Monday, September 05, 2011

The Cave

Rewind to 2400 years ago, there was a man, whom we today know as the Greek philosopher Plato, who understood humans very deeply. He knew that all human beings are averse to change. He knew that human beings are comfortable living a known, shallow life. He knew that they believed in and were so dependent on the norms and ethics of the society that they would never be able to survive without them. So, even if at some level they felt that the norms were not in accordance to what they believed in, they never questioned them.

Through allegory of the cave symbolism, Plato brings to light all these traits of human nature i.e. walking a known path rather than leading a life full of obstacles and challenges to find the "real truth". To simplify this philosophy topic, given below, in short, is the allegory of the cave summary.

Understanding Allegory of the Cave

Humans are Prisoners in a Cave
According to Plato's allegory of the cave, the way we perceive things around us and the way we lead our lives, is actually not the "truth". We human beings are leading ignorant, incomplete lives, following the paths, rules, norms, ethics, set by the previous generations, without questioning them. Plato brings up this plight of humans by depicting them as prisoners in a cave. These prisoners are sitting facing a wall, tied in chains, with a fire between them and the wall, which makes shadows on the wall. The prisoners mistakenly think that these shadows on the walls are the "reality", cause that is what the fellow prisoners or the ones before them conveyed.

Questioner Escapes to Explore the "Truth"
Generations come and generations go and the prisoners lead the same unaware and ignorant lives in the dark caves, until one of the prisoners starts questioning. This prisoner breaks the chains that bind him and in order to know the real truth, escapes the caves into the unknown world. In the outside world, this questioner faces lots of challenges as he is not used to the sunlight, to the presence of nature and all its elements around him. The questioner, in spite of these obstacles, starts exploring this new world to seek reality. He treads on a lonely, unknown path to discover the truth, but does not give up his questioning spirit.

Philosopher Returns to Guide
At some point, this questioner, thinks of going back to the caves to tell the other prisoners about the reality. To tell them that there is a beautiful world out there, waiting for them, and that there is more to life than just the cave and its "imaginary reality" as depicted by the shadows. When the questioner, now a philosopher, shares this new found knowledge with the other captives of the cave, he is met with disbelief. People think of him as a pariah who should be removed from the society, to preserve its belief systems. People are averse to any kind of change, which the philosopher tries to bring about with his knowledge of the real truth, as they have become used to and dependent on the norms and ethics, handed over to them by their predecessors.

Through this allegory of the cave summary, one can conclude that most of the human beings would rather live a comfortable, happy and familiar life, than a life full of challenges and pain, which would ultimately lead them to the "larger truths of life". Most human beings are contended with the "consensus reality", i.e. the reality agreed by all, even if it is as imaginary and as unreal as the shadows on the walls of the cave. Humans are contended that they have the security of a family, of a society, of religion around them. However, according to Plato, there will come one questioner, one philosopher, from time to time, who will critically look at himself and the world around him, who will wonder why things are the way they are and then will make his own decisions regarding how things should be.

By Aastha Dogra

Thursday, July 21, 2011

State Rep. Aaron Peña Invites Potential Candidates to Run Against Him

Peña: Run, Dolly, Run

21 July 2011
Steve Taylor

EDINBURG, July 21 - Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo may have more than $100,000 available for a Texas House District 41 campaign but she will not be allowed to run.

That is the view of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, whom Elizondo wants to challenge and defeat. Peña was a Democrat all of his adult life until he switched parties last December. He said he knows how the Democratic Party operates in Hidalgo County.

“Just as certain as the sun comes up tomorrow, the political bosses that run the Democratic Party down here will not let Dolly run,” Peña said, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian. “I want Dolly to run. I want all of them to run. More power to them. Run, Dolly, run.”

Peña did not say who the “political bosses” are but he did say they exert a lot of power.

“One of the reasons why the Democratic Party is dysfunctional is because they make decisions from a Star Chamber. This is supposed to be the Democratic Party and a democratic process. It is not supposed to be about backroom deals,” he said.

Elizondo has said she is considering a run for District 41, which was drastically changed by Republican lawmakers during the redistricting process to include dozens more GOP-leaning precincts. Peña, who currently represents heavily Democratic District 40, was drawn into the district by his Republican colleagues in the Texas House.

Annie’s List, an Austin-based group that seeks to elect more progressive women to elected office in Texas, believes Elizondo would make a great representative for District 41. Annie’s List Executive Director Robert Jones told the Guardian that the group stands ready to commit upwards of $100,000 to a progressive woman candidate in order to defeat Peña.

Elizondo told the Guardian earlier this month that she and other leading Democrats want to avoid a costly and potentially bruising primary battle in District 41. Rather, she said, she and others plan to meet privately to choose a candidate District 41 Democrats can rally behind. It that was to happen, minimal resources would need to be expended in the primary, with the war chest preserved for the general election fight against Peña.

Peña can sit back and watch the Democrats slug it out from now until the March primary knowing he will not need to engage until the general election campaign gets underway after March. It is naturally in his interest to see a knock down, drag out fight among Democrats.

“I believe I reflect the values of this district and as long as it is about issues I believe I will defeat them,” he said.

In addition to Elizondo, the names of Edinburg businessman T.C. Betancourt, Edinburg attorney Sergio Sanchez, and McAllen attorney and former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair R.D. “Bobby” Guerra have been talked about as potential candidates in the Democratic Party primary for District 41. Betancourt told the Guardian this week that he will formally announce his candidacy within the next few weeks.

With regard to Elizondo, Peña said the local Democratic Party leadership will not allow liberals from Austin to dictate who the candidate is. “Annie’s List is a far left-leaning organization and does not represent the values of the district,” Peña said.

With regard to Betancourt and Sanchez, Peña said he sees himself in them. “When I first ran people told me I could not. They said I needed to have the permission of the bosses; that I had to kiss the ring. I did not wait, I just ran and they have been after me ever since. So, more power to Mr. Betancourt and the other fellow. I see myself in some of these people,” he said.

With regard to Guerra, Peña pointed out that he grew up just a block away from him. “His family is a lot like my family. I don’t think he is aware outside the Valley how different the party is. If he were to win, I don’t think they would tolerate him. The progressives don’t want a centrist like Bobby,” he said.

Peña acknowledged it was strange for a Republican to be giving advice on how to democratize the workings of the Democratic Party. However, he said his former colleagues were so dysfunctional that something has to be done. He criticized “leftist” groups in Austin for dictating what Valley Democrats should do and say, and he criticized local “political bosses” for not allowing a free flow of ideas or young talent to emerge.

“I am giving them advice and I’m a Republican,” Peña said. “The Valley people still think they are the basis of the party. They are. They just let Austin run them.”

This appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian, on July 21, 2010. The author is Steve Taylor.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rep. Aaron Peña Brings 400 Jobs to His Hometown

A major state contractor will open a South Texas call center for social services applicants next month in the hometown of Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg.

In a press release, Reston, Va.-based MAXIMUS Inc. made a point of mentioning its collaboration with Peña, a five-term House member who changed parties after the November election.

"Edinburg is a great location and a good fit for our additional call center operations," said MAXIMUS executive Leslie Wolfe, announcing the company expects to employ 400 people there by the end of 2012, as part of its contract helping support eligiblility-determination work by the Health and Human Services Commission. "We are pleased to be working with HHSC, state Rep. Aaron Peña and our friends in Edinburg to provide crucial enrollment assistance to recipients of state health services."

Peña, reached by phone late Tuesday, acknowledged he lobbied for the center to be located in Edinburg.

"I can't take all of the credit myself," said Peña (above, Austin American-Statesman photo). "I've got to give [Gov. Rick Perry's] office and others involved credit for what they did."

The Edinburg operation will be the fifth call center for the state's partially privatized eligibility-screening system for Medicaid, food stamps, cash assistance and the Children's Health Insurance Program, said commission spokesman Geoff Wool. The others are in Athens, Austin, Midland and San Antonio.

Wool, asked if the location decision was the contractor's to make, replied, "It's not strictly their choice. They recommended the [Rio Grande] Valley for the robust labor market and the deep pool of potential bilingual employees and we approved."

Peña said he argued to Perry aides that "many of the people being serviced were from South Texas" and that the Valley's become a hub for call centers because many there know both English and Spanish. "Who better to be on the phone than the people who understand the culture and the community of South Texas?" he said.

Peña, who said he's running for re-election, said he strives for "good relations with all the statewides" -- Republicans such as Perry who hold state constitutional offices.

When the state launched the trouble-plagued privatization effort in 2005, previous contractor Accenture located one of the new call centers in Midland, home to then-Speaker Tom Craddick. Peña, though, dismissed suggestions he's exercising big-time clout as a recent Republican convert.

"My job is to advocate for my community, and I do that every chance I have," he said.

printed in the Dallas Morning News by Robert Garrett

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rio Grande Valley Democrat Mulls Switch to GOP Amid Growing Frustration with Party Leadership

By Mike Hailey, Capitol Inside Editor

State Rep. Aaron Peña is contemplating a possible conversion to the GOP as a result of growing disenchantment with the Democratic leadership that he says has neglected Hispanics, alienated small business and excluded moderate and conservative party members in the Texas House.

Peña, an Edinburg Democrat who entered the lower chamber since 2003, said he will make a decision on a potential party switch after returning to Texas from a brief vacation that he and his wife have been taking out of state.

Peña would give the Republicans an unprecedented supermajority with 100 House seats when the regular session convenes in January if he decides to join the GOP.

Peña suggested that he feels compelled to put an end to speculation about his partisan allegiance after being deluged with calls in the wake of a barrage of criticism that he leveled at the Democratic Party and its leadership in Texas in an interview this week with a South Texas publication.

Peña said that Democrats who've contacted him argue that the party can become competitive again within the decade. “Many of the calls from Republicans, including lawmakers, were that our community can still have a seat at the table now," Pena added. "Why wait a decade when you can have opportunities now?

A 51-year-old attorney who represents one of the poorest districts in Texas, Peña would become the second House member to make such a switch in the past 13 months if he changes teams after winning five terms as a Democrat and running unopposed for re-election in 2010. But while State Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville found it much easier to win as a Republican in a rural East Texas district after switching parties last year, Peña would rolling the dice in a high-stakes gamble in a re-election bid in 2012 as a Republican in a part of the state where the GOP has won only one House race in modern times.

While Harlingen lawyer Ken Fleuriet broke the Democratic Party's monopoly on House seats in the Rio Grande Valley when he claimed an open seat in neighboring Cameron County in 1990, no Republican has ever been elected to any office in Hidalgo County where Peña is based.

But Peña has been warning since he considered a campaign for state party chair 10 years ago that the GOP would make significant inroads in South Texas if Democratic leaders continued to take the Hispanic vote for granted. But Peña stirred a hornet's nest when he reiterated that assertion in a story in the Rio Grande Guardian on Friday when he pointed to a GOP sweep last month in three House races in the Coastal Bend and Republican Blake Farenthold's stunning win over veteran U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi as prime examples of what he's been predicting for years.

Peña told Capitol Inside at the Democrats' state convention in Corpus Christi this summer that the Democratic Party had become largely irrelevant in the Rio Grande Valley even though a majority of the voters there still backed its candidates as a result of family heritage and culture. Pena's concerns appeared to be reinforced that day when the Hispanic Caucus refused to endorse Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie in his campaign for re-election to the leadership post. While Richie claimed a new term as party leader by an overwhelming margin of support before the convention adjourned, a little-known challenger had more support among delegates from the Rio Grande Valley.

Several months later, Peña suggested the several House Democrats from suburban swing districts in the state's largest cities would have trouble winning re-election as a consequence of relatively liberal voting records that reflected the positions of the leaders and operatives who'd recruited them to run. Democrats ended losing all but two of more than a dozen seats they'd picked up in recent years in suburban districts when the GOP won 99 House races with a 22-seat net gain in the November general election.

One of the suburban Republicans who lost, Dan Neil of Austin, hasn't conceded so far in a race that Democratic State Rep. Donna Howard won by 12 votes in a recount. The GOP would have 101 House seats in 2011 if Neil challenges the outcome of the Austin race and prevails and Peña switches parties.

Peña - a relatively conservative Democrat who drew the wrath of party leaders and activists when he backed Republican Tom Craddick's re-election bid for House speaker four years ago - told the local publication that Democratic power brokers in Dallas and Austin have been leading the party down the path of doom and depending almost exclusively on trial lawyers for funding.

Peña suggested that the Democratic leadership's focus on swing races in East Texas and suburban Dallas-Fort Worth area districts backfired when Democrats lost two House two seats in Corpus Christi, one in a district that's anchored by Alice and all of the seats that the party had been defending in the North Texas suburbs.

After supporting Craddick in 2007 when most of the House Democrats were attempting to oust him from the speaker's office, Peña survived a hotly-contested primary challenge the following year despite opposition from Democratic power brokers and activists from outside the district. But Peña and the vast majority of the chamber's Democrats rallied behind Republican Joe Straus when he unseated Craddick in early 2009 - and Peña reaffirmed his support for the current speaker when he appeared at a press conference with the incumbent the day after the election last month.

“I am who I am and my intention is to represent my community and to give them the best possible advantage under the current environment,” Peña said in response to questions about a possible party switch.