PALINdromia pal·in·dro·mi·a (pāl'ĭn-drō'mē- ə) n. A relapse or recurrence of a disease.
—American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary
The fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.
— John McCain, "Meet the Press" interview, June 19, 2005
We vote for our presidents, but we don't elect them – that job was taken by the elites, the richest and most powerful class on the planet. As Noam Chomsky observed in an interview prior to the 2004 presidential election, "…there is a choice between two candidates who were born to wealth and political power, attended the same elite university, joined the same secret society that instructs members in the style and manners of the rulers, and are able to run because they are funded by largely the same corporate powers. The Public Relations industry, which basically runs the campaigns, makes sure that they keep away from "issues" (except in vague and obscure terms) and focus on "qualities" -- "leadership," "personality," etc. The public is not unaware of its purposeful marginalization."
Still, there are sometimes meaningful differences between the candidates, and the likely consequences from those differences rise dramatically with the challenges facing them. As the Bush/Cheney era draws to a close, we find they have left us with a more than doubling of our national debt to $10 trillion (excluding several fiscal exposures that corporate accountants would have to include, but which the government conveniently doesn't), an illegal war in Iraq that cost more than $1 trillion, a financial bailout that costs $1 trillion, a spiraling economy, a country that is less safe as a result of the Iraq War, the wholesale swap of our civil liberties in the name of that "security", a financial debacle that threatens to destabilize the global economy, the approaching tipping point of global warming, a precipitous loss of goodwill and sympathy after 9/11, an explosion in health care costs, about a doubling in the price of gas, subversion of science for politics, massive environmental and biodiversity losses, and tax "cuts" that must be paid with interest by our children. Bush and Cheney have, in short, put our democratic "experiment" and the future of our planet to the ultimate test. Now we have a choice between John McCain, a candidate who shares many of Bush's policies, positions and advisors, along with his dangerously unqualified and wreckless running mate, and a pair of constitutional scholars who have demonstrated the courage to tackle the most pressing problems.
As election day draws near, the closeness of the race and the naiveté of many voters highlights our astonishing lack of talent for voting for fit presidents. After speaking with some well-educated but uninformed voters who could only mindlessly repeat the mantras of the two leading presidential candidates, I kept returning to Thomas Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense, which enlightened the colonists to the problems of British rule. This blog is not intended to be an all-encompassing modern-day version of that iconic contribution to our nation; instead, I simply wish to offer some guidance on the voting decision before us.
In Paine's words, "He who dares not offend cannot be honest." If you suffer from confirmation bias, understand now that you will disagree with much of this blog, regardless of your political orientation.
Before voting in what has been widely referred to as "the most important [presidential and vice-presidential] election of our lifetimes", we need to put aside the campaign rhetoric and the spin from the talking heads. Instead, we should consider these attributes of the candidates:
1. Favorable temperament (including mood, adaptability, distractibility, and intensity);
2. Experience (in both domestic and foreign policy), ability and willingness to produce rational, ethical, and equitable purpose, policies, and positions;
4. Intellect (specifically, deep knowledge and wisdom to perform their required functions), and
Any one of these traits, if sufficiently deficient, should serve as a disqualifying mark against that party "ticket". If none forms the basis for outright rejection, then the attributes should be weighed according to our individual and collective expectations of their policies, positions, and possible outcomes following their success in the election. Why vote for a candidate who has decades of experience if they cannot control their temper? Why vote for a candidate who has the best standing in each of the first four categories, if they are not expected to be physically or mentally fit at the end of their term and that infirmity puts us at risk? The risks facing our country, our democracy, and our world are unprecedented. Now is not the time to vote for a candidate because of the appeal of a snappy sound bite, spin, or a narrative about a particular individual in a particular circumstance who may pay slightly more or slightly lower taxes under one candidate's plan or the other.
Below is a list of these factors of the McCain-Palin ticket that I began compiling after McCain picked Palin:
John "War Maker" McCain
Former senator Bob Smith, a fellow Republican, had this to say about McCain: "His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him." Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi (who now backs McCain), once declared that the thought of McCain in the Oval Office "sends a cold chill down my spine." McCain is notorious for his temper, and it is not calculated displays for effect, but hot-headed rages directed at those who disagree with, or disappoint, him. From Salon.com: "Stephen Wayne, a political science professor at Georgetown who is studying the personalities of the presidential candidates, agrees McCain's temperament is of real concern. 'The anger is there,' Wayne said." In 2000, Republican and former Congressman Jack Kemp told Frank Schaeffer "McCain is a war maker, and I'm a peacemaker, so is George Bush. McCain would be too dangerous as President." (If George Bush is a 'peacemaker', think about what that says about McCain…!)
Sarah "Whack Job" Palin
Christine Toomey offers this insight into Palin's temperament:
There is a high body count of people who have dared to disagree with Sarah Palin, shown a reluctance to do her bidding or, in her eyes, failed to support her wholeheartedly – among them some who say they too have been hunted, carved up and cast aside along her path to power. These people warn, as do even her closest friends and family, that in Palin's eyes there are no grey areas, no room for doubt. There is only right or wrong, black or white, "good or evil". Her father Chuck's word for it is "stubborn". One of her friends calls her "dogged". If Palin believes something to be true, it is – no amount of evidence to the contrary will sway her, and everybody else had better believe it too." Toomey quotes the president of Alaska's State Senate, Lyda Green, a lifelong Republican: "Sarah believes she is above the law. What is important for people to understand is that, once elected, Sarah Palin has little use for the legislature. If people don't agree with her, she brands them as the enemy and does what she wants anyway. No one should underestimate her ambition."
In the article, Howard Bess had this to say: "Her mental structure is little different than that of an Islamic fundamentalist. The churches she attends are understood by some to have an apocalyptic view of the future, and believe she will be the leader of a new world order when Jesus returns.
While leaving Palin's church, Toomey notices "…a leaflet promising 'Deliverance from PMS', explaining how premenstrual problems are the work of Satan." Even McCain aides have labeled Palin a "diva", and suggested that she is "going rogue", that "she takes no advice from anyone", and that she is a "whack job". So we have a "whack job" who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency and in a position to "lead" 300 million people, and our nation had only the scantiest introduction to her before she was sequestered from the media. She attends a church that talks of the "end of days" and she would have the codes to the nuclear "football"?
George W. Bush's temper and his unwillingness to listen to opposing views have formed the basis for the biggest failures of his presidency. After witnessing the effects of this on our country for eight years, we should readily consider temperament a disqualifying factor for both McCain and Palin – this country cannot afford four more years of isolationist "You're-either-with-us-or-against-us" false dilemmas and demagoguery.
Under Bush, we've seen a doubling of corporate lobbyists (for a total of 56) in this administration walking the halls of Congress for every one person we've put there to represent citizens. From Mother Jones, "…the [DNC], using publicly available records, has identified 177 lobbyists working for the McCain campaign as aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers. … Of those 177 lobbyists, …at least 83 have in recent years lobbied for the financial industry McCain now attacks."
McCain's campaign has been lobbing the "socialism" canard when Obama talks of redistributive tax policies, but McCain fails to acknowledge that our country has been quick to socialize the risks and privatize the profits for corporations, leading to record inegalitarianism, and most recently, unapologetic class warfare for the benefit of Bush's base. McCain regularly counters that the US (statutory) corporate tax rate is the highest in the world with a cap of about 40% of earnings, but that's misleading—the effective rate is much lower. The average effective rate for all 275 Fortune 500 companies that made a profit each year from 2001 to 2003 dropped by a fifth, from 21% in 2001 to 17% in 2002-2003. Over the 2001-2003 period, industry effective tax rates for the 275 corporations ranged from a low of 2% to a high of 28%. They pay lower effective rates through accelerated depreciation, deductions for stock options, tax credits, offshore tax sheltering, transfer pricing, and other tax loopholes.
McCain has shown a proclivity for rewarding lobbyists who, in turn, reward him. This is not "change", but political favoritism and patronage.
McCain's foreign policy experience is, …well, unimpressive. Citizens for Global Solutions, a focus group aiming to have the US engage the world, recently gave McCain its lowest grade, an "F" (Obama received an "A").
His imprisonment as a POW makes him a victim, not a hero. That isn't to say that he doesn't deserve our respect and admiration, as do all those who risk their lives for their country. It is a horrible fact of armed conflict that people on both sides are injured, captured, and killed. But heroes are those noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, and declaring all 2.6 million now serving in our armed services "heroes" dilutes the meaning. Would he have been labeled a hero for fighting, had he not been captured? Then why is he a hero for fighting and being captured? He was a victim, as are millions in the tragedies of war. Regardless of the label we might pin on him for his service, McCain's frequent references to his time in a POW camp is disturbing on two levels. First, as Time magazine correspondent Ana Marie Cox notes, "It's a head-spinning non sequitur, designed to distract us from something mildly troubling with the assertion of something impressive."
Second, McCain implies that his service gives him the perspective or the leadership skills to make decisions affecting the lives of millions and the future of the world. Flying an aircraft or spending time as a POW does nothing to prepare one for negotiating an arms treaty or designing a "just" exit from an illegal occupation. McCain seems to think that a noted specialist or expert in one field can quickly become a noted specialist or expert in another field. We have seen this several times, including with his suggestion that Meg Whitman, former CEO of E-Bay, would be his candidate for Secretary of the Treasury. He offered this reasoning: "…the first criteria would have to be somebody who immediately Americans identify with, immediately say, we can trust that individual." In other words, he would turn to a celebrity before he would turn to someone who has with the required intellect and experience to perform the role. Ms. Whitman's demonstrated skills lie in building a startup web-based auction site. The Secretary of the Treasury has the responsibilities of "…formulating and recommending domestic and international financial, economic, and tax policy, participating in the formulation of broad fiscal policies that have general significance for the economy, and managing the public debt." There is no more of a match between Whitman's capabilities and the responsibilities of the Secretary of the Treasury than there is between Bush's ability to operate a baseball team and his ability to wage two wars in lands and with cultures about which he knows little.
When the U.S. was on the brink of attacking Iran, McCain joked about the potential war by singing "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran." McCain later "joked" in a sadistic manner that must have made Bush smile when he suggested killing Iranians by getting them addicted to cigarettes. Regarding the defining failure of the Bush presidency, McCain highlighted the fallacy of assuming he had the requisite skills to be Commander in Chief: "No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have." The Iraq War is an abject failure, but McCain readily fails to acknowledge that fact and shows a willingness to pursue other wars of aggression. His experience, his arrogance, and his ego won't allow him to accept anything in Iraq other than "victory", however he chooses to define that, and whatever the cost in lives, international reputation, civil liberties, or financial stability.
McCain has also failed to learn from past mistakes. He "exercised poor judgment in intervening with the regulators," according to the Senate Ethics Committee after investigating McCain's role in the S&L scandals. Less than two decades after that lesson, he again supported deregulation of financial institutions while accepting their financial support for his political ambitions, and hired old friend and architect of our financial melt-down, Phil Gramm, as his economic advisor.
Putting her country first, Alaska State Senate President Lyda Green, a Republican from Palin's hometown of Wasilla, said "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"
In spite of his bluster over earmarks, McCain's running mate was a leader in the practice. Of the 50 states, Alaska ranks first, year after year, in money it takes in from Washington on a per capita basis. In 2005, according to the Tax Foundation, Alaska received $13,950 per resident in federal spending. At the Republican National Convention, Palin bragged that she had vetoed "nearly $500 million" in state spending during her two years as governor. This amounts to less than 2% of the proposed budget. To put this into perspective, someone with a $1,000/month personal budget need only cut $20 to save 2%. Now, imagine having the budget of an oil-rich, heavily-subsidized state…
In an ever-rarer moment of clarity, McCain has decided to largely sequester Palin from the media. During the RNC, her ability to read a script written by a former senior Bush speechwriter from a teleprompter was misinterpreted as genuine, heart-felt, homespun folksy straight talk from an adorable self-described hockey mom and "maverick". Few noted that the speech included a quote attributed only to "a writer", who, it turns out, was an avowed racist and anti-Semite. Nor did many note that the speech didn't offer listeners a clue as to why Sarah Palin was qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. It simply mixed loads of feel-good-about-yourself pandering with praise for McCain. But whenever Palin moves away from her scripted speeches or her memorized talking points, she showers us with nonsense and non sequiturs.
Sometimes the charade is painfully obvious, as when Palin's cued lines and robotic catch phrases offer pure nonsense to the question asked:
Couric: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? ... Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?
Palin: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy- Oh; it's got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.
Why get riled up over this shallow drivel? Isn't the VP's role simply one of "president in waiting", ceremonial performances when presiding over the Senate, and attending funerals? Two reasons: (1) Palin is remarkably, demonstrably, unqualified for the role, and (2) McCain either doesn't realize, or doesn't admit, #1.
Palin's lack of experience and ignorance of domestic policy, science, international relations, Just War, affordable health care, global warming, food safety, the economy, housing, energy independence, the need to restore the separation between church and state, education, the hollowing out of American industry, restoring the US Constitution and the Rule of Law, and all things outside of Wasilla is startling.
Regarding Palin's much flaunted "executive experience", this satirical poster puts her background into perspective:
McCain's past failures to learn from experience and Palin's utter lack of relevant experience should serve as disqualifying factors.
Integrity has long been McCain's strong suit, at least relative to several others in Congress (admittedly, a low bar). But as demonstrated by his choice of Palin for his running mate, McCain has either (a) drunk the Kool-Aid or (b) exchanged principles (in his selection of a running mate) for politics ("energizing" his ultra-right-wing base), giving lie to his slogan of "Country First". As Gary Trudeau pointed out, McCain, in his first executive decision of picking Palin, contradicted his strongest argument (experience), undermined his strongest claim (judgment) and spotlighted his greatest weakness (age). McCain noted this himself when he said "We all know that the highest priority [in choosing a VP candidate] is someone who can take your place." Yet, during the same interview in February, one of his advisors blurted "We haven't spent one second talking about the selection of a running mate, and, as you know, he's superstitious, so I doubt we will talk about it for a while." Months later, McCain seemed to have forgotten that "highest priority" when he selected a "hockey mom" and actually cited her PTA work as "experience".
McCain offers these gems to convince us that he didn't pick his running mate in some "senior moment":
"She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America." [Bad news for those folks at Oak Ridge National Labs, Los Alamos National Labs, the DOE, MIT, big oil, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, …]
"I think she's the most qualified of anyone recently who has run for vice president to tell you the truth..." [Really? Palin's better prepared to have foreign policy discussions with world leaders than, oh, say, Joe Biden, long serving member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who received an "A+" in '08 from the Citizens for Global Solutions, a focus group aiming to have the US engage the world? On domestic policy, Palin's only supposed strength is energy, but she doesn't even know Alaska's energy contribution to the US, so let's not even entertain that charade.]
"She did fine in the interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. She did a great job in those interviews." [The polls and the press (domestic and international) suggest that McCain is …um, …stretching the truth there, too].
"Joe the Plumber" has become such a touchstone for McCain's campaign that I almost expect it to be renamed the McCain-Palin-Wurzelbacher ticket. If we ignore the narrative and the actual unlicensed and misguided "Joe", we find that small business owners would pay increased taxes only if their net profit is greater than $250,000. For the actual "Joe" and the business he cited, he "could expect to see his tax bill rise by between $0-$900"– hardly enough to change the viability or the long-term economics of that business. That high-end tax estimate of $900 represents three-tenths of one percent of a $280,000 net profit. So, no, he's not going to have to hire fewer people or slow the growth of his "Joe the Plumber" franchises.
According to Congressional Quarterly's Voting Studies, in 2007 McCain voted in line with the president's position 95% of the time and voted in line with his party 90% of the time. Many of his advisors are pushing the same Bush orthodoxy, yet McCain has co-opted Obama's "change" message, and now attacks many of the same policies that he, McCain, supported while consistently pushing a message of fear, labels, unfair attacks and negativity. Critics have suggested that the drumbeat of over-the-top character assassination is beginning to put the entire Republican Party at risk.
Palin, as mayor of the meth capital of Alaska (Wasilla), once said "I'm the mayor, I can do whatever I want until the courts tell me I can't" as she (illegally) spent $50,000 on the mayor's office without approval of the city council, then spent $51,000 on the governor's mansion. But now the stakes are higher, and, as we have come to learn, Palin's views often don't intersect with reality. On October 10, 2008, the Alaska Legislative Council unanimously voted to release, without officially endorsing, the Branchflower Report on Palin's conduct in "Troopergate". The report clearly states (on page 8) that Palin violated the State Ethics Act:
Finding Number One
For the reasons explained in section IV of this report, I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.
Palin's response? She said that she was "very, very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any of that." What part of "abused her power" in violation of the "Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act" do you suppose she doesn't "get"?
Critics, in comparing her speeches before and after her selection by McCain, claim that Palin has even faked her Fargo-like accent and recently adopted her folksy quotes.
Detractors don't have to look far to see integrity issues with Palin. When she became mayor of Wasilla, the town had a $3 million surplus. By the time she left, Wasilla had about $20 million in long term debt. But she is quick to describe herself as someone who would get government 'out of the way'. Rolling Stone offers additional confirmation of her many false "reformer" and "maverick" claims, including lies about earmarks. From the AP, "[Palin's] team crafted terms that favored only a few independent pipeline companies and ultimately benefited the winner, TransCanada Corp.", a company with ties to her administration.
While slowly, painfully, circling the drain, the McCain-Palin campaign has relied on baseless innuendo, guilt by association, and hate mongering exploitation to the point where frenzied calls of "treason," "terrorist," and "kill him!" were yelled against Obama, and in a reminder of this country's shameful history of race relations, his effigy has been hung in several places and a planned assassination attempt was interrupted. Rabble rousing of the uniformed with abhorrent lies does not move us forward as a nation. McCain's reversals are worrying in that they may demonstrate a readiness to swap policy for politics, or even signs of cognitive deficiencies. Palin has no such problems; she has no such reputation for integrity to lose. But neither has demonstrated the level of honesty or honor needed to restore the world's views of our now troubled democracy.
John "the 1%'er" McCain
McCain graduated in the bottom 1% of his class at the US Naval Academy. By comparison, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review, and he taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Admittedly, McCain's had the opportunity to sharpen his intellect since his formal education ended quite a long time ago. But decades later, he appears to be lost when moving away from talking points or reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter. He stopped offering his "Straight Talk" on his bus after being asked an uncomfortable question about insurance companies funding Viagra but not birth control pills. He readily admitted to being unknowledgeable about the economy, while later claiming to be an expert in fixing it, in finding Osama bin Laden, in "winning" the war in Iraq, in solving our health care problems, and more. McCain was dismissive of the dangers of nuclear waste in a recent campaign speech in which he referred to Obama's comments: "We talked about nuclear power; well it has to be safe, environment, blah, blah, blah." Our next president should be, oh, say, more "presidential" when considering the true security and environmental costs of nuclear energy. The residents of Portsmouth (Ohio), Yucca Mountain (Nevada), Three-Mile Island (Pennsylvania), Paducah (Kentucky), Hanford (Washington), Indian Point (New York) and every future home to a nuclear plant could certainly help McCain assess those environmental costs, and would appreciate a more thoughtful response to a legitimate and vital issue than "blah, blah, blah". According to Caldicott, 98% of the $560 billion insurance liability is covered by the US federal government. Decommissioning and radioactive storage costs are also excluded from the economic assessments. When those costs are included, nuclear energy may well be the most expensive form of energy we can produce.
Sarah "Cheney in a Dress" Palin
Palin took six years in five colleges to complete a four-year journalism degree, then, in her Couric interview, couldn't name a single publication that she reads. By comparison, Biden graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in history and political science from the University of Delaware, where he ranked 506th of 688 in his class. He later received his Juris Doctor from law school at Syracuse University, and has taught a seminar on constitutional law at Widener University School of Law.
According to a CNN report, a "McCain source" complained that "[Palin's] lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic" and that "it was probably the 'hardest' to get her 'up to speed than any candidate in history.'"
We also have some frightening similarities between Cheney and Palin, beyond their shared love of slaughtering woodland critters, their shameful naiveté regarding the principles underlying "Just War", or their use of private emails to avoid prosecution when abusing power in government business. In particular, each holds a dangerously distorted view of the duties of the office of the vice president.
Cheney, who as vice president also presides over the Senate, famously claimed that his office is not subject to an executive order governing the handling of classified information because he claims both executive and legislative privileges while acting in either capacity. This is a novel and self-serving interpretation of the office of the vice president, and represents a further expansion of vice presidential power by attempting to place that office out of the constitution's established framework.
Shockingly, Palin has trouble in even defining the VP role, in spite of being asked several times to do so in front of a national audience, in spite of her recognition that her second grade daughter would ask her such a question, and in spite of the fact that she has been campaigning for that role for months now. As Chris Matthews explained to McCain sycophant Nancy Pfotenhauer (who has to check her integrity at the door whenever she defends Palin), "Simply put, you know it or you don't."
In her interview with Larry Kudlow, Palin claimed (1) she didn't know what the VP did, and (2) she would want to tailor the job of the vice president to favor Alaskans. After McCain chose her as his running mate, Palin had another opportunity to answer the question in her debate with Joe Biden. There, she hinted that she was willing to assert whatever privilege she could, in the manner of Cheney. She further muddied the waters in a follow-up the next day, when she asserted that the vice president oversaw the Senate, and "…that alone provides a tremendous amount of flexibility and authority if that vice president so chose to use it." Her true lack of understanding shines through in a later interview when responding to a third-grader's question of what a VP does: "…they're in charge of the United States Senate. So if they want to, they can really get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes."
Since she apparently didn't manage to pick up a copy of the US Constitution during her $150,000 shopping spree, I'll summarize the relative bits:
From Article I, Section 3, the VP presides over the Senate, but has no vote unless they are equally divided. Further, if the VP doesn't show up [as is normally the case, except for the more ceremonial duties], then the Senate will choose a President pro tempore [that's a "temporary President", Sarah].
From Article II, Section 1, the VP replaces the president if he is no longer serving that role for any reason.
From the 20th Amendment, the Vice President's term ends at noon [EST] on the 20th day of January.
From the 25th Amendment, the VP becomes the acting president if the president is temporarily unable to fulfill his duties.
Let's review: The VP is not in charge of the Senate, doesn't play favorites with their home state, doesn't "get in there with the Senators and make a lot of good policy changes", and the Constitution doesn't offer the VP any flexibility to define the job as they wish.
A casual observer can quickly tell us that Palin's not suited for jobs that demand any hint of intellect. She claims that Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her much-needed foreign policy experience [just like going to Jiffy Lube gives me auto repair expertise], she didn't know what the Bush Doctrine was, she mispronounced "nuclear" as "nucular" (twice), she'd never met a foreign head of state when McCain had picked her, she didn't have a passport until 2007 (although she answered "Perhaps so" when asked if we may need to go to war with Russia because of the Georgia crisis), she naively claimed that Alaska produces nearly 20% of the US domestic supply of energy (it is 3.5%), she believes that we are in Iraq to fight those who attacked us on 9/11, and she referred to the Iraq War as a "task that is from God". When asked about the single largest environmental crisis facing the world, she had this to say:
"You know there are -- there are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now, these impacts," she said. "I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate. Because the world's weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn't matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it's real; we need to do something about it."
Let's deconstruct this word salad to get a handle on Palin's stand on global warming. First, let's save time and ignore the grammatical errors, as well as the nonsensical first sentence, which even she (apparently) realized needs some help. She then says she's not going to blame all of man's activities on changes in climate. Bad news for those guys on Riker's Island who were relying on a "The change in climate made me do it" defense. Palin actually gave this disjointed response in at least two interviews. Even if she is a dyslexic speaker, she is ignoring the scientific consensus. Then her synapses really begin to misfire when she painfully tries to form a coherent thought suggesting that the cause of global climate change doesn't matter, as long as we "do something about it". So it doesn't matter if it's caused by flying spaghetti monsters, weather patterns, solar flare-ups, or, say, methane emissions from cattle in our horrific system of animal agriculture (which is, not incidentally, government subsidized—so we are greatly subsidizing a leading source of global warming). Her incurious manner is exceeded only by her ignorance, which is mind-boggling when you consider that she—the governor of Alaska—readily acknowledges that Alaska is impacted more by global warming than any other state in the US.
There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming threatens the planet and that it is man-made, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists and more than 100 governments. More than one-third of all species on the planet face extinction. Let that sink in for a moment. Maybe Palin should have devoted at least a few minutes to this the topic between watching hockey games and getting prayed over by a witch doctor. I think it would have been time well-spent.
But that's not the worst of it. Her ignorance is matched by her lack of curiosity and a conviction that she is neither ignorant nor incurious. As Stephen Hawking said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge."
Put Palin's readiness to believe with a rabid devotion to her religion and you have a sequel to the Bush/Cheney horror story. Bertrand Russell set the tone for the Bush administration when he said: "You find this curious fact, that the more intense has been the religion of any period and the more profound has been the dogmatic belief, the greater has been the cruelty and the worse has been the state of affairs."
Palin is poised to bring her church further into our lives, and would likely even exceed Bush's religious dogmatism if she reached the Oval Office. Steve Allen reminds us of the danger of this path (with my hyperlinks to Bush/Cheney similarities):
When the churches literally ruled society, the human drama encompassed: (a) slavery; (b) the cruel subjection of women; (c) the most savage forms of legal punishment; (d) the absurd belief that kings ruled by divine right; (e) the daily imposition of physical abuse; (f) cold heartlessness for the sufferings of the poor; as well as (g) assorted pogroms (ethnic cleansing wars) between rival religions, capital punishment for literally hundreds of offenses, and countless other daily imposed moral outrages. . . It was the free-thinking, challenging work by people of conscience, who almost invariably had to defy the religious and political status quo of their times, that brought us out of such darkness.
In a "policy" statement, Palin had this to say:
On public funding of biomedical research: "You've heard about, um, these -- some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not!" First, the funding she was referring to was in North Carolina. More telling was her second mistake. She has spoken often of programs for special-needs children, and this talk was in reference to autism. Palin either ignored or was unaware that researchers found a protein essential for proper neurological function—with clear implications for autism research—after studying the foundation of modern genetics: Drosophila fruit flies.
In an open letter to the American people, 76 American Nobel Laureates in science and medicine endorsed Obama in this election. In the letter, these leaders criticize the Bush Administration's subversion of science for politics: "As a result, our once dominant position in the scientific world has been shaken and our prosperity has been placed at risk. We have lost time critical for the development of new ways to provide energy, treat disease, reverse climate change, strengthen our security, and improve our economy." Palin is poised to continue this trend, beginning with at least three subjects she should know something about: special needs children, energy and global warming.
Both McCain and Palin are confident that they are the two best people in the land to lead this country. But as Ray Stevens reminds us: "The less you know, the more you think you know, because you don't know you don't know." The candidates' reluctance to speak with the media—particularly after several embarrassing public gaffes—is prima facie evidence that even they are aware that they lack the intellect to survive questions reaching beyond their familiar talking points.
Physical and Mental Health
McCain's Physical and Mental Health
Psychoanalyst Justin Frank suggests President Bush suffers from megalomania, that he is probably incapable of true compassion and shows signs of sadism, and that as an untreated alcoholic, is in constant danger of a relapse. He also notes that Bush has the symptoms of a dry drunk, principally irritability, judgmentalism and a rigid, inflexible world view, while showing problems with abstract, flexible thinking.
After enduring eight years of a president whose mental health is readily questioned by casual observers and experts alike, it is not unreasonable to ask those who would fill his shoes to submit to some form of mental health exam. This is of particular concern when it comes to McCain, who:
Chose a largely unvetted and utterly unqualified Palin as his running mate;
Swaps policies for politics;
Revised his view of our economy from "strong" to "total crisis" in 36 hours;
Has been labeled a "War Maker" by a colleague;
Offered an outrageous and irresponsible bailout proposal;
Hired old friend and architect of our financial melt-down, Phil Gramm, as his economic advisor;
Readily repeats the indoctrinating pablum of the Bush administration, then claims to be leading change, and
Is 72 years old, takes several daily medications and possibly suffers from caffeine intoxication.
McCain has shown confusion over Somalia and Sudan, the Sunni and the Shiites, Iraq and Afghanistan, General Petraeus with Admiral Mike Mullen as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Putin of Russia with "President Putin of Germany", the Czech Republic and Slovakia with the former country of "Czechoslovakia", the Pittsburg Steelers with the Greenbay Packers, Spain as a country in Latin America, his "fellow Americans" with his "fellow prisoners", the head of the SEC (whom he claimed that he, McCain, as president, would fire, even though a president cannot) with the head of the FEC, and how many houses he owned. Such mistakes would be worrisome if "Grampa" made them in the barber shop, but they can cause irreversible damage to our nation’s security and well-being on the world stage, and may be indicative of advanced and possibly accelerating dementia. Mental acuity should be a requirement—not a luxury—for the most powerful person of the most powerful nation in the world.
Here is a true test of McCain's willingness to put "country first": will he submit to a mental health exam by a qualified and independent team of experts? That would put his claim to the test. Certainly the country should know whether or not he is mentally fit to lead before voting for him and his media-sequestered sidekick.
McCain's physical health is also an overriding factor in this election. When critics raise the age issue, McCain retorts that his mother is alive at 96. But this hardly trumps the claim, and is rebutted by several facts: (1) his father and grandfather both died of heart attacks, at ages 70 and 61, respectively, and (2) "only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived" according to James W. Vaupel, who directs the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. According to Dr. McDougall, "… although it is impossible to accurately merge all the figures that predict mortality—38% (actuarial figures), 27% (cardiac risk), and 44% (melanoma mortality)—it would not be unreasonable to guess that McCain's chances of dying within the two terms of Presidential office far exceed a coin toss." Congress has already demonstrated that it won't remove a president with severe psychological damage who regularly exceeds his constitutional authority or a vice president who treats the US Constitution like a door mat, so we—and very possibly the world—may be at great risk with McCain's apparently diminished (or worse, diminishing) cognitive function.
Palin's Physical and Mental State
While Obama and Biden have made their medical records available, McCain made his 1,500 pages available only to select members of the press, and for only a few hours, and the press was prohibited from making copies. Palin promised to make hers available before the election, but failed to honor that promise. Palin's mental state is also unclear.
The histories of Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (the "Boston Strangler"), Richard Speck, convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, high-school killers Kip Kinkel, Luke Woodham, and Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold all share a common thread: a penchant for torturing animals. Cruel acts toward animals have long been recognized as indicators of a dangerous psychopathy that often claims more than animal victims. Robert K. Ressler, who developed profiles of serial killers for the FBI, adds: "Murderers ... very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids".
Acts of cruelty to animals are not mere indications of a minor personality flaw in the abuser; they are symptomatic of a deep mental disturbance. A sign of a future serial killer is a child who delights in torturing and killing animals. As Ressler notes, "These are the kids who never learned it's wrong to poke out a puppy's eyes."
George W. Bush, who illegally started a war in Iraq that has taken the lives of more than 1 million people, shares that history of animal cruelty. In a May 21, 2000, New York Times' article, Nicholas D. Kristof quoted Bush's childhood friend Terry Throckmorton: "'We were terrible to animals,' recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. 'Everybody would get BB guns and shoot [frogs]. Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.'" Bush also holds the record for executions in Texas. From CommonDreams.org, "In June, the Chicago Tribune found that of 131 Texas executions done under Bush, there were 40 cases of the defense presenting no evidence during sentencing, 29 uses of psychiatric practices that have been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, and 43 where a defendant was represented by a lawyer who was later disbarred or disciplined." In what became his trademark attitude of hubris in the face of mounting evidence challenging his opinion, Bush claimed "…there has not been one innocent person executed since I've been governor.''
Dick Cheney, whom 43% of US voters felt should be impeached and removed from office in a 2007 poll, is no friend of animals, either. During a canned hunt, Cheney killed more than 70 pen-raised pheasants before lunch. After lunch, he and his friends turned their guns toward ducks. The Bush and Cheney administration also proposed a plan to allow trophy hunters to shoot endangered species in other countries and import the trophies and hides into the US.
John McCain's Finance Director, Fred Malek, at age 22, was one of the men arrested in an incident in which a dog was killed, skinned, gutted and barbecued on a spit in a public park. Fred Malek reportedly "wrote the manual" for politicizing the Justice Department, and was a former board member of Fannie Mae, which has been placed into conservatorship of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). From DailyKos, Malek was a Nixon advisor and chief architect of the Responsiveness Program, "…a bag of ruthless tricks designed to use the 'powers of incumbency' to retain control of the presidency."
In reviewing Palin's mental state, one startling fact stands out – she appears to have no empathy toward nonhuman (or many human) animals. As heartless as the above individuals were in their treatment of animals, Palin's record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to nonhuman animals than any other current governor in the US. Palin is not only a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, but is also a close ally of Safari Club International. This latter group lobbies on behalf of their wealthy clan members to defend despicable and unsporting practices such as canned trophy hunts, bear baiting, and steel-jawed leg hold traps.
Despite the effects of climate change on the polar bear's habitat, Gov. Palin wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that it was the "wrong move" to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Later, when the Bush Administration announced its listing of the polar bear as a threatened species, she filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the decision. As Alaska's governor, Palin overstepped her legal authority by offering cash payments for each wolf killed by aerial gunners, in spite of that state's repeal of bounty laws in 1984. Palin opposed strengthening protections for beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet, in spite of their high risk of extinction, while her administration allowed Chevron to triple the amount of toxic waste it pours into the waters of Cook Inlet. She has been photographed with dead fish, bear, caribou, ptarmigans and the corpses of several other species. The accompanying photo shows Palin with a group celebrating Vikings and the Dark Ages (a time of general demographic decline and backwardness).
Regarding human animals, Palin is a 'pro-life' supporter of governmental executions and illegal wars. Yet she is opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.
Sufficiently worrisome questions exist regarding the physical and mental health of both McCain and Palin that these should be disqualifying factors in their candidacy.
The second-in-command to a prospective 72-year-old president with serious medical concerns is a far-right fundamentalist, fiscally-irresponsible, operationally-reckless, intellectually incurious, self-serving, power-abusing, pandering, vindictive, war-mongering, lying, intolerant, ideologically-driven, book-banning, pro-big-oil, anti-environment, anti-animal rights/welfare, animal-skinning, global warming delusionist with links to secessionists, and who denies evolution in favor of the supernatural mytho-religious story of creation and who uses her office to dismantle barriers between church and state. Allowing this mountebank to perform her misdeeds on a global level is nothing short of reckless.
At least in public, neither McCain nor Palin expresses any doubt that they are qualified and up to the task. Even more surprising, almost half the people polled—those who side with McCain/Palin and those who remain undecided—are either dangerously uninformed or arrogantly indifferent.
In 2008, the History News Network conducted an unscientific poll among 109 professional historians. That poll found that, among those professional historians, 98% believe that the George W. Bush presidency is a failure, and that 61% believe it to be the worst in history. This quote from one of the respondents is an example of historians' reasons for the low ranking:
No individual president can compare to the second Bush. Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world's goodwill. In short, no other president's faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.
Cheney, who continues to plague the US and the world with his own brand of lawlessness, recently suggested that we dress up Navy Seals, outfit them with Iranian-like speedboats and start a war under a false flag operation. Bush and Cheney lied to start an illegal war and occupation in Iraq. According to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and now a professor at the Columbia Business School, "The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world ... Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for US children who were not covered."
McCain was alongside Bush during Hurricane Katrina, celebrating McCain's birthday in Arizona while New Orleans' residents experienced the largest natural disaster to hit the US. On the Iraq War, McCain says it best: "No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have." McCain is shockingly similar to Bush in several other ways. And Palin is to the right of both.
What would a McCain/Palin win mean? Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, can offer some clues from his study of failed civilizations. He identifies five factors that contribute to the collapse of civilizations:
- climate change
- hostile neighbors
- trade partners (that is, alternative sources of essential goods)
- environmental problems, and
- a society's response to its environmental problems.
The first four may or may not prove significant in each society's demise, Diamond claims, but the fifth always does. He convincingly argues that environmental concerns are at least equal in importance, and inextricably linked, to all other aspects of a society's success.
We are now committing ecocide. "Our" environmental issues have become global issues. When two remote, poor, and landlocked countries like Somalia and Afghanistan can drag our children into guerrilla wars halfway across the globe, we must appreciate that we cannot be politically isolated in this world. A collapse of a society anywhere is a global issue, and anybody, anywhere in the world now has ways of reaching us.
As Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute notes,
Forests are shrinking for the world as a whole. Fishery collapses are widespread. Grasslands are deteriorating on every continent. Water tables are falling in many countries. In 2002, a team of scientists led by Mathis Wackernagel, who now heads the Global Footprint Network, concluded that humanity's collective demands first surpassed the earth's regenerative capacity around 1980. Their study, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, estimated that global demands in 1999 exceeded that capacity by 20 percent. The gap, growing by 1 percent or so a year, is now much wider. We are meeting current demands by consuming the earth's natural assets, setting the stage for decline and collapse.
In a rather ingenious approach to calculating the human physical presence on the planet, Paul MacCready, the founder and Chairman of AeroVironment and designer of the first solar-powered aircraft, has calculated the weight of all vertebrates on the land and in the air. He notes that when agriculture began, humans, their livestock, and pets together accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total. Today, he estimates, this group accounts for 98 percent of the earth's total vertebrate biomass, leaving only 2 percent for the wild portion, the latter including all the deer, wildebeests, elephants, great cats, birds, small mammals, and so forth.
This is the overshoot-and-collapse phenomenon that Jared Diamond speaks to in his explanations of collapsing civilizations. Palin forced it on her small town of Wasilla, which now hosts a dead lake and strip malls filled with big box stores. McCain's record on the environment is deplorable, but on a global scale. In the 2007 National Environmental Scorecard by the League of Conservation Voters, John McCain receives a score of ZERO. McCain was the only member out of 535 members of Congress to skip every single crucial environmental vote scored by the organization, posting a score lower than Members of Congress who were out for much of the year due to serious illnesses--and even lower than some who died during the term. And every other Member who received a zero from LCV last year at least had the temerity to show up and vote against the environment and clean energy time after time. By contrast, the average Member of Congress scored a 53 in 2007. McCain posts a lifetime score of only 24.
Moral conflict between people is inevitable. Only ethics can resolve such conflict, and when that occurred in public it resulted in politics. But our politics have been corrupted to such an extent that ethics is no longer even a distant cousin in the process deciding how we act. In spite of his rhetoric, McCain's platform is steeped in Republican orthodoxy. He has virtually no support in leading European countries. In Switzerland, Obama had 83% support to John McCain's 7%; in Britain, 64% to McCain's 15%, and in France, 69% to McCain's 5% (all according to a poll taken by The Guardian). The Economist offers all 195 of the world's countries (including the US) a platform for expressing their preference in the election's outcome. As in the US, each country has been allocated a minimum of three electoral-college votes with extra votes allocated in proportion to population size. The results are unequivocal: the world wants the Obama-Biden team to lead the US:
A McCain-Palin ticket does not offer a solid platform on which to build a consensus for reversing our environmental slide. Furthermore, their records show that they are not prepared to do so. Not only do McCain and Palin lack the intellectual toolkit with which to deliberate over the most significant issue facing humanity today, they may not even notice they haven't got the tools.
Sarah Palin's elevation from City Councilwoman to US VP candidate represents both the best and the worst of American democracy. She symbolizes the hope that anyone can work to become vice president. But she also serves to warn us that anyone—qualified or not, principled or not, mentally balanced or not—has a chance to be vice president if they are willing and able to be a blank page for those writing the checks. Imagine a country led by "President Palin". How much respect will she have as Commander-in-Chief if she can't even remember the Bush Doctrine or if she still hasn't figured out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? The Commander-in-Chief outranks any military officer and so has the inherent right to assume command on the battlefield. Imagine this flute-playing would-be arm-chair Commander-in-Chief debating military strategy, tactics and logistics with career military officers.
To say that McCain and Palin are not qualified to run this country is being charitable. Principles and morals never get in the way of imperialists. Voltaire saw this in the 1700's when he said "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." As we learned with Bush and Cheney, such empire builders use covert propaganda, coercion, lies, abduction, torture, intimidation and bribes to charm, dupe, rob, and even kill our citizens and those in the unjust war in Iraq and the semantically absurd "War on Terror". We need more than addle-brained robotic incantations of jingoistic patriotic slogans and failed policies. We need true leaders, not shallow, incompetent corporate shills.
Both sets of candidates have devised delicate strategies for avoiding third-rail topics like Just War, education, food safety and the American diet, and the steps required to restore our economy in the long run. In that respect, both sets of candidates are straight from central casting. Media, the fourth branch of government and the would-be auditors, have effectively ignored third-party efforts. My hope is that Obama is saying what he must to win, and once elected, he will restore our constitution, reduce the threat of US militarism, and address the problems that truly put our republic and our globe at risk.
The leading paper in Palin's home state sums it up: "Like picking Sen. McCain for president, putting [Palin] one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world is just too risky at this time."