Saturday, October 04, 2008

Imagining what a real debate might be like.

People who grow up in the USA knowing only the bizarrely bland events called debates that are orchestrated by the corporte plutocrats called "the main stream media" can only have a vague sense that surely there must be a better way to do it.

Indeed there is. It is called having a "debate" everywhere else in the world.

People who have been on high school or college debate teams are the small minority of Americans who know that there is a long tradition of debating that ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX totally ignore in their propagandized sanitations that they call debates.

Imagine what a real debate would be like.

In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in their campaign for the US Senate, that ranged over several weeks across seven different cities in Illinois, the 3-hour debates began with the opening speaker speaking for an hour, the second speaker for 90 minutes, and the opening speaker then closed with 30 minutes. There were no moderators at all.

This well know example begs the question why do we need moderators? What is the role of the moderator?

Among the other traditions of debate in the English speaking world is the Oxford Union style of debating. For a great online source of how this works see the Doha Debates moderated with the superlative skills of Tim Sebastion.

The Doha Debates are a public forum for dialogue and freedom of speech in Qatar.

They are chaired by the internationally renowned broadcaster Tim Sebastian, formerly of the BBC's HARDTalk programme, and held in the headquarters of the Qatar Foundation in Doha each month during the academic year.

For the past three years, the Doha Debates have been providing a platform for serious discussion of the hottest issues in the Arab and Islamic worlds, striving to be both controversial and informative. They have gained a huge international following through their broadcast on BBC World - the BBC's international television channel.

The Doha Debates are modeled on the Oxford Union debates. A motion is presented to the 350-strong audience and two speakers argue on behalf of the motion and two speak against it. Tim Sebastian questions the speakers on their positions, then opens the debate to questions from the audience. Finally, the audience votes for or against the motion, based on the merit of the arguments they have heard. Our invited speakers are highly regarded academics, politicians, religious figures, government officials, policy experts and journalists from around the world.

What we now have are highly orchestrated debates with the moderator asking the same simple-minded questions to each candidate who gets about 90 seconds to reply. Instead of being a Devil's Advocate, the moderator in American debates seems to be there to keep the debate bland and unexciting. The candidate's answer is not challenged by the moderator, because they seem to fear being called biased by one side or the other.

You have to see Tim Sebastian in action to fully appreciate what a really skilled moderator can do. After each side makes its introductry statement Mr. Sebastian takes the role of Devil's Advocate and really peppers the person with pointed questions aimed at that person's weak links. When playing Devil's Advocate Mr. Sebastian shows a devilishly sly smile as he zings the presenter in the soft spots of their argument while they dodge and weave attempting hide their logical inadequacies. This is the real balance and objectivity of moderation: equal jabbing to each candidate, not the phony objectivitiy of letting the candidate answer without challenge.

What might a real Presidential Debate look like?

First, of all, the debates would have to be open to legitimate presidential candidates other than the two parties that are now dictating the format for the debates. For example, one way to determine who would debate would be to take the candidates who are on the ballot in a minimum number of states, such as in enough states to have the number of electoral college votes to win if they won each state they were on the ballot in.

Then, in the debate format, the candidates would go in random order and begin with a 5 to 10 minute (depending on the number of candidates) statement of their platform and most important concerns. Then before going to the next candidate, the moderator like Mr. Sebastian would take 5 to 10 minutes to question the candidate on weak points of their positions or logic. Then the next candidate woould make their opening statement followed by being questioned hotly by the moderator.

The next segment could include one question by each of the candidates to be answered by the oppponants.

The last segment of the dabate could be questions from the audience with the moderator making sure that the questions are distributed evenly and most importantly, to make sure that the candidates' answers don't get a free ride absent logic.

Most important is the role of the moderator who establishes the debate's contextual culture where there is no free ride and the moderator is able to question sharply each candidate on any point.

Again, to see how a real moderator can function as a fair Devil's Advocate aimed at each side, see any one of the Doha Debates such as "This House believes the Palestinians risk becoming their own worst enemy"

This is just one way to imagine an alternative debate format. Basically just about anything would be better than the debates we have today that are planned by the two ruling parties to be as bland and nonconfrontational as they can be allowing the candidates to simply present their talking points, even when the candidates makes mistakes or outrageously absurd claims.

For example, Sarah Palin misnamed Gen. McKirnan, calling him "McClellan" twice, but Joe Biden couldn't correct her without looking "ungentlemanly" and the moderator would be believed by Republicans to be taking sides. The result is those listening to the debate were never informed that Palin could not remember the name of the general she was claiming to be quoting.

Also, Palin was able to get away with this absurity:
Now you said recently that higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes is patriotic. In the middle class of America which is where Todd and I have been all of our lives, that's not patriotic. Patriotic is saying, government, you know, you're not always the solution. In fact, too often you're the problem so, government, lessen the tax burden and on our families and get out of the way and let the private sector and our families grow and thrive and prosper.

CNN Transcript of Palin, Biden debate

A moderator like Tim Sebastian would certainly have asked if she really meant to say that John McCain is unpatriotic for, you know, asking government to be the solution to the financial crisis by voting for the $700 billion bailout bill?

Back Street Gets the Shaft While Wall Street Gets Welfare & Main Street Gets Conned

We hear a lot about Wall Street and Main Street these days but the politicians and the main stream media are doing their absolute best to ignore the Back Street as usual.

Every single Democrat and Republican who is supporting the Wall Street welfare plan is nothing but a hypocrite!

Republicans voting for the $700 Billion gift to the rich, whose platform is to oppose the "welfare" state, are completely hypocritical because they support the welfare-for-the-rich state. Hating the very word "socialism," the Republicans eagerly engage in privatizing their profits while socializing their risk.

Democrats who are voting for the boondoggle are hypocritical because, while they may support welfare (as I do), they are not giving the welfare to the people who need it and instead are giving it to the rich who don't. While claiming to be for working people the Democrats are working against the interests of working people and those on the back streets.

This scenario is as old as our nation and is the direct echo of the first Congress' consideration of the first funding bills in the new Congress of 1790.

Among the most important of the very first issues the new Congress had to deal with was the funding crisis. The primary issue was paying off the national debt owed to people holding Continental Dollars that were the script issued by the Revolutionary Army to fight the war. Most of the debt was owed to farmers and shopkeepers when the Army was taking supplies to fight the war. Much of it was also in soldier's pay some of it held by the widows of the soldiers. The Continentals had the name of the person they were issued to written on them along with the dollar amount. They were more like today’s checks than currency.

During the time of the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1789 there was no assurance at all that these Continentals would be paid by the new nation while the Confederation Congress fought over whose responsibility it was to pay, the states or the federal government.

Some states, like Pennsylvania, just went ahead and honorably paid off the Continentals. Others did not, claiming it was the National debt.

When the first Congress convened under the new Constitution the debt payment issue came up again. In the mean time speculators had been going around the country buying up Continentals paying widows, poor farmers and other note holders at only pennies on the dollar. While the debate was going on in Congress, many Congressman were buying up Continentals using agents and brokers.

The Debate boiled down to the positions between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Hamilton wanted to give anyone currently holding the Continental its full dollar value. That of course meant that anyone holding them in speculation having paid only pennies on the dollar would make a giant windfall profit. Hamilton used the exact same arguments we are hearing today: it is necessary to being about confidence in the financial system, the people who bore the risk should not have to lose anything, it is good for the country.

Madison's position was that any original note holder currently holding a Continental should be paid full face value but if the current note holder was not the original person it was issued to then the current holder should only get a reasonable rate of interest on his investment and the remainder should go back to the original note holders, the widows, farmers and merchants who had to sell them to survive while Congress diddled.

Needless to say with so many Congressmen themselves holding Continental notes in speculation the Hamilton position won out and the rich shared in the spoils at the taxpayer's expense.

The parallels should be obvious today as we watch the rich both inside and outside of Congress put out the phony claim that this is needed for Americans to have "confidence" in the system when what they are doing is actually a confidence game on American taxpayer no less egregious than Hamilton's was.

There are many good solutions out there but the majority in Congress are not interested in listening. They know where and how their bread is buttered and even with all their stated concerns about Main Street, their only care is for Wall Street. And Wall Street is only a legalized gambling institution.

Where are the Back Streets in this debate?

Some Democrats and Republicans supporting this Wall Street welfare would tell you that there is help for Main Street in this package. But I don't take tax breaks for Microsoft, Wal-mart, and Harley-Davidson to be helping the people on the Back Streets. I don't see the tax breaks for toy wooden arrow makers in Oregon and Wisconsin to be helping the Back Streets or Back Roads. Those business interests are on the up side of the tracks and such pointed specific tax breaks are exactly the kind of special interest loopholes that the people want Congress to stop dealing out.

The increase of FDIC insurance from $100K to $250K isn't about the Back Street or even most of Main Street. The people I know are going from pay check to pay check and if they have $10,000 in the bank they feel lucky.

Only the Progressive Democrats like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, et al., have so far seemed to really care about the Back Streets of America.

What does the Bible have to offer?

As a Buddhist, I find it very hypocritical of Republican and Democratic congresspeople voting for the Wall Street welfare package to be claiming to be good Christians in this con game.

It used to be--in the long ago days before Nixon and Reagan--that good Christians saw Wall Street as a dens of gamblers who were nothing but parasites on society. Nixon began and Reagan solidified the unholy marriage of fundamentalist Christians and Republican Wall Street gamblers where each agreed to ignore their animosity for the other if they agreed to support the specific narrow issues of the other. Essentially Wall Street speculators said, "If you support us and stop calling us parasites we will support you and you anti-abortion crusade."

Of course the fundamentalist evangelical Christians were sold on that con-game and even though the promise was false from the beginning-- because Wall Street knew it could not deliver--the gamblers of Wall Street have reaped the profits of their con.

If anyone considers themselves to be a Christian, then I tell you the Bible couldn't be clearer: the rich are not on your side, they are not to be trusted, they are not to be honored, they are gamblers and thieves who are parasites on society. There is nothing at all in the Bible about being against abortion, yet how many Christians really take the teachings on riches to heart?

Sure there are some nice rich people, but the fact remains that no wealth has ever been amassed in the entire history of the world that was not at root ill-gotten gains, created in some manner by greed, hatred, or ignorance.

Most of us know the Jesus quote from Matthew 19:23-24:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
How many really give it their attention?

And take these for instance:

Proverbs 28:5-7:
5 Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless
than a rich man whose ways are perverse.
7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son,
but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

Proverbs 28:27:
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 20:9:
A generous man will himself be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:16:
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
and he who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

Proverbs 22:22-23:
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court,
for the LORD will take up their case
and will plunder those who plunder them.

Psalm 49:16
Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;
17 for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.

Micah 3:
9 Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob,
you rulers of the house of Israel,
who despise justice
and distort all that is right;
10 who build Zion with bloodshed,
and Jerusalem with wickedness.
11 Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they lean upon the LORD and say,
"Is not the LORD among us?
No disaster will come upon us."
12 Therefore because of you,
Zion will be plowed like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble,
the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

Micah 6:
6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

What's the point? The Wall Street Welfare for the rich has nothing to do with benefitting the people of Main Street or the Back Streets. Those who support the Wall Street Welfare are not doing so for any religious or moral reason. So, why are they doing it?