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, October 26, 2006

Non-Hypothetical President

George W. Bush held one of his relatively rare press conferences yesterday morning, supposedly to report to the American people about the War in Iraq. The fact that it was his second in a month shows how worried he is about the election. This edition followed his typical scenario, reading from a prepared speech at some length and then grudgingly taking a few questions from reporters of his choosing. Bush hates answering questions in such a forum, because his ignorance and lack of reasoning are usually amply revealed in the process. Today was no exception.

The War is a fiasco and so is the Republican campaign to hold onto Congress. The War is now perceived by most Americans as a failure, as is the Bush Presidency and the Republican controlled Congress. Republican candidates are running away from Bush. Lacking any better option and out of frustration, Bush had to come forth and use the power of his office to try and reassure Americans about the War, and collaterally about the value of keeping a Republican Congress. It did not work.

The opening speech was a bland presentation of what we have heard before, except for a sugar coated admission that the enterprise did not go as well as Bush expected and there is still much “hard work” to be done. (Bush must secretly see irony in his constant references to hard work, since he has never done any hard work in his life).

The speech and the Bush answers to the questions of reporters were most notable for what was not said. Since the American people have now caught on to the misrepresentations, there was no talk of Iraqi WMD other than to perfunctorily admit disappointment that none were found, no belated outrage over the gassing of the Kurds, no lies about Saddam harboring al Qaeda terrorists or even any righteous sermon about promoting democracy. The real reason we invaded and occupied Iraq was mentioned by Bush several times in passing, that it was necessary for the security of America to have access to the Iraqi oil fields. It was about the oil.

The semantical manipulations of the Bush Administration continue in strained supposed nuances. Stay the course did not really mean that, strategy is not much related to tactics, benchmarks are not timetables, some timetables (such as any proposed by Democrats) are artificial, sectarian violence is not civil war, a unity government exists even if rendered with splits, and standing something up in order to stand something else down is a matter of fluid definition.

Bush proved his lack of reasoning ability when he pointed out he refuses to answer any question he labels as hypothetical, without giving any reason for the practice. Bush is a practitioner of the power of positive thinking, or rather the power of positive believing. His answers were peppered with “I believe”, the refuge of a person who cannot justify his position with facts, evidence or logical reasoning. For a person with expansive executive and military powers not to consider hypotheticals is outrageous. Such retarded analysis contributed significantly to getting us into the mess in Iraq. Bush and his cohorts refused to consider such questions as “what if there are no WMD" and “what if they do not welcome us as liberators” and “what if sectarian violence breaks out”, all legitimate hypotheticals that were raised by people outside the Administration before the invasion.

Bush did find a portion of the morning enjoyable, when he was able to launch into his dog and pony show speech about Democrats being soft on terrorism and wanting to tax every single American, including your children, $500 more. This is all the campaign garbage he has left, and he will continue to spew it, primarily behind closed doors in front of the Republican contributors who are saving millions in taxes, the ones who skew the tax payment averages that Bush uses to distort the real impact of tax increases on our children. Any minuscule current tax saving our children might see will be annihilated by the future taxes they will have to pay because of the huge national debt Bush incurred in giving tax cuts to the rich and in misleading us into the fiasco in Iraq.

Here is a retro-active hypothetical the American people seem to be asking themselves, “Suppose we had never allowed George W. Bush to claim the Presidency and the Republicans to control Congress.” Bush said today the Republicans will control Congress for the rest of his term. This election is a chance for the American people to show Bush that he is wrong in so many ways.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two Weeks from Tomorrow

Pollsters and pundits seem to unanimously agree the Democrats will win control of the House of Representatives next month. They also agree the Senate will come down to three races (Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri - all border or upper south states), of which the Democrats need to win two to gain control of the Senate.

Republicans are counting on two tactical edges in the last few days before the election, more money and more targeted get out the vote calling. The money matter is straight forward; the Republican party is committed to cutting taxes on the rich, so the rich make enormous campaign contributions to get Republicans elected. The voter targeting is another aspect of Republican hypocrisy; Republicans talk against big government and then use all its informational databases to identify voters to target.

One in five voters now cast mail ballots before election day, somewhat diminishing the impact of late breaking news. More Republicans than Democrats historically mailed early ballots, but the gap has supposedly narrowed. Factor in the unpredictable aspects of how long a new story will survive in the 24 hour news cycle, and the task of final days campaign news management becomes quite tricky. But tricky is a Karl Rove strong suit, so watch to see if anything comes out of his sleeves in the next two weeks. The Republican National Committee has already played the race card in the Tennessee Senate race against Harold Ford, Jr. (an African-American), running an attack ad which includes a blonde white seductress type personally soliciting a liaison with Ford. The ad is supposedly justified because Ford attended a Playboy sponsored party at an NFL game.

Candidates always consider the election in which they are running as the most important one in many years. Democrats smell victory, which has largely escaped them in Congressional elections for at least a dozen years, so this election is very important to them. Some Republicans, expecting defeat, are downplaying the importance of the Democrats getting any Congressional power, since Bush will have the veto power, which he finally showed he will use (shooting down stem cell research).

This election is important for the American people to show we still believe the government belongs to us, not to those who hold office. A large turnout, especially of independents, and a significant rejection of Republican incumbents will confirm that belief.

The importance of the election to Democrats will be measured by what they do with the gains they make. The public majority seems to agree with Democrats on many economic issues (e.g. the need to raise the Federal minimum wage), but will be waiting to see how Democrats use any power they win. Nancy Pelosi is right to rule out any talk of a Bush impeachment as a waste of time and energy better spent on other matters. Congressional oversight and investigation of Bush administration secret practices and failures will be welcomed by the public, if conducted in a legitimate manner instead of as grandstanding attacks. But most appealing will be a turn of Congress back in the direction of more bipartisan efforts to reach agreement on the facts of the problems we face and open and honest discussion of varying opinions on how the problems might be solved. Compromise and consensus decision making would do much to restore our faith in American government and would also set a much better example for the Iraqi government than the one they have been getting from the Bush administration and Republican controlled Congress.

This election also marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of the Bush Administration. Except for his base voters, Bush is now seen as an expensive failure in the eyes of the electorate. He is a lame duck President and a lame duck Republican. America is looking forward to him disappearing from the stage, and over the next two years we will be looking for candidates to replace him. The Democrats need to come up with someone more appealing than Gore and Kerry, someone capable of delivering the clear victory they each should have won over Bush. The Republicans have not offered voters much choice. Since Reagan-Bush I (with Bush I bounced out in 1992, in favor of the charismatic moderate Republican in Democrat clothing Bill Clinton), they have only offered the throw away Dole and the flop Bush II. That a woman, Hilary, and an African-American, Obama, are creating the most buzz may signify Americans are looking for someone truly different.

Monday, October 16, 2006


When I was in grade school in the 1950s, the air raid sirens sounded every Wednesday at noon and we got under our desks and covered our heads. Never mind what the newsreels showed of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those sturdy Catholic school desks would save us from the Atomic Bomb.

The A-Bombs dropped on Japan had powers between 12,000 and 22,000 tons of TNT. Though that wallop was enough to make even the super-militaristic Japanese government unconditionally surrender, the prevailing powers in WWII embarked on a cold war arms race, with one result being the development of a Hydrogen Bomb with a force thousands of times more than that of the A-Bomb.

As any student of history or player of video war games can verify, war (even a cold one), accelerates weapons development, and all developed weapons eventually get used in war. The H-Bomb has not yet been used in War, though in 1961 the Russians tested the Tsar Bomb with the power of 50,000,000 tons of TNT, enough power to devastate 2,000 to 4,000 Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. The A and H bombs are now called “nuclear” [or “nukular” by George W. Bush], an acceptably inclusive scientific term, and a politically useful euphemism to describe our weaponry [the Bush Administration uses the even more inclusive, and sometimes phantasmal, “weapons of mass destruction” to describe the arsenal of its enemies].

To our credit, the human race had enough sense to start the United Nations after WWII, though the five victorious “super powers” insisted on undemocratic veto rights. We also eventually realized that nuclear weapon development and testing had crossed the line of absurdity and needed to be scaled back and eventually eliminated completely. First came a ban on testing in the atmosphere and then in 1970 the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], under which the “super five” were to have a monopoly on nukes in return for agreeing to let the little guys in on the ways to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Under NPT Article VI the supers also agreed to pursue good faith efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons, a provision totally ignored by the Bush Administration but recently called to its attention by the President of Iran.

The NPT has been agreed to by 187 nations, with three notable exceptions, each one of which has now joined the nuclear club: Israel (which has never admitted its 1967 acquisition, in spite of UN Resolution 487 requiring it to do so); India in 1974; and Pakistan in 1998 (leading to US sanctions, lifted after 9/11 in order to get cooperation for invading Afghanistan). Iran has strained NPT interpretation to justify its pursuit of nukes, while North Korea is simply defying the NPT and claiming to have withdrawn from it.

The Bush Administration deserves much of the blame for Iran and N. Korea vigorously pursuing nukes in self-defense, because Bush has proven his penchant for war, has declared a right to preemptive strike claimed to be justified even when the supposed basis for the strike proved to be false, and has provocatively labeled Iran and N. Korea as evil enemies of America.

Post-Bush, and hopefully starting with a Democratic Congress next year, the US should take the lead in bringing NPT Article VI back to life, by encouraging the major nuclear powers to join in stopping any further nuclear weapons development and beginning a systematic program of nuclear disarmament. Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has wisely advocated limiting to facilities under multinational control all production and processing of nuclear materials capable of being used in weapons. This could be in conjunction with a Fissionable Materials Cutoff Treaty as called for in a 1993 UN Resolution.

The nations of the Earth need to close the nuclear Pandora’s box before more horrors emerge. Cap production and processing, disarm stockpiles, bring India, Pakistan and Israel into the NPT, rein in Iran and N. Korea, and seriously consider whether large scale uses of nuclear power for energy production are worth the environmental risks.

To get a graphic image of the extent of the US nuclear arsenal, check out this video from True Majority, featuring Ben of Ben and Jerry’s.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Learning from Failure

A commentary on NPR this morning reminded me of the role failure plays in our lives - that we can learn more from failure than from success. We can learn from the failures of others, but our own failures can be the greatest teachers.

Incompetent fathers have influenced my life, first a “no show” dad and then a disastrously incapable step-dad. In adulthood, I learned that, because of my mother’s love, I had avoided blaming her for making poor husband choices. Researching and reflecting on family history, plus my own experiences as a husband and father, have taught me that none of us are dealt a royal flush in the game of life, some are dealt worse hands than others and many of us have difficulty playing the hand we are dealt. Though my mother did a fair job of playing her favorite card game Pinochle, I learned she had been dealt a pretty crappy hand in the game of life but she did a very good job of playing it.

In Catholic school I learned the reason we all have to play the game of life. Eve ate the apple. She failed the test and Adam went down with her. According to Judeo-Christian lore, we are paying the price for the Original Failure. Whether we believe the lore or not, we must agree some failures are inevitable in life; as Buddha taught, life is suffering. How we deal with failure, learn from it and become better people is what life is all about.

The word “fail” traces back to the Latin for disappoint. The continuum of literary references to failure runs from treating it as anathema to treating it gently, with the bulk being toward the negative end. “Failure is not an option” is not attributed in Bartletts Familiar Quotations, though a Google search for that exact phrase yields 539,000 hits. By contrast, the italicized phrase from the wonderful verse by sportswriter Grantland Rice, “When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you won or lost, but how you play the game”, yields only 275,000 Google hits. [A more serious - or better funded- researcher might scrutinize both sets of Google hits to eliminate the cynical references which knock the quote, a process which I suspect would eliminate many more of the Rice hits].

So, you are probably asking, what does this have to do with the number one Sense topic, the Bush Administration? I am glad you asked. If we learn from our failures, then George W. Bush should be one of the most learned people in the world. In spite of [or in fairness, perhaps because of] a silver spoon birth and a lifetime of favoritism, George has never shown that he learned anything from his personal failures, alcoholism, three arrests, improper and incompetent business management, unfair manipulation of his military obligation, and in the opinion of some, illegal drug use and falsely claiming to be “born again”. According to George, without further explanation of the learning process involved, one day he simply decided to accept the Lord and put his “irresponsible youth” [forty years worth] behind him.

Bush clearly did learn from political failures, however, both his own when he ran for Congress and his dad’s when he ran against Clinton. Bush learned how to create a false image of himself and use it to appeal to evangelicals. He has continued to embellish that false image, adding the myth of the strong and decisive commander, which fits in with the strict father mentality George Lakoff wrote about in “Don’t Think of an Elephant”. The Bush Presidency has been a colossal failure, as the majority of Americans now recognize in ever growing numbers. Yet there is no indication Bush has learned anything from his Presidential failures, not surprising in view of his failure to learn from numerous pre-Presidential blunders. He was a man of many failures which he denied or brushed off without any personal growth before he moved into the White House, and he has followed the same pattern while holding the office.

There is much for the American people to learn from our failures involving Bush and his administration. The first failure was of the Republican party to allow the religious right and its manipulators to take over the party and get Bush nominated. Next came the failing of the citizenry in allowing the 2000 vote to be close enough to facilitate Bush being placed in the White House by a 5-4 Supreme Court vote. The citizenry also deserves blame for allowing our members of Congress to enable so much of the Bush agenda. The results of the November elections and the 2008 vote will be a test of how much the electorate has learned.

For a nurturing parent, a task which is difficult because it seems too strict, is to help a child learn when a child has failed and is still experiencing the hurt of the failure. It should be seen as a teaching moment, to help the child see what he or she did wrong and how that failure resulted in the pain and what might be done in the future to better avoid the failure. I think it works better while the child is still tearful, rather than later when the child is trying to forget what happened. In our current American political situation, the Democrats and moderate Republicans need to be nurturing parents to help the American people learn from the failed Bush presidency and sycophant Republican Congress. Over time, many have risen to the challenge and that seems to be working. A recent addition is former Republican Senator John Danforth, with his book, “Faith and Politics: How the ‘Moral Values’ Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together”.

Going back to Bartlett’s, a possible source for the non-optionability of failure is Edward Bulwer-Lytton who wrote, “In the lexicon of youth, which fate reserves for a bright manhood, there is no such word as - fail.” That we all play better on some days than others, is shown by the fact Lord Lytton who wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839, the next year started a novel with the opening sentence with which I here end this posting. “It was a dark and stormy night”.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

October Surprise

In American politics, “October Surprise” is usually applied to a Presidential election, but this non-Presidential October has already had about a surprise a day - all to the deserved detriment of George Bush and the Republican party.

The release of the National Intelligence Estimate criticizing the conduct of the occupation of Iraq has prompted many top line generals who were involved and are now safely retired to come out and contradict the Bush lie about the generals being given all the troops they requested. The Dr. Strangelove clone Rumsfeld is the target of their most vehement shots, and his intransigent denials of the reality of the Iraq fiasco, mirroring his commander George, are seen by the majority of Americans as hitting the bulls eye.

Bob Woodward’s third book in his Bush trilogy, “State of Denial”, strikes such a blow to the Bush administration, one has to suspect the two earlier tomes were designed to set Bush up for a sucker punch. Bush himself may have seen it coming, since he declined to give Woodward an interview for the third book, but other administration sources seem to have willingly enabled the shot.

The Abramoff corruption scandal may not be a top story, but it continues to resonate in the background. Another top House Republican, part of the “reform crop” elected in 1994, Bob Ney of Ohio, has copped a plea to avoid having to stand trial.

The latest Republican scandal, over Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, may be the one to have the most impact on the election. We probably should not be surprised about that, since it involves a sexual hypocrite. Like most Americans, I did not know who Foley was. I don’t know to what extent Foley’s homosexuality was closeted, but if it was, that is not the concern. [I was slow coming to the story, so when I heard Foley was pursuing a teenage page from Louisiana, my initial reaction was that she was probably one of those uniquely Louisianan beauties]. The hypocrisy is that this man was a Congressional crusader against internet predators.

The House Republican leadership’s mis-handling of the Foley matter, as with most scandals, may prove to be more devastating politically than the initial offense. Incompetence was definitely involved, merely telling a possible predator to cease contact instead of checking further to see if more was involved. Keeping it quiet seems to have been the top priority, possibly abetted by a generous Foley contribution to Republican campaign coffers. Foley has skedaddled into hiding at an alcohol rehab clinic, blaming a previously unknown problem with booze rather than a predisposition to pedophilia. Whether there was an actual coverup is under investigation, though there can be minimal difference between quickly turning a blind eye and knowingly hiding what has been seen. Speaker Hastert is under great fire, which puts Republicans in a pre-election dilemma, whether to take his head with resulting party embarrassment, or to stall it out and add fuel to the coverup fire.

Hypocrisy comes easier to Republicans than Democrats. Claiming personal moral superiority and taking a macho stance against evildoers raises the claimant to greater heights from which to fall. Sometimes those who shout the loudest condemnation and urge the greatest attacks are trying to distract attention from their own secret guilt and fear. Foley is the latest in a string of Republican moral hypocrites. Most all the chickenhawks never wore a military uniform, though Bush himself occasionally strutted in the one that was finagled for him to avoid serving in Vietnam and he continues to wear uniform jackets for campaign appearances.

October is young and there are six days in November before the election, so more surprises may be forthcoming. Unlike the classic pre-election political surprise which a candidate wraps and opens for the gain of the candidate, this year’s packages so far have been garbage wrapped by the Republicans themselves who hid them in the closet, where the media has found and opened them. I expect the Rove-led scoundrels have had great trouble finding anything to wrap and proudly open, so they will try to revert to what they are best at, wrapping garbage, and trying to blame it on the Democrats.