Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations to Senator Franken!

As usual, President Obama has his eye on the ball, recognizing that he now has 60 Democratic votes in the Senate and a real chance to pass both health care reform and an energy bill in this year's Congress. Here is the President's statement:

"I look forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century.”

And here is Franken's:

And for the legal geeks like myself interested in how the Minnesota Supreme Court resolved the various due process and other issues in the contested election contest, here is a link to the court's website page on the Senate election contest.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Remember Iraq?

American troops are withdrawing from major cities in Iraq this week. Strangely, this story seems to be getting little attention. Has the death of Michael Jackson pushed other news to the wayside? Or is it that the attention of the United States is now so focused on places where it should be focused (e.g., Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan) that not only the American military, but also the American public, has already left the problems of Iraq to the Iraqis?

Of course what happens in Iraq will be and should be of continuing concern to this country. And the good and ill effects of our enormous and costly involvement in Iraq will of course be debated for decades, as our involvement in Vietnam is still being debated. It is too soon to tell how things will turn out in that troubled country. For now it is just interesting to note how Iraq has already faded in importance in media and public attention. That seems to present a contrast to situation in the 1970's where I recall we still paid a lot of attention to the fall of South Vietnam even after the US withdrawal.

(photos of Iraqis celebrating the US military withdrawal from Think Progress story)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hypocrisy and Double Standards

We all know that our professional judgments can be clouded by personal or emotional considerations. It's also true that our opinions about personal or moral issues can be clouded by our political leanings. Since one party gains when a leader of the opposing party falls from grace, that gives us an incentive to join in the condemnation of those whose downfalls may benefit our side politically. Thus, Republicans rationalize calling for the resignation or punishment of Democratic politicians embroiled in sex scandals, on the grounds that those politicians have failed to live up to the traditional family values that the Republicans say they stand for. Or that they are not really concerned about sex, only about lying about sex. Democrats likewise find a way to call for punishment of Republicans embroiled in personal scandals on the ground that it serves those hypocrites right. I have a modest proposal. Maybe people on both sides should be be a little less quick to judge such matters. Maybe we need to respect people's privacy more. Maybe we shouldn't be so anxious to read other people's personal correspondence.

When I hear Democrats say that their objection to Governor Sanford's behavior has nothing to do with what he does in his personal life, but is instead about hypocrisy or dereliction of duty or something like that, it reminds me of the Republicans in Congress saying that they were not impeaching Bill Clinton because of his sexual behavior, but rather because of his flagrant perjury. Or something like that. The fact is that people lie about their sex lives. The fact is that hypocrisy is fairly universal. The fact is that people sometimes do reckless things when their minds are clouded by personal considerations. People sometimes even neglect their official duties because of personal issues. I think it would be better if we all just stood back a little from condemning the crazy things people do in their personal lives, even when their behavior seems to be a little dangerous. We would do well to follow the teachings of Jesus on issues of sexual immorality: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Ultimatums and No Lines in the Sand

The White House press corps is still playing the game of trying to pin down the President with speculation about what actions by foreign leaders will be unacceptable to the United States, or what features of health care reform are non-negotiable. The President refuses to get painted into a corner with such questions. Here, for example, is his response to a question on whether the so-called "public option" is a non-negotiable feature of his health care reform proposal:

We are so used to presidents who operate by making pronouncements and demands, and telling everyone what they will do if others do not meet their conditions, that we are still having trouble getting used to someone who operates in a much different way, by trying to build consensus in advance, and by refusing to foreclose any options. As a contrast, I well remember Bill Clinton in one of his State of the Union messages waving his pen and threatening to veto any health care bill that did not meet his conditions. As we know, however, he didn't get any kind of health care reform legislation from Congress at all, and nearly fifteen years has passed with no significant progress on this issue. Barack Obama is going to be accused of being weak and unprincipled, and the health care reform that is going to pass Congress is not going to satisfy everyone, but he is likely to get a significant health care reform bill passed this year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Foolish Criticism

Here's George Will on ABC yesterday calling right wing criticism of President Obama's measured response to the Iranian protest movement "foolish."

George Will's memory might reach back all the way to the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Mine only goes back as far as such events as Czechoslovakia in 1968; Poland in 1981; and China in 1989. All these popular protests were met with savage government repression, which is the phase that we are seeing in Iran right now. In none of these cases did negative worldwide opinion prove much of a deterrent to the government crackdown. The world's disapproval did not stop Russian tanks from rolling into Prague, or stop the government of Poland from instituting martial law, or stop the Chinese government from massacring protesters in Tienanmen Square. In all of these cases, however, popular protests still had the effect of tarnishing the government's legitimacy, and in some cases this led to real change. That also seems to be happening in Iran right now, though this protest movement is still in its infancy. All of these movements were built on and derive the power from, grassroots support, not outside intervention. That seems particularly true in Iran, where the government derives much of its support from demonizing Western nations, particularly the United States.

People who want to second guess what the United States is now doing to help the Iranian democratic movement of 2009 succeed should really think more carefully about the limits of our ability to do that. And about the possibility that our efforts could be counter-productive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The arc of the moral universe


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 20, 2009

Statement from the President on Iran

"The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

"As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

"Martin Luther King once said - 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

Martin Luther King understood, as I think Barack Obama does also, that one of the purposes of non-violent protests is to expose the moral bankruptcy of your opponent, which is most dramatically revealed when they resort to violence. When King found that non-violent protests in Atlanta and elsewhere were meeting little resistance and getting scant media coverage, he lent his support to the movement taking place in Birmingham, where non-violent protests often led by children were met by the fire hoses of Birmingham Police Chief "Bull" Connor. Those pictures led to change. Perhaps the shocking pictures of what is taking place in Iran will lead to change also.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

Today came the inevitable reaction from the Supreme Leader, attempting to drive home the message that resistance is futile, and to channel anger toward the United States and Israel, instead of the anti-democratic regime in power. Will the fledgling democratic movement crumble now in the face of this kind of implicit threat, or will its supporters continue to try to mount demonstrations? Will this end with a bang or a whimper?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Another day of people filling the streets

When was the last time we saw so many people on the march for democracy and freedom? Once again, thousands of people march in the streets of Tehran. Meanwhile, here in LA, a crowd of 250,000 showed up downtown yesterday for a joyful event. Go Lakers!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Voices of reason

Who says there are no longer any voices of reason and moderation in the Republican party? Listen to Richard Lugar talking about "people power," and pointing out that if the US tries to take sides in the Iranian election dispute, we would be playing into the hands of the mullahs.

And here is a statement from Pat Buchanan, whom I would not normally call a voice of reason, saying that we need to wait for the dust to settle in Iran.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obama statement on Iran election

It seems to strike the right tone not to be too quick either to accept the election results or to denounce them. We are not really in a good position to judge what happened in this election. But if we are too quick to accept the outcome, we give credence to the regime; if we denounce the election as a fraud, we provide ammunition for Ahmadinejad's followers. Much better to stress the people's rights to assemble, to protest, to communicate with the outside world. Those are the freedoms that people in Iran are standing up for. Those people need to know that the world is watching.

It's not just about vote fraud.

What seems to be going on in Iran is not just about a possibly stolen election. This is not like Florida in 2000. It's not really even about who won the election, because the real power in Iran has never rested with the elected president. But this election seems to have exposed the nature of the regime in power, and seems to have provoked enough outrage in the streets of Tehran to make the leaders nervous.

What reveals the true nature of the regime in Iran is their need to limit the flow of information; to cut off internet access; to shut down cell phone service; to vandalize the universities; to suppress public demonstrations. These are the true indications of an illegitimate government--not whether a majority of the public voted for one presidential candidate or the other. Of course if vote fraud could be shown, that would also expose the illegitimacy of the government. But Iran has never been a true republic, and should stop pretending to be one, regardless of whether or not the majority of the country's citizens support its repressive and theocratic government.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Planet is Newt Gingrich From?

The Daily Kos found a nice example of what happens when you automatically criticize every word out of your opponent's mouth: You sometimes get tripped up in your own contradictions. Newt Gingrich the other night gave a speech to the Republican faithful lambasting President Obama for using the dangerous concept of "citizen of the world." Only problem is, President Reagan embraced exactly the same concept in a speech to the UN. Oops.

I wonder if Gingrich ever told Reagan that the citizen of the world concept is "intellectual nonsense" and "stunningly dangerous." Somehow I doubt it.

But even apart from the stupidity of attacking Obama for saying exactly what Reagan said, isn't Newt Gingrich's message just pushing the Republican party even further out onto an ideological limb that might continue to marginalize their appeal? The concepts that Gingrich was attacking--that all human beings inhabit the same planet, that our actions affect the well-being of one another, that we Americans come from every corner of the globe, and that we ought to have a sense of humanity that operates beyond borders--are not exactly far left, socialist ideas. They are almost platitudes. To attack brotherhood and global cooperation strikes me as more "stunningly dangerous" than using the innocuous phrase "citizen of the world." And to say you're not a citizen of the world suggests that you must be a citizen of someplace else. Does Newt Gingrich really want the Republican Party to embrace hate-mongering and fear-mongering as their political platform? Does he want to place himself outside of the mainstream of the rest of the six billion human inhabitants of the globe, nearly all of whom are quite comfortable admitting that we were born here? Ronald Reagan would not approve.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hope in the Middle East

From Gallup, some polling numbers showing just how low the respect is in Arab countries for the political leadership in the United States, and how much it has climbed already since Barack Obama's election. It will be interesting to see how much the President's trip to Egypt this week will help.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What's Good for General Motors

Now that we taxpayers own GM, I did a few minutes of research on some of the vehicles our company has for sale. I found that we have some pretty well-rated products out there, like the Chevy Malibu, a solid mid-sized sedan; the luxurious Cadillac CTS; the Chevy Avalanche, for those who need a big truck; the sporty Pontiac G8 and Chevy Camaro; and the legendary Corvette. Anyone in the market for a new car would probably find some excellent deals on any of these models.

Buy a new car from our company and you will not only be getting a good deal for yourself, but you will help lift the stock price of our company, and that is the only way we are going to be able to get a decent return on our money when we sell our stock back into private hands. It is not often people can satisfy their self-interest, and feel patriotic at the same time.