Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bush gets the Shoe!

When it's time to go, some get the boot.

Pres. Bush got 2 shoes.

Ironic or appropriate?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Creation and Politics

It was Christmas Eve in 40 years ago. It followed a tumultuous year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. It saw riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In Vietnam, American troops killed civilians in the infamous My Lai massacre.

But on that day in 1968, humans saw, for the first time, an earthrise over the surface of the moon. Apollo 8 was the first manned flight to leave earth’s gravity. William Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman were the first humans to orbit the moon. Inspired by this breathtaking view – a photo that is credited with inspiring not only Earth Day but the entire environmental movement – the three astronauts read about creation as written in the Hebrew Book of Genesis.

A moment of awe and reverence?

Maybe to some, but it may have been the first salvo in battle in the national political scene over the biblical creation account.

Accounts of Creation
Anthropologists will tell you that every culture and civilization typically has some account of creation. The details vary, but often there is acknowledgement of a creator god who was responsible for it all.
In the US, creation as described in Genesis is the most known account. But, within the sects of Christianity and Judaism, there are disagreements about how Genesis should be understood. While nearly all of these sects would acknowledge Genesis as the inspired word of God, some take it more literally than others. Some believe God literally took 6 days to create the world, while others say that timeframe might have been a little longer (maybe even 15 billion years).

Here’s where I have to state my position. Yes, I am a Christian, but I don’t think the “days” in Genesis were 24 hours. You see, in Psalm 90, the psalmist, who really understood the eternal nature of God, says that a 1,000 years to us may be like a single day to God. So I say, 6 days, 1,000 years, or 15 billion years, what does it matter to an eternal God?

Creation and Politics: The Origins of Conflicts

Perhaps the first major conflict between the Genesis creation account and national politics was 1925 Scopes Trial. The state of Tennessee enacted the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching any theory that denied the Biblical account of the origins of humans. John Scopes, a high school teacher, was found guilty after intentionally violating the Act.

After the reading of Genesis from Apollo 8, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist, sued the United States government, alleging that government employees were involved in public prayer in space. While the suit was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to lack of jurisdiction, this action irritated many Christian religious leaders.

Creation and Politics: The Invention of Creationism, Creation Science and the “Intelligent Designer”

The conflict of evolution vs. Genesis is still alive nearly 80 years on. We now have seen some advocates of a literal reading of Genesis come up with Creationism and Creation Science as “scientific theories” that should be taught side by side the “theory” of evolution.

This is quite an interesting development. While in science, many ideas are called “theories” even if there is a substantial body of empirical evidence supporting the theory, we have seen others throw out these “theories” even though there may be no scientific evidence to support them.

What we see here is the translation of the fair coverage principal in the media (covering each side of a new story) to the realm of science. Only here, fair coverage is expected to apply to whatever crazy “theory” anyone throws out.

More recently is the invention of an “Intelligent Designer” who supposedly worked out all the details of creation. Instead of the random mutations and other incremental changes integral to natural selection in evolution, there was intelligent causes that guided the evolutionary steps.

Another editorial interjection: Personally, I don’t believe in this new-fangled Intelligent Designer, but rather the good old-fashioned Almighty God, Creator of All! In fact, I believe the Christian Right has created a false idol. I believe God the Creator did not have to “sweat the details.” Creation is the product of a loving act of the Creator. When parents create a new life through a loving act, they do not “sweat the details” of their baby. Much the same with creation.

Creation and Politics: Why Does the Right Cling to Creationism?

The easy answer would be votes. A significant number of Christian voters do not believe in evolution, and many are easy votes for the Republicans: if they say “I oppose abortion and gay marriage. I believe in a balanced discussion of evolution” they’ve won a lot of the values voters.

But the second point goes a bit deeper. Creationism or evolution – this is irrelevant to national politics. But global warming is. I’ve seen Creation Science expanded to propose other “theories” on environmental issues form global warming to the extinction of species. Interestingly, these “theories” align with business interests, particularly, the reduction of environmental regulation.

So, here’s the benefit. In another post, I explained how the Bush Administration believes science should not be independent of politics, but should serve the party line. So, creationism is the “gateway theory.” If you can put creationism and evolution as competing theories, you can take theories of global warming or other environmental issues and throw out competing theories. Now you can take any theory from the world of science and, if it conflicts with national policy, simply say “it’s just one theory and here’s another theory.” That’s the wedge.

Conclusion

In the long unfortunate national debate on evolution vs. Biblical creation, we have seen the politicization of science, particularly in the Bush Administration.

What have we lost? We’ve lost the sense of simple reverence and awe on seeing the beauty of our planetary home.




Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Conflict in the Cabinet?

President-elect Barack Obama made an interesting remark about his cabinent choices:

"(I want) strong personalities and strong opinions” to foster robust discussion. “One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views,” he said. “So I’m going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.” But he added: “As Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me.” [Baker, Peter, “Appointments Begin a New Phase for Obama,” New York Times, Dec. 1, 2008.]

Now some will say that conflict won't work. The President doesn't need advisors who are likely to go off and follow their own policies instead of the President's.

But, I see this as a potential triumph of true democratic thinking -- where policies and decisions arise out of a vigorous discussion of ideas. Where this discussion is not colored or filtered by predetermined political ideology.

This is the strength of democracy: the chance to air a full range of opinions, and then making decisions based on the best ideas and suggestions. This is far superior to a cabinet of loyal “yes-men” and “yes-women” who stay with the party line.

I see this as moving from the “Maoist” approach of the Bush Administration – where the party line came first and everything else followed from that. (Examples: the triumph of political policy over science and the invasion of Iraq: as early as the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, the Administration was looking for an excuse to invade.)

Will it work? Well, we’ll see in 2009.

Monday, December 1, 2008

So, What to Do about Gay Marriage?

In the course of the fall, same-sex marriage (often referred to as "gay marriage") was voted down in California while it became legal in Connecticut and remains legal in Massachusetts. Other states allow a "civil union" or other rights to same-sex couples. (A US map of the current status of such rights can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Status_of_same-sex_marriage ).

Everyone is familiar with this issue and there is no shortage of strong opinions out there. Before I present my suggestion, I would like to present a brief history of what marriage has been in society. (Note that the state is a relative newcomer.)

A Brief History of Marriage

Forms of committed relationships between a man and woman date back millennia in many cultures. In many of the earlier forms a woman was considered given to a man. In European history, this was often seen as more a business deal, arranged by the families, where the woman may have been given as part of a transaction involving material goods.

Cultural traditions for marriage vary around the world and date back centuries, though the particulars typically evolved over the years. Often religious beliefs or superstitions were entwined in these traditions.

Formal state and/or religious recognition are relatively recent additions. In Europe, the first example of requiring a religious ceremony of marriage was in the Catholic Church, after the 1545 Council of Trent. However, religions ceremonies did occur for centuries before this date, but they were optional. Civil marriages emerged in Europe in the 1700s and 1800s.

The emergence of state recognition of marriage, particularly in Europe, roughly parallels the transition from state religions to tolerance for multiple religious traditions. Before that, the bureaucracy of state and church were so intertwined that the need for separate state involvement was not needed.

Controversy

In short the controversy over same-sex marriage relates to the state’s involvement in marriage: determining who can marry and under what circumstances. For advocates, it is clear that marriage is yet another right that should not be denied to any group. To the opponents, it is often contrary to deeply held religions beliefs. To some, it just seems strange or they may just feel “it’s not right.”

It is very clear that these positions are irreconcilable.

What to Do?

My proposal is simple: get the states out of the marriage business. A good pragmatic Libertarian has to always ask: “Does it make sense for the state to be involved in this?” I say: “No!”

The states should deal with legal contracts, which is one of the necessities of “being married” -- for example, ownership of common property, joint custody of dependents, rights related to health care, etc. So, I say any couple should be able to draw up a state-recognized legal contract regarding these matters.

And let the marriage ceremony return to the cultural traditions of the couple, be they religious or non-religious. Those traditions that recognize same-sex marriage can perform them; those opposed don’t have to have them.

Freedom and choice for all with no government intervention. That’s my solution.

New Topics for the Lame Duck Season

While we wait for a new administration, the temperatures are dropping, and many Americans are caught up in holiday shopping, I was thinking of filling the time with some hot topics:
  • Gay marriage
  • Science in religion and politics: the real agenda behind "creationism"
  • An honest look at abortion (freed from the dogma and rhetoric of the right and left)

I may start a separate blog for the multi-part series on abortion -- an issue where I've struggled and thought long and hard about it. I will propose the 3rd road (hint: both the right and left are wrong, in my opinion).

Comments are appreciated, even in advance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Violence in India: Why?

The doldrums of these lame-duck days were rudely interrupted by the ten terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai. At hotels, a café, a hospital, the railway station and other locations, innocent people were shot, bombs and grenades exploded, fires set and hostages taken. Nearly 200 are dead, nearly 400 injured.

But why? Why?

In time, we may learn the political aims of the terrorists who undertook this carnage. But, no political goal can justify this intentional attack with the intent to kill hundreds of innocent human beings.

How can a human being become so devoid of his own humanity to undertake such horrible deeds?

During World War II, Hitler killed millions. And the world cried “Never again!”

But these abhorred crimes against humanity go on, not only in Mumbai, but in Pakistan and the Middle East, Africa, Asia, America……….

Why? Why?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Doldrums of These Lame-Duck Days


It’s all over, and now we wait. Over are the long campaign, the high of Election Day, and the afterglow of the historic victory of Barack Obama.

Now we sit and wait. And wait. And wait.

Like a long, boring half-time, when will it end? This is the “hot stove league” of politics. We can only speculate about the next political season. Who will be in the cabinet? What will be the first issues that Pres. Obama will work on?

Back in the horse and buggy days, they needed 3 or 4 months to make the presidential transition. Communications took days. Travel to Washington, DC might have taken a week or so. That’s how we ended up with a 3-month power vacuum.

We still may have the biggest financial crises since the Depression plus a couple of wars, not much will happen until January.

Yep, there’s just not much going on.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Real Work of Community Organizers

At their National Convention, Republicans such as Mayor Giuliani and Gov. Palin belittled Sen. Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Sneering, Giuliani seemed to say it wasn’t a real job.

But this does not only injustice to the real work of community organizers; it flies in the face of their own smaller government platform!

By way of an example in Boston, Massachusetts, let me show how community organizers have accomplished a significant renewal of a depressed urban neighborhood, all at little to no cost to the taxpayers! Think about it, this:
  • Republicans and Libertarians should applaud how urban renewal can be accomplished by the private sector: no expansion of government and little to no taxpayer support. And by neighborhood literally picking up itself (as they say) by its bootstraps.

  • Democrats and Liberals should applaud how the process empowers the neighborhood, giving the people a direct hand in decisions impacting their neighborhood and its renewal.
My example: The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. This community-founded non-profit is involved in a range of activities from urban renewal (taking empty lots and designing/funding/constructing new housing and commercial space) to activities for kids and teens. Many of its leaders grew up in the neighborhood when things were at its worst and now witness the revitailzation, rising like the phoenix from the ashes.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiate's website (http://www.dsni.org/history.shtml) sums it up as follows:

“The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a nonprofit community-based planning and organizing entity rooted in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. DSNI's approach to neighborhood revitalization is comprehensive including economic, human, physical, and environmental growth. It was formed in 1984 when residents of the Dudley Street area came together out of fear and anger to revive their neighborhood that was devastated by arson, disinvestment, neglect and redlining practices, and protect it from outside speculators.”

What the Neighborhood Looked Like

By the 1980s, urban decay hit heavily in the Dudley Street area. Disinvestment by land owners lead to deteriorating housing and commercial properties. Fires, many the result of arson, gutted many structures. The area was home to illegal businesses including chop shops (where stolen cars are dismantled and sold as parts to avoid identification), illegal drug traffic, and gangs.

The result of decades of decay was a “a staggering amount of vacant land (21% or 1,300 parcels) in the 1980s” (quote from website). This was the condition of the neighborhood when DSNI was formed in 1984.

So how does DSNI accomplish redevelopment?

Again, quoting the DSNI website:

“DSNI works to implement resident-driven plans partnering with nonprofit organizations, community development corporations (CDCs), businesses and religious institutions serving the neighborhood, as well as banks, government agencies, corporations and foundations. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has grown into a collaborative effort of over 3,000 residents, businesses, non-profits and religious institutions members committed to revitalizing this culturally diverse neighborhood of 24,000 people and maintaining its character and affordability. DSNI is the only community-based nonprofit in the country which has been granted eminent domain authority over abandoned and within its boundaries.”

So, rather then the City’s redevelopment agency performing the planning and contracting out the construction work, all that is performed by the CDCs. All of this is accomplished by community organizers!

Check this out:

“DSNI's major accomplishment has been, and continues to be, organizing and empowering the residents of the Dudley Street neighborhood to create a shared vision of the neighborhood prioritizing development without displacement and bringing it to reality by creating strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. That shared vision first emerged from a community-wide process conducted initially in 1987 that resulted in a resident-developed, comprehensive revitalization plan.”

How can any Libertarian, Liberal, Socialist – or even Republican – not applaud this process? It is accomplished with little government intervention or expenditure; it engages residents in helping themselves revitalize their neighborhood!

And it has been successful – consider these accomplishments as noted on the DSNI website:
  • "Over half of 1,300 vacant lots rehabilitated for homes, gardens, parks, orchard, playgrounds, schools, community centers and a Town Common
  • Over 400 new homes built and over 500 housing units rehabbed since DSNI formed
  • Business and investment are growing
  • Visitors come from around the world
  • Residents who were children when DSNI began have become leaders throughout the community"
Tour of the Neighborhood

Some aerial photos and photos from the 2008 Walk for Dudley illustrate some of the successes.

New commercial and residential buildings:

1. Recently open for business, the mixed use building at Dudley and East Cottage Streets houses Project Hope (a non-profit organization focused on community health) in commercial space with 50 rental units on the upper floors. The Dorchester Bay EDC is responsible for

2. Almost ready for construciton are other mixed use buildings along Dudley Street near Brook Ave. Each has commercial space on the 1st floor and family-sized apartments upstairs.


This aerial photo shows the empty lots before the groundbreaking for these buildings:

On the left below is one of the mixed residential and commercial buildings near Brook Ave. On the right is the new home of Project Hope with 50 rental units on the upper floors.









Community Gardens:

Many of the abandoned lots have been turned into community gardens, growing a great varitey of vegetables and fruits. Below are photos of one of the gardens, this one run by the non-profit The Food Project (http://www.thefoodproject.org/).

















Deen Street

The aerial photo below shows both a community garden location and some in-fill housing lots.



















The picture below shows a six-family house under construction on Dean Street at the corner of Victor Street.






















For more about the DSNI, see: http://www.dsni.org/history.shtml

Other articles about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative:

---New Village, “The Wisdom That Builds Community Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston” by Greg Watson: http://www.newvillage.net/Journal/Issue1/1dudleystreet.html

---YES! Magazine, Winter 2009: Sustainable Happiness, “No Foreclosures Here,” by Holly Sklar: http://www.yesmagazine.org/other/pop_print_article.asp?ID=3051



Friday, November 14, 2008

A new Dawn Part 2: The Return of Liberties and the Rule of Law

I was encouraged by evidence of a New Dawn reading about the groundswell within the US Senate to restore lost liberties and bring back the rule of law.

Adam Cohen, writing on the editorial page of today’s New York Times, reports of progress made by US Senators, even before the new President takes office. Lead by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the effort has included a Senate hearing back in September – long before Barack Obama won the election – when law professors, lawyers and civil libertarians outlined the challenges.

Senator Feingold prepared a list of key actions. Quoting from Mr. Cohen’s article, these include:
  • “… amending the Patriot Act”
  • “… giving detainees greater legal protection”
  • “… banning torture, cruelty and degrading treatment”
  • “…amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to restore limits on domestic spying”
  • rolling “back the Bush Administration’s dedication to classifying government documents.”
Senator Feingold concedes that it will not be easy to restore the rule of law. As Mr. Cohen reports: “Many programs, like domestic spying and extraordinary rendition – the secrete transfer of detainees to foreign countries where they are harshly interrogated – have operated in the shadows.” (In actuality, the practice of extraordinary rendition started in the Clinton Administration.)

The time to act is early in the Obama Administration. The Bush Administration distorted the intent of the Constitution through the unlawful expansion of the powers of the executive. Through the practices of torture, detention without trial, and extraordinary rendition, it defamed the reputation of the US as a beacon of freedom and defender of human rights throughout the world.
When it comes to President-Elect Obama restoring liberties and the rule of law, I’m hoping: “Yes, he can!”


Reference: Cohen, Adam, "Democratic Pressure on Obama to Restore the Rule of Law," New York Times, Nov. 14, 2008, p. A28;
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/opinion/14fri4.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Adam%20Cohen%20Rule%20of%20Law&st=cse&oref=slogin

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Dawn

A new day has dawned -- for the people of the US and for the world. The election of Barack Obama represents an opportunity to restore lost freedoms here in the US and to improve relations around the world.

Our hope is that an Obama Administration will oppose the reauthorization of the repressive provisions of the US Patriot Act and the unconstitutional expansion of executive powers.

Our hope is that the new Administration reverses the repressive policies of the Bush Administration, ending such policies as extraordinary rendition, detention at Guantanamo Bay, and other violations of international human rights conventions.

Our hope is that this marks a new beginning of relations with the nations of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The fruits of this new beginning may include a multi-national plan for US disengagement in Iraq, the containment of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and a negotiated end to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

As President-Elect Obama stated, there will be false steps and setbacks. Still the hope is bes stated in the words of his acceptance speach in Grant Park in Chicago:

"Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope. "

My hope is that we do return to these ideals.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 5 – What Next?

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. What should he do?

In Volume 4, I stated my conclusions about the reality that must be faced in Iraq. No matter how one defines “victory,” one can’t reach it working through preconceptions or through the lens of think-tank neo-conservative theories.

I have read analyses of Iraq from many perspectives. I have heard interviews with soldiers and officers who had been in Iraq. I have heard from others who have been in Iraq for humanitarian purposes.

While I can't claim to be an expert on Iraq, I do have a vision of the what the US should do next. I believe the path ahead in Iraq must be:
  1. Grounded in the reality of Iraq in 2008
  2. Founded on the islands of hope within Iraq
  3. Multi-national
  4. Involve all factions within Iraq

1. The path ahead must be fully grounded in the reality that is Iraq in 2008.

One must admit the chaos of competing factions and militias; the conflicting viewpoints of Shia, Sunni and Kurds; and the fact that all these groups shift alliances from time to time. We need to know the factions "on the ground" by making contact with these groups.

2. The path ahead must be founded on the island of hope within and without Iraq.

Equal in importance to understanding the chaos of competing factions is to understand the islands of hope. These are the foundations for a future characterized by a stable social order and the cessation of factional violence.

I believe that these are some of islands of hope:

  • The people long for the “normal life” of working and living daily in peace.
  • The Iraqi people don’t hate each other as much as it is made out to be. Yes, the militias compete for position and influence, but that is a reflection of the vacuum of social order, not entirely of deep-seated hatred between factions.
  • Many of Iraq’s neighbors desire a stable and peaceful Iraq.

These islands are within Iraq – even within the hearts of the majority of the citizenry – and outside Iraq, particularly in many of the neighboring nations.

How do we proceed?

3. The path ahead must involve all factions within Iraq.

The US and the Iraqi government must reach out to all the factions within Iraq. These factions and militia must become engaged in some form of nation-building instead of destructive violence.

We know that these groups shift alliances, when it is to their benefit. We know that the success of the so-called “2007 Surge” is in no small part due to redirecting militias (e.g., getting the Awaking [Sunnis] to help expel the foreign forces of al-Qaeda in Iraq) or achieving cease fires (e.g., Mahdi Army).

These are the kinds of successes that need to be multiplied.

Here there are 2 choices for the future: either the various Iraqi factions can be marginalized as “the enemy” or a way can be found to engage them constructively.

Clearly, the McCain vision of another 100 years of occupation in Iraq follows a path where the militia and other violent factions are treated as the “enemy.” This is never a winning strategy. Any nation will come to hate a foreign occupying, no matter how benign – this has been true for millennia.

4. The path ahead must be multi-national.

Engaging all the various factions in Iraq may be better accomplished with the help of some of Iraq’s neighbors. Many factions don’t trust either the US or the current Iraqi government. Other nations (including Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia) may be able to aid in bringing some factions to the table or, at least, understanding their position.

Equally important is that the occupying forces must become more multi-national. While US troupes remain “lighting rods” for attacks by any disgruntled insurgent group, a more multi-national peace-keeping force, with a strong contribution from Middle Eastern nations, may facilitate the creating of a more stable and non-violent order in Iraq.

Granted, this approach runs counter to the neo-conservative theories that got us into this mess. The Republicans still criticize any approach that involves talking with Iran and Syria. Sen. McCain frequently cites Sen. Obama’s suggestion of talking with Iran as evidence of his lack of qualifications for understanding international affairs.

Still, I believe the Republicans are wrong. The US must proceed on a path that engages the Middle Eastern nations that desire a stable Iraq. Together, the path ahead must be a process that turns the various factions from violence to coming to the table to discuss peaceful coexistence.

This path to peace is the only path to “victory” for the US.

Who can accomplish this?

On this issue, I think the choice of candidate is clear. John McCain clearly thinks as a warrior; but the war in Iraq is over. The factional violence must come to an end. A warrior cannot lead us in that direction.

Now is the time to wage peace. The Iraqi people have longed for it for 5 long years, but the Bush Administration could not provide it. Barack Obama is a leader who operates in ways that facilitate the multi-national process of engagement and discussion that I have outlined.

But, will he have the patience to take the time needed? He has a stated commitment to a timetable for withdrawal. He will be tempted to reduce troupes so he can redirect spending to urgent domestic needs. Still, he remains our best hope.


Comments and Discussion

I don’t believe any presidential candidate has outlined such a detailed path to peace and US withdrawal in Iraq. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 4 – What Have I Learned?

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. In this volume, I look at what I have learned and what the Administration should have learned.

What Have I Learned?
This should be titled “what have we learned” but I fear that the Bush Administration, the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms, and a vast number of Americans have not learned much for these years of US occupation in Iraq. The politicians still view events through the strong lens of partisan policy. Americans are tired of the endless war and clearly interest is waning.

So here are my conclusions. I believe these are the realities that the next President must come to grips with to work towards the goal of eventual US withdrawal.
  • We can’t trust the Bush administration to learn from experience – they are guided only by neo-conservative think tank theory with no need to understand any details of the Iraqi people, particularly the objectives of the constituent factions.

  • Though unjustified, ill-conceived and poorly executed, the invasion/occupation did achieve two objectives aligned with Bush Administration policy (but don’t expect the Administration to be as frank as I will be about this):

    1) The extremist terrorists function as alpha male primates. The lack of any retaliation would be interpreted as weakness. Direct retaliation against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was needed. The invasion of Iraq (though it was unjustified) can be seen as another retaliation in the testosterone-based dance to establish dominance among alpha male primates.

    2) The placement of American troupes in the Middle East acts as a lightning rod – saving would-be extremist terrorists the cost of air fare as they only need travel to Iraq for the opportunity to kill Americans.

    In these 2 aspects, there may have been some reduction in the possibility of terrorists attacks against the US homeland.


  • On the other hand, the invasion/occupation was one of the greatest recruiting tools for anti-American terrorist groups.

  • The invasion/occupation has greatly benefited Shia Iran, deposing a hated enemy, replacing a hostile Sunni regime with a more desirable Shia majority government, while pacifying the Kurds who are generally happy with the invasion/occupation.

  • The Bush Administration chose Iraq because it was the weakest nation to invade and there was and remains a high level of pro-American feelings in the general population.

  • The terms “enemy” and “victory” cannot be easily defined as it was in the wars of old, fought by nation-state against nation state. Factions and militias change alliances from time to time. One month, they are firing on US troupes, the next they are aligned in the fight against a common enemy.

  • The violence in Iraq is at times closer to the gang violence of LA: in the post-Saddam era, rival factions are positioning for the issues are turf and creating a new pecking order. Even attacks on US troupes may be less about hatred of Americans and more about self-boosting.

  • Success (i.e., the lessening of violence) in Iraq requires the constructive engagement of the major factions and militia.

  • The non-indigenous “al-Qaeda in Iraq” is an oppressor of the Iraqi people and is opposed by most factions.

  • Most Iraqis want the US to withdraw, sooner than later.

  • Democracy, at least as we understand it in the US, is not the “magic potion” to unite Iraq.

  • Despite the violence of the last 4 years, the Sunni and Shia in Iraq generally don’t hate each other. During the iron rule of Saddam Hussein, many Sunni were close friends of Shia and vice versa. The opening of Pandora’s Box resulted in a power vacuum which was filled by violent power struggles among militias and factions.

  • There is hope.

Where Do We Go From Here?
To be continued……………..

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 3 – Where We Are Now

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. In this volume, I provide an overview of post-invasion events, particularly consideration of the so-call "surge" of 2007.

Act 1: Water under the Bridge
That we’re stuck in Iraq is water under the bridge. Though the invasion was ill-conceived and poorly executed, we simply can’t leave precipitously, without re-plunging the nation again into chaos. Like the stabbing victim, quickly removing the knife is not a good remedy.

And we owe some effort to rebuilding the damage to Iraq’s infrastructure, not only of military operations, but from the near civil war that has ensued.

Act 2: The So-Called “Surge” Of 2007 and Why It Appears To Have Worked
The success of the 2007 troupe surge is evidence of the occupation was insufficient in size for the job. For 4 years, chaos approaching near civil war prevailed. A greater force, more multi-national in composition, was needed from day one.

But not only increased troupe strength lead to a reduction of violence. Three other factors were identified by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in The War Within: A Secret White House History (2006-2008).

  1. Targeting key individuals in insurgency groups
  2. Sunni militias switched their target from US troupes to the so-called “al-Qaeda in Iraq”
  3. A cease fire by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army

These operations diffused the insurgency on three major fronts. This made it not only safer for US troupes, but also for Iraqi civilians. Getting the minority Sunni militias, who were not happy with the Shia-led government in Baghdad, to focus their efforts on the foreign forces of al-Qaeda in Iraq (fellow Sunnis) was a particular coup. But these efforts cannot be underestimated.

Woodward writes as follows:

“Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups. The operations incorporated some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the U.S. government.”

“A second important factor in the lessening of violence was the so-called
Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had made a strategic mistake in the province, overplaying its hand. Its members had performed forced marriages with women from local tribes, taken over hospitals, used mosques for beheading operations, mortared playgrounds and executed citizens, leaving headless bodies with signs that read, "Don't remove this body or the same thing will happen to you." The sheer brutality eroded much of the local support for al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

“A third significant break came Aug. 29, when militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations, including attacks against U.S. troops. Petraeus and others knew it was not an act of charity. The order followed a gunfight between the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces in the holy city of Karbala, during which more than 50 Shia pilgrims gathering for an annual festival had been killed and another 275 wounded. Sadr's order marked an unexpected stroke of good luck, another in a series for the Americans.”

[All quotes from Woodward’s The War Within: A Secret White House History (2006-2008).]

So What Have I Learned?
To be continued.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 2 – Prelude to Invasion

For better or worse, the next President will inherit the mess of the ongoing occupation of Iraq. In the 3rd volume, I will look ahead to what the new President should do. But for this posting, I look back briefly at how we got into the mess.

When historians look back at the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they may better document why US policy took a complete reversal over the course of 20 years. For this look-back, I’ve chosen to focus on the one man who was in the lead for implementing the 1983 courting of Saddam Hussein (with gifts of weapons and advice) and then 20 years later lead the charge to demonize him and topple his regime.

Act 1: Rumsfeld in Iraq (1983-1984)
One of the strangest back-stories preceding the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq is the apparent 180 turnaround by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Near the end of the first term of President Ronald Reagan, Rumsfeld served as Special Envoy to the Middle East. In this roll, Rumsfeld provided military hardware and advice to Iraq during its war with Iran. Essentially, he was sent to befriend the regime of Saddam Hussein, at the very time Iraq was using its chemical weapons against the Kurds.

Now, in the context of that point in time, Islamic clerics had been in control of Iran since 1980, when the US Embassy in Tehran was occupied. US policy aimed to hold back the expansion of Iran’s brand of revolutionary Islamic influence in the Middle East. Therefore, befriending the secular, though totalitarian, regime in Iraq was considered an effective countermeasure.

Act 2: Rumsfeld as Architect of the Iraq Invasion (2001-2003)
Rumsfeld’s interest in invading Iraq dates to the afternoon of September 11, 2001, when he put forth the idea of “hitting” both Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He made many public statements emphasizing Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, he knew of the chemical weapons that Iraq used in the 1980s. But why did the Special Embassy, who prided himself on normalizing US relations with Iraq in 1984, now advocate the overflow of the regime he courted?

The Bush regime pounded the war drum on Iraq, emphasizing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the regime’s crimes against its own peoples, a possible link to Al Qaeda, and generally portraying Saddam as the boggy man.

Postlude: What Went Wrong?
The pendulum of Rumsfeld’s advocacy wrought damage both in the US and Iraq at each apex of its swing:

1983:

  • US support uplifts Saddam Hussein at the very time he was gassing the Kurds.
  • This only tightened the repressive regime’s control over Iraqis.
  • Is this one of the beginnings of a pattern of US administrations ignoring international human rights standards?
  • The pattern of US support for repressive Middle Eastern regimes is cited by militants and terrorists as part of their hatred of the US.

The Iraqis were damaged by the tightening grip of Hussein, while the US was damaged by being known as a supporter of repressive regimes.

2003:

  • No WMD found.
  • No connection between Hussein and Al Qaeda.
  • Invasion forces were inadequate in number for the subsequent occupation.
  • After Pandora’s Box was opened, civil order disintegrated in the absence of the iron fist rule of Hussein.
  • The planners of the occupation had little understanding of the cultures and complex relationships among the majority Shiites, the minority Sunni, and the Kurds in the north.
The Iraqis were damaged by the years of chaos and unrest wrought by the invasion. The US reputation was damaged by the unsanctioned near-unilateral invasion of a sovereign nation, followed by the twin albatrosses of the occupation and mounting death of servicemen and women.

What Next?
We can't go back in time to undo the invasion. The next President must take over where the Bush administration leaves things. What to do?

To be continued.........................

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Redistribution of Income

In the discussion between Sen. Obama and Joe the Plumber, the Senator mentions spreading the wealth around. Joe was concerned that if he successfully bought the business and did well, his reward should be keeping this newly earned wealth.

Sen. McCain and other Republicans pounced on this, hinting that Sen. Obama was suggesting the socialist principal of The Redistribution of Income. (Heaven forbid!!!)

Now, up to this point, I've reflected on much of the libertarian side of my views, but not the socialist side. I have to come clean and say it proudly:

I believe in the Redistribution of Income!

You see, part of my beliefs come from what may be called a Christian Socialist view. If we go to the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles, we read how the early community cared for each other and distributed the proceeds of their wealth according to each one's needs (Acts 2:45). This is my basis for my belief that I am called to redistribute portions of the income I receive, being a fairly well-paid professional, for others with needs greater than my own.

I have come to believe that my earthly things are not ultimately mine to possess. Rather, they are gifts given that I might use for myself and others.

Now, most Libertarians may think I'm crazy believing it this. Many who call themselves Libertarian are attracted to this political viewpoint because they don't want government telling them what to do, they don't want to pay taxes (or pay as little as possible), and their possessions (home, land, wealth, etc.) are theirs and no one should tell them what to do with it.

To that I have three replies:

1) Though I believe in the Redistribution of Income, as a Libertarian, I don't believe that the government or anyone else should force anyone to follow this course of action. My belief comes from faith and only those so called through their own faith or beliefs should follow in the path of Redistribution of Income.

2) Not all Libertarians are of a self-centered view that precludes caring for others. For example, the "Libertarian Girl" (http://www.libertariangirl.com/) cares for people and hopes for an end to poverty.

3) Finally, if one really believes in the fullness of liberty, then each of us are entitled to our own views. And in a free society, those who wish to voluntarily redistribute their wealth to the less fortunate, should be free to do so.

So, in conclusion, as a Libertarian and Christian Socialist, I proudly admit: I Believe in the Redistribution of Income!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Guilt by Association?

In the last weeks we hear both Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin trying to paint Sen. Obama "guilty by association" because of his association with Bill Ayers, former leader of the militant Weather Underground in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

But let's compare the Obama-Ayers association to the associations of a well-know person whom Gov. Palin truly admires, even adores.

Seems there is little know about this person's first 30 years of life (what's he hiding). But we do know this:
  • He was born while his parents were traveling (why would they travel when expecting?)
  • Shortly after he was born, his father insisted the family flee to another country (what were they fleeing?)
  • Rumor was that his mother's husband was not his biological father
  • His family was visited by an unspecified number of visitors from the vicinity of Iraq (where the visitors related to a terrorist group?)
  • At about 12 years old, he escaped for a few days from his parents while the family was traveling (they only had one son, how could they loose him for 3 days?)

After 30, it seems he left his work as a carpenter and traveled about with 12 other men of questionable backgrounds:

  • One was known for extorting payments from his own people on behalf of the occupying forces (collaborating with "the enemy?")
  • Another was associated with nationalist insurrectionists (this group would stab their victims during crowded public assemblies in city plazas and the like)
  • A pair of brothers who had a make-shift fishing business, but left their nets and boats followed this charismatic character (losers?)

With this band of characters (and often other followers), he proceeded to associate with some of the "worst" elements of society, even prostitutes, criminals, and tax collectors who were know to collaborate with "the enemy."

He often spoke in ways that angered the leaders of his people. Eventually he came to an unfortunate end, sentenced to death and executed at the young age of 33.

Yes, this was Jesus Christ. Christians like Gov. Palin (and me) worship and adore Him as God's Son.

Yet, during His life on earth, there was a lot of fodder for those who might wish to paint Him "guilty by association."

I don't believe it is right to paint anyone guilty by association. Period.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who is Joe the Plumber?

John McCain mentioned this "Joe the Plumber" (someone at one of Obama's rallies) during the debate, saying he can't buy the plumbing business if Obama's tax plan is enacted.

But who is this Joe the Plumber?

What does he really think?

How much do we really know about him?

Has he associated with any known terrorists or radical preachers?

Why, only 30 min. after the debate ended, is Joe the Plumber already in Wikipedia?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_the_Plumber#October_15:_Third_presidential_debate_.28Hofstra_University_.E2.80.93_Hempstead.2C_New_York.29

America demands answers and we want them now!

I hope he makes the circuit: Saturday Night Live, the Daily Show, Colber Report, Letterman, Leno, Fox News, MSNBC, etc. etc.

Forget Sarah Palin! America wants to meet Joe the Plumber!

Addendum: Update Oct. 19, 2008
As it turns, Joe is an unlicensed, non-union plumber with a modest income, but is hard working, puts in long days on the job, and shares in the American dream of advancing himself by acquiring the business. Not surprising, his views are moderate to conservative. And he was mentioned on all of the above!

Maybee after a week of fame, he might eventually return to some sense of a normal life!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Iraq—Searching for the Real Story, Volume 1: Who's the "enemy?"

We can’t depend on the Bush Administration, the Republicans or the Democrats to give us the real story of Iraq. What we get instead is an over-simplified view of a complex situation, either filtered through Administration policy or skewed by partisan politics.

This will be the first of a number of posts examining the topic of Iraq: What is really going on there? How did we get in this mess? And most importantly, where should we go from here? (Hint: both political parties are far off the mark on this one!)

So where to begin?

Let’s try the basics. In Iraq, who are the allies of the US and who is “the enemy?” Now, the Administration insists on using the terms “the enemy” and “victory.” But are they defined?

Who is the “enemy?” What is “victory?”
Both the Bush Administration and Republicans such as presidential candidate John McCain insist on using phrases like defeating the “enemy” and achieving “victory” without defining either term. In wars past, these terms were obvious, but not so in Iraq.

Iraq is just not like those “old fashioned” wars where it was obvious who the enemy was. The enemy was always a particular nation or alliance of nations. For example, in World War II, everyone knew the enemies of the US were the Nazis in Germany and their Axis alleys of Italy and Japan.

And everyone knew when victory was achieved. As each of these nations surrendered, there was a big surrender ceremony with a signaling of an instrument of surrender, leaving no doubt that enemy was defeated and victory was in hand.

So – pop quiz: Who is/are the enemy(ies) in Iraq (select all that apply):

a) Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party (Sunni)
b) Former members of Ba’ath army and police
c) Al Qaeda in Iraq (Sunni)
d) Mahdi Army (Sunni)
e) Badr Organization (Shiite insurgents)
f) Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq (Sunni Islamists)
g) Iraqi Armed Revolutionary Resistance (Marxists)
h) Various other militia that fire upon US troops or set up IEDs
i) Shiite insurgents from Iran
j) Whichever group is firing upon US troops this week
k) All of the above
l) How would I know?

You know, in baseball, they say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Well, the Bush Administration has never published a scorecard so the American public knows who’s on first in Iraq and how the home team is batting.

At some point in time since the US invasion, each of the above groups could have been considered “the enemy.” But with changing times and shifting allegiances, not all of them still are.

Consider the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq? Before the “surge” they often attacked US troops. Now they are fighting against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Part of the “success” of the “surge” was getting native Sunni militia to purge their territories of the “outsider” Sunnis of Al Qaeda.

Clearly during the invasion, the Ba’ath army of Saddam was considered the “enemy.” But now, consideration is given to integrating these forces with the national security forces.

It’s clear that Iraq is no “old-fashioned” war with a clearly defined “enemy.” Don’t let anyone simplify it for you; this is a complex and changing situation. Even after researching all the players in Iraq, it’s not easy to tell who’s playing for which team.

I’d bet that even George W. Bush, John McCain, and Barack Obama can’t list all the groups in Iraq and which ones are our “friends” and which ones are our “enemies.” I’d bet even this trio would FAIL the pop quiz on Iraq!

So how can policy and decisions be made, when the policy makers and decision makers don’t have a full grasp on the playing field?

To be continued……

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to be a follower of the New Libertarian Socialist

If you enjoy this blog, consider being a follower. It's simple. All you have to do is:
  1. Go to my blog: http://rachy-viewsofalibertariansocialist.blogspot.com/

  2. To the right, under the banner are the words “Followers of the New Libertarian Socialist”

  3. Click on the link for “follow this blog”


It’ that simple! Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Developing a New Political Philosophy

"With liberty and justice for all."

I started this blog to work out my political philosophy. It’s not that I never had opinions on politics, but that I wanted a chance to write about them, and develop them into what I would hope to be a coherent, practical, but unique viewpoint.

As I’ve always been a little different, I wanted to stand apart from the Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

I came up with the term “New Libertarian Socialist.”

Now this is a bit of a paradox in itself as Libertarianism and Socialism are polar opposites regarding the role of government. But like Libertarians, I wanted to emphasize the importance of liberty and the individual’s ability to be unique and think for herself/himself. Like the Socialists, I feel a strong need to be concerned for others, particularly the less fortunate.

I added the word “new” as there is a long history of Libertarian Socialism, whose advocates were often considered anarchists. Generally, all the thinking along these lines (if you Google libertarian socialist) was by dead white guys in Europe. But a political philosophy has to be alive which means it can’t depend on the thoughts of the dead, but must be invigorated by the thoughts of the living of our time.

I’ve added a summary of my political philosophy to the banner of the blog:

  • Preserving freedom
  • Respecting human rights
  • Government is a tool of the people
  • Preferential concern for the poor
  • Concern for the poor should be a joint effort of individuals, non-profit groups and government
  • Ideology should not stand in the way of common-sense and practical solutions
  • Fiscal responsibility in government: revenue that matches spending

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Kill Employer-Based Health Benefits?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular, common-sense expression that summarizes why the McCain health proposal lacks common sense!

One of the strangest proposals from the McCain team is the plan to substitute a $5,000 tax break for employees for the current tax break for employers who offer health benefits.

A majority of the middle class in our nation receives health care benefits through their employer. It’s not always perfect, but it does cover a lot of people at a far more reasonable price then if each of us were to get a plan by ourselves.

But that’s what McCain wants us to do. Without the tax incentive, employers would drop the offering of group health care programs (and the cost to administer them) and each of us would be on our own, trying to buy a very expensive individual policy that would cost far more than the $5,000 tax break.

Maybe the tax break is a good idea for those without employer-based health benefits. But not for those of us who have these benefits.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!!

I bet even Gov. Sarah Palin has that one in her folksy vocabulary!

So, I can’t figure out why this other wise common-sense Governor from Alaska signed onto the McCain health plan disaster.

This plan really will be bad for the Republican base and swing voters – the conservative and middle-of-the-road working and middle class folks who actually work for a living and probably get their health care at work!

Let me count the ways that the McCain plan is bad:
  1. Instead of buying into group coverage with low rates, each person is on their own and the rates will be higher.

  2. Employees that are older or who have pre-existing conditions (e.g., heart problems, cancer, etc.) may not be able to get coverage at all.

  3. Employees lucky enough to get new coverage may be with a new carrier or HMO and therefore have to choose new doctors and specialists instead of the ones who know them and their health issues.

  4. Younger folks who are healthy may opt out of getting coverage.

  5. Those who are financially strapped may not be able to afford coverage.
  6. When the uninsured have untreated symptoms that grow into a serious medical condition, they end up at the Emergency Room, costing more money than if they had preventive care covered by a health plan.
I could go on, but the point is this plan is bad for all workers. And it’s especially bad for the very political base of conservative folks who work for a living that McCain needs to win.

Sen. McCain: Employer-based health care ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Someone Buy a Period for Gov. Palin

While Gov. Sarah Palin did not falter in the debate last night, her sentences seemed interminable.

For 3 minutes, she would piece together prepositional phrases, subjunctive clauses, and compound sentences. And when you think it’s just about done, a new conjunction (“but” or “and”) keeps the sentence alive.
A transcription may reveal that Gov. Palin spoke the longest sentence in US VP debate history!

Pat Sajak, I'd like to buy a period for the Gov., please!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Eve of Destruction?

I’ve read so much about the economic crisis I can’t remember which writer used the words “eve of destruction.” As a music junkie, it reminded me of the song "Eve of Destruction" sung by Barry McGuire. (words and music at http://www.brownielocks.com/eveofdestruction.html)

Written in 1965 by P. F. Sloan, the chorus of the song goes:

“But ya tell me
Over and over and over, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve of destruction.”

At the time, the US was in the midst of the Vietnam War, a cold war with the Soviet Union and China, race riots in the cities, and protests on college campuses. But with the market in free fall, banks failing around the world, the rings haunting true today.

Then I see some European blogs (like Euro Yank’s http://euroyank.blogspot.com/) predicting the imminent fall of the American economy and maybe Europe, too. (Not to mention a prediction that the chaos will lead to Bush declaring marshal law and postponing the elections. Well, Euro Yank's got a apocalyptic blog, so he's been long predicting the outbreak of fascism in the US.)

I don’t know if how far things will fall, but it can be scary times. Clearly the 3 Horseman of the Economic Apocalypse (Bush, McCain and Obama) are clueless. Bush parrots Secretary of the Treasury Paulson’s recommendations for a socialist-style intervention of unprecedented proportions. Our candidates are reluctantly behind this recommendation. But, with widespread public outrage at the idea of bailing out Wall Street fatcats, the Congress voted down a bill today. (From verse 3, the prophetic words: "handful of senators can't pass legislation")

So, ya tell me over and over and over again, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary Rendition: the apprehension of a person on suspicion of charges and deportation to another country, typically without any trial or finding of guilt.

Since 9/11, the CIA has been linked to the rendering of hundreds of incidents of extraordinary rendition. Individuals suspected either of being terrorists or of aiding and abetting terrorist organizations were deported to countries including Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Uzbekistan.

Two weeks ago, a story of one such case was featured on Fresh Air (on NPR). An innocent man, Maher Arar, a telecommunications engineer with dual Canadian and Syrian citizenship, was deported to a Syrian prison on suspicion of being connected with terrorism. His crime: he had rented an apartment listing as a reference a person allegedly linked to a terrorist group.

Thanks to extraordinary rendition, the government, like Pontius Pilate, can keep its hands clean. Leave it to the Republicans to outsource torture!

There is a time, not so long ago, when it would be unheard of that America would deport someone to a foreign nation to be imprisoned and tortured.

In the case of Mr. Arar, he was tortured and imprisoned for nearly one year. He was released due protests by his wife and a Canadian government determination that he was not connected with any terrorists.

We’ve seen the Bush administration after 9/11 use fear of terrorism to enact erosion of our constitutional rights. Now even American citizens making international calls may find there conversations being listed to by the Feds on an unwarranted wiretap. And God help you if you are an American citizen of Middle Eastern background and your name is the same as, or similar to, someone on the “no fly” list.

But of all these attacks on the constitution, which is no less than the erosion of what our nation once stood for as a beacon of freedom, extraordinary rendition is perhaps the most grievous offence.

For anyone who loves liberty, the preservation of basic human rights is utmost. And the depravation of life or liberty without due process of law violates basic human rights. On this point, I believe that Libertarians and other who cherish freedom should never have to apologize.

Also, it is a clear violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured.

The Administration talks about how Saddam was evil for using torture and imprisonment. They say the same about Iran, Syria, North Korea and other nations who “support the terrorists.” Yet the same Administration is responsible for exporting someone merely suspected of being a terrorists to one of the very nations they condemn.

Yes, at the RNC, speakers made fun of those who would grant due process to suspected terrorists. But we must reply that the Republicans are simply wrong on this point. No threat is so great that we should sanction torture by our forces or by others through extraordinary rendition.

What of our presidential candidates?

The “old” John McCain -- himself tortured as a prisoner of war -- used to speak boldly against any use of torture, and he did recommit to rejecting torture in last night's presidential debate. Still, after the RNC rhetoric, I can’t be sure that the “new” McCain still talks the talk. Barack Obama has also opposed torture, but does not have the gut distaste of torture that the "old" McCain had.

But with either candidate, change is likely.

The Change We Need

Our next President must reject the Bush administration’s actions that permitted imprisonment without charges, torture and extraordinary rendition. With these policies, we have become that which we most deplore! How can the US differentiate itself from the terrorists and states that sponsor terrorism if the US allows these practices?

Granted, the terrorists’ threat is real. As I write, there are those that would attack us here at home or abroad. But in our efforts to stop the terrorists, our government cannot stoop to violating human rights. Period.

For an overview of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Convention_Against_Torture

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Economy Today

While we remain teetering on the brink of who’s knows what, we can watch the candidates in action.

McCain Jumps into Inaction

John McCain, our "man of action," stops campaigning, suggests delaying the debate, rushes to Washington to save the economy. But after the summit with President Bush, he has little to offer. He’s caught between the Administration’s proposal and Republican senators and representatives who don’t want to sign on (at least in an election year).

Obama Wants to Debate

Barack Obama, the "man of concensus" (let's get everyone at the table), meanwhile, sees no reason not to debate, and reluctantly returns to Washington for the meeting with the President. But like, McCain, is vague and uncommitted.

Conclusion
No news today. But the debate is on tonight!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

3 Horseman of the Economic Apocalypse?

With the US economy teetering on the brink of depression or collapse, most US papers were leading with Bush, McCain and Obama. None of the above convince me they have a clue on how to solve the situation.

Are we looking at the 3 Horseman of the Economic Apocalypse?

The chorus of nations responds: “God help us; God help us all!”




Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Time to Choose a Candidate for President

Well, the Sarah Palin frenzy is dying down and time is ticking until we have to choose a candidate. No matter what your politics, it generally boils down to a choice of the big two. Yep, there are the minor party candidates including Bob Barr and Ralph Nader. But most will choose between McCain and Obama.

So, what’s the view of this New Libertarian Socialist on the candidates?

It’s time to dedicate a few blogs to looking at the issues, positions, experience and my expectations of the candidates.

So here’s my method:
  • Look at the major issues of international and national importance, with emphasis on the preservation of liberty at home.

  • Look at the candidate’s baggage (their party’s advisors, platform positions, campaign contributors, and others with an insider’s influence)

  • Look at the candidate’s experience in and our of office:

    o How competent is the candidate as a decision maker?
    o Have the candidate’s actions in office been consistent with the campaign promises?
    o Does the candidate work “across the aisle” to get things done?

  • Think about what it would be like to have this candidate in office.

On this last point, I’ve used the example of buying a dress. See http://rachy-viewsofalibertariansocialist.blogspot.com/2008/07/choosing-candidate.html. (Sorry, guys, if you don’t understand this example, but it’s not the same for guys buying a suit.)

Even after you’ve thought about what you’d like to buy (style, color, length, etc.) and you’re lucky enough to find a dress that you think you’d like, you may try it on you say “I’m not going out in public in this!” Then, you might stumble upon a dress you didn’t expect, and try it on and like it.

It’s the same with a candidate. They may say everything you want them to say and you might like their record. But when you take all this together with their personality, judgment, and interactions with others, you realize “I don’t want this person as President representing my nation to the world.”

How many Presidents have acted differently in office compared to their campaign promises and rhetoric? Who would have expected the anti-communist Nixon to open up normal relations with China? Who would believe that Bill Clinton was perhaps the most fiscally conservative President of the last 20 years? The office of President can produce surprising results. This is why the final and deciding factor needs to be this unquantifiable quality.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Sarah Palin Chronicles - Volume 3

The Sarah Palin phenomenon has finally peaked, so maybe now we can figure out who she really is and do we want her for VP. We have just under 2 months of this ongoing job interview, where the nation’s voters can evaluate which pair of candidates are best for the job openings in January 2009.

Is She Ready?

Clearly Sarah is and has always been ready for almost anything. Growing up in Alaska, she has learned self-reliance and has developed both poise and self-confidence, needed for any position of public leadership.

In reality the US VP is like a “minister without portfolio” – clearly an advisor of the President, but unlike the Secretary of State or Defense, the VP is without a specific role in the Administration. As such, she seems to be the kind of person who could do whatever McCain would ask of her. But she doesn't have years of experience to provide the insight and wisdom that other more experienced politicians could give.

Being a heart-beat away from the big job, is she ready for that? Clearly, she has the self-confidence to step up to Chief Executive. But does she have the knowledge, experience, perspective, and judgment to be President?

That’s what we need to think carefully about.

Let me go over what I know about Sarah and how a New Libertarian Socialist would evaluate her for the job of VP.

What about her religious beliefs?

As a Libertarian, I believe we are all entitled to whatever religious beliefs we wish to uphold. And I would not discriminate for or against her based on these beliefs. Yes, they may influence her political philosophy and decisions she may make in office. But I look to her record in office to see how religious beliefs have or have not impacted her actions.

My review of her terms as City Councilor, Mayor and Governor does not reveal any actions that emanate from her religious beliefs. As Councilor, she supported allowing bars to stay open late, even though her denomination opposes the use of alcohol. Yes, there was a controversy about banning of books, but no books were actually banned. Yes, there were times she invoked the name of God in relation to the war in Iraq, but she has explained the context of that quote.

So, what about her pro-life stance? As a Libertarian, I do not believe the state should limit the access to safe abortion. While Libertarians are strongly for life and liberty, I don’t believe that politicians or state/federal bureaucrats have the moral authority or wisdom to draw the line between when abortion should be legal and when it should be illegal.

All that said, my evaluation of Sarah considers what a VP would do about abortion of other pro-life issues. The answer: probably nothing!

Republican VPs Bush, Quayle, and Cheney, though elected on a pro-life platform, did absolutely nothing in any official capacity to limit abortion. Only another Supreme Court decision or a constitutional amendment would fully reverse Roe v. Wade. So there is little chance she might every do anything that would change the availability of abortion in the nation.

My conclusion: her religious beliefs will have no significant impact on her performance as VP.


What about her knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs?

Clearly, her experience as Governor gives her an understanding of the oil industry and environmental issues. But on other issues from health care to the national economy to foreign affairs, she still has much to learn. As VP, she’ll have time to learn on the job. If she has to move up to the Oval Office, she would have to be dependent on advisors to develop both positions and policy, at least initially.

On the other hand, our current President is not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Clearly, Cheney and the Cabinet are creating policy and making most of the decisions. If GWB is the benchmark, Sarah at least can talk coherently and run circles around Bush as a communicator!

My conclusion: not quite ready for prime time, but willing and able to learn. If nothing else, she can communicate effectively with the American pubic.



What about her decision making? Her ability to work with the legislative branch? Her skills in executive office?

Here we’ve seen some mixed results. As Mayor, she was able to cut some taxes and use bonds for public works (road, sewers, bike paths), but also created a new tax for a sports complex. As Governor, the gas pipeline deal shows an ability to work across party lines and made more progress than previous administrations.

The “bridge to nowhere” illustrates a flip-flopping. She was pro-bridge in her run for Governor, but 8 months in office, she cancelled the project when gained national fame as an example of pork barrel spending. Then, there are reports in the New York Times and USA Today about vendettas, firing of officials who crossed her, valuing loyalty over competency, and blurred the line between government and personal grievance. That are disputed interpretations of these events is evident of partisan interpretations.

Running for Governor, she championed ethics reform and was to enact a bipartisan ethics reform bill.

My conclusion: Hmmm. Can be effective with bipartisan legislation. Sometimes changes opinion with the political winds. Overall, she is all over the board on taxes (she’s cut some, raised others), and her bipartisan effectiveness also blurs her actual opinions. But not following any strict partisian pattern could be a sign of someone who can think for herself – thinking for oneself gains points with me. Now the controversy over alleged vendettas and cronyism is somewhat par for the course for many a politician. But anyone who values loyalty over competency looses points with me.

Overall Grade: B-



What about Sarah as Sarah?

Despite many differences in political and religious views, I have to say I still like Sarah. I have to respect her for being one of those women who can do a good job of balancing work and family. Though an urban creature, I am fascinated by the wilderness and sheer beauty of her native Alaska. And like me, she is a mix of English, Irish and German. And I just love that cute little Piper Palin! So, I’m still fascinated by this VP candidate.

Would I Vote for her?

That’s the big question. Unless we’re convinced that McCain isn’t healthy enough to last a full term, we’re really not voting for or against Sarah – we’re voting for McCain or Obama. And with either candidate, we also more or less get their party platform, policies, and advisors.

So, I get to escape without answering the question. My decision will be based on the policies of McCain and Obama and how I think each would govern. That’s something for another blog entry.

[But here's a hint: I can't trust McCain 2008 -- is he the "old" McCain who boldly opposes torture or the "new" McCain who would continue the Bush era erosion of our freedoms? Sorry, Sarah. I think you're a pretty good Governor for Alaska, and, for now, we'll be better off if you keep you current job.]