American Liberalism Project Archives September 2004 to June 2006

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Hypocrisy Continues

The hypocrisy from this administration continues to boggle the mind. One hardly knows where to begin there is so much “new speak” and outright lies that one could do a blog a day just on the lies, let alone the distortions of the truth that has become a hall mark of this administration. The latest outrage and one that cuts to the very heart of Bush’s supporters is the contrast between the glowing words in support of our military from our Commander in Chief while he simultaneously cuts military benefits and even proposes to reduce funding to care for those who were wounded in the service of their country. Appearing yesterday at the Arlington National Cemetery to honor generations of sacrifices by American servicemen and women, President Bush said, "At our national cemetery, we take comfort from knowing that the men and women who are serving freedom's cause understand their purpose and its price.

Yes, Bush certainly understands its price: here are just some of the funding cuts that he and his henchmen are proposing for the 2006 budget that will affect veterans:
President Bush's 2006 budget proposal included legislation that would raise veterans' premiums more than 100 percent on prescription drugs and add an annual $250 enrollment fee for veterans who want care for conditions not directly caused by military service and who generally earn more than $25,000 a year. The administration has recommended these same proposals in each of the past few years, only to have them beaten back by Congress each time. The user fee would increase costs for nearly 2 million veterans nationwide.
Conservatives in Congress rebuffed an effort to include $2 billion in emergency money for veterans' health care in the recently passed $82 billion Iraq war supplemental. The president's request increased the VA budget a mere 2.7 percent (including the increased co-pays and enrollment fees), hardly sufficient to deal with an expected influx of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans in the coming years. Nearly 28,000 soldiers who served in Iraq and were discharged have already sought care at a VA facility. Of the nearly 245,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan already discharged from service, 12,422 have been in VA counseling centers for readjustment problems and symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson has said the budget circumstances are not "dire," yet Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID) was forced to increase the 2006 budget request by $1 billion. Dave Autry, a spokesman for the Disabled American Veterans, said, "Vets are owed a debt and the government has said they are eligible for health care. The government needs to pay for it. It's a continuing cost of our national defense."
Veterans in Bush's backyard, near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, are protesting his administration's decision to close a VA hospital in their town. "It would be, in my opinion, a tragic mistake to shut down our hospital, especially during a time of war when tomorrow's veterans are in harm's way today," said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Waco). In May 2004, then-VA Secretary Anthony Principi announced he would be closing three veterans hospitals nationwide and partially closing eight others. For his work, Principi was rewarded with an appointment to the chairmanship of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission.
More than 300,000 veterans' claims are pending before the VA, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the number of claims pending for more than six months rose from 47,000 in 2003 to 75,000 at the end of March 2005. The deteriorating condition of VA health care has elicited plenty of criticism. The American Legion called Bush's budget "the wrong message at the wrong time to the wrong constituency." The Vietnam Veterans of America said the budget did a "disservice to those of us who donned the uniform to defend the rights, principles, and freedoms that we hold dear." And the Veterans of Foreign Wars decried Bush's decision as "especially shameful during a time of war."
In this Orwellian Administration, neither words nor deeds have any reality. Yes is no and black is white. An Administration spokesman was recently quoted as saying,” We create our own reality.” One can only hope that as that reality moves further and further from the main stream of American thought, support for the Administration will dwindle down to the pathetic band of true believers. Recent polls continue to show eroding support for the Administration; a hopeful sign that their “reality” is nothing more than a figment of their tortured imaginations.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

National Security

The most important issue of our time for Democrats (after repelling and exterminating the odious theocrats from the evangelical extreme right wing of the Republican Party) is the issue of national security. I believe the last presidential election was lost by the Democrats on this issue. Kerry was seen, rightfully, as a person of changed convictions regarding the Vietnam war. Large numbers of people either disagreed with his right to change convictions or thought they saw him as a irresolute person, not to be trusted. They wanted to believe, but there was no evidence to base it on so inept was his campaign and his personal manner. Kerry and the Democrats failed National Security 101.

National security is two things: one, our own domestic tranquility and safety, and two, our conduct of foreign affairs by diplomatic and military means. Since 9/11 our sense of domestic security has been faltering. Amost four years after the event one still hears intelligent people saying frightened things about air travel. The use of domestic airliners as missiles against iconic targets was just too vivid and stark an offense against our self-image to be brushed off easily. Moreover, it played into the hands of fear-based conservatives, Bush principal among them, who have played the terror color game all through election year 2004 and not once since. Beyond the threat of terrorism, though, there is a threat of crime. Please notice the number of crime shows on television. They outnumber hospital shows ten to one, despite the fact that health is also a major national concern.

The Democrats have to be credible about domestic security and have to separate federal activity designed to provide domestic security from foreign affairs and military operations. Democrats have to overcome decades of unconsionable stupidity about domestic security and show the people that they mean business against terrorists and against rampant crime, especially gangs and drugs. Fancying itself to be the more intellectual of the two major parties, the Democrats must explain how going to the causes of terrorism and to the causes of crime are necessary. But, understanding the impatience and insecurity of the populace, Democrats must simultaneously engage in direct actions that demostrate its nerve and will. There must be a two-pronged approach to both of these domestic sources of insecurity. The enemy to be defeated is "fear itself" and the goal is domestic confidence—and of course, security itself.

The other aspect of national security is that which takes place outside our laws and jurisdiction, but nevertheless according to internationally accepted rules of engagement. One aspect of security is provided by "collective security" such as that "guaranteed" by NATO, bi- and multi-lateral treaties, and the United Nations. Liberalism rests on a commitment to "a rule of law," and collective security arrangements are the foreign affairs version of this commitment.

Critics of the U.N. are correct when they say that they do not feel one ounce more secure because of deliberations in the General Assembly of the U.N., and not much more secure from the actions of the U.N. Security Council. This is as much a matter of PR, or the lack of it, than any other thing. Demagogues have taken the spirited expression of unique national interests by foreign nations to be a challenge to the sovereignty of the U.S.

Our sovereignty is not the least harmed or damaged by the U.N., but our image—our much-loved self image—clearly is. It is entirely possible that our self image is wrong, just as it is entirely possible that foreign criticism of us is wrong. The truth, and indeed harmony, lie somewhere between the two.

The War in Afghanistan, actually a pursuit of Osama Bin Ladin across the territory of that country, is an expression of our need to thwart and render impotent an organization of real terrorists bent on destruction of our way of life. In the process we deliberately ousted the Taliban regime, which was giving aid and succor to the terrorists. As a result of that action we have incurred a moral duty to make sure that the Taliban does not soon return and that the law-abiding Afghans have a chance to secure their own country and have a decent chance for progress out of their centuries-old backwardness.

In a word, the Afghan situation where we deploy both diplomats and military personnel is an honest and expensive expression of our need for international and domestic security. The Iraq War is different, but it is not easy to distinguish the two kinds of situations.

The first difference is that the war against Iraq is a hoax. It was falsely assessed, falsely promoted, and (it turns out) conducted with false premises and against international rules of conduct in war. Where the American people (and their Congress) thought they were pursuing terrorists and a ruthless dictator consorting with terrorists, perhaps providing terrorists with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, none of these things actually existed, except the ruthless dictator and his oil fields—the second largest strategic reserve of petroleum known.

Okay, some Democrats say, so there were no terrorists and no WMD, nevertheless, they say, we are in a petroleum crisis and need to have a secure source of it for our economy to survive. They don't say this loudly, mind you, but it is the axis upon which their final argument hinges: we need to have a secure and plentiful supply of energy—petroleum energy. Well, folks, it is illegal to steal other people's natural resources!! What would we have thought if some country took over the central valley of California for its huge supply of needed food? Yes, we would object strenuously, even if it meant the ouster of Arnold Schwarzenegger would not take place.

Democrats have got to get straight on the uses and abuses of military power. They have got to understand the difference between a potent defense, the people and machinery, and act ually going to war, which is a sign of failure. They have got to understand that there are righteous uses and immoral uses of military power. If it were up to me, personally, I would put the occupation of Iraq to the U.N. Security Council and take its advice completely. It is really a matter of collective security, not just our own. I am reasonably sure I would not like the U.N.'s judgment completely, but I see no other way of rejoining the community of nations.

Meanwhile, two countries are about to join those which already have nuclear weapons, and both of these nations have political systems with political ideas inimical to American interests. If you have learned anything, you will begin to understand these issues as collective security issues, best dealt with by the concerted efforts of many nations, not just an imperious America pursuing its own perhaps faulty understanding of complex situations.

Yes, America can frequently lead in collective security situations, but there is a time when hauling out the big guns—US—is not appropriate. Other people have feelings too, you know, and dressing them down by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush is not likely to be the best way. Sometimes it takes a person who has learned diplomacy and understands the true relationships between need and want, between aspiration and desperation, between face and shame.

Democrats, if they are going to continue support of the occupation of Iraq must tell the world why. I don't believe there is a compelling argument for occupation and I would immediately make larger than token reductions in forces as a clue to my intent. Yes, we should help the new Iraqi government survive, but it is not entirely up to us, nor is it likely that our continued presence will really help more than it hinders. There are many others ways for us to be useful other than pointing our guns at them and hoping they come to their senses. It is time we came to ours!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Intelligence & Stem Cells

I am having a very hard time, these days, with a lot of what passes for religious concern on the part of those who occupy the White House and several seats in the Senate. I happen to think they have a lot of things backwards, but then I am sure they would feel the same of me.

Now take Intelligent Design. Just the word intelligent has the connotation, to me, that whoever the designer was had a plan in mind and it was a very good one. We are all intelligent beings, and I would guess that those amongst us who are designers, have a rather different sort. I know I am NOT a designer, and stick figures are the extent of my artistic abilities, but I am always amazed at what the mind of man has brought forth.

In this case we are supposedly talking about God, a superior being. Which, means that we are talking about a super intelligence and one which none of us could ever aspire to achieve? I illustrate this by saying that even the most intelligent humans amongst us cannot tell us which came first, the chicken or the egg. A clever creator with a sense of humor I would say.

Think about this for a moment. IF the earth was created by this super intelligent being, then why on earth did he create man? There are those who say that we were made in this being's image. All things being equal then one can assume that our creator gave us the intelligence that we have,based somewhat on his own? Therefore I can only conclude that he did this for a very good reason. He created something awesome and he expected us to pick up the baton and run with it.

Because we have read some words written centuries ago, in man's attempt to explain our origins, we have a rather inflated sense of ourselves. This creator expected us to have dominion over the earth. This says to me that for this, his most magnificent creation, he needed a caretaker. This is why I am having a problem with those whose job it should be to see to it that we ARE good stewards. It appears to me that they are doing everything in their power to trash that which they claim was created through "intelligent design".

Not only are our intelligently designed oceans sick, those things which call the oceans their home are being destroyed, by the creators's stewards. Untold numbers of birds have become extinct, their demise caused by, the creator's stewards. We denude the creator's forests, scrape in earth to find hidden treasures (oil, coal, diamonds, zinc, copper, tin, etc.), dirty every body of water, and plant ourselves and our shopping malls in every vacant corner. We pollute the creator's clean air and destroy the creator's atmosphere. We are slowly, but surely, destroying our planet. These are not the actions of intelligent beings.

Now I have to go back to this creator being who has given us our intelligence. At some point I have to believe that he saw what we would come to. After all he gave us the ability to create. We live in a world today made possible by those who have used that intelligence to the betterment of humanity. They have given us the wheel, tools, carts, railroads, dams, bridges, electricity, automobiles, flight, computers and even the outer boundaries of space, and cures for many diseases.

Now some have said that in order for us to pursue what seems to be our creator given gifts we should push forward and explore what can be done to aid humanity with the use of stem cells. This to, me, seems logical. Some creator gifted person has been able to see that by doing this activity there may be many things in the not so distant future which we can pack up in the dusty rug of history and say, We did it! Eureka! Alzheimers will no longer claim the minds of your loved ones. Those who suffer with Parkinson's Disease may have hope for a normal future.

The argument now is over a group of cells which are not even as big as the period at the end of this sentence.It is in no way a living breathing viable human being, although some would like to think that it is. What could be used for the advancement of medical science would otherwise be thrown out as medical waste.

Now here we are, our one best hope and our own worst enemy.
We have been given the intelligence, by evolving, by "intelligent design", or simply by accident. It may be that the research that comes out of this will produce the next greatest "intelligent designer".

We need to move forward.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

If It Were Clinton

Imagine for a moment that Bill Clinton was the current occupant of the White House, but all other things were the same. We invaded Iraq, information had been coming out for months that the reasons for the war were suspect, no weapons of mass destruction were found, we continue to lose American troops with no exit strategy, and the war was costing billions of dollars with no end in sight. Finally, a recent report based on verbatim U. S. and British talks in 2002 was released in which the British report that the United States had already decided to invade Iraq and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” In other words here was the smoking gun which proved that the Administration cooked the intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq What do you think the current Senate would be doing right now: If you said preparing articles of impeachment you would be right!

With W in the White House, however, not only is their no action in the Senate, the U.S. media, with a few exceptions and all of them in print, did not even report the British information. The beaten-down Democrats have barely raised this issue of the U. S. policy of falsifying the intelligence to go to war with a country that not only had no WMD, but was not even implicated in the attacks of 9-11. Why? Well, in the case of the Senate the answer is obvious: The Republicans are not going to impeach one of their own. The reasons for the silent media and the inaction of the Democrats are more complex and in many ways more disturbing.

One would think that the British report would have sparked media frenzy. Yet it was 17 days from the publication on May 1 in the London Sunday Times before the existence of the memo was mentioned on the front page of an American newspaper-the Chicago Tribune. A few other papers reported on the memo but buried articles about it on the back pages. The New York Times reported the story but emphasized the British decision to go to war by early 2002 and almost ignored the most explosive part of the report: that the intelligence on Iraq had been falsified.

The media may be suffering from fatigue over the whole issue. After months and months of reporting on this issue the media may have concluded that it has done its job. Any further reporting would not be productive or even well received by an American public that has already made up its mind one way or the other about the Administration’s veracity about the reasons for the Iraq war. The media may have concluded that the energy and time required to dig deeply into what may be regarded as old news is not worth the effort.

The media has also allowed their investigative skills to wither from lack of will and practice. With the Bush Administration’s policy to stone wall questions regarding its actions and policies and to control the reporting as much as possible the media has no where to go. It seems as though it has forgotten how to uncover those second and third level sources which can be crucial to finding the truth.

With exception of John Conyers and 88 other members of the U. S House of Representatives who wrote the White House asking about the British memo, the Democrats have passed on this issue. This seems to be in keeping with the party’s decision not to make it an issue during the recent presidential campaign during which John Kerry hardly mentioned it. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller agreed to postpone an investigation into the political use of Iraq intelligence until after the November elections. He also let Sen. Pat Roberts renege on a promise to investigate this issue. With leadership like this don’t expect any action from the Senate!

For a democracy to function well it must have a vigilant media and an opposition party willing to oppose unwise or even corrupt policies of the party in power: We seem to have neither. Only the internet and the bloggers have kept this story alive and unless someone in a position to taker action acts, I fear nothing will come of it. A President who lied about everything to do with the invasion of Iraq will not suffer the just consequences of his illegal actions: Impeachment and removal from office.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Secular Humanism

There are two religious forces at work in America today that give Liberals cause for serious concern. First and most blatantly anti-democratic and anti-Liberal are the ultra-rightwingers, comprised of militant, evangelical, proselytizing, fundamentalist Christians. These people declare themselves answerable to no one but their own God and their own interpretation of what He wants. Second, there is the Roman Catholic Church, which as you all know by now has taken yet another step in the direction of "orthodoxy (strict rules)" and another step toward interference in the democratic processes of our country (telling people how to vote), but a giant step backward from what they call "relativism and modernism," what we civilians call "contemporary reality."

Catholics are not monolithic; they do not all hold equally to the same ideas, but Pope Benedict XVI is their spiritual leader, the one who establishes directions for the cardinals and bishops and laity, and he is avowedly a conservative promoter of a single Catholic orthodoxy to fit all the people of the earth. Fundamentalists are not monolithic, either, but fundamentalists universally do not listen to reason; they listen only to their scriptures and their God.

There are about seventy million Roman Catholics in the United States (24% of the total population) and perhaps one hundred fifty four million persons claiming to be Protestant Christians among whom about 25% whose religious affiliations would place them among the "fundamentalists," that is, about 38 million. This, of course, counts children, so half (about) of each number cannot yet vote. As a round number, then, fully one third of the people in our country eligible to vote are potentially available to vote their leaders' beliefs and to destroy our democracy in so doing. This is our problem.

The other two thirds of American voters either do not practice a religion in any meaningful way or they belong to religious groups and sects that have matured over time into more philosophical positions regarding the hard issues of modern life. These people continuously accommodate their beliefs to advances in scientific and medical knowledge, and they generally appreciate the freedom they have to believe or not believe what they want, understanding that this derives from a solemn agreement to be tolerant and to keep religion out of government and vice versa. The source of this agreement is the so-called "establishment clause" of the First Amendment to our Constitution, namely: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...."

Among these people, both religious and non-religious, you will find "secular humanists." Secular Humanism is not a religion. It does not take the place of religion. It is not meant to be understood as a religion, since it does not contain any theories, doctrines, "truths," or "revealed information" about supreme beings or the spiritual origins of mankind.

Secular humanism does not conflict with respectful religions; it is a "way of being" in daily life when it is important NOT to be outspokenly religious out of deference to people who do not or cannot share their religious beliefs. As the name implies, Secular Humanism is about human life on our planet and contains a core list of ideas among the most prominent two of which are: (1) that human rational processes and reason are sufficient to govern human life, and (2) the idea that life, especially human life, is precious and should be cared for rationally. This is the basis for a moral code very similar to the codes you find within a variety of religions. There should really be no surprise in that! There is no appeal to Ten Commandments or any other revelation from any deity for the moral code. It stands on its own internal logic, consistency, and rationality. Conservative Catholics, Christian Fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, and other closed orthodoxies cannot abide this. It strikes at the heart of their certitude and belief because it looks like an alternative to their dogmatic approaches.

If you were to go out to Google and look for "secular humanism," you would find that there is considerable disagreement among the various websites and, indeed, among secular humanists, about some issues, particularly issues about life—such as war, capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide, homicide, contraception, abortion, and related issues like infant care, elder care, Social Security, penal institutions and corrections, medical research, and so forth. Secular humanists have a right to disagree among themselves, but they have chosen to be rational about it, rather than seeking a revealed answer from deity.

It is the tradition of the European and American Enlightenment that best describes Secular Humanism. Ultimately, as all philosophers know, all assertions of fact or truth can be doubted. Rene Descartes showed this in his philosophy, and although we can doubt Descartes, it turns out to not be very profitable. All human ideas rest on some fundamental axioms or postulates which cannot be demonstrated to be always true. Nevertheless, there is a practical point to rationalism, which is that axioms and postulates can be agreed upon (or not) and then rational processes can be engaged. So, for instance, we believe axiomatically that we when we are conscious and feeling and perceptive we are capable of thinking logically, so that anyone observing the same evidence and understanding the rules of practical logic will come to the same or very similar conclusions. Religions cannot say this, because the revealed truths of their doctrines are not based on an accumulation of evidence, but rather on such things as gospels and scriptures which are declared to be directly from the deity, for which no rational evidence is given. It has to be taken on faith. It is not an axiom that is assumed; it is a whole fabric of theology.

Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and others of the Protestant Christian religions can also be secular humanists. Jewish people, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Confucians, Shinto, Taoists, and many others also can be secular humanists, too. They do not give up their religion; they simply acknowledge that their religion does not provide answers to certain kinds of questions, or that the answers it provides are different from the answers provided by other neighboring religions and therefore likely to produce conflict. When either of these is the case, the secular humanist religious person invokes secular humanist's reliance on human reason as the best way toward a group solution to the problem.

As a general rule secular humanists believe in the progress of the human spirit, that is, that people can be better, especially if they are treated reasonably and provided opportunities. Secular humanists do not look to "evil" to explain bad human behavior; they look to real and rational causes. Sometimes these are hard to find. Charles Manson, for instance, seems to be a thoroughly bad person for no apparent reason. Secular humanists understand that there are reasons, even if we cannot discern them immediately. Sometimes the reasons for bad behavior are invisible defects in the person's brain, sometimes they are the result of childhood psycho-social traumas, such as being beaten daily by a adult. Sometimes it is both, combined with an accumulation of personal decisions that in the long run mount up to a formidable mess.

The point of this essay is to make sure that people understand Secular Humanism for what it really is, not what the people who fear or misunderstand it say it is. And, the point is also that in a society, which long ago decided that their government shall never make any laws establishing a religion (or by inference preferring any religion over another) or prohibiting the free exercise of (any) religion, sometimes you need a basis for discussion of moral and civic matters. Secular Humanism is that basis, for it is equally accessible to all persons regardless of their religion or decision not to have a religion. In other words, Secular Humanism is a good rational basis for the moral operations of a pluralistic society and its government as no religion can ever be!

Confident we are that human reason is one with the Force.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Faith

I find myself, this morning, in a state of high dudgeon. Not that this is a new state for me. I have felt this way on numerous occasions in the past 5 years, since the advent of the Bushies. But I am particularly fed up with the religious aspects of this whole mess that we are in today.

Like most of us in this country I was born into, what would technically be called, a "Christian" family. My particular brand of Christianity fell into the Protestant category, the Faith of Our Fathers type...good old Yankee Congregationalism. That is not to say that mine was any better than those who were Methodists, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians or any of the myriad sects of Christianity.

Now comes Newsweek with an article about the holy Qu'ran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanemo Bay. Amazing to begin with that they have toilet facilities that would accommodate a book. Must be made by Halliburton?
At any rate, after stirring up a hornet's nest of outrageous proportions, now they say it was all a horrible mistake. Rather like Hearst stirring up the Spanish-American War by falsely reporting what happened with the Battleship "Maine" in Havana Harbor. However, the damage has been done.

What makes the Qu'ran more disposable than the Bible? What makes us feel so superior, or feel that we have a corner on the God market? Because of Jesus? It might surprise many, but the Muslims actually recognize Jesus as a prophet. Do we in turn recognize Muhammed in the same vein? We do not and I can hear many saying, why that borders on blasphemy! Muhammed is a pagan! Not true.

Some background here folks. Muslims and Christians share the same ancestor in Abraham, through Isaac and Ishmael. God promised Ishmael that he would make a great nation out of him. (Genesis 17.15-20) And Judaism, from which both religions have sprung, is simply a new twist on old religious beliefs. You can find different versions of the Creation Story in Genesis and, Genesis in turn, mirrors the creation story found in the sacred Zend-Avesta the holy book of Zoroastarism, which was the most powerful religion along about 1000BCE.
http://www.avesta.org/avesta.html . We also find parallels in Mithraism,
http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mithra.html, Gnosticism http://www.religioustolerance.org/gnostic.htm and Manichaeism http://www2.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/mani.htm. Not surprisingly, there is nothing in Christianity that has not been lifted from another, previous belief.

The early Roman Catholic church found it easier to match Christ's birth to the prevailing Pagan Winter Solstice celebrations, than to try and convert all the pagans in the world. All of our Christmas decorations as well spring from this Pagan celebration. Easter as well, has it's roots in the Pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox and the goddess Eostre (Easter perhaps?) who, legend has it, was saved by a bird whose wings had frozen. She in turn saved the bird by turning it into a hare. No ordinary hare, but one who could lay eggs!
http://www.equinox-and-solstice.com/html/vernal_equinox.html

If those who wish to believe that they have a corner on God, let me say this. Tolerance is not your forte, so therefore calling yourself a Christian is not playing by the rules. Jesus was a liberal, like it or not, and his best companions were those whom society deemed unworthy. His lessons were ones of love, peace and understanding, acceptance and tolerance. I have seen none of these traits in anyone who has pontificated that they are the chosen and those of us who do not believe as they are Satan's spawn.

Religious faith is a great part of so many lives. But that is what it is, just faith. No one can say for certain that we have "the answer", or for that matter that an answer even exists. We all have faith in one thing or another. Just having faith that you will wake up in the morning, or having faith in the goodness of other human beings, or having faith that the weatherman has really told you the truth and the sun will shine on your wedding day. As you can see we place a lot of faith IN faith.

That may be all the faith that some people need.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Neo-cons Attack PBS

Not content to have all the major commercial broadcast networks under their control, the neo-cons have now mounted an all-out offensive against the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). As their poster child for claiming liberal bias in public broadcasting, these despicable people have chosen Bill Moyers and the program he hosted on PBS until this year, NOW. They claim that Moyers was not evenhanded and only went after conservatives. What they really are mad about is Moyers’ absolute dedication to tell the truth and have it supported with solid facts and reporting. Truth: the rabid right cannot tolerate. Truth is the enemy of the lies and distortions that they live by.

Fortunately for the United States they have picked on the wrong man. Bill Moyers recently answered his critics from the right wing media and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) with a speech that he gave at the National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis. As background, Moyers, who was there at the birth of CPB when he was an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, articulated what the function of the CPB was suppose to be. The CPB was established to set broad policy for public broadcasting and to be a fire wall between political influence and program content. Under President Bush, the CPB has become the champion of the neo-cons and it is populated with conservatives and ultra conservatives. The CPB’s chairman is Kenneth Tomlinson a rabid conservative who is out to do W’s bidding despite his protestations to the contrary.

Moyers outlined why it has always been difficult for objective journalists to do good journalism inside the beltway. But, he went on to say it has never been harder than now because this administration has appropriated the Newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984. “They give us, he said, a program vowing no child will be left behind , while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged children; they give us legislation cheerily calling for clear skies and healthy forests that give us neither, while turning over our public lands to the energy industry.” He went on to quote from 1984 that the whole purpose of Newspeak was to provide a climate where there is no thought; where orthodoxy is unconsciousness. This he said is the purpose of the attacks on him to control the media so there is no thought; no competing voice to say this is wrong: the emperor has no clothes.

These attacks are just another attempt by the ultra-right to control all the media and to prevent any criticism of their plans to turn this country into one that is run by the rich and the religious conservatives. Their policies, like the vermin they are, cannot stand the bright light of a free and unfettered media.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Confidence and Voice

In his July 15, 1979 speech on the energy crisis then beginning to engulf the American economy President Jimmy Carter spoke of a "Crisis of Confidence" among the American people. It was not the first time that a President had noticed a flagging of the national will, a persistent and nagging feeling that things were terribly wrong, that perhaps the game was no longer winnable under the current rules.

The crisis President Carter referred to was in many ways more insidious than that spoken about by Franklin Roosevelt forty-six years earlier. The 1979 crisis was like the earlier one in that it affected nearly everyone, but unlike the Great Depression the energy crisis did not make a deep and lasting impression—perhaps it should have. The modern crisis of confidence has a nameless quality, a sense of defeat mixed with a sense of loss, something like a dream gone withering off into a fog of images purporting to be reality, but unfamiliar and alien.

A political analyst recently characterized our times as a period in which the essential victories of the eighteenth century Enlightenment including the principles upon which this nation was founded seem to have been lost, forgotten, destroyed, and that generally we feel like we are adrift in a sea of troubles—most of our own making—which threaten the security of our very civilization. This gnawing uncertainty seems to separate us from our founding fathers, the framers of the Constitution.

Picking up on the general despair, yet another reporter recently wrote that the twentieth century just may have been "too much" for the average American. The wars won and especially the wars lost, the failure of space shuttles, the 9/11 terrorism, the ruinous business cycles, the Great Depression and then the modern bankruptcies and scams, the crime and cheating, the toppling of social behavior norms, the search for social and political identity and strength among women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities, the shallow lowness of politics, the rancor, the deep intolerance, and especially the rapid pace of change seem to have worn away Americans' natural optimism. We have retreated from a feeling of confidence and robust enterprise to a much less expansive posture of frugal, even miserly, compassionless, self-interest and survivalism. There is plainly a sense abroad in the land that with society's flood of problems the poor and weak and needy can fend for themselves—and damn those who take advantage of the charity of hard-working people!

Among Progressives and Liberals the problems of the Democratic Party are a matter for serious concern. Corporate interests have bought and paid for elected officials everywhere regardless of political affiliation even those whose direct constituents are the cannon fodder of corporate greed and rapaciousness. The old Roosevelt coalition is long gone. Carter and Clinton assembled coalitions of moral and compassionate people from among the highly educated and the highly enterprising and run-of-the-mill working people who all believed that government can manage social programs to help the afflicted, the downtrodden, the poor. They believed that government can manage programs to stimulate science and technology, health research, and foster democracy across the planet. But these people have fallen into bickering over wars and machismo. They mock George Bush and his base, but they do not remember who their base is.

Their base is the people, of course, not corporations and the wealthy. It is proud working people, whether they work in office cubicles or factories making automobiles. But organized labor is weaker fifty-five years after the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act than anyone then fearing (communism and) disruption of the economy could have imagined. There is no voice for work in America.

Campaign financing legislation rots in the cellars of senior legislators of both parties whose ties to big money from big business is ignored and then broadly condoned when the largess is spread around.

There is a feeling that leadership is at an all-time low in America, especially with President Bush sitting on the narrowest of election margins produced by the least convincing electoral processes and with an approval rating lower than any president in memory. Yet, the Progressives and Liberals seem unable to put aside personal ambitions to produce a clear and honest spokesman for Progressive and Liberal issues. There needs to be a voice!

Hillary Clinton, a centrist, is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008, but many see her as unelectable. John Kerry, despite an unspeakably awkward and inept campaign in 2004, continues his hopes for the future and chases potential votes on the internet. John Edwards, out of office, speaks here and there and could be gathering a campaign chest ... or paying off old debts. Dennis Kucinich has the most appealing moral position of the standing candidates, but he has a meager following partly for not ceding the last race gracefully.

Howard Dean, the least sold-out candidate of the 2004 primaries, was ambushed by a corrupt and partisan press and his own sold-out fellow Democrats. He stands, against most odds at the head of the Party now, but the House and Senate leaders have asked him not to speak for Democrats on policy. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are good people, but they are not "Presidential" nor are they fountains of policy genius. They are good caucus people and Reid, especially, has risen quickly to the enormous task presented to him. Senator Barbara Boxer is the unexpected voice of dissent and loyal opposition, Senators Biden and Kennedy are active against the most egregious ploys of the rightwing radicals opposing them, while Evan Bayh and the DLC toadies of centrist Republican Lite politics clog the aisles like so much vascular plaque. Dr. Dean will refashion the Party, but he cannot do it by himself, and he cannot build the necessary coalition without a voice.

The Enlightenment gave birth to the first generation of Liberals in Europe and in America. Its precepts and lessons were heady brew for the three American generations of 1776. For the Franklins the Enlightenment meant that issues could be discussed rationally in terms of themselves without reference to dogma, but he was very much the skeptical realist and politician too. For Washington, Adams, and the generation that would lead, the Enlightenment meant a solid rational basis upon which to attempt governance. He was humble in that exercise of power and took his cues from the principles of social compact and natural law. For the younger generation of Jefferson and Madison, the Enlightenment was liberty and justice founded on mutual consent among men of good will. They were much closer to the rationale of the Enlightenment, but these ideas are not lost or destroyed. They are merely obscured by the unpleasant business of cleaning up the corruption that has seeped into our politics.

The pace of change in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries cannot be altered. The pace is dictated by population, communication, ambition, the enormous growth of real knowledge, among many other things. The failure of Americans to deal with the facts and foibles of their recent past is attributable to a striking failure of education to produce critical thinking skills at every level and in every theater of human achievement. Instead, Americans are daily seduced by entertainments and frivolous enterprises totally bereft of moral or rational benefit. The word "academic" has come to mean "pointless and useless." Americans will be able to handle the pace and texture of events when minds everywhere are valued above appetites, when opportunities for the one improve and for the other recede, when leaders in every walk of life take a stand for real education and against ignorance.

The crisis of confidence that we all now feel will—with work—abate. It will succumb to education and thoughtful political leadership. It will become obvious that political selfishness leads only to weakness and corruption; it will become obvious that a rule of law under democracy is the only way to assure freedom and liberty for all men and women.

But, there is hard and burdensome work to be done. We have to cleanse ourselves of the corruption into which we have allowed our nation to slide. We must learn once again to be always vigilant against corruption by insisting on a rule of law applicable to everyone regardless of wealth or station in life. We must resolve to be better and to seek a higher plane of existence for not only our own, but the peoples of all nations. Without such goals, who now will we decide to leave out?

Democrats are coming together for the election of 2006. It is important that they understand now what all the Democratic constituencies need—and what they want. It is important that they produce a platform and build good coalitions now in 2005 upon which all progressives and liberals can stand, a set of truths unbent, not cowering in the fear of voter disapproval, but proud of the heritage they represent. Someone among them will give it voice, and then we will know!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Postcards From Buster

Any of you, who are regular readers, must by now know that one of my mantras is "the trouble with kids is adults". I firmly believe this.

Children are blank slates upon which, we as adults, project our own views on life. If we are clever enough, we are able to give our children the tools with which to have an open mind and to make their own decisions—within reason, when they are small, but with greater latitude as they grow into young adulthood. All any of us can do is pray that we have made wise choices by them and that they grow to be caring, loving, informed adults.

Many shows on television have helped us on this journey of growing and learning. The two prominent ones, that spring to mind for me, are Sesame Street and Mister Roger's Neighborhood. How my toes would curl when an adult would make disparaging remarks about Mister Rogers and how boring he was. Well of course he was boring to you...you were an adult and his base was the pre-school set. I wonder how many of those bored parents realized Fred Rogers had a doctorate in Early Childhood Development.

Another thing both shows managed to do was to keep up with the times; adjust to the changing societal climate. But, above all, they tried to teach about diversity and how we could all get along, each respectful of the other and their point of view and how cooperation got many things accomplished. Sesame Street was particularly adept at sending this message and there was really not a subject that was not incorporated into the show. Different languages, people of color, people with different abilities and disabilities.

Those two shows were certainly the hallmark of PBS viewing for the younger set. Today PBS is home to a plethora of shows which appeal to the pre-schooler and those who are in kindergarten http://pbskids.org/ . The Children's Television Workshop has striven to bring quality programming to young children. One of the biggest blessings is, no commercials! With children spending on average 900 hours in school and over 1,000 hours in front of the TV, this, in itself, is a very good thing. http://www.mercola.com/2001/feb/28/tv_children.htm

They have been able to be commercial free as they have had corporate sponsors who see to it that the money is available for air time. Many underwriters are private foundations. The public, as well, as supporters of their local Public Broadcasting Systems, have donated money and participated in PBS fund raisers. It is important to have access to this very vital part of television and well worth the $10. $20. $50 or even a $100 dollar or more, donation. The key word here is PUBLIC.

However, it seems now the winds of change are blowing, and I sense a pandering to many of the corporate sponsors. When a small group, with an agenda, and lots of money behind them can affect programming that I, in part, have paid to be able to watch, there is big trouble in River City. I am speaking specifically to an episode of a popular children's show, which PBS airs, "Postcards From Buster". http://pbskids.org/buster/ .

Buster is a white rabbit who travels the country visiting areas in each state, reporting on customs, foods. landscape etc. When in San Francisco they visited Chinatown during Chinese New Year. Pretty innocuous stuff but educational and interesting. Certainly introducing, or reinforcing, geography for the younger set. However, when Buster's destination turned out to be a Maple Sugaring farm in Vermont there was a problem. This particular farm was owned and operated by two women. Suffice it to say that there was enough of a hew and cry that many PBS stations chose not to air this episode.

Now I will be the first one to say that there are certain things that I find offensive. And, certainly, there are many things which I would not like my children to see. This is where the inventors of the television were very clever. They made an off/on switch as well as a channel selector. These features have been put to good use in my house as I'm sure it has in many others.

Now a group who feel that Fear Factor, Desperate Housewives, Elimidate, Survivor, etc. are palatable TV fare and would not miss an episode, and whose television's selector knob has probably never hit the local PBS station's channel, want to decide for ME what is appropriate. Is there no end to this madness?

Let's face facts. Sooner or later, in this life, your child will find out that there are people in this world who are attracted to the same sex. Most of these people are loving, warm individuals and many are in committed relationships and also have children. I can almost guarantee that most of the children who would likely have watched that particular Buster episode would not have thought twice about those two women. And, if they had, shame on the parent who did not have the intelligence to answer their questions in an informed, adult manner.

As I accept the fact that you have a certain opinion, please give me the same courtesy. Watching people eat things which are usually on the menus of our 4 footed friends, or totally humiliating another human being are not high on my list of viewing pleasures I am not about to call my local station and whine about it. Please stop trying to legislate MY morality.

Unfortunately, about the only thing that does not have an on/off option is a small, bigoted mind.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

(station break)

We are at a crossroads! The nation is, and so are we at the American Liberalism Project. For us it is definitely a place where the path we take is very much dependent upon you the readers. We have received very little email from you, so we really are not sure whether you find our services valuable, not so valuable, just tolerable for the occasional good hit, or what. All we know about you is from the statistics compiled every day by our web host, basically: how many of you show up on a day, how many pages you read.

You know our mission. It is to provide commentary on and leads to those accounts of events in our times that provide a key to understanding liberalism—the political movement that powered this country into greatness. Colleagues at other websites uniformly say they like the website and think it is worthwhile and valuable. But, we hear nothing from you the people out there, the readers.

It is important to us to have feedback. We don't have to get in to a great long conversation or dialogue. Just send in your comments about what you would like and what you think we can dispense with. If you like a comment in eMedia, please say so through the "welcome comments" link on the home page. If you like a blog, then comment directly to that blog affirmatively, and, if you do not like a blog, comment on it critically. The whole reason we created our blog is so that you readers would have the opportunity to comment easily and anonymously, if you wish, on topics we present. Click on my name at the bottom of this blog to send me mail directly.

We need more readers to justify the effort that is going into this project. We have recently changed our website behind the scenes to make it more attractive to Google and the other web search companies. It is too early to say whether our recent changes are going to do the trick or not. But, the best way for the popularity of a project like this to expand is by "word of mouth." Just think of all the people you send email to. Some of them would like to hear about American Liberalism. Tell them! Send them our URL and stimulate them to read by commenting on something you saw here.

If you are anything like me, your friends are not universally Liberal. In fact, most of my male friends are moderate conservatives, so I am not troubling them with the Project. Conservatives are narrow and they just do not have the capacity to understand things Liberally. Others, though, are middle of the road or liberal-leaning and I have told them about the Project and asked them to give me a critique from time to time. Yes, it is burdensome for them and so I do not get very much. Really all we want is for you who read our eMedia and blogs and reference materials to pass the word and get some friends—just two or three—to start reading regularly. New readership will show up in our statistics.

Finally, we have received (at this writing) no donations to help keep the Project going. Our solicitation has only been going for a week, so this is not surprising. Believe me, though, we need financial support. We are not taking salaries, we just need to pay the bills. Donations through PayPal are easy and secure. You do not have to worry about privacy or security.

For those of you who have been with us from the beginning almost a year ago, thanks for your moral support. For those of you who have just discovered the American Liberalism Project, tell a friend, help us get the word out. Help us teach tolerance and political responsibility. Help us make this project even more worthwhile!

This is the first and last of my blogs on this subject. In a about a month we will announce the direction you have asked us to take with either your silence or your comments and donations.

Thanks!

James R. Brett, Ph.D.
Founder and Editor
The American Liberalism Project

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Reality

Reality. Webster's defines it as "the quality or state of being real." One would guess that that would cover a lot of territory. Something real is what I can see, taste, touch, hear, see, and to a greater degree that which I feel is an actual fact.

Now I have discovered that there is a very separate reality which dominates a whole lot of people in this country. They see something, but what they take away from the experience of it is something entirely separate from my view. I am still hoping that my brand of reality is the prevalent one but it does make you wonder these days.

While watching Real Time with Bill Maher the other night, one of the guests mentioned the snake handling that takes place in various areas of the south.
My reality tells me that if you choose to handle a poisonous snake chances are you will be bitten. If you are bitten, unless you receive proper medical attention quickly, the reality is that you might just die. Now some take exception to that reality. They feel that it is all in God's hands. And perhaps they are right. But in my reality, God made the snake, God made the snake poisonous, and nowhere have I read that God has instructed me to handle one and that it is ok to do so.

My President, despite all the evidence to the contrary is trying to tell me that in reality, Social Security is bankrupt, the country is safer now than it was pre 9/11, the economy is humming along, and Iraq is well on the road to democracy. Makes one think that the true reality here is a parallel universe.

Now down in Washington, DC, (which is as far from reality as one could get), we have a Republican controlled Congress. Yessiree Bob, that is a fact. And we have some real wing nuts walking the halls of Congress these days. We have one whose mind is still back in his home state, one that thinks his state will be taken over by lesbians if quick action is not taken, one who is such a good diagnostician that he does not even have to meet a patient, only view a video tape, several who assert that the United States is a Christian Nation and many others who seemingly talk directly with God.

Reality. This country is in such a mess we will be lucky to come out of this in any semblance of how we went in, in 2000. Dismantling programs is not realistic.

Reality. Homosexuality exists. It is not a choice. And if a same sex couple chose to share their lives together, your child will not be scarred for life if he or she discovers this fact. To think these people have an interest in corrupting you or your child is not realistic.

Reality. The United States is not a Christian nation. Our founding fathers went to great pains to see to it that no one religion took precedence over another. If you wish to give the Ten Commandments space in a building, a park or a court house then you had better make room for the Q'ran and Talmud as well. To claim that God is only on OUR side is unrealistic.

Reality. My country has been hijacked by a group of whining, sneering, arrogant, fear mongering theocrats and I am mad as hell. Not to be mad as hell would be unrealistic.

Reality. Global warming is a fact and climate changes are taking place. To not be able to see this is unrealistic.

Reality. We must elect some sane people back into Congress. This is our country's one chance at survival for the next 4 years until we can elect a President who has a rational mind and sees all Americans as a trust to be held and not a group to be bled dry to satisfy his "base". To not do this, and to think that things will all work out just fine is unrealistic.

So do some real things. Find out who is running in your area. Volunteer to work for them. Be realistic and know that things will not work out if you do not do your part in taking your country back from these madmen.

Or, you could sit around and hope Tom will call you for a round of golf in Hawaii.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Social In-security

Recognizing that Shrub’s plan to rape our Social Security system is going nowhere, his snake oil advisors have come up another plan which, can you believe it, claims to preserve social security benefits for the poor while soaking the rich. Remember, this is the same man who gave us the tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting federal funding for programs which aid the poor. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.

Bush’s proposal is a Social Security benefits scheme called “progressive price indexing.” A close examination of it reveals it is nothing more than a plan to slash middle-class benefits while hardly touching the wealthy and to eventually make it just another welfare program for the conservative ax to cut. Under this scheme, the benefits for the low-wage earner would remain at the current 49 percent of their wages before retirement. However, the average wage earner would feel real pain under his plan.

Jason Furman, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has calculated the benefit cuts under Bush’s scheme as a percentage of pre-retirement income. An average worker making $37,000 who retires in 2075 would be cut 10% of his pre-retirement income. Workers earning $58,000 today would see their benefits cut to almost 13 percent of their incomes before retirement. Incomes above that would see less and less significant cuts. Workers earning three times the national average would face cuts of only 9 percent and someone making of the equivalent of $1 million today would see only a 1 percent cut of pre-retirement income.

Once again, the middle class would bear the major burden while the rich bear almost none. It’s also a good bet that the benefits for the poor would eventually be cut. It’s an old adage that programs for the poor always become poor programs: Programs defined as welfare become a prime target for budget cuts.

But that’s only half the story. Should the Bush scheme become law, it wouldn’t just cut benefits. Workers would also be encouraged to put a big portion of their payroll taxes into private accounts. In effect, this would be borrowing against their future benefits which would be reduced accordingly: Social Security for the middle class would gradually disappear. “For millions of workers, Mr. Furman writes, “the amount of the monthly Social Security check would be at or near zero.” Without middle class support, it’s very likely Social Security would loose its appeal and be looked at as just another welfare program.

The important point is to remember the neo-cons have an overriding agenda: Slash and burn every social welfare program. Republicans have never liked Social Security, none voted for it when it was first implemented, and this is the opening shot to destroy it. To paraphrase Shakespeare: Bush has come to bury Social Security; not to save it.

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