Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

2008 - Eighty Years in the Making

One reason we are especially excited for the 2008 Presidential election (aside from the obvious one that we will be rid of George W. Bush, the worst President of the modern era) is that it will be the first election in eighty years where a sitting President or Vice President is not involved in the running. Taking a look at the last 19 Presidential elections produces an interesting score card.

In 15 of the last 19 elections, the President was running for re-election, but only 14 times did the President make it to the ballot. In 1952, a very unpopular President Harry Truman was not able to win the Democratic nomination to run against an apparently invincible Dwight Eisenhower. Franklin Roosevelt was the only President to run more than once for re-election; his three re-elections led to the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, limiting the President to two terms. Truman had been re-elected in 1948 after taking over the Presidency on the death of Roosevelt during his fourth term. This group of re-runners includes two more men who were never elected President, but moved up from Vice-President when the Presidential office became vacant, Lyndon Johnson when John Kennedy was assassinated, and Gerald Ford when Nixon resigned. Ford is the only man ever to become President without having been elected as either President or Vice-President; he was appointed VP after Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace and then became President after Richard Nixon resigned under cloud of impeachment. Nixon-Agnew set a record which cannot be topped, both the President and Vice-President resigning in shame.

Of the 15 tries, the President won re-election 10 times. The re-elected Presidents were: Roosevelt (in 36, 40 and 44), Truman in the famous upset of 1948, Eisenhower in 52, Johnson in 64, Nixon in 72, Reagan in 84, Clinton in 96 and Bush II in 2004. The losers were Hoover in 32, Truman, who lost the nomination in 1952, Ford in 76, Carter in 80, and Bush I in 92. Truman was disliked for many reasons in 1952, Ford was suspect for never having been elected in the first place and for promptly pardoning Nixon for any Watergate crimes, and the other three, Hoover, Carter and Bush I lost mostly because of bad economic conditions.

In 4 of the last 19 elections, a sitting Vice-President was in the running. The only winner was Bush I as expected in 1988. Three Vice-Presidents lost their bids for the top spot, and Richard Nixon was involved in two of those contests. VP Nixon lost an extremely close 1960 race to Kennedy and then won in 1968 over Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who was a political victim of the Vietnam War. The third VP to lose a run for President was Al Gore in 2000, though he won the popular vote and some of us think also the electoral college.

Too bad Dick Cheney is so decrepit; I would love to see the Republicans stuck with him as their candidate in 2008. Can you say landslide or sweep? My expectation right now is that we will see two sitting or former Governors on the ballot. Maybe Mitt Romney for the GOP and someone like Tom Vilsack, who announced today that he is running, for the Democrats.

The reason why the 1928 election was void of candidates from the White House is interesting. The incumbent Republican President Calvin Coolidge decided to retire after two terms, and his VP, Charles G. Dawes, was so unpopular with the GOP power structure that he did not even try for the nomination. Dawes sounds like a fascinating man. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also wrote the music to a song that became #1 in my high school years. He was a man of many talents, but one of them was not endearing himself to politicians. So Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover got the 1928 Republican nomination to finish the “roaring twenties” with the Coolidge philosophy of “the business of America is business”. Hoover was elected President, only to be soundly defeated in his 1932 re-election bid by Franklin Roosevelt, after the country had fallen into the Great Depression.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Home Economics

The standard test used to predict college grades in my era of the early 1960s was definitely sexist. One manifestation of this bias that permeated our society was the study of “home economics”, where scores were predicted for women, but not for men. The prevailing vision at that time was that pretty women who were not that bright would be leading future lives as married homemakers and needed to learn how to cook and organize housekeeping chores. Because they would be awarded a college degree, “home making” sounded too mundane, so “home economics” had been adopted to make it sound more intellectual.

I did not know any home economics majors, so I have no first hand information on their course of study. If they were really as pretty as mythology said, then they would have been looking for young men who were not only destined to financial success, but also were quite handsome. Either or both of those qualifications would explain why I flew under the home economics radar.

Home economics is a redundancy. The word economics is Greek and means household management. The only economics course I took in college was Econ 101, an introduction to the esoteric theories that enable economic theorists to make a good living arguing about which theory is correct, then eventually choosing one and waiting long enough for a cycle to develop consistent with their theory, at which time they garner acclaim as an economic guru, ignoring the many previous years when they were just plain wrong. But then economists are never wrong, because they always condition their primary position with the possibility the opposite could be true, “on the other hand”.

After my college days had passed, we learned that sexism was wrong and made some changes, apparently relegating home economics to the pasture. But it would have been better if we had instead changed the economics curriculum to make home economics the 101 course in the field and require every student to take it. We all need to learn the basics of running a household, and the sorry state of our societal personal finances shows we have not been adequately educated in that regard.

The Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the adoption of micro credit lending, primarily to women homemakers to start their own business enterprises. In a PBS interview, Dr. Yunus was asked if it was unrealistic to expect that so many people could actually be entrepreneurs, to which he replied that entrepreneurship is basic to human nature, beginning with cave people who had to make their own living in order to survive. He pointed out that the concept of capitalists employing people as laborers is a very recent development in human history and suggested that maybe moving back toward local entrepreneurship is part of the answer to the problems created by increasing globalization.

Starting in grade school, our children should be taught the basics of running a household and encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial instincts. Republicans talk of the importance of private enterprise and small businesses, but by that they actually mean protecting the corporate profits of the capitalists. True small business enterprises in my book are those with a hands on owner and a mere handful of employees, not the companies with many more employees, which the Small Business Administration designates in their table as small (some can have as few as 100 employees, but most can have 500, and some as many as 1,500 and still be designated a “small business”).

Voters well educated in basic home economics would be better prepared to consider the economic issues before casting their ballot, which probably helps explain why the power elites that control business capital and school curricula do not encourage the development and teaching of such courses.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Best Thanksgiving Ever

Thanksgiving means food, family and friends, an American tradition which has successfully resisted commercialization - or at least put it off until Black Friday. Today I could look back on some of my previous 64 turkey day feasts, but I choose instead to look ahead and visualize what would be the best world wide Thanksgiving ever. Drawing on some topics from the Sense index, here is my vision for a world where all humanity could give thanks.

would be virtually non-existent, due to a combination of medical progress, sexual education, respect for women, economic gains for the impoverished and significant development in religious thought.

Artistic expression
would be fostered with government and private funding and with minimal censorship.

Capital punishment
would be abolished world wide as beneath the dignity of humanity.

Charity would be practiced at the level of the individual, since the basic human needs would be met by individual accomplishment and by the support of government and non-governmental organizations supported through progressive taxation.

Children would be given the highest priority for protection from harm and provided encouragement to realize their full human potential as world citizens.

Corporations would be severely restricted and recognized as the artificial entities they are, merely a means for efficient administration and nothing more.

Democracy would be recognized as the form of government to which all are entitled, though with a range of diverse standards appropriate for each nation in its own time.

Economics would be monitored and managed on a world wide basis for the good of the people and the planet, rather than for the primary benefit of corporations and capitalists.

Education would be a sacred lifetime human right for all people, encouarged by government.

Environmental respect would receive top priority in everything we do, and natural resources would be recognized as belonging to the people, with limited licensing possible to private entities.

Health care would be a universal right and medical research and development would belong to the people.

Immigration and travel would be fostered, though relocation for economic reasons would no longer be necessary.

Labor would be recognized and celebrated as of equal importance to capital and natural resources.

Legal rights and processes would be guaranteed to protect individual and national rights, and legitimate courts would be the only acceptable forum for contested resolution of disputes.

Legislative bodies would operate openly and democratically, with majority rule tempered with respect for minority positions, free from influence by anyone other than the people they represent, with the United Nations setting the example for all nations to emulate.

Media would belong to the people, with limited communication channels being licensed for the good of the public and with protections against media domination.

Non-governmental organizations would be encouraged by governments, providing a variety of examples of ways governments might choose to meet ends and then being able to appropriately serve governments in administering chosen governmental programs.

Nuclear technology would belong to the people, including the rights of development and regulation, and nuclear weaponry would be banned.

Racial differences would be celebrated and racial discrimination barred.

Religious beliefs and non-beliefs would be entitled to protection but barred from being incorporated into governmental practice.

Sexual orientation differences would be recognized and protected, with only sexual exploitation of persons not consenting or not capable of consenting (minors and the mentally deficient) being prohibited.

Social security would be recognized as a basic human right, governments guaranteeing minimal living standards for everyone.

Sports would be recognized and promoted by governments and the private sector, with primary emphasis on youth programs and secondary on amateurs, and with professional sports being highly regulated.

War would be non-existent, replaced by UN police actions and peace keeping missions, enabling the disbanding of national programs for military defense and aggression.

would have equal rights to men, while recognizing legitimate gender differences in fashioning particular programs as needed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Studying Iraq

The Iraq Study Group is supposed to issue a report by the end of the year, just in time for the new congress controlled by the Democrats. Nobody expects anything new in the report, just maybe a more realistic assessment of the current situation than the Bush administration is willing to give. Actually the Group includes several Bush administration people, but they are from the days of Bush the Elder. Once again, Daddy Bush has to bail out errant son.

Going into Iraq was a mistake. Many who did not initially see the error now do so with better hindsight. We don’t know for sure what Daddy Bush thought at the time his son decided to launch shock and awe, but we know he thought it was a bad idea at the time of the first Gulf War, and so did his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney [you can listen to what Cheney said back then on the second link above]. What supposedly changed according to the son’s people was the resurrection of the Iraq WMD program, Iraq involvement with 9/11 and Saddam’s brutality. But the resurrection was a fantasy, the involvement was a lie and the brutality was the same as ever. What really changed was the Bush administration became insecure about controlling Iraqi oil and the Supreme Court gave us a juvenile President who wanted to play cowboy pilot and create a legacy as spreader of Democracy to overcome Islam.

Oil control has been achieved and a brutal dictator overthrown. Young George got to play cowboy, and after an early thrill learned that it is not as easy a game as he thought. Democracy in Iraq is an artificial American creation that seems to be deteriorating and may not survive. Physical insecurity is rampant in Iraq and the US troops are not able to quell the crime, insurgency, terror, militia power plays and religious warfare. In fact, the presence of US troops provokes much of the insecurity.

Defining victory and success in Iraq is now immaterial. The goal should be just to enable the Iraqi government to provide enough security for their people, in the eyes of Iraq and the world community, to allow American troops to withdraw. The way to do that is to require the Iraqi government to assume full responsibility for training their own troops and police on their own schedule and with the resources they need, financed by America. Let them figure it out with an Iraq Study Group made up of Iraqis who will present the program publicly to America for agreement and to the UN for consensus. If the time line is too long, America should publicly counter with a shorter time and the public negotiations to finalize the time should be submitted to the UN for consensus agreement. The agreement should include times at which Iraq would tell America to remove certain numbers of troops, not to be later replaced or increased.

Whether America will keep some troops on bases in Iraq is a long term issue. Bush had huge bases built for that purpose, but it would be best to turn those bases over to Iraq and withdraw American troops out of Iraq, some to remain in the middle east a while and most to come home. Security of Iraq against attack by a foreign nation should be provided by the UN and other multi-national entities, not by America or an American dominated token coalition.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The People Have Spoken

Yesterday’s election bought much good news. Pollsters and pundits got it right, election machinery worked fairly well, Democrats won a significant majority in the House and in State Governorships, Democratic control of the Senate only depends on whether Webb’s slim lead in Virginia will hold up on a protracted recount (it will be interesting to see if Republicans choose litigation in the event the recount holds for Webb). But the best news of all is the people spoke and threw the bums out, so our democracy still works.

The Bush press conference this morning was a little different. The number of his frat boy humor attempts was way down, especially after his opener, “Why so glum?” fell flat. Bush indulged his usual panoply of platitudes and tried to save some face by saying the election actually was close - in some of the contests - and then finally admitting “we got thumped”. There were two particular questions that got my attention, one on Rumsfeld and one on the District of Columbia.

Everyone seems surprised Rumsfeld is out. Not me. There has been an escalating parade of reasons for him to resign and a growing chorus calling for his head, culminating in the editorial of the service newspapers saying it was time for him to go. The surprise emanated from the vehement Rumsfeld endorsement by Bush just a week ago, saying Rummy would stay the course of Bush’s two years to go. But why does anyone still believe anything Bush says? What was interesting this morning is that Bush actually admitted he lied to the reporters a week ago, offering as an excuse the non-sequitur that he did not want any announcement about Rumsfeld to affect the election and that he had not fully completed making the decision to fire him because he had not yet interviewed the intended successor (Robert Gates, another Bush family insider who led the CIA under Bush I) and he had not yet given Rummy his final exit interview. Nobody asked Bush if Rummy would still be in had the Republicans prevailed Tuesday; but Bush could have declined to answer that since he refuses to answer hypothetical questions.

The other question I found interesting was whether Bush supported the plan that has been floating around for a while to give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House (an obvious Democratic vote) while simultaneously adding one more in Utah (definitely a Republican). Bush said that was the first time he had ever heard that suggestion and he did not have an opinion on it. My curiosity is piqued by which of the Bush deficiencies was on display in his answer, his uninformed ignorance and total disregard of the political desire of the overwhelmingly black population of the District in which the White House is located, or his inherent penchant for dishonesty.

Lots of Democrats deserve credit for the election outcome. Howard Dean pushed to have Democratic candidates in all areas of the country, conceding nothing to Republicans, and Democrats picked up seats in unexpected places. Senator Schumer and Representative Emmanuel spearheaded a drive to field viable centrist Democrats for seats where that was a prerequisite, and the candidates did a good job of staying on message. I am disappointed that Republican Reichert in my district may have just barely edged into a re-election he definitely did not deserve (he actually declined to respond to the AARP candidate survey questions on issues of interest to senior citizens).

The real star to rise from this election is one who has been almost imperceptibly on the horizon for years - Nancy Pelosi. This is a lady who knows what she is doing and how to do it. She has been low key, but now that she is to become the first woman Speaker in history, she will be quite visible. How effectively she handles the job of holding her House Democrats together while working with the Republicans and with the Senate and the President, will be determinative of what good gets done for the House, the Congress, the Democratic Party and the American people. I expect this woman of small physical stature is quite capable of doing the job and of raising the role of women in American politics to the highest echelons, where the next step for a woman is Executive office as VP or President.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election Significance

The consensus of objective observers is that the Democrats will win the House in tomorrow’s election, almost surely picking up the 15 seats they need and probably adding some additional ones, though not a large number. The Senate is close, but the Republicans will probably hang on to it by the skin of their teeth. This election is as close as we get to a referendum on the President, and the American voters will be confirming what the polls have shown for months; they are rejecting George W. Bush. I agree with that assessment and I have a few additional comments about the election and some early thoughts on the significance of the change in the House and the possible course of the next two years.

Tomorrow, the Republicans will be aggressively pursuing their tactic of intimidating voters at the polls by vigorously challenging on any grounds conceivable those whom they correctly think are likely, not to vote illegally, but to vote Democratic. This means African-Americans, seniors and poor people will be targeted. Meanwhile their celebrated get out the vote program will be generating a massive number of phone calls, many by computer, to encourage likely Republican voters by disparaging Democratic candidates.

Some vote totals will be so close as to require recounts, and there will be challenges to the accuracy of the voting machinery used and to the recount process. Litigation is fairly likely, though I do not expect either the House or Senate to hang in the balance pending the outcome of such litigation. We will see that, despite the debacles of the 2000 election and because the Republicans have been in control of our federal government, no particularly meaningful national progress has been made toward insuring that everyone who legitimately wants to vote is able to do so and that all legitimate votes are accurately counted.

Immediately after the election, there will be a massive flurry of executive orders and agency regulatory changes intended to carry forward Bush agenda items that are too unpopular to have been moved on before the election. With the election over, Bush will want these measures put into place before the new Congress convenes in January and well before the 2008 campaign begins in earnest. The new Democratic House will not be able to overturn these measures, particularly if the Senate remains Republican, but in any event because Bush will still have the veto power. However, the House will be able to hold hearings to try to shine light on the more outrageous aspects of what is done. But there has already been so much done by the Bush Administration without oversight and review by the Republican Congress, that the Democrats will have to be fairly selective on which hearings to push and they will have to try to enlist some moderate Republicans in the effort, lest the public quickly grow weary. Former Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich notes in this blog entry many possible hearings items, but wisely suggests a Democratic House use the two years to work on a wider agenda.

The House Democrats have identified some fundamental items which have broad public support, like a minimum wage increase, which they will pass to make a clear statement and put the challenge to the Senate. If Senate moderate Republicans align with the Democrats in sufficient numbers on a particular matter, or perhaps a compromised version of a matter, it may actually pass Congress and, if the White House has worked through the Senate moderate Republicans on the compromise, some limited version of the agenda might get signed into law. But no legislation of great significance is likely to come out of this process.

For a dozen years, the political talk has focused on what is wrong with the Democratic party and how it needs to change. In spite of criticism and with agonizing self-analysis, the Democrats have largely stayed true to their principles. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has become captured by an unseemly coalition of right wing neocons and evangelicals, nominally led by George W. Bush. The Iraq debacle has shown the ignorant invalidity of the neocon agenda. Evangelical politicians have turned off not only Democrats and moderate Republicans, but now also independents and sincere evangelicals who realize it really is a bad idea to mix religion and politics. The Republican party is now more in need of legitimate change than the Democrats. If moderate Republicans and true fiscal conservatives can take back control of their party, it will be good for America. This mid term election should give the GOP a reason to start in that direction.

The Iraq fiasco is tops in the minds of voters, but it will not be resolved by Congress. Bush is still in charge and he is driven by his ego to maintain his mythological self-image as the strong commander. The long range power people just want to make sure the Iraqi oil and the American military bases in Iraq are secured for American control and then they will not stand in the way of troop withdrawals. They don’t care about the Bush ego, which can be assuaged by dumping the mess on the Iraqis and holing some American troops up on the bases permanently, sort of like Guantanamo survives in Cuba. The oil has already been somewhat secured for America by contract and can be protected in the future by bribing top Iraqis and threatening violence from the American bases. With a final victory strut, Bush will be able to leave office and leave the American people with thousands of dead troops, millions of new enemies and billions of dollars of war debt.

With the 2006 mid term election out of the way and with Congress and the White house strategizing and maneuvering with the 2008 election in mind, somewhere outside Congress the likely next President will be building a campaign that will lead to the White House. If there is a God, please let that person be a Democrat.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

John Kerry’s Blooper

Forty years ago, in an Air Force basic training barracks in Texas after lights out, we were telling increasingly less funny jokes until a droll southern voice terminated the process by saying the previous lame effort was “about as funny as a compressed fart in an aqua lung”.

John Kerry may look a little like Jay Leno, and they are both from Massachusetts, but Kerry is no comedian. His attempted joke about Bush’s stupidity getting us into Iraq was of the aqua lung variety, and he compounded its failure by omitting a key word, making it sound like he was insulting the troops rather than the ignoramus who sent them. John Kerry is imprinted with his Vietnam War experience, and to those of us who remember those times, what Kerry mis-spoke sounded like a truth about that War - the draft took lots of undereducated and some not particularly bright men and sent them to Vietnam to die. The volunteer troops we are sending to die in Iraq are better educated and maybe smarter than the draftees we sent to Vietnam. One factor troops in both wars may have in common is the lack of economic opportunity. Many people enlist in the service because of financial need and underemployment or unemployment. In the case of the Iraq War, many recruits and re-enlistees have been further enticed with extra financial bonuses and fast track citizenship enticements.

Kerry’s flub played into the Republican myth of the intellectual cultural war, eastern intellectual liberals looking down their noses at young middle class troops from the heartland. The Republican spinsters grabbed it and started sprinting, because they have nothing else to run with. They successfully goaded Kerry into prolonging the story by stubbornly refusing to apologize for his mistake. They have succeeded in deflecting the news cycle slightly - even Sense is here covering the story, though my take on it is understandably different from theirs.

To the American people, this election is overwhelmingly about Iraq, Bush and Republican sycophants. While the Kerry story was somewhat about Kerry, it was still about Iraq. Undecided voters know Kerry is a war vet and was not intending to insult our troops. They know he botched the joke and he messed up by not promptly and clearly apologizing for any hurt caused by his error. But they also know what he was tying to say is correct - that Bush stupidly got us into this war without a plan for getting us out.

Kerry is now wisely staying offstage. During his hiatus he needs to reflect on the fact that 2004 was his swan song. Iraq has now replaced Vietnam in the minds of voters, so Kerry’s Vietnam imprint is no longer of relevant interest. In 2004, his Vietnam service was used against Kerry in the Swift boat attack ads and he failed to defend and counter effectively. His indignant refusal to apologize for his current gaffe was a pathetic attempt to do what he should have done in 2004.

Americans in general and Democrats in particular are looking to the future for something new and more hopeful, starting next Tuesday and then in 2008. Barach Obama, young and African American, is one example of the type of candidate that encourages hopes for meaningful change. Hilary Clinton, in spite of her longevity as first mate, has impressed many with her Senatorial work ethic and has shown that she can adapt and grow in office. For those who are open to the idea of a woman President, Hilary is the first truly viable woman candidate in the history of the country. John Edwards is starting to re-emerge, seeking to build on his 2004 showing as the number two Democratic candidate on the ticket. These people represent something new and hopeful. John Kerry does not.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Vision Thing

No, this is not about George H. W. Bush famously dismissing criticism of his inability to express any inspiring long term goals for America. This is a pre-election break for some non-political good news (though it can also be seen as having some political implications, as so many matters do).

Here is an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about a County Councilwoman who discovered a connection between juvenile delinquency and bad eyesight and has started a process of giving kids eye tests and corrective lenses.

I remember when I was in the fourth grade and a public health nurse came to our Catholic elementary school and had each of us look at the eye chart and tell her what we saw. I could barely see the chart and was quickly diagnosed as being quite myopic. Getting glasses did not cause me concern about compromising my good looks, for I had already learned I was not at all handsome. What the glasses did do was open up a new world I did not know existed - the world of things seen by many others but previously unseen by me.

My brother Larry is three years older than me and he served as an altar boy. During the most sacred part of the Mass, the sound of bells would come from the altar, but in my pre-spectacles mode, I could see no source for them. I asked Larry and he told me it was a miracle. Though I believed in miracles, I did not always believe my brother. So I started sitting in the front row at Mass and squinting really hard (a technique that moderately improved the picture). I noticed that the arm of one of the altar boys seemed to be shaking about the time the bells were ringing. I asked Larry. He explained the boy was trembling from proximity to the holy source. I squinted again and noticed only one of the two altar boys had the tremble. My brother pointed out the trembler was kneeling one step higher. Larry went on to a successful career in sales. I had a brief tour as an altar boy, including ringing the bells at the appropriate time, which I had difficulty doing on account of stage fright.

After I got glasses, my mother told me that one of the nuns who taught me in an earlier grade had suggested I be taken to a personal counselor, because I was continuously making faces at her during class. Actually, I had just been squinting to try to see what she was showing the class. I don't know if my glasses played a part in saving me from juvenile delinquency. There was no marked improvement in my report cards after I got glasses. Reading and writing had worked alright, as long as I could get my nose within a couple inches of the page or paper. Maybe I can blame my bad penmanship on early vision problems; but I haven’t figured how myopia can take the blame for poor grades in singing.

Think of the wonderful impact on the future of our children if they all had free access to medical care and if our medical system acknowledged that teeth and eyes are also part of the human body.