Monday, February 28, 2011

The essence of contemporary American politics in just a few lines

Here an now politics seems to be about grabbing control and shoving through as much of your agenda as you can before you have to relinquish control. The hope is that you can push more in the direction you want to go in your time in control than the opposition can when it is their time to run the show. It's not about compromise. It's a contentious,nasty, and exhausting way to do things, and it's a shame.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Whose Interests is Scott Walker Representing?

This Wisconsin thing is really irritating me. I'm still not entirely sure why, but I'm closing in on it. I certainly dislike the basic dishonesty. What Scott Walker (the Governor of Wisconsin) is doing is dishonest. He has hidden a union busting bill inside a budget bill. It would be nice if he just put all the union busting stuff in a bill and tried to pass that, and then we could have all the stuff about selling off state assets to private companies be it's own bill too. It would be nice to be able to deal honsetly with issues one at a time. It would be nice if our elected representatives could solve problems through compromise rather than simply trading back and forth every few years pushing through their own agendas. It would be nice, and it would be new. This kind of dishonesty isn't new.

The claim that teachers pensions are somehow to blame for our current financial crisis just pissess me off. We seem to have forgotten about the financial crisis. Plus, teachers and other public sector employees aren't living opulent lives in secret. In fact, their rather modest benefits were part of a pretty clear bargain that has long been honored. They work a lot for less pay than they could make elsehwere doing important work, and are rewarded with nice pensions and other good benefits.

The attempt to destroy the Unions also upsets me. I'm no cheerleader for the unions, but I recognize the important role they play in securing rights for all of us and in keeping the whole system running smoothly. To weaken their bargaining rights, is to leave worker's without adequate representation and protection. It also removes an important balance to the power of business and industry.

I'm also quite upset about the fact that shortly before having to take all these measures to fight a budget gap, the Republicans in charge in Wisconsin lowered taxes. This obsession with lowering taxes and cutting spending, regardless of what the taxes were/are/could be supporting and what the spending was facilitating. All that matters is lowering taxes and ctting spending.

All of the above pisses me off, but there is something bigger that I am just now starting to allow myself to see. This thing that pisses me off most of all, at least for now, is the fact that Scott Walker, among many others, is not looking after the best interests of most of his constituents. He is looking after the interests of his biggest benefactors: private corporations. Our elected representaives aren't our representatives. Our interests aren't primary. The interests of their political party and of the big corporations that fund their campaigns are primary. It isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that many of us are without representation in a way every bit as real as the people in Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia. Something has gone wrong. Maybe it's always been wrong, but I don't think it has been this wrong. Decades of work meant to work to the benefit of many of us is being decimated practically overnight, and I have no idea what we can do about it. Over the long term we probably need to try to spread critical thinking around a little, and try to empower people to be able to be able to understand what the issues are and how they can help get them addressed in the right way. We need to challenge the use of fear, anger, and ignorance in politics. In the short term I don't know what we do, other than get pissed off at Scott Walker.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is a miracle? How about Scott Walker being honest?

I'm not a public school teacher, so I don't have an extravagant pension coming some day. Thus, my family has to make do with the really small thrills. Last night we had fortune cookies! Woo hoo!! I actually lucked into a pretty good one: "you will soon witness a miracle." I'd love to witness a miracle. I'd actually love to see our elected representatives being honest about what they are trying to accomplish, and then accomplishing as much as they can while, inevitably, compromising with other's who have different goals and/or different visions for achieving their goals. For example, I would love to see Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, come out and say that he wants to weaken, if not destroy, unions operating in the public sector. It would be great if he could add that he would like to sell off public assets. It would make me weak in the knees if he just admitted that this isn't about a budget. I'd pass out from sheer joy if he said that he would like particular companies who have been campaign contributors to benefit from all of this, but that might go beyond what can be accomplished by a miracle. Now I know that being honest would probably weaken Walker's position, because if the voters who now support this 'budget' legislation knew what this was really all about, it is highly likely that they would not all remain supporters. I know it is unreasonable to want politicians to stop appealing to anger, fear, and ignorance to gain support rather than arguing the true merits of their cause ... but I'm unreasonable. You can ask my wife. There's not much that can be done about that, though ... even miracles have their limits.

For a good perspective on this, see these articles: &

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blame the Teachers

Somewhere along the line it has become accepted that the pensions of state employees are a key factor in the budget crises threatening so many states. There is no thought at all of placing blame on a lack of financial regulation or trying to reform wall street. There is barely even a mention of the financial crisis at all. There is also no interest in looking into what the numbers really are (how are they calculating these 'shortfalls'?), or wondering whether any of the lost revenue that is plaguing so many states might come back. No, the blame must be laid at the feat of teachers and state bureaucrats, who are living high on the hog off of state dollars. We all know how many teachers vacation on the French Riviera, drive Ferraris, and sport too much bling. It is time our hard earned tax dollars stop supporting such opulence. I mean, they don't even work. If you can't do, teach. I've never seen a teacher work after hours. There aren't extracurricular activities to lead or papers to grade or lessons to plan. They never buy supplies out of their own pockets. Teachers, and all state employees, get paid so much more than people in the private sector. It's highway robbery. These people are a much more appropriate target for our anger than wall street, or companies that move jobs overseas, or people who lower taxes when less revenue is coming in. No, they are right. The financial crisis should be laid at the foot of public employees and their unions. It's all about unions. Let's get rid of them. Let's get rid of teachers while we're at it. Who needs them. We'll home school our kids. Hell, why school them at all. We can send them right to work for next to nothing. Their hours will be so long, we won't have to pay for day care. Employers will have an incentive to keep them in good health. There won't be any need for annoyances like vacation time, overtime, or retirement benefits. I know, this is complete nonsense. A slippery slope to nowhere. But why try reason ... that doesn't seem to be working. Until we can get back to the real issues (how did this situation come about, how cane we avoid having this happen again, what is the prospect for recovery, how can we intelligently reach a compromise approach that looks to the long term) why not join in on the ridiculousness? Maybe it will get so ridiculous that we will be forced to come to our senses. It can't hurt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Kate Fratti, a columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times, always refers to her husband as Husband. As in: “‘Air's too dry,’ I explain to Husband when he comes home from work to find I've turned the kitchen into a Turkish spa.” Or : “In winter, I especially love waking on the morning after a heavy snow to look out a window and see Husband already halfway through shoveling out our cars.” Every time I read a reference to Husband, it strikes me as funny. I want her to write “my husband,” “the Husband,” or “Fred,” but only if “Fred” is his name. When I really think about it, though, her choice of “Husband” isn’t as strange as I initially assumed it to be.

“My husband,” is what pops into my head first as the norm. I certainly talk about “my wife.” It’s a better way of referring to the woman I married, particularly in conversation. It doesn’t seem quite right to say, “Harry, I’d like you to meet Wife.” I don’t usually say “my wife” without throwing in her name. “My wife” all by itself implies a little too much ownership, and too little familiarity. It isn’t as strange in writing, but I could see where Fratti might be uncomfortable with it. It also doesn’t pop out like “Husband.” She could say “my Husband” or even My Husband,” but “Husband” still pops a little more by itself.

“The Husband” is another possibility. It isn’t part of normal parlance, so it has pop. It also, however, sounds a little like a title from an old B-movie. I can just see it in funky colors, and in 3D, surrounded by an explosive boundary, hanging above the picture of a large harry man in a tattered suit, holding a battered briefcase and drooling over large fangs. I can see why Fratti wouldn’t go with this one.

That leaves “Fred.” We all know Fratti’s name, but maybe she doesn’t want us to know Fred’s name. Maybe Fred doesn’t want us to know his name. Maybe he’s afraid everyone would recognize him, and start talking to him about his appearances in her columns. I can’t imagine that doesn’t already happen, but maybe it would happen more. “Fred” also doesn’t have much pop. If “Fred” is “Guillermo,” maybe there would be some pop. Maybe since his name isn’t used, we have to conclude it is more “Fred” than “Guillermo.” Besides, if Fratti used her husband’s name, she’d have to supply a name for Son and Daughter and Dog too.

So maybe, Fratti knows what she’s doing. What is certain, however, is that even little words like “the” and “my” have power. So, choose your words carefully. And read the words of others carefully, even President, Secretary of State, Speaker of the House, and Local Reporter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rick Santorum and Multiculturalism

Rick Santorum believes the multiculturalism is eroding our national identity. That much is clear from the title of the commentary that appeared in my local paper today ( ). After reading the entire piece, that is still really all that is clear to me. I do no know that Santorum's grandfather came from Italy, and not just any old Italy but "Fascist Italy," leaving a stable government job behind to work in the coalmines of western Pennsylvania. I also know that something called "multicultural relativism," has allowed Islamist's to appear within our borders, and I can hazard a guess that Santorum would like us to not really know what he meant by Islamist and assume that it is both sinister and inseparable from Islam as a whole. There is also something we should learn from Europe, even though they are socialists. I'm not, however, at all sure what Santorum means by multiculturalism or national identity, or multicultural relativism or Islamist.

I am sure that what Santorum has here is a polished combination of ignorant sentimentalism, blatant fear mongering, tired stereotyping, and some goofy logic.

First of all, Santorum's comparison of the European experience with multiculturalism (whatever you mean by multiculturalism) to the American experience is simplistic, at best. Santorum quotes British Prime Minister David Cameron: "under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong." European nations have a very different history of immigration than does the United States, one that is made up of a different pool of immigrants, many of whom coming for different reasons and with different future plans. The mixture of men and women is different. The role of colonial history is also different. They are different situations, that should only be compared if these and other factors are going to be considered

Second, the prospect of a Republican borrowing ideas from Europe is a funny one, particularly given the health care debate. It is also really the same dynamic as the health care debate. If the Government gets involved in health care, obviously there is only one way they can get involved and only one result. The same is true of immigration and multiculturalism. There is really only one scenario ... that Rick Santorum can envision or is interested in talking about.

Third, Santorum isn't nearly clear enough, in my opinion, as to the difference between the mutlicultural reality his grandfather contributed to and the one he is ranting against. Is he saying that today's immigrants are willing to work hard? is he saying that they didn't have a legitimate reason to flee to America? Is he saying that the immigrants of today aren't European? Is he saying that the problem is Muslim immigrants? This is a nation built on immigration. He says it is different now because we are emphasizing the many over the one, but it isn't really clear what he means or what we should be doing that we aren't. Do we need to be taking kids away from their families to teach them our ways, as we did with Native American children? Should we pretend that those immigrants immediately learned English and became indistinguishable from the rest of us? Should we pretend that there weren't people like my Great Grandmother, who never learned to speak English (she was Italian too)? Should we pretend that "Islamists" are the only immigrants to ever form an insular community in American history?

Fourth, the not so subtle insinuation that all Muslims are terrorist threats is just plain ignorance. The 'fact' that Muslims insulate themselves from the rest of America would be forgivable given how they have been treated over the last few years, if it were true. Santorum seems to be saying that it is impossible to be Muslim and American, but he won't just come out and say it. He doesn't have the guts or he's smart enough to realize what would happen and to know that all he needs to do is insinuate. By the way, America was not set up to be just a Christian Nation.

Fifth, Obama is not arguing that "America and her ideals and practices are no better than, say, China ... or Saudi Arabia." That is ridiculous. No one is saying that. It should be said, however, that the United States is not the best thing since sliced bread. Look at where we stand in comparison to other places in things like infant mortality or violent crime or education. We aren't number one. Saying we're the greatest doesn't make it so. Saying we need to be more honest about where we stand in comparison to the rest of the world isn't saying that China and Saudi Arabia have equally good legal systems.

Sixth, European leaders have not "had to face up to the devastation caused by socialism and multiculturalism." Where is the proof for that?

This article is nothing substantive. It is a collection of falsehoods, exaggerations, and stereotypes. Unfortunately it is the work of a former Senator who wants to run for President, and it will resonate with a large number of people. That, ultimately, is what I really don't understand.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Herman Cain is Stupid

Herman Cain, a Republican presidential hopeful, said on Monday that: "Stupid people are ruining America." I couldn't agree more, as long as we are defining stupid as "marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting." Stupid people are people who engage their political opponents by calling them stupid. Stupid people refuse to stand up and proclaim that the President of the United States is a citizen and a Christian, and that the Christian part shouldn't matter. Stupid people refuse to recognize when a political opponent does something successfully. Stupid people put the welfare of their political party over the welfare of American citizens. Stupid people mobilize supporters with violent imagery, fear, and hatred. Stupid people pursue legislation that scores political points rather than legislation that solves problems. Stupid people assert play the 'race car' in lieu of presenting logical arguments. Stupid people discount science when it doesn't fit in with their agenda. Stupid people never change their mind on anything. Stupid people aren't, however, people who disagree with you on the issues. Stupid people are people who refuse to engage you in real and substantive discussion with a focus on the substantive goals, an openess to other points of view, a sense of common courtesy, and a realization of the importance of compromise. There are a lot of stupid people in politics and Herman Cain is right that they are ruining this country. The next question is whether Herman is willing to stop.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood and You

The Muslim Brotherhood is causing a great deal of angst in the United States. Politicians and commentators alike are warning of the dire consequences that might come from their involvement in the democratization process in Egypt. Some have even pointed to the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a reason why it would have been better to leave Mubarak in power. Seen in the best light, this commentary is sinister and self serving, meant to create and make use of bogeyman and to justify attacks on the President. The worst case scenario is that it is the product of ugly and unrepentant ignorance.

First of all, everything Islamic is not evil. Just because the group has “Muslim” in their name, doesn’t make them bad. Islam, as a religion, didn’t cause 9/11. Islam isn’t the only religion that has been used to justify horrific acts. Muslims aren’t the only people that put the name of their religion into their organization. Are people up in arms about the Christian Democratic Union? It’s the largest Political Party in Germany. Are we worried about the fate of German democracy?

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood is a non-violent organization. It condemned the 9/11 attacks. It has been criticized by more radical groups for its more moderate stance. The Muslim Brotherhood does want Islam to be the center of political and social and family life in Egypt, and across the Arab and greater Islamic world. That doesn’t, however, make them a terrorist organization. It doesn’t make them a threat to democracy.

Third, Islam is not seen as ‘just’ a religion by Muslims. There is no separation of Church and State in most Muslim countries. Islam provides the basis for law, foreign relations, and social relations. This is not the way we do things, but it is not inherently incompatible with democracy. There is much about Islam that is quite ‘democratic.’ Our way is not the only way when it comes to democracy.

Fourth, there is something that is strange, no … hypocritical, about Republicans criticizing people for bringing religion into politics and not being completely secular. Didn’t the last Republican vice presidential candidate say we have to “turn back to God?” Sarah Palin hasn’t been the only Republican to talk about the United States being a Christian Nation. The idea of religion has intruded so far into politics that are President has to go to great lengths to emphasize his Christianity so that he can counter claims that he is a Muslim and so that he can improve his chances of being re-elected.

Fifth, we can’t go around saying that democracy is great for everyone as long as the people we like are elected. It doesn’t work that way, or at least it shouldn’t. If we want real democracy for Egypt, then we want them to choose their own leaders. Some have been saying, essentially, that it would be better if Mubarak were still in charge, because Egypt isn’t clearly ready to elect leaders we are comfortable with. Democracy doesn’t work that way. Leaders are elected in the United States that I’m not comfortable with. That’s democracy. It can be messy, especially at first. It’s about choice, and that is always messy. Plus, one beautiful thing about democracy is that once elected, those that are elected are restrained by the responsibilities of governance. The bottom line, for me, is as much as I detest the Tea Party and what they stand for (or don’t stand for), I wouldn’t want China telling us that they shouldn’t be elected because of their religious connections and violent predispositions, and if we did elect them they might have to reexamine their trade relationship with us. If we promote democracy in the world, we have to live with its consequences out there, just as we do here at home.

Lastly, it is important for us to take each situation and judge it on its own merits. Cal Thomas compared the Islamic Brotherhood to Castro. That is silly. Egypt in 2011 is not Cuba in 1959. It also isn’t Iran or Saudi Arabia or any other place. It’s Egypt. Egypt where there are other political players and a strong and well respected military. The Muslim Brotherhood, similarly, is a unique organization that deserves to be judged on its’ own merits. It might not be our first choice for leadership in Egypt, but it isn't yet Egyptians' first choice either. Also it isn't a monolith, but an organization of people who often pull in different directions. Basically, if you are going to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, you should take the time to learn about it. If all you’re trying to do is make use of them as a bogeyman, you shouldn’t talk … maybe about anything.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

WTF - Michele Bachman

Michele Bachman is outraged that Michelle Obama has too many l's in her name. Just kidding. She is actually outraged that she would dare to promote breast feeding. Plus, the IRS is going to give a deduction for nursing supplies that aid in breast feeding. Apparently, this is a travesty. I think the l's thing would have made more sense. Bachman says these atrocities are consistent with "where the hard left was coming from," and evidence of the "nanny state." I'm not sure why the name calling is necessary. I'm also not sure why the government is either telling us how to live our lives or letting the free market reign supreme. Why is there no middle ground? Why can't we admit the obvious, some things don't happen unless the government gets involved. Why can't we also admit that when people eat too much, smoke, etc. they cost us all more money in health insurance premiums, productivity, etc. Why can't we admit that when people do things to improve their health (eating well, breast feeding) we all benefit. Why can't we admit that not everyone is aware or able to take advantage of everything that would be of benefit to them. Government shouldn't be involved anytime the collective good is hurt by individual decisions, or anytime people can't or don't do what is best for them, but sometimes it should and much of the time the question of whether the government should be involved is a legitimate one that should be the subject of real discussion, rather than a an opportunity for insults and platitudes. Maybe the Government shouldn't be encouraging healthy eating in schools and breast feeding, but it surely doesn't seem like the worst thing government could do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adult Conversation

Today, President Obama asked for an adult conversation on the financial issues facing the country. He said that he hopes that "we [can] have an adult conversation where everybody says, 'Here's what's important and here's how we pay for it.'" He also said, "I expect that all sides will have to do a little bit of posturing on television and speak to their constituencies, and rally the troops and so forth. But ultimately, what we need is a reasonable, responsible and initially, probably, somewhat quiet and toned-down conversation about ... where can we compromise and get something done. I'm confident that will be the spirit that congressional leaders take over the coming months."

I hate to disagree with the President, but I'm not so confident that there will be a quiet, adult conversation on the budget. We need it, but I'm not sure we're going to get it. I also am not willing to concede the necessity of "posturing" for "constituencies" and "rallying" of the "troops." I think the troops and the constituencies ought to be smarter than that. I don't have any more faith than the President does that the use of fear and hate and finger pointing and the like will stop, but I would add something. I don't think it will stop ... as long as us troops accept it. If we demand serious, honest, and constructive talk, to us, then we are more likely to get it from our elected leaders when they have to talk to one another. The quiet constructive conversation that Obama is looking for starts with people that aren't going to be a part of it ... you and me. So, if that is what you want, then write you representative and let him or her know that's what you want. Let them know that if you don't get it you won't vote for them. If we make those claims, and back them up, then they'll listen, maybe even to each other.

Monday, February 14, 2011

WTF winner - Bucks County Courier Times

The Bucks County Courier Times is having a contest for Presidents Day. They are asking folks to go to their website and vote for their favorite and least favorite President. I voted for FDR and George W. Bush. I'll let you guess which one was my most favorite. So far the runaway winner for favorite is Ronald Reagan, with 48% of the vote. The leading least favorite President is Barack Obama with 57% of the vote.

It's not a stunning result. We just passed what would have been Reagan's 100th birthday, and the papers were full of articles about him. Reagan has benefited from the passage of time. We have forgotten about trickle down economics and Iran-Contra. We have been willing to overlook the structural causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and give a comical amount of credit to his high defense spending and his "take down that wall" line. We have been willing to overlook his administration's role in the Iran Iraq war and supporting murderous dictators and rebel groups in Africa and elsewhere. Suprisingly, given the after effects of deregulation that we have been feeling, we have been willing to overlook Reagan's role as the instigator for the movement that has left us unprotected from corporate greed on Wall Street, in the Gulf, and elsewhere. Obama has not been able to benefit from any time passage. He also has the misfortune of being Black and having the name Obama. He has also been the focus of a surprising amount of hate and fear mongering. He has also had the habit of making decisions that make no one happy.

The results of the poll are not at all surprising, and really pretty meaningless. What bothers me is the question itself. Why ask for a least favorite President. What does that accomplish? In this climate, any half way conscious person would know that this would become an opportunity for folks to take shots at Obama. The problem with this political climate is that our focus is on what we hate and fear, rather than what we like and value. If you are going to ask for a least favorite president, why not require an explanation. Then, at least, people would have to give a reason for their choice. I would talk about wars that we were unprepared for, torture, a climate of fear, a tarnished image internationally, a questionable approach to education, etc.

I would prefer, however, if they had just asked for people to nominate their favorite President and at least encouraged people to provide justification for their choices. That would be interesting and affirming. That would be something that was in line with celebrating a holiday, and would be more apt to bring people together rather than pushing them further apart.

In the end though, only so much blame can be placed on the paper. It is us, all of us, that fail to take the paper to task, that fail to take our lawmakers to task, that fail to make it clear that we won't tolerate negativity, nastiness, fear mongering, etc. Unlitmately, this is on us. For now, however, I give the WTF award to the Bucks County Courier Times.

WTF winner - Ann Coulter

In honor of Grammy and Oscar, for the rest of the month of February I will give my own awards. Each weekday I will award a WTF winner. The award is named in honor of Sarah Palin, and will be given to the person who makes comments that are least likely to lead to collaboration or the solving of any problems. Essentially, this is an award for politicians and others who are making arguments that are supported by fallacies (appeals to anger and fear, personal attacks, straw men, etc.).

The first WTF award goes to Ann Coulter. Her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was a real winner.

"Here's a lesson of history: Do not allow Democrats anywhere near foreign policy. Not even to keep them away from domestic policy. It's a mistake to ask those who don't even like democracy to defend it." This is awesome. Democrats don't like Democracy. The opposition aren't real Americans. It is an attack that is almost too common these days, but Ann delivers it with such style.

"The big news this week is liberals favor democracy in the Middle East ... Liberals could not have been less interested in democracy when we were taking out the guy who gassed his neighbors…when we went to take out Saddam Hussein." Out comes the "Liberal" tag. Name calling is a sure way to be considered for a WTF, and Ann does it with panache. Damn those liberals for opposing the War in Iraq because it was spreading democracy. And of course Bush invaded Iraq only to spread democracy and because he gassed his neighbors. I wonder if that is why America supported Saddam for decades.

"But now liberals are shocked and appalled to discover there's a dictator in the Middle East." We have those nasty liberals again, and man are they slow. Republicans have known there was a dictator in Egypt for a long time, as Ann goes on to say, they kind of liked him there. Of course, every administration (Republican and Democrat) in my memory has supported him, but we won't talk about that because that gets in the way of the blame game.

"It's not as clear what the outcome is in Egypt. It was clear in Iraq and we had American servicemen there to ensure it went accurately ... Iraq and Iran are very similar because their people are sane, their leaders are insane, in the latter case you don't want to take out sane leaders and allow democracy in. In Iran there had been an election, the moderates won and Ahmadinejad stole the election, there hasn't been an election in Egypt. Why do we want to be stirring up trouble in that country? We can't do that in every country… you don't go around disturbing countries where you have a loyal ally." I'm confused now. Democracy is great, except where the dictator has been a loyal ally? Democracy is only necessary where the leaders are insane? Democracy is only OK if we can guarantee that people we like will win the election? Are insane leaders the ones that don't say nice things about us or the ones that don't do what we want them to? I wonder why there is distrust of America among the people of the middle East.

Coulter said that Obama has turned over "our entire health care system to the DMV." That one kind of speaks for itself. It is a little inadequate though. Where is the reference to Stalin?

"Liberals want to use gays as a cat's paw to attack the family because liberals want families destroyed… because then you have loyalty directly to the state." Fear. That's all that needs to be said. Ann wants you to be afraid. Those liberals are going to destroy families. They are also out to take away your pets and your country music.

Anyway, that is plenty. Congratulations Ann. WTF!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ileana Ros-Lehtinene and the Muslim Brotherhood

Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has urged "the unequivocal rejection of any involvement by the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremists" in the transition of power in Egypt. Egyptians should reject those who "seek to exploit and hijack these events to gain power, oppress the Egyptian people, and do great harm to Egypt's relationship with the United States, Israel, and other free nations," she said.

This is and ignorant and unfortunate stance. First of all, the last thing the United States should be doing is to be publicly telling Egyptians who should and should not be involved in their government. Second, every group with "Muslim" in their name is not evil. The Muslim Brotherhood officially opposes violence as a means to achieving it's goals. It has been criticized by more radical Muslims. It has said it would not force women to cover themselves in public if it were to take power. It has been working with groups across the political spectrum in Egypt. Thirdly, whether we like it or not, it will be a player in the transition in Egypt. It would seem smart to accept that fact and move on. Fourth, often the best way to deal with groups that may have more radical tendencies is to give them a share of the responsibility of governing.

Basically, the last thing we should do is unequivocally reject the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood. That would be stupid. Frankly, I'd rather have the Muslim Brotherhood involved in shaping the future of Egypt than Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.

The world's worst reason for pregnancy

Jeanne Sager, a blogger for the Stir, claims that Katie Holmes has offered the world's worst reason for pregnancy. What is this horrible reason? In Katie Holmes words, "Suri would love a brother or sister to play with. I think it would be good for her. It’s hard to say no to her." Why is this a horrible reason? Because Sager has chosen to have only one child and has this line of logic thrown in her face quite often when people find out she has only one child.

Sager has every reason to be upset about being questioned by friends and strangers alike about her decision to have one child, especially since the supposed desires of that one child are being used against her. She and her husband made a decision based on real and viable reasons: a happy one child childhood, problems in pregnancy, money issues.

Sager has no justification for turning around and critiquing other people's reasoning for their decisions regarding children. My wife and I wanted to give our daughter a sibling. We thought that was important, despite a tight financial reality and a rough experience with pregnancy. We also both wanted at least two children and my wife wanted one boy and one girl. So there were other reasons, as I am sure there are in the case of Katie Holmes. I doubt she is procuring a baby for her daughter in the way that she would procure a toy, as Sager alleges. Also, while Sager is right that kids don't have to bear the responsibilities of additional children, they certainly are impacted by the decision and their interests ought to be considered. And again, no one is letting a little girl make this decision.

What Sager does her is create a straw man, a wildly exaggerated argument, in order to attack a celebrity who makes an easy target because of her husband and his antics and religion. She is taking the anger she has regarding how her decision has been viewed, and working it out by attacking someone else and their decision. She isn't evil for doing it. Most of us have done it. It's often difficult for all of us to get past our own insecurities and be objective. It is, however, worth trying to do.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Voter Intelligence

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that "Democrats continue to underestimate the intelligence and memory of the American voter." He might be right. A stronger argument, however, could be made that lately, the Republican Party has assumed either that the American voter has no intelligence or that an intelligent voter wouldn't support their positions, because they have done very little appealing to intelligence. Failing to actively denounce those who question the President's religion or citizenship is not an appeal to logic, it is a hope that this fear and anger, left unopposed, will work in their favor. Talking of death panels and homosexuality in the health care debate is not an appeal to intelligence, it is a blatant appeal to fear. Talk of big government, without any real detail, is not a strategy developed with the supreme intelligence of the American people in mind. Promises not to raises taxes in the midst of massive budget shortfalls, coupled with promises to continue programs that cost money, is just a lie. Is lying to someone how you show appreciation for their intelligence? Of course, given the choices we have made, I suppose you can't blame the Republicans. They actually have the smarter approach. Why underestimate someone's intelligence, when you think you can depend on it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Animals aren't people too

I love animals. I have always had pets, and always will, as long as my amazingly tolerant wife never makes me choose between having pets in the house and having her. I recognize, however, that my cat is not the same as my kid. Animals aren't people. People are more important. That isn't to say they should be allowed to be mistreated, it is just to say that there are other considerations which may limit how much the treatment of animals should approximate the treatment of people. Also, there should be limits to our reaction to cruelty towards animals.

In Canada, 100 sled dogs were brutally murdered by a dog tour company. They were actually slaughtered. It is a horrendous case. It doesn't, however, mean there should be no sled rides for tourists. It just means you shouldn't be able to brutally slaughter your sled dogs when they are no longer needed.

An animal rights group in Pennsylvania is trying to buy Michael Vick's house and turn it into a rehabilitation center for abused dogs. This is just a silly waste of a lot of money. What's the point of this? To further punish someone who has already been punished? To raise awareness? Is it really more effective than printing a brochure or naming an award or even the center after Vick? Does targeting Vick really help, especially when he is already working to spread the message that what he did to dogs was wrong?

Animals are important, but that importance does not exist in a vacuum. There are other considerations to take into account, like profit, wastefulness, the proper functioning of our legal system, etc. Animals aren't people too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Larry Pastor - Hate, Hyperbole, and Histrionics

Larry Pastor resides in the Neshaminy School District, and has decided to speak his mind about the ongoing contract negotiations between the teachers union and the school board. He has his own political action committee (Taxpayers for a Fair Neshaminy School District Budget)and his own website ( He also has an approach that relies upon name calling, fear mongering, and intimidation.

I have children, one of whom will be starting Kindergarten in the Neshaminy School District in the fall. Nonetheless, I have not paid much more than cursory attention to the labor dispute with the teachers. I have read the articles that appear in the paper, and talked to friends, but not tried to do any real research into the issues. I don't honestly know if Larry Pastor's substantive arguments, wherever they may be, have any real weight. I don't care. What I care about is his approach. When people approach serious problems in the way that Larry Pastor does, with no apparent interest in compromise or common courtesy, I don't care what he's saying. I can't support him. I strongly believe that how we make our arguments is as important as what we say. The solution to most problems require a willingness to compromise, listen, and be something close to respectful. Larry Pastor shows none of this.

When the school board president said his message might be overhsadowed by his delivery. And also said the following: "[h]e does come with what I would consider a great business attitude ... the biggest concern is that he might come on too strong and would alienate our teachers. Ultimately, when this dispute is resolved, we would like to have peace and harmony. I am always concerned that when he or others say something at the meetings that it would be construed as a personal attack. Although I don't believe he's ever meant to do this, sometimes the verbiage could come across that way." I read this and I knew what to expect from Larry Pastor. The school board president is using Larry Pastor as his pit bull. Larry Pastor says the things that the school board president couldn't in a way that he couldn't, and the school board president can keep his distance from crazy Larry.

A visit to his web site did not disappoint. He calls the teachers union, "self interested," which is just kind of silly. Of course they are self interested, why wouldn't they be? Isn't that their job? Aren't teachers allowed to have their own interests? Calling them "self interested" is just a bit of poisoning of the old well, with a trace of hyperbole.

He talks about teachers "affluent lifestyle." I am sure teachers eat caviar and drive Rolls Royces. This is just a transparent attempt to play the old blame the elite/they aren't like us ordinary folks game.

He says "Teachers' Unions are on the run but have no place to hide. Even their once 100% NEA-AFT OWNED DEMOCRAT politicians, maybe even the head union man, Obama himself, are publicly running away from them as fast as they can." This is just silly name calling. 100% owned? Who is really 100% owned by a teachers union? Obama is the head union man? Is this an official title?

"Go here to read critiques of Obama's SOTU address statements on Education reform. HE UTTERED NOT A WORD ABOUT HIS BFFs, and biggest union PAC contributors to his 2008-12 campaigns-- the NEA and THE AFT." Bff's? Really? Using texting lingo doesn't make it a serious comment.

Larry Pastor refers to "obscenely excessive NFT labor contract." That's fine and dandy, but I'm a stick in the mud and I'd like to know what made the contract "obscenely excessive."

Larry Pastor frames this as taxpayers and the board versus the teachers union, as if the other side of the debate doesn't pay taxes. It's an attempt to cast the other side of the debate as the 'other.' If you disagree with me, you are less than a full citizen. This is an old and tired argument, and certainly not conducive to anything but alienating the opposition and galvanizing your own supporters around fear and anger.

I could keep doing this, but I think you get the point. I am not really a fan of teacher's unions, although I do believe that teacher's are generally under appreciated and not given as much space to look after their own interests as other professionals. I certainly am not saying that the School Board is wrong in playing hardball. Larry Pastor might indeed be right, but it really doesn't matter. Right or wrong, this approach to serious problems can't be tolerated. How we say things matters ... and that is something well worth practicing, preaching, and even teaching.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Who do you blame and why?

A sports radio personality left this as a teaser before he broke away to commercial: "who do you blame and why?" This is wonderful. It sums up the basic problem with American politics. This is the question that too many of us seek the answer to, and too many politicans are all too eager to answer. Lost your job ... blame illegal immigrants, heartless corporations, or China. Annoyed with security measures in airports ... blame weak kneed liberals, Muslims, or angry conservatives. About to lose your home ... blame greedy wall street types or Obama. Unsettled by the protests in Egypt ... blame Obama. Angry with your general lot in life ... blame Obama and the Liberals. Angry about just about anything and make less than $100,000 or style yourself a 'self-made man' ... blame the 'elites.' Damn it, someone is to blame and assessing blame is easier than doing something about whatever was wrong in the first place.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Step aside Mubarak, Kenneth Cole is to blame!

Kenneth Cole tweeted a joke. It wasn’t that funny. That’s pretty much the whole story, or at least it should be. He, or someone signing off as K.C., said "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” It was a joke. Perhaps insensitive, but not repulsive. Surely not contributing to the “uproar.” For me, anyway, not something that changes my opinion of Kenneth Cole. It isn’t even necessary to mention the good things that the company does. It was a joke. Sometimes, a joke is just a joke, or at least it should be.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Christian President

Today, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama gave a speech that touched on his own beliefs. He's a Christian who prays every day, or at least that's what he says. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, twenty percent of my fellow Americans don't believe him. I'm sure, if they heard this speech, they thought he sounded more forced and insincere than he normally does. I'm sure they were unconvinced by bible quotes and talk of waiting on the lord every morning and night. I'm sure they think he is a Muslim. I'm sure a lot of them think it matters. I don't. I believe all that stuff about freedom of religion and separation of church and state. I would gladly elect a Muslim, if he or she was the most qualified candidate. I don't think this is a Christian nation, because then it wouldn't be a nation for all of it's citizens. I don't think it's very Christian to call America a Christian nation, spread rumors about the President being a Muslim, think that someone's religion disqualifies them from serving their country, or generally use religion as a cover for racism, generalized bigotry, naked opportunism, and hate. Maybe I'm not much of an American.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sugar, Cigarettes, Autism, and the Search for Logic

It is useful to remember that people aren't always logical. None of us is always logical. Part of the problem is that most of us don't know when we're not being logical. We may be fixated on the short term. We may be too angry or afraid. Logic may have gone in the opposite direction from our experience and/or interests. We may not want to know where logic leads. The other part of the problem, is a good number of us don't take kindly to being told that we are behaving illogically.

I could walk across the street and tell the three young people (one almost out of high school and the other too not out too long) who take turns smoking on their front porch, even in the midst of the snowiest winter on record, that taking up smoking now makes very little sense from almost every perspective. They probably wouldn't be receptive. They probably aren't interested in hearing about how the confluence of the growing understanding of how dangerous cigarettes are with the growing stigmatization that accompanies cigarette smoking and the fact that a carton now costs more than a nice dinner for two makes taking up cigarettes seem pretty stupid. None of the three of them would seem to be thinking very logically, and none is likely to do so any time soon.

I could stop pouring spoonfuls of sugar on my cereal every morning. I could stop eating onions and hot sauce, and giving mys self nasty acid reflux. I could remember to take the two or three steps my dentist wants me to take to make sure I keep healthy teeth. It would be logical to do these things. I know that my health suffers when I don't. I still don't. It might be laziness or inertia. It might be a lack of self control. It might be that my mother scooped sugar on everything. Whatever it is, it is and I'm not behaving logically.

Parents could believe the almost universal scientific consensus that there is no link between vaccines and autism. They could, but parents have a lot of fear and anger connected to the health of their children. Autism is a very real, very scary, and not very well understood thing, which most of us have some experience with. Polio or the measles are largely outside our realm of experience, and about as scary as the Black Plague. Many of us don't really know how vaccines are developed or readied for use. Many of us don't know about the mountain of scientific evidence disproving the one study that was faked by a doctor with a serious conflict of interest. We have a lot of very powerful reasons for denying the truth.

I could continued listing examples for some time. The truth is pretty clear. Humans don't always behave logically. Spreading awareness of this fact is the first step towards compensating for this truth ... the first step towards helping logic to triumph in spite of us.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The free market

The free market is like an open relationship. It seems good in the abstract, but in reality something is missing. Something like security, trust, happiness, or some protection of your interests. Some things have to be regulated. Most things have to be regulated. That is where the government comes in. The financial crisis we just lived through, or the oil rig we just watched explode all over our beaches, should be all the evidence we need of the importance of putting some restraints on a free market. If you need more, we could talk about child labor, divorced wives left completely destitute at the whim of their husbands, rat droppings in your food, chemical sludge in your rivers, or indentured servitude. The market is a wonderful thing, like relationships, but in order to function satisfactorily there needs to be a little less than complete 'freedom.'