Friday, November 7, 2008

"The great menace to progress is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge."

Daniel Boorstin in "Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected."
"In a way, nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."

Georgia O' Keeffe

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Post-Election Speeches... Plus

If you listened to or read the post-election speeches from the two major presidential candidates, you probably heard some of the same predictable platitudes we've learned to expect from the winners and losers.

I thought McCain's concession speech was clearly the stronger of the two. He seemed to harbor no bitterness and expressed what appeared to be genuine and unselfish support for the winner. He also had the shorter speech. The best and strongest part of Obama's victory speech was the section near the end where he told the story of 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper who voted this year on election day in spite of her sex and color, something she would have been unable to do as a much younger woman.

However both McCain and Obama repeated some comments that, I think, we need to examine, and even question as to accuracy and usefulness. McCain said, "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this..the greatest nation on earth." I have no problem with people valuing their citizenship in any country. But what scale of measurement is McCain using to conclude that the United States is "the greatest nation on earth?" "Greatest" is a very vague term. How do we measure "greatness?" Is it comparable to wealth or destructive potential? If so than perhaps the US is the "greatest" nation on earth. We have more wealth than most other nations, although there are countries with fewer poor people. We also have more destructive potential, but that's because we invest more of our resources in developing our ability to destroy other peoples or countries. Some might call that "greatness," but others would call it foolish, wasteful, and dangerous. Certainly our treatment of slaves and our destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples are not signs of greatness. Our use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only nation in the world to have ever used nuclear weapons to attack civilian populations, is not a sign of greatness. Neither was our war against the Vietnamese, nor is the current war against the Iraqi people a sign of greatness. Most industrialized nations give a much larger percentage of their GNP to non-military developmental aid than the US does. We spend more on health care but don't live as long as people in many other industrialized nations. We have much less support for families from business and government than any country in western Europe. The gap between the minority rich and majority middle and poor classes is increasing. Real wage increases for the working people in this nation have been, at best, nearly stagnant for many years, since early in the Reagan Administration. So what does McCain mean by "greatest?" It would be nice if politicians who claim that the United States is the "greatest" nation in the world would state exactly what they mean by "greatest."

Obama was caught making a similar mistake. At the closing of his speech he said, "And may God bless the United States of America." Some would say that asking for God's blessing on a country which has already been blessed more than most countries is simply selfish. I understand that view, but I'm wondering why Obama stopped with the United States. Why not ask for God's blessing on the whole world, or on Planet Earth. God knows that with all the problems facing this limited planet and it's finite resources, the Earth could use some blessings. I would think that if any presidential candidate would have a more global perspective for the future, it would be Obama. But in closing his victory speech he sounded just like dozens of winning politicians who have gone before him.

McCain might have had the better closing since he said "God bless America," not simply the "United States of America" as Obama concluded his speech. Presumably "America" could mean any country, or all the countries, in North, Central, and South American, making McCain's request for God's blessing broader and less selfish than Obama's. However I doubt if McCain was thinking of Haiti, Colombia, or El Salvador when he made that statement.

At one point in his speech Obama said, ".. we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us." I have no problem with the bravery part of this quote, but I believe every thinking US citizen, including Obama, knows by now that the "brave Americans" in Iraq are not there to risk their lives for us, but for oil, and the oil companies who want access to those resources. Those in Afghanistan are still a part of an incompetent president's act of retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that has been a complete failure in that it's done little to bring those to justice those who planned the attacks, and has done incredible amounts of damage to civilian populations.

McCain said, "Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history." Again these platitudes also raise questions. We "never quit," and "never surrender," compared to who? These statements are as empty and meaningless as a cheerleader's rah! rah! rah! Certainly there were and are times when quiting would be the more intelligent and civilized choice, like now, with regards to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also now concerning our use of fossil fuels to run this country. It's possible to make the transition, in one decade, to a transportation system primarily run on electric. We should quit killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and we should quit using fossil fuels, or significantly reduce our use of them. We should also quit polluting our rivers and atmosphere. We should quit using military violence to try to solve our problems with other countries. "Making history" is not necessarily good if it involves killing large numbers of innocent civilians, as it often has throughout US history.

Fortunately neither candidate resorted to using another platitude often heard at times like this and that is referring to the US as the "land of the free and the home of the brave." This one is particularly void of meaning and reflects in those who repeat it, a condescending and discriminating attitude toward other countries and citizens. There are other countries where people are not as free as in the US, but there are also countries where people have much more freedoms than US citizens have. Any country with universal health insurance provides their citizens with a freedom many people in the US do not have. With universal health insurance people have the freedom to change jobs and relocate, whereas in the US, such a transition could cost them their health insurance, and they may not be able to obtain comparable coverage due to preexisting conditions, or lack of availability. Bravery is even less of a unique US citizen characteristic than freedom. There are brave people in every country. In fact one could argue that those who are wealthy and have a nice home, a consistent income, and know where their next meal is coming from, do not need to be near as brave as the poor who work hard every day and yet barely survive. Bravery is probably a lot more common in third world countries than in the US.

It would be nice to hear a victory or concession speech from a national candidate that is free of the meaningless phrases and empty platitudes so often heard after the election is over, but it didn't happen this year.
"If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much room."

from "Learning to Breathe," by Alison Wright, page 36

Election Reflections

Needless to say I was pleased that Obama won and is now the president-elect. During the campaign he was accused of being the most liberal senator in the senate and his opponent made that claim indicating that it was a reason to not vote for Obama. However if the current President Bush is an example of what happens when one of the most conservative politicians in the country wins the presidency, then certainly what this country needs now is someone in charge from the opposite point on the spectrum, to undo all the damage Bush and his cronies have done. I sincerely hope Obama is as liberal as his critics say, because the conservative policies of the past eight years have severely damaged this country and our reputation around the world. One of the reasons I am not a conservative is because conservatives seem to be perpetually trying to drive the country backwards into the past, instead of looking to and addressing the problems and challenges of the future. Of course it's important to begin to address these problems soon, because if not addressed promptly, they will eventually become the problems of Obama and the Democrats.

The four major problems facing our new president, in my opinion, are (in no particular order) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy, the environment, and health care. We need a president who will, as quickly as possible, put an end to the ongoing military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq and address and reverse the destruction of the environment that has been promoted by the Bush Administration. Obama also needs to concentrate on an energy policy that focuses entirely on clean sources of energy, that is solar, wind, geothermal, ocean tides, electric cars, more mass transit, and conservation. Because of the cost, waste storage problems, and the potential threat of an accident, nuclear should not even be considered. There is no point in drilling for oil or digging for coal since using either aggravates the environmental problems. The USA is way behind other industrialized countries and even some third-world countries by simply not having universal health care. We need universal health care that includes coverage for everyone including psychiatric and medical care. After establishing that and getting it working properly in a couple years, before Obama's term is over, universal health care should also include vision and dental. For this to work it must be a single payer plan. Insurance companies should not be allowed to have any say in the development of the plan. Any input from insurance companies will not reflect concern for the sick and injured, but will simply be attempts to try to preserve or protect their profits and that will result in more expense and less coverage for the citizens of this country.

In case you think I missed one major problem facing this country by not mentioning the economy which has been in the ditch for some time, it's my opinion that if we properly address and correct the other four problems I mentioned, the economy will correct itself. It will takes some time, possible a couple years, but the appalling mistakes of the Bush Administration which is responsible for the current decrepit economic, energy, and environmental status of the US did not happen overnight and they won't be corrected overnight.

In other election issues, California voters approved a ban on same-sex marriages which indicates that there is still in this country, even in California, a majority of people who believe they have the right to shove their religious beliefs down the throats of others. Probably the most dishonest and outrageous claim of this and any recent election season is the fear-mongering by some Christians, that allowing homosexuals to get married in some way threatens the institution of marriage and the marriages of heterosexuals. If my 35 year old marriage to Karen fails, it will be our fault. It won't fail because homosexuals in California or Massachusetts are allowed to get married. That's an idiotic accusation, if there ever was one. I guess we have to wonder if the human race will ever advance to the point where we won't be looking for some group of people, slightly different from ourselves, to discriminate against. When laws prevent us from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, or religion, then we start railing against humanists, evolutionists, and homosexuals. Perhaps it's just nice to find someone different so we can blame the problems of the world on them. Honest, scholarly, and sincere people have always disagreed on the biblical interpretation of verses that address the issue of homosexuality, even though Jesus did not consider it important enough to say anything about. If there are two interpretations, one that includes accepting homosexuals into our churches and fellowships, and one that excludes them , why would anyone choose the latter? Can that choice be a "Christian" choice?

Voters in Colorado and South Dakota rejected measures that could have led to wide-scale bans of abortion. The Colorado version would have defined life as beginning at conception, which could have also resulted in a ban against some forms of birth control like IUDs. Although not a supporter of abortion, neither do I support laws banning abortion. The abortion rate in this country is determined by much more than laws that either permit or ban abortions. The abortion rate increased by 50, 000 a year when George W. Bush became president over what it was when Clinton was president, because Bush's economic policies made it more difficult for people to afford to have children, and because Bush also put the brakes on sex education in the schools, by emphasizing abstinence instead of protection, which was not an entirely successful approach to the problem. It's been my impression for some time that even though consevatives and Republicans use the abortion issue to try to get votes at election time, that's the only thing they are willing to do with the issue. Conservatives don't want to ban abortions any more than liberals do. We had twelve consecutive years of George Herbert Walker Bush and Ronald Reagan in the White House and nothing was done during that time to ban abortions. Now we've had another eight years of George W. Bush in the White House with only a ban against late-term abortions which make up less than one half of one percent of the total abortion rate. Those are puny and heartless efforts, to say the least. Much more can be done to reduce the abortion rate by supporting families instead of corportions, by providing universal health care, by facilitating adoption and making it less expensive, and by having an administration and a president in the White House who supports the working people, which we will have again starting next year. I expect to see a decline in the abortion rate, also probably starting sometime next year. The abortion decision belongs to women, not male law-makers. If men were able to get pregnant, the right to get an abortion would be at least as available as the right to get a driver's license. For another interesting perspective read:

An energy proposal in Missouri that requires the state's electric utilities to get 15 percent of their electric power from renewal resources by 2015 passed, while a more aggressive bill in California, requiring their state's utilities to generate half of their electric power from renewable resources by 2025, failed. It's likely this forward-looking measure failed, in part, because of the lack of commitment to clean and renewable energy sources by the federal government. But perhaps that will soon change.

Another interesting and worthwhile bill that passed and may be echoed in other states, is California's bill that prohibits cramped cages for chickens and other livestock.