Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

One-on-one Politics

July 29, 2008

My politics align better with Dennis Kucinich than with any of the other presidential candidates (now mostly former candidates), and so even though I knew he had no chance of becoming President, I donated to his campaign. That means that I am on his e-mail list, and last week I got an e-mail saying that he would be at a picnic in Menlo Park (which is relatively nearby, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know where I am or the area).

Last October I went to a straw poll in San Mateo, but arrived just after Kucinich spoke, so I decided to check out this picnic. When I arrived I was surprised that his name was not more prominently listed on the list of reserved picnic areas (he was a footnote to the name of the person who had reserved the spot), and arriving at that area I was surprised to not see a typical looking group of liberal Democrats. Instead I saw a group of predominantly Middle Eastern people, but I spotted Dennis and his wife Elizabeth, so I knew I was in the right place.

It turns out that this was a picnic put on by a local Ramallah club (I’m not sure if it was the San Francisco or San Jose chapter, or what). They say that they advocate a more balanced approach to peace in the Middle East than the typical U.S. view, and I learned that Kucinich had spoken at their national convention in Detroit. I had expected a much more formal fund raiser, and what I got instead was a casual Sunday picnic. [Note: The e-mail invitation I got indicated a suggested donation, but no one mentioned that at the event. I ended up just asking Dennis who I should give the money to, and we had to scramble for a piece of paper so that we could record the donation for regulatory reasons. Which seemed refreshingly old-fashioned.]

In the course of the hour or so I was there, I figure I spent a total of about five minutes talking directly with Dennis. At one point I mentioned that I really admired his courage to be against the death penalty, and he asked me why I was against it. In my reply I forgot the important point that it’s hard to undo an execution if you determine that the person is innocent, but my line of “what part of ‘thou shalt not kill’ didn’t you understand?” seemed to be new to him. Shortly before I left, I also asked him if he had any idea if Al Gore’s zero carbon electricity proposal could even make it to the point of being discussed. Dennis didn’t have much encouragement except to point out that if we could save everything currently going into Iraq, that could make a big difference in paying for such a program.

I came away with a couple of things. First, of course, I got a greater sense of Dennis Kucinich the person, beyond the leprechaun jokes on The Daily Show. But second, and much more significant, I realized that I’m entitled to meet my representatives in government, and that making the effort to do so would have a much greater impact than sending the occassional e-mail that some intern answers with a form letter. I intend to make at least an attempt to meet Anna Eshoo (my U.S. Congressperson) this year.

Lastly I’ll pass on a petition request that I got from Dennis. While his drive to get impeachment hearings seems like a very long shot for the short time between now and the end of the current presidential term, I learned that impeachment can be done even after someone leaves office, so it’s still worth sending the message that many of us feel that this administration is guilty of impeachable offenses. The petition is reachable from the home page of Dennis’s web site. The deadline iswas tomorrowyesterday evening (July 30, 2008).

I forgot to include this when I first posted this, but I took one cameraphone picture:

Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich

Taxi to the Dark Side

February 19, 2008

[Warning: Conservatives who believe that the Iraq war is going well should probably not read this review.]

There have been quite a few documentaries about the ongoing “war on terror,” and I’ve seen many of them. But Taxi to the Dark Side made me more angry than any of the others. I came out thinking that impeachment would be way too kind, and that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld should be tried and (probably) convicted of war crimes.

The subject matter is the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the United States since 9/11, starting with a specific case of an innocent man who was tortured to death, and showing how this is indicative of a pattern driven from the upper reaches of the command chain, and not just a few bad apples on the night shift.

I should definitely warn anyone considering seeing this film that it includes some very disturbing images, but the subject matter is too important to ignore. The soul of our country is at stake. I’ll give it 3.5 stars out of 4 stars.

I saw this on 1/13/2008 at the Camera Cinema Club, where we heard a pre-recorded interview with the director, who also directed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. I wrote down a few notes:

  • There is a grand manipulation of the public going on, through fear
  • This shows how useless torture is, unless your goal is to hear what you want to hear, even if it is not true
  • The torture also drives al Queda’s thirst for revenge
  • No trials have occurred
  • The director’s father, who was an interrogator after World War II, says this has got to stop
  • We need to show those in power how angry we are
  • Even the Democrats are complicit; for example, Nancy Pelosi know about this and did not act

We also heard a little more background on the director’s father. He interrogated kamikazees, and unlike present-day interrogators, he knew their culture and their language. The whole process took a year or more, but it was effective.

The film is nominated for an Oscar®, and the nomination is very much deserved.

What Really Matters

May 1, 2007

The central issue of the 2004 Presidential election was terrorism and the Iraq war. The first debate of the 2008 election (which I missed – why were there no repeat broadcasts?) also highlighted this topic. But is this what really matters most? Is this what should be getting the money, the manpower, and the attention?

In my opinion, no. The following are what I would choose as the top five issues facing the country and the world today, in roughly descending order of importance:

  1. Global climate change, a.k.a., global warming: This seems like the one that is most likely to make a big difference, up to and including death, to billions of people. If sea levels rise much, big sections of land that people live on will have to be abandoned, and in many cases these are people without the means to start over or even evacuate. In places like Africa there could be devastating and deadly droughts. This could change everything, and probably will. Solving it would also have the side benefit of solving the problem of more demand for oil than the supply can support.
  2. Intolerance: The biggest form of this seems to be religious intolerance: Sunnis and Shias, Catholics and Protestants, Israelis and Palestinians (at least partly religious), religious people and atheists, and so on. Non-religious intolerance includes things like the divisions between gays and straights, Democrats and Republicans, one race and another race, pro-choice and pro-life, and more. When has a war not had intolerance at its core?
  3. Violence and fear: The media encourages us to be fearful, but also to think of violence as a solution (or even the solution) to problems. War and the death penalty is killing done by the government in our names, so it must be okay. Is it?
  4. Politics: Do we have to accept that politicians become corrupt and/or cynical, are beholden to big corporate donors, work harder to ensure their own reelection than they do for their constituents, win elections through mass marketing rather than on the issues, and get elected though voting systems that are unreliable and unauditable? I sure hope not. If so, then it’s much harder to fix the other problems on this list.
  5. Education: The current system doesn’t work very well. Most students don’t work very hard, and their teachers are underpaid, overworked, and the ones who have the ambition to improve things are far too often stuck in an inflexible system. I don’t have a clue what to do about this, but if we keep turning out graduates who have a hard time operating a cash register or understanding the different sides of election issues, we’re in deep trouble.

After that would probably be pandemics (e.g., bird flu and AIDS), and health care availability and costs.

9/11 sucked, but we (the United States) have responded to it so poorly that the cure has become much worse than the disease. And on top of that, the cost and the attention given to it (and especially the Iraq fiasco) makes it impossible to tackle what really matters.

Update: There is a transcript of the Democratic debate here (New York Times).