Why Rubio and Mendez Hate Easing of Relations with Cuba

Because they have made their careers based upon stoking up hate and fear over this issue. It is not what is best for America or business for that matter, it is what was best for their careers. It tells you all about using hate, distrust, and fear as a campaign issue and why the real interests of America get pushed aside as they convince themselves their personal interests align with those of America. It is why positive change is so hard.

Finally!

How many times do you have to hit yourself in the head with a hammer before you realize just stopping is the solution? I am talking about establishing relations with Cuba. I will now have to take that off the list of the stupidest things we continue to do even when we know it is stupid (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result).

Of course there will be resistance. Republicans in general hate change. So do the hard liners on both sides of the water. When you take away your enemy, just who do you hate anymore? But pandering to stupidity is why for 60 years we have had a policy that doesn’t work and nobody pushed for change.

I can hear it now. We are rewarding bad behavior. So relate that to China. But it hasn’t worked. Open up relations and the rest will be history. Try it Mikey, you will like it! What in the hell do we have to lose? But then conservatives are, well, conservatives and hate change. So let the games begin.

That Torture Thing

Did you know that more people support torture today than they did before 9/11? With the torture report out, the brutality displayed for all to see, and the ineffectiveness of it documented, still the majority of Americans think it is okay. Why is that?

Well I already discussed the partisan divide on this issue with Republicans showing about an 70% approval rating for torture. But what has brought Americans to the “gut” feeling it works when the data says it provides highly unreliable information? The answer is our entertainment media.

In almost every cop show we see cops violating the rights of detainees, throwing them up against a wall, slapping them around, our putting a gun to their head, and it always works. Really? If a cop slapped me around that would be the end of my cooperation. It would just make me mad. Of course I have always had this thing with authority, but do we not think most criminals have a problem with authority? As soon as the perp is threatened with physical force, they cave, at least in fiction. So why wouldn’t the public believe it works?

Further, the “good” cop knows who the bad guys are and we expect him to treat them with the disrespect and abuse we think they deserve. It works great in fiction and we are exposed to a steady diet of it on the networks. 24 has made a tradecraft out of Jack saving the world by going out of bounds.

I remember one of my favorite 24 episodes. There is a nuke about to go off in LA, so Jack starts breaking the fingers of the bomber to tell him where it is. Now think about this: The bomber is going to die anyway when the bomb goes off. So why wouldn’t he tell Jack a believable story but false story about where it is so they stop torturing him and it buys time until when the weapon goes off? I would. Probably the only thing that might work is to work on my humanity.

The point is fiction says it works and we have bought into it. We have been fed a steady diet of it works. See Zero Dark Thirty where they continued the fantasy that torture worked and the Senate Report tore that to bits. Oh, and forget about the Senate Report being a partisan document. It is the words of the CIA. I saw Jane Mayer (author of the Dark Side) finally interviewed last night on Rachel Maddow and she found most of her reporting verified, with tons more detail.

And of course even if it would work, who the hell are we once we go down that road? We are them and it is a slippery slope on just who we use it on. Of course you could say the same thing about the drone war, and we have already slipped off that slippery slope.

It’s the Economy Stupid

It really is. If the economy is zipping along, other policies just seem to fall in place. I would bet a lot of money that if the middle class were prospering under our present economy, Democrats would have a majority in both Houses and we would be actively engaged in polices to address global warming. But the middle class is not prospering and even though the usual indicators for the economy say things are getting better, Republicans are getting elected to ruin the economy again. From the NYT:

The jobless rate, at 10 percent at its peak after Mr. Obama took office, is down to 5.8 percent with nearly 11 million new jobs. The annual deficit, which reached 10.1 percent of the gross domestic product, the measure of the economy, has fallen below 3 percent of G.D.P., the level most economists consider acceptable. Gasoline is less than $3 a gallon on average, as the United States has become the world’s top energy producer. Exports are up, and so are consumer and business confidence.
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The article I am quoting goes on to make the point that Democrats are conflicted. Should they take credit for the gains or should they fight the populist position that recognizes that none of these gains are going to the middle class? I would say both, but to do that, you really do need a strategic plan and so far while Democrats offer this policy or that to help (minimum wage increases, equal pay for equal work), there is no coherent plan or strategy that voters can rally around.

So it is one thing to say you have populist policies, but it is a whole other to have a real vision for the economy. At the heart of the problem is the growing inequality and that most of the gains go to the 1%. This is not a new problem, and has been going on under both Democrats and Republicans for the last 40 to 50 years.  Corporations and monied interest have captured our economy and to change that, will take not just crumbs of real change, but real change. Now this may sound like a class war, but it is really not even though initially that is exactly what it will be.

initially things like rewriting our tax laws to more equitably spread the gains from our economy will cause a revolt by the haves.  It upsets the apple cart and many vested interest are going to be hurt.  But, and here is the real kicker, if we don’t let the workers share more in prosperity, there will be no one to buy the products that make our economy work.  This is already happening.  Certainly there must be a reward, and an ample reward, for exceeding in your endeavors.  It is one of the primary motivating forces.  But when that incentive gets to the point where it robs others of ever having a chance, it becomes counter productive.  In other words, to do this is in everyone’s long-term interests, but business and finance work in the short-term.

So if Democrats are going to be the party of the future they have to come up with both a vision (we all prosper) and a plan to get there.  Then start campaigning on it.  So the economy is getting better, but not all of us.  So the plan has to recognize that and identify ways we are going to make more people share in these gains, and convince those whose incentives will just be a little smaller, that it is in their best interests.  That is the challenge for tomorrow.  Or we can just ignore it, elect Republicans and wait for the climate to cause catastrophic changes in the winners and losers and see how that works out.  Just saying …

Just Who is the Problem

This mornings news was hijacked by a nut case Iranian, self declared Sheikh, who took hostages in Sidney, and the storming of the chocolate/coffee shop by the police. Is it just me or does it seem that most of these events are by Muslims?

Now that may not be fair because we have nuts who shoot up their workplace here and most are not Muslims. But most of the world’s major conflagrations involve Muslim radicals. So here is the question: Is it just religion gone bad, or the Muslim religion in particular that is a critical part of the mix?

My uneducated guess is both. Even in the U.S. when we look at politicians who hold hateful views (see Bobby Jindal on gays and hurricanes), there is a religious basis for their lack of empathy. They are the chosen ones, and anyone else are the others. Not exactly what Jesus was pushing, but many religions condemn others to purgatory if they are not in the chosen group. And from there you can make them less than human and do all kinds of bad things.

On the Muslim thing, I think the religion, like Christianity, has elements of very repressive beliefs. Since it is heresy to question the religion, punishable by death in many Muslim countries, that leads to other behaviors antithetical to tolerance. See woman and their place in “modern” Muslim cultures. So I guess I would say that the religion still has many of the vestiges of belief that can engender radicalism. That doesn’t mean Muslims and their religion are inherently evil, just as neither are born again Christian although some of their members have killed in the name of belief (abortion doctors). It means the religion needs to evolve.

And that is the problem that makes Muslims problematic. They seem to be slow to renounce radicals (some think this is racist) but I don’t think our tolerance should be used to tolerate their intolerance) and to open up their religion to examination by their faithful. This is something that has to happen in the Muslim community and at least my experience is, only happens in countries like the United States were tolerance of minority views is part of our DNA. Where all questioning of faith and certain tenants of that faith are seen as an attack on the religion in general, well we have a breeding ground for radicals. So yes, it is no surprise that the nut case in Sidney is a religious Muslim nut.

Why the Partisan Divide on Torture?

Once you look at torture, it is morally reprehensible. So why do Republicans continue to argue that it worked and was justified and most Democrats think it should be banned forever? I have some theories of course or I wouldn’t be writing this.

First is political. Republicans were in charge when we did this, so there is that defensive thing. Never admit you were wrong. It is a sign of weakness, at least in their minds. In my marriage just the opposite is true. Assume you were wrong is probably the appropriate response in most cases. You probably were anyway.

Then there is that patriarchal thing. They are in charge, rule breakers must be punished, mercy is weakness. You hear that from Dick Cheney all the time, although his favorite argument is that they did horrible things to us, so let’s do horrible things to them. So a few innocents get rounded up, it is the price of revenge. I think a fourth grader could find the problems with this logic.

But I think probably what drives them most is evidenced by their attempt to deny the report, in effect, deny the data. Once again our chief bad example Dick Cheney comes to mind. “The report is crap. No I haven’t read it.” They already know what the right answer is and data is irrelevant. See global warming. Oh, and they like simple answers to complex problems. Using the “24” scenario makes perfect sense to them and our popular culture reinforces that it works in almost everything we see. So the gut reigns supreme.

Okay, but what about Democrats? Why do they seem as a group to understand it is morally repugnant and can assimilate the data about it being ineffective? Because Democrats as a group are curious. They are programmed to take chances and embrace change. Republicans are fearful and programmed to resist change. In that resistance, data must be ignored, and in embracing change, data is exciting to indicate new avenues of proceeding.

But what about Senator McCain? Well Republicans (conservatives) can hold on to a lot of their beliefs because they lack the empathy to walk in another’s shoes. Poor are poor because they lack self discipline. Criminals must be punished because they made poor choices and if you had lived a more disciplined life, you would be rich and fat like me. In their world without empathy, the world is a level playing field. But John had to walk in their shoes. He knows first hand what torture is and what you get from it. The data he can accept is his own personal experience. And he has a lot of it.

It’s really kind of sad in a way. It shows that data is not very useful in dealing with conservatives. It shows that change, even in the face of failure (which they deny), is very hard for them. And it probably tells us that to get conservatives to join us in recognizing and dealing effectively with our issues, they have to be personally challenged with them (see the cost of incarceration and their realization that draconian sentencing laws may not be a good idea). It can’t be some extraneous problem because they have no empathy. Again, global warming denial is the best evidence of this. “I don’t see no stink’in global warming. It’s snowing.”

So if you follow all this, I have no idea how we are going to deal with anything effectively as long as we leave conservatives in charge. Just saying …

Beltway B.S.

From the N.Y. Times This Morning:

With both parties increasingly playing to their base constituencies and their sometimes absolutist positions, many lawmakers are apt to oppose legislation that does not meet their all-or-nothing demands, making bipartisan measures like the $1.1 trillion spending bill extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

“You have a real breakdown in the institution, and this is the result of that breakdown,” said Representative Doc Hastings, the retiring Washington State Republican who presided over much of the House session as the funding measure came under attack from two directions before it narrowly passed just hours before the government was to run out of money. It is expected to clear the Senate, but again not without objections from the right and left.

It’s bull shit. It is the argument that both sides have a fringe section, equally fringy, and they are gumming up the works. Again it is bull shit. The argument over the removing of banking regulations was a clear substantive issue. But maybe I should ask you this: Who are moderate Republicans in the middle? There aren’t any or not enough to define a middle.

Think of it this way: Think of a football field. You have two goal posts representing the ideal position of each player and 100 yards between them. The ideal compromise position is on the 50 yard line. You are sitting in the stands and the guys on the right moves their goal posts 20 yards back (to the right). Now the compromise position is on the old 40 yard line of the guys who move their goal line further away (to the right). Do that a few times and the compromise position gets closer and closer to the original goal line of the guys who keep moving their goal line to the right. That is where we are today.

So should there be a line in the sand? Well, if the guys on the left do not want to start playing from the other guys original goal line there should be. Said another way, if they want to stand for anything there should be. In real politics the Right has figure out that you just make more and more outrageous demands and the compromise position continues to move in their direction until we have a country with only one position. That is what the stand on the Cromnibus was about, not the loss of compromise, but the loss of standing for anything.

It turned out that in the backroom negotiations, the Republicans piled on a whole bunch of onerous banking give aways and the Democrats thought they had come to a reasonable compromise when they were only left with the FDIC covering their risky bets thing. In actuality the compromise position moved to the goal line of the other guy. Compromise in this environment is losing who you are and becoming them. There should have been no bill passed by the Democrats. A line in the sand is all we have left till we become them, if we haven’t already.

Oh, and I almost forgot to draw the obvious conclusion. The Beltway conventional wisdom implicit in the NYT article above is that the compromise position is the best outcome. But in today’s political climate, the compromise position was a total disaster rolling back one of the most important protections we enacted to protect our economy. It shows we are owned by the banks and the rich. Gee, maybe the both sides do it and some compromise position is best for the country is total bull shit. You think?

All the Wrong Battles

In a sign we are doomed (sorry, but I see no other outcome) let me list you what I think are some of the major challenges we face and how the budget bill did not address them.

  • Climate Change – This is by far the greatest risk to our country and life as we know it.  And amazingly enough the solution to dealing with it solves many of our other major problems (Infrastructure, jobs, the economy).  We can’t stop it at this point, but we can go a long way toward ameliorating its impacts and yet the budget bill cut the EPA, continued open mining, funding for coal plants overseas, reducing endangered species laws so drilling can proceed unhindered, and much much more
  • Economy – Read jobs here.  There is nothing in this bill that does anything about providing good jobs or raising the really low wages that keep many on welfare or out of the job market entirely
  • Immigration – The good news is that the Republicans could find no way to defund the Executive order initiative since most immigration activities are self funded by fees.  They did not fully fund Homeland Security as a bargaining chip to gut the immigration reforms down the road.  But there was nothing in it to deal with the real issues
  • Infrastructure – Okay it is no surprise to anyone that we need major reinvestment in our infrastructure.  See any big investments in infrastructure?  Again we could do this under climate change and creat the jobs we need but no, nothing.  60% of the discretionary budget went to the military.  Business as usual
  • High Cost and Debt accumulation for Higher Education – See anything to help kids go to college.  Nope, but there was plenty to make sure the rich could get much richer and can afford the high costs for their kids
  • Energy Independence – Well there was a lot in there to make sure we stay dependent on fossil fuels, but nothing on alternate energy, our real future
  • Healthcare – Bill left funding in place.  Stay tuned
  • Financial Reform – Bill put the tax payer back on the burner for covering risky losses by banks

So we had the giant political battle that was all focused on getting this done and we didn’t get anything done.  We just kicked the can down the road one more time.  In the future it will only get worse.

The Budget Cave In – Glass Half Empty or Half Full

Well the Democrats caved. The old guard held sway and the line they drew in the sand got washed away by the tide of business as usual. The question is, is this a case of the glass being half empty (mostly empty) or half full (and filling)?

For the half empty, the Democrats tried to stand for something and under pressure folded as they always do. The real problem with Democrats that they haven’t come to terms with yet is that to the average voter they are no different than the Republicans, except at least the Republicans stand for something. The conventional wisdom was that this deal was better than they could get in February and locked some things in that they could lose then. So it was the best they could get and that was good enough.

The trouble with that logic is that Democrats have been selling parts of themselves to the Republicans in Faustian bargains that undermine the very values they stand for. After a while in the voter’s mind, they don’t stand for anything except being well meaning failures. But all in all they looked like they are also in the pocket of Wall Street with just a nicer edge. So when they caved, once again not only did they reinforce that view, but they badly disappointed their base who are getting less likely to come out and support these panty wastes.

The glass half full and maybe filling is the view that some Democrats finally get it. They have to fight the populist fight or they have no identity. There was strong leadership from Elizabeth Warren and the House took on the charge. It might be a sign that the old guard that has so badly hurt the Democratic party (Harry Reid and others) are losing their grip. Most importantly, that there is a bottom line and trying to get the best deal possible may not be better than no deal at all. Losing and letting Republicans have their way instead of going halfway with them for some tidbits may start to define Democrats for voters that will get them out to the polls. And you can’t say both sides do it.

I guess I am hoping it is the glass half full, but I was sorely disappointed once again as the fools celebrated getting the bill passed. I am not sure that Democrats will ever get it as they pander to Republicans and lose, lose, lose. You get the best deal you can and hope for a better day has been a losing strategy because you lose who you are. I can only hope that Elizabeth Warren and the Progressive wing of the House takes over the Democratic Party and saves itself from itself. At least Nancy Pelosi drew a line in the sand and gave notice to the White House that she was not going to play this game anymore. Please let it be the start of something wonderful.

Nope No Turning Point

Democrats shot themselves in the foot again and caved. How sad. Who represents the American people? They just can’t seem to stand for anything. President Obama should be ashamed of himself on this one.