Monday, January 31, 2011

Further thoughts on Egypt

I think it has long been inevitable that the Middle East tyrannies would eventually be overthrown by populations that were exposed to western civilizations.  The forces of revolution are of two kinds, I believe. 

One force is the force of modernization and Westernization as the young see the freedoms and prosperities of the West.  This force is one that the West hopes for and embraces.  But, the other revolutionary force is that of fundamentalist reaction and loathing against the greed and corruption of the West, and the greed and corruption of their regimes, which they blame the West for.  In its extreme, this force has become violent and bloody jihad led by Osama Bin Laden and followed by many.

I think that the current Egyptian and Middle Eastern uprisings are more about the outbreak of civil wars in the Middle East itself.  I think that whichever faction wins in Egypt will have only a temporary victory, with strong opposition from their opposites.  This could go on for some time.  I think it is very likely that attacks on America and Europe may take a back seat as internal wars in Egypt and the rest of the Middle Eastern countries will consume them. 

Israel, however, may very well be a target as an expression of the civil wars themselves, and America could get sucked into that dark vortex.  America has a very difficult role to play here with long alliances with Israel and Egypt, as well as other tyrannical regimes that we have supported as a matter of the national interest of our security. 

In the end, I have a strong hope and a real expectation that the forces of modernization and Westernization will win.  But, along the way, I think America and the West will also be changed by the rise of Islam, and we ourselves will turn away from the same greed and corruption that is so reviled by the Islamists.  Lord knows, the more I have read about the cesspools of greed, corruption, and incompetence that led to the financial collapse and today’s great recession, the more I have been repulsed.

Islamist uprisings?

Egypt is in the midst of large uprisings, as is much of the Middle East.  I hope that this is a good thing, but I think it is an uprising of Islamist extremists, or the popular uprising will be taken over by Islamist extremists. 

In the beginning, all revolutions inspire hope.  After all, they are overthrowing tyranny, and humankind responds sympathetically.  But, so many of them end up establishing new tyrannies.  All the way back to the French revolution that was taken over by the guillotine, the '79 Iranian revolution which installed Ayatollah Khomeini, and the recent Iranian street protests did not overturn the Iranian tyranny.  Other than America's George Washington, and Vaclev Havel of Czechoslovakia, most other revolutions created tyrranies.

It seems certain to me that the Arab populous has a long hatred of the United States and of Israel.  My fear is that if the Egyptian tyranny topples, whoever takes over is all too likely to break the thirty year peace with Israel, cease much of the assistance that it has been giving to America in our war against terrorists, and eventually be taken over by Islamic extremists.

I profoundly hope that more moderate and responsible elements of Islam will come to power in Egypt, but I think that the West is going to lose some important support in Egypt, and indeed, we are likely looking at the overturning of tyrannies in the Middle East that had at least some connection and cooperation with the West to be replaced by fundamentalist Islamists who will turn their back to the West, or worse.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The State of the Union speech

I took a short vacation and didn’t see the president’s State of the Union speech until last night.  I thought he did an excellent job of finally finding his presidential voice.  It was a fine follow up to his bipartisan leadership during the lame duck congress.

I believe losing the House and six Senate seats has freed him from the control of the left wing of the Democrat Party, and this gives him the freedom to create more centrist, post-partisan approaches to his leadership going forward.  He sounded more like the president of the country than the spokesman for the Pelosi left wing of his party Tuesday night.

It is clear that his view is still that of a government led economy, as opposed to the Republican spokesman Paul Ryan’s view of shrinking the government to unleash the creative freedom of the marketplace.  Given the economic calamity of the Bush years of a too unfettered free market, Ryan's argument might not carry as much weight today as he thinks. 

I thought Obama did a good job of arguing that his active government approach had a long tradition in America, from Eisenhower’s infrastructure building of the national highway system to Kennedy’s Sputnik inspired space race.

Ryan was an impressive, bright energy as a spokesman for the Republican commitment to keeping America from becoming another Greece or Ireland, which is a very real danger.  I wish Obama had shown more passion about the hard and painful political work of cutting the deficit, but I think he did a good job of creating a framework for a post-partisan way forward.

As for the tone of looking for cooperation, I was more impressed by Obama, but as to the content, I am more concerned about the dangerous and crushing deficit than I am about creating high speed rail.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One wing-nut down, so many more to go

Keith Olbermann has left MSNBC, the liberal cable network.  Apparently, he clashed too harshly with his management, or wanted more money than they were willing to pay, or has decided to start his own media empire, or perhaps his own country, who knows.  

The good thing, from my perspective, is that at least one radical extremist voice is off the air, and that makes me happy.  Now, if only Glen Beck and Fox News would part ways, that would make me even happier.  The toxic blame and paranoia that the extremes pump into the body politic harms us all, I believe.  

It would be so good to see reasoned debate and principled disagreement on the airwaves rather than exaggerated political theater designed to get an extremist and angry audience by demonizing the opposition.  

I suppose it's better to have the extremists have a voice expressing their rants for them on the media than expressing themselves in violence as the radical left did in the '60s - the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers, for example.  But, I am just tired of the drumbeats of partisan warfare coming from both sides.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sorry to see him go

I know that some liberals look upon Senator Joe Lieberman with loathing as a traitor and sneer at him as he leaves the Senate.  I, however, am sorry to see him go.  

If anything, to me Lieberman is very much the kind of lawmaker I would like to see more of in both houses - one who is not trapped inside of a rigid ideology, predictably voting in lock step with the party line.  

To me, the essence of politics is negotiation and compromise.  There are times when passion for a cause is needed, the Civil Rights movement is an obvious example, but I am sure that any deep analysis of even the Civil Rights legislations would reveal many, many negotiations and compromises along the way to becoming the laws of the land.  

In today's rigid, rancorous, polarized politics, losing an independent mind is a loss indeed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Keep the filibuster

The House of Representatives is going to vote to repeal the health reform bill soon.  I’m in an unusual position, for me, on the bill itself.  I have never been a partisan in this fight, either for or against it, but have been watching with curiosity.  Some things I like and some things I dislike. 

I don’t believe the Democrats’ claim that the bill will save money when you add 30 million to the roles of health care.  I think that they gamed the bill so as to get a savings projection from the Congressional Budget Office even though it will cost more, probably a lot more, and could do real harm by driving deficits way up and cutting Medicare and Medicaid assistance.  Plus, I really wonder why it is constitutional to force people to buy something – in this case, insurance.

But, I’m appalled that insurance companies can deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, which a huge percentage of people have, or can drop coverage of people when they are sick, and that so many people in our country have no health coverage.

What I do note, however, it’s that the House of Representatives can do whatever the majority party can agree within itself to do – pass the health care bill when the Dems were in charge, and repeal the health care bill when the Reps are in charge.  And, more to the point, in each case the other party is pretty much completely closed out of the process. 

I understand that the Reps were intransigently against Pelosi, but I think she brought it on herself, and I understand that Boehner realizes that he is only passing a symbolic bill so he doesn’t want to waste a bunch of time on it when there are better things to do, but the point is that the House is set up to ignore minority opinions.

Thus, I reluctantly conclude that it is very important that the Senate should never eliminate the filibuster.  If it ever does so, the Senate will just become another version of the House where the majority slams things through without any space for minority debate and alternatives – i.e. without the exercise of politics itself: negotiation and compromise.

It seems wrong that the Senate needs 60% of the votes to pass anything, but that restriction guarantees debate and guarantees the influence of the minority party to slow down and modify what the majority is trying to pass.  This gives voice to parts of the country not represented by the majority party. 

I think this is vital to the longevity of democracy itself, for without legitimate expressions of minority voices violence can seem to be the only option to the disenfranchised.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Move out day

Today is a big day for Susan and me.  We have sold our wonderful home in Novato, CA and today is our move out day.  We are moving to a wonderful new home in Sonoma, and are really excited about that, but today is about feeling loss and sadness.

We have loved being in our Novato home and in beautiful Marin county.  We have lived together in Sausalito, then a condo in Novato, and lastly in a house in Novato.  We leave Marin now and are so grateful to all of our homes and to Marin county for being such a beautiful and wonderful place.  Sonoma is close by, of course, and we still have many deep ties to loved ones in Marin, so we will stay connected quite naturally.  

But, today, we feel a beautiful sadness, and also a quiet joy.  It is a very soulful time for us as we step away from an old life on our way into a new one.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Left vs. Right - an overview

I believe that the political left and political right differ in a very basic way – they have different fundamental values that they cherish.

The left’s value is caring and compassion; the right’s value is freedom and opportunity.  These don’t have to be in violent conflict, but there is a natural tension between them. 

The left’s focus on caring and compassion leads them naturally into areas of concern about group, community, cooperation.  The right's focus on freedom and opportunity leads them naturally into areas of concern about the individual and individualism.

I believe the country needs to have both philosophical wings to be strong, alive, and productive.  I believe we need to foster both energies of freedom and caring.  I am not the first to say that the American Eagle needs both wings to fly.

But, what happens when the left and right go to the extreme ends of their spectrum?  They end up, tragically, viewing those who are not with them as enemies out to destroy all that is sacred to them.

On the left end of the spectrum, people say that they are “liberal,” or “progressive” (but are really left wing) because they Care, want to build a kinder world, see their mission as helping people and caring about and for them.  Thus, it seems logical to them that people who disagree with them do so because they don’t care, therefore they must be uncaring, mean, inhumane, cruel, insensitive, even bigoted, or racist, hard hearted monsters. 

So, of course, they do everything that they can to destroy the monsters who are not like them.

On the right end of the spectrum, people say that they are “conservative” (but are really right wing) because they are Free, want to be free, see their mission as spreading freedom and opportunity in the U.S and the world.  Thus, it seems logical to them that people who disagree with them do so because they are opposed to freedom, are after all of our freedoms, are tyrannical monsters who want to control our lives and impose their dictatorship over us all.

So, of course, they do everything that they can to destroy the monsters who are not like them.

Thus, those on the left extreme of the political spectrum are always fighting fascists, and those on the right extreme of the political spectrum are always fighting communists – because the only way they can see the world is that if you don’t agree with them, you must be the polar opposite.

Fortunately, the extremists are pretty severely deluded, and most of us live somewhere on the left-right spectrum well inside the extremes.  And we can see that efforts by the left to be caring are not necessarily efforts to establish socialist or communist dictatorships.  And we can see that efforts by the right to increase freedom and opportunity are not necessarily efforts to eliminate caring for the needy.

The challenge is to look and listen to those we disagree with and not see them as monsters who are either inhumane or dictatorial - either fascist or communist.  I think most people do that quite naturally, but those who make all the noise are on the extremes fighting monsters that mostly aren’t even there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

...make sure we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

I thought that the president's speech was quite wonderful.  It was an odd environment for such a somber occasion, with the audience filled mostly with students who seemed to be treating it as a pep rally with exuberant cheering and applause.  But, I thought Obama did a masterful job of adjusting to the energy and directing it in an inspiring way.

"I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us."  

Wonderful words.  I believe that too.  As I recall, Lincoln often said very similar things during an even more polarized time.

"But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

That's the heart of it, and the exact right thing to say.  Enough of each end of the political spectrum trying to blame the other end of the political spectrum.  This is the Obama I voted for.  Glad to see he is still there.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Congresswoman Giffords' tragedy

The shooting of congresswoman Giffords in Arizona this week was a terrible event, and I send healing energy to her, her loved ones, and all of those affected by this tragedy.

To me, there are three changes I would like to see as a result of this tragedy.

First, we have no ability to protect ourselves and our society from people who are known to be dangerously disturbed.  We are not allowed to commit or to force involuntary medication on people who frighten us with their sickness.  I am afraid that civil libertarians have been too successful in protecting the rights of those that are a danger to themselves and to us.  They have let their ideology of ensuring that the mentally ill are treated with respect overwhelm the original principle of helping those that are in desperate need of help, and the rest of us are vulnerable to their delusions and paranoia, and sometimes, we are targets of their violence.

Second, I wish there was a system in place where people are required to report the dangerously disturbed into a data base that would make it impossible for them to pass the background check to get a gun.

Third, I would like the extreme polarization of the left and right in our political spectrum to become less noticed by the rest of us.  Even better, I would like each end of the spectrum to lower the incendiary rhetoric.  The right wing demonizes the left with incendiary speech, and so too does the left demonize the right with incendiary speech.  Unfortunately, it seems to me, immediately after the shooting, the left leapt into action with inflammatory accusations that Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and the right wing had created an environment of hatred that led to this shooting.  And they did so with no evidence that the shooter, Loughner, was even a right winger.  Their own paranoia kicked in, and they became the ones who were inflaming the country with incendiary speech.  Are they sure that a similarly disturbed person might not decide to go after Palin or Limbaugh? 

It might still prove to be that Loughner was driven by right wing inflammatory ideas, but it is looking more and more like he had very little connection to politics, and was enraged at her for being part of the government, which his paranoia told him was trying to control his mind – the mind that he could not control because of his paranoia and delusions.