SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

Mike Wallace’s Interview with Ayn Rand

CBS’s Mike Wallace interviewed Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in 1959. I found the interview utterly fascinating.

In Part One of the interview, she discusses the conflict between a society whose morality is based on faith and self-sacrifice for one’s fellow man (conventional thought) vs. morality founded solely on reason and selfishness (Rand’s objectivism):

In Part Two of the interview, Rand argues in favor of a separation between state and economics (laissez-faire government):

In Part Three of the interview, she contends that the only solution is a market free of government interference:

“I have no faith at all, I only hold convictions.” Wow, it takes guts to believe in a statement like that so firmly.

At a time when women did not have many prominent voices, Ayn Rand was a luminary and a courageous trailblazer.

With that said, I’m curious to know what she would have to say about the current economic recession. Fifty years ago, she called for absolute deregulation. Look at how well that’s turned out.

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January 29, 2009 Posted by | Art, Economics, Literature, Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ex-Gitmo Detainee Joins al-Qaeda in Yemen

Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi man who spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is now the No. 2 of the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda. Following President Barack Obama’s executive order to close down the Cuban prison within a year, this news only underscores the complexity of the issue.

Several experts have said that the detainees fall into three categories:

1. Those who can be tried in a U.S. court;

2. Those who can be returned to their home country, or a third country, and be tried there; and

3. Some detainees who cannot be tried in the U.S. or returned to their home or third country (the most difficult category)

Given the difficulty in resolving this issue, it’s no surprise that the Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views on yesterday’s executive order.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said that Guantanamo prison should still be closed in spite of today’s report:

What it tells me is that President Obama has to proceed extremely carefully. But there is really no justification and there was no justification for disappearing people in a place that was located offshore of America so it was outside the reach of U.S. law[.]

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the executive order as it was “very short on specifics.” He went on to say that former Guantanamo detainees are “back on the battlefield. They are attacking American troops.”

Closing the prison is symbolic and essential to our foreign policy objectives. The prison had become a propaganda tool for insurgents throughout the Middle East. Obama also seems to be keenly aware that it will not be easy to adjudicate each and every one of these cases. Some prisoners are very dangerous, but the extent of the evidence against them is razor thin.

Giving himself a year to handle this issue was a prudent move. Obama will have to proceed cautiously, and be aware that what is at stake is allowing more people like Al-Shihri to take to the battlefield against American soldiers.

That would be an unforgivable mistake.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caroline Kennedy Unfairly Treated Because She’s a Woman?

I wrote earlier today about Caroline Kennedy’s poorly managed run at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s empty Senate seat. I noted that her withdrawal was likely a disservice to women in politics.

There is a perception among numerous political insiders, however, that Ms. Kennedy was treated too harshly by the media and other politicians who questioned her credibility and demeanor. In fact, their contention is that she was treated much more critically than a man would have been.

There still exists a glass ceiling in politics. In the House, 75 of the 435 members are women. In the Senate, just 17 are women. Donna Brazile, a political analyst, made an important point:

Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents[.]

One thing is certain, the margin of error for a historically disadvantaged candidate (e.g. women, African-Americans) is much smaller. When David Axelrod came on board as President Barack Obama’s chief strategist for the campaign, Axelrod made it clear to Obama that he would have to be on his game at all times. When you try to break through old customs, it is imperative to not give anyone an excuse to vote for your opponent. Unfortunately, that is the state of politics today. We have made history by electing an African-American president, but that doesn’t mean that we, as a whole, won’t be more critical of a female or African-American candidate than we would of a white one.

Kennedy’s camp should have prepared her better. She could ill afford to appear weak or unprepared, particularly in the rough setting for politics that is New York. Had she known where all the blows were coming from, perhaps we would be writing about a different result today.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Media, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Political Institutes and the Dystopian Future of Film

Films advancing political views are as old as films themselves.

In 1915, “The Birth of a Nation” provoked controversy by suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan restored order in the post-Civil War South, allegedly endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and politicians from the North.

However, it is striking to learn that there are institutions that actively use films to advance a political ideology.

What is the Moving Picture Institute? From their “History” section:

Founded in 2005 by human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen, the Moving Picture Institute is unlike any other foundation dedicated to promoting the ideal of liberty. At MPI, we believe that film, more effectively than any other medium, can bring the idea of freedom to life. In keeping with that belief, we are working to ensure that film becomes a center of genuinely democratic art in the coming years. Our goal is to guarantee that film’s unique capacity to give shape to abstract principles—to make them move and breathe—is used to support and promote liberty. Toward that end, we fund films from development through post-production, support up-and-coming filmmakers, and serve as a high-level intern placement service.

Historically, the film industry has been largely unconcerned with developing a distinctive and nuanced portrait of deep-seated American values such as free speech, freedom of association, and the free enterprise system. Such values have been defined and defended almost exclusively in print and through oral argument. But as visual media become increasingly prevalent, we depend more heavily upon movies for our philosophical, moral, and social guidance. If the ideal of freedom is to endure—if it is to maintain its vitality and relevance in our society—it must find its way into film, our most vital, relevant, and far-reaching art form. Freedom must be seen to be believed.

If the masses truly are relying upon movies for guidance in these critical matters, then this may be the beginning of a very slippery slope within the film industry: what stops an institution, or even a government, from producing films that attempt to brainwash? While this may seem like a topic reserved solely for a science fiction novel, let us not underestimate the influential power of the motion picture.

The problem is that media, in recent years, have become battlegrounds for partisan politics. “Outfoxed” tackled this issue with respect to the news media:

This is not to say that the Moving Picture Institute’s films, which have a right-wing slant, are invalid. Here are two of them:

The foreseeable problem is an unnatural escalation of left- and right-wing films being produced — not unlike a nuclear arms race. Both sides of the political aisle would compete for your attention, your loyalty. For two hours, while fact blends with fiction, you become their social experiment.

Keep your eyes open, and be wary of the political propaganda. Films are likely the next frontier.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Media, Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Richardson Withdraws Bid, Possible “Pay-to-Play” Scandal

Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretary – Yahoo! News.

Man, Obama just can’t catch a break. Multiple bailouts, the corruption scandal in Illinois (we still really don’t know the extent of his transition staff’s involvement), the Israeli-Palestinian escalating conflict, and now Bill Richardson’s possible “pay-to-play” situation — all before he even takes office.

It seems a California-based company that contributed to Richardson’s political activities was later granted a state contract worth over $1 billion.

Secretary of Commerce was a mere consolation prize for Mr. Richardson, at one time thought to be the next Secretary of State. Now, that’s all a moot point. Mr. Richardson has withdrawn his candidacy so that the new administration doesn’t “delay for one day the important work that needs to be done.”

Mr. Richardson, I hope you and your staff have some good attorneys.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel, Watch Your Step

According to this NY Times article, Israel is facing a political quagmire: how far should it take this military campaign against Hamas?

Israel’s main concern is addressing the rockets being fired into southern Israel. So the question becomes: can the rockets be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power? If not, then is the operation to remove Hamas entirely, at any cost?

In 2006, Israel was unable to defeat Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and the terrorist organization was legitimized. Here, it seems that Israel is facing a very similar problem. Aluf Benn, a political analyst for Haaretz, contends that if the war ends in a draw, then Hamas will be legitimized and grow stronger.

Most people, including many Israelis, would prefer that a truce be brokered. Any potential truce would likely have to include an end to the economic boycott that Israel has imposed on Gaza. However, such a result would build up Hamas. If the boycott remains in place, though, 1.5 million Gazans will remain living in poverty.

The article goes on to say that Israel can only achieve victory if it were to once again occupy Gaza.

As several political insiders point out, though, removing Hamas would be unrealistic. Hamas won a democratic majority four years ago, and the group has 15,000-20,000 armed men.

What about the Fatah party? Couldn’t it just take the place of Hamas, as it once did? The article points out that Fatah is likely too disorganized to take over. Complicating this matter further, the longer Israel retains a military presence in Gaza, the weaker Fatah becomes. In the minds of Gazans, it would appear as though Fatah were collaborating with Israel.

Ultimately, the article notes that the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure would likely result in chaos. With no influx of capital, and no political party to maintain order, Gazans won’t know which way is north.

If Israel’s goal is to reach a peaceful accord with its surrounding enemies, it had better calculate its moves very, very carefully.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Economic Forum and YouTube: Make Your Voice Heard

World leaders and thinkers, from Bill Gates to Bono, will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 29, 2009. They will be meeting to address some of the key issues facing our planet: the economy, ethics, environment, and politics. The theme for the forum is “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.”

Through YouTube.com, you can submit a video weighing in on these contentious issues, and possibly win an opportunity to attend the forum in Davos:

Here are the FOUR questions you can respond to…

1. The Economy:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

2. Corporate Ethics:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

3. The Environment:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

4. Politics:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

This is our chance. Let’s make our voices heard.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Education, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment