Credit Where It’s Due

In a brief return to political matters…  What won’t the candidates be discussing during this election season? Campaign finance, surveillance, patent reform…are among a few issues that candidates are sure to avoid. What else….?  This mini-slide show shows just a few. In fact, the matters discussed at are (in my opinion) more important — and here you can vote for the top science issues facing America in 2012.

Put aside preconceptions. Give a read to this thoughtful interview from Rolling Stone to get a sense of where the President is coming from and how he thinks.  It’s very insightful, whatever side you might be on.

Example: President Obama said a top priority was to get the US exporting again.  Since then, exports are up 34% and on target for his hoped-for doubling. Ford, GM and – yes – Chrysler are now selling top quality, world class products around the world at record-breaking profits. Companies that Obama’s opponent wanted to let go extinct.

But in fairness... let’s keep some balance here and give credit to the other side as well.  Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has a lot to be proud.  His one significant accomplishment as governor – the health care law that he shepherded into place in Massachusetts – after which President Obama modeled his national plan, appears to be working and is 67% popular in that state. Even conservative media admit progress. Way to go, Mitt.

(Though let’s give equal credit to Newt Gingrich, who largely crafted the Republican Alternative health care plan of 1995, on which Mitt modeled the Massachusetts plan and on which Obama… why is it that even when we reach consensus on a good idea, it can never be pleasant, or at the same time?)

== Is experience in government relevant? ==

Alas, there are other issues. For example, is experience in public service relevant in your qualifications to be president?  People used to think so. As recently as 2008, Republicans touted Senator John McCain’s long military record, followed by many productive years in Congress, as evidence that he grasped the elements of government from several directions and knew how to get things done.  Now watch as the murdochian meme of hating all government, all the time, reaches its fruition with Mitt Romney’s record of public service, the skimpiest in 100 years. One term as governor of a northeastern state… period.  That’s it.  Not even an additional day as mayor or dog catcher.

Now, Rachel Maddow has her own axes to grind. Hardly a detached nonpartisan, hereslf.  But the facts deserve a look. Only then recall what Maddow doesn’t mention.  That Romney got a lot done during that one term, creating a model for sensible health care reform for the entire nation. Come on. Rachel, try to be fair.

All right, I admit I was being a bit sardonic there.  Moreover, it is legitimate for Republicans to repudiate their own proposal of 20 years. “We’ve changed our minds” is a fair enough thing to say.

Still, the ironies come thick and rich and we citizens have a right to chuckle over them.  Picture this distillation offered by one member of my blogmunity: “The president was lambasted by his opponents for getting a congress (controlled by his party) to pass their (the other party’s) version of a bill on an issue both parties had been debating for decades.”

Okay, you can change your minds.  But why be so angry that the other side went ahead and passed your bill?  It’s the anger that’s dishonest.  Indeed, it is foul.

== Why We Need Whistleblowers ==

In his first television interview since he resigned from the National Security Agency over its domestic surveillance program, William Binney discusses the NSA’s massive power to spy on Americans and why the FBI raided his home after he became a whistleblower. Binney was a key source for investigative journalist James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches and other personal data.

Hey. Did I ever say the odds were in our favor?  Look at 6000 years of human history.  Our exceptional approach – dividing power so that we can sic mighty elites upon each other, so they won’t prey on us – has always been a creaky, nervous bet. It mostly worked for the last two centuries, but only because people kept upping the ante on reciprocal accountability, the transparency and competitive processes that give us positive sum games.  It is what’s worked and it might continue working…

…but to do that we must keep pushing hard, dynamically and vigorously, evading the traps.  (For example the meme spread by Fox that the uber-aristocracy and only the uber-rich are trustworthy, eliminating all other, competing elites.)

There are many ways to let government see more (as the NSA will inevitably do) and yet keep a choke chain on the watch dog, so it never thinks that it’s a wolf.  These methods would take some work and good will and a political process that’s not frozen by culture war.

But it could still happen…


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