A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Jobs George W. Bush Didn't Do

Nobody who votes for John Kerry is going to pretend he is Superman. He doesn't need to be to be a definite improvement.

Three full years have passed since September 11, 2001. Osama Bin Laden is still alive, is in apparent good health, is willing to admit that he ordered the WTC and Pentagon attacks, and is able to release philosophical videotapes commenting on our politics!!!

Job One was putting Osama Bin Laden out of business. George W. Bush didn't do Job One.

Job Two was keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. The Iranians have just announced they are going ahead with uranium enrichment and heavy water reactors. George W. Bush didn't do Job Two.

Job Three was securing Iraq (since the pointless neocon invasion there made it necessary!), not letting an Iraqi insurgency form and arm, and getting ALL of Saddam Hussein's arms destroyed or under control. The Iraqis were so decisively defeated that George W. Bush even had SIX full months to do Job Three!

He STILL didn't do it. One thousand of our troops have died and eight thousand of them have been permanently maimed mostly by the explosives which were not secured. Not to mention the 100,000 Iraqis who have died prematurely in the process of our failing to do this!

This all doesn't even touch on the fact that the United States of America needed four years of oil changes, tire rotation, cooling flush and fill, and all the rest of the usual and customary maintenance.

George W. Bush hasn't done any of it and the vehicle is starting to rattle and knock.

No, John Kerry doesn't have to be Superman to compare quite well to a record like that. And voters don't have to be rocket scientists to figure this out. They merely have to stop and think the evidence through.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Just Some More Reasons Why

"Expert: Bush Hides Global Warming Evidence

Oct 27, 1:38 PM (ET)


IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The Bush administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed, a NASA scientist said Tuesday night.

"In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now," James E. Hansen told a University of Iowa audience.

Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and has twice briefed a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney on global warming....."


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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It Just Gets So Plain Disheartening....

....I've voted. I've already done my best to fix it. If enough people in this country finally come to the conclusion that the sound of the Bull breaking china is not the sound of strength, safety, or security, maybe we can get it fixed. Until at least January 20th we will simply have to endure the sound of carnage in the China Shop:

"Allawi Blames Ambush on 'Great Negligence'

Oct 26, 5:56 PM (ET)By RAWYA RAGEH

BAGDHAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's interim prime minister blamed the U.S.-led coalition Tuesday for "great negligence" in the ambush that killed about 50 soldiers heading home after graduation from a U.S.-run training course, and warned of an escalation of terrorist attacks.

Underscoring the warning, insurgents made a new threat of nationwide attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces "with weapons and military tactics they have not experienced before" if American forces try to storm the militant stronghold of Fallujah.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the Iraqi National Council, a government oversight body, that coalition forces' negligent handling of security was responsible for Saturday's deadly ambush along a remote highway near the Iranian border....."

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Yet Another Systematic UN-American Outrage of George W. Bush

You have not seen many postings from Joe Claus in the last two weeks of the election. New and relevant facts have been few and far between since the final Presidential debate and the refutation of scurrilous misrepresentation and lies in the political advertising will be better blogged as a summary once the election is over.

But what is below cannot be passed by. It is the most systematic attempt to impose authoritarian government in this country in my lifetime, and possibly the most systematic attempt since the Alien and Sedition Acts. The architects of it, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, have no business ever being NEAR political power again.

Read 'em and weep:

After Terror, a Secret Rewriting of Military Law


Published: October 24, 2004

WASHINGTON - In early November 2001, with Americans still staggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, a small group of White House officials worked in great secrecy to devise a new system of justice for the new war they had declared on terrorism.

Determined to deal aggressively with the terrorists they expected to capture, the officials bypassed the federal courts and their constitutional guarantees, giving the military the authority to detain foreign suspects indefinitely and prosecute them in tribunals not used since World War II.

The plan was considered so sensitive that senior White House officials kept its final details hidden from the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, officials said. It was so urgent, some of those involved said, that they hardly thought of consulting Congress.

White House officials said their use of extraordinary powers would allow the Pentagon to collect crucial intelligence and mete out swift, unmerciful justice. "We think it guarantees that we'll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve," said Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a driving force behind the policy.

But three years later, not a single terrorist has been prosecuted. Of the roughly 560 men being held at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, only 4 have been formally charged. Preliminary hearings for those suspects brought such a barrage of procedural challenges and public criticism that verdicts could still be months away. And since a Supreme Court decision in June that gave the detainees the right to challenge their imprisonment in federal court, the Pentagon has stepped up efforts to send home hundreds of men whom it once branded as dangerous terrorists.

"We've cleared whole forests of paper developing procedures for these tribunals, and no one has been tried yet," said Richard L. Shiffrin, who worked on the issue as the Pentagon's deputy general counsel for intelligence matters. "They just ended up in this Kafkaesque sort of purgatory."....

Read all nine pages of it and the follow-up article next week and learn for yourself why George W. Bush is among the greatest dangers to American freedom this country has ever faced.

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

A Miserable Failure, Period

"Post-war planning non-existent


"Knight-Ridder Newspapers

"WASHINGTON - In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.

"Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

"The slide said: "To Be Provided."....."

Read it. Read all of it. Put Knight-Ridder in your list of favorites because they are the best print journalism we still have left.

Then go into the voting booth and turn this utterly irresponsible Bush Adminstration out.

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Buddhist view of "Original Sin"

I often describe what I do on other people's blogs as honing my knife on the hardest stone. Debating religion and politics is a contact sport and I wouldn't have it any other way. In the previous post I linked to a splendid debate started by La Shawn Barber. You should go and read the entire thing, for my participation was, inevitably, only partial among the 133 (!) wonderful and lucid posts there.

But since this sport has the effect of refining my thinking into far purer form than mere blog posting does, I have revised my own comments into an essay which eliminates the more contentious moments and states fairly, I think, the Buddhist view of whether or not all people are "inherently sinful".

La Shawn does a wonderfully vivid literary job of stating the case for "original sin" from which I extract the following starting point:

"Some of you may have heard the phrase, "total depravity." It means that man is sinful through and through, though not as bad as he could be. Despite what humanists think, man is not inherently good, committing evil acts only because of his environment, poverty, ignorance, racism or the latest fad-excuse. We are inherently bad. Every word, thought and action is tainted by sin because we are sinful. In our unregenerate and rebellious state, we do not seek after God nor do we want to please or obey him.....

"The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies." (Psalm 58:3)

"The wicked are estranged from the womb. That's a hard saying, isn't it? While it may not be explicit in this passage, "the wicked" referred to is every human born. We don't usually associate sin with a precious baby, but the fact is we are born sinners. The "good" we do, if any at all, does not meet God's requirements."

The Buddhist view of the matter is somewhat different: none of us are "inherently" anything, neither "inherently good" nor "inherently evil", and we act in unskillful ways because we are confused about this fact. Buddhists are not creationists, and view arguments about the existence or non-existence of a "creator" God who is omnipotent and omniscient to be irrelevant to the religious problem of humankind, which is how to deal with the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, death, and rebirth.

We speak of the Universe as existing "from beginningless time", meaning by that, functionally, that the problem of how it all started is essentially irrelevant. The primary religious question is: What do we do, right now, with our elbows deep in the suds of our own kitchen sink, to address who or what we really are?

What a Buddhist takes on trust (note I said "trust", not "faith", nothing in the Dharma cannot be directly tested by experience sooner or later, though much may not be testable immediately) is the existence of prior and future lives. Buddhist ethics is based on "karma, cause, and effect". Unskillful action is that which results in personal suffering for the individual who commits it, though how soon that action "ripens" into suffering depends upon individual circumstance. Sometimes several lives are necessary for the "ripening" to occur.

The reason we act "unskillfully" is that we hold the confused and incorrect belief that there is a permanent "self" within us which must be supported, protected, and defended against the rest of the world. This belief results in the three emotive "poisons": bewilderment, craving, and anger. These poisons drive our actions which continually recreate and sustain the illusion that we have a "self" which is something apart from the appearance of the rest of the world.

When I state my Buddhist views, people of a predominantly Christian background often find them confusing. This is a function of the fact that Buddhism has a radically different starting point in viewing both the world and our religious relations to it. For example, in the form of Buddhist logic that I have been taught--as part of the tradition of "analytical meditation"--each of the following "four extreme views" is in error:

If you say that anything exists, you are in error.

If you say that nothing exists, you are in error.

If you say that things both exist and non-exist, you are in error.

If you say that things neither exist nor non-exist, you are in error.

When you abandon all of these four errors, what is left? Pure, radiant, unobstructed bliss.

Of course, someone not familiar with this tradition might ask, "Is this bliss existent, or non-existent?" But the moment you ask the question you fall back into one of the "four extremes". Beyond the four extremes the question is not "answered". Rather, the neurotic emotional NEED to ask the question disappears. More generally, our problems come from the chronic habit of attempting to impose precisely this question as a frame around our experience which, of and by itself, has no fixed limits, frames, or boundaries.

We call this habit "grasping and fixation", fixation on the belief in a permanent "self" somehow different from a permanent "world" to which this ficticious self relates. This grasping and fixation is the essential source of all our suffering. The practical techniques of Buddhism (what we call "skillful means") are about eroding this habit of trying to impose an answer to this question on our experience.

Buddhist logic systematically obliterates all attempts to predicate anything, because predication itself is the intellectual expression of the illusion of "self" and "other" caused by grasping and fixation.

The surest "skillful means" for addressing the religious problem directly is to put to one side for the moment all such intellectual framing devices as "good", "evil", "matter", "spirit", "soul", "causality", "creation", and so on. Then, once you have your mind clear of such things, just ask who?, what?, and where? is the "me" who is asking all these questions. Look as hard as you can for that "me" and don't rest until you are sure you have found it and can actually look at it face to face.

Well, then who IS doing the asking and the looking? And why is the question so frightening? For it is truly so to almost everyone when they first ask it clearly.

Is it "me" doing the looking? Well, what color is "me"? What shape is "me"? Where is "me" located exactly? In my head? In my heart? In my navel? Is my hand as I type a part of "me" or an object that "me" perceives? Where is place, exactly, that "me" ends and the objects that "me" perceives begins? Why can't we define or locate that boundary?

If we can't find "me", how on earth is "me" going to "find God"?

Is "me" merely a result of some of the more complicated gyrations of "matter"? Or is "me" really "spirit" which has somehow been injected into some globs of "matter" and not others? And if "me" is either a part of "matter" or a part of "spirit", where are boundaries that separate "me" from the rest of "matter" and the rest of "spirit"? Where are the boundaries between "matter" and "spirit", in my so-called body for that matter? Or in the world?

Is your "you" the same as my "me" or is it different? Does my cat have a "you" like I have a "me"? Can my cat "find God"?

We can assume anything we please about all this. We can assume a "self", assume a "first cause", assume a "creation", assume whatever we need to assume to "prove" anything we want: that we are "inherently good"; that we are "inherently evil"; that God is this way, or that way, or the other way. But the Buddhist question for all this is a simple one: Why should we assume any specific starting point? What is so inherently necessary about the particular assumptions which you favor, which I favor, or which anyone favors?

If we can't find the answer to the problem of religion sitting with us in our own chair, as a real part of our own experience, why should we expect to find it anywhere else?

Now, for the sympathetic Christian listener, this may suggest the question of Why do we all NECESSARILY start out ignorant of our true nature? (which even the Buddha did); as well as the question, Is the self who desires liberation the same as the self who disappears once liberation happens?

As far as I can see, the Dharma asserts no absolute "necessity" for our confusion and corresponding suffering. It merely points out that we all ARE confused, why we are all confused, and what we can do about it. The power of it, for someone with the karma to become a Buddhist (which not everybody has in any given lifetime), is that it describes your confusion so exactly, it pins the WHY down in such a way that it makes perfect sense, and offers you realistic solutions to the problem.

The second question is a little harder to answer because the way the question is phrased is tangled up in the problem of our confusion itself. To quote from a favorite commentary of mine, "Enlightenment does not mean going somewhere else or becoming someone else." Desire itself, even "desire for liberation" is part of the problem because it is a craving to go somewhere else and become someone else, to run away from who we are rather than work with it.

The solution to the problem is to stick right here where we are and work with "right here where we are" undistractedly clearing away our confusion. The "self" does not disappear. The "self" has never been there from the first, any more than Wolf Blitzer (say) really lives in the box with the buttons that sits in the corner of our room. There is no Wolf in the box, there is no "self" in us, and there is no eternal permanence in any of the things we see around us. They are all "mere appearance". What "liberation" consists of is the total dispersion of our confusion about these things down to the subtlest and most persistent habits that persuade us to "reify" anything.

In that sense, "liberation" is a process. If I sit and think about it, I know Wolf doesn't live in my TV. But that doesn't mean that I'm not prone to throw the sofa pillows at him when I think his election coverage is unfair! On one level, I know this is silly, on another level the emotional impulse to do it is quite strong. What practical Buddhism consists of is working with stuff like that.

If you'd like a Christian comment that points in the same direction, try St. Catherine of Sienna: "All the way to Heaven is Heaven. For He said, 'I am the Way.'"

You gain confidence as a Buddhist through this process of skillful means. Confidence in what? Confidence that I have, and everyone else has for that matter, the potential to clear away ALL of that confusion--not immediately, and not by merely snapping the fingers, but we have it none the less. We call this "buddha nature" which is inherent in everyone.

Once you start the process of clearing away some of your confusion the results become quite plain. You are a little less confused than you were and you can see how you could disperse the rest of your confusion with a lot more effort and work. You realize that Wolf isn't really in the TV and your impulse to throw a pillow at him is part of the confusion that could use some more work. And you can perfectly well conceive of simply letting the emotional impulse go for good, to cease to be bothered, particularly, about the pointless jabber in a box which you yourself can turn on and off. You could do that. It is possible.

Now I myself can claim no great progress at this. For I am lazy and Buddhism is very hard work. The Japanese describe it as like being a mosquito trying to bite an iron ball. But even the small amount of work I have done has not been totally fruitless. After over 25 years of it, I am somewhat less confused than I was when I started (I was quite confused back then, by the way!) and I'm perfectly confident that I could get clearer if I just worked harder, even to the point of complete and total "liberation". It is possible, and, however many lifetimes it may take, I am committed to do it and help everyone I can along the way.

This leaves, for the sympathetic Christian, other questions, such as, What is the nature of the alternative to the illusion of self? Buddhists often appear to be reticent on this point.

As a practical matter, my teachers (who are Tibetan) say that teaching from the vantage point "of the fruition" is better for people with some experience of the Dharma than for an introduction to it. It is possible to merely drift in dreams of "being Enlightened" and neglect to do the real work. So Buddhists generally stress suffering and confusion as the starting point, to keep a practitioner grounded and motivated at the beginning.

But what they do say about the fruition is this:

The way things really are is that they are "empty, luminous, and unobstructed." They are pure potential out of which any appearance whatever can manifest itself. No matter what happens to appear to us, that empty, luminous, and unobstructed ground does not change--and there is no essential difference between ordinary appearances and that unobstructed ground.

"Enlightenment" means simply to realize this. The "enlightened beings" don't live in any different world than we do, and that world has been inherently perfect, pure, and stainless from the beginning. We are confused about it, they are not. Because our confusion is so deep and abiding, there are parts of this perfect world that we cannot even perceive and we chronically misinterpret what we can perceive.

So the world of an enlightened being is not different from ours, but they have more perceptual capacity from their enlightened knowledge, just like I have more perceptual capacity, due to knowledge, than my pet cats. One can elaborate on the details of all this, and there are extensive Dharmic descriptions of the things that we in the "human realm" generally do not see, but that is the essence of the matter. Buddhas and enlightened Bodhisattvas manifest in ordinary appearances, but they are not limited by them.

Now I am nowhere near to achieving such liberation personally. But I am convinced, from extrapolating my small experience with Buddhist skillful means, that the world is actually pure, perfect, and stainless even though none of us ordinary folks see it that way. I am also convinced, from the same extrapolation of my experience, that assuming past and future lives is reasonable and that "karma, cause, and effect" over many such lives is the best explanation of the moral nature of our journey in this world. By implication this means that, as a Buddhist, I am correct to be non-evangelical and to present these views on their own merits for the examination of my neighbors of other religious traditions.

So to all those of other religions I say--be the very best Christian, or Jew, or Moslem, or Hindu, or whatever, you can be--nothing will be more important for your future.

To all those of secular views, I say--keep focused on the religious questions, even if you don't come to religious answers.

For in this matter, working on the questions is far more important than "finding the right answer." This is, at least, what a Buddhist believes.

With thanks to La Shawn, La Femme Crickita, Mark S., AWG, and Adrian for acting as stones on which to hone my edge. And with thanks as well to all the other participants for sustaining equally interesting comments on other vantage points on Original Sin.

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Monday, October 11, 2004

An Excellent Discussion on Religion, with a Politics Sidebar

It has all taken place over at La Shawn Barber's and goes by the title of Grace and You.

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

On Being My Brother's Keeper

First, let's put the request, from my good friend and constant reader Chuck Pelto on the table:

"In the last 12 hours, we've had reports of two such incidents. Oddly enough, it seems that Republican facilities have been the targets of such activities. I've been waiting for someone in the Democratic hierarchy to decry this sort of behavior. However, not even Edwards, with his golden opportunity this evening, to put a stop to this, said anything about such conduct."


"We've seen what has been called a 'culture war' brewing for the last 20 years. And it could well boil over to a real war unless certain people start saying doing what has happened in the last 36 hours in Knoxville, Orlando and Milwaukee is wrong and they won't stand for it. That's people like Kerry, Edwards, Pelosi, etc., etc., etc....

"You're a liberal. Do something with those people who claim the same appellation."

Do what exactly?

Condemn the perpetrators? I certainly do. And I see no reason why ANY of the candidates, Republican or Democratic, wouldn't, if they could fit it into their busy debate schedules among issues of more moment such as War, Terrorism, Homeland Security, Weapons of Mass Destruction (present, absent, or potential), building Islamic Democracy, repairing our goodwill around the world, and other big-ticket items.

Apprehend the perpetrators? Far beyond my capacities, I'm afraid, as a fat middle-aged man who carries a cane. I know Chuck tries to be more sprightly, as befits a former soldier, but he, too, is far away from the crimes and unlikely to be of very much help.

Support the activities of police and prosecutors with paying taxes, do civic duty reporting instances of crime, and serve on juries? I'm sure both Chuck and I stand ready to do all three, though I am, perhaps, a little less inclined to complain about the weight and necessity of the taxes, since I believe in proactive as well as reactive government.

Perhaps we need John Ashcroft and the Feds on the case, though their batting averages have been running a little low since we expanded their investigative powers and set them to work snooping on Muslims.

In any event, the principle is the same in all instances. The activities are illegal, the perpetrators should be apprehended, given a fair trial with due process of law, affording us all the equal protection of the law. The same principles I articulated in my last post, though Chuck was a little too busy being fixated on some instances of scabrous political hooliganism to pay them much mind.

The principles ARE the solution, which is why I cleave to them. They define the best redaction of the just social contract the world has ever seen and, when applied, are far more effective than any lacrymorse breast beating over the "outrageousness" of the crimes.

"Let justice be done." Four of the most powerful words I know.

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Monday, October 04, 2004

On Being Liberal and Religious--Part 3 and Last

You can visit the previous posts on this topic here and here.

So what, then, of being "liberal"?

The "values" issue in our politics has to be disentangled from the "purpose of government" issue in order for any examination of where American Liberalism stands today to make much sense. For the whole "purpose of government" issue has been stood on its head by the practical politics of the Bush Administration and the "values" issue has been pivoted to horizontal by the social changes in this country over the past forty years.

The disentanglement of these two is a difficult task for one simple reason: the overwhelming majority of liberal and progressive voters are also strongly on the side of a secular, rather than a religious, attitude toward "values" in the public and political arena. Unlike the conservative camp, there is little in the way of a Religious Liberalism that would be the complete mirror image of the Secular Libertarianism found among a significant plurality of Conservatives.

Even when Liberals are religious personally, they tend to embrace a secular attitude which compartmentalizes politics and religion into completely different realms of discourse--a kind of "disestablishment" of religion in the mind with equal or greater force than it actually has in our own Constitution.

Consequently, when one meets Liberals of very strong religious views, (yes, they do exist, I run into them fairly frequently in my circle) they tend to be extremely hazy about the details of political philosophy, supporting cotton candy like Dennis Kusinich's proposal for a cabinet-level "Department of Peace", and not having a lot to offer in the way of practical political solutions.

Conversely, the secular Liberal seldom has thought hard enough about the problem of what, besides sheer egocentricity, is a clear, coherent, and defensible basis for secular ethics. They have seldom thought fundamentally about what "values" they do cherish and support, and tend to act is if the answer to this question is far more obvious than it actually is.

One of the people who has probed this more tellingly than many is John Zogby. Unlike most who discuss "values" in politics, he is not a partisan stalking horse. He is genuinely interested in the facts of what the word "values" actually means to the various segments of the political spectrum, and questions them shrewdly to find those facts out.

Zogby's analysis:

"Where is the Middle Ground?

"According to the Zogby International/Williams Identity poll, more than half (54%) of likely voters want a president who shares their personal values. On this much they can agree; it's the values they can't agree on. For Americans this election represents an either-or choice between the candidates leaving little room for compromise.....

"The roots of this trend may be found in what voters do on Sunday morning. When asked what was more important to them, their religion or their ethnicity, Bush voters overwhelming selected religion, by a 56% to 3% margin, with 41% choosing neither option.

"Three-quarters (73%) of Kerry voters, meanwhile, were not keen on either choice, breaking more heavily for ethnicity (17%) than religion (10%). The undecideds seemed to take a somewhat less intense version of the Bush voter’s worldview, with 36% choosing religion, 8% choosing ethnicity, and 57% opting out of both....

"Undecided voters are perceived to fall somewhere between the more conservative Bush-Cheney voters and the more liberal Kerry-Edwards voters. But on [specific] social issues, [such as gay marriage or abortion] in question after question they actually trend more closely to the position of Bush voters....

"If social issues play a large role in how undecided voters cast their ballots in November, the Bush camp has reason to feel buoyed by these results....

"While more than half (58% of all respondents) agree that religion is largely a private matter, the results are once again deeply divided. Three-fourths (76%) of Bush-Cheney supporters say a president should put an emphasis on his religious values, while nearly all (96%) of Kerry-Edwards supporters agree with John Kerry that religion is a private matter." [Emphasis mine]

There, in a nutshell, are the three politically motivated groups I outlined in the first of these posts:
Religious Conservatives--76% of Bush supporters, Secular Libertarians--24% of Bush supporters, and Secular Liberals, who remain secular in politics whatever their private beliefs,--96% of Kerry supporters.

So what about someone like me? A part of the forlorn 4% who are left on the Kerry-Edwards side? What do we think? What do I think as a committed Buddhist and a political Liberal?

I ended the last post with the following question:

"What is the true moral nature of the world, and why should we conform to it?

And it does seem to me that the question inevitably is as political as it is religious. Whatever answers we give to it must be the same answers for our religion, or lack of one, as for our politics."

As a Buddhist, I view the true moral nature of the world as that of "karma, cause, and effect" playing out over multiple lives, with "unskillful action" in the present leading to personal suffering in the future, and "skillful action" in the present leading to personal happiness in the future. The terms in quotation marks are translations of quite explicitly defined Buddhist ideas which have no exact terminological equivalent in English. Skillful action is not exactly "virtue", unskillful action is not precisely "sin".

The broad point, however, is that Buddhist ethics is result oriented and pragmatic.

As an American liberal, I find this ethical view to be perfectly conformable with a philosophy of government which is widely proactive in securing "the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity" rather than merely being reactive to the most gross and obvious of external threats.

The men who founded this country, those largely deist gentlemen--with their clay pipes, their Roman and stoic attitude, and their exceptionally clear minds--left us with the precisely justifying concepts for such proactive, results oriented, government: "ensuring domestic tranquility", "providing for the common defense", and "promoting the general welfare". They also left us two rock-solid standards for securing the proper relation of government to the individual: "due process of law" and "the equal protection of the law".

From these, as a liberal, I infer that there really does exist a broad "public interest", a commonweal that often requires setting legal limits to the private interests of specific individuals, parties, or factions. I also infer that these primary concepts justify limits to the license of any actions of private interest which interfere with the maintenance of a "level playing field" where the private interests of ALL of us compete in relative liberty. And I finally infer that proactive government is necessary to establish such a level playing field where it does not exist.

This, then, is the credo: Proactive legal regulation, in the public interest, with end of fundamental fairness and justice, but restrained by the standards of due process of law and the equal protection of the law.

Where such limits lie and what specific proactive government action is required, must always be decided on a case-by-case basis and an evaluation of pragmatic results: judge the tree by its fruits and do not meddle overly with the roots.

And there is nothing incompatible with my religious views, at least, in any of that.

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Sunday, October 03, 2004

George W. Bush and The Big Five-OH

Here it is, all in one package, over at American Prospect Online, by Guy Molyneux

"An incumbent who can’t break 50 percent is in trouble, even if he’s ahead. Not that we’re referring to anyone in particular.

"A careful reading of recent presidential-election polls shows that the race is very close, and that if were held today, the result would likely mirror 2000’s razor-close finish. If you had a different impression, that’s certainly understandable, for nearly all media reporting on these same polls has suggested that George W. Bush enjoys a significant lead and will win comfortably barring a change in the race’s dynamics. However, this media analysis is marred by a failure to take account of a phenomenon well-known to all political pollsters, the “incumbent 50-percent rule.”....

"In fact, the percentage of the vote an incumbent president receives in surveys is an extraordinarily accurate predictor of the percentage he will receive on election day -- even though the survey results also include a pool of undecided voters. Hence the 50-percent rule: An incumbent who fails to poll above 50 percent is in grave jeopardy of losing his job.

"But is it really possible for Kerry to close a 5-point gap, absent some fundamental change in voter preference?....Not only can Kerry close such a gap, it is extremely likely that he will.... In every case, the challenger(s) -- I include Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 -- exceed their final poll result by at least 2 points, and the average gain is 4 points....

"This happens because elections are fundamentally a referendum on the incumbent. The first step in voters’ decision-making process is to answer the question “does he deserve re-election?” Undecided voters have basically answered that question in the negative, and their undecided status reflects the fact that they don’t know enough about the challenger (yet) to feel comfortable stating a public preference.....

"In any case, the net effect is crystal clear: We can expect George W. Bush to receive about the same share of the vote -- or a bit less -- on November 2 as he receives in the final public polls.....The percentage that Bush receives in polls represents his ceiling of support; he may get a little less, but won’t get more....If Bush can get to 50 percent or above in the polls, he should be able to win. At 49 percent -- where he is today -- we’re probably looking at another photo finish, lots of recounts, and narrow state-by-state victories dictating the Electoral College outcome. And below 49 percent, Bush is almost certain to lose.

"You may also have heard that Bush is surging ahead in the crucial “battleground states” that will determine the Electoral College outcome. However, polls in these states actually reveal an even more precarious position for the president....

"Bush falls short of the 49-percent benchmark in nearly every one, including Ohio (47 percent), Florida (47 percent), and Pennsylvania (46 percent). Wisconsin (51 percent) is the only crucial battleground state in which Bush appears to have a fairly solid lead. Bush even fails to clear the 49-percent bar in such 2000 Bush states as West Virginia (47 percent), Missouri (49 percent), and Arkansas (48 percent). This year, it is quite possible that it will be Bush who ends up wishing we had scrapped the Electoral College in favor of a straight popular vote....

"If political journalists interpret poll results in the correct context -- that of an incumbent president seeking re-election -- they will also become better analysts....

"A correct reading of polls would also help prevent journalists from being suckered by strategic feints from the campaigns, such as the Bush team’s proclaimed interest in “expanding the map” by pouring money into states such as New Jersey. Bush isn’t anywhere close to showing enough strength in New Jersey to make the state truly competitive. If Karl Rove wants to repeat his 2000 California mistake by wasting resources this year on the other coast, Democrats will be happy indeed -- but it seems unlikely....

"And there is one final factor to consider that isn’t captured in the polls at all: the ground war. Democratic 527s such as America Coming Together are conducting massive voter-registration and mobilization campaigns that could easily add 2 or 3 percentage points to Kerry’s vote. As the Service Employee International Union’s Andy Stern has observed, this field operation is “the greatest field-goal unit in history” -- if Kerry can keep the race close, voter mobilization will give him the last few points he needs...."

In Ohio we're going to do just that, as I have pointed out here, here, and here.

Thanks to the folks at Donkey Rising.

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How We Went To War Because We Wanted To

Be a well-informed citizen. Read it. Read all of it. Read all fifteen pages of it. Read every appalling refusal to weigh the objective merits of the claims for Saddam Hussein's "nuclear progress" and see the unequivocal reason why the current Administration should be booted out of power:

"How the White House Embraced Disputed Arms Intelligence
Published: October 3, 2004

This article was reported by David Barstow, William J. Broad and Jeff Gerth, and was written by Mr. Barstow.

In 2002, at a crucial juncture on the path to war, senior members of the Bush administration gave a series of speeches and interviews in which they asserted that Saddam Hussein was rebuilding his nuclear weapons program. Speaking to a group of Wyoming Republicans in September, Vice President Dick Cheney said the United States now had "irrefutable evidence" - thousands of tubes made of high-strength aluminum, tubes that the Bush administration said were destined for clandestine Iraqi uranium centrifuges, before some were seized at the behest of the United States...."

"Irrefutable evidence" for a program that wasn't there. "Irrefutable evidence" that was massively disputed within our own intellegence community. "Irrefutable evidence" which no one, not even our closest allies in Britain, believed.

The story of this arrogant rush to war is utterly incredible.

Linked to: "Beltway Traffic Jam"

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Zogby: The Race is STILL Kerry's to Lose

And Zogby thought so even before John Kerry won the First Debate:

"In May of this year I wrote a column arguing that Senator John F. Kerry would defeat President George W. Bush in the November election. I based my conclusion on several factors. First, that Mr. Bush was posting weak numbers for an incumbent. In fact, the last three incumbents seeking re-election with numbers like his all went down in defeat – Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the President’s father in 1992.

"Second, I noted that Mr. Kerry led the President by double digits on four of the top five issues – the economy, health care, the conduct in the war in Iraq, and education. Third, is Mr. Kerry’s own history as a good “closer”, who has famously reached for victory in the throes of defeat several times before ....

"Since mid-August, the President has had several good weeks in tandem with a tepid performance by his opponent, but even in the glow of his post-convention bounce, Mr. Bush is still posting barometric readings that are over 50% negative....Remember, this [Kerry] is a candidate who gets about 45%-47% of the vote just by showing up. That is the purely anti-Bush vote. Kerry’s problem has been that up until last week he had not given his base anything to grab on to....

"But the Massachusetts Senator still has aces in his hand that he can play. First, the President’s numbers are still not good. Despite a few outlier polls that show a large single digit or even a double digit lead for Mr. Bush, my poll has the President’s lead at only 3% and the average of all the public polls (as of this writing) is only a 4 point lead. Mr. Bush is only polling at 46% to 48% both nationally and in many key battleground states, hardly victory territory. And his barometric readings are still more negative than positive....

"Mr. Kerry has more room for growth than the President. He has to first consolidate his base with an anti-war message that his base wants. He need not worry about accusations of flip-flopping on this issue because that is what the other side says about him and they are never going to vote for him under any circumstances. This alone will bring him to parity with the President in the polls.

"From there we see a startling statistic: only 16% to 20% of undecided voters feel that the President deserves to be re-elected. Forty-percent of this relatively small group feel that it is time for someone new. They seem to have their minds made up about the President and have been given no reason to vote for Mr. Kerry. What is most important to this group? They agree with Mr. Bush on values, leadership, the war on terror, and likeability. They prefer Mr. Kerry on the economy, health care, the war, and education....

"The pressure is really on Mr. Kerry to give a strong performance in both the debates and in the remaining five weeks of this campaign. If he is the John Kerry who defeated popular Governor Bill Weld in the Senate race of 2000 and the one who came from dismally low numbers in 2003 to win the primaries in 2004, he will win this race.

"As of this writing this race is still John Kerry’s to lose."

You heard it first from JZ. You still hear it from JZ. And you heard it from me, as soon as I got around to reading it.

UPDATE: Zogby's latest, glossed by Steve Soto on The Left Coaster:

"Yet the most ominous development for Bush in this poll is this from Zogby himself:

'The post convention bounce for Bush is over and his biggest hurdle is among undecided voters who give him a 31 percent positive job performance rating and a 69 percent negative rating. Only 13 percent of undecided voters feel that the president deserves re-election (his lowest yet) while 37 percent feel it is time for someone new.'

"So Bush has squandered his convention bounce, and he is toast with the undecided voters, whom history shows usually break towards the challenger at the close anyway."

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Howard Dean On The Media: Worth Thinking About

Dean, after all, has had much experience with them--up close, and personal:

"A reporter on the campaign plane once accused me of being contemptuous of the press. Even though I denied it, she and I both knew it was true.

"I think the media is a failing institution. [emphasis Dean's] The most common problem--and it is almost always deliberate...--is that reporters are under enormous pressure from editors to write what the editors think is a good story rather than what reporters actually see or hear. And editors are under enormous pressure from publishers who are under enormous pressure from CEOs who are under enormous pressure from shareholders...

"The truth is, reporters are rewarded for twisting facts to make them fit the story line of the day. I have had reporters tell me with specific illustrations that they are even encouraged to concoct stories by stringing together facts that aren't related...They are the products of too much pressure to produce, and of a newsroom culture that takes both financial and editorial shortcuts to avoid the psychologically and financially costly hard work it takes to do what Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did thirty years ago...

"The reason there are no new Woodwards and Bernsteins today is that there are not many Ben Bradlees left, and there are not many media outlets left who would want a Bradlee--he was the Washington Post editor who not only trusted the judgment of two junior reporters in the face of enormous pressure to stop the Watergate investigation, but also paid these reporters for nearly two years with little initial gain...

"The consolidation of the media--bringing about a situation in which most Americans get their news from huge multinational corporations--has succeeded, where Nixon's forces failed. Serious investigative reporting has been brought to a halt.

"The other big change in the way American media works has been wrought by Rupert Murdoch. In Murdoch's Australia and in much of Europe, it is accepted that media outlets are advocates not only of points of view but of political parties themselves...

"Tradition in the United States is that media outlets may lean liberal of conservative, but keep their news coverage separate from their editorial policy. That tradition is now honored only occasionally. The Wall Street Journal, for example, is a well-written middle-of-the-road newspaper...

"The real cost of media consolidation and Foxification in our time is not, as many of my supporters believe, censorship, although that sometimes happens...The real danger is that, in the pursuit of entertainment and ratings, the role of media in our democracy has been trivialized."

From, You Have The Power, by Howard Dean, with Judith Warner.

So I guess we bloggers just have to do it all for each other and ourselves.

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Friday, October 01, 2004

Like Any Ventriloquist, George Does Better WITH His Dummy

In the aftermath of John Kerry's Presidential Debate victory, this can be presented virtually without comment:

"Report on U.S. Role in Allawi Speech Stirs Complaint
Thu Sep 30, 2004 06:59 PM ET

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush came under fire from a senior Senate Democrat on Thursday after the Washington Post said the U.S. government and a representative of Bush's reelection campaign helped draft Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's speech to Congress last week.

"Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California said in a Sept. 30 letter to Bush that the newspaper report raised doubts about Allawi's optimistic assertions on Iraqi reconstruction efforts and the prospect for elections.

'To learn that this was not an independent view, but one that was massaged by your campaign operatives, jaundices the speech and reduces the credibility of his remarks," Feinstein said. "I hope that you'll let me know whether these claims are accurate.'

"The White House had no immediate comment on Feinstein's letter or the Post article, which was published on Thursday as Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry prepared to argue about Iraq in the first of three presidential debates.....

"But many of his remarks on Iraq employed the same themes, and sometimes the same terms, as statements by Bush and other administration officials. On Thursday, the Post quoted unnamed administration officials as saying Allawi had been coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration.

"It specifically cited former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor for sending Allawi recommended phrases and helping him rehearse. The newspaper said Senor represents the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor could not be reached for comment....

"But Bush-Cheney spokesman Scott Stanzel said Senor did not work for the campaign, though he acknowledged that campaign staff direct media outlets to Senor for interviews...."

Well, let's play the guessing game, Does Dan Senor work for Bush-Cheney or not? And does Iyad Allawi speak for Iraq? Or for the President of the United States?

This is, after all, an issue which is even more important in Iraq than it is here.

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Do You REALLY Want Four More Years of This?

While the President has been busy cutting taxes and reducing Saddam Hussein's wages, and the Republican Congress has been busy "defending" marriage, "defending" the Pledge of Alliegance, "defending" the right to keep and bear arms in the District of Columbia and the right to keep and bear thirty round rifle magazines everywhere else, this is what some very ordinary Americans have been dealing with:

"Health Insurance Costs Rise Faster Than Wages
Tue Sep 28, 2004 10:53 AM ET

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Health insurance premiums for workers are rising around three times faster than their wages, and health costs eat up a quarter of earnings for more than 14 million Americans, according to a survey on Tuesday.

While benefits are being cut, health insurance premiums are rising, the report from the nonprofit Families USA found.

"Working families were squeezed by runaway health care costs over the past four years," said Families USA executive director Ron Pollack.

"As a result, workers are paying much more in premiums but are receiving less health coverage, wages are being depressed; and millions of people have lost health coverage entirely."

The cost of health insurance premiums rose by nearly 36 percent on average from 2000 to 2004 in 35 states, said the group, which bills itself as a nonpartisan watchdog on health care issues. Average earnings rose just 12 percent over the same time....

But the number of people without insurance rose last year from 43 million to 45 million and some experts say rising insurance costs are in part to blame....

"In 2003-2004, one out of every three Americans under 65 years of age went without health insurance for some period of time. Over half of these people were uninsured for at least nine months," the group said....

For the report Families USA used data compiled and analyzed by The Lewin Group from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services."

Yes, yes, I know--the President "has a plan", finally, as a part of his "ownership" initiative, where ownership and responsibility are encouraged everywhere but in Official Washington. No Republican Politician Left Behind. So what else is new?

Since this is a democracy, maybe we all ought to be burning while Rome fiddles, since our grand Republican leaders have been fiddling while Rome burns.

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