Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Election Campaign in California

I wish I could think of a catchier title for this little essay, but no short title comes to mind for my assorted thoughts about the preferences of the voting public for celebrities with personalities rather than persons with rather plain and colorless personalities but who might actually do a good job of governing. I'm thinking, of course, of the two men now campaigning for the job of governing California for the next four years: Phil Angelides and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

According to recent public opinion polls, Arnold has a lead of ten points or more over Phil. If the polls are accurate, Phil has an almost impossible job ahead of him if he is to win the election in November. A year, or even six months ago, it appeared that almost any Democrat would beat Republican Schwarzenegger if the election were held then. Schwarzenegger's rise in popular standing is like that of the previous Republican Governor, Pete Wilson. In 1994 Mr. Wilson was running for reelection against Kathleen Brown, the daughter and sister of former Governors. Brown was comfortably ahead in the polls. However, by Election Day, Wilson was ahead and won another four years in office.

The analogy between Wilson and Schwarzenegger is imperfect. Wilson turned defeat into victory by endorsing a rabid but popular anti-immigrant proposition (Proposition 187). Schwarzenegger has simply apologized to the public for past mistakes and used his charming personality to revive his popularity. Charm works like a charm.

I think there's a lesson here for students of history and government. The job of governing well is not flashy, not spectacular. In fact, it's quite dull. On a local level, good government means filling potholes in the streets, trimming trees, picking up trash regularly, a responsive police department, a responsive fire department, Aldermen, Councilmen, and Supervisors who are approachable and have time to talk to constituents, and the like. There's no exciting news in good government. In fact, there's no news at all if the government is perfect.

The voting public perversely prefers a colorful candidate who may not know jack s**t about running a city or a state to a dull but competent candidate who knows all about it. The colorful or "different" candidate will win. A wrestler was elected Governor of Minnesota. A body-builder and B-grade actor was elected Governor of California. These are two recent examples. Historians can cite many others. The public likes to be entertained and will choose a good entertainer over a good administrator.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Bush's Advisors - What Are they Thinking?

Last Sunday I watched an interview with Dr. Condoleezza Rice on the 60 MINUTES show on CBS. Dr. Rice is a person who has had a distinguished academic career. You can read all about her at Google by typing her name in the box. It's enough for me to say that she is a well-educated person. She is also an accomplished musician, as she demonstrated in the 60 MINUTES interview.

The more I find out about her the more I wonder why she is so loyal to and supportive of George Bush. I wonder the same about many of his other supporters in his administration. Surely they can see that he is out of his depth in foreign affairs. Surely they can see that he has managed, or allowed others to manage his War in Iraq. Either he is a bungler or he has delegated decisions to other bunglers. What are these people thinking?

I wish I had a good answer to my own question. There are several possible answers. I pose them as possible reasons for Dr. Rice to give up academia and positions of influence in industry to serve George W. Bush:

You choose. I think these four possible answers apply also to other seemingly intelligent and sensible people in the Bush administration.

The Bush Propaganda Machine

It's amazing how fast this group operates. Over the week-end parts of the current National Intelligent Estimate (NIE) were leaked and printed in several metropolitan daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. This report, or at least the part that was published, states that the Administration's adventure in Iraq has increased, rather than decreased the danger this nation faces from terrorists. Last night on the TV program The News Hour with Jim Lehrer a former CIA official agreed with the part of the NIE that had been published. A contrary view was presented by the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. He echoed Mr. Bush's assertion that the terrorists were now busy in Iraq and haven't had time to work up terrible deeds to do in the United States.

The Bush propaganda machine (BPM) has had two responses: (1) the allegation published in the newspapers isn't so; (2) actually, it's all the fault of Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton. An example of response #2 is presented in today's issue of the LA Times by writer Andrew Klavan.

Even before the current buzz over the NIE the BPM has been busy diverting the public interest in the bungling in Iraq and Afghanistan by telling stories about how President Clinton had several chances to capture or eliminate Bin Laden and failed to act. Not only Mr. Clinton himself but many of his associates and partisans, and, in fact, most Democrats have been outraged by the lies or selected truths of these stories. Mr. Clinton finally decided to express his own denial and outrage about these false and unfair allegations in a medium where he could speak to the largest number of Bush sympathizers and sycophants: Fox News. Mr. Klavan reports on the interview between Mr. Clinton and Chris Wallace. He writes:
Questioned mildly on his anti-terrorism record by Fox's Chris Wallace on Sunday, President Me went absolutely medieval on the newsman, leaning forward threateningly, rapping his fingers against Wallace's notes and proceeding to, well, lie — and in a very angry voice too!

"And you got that little smirk on your face and you think you're so clever," Clinton told Wallace, sounding for all the world like a 6-year-old girl scolding her playground rival. He then proceeded to try to rewrite his coulda-woulda-shoulda presidency by claiming to have had a much more focused and hard-lined approach to terrorism than any reading of his administration can support.

If you're still wondering if Mr. Klavan himself has any political bias, he writes in the same article that Ronald Reagan was "the greatest President of the century's second half" and that Jimmy Carter's administration was a catastrophe. He also laments about how biased the "liberal media" were in the days before Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and how CBS and the rest criticized Mr. Reagan.

I suggest that you read the article for yourself. Here is a link: Clinton Doth Protest Too Much

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


George Weigel defends the Pope

I admit to being a fool: I rush in where angels fear to tread. I can not resist commenting on an article by George Weigel that appeared in the Los Angeles Times today (September 20). Mr. Weigel is a senior fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of "God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church."

Mr. Weigel writes that the Pope made three points in his speech at Regensburg:
  1. "...All the great questions of life, including social and political questions, are ultimately theological. How we think (or don't think) about God has much to do with how we judge what is good and what is wicked, and with how we think about the appropriate methods for advancing the truth in a world in which there are profound disagreements about the truth of things."

  2. "...Irrational violence aimed at innocent men, women and children 'is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the [human] soul.'"

  3. "The pope's third point...was directed to the West. If the West's high culture keeps playing in the sandbox of postmodern irrationalism — in which there is 'your truth' and 'my truth' but nothing such as 'the truth' — the West will be unable to defend itself. Why? Because the West won't be able to give reasons why its commitments to civility, tolerance, human rights and the rule of law are worth defending. A Western world stripped of convictions about the truths that make Western civilization possible cannot make a useful contribution to a genuine dialogue of civilizations, for any such dialogue must be based on a shared understanding that human beings can, however imperfectly, come to know the truth of things."

To me the third point is especially troubling. I interpret Weigel's words to mean that the West has to accept a single, "true" theology about God and morality before it can reasonably criticize Islam. That is to say, we in the West must accept the Pope's truth. There is no room for diversity of religious beliefs. There is no acceptance of the idea that human morality might be based on something other than a belief in a benevolent God. I can use Weigel's argument, and by extension the argument of Pope Benedict XVI, to assert that countries that follow the teachings of the Buddha (e.g., Thailand, Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Tibet) have no basis for any belief in or tradition of decent behavior of humans to each other. Buddhism, you see, is an atheistic religion. Buddhists do not take a position on the existence or the nature of God.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Expressing my Opinions in Poetry

Yes, poetry. It's not good poetry, but a poet once assured me that a poem is a poem if the writer says it is. Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago about the global economy to express some of my bitter feelings about the consequences of globalization:

June, 1999: About Globalization of the Economy

Good times are here, we hope they'll stay
And let us have prosperity
That will keep us till we're old and gray
And continue for posterity.

Prosperity is ours, they say
Because our trade is globalized.
Market forces show the way
To a world economy that's unitized.

But, how are things in other lands?
We read that Russia's on the ropes.
Men in Asia who work with hands
Earn meager pay, have little hopes.

Good times for us, but not for those
Who work in plants to make our shoes
Or work at home to make our clothes.
Their plights are rarely in the news.

Cheerleaders for free trade explain
That all those lands must change their ways.
Until they change they'll feel some pain.
Productivity will bring them happier days.

How long to wait? How long the pain?
How long before they see the sun?
After years of work they'll still not gain
The prosperous life that we have won.

Businessman great profits gain
By hiring work where laws are weak;
Where corrupt officials can maintain
Both wages low and workers meek.

Productivity is of no concern
When workers earn just piecework pay.
The business will its profit earn
For owners who are far away.

Old and true, there is a saying:
What goes around will come around.
The time will come when we'll be paying
For our arrogance most profound.

The laws of capital rule us all.
Owners, managers, and workers too
Are held in global trading's thrall.
We all must pay the system's due.

What's good for some is good for others.
Competition drives all wages low.
Soon we'll feel the pain our brothers
In foreign lands have come to know.

So let us now be up and working
To oppose this evil trend.
Let us not our tasks be shirking
Until we can this system mend.

The Budget Battle of 1995

[The following poem, written August 6, 1995, shows that things haven't changed much in ten years.]

For forty years they were consigned
To talk, to watch, but not prevail.
The majority they oft maligned
And criticized, to no avail:

"Spending's high and taxes grow,
Increasing is the national debt.
If we were running things, we'd show
Fiscal responsibility. You bet!"

Then one day they came to power.
It was the election of 'ninety-four.
For Democrats, the day was sour
As Republicans won seats galore.

"We have a contract. Now, you'll see
Taxing, borrowing, and spending shrink,"
Sang the new Speaker, filled with glee,
"In seven years, no more red ink!"

The Speaker then picked chairmen bold
To organize, with new majorities
The Committees, that would hearings hold
To set our nation's new priorities.

"Our first priority is defense,"
The Chairman of one committee said.
"It is a problem most intense.
We must think clearly and keep our head."

"The Soviet Union is no more
Freedom has triumphed over might.
But there are new enemies galore
That we must be prepared to fight.

"We'll build our defense back up again.
(Those Dems have left it in such a state!)
We'll throw more money to the Pentagon men.
They'll spend it in our districts. That's great!"

Another Chairman then opined,
"We promised saner regulation.
The EPA must be made to mind
The wishes of a resentful nation."

"Environmentalists did not elect us.
Our friends in Business need relief.
If we don't deliver, they may reject us
And in the next election, we'll come to grief."

Another Chairman urged reform
Of welfare programs, made to serve
The needs of poor folk. He did storm,
"Those loafers get things they don't deserve!"

"'Tough love' is what we advocate:
Take children from those welfare mothers
Too young to vote, and thus create
A stern example for the others."

Another said, "We mustn't discourage
More enterprise among the wealthy.
A substantial tax cut would encourage
Their efforts to keep the economy healthy."

Meanwhile, our good President
A budget of his own submitted.
His supporters declared, "It's evident
That to responsible government he's committed."

But the Speaker said, "It will not pass.
We need more tax cuts and less spending.
(The hard-pressed rich and the business class
Are the ones our Party is defending.)"

Is Softness a Vice?

My friend H and I have been having a lively discussion (by e-mail) about the meaning of the word "soft" in a political context. Historically, this word has been used most often by Republican candidates who denounce their Democratic opponents as "soft" on something. Fifty and sixty years ago, Democrats were "soft" on communism. More recently they have been "soft" on crime. Today they are "soft" on terror and "soft" on defense. At least that's what some Republicans say about us Democrats.

I got into a pointless and unwinnable argument with H about whether Democrats are "soft." We finally agreed (that is, he proposed and I accepted) on a definition of "soft." "Soft" means simply "intending to spend less" or "placing a somewhat lower priority" on whatever terror, crime, defense, communism, etc. With that definition I lost the argument. Actually, I hope the Democratic Party is "softer" on defense than the party currently in power. I would like to see some of the money diverted from unnecessary high-tech weapons systems and spent instead on improving transportation facilities, schools, and health care for all Americans. I particularly like the idea of Democrats as "soft" on relieving the very rich of their tax burden.

Without speaking for the Democratic Party as a whole, I list here some policies on which I am personally "soft:"
This is a partial list of my soft spots. I'll write in more detail later.

Monday, September 04, 2006


The Neocon Vision - of America and the World

Neocons, in contrast with traditional conservatives and liberals, enjoy the certain knowledge that they are right. I mean not merely right-wing but right in the sense of “correct.” They know that their vision of the world is true and unique. Anyone who does not share that view is wrong and should be ignored if possible, or put down if necessary.

This attitude prevails in the policies of the Bush Administration. In domestic matters, the Bush Republicans or neocons have made a point of not negotiating with their political opponents, the Democrats. Members of the Republican majority who question the neocon vision are cowed into silence and submission. Dennis Hastert runs the House of Representatives on the principle that the only measures that can be discussed and voted on are those that are favored by a majority of Republicans. As near as I can figure, the Republicans have 232 members, the Democrats 209, and the Independents 1. Thus, a measure supported by as few as 117 Republicans can be presented to the House for debate and a vote. Also, a measure opposed by these 117 Republicans, even though supported by all the rest of the members and have a majority of 318 to 117 would never be brought to the floor for a vote.

That’s minority rule, of course. But, that’s all right, because the minority has the neocon vision of things and those 117 Republicans are correct in their thinking and everyone else is simply wrong. There will be no negotiation of the issue even within the Republican caucus, and certainly no negotiation with any Democrat.

What did George W. Bush say in 2000 when he was running for office? Among other things, he told everyone that, as Governor of Texas, he was able to get things done because he “reached out” to Democrats and obtained their support for legislation. I don’t recall that he has done much “reaching out” to Democrats after Inauguration Day, 2001.

In foreign affairs, the neocon vision prevails. Negotiation with other countries is unnecessary. Since the United States is the one remaining superpower and since it has the best military establishment in the world, the rest of the world can be made to listen to the US and do whatever the US wants it to do. We’ve seen recently how well that policy is working in Iraq, with Hezbollah, with Hamas, with Iran, with North Korea, etc. You’d think by now that the neocons would recognize that simply having military power does not bring about desired results in Iraq and that maybe there is a need to reexamine their vision. But, no; no such lesson has been learned. We now learn that some members of the Administration are considering a military attack on Iran as a means of stopping the Iranian nuclear enrichment program.

These neocons have to be stopped. They’re ruining the country.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?