Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Rising Democratic Star...

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In the midst of the terrible tragedy of Hurricane Katrina I wanted to draw attention to the wisdom and foresight of Democratic Louisiana Senator, Mary Landrieu, and comments she made two months prior to this awful natural disaster. Her insights relate to claims that the erosion of the wetland and shrinking Louisiana Coastline has exacerbated the impact of the flooding.

From the Guardian via the WP: Two months ago, Senator Landrieu told an audience of congressional staffers and scientific experts that more federal funds were needed over the next 20 years to restore Louisiana’s wetlands. She "warned that intentional rerouting of the Mississippi river over the past century, coupled with rising sea levels due to climate change, had eroded Louisiana's natural buffer against massive storms".

"This is not Disneyland. This is the real deal," Landrieu said, and in the event of flooding, "The French Quarter could be under 18 feet of water. It would be lost forever."

Her prescience and far-sightedness is deserving of the coverage it has received in the national press.

Landrieu has struck me as one of the shining lights of the Democratic Party ever since the 2002 mid term elections, during which she single handledly out debated a collection of four Republicans who decided to run seperately to take Landrieu's vote share below 50% (automatically forcing a run off with the best placed runner up).

Come election time, I get very nerdish indeed, and in Nov' 2002 I spent many long nights up until the early hours of dawn on C-Span.org watching Senate and Gubernatorial debates... learning about idiosynchratic policy disputes from Vermont to Arkansas. The Louisanna race was always one of the most compelling looking back.

Landrieu polled 46% to the closest Republican Suzanne Terrell who received 27%, and in the subsequent run off, despite the full backing of a triumphant Bush Administration still basking in 70%+ Approval ratings for her opponent... despite Susan Terrell receiving all of the votes from her Republican adversaries... and despite the election taking place in a southern red state, Landrieu still emerged victorious in the only real, stand out Democratic success during the 2002 mid terms.

From what I have seen of Landrieu, her strengths are her intelligence, and moderate, balanced disposition on a range of issues. She is precise and articulate, yet warm and accessible. She is hawkish on foreign policy and staunchly disciplined on fiscal matters. In 1999 she became the first Democratic woman to serve on the Senate Armed Services commitee and her list of legislative achievments is quite remarkable.

Right now, I just find it sad that in the staunchly patriachal society we continue to exist in... an individual as capable as Mary Landrieu isn't even being mentioned in the mix for the Democratic race in 2008, while party ideologues like Russ Feingold and Howard Dean are championed extensively simply because they support the unworkable policy of immediately withdrawing troops from Iraq. It's easy for Hillary because of her raised public profile.

Mary Landrieu is undoubtedly a rising Democratic star and someone I don't doubt that you'll be hearing much more about in the coming months and years. Personally, I'd love to see her on a ticket alongside Evan Bayh to give him a fighting chance against Hillary in 08'.

Mary Landrieu's Senate Website

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bush is hemorrhaging support...

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This was George Bush today at an address to members of the National Guard in Idaho. In spite of the growing consensus that Cindy Sheehan has been politically ineffective in her protest at the President's Crawford ranch, garnering little respect from the American electorate as a consequence of her extreme world views... the political strategy employed above explicitly suggests otherwise.

What you can see is an initiated attempt to contextualize Sheehan's aspersion, that Bush has recklessly risked and lost the lives of thousands of US soldiers, and worse, betrayed their families in the pursuit of war, by contrasting it, quite fairly, with the images of those families who stand firmly and passionately behind the President. This staged event makes it clear that Karl Rove and other White House political aides recognize that the situation in Iraq is now beginning to comprimise the Administration's public support. War is no longer George W.'s political gravy train.

The latest polling data on the President's approval ratings are stark:
Rasmussen, 8/21 - 8/23, APPROVE: 45%. DISAPPROVE 54%
American Research Group, 8/18 - 8/21, APPROVE: 36%, DISAPPROVE 58%
Harris, 8/9 - 8/16, APPROVE 40%, DISAPPROVE 58%
SurveyUSA, 8/12 - 8/14, APPROVE 41%, DISAPPROVE 55%
CNN/USA Today/Gallup, 8/8 - 8/11, APPROVE 45%, DISAPPROVE 51%

It should be noted to mitigate these results that the President won his second term in office with an approval rating of in between 48-50%, and a disapproval rating of around 45%. It should also be said that the ARG polling result is highly suspect. A 36% approval rating is verging on the catastrophic, and despite the fact that in June and July, ARG's data was broadly in line other polling organizations... I am convinced these latest figures must be some kind of mistake.

And yet, even removing the ARG poll, and contrasting the figures with President Clinton's Approval Ratings from his second term in office, you begin to grasp the electoral plight of the current Administration. Clinton's approval ratings hovered on average between 58-63% throughout his second term, roughly 12-14 points ahead of George W. leading up to an election that the Democrats proceded to lose.

My biggest concern at this time is that the Democrats' overall exasperation with the war's progress will simply drive the party to define itself in terms of a dramatic withdrawal agenda, reflective of popular opinion. A position that will surely crumble under the scrutiny of a General Election. One of the contenders for the Democratic Nomination, Senator Russ Feingold, is already leading the way. And yet, the answer to Iraq's woes is not withdrawal at this time. Withdrawal would simply leave the nation on the verge of civil war, as competing religious factions confront their divergent views on how their society should evolve, as demonstrated by the present difficulties faced in implementing an Iraqi constitution. Their primitive security capabilities and disharmony will leave their battle to confront the terrorist insurgency a perilous one, potentially frought with decades of violence and infighting. How can anyone ethically justify leaving Iraq in complete turmoil likes this?

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The answer to Iraq's problem, in my opinion, resides in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546. The UN resolution which endorsed the Iraqi interim government and called on all nations to offer financial and military assistance in the rebuilding effort. And yet, nothing of note has materialized from the world community. It is of urgent importance that the efforts in Iraq be internationalized. This would undermine the widespread perceived impression of a US Occupation in the middle east, and it would deprive the terrorist insurgency of their political masquerade, battling against that "Occupation."

Two things need to be addressed. Firstly, the idea that the will does not exist in NATO, or the United Nations to provide this type of assistance in Iraq. After all, the trends point in the opposite direction, with Spanish troops having been pulled out in the aftermath of the Madrid bombing, and their General Election. But, are we really focusing on creating the incentives for global participation in Iraq? Are we really doing everything that we might to entice other nations to shoulder some of the responsibility?

John Kerry correctly stated in October 2004, "(George Bush) should offer potential troop contributors specific but critical roles in training Iraqi security personnel and in securing Iraqi borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq's future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq's oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process. Now, is this more difficult today? You bet it is. It's more difficult today because the president hasn't been doing it from the beginning."

This should be a prideless endeavor because so much is at stake: the lives of American soldiers, British soldiers, Iraqi civilians, the potential for Civil War, and further instability in the region. I ask you of all the potential remedies available, to continue on this present course, in the hope that an Iraqi Security force can be established to maintain civil order... or to withdraw and leave Iraq in complete chaos... of all these remedies, with an open mind, can someone explain to me why an internationalized rebuilding effort in Iraq isn't clearly the best possible solution available to us right now?

The second thing that needs to be addressed is that many who did not support the war, I know, find such a discourse infuriating. "How did this happen? This was a mistake! Someone should be made to pay for the innocent dead!" are all valid, if not entirely comprehensive appraisals of the situation. But, at least in the Democratic party, we cannot afford to be seen to let such things define the policy platform we stand for. Because the most important thing for the troops in harms way is not the impeachment of the President... it's not calling him a liar, and elaborating Ad Nauseum about Neo-Con conspiracies... the most important thing at this time is the future of Iraq, and the potential for a better way forward. Let the effective Peace Keeping operations that have worked so successfully around the world, maligned by George Bush as Nation Building in 2000, and manned by Nato and UN forces... be a legacy of peace that eventually we can no longer ignore.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Political inspiration...

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I decided to put a compilation together of three political video and audio files that I find to be inspirational.

I've been feeling rather unenthused by the recent crop of political news stories. Judge Roberts is a redundant issue, regardless of his viewpoint... Bush has earned his mandate and as Democrats, within reason, we should respect that. We await with anticipation Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's report on the Valerie Plame incident come October. Cindy Sheehan has now merely metamorphosed into another conduit via which the left and right can demonize each other as a respective threat to national security. Prospective nominees are aplenty for 2008, and without fail, they are all uninspiring.

Around the world there's an election in Germany next month, and, if you can believe it, a female, East-German, right winger is likely to be elected Chancellor. The brave step taken by the Israeli government in the Gaza Strip will hopefully be one small step on the long road to peace and reconciliation. Poverty, disease, killing, corruption, and terrorism thrives in the parts of the world our eyes aren't typically trained upon.

Two recent posts gave me pause for thought. One by Gert, and a particular point he made about Tony Blair's democratic mandate for the Iraq war, and the other by Alice, on the need to focus upon specific issues, and problems, while scrutinizing potential candidates not simply in terms of who might win, but also in terms of what they stand for.

Both comments left me with the same sense of purpose looking forward to 2008. Politics is the means by which we can make a difference. But at the very best of times politician's lift us up, not the other way around... They educate us, unite us, and remind us that our greatest strength resides in what we can accomplish together.

In the spirit of recognizing this precious role here are three, particularly special moments in political history from both the left and right. If you have half an hour to kill at work or at home and you want to be reminded why the political process plays such an important role in influencing change then I highly recommend checking out these clips:

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This is an audio file, including pictures, and a transcript of the text. If anyone can locate a link to the video let me know and I'll swap it round. This is a towering, idealistic speech, that is both eloquent and thematic... Cuomo doesn't always carry the emotion of his audience quite as expertly as the next two individuals, but the speech is so beautifully written, the words themselves take you on powerful journey.

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This is a Real Media video file. This was Reagan's first real noteworthy address, and it is one of the most compelling, passionate evocations of the role of liberty and individual freedom in people's lives and the threat that government can pose. Reagan was so charismatic because he cared so much about the principles that he stood for.

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This is also a Real Media video file. This features a pivotal much talked about moment when Bush Snr. is pressured by a member of the public asking a question about the way in which the nation's economic troubles have affected his day to day life. Bush is, for a moment at least somewhat at a loss. Clinton's clever and iconic response was to ask the questioner, "How have (those troubles) affected you?" And with that, according to Primary Colors author, Joe Klien, his election victory was sealed. The most notable thing about this clip is that when Bush gains his stride, he actually doesn't do that badly. But just look at the difference in the questioner's eyes as Clinton talks to her as opposed the President. Note also the way in which he parses the big theoretical economic questions of the time into terms that everyone could grasp. What I love so much about Clinton was that he never, ever, insulted the intelligence of his audience.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

The Republican 2008 Quandary...

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I've already elaborated upon the huge undertaking ahead for the Democratic Party leading up to the 2008 election. And yet I believe it will be the Republican's who face the most challenging task in sustaining their centrist, mainstream pretensions to the American people... in the shadow of President Bush's pending departure.

While many Democratic activists, scorned by Kerry's nomination, and failed Presidential campaign, are currently entertaining some staunchly partisan, potential candidates, as evidenced by Senator Feingold's rising popularity in a poll on the Daily Kos, I remain hopeful that the lessons of 2000, and 2004 will be learned, and a candidate of substance, sincerity, and moderation will emerge as the Democratic nominee. As I've stated, thus far, my favorite is Senator Evan Bayh.

But in this Primary battle... in this battle against partisanship, a battle against the likes of Howard Dean slurring all Republican's as racists, a battle against the kind of protectionist insanity that would see us re-negotiating vital trade agreements, a battle against the extreme and FOR a relevant, moderate, electorally viable platform and the political initiative... Democrats will not be alone.

Bill Frist, a man whose political ambitions were highlighted a couple of days ago by Trent Lott, has had an interesting few weeks to say the least. To be clear, in my opinion, Bill Frist will not be the Republican nominee. Governator Schwarzenegger has about as much chance as Bill Frist (i.e. none). But it's interesting to study Frist's recent political maneuverings as a general reference for the challenges that lie ahead for the Republican Party.

Firstly, on July 29th, Frist gave a speech highlighting his support for Stem Cell Research, in what was perceived by many to be a courageous move in opposition to the President's stated policy. Frist declared aspirationally ;), "A Cure today may be just a theory, a hope, a dream. But the promise is powerful enough that I believe this research deserves our increased energy and focus. Embryonic stem cell research must be supported. It’s time for a modified policy -- the right policy for this moment in time."

The more cynical amongst us recognize the application of political triangulation when we see it. Frist was asserting his own moderate credentials to set out his stall as a viable Presidential candidate, capable of appealing to both Democrats and Republicans. But, in demonstrating this tactic of moderation, Frist was clobbered with an instantaneous response from the Evangelical right, the cornerstone of the Republican Party base:


So, after this very public dressing down, it came as no surprise yesterday, when Frist passionately came out in favor of "Intelligent Design," and its teaching in the classroom alongside the theory of Evolution. A policy that is wildly popular with the religious right. The transparency of Frist's contrived positioning may been poor electioneering on his part, but, to be fair, that doesn't necessarily reflect, exclusively, upon the Senate Majority Leader. There is a basic expectation in the Party, quite understandably, that there is no need to drift towards the center when Bush has won two successive elections on a socially conservative platform.

But there in lies the rub for Democrats... the success of this Administration has not been, regardless of what many would like to think, the result its socially conservative policies. The success of this Administration has been the responsibility of one man... a supreme political heavyweight, whether you like it or not...George W.

Successive election victories clearly underline Dubya's qualities. His greatest strength is his ability to transcend policy discussion, the nuance of debate, the rationale, and logic, and simply appeal, in a very human way, to people's gut. He represents a right wing platform but appeals to the nation as a moderate, sincere and trustworthy Commander in Chief. There is a vacuum of electability that his departure creates. This will be exacerbated, of course, if John McCain... a man with more crossover appeal than any other politician currently in office... chooses to run again... because he will inevitably lose, and further entrench the notion that the Republican's have abdicated the center ground. The only man that I can see who can possibly bridge the divide between Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and electoral success as well as George W. Bush is Rudy Giuliani, ironically a social liberal... and that is purely down to his unquestionable reputation earned in the aftermath of September 11th. And yet, it is highly unlikely that Giuliani will run.

Many names have been put forward already... Bob Woodward is convinced that five heart attacks a day won't stop Dick Cheney from running... there's Mitt Romney from Massachusetts... but, its early days yet, and an unknown face could soon emerge. Irrespective I contend the battle against the respective extremes in either party during the primary campaign will be where the next election is won. And even though Republican's might not care to recognize it, it’s a lot easier to earn the respect of the Democratic base from the center than it is to codify the Religious right and win their support.

Interesting times ahead leading up to 2008 on both sides of the political spectrum... and plenty of reason to believe this election will be just as close as in 2000 and 2004.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How the right screwed up the Cindy Sheehan story...

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"It's amazing I won. I was running against peace, prosperity, and incumbency."

Those were the words of President Bush in June of 2001, speaking to the Swedish Prime Minister, unaware that a live television camera was still rolling. Via the failures of the Democratic platform in 2000, the political course of the nation was shifted in that bitterly close election. By any account, Al Gore could have had no more substantive basis upon which to defend the successes of the Clinton Administration, the role he played, and the prospect of continued peace and prosperity. And yet, as a consequence of a deserved defeat, the potential for a Democratic Presidential legacy reaching out into the new milennia was squandered. In 2008, unless there are dramatic charges to the Party leadership, or an ascendent, thus far unknown quantity emerging from the primary campaign, the Democrats will almost certainly lose their third successive Presidential election.

Innumerable weblogs, and news resources are enthusiastically noting the Bush Administration's disapproval ratings, and the fall in support for the Iraq war as some kind of jubilant indicator of a Democratic resurgence. It is nothing of the sort. The Administration, the Republican Party, and the Right might be losing its cast iron grip on the sways of public opinion, but unless the Democrats can evolve a coherent, relevant, mainstream platform, devoid of partisanship... then no matter the Administrations failings, come the 2006 mid terms, and the 2008 election, the GOP will handily retain its monopoly on power.

In my opinion, Republican's are screwing up. The poltical climate is changing, the post Iraq war public consensus is dispersing, and, yet, unaffected, their general sense of invincibility and grandiosity is leading them to exacerbate their political problems. Regardless of your opinion of Cindy Sheehan, from a politcal perspective... in terms of how she should be strategically viewed by Republican Party political operatives... she is a story that is seriously bad news for President Bush.

Cindy Sheehan is an inherently sympathetic figure: a mother who's son sacrificed his life in defense of the country. She speaks articulately, and emotionally. When you listen to her, at least in the mainstream press, she is warm, jovial, funny and likable. It is hard to not care about Cindy Sheehan if you have no pre-determined bias.

All of the nuanced issues that have been raised to undermine her credibility... her original response to meeting President Bush, and her association with MoveOn.org and Michael Moore... these complicated inconsistencies, no matter how frequently referenced, will never be able to define the narrative of Cindy's story in the mainstream media. Who she is, and what she represents is, in and of itself, too compelling. While Cable News, Talk Radio, and Conservative blogs rightly and fairly scrutinize the integrity of Sheehan's protest... the agenda is being determined in the hearts and minds of average Americans by the images they are constantly fed of a very normal and human woman, fighting for the epitaph of her son's tragic death.

And crucially, the reason why those images have remained so prominent for so long has been the following in my opinion:

1) With each passing news cycle the attacks on Cindy Sheehan continue... those with the intention of discrediting her have been relentless in their attempts to do so... trying to reduce her to either a ruthlessly exploited, grieving mother... or an unbalanced divorcee compelled by extreme political motivations to the left of Fidel Castro. But, in reality, all these attacks are doing is perpetuating the longevity of her story's media presence, and unless some photograph of Cindy lounging with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan is about to hit the press, the story will always be framed by her compelling humanity, and the sadness of her loss.

2) President Bush made the fatal error of not speaking to her at the beginning. Cindy's actual positioning on a whole range of issues is very flawed. She has stated for instance that the US should seek to immediately withdraw from Iraq... and that terrorism would stop if Israel withdrew from Palestine.

The tone of President Bush's press conference comments were perfect... compassionate and understanding, but asserting, respectfully, his disagreement with her opinion on the Iraq war. Why could he not have said this too her face? What on earth did he possibly have to lose that negated all the things that he had to gain: A diplay of Presidential compassion, and responsibility... and a debate of ideas that he could not possibly lose. + ending all credible grounds for the protest outside his Crawford Ranch.

And now, after all this time, the Republican's are left to sound like shrill attack dogs while Cindy does nothing more than appear in front of the TV cameras and say a few amiable words.

One of the great hindrances to the Democratic Party in 2004 was that in the primaries they were building from scratch due to such a poor performance in the 2002 mid term elections. Now I know that success in the 1994 and 1982 mid terms did little to help either the Republican or Democratic party respectively with their subsequent Presidential bids... but, in both of those instances the battle was with an incumbent. This is a pivotal and opportunistic time for the Democrats, and if they can regain momentum in 2006, headlined by Hillary's re-election to the senate, then the viability of their prospects during the primary campaign will stand them in good stead as Republican's confront the enormous task of replacing George W. Bush. Bush is a political heavyweight with right wing Conservative designs socially, and economically, and a very strong appeal to the party base... but more impressively, he has the sincerity to resonate with the electorate as a compassionate moderate. I see very few Republican's who can effectively bridge that divide as effectively as George W. Bush has done in 2000 and 2004...

The Democrats have to grasp the enormity of the task that is ahead of them, and seize the agenda, as Republican's continue to create their own problems... otherwise, by the time the Primary campaign starts, it might already be too late.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Unintelligent Design?

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I've been reading bits and pieces online recently about "Intelligent Design," predominantly from those who consider it to be a ridiculous concept. To qualify this post I am an Atheist. That doesn't mean that I dismiss the existence of a higher power, or God, it simply means that I disbelieve the Theistic concept of that higher power, which is specifically described. In spite of this, in my opinion, the argument of Intelligent Design isn't quite as unintelligent as many people, who I normally respect and agree with, have been implying. In fact, I find the level of ridicule ironic when most of us, at some point in our lives, entertain very similar mental processes considering our own experiences and spirituality.

My understanding of Intelligent Design is this: The depth and complexity of life on earth, and the manner in which nature and life thrives and progresses indicates the presence of a beginning and a cause, and consequently a design.

Evolution, on the other hand, explains the way in which nature and life has conspired to flourish as the very founding basis upon which the natural phenomena we our surrounded by survives and endures. The reason, Darwin states, that everything around us works so effectively, is that when it doesn't function effectively it eventually ceases to exist. For example, when a particular species can no longer survive in its environment. The synergized natural progress we witness before our eyes, the basis upon which Intelligent Design concludes a higher power must exist, is, according to Evolution, simply the basic pre-requisite for manifest longevity. It's no coincidence that things seem to work well.

It's interesting to note that neither proposition is mutually exclusive.

The reason why I don't meet Intelligent Design with that much animosity is because all of us have experienced moments in our life when we've entertained a very similar thought process, no matter our belief in God, nor opposition to teaching Creationism, or Intelligent Design in the classroom. Have you ever considered positive or negative events in your life... or your aspirations for the future in terms of fate or destiny? Have you ever met someone through tenuous circumstances and determined that only fate could have brought the two of you together? Have you ever lost a loved one and thought it was his/her time to leave this earth, pre-ordained by a higher power? Have you ever reflected upon your experiences and felt that you were part of something larger, and spiritual beneath the surface?

These aren't preposterous notions, and yet they follow exactly the same rational course as the deductive reasoning that concludes the synergy and balance of the universe is indicative of the existence of God. Haven't we all contemplated the possibility of an Intelligent Design to our own lives?

Personally, I disagree. While people who believe in Intelligent Design look up at the vastness of the heavens, star systems, and galaxies, and conclude that God must exist... I conclude that the capacity of the human mind is so relatively small... we are but tiny blips in the life of this vast cosmos. Intelligent Design's most fundamental leap of logic is to assume there must have been a beginning, but, who are we to presume that our human understanding of linearity and time itself is not a localized manifestation? Maybe existence beyond the edges of what we know functions in ways that we could never begin to grasp? Analyzing the vastness of the Universe with our isolated frame of reference is an inherently flawed activity.

And yet, I don't see where anybody possesses the right to ridicule those who decide that Intelligent Design is what they believe. Spirituality is increasingly an individual pursuit... it is a voyage we take ourselves contemplating our own existence and relationship, or lack of one with God... and above, in a small way, I've charted my own. I don't understand what harm is done exposing young minds to the breadth of different interpretations to our existence on this planet. Isn't the idea to nurture their voyage, and endow them with the responsibility of reaching their own conclusions, with the widest possible array of different perspectives, while never seeking to make up their minds for them?

Like I said, I just don't understand the hostility.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

What is multiculturalism?

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In the wake of the July 7th bombings, many have felt the need to question the role of multiculturalism in Britain. I perchanced across this Naomi Klein quote online that struck a chord with me:

"... the brand of multiculturalism practiced in Britain (and France, Germany, Canada ... ) has little to do with genuine equality. It is instead a Faustian bargain, struck between vote-seeking politicians and self-appointed community leaders, one that keeps ethnic minorities tucked away in state-funded peripheral ghettoes while the centers of public life remain largely unaffected by seismic shifts in the national ethnic makeup."

I don't agree that diversity in British communities simply comprises of ethnic minorities crowded into state funded council homes. I'd like to think we have more social mobility... with universal access to higher education and, in turn, a wide range of job opportunities. But, Klein's tone, in so far as she characterizes our sense of diversity in the UK as being romanticized, certainly resonates at a time when we have been attacked from within by young, British born Arab men, and many in the press, and in the blogosphere, have sought to attack the concept of multiculturalism.

In London, it is easy to romanticize the vast ethnicity and lack of overt divisiveness. It is, after all, one of the most apparent characteristics of the city. Traveling throughout Underground trains, historical landmarks, the busy high streets, and small roadways, you'll encounter people from every different corner of the globe, speaking different languages, and appearing to cohabitate peacefully. However, in my opinion, there is a difference between this vast ethnicity of London, and the widely held perception of its multicultural identity.

What is multiculturalism in an age where culture itself is receding into the periphery of our self-perceptions? Hasn't culture, as a consequence of our economically liberalized societies, fragmented into nothing more than transient, commercially driven phenomena? Has anyone watched one of those VH1 retrospectives recently? Where the "Pac Man" computer game defines the 80's and the O.J. Simpson trial defines the 90's, interspersed by a few notable Coca-Cola adverts, Britney Spears, and the Madonna "Sex" Book. Is it really our religiosity that defines and separates us in 2005?

Is multiculturalism simply a reference to the breadth of our ethnicity, or does it mean for us to have separate cultures and ways of life, thriving, delineated, and apart? Is it multicultural for two boys the same age, one Islamic, and the other Christian to both be Eminem fans, or support the same football team, or like the same clothes, and watch the same TV shows?

There is no question that the way in which communities have isolated themselves in London and other parts of the UK has contributed to the threat we are now faced with. But, I don't think that is an inherent of the multicultural society that many of us in London embrace and are proud of. In fact, those who attack multiculturalism seem to do so for its pretense of inclusivity... and yet in the aftermath of the bombings our impenetrable togetherness and unity has been the city and nation's greatest strength, characterized once again by a recent poll of UK Muslims in which they say Britain is becoming less racially intolerant and that, most impressively, 90% of UK Muslims feel proud to be British, and celebrate when our sporting individuals and teams are successful.

Yes, we have a value system which underpins our laws that must be universally adhered to. But, we should never seek to define ourselves, first and foremost in terms of a particular lifestyle, religion, or historical tradition. The common cause that will combat the small divisive extreme elements of our society is not nationhood, or citizenship, as some have suggested, but our togetherness, sharing this small island, interdependent, and free. It's that, on a fundamental level, we see each other not as what differentiates and separates us, but, instead, by what we all share and have in common.

It is easy to attack diversity at a time like this. It is harder to elaborate upon a vision of society that would be more peaceful for all of its inhabitants.


Saturday, August 13, 2005


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I have an admission to make. I haven't written the Cognoscenti on my own. I've had the help of some very special friends to assist me with some of the more challenging and complicated arguments that I've been trying to make. Those friends... those dear, dear pals of mine... those comrades in difficult moments... are soon to be a thing of the past.

Yes, I have decided to say goodbye... to my beloved cigarettes.

Sadly, my long, rambling Cognoscenti posts will no longer be written in the comfort of a tobacco cloud circling around my head. No longer will I be able to turn to that euphoric buzz of addiction satiation in the most trying contemplative moments. Oh, such good times... I already feel nostalgic.

I'm 26 and I started smoking again two years ago, after previously quiting two years before that. It's ironic that California's strict smoking restrictions did nothing to combat my bad habit. Unfortunately, my propensity for volatile Los Angelean females offset those disincentives with a large dose of stress and anxiety.

So to cut a long story short I've really decided to quit. I'm saying so here in the hope that it will make me take this attempt more seriously. I want to make the most of my life, and whatever time I am afforded, and smoking on into my thirties doesn't exactly serve those sincere intentions. I'll put a little icon in the sidebar to chart my progress so anyone reading this can verbally abuse me if I let myself down.

That would be helpful :).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Iraq and the war on terror...

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Cindy Sheehan's protest at George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas retreat is starting to get widespread media coverage, much of it very sympathetic. It is hard to argue that a mother who has lost her child to war does not possess the political right to argue her opposition to that war and how it has been fought. IMO, her association with prominent left wingers like Michael Moore doesn't undermine her credibility. Her motivations are explicit and, whether you disagree with them or not, she has every right to express them and be heard.

But, it just makes you realize the way in which the discourse on Iraq has changed. The expediency of Saddam's conquest feels like such a distant memory that it is becoming increasingly hard for the case against his brutal dictatorship to retain its resonance in people's minds. Fear was the emotional fulcrum for the widespread support of the invasion. In my opinion, a justified fear. And yet, it is now difficult to reconcile that fear with the weak, fragile man we see on television and in newspapers, inevitably awaiting his execution at the hands of the Iraqi people. Support for the war continues to slip further and further into the myre... and many people, from both sides of the political spectrum predict that it will be a political liability for the Republican party at the 2008 election.

As somebody who supported the war in Iraq I think a lot of people's feelings are misplaced. There is an emerging "the war was a mistake" consensus defining, as I wrote previously, the legacy of Tony Blair in the UK and clouding the debate and analysis of Iraq in the US media. An examination of the Bush administration's approach in Iraq is inherently wrapped up in partisan bickering. Consequently, there is an analysis vaccuum. I think that popular opinion has been entrenched so vitriolically into two competing corners that the American people have become disenfranchized on the issue... No one person can stand up, and from an intelligent, objectively critical standpoint, argue alternative solutions for the problems that we are experiencing without being stigmatized as either a neo-con imperialist or an anti-war pacifist. Ironically, considering my previous statements on this blog, Bill O'Reilly has been the only person to really impress me with some very fierce analytical pieces about where the situation in Iraq is going wrong.

The war in Iraq has transformed from a battle to liberate a nation from the throes of its tyrannical government and to iradicate the threat that it posed to the wider world... into a battle to craft and sustain the rebuilding of Iraq in the face of terrorist insurgents, who are attempting to undermine those efforts.

I'm no expert. For me the main mistakes have been obvious ones: the disbandment of the Republican guard, disabling an already established mechanism to retain civil order in the country... and the economic decisions made early on by Paul Bremer to dramatically remove trade restrictions which has destablized, and antagonized individual Iraqi's in the short term, regardless of whether it will serve their interests in the long term. We should have recognized the importance of stability in the wake Saddam's removal, and the subsequent power vacuum.

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But there is a larger issue on the horizon that concerns me. I read a story from the AP today about Arab television stations widely showing a video from Iraqi insurgents portraying them plotting to attack US troops while proudly displaying US equipment they'd obtained in battle. It also featured a man yelling "As you bomb us, you will be bombed!" showing a group of individuals packing explosives into bombs. It is not naive of me to state that within the Arab world these men are increasingly viewed as freedom fighters and many, even in parts of the West would reach the same conclusion, considering these insurgents reactionary responses of the Iraqi populace to the massive loss of civilian life they have suffered in the war.

But these men are not simply freedom fighters. They are Islamic extremists and part of the intangible, fragmented and complicated network of terrorists who we are at war with as a consequence of September 11th and attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching one the beheading videos widely available on the internet will be aware of the relish with which these "freedom fighters" are devoted to violence, and a general hatred for all things Western. These aren't men simply endowed with the political objective to end the "US occupation" in Iraq.

The problem is that political terrorism, as opposed to this brand of fundamentalist terror, is a different sociological phenomena. There is a difference between Basque seperatists, the IRA, and Al Quaeda whether you like it or not. The difference isn't a moral one, it is a difference in terms of the threat they pose, and the potential remedies at your disposal to fight back.

The IRA had clearly identified objectives, their existence could be intricately charted throughout the history of conflict between Britain and Ireland, and their success thrived from the sectarian unrest in N. Ireland. This definable threat posed by terrorism motivated by clear political objectives has now been met and arguably conquered by the British Gov't. If anyone is unaware, the IRA released a statement two weeks ago declaring an end to using violence as a means to accomplish their objectives.


The peace process in N.Ireland worked because it helped, in a small way, to reconcile the sectarian divide by reaching out to the Catholic community. Issues they had with policing were dealt with. The police force, a Unionist symbol, was disbanded and re-established as an authority representative of both communities... And ultimately, a clear political process was established via which the political objectives of the IRA could be pursued peacefully. At every step of this process the IRA's advances towards laying down their "armed struggle" were a pre-requisite to moving forward. This was not, by an stretch of the imagination, the appeasment of terrorists. This was a concerted effort to transform the environment in N.Ireland that was allowing the IRA to be viewed by the catholic community as their safeguard and protection from apparently despotic Unionists.

Inspite of the new convenient political designs of Islamic extremists, as declared by the London bomber caught in Italy, "to end the US occupation of Iraq," none of the possibilities that exist in confronting political terror can potentially remedy the threat we are faced with. The rules of N.Ireland, and perhaps other parts of the world, do not apply to a brand of ideological extremism that demands its own supremacy... because its supremacy is undermined, not by our military acitivities... but by our mere existence. Freedom is the reason why Islamic facistic theocracies will not exist in a hundred years time. Freedom and self determination and free expression and democracy... the natural course of humanity... it's where we are all heading... it's what empowers us all as people and poses a threat to the institutions and ideas of the past that exist fundamentally to empower the few at the expense of the many. As I've said before, Islamic extremism is about a crumbling ideal of Islamic supremacy flailing in its last throes, attacking its bane (freedom) on the streets of London, and, of course, in the world trade center buildings. Islamic extremism is not political terrorism. It is pure, unadulterated facism, emboldened by the ferocity of their religious orthodoxy.

My point is that the political objectives of terrorists in Iraq is the means by which terrorism in the wider world is flourishing... because it now has the moniker of "freedom fighting" against an "occupation."

One of the things that I think a lot of people in the U.S. don't understand is the importance of international legitimacy in terms of how an action is perceived in the rest of the world. And this is a problem that has plagued the action taken in Iraq from day one. Do you have any idea the difference if it were United Nation and Nato forces keeping the peace as opposed to US troops on the streets of Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf? The entire operation would be transformed... And before anyone dares to imply that the U.N. and Nato would not be as capable in this task as the U.S. please refer to Eastern Europe and the remarkable peace keeping missions that have been successful over the past decade in the wake of their war torn savagery.

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It's one of the reasons why I talked about multilateralism before. Unilateralism is a failed notion. The proposition of John Bolton, that only the US matters in world affairs, is inherently flawed. No individual nation can singlehandedly intervene in parts of the world for the good of the world efficiently without encountering the types of problems that the U.S. has suffered in Iraq and Vietnam. Where it must act, as in Iraq, it should. And, unfortunatley, because of the preposterous attitude of the French on the UN security council we were left with absolutely no choice. But the reality is, where there is an opportunity to internationalize the military activities in Iraq we have to do so as a matter of the greatest urgency. And, to the extent that nations are unwilling to co-operate, the Bush Administation must start to take some responsibility for its tone in international diplomacy. You can not send someone as offensive as John Bolton to the United Nations, who seeks to undermine the influence of the rest of the world in world affairs, and then bemoan the rest of the world's disinterest in taking part in the peace keeping struggles in Iraq.

At some stage this will have to happen... because the United States, with a splattering of UK and Australian forces, the latter of which are so few they barely deserve mention, cannot halt the Iraqi insurgency. They cannot do this because their presence in Iraq is the fundamental cause of the insurgency and the magnet which draws militants from all over the Arab world to fight there. It doesn't matter how many you kill, or how many organizations you disrupt, they will keep coming, and coming like an endless, never ending stream of fighters, and suicide bombers. And by just training Iraqis to keep the peace themselves all we are doing is simply rebuilding the Republican Guard that we disbanded, so we can leave Iraq in a state of civil war to fight amongst itself, with financial aid and support for the side that we want to win. Is that the exit strategy? Is that the ethical basis upon which we say that Iraq has been a just war?

Or are we instead going to try and win this war and leave Iraq as the beacon of democracy and prosperity that will be a force for change in the region?

John Kerry was right, in my opinion, during the 2004 election when he said:

"Last spring, after too many months of delay, after reluctance to take the advice of so many of us, the president finally went back to the U.N., and it passed Resolution 1546. It was the right thing to do, but it was late. That resolution calls on U.N. members to help in Iraq by providing troops, trainers for Iraq's security forces and a special brigade to protect the U.N. mission, and more financial assistance and real debt relief. But guess what? Three months later, not a single country has answered that call, and the president acts as if it doesn't matter. And of the 13 billion that was previously pledged to Iraq by other countries, only $1.2 billion has been delivered. The president should convene a summit meeting of the world's major powers and of Iraq's neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly, and he should insist that they make good on the U.N. resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific but critical roles in training Iraqi security personnel and in securing Iraqi borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq's future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq's oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process. Now, is this more difficult today? You bet it is. It's more difficult today because the president hasn't been doing it from the beginning."

The biggest failure in Iraq has been a failure of international diplomacy. A failure that is intentional and that many who read my blog I know agree with. But it is a failure that is endangering all of us, and will prolong the US efforts in Iraq indefinately. Sadly, after the appointment of John Bolton I don't see any measures being taken by the Bush Administration to redress this. We must wait until 2008 in the hopes that a Democrat, or the next Republican President might recognize the importance of multilateralism and diplomacy in international affairs. Like I said, an individual nation cannot seek to unilaterally make military interventions in the world, for the sake of the world, without incurring these types of consequences. As a basic principle, we need each other. Whether it is in three years time, or in ten or twenty years, eventually the peace keeping force in Iraq will be internationalized. The time it takes will simply be the means by which Islamic extremism can sereptiously thrive off the perceived "occupation" of US troops in Iraq.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The case against Dean...

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The emerging consensus that the most vital electoral variable has metamorphosed from the "swing voter" to "getting out the base," is, in my opinion, wrong. The last election was close. Kerry received 48% of the popular vote and was mere percentage points away from pivotal swings in Ohio and Florida. This isn't meant in anyway to detract from what was a historic and deserved victory for George W. Bush.

John Kerry lost the election for a myriad of reasons. He lost the election because he didn't emotionally resonate with voters. In three consecutive debates on the vast majority of policy issues Kerry displayed a better range of knowledge, better insight, and more intelligent solutions. He concisely identified the faults of the administration's governance as articulately as Bill Clinton did in 1992. The majority of Americans agreed with me if you look at the polling data from those debates. Before the first Kerry was running between 8-12 points behind Bush. By the end he was neck and neck going into the final stretch of the election.

But, Democrats have to face up to the fact that the currency in political success has shifted. And it has shifted because of the sincere and direct man that George Bush is... And, Kerry's lack of sincerity, and emotional depth ultimately deprived him of what was required to tip the balance in States like Ohio, Iowa, and Florida. He didn't paint a vision that resonated emotionally with people's hearts. And ultimately it's emotion, and not rational observations, that compels us to vote at the polling booth.

He also lost because of his explicit political maneuvering on a myriad of issues. I supported Kerry wholeheartedly from the get go, but his dramatic shifts of emphasis during the primary campaign: vigorously anti-war when chasing Dean, and aggressively pro-war when Dean misspoke about Saddam Hussein was emblematic of everything that followed. His decision to make Cheney's gay daughter "fair game" was the pinnacle of his misplaced focus and IMO, his ultimate downfall.

I have to admit I've never had a lot of time for Howard Dean. The Democratic Party was yearning for political credibility in the wake of George Bush's meteoric popularity after September 11th and the Iraq war, and Howard Dean had none. Now, the Democratic Party is again yearning for a voice to define the evolving political discourse. This is the Democratic Party’s defining moment, especially if Giuliani decides not to run (likely) and John McCain chooses to seek the Republican nomination (which he will lose, and in doing so the Republican party will vacate whatever claims they had to the center ground).

And in the midst of this window of opportunity, what face are the Democrats offering to the American people?

Howard Dean, a man who says Republican's are racist... Republican's are dumb... The man who thinks the way in which Democrats reclaim their values is to resort to denigrating their opponents in the same obnoxious way that some Republican's have denigrated Liberalism. What is Howard Dean fighting? Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter. Will 2008 be a battlefield between such sharply contrasting extremes? No... The election of 2008 will be a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people and, yes, whether Democrats like it or not... for some of those who voted for George Bush in 2004, and 2000, or didn't vote at all.

Are we going to define the party in the eyes of those people by a man who thinks they're racist and dumb? Are we going to define the party in the eyes of those people by a man who only knows how to appeal to a room of Democratic activists and alienate everybody else? Or worse, are we going to define the Democratic Party by our House Leader:

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It's time for us to look seriously about not just what the Democratic party needs to be but also what the party should be in the legacy of Bill Clinton. There are men and women of principle who can define us as something so much more relevant to people's lives, beyond condemning Bush as liar/war criminal/Nazi. And by those I am not referring to pseudo Conservatives like Lieberman and Zell Miller. I mean moderate, relevant, principled voices like:

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...and in my opinion the man who should be leading the Democratic Party in the Senate instead of canvassing for a potential Presidential run:

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In marketing terms, the party needs to be completely re-branded ahead of 2008, and I hope from somewhere within the party lies the awareness and determination to accomplish this. Where is the Democratic Leadership Council when we need it? The very best of what the Democratic Party has to offer resides in its inclusivity, spirit, and practical solutions to the problems the nation and world is facing. This is not best served by Howard Dean.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Multilateralism in peril...

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Here are some quotes I found on google from John Bolton, who George Bush recently appointed as US ambassador to the UN:

► "If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

► "Diplomacy is not an end in itself if it does not advance U.S. interests."

► "There's no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a
bit of difference."

► "Renouncing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court “was the happiest moment of my government service."

I'd also ask you to watch this video. It is from an anti-Bolton website, but, to be honest it is not edited down, and the political point is only made right at the end. It is a fairly accurate representation of Bolton's perspective on the role of the United Nations in the world.

Video: Bolton on the United Nations

It seems clear to me that Bolton's appointment is a statement of intent to undermine any role the United Nations plays that isn't politically compatible with the Bush Administration's world view. This is the man upon whose shoulders rests the initiative to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict. The initiative to resolve Kashmir and the problems between India and Pakistan (which, incidentally, consolidate the presence of Islamic extremists in the Pakistani intelligence community, and makes it harder for Musharraf to confront terrorism). This is the man who is the US voice for confronting global warming. This is the man who will help chart the course of peace via diplomacy for the civilized world.

My political opposition to everything that John Bolton stands for is a mute point. What I find so sad is the way in which this recess appointment has been deceitfully justified upon the basis that Democrats were simply playing obstructionist politics. Is it really that difficult to fathom that Democrat's objections to Bolton are sincere. John Bolton undermines, with everything he stands for, the notion of a co-operative global community taking steps together to address global problems. He believes that the power of the United States endows it with the supreme responsibility of determining the political direction of the world community. The concept of a global community... the principle of nations coming together to act in the common interests of people everywhere... is now, sadly, in such grave peril. The United Nations has been caricatured into a two dimensional cartoon of fat cat bureacrats lining their pockets with backhanders from tyrannical dictators. The integrity of an institution where Adlai Stevenson confronted the Soviet Union about missiles in Cuba, and earned peace via the support of the international community... the institution where the state of Israel was established after the horror of WW2... has been cast aside as an emotional, abstract ideal.

The problem I have with Bolton right now isn't so much his appointment, it is the way Republican's have manipulated the situation to misrepresent Democratic objections. My belief in the importance of the integrity of our international institutions really does transcend my political affiliations. It's why, after all, I supported the Iraq war.

I'll leave the last word to Republican, Senator Voinovich:
"What message are we sending to the world community when in the same breath we have sought to appoint an ambassador to the United Nations who himself has been accused of being arrogant, of not listening to his friends, of acting unilaterally, of bullying those who do not have the ability to properly defend themselves?"

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Monday, August 01, 2005

The anatomy of liberty...

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I've always been an individualist, in spite of my adolescent flirtations with the far left. I've always intuitively believed in our spiritual voyage in pursuit of what we ultimately discern is valuable to us. Be it artistry, money, love, or family, or all of the above... our determination of meaning in our own lives, and the journey we take in that regard, is one that government and society should foster, and protect at all costs IMO.

I think that many people, from both sides of the political spectrum, fundamentally treasure liberty. It ubiquitously envelopes the competing visions for the role of government...liberty is threatened, depending upon your perspective, either by the monolithic imperiousness of commercialism and unaccountable corporate power... or the excessive meddling of government...

Liberty is not something, I believe, we are born with as human beings. I do not believe that God endows us with that unalienable right. It is a right we have to guarantee for ourselves, together.

We are inherently social creatures. The whole concept of 'survival of the fittest' and a meritocracy in the absence of collective intervention is inherently flawed. Charting this right wing, anarchistic metaphor for our genetically inherited predispositions actually identifies why it is such a fallacy. Does the strongest caveman survive? The biggest, most capable individual. Or does a collection of cavemen come together to offset his individual advantages?

Hence, even the most ardent and principled free market fundamentalist would see the need to have some kind of authority installed to prevent the excessive growth of monopolies that ultimately supress competition and opportunity for individuals, or smaller companies. To protect our liberty from the excesses of the free market.

Yes, government must always fundamentally accept that success or failure in life is our own responsibility as individuals. It must always place the emphasis on self-reliance. Government must never think it is its place to create some brand of utopia... because by definition, utopia provided for us, isn't any type of utopia at all... happiness is earned, financial security is earned, the success of our relationships with those that we love is a tough journey that we have to take ourselves, experience and grow from. It's governments place to secure our platform, and influence the construct within which we take our journey.

It's why I consider myself quite "hawkish" on most foreign policy issues. We should be acting together as a world, or amongst as many likeminded and capable nations as possible, to reduce the influence of tyranny and oppression on this planet. I am glad Saddam Hussein is gone. The failures of Iraqi reconstruction, which I discussed in my previous post, "Blair's Legacy," cloud the basic truth that the potential does now reside amongst the Iraqi people to build a more free and just society. Military intervention, IMO, was right for a dictator who had used WMD's with such disregard for human life in the past, and had undermined the integrity of the international community by refusing to co-operate with inspections, and a multitude of security council resolutions.

But, military intervention is not always the best remedy. In other parts of the world the intrinsic resonance of freedom is fermenting its roots in the spirit of people, via ever improving technologies and more available means of communication.

And, of course, the exponentially growing cultural force of free societies.

NY Girl, linked to an article where a businessman in Saudi Arabia was shocked to see a group of young girls in Burka's mobbing a star of their TV version of "American Idol." I can think of nothing more profound than the beating of teenage hearts freely expressing themselves inspite of their repressive garments and pervasive ideologies.

The essense of what I'm trying to say is that our lust for liberty as the foundation upon which we are free to make the most of our lives is something that we all crave. But, it is something that doesn't simply exist if we try and restrain the role of government as some kind of universal, inviolate dochtrine. Liberty is an ambition. It is an ideal that we will always be working towards. It something we must stand up together and defend in our communities, in our cities, in our nations, and in the wider world. The activity of governement isn't a threat to liberty. It is what precisely those activities are, and the ideals upon which they are based that determines their positive, or negative influence upon the freedom we are chasing.

At a time like this in London, I'm reminded that we all have a role to play... beyond the votes we cast for representatives to act upon our behalf.