Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Great feedback

Tonight's edition of this blog is an interactive one. I have things for you to do to participate. The first item on the menu is to watch Jon Stewart on "Crossfire" last week. One place to find it is at http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2652831 (Here is a transcript, in case your media players aren't working: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0410/15/cf.01.html)

OK, so I know that most of you did not go watch this clip, but let me point out two things that struck me. First of all, Stewart said that Crossfire was "hurting America." He accused Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson of being hacks for the politicians because they are doing what the politicians want. They only see things in left or right, black or white, red or blue. And they just shout at each other. In other words, Crossfire is helping to polarize this country.

The other remark that struck me (and it was not when Stewart called Carlson a "dick") was when Begala said, "I don't think you should have to hate to oppose somebody, but it makes it easier. "

That's what is wrong with this whole election process this year. It seems that in order to support one side we have to hate the other. "Our guy is great. Yours is an idiot." For some reason we have to demonize the opponent.

For Rush Limbaugh, it's not enough to espouse conservative ideas, but he goes out of his way to make anyone who disagrees with his position as an evil liberal. There is no middle ground. As a matter of fact, Limbaugh says that people in the middle are wishy-washy namby-pambies that can't make a decision. He casts people on two sides and sees nothing in between. For him, if water isn’t boiling, it must be frozen.

It's no different on the left, though. Al Franken and Randi Rhodes on Air America love to call Bush an idiot and will take any opportunity to do so. While I agree with Randi Rhodes more than I disagree with her, I have had to turn the channel more than once (just like I do with Rush) when she gets so far out and angry it disgusts me.

On the talk shows from Bill O'Reilly to Crossfire people just shout at each other with no real effort to persuade. Persuasion takes thought. It takes some understanding of the other side. It takes patience to remain calm when the other person is shouting at you. And, it's not as much fun. It’s also not interesting television.

One friend sent me a copy of a column by Ann Coulter (who says, "How to talk to a Liberal (if you must)... But you don't have to, so don't"). It was a rant about Kerry. OK, so I admit it. I stooped to her level and sent her one back blasting O'Reilly and the Cheney's mock horror at having their daughter mention as a --- gasp -- LESBIAN! (I was shocked - SHOCKED!) I am now sorry that I succumbed to the temptation.

I am tired of the shouting and the polarization. It makes me want to say,

"Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? "

I got lots of good letters from my friends this week. Some are less helpful than others. One just said, "You are wrong about Bush... Kerry is not a leader..." in big black letters on an orange background. Letters like that don't help any. It just adds to the cacophony. One friend just said, "When we get together over dinner, let's not discuss politics, OK?" That's cool. I told him that we will stick to safe topics like religion, money, and sex. :) One writer wanted to help bring me back to my Libertarian roots and vote for Bednarik. His main issue is gun control, and sees Kerry as anti-gun. (I think that Kerry is anti-assualt weapon, but likes to hunt and uses a gun for that purpose.) I told this writer that I appreciated being able to discuss matters with him without shouting.

One person whose comment really struck home with me was one who said,

Everyone is passionate about their 'side'. I do not believe the two party system is working for our country any longer. It only serves to heighten the chasm between us all, instead of finding the common ground, the compromise, the system that works best for all of us, our country, and our planet. Each election has become a choice between the 'lesser of two evils' and I daresay even the most committed Bush OR Kerry supporters would admit in their hearts that they do not believe their man is Perfect or the Hero that will put it all to right.

(I would like to mention this person's name, but like everyone who posted a reply, it was signed "Anonymous". At very least I would have like to have written this person in a private e-mail.)

Now, THAT is getting back to what I truly believe. I have been swept to the left side of the spectrum, and have forgotten that they are ALL weasels. All of them are Demopublicans. I have slipped into the habit of demonizing George Bush himself that I forget that it is not the man himself I rail against, but the way he is running the country.

Another letter came from a friend of mine who said she could only read my last post for about 10 seconds. She is a Christian, a Republican, a Texan and a military brat, all of which lead her toward supporting George Bush. Her letter was filled with name-calling and invective. I was amused, too, that she called her liberal brother-in-law closed-minded when she said she couldn't even read my post. There's closed-mindedness on both sides of the aisle. I point this out not because I want to embarrass her, but to further point out how polarized and divided we are in this country. I had decided to back off and not discuss this with her any more because she seemed so emotional about it, but she kept sending me things to read. And, I did. I realized that with all the fun I was having at Bush's expense, the right is doing exactly the same thing to Kerry. Neither side tries to understand the other, and just slips effortlessly into believing their side's propaganda. And none of it does anyone any good. As Jon Stewart says, "It's hurting America."

This summer I have seen "Fahrenheit 9/11" (anti-Bush), "Out Foxed" (about how Fox news is anything BUT "Fair and Balanced"), and "Going UpRiver" (pro-Kerry). Friday night, Nancy and I watched "Faith In the White House." It is billed as "an alternative to Fahrenheit 9/11". And, so it is. While I don't agree with a lot of what they say in that film, and at times their brand of propaganda is just as outrageous as Michael Moore's, I did come away with more respect for George Bush as a person, and I can see how a person of strong religious faith would want to follow him.

I have no doubt that George W. Bush is a good person. He was feckless as a young man, but I admire anyone who has a substance abuse problem and kicks it. He appears to be faithful not only to his God, but to his wife and family. He is a person who connects one on one with people, and is at his heart a compassionate person.

But that does not mean he is a good president.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have some problems with John Kerry and there some things I admire about him. But the main reason I support him is that he has the best chance of defeating George Bush in little more than a week. I told my libertarian correspondent that I would vote for Bednarik if I thought he could beat Bush. Like, Anonymous said, Kerry is "lesser of two evils". I do like John Kerry. Not only do I think he is a stand up guy, he isn’t George Bush.

I am going to try to keep my discussion from here on out away from personal attacks on Mr. Bush. Lots of people have lots to say about that. Even though it's not as much fun, I am going to try to focus on the results of his administration, and how I think this administration is "hurting this country". Some may think that what I have to say is a personal attack, but it is often hard to separate the man from the office.

Now, it's time for the second reader participation part of this post. I now direct your attention to http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/101704A.shtml where you will find an article titled "Without a Doubt" by Ron Suskind published on October 17 in the New York Times. I think this article should be required reading for every voter before November 2.

Now, this not a criticism, just an observation. I know that most of you probably did not go read that article. That's OK. Not everyone is as wound up about this as I am. So, I will summarize parts of what this article says. It says that Bush has become more and more isolated from reality. He makes decisions based on his "gut" or his faith, and not necessarily on facts. Bush has cut off any sort of dissent within his inner circle, and that circle is very tight. He very seldom hears anything that he doesn't want to hear. He seems to be intentionally uninformed. It's a "Don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up" type of deal.

Here is the one passage of this article that gave me chills:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend - but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Frankly, this passage scares the bejesus out of me. Our country is being run by someone who puts his faith over reality? Can this be true? My pro-Bush friend asked if I think that faith is a bad thing. I would say that faith in God is not a bad thing, but to use it to exclude the facts and deny reality is a really bad thing, especially if you are the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

I know some people who would rail against George Bush on a whole litany of domestic issues from gay rights to the environment. However, my worries are much more in the foreign policy area. The Bush administration’s “with us or against us” attitude has alienated us from much of the world, and made this world a much more dangerous place.

For several months after 9/11/01, the world was on our side. In the days following the disaster, George Bush grew up, stepped up, and cowboyed up. In those few days he became a real leader and comfort to the country. I was impressed with him. I supported invading Afghanistan because it seemed we were actually fighting the terrorists.

Then, George started fucking up.

(I’m sorry. I said I wasn’t going to get personal, but it’s a cheap and easy way to say it forcefully. There’s just something about that word “fuck” that gets people’s attention.)

I have to admit to being completely mystified as to why we invaded Iraq. I have my own theories and prejudices, they are not fact. Bush just seemed to think it was the right thing to do. His culture of insularity in the White House allowed him to ignore all of the warnings against invading. There were lots of people who said that Saddam was not a threat. On February 24, 2001, Colin Powell said, “Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.” There were plenty of people who tried to tell Bush that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq. He could have listened to this father who said in his memoir, “A World Transformed”,

Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq ....There was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.

But, the current President does not listen to his father, a former president. He says that he “listens to a higher power.” Does this give anyone else the willies like it does me?

I have theories and ideas as to why Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, but it quickly devolves in to speculation, innuendo, and name calling. I have no hard evidence, and since I promised to avoid that stuff, I will refrain. And there are plenty of people out there who will go on and on about “No WMD”, “No real threat to us”, “Saddam had no association with Al Qaeda and their 9/11 activities”, etc. But I want to move to the biggest reason I think that Bush’s insularity and ethnocentricity is a major liability for this country.

In the Errol Morris documentary, “The Fog of War”, Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense during the Johnson administration outlines 11 life lessons he learned from this time in public service. The first lesson is to “Empathize with your Enemy.” This quote really stuck with me after I saw the film:

In the Cuban missile crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn’t know them well enough to empathize. And there was a total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war.

Bush’s fundamentalist faith precludes him from understanding the enemy. He may say he “loves” the Muslims, but I don’t think he has the capacity to empathize with them. This is why he was so surprised that the Iraqis did not welcome our troops with open arms and flowers. He did not understand Iraqi culture. He thought our armies would be liberators and not occupiers. The administration seemed surprised that insurgents have risen up against the interim government and our troops. Had Bush and his advisors understood that long time hatreds and resentments that were repressed under Saddam would come boiling out, maybe he would have not been so eager to invade.

The war in Iraq has weakened our country. I had been formulating of litany of reasons, but this paragraph from an October 18 issue of The New Yorker called “Remember the Alamo” by Nicholas Lemann (http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?041018fa_fact Another bit of interactivity for you, Dear Reader) pretty well sums it up:

In the current Presidential campaign, Bush has expertly drawn attention away from how high a price the United States has paid for the war in Iraq. It is difficult to find anybody in Washington, in either party, who will seriously defend Bush’s management of Iraq. Most of the available armed forces of the United States are pinned down in a place that represents a threat chiefly because American troops are there. That limits American options in places that pose much more genuine threats. The reputation of American intelligence agencies has been badly damaged—would anyone now heed warnings from them? It is increasingly difficult to imagine other major powers joining the United States in an international endeavor, even one that isn’t a war. The government’s financial resources are depleted. The U.S. military in Iraq has started trying to take back areas of the country now controlled by insurgents, and it may not be safe enough there for the scheduled elections to be held in January. The country still has no meaningful army or police force. It doesn’t seem that there will be, any time soon, a way to extract the American forces without risking Iraq’s descent into chaos, of a kind that would be both dangerous and humiliating to the United States and would betray Bush’s repeated promises to bring the Iraqis a better life.

Again, Bush’s reluctance to hear any message that does not coincide with his gut feeling or faith helps cause problems such as these.

The United States’ position in the world is a lot like being a rider on a horse. As the rider, there should be no doubt as to who is the leader, the boss. But the horse is much bigger and stronger than the rider. The best way to get a lot of work out of a horse is to understand him and develop a partnership so that you can use his strength and power to work with you instead of against you. Bush reminds me of the old-time cowboys who expected to “break” a horse by snubbing him up to a pole, slapping a saddle on, then riding like hell until the spirit is broken. That’s one way to lead. It’s also a way to get a broken neck. Force, fear, and intimidation work for a while, but eventually you will get rebellion. A better leader will use persuasion, understanding, and teamwork to get the job done, and everyone is a lot happier. Bush doesn’t seem to understand that while we are the leader, the rest of the world is collectively stronger than we are.

Another reason that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea is the fact that we are in a new kind of war with a new kind of enemy, as the administration reminds us time and time again. Since the rules of war have changed, why did we engage in a conventional war? We are not fighting against a state or even the Islamic culture. The enemy is underground and spread around the world. Again, we misunderstood the enemy and started the wrong kind of war. I go back to the Suskind article, and offer this anecdote:

A few months later, on Feb. 1, 2002, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners stood in the Roosevelt Room for the introduction of Jim Towey as head of the president's faith-based and community initiative. John DiIulio, the original head, had left the job feeling that the initiative was not about "compassionate conservatism," as originally promised, but rather a political giveaway to the Christian right, a way to consolidate and energize that part of the base.

Moments after the ceremony, Bush saw Wallis. He bounded over and grabbed the cheeks of his face, one in each hand, and squeezed. "Jim, how ya doin', how ya doin'!" he exclaimed. Wallis was taken aback. Bush excitedly said that his massage therapist had given him Wallis's book, "Faith Works." His joy at seeing Wallis, as Wallis and others remember it, was palpable - a president, wrestling with faith and its role at a time of peril, seeing that rare bird: an independent counselor. Wallis recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, "'but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism."'

Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.

"No, Mr. President," Wallis says he told Bush, "We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism."

Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.

This story shows how Bush does not understand the enemy and doesn’t want to. There are reasons why young people will be desperate enough to strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up in a crowded marketplace, or will fly a plane into a building. These are acts of desperate people. If we would work to remove the desperation and drain their swamp, the mosquitoes of terror would have no place to breed. That’s the way to spread freedom and justice in the Middle East, not at the point of a gun.

But, like the shouters on the talk show, it’s much easier to get loud and violent than it is to think and understand the enemy. A friend of mine probably sums up a lot of people’s frustration when she says, “Well, we had to bomb somebody!” Well, actually, no we didn’t. Kicking ass and taking names only makes us feel better for only a short while, and the consequences are long ranging.

I think that the current administration knows that the last four years have not been good. They can’t run for re-election on their record. This is why the propaganda machine is working so hard to bring down Kerry. It’s why there are so many lies and distortions. “If you don’t vote for us, YOU’LL DIE!” It’s also why Jon Stewart calls the Crossfire guys hacks and that they are doing the politicians’ dirty work for them. The polarization and fear are tools that the Republicans are using to try to get win the election on November 2. I’m not saying the Democrats are immune to the same thing, but it appears to me that they have not mastered the art of dirty politics as well as the Republicans. They are often a step behind.

It’s not that I think that John Kerry walks on water, or that he will be perfect for the country. But, by sending George Bush back to Crawford, our country will be able to start healing the wounds. We can start regaining our lost stature in the world, because we will have a president who thinks in addition to praying. He will listen to other views and try to understand them rather then demonizing them. He will have a reality-based presidency instead of a faith-based one.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Not usually political

I am usually apolitical.

I think that usually there is not much difference between politicians. Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, most politicians hew close enough to the center that there is not much difference between them. I am registered as a Libertarian, much to the chagrin of my Yellow-Dog Democrat wife (She would vote for a yellow dog if he were a Democrat before she would vote for a Republican). I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative. There things I don't like about either side, but I admit leaning to the left in many areas. (Living with and being married to a liberal for 25 years will do that to you. )

This year things are different.

I am actively campaigning to get George Bush out of the White House. This presidency has been bad for our country. Very bad. President Bush has made decisions that have caused harm to our country that may take us a long time to recover from.

The top of the list of egregious activities is the war in Iraq. I was all for invading Afghanistan. It made sense to go after Osama bin Laden, since it was he and his Al Qaeda cronies who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But, George (and his father) had and has a bee in his bonnet about Saddam Hussein. The neo-cons in the White House used the War on Terror as an excuse to invade Iraq, which they have been itching to do since Bush 41 did not chase the Iraqi army all the way to Baghdad in 1991. The invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived from the very beginning. The boys in the White House cherry-picked the intelligence they wanted to use and ignored the stuff they didn't want to hear. They sold us, the American public (as well as the rest of the world), a bill of goods. We went to war on false pretenses, and now we don't know how to get out.

The United States has lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the world. Our go-it-alone, with-us-or-against-us gun-slinger attitude has caused a lot of ill will around the world. Our invasion of Iraq is a recruitment poster for Al Qaeda. With our atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison, we have lost our moral superiority and we show that we are no better than any other occupying force.

The world is not a safer place after we invaded Iraq. The number of attacks on our troops are still increasing. Terrorist attacks from Madrid to Malaysia to the West Bank are getting more frequent, to the point that a suicide bombing in Israel is barely a blip on our radar any more. Iraq is falling into chaos. Al Qaeda and other anti-American forces are stronger and hate us more. We are just as vulnerable in this country as we always were. As far as I can tell, all that the Homeland Security department does is changed the color of the alerts oocasionally. It doesn't make me feel safer. Only more worried.

Our military is weaker. We are spread too thin to not only occupy Iraq (who wanted but did not have WMD), but if we had reason to go into Iran (who can build nuclear weapons) or North Korea (who HAS nuclear weapons), we may not have the strength to do it.

In addition to the dangerous military and foreign policy, George Bush has made economic decisions that are beyond belief. I don't think presidents are really responsible for the economy. They get too much credit when things are good and too much blame when they are bad. Bush could not control in any way the Dot-Com bubble burst. That stock market crash caused more damage than Bush can be blamed for. What Bush CAN be blamed for is cutting huge amounts of taxes in the face of even more monstrous deficits. Those of you who are fiscal conservatives out there should be raving about Bush's irresponsibility.

If you are for a smaller government, as most conservatives claim to be, George has not helped you out. He created a huge bureaucracy called the Homeland Defense Department. Excuse me, but isn't that the job of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard? Aren't they supposed to defend the home land?

For those of you on the liberal side of the aisle, you should have plenty to rail about. This administration has eroded chunks of our freedom and civil rights with the broad powers given to law enforcement from the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act. (Yes Virginia, this is truly an acronym : Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) George promised No Child Left Behind, set up the program, then woefully underfunds it.

I could go into all of the conspiracy theories about the Saudis supporting Bush's failed businesses, the Saudis investing zillions of dollars in Bush family ventures in return for influence, and so on. However, there are plenty of folks out there, including Michael Moore, who are willing to rant and guess and speculate. I'll leave that to them. I have seen enough to believe that Bush's character is questionable, but I would rather stick to things I see now. Even without all of the ravings of people like Moore, Molly Ivins, and John Dean, there is plenty to say bad about George Bush.

And I don't even want to go into how much this administration lies to us. That's for a whole other post (or posts) about how they will stoop to any level and tell any kind of lie to get re-elected. Dick Cheney has said, "Principals are good to a point, but they don't do you any good if you lose." (Sorry, couldn't find the exact quote. My wife gave away the book we had that had the quote in it -John Dean's Worse than Watergate). Cheney even lies when he doesn't have to, e.g. his claim that he has never met John Edwards. What's up with that? Why lie on something that is just so easy to refute? And what was to be gained by it? There just isn't any class there.

As a result, I am voting for John Kerry.

There are some things I don't like about Kerry, like his desire to nationalize health care, but he is so much better that Bush in so many ways, that I must support him. I don't think his bad domestic policies can hurt our country nearly as much as Bush's terrible foreign policies.

Again, I go back to war. Since George never went to war, he is more willing to put our troops lives at stake unnecessarily. Since Kerry did go to war (as did Poppy Bush), he knows that the decision to go to war should not be taken lightly. I would much rather be led by a president who will try to listen to and understand all possibilities rather one that picks a course of action virtually out of thin air, then acts recklessly. I would rather have a president who is strong enough to admit he may have made a mistake.

After I saw "Going Upriver", the documentary about Kerry's service in Vietnam and his subsequent rebellion against the war, I left the theater no longer just anti-Bush, but pro-Kerry. I have always been a pacifist and I have never understood the desire to serve in the military. But, when watching this movie, I was moved by the young John Kerry's desire to serve his country. He certainly could have avoided going to war (like George did), but he instead made the decision to go to Vietnam. The guys who served with him that were interviewed for the movie were impressed with Kerry's leadership on that boat. I was even more impressed with what I saw with his leadership of the Veterans Against the War demostration in Washington in 1971. Kerry worked hard to defuse tensions and keep the whole event peaceful. His calm, strong leadership caught the attention of some Congressmen and he was asked to testify before a Senate committee (I am sorry now that I forgot which committee that was). I was moved by this 27 year old lieutenant who stood up before Congress and stated publicly and eloquently that the war in Vietnam was wrong. That took strength and courage. In this movie, you will also see how hard it was for Kerry to throw away his medals. It was not an act of cowardice or betrayal, but a supreme act of patriotism. (NOT an acronym here, but the real thing.)

This is the kind of guy I want as my president.

I am hoping that some Bush supporters will see this blog and will explain to me why they believe in this man. I have some ideas, but it seems like one can support Bush only for simpleminded or simplistic reasons. Please talk to me. I want to understand. Then, maybe I can formulate some arguments to try to change your mind before November 2.