Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too True Not to Share

As the Julian Assange/Wikileaks saga continues to unfold, these comments by Gene Lyons seem relevant. In the face of so many lies, how much raw, unexpurgated truth is too much?

Happy New Year, America!

Amazingly, the lackluster 111th Congress has made history in the last few days of its “lame duck” session. The list of achievements is breathtaking:
  • ratification of the START treaty, renewing U.S.-Russian cooperation in limiting nuclear arms

  • repeal of DADT, arguably the greatest triumph in civil rights since the 1960s

  • passage of the desperately needed food safety bill

  • medical help for 9-11 first responders suffering from chronic illness as a result of their heroism

  • passage of the compromise tax-and-stimulus package that protects millions of Americans from immediate loss of unemployment benefits.

To the public, it may seem that all this occurred in a fit of holiday goodwill that turned even the dour Mr. McConnell into Ebenezer Scrooge after his conversion. Cynics may point out that after whining didn’t work, the Republicans decided they’d have to actually get some work done before they could go home for the holidays.

The reality, though, is that the work had been done, the groundwork painstakingly laid during months of negotiations, through the tough and inspired leadership of two of the most productive (albeit reviled) members of Congress: Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

Like the rest of us, Congress will emerge after the distraction of the holidays with a laundry list of things to be done and resolutions for the new year. We shall follow along with interest.

Meanwhile, though, I wish you all good cheer and happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Forecast for the 112th Congress: Soggy

Much has been said lately about the abundant tears being shed by John Boehner, Speaker-in-waiting of the House of Representatives. He is, as he willingly admits, an emotional guy, and this is an emotional time for him. His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also tends to cry frequently and with abandon.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with shedding tears, and for many (of us women, anyway) a willingness to express emotion can be an endearing quality in a man.

However, there is nothing endearing about people who make decisions based on emotion, rather than reason. And that’s the trouble with Boehner, McConnell, and a few other very important decision makers in this country—including, not incidentally, John McCain.

Scientists now know that different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of decisions. The limbic system, deep in the interior of the brain, is where emotions reside. Decisions that originate there are often spontaneous, impulsive, and ill informed. (The limbic part of the brain doesn’t think, exactly—it just reacts.)

The part of the brain responsible for logic, reasoning, and planning is the frontal cortex—essentially, the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This is where the tough, complex, and important decisions should be processed. It’s hard for the limbic system (i.e., the emotions) to tell us what we don’t already believe or don’t want to know; it requires a deliberate attempt to put feelings aside and think hard to allow us to reach conclusions based on reason and reality.

That’s one reason why educated people, by and large, make better decision makers (and better politicians) than just your everyday “ordinary Joe”: acquiring an education generally requires frequent exercise of the reasoning skills—which is to say, the frontal cortex.

Michele Bachmann, in her (self-perceived) infinite wisdom is planning to conduct classes on the Constitution for freshman House members. The incoming Congress would be infinitely better served by a couple of good courses on brain science and decision-making skills.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wikileaks and Freedom of Speech

I don't often have this feeling of solidarity with Ron Paul, but in this case . . . what he said.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tax Deal: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Starting in January, my paycheck will be a few dollars fatter. That will be money that’s not currently in my budget—money left over after the bills are paid. That means that for each of the twelve months next year, my husband and I will be more likely than we would have been otherwise to dine out, buy a new pair of shoes, or splurge on a few latt├ęs. (You’re welcome, Starbucks.)

Had the tax deal not been made, my taxes would likely have gone up, reducing my paycheck for each of the next twelve months. That would mean less disposable income for my husband and I to enjoy—and less revenue for local small businesses.

Multiply that by the millions of wage earners in this country, add the money the chronically unemployed will be able to spend thanks to the extension of benefits, and it begins to look as though the president has struck a pretty good deal. This whole thing is good for people and the economy.

Liberals are up in arms because the administration didn’t hold out for the Republicans to “cave” and agree not to continue to give the wealthiest Americans the very sweet deal that GW arranged for them. If these people thought the current GOP leadership was going to cave on anything—especially tax breaks for the rich—then I have just one question for them: Where have you been for the past two years?

See, here’s the difference between liberals and progressives: liberals are likely to stand on principle, whereas progressives are most interested in getting things done.

Both liberals and progressives tend to see government as an agency for serving and benefiting real, flesh-and-blood human beings—not for bowing to business interests in order to simply make the rich richer. So we tend to agree on many things.

In the final analysis, however, we progressives (however few of us there may be) really appreciate a pragmatic president—you know—one who actually gets things done.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks: Knowing What’s Right

For once in my life, I’m really not sure what to think about this whole business about Julian Assange and his alleged attempt to bring the whole diplomatic world crashing down around our ears.

Is it just another attempt by the media to create drama to build an audience—like the pre-Thanksgiving hysteria about protests at airports over security measures? (A tempest in a teapot if ever there was one.)

Or was it a reckless act by a sociopath that could have (but for some reason didn’t) cost lives of diplomatic and military personnel?

Clearly, Assange has made one point abundantly clear: Lots and lots of things are secret that really don’t need to be. That in itself should be an embarrassment to the U.S. government, and it’s something the rest of us have a right to know.

Or have quick action and flawless decision making by Amazon, Paypal, and media sources with access the information somehow managed to mitigate the damage that might have been caused by such a huge data dump?

Frankly, if I have to put my faith in one very smart if quirky young man (Assange) or the media and entire international diplomatic juggernaut to do a good, fundamentally right thing, I’d have to put my money on Assange.

Here’s an interesting article on the subject by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Third Party in American Politics

It’s not the Libertarians or Independents, the Blue Dogs or so-called “centrists.” It’s not the Tea Party or its lesser-known counterpart, the Coffee Party. The third “party” vying for the public’s time and attention is the media, and Jon Stewart is the party leader.

And if Jon Stewart could or would be elected to lead the nation, Steven Colbert would be vice president.

And they are the leaders precisely because they're funny.

Ironies abound.

After the October 30 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear”—the very title of which is a slap at the other two parties—Stewart spent the next few days doing interviews in which he denied any political intentions. Nonetheless, he was criticized by conservatives for being “liberal” and by liberals for being too neutral. Both sides missed the point—as, in fact, Stewart himself may have done: his commentary on American politics cannot be critical (which it is) and neutral at the same time. But that doesn’t mean he has to take sides.

Stewart is not a-political. He and his counterparts (including Colbert, Tina Fey, and the whole cast of Saturday Night Live) are political in that they routinely comment on issues in government and call out idiocy (of which there is plenty in politics) wherever they find it.

Lest we deny the close association between spoofing politicians and being one, let’s not forget that Al Franken went from satirist to Senator in the space of a few short months.

It should come as no surprise that smart, funny people should have great powers of persuasion. A person can laugh and think at the same time. However, as Robert Ingersoll famously said, “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind."

This is a lesson some of today's politicians and pundits should keep in mind. Stirring up anger can get people on the march, but once they get started, it's hard to control their direction.

In embracing the Tea Party movement, some Republicans have learned this to their detriment, as the campaigns of some extremist candidates during the last election turned to farce.

On the other hand, as Winston Churchill once said, “A joke is a very serious thing.”