Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Republican "War" Metaphor Endangers the Nation

Today, GOP Sponsored put up an article that advocated a military coup to "resolve the Obama problem". The author has been published on Newsmax for a decade and given a staff line right next to its prominent writers makes Newsmax's attempt to distance itself from the article they removed from their site appear to be lacking in credibility.

The problem has been noticed before: The Republican Party has been utilizing the war metaphor in its internal language to rally the troops, making it inevitable that we would see what we have seen today and recently. From the Newsmax article to the Facebook poll on the assassination of President Obama, to the Joe Wilson outburst on the floor of Congress, to the blunt statements by Rush Limbaugh explaining his desire to see President Obama fail in addressing the problems of the country, it gives legitimacy to Thomas Friedman's argument that the right is not simply trying to be a loyal opposition (which implies a loyalty to America over individual interests, but that's another story), but rather attempting to de-legitimize the President with potentially dangerous consequences.

While Friedman hits what is going on, he is missing how it is being done and what makes it legitimate in the eyes of those doing it: the use of the war metaphor. If you listen to conservative rhetoric for the last 15 or so years, they have employed the use of the war metaphor in such a way that it has created a world where all is fair in order to win the war, to regain power, and to defeat the left. It legitimizes the use of lies and propaganda from a group that uses morality as part of its platform, an obvious contradiction, but in war, all is fair and truth is often the first casualty (both obvious cliches but also make the strategies legitimate in the eyes of the base).

While the use of war language is effective to rally the base and organize them, it creates only two possible conclusions if it isn't pulled back: either the opposition must surrender or it must be killed.

In war, soldiers are either killed or made prisoners of, which explains why so much of politics in the last 15 years has been about personal politics, not issues or policies.

In war, there are no compromises, only victories and losses while fighting for your ideals or values, which might explain the lack of Republicans willing to compromise.

In war, loyalty is the highest value and departure from that loyalty is justification for killing or destruction, which might explain why lifetime Republicans who depart from the party faithful are attacked so heavily as not being credible in their books or statements.

Until the war metaphor is broken within Republican discourse, the trajectory that it presents leads only to the inevitable: the assassination of a President or a violent overthrow of the nation. The left will not surrender, thus, it leaves only the destruction of the left as its possible end result unless its trajectory is disrupted.

Kenneth Burke first brought us the idea of entelechy, which is essentially the trajectory of a discourse. He argued, essentially, that the trajectory of Nazi discourse employed by Hitler would lead to the genocide of the Jews unless it was broken. And if it had not been broken by the allies, there is little doubt that it would have continued until the Jewish race was essentially destroyed.

That is NOT to proclaim that the Republican Party are Nazis, that simply is not true. However, it is this type of rhetoric that is employed in every military conflict (it doesn't imply genocide, but the WWII example best illustrates the point), and it is only by destruction or surrender that it is ended. Put forth in a domestic political situation, where sides won't peacefully surrender it leads to only one conclusion: violent conflict. Unless it is discontinued that is.

The right must start to temper itself or it will inevitably lead to a stronger response from the left, and a stronger response from the far right, and lead to eventual violent actions such as an assassination or a violent conflict. These leaders should remember that in violent conflict, these political leaders and their pundits are often prime targets in civil unrest because of their profile in chaos.

It does not mean that the right should back down from procedures to delay or stop bills from passing. It does not mean that the right should back down from political ads to disrupt policies or even go after issues that they feel should be gone after. But it does mean that they should move away from uses of the war metaphors, where it is a fight against the left, where anything goes, where winning is the most important thing over the process and being good representatives of the people.

If they don't, what may come next will benefit no one as America moves back into second world or even third world status as it destroys its own infrastructure, destroys its own society and businesses, and removes itself from being the leader of the free world. Americans deserve better, regardless of party.

Should politicans be responsible for their donors?

I am sure that I could get up here and spin the GOP donor who also funded terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be pretty anti-Republican, to argue things like Bin Laden supports Republicans and their agenda because it helps him, or Republicans are just so war like that they support both sides of the war just to prolong it, or a number of other possible liberal spins to the story.

As a result, conservatives would probably respond with talk of the story of Norman Hsu, convicted and given 24 years in jail for fraud while contributing to Democratic campaigns. Heck, I am pretty sure conservatives on blogs and forums have probably already tried to proclaim that Hsu shows Democrats are frauds, and liberals on the same blogs and forums have tried to proclaim conservatives as terrorist supporters.

It makes me wonder, have politics really become that bad? Are we really so stupid as to believe that a random donor reflects the beliefs of the whole party or people? It is one thing when donors give money for policy actions, something we seem to ignore that goes on all the time (we call them lobbyists); but should we really hold politicians and parties responsible for the history of every single donor?

This is not to say that if there were favors done for criminal donors for those funds that it shouldn't be looked at more carefully, but I highly doubt that those donations by the terrorism supporter actually reflected policy actions by Republicans to support terrorism. It may beg a deeper question of why he would support the Republican ideology AND terrorists fighting us, but to simply say that Republicans support terrorism probably jumps the shark.

Can't we get to a better, more intelligent political dialogue that might actually help improve America? Is this what the 24 hour news cycle and the constant need for something to say for bloggers and twitterers has come to? Shouldn't we at least try to do better than the birthers, and look for something true, something substantive, something that matters, and bring better policy solutions for everyone instead of the idiocy of arguing lies so far out that only the most isolated extremes could believe them?

Politicians should not be responsible for the criminal history of their donors, and the donation of their funds to charity may help a charity, but it is little more than a show tactic that doesn't address the problems with fundraising and influence tied to it. Are we really that gullible? It sure looks like we might be, sadly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

President Obama defies GOP critics by pushing for 2016 Olympics

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, the GOP's lead puppet, has decided that President Obama should not go to promote the 2016 Olympic bid for Chicago to bring the Olympics back to America yet again. His criticism is based on the notion that there is a lot of other things to do, and this shifts his focus away from those things. CNN quotes him:

I think at a time of war, I think at a time of recession, at time where Americans have expressed rather significantly their concerns and frustrations over the course of the spring and summer …this trip, while nice, is not necessary for the president

It is amazing that apparently the largest staff in the world that each President has cannot do anything without the President's 24/7 focus, so President Obama should not support bringing the Olympics and all the money that comes along with it. A few things we should remember:

* The GOP and most politicians have learned that they should not be micromanaging a war. Sure, they get daily reports, but that is different than micromanaging it and those reports can happen anywhere in the world. So I don't know why a "war" should detour President Obama's dealing with other issues.

* A recession isn't a reason not to go push for the Olympics, it is a reason to go get them. While Steele qualified it as President Obama should focus on jobs today, not jobs in seven years; President Obama has made it clear he will focus on both today and the future of America, which would be the smart decision. After all, focusing only on today can lead to catastrophe tomorrow. Besides, the bids for the Olympics do create some jobs today, getting the bid means a lot of jobs tomorrow in the next few years, and even more money in seven years when it gets here. They aren't only in seven years. Being so smart on economics, Steele should have known that obvious fact.

* Amazingly, Steele and the Republicans didn't express similar concerns whenever President Bush hit three years of 30% polling, but rather wanted him to act more, not less. Combined with the claim by Florida's Governor Crist that President Obama would be another Jimmy Carter (a claim that makes no sense when you look at the comparisons of their actions) might show exactly what the GOP's strategy is: Do everything to make sure President Obama gets nothing done so they can say "what did he do" in four years. That is why this trip is all the more important and necessary.

The American public always gets this restless when the economy is bad, and if the economy turns, then President Obama will reap the rewards from it much like President Reagan did in 2004. Remember, President Reagan came in during similar economic times though they had gone on longer, and while he made some mistakes, the economy turned by 2003 (though it did get worse after he came into office before it got better) leading him to a landslide victory in 2004 on the slogan "are you better off than you were four years ago?"

If President Obama gets health care done, if he gets energy done, and if the stimulus funds start filtering through the economy in the next 12 months as they should, then this will have been one of the most successful first years of any Presidency in history. If not, it could be a flopped first year.

But what history should tell us is this: Anyone who makes claims about what will happen in year four of a Presidency before year one is done with any attempt to be definitive is probably completely full of it and should have their motives questioned.

After all, think of it this way, 8 years and 3 weeks ago, President Bush was to be "going down in flames", never to see a second term. Even two years into his Presidency, President Clinton was a failure and on his way out. President Reagan had passed a tax cut but the economy was still a disaster well into his second year. All three won two terms. If nothing else, a bad first year or so may well build a President's credibility for turning things around for the year or two prior to re-election.

Either way, President Obama SHOULD continue to take actions to get things done, both for now and in the future. One of the greatest mistakes that Jimmy Carter ever made was inaction. President Obama appears to have learned that lesson.

Philippines tragedy, Obama Facebook Poll, and Fast Food Menu Secrets

Quick Hits for September 29, 2009

* Who thought that fast food restaurants had so many off the menu items as CNN reported? I gotta admit, I will be trying the neapolitan shake at McDonalds will have to be tested, and considering that Chipotle is my favorite fast food restaurant, I will have to see how I can test them with their ingredients. Maybe a chicken quesadilla? Ideas?

* What kind of sense does it take to post a poll on Facebook asking about whether President Obama should be assassinated? Thank goodness, Facebook removed the application that the poll was created on until it has better content management software to filter out those kind of polls, and yes, the Secret Service is investigating the poll's origin. It may or may not turn out to be a crime, but if nothing else, it clearly lacks common sense and crosses a line of decency. Are the threats of violence by the right leading us somewhere? Should liberals start arming themselves just in case?

* Some have called it the "Katrina" of the Philippines, but it is just more tragedy for the people of and around Manila. IReports has video and pictures that are worth looking at, and please check my last quick hits for social networking ways to donate to help. On a personal note, my wife, who is from the Philippines, and I got tears watching this picture essay, but went through almost all of them. These people have been absolutely wonderful to me, so it really touches me to see so many hurt like this. At this point, about 240 are officially dead with probably many more to go. Word around is that the squatters areas for the poor are completely destroyed and some of their bodies have been found in other cities after they were washed down the drainage rivers. A major tragedy for a city of about 25 million people. God be with them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Right Wing Conspiracies, Philippines Flooding, Chuck Norris, AK-47s, Qadaffi, and Health Care Tort Reform

Quick Hits for September 28, 2009

* While Hillary Clinton sounded a little nutty when she proclaimed the "vast right wing conspiracy" over a decade ago, when Bill talks about it today, it is much easier to see and understand. The Echo Chamber is its new name, the meetings are now public, the talking points and coordination are in the open, and even Rush's statements about trying to make President Obama fail point to it. I guess that vindicates Hillary's original statement, though it won't play like that in the common consciousness of Americans in all likelihood.

* After spending three weeks in the Philippines, the stories of what is happening in Manila make me sad for such wonderful people. There are also opportunities to help out, to view what is going on, and to donate for relief. They aren't out of danger as two potential typhoons are forming in the Pacific that may track for more visits on the already hard hit nation. However, it also shows another impact of social networking on the internet and its potential benefits.

* After spending years telling us how full of it Hollywood actors are for their political views, the hypocritical right hoist yet another actor up to tell us to violate the U.S. Code by soaking the flag in tea to show support for the founding fathers. I am trying to figure out how the right supports the desecration of the flag while shouting down liberals for desecration of the flag in protests; how they support the hoisting up of actors endlessly while shouting down liberal actors whether they are linked to the party or not; or how they speak of the rule of law while advocating the breaking of the very laws they have supported for years. It is just one more place where power rules their thoughts over principles, and values are meaningless except where it works in words to get voters out.

* South Carolina Governor Candidate Dean Allen decided to try something different to proclaim his gun credentials to the right. Allen decided to have a "machine-gun social" where he raffled off an AK-47 to a supporter. While it is interesting that he didn't decide to raffle off an American weapon to show his 2nd Amendment patriotism, it does say something when someone has to buy their credentials. Maybe he can hand out Bibles to people to proclaim his morality, whether or not he has ever gone to church. Finally, he can raffle children for adoption to proved he is against abortion. How pathetic have we become that these stunts actually work and give someone credibility on an issue? What's next? Is someone going to have surgery to prove they understand the health care system?

* While not a big fan of the notion of giving Libyan leader Moammar Qadaffi's family's charities $400,000 as part of an aid package, it is a little hypocritical for the right to go after the Obama Administration for giving aid to the "dictator" and slamming him after the Bush Administration brought Libya back in from the cold and packaging aid for them. No help from Libya was ever going to make Qadaffi an American puppet to say and do everything President Bush wanted, but it was considered part of helping bring Libya back into the international fold and ending its support for terrorism. Gretta seemed to have missed that bit of thought.

* Republicans have long pushed tort reform for health care to limit caps on punitive damages. The results are starting to show up in the states that have done this. Health insurers are more willing to deny coverage for critical tests to save money for both the test and costly treatment of life threatening illnesses. It turns out, lawyers are not willing to take the cases because they won't make enough money to cover the costs of taking on a multi-billion dollar corporation with teams of trial lawyers to cover the butts of its "death panels." It simply costs less for the insurers to let someone die and pay a settlement under the reform caps than it does to pay for their care to try to save their lives.

To illustrate, my brother in law's story makes the point:
my brother-in-law has had a mass found in his brain. The doctors think it may have spread there from somewhere else and the insurance company balked at a spinal MRI, and are still disagreeing with its necessity after the fact even though it showed a mass in his spine. The doctors think that may have spread from elsewhere, but the insurance company is balking at doing an MRI on the rest of the body to find out the full story because it is expensive. My brother-in-law's doctor's need for the tests to get a full picture of what is going on appears to be secondary to the insurance company's profits.

That was in July. This is September and the insurance company has left him high and dry, with no test, no diagnosis, and left with only a prayer to get any treatment. He is left with no recourse in a state where tort reform leaves him no real option for recourse. This solution is not a solution, it is profiteering at the cost of the lives of Americans.

Proof of God?

Today, I was telling someone about the Ingram reference of a previous blog, where a study projected that 25% of all Americans will not believe in God within the next 20 years. I explained the political breakdown of the study to him and he seemed a little shocked. He then decided to explain that religion was real, and God existed. Let me stop here and clarify before someone marks me an athiest. I do believe in God, though I often question religion for power motives over centuries. Having said that...

He decided to indicate that everything around us indicated that God exists. My response to him is the same response I have made to probably more than 1,000 people in online and in person debates on the issue: There is no evidence that God exists. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I then explained that all the evidence he would site would be from stories from the Bible, and that was all good and well, but they are simply the stories of people like he and I that were written down, and attributed the meanings to God of events, or people espousing what they say God said. None of that constitutes "evidence of God."

He insisted, like they all do, that the Bible is evidence of God, and went on. I interjected the thought I have long had about this topic: Why is it that so many who profess a faith and a belief in God feel the need to find evidence of his existence?

Maybe I misunderstood it, but when I go to church, I hear talks of how we need to have faith in God's plans, believe in God and his power, and so on. Faith and belief are by definition not facts, they are not knowledge, they are not evidence, they are what we choose to understand.

I have never read a verse in the Bible or Koran or Book of Mormon that ever said "find evidence of God" but I have read passages that talk about "faith in The Lord" or "belief in God" and so on. So I have to wonder why they feel the need to spend so much time with others talking about the evidence of God's existence.

I realize it is probably partially about persuading others who they perceive as "non-believers" in God or at least their version of religion, but it also seems to be partially about self-doubt and convincing themselves. It is almost as if they gain their re-affirmation from convincing someone else because they aren't sure, but their is comfort in the crowd of people around them who agree with them.

I am not going to profess to "know" God or his "plan" or his "will." I am not going to profess to know the way to heaven and condemn others to hell. I have my ego, but it isn't that big. However, I believe that God is a belief, it is something you have to know in your heart, it is something you have to have faith in, and something that no one can make you truly believe.

That is something religions essentially share, the idea that we have a choice of what to believe and not to believe. It is why religions have heaven and hell, they are ways to indicate that we have choices in our actions that are based on our beliefs and our character. It is why God is a belief and not a fact; because if God were a 'fact', then there would be no choice. We would all know of God, and we would all do God's will, there would be no choice. But we do have a choice, and I believe that is by design.

Finally, the reality is that short of "God" showing himself to the world in the sky and speaking to everyone very clearly and overtly all at once for all to see, like he was on a jumbotron, there is no clear evidence that God exists and their can't be. You can't attribute something to someone that has never been proven to exist. And you can't simply proclaim that because you can't explain something, it must be God. It just means you can't explain it. It is just poor logic and poor argument to make the leap of attribution. One could just as easily attribute it to the Genie of the Lamp.

Maybe it is time for the religious to stop trying to prove God and just admit that God is a belief that cannot be proven. And if you want to teach your children about God in schools, great. Home school them or send them to a religious school. I graduated from a religious university, your child can too. But be honest about it.

The dishonesty with themselves and others clearly indicates that they can talk about God, but it shows a real lack of enactment of his beliefs about honesty. It is time to admit the truth, and have faith in God's plan.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Loss of Religion?

I was driving today and caught a segment of Laura Ingram's show on the radio. Laura had some guest on who indicated that America will have 25% of its population be openly not religious. It is based on a trend line which currently has 22% of American young people who currently openly don't believe in religion, and argues that it will project to 25% of the total population in the future. The breakdown of today's current adult population was about 8% conservative, 16% liberal, and 22% independents who don't believe in a religion.

While Ingram argued about it meaning that America is becoming Godless, and others may argue that it means a disbelief in religion while having a belief in God, the study didn't seem to articulate the specific belief either way other than to say they didn't believe in religion.

Ingram insisted that it was because of secular liberals constantly telling people to not believe in God that caused it, that liberal values had permeated society to create this loss of values and God. Now, that seems to contradict the widely espoused conservative claim that America is a conservative nation with only the extreme left being leftist when the independents are the ones with most disbelief in religion according to the study. After all, if it was the fault of liberalism, one would think the highest disbelief would be the left, not the independents.

Ingram's argument seems to indicate that it is parents and secular liberalism's beliefs that are rubbing off on their children, and only good conservatives teaching their children can save God in American society. The fundamental flaw in Ingram's argument is that it assumes that children do exactly what their parents want, and carry the beliefs that their parents teach them without their own thoughts.

While it is true that parents do have a significant influence on their children, it is also clear that their influence isn't always what they intend or that it carries the same values they espouse. To an extent Ingram has a point, after all, alcoholics are more likely to have alcoholic children; violent parents are more likely to have violent children, and so on, though there is some question about the biological versus nurturing influences for those.

However, it is also clear that children often rebel from the values of their parents. It is why so many loved Elvis when their parents hated him. It is why so many were "hippies" with clean cut parents. It is why Dick Cheney's daughter didn't turn out to be a perfect little conservative with religious conservative values.

Often times, children seek to identify themselves separately from their parents. They want to be something more than the child of two parents but rather to become themselves, with their own identity, with their own beliefs, their own values, and so on. Often times, they will be grounded in experiences of their childhood. But those experiences can both ground their beliefs as following their parents, but they can just as easily be responses to their parents.

The other point Ingram fails to recognize is that the majority of those losing their belief in religion is the independents, which could indicate a lot of things. But one possibility is the preachiness of the religious right, insistent that others do as they say, but at the same time, getting caught in their own hypocrisy. Whether it is the preacher who is caught with the prostitute or having an affair; or the anti-gay Senator caught in the airport bathroom having gay sex; or the anti-gay representative caught with male pages; and so on.

No one likes to be told what to do in a strict moral sense by someone who doesn't live the life they are preaching that you must adhere to. It may very well be the very same issue that is moving people away from being religious. Children often respond to their parents instructions with comments like, "but you don't do that" and have made the phrase "do as I say, not as I do" popular, but it doesn't do much for making those values more persuasive.

There may yet be one more cause: The Baby Boomers have been so busy working instead of going to church, that their children have put money over spirituality. That might explain why so many are independents.

Either way, I have a hard time buying Ingram's argument. It makes little sense when you consider all of the other possibilities. Will it lead to the end of religion? I doubt it. Will it be part of a historical cycle away and back toward religion? Probably. Events of one kind or another lead people back and forth. People often react to situations or circumstances, rather than just parental influence. It certainly explains things better than Ingram's theory.

Maybe it is time for something deeper in thought than "it is all the fault of the secular liberals."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gupta proves Swine Flu is just another flu

Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Medical Reporter, announced he had swine flu while he was in Afghanistan reporting. After reading his story, he pretty much said what those who have paid attention all along have known: Swine Flu is just another flu.

Gupta said, "It was a lot like… the flu – with a different name." And that is pretty much what it is. The flu kills tens of thousands a year, generally the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and the very young. In both cases, with weak immune systems for one reason or another.

That does not mean the WHO doesn't have a reason to get worried. It means that Americans need to stay vigilant and pay attention, and if they do, it won't be anything more than another "flu".

As for the rest of the world, Americans often wonder why they are getting so worried. Americans don't understand why. The answer is simple: the things we take for granted are things the rest of the world often doesn't have.

I just got back from three weeks in the Philippines, where I spent significant time in a village. Last year, about 30 people died from diarrhea that Immodium would have cured. We brought and left some basic medicines for our family members there that included basic fever medicine, basic diarrhea medicine, basic stomach medicine, and basic allergy medicine. None of which was available in the village.

As Gupta reported, all they gave him was some Tylenol for the fever and aches, some sinus medicine, and some fluids to keep him from getting weak. We often take for granted just how good our medical system is (don't get me wrong, we need universal health care with a public option but that's another story) where we can get better health care over the counter than most of the world can get at all. Let me illustrate one more time:

My sister-in-law was having some kind of rash outbreak. It is becoming more common in the Philippines because of all of the development bringing in new chemicals in larger quantities and some are having reactions that they never had before. The doctor told her to buy and take Zyrtec essentially (the generic of it). She mistakenly bought two instead of twelve pills (the person at the counter misread the instructions and only sold them two). It just so happens that we had Claritin and Benedryl generics with us and she didn't have to take a long bus ride back to the city to get allergy medicine. Just one more example of how our over the counter system is better than what much of the world has.

For most third world countries, even if the medicine exists, it is cost prohibitive. Their rural areas are barely in the economy, money doesn't flow as people continue to live off the land for the most part, and thus, the purchase of very basic medicines is still prohibitive.

Beyond the medicines, our immune system is often stronger due to the number of things we are exposed to on a daily basis by coming across people traveling the globe in daily life. Just as significantly, our foods are often fortified with vitamins that boost our immune system, whereas their foods often just come out of the sea or are just killed and eaten (don't get me wrong, the no hormones thing does make it taste better and may be better for you), with little money for sauces, sides of vegetables and fruits, or fruit juices that boost immune systems. Their primary source of immune system booster is breast milk, but that doesn't last as a source of nutrition too late in life.

For the third world, any flu that spreads easily is a pandemic. Something that kills tens of thousands here, may well kill millions there. After all, no one dies from diarrhea in America anymore, but they die from it in the third world still. We often forget the luxuries we are afforded by virtue of the luck of being born in America or any first world nation. And it is just that, luck.

So while the swine flu is just another flu for us, realize the great pandemic concern is to both keep Americans vigilant, and to try to save the lives of millions in the third world, where most of the deaths from swine flu have occurred.

Remember, it isn't only lives of the first world that matter. People all across the globe have value too, whether they were lucky enough to be born in the first world or unlucky enough to be born in the worst circumstances of the third world.

"At Least I have a Job"

I was out and about when I heard someone use a common phrase to respond to someone in a job they hated: "At least you have a job." The person smiled and said, "yeah, that's true." I have seen people interact like that hundreds of times in my life, but for some reason, it really hit me today. That may be one of the most disempowering interactions that one can have.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point, Americans got into the mentality that they should simply be thankful to have a job. I don't know if it was from the civil rights movement that was fighting for equal rights for blacks in America's business culture; or if it was from women's rights movements fighting for equal pay in the workplace; or if it is from the conservative mentality to protect business and corporations praying for money to trickle down to the rest of us from trickle down economics; or if it is from liberals fighting for workers rights, treating employers as if they are some great evil; or some other source, but we have apparently become a nation of people begging for jobs.

People seem to forget that it is out of desperation that opportunities arise. It is out of the great oppression of slaves that the civil war happened; and out of great oppression that the civil rights movement found success; and out of great threat that Americans rose up to become great power in World War II. I forget who said it, but it rings true: Out of desperation comes inspiration.

When people have great jobs, with great benefits, and great lives; they don't have a need to start a business, to take ownership of their lives, to design their world, to change their destiny. It is only out of dissatisfaction, out of desperation that people find the need to take action, to drive themselves to find a better future, to create a life where they are in control, and to turn their dreams into reality.

So to say, "at least you have a job" is to say "this is the best you can do." Yet, we can do so much better than working at poor jobs that are underpaid, that don't create great opportunities to reach our potential, that don't leave us excited and energized to go to work, and that don't make us feel rewarded for our efforts.

What we can do is amazing. America is the nation that brought the world the airplane, the jet, the microwave, the automobile, the modern computer, and even the foundations of alternative energies. Yet, we are falling behind the world and it isn't because we lack the people or we lack the thought or we lack the skill. It seems that we lack the will to take the risks to build our lives, to design our lives, to innovate and dedicate ourselves to those innovations in favor of jobs at Wal-mart and the service sector.

As America's way of life is being exported to the world around us; as China and India rise up; as jobs leave the country for third world cheaper labor, some can say "at least I have a job." What we should be saying is "How can I control my destiny by starting my own business?" or "What great idea do I have to do my part in moving America forward?" or "How can I create more stability and benefits for my family so I don't have to beg for a job to pay the bills?"

In fairness, there are a ton of small businesses in America. Unfortunately, I hear the crux of too many small businesses everyday, "If you create a business, you can write that off on your taxes." Business isn't about writing off your normal home computer on your taxes, it is about creating income, creating wealth, creating something you can pass on to your children, creating something that can provide the life you want. Focusing on the tax write offs is the wrong approach and isn't the path to success, and it isn't how you replace your job with a life.

Facing life with the attitude of "at least I have a job" and "it is a tax write off" is the downfall of America, not the lifting up of America. We have to get past wanting a job and move towards designing a life. We have to get past avoiding taxes, in favor of making something that will etch our lives into the history of America.

It is what we focus on that determines our future. Focusing on having a bad job as a positive thing creates a world where a bad job is all we achieve. Focusing on avoiding taxes as the primary purpose for a small business insures failure in business without any real purpose for the business. We must focus ourselves on striving for excellence, not simply getting by.

Or we can simply say, "at least I have a job."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Begging for Lies, Mandatory Health Care, Obesity, and "Values Voters"

* President Obama is considering the idea of requiring health care for all Americans. While there is a fun red herring of focus on whether it is a tax hike or not, we can generally call this silliness to simplify the debate rather than actually discuss the issue. However, IF there is to be a requirement of health care, there SHOULD be a public option in order to provide people with the opportunity to actually get quality coverage instead of subsidizing insurance companies.

"Tort Reform" that some states have already done have made it more expensive to take care of patients because lawyers will lose money to take on a major corporation so there is no incentive for them to act in expensive cases, so they simply ignore the insurance contract they put in place. Forcing people to accept that kind of coverage is almost criminal. We must have a public option to give people a choice to get actual coverage.

* I love the phrase "Values Voters". It speaks of the values of honesty in labeling since it is really just another phrase for the Christian Conservatives. It is no wonder Mike Huckabee, a preacher, won their straw poll. Did anyone expect anyone else to win it? It probably would have been more telling if he hadn't won it.

Remember, these are the same people who supported Representative Foley (see page scandal) and Senator Craig (anyone been near an airport bathroom lately?) and seemingly an army of people who preach to them but have their own little dirty laundry tucked away in the closet. Values my butt, power hungry theocrats, that is more accurate. I once had one of the "Values Voters" tell me that Iran has it right, just the wrong religion in power. Scary stuff.

* While in the Philippines for three weeks on vacation, I realized just how much we actually do eat compared to others and where our calories come from. Heck, a medium coke at McDonalds here is twice the size of a large there. A large fries there is a small here. A dinner plate there carries a lot less calories, and there isn't a lot of gorging other than at major events like the local fiesta. It also partially explains why almost every single grave I saw at the local graveyard was 80+ years old in spite of inferior medical care.

It is part of our responsibility to ourselves and our families and our society to work on dropping the weight. CNN's article on why we eat so much gave some possible insights, though it isn't a one size fits all answer. However, the largest problem is that we simply don't care to lose the weight. It is amazing how obese we are on average, and yet people don't see it as a problem. That is the fundamental problem itself, we don't realize our own problems.

* I was thinking about the Joe Wilson "you lie" remark and it made me start thinking about lying in politics. I thought back and wondered why so many didn't seem to care about GW's lies on the right, or Clinton's lies on the left. I started to remember the jokes about politicians and lawyers as natural liars and how we perceive them that way. But that answer was too simple.

The truth is we want to be lied to. We want to be told what we believe is true, regardless of whether it is or not. We want to be riled up against something to bring energy to an otherwise boring day. We beg to be lied to because hearing the truth isn't easy, especially if it disagrees with our preconceived notions. It is why Rush has a job. It is why Glenn Beck has a job. It is why Ann Coulter and Michael Moore have jobs. They are professional liars, making money off of telling you what you want to hear and then pushing you even farther away from the truth to keep you as a captive audience.

It is why the news is all about drama. It used to be one person sat there and told you what the facts of what happened were. Then came Crossfire, the show, the drama, the energy, the venom. Today, everything is Crossfire. Either a pundit or proclaimed interviewer tells you what they think, or they question someone in either a friendly or hostile way depending on their view of the person's statements; or a reporter tells you one or two facts, then has the rest of the segment dedicated to two others who argue about what those facts mean, as if they had no meaning without them. They spin them, they try to make a simple thing turn into a major drama.

It isn't a left wing or right wing bias, it is a ratings bias. It is about making money. But it is the same basic formula, create conflict, create energy, and have one side play to one set of biases, and the other play to another. The truth is irrelevant, the drama is all that matters. We beg to be lied to. If we didn't, we wouldn't watch the drama, we would still watch the single anchor news show. But we don't.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Birther, Death Panel architect to respond to President Obama on Health Care

In today's world, where every Presidential speech seemingly needs a rebuttal, where Republicans insist on eliminating the fairness doctrine from radio, but demand fairness to rebut the President; is it shocking to anyone that they chose Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany to respond to President Obama's health care speech?

The Huffington Post indicates that Boustany is a former "birther," you know, those people who still don't believe President Obama is a United States citizen, who has figured out that he is now a citizen or at least got the mileage out of it he wanted before he put the issue behind him.

Boustany is also a heart surgeon who co-sponsored the "death panels" bill, the "Life Sustaining Treatment Preferences Act of 2009."

Like Texas Congressman Michael Burgess, Boustany's credentials as a doctor are a thinly veiled attempt for the Republican Party to put doctors front and center. Ironically, these are doctors who gave up practicing medicine for various reasons to go into politics. In the case of Burgess, because he lost a malpractice lawsuit and became an administrator (administrators focus on profits and avoiding costs like civil liability for negligence).

There is little wonder why they proclaim the need to avoid government run programs, because it would mean less profit for their jobs if they should return to practice medicine. It would also mean less money for their friends who contribute to their campaigns. But it would also mean more care for their patients, which clearly indicates they are more focused on profits than patients.

We will have to wait and see what the birther has to say after President Obama's speech, but the response is somewhat predictable as he proclaims the need to avoid socialized medicine, while claiming the need to preserve medicare (government run medicine that isn't threatened at all by the health care bill, but probably bolstered by it), and maybe a bit of support for "tort reform" (aka taking away incentive to be a good doctor, while giving affirmative action for mediocre doctors) or health savings accounts (the thing you could do in your own bank account without their help if you could afford that too).

I wonder if he will take a jab at the President for his birth certificate.

Obama's Speech Exposes GOP Weakness: Dems Must Act or Lose

As I read the stories surrounding President Obama's speech to school children, his content was predictable based on his years of giving speeches, and the responses by Republicans was also predictable as they continue to do the same thing over and over and over again. Their strategy of oppose everything he says and does until they decide they cannot oppose it, then they backtrack and say they created a change when no change occurred.

Build up a strawman and beat it down, then claim victory. It is a strategy that has been used for thousands of years, but one has to wonder if it will work much longer. While Socrates tried to illustrate the problems of irresponsible rhetoric 2,500 years ago, it wasn't carried globally in seconds, in a time when people all around the world have a voice.

The strategy worked long ago, but it is mocked in today's online chatrooms. That suggests that while it may work for a time longer, at some point, a new generation that is more communication savvy is going to take over, and the effects may not be as significant as they once were.

In the short term, it will play with the base, but it continues to erode the support for the GOP in the middle. That doesn't mean that President Obama and Democrats necessarily reap the rewards of support in polling numbers, but rather it means they have the opportunity to.

One might ask why that is true, but all one has to do is to look at the history and obviousness of what is going on. During the elections, the right shouted socialist, communist, and many other extremists labels at President Obama. They made the debates and his nomination speech vital, and he showed them why they matter. Independents and moderates tuned in only to find out that President Obama was none of those things, but rather a pragmatic liberal. It helped to cement President Obama's victory, but more importantly, it began to undermine the GOP's credibility to all but their most loyal base.

The right is attempting to use the decades invested into mass media to disseminate propaganda and hope that it both erodes President Obama's support, as well as attempts to sway public support for Republicans and their causes. The problem is that as they portrayed President Obama's school speech as indoctrination into socialism, President Obama's remarks were about students taking personal responsibility for their own futures, the exact opposite of what Republicans espoused.

While the propaganda will hurt President Obama's numbers for a time, he will regain numbers as his actions find success in the fall sessions of Congress. However, it will continue to erode public confidence in what the right is telling them. I don't know if it is the ego of the talking heads of the right, or the strategists, but getting too propaganda focused will undermine the audiences of the talking heads eventually.

I believe they think Fox will be their safe spot, where Glenn Beck can continue to make wildly inaccurate statements without repercussion. Where they go wrong is that it will eventually turn Fox into what the left already calls it: Faux News, home of right wing propaganda. Swaying the middle will become a lost cause for them, as even now, moderate Republicans admit Fox is not a credible news source.

As this goes on, it creates opportunity for Democrats to step up and move the country forward in ways that could create another 40 year reign in the Senate, and controlling political power. But they cannot, they will not do it by attempting to negotiate with those that will not negotiate. They must both moderate themselves to prevent the far left from turning America into socialist Europe, and push through the changes necessary to move America forward and build a better nation for tomorrow.

If they have the courage to do this, instead of the fear of the right wing echo chamber, they will become the majority party for the next one to four decades.

That means serious environmental and energy changes that turn America into the global leader in clean, sustainable energy sources that even the third world can utilize for development.

That means a health care system that doesn't just have the best medical technology, but also has medical care that everyone can afford.

That means an economic system that re-invigorates small business, not that already exist, but new start ups; and builds an economic base designed not simply for American consumers, but global consumers and their development needs.

That means a system that works to responsibly use debt, instead of trying to live in debt; that seeks to minimize debt, but isn't afraid to use it when necessary.

That means an educational system that revolutionizes education in a way that creates both opportunities for help for those who struggle, and opportunities for advancement and faster learning for those seeking the challenge.

That means a building of an infrastructure for the 21st century, instead of relying on a 20th century infrastructure and hoping it survives another century of use as it leaves us behind.

That means learning the lessons of the Cold War, where the Soviet Union collapsed because they put so much into military their infrastructure collapsed; yet we continue to overload the military in expenditures long after they are needed and the infrastructure suffers.

As Republicans push for short term gains to struggle to stay afloat and barely relevant in the 21st century, President Obama's speech illustrates just one more way where Democrats can put the nails in the GOP coffin. But speeches are just one step. Democrats must act smartly and boldly for this possibility to become a reality.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Relationship Rule #3: Find ways to show appreciation

Often times, our significant other will do nice things for us and we say "thank you" but we leave it there. It is thought that the words, "thank you" are enough, that they say what we want to be said. But in today's society, "thank you" are merely words, and we hear people say things all the time. We only know that something really matters when we see actions that really say "thank you."

It is vital that we show how much we appreciate what our significant others do for us. If you have ever gotten a present for Christmas or a birthday that you just wanted to roll your eyes and say "do you even know me?!!!", then you know that you can say "thank you" for something and have your significant other not necessarily know that you aren't happy with it, or have them get so used to it that they just say "that's just how they are." The problem with that is that we never really get what we want for presents, we never really show we understand each other, we don't take the time to find out what is important to each other, and in the end, we create just one more small fracture in a relationship that may be part of the breaking up of the relationship.

In previous rules, we have learned how important it is to listen, to talk, to focus on the other person, and how important it is to study the "little things" to show we listen and care. That is a lot of work, and it must be rewarded to cement such behaviors. Let me illustrate the point for you.

My wife is originally from the Philippines. In Filipino culture, family is very important, and in my wife's family, they are from a very rural area. That means that while my wife enjoys our life in America, she also suffers from both missing her family by being away from them for years at a time, but also a little guilt that she doesn't talk about that is sort of like survivor's guilt from a tragedy, where she feels a little guilty about living the "good life" while they don't even have air conditioning.

As a result, we took this trip we are on in the Philippines that we saved up for. To help with those things and to help her family out, we brought some presents like chocolate, but also educational tools for her two year old nephew to give him opportunities that they never had, and took them shopping for things from pillows, to new cookware, to "dressers" to organize clothes, and new clothes, and more.

But the trip goes beyond that. It is really about creating moments and happy times with the family that she will remember. Her grandparents are getting older, so she may or may not see them again. That means this trip is important to build memories and pictures of them, as well as to spend time with the family. (Side note: when you do something for your significant other, make sure it is about them. Don't steal the attention!)

With each passing day, my wife does little things to show me how much she appreciates all the work we have done and how much she appreciates the trip. Some days, there is just that extra hug and that look that made me fall in love with her that says "thank you." It is a genuine look that is heartfelt, and no words like "thank you" need to be spoken. Other days, it is the coming home from shopping with her mom with some special food treat; noticing my sweating in 90 degrees at 85% humidity and bringing over a cold gatorade or orange juice without me asking; wiping the sweat off my brow and neck; or other small things.

Keep in mind, when we are at home, I am more likely to wait on my wife than she is to wait on me, so these are things that I would not normally expect, but really show her appreciation for things being done while we are there. And in response, I continue to do more things on the trip that show our appreciation or the implementation of our plans that we worked hard to bring on the trip.

Where we are, there really isn't a lot of privacy for anything like a romantic reward, but that doesn't mean that there can't be some romance in the reward. Sure, we are in a very conservative village (generally speaking) and not having much privacy, but there are little romantic things like a nice kiss that you might do in a public place, or sweet whispers, or short, gentle massages of the neck or upper back while sitting down, and so on.

The point being: Make sure to show your appreciation for actions that are meant to make you happy, and work together to make those special times memorable and special.

Remember, at our most fundamental levels, our behaviors are still guided by pain and pleasure principles, where we avoid pain, and seek pleasure. By giving pleasure through steps of appreciation, we create incentives for more positive behaviors through our positive reinforcement. And let's face it, positive reinforcement is always more fun than negative reinforcement.

In other words, have fun, share your appreciation for efforts to make you happy, even if they are imperfect, and avoid the painful fights and fractures that may result if you don't show that appreciation. Design a happy relationship, don't just hope it happens by accident.

Czars, Opposition or Minority Party, Philippines Ferry, Iranian Nukes, and more

* I find it interesting that the GOP has gone after President Obama for appointing "czars" and Rep. Mike Pence has called for the White House to suspend appointment of "czars" while Congress vets them. While it is probably amateur politics to name them "czars" when you are a Democrat knowing the spin jobs of the right, policy "czars" are not new given Reagan's appointment of drug czars in the War on Drugs. It isn't like they have any special powers beyond the constitution or like they have suddenly usurped power. They were simply given a name other than "adviser" which is really what they are, personal advisers to the President on a given issue, something most Presidents have. And while Mike Pence would love to evaluate them, since they are not cabinet members who need confirmation, Congress has no more constitutional role in evaluating them than it did in evaluating Karl Rove. It is just one more in a long line of diversionary tactics instead of actual policy answers, to focus on name games rather than public policy.

* The stepping down of Obama Adviser, Van Jones, shows that President Obama's administration cares more about ethics and perception than previous administrations who gave it lip service. President Bush's first Executive Order demanded the resignation of any member perceived to be unethical, yet we saw the likes of Scooter Libby and others who would not step down until ultimately forced. In this case, Van Jones signed a petition in 2004 related to 9/11 which had absolutely nothing to do with his job dealing with environmental quality. Jones resigned of his own accord, but it makes a point about GOP promises vs. Obama administration actions, whereby they promise and refuse to follow through, and this administration puts actions out front to show what it believes in: more ethical administration policies than its predecessor.

* Ed Rollins made an interesting point on CNN's political ticker indicating that the GOP is the opposing party, not the minority party, which is quite telling. It is a rhetorical choice that they have made, to be the party of NO! for Americans, not the party of getting something done. As a result, Rollins is right that the Democrats should simply start forcing bills through and flexing their muscle but President Obama must be smart and strategic, but most of all, organizing of priorities. He cannot let the budget get out of control with every Democratic spending bill ever thought of, but he should push his agenda through and damn the Republicans. They have chosen their ground to be the opposition, not the minority in the country. Let them lay in that bed.

* The Philippines Ferry that sunk, leaving a handful dead, continues to illuminate a problem throughout the islands as their ferry industry has a history of accidents. In a nation made up of over 1000 islands, where island to island travel is vital for many to get around, it leaves residents with little choice but to take the risk. It is one of the problems of being a poor nation trying to develop: people are given the choice of being left behind or take risks that almost no one in the first world would find acceptable.

* I guess I just don't get why a nuclear Iran is such a great threat to the world. Maybe it could be this "madman" card foreign policy hawks tend to play with regards to nations like North Korea or Iran when they can't figure out their rational self-interests in their actions, which really says more about the hawks analysis than it does the leaders of these "rogue" nations. In case it isn't clear, we have made it fairly obvious that if you have active nukes, we aren't likely to mess with you militarily. I think that is incentive enough if I were a rogue nation. Beyond that, I don't know why it is such a huge threat. Does anyone really think that Iran is going to really nuke Israel or the United States in a great suicide wish? Or sell nukes to terrorists knowing we can track back nuclear materials pretty easily? Are these analysts just that bad or just that dishonest in their public assessments?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Online Political Discourse Jumps the Shark

Maybe I am a little naive, but I think that people ought to be able to talk, even argue, and still be friends in this world. Case in point: today, I made a post on Facebook related to an Obama poll. One of my "friends" (application related) decided that it was his duty to post on my wall how wrong I was. Of course, being someone who enjoys engaging in discussion, I felt the need to correct him on my wall. After about ten posts going back and forth, I sent him a PM asking him to not spam my wall, and to limit his discourse to civil discourse. To which, he replied that I was what was wrong with America, he "unfriended" me, and blocked any further communication.

Now, this isn't someone I have talked to outside of Facebook so it isn't a great loss that will be heartfelt or anything, but it seems to me that online political discourse often jumps the shark and may be part of the growing hostility in America between parties. It is easy to say things when we aren't face to face, when there isn't really a concern of return aggression, when we don't really face any consequences other than lack of online contact given that there are millions to talk to online.

Yet, this increased aggression in online discourse may be finding its way into real life discourse, which may explain some of the increased organized aggressive stances being taken at townhall meetings and other events. If not checked, this aggression could break out to far worse as it escalates, turning America into a third world country overnight politically.

Now don't get me wrong. This type of hostility isn't exactly unusual in America to an extent. If you check the history of America, the most polarized discourse in American politics is generally around the turn of the century as there is a fight for the new century's political course, so this isn't all that unexpected. However, it is always something to be mindful of its consequences should it spiral in more aggressive manners.

Now, while I downplay online discourse among "friends," realize that some of my really good friends are people that I know only "online." And some of our politics are very much at odds. However, the difference is that at the end of the day, we are still friends, our discourse remains relatively civil, and we respect that we have differences and we debate them hard, but we have developed a respect for each other that transcends the debate and allows for friendship in spite of political differences.

Americans must realize that political rhetoric is meaningful, but it is also part of the political game. While politics matter, relationships that bind us as Americans regardless of party are equally important. We shouldn't define our whole lives by our political party. Imagine the consequences of Republicans on the right, Democrats on the left in church, in school, at shows, in games, in neighborhoods, and so on. It benefits no one's self-interest to create such a distinction throughout our society.

Besides, ideas must be challenged for the best ideas to float to the top. To isolate yourself only to your own ideas leaves you weaker, not stronger in the quality of your ideas. To challenge ideas based totally on propaganda isn't a challenging of ideas, it is an attempt to drowned out ideas. That benefits no one either in the long run.

So engage political opposites, both socially and politically. When the political debate ends, build the social relationships. It benefits us all to engage in both, for the betterment of America and our own lives.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Quick Hits for September 5, 2009

Having finally found time on vacation to write, and suffering a slow connection, here are some quick hits for today:

* As much as Hurricane Katrina may have indicated that building in Louisiana is a bad idea, the fires and decade after decade of drought in California may be a sign that it is time to shift population and business growth out of California. Sure, it is a desert that we have built a massive population around that can survive with the Sierra Nevada mountains and their snow pack, but global climate change is reducing glaciers and snow pack in mountains globally. How much longer can northern California, much less southern California keep fifty million in water or from burning down?

* In the middle of a 24 day vacation to the third world makes me think more than ever before that building American exports around selling alternative energy and energy conservation products to developing countries can be an economic boom for America. In nations that continually experience brownouts, that utilize technology that creates enough pollution to give one a sore throat in hours, that yearn to have more, and have sucked up American dollars but have nothing to spend them on, it seems a marriage made in heaven to manufacture and sell alternative energy products back.

* Sharing imperfection with many politicians, the passing of Ted Kennedy has ended one of the most prolific political family legacies for at least one generation. What is truly shocking is the right's inability to even be respectful of such an obvious legacy. It shows how far they have come from the respect of Reagan Republicans to today's trash talking, stand for nothing, say no to everything, and refuse any possible agreement Republicans. Truly a sad day for the GOP, and a sad day for America with the loss of Ted Kennedy. Rest in Peace.

* President Obama needs to go back to watch Reagan's strategy for taking the lead. The President has failed to lead on issues after his early victories and it is hurting him badly. He is having trouble controlling the debate to this point, and that is to be somewhat expected in today's media age that Reagan never had to contend with, but his strategy still works. President Obama must take a stand on issues instead of simply waiting for Congress to act. His actions will provide political cover for many, and direction for others. But sitting back and hoping others find a deal has left too many deals going on, but none that anyone can agree upon. This isn't his first test of leadership, but it may well define the first year of his Presidency in a weak way unless he starts to up his game.

* The more time I spend in the Philippines, the more I think we need to increase immigration levels for Filipinos and other Asians. Nothing against other groups, but the amount of hard work to develop this country might just light a fire under the lazy butts of Americans who sit there and whine about immigrants while they refuse to get off their butts and take hard work jobs. God forbid they do anything harder than working at Walmart or collecting their welfare check while they whine about immigrants taking their checks. Then again, Hispanics have been embarrassing them for years as lazy. I guess we should just do it because of the expected shortfall of workers in America as the Baby Boomers retire then. Either way, we get harder workers who aren't afraid to start small businesses and take risks to improve their positions in life, instead of sitting on their butts praying for some major corporation to offer them a menial job that will be exported later anyway.

* It is telling how far Republicans have come when Reagan said we need market based solutions through tax incentives to deal with environmental issues instead of heavy handed regulations. Clinton and now Obama have agreed by using tax credits for programs like Cash for Clunkers, and the GOP of today call it "Socialism." It is pretty clear the GOP isn't the party of Reagan anymore. It is just the party of "No!"