Friday, June 30, 2006

Political Naivety

I’m coming to the belief that I really am politically naïve.

I’m naïve to trust that the US Government will, in spite of it’s clumsiness, govern properly, provide sufficiently and fairly, protect and defend competently and report honestly.

  • When I was in the Army a long time ago, I saw it’s insufficiencies and laughed at it’s stupidities. But, when all the training came together in a war game or a real action, it became an effective and fierce fighting machine. I added this to the other things I had learned that gave me confidence that our government was fair, honest and functionally effective.

  • When I grew up, my parents and their friends told me what happened during the 30’s and the war years of the 40’s – when the government stepped in and provided public service jobs, rationed goods, set prices, called for sacrifices – and reported regularly and inspirationally with fireside chats. They were proud of America and how the social actions of Roosevelt and the Democrats affected them personally.

  • As I studied government, I learned what it was commissioned to do, how it was divided to provide checks and balances so that it’s energies were maximized and it’s machinery was effective and honest.

  • And I learned – first at school and then during Watergate - what a free press was able to do.

Those experiences left me with a feeling of trust that this big clumsy governmental mechanism would, under periods of real need, come together and do what it was supposed to do.

I never EVER thought that it would all – each element of the whole system – deteriorate to the extent that I see it today. I just naively believed that the system would overcome the misconduct of the few, the financial and power temptations, the entrenched bureaucracies, the petty vanities… that it would cleanse itself.

But it hasn’t and I’m afraid that big, REAL issues – as we have now - won’t be resolved. I’m afraid that advanced political technique will continue to distract people from real issues and make them even more afraid and, as a group, manageable and longing for a leader to protect them – willing to vote against their own best interests and not see what is so plainly clear for all to see.

  • I recently listened to a series of talk radio shows that used inflammatory rhetoric to attempt to puncture any belief in the “facts” about global warming and the necessity to do something now. If you saw “fact” in those “facts” you were a Liberal, scare-monger or worse.

  • I saw – and continue to see – the effects of Katrina. The prejudices, the lack of progress, the ineffective dialogue, the simple unorganized generosities of plain Americans, the weak planning for the next cycle of possible disaster.

  • Traveling across the U.S. as I’ve been doing, I see how fear and terror are making us paranoid and cynical – and fearful of one another. We’re not the same sweet innocents we used to be.

  • Unlike when I grew up, most pulpits – of almost all persuasions - are presently being used to lobby their congregations for political purposes with encouragement to do so from eager politicians and canny political advisors.

  • And I see how distractions are filling our bellies and making us falsely content. We’re fat and fearful and distracted AND we don’t believe our government will function to our benefit nor represent our views, needs and wants - but we’re too full – too addicted - to do anything about it. So we eat and drink ourselves to distraction while our best and brightest are leaving the country for better pastures and our universities churn out fewer and fewer Americans.

I once had a course in the Fall of the Roman Empire. The similarities are many and many of the precursors to the fall are happening now in America (unfairness in the tax system, overstretched military, extreme disparities in the wage/payment system, ineffective legislators, and the rise of petty vanities and elitism). Worse, the negative momentum is likely to propel it further away from being our America.

We are spiraling out of control with no real leadership nor any real plan to get us back on track. No candidates are talking about the real issues nor have a plan of attack for even a single issue. Not one thus far is inspirational (except perhaps Al Gore). Instead, they all talk the talk while the spiral escalates and our country continues to descend.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Open Society Our Greatest Strength

[Excerpted from an article by Rod Micleburgh in today's Globe & Mail]

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a ringing defense of cultural diversity, rejecting calls for Canada to be less open to immigration as a way of curbing terrorism.

"I believe, actually, the opposite is true. Canada's diversity, properly nurtured, is our greatest strength."

The threat of terrorism, he said, is "sadly, the most serious challenge" modern policy-makers face." Some commentators have blamed Canada's open, multicultural society for spawning the homegrown terrorist network, Mr. Harper added. "They have said it makes us a more vulnerable target for terrorist activity."

Rather than shutting out those from other countries with different ethnic backgrounds and religions, Canada should maintain its long-standing, open-door policy, he said.

"It is true that somewhere, in some communities, we will find apostles of terror, who use the symbols of culture and faith to justify crimes of violence. They hate open societies like ours because they want the exact opposite. They want societies that are closed, homogeneous and dogmatic."

The terrorists and their vision will be rejected "by men and women of good will and generosity in all communities," Mr. Harper affirmed. "And they will be rejected most strongly by those men and women living in the very communities that therrorists claim to represent, as we have already seen in Canada since those arrests. "We've largely avoided ghettoization.... and the impoverished, crime-ridden, ethnically polarized no-go zones."

Hear hear!

A rational, ethical point of view from our northern neighbors that we would do well to emulate.

And a terrific add-on story to yesterday's blog on terrorism.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Teaching Terrorism

In John Updike's new book “Terrorist”, Updike attempts to describe how a Western-raised person can become a suicide-bomber-terrorist. Literally, he describes what has just happened in Canada: that 17 young Canadians, from hard-working immigrant families, having gone through the Canadian school system, with all that Western indoctrination, still became suicide-bomber-terrorists. In the news in Canada, this is today’s most vexing issue.

I've never liked reading Updike books. But this one has elements that are gripping and very informative. He has written in two different mind sets: that of the young, somewhat impoverished New Jersey half-Irish, half-Egyptian Muslim high school student being taught in regular after-school one-on-one sessions by a local Inman, a radical view of the Koran which justifies the mistreatment of everyone except true believers. Every teaching leads to the same conclusion: that American culture and all it’s people are enemies of the true believers of Islam because their every action is an offense to that religion.
This viewpoint is offset by the Western Judeo-Christian mind-set of semi-religiousity, plentiful "stuff," generosity, competition, ambiguities, and infidelities galore. This latter mind-set is represented both by the New Jersey town and of it’s high school guidance counselor.

The story itself leaves something to be desired and is what I don’t like about Updike – it’s not very well developed. But the characters are, and their competing philosophies are intricately shown, and these mind-sets seem to be true to what is going on in our world today and Canada this moment.

In a recent Canadian editorial/interview, a U of Calgary political theorist and author of “New Political Religions: An Analysis of Modern Terrorism,” Barry Cooper, predicts that soon Muslims will rebel and fix these antithetical teaching engines within their religion because these twisted interpretations of Islam are not real and reality will prevail.

[In answer to the question: What will defeat them, practically speaking?] I honestly think that it will be Muslims saying: These people are doing evil, this is not what God wants us to do. And they will be helped by us because we want to trade with the Muslim world. Westerners like to get along because then we can all be prosperous. We’ve got our own materialistic reasons. The Muslims who will be arguing against the jihadists will be helped by us – because we will give them stuff, for our own reasons; not for their reasons… and the jihadists will fail for the same reasons that the Nazis could never work, or the Bolsheviks could never work, because they did not base their action on an understanding of human nature. And neither do these guys.

“Terrorist” is a thought-provoking read which I highly recommend.

Democrats Then and Now

When my parents and their friends told me about their being Democrats, they talked about all the disparate groups of immigrants, ethnic minorities and workers that were joined together by a party which attempted to represent them and their varied interests. They believed they were members of a socially conscious party and opposed a party which they saw as representing the wealthy and business-oriented.

The 30's and 40's were dramatic years with serious national and international problems, wars, rationing, trading roles and more. My parents lived through those years. Their party experiences came from real actions that effected their lives. They were the poor immigrants from Poland and Russia. They were the ethnic minority persecuted Jews. They were the union members and mobile veterans that crossed the country searching for opportunities and education.

But in the 50's, 60's and 70's, things slowly changed. The immigrants and some of the ethic minorities blended into the mainstream, upped their family incomes above the poverty level and became middle class. They aged and got fat both literally and physically. And the need for a helpful political party diminished. Nothing dramatic was pressing; things were good; they didn’t have that many political needs.

Then came the assassinations, the scandals, the trials, the racial adjustments with Black Americans.

Simultaneously during those years many other trends were happening.

Fewer heroes came to Congress to give back to their country. Fewer ethical people came to Congress. More lawyers came and less got done. People grew tired of the bickering and lack of progress. Campaigning, polling and communicating grew more elaborate, effective and costly.

The party of the many became a party identified with Black causes, with the liberal spin on most issues, and with a focus on issues of the poor, senior and disadvantaged. It didn’t really represent middle America, middle-income families and the upwardly mobile. The Republicans became the more steady, the party that represented the silent majority, the party with the biggest investment in new campaigning practices.

And now that the Republicans have shot themselves in the foot with their agenda, their methods, their lies, and their Bush’s, and it’s very likely that in spite of themselves, Democrats are likely to win back the Senate and House and possibly the Presidency, who are those Democrats? Are they the party of my parents or are they something entirely new and different? Is there anyone real there? Is there anyone there that I want to represent me in the important issues of the day: global warming, health care, poverty, education and re-education, religious wars and terrorism?

Ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes in his blog that there's no longer a Democratic Party.
...the Dems have no message, no plan, no strategy, no guts... The basic problem is there's no Democratic Party. Of course there are the trappings of a party -- conventions, meetings, state operatives, mailing lists, and so on. But compared to the Republican Party, Dems are a bunch of wild weenies in the wilderness.

In trying to describe the Democratic Party I'm reminded of what Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, California: "There's no there, there." So here's the question: Why is the Republican Party so well organized -- with messages, plans, strategies, and all the rest? Why are Dems so much the opposite. Answer: It's because Republicans tend to be authoritarian. Authoritarian personalities -- who get off on control, order, and discipline -- naturally gravitate to conservative Republicanism. Democrats tend to be anti-authoritarian. Anti-authoritarian personalities -- who don't like to take orders, who don't care about controlling anything, who are inherently undisciplined -- become liberals, progressives, and Democrats. This assymetry has haunted American politics for years. The Republican Party is much more conservative than most Americans, but they keep getting voted in because they're more disciplined about politics.

I agree with him wholeheartely - and sadly - because what he says is so true. We've been passive too long.

I'm convinced that things will get worse and that there will be a leadership void even greater than the one now until socially conscious Americans rise up and make things happen -- by insisting that their representatives in Congress hear their concerns and do something about them, and by quickly changing their representatives if they don't. This means EVERY socially conscious American: you and me and them.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

962 at 0% versus 546 at 53%

In "An Inconvenient Truth," science is taught to assure us that global warming is happening and we are contributing to it -- accelerating it. But one particularly startling bit of the presentation is how the media has been handling the information.
  • Of the 962 peer-reviewed articles showing all the various aspects of the global warming process that are occurring, zero percent have had scientific criticisms. 962 at 0%!

  • But of the 546 news reports of those scientific findings, the reporters have presented the information with 53% of those reports being critical of the information.

How can this disparity happen? And, by the way, it's happening again as reviews and editorials about the movie report on the "facts" of the movie.

It's possible that it's happened this way: a reporter is assigned a story about global warming and he reads the stories of scientific reports. He picks out a few and wades through the details. He then calls the White House Press Office (or the Press Office for the National Institute of Science) to get the Administration's spin on the reports and the issue. There he is told that it's a non-issue and the reports are incorrect or incomplete or predicated on useless and unmeasurable data. The result, in the reporters point of view, at least, is a balanced story about the report(s) and the issue.

Another possibility is that global warming is not happening. Naaaaah!

Al Gore said in documentary that it's the people that will ultimately rise up and make things happen -- by insisting that their representatives in Congress hear their concern, by changing their representatives if they don't, by altering their consumption habits, and by encouraging others to do the same.

I encourage you to see the movie. Soon.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Read Them and Weep

Election results from the recent Primary election in California.

Adults 18 and over eligible to vote: 22,542,844

Eligible voters that have registered to vote: 15,668,439 -- 69.51%; down from 74.80% in '94

Registered voters that actually voted: 4,719,473 -- 30.12% down from 43.20 in '94

Voters that actually voted as a percent of elegible voters: 20.93 -- down from 33.43 in '94

Remember, 50% + 1 is a majority in most elections. In the recent California Primary Election of 2006, the one where these figures apply, less than 10.5% of those elegible to vote can AND DID win the election.

In a recent blog Taking a Look Behind the Numbers," I reported on a Poll Smoking segment on The Daily Show with John Stewart, where fake analyst Dave Gorman humorously showed how 34% is more than enough to win an election - and this is a frighteningly true point as the California figures above prove. Gorman's use of statistics to make his points is definitely humorous - but extremely serious. It's a must see routine so be sure to click through and watch the segment.

The segment is humorous but the numbers aren't. To me, they are downright scary.

A Black And White Experience

The daughter of a friend of mine lives with a black man and they had two children. His mother and sister are both pastors of a woman-run church in Louisiana; my friend and his daughter are from Santa Barbara. Conventionally, many would say that there is quite a difference between the two families.

In Louisiana, there are nine siblings including one that was involved in a police shootout that has incapacitated him permanently; in Santa Barbara, the daughter is the lead sales person at a thriving woman-run design firm and her family is equally large (12 children).

Both families are big and close and both are content within their own situation.

Recently I visited the Louisiana family and their church. I met them all and enjoyed their company. I came away with the opposite opinion of the way that I grew up: I thought it was a wonderful thing to intermarry. It made everything work. It bred away all of the petty differences. And, in this case at least, it strengthened the families, the individuals and the close circle of friends and family of each participant. Everyone is getting along nicely.

Also recently, the Aspen Institute recently sent me a public policy booklet with a suggestion to start a radio station in the Israel/Palistine area broadcast in three languages with topics such as this one (interracial marriage). Aspen and The Annenberg Schools of Communication at USC and U of Penn are planning on funding the project.

Thus my question: are there studies that attest to my observations? That intermarriage -- not just between black and white, but across the board -- brings disparate families together, minimizes differences, and spreads the beneficial effects outward?

Maybe I'm naive in thinking that this is the case. But I would like it to be so because then the solution is evident and simple.

When I grew up you had to marry within one's own race AND religion. The latter broke down before I hit my teens and the former seems to be breaking down these days.

Insights and actualities about the process are being discovered globally. In the 1800s, before Darwinian evolution was popularized, most people, when talking about ‘races,’ would be referring to such groups as the ‘English race,’ the ‘Irish race,’ and so on. This all changed in 1859, when Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species teaching that different groups or ‘races’ of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their ape-like ancestors than others. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, were considered the missing links between the ape-like ancestor and the rest of mankind. This resulted in terrible prejudices and injustices towards the Australian Aborigines.

It can be seen through court records in the case of a white farm owner who died on his farm leaving his wife, two half-white children and many slaves. The wife, who was black, was jailed with the rest of the slaves; thus the court case to straighten things out:

In the case’s earliest depositions and transcripts, Nancy was referred to as a “black woman” and only by her first name. When her own lawyers arrived in court (contacted by her determined thirteen-year-old daughter), the documents began to refer to her by surname and as a “colored woman”, no longer “Black.” Once her own witnesses arrived in town to testify, the court reporter began to see her as a “colored lady”, no longer a mere “woman.” Finally, by the time that a politically powerful family friend and businessman arrived in the colonial capital to testify that the family were personal friends, and that the husband had left his last will and testament with the company for safekeeping, she had become “Milady Nancy” in court documents, and subsequent records make no mention of her skin tone.

This case exemplifies social attitudes 100 years ago and illuminates more than the bleaching effects of wealth. It also reveals how daily language is used to hurt, remind and control.

The U.S. Census reports that interracial marriages more than doubled between 1980 and 1995. Black/White marriages increased an estimated 96% overall, with marriages between Black women and White men increasing 171%. Blacks with other races increased a whopping 124% during the same period.

Naturally there are competing discoveries and theories and the general issue is much more complex than I am presenting. Here are a few examples:
  • Relegion is the biggest deterrent to the establishment of the Aspen-sponsored radio station, much less the actual process of intermarriage in the Middle East

  • In a massive interracial program in South America, even after years of modulation, the projection of a preferred skin color (white versus creamy) still causes serious prejudice.

  • Many Muslim countries prescribe intermarriage to the 1st and 2nd cousin level. This is/was the case in Iraq. From reports I've read it appears to have had no beneficial effect except to instill on the participants an extra-large family of trustworthy allies.

What do you think?

And can you refer me to any studies?