Monday, December 31, 2007

Are the minds of Americans really closing?

There was an interesting editorial piece in Newsweek by Evan Thomas entitled "The Closing of the American Mind - Partisan warriors may love our polarized political culture. Everyone else is turned off, and tuning out." It is an interesting thesis, but I am not convinced that the alleged "closing" is a done-deal and one-way street. It may well be that the media itself has had a front-row role in how partisan positions are perceived, packaged, and promoted. The Internet, Web, blogs, and cable TV channels may highlight various partisan aspects, but I am not so sure that any of these technologies has created any divides that were not already there.

Go back 10, 20, 50, 75, 100, or more years and you will undoubtedly find partisans with great passion, "moderate" politicians willing to bend with the wind and either compromise or fan the flames of passion to suit the needs of the moment, and vast majorities of voters who are relatively indifferent as to which "side" wins even if they do have a personal preference. Has the underlying human reality changed even if the superficial technologies have changed? I suspect not.

In truth, even moderate or centrist politicians passionately love partisan polarization since polarization is the root of most political power. Even politicians who call for "unity" are playing off of a polarizing divide between unity and non-unity polar partisan positions.

I do agree with a lot of the specific punts Evan makes, including the need for a "vital center", but my overall reading is that he is mostly summarizing business as usual for the business of politics in America. If American minds are closed, it is mostly because they have a lot more to do in their lives than focus on politics. Besides, some of us actually do believe in the concept of a representative democracy.

Maybe what Evan is really decrying is that people are no longer so dependent on old mainstream media to spoon feed political chatter to them.

OTOH, I still think old mainstream media, including Evan's piece itself, has a lot of life left in it no matter how strong the Internet and New Media may appear.

Maybe he is simply trying to stake out a polar position for his own partisan benefit -- and objects to the fact that my mind is closed to the urgency of such a prospect.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Torture and involuntary interrogation - the human mind is sovereign

There has certainly been a lot of discussion and angst expressed over the meaning of and use of torture in interrogation of terrorist suspects. Years ago I thought about this issue and concluded that the only real solution was to simply ban involuntary interrogation in any form. If a prisoner or even a citizen or non-citizen being questioned by law enforcement authorities declines to answer questions, the "interrogation" is over. Sure, "the authorities" can offer some degree of positive incentives to encourage participation in questioning, but it has to be crystal clear that any such participation is not coerced in any way. If the subject agrees to answer questions, the process is one of "conversational questioning" rather than "pressured interrogation." In short, voluntary questioning is okay, but involuntary or coerced or forced interrogation should be out.

We need to take the concept of protection against self-incrimination seriously and simply not go there or anywhere even close to it. We need an outright ban on confessions since it is far too easy to coerce them without even trying.

Rather than focus on a precise definition of torture, I would focus on the coercive aspect of interrogation. If the process of questioning begins to take on a coercive, abusive, forceful, pressured character, the line has been crossed and that is not acceptable. We should not require the character of the questioning to cross from merely forceful to painful or to some arbitrary level of pain before we draw the line and call it torture. The only line that is necessary to recognize is that the subject (prisoner or citizen or non-citizen) has declined to participate in questioning. And even if the subject has agreed to questioning, the character of the questioning must be limited to a strictly conversational and non-pressured tone.

In short, let us formally ban both involuntary interrogation and interrogation that attempts to utilize any form of pressure, physical, intellectual, mental, emotional, financial, social, or otherwise.

Basically, we need to revamp our constitution to make it crystal clear that the government has no right to access that which is in our mind nor any right to attempt to negatively induce us to grant access to that which is in our minds. The constitution needs to recognize that the human mind is sovereign and beyond the reach of the government or any law enforcement authority.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto's assasination

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan last week ultimately is rather inconsequential for the future of Pakistan and the disposition of so-called terrorists in western Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it is indeed very unfortunate that she died in the attack, the real impact of her assassination is a blow to amateurish, heavy-handed attempts by the U.S. government to meddle in the affairs of other countries. We read that Bhutto was encouraged to return to Pakistan by U.S. Secretary of State Rice. You didn't need a PhD in Diplomacy 101 to realize that such obvious intervention was doomed to fail to calm the waters in Pakistan and was much more likely to fan the flames of passion against the U.S. and its agenda of promoting "democracy" and anybody in Pakistan who might be so stupid as to align themselves with the U.S. Neoconservative agenda.

The future of Pakistan is indeed completely up in the air and chaos prevails, but that was true even before the assassination and even before the U.S. dialed up it recent intervention efforts.

Sure, there has been a lot of rioting since the assassination, but all of that together is still dwarfed by the pent up anger that has been fueled over the years, and decades, by U.S. meddling.

In all honesty and sincerity, the best that the U.S. can do right now is to simply back off and lay low until the people of the U.S. complete their "regime change" in the November election and a new U.S. president is ready to put forward a much more conciliatory foreign policy.

The people of Pakistan have the right and the responsibility to chart their own destiny as a nation and country. They need neither the acquiesence nor the permission of anyone in the U.S. government or its "advisers."

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The logic of the Barack Obama candidacy in 2008

There is an interesting article in the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan entitled "Goodbye to All That" which makes the case for why Barack Obama is the right person to lead this country at this time. As Andrew tells us:

The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals' and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics. It has little to do with Obama's considerable skills as a conciliator, legislator, or even thinker. It has even less to do with his ideological pedigree or legal background or rhetorical skills.

... the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now. In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.

... Obama's candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly—and uncomfortably—at you.

... the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a mo­mentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.

Andrew makes a lot of good and interesting and even valid points, but taken as a whole, I end up standing back and saying, yes, okay, but so what?

Yes, Andrew has a reasoned case, a "logic" if you will, but honestly, if he finds it necessary to offer such a long-winded and elaborate "case" for Barack, what chance is there that average voters, who tend not to read The Atlantic Monthly, will grok the full depth of such "logic."

Who knows, maybe Andrew is simply making a last ditch attempt to sway independents and centrists such as myself.

In truth, I half-buy a lot of Andrew's arguments, but then I also find a lot of them to be fairly weak, lame, half-baked, and even irrelevant. I think he sells Hillary and her "generation" short and does Barack a net disservice by not making fair and realistic and deep comparisons. I am sure that Barack is able to stand up straight on his own two feet without the need for an "intellectual" in a lofty, elitist magazine to try to prop him up.

Ultimately, it matters not one iota who is "better" from some rarefied intellectual perspective, but is up to voters to decide who they feel is the person they want to be their leader.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting article and I do recommend it to any "thinking person" who really wants to cover all angles of the struggle for national leadership.

-- Jack Krupansky

Will Barack pull ahead of Hillary and win in 2008?

Political polls are fickle things, but some (although not all) of them are showing Barack ahead of Hillary in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Should he manage to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire an maybe even South Carolina, will that render him unstoppable? Sure, possibly, but that is speculating too far ahead of actual events.

I think Oprah did give Barack a signifiant boost, but whether it is temporary or sustainable remains unknown. Sad to say, but at a minimum she effectively gave black women "permission" to prioritize race over gender.

Some negative campaigning by Clinton "operatives" probably also led to some people dumping Hillary.

Hillary still has a huge lead at the national level and continues to amass endorsements from super-delegates, but that could erode rather quickly in the face of a combination of strong steps by Barack and big missteps by Hillary. Also, if Edwards drops out after realizing that he has no chance, his delegates may be more likely to swing to Barack's column.

A more interesting poll statistic is that Barack actually polls at least as well if not better than Hillary against the Republican hopefuls at the national level, at least superficially challenging the assertion that Barack is less electable. This also points to the fact that support for Barack is stronger among so-called independents than Hillary. There is also the simple fact that there are far more people who hold a very negative view of Hillary than those who have such negative views of Barack.

So, there there are a number of reasons to believe that a Barack nomination is very possible, but the simple truth is that a lot of factors would have to go very well for him in conjunction with a lot of factors going very badly for Hillary before he could secure a win.

And, of course, there is always the simple fact that most people continue to underestimate Hillary. She does have that survival instinct to set aside whatever needs to be set aside to win. Some people consider compromise as wrong and evil, but most people do in fact recognize that compromise is a real part of life and will be a big part of the role of President.

Barack could sweep both Iowa and New Hampshire and maybe even South Carolina, making him seem unstoppable, but that is really the point where the real campaign gets underway. Some voters may feel that since a win by Hillary at the national level may be inevitable or at least likely, they might as well vote their conscience rather than simply compromising on the electibility issue. But once voters see her falling behind, those concerns about electability and whether the candidate really is ready to be president will surge back to the forefront.

Of course, the real bottom line is that every primary voter has the right to wait until that final moment before actually making up their mind who to vote for.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party

Although it still appears that Hillary is still likely to ultimately capture the nomination from the Democratic party, meanwhile the day by day battles are for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Hillary represents the centrist camp that thrived with Bill Clinton, while Obama and Edwards represent the "progressive" camp which evolved from the traditional left-wing liberal camp.

The centrists strive for achieving power through compromise, while the progressives worry less about absolutely achieving power and are happier revelling in sticking wth their left-wing "values."

The ultimate question facing Democratic primary voters is whether they value uncompromised values over power or are willing to compromise values to gain power.

The progressives somehow believe that refusing to compromise on their values will somehow gain them votes from voters who have opposing values or they somehow believe that a clear majority actually share their values. Somehow, they feel than pragmatism is not necessary to be chosen for national leadership.

The centrists believe that they must "reach out" and "reach across the aisle" to gain national leadership.

Arguments can be made for either camp, but clearly primary voters will have their say.

Progressives may be passionate about their "cause", but there are plenty of Democratic voters who are more anxious about the fact that we have had seven long years of Republican national leadership and that a return to the "values" of Bill Clinton are a higher priority than pet liberal causes.

-- Jack Krupansky