Friday, September 12, 2008

Jesus Christ was a community organizer, Pontius Pilate was a governor...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Country First! But, whose country and who first?

The Republican National Convention (RNC) held last week did not fail to intrigue and pique the interest of Americans and the worldwide audience. They certainly did catch our attention. After the resounding debut of Barack Obama and Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the RNC scuttled their first day because of Hurricane Gustav. The announcement of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee the Friday before carried them through though. Gov. Palin was a new and pretty face, a hockey mom, feisty, and charming. Pending further vetting of her, she is a fresh face for the Republicans beset by the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lingering tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the housing implosion, the economic recession and accompanying “mental depression”, and the health crisis. Republicans, observed the New York Times’ columnist David Brooks, entered the RNC practically morose.

The Republicans, like the Democrats, promised change and reform. This they hope to accomplish via three primary strategies.

The first is a change of Republican and, hopefully, national leadership anchored on the man once called the “most trusted man in America” and now a “maverick,” Arizona Sen. John McCain. He will be backstopped by the charming, full of energy, and emerging symbol of the Republican woman, Gov. Sarah Palin.

The second is that, with a focus on the track record and character of both candidates, they will reform Washington and overhaul how politics is practiced.

The third is a renewed emphasis on patriotism and increased security. It is about confronting perceived American enemies anywhere in the world to ensure the country’s security from terrorism. In other words, the “war on terror” will continue.

If the objective of the RNC was to re-energize and rally its base (of supporters), this they accomplished. Sen. McCain attracts the security-conscious voter, while Gov. Palin brings to the table interest, intrigue, and an appeal to the woman vote. What we will see is a United States that will vote on the fault lines of race, gender, class, and socio-economic issues.

In deconstructing the Republican message and their policies based on the speeches over several days, the elements were similar. My comments and that of others follow below.

The focus on the biography and heroism of McCain was smart, because it detracts from the failings of the Bush administration of the last eight years. The goal was to put enough distance between him and the Bush administration. To further emphasize this gulf, they pulled a surprise in presenting a VP candidate out from literally nowhere, Wasilla, Alaska that is. It was a risky move characteristic of McCain the maverick.

After this spectacle of surprises, what comes next? Their message was that character and a track record of heroism is needed to reform Washington. I find this hard to believe, since the base of supporters and funders of the Republicans espouse policies that will ultimately and literally, fry all of us.

Rudy Giuliani’s “Drill baby drill”, his roguish laughter, and his cheerleading of the RNC participants as they repeated the chant were chilling. He, other speakers, Gov. Palin, and finally, Sen. McCain followed this up with a commitment to re-start the nuclear power program. They actually believe that the road to energy independence includes drilling for more oil and nuclear power.

I foresee global warming and a mushroom cloud.

Drilling for oil in the U.S. is full of myths and disinformation. See “Four offshore-drilling myths” by Eoin O’Carroll. Basically, there isn’t much oil left and what’s left is too deep and expensive to drill. Oil is a finite resource. In finance, oil is the equivalent to capital . You shouldn’t be using up the capital, just the interest. Where is energy and fuel conservation? Raising vehicle fuel standards? Where is government, in Thomas Friedman’s words, in reshaping the market to encourage renewable energy and alternative fuels?

The issue with nuclear power is nuclear wastes have a lifetime of thousands of years. Except for the Church, no institution has survived thousands of years to manage these nuclear wastes. Who would be reckless enough to leave to future generations the responsibility of taking care of wastes that can cause the extinction of the human species? All that for the privilege of consuming more, making the nuclear power industry rich, and avoiding conservation measures? Lastly, there are embedded risks in nuclear energy because of its complexity and life cycle (from mining to processing, use, and waste disposal) that have been expertly dissected in Charles Perrow’s classic Normal Accidents .

In a RNC dubbed “Country First” with an emphasis on veterans, McCain’s heroic war record,and patriotism, fighting was the code word. McCain himself used the word “fight” at least 25 times in his acceptance speech. Either his statements will vault him to the presidency or condemn him as the proponent of a culture of death and conflict. As he said; “Fight with me…Fight for what’s right for our country…Fight for the ideals and character of a free people…Fight for our children’s future….Fight for justice and opportunity for all…Stand up, stand up, stand up, and fight.”

Apparently, the police and authorities took his exhortation to fight literally. While there were anarchists who caused trouble, police brutality against varied protest groups were extensively documented. At least 400 were arrested for the flimsiest of reasons, journalists hurt, and scores of protesters maced and clubbed. The mainstream media hardly covered it, but the gory details can be found on-line. See Vital Source for a round up on the violence during the RNC. Photographers documented and wrote about police abuses. Journalist Amy Goodman, herself arrested and manhandled, recorded the Ramsey County Sheriff using infiltrators in the protest marches.

The last is on security and the never-ending “war on terrorism.” Despite the debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan with hundreds of thousands dead, including innocent civilians, thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers, a monthly $10 billion bill, what has the United States accomplished? Two failed states and millions of angry relatives of the dead and tortured. An American economy that is being bled dry because of military over-reach. The question still remains, who is the terrorist? If the terrorist is STATELESS, why engage in a conventional war?

This “war on terrorism” has proven profitable for those engaged in what former President Ike Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. Only a few companies actually benefit, with the nation taking on a terrible burden. Growing the economy through endless conflicts doesn’t seem like good business sense.

Lastly, are Americans really being threatened by other nations? Iran, North Korea, Venezuela are touted as rising threats. This shows little faith in diplomacy and the American military. Did you know, the United States has 761 military bases across the planet? Really, is there a country willing to take on the vast American imperial military? If terrorism is a problem, use counter-intelligence, diplomacy, and police work. Development, not warfare, is the best strategy of “draining the swamp” of terrorism.

My observation is that all candidates have the character, integrity, and dedication to lead the nation. What separate the chaff from the grain are the policies.

Who presents a vision of the future of investments in renewable energy, education for all, affordable health care, safety nets for the poor, rebuilding of the economy, and those espousing sharing, caring, peace, and a concern for the environment? Who presents a vision of the USA as a moral leader, quoting Bill Clinton again, leveraging “…the power of our example than by the example of our power?”

The American people will be voting for their future this coming November. What kind of change will it be? Will it be one based on hope and values or one based on more of the same?

For Fil-Ams, they need to seriously reflect on who they support. Like the DNC, they were invisible. Worse the RNC was a pale affair. How can RNC hope to reform and change the course of this complex country with only one race? See Washington Post’s article on the lack of diversity in the RNC.

Many Fil-Ams or their parents fled the Philippines mainly because of the lack of economic opportunities. They need to support candidates who are sympathetic to economic migrants. Importantly, they need to support candidates who work for the reduction of income inequality, strengthening of the middle class, and engage minorities. To support candidates that DO NOT support these initiatives, Fil-Am voters only become like the politicians and caciques that they escaped from.

The future is in your hands.