Sunday, December 16, 2007

To Raise Taxes, To Lower Taxes, That is the Question

It seems that the Republicans are always about cutting taxes (which generally does help the rich more than the poor) and the Democrats are always about raising taxes (which raises costs for everyone even if supposedly targeting the rich).

The problem, IMHO, is that it is not the amount of taxes that are collected so much as the prioritization of the use of those revenues. We give billions in tax breaks to farmers, industries, home owners, parents, Prius-buyers, investors, etc. Theoretically this is to subsidize those behaviors we culturally and fiscally feel are most critical. In practice, it has become more of an auction to the highest bidder (aka lobbyist) or for show in the continuing quest for reelection.

We need to stop the he said/she said rhetoric of both parties and focus on independent thinking. What should be our priorities as we move forward? What resource options do we have at our disposal to achieve those priorities (e.g., tax base, subsidies, finding the $60 billion worth of supplies we "lost" in Iraq)? What political, social, and business options are there for achieving these goals? What changes to our current tax code may be necessary to fund the selected priorities?

And this should be done transparently so the public fully understands how and why these priorities are being selected. The question is, are any of the candidates capable of independent thought, making the tough choices, and adequately communicating with the public? And more importantly, is the public willing to do the hard work of finding such a candidate and voting for them, or are we simply to vote based on our traditional method of voting for the candidate who panders to our one-note decision-making capacity?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deceptive Campaign Ad


I recently received the attached envelope in the mail (above). As you can see, it clearly says "Fairfax County Income Tax Authority" on the top. It also has "Notice: Your new Fairfax County Income Tax Payment is Due."
Is it possible not to assume this is some sort of tax bill from the County? So obviously people will open it.
Only to find a negative campaign ad accusing the Democratic candidate for State Senate of creating a new income tax. Clearly this is false, misleading, and deceptive. After searching for the ad for some attribution, I finally found a small notice on the back of the envelope saying it was Authorized and paid for by Cuccinelli for Senate. This actually was the third ad I had received (not counting the TV commercial I saw last night) accusing the opponent of raising taxes (something she had no power to do as a member of the county school board). The previous ads were merely annoying and obviously trying to scare the voters. This one actively deceived.
Frankly, I had not decided on for whom I would vote in the upcoming election. But I now know that I could not possibly vote for Cuccinelli (the incumbent) because he purposely attempted to mislead and deceive the voters with his ads. Think about it - rather than state his own beliefs (presumably anti-tax), he stoops to playing to the fears and inattentiveness of the voters. How can someone vote for a candidate that is so blatantly deceptive?
I shall not vote for Cuccinelli. In fact, I may actively support his removal from office. I prefer integrity.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Post 9/11 Opportunity - Lost

I recently posted an article called "The Real 9/11" on Gather, a community site. My motivation was a series of discussions with conspiracy theorists insinuating the whole day was some grand shadow government operation. At one point I realized that attempting to intelligently debate the point with people incapable of seeing even the incongruence in their own arguments (not to mention lack of any evidence) was a waste of time. More importantly, I realized that these people were disrepecting the nearly 3000 people who died that day. So I gave an opportunity in my post for people to express their feelings for those who gave their lives, loved ones, jobs, security, etc. I also asked if people thought our actions since that day were helping or hurting the "war on terror." There were varied responses, however one struck me as so thoughtful and so insightful that I've quoted it here in its entirety. The commenter is Suzanne Ford, an actress (watch for her on the premier of Bones on Sept. 25th) and obviously a very keen observor of life (imho). The following is her comment:

"We had several opportunities as a nation after 9/11. We could have made a mighty effort to enlist the help of the nations of the world in tracking down and stopping Bin Laden. We could have initiated the creation of an international anti-terrorist effort that would have made great strides in dampening terrorist movements across the globe. We could have reached out, in the throes of worldwide sympathy and condemnation of that event, and developed a global alliance of unprecedented strength and effectiveness, which we could have led as the most powerful country on earth. Instead, we have squandered those opportunities and are now possibly the most reviled nation on the planet, having created a brand new and ever more frightening threat in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, and yet are still trembling lest the terrorists come at us again. It almost doesn't matter why we did this - the reasons are myriad and largely wrongheaded if not completely opportunistic. The point is that we blew it. Figuring out what to do now, where to go now, and how to get out of this mess is, for me, at least, an exercise in futility and frustration."

I couldn't have said it as well.

See the entire post and comments here: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977097590

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Focusing the Debates

The early presidential debates allowed the candidates on both sides to generalize and spout their practiced canned speeches. The You Tube debate was the first to get questions about the day to day, what really matters, issues for the 95% of the country who really don't care about the games the "inside the beltway" folks play. Interesting to hear that the Republicans are backing out of their You Tube - sure, some of the questions were off the wall, but then some of the voting populace are off the wall, or young, or technologically savvy, etc.

Focused debates sponsored by different special interest groups can be very revealing. Will the candidates simply pander to the audience? Or will they at least attempt to address the issues even if doing so doesn't give the questioners/audience what they want to hear. A little honesty would be nice, though pandering will probably rule the day.

The Univision debate is interesting in its own right because of the decision to do it in Spanish. Certainly you need to have enough of a command of English to work the voting machine, but most new immigrant's understanding is usually best in their native language (this has always been the case for 1st generation immigrants, with 2nd and 3rd generations becoming more English-speaking). It makes sense to discuss difficult issues in the language they can understand. While I don't expect to see similar debates in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Swahili and even Canadian (eh), it could be done if the need is there. The goal is to educate and communicate in the manner best understood.

As I've said before, I would really like to see focused debates, each dealing with a particular issue (e.g., Iraq, or perhaps more broadly, national security; Social Security - keep it, fix it, or dump it; Infrastructure improvement - the need, the path forward; etc.). Don't let each candidate give their canned responses...require details and follow ups. Stimulate them to argue with each other and give actual pros and cons of various proposals. I'm even for co-party debates where Republicans and Democrats are on the same stage presenting and defending their proposals. Likewise, don't allow the media to give 10-second "quotes" that supposedly represent the candidates' entire philosophy or program proposal. Make sure the breadth of the discussion is communicated so the one or two liners they practice in advance look as meaningless as they are.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tossing the Plame Lawsuit

Tonight I saw a brief report on Fox News regarding the Valerie Plame lawsuit accusing President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Scooter Libby and others of outing her covert CIA status.

In their reporting Fox indicated that the judge's decision read "the act of rebutting public criticism by speaking with the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level executive branch official." To which the Fox commentor did a bit of a "I told you so" monologue.

Then I just read an article on the ruling on CNN's web site. Unlike the Fox version, CNN provided a little more in the way of quotes (but not obviously the full 41-page decision). Interestingly, the flavor of the CNN piece could easily lead to somewhat different interpretation of the judge's statements. For example, here is what CNN quotes relative to the Fox quote:

[ The way the defendants handled criticism from Joseph Wilson "may have been highly unsavory," the judge wrote, but "there can be no serious dispute that the act of rebutting public criticism ... by speaking with members of the press is within the scope of defendants' duties as high-level executive branch officials." ]

Furthermore, earlier in CNN's piece they quote another part of the judge's opinion:

[U.S. District Judge John Bates said the lawsuit raises "important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials." ]

Hmm....to me this looks like the judge is saying that even though Plame and Wilson didn't have a legitimate case against the President et al., he did have serious concerns about the actions taken by them against Plame/Wilson. Now I think most legal scholars believed that the case would not move forward. In fact, I think it likely that Plame/Wilson always assumed their suit didn't have enough meat to enable a judgment in their favor, but rather filed so as to cause as much political angst as retribution for their own loss of reputation/status. So having the case tossed isn't really that much of a surprise (though apparently they plan to appeal). But what is interesting is the selective reporting aspect of the case. Am I alone in expecting news organizations to evaluate the information and present an accurate representation of the facts? And I don't mean "fair and balanced" where one side yells at the other side and no one actually gets the real facts so we can make up our own minds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Declaration of Independents

It's time.

For quite a while now we have been working under the two party system in the U.S. The system has been gamed by those already in the system to make it incredibly difficult to get elected unless they run either as a Democrat or Republican. (Unless of course you're from Vermont.) The rare third party candidates need to be largely self-funded these days in order to compete with the "big guys."

NYC Mayor Bloomberg has just recinded his Republican party moniker to become "unaffiliated." Granted this wasn't much of a stretch because he was a Democrat up until the point where he realized he could get elected Mayor by switching to the Republican party. So unaffiliated (which I'll just call Independent because I feel like it) is a good middling description for him. But the point here is that we have the Mayor of a major U.S. city who decided that he could best govern without the constraints of a "party platform" to which he had to conform. Which means he can use good ideas no matter which party thinks them up. Which means that he can perhaps actually get things accomplished withough worrying about whether someone will jump on him for not adhering to the party "group thought."

There are a few other independent thinkers that still belong to one of the two major parties, but they often are assailed as the outsiders in their respective caucuses. Perhaps these folks would consider changing their party affiliation to Independent. Perhaps we as voters could insist that our representatives consider all reasonable options, and seek common ground with the goal of resolving issues. This seems like a better way of moving forward than simply staking out anti positions to whatever position the other side espouses.

It's Independents Day!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Immigration Debate

I read a great column by Charles Krauthammer on Friday, June 15 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/14/AR2007061401742.html). I don't always agree with his views, but he writes clearly, concisely and thoughtfully on a variety of issues. He raises an excellent point in his column "Good Fences." Apparently one of the few parts of the immigration bill that everyone can agree on is the building of a physical barrier along the US/Mexico border. A bill was passed (and signed by the President) last year authorizing the building of such a fence. Border security, including a fence, is stated as a precondition for some of the guest worker and path to citizenship provisions in the current bill (and any bills that will likely be forthcoming).

Seems like a no-brainer folks. Why not pass Immigration - Part I? Agree to build the double-line fence along the entire border while we work out the details on the rest of the bill. Let's do the fence part right at least. Ah, but those pushing for "comprehensive" legislation will argue that once a fence bill is passed the Congress will rest on their laurels and not move the other issues forward. This is a false arguement. For one, it's the Democrats and the President that most want the comprehensive provisions, and don't they currently hold the power in their respective branches of government? If you really want to find a resolution then let's show some leadership folks. And second, they can easily include a schedule for debating the remaining and most contentious topics in the fence bill. Is it so hard to say that the Congress shall identify by 3 months after the fence bill is signed a list of topics that need to be debated, that these topics will be debated openly for a set period (say 1 month for each big issue in succession), and that a goal will be set for developing a reasonable comprehensive legislation by the end of the year (or by March, or by spring, or by whatever date seems reasonable for an open and honest debate to occur)? This would allow one key provision to move forward now (the fence) while the other difficult issues are discussed and a path forward negotiated.

Think about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Internet

The internet is a complex issue. I'm convinced that the best way to communicate across this "flat world" (as in The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Friedman) is to use the power of the internet for free expression. Certainly knowledge is power in the sense that if people around the world have the facts they can then make decisions. Ah, but therein lies the rub.

Anyone can write anything they want on the internet now...through blogs, personal web pages, "community" sites like Gather and Myspace, etc. It is largely unfiltered...and often inaccurate. Statements can be made as if fact when they have no basis in reality. In many cases the writers use the freedom of the medium to present their particular biases. In some extreme cases the medium can be used to foment hate. Authoritarian governments such as China, North Korea and many others strictly control the "freedom" of thought, site accessibility, and use. Even in the US the political parties and other special interest groups have manufactured concensus, created news, planted stories and videos on sites such as You Tube, and otherwise attempted to "control" (or at least supplement) the content. Clearly the "reporting" is unbalanced. Perhaps it is balanced in toto should people go to the trouble of comparing views on multiple sites (sort of like switching back and forth between CNN and Fox News Channel in order to figure out what the real non-spun version of the facts are). However, most folks don't do that. Rather they read those sites, watch those TV stations, and peruse those papers that they tend to agree with.

Okay, having said all this, and while the suggestion that England (technically it is the United Kingdom) is leading the way toward totalitarianism is more than a little unrealistic (and perhaps conspiratorially paranoid)[Note: this relates to a statement in the posting I was responding to]*, I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of keeping the internet free and uncontrolled. This is where it has the greatest power. However, to paraphrase a line from the first Spiderman movie, with great power comes great responsibility. It behooves all of us to read everything on the internet (and elsewhere) with a wary eye....to consider the source and the source's inherent bias (we all have it)...and to consider viewpoints that may not be the same as our own. We each need to filter out the noise and find the reality. While I certainly wouldn't trust some government functionary to do this screening, it does mean that each of us must take this personal responsibility upon ourselves.

Now let's get out there and blog people!!

[*Note: I wrote this in response to a comment on Gather, and decided it would be a good blog.]

Saturday, June 9, 2007

False choices…and deflections

Have you noticed how politicians and the media are great at providing false choices? These are “choices” that are created as straw men to oversimplify the issue to the point of having to choose between either being for it or against it…making things black or white when they are really different shades of gray. Both Republicans and Democrats do it. As do the media.

For example, while the Democrats say they are for “a new direction” and want to set an “exit timeline” the Republicans call any timeline a “surrender date” that will embolden the terrorists (um, like the terrorists haven’t been emboldened already). It’s either “cut and run” or it’s “winning.” The “surge” to some is an “escalation of the war” to others and "reinforcements" to still others. Either we “win” in Iraq or “the terrorists will attack us here.” Regarding the likely failed attempt to resolve the immigration issue, it is either “amnesty” or a "path to citizenship;" a “comprehensive” solution that couldn’t possibly work unless it includes a “guest worker program.” Some Republicans have taken to using the term “Democrat Party” (vs. the proper “Democratic Party”). You are either “Pro-Life” (as opposed to “Pro-Abortion”) or “Pro-Choice” (as opposed to “it's a life, not a choice”). Candidates either "win" or "lose" the debates (er, the election is almost 1-1/2 years away...shouldn't the debates at this point be considered "debates," i.e., a chance to voice viewpoints and perhaps even listen to opposing viewpoints rather than a game of cut-throat?)

You get the idea. Each of these false choices belies the bias of the individual or group spouting them. However, by simplifying complicated issues into “bumper sticker slogans” (as presidential candidate John Edwards recently called the “war on terror”) we lose the ability to have an honest debate about arguably legitimate differences of opinion. Notice how the media pundits focused entirely on the controversy of Edwards’ choice of language rather than the real question of what in fact the “war on terror” actually means. Doesn’t it make sense to look at the “war on terror” in the context of, for example, the “war on drugs?” Clearly the decades-long war on drugs hasn’t come close to removing illegal drugs from our society. Some would argue that drug use goes through faddish cycles and that the billions of dollars we spend is really nothing more than an expensive public relations campaign. Others would argue the opposite, but the point here is we don’t really discuss the effectiveness of programs; somehow we equate the amount of money we spend as a measure of whether a program is worthwhile. The recent immigration bill, for example, equated the amount of money allocated, the number of border agents hired, and the number of miles of fence built as “proof” that the “border security” part of the deal had been met, thus allowing the “guest worker” and “path to citizenship” phases to begin. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set the benchmark as something like “a reduction of illegal border crossings to 5-10% of 2007 levels?” Wouldn't that or similar metrics actually measure the endpoints we're really interested in rather than some false straw man that makes it look like we're doing something? By playing with the language we do ourselves a great disservice and, in all honesty, deflect ourselves from the possibility of resolving the issue at hand. Clearly our elected officials have devolved into making decisions based on the affect on electability. Perhaps we, the people, should take more seriously our own role in this democracy and demand some semblance of accountability?! Perhaps we need to pay more attention and stop abdicating our responsibility.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The CNN Debates

Ah, the CNN debates. First the general. Both were emceed by Wolf Blitzer, which I believe worked better than the earlier debate format (at least overall). The flexibility he had to keep the pace moving and ask follow up questions allowed for more interaction, which after all is what debates are supposed to be. Both the Democratic and Republican groups (8 and 10 folks, respectively) kept to their expected party lines, with for the most part only some limited variations between candidates within a party. The Republicans managed to tie every issue to "national security" ("Fear Factor"), while the Democrats often dealt with issues as independent from each other ("Living in a Vacuum").

In Sunday's Democratic session, Hillary Clinton clearly was in the most control of the debate. At times I felt the other candidates were looking up to her rather than debating her. Her main strength was turning every question into an attack on the current Administration rather than an attack on her fellow Democratic candidates. Conversely, Edwards spent most of his time trying (unsuccessfully in my opinion) to challenge Clinton and Obama. The two surprises to me were the lack of Richardson's ability to project comfort in his answers and Biden's outspoken "straight shooter" persona. The others were largely for counterpoint and/or entertainment value (not to minimize their very useful contributions, since they often were less afraid to offer more daring opinions). Richardson clearly should be considered Vice-President material, as should be Senator Dodd, who was actually quite good in his supporting role. Biden might also be a good VP, though I doubt he would take the job (nor would I recommend it to him...he can be much more effective where he is currently).

In tonight's Republican debate, Guiliani strengthened his leadership persona, comfortably fielding questions and calmly deflecting any criticism. He clearly learned from the pundit's assessment of Clinton's performance (and Ronald Reagen's rule about not criticizing fellow Republicans) and turned most questions into a chance to accuse Democrats of being clueless, weak, and downright dangerous. McCain showed much more restraint and control (well, for the most part) than the previous debate and came off being forceful and capable. Romney showed that he is likeable and a good communicator (I would suggest that he is Republican version of Bill Clinton, albeit with higher moral standards, but I'm guessing Romney would not appreciate the comparison). Some of the other Republicans had their moments, but it's likely it'll come down to these three, plus whatever happens with Thompson (Fred, not Tommy) and possibly even Gingrich.

There were some scary moments in tonight's debate. One was when lightening apparently interfered with the microphones just as Guiliani was beginning to explain his abortion views (divine wrath?). Another scary moment was listening to Huckabee's religiosity lecture. Overall, God and Ronald Reagen were ubiquitously "in the room" throughout the Republican debate. God was at the Democratic debate as well, though perhaps spent most of his time in the Green Room (providing a moral compass but not given credit for steering the ship).

Because of the lengthening of the campaign process for this presidential election, there will apparently be many more debates. Presumably the numbers of participants will decrease (Wolf clearly didn't give equally time to everyone, but everyone did get some air time). My hope is that after the minor candidates drop out that the debates can be reformatted towards "single issue" sessions. Let one hour be entirely on Iraq/War on Terror/Iran/etc. Another can be on immigration. Another on education. Etc. Doing so will allow something more than the sound bite mentality, where candidates take advantage of their brief on-air time to spout their canned talking points. Even if a particular candidate does not become the nominee, such an issue-oriented format will surely stimulate more lively, interactive discussion, which could result in some more daring, yet exceptionally good ideas being put on the table.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Book Review – "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore

In The Assault on Reason, Al Gore writes a scathing rebuke to the policies of the Bush Administration. He unabashedly accuses Bush, Cheney, and their “cronies” of lying, deception, power-mongering, abuse of the public trust, “manufacturing consensus”, and outright law breaking. And not just any laws – Gore accuses Bush of having broken Constitutional laws. To say that the book is impassioned in its criticism of the administration would be an understatement. Yet, as with his passionate advocacy in “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore offers an intelligent and reasoned look at how the administration's actions reflect what he sees as, well, an assault on reason.

Despite the time spent on laying the groundwork, the main points of the book can be discerned from two chapters. In “Democracy in the Balance” Gore examines how what he sees as the over-reaching power grab of the executive branch, coupled with the lack of legislative oversight and the stacking of the judiciary, has damaged the very existence of our democracy. The manipulation and/or lack of courage of the media contributes to this problem. In “A Well-Connected Citizenry,” Gore takes what he sees as the lack of public participation and awareness to be an area in major need of correction. Television remains the primary medium for most people to receive information about the world, yet television is a one-way communicator and susceptible to the manipulation by those with money and access. Perhaps Gore’s views are best summarized by the following (p.254):

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the reestablishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way – conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

By public participation and connectivity (e.g., by becoming aware and exchanging ideas), we can recapture the basic checks and balances of our democracy, ensure government governs wisely for all its constituents (not just the narrow special interests), and reestablish American credibility and leadership in the world.

While the book clearly could have used some stronger editing, it is an important book that should be on any informed person’s (or anyone wishing to be informed) reading list. Check out the link in the right column of my blog if you want to order.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kazakhstan

I'm concerned about Kazakhstan. Not because of Borat (who probably has done more to boost the nascent tourism industry there than any one). Rather I mean the recent political situation. First the president introduced some changes into the constitution, according to which the terms of the next and any succeeding presidents would be reduced from 7 to 5 years. This would be considered a good sign. But after that the parliament introduced another change that would likely allow the current president to stay in power forever due to his historical role following the demise of the Soviet Union and independence of the former Soviet states. In addition, the government has cracked down severely on the media, such that it basically can't report anything that questions policy.

Unfortunately, the populace is way too passive about this following generations of soviet rule. The United Nations apparently can't do anything but hand-waving (assuming it even bothers to do this). The United States has certainly reduced any influence it could have exerted (assuming it had any influence in the region to begin with). What concerns me most is that all of this will go largely unnoticed by the world as we focus on more obvious problem areas.

Is this simply business as usual? Shouldn't we care more about the Kazakh people (and others in the same situation)? I wish I could do more to help.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bush League

It's growing increasingly difficult to hold my tongue. Today President Bush declassified selected intelligence information on Usama bin Laden's activities in Iraq - FROM 2 YEARS AGO!! This highlights several things:

1) The Administration screwed up by dropping our "war on terror" and chasing down bin Laden in Afganistan so Bush/Cheney could pursue an ill-informed, ill-planned, and ill-executed, personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein. [For the record, we're all glad he's gone]

2) Iraq was NOT an opportunity for al Q'aeda UNTIL AFTER WE WENT THERE AND ENSURED THE CONDITIONS WERE RIPE FOR THEIR GROWTH. Now it's a breeding ground for terrorists.

3) The Administration has ZERO credibility - as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of Americans and the world see right through Bush's obvious attempt at sleight of hand (it's not a civil war we're in the middle of in Iraq...it's a war on al Q'aeda). Like somehow this makes it more likely that we'll trust him to make the correct moves to win this thing. [Saying we must win doesn't mean that incompetence will suddenly start working because we have some sort of moral authority].

4) The President and the people who think for him are clueless in that they still don't understand that selectively releasing information to re-invent reality to fit a political agenda further damages the Administration's reputation, and worse, the reputation of the United States. Besides the obvious damage to our national credibilty (and influence) in the world (which could take decades to rebuild), Bush has created the perfect set of conditions to allow countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China (especially China) to exploit our weaknesses and gain undue regional and worldwide political and economic influence.

Frankly, it's gone way beyond embarrasing...it's now become dangerous.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Saw just a few minutes of Larry King's interview with Al Gore tonight (so this may be out of context). But I was struck by a bit of irony. Gore is touting his new book that apparently lambastes our current President's decision-making, as well as the media. Gore had just finished telling Larry why he didn't intend to be a candidate for president in 2008 (which he has said consistently and often). He then went into a discussion of how the line between news and entertainment was often blurred (see my earlier blog about the media). He gave credit to Larry (as a rare exception) for clearly delineating between shows about news and shows about entertainment. Then, as he opined about this blurring of the line, CNN put up one of those tickler footers (static, not a scroll) asking whether Gore would be a presidential candidate. He just said he wouldn't....yet they put up the graphic anyway. Why? Because anyone reading the tickler who just tuned in wouldn't know that he just said he wasn't going to run...and so the viewer may want to continue watching to find out if Gore was entering the race. Talk about blatant attempt to enhance ratings. Exactly the thing Gore was chastizing the media for as they proved him right. How ironic is that?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Republican Debate

Following on the heels of last week's Democratic entree, last night the 10 (currently announced) Republican candidates for president debated in a similar format. While having that many candidates on one stage at the same time resulted in limited opportunities to hear any one candidate's views, some initial insights can be drawn.

Like the Democrats, the Republican candidates probably fall into three tiers - front runner, second tier possibles, and pipe dreamers. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans are a little more difficult to pigeon-hole into groups. In part this is because there is less diversity among the candidates, both in the traditional "diversity" sense and in their views. Republicans have raised to an art form the ability to stay "on message," in contrast to the Democrats who often have a variety of messages (I'll leave it to you to decide whether having one single focused message that defines a party is a good or a bad thing).

The front runners did distinguish themselves from each other somewhat. One was uncomfortably passionate (I couldn't tell if it was because he was trying to show strength or if he was trying to restrain the passion). One was incredibly well spoken and clear in his presentation, while decidedly conservative (at least currently conservative). And one was somewhere in between in both delivery and message. It will be interesting to see whether style or substance becomes more important in the election.

One thing that was crystal clear is that whatever Republican candidate wins the nomination, the contrast from the Democrats will likely be striking. Granted, there is one combination of candidates in which it would be harder to discern differences on some issues, but in the one key issue likely to drive out the vote the Republicans are almost universally in support of the war surge (and will fight the "surrender date") and the Democrats just as universally want to bring the troops home ASAP (most at whatever cost).

Certainly things can change dramatically in the many (many) months before the first primaries. On the Democratic side it is unlikely that any new faces will emerge, so we're pretty much stuck with the current cast. On the Republican side it is quite possible that one or two "true conservatives" will join the fray, though my personal feeling is that this is unlikely.

Great Falls, MD 2007


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Alas...work beckons in the capital of the free world (as they say)

...the afternoon wanes in KZ (end of the day)

Souls rise to meet the ensuing hours...hearts race...

...life exults...this is the way

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Democratic Debate

I returned from a trip that took me through Europe and Texas just in time to catch the first Democratic presidential debate. Now, the value of a "debate" nearly a year before the first presidential primaries is, well, debatable. Having said that it did provide a bit of insight that should inform voters as the spectacle unfolds over the coming months. First, it was clear that there are three tiers of candidates: 1) those with a solid chance of getting the nomination, barring any foot-in-mouth incidents, 2) those that perhaps would be good candidates if the public takes the time to listen to their views, and 3) the nuts. I'll not bias readers with whom I would put into each category.

Second, some of the candidates are more linguistically adept than others. Whether this stems from natural eloquence versus practiced political experience perhaps is less important than the fact that the current president has virtually guaranteed that voters will select someone better able to communicate their thoughts. Or even have coherent thoughts.

Third, that there were a few suprises. Media analysis of the debate seemed to settle on the conclusion that no one really locked themselves out of the running. I disagree. One candidate that I had rested high hopes on came off (in my opinion, at least) much less capable than I would have expected, both in terms of ideas and the ability to communicate them. Conversely, another candidate that I hadn't put much stock in came off as being more thoughtful and capable than expected.

Certainly there were some hints as to who would likely be able to perform their presidential duties well. And while the idea of having 2+ years of running for president seems painful (all by candidates that should be busy doing the real jobs we pay them for, like being a senator), perhaps given our current circumstances it is a good thing to have sufficient time to really get to know the candidates' views. Assuming, of course, that we, the voters, take the time to do so.

The Republican debate, with its own cast of characters, is set for next week. I look forward to seeing which of them can be a viable future president.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Time to Compromise on Iraq

I read today (4/10/07) an opinion piece by Washington Post columnist David Broder. I recommend it to anyone interested in where we go from here in Iraq. You should be able to find it at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/09/AR2007040901002.html

In it Mr. Broder states pretty much the obvious, though clearly the obvious has been ignored to date. While I have been patient (to the extent that I can) with the Democratic "fact finding" hearings about anything and everything ever done by the Bush Administration, the time for getting down to real work is upon us. Relative to Mr. Broder's column, it's time for Congressional Democrats (and Republicans) AND the President to work together to find a path forward. Mr. Broder's suggestions are thoughtful and doable (though obviously any ultimate success depends largely on what the Iraqis decide is in their own best interest; after all it is their country). Clearly, however, any serious path forward requires both political sides in the US to drop their partisan egos long enough to realize that our soldiers lives, as well as the lives of countless Iraqis and innumberable future generations of all countries, are more important than whether Bush wins or the Democrats win.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

of the people, by the people, for the people

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart the other night, and he was making fun of some politician as usual. He had Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of "Team of Rivals" on the phone. Now "Team" is about Abraham Lincoln during the civil war, and the main theme of her book is how he gathered those rivals who most disagreed with him into his cabinet, figuring it was better to have them inside arguing their points rather than outside undermining the process. In contrast, Jon Stewart showed a clip of John Bolton, former Ambassador to the United Nations, saying that, of course President Bush only surrounds himself with those who agree with him, after all, these are the people who elected him and why would he want to give anyone else a dissenting voice.

Frankly, this is more than a bit scary. If I recall, Bush gained the presidency in 2000 by a narrow margin of electoral votes (and a Supreme Court judgment) after losing the popular vote. Even in 2004 his victory margin was small, and despite a "don't change horses in the middle of a war" attitude, again it came down to a somewhat controversial electoral vote. My point here is not to rehash the elections - President Bush won both elections fair and square and within the legal constraints of our election system. No, my point is that in both elections the populace was fairly evenly divided, with roughly half of the voters choosing the other guy.

So to cater to the side that voted for you as if it were some sort of mandate is patently ridiculous. As Lincoln so eloquently noted (alas, eloquence is not a Bush forte), government should be "of the people, by the people, for the people." Meaning, of course, that the President is elected to govern for everyone in the country, even those who didn't vote for him. I'm not suggesting he kowtow to the "anti-anything-Bush" Democrats or radicals on the left, but perhaps a little more attention to the views of the center might be in order. Consider this - the administration has been so partisan, so "I'm right, you're wrong" in all of its actions - that Senate majority leader Harry Reid can get away with saying something inflammatory like (and I paraphrase), Bush has to remember he is President of the United States, not King of the United States. When such a statement brings nods of agreement from such a large proportion of Americans, clearly something is wrong at the top.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thoughts on Media Bias

Politicians routinely speak of the inherent bias of the media. Usually this is to suggest that the media are "left wing liberals," though the Rush Limbaugh's, Sean Hannity's and Fox New's of the world certainly are accused of a severe right wing conservative bias.

I would suggest that perhaps a more useful way to view the media is in terms of "anti" and/or "ratings."

These days the media are driven largely by ratings. With competing 24 hour cable (or dish) news outlets, not to mention the seemingly limitless internet access, the stations need to actively attract viewers (and, of course, the larger the number of viewers [ratings] the larger the advertising revenues). Keep in mind that news stations must make a profit (or at least try to), unlike the "public service" loss leaders they used to be. Logically, it follows that to wean viewers from other stations or other activities, they must be noticeable, different, and yes, entertaining.

How best to do this? Controversial, in your face, anti-opinions have become the market leader. The actual news value is largely secondary. Who gets the most press? Clearly it's the ones that speak the loudest, show the greatest degree of self-importance (generally referred by themselves as self-confidence), and "entertain" us. It's actually hard to tell sometimes if some of these news entertainers actually believe most of what they say, or if they are merely playing a role to maximize ratings, profits, and (largely ghost-written) book sales. Traditionally the "anti" attacks have been against whoever currently is in power in the Congress, Administration, or any other highly visible authority figure. Add to this the obvious "incompetence" attributable to anyone that is so politically inept as to not avoid controversy. Take the media attack on the federal government after Katrina. While much of the criticism was well deserved, an unbiased report would have reached the obvious conclusion - that we all are guilty of poor planning for potential future events...that we all tend to deal with the crisis of the moment (aka the squeaky wheel)...that we all are unprepared for those events that are infrequent, unpredictable (at least in timing, if not occurrence), and yet catastrophic if they do occur. Stuff happens. Clearly we shouldn't ignore the deficiencies when things go wrong. But perhaps the media could spend a little more time dealing with the issues so we could learn from our mistakes rather than focusing solely on the sensationalism of attacking whomever is ripe for blaming. In other words, focus on objective information and analysis rather than theater.

Of course, all of this would require fundamental changes in how we view the media. Because these organizations, like all businesses, must make a profit to stay viable (and on the air), they must continue to get sufficient ratings to garner sufficient revenues. Without change it would seem we are stuck with what we have wrought - and to be clear, the "we" is "us" (the viewing public) that hath wrought this. We show preference to the sensational which begets more sensationalism, which begets more "anti" and more theater and more bias (in both directions) because this provides the greatest entertainment value. Perhaps some day we'll demand thoughtful analysis and accurate portrayal of the information by the media. Perhaps we'll care enough to demand, and reward, honesty and integrity in our public servants. Perhaps. But while we all have the video game mentality it isn't likely.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Recasting our framework...leadership in a changing world

I actually wrote this last August, prior to the November 2006 elections and have edited it only slightly to bring it to date. It's rather a long post, so bear with me as it begins to set a theme for the future. Let me know what you think.

Recasting our framework...leadership in a changing world

We have a severe lack of leadership in this country. We seem to lack the understanding that it's not always all about us. It's not us vs them. It's about mutual benefit...or at least mutual tolerance. Win/Win. Remember. Talk of "victory in Iraq" and "winning the war on terror" is counterproductive because it means we win and they lose. But who are they? This is not about killing all the terrorists, which of course cannot ever happen. One cliche is largely true...it's about reviving the hearts, minds, and spirit of the people...both here in the US and in all countries of the world. We cannot impose our beliefs on everyone. Democracy is by defiition not something a government can impose on its people; it's what the people impose on the government. We certainly cannot impose our democracy on other countries. To attempt to do so clearly communicates to them that we think we're better than they are...that we are the crusaders come to impose our righteousness on them (sound familiar). It just cannot be done. Instead we should be leading the way to show the people of all countries what they have to gain from using their voices, as opposed to their guns. Show them what can be accomplished when you focus on working together for mutual benefit rather than the poverty and destruction of continued armed terrorism. Terrorism is self-sustaining...terrorists lose their cause and instead become their own cause. We need to empower the people to take back their cause, their paths forward, their control of their lives so they don't rely on the terrorists to try to do it for them. This will take leadership on our part...and on the part of the governments in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, and most certainly in the UN. Will it be difficult? Yes. Are governments corrupt? Yes. Must we have integrity? Yes. Will we be universally successful? No. But it must be done. Using coercion via superior weaponry has got us to the point where trust in the US is so low that Iran has actually become a leading influencer of events.

But the same is happening here in domestic policy. After 40 years of Democratic control of congress, and constant complaints by Republicans that the Democrats were abusing their power...the Republicans took that abuse to new heights (lows?) once they got control and the Democrats complain. The current administration and the now ousted Republican Congress seems to think that they have the "moral authority" to impose their holier than thou views on the country (lest they forget the closeness of the last two presidential elections). Republicans in power felt that they could dictate what we all must think and do...because they know what's right. But what happened to governing for all of the people...not just the ones that agree with you or that you favor? So what of the Democrats? As the minority party in congress they by definition had less power to decide things than the majority. But that doesn't mean they couldn't stand up for the others (defined as those not favored by the majority). Now that the Democrat have back control of both houses of congress, will they revert to the us vs them approaches that both parties succumbed to whenever in power, or will they finally learn the lessons of history. Again, congress is elected to govern for its constituents, which is us. Which brings me to the next level of lack of leadership - us! We, the people, as our founders so elequently put it. Why have so many of us become so partisan? Why is it an us vs them mentality? Why do so many of us vote based on one narrow issue that we don't even bother to fully understand rather than insist that our representatives tell us the truth and give us the information we need to make informed decisions. We have the responsibility to elect representatives that will address the important issues of our time. Yet, we reelect the same people year after year in large part because we know their names and don't even care what they do. Witness the amount of pandering that has been going on the last few months (and years) by congress trying to get reelected. It's embarrassing, but then so is the fact that we let it work on us. Votes are transparently designed to appease/inflame one special interest or another, rather than working through the difficult issues that will have long-term impact on our economy, our national security, and our leadership role in the world.

One note of warning. Look at Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, others and their activities regarding nuclear weapons. Look at the massive economic expansion (and impact on natural resources) of China. Look at the resurgence of the "Soviet" mindset of Vladimir Putin. Look at the complete ineffectiveness of the UN. Look at US. The US has completely lost any leadership, influence, credibility in the world. We may be the only superpower (for now at least, as China will be soon), but instead of leading the world we decided to try to impose our will on it...and forgot that while Gulliver was much bigger than the Lilliputians, there were far more of them and when banded together they were able to overpower giants. The world sees the morass of Iraq, the lack of ability to do anything substantive with such obvious world threats as Iran and North Korea, the continued freedom of Zawahiri and bin Laden, and the look the other way attitude toward "friendly" dictators...and they treat us like the buffoons that our president appears to be (don't worry, both members of both parties fit into this category with their partisan gamesmanship). Perhaps we, the people, need to be smarter in selecting our representatives. Pick them on their intellect and, most importantly, their ability to carve decisions out of different viewpoints, rather than on whether they think they are more "moral" than the other guys.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Beginning

Dake starts Blogging...what a concept

An experiment in creativity, opinion, photography, and general thoughts on the key issues of the day (and some not so key).

Let the blogging begin.