My July 4th tribute to America

July 2, 2007

Another July 4th approaches, and for most Americans it is a day of fireworks, hot dogs, and wearing patriotic clothing. I’d like to talk about what is sometimes forgotten in all the celebration; what makes America great.

Part of what makes America great is our ability to be able to celebrate July 4th in peace without the fear of an army coming and taking away our property, freedom, or our lives. For the past two hundred years, America has been one of the most stable and safe countries on earth. We have only been attacked on our own soil a few times, and except for the damage we inflicted on ourselves in the civil war, have never suffered the kind of devastation nearly all the countries of Europe suffered in world war two. Our government and constitution are among the oldest and most enduring in the world.

But safety, stability, and security don’t make a nation great. Nor does it mean much to a people oppressed and made powerless by their own government. Not only does America have one of the oldest continuous governments in the world, but that government has always been one of the most free in the world. America was the first nation since the ancient era to allow the people to govern instead of a monarch or other sort of top/down approach. And with that came radical changes to the fundamental nature of a nation.

The first and most important to our political system, is what it means to be loyal. In a dictatorship, loyalty is to the ruler, and believing the official line that the government tells you to believe. In America, loyalty is not to anyone person but to the nation as a whole. And most important, loyalty means questioning that leader. Thinking critically and honestly about what is right and best. America is founded on an open exchange of ideas and facts. That is why Americans can easily watch as the rulers of this nation make laws. Freedom of speech and press is not just a right, it is the foundation of our entire system. Even other nations that hold mostly free elections and would be considered democracies don’t have the kind of absolute freedom of speech to express ideas that we do, even in Europe. In Turkey one can be arrested for insulting “Turkishness” or questioning the official line on the Armenian genocide that states that it didn’t happen. In France, Germany, and elsewhere holocaust denial and expressing extremist ideas can land you in jail. In America, even those who follow so ideologies so antagonistic to the rest of society as neo-nazism or engage in acts such as flag burning are allowed to do so. One might expect that allowing extremists to preach freely would make them more popular than in countries where they are suppressed. In fact, the opposite is the case. America with the most free standards on free speech in the world is also one of the few countries to never face a serious threat of an internal revolution by either fascists or communists. Because in America, ideas are not spread through the use of force, but by words. By dialog. And because they spread that way, the best more often prevail.

Just as open political diversity is a foundation of our nation, so are other types of diversity. Some like to claim that America is a Christian nation. Or a white nation. They are wrong. What unites Americans is not ethnicity or religion, like in some other countries, but the democratic ideals of our nation. Being a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist does not make anyone less of an American. Nor does being Anglo-Saxon, African American, Hispanic, or Asian. America is one of the most diverse nations in the the world, and is better for it.

Of course, America has had it’s share of problems. We have sometimes failed to live up to the ideas that have made us great. For most of our nations history, we treated a large part of our population as 2nd or 3rd class citizens because of the color of their skin. We have given into the temptation to try to silence by force or intimidation voices for unpopular viewpoints. We failed to resolve disputes through peaceful means and fought a civil war. In our zeal to protect our own liberty and prosperity, we have sometimes denied it to the people of other nations. But we have overcome many of those problems, because people stood up and got involved. Because of the open dialog that has made our nation great. And we still have many problems to overcome. America was never made better by men who talked about how great it was. It was always those who spent all of their time criticizing America and talking about what was bad about it who forced us to move closer to the American ideal and make progress.

Than why do I choose to talk about what is good in America? We’ll, most of the time I focus on what is wrong. But it is good to on occasion go back and remind ourselves of what we have done right. Of what we have and how lucky we are to have it. But most of all, what we need to preserve and guard. Some Americans like to retreat into apathy, believe that we can’t fix things. But we have, and we can. We owe a great debt to the founders, soldiers, statesman, and average citizens who stood up so that we might have what we have. We must work to preserve that heritage and do our part to make America what we want America to continue to be, a beacon of good governance, prosperity, and freedom.

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Don’t be a one issue voter

June 8, 2007

As the presidential campaign progresses, one thing that has really annoyed me is people who write things like “I won’t ever vote for ____ (names candidate) because he supports/opposes ______ (names issue)”. Here’s a real example from the comment section of Bill Richardson’s campaign add on youtube:

i will NEVER vote for this ass! He is against the MISSing Angels bill! HE VETOED IT!
bastard…

My niece was a fullterm baby who was stillborn from an umbilical cord accident. She deserves the acknowledgement of being born. She has a birth certificate, she was born in Virginia, a state where govenors actually have a soul and heart and care about other people than themselves!

“She may have been stillborn, but she was STILL-BORN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Not only did this person post this, but she posted it several times, like people didn’t get the idea the first time.

Campaigns, elections, and political offices, are rarely only about one issue. And rarely does one issue trump all others combined in importance. When you are figuring out what candidate or what party to support, you have to look at all of the issues, not just one. You also have to look at the qualifications of each candidate, and what issues are important for that position. For example, what a presidents foreign policy stances are crucial, while I could basically care less what my state legislators opinion on foreign policy matters is. The president’s stances on the death penalty, gay marriage, or other social issues aren’t very important because he doesn’t have much influence on those issues, while for a state legislator they are more important because he does have influence on those issues. Having experience is very important for a presidential candidate, while it isn’t for a state legislator or for other low level positions.

As my friend Allison said, “You can’t have all the qualities you want in a candidate unless you run yourself right?” Voting is about choosing the candidate that is most acceptable to you. You are very rarely going to find someone who you agree with on everything 100%. For example, right now my top choice for president is Bill Richardson even though I disagree with his stances on Iraq, Israel (he is very pro-Israel, I’m moderate on that issue), and the death penalty (he’s for it, I’m against it.) But because I like the qualities he has and agree with him on most issues, I support him. The same with being a Democrat, I don’t agree with them on everything, but I agree with them on most things and that’s why I consider myself one.

When you refuse to support someone because of one issue even though you might agree with them on most issues, you are doing yourself a dis-service because you are giving up the chance to support someone who would represent you well.


Thoughts on the Presidential Race 1

April 16, 2007

I figure I’ll have a consistent naming scheme for thoughts on the presidential election, since between now and the election I’ll likely post a number of times on that subject.

Right now, I remain for the most part undecided. It still is very early and I don’t feel I know enough about them to commit yet. One thing I am growing very tired of is phony “controversies” over something stupid a candidate said. We are all human and say something we shouldn’t have said every once in a while, and focusing on some verbal blunder a candidate or someone associated with a candidates said is ridiculous. Unless the offensive aspect of it really represents what the person believes, which 99% of the time it doesn’t, than the candidate should apologize and acknowledge that he shouldn’t have said it, the other candidates should ignore it instead of expressing “outrage”, and it should than be a non-issue. Unless the candidate is pulling a Kinky Friedman and trying to defend it, why does it matter? The press and the candidates need to focus on the issues and the real qualifications of each candidate, not irrelevant goofs.

As far as the candidates are concerned, at this point I only have much to say about 3 of them:

Barack Obama: Everything about him that we know I like. He is very charismatic and is a wonderful speaker. I especially like how he articulates his position on the war. This is an excerpt from his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention

When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

While giving good speeches is important, it is not the only quality necessary to be president. His credentials on some of those other issues remain unknown, and a full evaluation of his candidacy can’t be made until they are answered. Is he a bunch of hot air, a good speaker but without much depth, or is their more to him than just his speaking ability? That remains to be answered.

I do however, believe the charge that he is too inexperienced is not a fair one. As far as time in office, he served 8 years in the Illinois Senate and by the time the election comes around 4 in the US senate. Compared to the 6 Bush had as Texas governor, 8 Hillary will have had in the Senate and 8 as first lady, and 6 years Edwards had in the Senate, he is not inexperienced.

He is in a good position at this point, and I know many people, including moderates, who are very enthusiastic about him. However, he hasn’t had any large obstacles to face yet,

Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton is the only candidate I’m negative about at this point. I just have a bad feeling about her and while it is not a deal breaker, she is a polarizing figure. Their isn’t anything in about her that makes her appealing. She has a lot of strength in the establishment and has front runner status right now, but I don’t know anyone enthusiastic about her. I believe that her support in the polls is wide but thin because people support her more as a default than out of real love for her. Obama’s supporters are much more enthusiastic about him and I think he is in a much better position to gain grass roots support.

Bill Richardson: Bill Richardson stands out because out of all the candidates, he is the only one with real foreign policy experience that would qualify him to be president. That is crucial, especially given that whoever is the next president will have to pick up the shambles of our foreign policy left by George Bush. Having extensive diplomatic experience dealing with foreign powers and political experience as a very successful Democratic governor of Republican New Mexico, he is very qualified to be president. This speech shows that his grasp of foreign policy is very sound, balanced, substantive, and intelligent. This kind of hire level reasoning without tons of fluff beats Obama’s speeches on the subject, in my opinion.


The Minutemen and the protestors

April 10, 2007

Just for the hell of it I went to see Chris Simcox, the leader of the Minutemen (a group that patrols on the border to report illegal immigrants) speak, hosted by YCT (Young Conservatives of Texas). Lo and behold, protesters came and tried to shout down the event. They chanted for about 15 minutes, yelled slogans, and several had to be led out by police before the speaker had a chance to speak. Even when he was able to speak, they interrupted quite often with rants and name calling. It was disgraceful. I didn’t agree with everything Simcox said, but he was reasonable, respectfully, surprisingly moderate in his viewpoints, and even willing to address some of the protesters remarks. That didn’t stop the protesters from calling him a racist and a fascist. In trying to disrupt the event and discredit him, they did a great job making him look legitimate and reasonable. The protesters did very little to defeat his viewpoints and did a great job of making themselves look like ignorant assholes. I’m all for making your viewpoints and objections heard, but you have to do it in a respectful and intelligent manner, not try to shout down the other side with slogans. When the protesters chanted “this is real democracy”, my thought was that it was the exact opposite. They were more like a mob, and it was shameful to those that hold their viewpoint, to the University, and to the political discourse in this country.


How Homosexuality could be natural

January 21, 2007

This is another copy of something I wrote on another forum, with a few additions:

A common argument I see against homosexuality being natural is that if homosexuality was a genetic trait it would be wiped out because those who hold that trait would not reproduce. The problem with this “it couldn’t be passed on” argument is it assumes that there is some gene that automatically make someone homosexual, and that people either have the gene or they don’t and that makes them homosexual or not. Their could be genes in human beings that create conditions where homosexuality will appear in a small number of people who have those genes, and those genes could be universal. How that randomness is created could have something to do with the child in development or any of a number of things, perhaps it is triggered by some relatively unlikely development while the child is growing in the woom. Other traits follow this pattern of a small probability of something happening within humans that is hard-wired but not determined directly by inheritance, for example left handedness vs. right handedness.

If the traits that lead to potential homosexuality are beneficial in other ways (very likely since they have to do with sexuality which is extremely important as far as an animal reproducing) then it would be passed on even though the potential for homosexuality would hurt the species. The negative impact of a small number being homosexual could have been outweighed by the positive benefits to the community.


Afterthoughts on the election

November 25, 2006

I meant to write up my thoughts on the election results the day afterward, but I guess I was ready to just relax and take a break and celebrate victories. Basically, we won everything we had a reasonable chance of winning. Anyway, here are my ramblings about different aspects of the election:

Texas statewide races:

I was disappointed, obviously, but not that much because I expected it. Their are just too many Republicans in this state, and the Republicans are going to win all the statewide races in the near future. As far as the governor’s race was concerned, I take some consolation in that Rick Perry at least got less than 40% and Chris Bell broke 30%. I’m very proud of how well Bell did getting nearly as many votes as the combined total of the two candidates who were much better at the celebrity aspect of politics and got much more media attention (and in Strayhorn’s case money too.) Unlike other Democrats, I don’t blame the independents. If you look at the exit polls, Perry still would have won without them in the race. Kinky took as many votes that would have gone to Perry as would have gone to Bell. Strayhorn took more Bell votes than Perry votes, but not enough more to swing the election. For Chris Bell to have won, Strayhorn would have had to have been more right-wing in order to capture more Republicans and fewer Democrats, some of Strayhorn’s money would have had to gone to Bell, and Perry would have had to run his campaign as badly as George Allen’s campaign for the senate .

As far as the independents were concerned, both may have had a chance in the spring, but both lost it in the fall. Strayhorn is all image and no substance. In previous elections that don’t get that much attention running only on image worked, but in the governor’s race she came under to much scrutiny to succeed at it. It was obvious that she is a opportunistic and corrupt politician. Kinky was more interesting. He had some potential, but the problem was he over played the celebrity card which fatally hurt his efforts to portray himself as a serious candidate. And he didn’t do enough to be a serious candidate either. His downfall was that most people didn’t consider him to be a serious candidate or viable choice, not the racism charges or that Strayhorn or Perry outspent him (Bell spent about as much as Kinky and still got more than twice as many votes as Kinky.)

In the long run, Democrats in Texas need to work on the local level to capture different areas and expand, such as they have with Austin and Dallas, and build the party back up from the bottom in order to be competitive statewide again. We did make progress by capturing 5 state house seats and cutting the Republican majority in half in the house.

Locally:

Valinda Bolton won in a close election, taking the last Republican state house seat in Travis county. Now all 6 Travis county state house seats are held by Democrats, of which 3 were gerrymandered to lean Republican and 3 were designed to be solidly Democratic. The GOP screwed up when they tried to gerrymander 3 seats to lean Republican when they could have had 2 solid Republican ones.

My only real unexpected disappointment was John Courage losing to Lamar Smith in the election for U.S. Congress, and by such a large margin (Smith won with 60%.) I drank the cool aid on that one, hoping it would go into a runoff (since it was a special election, their were many candidates and a possible runoff in no one got over 50%.) It should have been predictable from the districts numbers, but I hadn’t seen them, and had only listened to what the campaign was saying.

I was very happy to see both Mark Strama and Lloyd Doggett win by huge margins, especially Strama who only took the seat four years ago by a small margin from the GOP in one of the Travis county state house districts designed to lean Republican.

Nationally:

I expected us to take the house, but I knew the Senate was somewhat of a longshot. We got very lucky on that one, since we had to (and did) win nearly all of the close races to get a majority. Rumsfield resigning was just icing on the cake. However, the future is still uncertain on the national level. The GOP has done a lot of damage, and Bush is still president. The Democratic majority in the senate is razor thin, and their isn’t going to be much passed except compromise legislation. The good thing is that we’ll be able to have some oversight of Bush’s illegal activities and Bush no longer has congress to rubber-stamp everything. The best, and often overlooked, aspect of the new Democratic majority is Bush can no longer appoint very conservative judges. The GOP can no longer do so much damage, but the Dems aren’t in a position to completely reverse that damage or make substantial progress moving us forward.

As far as Iraq is concerned, the GOP fears of the Dems “cutting and running” are bogus. The anti-war and/or isolationist faction doesn’t have command of the Democrats and is still in the minority. I no longer hold an anti-war position and so I think that the lack of power of the anti-war/isolationist faction is a good thing. I have a lot of thoughts on the Iraq war that I’ll post one of these months, but in summary I think that our focus should be on what is best for the Iraqi people, not what is best for our country or for us strategically. The arguments and positions of all sides focus too much on what is good for America, how American became involved, and America’s security, and not what is best for the Iraqis. On this issue I think the slim Democratic majority is a good because it creates an ideal condition for a bipartisan dialogue on Iraq that is realistic, nuanced, and productive, rather than the partisan bickering and sloganeering that we saw before the election or that we likely would have seen if one side had been able to roll over another. The situation is not a simple one and more than any other issues requires a rational and reasonable discourse in order for progress to be made.

On a personal level…

The election was a blast. I had tons of fun and learned a lot doing so much volunteer work on different campaigns and with University Democrats. I also developed my debating skills and political philosophy through countless debates on Facebook and elsewhere with Kinky Friedman supporters.; I even got into an intense debate with Kinky Friedman’s campaign manager. It was fun and so I guess I have to say that Kinky Friedman’s campaign wasn’t all bad 🙂 (though I never and still don’t claim it was.) In all, I love every part of it, even the tedious volunteer work done at the campaign office. And of course, the election parties (mostly victory parties) on election day and the next weekend were a blast.


How I voted and why I voted for Bell instead of Kinky

October 30, 2006

I’ve been meaning to post something about how I voted, and the specifics of my choice in the governor’s race. I ended up voting straight Democratic unless their wasn’t a Democrat, in which case I voted for the Libertarian (kudos to the Libertarians for running someone in every race.)

Up until a month ago I was a Kinky supporter. The reason I supported Kinky was because he is down to earth and honest and is very good on most of the issues. I liked him, and like most other Kinky supporters, without really taking the time to look into Chris Bell. After considering the merits of both candidates and especially their stances on the issues, I decided that Chris Bell has most of the merits of Kinky Friedman with few of his faults.

On the issues, they have a lot in common. I’m not going to go into detail on every issue because that would be long and pointless. Anyone serious about making an informed choice should read all of what they both have to say about the issues on their websites (Kinky’s, Bell’s.) As I see it, they both have good positions on the environment, education, political reform, and the trans Texas corridor. On gay marriage, Kinky is slightly better because he courageously supports gay marriage while Bell supports civil unions. However, in the current political climate in Texas at this point that is a distinction without a difference because on any issue that comes up about gay rights they will be on the same side. I also credit Kinky for being more outspoken about the death penalty (both support it in principle but question it’s use.) On immigration, both support increased border security and cracking down on hiring illegals, but Chris Bell has a nuanced view that stresses that you have to meaningful immigration reform to deal with the illegal immigrants already here, something I strongly agree with. When Kinky talks about immigration it tends to be dangerously close to sounding like the right-wing paranoia on this issue. Kinky supports non-denominational school prayer, which is not only stupid but unconstitutional.

The big difference I see is that Chris Bell is very intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable. While I believe Kinky to be a smart guy, I think he is very naive about politics. He seems to understand the basic foundations of each issue so that he can come up with a reasonable position, which is fine for a citizen, but he has not shown that he has the depth of understanding and a command of the details and nuances which anyone involved in policy should have. With more than a year in this, he hasn’t shown that the time to really try get there. In all I think he just doesn’t take politics seriously enough. When he does talk about the issues he knows something about, he is usually very good. The problem is that he has spent way to much time being the celebrity and joker. It’s good for getting attention and the votes of stupid people who don’t take it all seriously, but for those of us who take politics seriously, it really hurts him. Because he has taken it seriously enough, people don’t take him seriously and won’t vote for him because of it, and that is what will and has doomed his campaign. It’s just as much a waste of our time when he makes jokes instead of having a serious response as it is a waste of time to listen to Strayhorn repeat shallow slogans. It’s more entertaining, but politics isn’t about entertainment. That is where Chris Bell is great. He isn’t colorful, but that is a good thing in my opinion. It means that he can’t get away with spouting BS non-answers like Strayhorn or Kinky try to do. Chris Bell spouts some amount of non-substance just like everyone does, but he has substance substantially more than Kinky or Strayhorn. And unlike with Perry or Strayhorn, Bell is honest about it. He is the only candidate, besides the libertarian Werner, who doesn’t insult the voter’s intelligence with lies and/or to many jokes and/or slogans. Kinky has no practical experience in politics beyond campaigning, and Chris Bell does, so Bell would most likely be more effective than Kinky would.

An argument I hear a lot for Kinky is that he is outside the corrupt two party system. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that he’s better than a good person within it. Kinky has been trying to portray all of his opponents as corrupt, selfish, partisan hacks by describing politicians that way and then describing his opponents as politicians. His claim that he is the only candidate not slinging mud is disingenuous, to say the least. The other problem is that their is nothing that anyone has been able to show about Chris Bell that would make him deserve such a description. Even the GOP attack machine hasn’t been able to come up with anything better than attacking the guy contributing to his campaign and using the standard “big Washington liberal” label. When Kinky was on campus I asked his campaign manager Dean Barkley to tell me how Bell was corrupt and all Barkley had was that he was bad because he’s in the Democratic party. Sorry, doesn’t cut it. I asked Kinky why he’s a better candidate than Chris Bell, and he couldn’t give me anything (another example of his not knowing the issues in depth). I’m not fond of the two party system, but not all politicians, Republicans, or Democrats are bad. Nearly all of our great leaders have been one or the other. So to say that all politicians are bad, like Kinky’s campaign does, is a severe and unfair over-simplification. The fault is not with politicians in general, it’s with corrupt ones. Kinky is right that Perry’s experience hasn’t gotten us anywhere. That is because Perry is corrupt and dishonest. But that doesn’t mean experience is bad. We need both experience and honesty. Perry and Strayhorn have experience but no honesty. Kinky has honesty but no experience. Bell has both honesty and experience.