Monday, January 31, 2011

John Kyl and Democracy Promotion

John Kyl criticized Obama for failing to follow up on George W. Bush's program of democracy promotion, and thus putting himself in a more awkward position in relation to the crisis in Egypt. Kyl said, "We might be in a better position if we had more closely followed President Bush's prescription for support of greater democracy in all parts of the world. If we had maintained that position and had that reputation in the world ... then our calls today for restraint would have more credibility because the people of Egypt would know our heart was with their desire for greater representation." There does not seem to be much support for this contention.

President Bush certainly did give America a reputation in the world, and particularly in the Middle East, but I'm not sure it was a reputation for being a champion of democracy. Obama personally has been able to maintain a more favorable perception than Bush outside America from the very start of his Presidency. It has certainly been argued, often quite convincingly, that the Bush presidency did serious harm to America's reputation in the world.

Bush talked a lot about spreading democracy, but it is far from clear that he did much of that in practice. I suppose there is democracy in Iraq, but the price they paid was pretty steep and it would be hard to call what they have stable. Afghanistan isn't exactly a stable democracy either. It might even be said that with his administrations positions on torture and the use of military tribunals, he hurt the perception and maybe the reality of American democracy.

What Bush truly did not have, was a pragmatic view of the world. He, and his policy team, had a vision that he imposed on the world, whether or not it fit. He got into wars without being prepared for what would happen when he won. He labeled countries as evil. He wasted a lot of the goodwill that existed towards America in the wake of 9/11. What Obama has proven to have thus far is a measured, pragmatic, and flexible approach to politics. He has a more realistic and open eyed approach to the world that resembles the first President Bush's approach.

Of course there is one other problem with Kyl's attack. Bush was president for eight years. What did he accomplish as far as the democratization of Egypt?

To criticize President Obama's response to Egypt on the basis that he didn't follow up on what Bush did to endear the country to the Arab masses is silly at best and at worst, and most likely despite Kyl's protestations, is a cynical attempt to discredit Obama for political reasons.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cowherd, Cromartie, and the ad hominem attack

Colin Cowherd responded to Antonio Cromartie's comments on the contract situation in the NFl by launching a personal attack on him. He called him the laughing stock of the NFL. He made reference to Cromartie's nine children by eight women in six states. He mentioned the comments Cromartie made about Tom Brady. He basically called him a waste of skin and bone. Rather than address the message, Cowherd attacked the messenger. This is a classic example of an ad hominem fallacy. Cromartie may not be a wonderful human being and he isn't particularly articulate, but that doesn't mean that his comments about the NFL Players Union and the labor negotiations with the League don't have some truth to them. It certainly doesn't mean that his comments shouldn't be refuted with the use of logic and reason. Colin Cowherd indulges in these sorts of arguments all the time. The people who agree with him are successful, smart, and hard working and the people who disagree with him are sloppy and slovenly failures who live at home with their mothers. It's an approach based on insults and put downs. In the world of sports radio it is just annoying. Unfortunately it isn't confined to sports radio. We, as listeners, need to do our part to make sure it's confined to middle school. We need to make it clear that we aren't swayed by these sorts of argument in any context. If we don't, we'll keep hearing them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blizzards and Global Warming

I haven't heard it yet, but I know it's coming. Here on the East Coast we've been slammed with snow this winter, there is more snow in the forecast, and we aren't into February yet. So, before we make it through the winter, I know someone will say to me, with a smile on their face, something along the lines of: "what about that global warming?" Of course, it's not that simple. Nothing is that simple. That is the lesson we have to learn. Just because we have a lot of snow, doesn't mean that the world isn't getting warmer. It's not as if the world has a thermostat that someone is slowly cranking up, causing the whole thing to warm up evenly. Just because two men don't make babies, doesn't mean that homosexual couples shouldn't be married or even that their relationships aren't natural. Just because ethanol is made from corn and we grow corn in this country doesn't mean that pushing the increased use of ethanol is a good idea. We have to be ready to look for the complexities, and push our elected officials to stop glossing over them. We have to be able to see that more snow doesn't mean lower temperatures.

There is a much more scientific (and just plain better) argument on why all this snow doesn't mean that global warming is a mirage, see Michio Kaku's piece on

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Paul Broun is Ridiculous

Representative Paul Broun engages in the sort of activity which has nothing to do with solving problems and everything to do with riling up supporters. While listening to the State of the Union, he tweeted the following: “Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism." He later explained this by saying: “Mr. Obama believes in central government where the federal government controls everything in our lives.”

There are many problems with these assertions.

First, tweeting during the State of the Union is disrespectful. It certainly does not seem like the sort of behavior that the Founders, with whom Rep. Brown seems very concerned, would have approved of.

Second, he asserted that the President doesn’t believe in the Constitution. It is a shame that a Representative in Congress thinks, or says out loud, that someone who has a different interpretation of the Constitution then he does doesn’t believe in it. There is very little evidence that the President doesn’t believe in the Constitution.

Third, this view of the Constitution, that it is a limited document not subject to interpretation in light of the times, is far from a universally accepted one. Thomas Jefferson, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Louis D. Brandeis, and Woodrow Wilson are among the people who have expressed a less restricted view of the Constitution.

Fourth, Socialism is not “where the federal government controls everything in our lives.” It is almost guaranteed that someone who calls someone else a socialism, doesn’t know what it is or doesn’t care.

Fifth, President Obama is not a socialist and does not want the federal government to control “everything in our lives.”

This behavior is reprehensible. It is not the behavior of serious adults who are trying to solve problems. It is either ignorance or manipulation and lying, and neither is acceptable. If this is the best that Paul Broun can do, the people of Georgia can do better.

Jay Cutler and the People Who Played the Game

Jay Cutler has a grade II MCL sprain. It forced him out of the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. It forced us to witness a lot of former NFL players accuse him of being weak, sissy, embarrassment who quit on his team. They were watching the game on television like the rest of us, but their opinion based on nothing was justified because they played the game. It’s one of my favorite lines of illogic. I played the game (or fought in the war, or had an abortion, or was adopted, or was raped, or lost a mother to cancer, or had a cat run over by an ice cream truck) so my opinion is better than yours. It sounds great, but it’s complete BS. If you fought in Afghanistan, you might be in a better position to make a better argument about the next steps the United States should take than I am, but you still have to make that better arguments. Simply having been there doesn’t make your opinion a good one. It still comes down to how well you support your conclusion. If you accuse someone of quitting because they look glum and you don’t like them, then your argument is weak and irresponsible regardless of how many downs you’ve played in the NFL. Being there is never a substitute for knowing what you’re talking about.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The False Power of the Almost Aborted

I am not swayed by the person who might have been aborted. I think it is great that his or her mother decided to keep them rather than aborting them, but I do not see this person as a living argument as to why abortion should not be legal. It doesn’t matter what they accomplish in their lives, or whose lives they touch. I would say the same thing if peace protesters dragged out a few people from Korea who have lived full lives because the Korean War ended with a divided Korea rather than with MacArthur marching on to China. It’s also not any different than dragging out a stable happy family whose mother had an abortion when she was sixteen, before she went on to become a doctor, marry a lawyer, play a major role in protecting local wildlife, and raise three wonderful children. It’s someone’s story. It’s not a reason to make a particular decision on an incredibly complex issue. Even though Betty Sue wasn’t adopted and went on to do great things, outlawing abortion still means you force a woman to have a baby (or seek an illegal and most likely unsafe abortion). Abortion is still the killing of a living thing. It is still true that no one favors abortion. Many of the mothers who seek abortions are still only children themselves. Many women seeking abortions are still in no position to raise children. Not all children who might have been aborted but weren’t will lead great lives. The factors that cause women to seek abortions still need to be addressed. Contraception is still an important way to limit abortions. Anecdotes are proof of nothing, and are certainly not an excuse to acknowledge and confront the complexity of the issue.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Imagining American Politics in 'High Fidelity'

The 'proposal' scene from the end of High Fidelity is one of my favorite movie scenes ever. ( Not only is it just cool as hell and heartwarming, but it also brilliantly portrays the kind of honesty and straightforwardness I would like to see from politicians. This marriage 'proposal' isn't hidden underneath the trappings of romance. It isn't full of obfuscation. It isn't prettied up. It is however real. It is also truly thinking about and seeking a long term commitment. The proposals we receive from politicians aren 't usually like this. They tell us what we want to hear, rather than what they are really thinking. They don't often lay out the positives and negatives in a real way. They are often too eloquent to be real. Seldom is their proposal really rooted in the desire for a long term relationship. Also, few of them are as cool as John Cusack.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Amy Chua and Good Parenting

Amy Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal has caused quite an uproar. She asserts that the parenting approach used by Chinese Mothers is "superior." Personally, I think its cruel. But, I'm not sure that matters. I think the important and interesting question is: what is success? Are we only successful parents if our children become doctors? Should our children also grow up to be people with multiple interests, close friends, and something approaching a happy life? Does it matter if they have to seek therapy or turn to alcohol to overcome all that successful parenting? I don't have any answers, because I struggle with the question of success on a pretty frequent basis. Is a stay at home dad a success? Am I only a success if my kids are polite and get straight A's? Do they have to say I love you to each other at least once a day? I understand that it isn't an easy question to answer, but I think it is the one we ought to be thinking about.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who does David Martosko think he's kidding?

David Martosko wrote a piece called: Crying Shame. In it he asserts that the Humane Society of the United States uses deceitful ads showing puppies and kittens to raise money for their campaign to drive the price of meat so high that people will become vegetarians. He says that they have little real connection to your local humane society, and are really just a bunch of vegan "wing-nuts."

David Martosko isn't really concerned with puppies and kittens. He wants people to stop giving money to the Humane Society of the United States, and instead donate to your local humane society. As director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization supported by the food and restaurant industries, he wants to limit the amount of money that an organization normally on the other side of a whole host of issues has to oppose the interests of the people that pay his salary.

Not only is David Martosko not concerned with puppies and kitties, he isn't concerned with logic or reason either.

First of all, he throws in the insults. The Humane Society of the United States is a bunch of vegan wing-nuts. I'm not sure what is accomplished by calling them wing-nuts, other than prejudicing people against them, which is the reason he links them to PETA. I reallyt don't know what he accomplishes by saying they are all vegans. Are vegans always wrong? Can vegans not be trusted to have valid opinions on food? Of course, the bottomline is that some one's argument should be evaluated based on the argument and not based on what the person making the argument chooses to eat. Even someone who takes money from the food industry, and then hides behind the label of "non-profit" deserves to have their argument responded to with logic and reason. For teh record, if you want to see more name calling, go to the Center for Consumer Freedom's website.

Second, he indulges in name games. He links them to PETA. He refers to them as HSUS, rather than the Humane Society, because he is trying to differentiate them from the Humane Society.

Third, he makes a big deal about the fact that they don't run every local humane society, but they don't claim to. On their web site they state: "We work to reduce suffering and improve the lives of all animals by advocating for better laws; investigating animal cruelty; encouraging corporations to adopt animal-friendly policies; conducting disaster relief and animal rescue; and providing direct care for thousands of animals at our sanctuaries, emergency shelters, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and mobile veterinary clinics." Many of these projects are things that David Martosko criticizes them for doing under the cover of aiding dogs and cats. The problem is that they are gladly admitting to doing these things.

Fourth, This article has very little, other than an offhand mention of attacking egg farmers,on the actual disputes between the Center for Consumer Freedom and the Humane Society of the United States. This article isn't about teh substance of the issues, it is about scaring and deceiving people into ceasing to support the Humane Society of the United States.

Fifth, The use of phrases like "most of us were deceived" and the labels of "vegan" and "wing-nuts" and the links to PETA are attempts to paint the Humane Society of the United States as a bunch of elitist others. They aren't average Americans like us. This is another attempt to attack the messenger rather than the message. It is also pretty offensive to those that are labeled as elite and those that are labeled as average Americans.

So ... what do we do about arguments like this? I think the best thing would be to assume that if someone makes this kind of argument, rather than relying on logic and facts, they are wrong. When you see this approach, immediately conclude that they are wrong. Maybe that would force people to really address issues, to drop the name calling, and to stop insulting our intelligence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Republicans: Shame on you

It's really pretty simple. If the top priority of the Republican Party was improving the heath care system in this country, they would have already started crafting changes to the bill. Instead the Republican led House of Representatives has voted to repeal the Heath Care legislation. The repeal is a meaningless gesture, since it will never make it through the Senate and would be vetoed even if it did.

The Republicans have a second chance to actually try to make this bill better. They passed on their first opportunity, preferring to object to any attempt to reform health care regardless of what it was. If they wanted, the Republicans in the House could take the lead on making changes to make the bill better. They could push ideas Democrats agreed on and ideas they didn't. They would look like they were really trying to do something positive, and would look like they were concerned with making Americans lot in life a little better. Instead, they have chosen to grandstand. They have chosen to put on a show that has nothing to do with solving problems. It is a real shame.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sarah Palin Takes Responsibility ... Ha Ha

Sarah Palin has spoken up about crosshairs and blood libel. She has taken responsibility for ... nothing. Instead she has offered up the lamest of age old excuses: somebody else has done it first. About planting crosshairs over the pictures of rivals, Palin said "The graphic that was used was crosshairs. That's not original. Democrats have been using them for years." When asked about her use of blood libel,"Just two days before an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal had that term in its title. And that term has been used for eons."

There are three problems with this approach. First, it doesn't make it right to do something because someone else has done it. Other businesses have dumped stuff in the river, so it's OK if we do. Other countries torture folks, so it's OK if we do. Other people have robbed banks, so it's OK if we do. Second, I'm growing increasingly tired of the Democrats do it too refrain. The recent spate of violent imagery coming from politicians has come disproportionately from the republican side of teh aisle. Have you heard a lot of gun control activists threatening to shoot NRA supporters? Have Democrats been marginalizing Republicans as un-American, seemingly legitimizing teh use of otherwise unacceptable tactics? Third, there isn't a shred of evidence offered for any of this.

Sarah Palin has spoken up, and offered nothing new. She says she won't shut up. This is unfortunate, but all it really means is that the rest of us need to continue to speak up too.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What If?

Here is a simple illustration of the importance of context. If you meet a woman and glance at her chest, someone who notices may perceive this in a negative light. If the woman has a large and colorful tattoo nestled in her cleavage, which is less than covered by her shirt, a glance at her chest might be perceived differently. Context matters. We all get upset about higher taxes, or at least recently enough of us have been pretty upset. I can understand not wanting to spend more money. But what if there isn’t enough money to pay for schools, and libraries, and garbage service, and pensions, and whatever it is you value most. What if we are in the midst of a recession? What if you pay lower taxes than the rest of the free world? What if you knew about the what ifs? What if you cared as much about all of this as you would about a tattoo near a pair of breasts? What if?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Despair over Dialogue

Today, Dean Obeidallah, wrote an article on ( In it, he asks what the reaction to the shooting in Tucson would have been like had the shooter, Jared Loughner, been a Muslim. It is a valid question to ask, given how people in this country have reacted to incidents involving Muslims (like the Fort Hood shootings) and those which were suspected to have Muslim perpetrators but turned out not to (like the Oklahoma City bombings). It is also a well written argument, and clearly not out of left field. That is not to say that it should be accepted as gospel. There is plenty of room for logical and well thought out difference of opinion. If the comments posted after the piece are any indication, however, it is space that remains empty. The responses typify what too often passes for dialogue in this country.

First we have the insults. Way too often, our response to something we disagree with is to insult the author. “I'm going over to slate dot com to read something intelligent by Christopher Hitchens. The writer of this article is an embarrassment to all molecules.” “What an idiotic work of ill logic this article is.” “You are an idiot...the sad part is..CNN paid u for this pathetic commentary.” Insults like these belong on the playground at your local elementary school, or maybe on sports talk radio. They do not belong anywhere near an intelligent discussion of pressing issues. Insults make it harder to have real discussions, real differences of opinion, and real solutions to real problems.

Second, one step up from insults, we have the baseless accusations. Racism, socialism, Marxism, Communism, liberalism, paganism, and barbarism are all isms that might appear in such an accusation. In response to Obeidallah, there was a: “What a racist article.” This did not surprise me at all, I mean it is obvious how a Muslim talking about his fears of the reaction to another Muslim ‘terrorist’ attack is racism. It would need to be obvious, because accusations like these never come with much in the way of explanation.

Next to racism, the next most popular baseless accusation is the self centeredness accusation. If you stick up for yourself or your group, you might be labeled as ‘self centered.’ “Just like Sarah Palin the Muslims in this country thinks the world revolves around them. They are self centered and arrogant. Guess what we are sick of seeing, hearing, and everything being wrapped up about you. The first thought in my mind was how terrible. My suggestion is get over yourself.” Rather than address the author’s fears, this person decides to dismiss and ridicule them. Rather than address the argument, this person attacks the author of the article.

Third, we have what we will charitably refer to as poor and insensitive attempts at humor. “Muslims would make it worse than this.” “If he were a Muslim, there'd be a lot more people dead from the explosion and he'd be burning in hell wondering where his virgins were.” “Sheesh..if he were a Muslim, he would have blown himself up. Everyone knows that.” “No dude, religion IS a mental illness.” If this were a stand up comedy show, these would just be bad attempts at humor. In a discussion about the country’s reaction to the killing of six people, it seems to be a little more than just bad taste.

Fourth we have assertions that are completely unsupported, and, wonder of wonders, are almost always untrue. This is a big grab bag kind of category, and I list a number of examples. The thing to remember about all of them, is that they do nothing to further dialogue. They aren’t meant to further dialogue. This is more about people wanting to hear themselves speak.
“Muslims have a history of doing crap like this, and have pledged to continue in the name of Islam. Unlike this guy, they belong to a well-organized group of people who's end goal is to commit acts of violence.” Yes, one of the world’s major religions is just an organized attempt to commit violence. That sounds logical.
“Here is what the article does not say. More than 90% of the wars in this world are either Muslim against Muslim or Muslim against others.” First of all, this can’t be true. I can think of quite a few conflicts over the last hundred years that have nothing to do with Muslims. Some examples would include: civil war in Liberia, civil war in Sierra Leone, a whole host of conflicts over the last 100 or more years in Southern Africa, genocide in Rwanda, every conflict in South East Asia since Vietnam, violence involving the Basques in Spain, IRA activity, the CONTRAS, Columbia, North and South Korea, Tibet, … and I could keep going. Second, even if every conflict involves Muslims, so what. That fact, by itself, would be meaningless. What do the attempted genocide in Bosnia and the Iran Iraq war have in common other than the fact that Muslims were involved? This comment is hard to label as anything other than stupidity.

“That's because when a non-Muslim commits such a crime, THE MOTIVE WAS NOT RELIGIOUS.” What about the bombing of abortion clinics?

“I already covered that point. Its like if a KKK member would have done the shooting and gotten criticism for it. The KKK has already EARNED a name for itself. Just like Islam.” So know Muslims are like Clan members? Really?

Finally we have the least offensive category. Honestly mistaken people, who listen to arguments others make. These folks are often just guilty of generalizing a little too much. I found one example of this. The person was generally positive about the article, but prefaced her remarks with: “I’'m a feminist so I'm no fan of Islam ....“ The idea is that Islam is, by definition, oppressive of women. The reality, of course, is nowhere near so simple. To go into a discussion with such a vast over-simplification of Islam leading the way is not a good way to have a fruitful discussion about Islam and/or with Muslims.

Our political dialogue needs to be better than this. We must do better than this. More importantly, all of us can do better than this. It is time that we started doing it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Multiple Meaning

"Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah"

This is a verse from one of my favorite songs, one which I sing to one or the other of my children almost every day: Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen and beautifully performed by Jeff Buckley. I think most of us can agree that a verse like this, a song like this, might mean different things to different people. It's meaning might even change over time, as the reality of our lives change. It certainly doesn't seem like a controversial assertion. It also wouldn't seem too controversial to assert that the meaning I get from this song might not be the same as the meaning that Leonard or Jeff intended when they wrote and/or sang it.

So why are these controversial ideas when it comes to the Constitution, the Quran, or the Bible. Why is the intent of the drafters, people who lived a long time ago, so damn important. I know that the drafter of one of the three is supposed to be God, but God left enough hints that this was just a starting point meant to fit the realities of a society that has been gone over a thousand years. The drafters of the others were people living a long time ago, people who owned things like slaves and organized and fought in things called "militias." All of them also left clues behind that they intended these documents to be interpreted by people according to teh context in which their lives were being lived.

Why must there be a clear wrong and right way to read these documents. Why can't we at least admit that there is room for disagreement, and then try to disagree in a civil and maybe even constructive manner? The Bible was written in a different language and has been translated a few different ways. The Constitution is not a comprehensive document, and wasn't meant to be.

Hallelujah might not be as important a document as these three, although music is not without importance, but the principle translates. Anything created by humans, even if only as conduits, is by definition imprecise and painted in shades of grey. It is also a reflection of its creators. To pretend it's not is to fail to understand the document in question, and also the people that wrote it, the people that read it and live it, and the problems that all of these people faced/face. To pretend that these documents have one meaning for all time is to fail to really use them to solve the problems we face today, and instead to use them to add to our problems.

The power of words, ultimately, comes in their adaptability ... their ability to touch all of us. "There's a blaze of light in every word, [i]t doesn't matter which you heard." We need to be open to seeing the light however we see it, and letting others do the same.
The holy or the broken Hallelujah"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brady Hoke and Critical Thinking

Brady Hoke is the new head football coach at The University of Michigan. Some people are a little upset about the choice, and most of those folks start their criticism by pointing out that his record as a head coach is 47-50. They think that Michigan must have fallen pretty far to hire a coach with a losing record.

There is, however, more to the story of Brady Hoke than a losing record. One fact usually doesn't tell a whole story, and this is no exception. Hoke has coached at Ball State and San Diego State, and both were pretty bad when he took them over, and much improved when he left. At Ball State he was 4-8, 2-9, 4-7, 5-7, 7-6, and 12-1. At San Diego State he was 4-8 and 9-4. He also was an assistant coach for twenty years, including six years at Michigan. When at Michigan, he impressed the coaches and players he had contact with. He also has a reputation as a good coach, whose players work hard and play smart and as a team. He does not have a reputation as a gambler or poor clock manager, as does Les Miles, a name that many Michigan fans would have liked to see become Head Coach.

Regardless of how you feel about Hoke, the case is not won or lost with a single fact. The same is true for any issue, even ones that are more important than Michigan Football, if such things actually exist.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Republican Guilt

Let's forget about the Arizona shooting. It doesn't really matter whether it was motivated by Sarah Palin's crosshairs (which were over Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' face along with nineteen others) or Sharon Angle's reference to "Second Amendment remedies." It doesn't matter whether the shooter heard Joyce Kauffman say at a Tea Party rally: "if ballots don't work, bullets will." It isn't important whether the refusal of conservative on-air personalities and Republican politicians to put a definitive end to speculation about Obama's citizenship, religion, anti-white agenda, or fascist or communist commitment has any connection at all to the actions of this particular unbalanced person. It doesn't matter whether the death of a grandma and a nine year old have anything to do with talk of death panels and homosexuality in the debate over health care.

These words (and countless others) may not have been involved in this tragedy at all, but they have been used to make people angry and afraid. When people are angry and afraid, even if they are of sound mind, their actions can be unpredictable. When the people aren't of sound mind ... So if this tragedy wasn't set in motion by such rhetoric, others certainly could be.

These words surely do not advance problem solving. They are attempts to advance positions without using logic and reason. The positions may be unsupportable by logic and reason or the people putting forward these arguments may be lazy or craven. They certainly move us in the wrong direction.

These words have come disproportionately from teh Republican Party. Democrats are no angels. They are certainly not blameless for the absence of a collaborative and cooperative approach to problem solving in Washington D.C. They certainly do appeal to fear (any advertisement talking about job loss because of NAFTA does just this). They have not appealed to anger or invoked violence in the way that Republicans have. They also don't have a simmering resentment against the President, which has to be connected to his race, living within their party.

Republican leadership needs to take responsibility for failing to take a stronger stand against such rhetoric, and for failing to correct some of the more reckless and outrageous claims emanating from conservatives. Calling this a problem for both parties or a sickness of the system, removes the responsibility that must rest with the Republican Party. They have some work to do.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Politics of Hate

Motivating people to vote for a certain person or proposal, or to side with a particular argument, by playing on their fear and anger can have serious consequences. Whether or not the recent attempt to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the deaths of six people, can be directly tied to the politics of fear and hate, it certainly shows where such politics can lead.

It isn’t hard to figure out. If you set up the opposition as led by a foreign born and thus illegitimate President who is also a Muslim socialist/communist/fascist/intellectual anti-white hate monger, then you are making it easy for some people with less than normal inhibitions to think that votes and speeches aren’t the only way they should be ‘fighting’ the ‘enemy.’ If you talk of attempts to kill old folks and force homosexuality on the people at large, than it shouldn’t be a surprise that people want to fight the heath care reform outside of the halls of Congress with more than petitions, phone calls, and town hall meetings. When you talk about immigrants as threatening our jobs, our language, our security, our way of life, and even our very lives, than is it surprising that someone without mental incapacities might think that extreme measures were warranted to ‘fight’ the ‘enemy’. When you set the other side up as a godless enemy, someone will conclude they need to be killed. In addition to making real solutions harder to achieve, destroying any real chance at collaboration and cooperation, putting political and party interests over the interests of constituents and country, and painting the American people as incapable of understanding and responding to logic and reason … this irresponsible behavior actually puts lives at risk.

Regardless of what we learn in the coming weeks about this particular attack, I hope we learn that we cannot accept this kind of politics and these sorts of politicians. For a start in doing this, see A Consumer's Guide to Politics in this blog (there are two versions: long and abridged).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Racism and the Mayoral Election in Chicago

The Black candidates for mayor in Chicago have come together, and now there is only one with a real chance: Carol Mosley Braun. James Meeks pulled out of the mayoral race a little over a week ago, saying “I have met with each of the four other African-American candidates and urged them in the strongest terms to consider withdrawing from the race in the interest of unity and for the greater good of our community.” Danny Davis, who has just dropped out of the race, warned Bill Clinton to stay out of the race and not "participate overtly in efforts to thwart the legitimate political aspirations of Chicago's Black community." Braun said, "[the] former president Clinton risks his legacy and the great respect that he has enjoyed among African Americans by coming to Chicago to endorse Rahm Emanuel who is running for mayor against two black candidates." Jesse Jackson has spoken about the need for there to be just one black candidate.

What is being said here is that the Black residents of Chicago will be best represented by a Black candidate, regardless of what his or her views are or his or her past record. Race is what is important. If this doesn't trouble you, I wonder why. I wonder where you draw the line, because you can't think this is acceptable as a general rule. Certainly, it was seen as ugly when people followed this logic to vote against Obama for President. Certainly it was seen as ugly when people followed this logic to keep Black people from being elected throughout much of the history of our country. Whatever you think, however, it is important to have it out on the table. The argument is that Black people should vote for Black politicians. That is what is being said. Do with it what you will.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Regulation is Bad?

In the wake of the exposure of inadequate regulatory regimes in the financial sector and in the control of offshore drilling, Republicans have decided to target regulatory regimes and try to weaken them and shorten their reach. How come that doesn't seem that logical? Maybe they haven't read the Jungle or heard about child labor. Maybe they aren't familiar with human nature. Maybe they don't care that while Americans get squeamish at the mention of "regulations," they actually often favor specific regulations when they are spelled out and explained. Maybe they prefer appealing to fear and anger. Maybe they want to get elected more than they want to solve problems. Maybe they think we will let them get away with it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Letter to my Congressman

Dear Congressman Fitzpatrick,

I didn’t vote for you. Let’s get that out of the way. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t even matter at all. I just want to be honest, although it really doesn’t matter. We’re stuck with one another now. I’m not moving. You’re not resigning. We’re stuck.

You represent me. Even if I didn’t vote for you, you still represent me. I expect you to take my interests into account when you make your decisions. I also expect you to take reason and logic into account. There will be times when my interests run contrary to the most logical decision, and in that case I hope you disregard my interests. I expect you to make the best decision. I expect you to work to solve problems.

I hope that your party’s interests don’t come first. I hope that when the interests of your constituents or your experience or your conscience pull you in the opposite direction from your party, you have the strength and confidence to break from your party.

I really really really hope your focus is on problem solving. That is why I mention it a second time, and throw in a lot of reallys. We will find out right away if it is or isn’t. If you participate in making repealing health care the top priority for the House, even though the President’s veto and the Senate’s votes doom any effort and even though there are pressing problems you could be solving rather than trying to undo much needed, even if imperfect, health care reform, then we will know that your priority is the Republican Party rather than the American people, both generally and back here in Lower Bucks County.

I wasn’t here when you last served in the House. I have heard some good things, though. I hope they are true. I hope that you have returned in order to have another chance to solve problems. I wish you much luck. I hope that you can make me feel like I made a mistake this past November.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Equal Opportunity

Not everyone in America has an equal opportunity to be successful. We all don't even have the same definition of "successful," but I'll leave that issue for another time. What I am interested in now is the myth of equal opportunity. Let's take me, Kevin Love, and a boy, who shall remain nameless, that I crossed paths with while working for a non-profit after school program. My dad didn't play in the NBA and my Uncle wasn't a member of the Beach Boys. I think that Kevin Love, of whom those things are true, had more opportunities to succeed than I did. This doesn't mean he hasn't worked hard to become one of the best players in the NBA, because by all accounts he has, but the money, experience, and genetic gifts passed down to him gave him more opportunities than I have had. I have had, however, great opportunities to succeed. My parents payed for college and part of graduate school, and have supported me financially, emotionally, and lots of ways right up to the present day. I also did not watch my father stab my mother, nor did my parents have drug problems, nor did I have to live with family who didn't want me to live with them. It's silly to claim that we all have an equal opportunity to succeed, or to assert that anyone can be successful if they try. Also, pointing to the orphan success story (i.e. Tom Monaghan) is not a convincing argument. Each of these miracle stories involves so many turns of fate, and so much work, that it just isn't convincing to say it can happen to anyone and surely doesn't sound like "equal opportunity." Equal opportunity doesn't even seem like an achievable goal.

What equal opportunity does seem like is a myth that gets in the way of solving real problems. When we believe there is equal opportunity, we are less inclined to try to fix problems that hold people back (like inadequate schools, drug traffic, homelessness, extreme poverty, etc.). When we believe there is equal opportunity, we are also less likely to downplay the importance of government action and of charity. We are also more likely to be content with massive inequality. If it is the fault of lazy individuals and if we all could be Bill Gates if we only tried hard enough, then why should we be concerned if some people have a lot and some people have very little? It is only when we recognize the impossibility of the American Dream for so many, that we put ourselves in the position to fix that and a whole host of other problems.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa, the incoming House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, called President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." He has since backed off of the remark, kind of, saying that he only meant that the administration is corrupt. This is still, however, name calling. Now it's just a little less honest. It does nothing to address a single problem facing the President and Congress. Is the next step, after you call someone the most corrupt President of all time, to work with them to solve problems? Does name calling like this make it easier to convince the public to accept legislation that might be confusing, unfamiliar, counter intuitive, or even call on them to make sacrifices? We, as Americans, need to have no tolerance for behavior like this by our elected representatives. I think California's 49th Congressional District needs a new Representative.