Just Opinions

A mix of political, legal, and social commentary....from a liberal perspective. Comments? E-mail us at OpinionsJust@netscape.net

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Friday, October 24, 2003
My wish and speech

I wish a candidate will finally say these things in a speech:

For too long this country has had low expectations of its leaders.

That time should end. Beginning with today. Right now. We should raise our expectations of our leaders because it is time to realize our great nation’s full potential.

3 years ago, this country -- although not with the popular vote nor the will of the people – elected George Bush into office. And under his “so-called leadership” we have seen expectations for ourselves be lowered:

Under his so-called leadership, it’s ok to alienate our friends and allies both abroad and at home.

Under his so-called leadership, it’s ok that the world despises our policy and outlook on international affairs.

Under his so-called leadership, it’s ok that 3 million people have lost their jobs.

Under his so-called leadership, it’s ok that many beliefs and ideas are not represented in his agenda.

Under his so-called leadership, it’s ok for America to settle for mediocrity.

I reject that. I reject everything having to do with that. It’s because I believe that America is, has been, and will be the greatest, strongest beacon of hope and light to our own citizens, and to the world.

It’s about time that we reject mediocrity and embrace greatness once again.

Greatness does not mean using words like “evil-doers” to scare the public.

Greatness does not mean questioning someone’s patriotism who doesn’t agree with you.

Greatness does not mean escaping the big questions by answering with one-liners like “bring em on!”

Greatness entails recognizing the hope and vision of this country and its possibility in this world.

Greatness entails addressing the problems plaguing this country and attacking them head on.

Greatness entails leadership from each and every one of us.

And I know we all can do it. I want to lead you as your president. Yet I want to lead with you, not in front of you. I want to be in touch with your needs and the needs of your family.

In short, I want to be your president. Not a president controlled by his own extreme agenda.

In the campaign a few years ago, we heard the phrase “I’m gonna change the tone in Washington,” over and over again. And 4 years later, that line has proven to be an unfulfilled promise. Actually, it has been proven to be nothing more than deception.

Partisan politics is healthy. An educated exchange of ideas is what democracy is founded upon. Dissent is natural, should be encouraged, and strengthens this nation.

Yet what we’ve seen is an attempt to control the debate – not from an intellectual point of a view, but from a Machiavelliean political point of view.

This administration will go to any length to bury their opponents – even within their own party.

And will, more-or-less, give political and sometimes almost literal death sentences to those who legitimately question their policies. I am referring to the leak of the identity of a covert CIA agent, that could place her and all of her contacts in danger.

Solely because her husband had the courage to ask the question we all want to know: Why are we sending our young boys and girls to die for something proven to be not true.


In sum, the President is right, he has changed the tone. He’s changed it for the worse.

This is not leadership. This is a selfish desire for power and control.

And it should stop.

And we should begin anew.

And we should raise our hopes and expectations to levels that we can meet.

And you all should expect more out of your leaders than political one-liners.

I will give you the answers. I will give you the plans. We all will give each other the hope.

I will serve everyday knowing that I am accountable to every one of you – democrat, republican, independent, or none of the above. My policies and plans will not be extreme, but rather a healthy blend of democratic ideals and independent thinking.

I ask you to give me the opportunity to serve you. Please give me the opportunity to meet the highest of your expectations. I know I can do it, and together, we all can move this great nation – not only forward, but to a level of greatness we have never seen before.

Thank you and may god bless these great United States of America.

Thursday, September 25, 2003
Total Recall 2

Bush's approval rating is about to drop under 50 percent. Isn't it time for a recall? Rob Lowe could be a good candidate. Didn't Jeb Bartlet already say he would be President one day? Plus it would certainly be a better career move than that horrible show The Lyon's Den. (Note: I've never actually seen the show, but doesn't it look like a horrible knock-off of actual good shows?)

That's about all I have to say about the California recall, except that I can only imagine the reaction by Republicans if the parties were reversed. Oh, by I forgot. This has nothing to do with politics. I'm sure the voters in California would have used as quick a hook as George Steinbrenner with Gray Davis, even had Republican leadership never pushed for the recall.

Let me digress a little bit here, but thoughts of Schwarzenegger, Bush, a certain former governor of California, and portrayals of prominent politicos on Saturday Night Live, The West Wing, The Daily Show, etc., got me thinking...

In the movie Total Recall (pun intended), the Martian dictator erases Arnold's memory when he tries to lead the resistance. Isn't that a fitting metaphor for the Jedi mind tricks the Republican leadership is continuously pulling on the American voters?

Simply put - why do the candidates that are unintelligent and/or have little intellectual curiosity tend to be Republicans? And we're not talking longshots, of which there are undoutedly plenty of fools on both sides. Granted, what we see on SNL and The West Wing are merely stereotypes of a Republican party that doesn't much care for complexities or nuances. Stereotypes, though, must come from something tangible, and that something has been present in the form of an intellectual divide between Democrat and Republican candidates in numerous recent elections (the aforementioned three being the most prominent).

Sure, the effectiveness of their policies is certainly subject to debate. But there is little question that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were among the least distinguished academics to enter the White House in the modern era, and certainly the least intellectually curious, by all accounts. Both were seemingly hand-picked by the party leadership to carry out a strongly ideological agenda, with highly capable experts composing their cabinet. And judging by the support for Schwarzenegger by Bush Republicans in California, they are more than happy to follow the same model again.

Now, let's be clear first, it is neither a prerequisite nor a sureshot advantage for a President or governor or Congressman, or what have you, to be brilliant. But it certainly shouldn't be considered a negative. Sure, there are plenty of smaller races nationwide where the less intelligent Democrat prevails, but in our nation's largest state, and in the nation at large, why are the intellectual misfits the ones Republicans nominate? There are a couple of possibilities. The first, which is highly implausible, is that Republicans actually tend to be less intelligent than Democrats. Particularly considering the intelligence of many senior officials in the Bush administration, that notion seems ludicrous.

The second possibility is much more likely - that such candidates are all part of a consistent strategy to find a charismatic candidate with a recognizable name and likeable demeanor who will carry out the party's agenda and not think too much when subordinates recommend actions that conform to that ideology. Believing that a sound bite resonates better than substance, decisiveness over careful deliberation, by keeping their candidate "on message" they have been able to cover up (or more accurately, diminish the importance of) any intellectual shortcomings.

Maybe I'm being cynical, right? After all voters are smarter than that, right? The candidate matters. We don't elect a puppet, but the best person for the job, right?

Yeah, I hope I turn out to be wrong too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Republicans and Preemption

And boy, I thought I wasn't patient...

Yet the Bush Administration has taken all of this to a whole new level. Never before has an Administration been so disrespectful to policy, practice, and procedure of democratic and international institutions. It is not just a slap in the face to the world, but also to -- as the President likes to utter in all of his fear-inducing speeches -- "peace-loving people."

We should have seen it coming. Some of us did. I think my dad may have been the first. The night of the 2000 election, after they called Florida for Gore, my mom excitedly called me and said "Didn't you say if Gore won Florida, he'd definitely win?" I said I did, when all of a sudden, my dad chimed in, "Something fishy is going on here..." He said that they interviewed the then-candidate Bush who said something to the effect that "I talked to my brother, and he said it's too close to call."

So, it began. Rather than allowing the recount to proceed, this group of politicos - who later became our administration - went to the Supreme Court to preempt it. They feared a sure loss if the recount proceeded. And god-forbid that actual democracy take place!

Speaking of democracy, we can point to the same preemption in California. Once again, the will and the voice of the people are being preempted by Republicans insisting on recalling Gov. Davis. Democracy is being subverted by politics - and no, they are not the same thing. And if anyone believes, just for one second, that this is not all part of a master plan to gain California for Bush to ease an '04 campaign is just plain mistaken.

And this subversion of process through preemption does not only apply to national institutions, but also, and obviously, international institutions. The most striking (pun intended) example of this is what is outlined in the National Security Strategy of 2002. In this radical practice, the U.S. reserves the right to preemptively strike -- even with nuclear (and it's not Nuke-you-lure, Mr. President) weapons -- any state that it feels to pose a threat to our national security.

Today, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke out against this policy, citing it as a threat to world stability. He is absolutely correct. The U.S. loses the moral high ground (which is so important in diplomacy) in handling any situation in which secondary effects to this idea arises. Take, for instance, India-Pakistan. Let's say that India truly believes that Pakistan, which is in possession of nuclear weapons, is giving it to radical Islamists who will then use these weapons in the battle over Kashmir. Afraid of the possible consequences of this action, India launches a preemptive nuclear strike (even a conventional strike could easily turn into a nuclear confrontation). As support, they argue that the United States has this policy, so why can't we? And they also argue that the United States put this policy in effect with regards to Iraq.

How can the United States attempt to calm the parties and be a player in negotiating peace?
Will we then turn to the U.N? The administration called the U.N. "Irrelevant."
Will we turn to European nations for help? Would we want "freedom fries" with that from "old Europe?"

You see the problem of preempting established procedures that are there to guarantee democracy and peace. There can be no going back without groveling and begging. And where in the diplomatic arena does that put the most powerful country in the world?

The Bush Administration needs to think this one through a bit more. And now is the perfect time to do so for them. When is a better time to change one's policies? For the Bush Administration, it comes when there is a need to preempt a further drop in the polls. Some things may never change.

Monday, September 22, 2003
Throwing Stones from Glass Houses

Just a quick note. In light of my last point, just so no one gets the wrong impression, let me just clarify that I find it very alarming that radicals like Michael Moore are apparently revered over in Europe. Granted this comes is an account from one woman on a train in Austria, but it wouldn't surprise me that an American portraying everything wrong and virtually nothing right with America would be immensely popular abroad. Let me be clear, though. Michael Moore's work is interesting and often eye-opening. But it is NOT balanced. That he is "almost universally liked" in Europe again indicates a dangerous trend of believing there is only one version of the story.

Sure, the US has plenty of chapters of its history we aren't proud of. But let me just remind our friends across the Ocean that we haven't exactly cornerned the market on regrettable acts.

Fair and Balanced, my *&#

Let me add a book really worth reading to the list: Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." Some might be tempted to think the book is nothing more than a liberal's answer to raving radicals like Ann Coulter on the right (in fact, as you may have heard, Fox News actually tried to sue Franken for trademark infringement of the phrase fair and balanced! In actuality, Franken, in my opinion, does for the most part hold true to the title's promise. The book is thoroughly researched by a group of a dozen or so Harvard students at the Kennedy School of government, where Franken was invited to teach last spring.

Anyway, Franken, despite being hilarious, in this, his fourth book, dispels a lot of the myths the Bush administration has been perpetuating for the last 3 years, ranging from tax cuts to the No Child Left Behind Act to the environment, and especially the idea the fashionable practice of blaming Clinton for everything (especially terrorism, where Franken gives a particularly enlightening analysis of the Clinton administration's counterterrorism activities and the Bush team's lack thereof). The book also gets into thorough discussion of the media, arguing that the traditional notion of the liberal media is flawed.

Lest this site turn into Oprah's Book Club, let me use that as a springboard to make a point. I believe the mainstream media does tend to tilt slightly left in its coverage, in that more reporters tend to be towards the liberal end of the spectrum. Now does that mean editors sit around and discuss how they can slant a particular story in a liberal manner? Having worked for a newspaper, I can attest that that isn't how journalism works. It happens in a much more subtle way, such as the decision of what stories to feature, the determination of what issues are important in one's mind. It's natural that any person's description of any story will in some way be affected by their own background, experiences and preconceived notions. But that doesn't mean the news is biased, at least not in the way most people mean when they make that charge. If we consider that every story has multiple ways of being told, then there is no one right way to tell it, no one way that all would consider is "fair and balanced" (hehe, take that Rupert Murdoch and Co.). The true test of whether a news story is biased, then should be the effort made to tell more than one side of the story. Sure the story may still have an angle to it, but again, what story doesn't?

To give you an example, let's assume that shortly after 9/11 a "mainstream" reporter (NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, etc) does a story on anti-Americanism and terrorist groups. A reporter for one of the more conservative media outposts (Fox, Washington Times, etc.) does a similar story. The gist of both stories, let's assume, is the same: The risk of terrorism looms largely because of a hatred for America, particularly among Islamic extremists. The difference is that while the first reporter delves into the possible root causes of the hatred of America, surveying moderates within the Arab world to find out what it is about our policies they most detest, the second reporter, fortunately not blinded by any liberal biases, just gives us the straight story, knowing that to entertain the notion that there might be any legitimate gripe against America would be to legitimize the terrorists' cause.

Now which one of those stories do you think is biased?

I know that might be too easy an example, but as Franken alludes to (OK maybe we are the Oprah book club) all you have to do is turn on CNN's Crossfire and compare it to one of Fox News Channel's various political "debate" type shows, such Hannity and Colmes, where Colmes, the moderate liberal barely utters a word of disagreement with Hannity, the archconservative, and you'll see my point. Fox is right about the real issue - it's balance, not one's personal bias. They just haven't figured out how to create that balance as well as the mainstream media.

Sunday, September 21, 2003
Just a brief note -- I start work next week and am working on a few books right now.

1) "Waging Modern War" by General Wes Clark
2) "Actual Innocence" by Barry Scheck, et al.
3) "Ultimate Punishment" by Scott Turow

Of course, because not reading before work starts would be a travesty. God forbid I should watch a reality tv show.

Anyway, the writing may become more frequent now...

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Mark today's date: September 17, 2003. Remember it. It will be the day that everyone will remember as the beginning of a new era for this country.

General Wesley Clark's run for the Presidency began today. And now, nothing will be the same.

I have held off writing about the Democratic nomination, and spoke to it as recently as last week - stating that there were personal reasons for not speaking my opinion. Well, anticipating Gen. Clark's decision was my reason.

Finally, the Democrats have a candidate that combines the best of not only the Democratic party, but America itself: Intelligence. Strength. Determination. Tolerance. An open-mind. Optimism.

Have I made myself clear? More to come in the following days. Sure, there will be some kinks off the start, but give the General some time, and we just may have a better country...

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Misleading (by) Pictures

He looks....nice. There he is, with his two children, one in each arm. The caption says he was happily married. It then says he was an "unlikely candidate for martyrdom." Directly to the right of the picture in a scene of carnage and destruction -- a bus bomb's aftermath. With a torn up baby stroller in front of the bus.

Jeremy and I were in Budapest, Hungary on August 19 when this world witnessed a day of horrors: first the bombing in Iraq at the UN Headquarters, and shortly thereafter the bombing in Israel. Glued to the TV set, watching BBC, we saw what CNN and MSNBC do not show -- the unedited footage of bloodied victims and bodies. As I started writing about the Iraq bombing and how being abroad during an attack like this made me feel "distant and alienated," the news broke about the bombing in Israel. "This is all getting ridiculous," I wrote.

Yet, it's all been ridiculous for a long time.

News coverage always has an agenda. It may be conscious, or not. Sometimes, just covering 'all aspects of a story' can be an agenda in and of itself. It does not have to be a political agenda. So goes the coverage of suicide bombings in Israel. In an attempt to be the news station that "you can count on" or one that is "fair and balanced" many different aspects are discussed. Time, Newsweek, The Times, The Post -- they all do the same.

That is good, and news should not be one sided. However, there is something revolting about seeing the pictures of the suicide bombers in the pages of the weekly magazines. And this nauseating feeling exists on two levels.

First, it seems that when the murderer gets publicity for his (and now, for her) action, it serves a purpose of the bombing to begin with. Many have written that understanding the psychology of suicide bombers is important to stopping their actions. One of the details of this analysis is a lack of hope. The analysis goes as follows: those that live under oppressed conditions feel so hopeless and powerless about making for a better life, that the only way they can achieve a sense of power over their own affairs is by taking this drastic action.

If that argument is correct, then many who may consider strapping dynamite and nails to their gut and walking into a crowded cafe, now not only have the promise of "paradise," but also a sure guarantee that they will personally get some publicity, which amounts to a sick form of honor for themselves and family. Because of that, another goal of theirs will be accomplished.

That coupled with a complete neglect by news media of the victims of the bombings (unless it is a high-powered, world-renown diplomat) seems to shift the focus from the horror of the killings, to the unfortunate conditions that caused the everyday father to become a ruthless murderer.

As if any conditions could justify such acts of horror.

The second wave of disgust hits when I realize just that. Here is a father who acted not as a human being, let alone a father. Who decided that killing -- even children who may be his own children's age -- is somehow justified? How could this happen? What can we do this stop it? Occupation (I use that term generally, not politically, please note) seems to ... well, I refuse to say "cause" ... be the target of such attacks. We see it now more and more in Iraq. Is that the answer? I dismiss it as being way too simple.

So, why show the pictures? Why do it? It completely sickens me, yet I think the news media must show them. Not as a method of proving how the Israelis or Americans drove a man to commit such action (which is a false claim based on a mistaken premise), but rather to show another aspect of the horror of war. I will not claim that the suicide bomber is a victim in the same sense that those he senselessly killed are, but I will say that those two little children who will now grow up without the love of a father, are victims of a different sort.

The shredded baby stroller in front of the bus comes to mind once again. To me, that is more important to show than any other picture.