Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Fun -- Penguin Love

I got to pet a penguin. How cool is that?

They walk right up to researchers in Antarctica. They have no land predators there, so the curious little buggers waddle right up. Who knew?

They are birds, but their bones are not hollow like other birds'. Floaty air-filled bones tend to slow a bird down under water. The stuff on their bodies looks like fur, but really it's feathers. Slicked down, smooth, slightly sticky feathers form a waterproof seal, insulating them from frigid waters. And look at that form, talk about aerodynamic. This body is built for speed, in the water.

Maybe I'll share more later, but for now I'll just leave you with this image of "Number 142." I think we should call her Cha-Cha.

(Click on the image to view full-size.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

An Afternoon with John Dean

When John Dean steps to the podium for "An Afternoon with John Dean" hosted by the Escondido Democratic Club, he doesn't look like a California Democrat. His blazing orange tie and glowing complexion say Beverly Hills investment banker, not left coast liberal. Dean says he is an Independent, not Democrat or Republican. His books make clear, regardless of party affiliation, he is not among the Republican faithful.

Dean's most recent book Broken Government, How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches criticizes changes made to government's basic structure, changes that take power out of the hands of the people, instituting a reformed government controlled by the elite.

At the outset of his book, Dean gives readers this quote from Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 1:

It has frequently been remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

Americans' seeming acquiescence to the Republican power grab troubles Dean. He was incredulous at Democrats' failure to specifically address it during the 2004 presidential election. He even spoke with presidential campaign staff, asking why they didn't talk about it. The response was that people aren't interested in process issues.

"Process, while it may not be a very sexy word or thought, it is the name of the game in Washington," Dean tells the Escondido group. "If Democrats don't start raising process issues, we are in trouble."

The change Republicans have made is sweeping. "Cheney has swallowed the presidency, and he is accountable to nobody," he says.

In Chapter Two of Broken Government, "Second Branch, Broken and in Need of Repair," Dean elaborates on his concerns about Cheney, writing:

Dick Cheney's infatuation with Nixonian government has involved activities far more insidious than merely promoting unsound, inaccurate, and specious constitutional war powers arguments. He has also reinvigorated the efforts of conservative Republicans that began in the Reagan years to ignore, nullify, or simply violate the efforts by post-Watergate Congresses to check and balance the executive branch, and then to expand presidential powers far beyond those of even the imperial presidency.

Dean's concerns don't end with Republican efforts to make the presidency the predominant instrument of federal government. He emphasizes the erosion of our system of checks and balances through continued efforts to appoint fundamentalist judges.

"They have taken the non-political branch and made it political," Dean says. "The most activist courts we have had have been conservative courts."

In Chapter Three, "Third Branch: Toward the Breaking Point," he writes:

Republicans are not satisfied with a conservative [italics included] federal judiciary; they want a fundamentalist one, and they are frighteningly close to achieving that goal. The question raised in this chapter, as in the earlier chapters, is what should or should not be done, what will and will not work, and does anyone really care that Republicans are insisting on operating each of the three branches outside the precepts of the Constitution?

Dean doesn't abandon readers at an apocalyptic proposition of continued Republican rule. Instead, in Chapter Four, "Repairing Government: Restoring the Proper Processes," he proposes a solution. While it is not an instant fix, the solution is fairly simple, and fairly well summarized by the chapter's introductory quote:
"Democracy is like sex -- it works best when you participate." -- Anonymous (sign in store on East Nineteenth Street, Manhattan)

Dean's faith in people continues to be tested, but he hasn't lost hope. At the end of his presentation, when an audience member asks what can be done, Dean responds, "If you give people the information, then they can understand and can respond correctly."

*John Dean's book, Broken Government, How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, is available in book and CD format at Barnes and Noble online.

**For a peek at the motivation behind current efforts to reallocate California's electoral college votes for the 2008 presidential campaign, see Dean's references to Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting scheme and its impact on the balance of political power in the state. pp. 34 & 48

***To learn more about the Escondido Democratic Club click here.