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                          Sliding Doors, Shifting Perceptions and Transcendent Vision

                                                                                                                                    Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                                                    November 1, 2008

The primary purpose of the Earth Manifesto is to present good ideas in a compelling light, with the hope that these writings will give powerful impetus to positive initiatives for our society like those summarized in One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies and the Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Humanity. 

Our leaders careen from one crisis to another, failing to honestly address underlying problems and take courageous actions.  They should instead adopt a far-sighted strategic master plan that is fair-minded and has the overarching objective of being indefinitely sustainable.  The goal of our national economic policies should be to create a sound and stable system that protects people against monetary instability and abuses of power.  It should protect consumers against dangerous or toxic products and deceptive advertising.  It should protect all borrowers and investors against fraud, deceitful accounting, and banking excesses.  And it should give heavier emphasis to good citizen objectives like fair-minded legal protections, a fair shake for workers, reasonable healthcare for all, guaranteed civil liberties, a well-managed government, peaceful coexistence with others, a healthy environment, and protected public lands, national parks, state parks and open spaces.

Our representatives should mediate fairly between the many competing interests in our societies, and wisely focus on creating a just society that balances short-term-oriented impulses with greater responsibilities to the common good and people in future generations.  We need win-win solutions to problems, and should avoid mere expedient band-aid solutions that create lose-lose outcomes and harsh economic injustices and systemic weaknesses and riskier hazards in the long run.

Sliding Doors

The 1998 film Sliding Doors had a provocative and imagination-stimulating premise:  due to a curious wrinkle in circumstances, two simultaneous alternate futures were set in motion for a young gal named Helen (played by Gwyneth Paltrow).  Each of these two scenarios played out into a different train of events that move forward in tandem for the rest of the film.  In one scenario, Helen finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with another woman.  This revelation caused a crisis, a separation, a catharsis, a revaluation, and necessary personal growth to adapt to the altered interpersonal reality.  In the other scenario, Helen did not find out about the infidelity, so it remained hidden and the course of events that transpired continued along its prior course, deepening the dishonesty in her intertwined involvement and making her life more dysfunctional.

In reality, of course, only one course of events can transpire.  We may imagine how different the trajectories of our societies might be, for instance, if a presidential election gave us one party instead of another.  A world led by a Barack Obama administration would be markedly different that one led by a John McCain administration.  Imagine how different our society would have been if the Republicans, who lost the popular vote in the year 2000, had NOT managed, by hook or by crook and with the assistance of a narrowly conservative Supreme Court, to get a majority of votes in the Electoral College.  Al Gore would have been President, not George W. Bush.  Democrats, not Gilded Age-embracing Republicans would have been in charge of managing the economy and our foreign policy.  One can only speculate at the alternative probable scenarios, but the likelihood is that our world would be very different -- and probably much more stable and secure and egalitarian.

Today we are at another high-contrast Sliding Door moment.  The choice of John McCain would continue regressive tax policies, the faltering of the middle class, severe inequities in healthcare, aggressive war policies, and the embarrassment of our nation on the international stage.  The choice of Barack Obama would be far more likely to create a fairer society and one that deals more rationally, calmly, honorably and intelligently with international affairs.  In a thousand different ways, a dramatic change of direction is what we need.  We simply cannot afford to continue to gamble that right-wing ideologies, hard-nosed militarism, inegalitarianism, environmental despoliation and evangelical dishonesty are our best path forward.

Imagine how different the future would be under an Obama/Biden administration compared with a McCain/Palin administration.  With Barack Obama, we could begin to heal our dysfunctional relationships with other nations of the world by honestly and boldly refuting the Bush Doctrine of preemptive aggression in warfare and policies that allow torture by the CIA.  Some 80% of people abroad say that they favor Obama over McCain.  Eighty percent!  Barack Obama would likely make taxation more progressive by increasing taxes on the wealthiest 2%, and decreasing taxes on the other 98%.  John McCain, on the other hand, sticks with his proposal to continue the Bush policies of giving even more tax breaks to rich people. 

The Gilded Age and the Ultimately Anti-Egalitarian Expression of Greed

“If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor

     at the same time.”

                              --- Mark Twain

Mark Twain satirized greed and political corruption in his 1873 book The Gilded Age, A Tale of Today.   He coined the term ‘Gilded Age’ to describe the meretricious and extremely unfair post-Civil War period during which industrialists and the upper class and “robber barons” and financial manipulators gained enormous wealth and expressed their great fortune in opulent self-indulgent conspicuous consumption.  The Gilded Age suffered a serious setback with the Panic of 1893 and an accompanying severe economic depression.  That crisis set in motion many reforms of the Progressive Era, when corporate conglomerate monopolies (called “trusts” at the time) were ‘busted’ and efforts were made to break up extreme economic concentrations of wealth and power.  Labor unions gained power at the time to protect workers from long working hours and hazardous working conditions and a variety of abuses, and American race relations descended to a low point after the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. 

The upshot of the abuses of the time was that Theodore Roosevelt became President as a reformer who sought to move the dominant Republican Party away from being the representative of corrupt industrial bosses and into the camp of a Progressive movement.  He promised a “Square Deal” to provide a fairer shake to the majority of the people, and he was the first U.S. President to call for universal health care and national health insurance.  He also promoted far-sighted resource conservation. 

Decades later, with the onset of the Great Depression, economic collapse and massive labor and social unrest finally forced the country's political elite to accept truly fairer national policies in a New Deal that reduced the growing concentration of income and wealth in the hands of a few.  The severe economic insecurity of the majority had energized efforts to enact reforms, and these initiatives contributed to a period of prosperity for the middle class that was highly beneficial to society as a whole.  This continued until the rich and powerful once again seized control with the election of wily, folksy and charismatic Ronald Reagan.

Today, our neo-Gilded Age is crashing down in the economic crisis of 2008.  History shows us that NOW is the time to find ways to make the next up-leg of our existence a new Square Deal, a truer Golden Age of fairness of opportunity and lesser disparities of wealth.  This new era should be characterized by taxation that is more progressive, tighter control of speculative excesses, universal healthcare and a fairer balance between the prerogatives of capital and labor.  And we must once again denounce imperialism and overseas expansionism and debt-financed aggressive militarism.

Stark inequalities and inequities in societies make them less stable and secure, making greater oppression necessary to keep them in force.  A democracy ultimately is better for all than a plutocracy where the few get most of the wealth.  It is the death knell of democracy to allow ever-increasing concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of an elite few.  When Mark Twain long ago decried rapidly increasing economic inequality that characterized the Gilded Age, he agreed with the scholar Vernon Louis Parrington who had called the period a "great barbeque”.  We need to stop figuratively barbecuing people and stacking the deck against them, and instead we should begin again to drive a harder bargain with the rich! 

The Most Progressive of Ideas on Taxation

Billionaire Warren Buffett testified before the Senate Finance Committee in November 2007 in defense of the federal estate tax, the nation's tax on inherited wealth.  He invoked the historical roots of the estate tax, which was established in 1916 to reduce anti-democratic concentrations of wealth and power.  "Dynastic wealth, the enemy of meritocracy, is on the rise," Buffett told the panel.  "Equality of opportunity has been on the decline.  A progressive and meaningful estate tax is needed to curb the movement of a democracy toward plutocracy."  He added, "Tax-law changes have benefited this super-rich group, including me, in a huge way.  During that time the average American went exactly nowhere on the economic scale:  he's been on a treadmill while the super-rich have been on a spaceship."

In response, Republican Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asserted that the "death tax" was "fundamentally wrong."  Warren Buffett responded that use of the phase "death tax" itself was "intellectually dishonest" and "clever, Orwellian, and dead wrong."  The Estate Tax is, after all, not a tax on an unwitting dead person, but a tax on the inheritance of rich kids.  

Economic Inequality and Deception

In the past 25 years, economic inequality has rapidly increased, thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan’s regressive  and disingenuously inegalitarian tax policies and anti-regulation initiatives, which have had an insidious and corruption-enabling effect.  As a consequence, the need for reform has grown glaringly obvious.  Our neo-Gilded Age is seeing forces arise that militate to put the brakes on the current runaway process of rising inequality.  It appears that this era's power elite is going to be forced to accept a fairer social compact, and to honestly address the hardships being borne by blue-collar workers and poor people and the middle class.  We must return to the pre-Reagan policies that fostered middle class values and fairness.  And we must be vigilant against the dangers that financial collapses create in a heightened risk of widespread destitution and even political extremism. 

People generally hate being cheated and deceived.  Yet for years our right-leaning leadership has promised one thing and delivered another, whether we like it or not.  It seems to me to be a kind of nefarious “Big Lie” political bait-and-switch scheme.  Do they think we’re stupid?  (Are we?!)

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

                                                                   --- Abraham Lincoln

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t our leaders promise populist fairness, but deliver greater inequality and less broadly shared prosperity?  They talk about a sound economy but then deregulate to stimulate irresponsible consumption and economic bubbles, making boom-and-bust cycles worse.  They talk about national security and peace, but we end up with wars and a less secure citizenry.  They talk about limited government, yet it becomes bigger and more intrusive.  They talk about balanced budgets, but actually deliver the biggest deficits in world history.  They talk about wise uses of resources, environmental protections, Healthy Forests and Clean Air, and then they implement corporate-friendly policies that shortsightedly waste resources, clear-cut forests, damage ecosystems and allow harmful pollution of the atmosphere.  They talk about free markets, but give giant corporations enormous subsidies and allow more highly leveraged risks and eventually the need for huge government bailouts.  They talk about adhering to rules of law, but evade or break laws themselves.  They talk about leaving no child behind in education, and then act to undermine public education and make it less affordable.  They talk about fixing the drastic inequities of our health care system, but costs skyrocket every year and “pre-existing conditions” exclusions make health insurance increasingly unfair. 

Fundamental Misunderstanding

In addition to this issue of rising inequality in America, there is an even more basic problem.  The measures we use to determine economic well-being are distorted.  Our economic indicators not only measure aggregate activity in our society, but they also help shape it and drive our policy agendas.  When gauges of economic activity are misleading, probabilities rise for us to fail to properly prioritize or to allocate resources in the most sensible way.

Measures of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are used to track how well the economy is doing.  When GDP grows, we call it good, and we think that the economy is healthy.  Think about this on an individual level.  Are increases in personal spending generally correlated to good things?  Well, often they are not.  We often spend money when we need to repair a vehicle or our homes, or some broken consumer item.  We spend more when there is inflation in the cost of food and gasoline.  When we get sick or injured, we pay doctors and hospitals, and the amount of money we spend on our healthcare goes up.  When people get divorced, they pay big bucks to lawyers.  On a societal level, we spend a tremendous amount of money on Homeland Security, munitions, wars, crime prevention, prisons, toxic waste clean-up, fraudulent misappropriations, wasted energy, resource depletion, a “war on drugs”, and natural disasters.  Our GDP measures say this is growth, but these are not good things for our quality of life.

Our crude calculus adds things up like this, and calls it economic progress.  When we spend more time on activities that cost nothing, our measures basically regard them as a kind of economic stagnation.  If Americans spend more time going for walks in nature, or reading, or socializing with neighbors, or meditating -- instead of shopping -- our well-being would increase, but our GDP measures would judge it negatively.

We would be wise to redefine progress by utilizing more auspicious measures like proposed Genuine Progress Indicators (GPI).  These smarter measures would gauge the actual health of economic activities and truer aspects of the quality of life.  These measures would take into account factors like household work, the conservation of the natural environment, greater fairness, fulfilling volunteer work, healthy communities, leisure time, and more authentic connections to others and to the natural world.  This change in focus would allow us to see a truer picture of our economy, and to accordingly alter our activities and improve our priorities.  The steps we take to amend our current methods of measuring GDP should be ones that emphasize better human well-being and healthier communities, and they would place a higher value on the environment.  Understanding the measurements of ‘ecological footprints’ would be an excellent starting point for us to more honestly assess progress toward sustainable uses of resources and the preservation of ecosystems so that they can continue providing us with valuable ecosystem services.  Clearer ecological accounting, simply put, is needed.  By adopting ideas like this, we will be able to give recognition to deeper insights like those elaborated at www.RedefiningProgress.org.  Check it out!

Shifting Perceptions

I salute MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow.  Her new show The Rachel Maddow Show provides an intelligent perspective on news headlines and the politics behind the mainstream news.  Ms. Maddow became a Doctor of Philosophy at Lincoln College in Oxford, so she is a small town girl from California who has made good.  She has given television a much needed point of view to counter highly partisan, unfair and unbalanced corporate media outlets like Fox News.  She and Keith Olbermann often speak truth to power -- a courageous quality that is much needed in today’s perplexing world of deceitful spin.  Television programming often consists of sensationalism, yellow journalism, sentimental stories, mindless entertainment, sports spectacles, and a prurient interest in scandals.  Such stories are unfortunately given coverage that is more prominent than factual news and more important perspectives.

I also give a vocal ‘shout-out’ to Sarah Palin, who has graced our politics and our television screens with her attractive down-home presence.  You betcha!  Too bad she is such an extreme conservative and staunch religious fundamentalist -- or, more appropriately, a shrill and wily “barracuda”!

Think of how the rest of the world sees us.  Our nation is a tarnished beacon of hope that has allowed ideology and speculative fervor and unbridled greed to badly damage the economies of the world.  This has made billions of people less secure, and it threatens the stability of many countries by insidiously harming the vast majority of people on Earth.  Alvaro Uribe, a strong U.S. ally who is the current President of Columbia, has blasted U.S. economic policies for encouraging uncontrolled financial speculation.  He compared us to cowboys jumping on a wild horse with no reins.  Nice going, guys!

Think of this.  We have allowed the inegalitarian, narrowly focused, hyper-aggressive, divisive and evangelical Bush/Cheney regime to get elected TWICE by exploiting public insecurities and fears of terrorists, and anger and prejudice and blind belief and religious evangelism.  Once in power, these politicians have pretended they have been given a mandate for a right-wing agenda that is clearly contrary to greater good goals.  They have loudly and insistently proclaimed the superior moral value of privatized profit, as if it’s the veritable god of propriety -- Mammon!  Meanwhile, as these hubristic “economic fundamentalist” ideologies have been staunchly promoted, a disguised and wrong-headed twin enthusiasm has been disingenuously concealed:  the willingness to allow private entities to reprehensibly and irresponsibly foist costs and risks and enormous amounts of debt upon society as a whole.

The basic cause of the economic calamity confronting us is the insider collaboration between politicians and banks and other corporations.  This coalition has gambled that laissez-faire capitalism and hyper-costly aggressive militarism are the best ways to ensure a safe and prosperous world.  As a consequence, we have stimulated risk-taking and radically leveraged debt -- and we have at the same time unleashed arrogant and reckless unilateral American militarism and embraced preemptive war policies to control oil resources in Iraq.  Dishonest propaganda and deceptive rationalizations have been used to fool the public into supporting these actions.  Our leaders have basically swaggered like bullies and embarked on a special-privilege pandering domination gambit that is dangerous, unfair, unjust and unsustainably shortsighted. 

The highest priority of big corporations and politicians is to gain power and use it to advance narrow self-interested goals, no matter how detrimental this turns out to be for the majority of Americans.  For this reason, we must act to mitigate the damage these gambits can do.  We must defend and improve our great Constitutional system against the amoral and essentially anti-social goals of big corporations, which have a strictly limited basic legal purpose of maximizing profits and minimizing liabilities of owners and management.  It is time to start focusing on systems that are less harmful to the common good and higher social values.

The Foundations of Good Government

Our Founding Fathers built one of the strongest foundations for good government in the history of the world.  Today we have allowed knaves, gamblers, scoundrels and fools to turn the civilization we are building on this great foundation into a fragile house of cards.  We have even allowed these schemers to drill into the foundation and undermine the principles of fairness and the liberties assured in the Bill of Rights and the Constitutional balance of powers that made this foundation so strong.  This is simply wrong.  Ethically, morally and socially wrong!

Rollercoaster Economics -- Making Policies to Please Speculators

The underlying causes of the economic train wreck we are suffering are extensively analyzed in Earth Manifesto essays like The Bailout Blues and Gut Check Soul Revue, and Reporting Live from the Ground Zero Bleacher Seats.  I highly recommend that readers check them out!  Here is a creative and humorous Internet cartoon, which is relevant:

“The government today announced that it is changing its national symbol to a CONDOM because it more accurately reflects the government’s political stance.  A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you’re actually being screwed.  Damn, it just doesn’t get more accurate than that!”  

                                                                                                                             --- Internet Image (Ha!)

Crisis in Dealings and Perspective

Uncertainty and confusion reign today as this severe economic crisis unfolds.  Illusions crumble and failing ideologies are exposed in the face of deeper realities.  Images slip into my mind of the Captain of the Titanic, who threw caution to the wind and ordered “full speed ahead” in treacherous waters.  Boo-hiss! for the Captain’s poor judgment and reckless ambition and dangerous risk-taking with the lives of others. 

The Zoology of Desire

“Instincts and passion are magnificent as driving forces, but dangerous as guides.”         

                                                                                                           --- Baruch Spinoza, 1632 – 1677 A.D.

Michael Pollan wrote a great book titled The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World.  In this book, Pollan provides a clever, creative and insightful perspective of the world by viewing it from the point of view of a number of plant species.  Imagine that:  he looked at the world from the point of view of plants!  He used this intriguing way of seeing things to explore how four varieties of plants -- tulips, apple trees, marijuana plants and potatoes -- took advantage of human desires for beauty, sweetness, transcendent consciousness, and nutrition to help them propagate far beyond their traditional ranges.  Pollan’s perceptive perspective provides a provocative way of exploring the fascinating natural world and our human interrelationships with it.  Read this book! 

Using a similar creative perspective, let’s look at the world from the point of view of animals.  We are big-brained animals, so let’s consult with human animals that are particularly adept at looking at the world clearly and with a degree of scientific objectivity:  naturalists and scientists.  We see that there is a zoology of desire that propels all species toward goals of reproductive success and survival.  People who are sociobiologists and psychologists recognize that there are deep underpinnings of human behavior, and that many aspects of our nature tend to be inherited, and are thus difficult to change.  These thinkers point out that human behaviors can also be easy to change.  Incentives and disincentives, for instance, are very effective in changing the choices people make.  By understanding natural propensities as well as motivations and behaviors, we can design our economic systems so that people do socially beneficial things as a matter of course, rather than doing environmentally and socially harmful things.  When systems are well designed, people are motivated to automatically do the right things because of natural self-interest, and not as a matter of virtue, altruism or moral conviction. 

Retrograde Notions

The planet Mercury moved in an apparent retrograde motion from September 24, 2008 through October 15.  Thank God we got through that -- barely!  The Dow Jones Average fell by a rattling 20% during this period, in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing on September 15th.  Believers in astrology say that when Mercury goes retrograde, miscommunications abound and it is a bad time to make financial deals (bailouts?!) and that the terms of any such deals will need to be renegotiated.  I personally don’t believe in astrology any more than I believe that a male God created the universe.  But sure enough, the terms of the $700 billion bank bailout have already been modified from what was approved.  The first $250 billion is being sensibly committed to capitalizing banks and taking equity stakes in them, instead of just buying up bad mortgages, so that taxpayers would assume the probable large losses! 

The human mind seems to be especially well-suited to ascribing credence to correlations between coincidence and circumstance, don’t you think?  Mark Twain:  “I reckon that sometimes you can puzzle out the meaning of a mystery.  It’s like coming through the fog into open water and seeing everything bright and clear.”    “It made me feel kind of lighthearted too, the way you get when someone else’s happiness rubs off on you.”

Transcendent Visions

Albert Einstein was surely correct when he observed, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” 

The past lapses into the future through the portals of the present.  Make no mistake about it, the choices we make today strongly influence what the future will be like for us -- individually and collectively.  We bicker over small stuff and our cherished beliefs and biases;  but in doing so, we ignore Big Picture perspectives and the best solutions.  Our leaders figuratively fiddle while Rome burns, in far too many respects.  We skirmish over culture wars, and are distracted by divisive conflicts for supremacy of influence, but we fail to see that, in the larger sense, we are all in this together.  “United we stand, divided we fall.”

The “elephant in the room” is that Big Issues confront us and we are not adequately addressing them.  We must evaluate them more closely.  These are not hot-button social issues;  they are issues that have overarching economic, political and ecological impacts.  Our leaders shrewdly divide us to rule.  They pit us against each other over such things as God, guns, saluting the flag, gay people, immigrants, and reproductive rights.  The book What’s the Matter with Kansas cogently relates the pathetic details of these gambits.  Our leaders do this to gain and maintain control and dominance, and NOT for noble purposes, contrary to their rhetoric and Big Lie deceptions. They seek dominance, “my friends”, in order to impose an order that benefits them personally along with a very narrow subset of people who are their cronies and friends and supporters.  The vast majority are excluded or harmed.  These ‘leaders’ are shrewd opportunists, damning us and our descendants so that they may achieve their small-minded and excessively selfish advantages.

Here is my transcendent vision.  It’s actually common sense!  Breathe in deeply, and let go.  Overcome any emotional charges you may have for the moment.  Instead of being distracted by red herrings and vitriolic narrow-mindedness, let’s find ways to work together to limit the high cost of wars abroad, to reduce enormous budget deficits, to invest in vital undertakings, and to address problems of social justice, peaceful coexistence, homelessness and poverty.  And let’s strive to staunch the rapid depletion of resources, and to restructure our societies in ways that mitigate the grave impacts of environmental assaults. 

John McCain Is “Misoverestimated”

Enquiring minds want to know:  can the truth be stretched until it dies of thinness?  I recently read the “Make-Believe Maverick” article about John McCain in an October 2008 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  The article makes it clear that John McCain is poorly suited to be our nation’s leader.  He is a false populist, having embraced regressive taxation that puts the self-interest of wealthy Americans high above the well-being of the vast majority.  He supported the harmful policies of the Bush administration more than 90% of the time.  The other 10% of the time he may have been acting as a maverick, bucking Republican orthodoxy, but that is woefully inadequate to qualify him as the best person to lead our nation into a fair, stable, honorable, honest, peaceful and sustainable future. 

John McCain is also ill-suited to be the commander-in-chief of our armed forces.  He has demonstrated a nasty hot temper on many occasions and is extremely hawkish and military-minded.  He has opportunistically flip-flopped, and sacrificed principles for power on numerous occasions.  He has been a glory-seeking and hyper-ambitious guy for his entire adult life.  In contrast to the heroic myth that his campaign crafted about him, his past behavior has been characterized upon occasion by dishonorable conduct, dishonesty, self-aggrandizement, poor performance, heavy drinking, womanizing, and rude behaviors.

McCain’s hot temper and opportunistic ambition lead him to be erratic and prone to episodes of poor judgment.  He has been affiliated with lobbyist-dominated corporations and efforts to deregulate banks and commerce, which have been primary causes of the economic crisis that is now having such a devastating impact on people worldwide.  He played a significant risk-enabling role in the costly Savings and Loan debacle of the late 1980s, which was a veritable epitome of corrupted and dishonorable opportunism.  It is amazing that his political career survived his involvement in the Keating Five group of U.S. Senators in that scandal.  Despite this blemish on his record, he has chosen fundamentalist economic advisors like Mr. “mental recession” Phil Gramm -- people who tend to be stubbornly ideological, myopic, shrewdly greedy and insensitive to the common good.

McCain’s false caricature of "Joe the Plummer" in an October 2008 Presidential debate demonstrated his desperate ambition and willingness to distort the truth in an attempt to reverse his slide in the polls.  He has been running a truth-distorting and negative smear campaign against Barack Obama.  He has made a bad miscalculation in choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate, because he chose a woman whose social conservatism is, in many ways, distinctly contrary to the best interests of women.  We do not need another dissembling, naïve, power-abusing politician in the White House after these long years of Bush and Cheney misdirection and wrong-headedness.  White males may regard Sarah Palin as a babe, "you betcha", but the choice of an inadequately experienced female politician as a running mate, and one who divisively panders to right-wing extremists on hot-button wedge issues, is cynically calculating and pathetically manipulative.  It is diametrically opposed to what we need in a leader during these perilous times.

The choice we should make on November 4, 2008 seems clear to me.  Well-grounded hope illuminates a set of brighter potentialities and a more positive way forward.  In contrast, alluring sirens of rapturous supremacist delusions and stimulated insecurity lure us like a shimmering mirage that appears scintillating to a desperate man dying of thirst in the desert. 

Another Elephant in the Room -- How Much Does Racism Color Our Perceptions?

Pundits on TV talk about “the Bradley effect”, which is a discrepancy between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in American political campaigns when a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other.  The Bradley effect is named for Tom Bradley, a black man who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in voter polls.  It refers to an apparent tendency on the part of some voters to tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, and yet, on election day, vote for his or her white opponent.

Racial prejudice is still strong in America.  Not only is there a deep reservoir of outright bias and bigotry among many people, but there is an extensive amount of subtle racism.  Think about this in a revealing light.  Imagine what the polls would say right now if the record of the white guy candidate and the record of the black guy candidate were SWITCHED.  In other words, think about this:  (1) What if John McCain was a former president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, while Barack Obama finished 894th out of 899 people in his graduating class?  (2) What if McCain was an eloquent and charismatic speaker, while Obama was known to publicly display a serious anger management problem on many occasions?  (3) What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven airplanes?  (4) What if Obama had difficulty reading from a teleprompter, or did not even know how to use email or the Internet?  (5) What if McCain had only married once and Obama was a divorcee?  (6) What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after she had a severe and disfiguring car accident?  (7) What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?  (8) What if Michelle Obama was the wife who became addicted to pain killers and also had acquired them illegally?  (9) What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?  (10) What if the Obama's had adopted a white child?  (11) What if Obama had famous parents whose influence got him into privileged positions and bailed him out of hot water on many occasions?  (12) What if Obama’s running mate had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?  Wow! 

Republicans have tried to sell their brand of politicians as caring deeply about “family values”, so this contrast is a most surprising irony.  It is astonishing to have the standard bearer for the Republican Party turn out to have a lousy moral character and the standard bearer for the Democratic Party to be such an exemplary character.

Mark Twain lampooned the follies and foibles and hypocrisies of human nature, so if he were around today, as the spirit of his wry humor still is, he would have drawled with scathing sarcasm at this extraordinary contrast between these two presidential candidates.  If family values are reflected in the orthodoxies of their national policies, then Republicans represent male domination, female repression, strict parenting, excessive sexism, and a deep and abiding concern for embryos and fetuses coupled with an overriding deference to the enrichment of the proverbial Few at the consternating disadvantage of babies and mothers and children and students and old people and the prospects for flourishing of all people in future generations.  Irony doesn’t get much more ironic than this!  Shame on those who peddle this perverse set of values!

Subtle racism covers up and rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when the candidates are of different races.  On big issues, there are enormous differences between Barack Obama and John McCain.  While Obama essentially stands for fairness and more power for the working class and the middle class against the dominant prerogatives of the upper class, McCain is a shrewd opportunist and a false populist who champions regressive taxation and puts the self-interest of rich Americans high above the well-being of the vast majority.  McCain has sacrificed principles for power on numerous occasions, flip-flopping on the Bush tax cuts, offshore drilling, the estate tax, the GI Bill, waterboarding, immigration policy, the storage of nuclear wastes at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, teaching intelligent design, and fully funding the No Child Left Behind law

The character Howard Beale, a network anchor in the great film Network (1976) declared, I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"  Here is the context.  Beale told viewers:

“I don't want you to protest.  I don't want you to riot.  I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write.  I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.  You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit!  My life has value!"

So, I want you to get up now.  I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.  I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"

I personally don’t know how effective this unhinged -- or sane -- action might be.  But one really important option lies before us, and it is easy.  Don’t just get mad, get even!  Reject extremely conservative politicians and the status quo.  Go to the polls on November 4, and vote for a new Progressive Era.  Mark the box for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.  Then, once they are in office, we must work on them to make sure that they honestly advance a fairer, more sustainable, more ecologically sound, and more propitious agenda for the future.

Thanks for reading!         


               Dr. Tiffany B. Twain                 

                   Hannibal, Missouri