visited the Katrina displaced people in the squalid conditions of the Astrodome, said that it wasn't all that bad for those underprivileged people! Well, I don't think she was trying to be mean. Her callousness revealed her views from the top looking down at the little people. She and others (who even said so) compared sleeping on cots to a ..camping experience!

Again, when you elect leaders make sure they understand that government should be a means to an end, that is, for the greater good. This is especially true about those leaders who espouse an ideology whereas the government's role is not to protect and empower; and that government should have a laissez faire approach because the marketplace has the answer for everything--except when the big business need bailouts, tax-breaks, and monopoly status, etc.

I know what it is to not have enough money for basic stuff and to make hard choices on how to spend the little available. What it is to worry about paying for higher ed--because for some of us, this was the only way to a better life. When we had a few hundred extra dollars, we got a beat-up old car to drive to school and work. No health care coverage, and even the dentist wasn't part of the limited budget. We have lived in dark, stuffy basements, because it was the cheapest abode we could afford while attending college.

I didn't serve in any armed forces, nor was I ever a prisoner of war or otherwise. Perhaps such an experience would make me hate war, or could make define winning in military terms, like occupying a country for 100 years. But, I know more about middle America: how much a a gallon of milk or gasoline cost, where to get the bargains on stuff. I know how many houses I own (or don't), how much money I have, and how long I can be without a job. I have friends and acquaintances that are in the middle class, like most Americans. My definition of rich isn't like McCain's--$5 million dollars or more!!!

Nearly half of Americans make less than $30,000 a year, and two thirds make less than $50,000! Not to mention that the necessities of life (housing, health insurance, etc) have risen faster than wages. Professor Elizabeth Warren has a chestful of data about the real economics and the effects on real America. Read her books and interviews and judge for yourself.

Oh, and I know two more things McCain doesn't: One, no worker makes $50 an hour picking vegetables; two, most Americans would love to have this wage even if it meant working the fields. [McCain offered $50/hr to pick lettuce in Arizona, thinking that Americans wouldn't do that!]

When I hear McCain saying "we" in, "Celebrities don't have to worry about family budgets. But we sure do," I wonder if he understands celebrity status and economic class. This from a guy who doesn't know how many houses [read: nice, big, expensive, plush residences] he's got! When he pays $270,0000 a year for his maids and butlers! What he spends on housekeeping is more than the average worth of a house, and way more than what most Americans make in a year! Do you know the percentage of American taxpayers {this includes heads of families who file for more persons than themselves} make more than $100,000 a year? It's only 11%. That's right, the median income is in the $40,000s, while about 15% live in poverty.

What kind of experiences of everyday life can someone like G.W. Bush possibly have? No adversity other than failing in school and being arrested by the police for drunken driving. He was born into privilege, screwed up during most of his life, skipped active duty, and found Jesus in his 40s when Laura threatened to leave him. All the money he made was because of others [though he manage to lose a fortune in the oil business!], and was given the presidency on a wave of lies, vicious political attacks, and cheating. Ironically, he got many second chances; always someone to bail him out. Yet, he doesn't seem to care for the people like the Katina victims. Sure, heckuvajob Brownie (experienced not in crisis management but in fancy horses & giving money to Bush) was good enough for being the FEMA boss. That's how BushCo see the government. That's why we should never elect people who don't have a belief that government is of the people and for the people.

McCain has had the life of luxury for so long, that even if he had an inkling of the real life back in the 60s, he's lost it by now. I doubt he knows anybody from the middle class--except his maids but the lord of the manor doesn't really know these people. The very rich live in their own world by choice! There are exceptions of course, but usually they experience a different reality than the rest of us of America--not only by their security detail but also through their circle of friends.

The conservatives and other talking heads have accused Obama of being an elitist, I guess because he likes arugula instead of lettuce. That guy who was raised by a single parent (his mom), sometimes on food stamps, and had to borrow to pay for his education--which was his way out & up. Oh, and yes, the conservatives don't like his intellectualism!

Sure, why being an intellectual is a form of elitism. But it's an elitism with no admission fees, nor economic class criteria. It has an open door to those who can reason well and are interested in knowlege! Personally I find it attractive, and I'd hope that every person would do too.... if only given the chance by having access to quality education. But, who needs education? Who needs smarter people? And, who can do something about it?...

Aug 21, 2008

Why McCain Must be Defeated: He Wants a Third Bush (NeoCon) Term

I don't want to forget why we can't possibly vote for McCain, unless of course you want to see a Bush third term, including some of the old faces whose policies & attitude inflicted great harm to our country.

That's right, Dickey, Rummy, and Mac, all perfect together! Geesh!

PS> McCain has solidified his conservative Republican base more than Obama has with the Dems right now. Many Hillary Clinton supporters haven't moved over behind the Dem nominee. Are they going to be the new Naderites of 2008? It's really frustrating to talk to those who supported HR Clinton and would now consider voting for McCain or not vote at all! People, there is a HUGE difference between the two sides. So, take clueless Mac with his regressive politics that he'll base on the neocons of the Bush regime. Appalling...

Aug 14, 2008

The VP Choices for Barack Obama

A Season for Runners

Next week, Sen. Barack Obama will officially be the Democratic presidential nominee and he'll have a running mate. There's lots of speculation as to his VP pick, but most of the names mentioned are not good choices, like Sen. E. Bayh from Indiana. First principle is do no harm! Obama should choose a VP that will not distract or have "excessive baggage"--sorry, Hilary Clinton is therefore excluded by definition.

However, I don't want to see another Dan Quale, so lightweight that he'll just blow away in eight years--which brings me to my point: Obama should be the beginning of progressive change that will be continued by his VP in 2016! Therefore, this person should be able (age, ability) to continue the course after Obama leaves office.

Another requirement would be that the VP should not be a senator from a state that has a Republican governor. The governors appoint senators until the next election when there's a vacancy. There's a great effort & an opportunity this year to increase the Dem majority in the Senate. Obama should know that much of his success as president will depend on getting legislation through Congress-- this measn both chambers, or there's no deal! Often, this translates into having 60 votes in the Senate to prevent the conservatives from filibustering sensible legislation. The more Dems in the Senate the better the chances for president Obama to get things done, like universal health care.

The other requirement would be to pick someone who is progressive. Don't try to balance the ticket. I don't think this works. It worked with Kennedy-Johnson, but for the most part Americans vote for the president alone, not who's his running mate. Along the same line, I disagree with those pundits that advise Obama to "move to the center." What center?...
[The answer in the next post in a couple days.]

Aug 8, 2008

Is it About Sex, Again? I Don't Think so.

By now, I'm sure you've heard that former Dem presidential contender John Edwards admitted to an affair that took place in 2006-2007. For me, the sex part is not important. As far as I'm concerned anybody can have sex with whomever (adults) he or she likes! I wouldn't even presume to know a couple's "arrangement" of their relationship or their "understanding" of their marriage.

But, I do have a problem with hypocrisy, and I'm not talking about pretending to be a great chef when you can't even make toast. When president Clinton looked his staff, his supporters, and the nation straight in the eyes and said, "I did not have sex with that woman," he betrayed the trust he, as a leader, had asked us for. It's this simple!
I also don't buy the argument, everybody does it. Well, not everybody, but even if this was the case, those everybodies are not asking for my support, my commitment, and for the opportunity to lead this country. For better or probably worse, Americans are about marital pretenses more than the western Europeans; so a situation like this has the potential to inflict great political damage.

Can you imagine what position we progressives would be in today if Edwards was the Dem nominee? No, siree, I don't want to be debating about the skeletons in someone's closet that come out months before this critical election--when we progressives expect some good change to occur! Someone asked, think of the situation in August of 2004, when we had our hopes on the Kerry-Edwards ticket... I worked for this team (in Cleveland, Ohio), four years ago, and I wouldn't have liked it at all to have this bomb dropped on us because of Edwards's insincerity and, frankly, irresponsibility!

Now, before the Repubs jump in self adulation, they have to be reminded that many of their leaders have been the worst offenders. McCain cheated on his former wife--the one that waited for him for years to come back from Vietnam--and they're allegations [Vicki Iseman, anyone?] that he strayed later too. As for the great GOP moralists who went after president Clinton, Newt Gingrich (Speaker of the House) has admitted that he was having an affair (yes, cheating on his then wife), and the House Judiciary chairman, Henry Hyde, was also a wife cheater. These two were leaders in the Clinton impeachment!

If I was advising a candidate, I'd tell them to make sure that the story you're about to tell the people jives with the truth in your private life. If you're a philanderer, you can't run on a platform to "raise the moral fitness of America." [I like this saying, used by many in conservative Christian circles only to have their leaders (ie, Ted Haggard) fall on their sword]. Otherwise, run on other issues, like the "it's economy, stupid."

It is the story a person tells to the public that comes back to bite them. I believe that most Americans could forgive someone who committed marital infidelity or had another trespass. That is, as long as that person isn't being deceptive. When someone is parading his family and using them to score political points & improve their image, this becomes part of the story they're telling us. Yes, I know, we the citizens are partly to blame, because maybe the country is ready to elect a black or a woman to the highest office, but I'm not sure it's ready for a single person without a family and who might be a libertine...

Does this mean that, for example, a homosexual or an atheist (god forbid) should pretend? No, on the contrary! Pretending to be something that they are not might eventually be revealed with dire consequences to themselves, their cause, and the nation. At a minimum, if a candidate doesn't want to discuss certain issues they consider private, then he/she can say,
sorry, this topic is off limits. Besides, despite the huge egos and often holier-than-thou attitudes, the politicians have to understand that it's not about them but about us. Service to society should be high in their list of priorities.

PS>Full disclosure: I had supported John Edwards's presidential effort, because I liked the message, on the economy, the middle class, foreign policy, energy, etc. Also, I had hoped that Elizabeth Edwards (I wish she was running sans cancer) would somehow push for universal health care as a first lady. Elizabeth will be speaking at the Dem convention later this month, no doubt about the need for health care as a right not a privilege!

Aug 6, 2008

Memo: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S."

The Threat of Terrorist Attacks in the US Was Ignored by Bush

Can you imagine the raucous the conservatives would be creating if president Al Gore had received an intelligence memo saying that Al Qaeda was preparing to attack the US by using airplanes, and that the 9-11 terrorist attacks occurred during a Democratic administration?

Just so we don't forget what happened seven years ago (on August 6th), president Bush and Condie Rice (then "in charge" of National Security) received a briefing titled, "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in the US." [click on link to read the whole memo in pdf]

Richard Clarke [Clarke's take on terror, on 60 Minutes, CBS]--who had been serving in the anti-terrorism task force since Ronald Reagan--tried repeatedly to convince the Bush White House that the greatest threat to the US was stateless terrorism, but was scorned. Condie Rice, (Ph.D. in political science), was to deliver a speech on 9-11 about the need for a missile defense umbrella that reflected a "cold war" approach. She, and the Bush administration, did not say anything about "two-bit terrorists" (as Bush would call them later) trying to inflict harm on the US.

George (recipient of a Bush presidential medal) Tenet was the CIA chief--who became the president's lap dog by working on marketing scenarios for Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction,"--didn't (or couldn't) alert the president of the seriousness of terrorism.

Based on the bi-partisan 9-11 Commission findings:

We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States. DCI Tenet visited President Bush in Crawford, Texas, on August 17 and participated in the PDB briefings of the President between August 31 (after the President had returned to Washington) and September 10. But Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of the domestic threat during this period. [p. 262]

We now know that Bush and his neocon cohorts spoke about attacking Iraq in the very first cabinet meeting in January of 2001, as many sources have confirmed, including Bush's own then Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill. That was 9 months before the attacks on Sept. 11th.

We have to remember the facts. I understand that after a long train of abuses amnesia may settle in, that is, there are so many tragic mistakes, much incompetence, illegality, etc, that we may lose track of the particular events.

But, also remember that political regimes which depend on popular participation have governments that usually reflect the judgment of the citizens. The country made a big mistake by voting for Bush in such great numbers. The Repubs stole the 2000 election, but half of the country did vote for Bush & Cheney in 2000 and 2004! Have we learned from this mistake? And, perhaps more importantly, will we remember not to repeat it? Names & faces may change, but it is the underlying principles and intented policies that matter.

Aug 4, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Person of Conscience Who Stood Against Tyranny, Dead at 89.

A Giant by the power of his pen

One of the books I read in my later teen years that stayed with me for a long time was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I had nightmares because of it. I was already interested in politics and I was forming my ideological preferences, so I was reading all sorts of stuff, but I wasn't prepared for a detailed description of a totalitarian state employing unimaginable brutish means in an attempt to dehumanize someone who it considered a dissenter! It didn't take much to believe that freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights and no one should even attempt to take them away.

It's hard to believe this nowadays, but before the end of the Soviet Union, such regime was an option for some! Actually I have lived in Europe--on the western side of the "iron curtain"-- and I experienced this first hand. The soviet-style system had many supporters and Stalinism was even considered preferable to the capitalist system by millions of Communists and other leftists in the West. The Communist parties of Spain, Italy, France and Greece, to name a few, were ideological fraternities of the Soviet regime! What was striking was that these parties and their sympathizers were enjoying the freedoms of liberal democracy while saying that if they got to govern they'd abolish all those bourgeois freedoms and rule like the communists in the USSR and eastern Europe!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) had been a patriot who did what any good patriot should do: speak up when his country does the wrong thing! He paid for his dissent, by imprisonment, exile, and eventually thrown out of the country. The Gulag Archipelago was a 3-part tome that documented the brutality of the soviets and helped bring to light their atrocities. It helped de-mystify the aura of superiority of the "workers' paradise" and brought attention to the issue.

In Europe and elsewhere outside the US, the definition of a leftist didn't necessarily mean a progressive person, who was in favor of liberal democracy and its individual freedoms! I've have many debates while in Europe and in grad school with people who were sympathetic to the Soviet regime. Most refused to believe what Solzhenitsyn and others were saying about the brutality as a method of control and political power used by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It was much like today's fundamentalists who don't want to even entertain any challenging view to their own absolute convictions.

It is human nature to defend something that you've been guarding as dear, no matter what the contradicting evidence shows. The greater the investment the harder for someone to change their mind. And, if this becomes part of the person's identity, then it's almost impossible to amend. I also believe that the less secure & confident the individual is, the more the need for the absolute. Dogma solves lots of problems in areas that you're weak. If you can't be a skeptic, you don't need be dialectical about an issue. Case in point, some of us are fine with the "I don't know" option, but others are not! They want an answer, any answer that feels good! It's what Steven Colbert says, thuthiness, and a gut feeling.

Solzhenitsyn was born a year after the Bolshevik revolution (actually a coup d'etat that put an end to a very young experiment of democracy in Russia), but managed to survive and outlive this brutal regime. I felt sad about his death, even though his time had passed. Nevertheless, he was a human being who did the right thing regardless of the risks involved. That's admirable. Humanity progresses when people act to make a difference because they care!