Obama’s Lack of Clarity

Such things as the followings show the clear weakness of Obama.  I think he is being genuine in seeking bipartisanship, but he does it by sacrificing any clear communication of facts and principles.  That said, I prefer Obama’s preference of thoughtfully seeking a middle ground as compared to the superficial and anti-intellectual bluster of recent conservatives (Bush jr, Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, etc.). 

However, Obama does come off as very weak when he dismisses the Dalai Lama in order to seek the compliance of the Chinese which is one of the most oppressive governments in the world.  Obama was the first president to refuse to see the Dalai Lama.  I’ll never forget that act of moral weakness.  I’ll give Obama the opportunity to prove himself politically, but from a moral perspective he has shown himself to be just another politician.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,529850,00.html

Contrast that with Mr. Obama’s recent statement, in an interview with a Nevada newspaper, that Reagan offered a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan’s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?

For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.

Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the US economy — but not on Reagan’s watch.

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Racism, Conservatism, and Code words

Here is some interesting commentary on the use of racism by conservative politicians.

Krugman says that he doesn’t think most conservative politicians are racist or even care much about the race issue, but they do realize many of their base is racist and/or cares about the race issue.  Because overt racism stopped being acceptable, conservative politicians just started using code words.  I’ve noticed a number of commentaries recently pointing out how Reagan became president by provoking racism.  So, racism is apparently a major reason for how the Republican party held so much power in the last several decades.  Only now is racism as a ploy becoming less effective because the younger generations (that have become an increasing voting force) are the complete opposite of racist and also because whites are losing their majority position.

Conservatism and Labor Unions

I was thinking again about the death of conservatism.  I’ve written about it twice before.

Conservatism: is it dead yet?

Re: Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?

The reason I was thinking about it is because I was watching the PBS interview Moyer did with Tanenhaus which I wrote about in the first post above.  There is a lot of insight in that interview.  Tanenhaus has helped me understand conservatism better than any other person.

In the second post I linked above, I discussed William F. Buckley Jr. as an example of the intellectuals who used to be central to the Republican party… before the GOP gave into anti-intellectual tendencies.  I noticed something that Tanenhaus said about Buckley in the PBS interview.  He talked about how in the 1950s Buckley preached about the supremacy of white culture, but later on regretted this and wished he had focused more on civil rights.  As I understand it, he came to realize the divisiveness in his party was a political deadend.

I want to point out that Moyer interviews two others in the second part of the same show.  He talks with Michael Zweig and Bill Fletcher about labor unions.  Combined with Tanenhaus’ commentary, this show of Moyer’s offers perspective on understanding how politics has come to this point.  The labor unions as real forces of change were broken 60 yrs ago, and so now the working class projects their anger and bitterness at scapegoats because there isn’t anyone to represent them. 

Sadly, as Thomas Frank explains (Thomas Frank on Glenn Beck, Conservatism and Kansas) the working class end up attacking those who could best represent them and align themselves with those who don’t have their best interests in mind.  We today enjoy the benefits of the labor movement (8 hrs working days, weekends off, overtime pay, living wages, social security, etc.), but we’ve come to take these benefits for granted and have forgotten that people in the past fought hard for them.  The working class is now manipulated in this country by the fear-mongering and conspiracy theorizing of the likes of Glenn Beck.  Either Zweig or Fletcher talked about how Palin used the term “working class” more than Obama, but her use of it is narrow and stereotypical.  Palin is using it as a codeword for “white culture” rather than using it to refer to the poor of all races.

What is lost in the politics of today is the fact that the GOP used to be the party of civil rights, used to be the party of more than just “white culture”.  And Democrats have failed as well in their own way (which is explained well by Thomas Frank and is also explained well from a different perspective by George Lakoff).

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 11/30/09

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/science/earth/30agency.html?th&emc=th

A government agency that is either corrupt or ineffective.  Doesn’t that describe most of the government?  The only good thing about government is that it occasionally protects us from the even greater danger of big business… that is when it’s not in bec with big business.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703499404574557583017194444.html?mod=djemEditorialPage#articleTabs%3Darticle

Here is another depressing article.  It’s criticizing global warming science.  There might be some truth to what the article claims, but I have my doubts.  It comes off sounding like conspiracy theorizing and political spin.  Republicans have been attacking science for years.  Given a choice between the GOP and scientists, I’d trust the latter any day.  Yes, corruption and bias can be found in all organizations, but at least science has a methodology of weeding it out over time.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/29/AR2009112902014.html

On a slightly happier note, here is a criticism of the constant bickering and polemics of conservatives (for example, see previous article).  The Republican Jim Leach (from Iowa) makes a stand against the divisive factors influencing the Republican party during a time when other Republican politicians are afraid to demand intelligent and fair discussion of real issues.  Most Republicans seem to think that attacking others with embittered rants and name-calling will somehow distract the public from the failure of Republican policies and the party’s lack of vision.  Sadly, they’re wrong and in all honesty there are probably other Republicans like Leach who know the GOP has lost its way.

I really loved this comment to the article because it concisely states many facts.  This commenter is apparently very informed as she even mentions the “crush of people pounding on the glass walls of an office where votes were being counted, all identified as tax paid republican congressional staffers, brought down to pretend to be Florida citizens”.  American democracy was nearly dealt a death blow the day Bush jr was “elected”.

dutchess2 wrote:
It didn’t happen overnight.

I remember when Ronald Reagan made the centerpiece of his campaign one of hatred for other Americans, his war on poor black women he called welfare queens…AND GOT ELECTED FOR IT!

I can remember when this country financed its own wars, a super highway system, and its own Great Society with safety nets for its citizens because people paid a fair share of taxes.

I can remember when republicans mounted hate campaigns for people who were not as religious as they, veterans, women who wanted equal rights, Native Americans to get Thune elected, Hispanics, blacks, whole administrations when the POTUS would not even meet with leaders of black organizations. I can remember when Ohio’s Bush Partner was also the Secretary of State, people in black precincts waiting 8 hours to vote, some had to give up and pick up the kids or get to work, denied their vote. I can remember the felon’s list in Florida. I can remember the whole of a state government turned to denying its people’s vote because the republican candidate was his brother; I can remember a crush of people pounding on the glass walls of an office where votes were being counted, all identified as tax paid republican congressional staffers, brought down to pretend to be Florida citizens; I can remember when the supreme court decided that George Bush would be ‘irreparably harmed’ if the votes were counted….because as appointees of his father, they knew he would lose. I can remember a terrible scathing report that John McCain fathered a black child, that his wife was a druggy, and that he was damaged goods for his five years in captivity – a whispering campaign from George Bush and the so called men of God who used their phone banks to spread rumors behind McCain’s back.

No, several generations of republicans have turned their backs on the voters, subscribed to the fringe elements, and spewed hate.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/29/AR2009112902935.html?wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter

The only thing that Republicans like to attack more than Democrats is other Republicans.  At least, the Republicans are amusing in their paranoid demand for “purity”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/opinion/30douthat.html?th&emc=th

Generational cohorts respond differently to economic hard times.  It’s interesting the reasons for why generations respond conservatively or liberally.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1245/gen-next-squeezed-recession-most-see-better-times-ahead

The young generation have been hit the hardest by economic difficulties.  For this reason and others, they’re very liberal on most issues.  However, it’s hard to determine the overall view.  The younger generation isn’t more liberal on the issue of social safety nets which is quite telling as that is a rather central issue which personally impacts them (or will in their immediate future).  Also, they strongly believe the government is effective in regulating (and surprisingly GenX strongly believes this as well as compared to the older generations).  But even so they’re the least Republican of the present generational cohorts.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/generation-next/demographic/climate_09-18.html

The younger generation is more convinced of global warming.  That is important to keep in mind.  As they inherit the older generations problems, the younger generation is the only demographic that has a vested interest in caring about the future of the evironment.  Also, I always wonder about the young generations optimism.  Will it hold up as they age?  Growing up as a cynical GenXer, I have a hard time relating to such hopefulness about the future.

http://people-press.org/report/300/a-portrait-of-generation-next

This is an overview of the young generation.  The following quote stood out to me.

More than two-thirds see their generation as unique and distinct, yet not all self-evaluations are positive. A majority says that “getting rich” is the main goal of most people in their age group, and large majorities believe that casual sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and violence are more prevalent among young people today than was the case 20 years ago.

The negative self-evaluation doesn’t sound correct.  As far as I know, the statistics are actually very low for these kinds of behaviors.  I do specifically remember that teen sex rates are lowest they’ve been in a while, and I do recall seeing data about this generation being non-violent.  I also remember an article discussing how this generation has accepted their parents assessment of them that they’re self-centered, but the actual data show that they’re more focused on others than their parents.  They value family more, they value their peers more, they value cooperation and egalitarianism, they’re politically active, and they volunteer at high rates.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/patchworknation/#

The PBS Patchwork Nation is an insightful way to look at US demographics. 

I live in Johnson county, IA which PBS labels as Campus and Careers.  This type of community is more liberal and secular than most of the country.  Such communities are scattershot across the nation, only found in around half of the states, and they don’t represent too many large areas of population.  Highly educated populations aren’t the norm in America.  Johnson County has a population that is almost entirely highschool graduates with half of the population as college graduates.  I’ve read in the past that this community is the highest educated per capita in the US. 

Johnson County is a cluster of similar communities in Eastern Iowa, Southern Wisconsin, and Western Indiana which all are clustered around many such communities in Illinois.  Illinois has more such communities than any other state.  We Midwesterners are the hub of America’s liberal education.  Actually, the whole NorthWestern sector of the US has the highest concentration of these secular and liberal communities and for whatever reason. 

The Evangelical South (including many of the Bible Belt strongholds) is largely lacking in these communities (I went to highscholl in SC and they have none).  There is a large swath West of central US that is almost entirely empty of secular liberalism (and I presume this correlates with these areas being largely rural with low levels of higher education).  This wasteland (of rural religious right?) starts with many of the Southern states (most obviously Texas and it’s neighbors) curves up through Mormon territory and ends with many of the states bordering Canada.

Another interesting thing the map shows is that the West coast has few of these liberal and secular communities, but the ones they have are very large communities.  The West Coast intelligentsia prefer to group together in high concentrations whereas the Midwestern/Northeastern intelligentsia prefers to be spread out in smaller communities.  I wonder if that implies that the smaller scattered communities are more integrated with the populations that they’re a part of.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/science/dna/timeline_flash.html

This last link has no relation to the other topics I was reading about, but it intrigued me.  I like this map showing the migration of the human species.

O’Reilly the Wily Inciter

Bill O’Reilly is morally corrupt.  He incited the terrorist assasination of Dr. Tiller.  Anyone who doesn’t understand this obvious fact, either lacks rationality or morality.

Yes, people have a right to free speech.  But such freedoms are dependent on being used responsibly.  There are various scenarios where the justification of free speech doesn’t apply.  Yelling fire in a crowded theater is one and inciting violence is another.  It’s true that O’Reilly treaded the edge of inciting violence, but I think it’s clear he went too far.  He called Tiller a “baby killer” many times and he had been attacking Tiller for years.

O’Reilly said that the reason other doctors won’t perform late term abortions is because they know the fetus is a life.  No, the reason they won’t is because they’re afraid for their lives.  Dr. Tiller had survived an assasination attempt years before.  He drove an armored vehicle and wore a bullet-proof vest.  Dr. Tiller lived in fear for his life.  The violence of anti-abortion activists is rampant.  There is good reason to be afraid.

Knowing the violence against Dr. Tiller and knowing the atmosphere of violence, O’Reilly continued to incite violence and has since refused to take responsibility.  O’Reilly said Dr. Tiller had blood on his hands, was a baby killer and executed babies, operated a death mill, and must be stopped.  In light of all of this, how can O’Reilly or anyone else be surprised by the inevitable results?

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/05/31/tiller/

On June 12, 2007, he said, “Yes, I think we all know what this is. And if the state of Kansas doesn’t stop this man, then anybody who prevents that from happening has blood on their hands as the governor does right now, Governor Sebelius.”Three days later, he added, “No question Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands. But now so does Governor Sebelius. She is not fit to serve. Nor is any Kansas politician who supports Tiller’s business of destruction. I wouldn’t want to be these people if there is a Judgment Day. I just — you know … Kansas is a great state, but this is a disgrace upon everyone who lives in Kansas. Is it not?”

http://www.theweek.com/article/index/97242/Bill_OReilly_vs_George_Tiller

Bill O’Reilly constantly draws lines between entertainers and the behavior of their fans, said David Knowles in Politics Daily, especially when he’s venting against gangsta rap. O’Reilly “never actually directed anybody to go out and shoot” Tiller. But it’s certainly fair to ask whether he incited the likes of Scott Roeder by accusing Tiller of “executing babies” and running a Nazi-style “death mill.”

Going by O’Reilly’s own logic, a case is easily made linking O’Reilly inciting of violence to the actual violence incited.

Some argue that the killing was justified since, as O’Reilly said repeatedly, Dr. Tiller was a “baby killer”.   There are two responses to this.  First, abortion is legal and assasinations are illegal.  Second, late-term abortions are only legal when the mother’s health or life is threatened.  No one is advocating late-term abortions for anyone who happens to want it.  And all of those who argue that late-term abortions are never morally justified must be ignorant of the facts. 

Let me use the very example that O’Reilly used.  He interviewed a woman who had an abortion by Dr. Tiller when she was 13.  The girl was on O’Reilly’s show because she regretted it.  Did O’Reilly think to interview Dr. Tiller, some other abortion doctor, or a medical expert about the specifics of this case?  Nope.  Because of O’Reilly’s shoddy reporting, I can only guess about this woman’s case.  The most obvious possibility is that young girls aren’t fully developed and it can be a severe health risk for them to try to carry a fetus to full-term and give birth.  Who would advocate for the future potential life of a fetus at the risk of the future potential death of the mother?

Dr. Tiller saw his work as a moral obligation.  It was his moral strength that helped him to continue despite his very real fears.  He was his purpose as helping women.  You may disagree with individual decisions he made about specific cases, but the inciting of violence is unforgivable.

According to the Nation Abortion Federation, Dr. Tiller is the 8th doctor to be killed by anti-abortion activists and there are another 17 who have been targeted.

Future of Family Values

I was checking out the comments on an article I recently posted about (The Religious Wars).  I noticed the following comment which is typical of a certain religious attitude.

Sir:

I think that you have written an excellent article on the evolution of religion and one that I enjoyed,

I am an evangelical fundamentalist who takes the Bible as the inspired word of God as He is revealed in the scriptures. That leads me to treat all men with tolerance and to know that I do not hold all the answers.

I find that the one truth in the Bible that holds the most hope for the future is that of the need for strong families. Using grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and the like as role models grounded in faith will solve a number of problems in our nation.

A feeling of family as opposed to a feeling of “I” will make abortion, gay marriage and other questions not so polarizing.

Thank you again for a wonderful read.

— Tom

What stood out to me is that this belief is based on a hope rather than on any facts.  A simple perusal of demographic data shows that the Bible Belt is one of the highest concentrations of immoral behavior.  Many have pointed out (including myself in several other posts) that there is no clear correlation between ideological moralizing and moral behavior, and my guess is that the more ideological the moralizing the less moral the behavior..

Specifically, the emphasis on family caught my attention with the above comment. 

Boomers are known as the Me generation which is largely true, but this misses the larger view.  Their youthful transgressions of “immoral” behavior (drugs, free love, etc.) led to a backlash, but the backlash came from within the Boomer generation and not outside of it.  The Boomers did two things: (1) they focused their self-interest towards money and materialism instead of mere pleasure and freedom, (2) they supported a major uprising of the Evangelical Right.  Before the Boomers, the GOP was the party of civil rights (e.g., Marin Luther King, jr.) and Evangelism was the religious movement of civil rights.  But with Reagan GOP became the party of big business and Evangelical Christianity became righteously ethnocentric.  An ideological shift happened in politics and the Boomers added a dimension of ideological polarization.  This strange Boomer-caused phenomenon lasted for almost a half century.

However, we are now again at the beginning of a new era.  Supposedly, GenXers are more focused on family and are more conservative than Boomers, but GenXers are less ideologically divisive.  Also, an even larger generation (the Millennials) is taking the stage, and they’re even more different than Boomers.  On measurements of moral behavior, they tend toward the lowest numbers that have been seen in a long time.  They are conservative in certain ways including a focus on family, but at the same time they’re extremely socailly liberal.

My basic point is that society is re-focusing on the value of family on personal rather than ideological terms, but this re-focusing is going against the ideological grain of fundamentalist “family values”.  Millennials embrace both the importance of family and the importance of civil rights issues such as gay marriage.  Suck on that fundamentalists!

Denialism: Science and Public Debate

I’ve just come across the name of Michael Specter.  He has received some attention lately because of his book Denialism.  In the following video, Specter explains why he didn’t include the Global Warming issue in his book.  He said that it’s too complex of an issue and so requires more than just a chapter in a book.  I’d argue back that complex issues are precisely where his argument is weakest.  The allegation of “denialism” implies that it is always or usually clear who is doing the denying and that some people are intellectually above such cognitive weaknesses and failings.  Basically, what Sepcter leaves out is the psychological insight about how and why people think the way they do.

I noticed this review of Michael Specter’s book Denialism.

– – –

Battling the Skeptics by Darshak Sanghavi

Science utopians can be touching in their naïveté, much like high school chemistry whizzes who try to figure out why the popular kids never pay them any attention. But they fail to appreciate a salient point: scientists may get how the atoms of the universe combine, but they’re often dweebs in the real world. In any event, there are two ways to deal with scientific illiteracy: take a long, hard look at the forces that repel so many from science, or throw up your hands and write people off as fools.

Michael Specter, a science and public health writer for The New Yorker, shows little interest in the first approach in his pugnacious new book, “Denialism,” which carries the ominous subtitle “How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.” He devotes chapters to anti-­vaccine zealots, purveyors of organic foods, promoters of alternative medicines and opponents of race-based medicine, accusing each group of turning “away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

[…] But Specter isn’t much interested in the roots of denialism, much less in engaging productively with it. While his book brims with passion and many interesting facts, he repeatedly pulls rabble-rousing tricks — this in a book that accuses others of forgoing rational debate — and his annoyance is rarely focused.

[…] Specter used to be a denialist himself. […] Here, Specter could have explored how even a prestigious science writer like himself was seduced by the highly unlikely possibility that coffee enemas might cure pancreatic cancer. (After all, the flip side of denialism is faith, which isn’t always bad.) But rather than attempting to ­understand his former fellow denialists, he pushes them out of reasoned conversation, declaring, “Denialism is a virus, and viruses are contagious.”

[…] In his haste to sort people into two bins — either scientifically enlightened or in denial — Specter overlooks an important trend: for better or worse, people are more skeptical of authority than they used to be and want to think for themselves, which includes grappling with the minutiae of science. Not so long ago, for example, patients rarely questioned doctors before undergoing surgery or taking their pills (for example, estrogen replacement therapy to prevent heart attacks), a blind obedience to authority that arguably cost many more lives than, say, vaccine refusal does now. What we are seeing is the democratization of science, not the rise of denialism. […] The list goes on. Specter has written a frustrated book about “denialism” but could just as well have described the hopeful signs of a new era.

– – –

Specter sounds like he might be in the same camp as the new atheists.  My problem with this type of writing isn’t that some intelligent points aren’t made but rather the author’s attitude.  Calling someone (or a group of people) a “denialist” seems more polemical than helpful.  If used carefully and sparingly, it could be a useful term.  However, using it to dismiss those who disagree with you just contributes to the conflict.  The fact of the matter is that science is never black and white.

For example, I’m fine with labelling as a denialist someone who entirely denies Darwinism because they believe the Bible has greater authority than peer-reviewed science.  But I’m not fine with labelling as a denialist someone who argues against Darwinism by pointing out a scientifically plausible alternative theory.  Questioning Darwinism doesn’t a denialist make.  Intelligent public debate demands that people point out the weaknesses and unanswered questions of the prevailing paradigm.

Also, I’m not in favor of science being used to dismiss the everyday experience of people.  Scientific consensus shouldn’t be used to bludgeon people for disagreeing and to keep the public in line.  There are many things science can’t answer and scientists and new atheists should be more humble in the limits of present knowledge.  Most people have weird experiences such as UFOs and ghosts.  Even though science isn’t able to research such phenomena, doesn’t mean science can deny such experiences because then scientists would themselves fall into the trap of denialism.  Many things exist in the world that can’t be controlled in a lab that don’t happen on a regular enough basis to be predictably studied.  However, respectable people including scientists have observed many things that they can’t explain.  Anecdotal experience doesn’t prove anything, but many scientific discoveries begin with anecdotal experience.

Unsatisfying as it may be, there are always more questions than answers.  Some questions may seem stupid.  But if it weren’t for seemingly stupid questions, there would be a lot slower pace to the gaining of new scientific knowledge.

Anyways, scientists are as easily swayed by ideological beliefs and paradigmatic assumptions as the rest of us.  The power of science is in the overall scientific view that evolves over generations.  The underlying complaint that I sense from the new atheist types is that scientific progress is too slow, but I’m doubtbul that it can be speeded up to any great degree.  Scientific progress is dependent on even larger trends of social development.  And for scientific knowledge to develop science itself along with scientists will have to develop as well.

Some other related pieces:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denialism

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/books/excerpt-michael-specter.html?ref=review

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120139776

http://www.slate.com/id/2234719/entry/2234720/

http://www.grist.org/article/2009-10-31-michael-specter-denialism-organic-GMO/

http://www.postbourgie.com/2009/11/09/denialism/

http://2020science.org/2009/08/11/reflections-of-a-scientific-illiterate/

http://www.forteantimes.com/strangedays/science/2158/abominable_no_men.html

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/2792

http://www.newsweek.com/id/32482

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/07/09/1991160.aspx

http://getenergysmartnow.com/2009/07/10/republicans-reject-science-scientists-reject-republicans/

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1399/religion-and-science

Palin’s End Times Beliefs?

Olbermann: Does Palin believe Jews will flock to Israel to set off Apocalypse?

By David Edwards and Muriel Kane
 
Sarah Palin frequently refers to to her religious beliefs as part of her core values, but she has never made it clear just what those beliefs are. Now one casual remark during an interview last week with Barbara Walters may have drawn back the curtain a bit.
 
In response to a question about Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, Palin told Walters, “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.
 
Palin’s expectation of massive Jewish immigration to Israel — which would have to come primarily from the United States — has no basis in current fact but does correspond closely to the end-times theology espoused by many evangelical Christians.