Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obama, Vick, Carlson .... Racism, Fear, Hate, and Silliness

The Michael Vick story is getting silly. I think it is important to lay out some facts.

First let us focus on the crime itself. Michael Vick committed a crime. Many of us believe that what he did was horrible. Michael Vick killed and tortured animals. He did not kill human beings. Many other people kill animals (farmers, hunters), and many more of us eat and wear animals. Michael Vick was raised in an area where many people are involved in dog fighting.

Now, on to what happened to Michael Vick. He was in jail. He served his time and was released. He resumed his job. Michael Vick happens to be a gifted athlete. He also happens to have spent his off days talking to school children about what he did. He also happened to mention he would want to own a dog, when he is again legally able to do so.

Now let’s focus on the people getting upset. Many are upset because President Obama said it was good that Vick had, and is taking advantage of, a second chance. Many of these people are conservatives or Republicans. Many of them have been vocal opponents of Obama. Many are hinting at race as an issue here, even though there is not a scintilla of evidence of this. Tucker Carlson, an analyst on the not at all unbiased Fox Network, said Michael Vick should be executed.

Here is the conclusion that I reach. People are upset about this because they see this as an opportunity to attack Obama and stoke fear and anger. Many of these people are being hypocritical (they aren’t animal lovers, but Obama haters). This isn’t true of everyone, of course. But, it is hard to find a legitimate reason to deny someone who has been punished for his wrongdoing a chance to resume his career and life. It is also hard to find a real reason to be angry at someone who is pleased that the legal system seems to have worked to rehabilitate a criminal.

To sum up my feelings plainly, and a bit crassly, this crap should not be a part of the political discourse.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Rahm Emanuel

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has found that Rahm Emanuel is a resident of Chicago and is eligible to run for mayor. That is exactly what they should have found. He left to join the Obama Administration and serve his country, and clearly always had the intention to come back to Chicago. Challenges to his residency are political machinations more familiar in African Politics (i.e. the challenges to Alassane Ouattara's residency in the Ivory Coast). It's really pretty sad that this is an issue. It's equally sad that State Senator James Meeks is pulling out of the race so that the Black community is more likely to rally around a black candidate. When whites talk like that regarding Obama it's racism. You should choose whoever you want to be your mayor. It would be nice if you choose him or her based on their qualifications. If Rahm Emanuel isn't your choice for mayor, don't vote for him.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How to find fault with Obama

I've decided to help out the critics of Obama by listing a few things you shouldn't do if you're interested in doing anything other than preach to the choir. If all you want to do with your arguments is rant and rave and/or make yourself feel better in one way of the other, disregard what follows. If you want to engage the rest of us in a discussion about what has gone right and what has gone wrong over the last two years, then you should avoid the following.

Do not use the words socialist, fascist, communist, or Nazi. Obama is not a fascist, a communist, a socialist, or a Nazi. He also isn't a Muslim. And he was born in this country. Most of us accept these things, and accept that they are beside the point. Whether he is a communist or not doesn't change the particulars of health care reform, and shouldn't impact your ability to talk about the actual issues. When you say these things, most of the rest of us tune out everything you have to say.

Do not talk about Rev. Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers. These two men have nothing to do with the last two years. They had little to do with Obama's fitness for the presidency at anytime. Now the only reason to bring them up is to take our attention off of real issues. If politicians refer to these folks, they are trying to motivate you to support them by appealing to fear and hate rather than really talking about the issues.

Do not talk about Obama's vacations or his wife's dresses. For the record, it was just as beside the point when people talked about Bush's trips. Most of us that think Bush was a less than stellar President (and I'll be honest that I think a case can be made he was the worst President since at least Coolidge) are not caught up in golf trips and gaffes, but are focused on his overly simplistic view of right and wrong and of the world around us, the fact that he tortured people and had no problem compromising what we feel to be central American values, the fact that he got us into a war that he had no plan for getting out of, the fact that he oversaw a flawed reorganization of our disaster preparedness bureaucracy allowing Katrina to be what it was, etc. We'd like to talk about the same kinds of real issues when we evaluate Obama.

Do not talk about big government. It's the same government that every President works with. Besides, big government is an empty term. Instead of talking about big government, try talking about what you really mean.

Don't talk about "liberals." Now I know this is a hard one, but labels like these turn people off (particularly those you are labeling) and do nothing to advance dialogue. Just discuss the issues, and leave the name calling for the playground.

Don't label yourself an average American and others elites. It's just more name calling. It too needs to be kept at the playground.

Don't cal it Obamacare. It doesn't make you interested in dialogue.

Don't refer to black resentment or angry black people. Really? Where is the place for race here. I have no doubt that many people dislike Obama because he is Black. I'd appreciate it if they just came out and said that. Be honest. Don't hide behind talk of angry preachers or reparations. Just say "I don't like him because he is black." Also, as is true of many of these, when politicians make race references (i.e. Sarah Palin) they are trying to gain your support through fear or anger. They are using you. They don't think you can comprehend the real issues, they can't comprehend the real issues, they don't think it's worth their time to try to talk to you honestly, or they don't think any one would support them if they just talked honestly and logically about what they want to do and why.

Now, these are just a few rules. There are more. It can get confusing, and we are all guilty of errors like these at one time or the other. The best way to stay in the clear is to really talk about issues, to take one issue at a time, and to close your mouth and listen when you are done talking. That is how we will solve the problems that are facing all of us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

UConn Women's Basketball Win Streak

The women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut now has won a lot of games in a row. This victory streak is quite an accomplishment. They have won more than any women's basketball team has ever won in a row. They have also won more than any men's basketball team has ever won in a row. They have not won as many 'games' as Penn State's volleyball team has won. They don't play volleyball or men's basketball. Women's sports are not as watched as men's sports at any level. Women's sports are not as closely followed by the media. Women's basketball, like every other women's sport doesn't make as much money as its male equivalent. Many sports fans do not consider women's basketball to be equivalent to men's basketball; they do not even think it is entirely the same sport.

These are all facts. They are part of what needs to be sorted through when thinking about this accomplishment and whether it is being given its due. I think that it is being given adequate recognition as a sports accomplishment. You may reach a different conclusion. The important thing in this, and every discussion, is that we lay understand what the conclusions are and what they are based on and that we stay away from hyperbole and histrionics.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Real Life

Politics needs to be more in touch with real life. After all, somewhere long ago people came together in small communities and then larger communities to improve the quality of their real lives. They started farms, specialized, and chose and/or accepted leaders because they wanted to feel more secure, have more to eat, have more control over their lives, and generally have a fuller and more rewarding existence. People still want that. Government still is needed to help provide and facilitate that. This needs to be our starting point here in America. We need to start by asking are people fed? Do people feel secure? Do they feel they have control over their lives? Then we need to talk about what Government can do to make the answers be "yes." Then we need to take the essence of those discussions, and apply them to issues like abortion, health care, nuclear disarmament, etc. We need to return to basics and get back on the same page and talking the same language. We need to be dedicated to understanding and solving problems. We need to be more in touch with real life.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Average Americans

In an article criticizing "liberals" for making fun of John Boehner's recent shedding of tears, Ruben Navarrette writes something that is silly, baseless, and insulting; something that politicians on the right are increasingly using to substitute for logic, real solutions, analysis, etc. He says, "Liberals make fun of Sarah Palin because, despite their declared affection for average Americans, they can't stand the sight of one." (

Now, there are a couple of other problems with this article. The old "liberal" label is one. It is a classic personal attack ad hominem, an attack on the messager rather than the message. It is also innuendo. Navarrette doesn't stop there. He is also startlingly inconsistent, as he somehow manages to insinuate Bill Clinton's crying is cheap and contrived while arguing that the "usually emotional liberals" are wrong to criticize Boehner for crying when they usually laud crying as an attribute. Of course, the very issue seems a little trivial, and not worthy of commentary when there would seem to be more important things to discuss than how we should regard John Boehner's tears.

I'll give you something more worthy of discussing: "Liberals make fun of Sarah Palin because, despite their declared affection for average Americans, they can't stand the sight of one." Just reading it makes me angry. Conservatives have increasingly taken on this strategy. You label yourself an average American, and then when someone criticizes what you say you attack them for making fun of the thoughts of an average American. When someones asks you to describe what "big government" is, you scoff and call them an elitist who is trying to confuse people and you again refer to yourself as an average American trying to protect other average Americans. average American becomes a substitute for real argument. Why explain why you didn't know where Russia was, just call yourself an average American. Is the message that average Americans don't think through issues? Is the message that they don't need real explanations? Is the message that they aren't ever wrong? Is the message that people who disagree with them aren't average Americans? Is the message that they aren't real Americans.

Whatever the message is, it is certainly shallow and sickening. Shame on Ruben Navarrette for stooping to it, and shame on everyone else who does the same. We need to start to call people out for this kind of insulting nonsense. We need to make people give us arguments supported with logic rather than insults. We need to act like we are all Americans and all need to solve the problems facing us by working together.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Pope and Unequal Injustice

On Thursday Pope Benedict the XVI said that Christians suffered more persecution than any other group. He said: "At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith." He called upon authorities around the world, but particularly in Asia, Africa, and the middle East, to "act promptly to end every injustice."

I'm all for ending injustice, even if only a few of them. I'm not really into keeping people out of churches or killing priests. I don't even think it's a good idea to force Christians out of their homes, be it in the West Bank or anywhere else. That being said, I think the Pope is off base and being, dare I say, un-Christian. I also think he is, in the tradition of all Catholic leaders, being rather shortsighted.

I'm not sure that Christians are more persecuted than any other religious group, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter. I'm positive it shouldn't. I'm not the most observant of Christians, and I'm certainly not any kind of Catholic. While my Grandfather was raised Roman Catholic he married a Mormon, and all hell broke loose after that. All that being said, however, I always thought I had a pretty good grasp on what the core of being a Christian was. I thought it was about understanding. I thought it was about trying to help others. I thought it was about trying to end injustice everywhere.

Now I know the bible is full of the smoting of all varities of non-believer, as well as slavery and small minded bigotry. I also know the world has a few small minded bigots in it who call themselves Christian, but I always chalked that up to self delusion. In others I just chalked it up to not knowing any better. I knew the leaders of many Churches were as misguided as their followers, but I didn't really think they were being 'Christian' either. I still think I'm right, that the message that Jesus puts forward, whoever you think him to be, is one of understanding and love. But, I could be wrong.

I might be wrong. The Pope might be the most Christian person in the whole wide world. He may be really tapped into what it means to be Christian. He is, however, clearly shortsighted. You would think that a focus on ending injustice against everybody would be a better focus. The Church does speak out against injustice against non-Christians. So why even hint that injustice against Christians may be on a different level, or different in anyway. It would seem to be a good thing to be known as the Church that is concerned about all injustice equally. Of course, it would seem to be a good thing to be the Church that is unequivocally against child molestation.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our elected representatives are acting abnormally

It's not normal for any two people to agree on everything. Elected representatives are people too ... so when all the representatives from a particular political party voice similar opinions and vote together most of the time, it is, at the very least, abnormal. When they vote and express opinions in this way, strictly along party lines, and their constituents aren't all from one party and don't share their views on every issue, since no other human would of his or her own accord, then the motivating force behind their decision making is revealed. Representatives in this scenario, our scenario, are putting the party's needs and interests above all others.

It's really pretty simple. Yes, you come together with like minded people in a political party. Yes this is entirely natural. No, you shouldn't agree on everything. If you do, the party's interests have come to predominate and something needs to change.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee and Decision Making

Everyone who follows sports, and even a few folks who don't, is shocked about Cliff Lee signing with the Philadelphia Phillies for less money ... tens of millions less. In the Philly Suburbs everyone is shocked and jubilant. I understand the jubilant. The shocked is more perplexing. Did you choose your last job based only on money? Did you not give a thought to your potential commute, who you might be working with, what you would be asked to do, the hours you might be asked to work, the work culture, the pressure you would be under, etc.? When you make an important decision you are unlikely to consider only one factor. When you buy a television, price is unlikely to be the only concern. Size, resolution, manufacturer, and retailer are all likely to figure in. When you choose a doctor, I would assume you consider more than whether your insurance covers the doctor. The office location is probably important, as is whether you like the doctor or whether you feel the office staff are friendly and responsive. You probably didn't choose your spouse solely based on salary, although IO am sure there are times my wife wished she did! Anyway, the bottom line is that when you make an important decision you consider more than one factor.

So ... the same should be true when it comes to making a political decision. Whether or not you vote for your the incumbent congressman in your district should depend on more than his vote on the Iraq War. How you feel about abortion should rely on more than the fact you find life to be sacred. How you feel about a particular proposal to raise taxes should depend on more than the fact that you would rather not pay higher taxes. Whether or not you support Health Care reform should go beyond whether or not you are frightened by 'big government'. It would be nice if people could consider as many factors when they decide who to vote for or whether to oppose lifting the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy as they put into deciding which GPS device to purchase. Where our country ends up going seems at least as important as whether you can make it to an afternoon appointment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning

Opinions on Private Manning, what he has done, and what should be done with him run the gamut. Many of them share an important quality, however ... they are misguided in instructive ways.

Berkeley's City Council is debating whether or not to honor him wit a resolution. The point of this isn't really clear. To me it seems to be the political equivalent of masturbation. It will give the council pleasure, but it doesn't produce much. It will perpetuate Berkeley's image as radical and out of touch, and serve to make some folks pretty mad. Other than that, it's a pointless gesture. Berkeley is a great place to live, but they don't have great public schools, have continuing problems with how to deal with the homeless, and have a real issue with parking. Right there, three issues they could be dealing with rather than wasting their time on Private Manning.

There have been a number of rallys for Bradley Manning. By all means, rally around that which you believe in ... but is this really the kind of pressing issue that should rouse you out of your house and into the streets?

Apparently someone wrote on their facebook page that "only hippies and terrorists support this traitor." That is a classic fallacy, a personal attack ad hominem. Rather than attacking a position with substantive criticism, you attack the person who is holding the position.

Former U.S. ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, a House Intelligence Committee member, have told media outlets they believe Manning should be charged with treason and executed. Of course that is what we should do with people who disagree with government policies in the land of the free.

There isn't a right response to Private Manning's actions, except that there is. The right way to approach it is to think critically and with as little emotion as possible, and to factor in American values (like freedom of speech), American interests, the rules of the armed forces, Private Manning's personal issues and concerns, the greater threat posed by Wikileaks, the impact all of this has on America's image, etc.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Myth of the Maverick Judge

A Virginia judge overturned part of the Health Care Legislation. I’m not too concerned with it, because in the grand scheme it does not mean much. There have been two other Federal Court decisions going the other way. There will be more lower court decisions to come. Ultimately, this will have to be resolved in higher courts, and I personally find it hard to believe it will be overturned, but time will tell. What interests me about the decision is the fact that the Judge in question is a Bush appointee. Many people complain about the judges and the judicial branch of government. They complain that judges are out of step with the people and too independent of politicians. Of course, this ignores the facts that in many ways they were intended to be those things. It also ignores the reality that in many ways they are not. Bush v. Gore is evidence of that. All the controversy over judicial appointments during the Bush and now Obama Presidency is evidence of that. The influence of the latest wave of Bush appointees is evidence of that. This Virginia decision might be evidence of that. These are realities that we have to consider when we talk about the judicial system, if we are really interested in taking the vision of our founders and logically fitting it into the reality in which we now live.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Here is something to keep your eye out for … personal insults. For me, a personal insult is more than just calling someone a dumb ass. It also includes saying something like, “that is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” or “serious people wouldn’t say something so stupid.” When you hear someone say this, you should completely disregard it. If you can communicate with the person saying this, tell them to stick to the issue. These sorts of comments have nothing to do with the issue at hand and they don’t support or weaken anyone’s position. They are, however, ubiquitous. So, be on the lookout for them in what you read, hear, see … and say.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Of parking lots and politics

Today, on the way home from a Christmas event, I stopped at Wal-Mart so that my daughter could use the bathroom. I pulled onto the little access road that borders the parking lot, and prepared to turn into the parking lot. One car was turning right out of the lane that I was hoping to turn left into. I had no stop sign, and the car would not have been an impediment in any event, so I began to turn, only to have to swerve when the driver of the car second in line to get out of the lane pulled into my path. I honked, and went on to the next lane. The driver of the other vehicle sounded her horn a good half dozen times as she drove off into the night.

This little parking lot vignette illustrates two things that a critical thinker needs to be aware of when it comes to politics. First of all, when someone disagrees with you or points out an error in your thinking, just asserting that they are wrong and you are right is seldom the way to go. It is important to be open to the possibility that you are wrong. Second, it is important to be aware of the ad hominem fallacy, both in the arguments of others and in your own arguments. I was very tempted to include a few details in my description. The car was not the newest. I believe it was an old Chevy Cavalier. The driver had a cigarette dangling from her mouth. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in days. Her clothes did not look to be straight off the runway. All of this would have jazzed up my prose, but it has nothing to do with whether the woman was right to honk. All too often we poke fun of and/or attack someone when we disagree with them. This just distracts us from the problems that we are presumably trying to solve.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that discussing politics isn’t much different from driving in a parking lot, or a million other mundane tasks. There is a better, more respectful and productive, way to go about doing it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scary Tax Plans

Today, Larry Summers warned Congress that failing to approve the tax plan hammered out with Republican leaders could lead to a double-dip recession in 2011.

This is a scare tactic. This is an appeal to fear, and a common one these days. It seems everybody is throwing something like this into their arguments. If you don't support my plan, we might well plunge further into depression. Maybe it's true, but it seems to me to be more calculated to cause a reaction than anything else. It really seems aimed at scaring folks into thinking this compromise must be passed. It seems aimed at scaring folks into putting pressure on their elected representatives to support this compromise, and scaring the representatives into supporting it in order to avoid the fallout should they not support it and a double-dip recession (with sprinkles?) really happen.

It is important to point out that the use of scare tactics says nothing about the substance of the position. Larry Summers might well be right. He, and others, have given loads of other justifications for their positions. This comment, however, really has little to do with why he might be right. It is not a real reason to support this tax compromise. It is a scare tactic.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is the issue?

An issue is a question. When you have an argument, it is simply an answer to an issue. When you think about politics, you need to make sure you know what the issue is. You need to make sure that everyone is addressing the same issue. You need to make sure everyone is addressing the right issue.

Abortion provides a perfect illustration of where things can get messy. What is the issue? Here is what it's not. The issue in abortion is not when does life begin. Abortion is taking a life. Anyone who denies it is out of their mind. Clearly a fetus is alive. Now, the issue is also not whether or not we can take a life. That one has a pretty clear answer: yes. Sometimes it is OK to take a life, be it plant or animal (including human animals). The circumstances in which a life can be taken are far from agreed upon, and that is where the issue of abortion fits in. The main issue with abortion is whether, when balanced against the rights of a woman and the realities of the child to be's life, abortion should be allowed as an option for women who are pregnant.

Of course, there isn't just one abortion related issue. One that is not talked about enough, is why do people have abortions? If we are interested in preventing abortions, that is an important issue. Another neglected issue is how do we assist people after they decide not to have an abortion? Do we only care whether they stay alive until birth. How can we make abortions more difficult to procure is not an important issue. Abortions are not like tobacco. People don't want to have abortions. It's not addictive.

The bottom line is that we have to know what the question is before we can answer it. If we are really interested in answering questions and in solving problems, then we need to spend a little time and energy agreeing on the issues.

Monday, December 6, 2010

William Ayers

William Ayers is a retired professor. He was recently denied emeritus status at the University of Illinois Chicago, where he taught for 23 years. The decision of whether to grant emeritus status is supposed to be based upon merit. Ayers denial was not based on merit, but instead was based on a personal grudge. Ayers was wrongly denied emeritus status.

Ayers, of course, is more than just a retired professor. He was a founding member of the Weather Underground, a radical group connected to numerous bombings in the 1970s. Ayers participated in bombings. He also dedicated a book to a list of people he referred to as political prisoners. Included on the list was Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy, the father of Christopher Kennedy, who is the Chair of the University of Illinois Trustees. Christopher Kennedy said that he could not confer emeritus status on "a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father."

Ayers was denied emeritus status because in a list included in a book he wrote 36 years ago, before he even became a professor, he listed the assassin of Robert Kennedy as a political prisoner. This is disgusting. Do two wrongs make a right? Is Kennedy's personal vendetta more important than a 23 year career? Is Kennedy's personal vendetta acceptable because he is a Kennedy? Is this punishment for what Ayers did with the Weather Underground? Is this a way to punish him despite the fact that charges were dropped due to illegal activity by the FBI?

This is a perfect example of abandoning process when it doesn't produce the desired results. It reminds me of the Bush administrations use of torture and military tribunals. It is shortsighted. Process is important. It creates predictability and fairness. It protects us all from the whims and vendettas of our neighbors. It should not be lightly abandoned, even for a terrorist.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sarah and Kate go camping

Sarah Palin and Kate Gosselin are going camping. I'm not sure what else there is to say. That this is entertainment says something about the entertained. That either one of these two women would be seriously talked about as a presidential candidate says something too. It says that our worlds are coming together, and they are coming together at a point closer to Jerry Springer, Nancy Grace, Celine Dion, and Confederate flags than Charlie Rose, Sixty Minutes, Bob Dylan, and the United Nations flag. It says that people, when told they are being stupid, often react by indignantly being even more stupid. Sarah and Kate are going camping, and I can't think of any way of respectfully and constructively engaging anyone that would watch them. So, I'm left watching as people continue to make shows like this, and people continue to watch.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why it's OK to hate Lebron

It's always important to ask why. Lots has been made about how bitter fans in Cleveland have been about Lebron's decision to 'take his talents' to Miami. I've heard numerous sports commentators criticize and make fun of Cleveland fans for their reaction. Certainly it seems like an overreaction to the decision of an athlete to leave one team and join another; just a bunch of shallow and bitter people. But, it is important not to leave that initial reaction unchallenged. It is important to ask why someone might react that way. One answer is because that is the way the NBA, Lebron, and Nike and countless other corporations want them to react. If fans didn't feel emotionally connected to their teams and players, then they wouldn't buy overpriced jerseys and tickets or the products advertised during games or at the arena. They wouldn't be prepared to line the streets in the tens of thousands for a victory parade. They wouldn't spend hours in chat rooms talking about their team. They wouldn't listen to themselves being made fun of on sports radio. It really seems pretty shallow and cruel to make fun of people who are only doing what a lot of people wanted them to do.