Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Historic House Vote

Last week, the US House of Representatives cast an historic vote. 229 majority Democrats (2 voted against) and 17 Republican Congressmen adopted a resolution that stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives, that (1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and (2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.”

This vote was historical because it was the first time that a branch of Congress has openly voted against a President’s conduct of a war. Not during Lincoln’s conduct of the American Civil War (which was highly unpopular in the North during most of that war); not during Truman’s conduct of the Korean War; not during Johnson and Nixon’s conduct of the Viet Nam War.

Unfortunately, the US Senate could not generate enough votes to allow this simple, yet direct resolution to be voted upon by the Senators. This was a call for a simple up/down yes/no statement: tell the American voters know where you stand on this question. Even though over 67% of the American public now disagrees with the present conduct of the Iraq war and/or the announced troop surge in particular, most Republican senators refused to let the Senate as a body stand before this question and let it come to a vote.

Our national government continues to be plagued by partisanship, politics and process, leading to stalemates instead of creating solutions to important public issues. National debate is needed over a large number of critical needs; but nothing of real consequence seems to move to conclusion. Then again, given the level of debate that often occurs in Congress, perhaps we are in fact better off with no debate at all. To wit:

During the historic House debate, each Representative was given 5 minutes of time to speak, and almost 400 representatives took advantage of that opportunity to be heard. As one can imagine, the number of historical statesmen and philosophers quoted was probably matched by an equal number of analogies and historical precedents given to support each speaker’s point.

Perhaps the most memorable imagery was from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO). His argument was “Could you picture Davy Crockett at the Alamo looking at his Blackberry and getting a message from Congress saying ‘Davy Crockett, we support you. The only thing is, we are not going to send any troops.’ I’m sure that would really be impressive to Davy Crockett.”

Well, besides the obvious mind-boggling time-travel juxtaposition of Davy Crockett holding a Blackberry, the fact is that is EXACTLY the message Davy got from the Texas legislature (Texas wasn’t a state yet, so Congress wasn’t involved!) and General Sam Houston: no more troops are coming, so you’re on your own. But they stayed in the Alamo anyway, did their job, died, and helped make possible the later victories for Texas independence and statehood. So I guess for Davy and all the men there, being impressed by Congressional statements was not their major need.

Maybe we should be thankful sometimes not to have our elected people participate in important debates?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Election 2008 Preview - February 2007

Some non-partisan observations on the presidential candidates:

Biden: you may want to know that 2/3rds of the emails to Washington Week in Review (PBS) said your off-the-cuff Obama comments were clearly intended to be complimentary to him; another cable news sound bite distortion problem to create controversy – i.e. much ado about nothing.

Brownback: the home for the Republican right who are feeling let down despite past loyalties.

Clinton: most men don’t want a “conversation”; they want confident leadership and direction.

Dodd: an effective senate record does not necessarily a president make.

Edwards: you’ve grown up and have campaign experience, but is winning the Democratic left enough to carry you to the White House? (think Howard Dean)

Gingrich: you’ve come a long way back, baby, but who are you now?

Gore: not the candidate image of 2000, so what are you going to do now that you’ve found personality?

Guliani: memories of your 9-11 performance will fade quickly; a lot of old baggage is waiting to come out, and only the law-and-order-mayor portion of your history will likely appeal to the Republican right.

Hagel: courage of convictions is appealing, but you will need more than just Iraq.

Huckabee: it was a personal accomplishment, but losing 100 lbs of weight does not a president make.

Hunter: who are you and why are you bothering?

Kucinich: still the quixotic Don Quixote candidate.

McCain: out of step from the public on Iraq, and the once-attraction of integrity is increasingly giving way to pandering to the voters; he looks tired and diminished already.

Nader: symbolic candidacies are important, but only one is allowed per wanna-be candidate --- else you diminish your larger strength and contribution to the country (think Jesse Jackson)

Obama: inspiring, but most every election has had its Cinderella candidate (Gene McCarthy, Bill Bradley, John McCain in 2000) anointed by the press but who falters in translating a clean, fresh, honest-speaking image to the hard politics of being elected.

Pataki: served as governor too long; seems like old news out of the ascending flow.

Richardson: the only governor with national/international experience; a potential sleeping beauty hidden in the race.

Romney: learning and adjusting one’s beliefs can reflect wisdom, but which beliefs are really yours versus political opportunism?

Tancredo: who are you and why are you bothering?

Thompson: do you have any substantive plans we should know about?

Vilsack: lighten up on the extreme hardship background story; sympathy doesn’t win votes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Random Lighter Stories - 1

Periodically, I will attempt to include in this blog a set of lighter stories to try to keep us somewhat in balance with life’s ongoing craziness as we focus on so many heady thoughts. To wit:

1. Police in Madison, Wisconsin recently arrested a lawyer for DUI after he arrived at the police station to pick up a client --- who had been arrested for DUI.

2. Jay Leno recently told of a scientist that had developed a donut with the caffeine equivalent to a cup of coffee already infused into the donut. Jay’s comment: “Aren’t we overweight enough already? Now we’re so lazy we can’t even get up and walk to go get our cup of coffee with our donut?”

3. I recently got an email from a friend describing how a doctor had recommended that if you press a standard copper penny against a bee or hornet sting for 15 minutes it will stop the pain and eliminate any swelling. No creams, no antihistamine, no antibiotic. Somehow the copper in the penny counteracts the bite. The email described 4 separate instances in which this technique had worked. Of course, growing up in the south my Mother always just used a cigarette’s worth of wettened tobacco on it, but that’s probably less possible now that smokers are in hiding. (Smokers as medical practitioners?) Between Native American medicine and proven old wives tales and cures --- why is our high-fallutin’ health care system in such a mess?

4. Another story courtesy of Jay Leno: Verizon has apparently announced the development of a new cell phone that will work underwater. Jay’s comment: “WHY? Do we need this so you can keep talking in your car on the way as you sink to the bottom?” [as you ran off the road due to talking on your cell phone and not paying attention to your driving!]. Another example of inventing a solution to a need we do not have.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Election 2008 Preview

It is now February 2007. The next election for U.S. president is in November 2008, a full 21 months away. Yet the campaign is already now in full swing. While this blog will seek to remain candidate-/party-neutral during these next excruciatingly long months, we will no doubt have many occasions to talk about important relevant issues, and the conduct of the campaign itself. We should seek to do this from a broad and open framework as to our thinking and values, not goals of partisan accomplishment.

Some observations on presidential politics to get us started:

We will be electing our 44th president. 42 white males have served in this office. (Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as the 22nd and 24th president.)

2008 represents the first genuine (i.e. not just a symbolic statement) presidential candidacy from a woman, from an African American, and from a Latino. Is the American citizenry potentially becoming an equal opportunity employer?

This election is the first since 1928 without a sitting president or vice president in the race. So it is wide open for selecting the candidates. (Truman lost the New Hampshire primary in 1952 and dropped out of the race.)

In the spirit of wide-openness, we currently have 21 (potential) candidates in various stages of announcement (*plans not formally announced):
Republican: Brownback, Gingrich*, Guiliani*, Hagel*, Huckabee, Hunter, McCain, Pataki*, Romney, Tancredo, Thompson*; Democrat: Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gore*, Kucinich, Obama, Richardson, Vilsack; Green: Nader*

So how many of these names do you know and can identify their place and politics?

Most of these candidates are currently serving in Congress. Many of our presidents had congressional experience. Yet in our entire history, only four people went directly as sitting congressmen to elected president (Kennedy, Harding, Benjamin Harrison, and Garfield, three of whom died in office). Most presidents (after the Founding Fathers) were former governors or had other executive responsibilities.

Eight of the 43 presidents were sitting vice presidents and ascended to the office when the president died. The vice presidential candidate should be an important part of our vote.

The national press will likely spend more time on the “horserace” sport of the presidential campaign, with constant emphasis on polls numbers rather than on discussion of issues. At this point in time, god bless the “undecided” voters.

If we really do not want to hear negative campaigning and sound bite debates, then we have to make that known, and honor our words by not responding to such meaningless disinformation.

It was recently estimated that any serious candidate will need to raise $100M to get their party’s nomination. The two final candidates will EACH spend @ $500M from primary start to election day finish.

The British elect their Prime Minister in a 6-week mandatory time limit.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Walls Against Immigration

One of my required weekly rituals is to read News of The Weird in my local alternative newspaper, a snapshot of crazy true things people all over the world do or say, compiled by Chuck Shepherd (NewsoftheWierd.blogspot,com). I highly recommend this weekly article to each of you. These “can you believe this?” articles continue to reinforce my understanding that human beings can be so ridiculous, you just have to love them in spite of themselves, while simultaneously never taking ourselves too seriously. One of the latest articles is as follows:

“California’s Golden State Fence Company, which has a contract to build part of the United States’ immigrant-impeding barrier on the Mexican border, agreed to pay fines totaling nearly $5 million because it had been employing illegal aliens.”

So when the Golden State Fence Company builds its section of the border fence (approved but I believe so far still yet to be funded by Congress), on which side of the fence are its workers going to stand? Are they going to wall themselves on the inside or the outside of this country?

Do you not think we are well overdue for some better rational discussion about our issue of illegal immigration from Mexico than we have had to date? A more comprehensive discussion that recognizes the genuinely felt fears, the desire to move to a better life, the economic opportunities and employment needs of the U.S., the obligations of citizenship, and the importance of our system of laws. It is admittedly a more complex discussion to try to reconcile all the many facets of this very important discussion than just staking out a simple position on one aspect.

Many countries have tried to build walls between people: China’s Great Wall, Russia’s Iron Curtain, Germany’s Berlin Wall, Israel’s work in process to separate from the Palestinians, and now the U.S.’s attempt to seal off Mexico. But just building walls (physical or cultural) has never been successful in achieving their stated objective.