Dec 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is Up in Heaven Now **


 "Great voice against cant, against hypocrisy, against obscurantism and pretension, against all tyrants including God." Richard Dawkins

I don't know if it's bravery or simply intellectual honesty, but when a person is confronted with his own immediate destruction and doesn't seek false comfort, I think there's something to be admired. Christopher Hitchens eventually succumbed to cancer last Thursday, and our community is grieving the loss of a brilliant fighter against bigotry, intolerance, indoctrination, stupidity, and totalitarianism. But, he had a life of wonder, and I think he fully enjoyed it, as he put it, he burned the candle at both ends.

Hitch was not timid in attacking the fake, the unreasonable, and even the popular. What I like the most was his sharp wit, great reasoning and the knowledge on the subjects he talked about. I read his books, and watched his many debates and interviews, and read faithfully his essays. That's his legacy, though it would have been nice to have had him around for a while longer.

When once was asked why he was so forceful against religion and many popular icons, he responded by saying he does it for love! He said he loved freedom, the individual, education, a civil life, but there are those who hate what he loved so he had no choice but to fight back. So do we!


Incredulity and fear are promoted by the elites and those who want to maintain their special status. Especially fear--everybody feels and knows fear--because it motivates people while altering their reality. But, the teaching of ignorance by all religions is what needs to be addressed, and a voice like Hitchens' had one of the best polemical voices.

A Matter of Faith

In the US democracy today, no one can run for an important position without professing their strong faith--even if such faith holds truly crazy stuff, as in the case of Mormon, Scientology, etc.. In other words, leaders find it politically advantageous to proudly declare that they can suspend reason and discard evidence! 
If a belief is part of a person's identity, then it's very hard to even critically evaluate it--it becomes faith. Confirmation bias is the method by which someone accepts ideas and images in their heads if they're not interested in amendments. Society and culture play an important role in enforcing norms and beliefs as well. Strong challenges aren't welcomed, since they question the validity of fundamental beliefs.

Here's a sample of Hitchens' argument against religion as he debates Chris Hedges:
 

Which knowledge is more reliable?

Of course, the answer should be obvious, yet it isn't to everyone. Soothing, comforting, and easily-understood beliefs may be preferable to uncertainty or to a reality that's harsher than a person can accept. But, we must keep the dialog, and, yes, polemical debates going.  Through thoughtful discussions, exchange of ideas, and the scientific method we can understand more about ourselves and the universe. Even morality should be based on a thought out process, free from the tribal superstitions of the writers of the "holy" books.

Religion, its manifestations, and its privileged status was a target of Hitchens. He was an important figure among those who questioned revealed knowledge. I often point out that fear should not be the cause for accepting something or even acting morally. A person's own volition, a thoughtful act, kindness, charity, compassion, and morality shouldn't be based on the altar of bargaining, punishment, and terror.


Just in Time for the Holidays

I watched the following video a few days ago, and I've been pondering how to present it here as it's extremely disturbing. It's a demonstration of mindless belief and how religion (faith) can make good people do horrible things to others, including children. Belief without evidence and reason is extremely dangerous, especially when it involves how others are treated. 


A totalitarian, absolute ruler of the universe, who created all the heavens and earth, and humans, and viruses, and diseases, and natural catastrophes, who cares how we think (yes, there's ..thought crime), how we dress, what we eat, how we have sex, and tells us to kill (obviously the followers of the wrong gods), this supernatural entity must be given credit for everything--the good and the bad.

Of course, I've heard about "free will" and the (bad) choices humans make, but assuming bad things happen to people who deserve it, why do bad things happen to babies, or little children who haven't had the chance to exercise their free will? Hitchens spent his last days in a hospital part of a medical center whose tallest tower was a reminder of, at the very least, a God who doesn't care. It's a hospital for children with cancer!

David Hume [The Problem of Evil] put it succinctly : Is God able but not willing? Then he's no moral. Is God willing but not able? Then he's no god. Why God is so apocryphal? Like Hitch put it, millions of humans for thousands of years died in pain, agony, fear, ignorance, etc. Everywhere, from the Americas to Australia. Then the Heavens decide to intervene by telling a few Bronze-age tribal people living in obscurity that there's a true God.  And, for hundreds of years no one else on Earth knew about it. So, people kept dying in ignorance.

I don't know, an infinite entity with all the wisdom would at least have told the tribes to wash their hands. Or, at the very least, not have created the germs, viruses, diseases, etc, to torture the humans he made out of his own image. There's a water-born worm in Africa that's responsible for blinding millions of children (and adults) in the continent. It enters the eyeball of the victim and eats it from the inside out. But, for the rest, we have butterflies and rainbows to marvel at, praise God.




**(From the title of this post). This is the explanation, and it's based on Kurt Vonnegut's joke.

Dec 9, 2011

Obama Joins the Battle to Save Christmas from the Claws of Festivus

We know that everything Obama has been doing is to win reelection and he's figured that the game is attracting the "floaters" and independents. Therefore, he's been harsh on his core supporters--the progressives--and easy on his opponents. This is not good.


It's not good because it's not a good electoral strategy. The floaters and independents want a strong president, even if they disagree on policy issues--as they did with Bush 43. It's not good because elections are often decided by turnout of the political base. You can't alienate your core supporters then.

The best thing Obama has right now is the declared Republican candidates. Obama's bad luck to be elected during very difficult times, was followed by his indecision and naivete (that he had a partner in Government--Congress), and now his fortune not to be facing credible challengers. This does not mean that the eventual GOP nominee wouldn't have a good chance of winning the presidency if the economy worsened. 

Myth: Taxes on the Millionaires Hurts Job Creation

Why this meme still circulates is amazing and a testament to the Conservative noise machine. Yet, many reasonable people believe that taxes on small business, millionaires, and big corporations are job killers. Businesses pay taxes on the profits they generate, unlike most of us whose entire income is subject to taxation. Also, someone who makes millions of dollars (like an athlete or a lawyer, etc) can be a "small business" if he has relatively few hired workers.

So, NPR went to the Republicans and other groups who oppose the millionaires' tax and asked them to find a person who'd be affected by this new tax proposal. They couldn't get anyone. After a wide search, including postings on Facebook, NPR spoke to a few small business owners, who confirmed what every business owner would say, that hiring new workers happens when there's an expectation of investment return. In other words, if you think expanding means more business, you do it.

Jobs aren't created because a business has cash on hand. Corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars of cash right now. They're not hiring. Why should they when they're under utilizing their capacity as it is?

As to how many small business owners this new millionaires tax would affect? Just 0,01%. And, they can certainly afford this small tax increase. The Conservatives are siding with a few thousands instead of the millions of hardworking Americans whose paycheck withholding deduction will expire if the Congressional Republicans don't vote to extend this by the end of the year.  The Grinch that stole xmas may be real.



Dec 8, 2011

Aristotle: Extremes of Power and Wealth Are Not Good for Society!


The Republicans block, filibuster, oppose, obstract, and deny anything that has to do with consumer protection and rights. They have perfected Newspeak--the Orwellian language in 1984 whereas words have the opposite meaning. Like, freedom is slavery, war is peace, and their favorite, ignorance is strength.


 

So, what kind of a society do they want to maintain and advance?

 "What kind of society, exactly, do modern Republicans want? [...] They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life. 

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century."
Robert Reich

Nov 25, 2011

Thanksgiving in New York City, 2011

Thanksgiving is a special holiday, because it's not religious but rather inclusive. I don't think it's about the Pilgrims and the natives and all the other made-up "history." It's about thinking of the good people we have in our lives and the good things that surrounds us. 

The World Trade Center new tower under construction (view from Broadway)

There's a crowd Thursday afternoon at Zuccutti park
It's also a nice time to be in NY city, as it's the most quiet and fan to walk around day in all of the year. If the weather is good--we're having unusually warm weather for this time of year--a walk in Central Park or the various neighborhoods of this great metropolis is particularly rewarding; it doesn't feel rushed or too noisy.


Great folk band got the people dancing at the park

Trinity Church interior. This church has been helping OWS.

Northern Central Park

The Rumble in Central park.

It's been a tradition of mine to forgo invitations for bigger gatherings, especially out of the city, and spend the day in NYC. This year, I paid a visit to the Occupy Wall Street Liberty square. There were lots of people there. The kitchen group prepared and handed out some 3,000 meals on Thursday! 

In a frenzy consumerism, many stores are opening midnight to boost holiday sales. I think it's crazy that people can't wait for a few more hours before going shopping. It's the stores competing to capture early sales, but if people didn't rush to shop...   Besides, I wouldn't want to be an employee who has to skip Thanksgiving dinner to work the 11 pm Thu to 7 am Fri.

Actually, it feels liberating to me not to have to go shopping. I give gifts throughout the year and I refuse to be part of this insane holiday shopping activity. I expect no gifts either during this time. Well, material gifts--you know, the ones you buy from the stores--but otherwise, yes, it's a nice time to be exchanging and appreciating the gifts that really matter. 
;)


Nov 15, 2011

Shame to Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD for Attacking Peaceful Demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street. The Movement Will Continue!

There's something sinister when the police move against peaceful demonstrators in the middle of the night. It's disgraceful that mayor Bloomberg ordered the police to evict the people from Liberty Park (Zuccatti park) today. 

These Occupy Wall Street Americans have been peaceful, rather articulate in their complaints about the problems of the economic-political system in our country, and they have been braving the elements for two months now to raise the public conscience to the excesses and responsibility of Wall Street.


Some "rough around the edges" is normal in a vibrant democracy, so the OWS movement, even if noisy at times, is a manifestation of free people expressing their views. It's the cost of doing business as a democracy. There's no need for the authorities to use violence or any other method to prohibit or restrict citizens exercising political dissent.

Police violence, arrests, video taping and regulations against free expression all have a chilling effect on our democracy. The good thing is that OWS has already spread all over the country--the whole world actually--and the message for the need to reform our system is heard loud and clear.... unless you're wearing earplugs, or have been brainwashed into a false reality.  Or, you believe that public order demands silence, and that progress is a liberal thing--to be avoided. Change will come though if enough people demand it. Think of the civil rights movement. Even the worst, entrenched bigotry gave way to a better civil society. The OWS movement must and will go on.

Nov 11, 2011

Beware of the Narrative. Obama is Like Hitler Invading Poland.... [oh, just relax! At best, he's lookiing at them funny]

The progressives are complaining that Obama hasn't done enough to reign in the big business, despite campainging for the presidency to do so back in 2008. Thomas Ferguson, a political scientist at UMA Boston had correctly predicted that Obama wouldn't be doing anything big against big business, because of the people he had around him as advisers and because of the financial support he was [still is] getting from Wall Street.

Yet, this is what the Republicans and the Fox noice machine are saying:


For educational purpose: The Investment Theory of Politics

Nov 6, 2011

The Winds of Change. It Takes a Village (and the right inhabitants)

I've been thinking about social change. In a system where people are free to participate, it takes a wave, a critical mass, to bring about change. Leadership is very important too, because it articulates the need for change. What we're witnessing with OWS is a grass-roots movement that has spread from NYC to the rest of the US and now the globe.

Many people are instinctively conservative, in that they want stability, the prefer the devil they know to the unknown. This is the first hurdle a successful movement has to overcome--that change won't lead to chaos or something worse than the status quo. When people feel threatened or unsure, they don't want change.

But, the OWS without leadership and concrete laid-out proposals for reform has played a crucial role in raising awareness about the unfairness and terrible outcomes of our political-economic system. Most Americans don't know how much the top 10% own but they realize it's "too much." They have experienced the bad effects while the elites are bragging who's got the biggest bonuses--some of which came after their failed companies got a public bailout!

This is a good visual, I found:

Change by Public Consensus
Change also comes when the public moves in certain direction. For example, what was radical a generation ago--same sex marriage, gays in the military, etc--is mainstream today. The political parties usually move to cover the public sentiment. Traditionally, one of our two major parties is more progressive but, up until the mid to late 1980s, the Republican party became more conservative. The reason is the influx of very religious conservatives.

Today, the Tea Party has made the Republican party even more conservative, to the point of extremism. It's extremism, because this is not where the bulk of the country is nor where it's heading. Unfortunately, even the GOP leadership, and now the presidential candidates seem to care more about this extremist element because they think this is where the votes are in the party's primaries.

There have been several polls that demonstrate the increasingly conservative bend of many Republicans today. Here's one by Research 2000:


  • 63% think Obama is a socialist ("not sure" 16%)
  • only 42% believe he was born in US ("not sure" 22%)
  • 39% want Obama impeached.
  • 53% think Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama
  • 23% want to secede from US
  • 24% believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win ("not sure" 33%)
  • 31% believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people
  • 73% think gay men and women shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools
  • 31% want contraceptives outlawed
Note the "unsure" category.

Going Backwards
In other words, if the village wants a witch hunt, the leadership will oblige. Poor John Huntsman who called himself crazy for believing in science, like evolution, climate change, age of the earth, etc. Here's a "reasonable" conservative who can't get any traction. Maybe if the Republicans suffer another big defeat, they'll finally turn their ship around and become a party of the 21st century. It'd be good for the country. Then, hopefully, the Democratic party will become more progressive.

Oct 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Continues Into the Fourth Week! {with photos from the scene}

Updated
 

Occupy Wall Street, week three going into the forth as more groups and people join in. In addition to the presence in Liberty park and the marches, there's lots of work behind the scenes. For example, today there were several meetings of working groups that facilitate this protest and get the message out. I attended a couple of them. For me the whole thing is a study of how reasonable individuals come together to create a movement. There are advantages of having a "horizontal organization" rather than a vertical one when creating a democratic movement but sometimes coordination and quick responses don't come easy.


I am interested in political movements and how people respond to challenges in a modern, highly institutionalized country. Obviously, there's a need for reform. Many Americans are hurting and see that the system delivers the most for the very few. 


I often talk about the importance of the narrative--the story we (a society) tell ourselves. Unfortunately, we suffer from a "plantation mentality" as Bill Moyers has put it. In a plantation it was the master who wrote the history and commanded the narrative. The media have been playing along, not serving the public good. I don't know if "the bargain" the conservatives especially have sold to the underprivileged is so powerful that the latter willingly vote against their own economic interests.  I said the same to some tv newsperson the other day: we must destroy the conservative narrative that the status quo is working for the working people.

This is a great video, short and to the point. Anyone (well, except the known suspects) can relate to the people who appear in this video. 


The NYC police are guarding the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, but right across it, at #23, there's a huge space available to the Occupy Wall Street movement. As you can see from the pictures I took, it's a hub of organizing activities and art depicting this conflict. 


Again, I encourage anyone to visit #23 on Wall Street, Liberty Square (Zuccotti park), and participate in the activities or help in other ways. Donations of all sorts are pouring in, and there are volunteer positions for all things, from the kitchen to the medics to the library, the graphic design, media and internet teams.  It's absolutely safe. Most marches have permits and you don't have to participate in a situation that may lead to an arrest. I understand, many of us have day jobs that can't afford to lose.


Guarding the Stock Exchange

Silk screening t-shirts @ 23 Wall St.

Art exhibit @ 23 Wall

Getting ready to spend the night al fresco

Live feed from around the world and peoples' messages expressing solidarity with OWS

Latino groups meeting by the "red weird thing" in the square



The kitchen looked more organized today and with lots more food available as donations are pouring in.
The "library"
Right across the Stock Exchange on Wall St.


Art exhibit.... it's about gambling...


I saw better art there than some stuff at the MOMA



Oct 6, 2011

My Reasons for Protesting at Occupy Wall Street

I've heard from many that this protest doesn't have a concrete demand or a message. Apparently some 50,000+ protesters showed up on Wednesday and the numbers are growing. I think those who dismiss this proto-movement are making a mistake. People are angry, people are suffering, and, most importantly, they express concerns that most Americans share today! This has the potential of spreading like a wild fire.

OK, Wall Street has been a convenient target and a great focus point for people to coalesce, but the demand for a fair, egalitarian, decent system resonates across all groups and individuals who participate in this "occupation" and are hurting. They know others who have been hurt by this economy and by the system we have in place to deal with crises and address the needs of Americans. Something's is terribly wrong all around us.


I was interviewed a couple times while I was there. I didn't have the chance to include all of the following points, as the interviewers were looking for sound bites and I was trying to answer in sentences and paragraphs. So I came up with a few sound bites:

  • It's time to (re)define the American dream--that success depends on access to opportunity.
  • Our government has to be of, by, and for the people. This is a good principle, let's now put it in practice.
  • Like Adam Smith (father of capitalism) said, the wealth of a country shouldn't be measured by the gold the elites hold but by the number of people who are able to share the wealth.
  • Privatizing profits while socializing the risk is bad economics and fundamentally unjust.
  • It's about the vision of the future and the direction of our country. It's about science and the scientific method. It's about modernity versus anachronism.
  • It's about education--the kind of enrichment we all benefit from!
  • It's about asking why aren't we "number one"? Why aren't we healthier, aren't living longer, and aren't more educated as a country? Why do we work more and earn less? Why we are less safe and so much more stressed? Where's the social safety net a modern society should have?
  • It's about defeating the conservative narrative that the status quo is working for the working people.
  • It's about our country turning into a plutocracy, whereas the system increasingly benefits the elites, who have closed the doors on the rest of us. They're denying us access to education, health care, clean environment, good jobs, and even to our own government.
 

.....
Update, 10/08/11:

 Here's a source for the OWS groups and activities: Map & Connect Groups


....


Who's complaining?

Some politicians get 12% of the eligible voters [yeah, if only 20% of the electorate bothers to vote, that's what those leaders actually get] in a given election and they come out to say "the American people spoke"...  

 
When 50,000+ people show up to protest, they're labeled as a mob, or fringe elements, and un-Americans! The mayor of our city, incredibly said that the salaries of the city workers are partly paid by Wall Street. So what? He should have said that Wall Street should actually pay more, and that Wall Street or any economic system that benefits the rich shouldn't be given the keys to our society.

Republican leader Cantor called the protesters a "mob." Romney said "it's class warfare!"  Tsk. What war? The one the upper class has already won?...
On the other hand, there are still many Americans who believe that they can, too, be part of the elite. The game is fixed. Who can be like Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates? Talent alone without access to opportunity ain't gonna allow you to join the gilded club.

Meanwhile in Alabama...

Can't have water if you can't prove your residency in Alabama! Now the Water Co. is a depository of IDs.

....





[to be continued...]

Oct 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Movement Still Going Strong [topic frequently updated]

View of Liberty Square, 10/2/11.

Occupy Wall Street web site

 
I'm guessing that Fox won't air this interview.
The "kitchen"
The media center






The "message plaza"

After a couple weeks, this movement is not fading. As more and more people find out about and venture to Liberty square in NYC, this leaderless mass of ordinary Americans are making waves. Still, it's a small movement in comparison to "uprisings" in other countries, but I think it has managed to raise some important questions: What is the role of government? and, What is the Mission Statement of our civil society?

Civil disobedience--and in this case rather non-violent actions--is one way for the people to "petition" their government when they believe their social contract is being violated.

Here's a video from the march on the Brooklyn bridge. Perhaps the police told those in front of the march that they weren't allowed on the bridge, but most people, in the thousands, did not know. The police appeared to facilitate this march only to coral the marchers and arrest anywhere from 400 to 700 people. Not nice. Here's the story on PBS/Newshour [link]


 


I know many people who are sympathetic to the demands of the protesters but are afraid to participate, however, let me assure you that it's very safe. There are no extremists in charge and no plan for violent action. Most marches, like the one to City Hall (this Wed. @ 4 pm) have legal permits. It's important to maintain this behavior while asking for a re-evaluation of our political/economic system and the role of our government. More people should participate because a critical mass is fundamental in creating a movement.

If you have the time, drop by Liberty square (between Broadway & Trinity, on Liberty St.). If you decide to participate or stick around for a few hours, there's free food & beverages. There's lots of material support by ordinary citizens, from food to printing, to all necessary goods and services. This is not a fringe protest. See it for yourself.

Occupy Boston.... It's Spreading
This video is great as it shows all sorts of common people who are participating in these events asking for change. There's a lot of hurt out there and more and more Americans are realizing that there's something seriously wrong with how we allocate our resources, who benefits, who pays, and where our country is headed to...





[to be continued.... with frequent updates, some of them in the main body of the post, like the video of the Fox interview below the first picture above.]

Sep 1, 2011

Recognized & Legal Prostitution Activities. You Know them When You See them!

Some Free Advice
Unsolicited advice to president Obama: Do not propose only what you think the GOP will accept. They probably won't accept that either. They want to make you look bad. Don't you get it? They even refused [first time Congress refuses a president's request to speak in its chambers] your request and told you they were busy that day... Speaker Boener and his buddy Kantor are jerks, but they can afford to be, because they win political points by making you look weak, and by sabotaging anything they could get their hands on.

Instead, propose what's right and fight for it. And, bring it to the nation. Show some leadership.

Sarcastic Reminder
Dear (I can't even say this with a straight face) Republicans: Allow the federal tax on gasoline to expire this month. We don't need funds for highways, bridges, etc. Use the money to give more tax breaks, you know to whom...  Oh, and allow the payroll taxes to go up next year. Blame Obama for it, that he raised taxes. He hasn't told anyone that a big chunk  of the stimulus money went into cutting payroll taxes for working Americans.

In the Land Where Extremism isn't Marginalized
Only in America ignorance can be a political asset. Texas governor Perry is anti-science (and of course science-illiterate), but he is pro-prayer! Though God didn't answer his public prayers for a few drops of rain in Texas. Maybe God had left Jesus in charge for the summer and Jesus doesn't like Perry. I assume Jesus favors the poor over the rich, and, thus, he most likely disagrees with the Republican "compassionate" conservatism.

Other GOP prez hopefuls, like Bachmann say that God uses deadly hurricanes, earthquakes and other calamities to send us messages. Shockingly being this crazy isn't a disqualifier in our polity.

Now Romney, and, sadly, Huntsman are getting more ridiculous by the minute. Perry changed the calculations, especially for Romney. In this GOP--you know, the party of crazy--they have to be extremists. So, all are kissing the Tea Party's behind in hopes of saving their campaigns. [As a sidenote, even before Perry announced, I had been saying that it's his nomination to lose. I can see this Repub base going for a Mormon.]

What is the Role of Our Government?
Now that Irene has left a path of destruction, we should talk about the role of government. After all, this is the crux of the dispute between the cons and the progressives. Is there anything the government should be doing before, during, and after a natural catastrophe?

Do we need any regulation in the marketplace? Should ATT buy TMobile? Should we allow the forces of capitalism to create huge monopolies? Is it good or bad? Who benefits and who's hurt? How?

Should we have a Do Not Call Registry and fine intrussive and deceiptful companies?  Ah, here's an example of the "government taking away our freedoms": The other day, a new law went into effect under the consumer protection guise. It hurts the airline industry and levies big fines for some ..minor incidents. Anyway, now if you're cooped up in the cabin, strapped in your seat for more than 4 hours while the airplane is sitting idle, the airline pays a fine.

Here's the deal: progressives say, it's utterly ridiculous to allow an airline to have you hostage for 4 hours, whereas conservative would say, it's too much regulatory power the gov. has!  By the way, airlines now have to disclose all their fees before you get to the airport. Plus, if they overbook the flight and you're bumped off, you get twice the price of the ticket back. Too harsh?

Prostitution
In addition to the US political prostitution, the Germans and their ..socialistic government [yeah, the Conservatives control the gov currently, but nevertheless Germany is a social democracy]. The city of Bonn came up with a new idea to raise revenue. Prostitutes feed the meters while working! I'm not kidding you. Prostitution is leagal there and streetwalkers now have to pay taxes while working. Instead of ..parking a car, they get a receipt for a certain amount of time! 

Aug 22, 2011

Obama's Struggling Against All Top GOP Contenders, But That's The Price He Pays for Weak Leadership

Obama's approval rates are in the low 40s, but as for handling the economy are even way, way lower. Another interesting poll (Gallup), perhaps more troubling is that the president is in a tight race with all top Republican contenders. What I sense is that the country is trying to decide whether Obama presidential material--someone who can lead not just delegate his responsibilities to Congress and try to compromise on the lowest possible denominator. The window for him to do anything to reverse this perception (with a great dose of reality) of an ineffective leader is closing. 


The president came out swinging against Congress just before he went on a ten-day vacation on a posh island where he's photographed playing golf. Nice swing, Mr. President. Admittedly, he has a better swing with a golf club than he swings against his political adversaries. It's actually amazing that the GOP hasn't paid a bigger political fine for bringing the country to the edge of insolvency. That the GOP was actually able to fight for and win amidst a recession tax breaks for the very wealthy!

Soon, the GOP will argue for a tax increase. The payroll taxes have been reduced under Obama's stimulus package [how many people know this??!!] but are slated to go up next year. This has been money directly into the pockets of working people. But, it's been a reduction only for the workers not the employers, so why should the GOP be in favor of this? Oh, they said letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be a tax increase. Let's see how the handle this one. And, let's see how this president handles it too.

But, There's Hope in Extremism
 I still think the GOP will go for Perry, unless someone else declares soon who may be stronger (I doubt it), or unless the Texas governor has a secret closet. If I were selecting one of the current GOPers, I'd pick Huntsman. But he's "crazy" as he Twitted recently. He believes in science, evolution, and other facts--but this is not what this extremist party wants right now.
So, you have Perry who wants to be President of the US and who doesn't believe in science, nor does he understand the meaning of the word science & scientific theory. Or, doesn't know how old the earth is. Do you? Does it matter?

 
Elections have consequences, and of course there are differences among candidates and the policies they pursue. They may be playing poker with our chips though, and this isn't good for our country. Leadership is important, and not only in implementing policy, but also to set the narrative. These are the stories we tell ourselves. People repeat slogans, ideas, myths, because they've been indoctrinated without bothering to analyze.
This is not something anyone wants to hear--that they parroting away. Yet, ask what do people mean by freedom ? Why do they reject evolution (one of the strongest scientific theories we have), climate change? Or, that they believe the earth is a few thousand years old? Or, that creationism [read: the Xtian myth, not any other] should be taught in public schools?  Leaders  who shared those beliefs would be marginal not presidential contenders!
Maybe this election will highlight those differences, that is, between a weak president and a right wing extremist. That's Obama's best hope, because he doesn't seem "to get it" nor does he seem to "go for broke" [as Savannah Guthrie asked Gibbs on Meet the Press] and fight for what's right not what the Republicans will allow him to have.


Aug 15, 2011

Reading the Tea Leaves: Rick Perry's Run Bad News for Obama.

We all know that Obama is very vulnerable and increasingly seems like an one-termer. His biggest enemy is himself, but since he's going to have to face a Republican in the general election next year, the announcement of Rick Perry--the dimwit Texas gov--as a prez candidate creates a very credible threat to BO.


The GOP is not very comfortable with any other candidate, despite the high ratings Bachman, Paul, and Romney get. Paul is not mainstream conservative. He's a libertarian who sides with the GOP because of economic issues. Romney is a flip-flopper--he had to be in order to compete in this extreme party--and a Mormon. The Mornons aren't even considered Xtians by the other faithful, especially the Southern conservatives. Bachman, well, she's crazy and the majority of the conservatives already know this, despite the very conservative Iowans supporting her. She's the "local" candidate who'll probably win the Iowa caucuses early next year. But this won't be enough. 

Even if Romney wins the New Hampshire primary, the election schedule is favorable to Perry. If, and I think it's very likely, he sticks to close second or third finishes, then he can sweep the Southern states where the political base of the conservatives lies.


Perry's move to start his campaign with holding a mass prayer with fundies was to sent the message that he's not a Mormon, and that he's in line with the hardcore religious right. He can tout his gubernatorial credentials [even though he's been a terrible gov in a state with the weakest chief exec], as a pro-business, tax-cutter, job-creator, gun-totting, religious nut.  This will go extremely well in the GOP primary selection race. Unless a scandal befalls him, I see him as the Repub nominee next year. He could also be the next president of the US.

The credibility of a candidate nowadays--even before the public gets to know him/her--rests on the size of their bank account and the ability to raise a mountain of money. Perry excels in this, therefore, he'll be able to spend, spend, and outspend all the rest of the GOP hopefuls. Romney is rich, but I expect once the rich conservatives settle on a favorite horse, most of their money will flow to Perry.


The conservatives (in this GOP) have never accepted the legitimacy of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. I can't emphasize this enough. From day one, they didn't just oppose the ideology and policies but the person in the high office himself. They hated Clinton and they hate Obama. It's a visceral reaction, which will make the cons coalesce around the strongest candidate who can beat Obama.

The only puzzle piece in the presidential ticket will be whom Perry will select as his VP. He may go for ..crazy as he'll want to keep the loons engaged and excited. He understands that he'll have to make a hard turn to the center during the general campaign and, thus, will stop talking the loon dialect of the right. Instead he'll focus on the economy, (blame Obama for all of the troubles of the economy), and jobs, while constantly highlighting O's weak style of leadership. Perry is polished enough [lots of sizzle not enough beef.... though often Americans pay attention mostly to the sizzle] to project a strong presidential leadership and portray himself as a person who can get the economy going.

There will be an interesting difference in style that will obscure the substance between the two men. If Obama remains the detached and analytical intellectual, he'll lose. He'll lose because, even though most Americans agree with his policies (as expressed not as compromised), he won't be a strong leader. Americans prefer a strong leader who's wrong to a weak one who's right. 


Change we could believe in (2008) may turn into change we don't believe in (2012) but will get it, one way or another.
A bad economy always plays a huge role in the elections. Many voters have short memories; most don't understand how our political system works. The "floaters" (low info, impressionable voters) move from party to party and they decide elections. The other important factor is an energetic base. You can make your own assessment whether Obama has satisfied his political base.


The so-called independents and even some Dems may find acceptable a ..centrist Perry next year.  It's not all doom-and-gloom for the progressives yet, but there isn't much this president has shown us to be excited and hopeful as I'm writing this. Yes, We Can sounds far removed today. 

UPDATE (8/16):
"So where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth."
 

Paul Krugman points out some more scathing truths about the "The Texas Unmiracle". 
"So when Mr. Perry presents himself as the candidate who knows how to create jobs, don’t believe him. His prescriptions for job creation would work about as well in practice as his prayer-based attempt to end Texas’s crippling drought."
 

UPDATE 2: Want to think about something really intriguing? Imagine if Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of NYC, jumps into the race as an Independent.... He won't have to go through the primaries either.  This may have the effect of splitting the Democratic vote in the end, though if Obama is seem as an eventual loser, most will abandon him for Bloomberg. The latter is very acceptable to Dems, Inds, and moderate Repubs, and I believe he can handily beat any of the GOP fields against him. 

Another scenario would be that MB challenges BO in the Dem primaries. I would very much favor this, because it would produce a stronger candidate and a unified party behind him--no matter who it is (either). I like the idea of primaring Obama more and more. I'm with Bernie Sanders on this. We can dream, can't we?.. 

Aug 1, 2011

Obama's [Community-Organizer/Let's All Work Together?] Style: Leading from the Rear While Surrendering the Narrative to the GOP

Update, Aug. 2nd: Jon Stewart: "You're not pinning this turd on us..."
 


The manufactured crisis of the debt ceiling theater is coming to a close, though the damage will last a long time. Even if the US averted default on its obligations, its credibility has taken a hit. Progressives think that Obama was diminished by this process, and his popularity is also decreasing. Even though the majority of Americans like him, and are more in favor of his proposals than those of the GOP, he's considered a weak leader. Remember, the country has shown that it prefers a strong, effective leader even if he's wrong, to a weak leader even if he's right on the issues! 

Maybe Obama is gambling on the possibility the Republicans will nominate someone worse to run against him next year. The economy won't be much better before the next election, because this president failed to take action and the GOP has done everything it could to damage it.



Read Paul Krugman's "The President Surrenders" editorial.

Here's something to remember: One of the biggest differences between progressives and the American conservatives is that we want an active government to mitigate social darwinism the Republicans are in favor of. 

Every time there's a failure of government, the cons win points! They seem to be winning the narrative on this one too. They come into government with an intent of making the government worse! They create deficits, slush social services, and remove consumer protections. They love gridlock, because this increases the public's cynicism of their government!  Sadly, the person with the bigger, loudest megaphone is not disputing this narrative!


I'm with Senator Bernie Sanders on the need to issue a serious primary challenge to Obama. Not the Nader type, or a preacher, or some leftist fringe, but a good, sensible progressive like Feingold. I'm sure Obama will prevail but he will have to understand that there's an activist base out there and elections (especially close one) depend on getting the base excited and to the polls. Besides, we have to publicly discuss a few important issues. 

I argue that the narrative is extremely important in shaping our political discourse. Most Americans support progressive positions but it's the conservative narrative that often prevails. The more we spend time discussing the ridiculous [or, the artificial crisis of the debt ceiling] the more time, energy, and money we're wasting, instead of tackling serious problems.


There are going to be lots of polls following this manufactured crisis. As of now, the public blames the GOP more, but Obama's ratings are looking more and more Bush-like.

Here's a snapshot of public opinion: 

Q: If negotiations between President Obama and Congressional Republicans on the federal debt ceiling fail, and it leads to an economic crisis, would you place more blame on the President or on Congressional Republicans, or would you blame both equally?  
President Obama: 35
Congressional Republicans: 46
Both equally: 18
Not sure: 1


Here's a slew of numbers from DK/SEIU weekly poll.

This president hasn't learned yet that he can't trust this Republican party. When asked back in December--when he caved in regarding the Bush tax breaks to the super rich--why he didn't make the looming debt ceiling part of the deal, he said the Republicans would do the responsible thing when needed. Great call, Mr. president. Maybe you forgot how they negotiated on health care reform.... Tsk. 

Jul 26, 2011

When the Party of Crazy Gets a Seat at the Discussion Table

The flat-earth people have gotten a chair at the table and are now part of the discussion on the nature of our planet—and this (about the planet)is an assumption of mine, because I’m not sure they even believe the earth is a planet. I hear voices that say there should be a compromise, and why can’t our leaders come to a solution…


Sure, let’s all agree that the earth is ..square—which is the compromised position between those who say it’s flat and those who say it’s round! Plus, from now on, we have to set policies based on this concept of reality (or delusion).

Since WW 1, Congress has routinely increased the debt ceiling over 70 times! For the last 10 years, all of those Republicans who now care about the deficit have voted for the increase every year! This is a manufactured crisis and a waste of time and money. The GOP’s best hopes for defeating Obama (especially given the declared presidential candidates) is to make sure the economy is as bad as they can make it. In addition, the party of crazy (Tea Party) has undue influence on the Congressional Republicans to the point that the GOP leadership is powerless to deliver an acceptable solution.

Even The Wall Street Journal and many other conservatives have been urging the GOP to drop this stance and promptly vote to maintain the US’s financial responsibility. This is not the same as maintaining huge deficits. In good times, there should be surpluses (like during Bill Clinton’s second term), but when there’s a true need, we must spend. This whole capitalist economy (and most of us individuals) use credit when we need it. When sick, you buy the medicine needed for recovery.

Isn’t time we started calling a spade a spade? It’s a disservice by the media to frame this issue in general terms of conflict politics, gridlock, need to compromise, etc. Defaulting on our obligations is a bad thing; it very simple.

Soon we have to have a serious discussion about national priorities, funding for the programs we need, and how to pay for them. John Stuart Mill noted that the worth of the state in the long run is the worth of the individuals composing it. How true it is.

Yes, our system (the greatest ever devised by man) is complicated and gridlocked, but as long as there is a critical mass of political “floaters” (low information voters who frequently move from side to side) and others distracted by ..shiny objects (words & symbols), then change will be very slow and costly.



Jul 12, 2011

Why We Should Not Care About the Others... Unless Morality is HOW We Treat Others!

I have good health insurance, I'm not gay, I have a decent job, I'm making enough to live a good life; I have good connections, and great circle of family & friends. All those I care about, are here already (or had come in the distant past), so I want enforcement-only immigration policies.

I live in an area with better environment than many others, and our local schools are very good; I'd send my kids (if I had any) to a school where science, history, and critical thinking are valued.


Even though I hate those gaddam liberals, they have created a community [careful now not to go too ..communistic] where free expression of all sorts is allowed and people are free to pursue their own bliss.


So, screw it, I don't care about others. Being self-serving, greedy, is patriotic,  and I believe God has a plan for everyone. Some people are stupid, sick, and lazy, and not worthy of society's help, because for the most part they're responsible for the choices they've made!  Freedom means the absence of a nanny state, and, of course, no strong social safety net is necessary. Just mentioning the word "social" invokes ..socialism--which is clearly undesirable since it takes away our freedoms! We want to be free to do whatever we want, right?

I make my own bargains with God, who tells me that "free will" includes people's ability to sin, have homosexual (or unnatural) sex, and choose to be sick and poor. America, I believe, is the land of opportunity where anyone who works hard enough can realize the American dream. 

Taxing is the forceful stealing of a person's property. Some of the taxes are necessary to provide for a proper defense, law & order--even though we can save money and have more freedom by privatizing the police and most of our military. I believe that the marketplace has an ingenious mechanism of self-adjustment, and this system creates most of the wealth for the benefit of...


....


Except, that I actually believe that morality is how we treat others, and that a commonwealth is a society that's set up for the benefit of all, not the elite, so I keep asking a simple question every time they talk about passing a law, defining the role of government, etc. This simple question is: who's going to benefit from this action?

.....
Video: Keith Olberman's criticism of President Obama's negotiating priorities with the Republicans on the role of government. Well said!




Jun 17, 2011

Same-sex Marriage: A Necessary Civil Rights Act. New York State Must Approve this Progressive Law.

UPDATE (6/25/11): New York became the 6th state and the largest (doubled the number of people who have equal right to marriage) state to adopt same-sex marriage! It's also the among the 3 states whose legislatures and governors passed such a law; the other states have it because of court decisions. The NYS law will be in effect by the end of July.
...........

It's a simple question, really. Should every adult be able to marry someone of his/her choice? But, religion interjects and argues about defending "traditional" marriage--yeah, traditional--when marriage was between man and women, or, married not for love but other considerations, or, when races weren't allowed to mix. 

New York state is on the verge of approving same-sex marriage, but Senate Republicans have to come along to make it happen. Again, the objections center around "protecting" religious freedom. It's a constitutional right to believe whatever, and religious organizations can have their own rules. Among adults, any religion can remove the eyes of every third congregant if it has a "command from God" that the ..truly faithful must walk in darkness. I have no problem with that, as religions shouldn't have any problem with other adults choosing their mates. But, they do, so their strange beliefs become our problem. Progressive states must truly separate public policy from religious dogma.

I'm not gay, and, as far as I know, no one in my immediate family is homosexual, so the law allowing same-sex marriage won't affect me--except that it will be another important step in expanding civil rights & liberties in a society I live in. 

The modern state gives certain privileges (economic and legal) to married couples, because it's deemed good for society. Therefore, the state should and can give out such allowances. Such marriages need no blessings from the Church or any other false--and they are false--God(s). We don't ask any religious organization to accept the secular approach to reality. Heck, the Mormon church didn't even admit blacks until 1978. [By the way, do you know why blacks are ..blacks, according to the Mormon doctrine? They were cursed by God who turned their skin dark!] Free-willing adults can join any crazy outfit they desire, and if they accept crazy beliefs that's their choice. 

The problem has been that for far too long religion and its "divinely-revealed truth" has hampered humankind. This is the time for us to take great strides in ending this moronic approach to reality. Public policy should be based on secular, scientific, and well-thought out approach. Our government should promote happiness and the well being of the people; that's progressive and allows for individual choice!