Monday, February 02, 2009

So we have now had a new president for two weeks.

All of the excitement over the inauguration of the first African-American US President has died down as the realities start to hit.

The honeymoon is already over - and Obama has learned the harsh lesson that bi-partisanship requires the partisans to be open to it.

At this point the question of what happens with the economic package is up in the air.

In some ways our new president has done some remarkable things.

To give his first interview to Al-Arabiya seems to be a masterful overture to the Muslim world to look at al Quaeda as the west does - a destructive force that will not improve their lives. For the first time an American president has taken the battle of ideas to a place where it matters. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

He has reversed the Bush E.O. on family planning aid - and that one should stick.

He has scolded the financial industry for their amazing lack of sensitivity on bonuses - although it is unclear that any repercussions will follow.

But other developments are somewhat dismaying to the casual observer.

With much fanfare the administration announced the closing of Guantanamo and the postponement of tribunals there. That one looked good for a week - until the officer in charge politely gave Obama the finger and said he would proceed with tribunals despite the executive order. This does not bode well for Obama's Gitmo strategy.

The day after the inauguration, Obama announced "no lobbyists will hold a position in my administration."

Within hours the first of 13 lobbyists held such a position. Reality bites.

The most disturbing action (or lack thereof) however is that with regard to the self-confessed commission of war crimes by the leadership of the now departed administration.

Although to advocate looking forward and not rehash the past sounds wise and appears to be in the spirit of reconciliation, things are not what they seem.

The previous administration - self-admittedly - confessed to the commission of crimes under the Geneva conventions and violations of american law.

Under international treaties all countries are committed to investigation and prosecution of war crimes within their jurisdiction.

If Obama and his administration in fact take no such actions, then they, and by association all Americans, are complicit in being accessories after the fact.

It is my fervent hope that the administration will reconsider this inaction and follow the treaties and laws they have sworn to uphold. Not only is the alternative a moral abdication, but our servicemen, our civilians, and our foreign service personnel all become fair game for those who would seek to apply OUR rules against them.

The next month should be interesting - and I hope my skepticism and disappointment will have been unwarranted.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Looking at the time of the season - the conflicts

It has been two days since the celebration of Christmas - a pagan festival assimilated into Christianity that was supposed to remind us all of peace and good will to men.

As we approach 2009 it is hard to see the good will.

In Southeast Asia the fears of a nuclear confrontation are growing. The morning news tells us that Pakistan is flexing its military muscle. While the Kashmir elections wind down, the rhetoric about the Mumbay attacks escalates.

In the middle east Israel has bombed the Gaza strip and well over a hundred Gaza inhabitants are dead - over 300 wounded.

Meanwhile, the president of Iran proposes "happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for all humanity," especially the "people of the book", conveniently ignoring the fact that the book (and its people) are the heritage of the state he wishes to wipe off the map.

In Africa despair continues without pause.

In Zimbabwe the suffering continues unabated, while the African Union debates its options. The governance, if one can call it that, of Robert Mugabe - with the resulting disease, hunger, and social collapes have pushed Darfur from the front page - but Darfur continues with no pause in man's inhumanity.

The DRC is with its civil war apparently attempting to re-enact the horrors of Tutsi and Hutu enmity in Rwanda.

And off the coast of Somalia the warships of a dozen nations - now including those of China - are dealing with pirates reminiscent of the activities that once sent American troops to Tripoli.

In Europe tensions are escalating between Russia and the west - with perhaps the short conflict in would-be breakaway Ukrainian provinces being a harbinger of things to come.

The western hemisphere is not immune. In an eerie reminder of 1962, the Russian navy is visiting Cuba. Hugo Chavez continues to be a firebrand in Venezuela, and Colombia continues to skirmish with both the FARC and its neighbors.

None of us knows what all of these events bode for the future - conflicts have been part of the human experience throughout our history.

But the state of the world is perhaps more precarious than it has been since Michael Gorbachev ushered in Glasnost.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim in a fictional Christmas - "God Bless Us, Everyone."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Cal Prop 8, discrimination, and the progress of our society

I live in the Bay area - and many of my friends are very disappointed with the results of the vote on Prop. 8. I do not believe the challenges that are pending will make any difference - and so their only hope for the future is that another proposition at a later time can reverse this one.

But what does that result reveal about our society - especially in view of the numerous other changes that have been taking place?

The first conclusion that comes to me is that we are further ahead on dealing with the subliminal racism that has been part of our society for the last three hundred years than we are on dealing with the prejudice against those who have a "different" sexual orientation.

This is not overly surprising - it was only in 1973 that the DSM-III removed homosexuality as a mental disorder (but retained it as a diagnosis) and not until 1986 with DSM-IV was it finally removed entirely. Even in the late seventies supposedly intelligent psychiatrists fought the changes. (

The Stonewall riots of 1969 were the beginning of an activist gay movement that has made tremendous progress in public acceptance, but some anthropologists suggest that at least two generations are required for a change in social memes.

Unfortunately, the "in-your-face" approach used by some activists over the last 40 years has seen the formation of a backlash that the gay community has to recognize and deal with.

I remember a Father's day several years ago when I took my children to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The SF gay community chose that day to stage a protest parade.

The fact that a number of the protestors chose to march in the streets wearing nothing but transparent thongs was not, IMHO, a move designed to encourage support from otherwise open-minded folk. The cry for equality cuts both ways - heterosexuals engaging in such behavior would have been arrested for public indecency.

And that UNEQUAL treatment instills even more fear in those who feel threatened by public displays of differences.

Massachussetts enacted a gay marriage law with relatively little protest and muted opposition.

Perhaps that was due to the more muted activism of those in support of that law.

So to my gay friends I urge consideration of the possibility that offending public mores simply to make a statement may be counterproductive.

But I do not want to appear to be blaming the victim. Just as I believe that the judge who opines that a woman who is wearing provocative clothing "asked for it" if she is raped is a troglodyte, I believe that those who justify their prejudice by generalizing from the more outrageous activists to the much larger gay population who live their lives in accordance with general social ettiquette are driven by their own fears or those instilled in them by (largely from the Christian right) activists on the other side.

I believe the last scientific argument that gays and lesbians are so by "choice" has been laid to rest - there is far too much evidence that genetic and other factors control our preferences to continue treating homosexuality as unnatural. The fact that many species have a certain percentage of homosexual individuals would support the opposite conclusion.

The fact that a disproportionate percentage of highly creative and innovate ideas are introduced by those members of our society who have a "different" orientation may support the notion that there are evolutionary co-factors involved.

The bottom line is that a percentage of the population has been homosexual throughout recorded history - and that it may therefore be posited that this is in fact "natural."

Over time I firmly believe that the society WILL change and become more accepting.

The election of the first president who does not waffle on the rights of gays in our society is, I think a sign of things to come.

Keep the faith - we may yet in our lifetimes see the world that MLK envisioned - adding to his non-reasons for judging people that of their sexual orientation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What we learned about the USA on November 4, 2008

One hundred years ago the small town of Springfield was the site of a race riot that started a movement that culminated last night in the election of an African American to the highest office in the land.
It was as a consequence of that riot, in the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, that the organization that still goes by the name of NAACP was founder the following year.
Now, a hundred years later, we have a president-elect who began his move to the top in - Springfield, Illinois.

Although Barack Obama's popular vote percentage (as of this moment just under 53%) is eclipsed by the numbers Ronald Reagan got in 1984 and George H W Bush received in 1988, it is the highest percentage of the popular vote that any candidate received in 20 years.

This is an incredibly important datum in the context of American society in 2008.

It was a mere 40 years ago the Martin Luther King was assassinated in a country that was still segregated in many ways, in fact if not in law.

MLK's statement "I may not get there with you" was indeed prophetic - and I believe that the ghost of MLK would be proud of the events that we have witnessed this year.

I believe that this election marks an irreversible change in the melting pot that America has advertised for so long.

Watching the results coming in I was amazed that my fears about crypto-racist sentiments weighing heavily on the outcome were unfounded. When Ohio was called, I began to believe that the time of racial prejudices, although it is not yet dead, is finally moribund.

Welcome, America, to the acknowledgement of the reality of a global heterogeneity that we have so long tried to pretend does not exist.

It will take some time for the healing, but it is my fervent hope that this election will see the drawing to a close of the two hundred years of self-serving prejudice and discrimination that have been a hallmark and badge of shame for this country.

I do not envy Barack Obama the challenges he will face in seventy-six days.

Many of the promises he offered earlier in this campaign will be nearly impossible to achieve in a country that is in recession - the funds are simply not there.

But it is my hope that the American people who brought about this incredible transition will recognize the intrusion of unpleasant realities that have changed the rules of the game.

But I have bigger hopes than that.

The position of the last superpower in the world has been eroded badly during the last eight years.

We have squandered much good will abroad with the arrogance displayed by an administration that was governed by moral certainty of a kind reminiscent of the time of Torquemada.

At home we have had an erosion of constitutional liberties the like of which has not been seen since the days of HUAC and the beloved junior senator from Wisconsin.

For those who have forgotten the words of Edward R. Murrow - they have been as valid during this administration as they were in 1954:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

(The complete interview can be seen at

Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 we have had an administration that has seen fit to use the tactics of HUAC - confusing dissent with disloyalty and beating the drum for fear to replace reason.

And we have had no Edward R. Murrow to say "have you no shame."

I will have more to say on the impact of an Obama presidency later. For today I shall close with an expression of real hope for the future - a luxury that I have not enjoyed for some time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

With 12 hours to go until the polls close the wait is almost over.

Early reports indicate relatively minor problems so far - but the lines are long.

As a junkie I will be watching the events unfold, and hope that the fears of voter suppression are not realized.

In spite of all the hype, I actually believe that this may be one of the most important elections in my lifetime in terms of setting the direction for the future.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Counting the hours

If the pundits are even close to right, in 36 hours we will know the outcome of the last 20 months of national handwringing, chestbeating, and general brou-ha-ha.

The Rev. Wrights, the Bill Ayers - even Joe the Plumber will fade into oblivion again.

And if in fact Barack Obama is chosen to be the next POTUS, then perhaps even the Governor of Alaska will return to the anonymity she so richly deserves. Her fifteen minutes of fame have lasted far too long.

An Obama presidency will certainly change the face of the United States - and the image that we present to the world.

I, like millions of others, will be watching the returns tomorrow night - with hope that the nightmare of eight years of increasing totalitarianism will finally come to a close.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Only 50 hours left before the circus ends

Assuming that this election is not a rerun of 2000 with the results hanging by a thread, in 50 hours we will know who is to be the leader of the free world for the next four years.

As a political junkie I will be happy to be able to return to a normal life.

The last two months have been far too much like a major traffic crash - you KNOW you should not keep looking but you can't help doing so anyway.

In spite of the optimism of so many friends who believe that Obama will definitely win, I am not so confident. We have yet to see the effects of the voter suppression efforts by the GOP, the lack of sufficient voting machines, the long lines, the threats of immediate arrest for would-be voters who have minor infractions on their record and the myriad other techniques used historically to drive down voter turnout.

I hope my cynicism will prove to be baseless.

And I fear the effect on our society if those who have so enthusiastically supported Obama are left to believe that once again the election was "stolen." The stakes today are so much higher than they seemed in 2000 that I am very worried about the kind of rift that would result from such an outcome.

So I will be waiting for the outcome with trepidation and hope.