Saturday, August 13, 2005

Freedom Requires Energy, Faith and Devotion!

In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961 President John Fitzgerald Kennedy made a bold proclamation about how leaders should approach adversity. He said; “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

[Listen to JFK Inaugural Address]

Anyone alive in this time and place in history must know that we live at another such epic crossroads where we must face adversity. It is in times like this that great leaders emerge to show us the way through the challenges of our time. They guide us along the edge of a knife where teetering to one side or the other will bring Armageddon. I thought it would be interesting to dissect this quote from one of our great Presidents to assess how our current administration is fairing.

All generations face challenges both domestic and international that must be addressed in a skillful manner. The skills required vary to a certain extent. During the Civil War we needed a President who would focus inward and force us to answer difficult questions about the type of society we wanted to create for ourselves. Abraham Lincoln was the perfect President for his time and place in history. Lincoln was a charismatic Midwesterner who grew up on the frontiers of our young nation. He was born in raised in a border state between the North and South on the frontlines of what would eventually be the battlefields of the Civil War.

In the early 1930s the United States economy was bleeding, near death. The government was sleepwalking under the leadership of President Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s could easily have extinguished American greatness before it was able to take shape. Many have credited President Franklin Roosevelt with being a war President, who saw us through our most difficult years, but FDR was not elected to be a war President, he was elected to rebuild the powerful engine of American innovation which had been brutally savaged by years of rampant poverty and economic decay. Like Lincoln, FDR was the right man for the right time. He saw that American morale was devastated by rampant unemployment. Many men and women who were capable and eager contributors to economic growth in the 1920s were shocked and awed by the economic maelstrom of the Depression. Roosevelt’s greatest achievement as President was restoring our honor and sense of pride. In addition, he created the beginnings of our social safety net that still functions capably today.

In our time, with our challenges, September 11, 2001 has become a cliché. Not the events that occurred that day, but what those events have been used to justify. Into all times of great need steps a leader who restores faith and pride to the people. President George W. Bush was surprisingly capable in the days following those tragedies. He had the country unified in intent and purpose as no one had since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In addition, he had the good will of the whole world and the ready support of allies to wage a war on terrorism.

It all rings so hollow now to a great many people around the world. All that good will was taken and used to justify the status quo. The same tired and failed philosophy for dealing with foreign threat. In a time when we needed to rip up our military play book and start a new, our government simply spruced up the same play book that we have been using since the Civil War. It is our government’s belief that when adversity is faced you must levee the full weight of the United States military against it. The terminology used at the time was “shock and awe”. It was the same philosophy which General Westmoreland tried to employ in Vietnam. He, like our leaders now, believed that the enemy would simply shrink in the face of such raw power, but the lesson that we learned in Vietnam and then promptly forgot is that our enemy was willing to go through any hardship, endure any amount of losses and would either win or be wiped out trying.

Not surprisingly this shock and awe philosophy has won us very little goodwill with the people in this region of the world. Our first military moves after 9/11 was to invade and “liberate” Afghanistan from the hard line Taliban government. In so doing, we drove Al Qaeda out of cities and into the hills. This was an operation that was widely supported by the international community and so they should hardly have been shocked when the U.S. government took this as tacit approval of using a military paradigm for dealing with terrorists. In the end the Taliban are not gone and Al Qaeda is far more difficult to track. In addition, farmers in this region of the world have begun growing vast quantities of poppies used in making heroin. In spite of all this collateral damage, our government has claimed that Afghanistan was a great success. We have installed a friendly government that really has no power outside the capital of Kabul.

Our next phase was to go into Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein. This was in spite of the fact that there was no clear link between Iraq and any terrorist organization and in spite of the fact that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S. at all. The government trumped up charges of stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction. You all know the events that have followed in Iraq from the “liberation” to the elections which went on despite the fact the Sunnis did not participate in the vote. What we have done is create a terrorist breeding ground. It is what some might call a charm school of jihadi Middle-easterner extremists bent on doing battle with the west.

Our President now tells us that it would be foolhardy to pull our troops out of Iraq because it would send the wrong message to our allies and enemies alike. I am not a foreign policy expert (which I guess would make me a perfect candidate to work on this President’s foreign policy team) but I believe that our presence in the Middle East is part of the problem not the solution. Who cares what message it sends to the terrorists, it is not because of the insurgency itself that we should leave. Truth be told we could do battle with these insurgents indefinitely. It is because if democracy is really to flourish in Iraq then it must come about as a result of their efforts, not ours. I believe that the message we will communicate to our allies in Iraq is that democracy is worth fighting for and ethnic, religious or other differences will not preclude democracy from succeeding there. In the final analysis it is the countries that struggled for democracy, that earned it through hard effort that succeed. These countries include Poland, France, Japan, Mexico and the United States. We are all examples of countries that overcame much to bring about a representative style of government.

The part of JFK’s quote that jumps out at me most readily is the last part where he says; “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” If the Iraqi people value the right to self-determination no insurgency, no matter how large, will get in its way. One should never underestimate the determination of a people to be free. One need only step out of the way and see their will be done. Of course we will be a friend to Iraq. We will assist them financially and morally in the accomplishment of this goal, but the actual victory must be born of Iraqi blood and sweat. If it is not, they will never place the proper amount of value in it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Innovation In America: Why Are We Falling Behind?

We are a country that is falling farther and farther behind every year. In science, math, computers, innovation. You name it, we’re falling behind. For most of the 20th Century the United States was regarded as the unequalled leaders in scientific innovation, medical advancement and a place where inventors abounded.

Whether it was Jonas Salk who cured polio, or Wright Brothers who invented the airplane or Henry Ford who invented the assembly line manufacturing facility, ours was a country with the can do spirit about everything it set its collective mind to. As conservative (though recently sounding very moderate) commentator and columnist George Will said on ABCs This Week with George Stephanopolous, our country was founded during the time of enlightenment thinkers. Our nation was designed with the spirit of the enlightenment in mind.

Then why is it that our country has turned so sharply away from the spirit of discovery and progress? Let’s look at some of the issues. Stem Cell research; in 2001 the President changed the federal rules regarding funding research that uses human embryonic stem cells. This was in line with his Christian fundamentalist beliefs on when life begins. It is interesting that as this debate roars on in this country, a debate that is not taking place anywhere else in the world; our scientists are being left in the dust. In Korea last week, scientists cloned an Afghan hound. In this country we can’t even decide if this type of research is ethical.

Now there are few that would deny that a serious ethical debate needs to take place in this country. I firmly support that. Many want to create guidelines for stem cell research so that we don’t start walking down a “slippery slope.” But, as George Will also pointed out, life is lived on slippery slopes. As an example he raised the specter of taxation. Well, taxation could easily become confiscation, Will said, but we are relatively confident that we would be able to put a stop to that. Likewise, I believe that we should be confident that we could put a stop to all forms of inappropriate cloning. It is time to get off the sideline.

It is not only in controversial areas of science that we are falling behind. It is true that American universities are still the most sought after institutions in the world to pursue the study of scientific knowledge, but that is becoming less and less the case. Invariably students are opting to go to Europe, China and other Asian countries. More and more innovation is taking place outside our borders, and even the innovation that occurs in the United States is being undertaken by foreigners.

Most distressing to me is the news that the Kansas board that has been reviewing the “Intelligent Design” issue now stands poised to recommend changing the State’s educational guidelines to include this in the curriculum. I am not going to go into the tenets of intelligent design. If you want to read further you can find Paul Krugman’s August 5th Column in the New York Times. What is distressing is that our solution for our falling behind in innovation and scientific exploration is to educate students INCORRECTLY about science. Intelligent Design, like Creationism before it, is a pseudo-science that has absolutely no place being taught in our schools.

If you need evidence that American science is faltering you need look no further than the areas where only American scientists exists. NASA is a great example. We still explore space in that nearly 30 year old jalopy of a space shuttle when we could easily find new means for getting our astronauts and our supplies into space more quickly and for far less money.

Shame on the state of Kansas for such backwards lunacy! Shame on President George W. Bush!

The Last Democratic Wolf vs. the Sacrificial Lamb!

Earlier this week champions of all that is right and just in this world won their first major victory in recent memory. By recent memory I mean since George W. Bush was judiciated the Presidency of the United States in 2000. Robert Novak, syndicated columnist and blowhard extraordinaire was finally bested on the sets of CNN by the Democratic strategist and political commentator James Carville. Score one for the liberals. Of course it would be the one Democrat who’s not a total weenie! James Carville, or Jimmy C as he is known in my house, is consistently the only Democrat who will call Republicans out on their complete tomfoolery with anything more than the pathetic whimpers of a school-girl with a skinned knee.

The Ragin’ Cajun should know something about evil Republicans. After all, he is married to one of the most vitriolic Republican of them all, Mary Matalin. Matalin is a senior advisor to Vice President Cheney. Carville clearly understands the mind of the GOP. In addition, as anyone who is married will attest, has learned over the years of his marriage the secret tricks on how to drive them “out of their skin” bonkers.

Those of you who have been living on the moon for the past several years, or are just severely maladjusted, know that Bob Novak has been embroiled in a scandal of epic proportions. His role is not one hundred percent clear. It was Novak’s column in 2003 that leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame to the public, yet Novak has thus far sailed through the whole scandal relatively unscathed. In fact, if one was to ask Judith Miller of the New York Times, who is currently breaking rocks with a chain gang, I am sure she would think that Novak was fairing quite well. It seems sadly ironic that Miller is in jail and she didn’t even write an article on this subject and Novak, Bush’s own personal mouthpiece in the press, is sitting free to write his vitriolic diatribes about the liberal media and how Democrats are ruining this country.

But of course, if his CNN outburst is any indication, Bob Novak is clearly cracking from renewed pressure as the media continue to probe deeper into the scandal and begins asking the hard questions that he has miraculously eluded for two years. It is nice to see that the press finally has their collective heads in the game, though it is a stark contrast in the days since the death of the last mainstream American journalist, Peter Jennings, to see that it has taken the press so long to get anywhere with this story.

In their defense, when the subject is a White House leak, increasingly likely perpetrated by Karl Rove, making anything stick can be infuriatingly difficult. This is a White House that closes ranks with staggering proficiency. From Dan Bartlett, the Communications Director to Scott McClellan, the Press Secretary to the President himself, this Administration marches in lock step when troubles arise. If one was forced to compliment this group of rodeo clowns on one thing it would have to be their stormtrooperesque discipline.

I used to just blatantly slander Bob Novak by accusing him of being Karl Roves journalistic stooge. That was until Novak came forward and claimed that in his conversation with Rove it had been he that had told the President’s political advisor that former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame was the CIA agent in question. This might have been believable if it wasn’t so obviously complete hogwash. Novak, of course, cannot account for who revealed this fact to him. This inability to reveal sources make it clear that not only is Novak a blatant partisan hack, he is also a miserable liar. This excrement smells so bad it is no wonder that old Bobby has a sour puss all the time. Or perhaps it is just that, like Ebenezer Scrooge, Novak has been visited by the ghosts of purgatory past, present, and future and he doesn’t like what the future has in store for him.

Who knows how deep this scandal goes. A crime has been committed. If it was not a legal crime it was at the very least in an ethical one. There is now talk that this may also include the Vice President’s chief of staff Scooter Libby. I think when one achieves the position of chief of staff to a high elected official one should probably drop the elementary school nickname. Who knows what the facts are. Well, let’s hope the U.S. Attorney and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald knows.

Make no mistake, Bob Novak is going down. I wrote in a previous blog post that Karl Rove will not be scathed by this investigation. Instead the Republicans are going to throw Bob Novak out as the sacrificial lamb. Though he may get lucky, it appears that all the Democratic wolves have been de-toothed with the exception of the Ragin’ Cajun.

I won’t lose sleep waiting for criminal charges. Instead I will await the next installment of celebrity boxing where we will see the Cajun vs. Novak and Scooter vs. Turd Blossom. Now that would really be something!

Monday, August 08, 2005

A touch of class through thick and thin!

Peter Jennings died today at the age of 67. I won’t write a long eulogy to the former ABC anchor and foreign correspondent, others have written far more eloquently than I could. It is sad to me that we have lost our “big three” anchormen. Sadly their era was over and cable news has replaced them with sensational “crap news.”

Jennings, along with Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather were the faces of American news for the better part of 20 years. I recall watching World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and knowing that I was going to get a perspective of the news that was more Washington, London, Cairo and Tokyo, and less provincial. The world was presented in an eloquent worldly manner. Jennings made us look outside of ourselves to see the larger context of issues. That style of news reporting and presentation really suffered after the end of the Cold War and Americans began to become more domestically oriented and less interested in the world.

As a result of this new focus, cable news, with its focus on sensational, celebrity issues stepped in to control the medium. As a result, people know far less about the world that they live in. We, as Americans, are more interested in O.J. Simpson than we are the situation in the Middle East. We prefer to focus on random murder trials than focus on our government on foreign affairs or even the needed reforms to our Social Security and Medicare systems.

I think this must have been enormously painful for Jennings to watch unfold, though through it all he carried himself with class and poise that made it clear that he was a hold over from a more civilized time. Despite the decline in viewership, in the hours after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks many people flooded back to Jennings and the network news services. And Jennings was there, on the air, reporting the news and reassuring us that we would survive this too. In the years that followed 9/11, Jennings appeared to be bolstered by the renewed interest in the larger world and the Middle East in particular.

But now Peter Jennings is gone. He was the first news anchor of my life, and perhaps it is best that he went out this way. He was unmistakably at the top of his game. In an era of cable and internet news, when everyone thought he was a has-been, Peter Jennings was perhaps the purest source of news to be found. Free of spin, free of personal opinion, free of politics, Jennings was a journalist in the best sense of the word.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Voting Rights Act: why Republicans don’t want you to vote!

The Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965 under the leadership of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen-D. As former Senator Bob Dole points out in his Op-Ed piece in the August 6, 2005 Washington Post, a higher percentage of Republicans in both the House and Senate supported passage of the bill.

You can read Bob Dole’s Op-Ed here.

The Act was a monumental piece of legislation that followed on the heals of the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Justice Department touts the Voting Rights Act as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in the history of our country. It was enacted in an effort to “codify and effectuate” into law the tenets of the 15th Amendment (follow this link to read the 15th Amendment). In addition, the Act had several special provisions to deal with the challenges faced by African-Americans and barriers to voting. One provision struck down the literacy requirement for voting that was used to keep blacks from voting in the Jim Crow south and many counties in the north. These municipalities were further required to seek the approval of a three judge panel of the federal courts in the D.C. circuit or the Attorney General of the United States before they changed their voting laws. Further, the Attorney General could send agents to these municipalities to ensure that eligible people were not being denied the right to vote.

This Act was subsequently renewed in 1970, 1975 and 1982. Along the way it was modified to also ensure that voting materials are available in many other languages to aid foreign born American citizens who do not speak English sufficiently to feel comfortable voting in the majority language. Upon reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 1982, President Reagan stated clearly and perfectly that the right to vote is "the crown jewel of American liberties" reaffirming the need to protect this right in the clearest terms possible.

The Act is set to sunset again in 2007 and there are already efforts being made to change key provisions. This weekend there was a march in Atlanta, Georgia to build support for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. The march was led by Representative John Lewis, NAACP President Bruce Gordon, and Jesse Jackson. They are fighting to protect two provisions in general and the entire Act as a whole. In particular they want to ensure that multilingual voting materials remain available to for all. In addition they want to maintain Federal oversight of key states.

We are not so far removed from Florida in 2000 when thousands of black voters in Brower County were denied the right to vote. We are not so far removed from Ohio in 2004 when thousands of black voters in and around Cleveland found it enormously difficult to cast their vote due to incredibly long lines and understaffed polling places, problems that did not exist in majority white neighborhoods.

If all that was not bad enough, now Conservatives want to do away with many key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. They claim that singling out several southern states for federal oversight is inherently unfair, and you know what? I agree. I would change the Act to give the federal government the power of oversight of every square inch of the United States from Alaska to Maine and Ohio to Florida.

Racism is still a problem in this country, and despite all its lip-service to brotherly love and welcoming acceptance, it is still a fact that when blacks vote, Democrats win. When blacks are disenfranchised Republicans win. In Florida there was the barely competent Republican Secretary of State Catherine Harris (a key official in the Florida Bush apparatus) doing the bidding to the candidate’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush. In Ohio, Secretary J. Kenneth Blackwell, himself an African American, failed to protect the voting rights of minority and lower class voters.

Bob Dole says in his Op-Ed piece that the GOP is attempting to attract minorities to the Republican Party with the promise that they offer a different approach to civil rights. If their approach to voting rights is any indication, I believe that the GOP has not only not made progress since 1965 but has taken enormous steps backwards. This is in part due to the fact that the Republican Party inherited many of the southern Democrats that opposed the act in the first place. I call them Dixiecrats and if you need any proof you need look no further than former Georgia Senator Zell Miller who endorsed President Bush in 2004 and spoke at the Republican Convention in New York City. He is a man who claims that the Democrats failed to hold true to the ideals of JFK, but clearly Zell in his delusional mind failed to see that the Party had begun changing under FDR and continued on through President Johnson and up until the present. Many of the Dixiecrats can look back on their affiliation with the Democratic Party as a family tradition, which by the time they reached the civil rights movement was clearly no longer a fit.

Republican talk about inclusion and tolerance and I believe that a majority of Republicans are well meaning, but unfortunately the Party allows itself to be led by the most ideological in its midst. The right-wing of the GOP is not inclusive, they are not tolerant, and they are not interested in making the situation of minorities better in this country. They are hateful. The preach hate in the form Christianity. It is a philosophy that could not be more at odds with the core message of Christ which was love and acceptance.

Until the majority of the GOP which are moderate step up and remove this element from their Party they will continue to be a racist Party that does not care about equality and has no interest in helping level the playing field in this country.

They approach education reform by saying that it is wrong to expect less from children in minority neighborhoods so they pass reforms called “No Child Left Behind” and then fail to fund it appropriately. It is not wrong to expect better performance from minority students in poor neighborhoods, it is wrong to expect higher performance when you are not willing to commit the resources to make higher performance a reality.

Minorities are not blind, they are not stupid and they will never sign on with a Party that tries to spin them into joining using rhetoric and nothing else. There is no substance behind the words that the Republicans preach.

60 years after Hiroshima, have we learned anything?

Today is the 60th anniversary of the day when the United States government dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima. By all accounts the day started as any other in the industrial city which was vital to the Japanese war effort. It was, after all, chosen as a target for its strategic significance.

At just before 8:15 AM an American B-29 named the Enola Gay took off from an airfield on a miniscule island named Tinian. A short time later it flew in over the city and dropped its entire payload, consisting of one 60 kg uranium-235 atomic bomb that was called Little Boy by the scientists that created it. The bomb detonated 600 feet above the ground a mere second later nearly 100,000 men, women and children were killed in the blink of an eye. Many of those who survived were burned so severely that they walked around in shock with not an inch of skin on their maimed bodies. In the days, weeks, months and years that followed that day in 1945 another nearly 60,000 people would die as a result of these burns and radiation sickness.

There is no way that Colonel Paul Tibbets and his crew aboard the Enola Gay could have any clear understanding of the devastation their payload would unleash on the unsuspecting city below them. One must believe that if they had, the realization alone would have given them pause, if not stopped them outright. It is incomprehensible that any human, with the capacity to fathom the power of such a weapon, would willingly use it.

U.S. President Harry Truman was aboard a Navy battleship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean when he received word that the attack had been a success. The President was on his way back from Potsdam, Germany where trials were being conducted against Nazis for war crimes committed in the European theater. There is only a hint of irony that this man, who by all accounts was a good and decent man, was returning from a war crimes trial when he was notified that his own war crime had been a success.

Truman, too, could not have been able to comprehend the power of the weapon that he was having built. The scientist of the Manhattan Project holed up at Los Alamos Laboratory, alone, fathomed the power that they were unleashing. Many went into the project with the wide-eyed excitement of school boys working on a science project. It was not until they realized the potential that many, no most of them began to speak out against it. They alone knew that the weaponized potential of atomic energy was so unspeakably frightening that they wrote to everyone they could think of, from Generals to cabinet members to the President himself. No one listened.

The powers that be were so convinced that they needed to end the war quickly for numerous reasons that the ethical considerations should take a back seat. The army believed that it would cost 100,000 American lives to take Japan. This does not even take into account the Japanese lives. These numbers have been disputed over the years, but I am in no position to, so we will take it as fact. Even still, the ethical dilemma is almost painful.

Of course, as history will recall, three days later the U.S. dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. This time the bomb was named Fat Man. If the first bomb can be forgiven as a staggering lapse in ethical judgment, the second is absolutely, positively a crime against humanity. There are many reasons given for the need to use this bomb, but the obvious reason was the desire to end the war before the Soviets invaded Japan. If the Soviets were allowed to venture too far into the Asian theater then the western allies would have to share the spoils with Stalin. This was something that was unthinkable to Truman and his advisors. So, instead, the U.S. government sanctioned the killing of another 40,000 civilians in mere seconds.

I have no doubt that our leaders did what they felt was right. It is also clear that they could not fathom the destruction. There is no way they could. They did not see the scene on the ground in the aftermath. But we know what it looks like today. With this knowledge that these weapons destroy humanity in great big quantities at a time, it is mind boggling that our current administration would even joke about first strike use of nuclear weapons. No life is worth the use of these evil weapons. Not mine, not yours, no ones!

It is equally shocking, at a time when the Russian economy is lackluster at best, that our government would be stingy about fronting the money to ensure that remaining Soviet nuclear stockpiles are secured and kept out of the hands of sociopaths like Osama bin Laden and other terrorists who would consider using them against us or one of our allies.

Nuclear weapons are, in a word, evil. Nothing good has ever come from them and nothing ever will. Steps need to be taken to prevent proliferation. Iran and North Korea feel they need them as a deterrent against American aggression. This should tell us something about the way our country is perceived overseas. It is not sufficient to simply dismiss these countries as being lead by psychotic leaders. To be sure, Kim Jong Il and the hardliners in Iran are no teddy bears, but we will get much further by treating them with respect and welcoming them into the international community. Despite our differences, once they are brought out of their shells we will learn that we have far more in common then we do that divide us. Most importantly we will see that we are all humans, sharing this Earth together and that we must strive every day to ensure that the breakdown in humanity that occurred 60 years ago never occurs again.

To read more on this subject follow this link: