Tag Archives: Obama

Why the Candidates Should (But Won’t) Stipulate

Stipulate-electionIt’s been said that a politician gets to be perfectly honest just once in a long career — at its end. Refreshing candor sometimes pours after an old pol has faced the last campaign. No more fund raisers or flattering voters. One chance to tell the truth.

All right, it’s rare. Many politicians hurry through a revolving door, into fat directorships and lobbying firms. Still, it can be colorful when a few spill their hearts.

Take the day in 1992 when both Republican Senator Warren Rudman and Democrat Paul Tsongas made headlines declaring that everybody was at fault for the country’s fiscal condition at the time, from then-President Bush to the democrat-controlled Congress, to the American people. Responsible economists later credited Rudman and Tsongas for spurring reforms that helped lead to the Clinton era surpluses.

Around the same time, retired senator and conservative eminence gris Barry Goldwater denounced the followers of émigré philosopher Leo Strauss – so-called “neocons” – for hijacking Goldwater’s beloved movement over cliffs of romantic delusion. A more recent example of post retirement candor came When G.W. Bush’s ex-Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, revealed a swamp of backroom dealings and ineptitude, explaining that he was “old and rich” and unafraid to speak his mind. On the other side, some claim that Senator Joe Lieberman really came into his own when he ran as an independent, shrugging off party discipline (if such a thing exists, among democrats.)

Alas, under our electoral system candor is punished. Folks on both sides of the lamentably oversimplifying “left-right axis” yearn for the best and most sincere people on the other side to wise up!  To eject radicals from control over the other party’s agenda. Too bad we rarely ponder the way crimes like gerrymandering have been used by our own side, with terrible effects upon the radicalization of politics.    (Elsewhere I describe one time that party self-reform actually happened.)

== A Modest Proposal ==

Let me offer here a proposal that I’ve made every presidential election for decades. Throughout the campaign we’ll learn how the candidates disagree on a myriad issues. And platitudes, what they think voters want to hear.

Logically, there must be a third category — areas where these well-informed professionals agree with each other, but fear to speak  first.  But consider: there’s no political cost to telling voters what you really believe… if your opponent has agreed, in advance, to say the same thing.

What’s wrong with two leaders finding patches of consensus amid a sea of discord? It has a name – stipulation… as when attorneys in a case agree to agree about a set of points, so the trial can focus on areas where they disagree.

What does stipulation have to do with politics? Given the intensity of partisanship in recent American political life, can we dream? Bear with me for a “what-if” thought experiment.

Suppose, amidst the 2012 campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama were to suspend their mutual attacks just long enough to meet for an afternoon. Staffs would cover debate rules, and maybe how to prevent spirals of mudslinging and people would applaud just seeing them talk to each other like adults.

Only then — they go for a walk, alone. During this quiet moment before the rough and tumble resumes, they seek just a few points of consensus.

Don’t dismiss it too readily. For all his faults, the last GOP nominee – John McCain did this sort of thing before. So did Senators Clinton and Obama, amid their primary fights in 2008.  In fact, the only ones to object would be extremes in both parties.

Oh, neither candidate will change the other’s mind concerning major divisions. But here we have two knowledgeable public persons, presumably concerned about America’s future. Surely there’d be some overlap? Things that both of them feel that we, as a nation, should do.

Imagine a joint statement. Though reiterating a myriad points of disagreement, they make public simultaneously their shared belief that America should, for its own good, pass law “X”, or repeal restriction “Y”. Further, they agree – neither will attack the other for taking this stand.

No longer pandered to, folks might say — “Gosh, if both say the country needs this strong medicine, let’s give it thought.”

This would not free candidates completely from the stifling effects of mass-politics. But it could let them display something rarely seen… leadership. Even statesmanship. Setting aside self-interest in favor of hard truth, telling the people what they need to hear, whether they like it or not.

=== Is This Impossible? ===

Well, it happened before, during the Presidential campaign of 1940. When Franklin Roosevelt was running for a third term, he approached Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie, to negotiate just such a stipulated agreement in the area of foreign policy. Britain badly needed escort vessels for the North Atlantic and the U.S. had over-age destroyers to spare. But Roosevelt feared political repercussions during a campaign in which he was already under attack for breaking neutrality. Wilkie agreed to FDR’s request, and declared that lend-lease would be his policy too, if he were elected.

Everyone benefited — Wilkie rose in stature. FDR got his policy implemented, and the world was better off because political advantage was briefly put aside for the common good. On other issues, Roosevelt and Wilkie battled as fiercely as ever. Yet, that historical act of stipulation shines in memory.

How might today’s politics differ if two adults — each the standard bearer of a major party — agreed to let it be known how they agree? Might they take on some of our most politically impossible subjects? Perhaps a cow as sacred as the Social Security retirement age, a compromise on gun control, some campaign finance reform…

… or the biggest candidate for such a declaration?  The obvious of course. The topic that neither side dares to raise first.  The failed Drug War.

== How it could happen ==

Is this quixotic proposal too much to ask of today’s opportunistic brand of politician? Perhaps. Indeed, I have little hope that it has a chance of happening during the 2012 election cycle, while partisanship towers foremost in the minds of the partisan attack dogs who have turned America into a silly place for two decades, overshadowing any national good.

Still, our politics can evolve. Only during the most recent generation has the tradition of Presidential debates become so entrenched that no front-runner can now duck them. Ancient hurdles of age, race, and gender are falling. And note, there are millions of Americans who deeply yearn for a more mature approach to politics. If a candidate offered this kind of stipulation process, and the other refused… well, there might be benefits there, as well.

Indeed, imagine if a third party candidate – say the Libertarian Party’s unusually reasonable/interesting Gary Johnson – were to join one of this year’s presidential debates. (Okay, so I think that would devastate one of the major candidates, offering sane, libertarian-minded conservatives a place to escape their party’s current madness.)  Johnson’s natural move would be to pounce on obvious things like the drug war. Ironically, this could offer one of the other guys cover to step forward, partially agreeing with Johnson while remaining moderate/skeptical. Good positioning, politically speaking.  And as a result, we all benefit when the topic itself (changing the drug war) moves up in peoples’ minds.

All right.  It won’t happen. Not this time around. But it could.  And maybe someday it will.

Shatter the barriers against candor!

CANDOROnce upon a time, it was just a glimmer in a few eyes to imagine that debates would be standard in elections.  Now it’s normal.

Might the Candidates’ Post-Convention Summit and Letter of Stipulation also become traditional, like doldrums in July and mudslinging in October?

Someday, the whole nation may look forward to the occasion, once every four years, with a sort of delicious, nervous anticipation — awaiting the one day when two eminent politicians will say not what is politically savvy, but what is simply wise.

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Obama on the importance of Curiosity…

I write this from Pasadena, where I just finished a public evening (that will be podcast soon on the site of KPCC FM radio) discussing with USC Professor Paul Rosenbloom  and the Planetary Society’s Mat Kaplan the future of artificial intelligence, uplifting dolphins, and good or bad types of singularities.  You know… small stuff.

Two weeks ago I spoke at Planet Fest (Why the Sudden Activity in Space?), prepping folks for the celebration of fantastic news, that we Earthlings were capable of sending a stunningly advanced robot that could lower itself by crane to the surface of Mars.

But there are implications that extend beyond science.

If you like being part of a civilization that celebrates science and intellect and progress… while willingly negotiating in openness and improving through the reciprocal criticism of faults… then you are behooved to lift your head, this season, and note the implications in politics.

It is no longer  the process we knew in the days of genteel scholars like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley — when politics was a matter of choosing between an array of policy recommendations based on competing, fact-driven arguments, finding compromises and practical mixes of solutions that blended private and enterprise initiatives with a closely watched and accountable democratic-consensus state.  That kind of politics is over in the United States of America.  At least it is during this, the third phase of the American Civil War.  One of the parties has been led – by some Australian and Saudi and American billionaires – down a path so biliously opposed to science and logic and facts that only about 5% of US scientists will have anything to do with it anymore.

(Indeed, my standard challenge is to name ONE broad professional caste of intellect and knowledge that is not under attack at Fox, from scientists to teachers, civil servants, law professionals, journalists, professors, medical doctors, economists… I can name a couple that Fox leaves out of its jihad against intellect… but can you? And if you cannot name one… even one… then can we take it as a proved trend?)

== What role Curiosity plays in all of this ==

In contrast, this is the kind of jovially supportive whimsey that we used to get from both parties… and maybe we will again, someday.  Scan this from last week… then go on to my reflection on the import of a single word.

President Barack Obama placed a congratulatory telephone call to the NASA team behind the Mars “Curiosity” rover, joking he might go for a Mohawk to emulate flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, and quipping that he needed to be told “right away” if the probe finds any little green men.

“If, in fact, you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away,” he said in the call. “I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list. Even if they’re just microbes, it will be pretty exciting.”

On a more serious note, Obama congratulated the team on Curiosity’s successful landing on the Red Planet a week ago and praised the technical skill required as “mind-boggling.”

“What you’ve accomplished embodies the American spirit, and your passion and your commitment is making a difference,” he said.”

“‘Curiosity’ is going to be telling us things that we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that’s a human mission to the Red Planet,” Obama said.

And he pledged his “personal commitment to protect” government investments in science and technology.

== Okay, here’s a little reflection on a beautiful word ==

 I am reminded of the one moment that impressed me most about Barack Obama… during his victory speech after the election in 2008.  I listened carefully and shrugged as he said all the things we knew he had to say.  Some promises from his stump speech.  Some cordial words offering a handshake and negotiations to the other side.  The usual platitudes one must say, about courage, neighborliness, patriotism, progress, lifting our eyes to the horizon… yadda.  Good stuff, but expected.

I was listening for something else.  For the bits that any smart person would stick in, even though they weren’t expected or required.

Even a seasoned politician must feel a burning wish to insert a new thought now and then… even just one… that has nothing to do with politics, but instead what he, personally, feels to be missing.  Something – perhaps – that he deems to be desperately needed.

Then I heard it… when he listed eight national character traits essential for our success… and there, mixed in with seven expected ones was…

… curiosity…

Go back and  watch that speech again.  You’ll hear that word, which has no possible political redolence in the standard catechisms of the insipid left-right axis.  And yet, it is telling… and tells a rich allegory, in light of our nation’s recent, magnificent accomplishment, It also lays down before you the stark clarity of the core difference between two sides in this, our tragic Civil War.

It isn’t about “left” versus “right.”  It never was, and don’t let anyone get away with telling you it is.

This is future versus past.

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State of the Union: Things Obama Did Not Have to Say — But Did Anyway

The president’s State of the Union Speech was – at long last – the one I wanted him to give. It went after the very poison that has so sickened the United States of America. His call for us to shake off the Cult of Future-Hatred, indulged in by both right and left, was about urging us to start looking forward again, instead of to some mythically better past.

Clearly, Barack Obama does not expect that to happen through a sudden coming-together in unity and courtesy.  (He did ask for those things, but we know that asking will not make them happen). For those those demanding accountability for the greedocracy of a looming oligarchy he had only incremental steps toward transparency. And, while the President pointed out the hypocrisy of Teaparty “deficit fighters,” who plunged the nation into tsunamis of red ink during their watch, in the name of disproved Voodoo Economics, he did so in fairly gentle terms. For one simple reason.

Because none of these side-skirmishes are where the real battle lies.

As I’ve said for months, for years, the real agenda of the neoconservative movement – its one consistent theme – has been to wage bitter war against nearly all centers of American expertise.

You may have only heard of one part of this campaign — the relentless and undeniable Republican War on Science, now so blatant that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have all taken to deriding “scientists” as a universally-damned caste, no longer even applying qualifiers or conditionals! It’s become so flagrant that – whereas twenty years ago thirty percent of U.S. scientists registered republican – now, according to the AAAS and the Pew Research Foundation, only 5% cling to their old political loyalties with the GOP. Many remain “conservative” over matters of fiscal or foreign policy, but none can any longer abide an all-out, Know Nothing campaign against fact-based reason.

Is this why I applauded, so heartily, the president’s repeated references to science, technological leadership, innovation, education and bold entrepreneurship, in his State of The Union address? To renew that post-Sputnik spirit — the fierce dedication-to-curiosity that forged the keel of our prosperity and success?  Of course it was.

It reminded me of the moment I liked best, back on election night in 2008, when Obama’s victory speech resonated in so many ways… but I kept aloof from the regular, ringing rhetoric, listening not for the words that he had to say, but those that he inserted wholly on his own account.

(Try to develop this habit. It can be illuminating!)

We expected him to endorse all the requisite motherhood and apple-pie phrases… some of them universal, or pan-american and some blandly liberal.  You know, likeunity, brotherhood, responsibility and – yes, hope. Yada. Good things. And totally expected.

But when he spoke of a nation propelled forward by curiosity… that was what I had been listening for.  It wasn’t a word on anybody’s requisite political litany or list of necessary catch phrases. It was not compelled by politics, polemic or audience expectations, nor by tradition or dire need. Nobody even commented on it, in all the speech postmortems. It was there simply because Barack Obama thought that it ought to be.

A nation propelled forward – in part – by curiosity.  In 2008, it was a drop-in hint.  Last night, it was the central theme!

Moreover, Make no mistake, it was militant. They were fighting words. For, I was watching closely, and every single time that Barack Obama referred glowingly to science, or innovation, or entrepreneurial boldness, you could see the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, grimace or frown a little deeper, making clear that this is precisely where our deepest battle will take place. Not across fictional gaps in a mythical and stupidly misleading so-called “left-right political axis.” But across a chasm between those dedicated to the past and those eager for the future.

Let’s be plain: I would have liked the speech even better, had President Obama directly challenged Congress to perform an act of good faith, by restoring the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), and other independent advisory boards that were wiped out during Republican control, when they decided to dispense with the inconvenience of reality checks from even the most studiously impartial and nonpartisan commissions.  Not having restored the OTA, when she had the chance, counts as my biggest grudge against former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama should have demanded this, and dared the GOP to justify its refusal.

Yet, this is about so much more than science and technology.  Last night’s speech hinted that the President at last understands; the “war on science” is only the most blatant, surface manifestation of a general campaign against all of our professional castes.

Name one that isn’t under fire from the new-right! Scientists, teachers, university professors, attorneys, civil servants, diplomats, journalists… heck even cops! And yes, if you have watched carefully, or know anything about the “miracle of 2006”– even the brilliant men and women of the United States Military Officer Corps have been under assault, for years.

Why? Why has such a broad campaign to discredit (almost) every highly skilled and educated expert class become the centerpiece of conservatism?  A hijacked version of conservatism that has Barry Goldwater spinning in his grave?  You have only to look at the few centers of elite expertise that have been left alone! Those that are spared this all-out onslaught. The financial industry, industry lobbyist associations, and the hyper-rich.

A select group who are spared attack by Fox News. Now why would these groupswant to fund propaganda aimed at undermining all other intellectual elites? Unless… in order to the power of those with the skill and fact-based knowledge to notice and point fingers at outright lies….?

Hm… well… maybe we can analyze that another time.  For now, let’s get back to the speech.

I had one proud moment when I heard the president drop in another of those “he did NOT have to say that!” lines. There was one sentence, while he discussed our need to improve American schools, when Obama mentioned something that our schools do better than any others on the planet. Do you recall what it was?  Did any of you catch it? Even briefly?

I doubt one pundit in a hundred  noticed.  But it is something that we do SO well that  Education Ministries in Delhi, Tokyo and Beijing send out hundreds of minions, every year, re-training teachers to instruct their classes in a more American manner!

Boldness, confidence, creativity, and unabashed willingness to question.  These are traits that American schools (and parents) encourage very well! They are not easily measured by standardized tests, so they do not get mentioned in the news, nor do they become the fodder for hand-wringing political diatribes. But, at last, I have seen one politician notice! Moreover, it is important. In order to improve, it is necessary to grasp what you are doing right, as well as what’s wrong.

Do I expect this speech to make much difference? Indeed, was it even worth the time I spent writing about it?

Not really.  Certain parties in high places, not just in America but in foreign lands, have already chosen to re-ignite Phase Three of the American Civil War. We are in it, right now, 150 years after the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. (Which happened ten years after the Civil war actually began, in 1850. Ask me later.) When things have gone that bad, one doesn’t hold out much hope for transformation emerging out of a single speech.

But at a time when all forms of expertise and skill and knowledge are the chief victims and targets in a bilious civil war, and when science is the paramount enemy – openly declared – of a faction that wants us to turn our backs upon tomorrow… any talk of “winning the future” is welcome, indeed.


“During an appearance with Greta Van Susterin on Fox News, Sarah Palin criticized Obama for referencing Sputnik during the State of the Union, because she believes that Sputnik brought down communism. She said, “Yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time, that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.” Yep, Sarah confused the space race with the arms race.”

Please, go read the article.  See what she said. Does it get any plainer than this? Choose tomorrow.


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The Real Reason for Tea Parties

Lighting the political lamp (it may be on for a couple of weeks), let me begin with a disclaimer, for those of you who don’t know me … I despise all dogmatists, including those on the far-left. As a one-time keynoter for a Libertarian Party Convention, I have the bona fides of someone who has read and understood Adam Smith.  In fact, it is for that reason that I know which party the “First Liberal” would vote for, today, if he could. And it’s not the one that touts his name the most.

Moreover, if communism was a principal threat to freedom, a generation ago, can there be any doubt that the madness and danger is coming from a different direction today?


To see just how crazy it is out there, you really must read this.  Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty.

“It was the middle of a tough primary contest, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) had convened a small meeting with donors who had contributed thousands of dollars to his previous campaigns. But this year, as Inglis faced a challenge from tea party-backed Republican candidates claiming Inglis wasn’t sufficiently conservative, these donors hadn’t ponied up. Inglis’ task: Get them back on the team. “They were upset with me,” Inglis recalls. “They are all Glenn Beck watchers.” About 90 minutes into the meeting, as he remembers it, “They say, ‘Bob, what don’t you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.'” Inglis didn’t know how to respond….”

Neither do the rest of us, Bob.  Apparently, the flabergasted Mr. Reasonableness who sits in the White House simply cannot pause – in his relentless attempts to negotiate – and parse out exactly what it going on.

So let me put it  simply.  The whole nation knows that the Republican Party was a festering nest of corruption and incompetence, since 1996 or so.  (I do not include the first year of the Newt Gingrich Revolution, during which actual conservative values were <i>negotiated</i> with the sitting president, and the parties, together, enacted both Welfare Reform and budget restraints — a brif era of maturity for which Gingrich was resoundingly punished, by his own party, as it chose to plunge into lunacy.)

Under that party’s misrule, America experienced a steep plummet in nearly all unambiguous metrics of national health – from GDP to home values, from patent rates to small business startups, all the way even to military readiness!  The near-perfection of this national decline has never (for some strange reason) been laid out openly by the President or the democrats… probably for the same neurotic reasons that keep them from appointing a special prosecutor, to expose Bushite corruption and theft.  But the people clearly know that the Republican brand is soiled, almost beyond repair.

That left only one hope for the masters of that undead elephant… to market a populist rant that Democrats are even worse. And since there is not a scintilla of real evidence for systematic Democratic wrongdoing or mismanagement (not a single Clintonite ex-official was ever covicted, even indicted, for malfeasance of official duties, and Clinton paid down the national debt), this populist rabble-rousing must take the form  of legerdermain and magic! Unproved or unprovable assertions, Beckian hornswaggle and Limbaughian incantaions of towering indignation.

The list of counter-points that the dems could use is astonishing… primarily in their total absence-of-use.  For example, picture a 60 second television spot describingwhat would have happened to Ma and Pa’s Social Security, if the GOP had been allowed to “privatize” it, back in 2004… and who the winners would have been.   Or the truth about which party does a better job beefing up the Border Patrol and actually limiting illegal (as opposed to legal) immigration? (Hint, it ain’t the GOP, by a thousand miles.)

Or point out that Obama’s so called “socialist” health insurance bill was based on the Republicans’ own 1994 alternative plan. Sure that’s well known to folks on the Sunday talk show circuit, but it would be devastating in a 60 second spot… purchased on Fox.

Let’s be clear about the poisonous nature of this campaign to win back Congress by painting the democrats as “even worse.”  In order for them to be worse than the Bushites, they must be portrayed as satanic beings… the very same way that the Southern press depicted northerners and Abraham Lincoln, in 1860.  The potential effectiveness of this populist campaign of lies is seen in the way a quarter of a million poor southern whites marched off to fight — very bravely and well — for the “cause” of protecting the interests of their local lords and cotton barons and slave-owning oligarchs.  Hey, don’t under-rate it! The method worked for the Rupert Murdochs of past eras.  It’s working for the Rupert Murdochs of today.

In fact, ok, it is that time again. Cyclically, regularly (and always) keep checking on the Fox News Boycott.  You have a right to make your purchasing judgements based on many criteria.  Including a list of those who advertise with Glenn Beck.

Indeed, were I a speaker at Jon Stewart’s Rally For Sanity, next week… (I offered!) … I’d make that point.

=== Marching Instead for Colbert! ===

But since Stewart blatantly stole the title of my novel EARTH for his recent, hilarious volume that I refuse to mention, lest you run right out and buy it, right away, I guess that’s the last straw.  I am angry!  So I’ll march instead for Steven Colbert!

Can’t make it to DC?  Then find a satellite rally at www.rallymao.com.

And stay tuned!  I am due to be interviewed for one of these shows, I’m told!  Not in-studio, where you’re treated as a guest… but one of those things where you answer questions in all earnestness and then expect to be edited down to appearing like a complete dunderhead!  What fun!

I’ll let you know.

PROFILES IN COURAGE — A group of 23 Communist Party elders in China has written a letter calling for an end to the country’s restrictions on freedom of speech.I’ll be commenting in detail about this, soon.

It can be fascinating to see how memes spread across the web, passed from peer to peer. But how can one tell what ideas are grass-roots and which are spread by political campaigns or corporations? Truthy, based at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing attempts to chart the diffusion of information & misinformation on Twitter – by tracking keywords and retweets.

Take a tour of “Richistan…” the America that Fox is so frantic to get average citizens to ignore.

“The revelation that Rich Iott, a Republican candidate for Congress from Ohio, was an active member of a group of dedicated to understanding the experience of soldiers who served in the Nazi Waffen SS by dressing up in their uniforms — and staging recreations of their battles — has forced historical re-enactors to defend their hobby. “That Mr. Iott engaged in this pastime came to light on Friday, when Joshua Green of The Atlantic published photographs of him in an SS uniform beneath a headline asking, “Why is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?” Um… the SS?  Jumping Jehosephat, if a democrat had done anything remotely like that….

Here’s a terrific take-off on WWII cautionary posters about “loose lips sink ships.”

The respect-worthy Amitai Etzioni – who is no pantywaist – is pushing for a simple“take care of America first” withdrawal from Afghanistan. (And if they become an enemy state again?  Heck, enemy states are FAR simpler to topple than it is to fight a grueling insurgency.  Think about it.)  Anyway, we could sure have used the three trillion dollars these wars have cost.  Spent on R&D, it would have left all our enemies — and our trade rivals — in clouds of our (by-now) nearly transhumanist dust! Ah, parallel worlds.

Finally, see a county by-county map of education levels... and how this affects disparities in income.  From this it seems self explanatory why – and how – the Fox distraction campaign, to aim the ire of the ill-educated against the well educated, is working so well.

Again, drop by http://www.rallymao and find your local Stewart-Colbert Satellite rally.

Better yet, find the nearest <i>close</i> partisan race and contact the HQ of the candidate you prefer… and help get out the vote!

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