Archive for March 2012

Groupthink

If you read yesterday’s blog, and you understand how far off the rails President Obama got in his attempt to achieve the “Grand Bargain”, you might be wondering why some in his administration did not walk away.  Maybe some did, or at least expressed grave reservations (it would have been a walk away moment for me), but we haven’t heard about them.  But I think I know the answer and it is something every good leader is well aware of and guards against:  Groupthink.  In this case they became so focused on a deal, that the deal became the ultimate goal, not the policy it represented.

Now one could argue that they saw the deficit as a real political issue, but wasn’t someone on this train wreck understanding that this short term political win would further damage our economy, and in the long run make Obama and his policies seem suspect?   If you have any Econ 101 experience, and if you are paying attention to Europe, further contracting spending would be a disaster for a weakened economy.  But they either could not step back and see that what they were doing was both politically and economically stupid, or they really don’t get Econ 101.   Either way, groupthink was affecting their reasoning and Obama was oblivious to it, maybe because he has never been a creature of the bureaucracy.

I hate to say it, but the best example of this behavior and its dire consequences is Dick Cheney’s hunt for WMD.  Dick believed in his heart of hearts that WMD existed.  So he told the Intelligence Agencies to bring him the evidence.  But they kept saying we can’t find any creditable evidence that supports that.  Dick has a lot of power so he establish his own intelligence gathering group within the agency to find him evidence.  So they were shifting through  any evidence and picking out only things that supported their case.  And lets face it, anything brought forward to counter his argument was, to say the least, frowned upon.

Now here is where you have to understand how bureaucracies work, not just government bureaucracies, but all bureaucracies.  Bringing the chief what he wants he hear is a career maker, whether it is sales statistics or WMD.  Those who could help their superiors become one of the favored boys, also became favored.  Worse, it is self-reinforcing.  As you get rewarded for your information, you start believing in the stuff yourself.  Believing your own bullshit is the technical term.

Did that mean that independent analysts were co-opted?  In a word, yes.  Many still had grave reservations about the data.  But they are also career people who don’t want to end up in a closet office going nowhere.  So you lay low and mute your criticism, because your criticism could be the end of your career.  Then as more people jumped on the band wagon, you started to wonder if maybe you are just wrong.  This is where good leadership is critical to understand this phenomenon and ensure that dissenting voices are heard.  This is where both Dick and Barack failed us.  Dick only wanted to hear one message and soon enough it became a self-fulfilling truth (lie actually although I am sure Dick still believes they are out there somewhere).  Barack had the same issue as he focused on the deal instead of the good of the nation.  They became enthwined in his mind.  It is just a good thing the conservative’s intransigence saved us from our madness.  Too bad the same thing cannot be said about the War in Iraq.  Of course Dick took his fixation to a new level when he tried to smear public people for their dissent.  One is just a victim of the system, the other is a Machiavellian manipulator of the system.

So where does that leave us?  Well with Dick, we hope he goes away, or better yet finally gets charged for War Crimes.  For our President, let’s hope it was a lesson in groupthink and he now understands that he needs strong people around who can stand up and dissent.  The other lesson here which few bring up, is that letting the politicos talk you into gaming the system is just failure waiting to happen.  It is not that complicated.  Just decide on what the right thing is (assuming you know) and then fight for it.  We would all be a lot better off.

At the Precipice

We are approaching the decision point in our country and we are going to have to make a choice about the future.  We re-elect the Republicans in Congress (and maybe the Presidency) and either stayed mired in going nowhere, or head off in a direction of austerity and reduced hope for the middle class.  Or we change the nature of the Congress and move forward really addressing our problems, maybe not with the right solutions, but at least attempts.  Now, my conservative friends will say, wait a minute, what makes you think Republicans won’t address our problems?  And all you have to do with this one is say, so what are their plans?  Health care? Energy? The Economy?  They just want to do more of what we have been doing only faster.  It is amazing to me that the election could even be close, but then I think about Obama.

Don’t get me wrong, it is Obama or assured mutual destruction.  But as a few really revealing stories about his political moves have indicated, he does not seem to have a rudder, or know where the North Star is.  By that I mean that he has a different idea of policies that will work than many of us do.  His definition of will work is politically defined.  Many liberals and progressives have given him a pass on this one, after all, shouldn’t he be trying to do things that are at least politically viable?  Well, yes and no.  If politically viable moves the ship even marginally toward the goal. then yes.  But if the assumption is that any movement of the ship (bipartisanship) is good, then the answer is no when that bipartisan solution moves the ship away from home port and toward the rocks.

What is truly disturbing about Obama is the story of the “Grand Bargain” and how it fell apart during the negotiations with the Republicans over extending the debt.  The story, in great detail, was laid out in the following article that originally appeared in the Washington Post:  Behind the Grand Bargain on the Debt.  While the writers from the Washington Post have an agenda to show that President Obama ruined the deal when he saw the Senate Gang of Six with a better deal and supported it, the real disturbing issue is in the deal itself.  Note as Arianna Huffington and  Johnathan Chait pointed out in their reviews on this article, the writers claim that it was all Obama’s fault is not supported by their own facts (Remember that Dean Baker likes to refer to the Washington Post as Fox on 15th Street).  But that is not the really disturbing thing, and that was how far Obama went to sell out liberal ideas for a solution that was a total capitulation to conservative austerity and balancing the budget on the least able to afford it.

The real crash of the negotiations were caused by the fact that even the minimal, and some think illusionary, revenues in the plan (taxes) were not acceptable to the right.  Basically when all was said and done, the Republicans had the deal of the century and it fell apart because they don’t negotiate taxes.  That in itself should be a lesson for those looking for bipartisanship in the future.  The only solutions possible will be on the Rights terms of no new taxes (on the wealthy).  But to be truthful, they saved us.  Had Obama gone through with what apparently he desperately wanted, a Grand Bargain, he would has set back progressive and liberal ideas 100 years.  He seemed so eager for a deal that he did not care that the deal was destructive to our future.  Or more likely, maybe he has no North Star and was oblivious to it.

Now I don’t care what the apologist say, this is not what we thought we got in 2008 when he preached change and then showed us the worst of business as usual.  As Arianna put it, “Campaign Obama came to Washington promising to change the way the system works, but in many instances he let himself become captive to the most destructive and entrenched Washington shibboleths.”  More importantly and demonstrating his lack of a real understanding of the direction we need to be moving in (my North Star metaphor) is this from Arianna:

“Why did the administration prioritize debt reduction in the first place? The answer is found in this excerpt from David Corn’s new book, Showdown: “Plouffe was concerned that voter unease about the deficit could become unease about the president. The budget issue was easy to understand; you shouldn’t spend more money than you have.”

But in fact, unlike a family, the government doesn’t have to tighten its belt in lean times. Indeed, the government can create demand by expanding when families are forced to contract — and by growing the economy, it can help reduce the deficit. This isn’t that hard to understand (though much of Washington and the media don’t seem to), but Obama never trusted the American people enough to even try to make that case. Instead, his reaction to the midterm disaster was to pivot to the worst sort of Washington dogmas. Rather than double down on his own message, he adopted 80 percent of the other side’s. “The depth of political malpractice here is just mind-blowing,” writes Paul Krugman of the Plouffe excerpt. “It’s the economy, stupid, not the deficit.

It is a scary tale, but with maybe some real guidance for the rest of us.  Obama is who he is, and on his own is not a good enough leader (well he may be a good leader, but doesn’t know the direction he should be leading us in) to keep us moving forward.  Time after time we have seen him compromise away real change for the sake of compromise.  Soon his grand accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, will be struck down because he did not understand what really needed to get done.  The only way forward is to re-elect him and a Congress strong enough to force him to stay on course.  He just doesn’t seem to be able to find the North Star by himself.

One other thought about group think.  Here we have a White House working 24/7 trying to solve our problems, but they got so wrapped up in making the deal that they could not step back and see that the deal stunk.  It was the intransigence of the Right that saved us from disaster and probably setting back the economy for many years.  Maybe some of those guys ought to work less and remember what we are fighting for.  My favorite description of the difference between managing and leadership came from Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  He tells a story of a group of managers who are hacking their way through the jungle.  They are making good time as they came up with a system of trading off who hacked the limbs in front of them while passing the debris back behind them.  They were making real progress when on of the mangers asked them to stop.  They all complained that they were making real progress now and did not want to stop.  He want to climb a tree and see where they were actually headed.  You can guess which one was the leader.

Smearing Trayvon

One has to wonder why the conservatives are going out of their way to smear Trayvon Martin.  Okay, he may have smoked marijuana, he may have written graffiti on school property, but is that a capital offense?  I shot a car with a BB gun when I was young and I shoplifted some candy.  We do really stupid things when we are kids but that is not who we are and we should get a chance to grow out of it.  Here is what you need to know about the Trayvon Martin case that is relevant:

  1. He was unarmed, walking home, and committing no crime.
  2. He was presumed guilty and followed by an armed citizen
  3. The armed citizen was told to stop his activities and instead he confronted him resulting in his death
  4. It was a death that never had to occur and was pointless

So once again why are the conservatives bound and determined to make Trayvon Martin somehow the villain in this.  The answer is fairly simple if you understand the conservative narrative.  Bad things do not happen to good people.  Therefore Trayvon must be bad.  Now that the “Stand and Defend Law” is the conservatives idea of perfect justice.  Bad people are not coddled.  They are faced down and put in their place.  Follow the rules or you will be punished.  No more government and stupid rights of criminals to protect those who are dregs of our society when individuals are empowered to take the law into their own hands.  If the law allowed a grave injustice, that can’t be, ergo Trayvon must be bad.  Really, that is what is going on.  If this is a bad law with the best of conservative intentions, what other things do conservatives want that will have bad or dire consequences?

Oh, and of course it raises all kinds of questions about carrying guns in public.  Can’t have that being questioned either.  Before you know it those crazy progressives will want to take away our guns.  So Treyvon must have been this budding criminal who got his just deserts when he brandish his ice tea and Skittles to a law biding citizen who blew him away because well, he looked threatening, oh, and maybe just because he was black.  Makes perfect sense if you live by a narrative that you can’t stand to be examined.  If you lose this one, what next, women’s right to choose, the right to health care, minorities voting?  Things could get out of hand fast.

UPDATE:  Think of it this way you logic lovers.  The Stand and Defend Law says that if you feel your life is threatened, you have the right to use deadly force. Okay, now Trayvon Martin was being followed and now he is dead, killed by his follower.  Ergo if you are being followed it could be a life threatening situation so you should blow the follower away.  Perfectly logical. When I drive on the freeway I feel threatened by other careless drivers.  CareIess drivers are responsible for more deaths than just about any other cause.  I am mounting a rocket launcher on the top of my car to protect myself from life threatening careless drivers (especially those I see texting on their cell phone).  Start to see the problem with this law?

Striking Down the Affordable Car Act

Well as pointed out by several pundits, the Republicans should be wary of what they wish for.  We have this disastrous health care system whose costs are out of control and the real problem is more and more people can’t get health care.  Along comes Obama Care, which certainly is not perfect, but is a step in trying to control costs.  Now if the Suprmes strike it down, what is their plan (the Republican Party)?  As Collin Powell once said, if you break it, you own it.  This would be quite entertaining if so many people weren’t being disenfranchised from needed health care.  Okay Republicans, balls in your court.  What is your plan to fix it?

The Supremes

Now I get why the Supremes don’t want microphones and cameras in the courtroom.  They don’t want us to know how truly small they are.  Apparently our process for selecting Supreme Court Justices needs some work.   I am specifically referring to broccoli analogy used by the conservative members of the court.  It would appear that the justices equate being forced to buy broccoli with buying health care.  If this is the level of deep thinking that goes on in Chambers, I would make sure cameras never get into the courtroom to show our shallow lack of understanding of the issue.  Let me help you Supremes since the lawyer for the Administration seemed to have his head up his ass.

If  I decide to not buy broccoli, the market place for broccoli would not be impacted.  If half the nation didn’t buy broccoli, the market price on broccoli would not go up, but down.  And here is another one Supremes, I don’t ever need to buy broccoli.  Okay now boys and girls, especially the ones that thought Citizen’s United would not allow corporate money to take over elections, listen closely.  If I choose not to buy healthcare, the price for others goes up because there are less people to spread the  cost around.  And sooner or later I will need that health care and I will be asking the rest of the nation to subsidize me.  Gee, could that be what we call Interstate Commerce?

We should expect more from our Supremes, but what we are seeing is another government institution being taken over by partisan politics and reason goes out the door.  From the Bush vs. Gore Decision, to the Citizens United decision, the court has become a partisan mini-Congress and the hell with good law.  They do it at the risk of tearing down this great nation as we citizens see them for what they are, and they lose our respect and support when their rulings are obvious partisan votes instead of hard decisions based upon existing and established law that we feel honor bound to respect and obey.

You have to hand to Republicans and the eternal stupidity of Democrats.  The Republicans have carefully framed this argument to be big bad government taking away your rights through the mandate for coverage.  Why, I can almost see the black helicopters from the UN sweeping in to take us over.   You think I am joking? This is the perfect framing for the fearful conservatives and the Democrats stand around with no answer to this lie.  Once again they think reason will prevail.  That has worked out well hasn’t it?

Here is how a Democrat would frame this and sadly, reason does not trump emotion:  Our health care system is becoming too expensive for many of us to afford it. We must get control of costs.  In order to do that we have to understand that we need to spread the risk of the cost of catastrophic health care cost throughout the entire population.  This is not a new idea and you pay Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, and Unemployment taxes in exactly the same way.  It is a shared risk and we are all in this together.  Of course they could not see the Republicans coming and negotiated this flawed way of paying for health care thinking the battle was over.

The Republican answer to this is not to even try to challenges the assertions above, which are true and can’t be challenged on the basis of fact.  They just evoke the vision of big government sweeping in and taking away you last small crumb of control in your life.  The framing is perfect for the fearful and they can see those helicopters coming for them.  Emotion takes over and the facts in the issue no longer matter.  “Be afraid America, big government is coming to get you.  Oh, did I forget to mention that I want to stick a probe up your vagina if you want to terminate a pregnancy.”  Hypocrisy is no strange bedfellow to conservatives.

Sadly, I see neither the President nor other Democrats out shaming America for their total disregard of the facts and their self-defeating  selfishness.  I am not sure there are any responsible adults in charge anymore.

Is Religion Really the Problem?

I have been giving this a lot of thought.  In the interest of full disclosure, just let me say that I stand firmly on the side that finds religious belief nonsensical at best, and reports of religious experience as proof, part of our narcissistic world.  As Scrooge once ask himself, is this apparition (Marley) real or is it “… just a lump of porridge, a piece of undigested cheese…”  Cognitive scientists are showing us that it is most likely a lump of undigested cheese.  But having said that, in the political world we find ourselves in, is the reinsertion of religion into politics the real problem, or only the most obvious manifestation of our underlying psychosis?  I think the latter.

Certainly the introduction of religion back into politics breeds intolerance, and more importantly decides issues on religious beliefs instead of a rational analysis of the common good.  Our history and the whole Enlightenment was the cautionary tale about religious intolerance and the misery it caused with the Enlightenment being the solution (removing religion from worldly affairs and establishing reason as opposed to faith as the way to resolve issues).  But one has to ask oneself, why so much religion now?  Why is it coming back with such a force and has been for about the last 30-40 years?

I think the answer to that question is part of our deep psychological makeup.  One of the most important books of our time was Margret Hefferman’s Willful Blindness.  It is a non-partisan look at how we defy logic to believe what we want to.  We are all susceptible to misleading ourselves when the facts are right in front of our eyes.  How did the Challenger disaster happen?  How did we miss the signs of the housing bubble?  Who said the market could not fail disastrously (black swan event).  From the board room to daily life, Margret takes us through how we deceive ourselves and gives us tools for a reality check.  So part of of this analysis is that we have a proclivity to see the world as we want to, not as it is.

The next part of this is that studies have shown that people who are conservative are more fearful.  People who are progressive or more willing to try new things.  In either case, sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes not.  Timothy Leary was probably a raving liberal and somewhere along the way he lost his brain.  Maybe a little fearfulness would have been a good thing.  But on the conservative side, linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff has pointed out that conservatives are more paternalistic while progressives are more maternalistic.  On the conservative side the leaning is toward control and authority.  I am focusing on the conservatives because that is where most of this religious insertion into our political life is coming from.

The real issue here is to make sense out of what is becoming a more chaotic and threatening world.  Fearful people have more need to get control and control is the real issue here.  It is no coincidence that most fundamentalists are conservatives, it suits their view of an authoritarian (religious dogma) and father figure view of making sense and order out of the world.  Follow the rules, be a good Christian, and you will be saved.  Religion is our earliest attempt to make sense out of the chaos.  “It is God’s will.  God works in mysterious ways”.  Believing your faith makes you chosen and that God is looking out for you gives you the sense of control over the chaos.

That same instinct is why conservatives hold on to the market place as an arbitrary and fair mediator of economic life.  There are rules, follow them, and you too will succeed.  Conservatives look at progressives as people who want to violate their whole system of control.  Taxes are simply transfers of wealth from those who deserved their earnings to those who are slackards.  And then there is what Ira Glasser demonstrated in his piece What do Conservatives Want to Conserve?  As you grant rights to women, labor union, gays, poor people, you reduce the rights of those who had the power.  Are you starting to see the light?  It is all about order and control.

Now we enter a time when emerging nations are really starting to give us a run for our money.  The old assumptions of American supremacy are proven false whether in the world market place or in the battle fields of the Middle East.  Add to that, the Republicans ascendancy in the first decade and the failure of their economic ideas (low taxes, flow down, and less regulation) resulting in the financial meltdown in 2007-2008.  We are living in a time of great change and great uncertainty.  Are we surprised then that we turn to religion, old economic ideas, and the 19th century to try to establish our control and order?  We must have lost our way and all we have to do is get back to the ways we used to do things.

So what we are really seeing on the conservative side is fear, fear of change, fear of losing control, free of a very different world than they are use to.   Conservatism is one response in that it attempts to maintain the status quo of who has the power by disadvantaging others.  Whether that is economic power in favoring fossil fuels over alternate energy and denying global warming, denying gays equal rights in our society, denying union rights,  not taxing the wealthy, depriving blacks and minorities the right to vote, or denying women equal rights, it is all a move to keep the power in the hands of FOWM (Fat Old White Men).  Demographics doesn’t favor them and they are becoming hysterical.

People are afraid and are turning to religion to give them comfort, and conservatives then use these religious beliefs to try to enforce, once again, the status quo.  There were over 600 new laws proposed last year to control a women’s body basically on religious grounds, but the reality is that these laws deprive women of the rights and ability to control their own lives.  Why the attack again on evolution?  It is a settled scientific question, but it raises the whole issue of are we special.  If we are not, then the whole edifice of being God’s chosen and everything else is built for us to use and abuse.  Maybe we are all equal travelers on planet earth and we need to be more mindful of our place here.

So is religion really the problem?  Not really, just one symptom of the problem of how we trick ourselves to see what we want to see, not what is there.  The problem is fear of the future and the need to maintain control by denying change.  Religion is just one tool used as an irrational way to argue to deny reality.  While progressives are more psychologically equipped to embrace change, conservatives are grasping at straws to hang on to the past and their power.  That is why science and their attack on it is so relevant.  They are no different that the Catholic Church denying Galileo’s findings of an earth that revolves around the sun.  As we find out about our universe whether that is what makes a person gay or what caused the big bang, these ideas threaten religious, economic, and social  interpretations of the world and their hold on our minds.

What you are seeing in these political times is, oh I would say equivocating but it is really lying at an unprecedented level in our political discussions to attempt to prevent any change in the power structure.  People are afraid and they revert to what they think they can hang on to to bring back the good times.  It really is scary to find out you are on your own and only you (and your community) can solve your problems.  It demands us to come together and deal with problems using rational thought.  Fear evokes emotion and clouds rational thought.  Religion is just one way to think in irrational ways to thwart an honest look at reality.

What I am still trying to figure out is why almost half of us don’t see how the conservatives are damaging and holding us back.  It raises real questions about our ability to deny reality and to use rational debate to change anything.  When I get a fix on this one, I will let you know.

 

The Supremes

One has to wonder in this day and age why we cannot be allowed to even hear the arguments in the Supreme Court.  If they like free speech so much in Citizens United, shouldn’t it apply to them?  But I am getting side-tracked.  Robert Kuttner in today’s Huffington Post (Health Reform’s Day in Court) brought some much needed sanity to this spectacle of Obama Care (Affordable Care Act) on trail.  First if the conservative Supremes want to say that the Federal Government can’t make you buy commercial plans, the conservative dream of privatized Social Security also goes out the window.

He also pointed out that this requirement to buy from what we all know is the flawed private  health care insurance market is the most troublesome part of this whole bill.  It doesn’t solve the problem and had it been possible to get a single payer system, there would be no court case.  So if this goes down, the obvious solution is to …

But he also points out that there are many ways to get around this:  “Instead of being required to purchase private insurance, people without employer-provided insurance or access to Medicaid could be given a choice — either buy affordable insurance through the exchanges, or deliberately opt-out of coverage. But if they opted out, they would be precluded from getting insurance through the exchanges for five years. This use of incentives would be constitutional, and would be sufficient to induce most people to get insurance, but less coercively than a mandate. Starr also proposes that people could pay an annual fee to preserve their right to buy insurance after a waiting period of only a year”

UPDATE:  The first part of the case involves whether the case even has standing since no one has been forced to pay for a policy or pay the penalty.  If it were my guess, and considering the corner the conservative Supremes are in, they will say the case does not have standing until someone can show actual damage.  That would push it out 2-3 years and in the meantime, depending on what happens in the election, it could all be moot.

The point here is this is not the end of the world, just the first round in trying to get a rational system to cover us all and make health care not the deciding factor in every decision about employment and retirement.  Thanks Mr. Kuttner.

Understanding Conservatives

Trying to make sense of politics today for many of us is bewildering.  As I pointed out yesterday, we are having arguments about what many of us thought were settled issues 50 years ago.  It is almost like a longing for the 19th century, both in economics and in cultural issues.  That is strange because we seem to have amnesia about the horrid booms and busts we used to have or the fights for women’s rights including the right to vote.  We have forgotten that it was in the 1960’s  and early 70’s that we secured (at least in law) the right of a woman to control her body or the rights of blacks to vote and to go to schools of their choice.  But then Ira Glasser comes along with a wonderful piece that maybe really puts his finger on what is really going on (What are the Conservatives trying to Conserve).

What Ira does in this wonderful piece is to show us how many of the rights we take for granted really came about in the last 50 years and what we fail to notice when women got the right to vote, when desegregation was enforced, when women got the right to control their own bodies, when labor unions got the right to organize, and organized religion lost their power to control prayer in the schools, is that other groups lost the rights to control these groups and the message. They lost their privileged position to control the rights of others.  As Ira points out, when you win the right to be free of organized prayers in schools, a religious group, in the South mostly Southern Baptists, lost their right to impose their prayers on you in your school.  When women won the right to vote, men lost some of the power they had in politics.  Same can be said for allowing blacks free access to vote.  As groups win their rights, another group’s rights to control your and their future is diminished as you gain more power in the system.

Ira makes the point that this loss of control is terrifying fat old white people (FOWP) (my term) and they are reverting to their perceived golden age of the 19th century to gain back their control.  He also makes the point that demographics may finally be the death knell of conservatives because a whole generation has grown up with these changes in place and are no longer frightened by them (See Jonathan Chait, 2012 or Never).  I think he has clearly identified what is going on now.  Why do you fight global warming or evolution, or a women’s right to choose?  Is it really about religious beliefs or is it being terrified of how the world you were on top of is changing and relieving you of your commanding position?  Gays certainly don’t challenge traditional marriage.  Young heterosexual people are challenging traditional marriage.  It terrifies people like Rick Santorum who claims sex is for procreation only.  Think about it, it is just another way of controlling women so men stay in charge.  Gee, if women can choose their lovers freely, the world will be in chaos, right Rick?  Most young people think he is crazy.

Santorum is kind of the poster child for what is going on with conservatives.  He home schools his kids and decries advanced education because he is terrified they will be turned away from the light.  Frank Bruni wrote a wonderful opinion piece about his college roommate (Rethinking His Religion) who was obviously a devote Catholic when he got to college, but many of his life experiences made him question his beliefs, not his moral attitude toward his fellow man, but some of teachings of his religion.  “He grew up in the South, in a setting so homogenous and a family so untroubled that, he said, he had no cause to question his parents’ religious convictions, which became his. He said that college gave him cause, starting with me. Sometime during freshman year, he figured out that I was gay, and yet I didn’t conform to his prior belief that homosexuals were “deserving of pity for their mental illness.” I seemed to him sane and sound. ”

But it is not just cultural issues, it is also applies to important economic issues that face our country.  Conservatism can be seen as trying to maintain the current state of power and control.  Anything that upsets the existing power structure is to be resisted.  We can’t get a rational energy policy because the vested interests don’t want to let go of their favored position even though in the long run, it is best for the country (Drill baby drill).  We can’t revise the tax code because the rich would suffer and all the vested interests that benefit from the current abomination will fight it tooth and nail.  We can’t admit there is global warming because if we were wrong about that, what else are we wrong about, and again we lose power.  Evolution?  If it is true, what about all that other nonsense we believe makes us special?

Many, including myself, have commented on the need to have two competing political parties that ensures the excesses of one are checked by the other.  But the Republican Party and the conservatives they represent have become so dysfunctional that the only thing they stand for is revisionism.  They prevent any movement whatsoever in a world that is screaming our for change from what is obviously a failing system.  They stand for maintaining the status quo even with a mountain of evidence that shows their path is the wrong one.  It is why rational argument is wasted on them.  They are terrified of loosing their hold on power and are grasping at straws.  It is why the Republican Party is no longer functional in American life.  It is why as a country, we need to put them behind us.  We need to be willing to strike off in new directions and try new things, and all they do is hold us back with no alternatives.  If you want a two party system, and I do, just look to the Democratic Party.  Most Democrats are where Republicans were in the 1980s and the Progressives (like myself) are still not in charge.  It will fragment into two with the demise of the Republicans, and we will all be better for it.  Maybe then the country can move forward and move out of the 19th century into the 21st.  I can only hope.

 

Atheism Coming Out of the Closet

If you missed Up with Chris Hayes this morning, you missed a great romp.  Chris used his show to discuss religion in politics and did it with some of the more distinguished atheists in modern life.  You can watch the whole inteview on his website Up with Chris Hayes.  He had wonderful guests who spanned the whole spectrum from Richard Dawkins to Susan Jacoby.

It was really kind of funny to watch a show where people could really talk about religion without  being surrounded by believers who might be offended.  I did have to laugh when Richard Dawkins said some things that made Chris uncomfortable about the ridiculous nature of some religious belief.  What made it entertaining is to realize that if a Muslim had been on the show and said God is Great before starting every sentence, or a Christian who proclaimed Jesus Christ as their savior, no one would blink.  But to have someone on the other end of the spectrum say it is all nonsense and everyone gets nervous.

There were some arguments I thought were very interesting.  One was about global warming and religious belief.  It was a question of who do you believe, scientists, or your church leaders.  I rest my case on this one.  Several of the guests made what I think is a logical error in that they would examine the facts and draw logical conclusions, you can’t examine every scientific claim and sooner or later do you go with your gut or science?  It was also interesting to note that many did not understand the difference in skepticism and scientific skepticism.  You know, that old thing about elevating flat earthers to the same level of the round earthers in a debate.

But here is where many of them missed the boat about the real problem with religion in politics:  Richard Dawkins will just tell people that their religious beliefs are trinkets from their tribal times and it is time to grow up.  Chris (and others) felt this in your face approach to something people had been indoctrinated with their whole lives just turned them off and closed their ears.  This same thought came up in whether someone’s private beliefs should be grounds for examination in the public sphere.

Should someone’s private beliefs be examined as a qualification for office?  Well I think we can all agree that if they are throwing it in our faces, yes, absolutely.  But Jamila Bey, one of the guests, made the valid point that the attack on women’s rights is all about these private religious beliefs.  You can guess where Richard Dawkins came down on this one, and it made me laugh until tears ran out of my eyes when he said something to the effect of, “if you honestly believe that your religion came to you from golden tablets found in New York, and you were able to translate them using a seer stone in the bottom of a hat, which placed over your face to view the words written within the stone, you probably should not be holding the highest office.”

But the consensus among these rational and reasonable people  was that these private beliefs could be separated from our public life.  And this is where they missed the boat about faith.  What they are saying is that you can compartmentalize your thinking processes.  For the public sector you can use secular reasoning about the common good, and in your private life  you can use your gut (faith).  The problem as several guest pointed out is that the irrational part leaks over into the rational part.  Global warming is a case in point or as one guest pointed out, if you believe Jesus is coming to save you, screw the environment (Richard Dawkins).

I tend to agree with Richard on this one.  While I understand that directly confronting religion is probably counter productive, reasoning while less threatening,  really is not going to change their minds either as long as they can shift into their faith mode of thinking.  See the arguments we are still having about global warming and evolution (Tennessee is at it again  wanting to “teach” the skepticism around evolution.  I wish they would read the transcripts of the Pennsylvania court case).  The fatal flaw of all these wonderful people is that they assume the other side is just as rational as they are.  But critical thinking is the missing link on the other side of the religious argument because as the wonderful Mike Aus, a pastor who was now skeptical of belief, described his journey seeking truth and goodness, if you really examine these beliefs in the light of reality, they don’t hold water.  My favorite comment by Pastor Aus was that the dark secret of Christianity was that most Christians had not read the bible and if they had, would also be questioning their faith.

But what I think is most harmful about compartmentalizing faith based thinking with rational logic is that it bleeds into other realms.  “I believe in flow down economics and the market place solves all problems because I know it is true.”  It is a reasoning process that allows you to ignore data to satisfy  your own proclivities and preferences.  It is the muddled thinking we see all around us and we tolerate it, even elevate it, because we think tolerance of faith based thinking is somehow noble.  In scientific thinking or secular rationalism, you have  to follow the data, not select the data to carefully avoid  uncomfortable outcomes.  Where our panelists lost the battle was assuming that rational arguments can prevail in a world where we accept nonsense as truth  because it is noble to have irrational faith.  Except it isn’t..

Some Sober Thoughts About Conservatives

I have heard the comment, I thought we put this kind of thing behind us in the 60’s, on two different issues.  The first one, of course, is the attack by Republicans on women’s freedom to choose their contraceptive and whether to carry a baby past the first term.  Many women have expressed the feeling that they thought these arguments were behind us now and this should be left to a very private decision making process.  The other one is in the discussion of the Treyvon Martin murder.  Yes, I said murder.  A black pundit indicated that he thought this kind of blatant racism and devaluation of life if you were black ended in the 60’s.

Next week the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is Constitutional.  What is in question is the very heart of affordable care, spreading the cost across all citizens requiring mandatory health insurance.  Now ignoring the fact that the rest of civilized world already does this and has proven to be an effective and affordable approach, conservatives don’t believe our government should do this.  Also ignore that they offer no alternatives except to allow our inefficient and costly system to continue to suck us dry.  Now if politics rules and the conservatives get there way, we are stuck with our existing system, and it would appear that this country cannot move forward under these conservatives on even the most obvious of simple fixes.

The trend here is hard to ignore.  Conservatives will handcuff this country and retard progress and change every step of the way.  Their policies are mired in the past and address another time.  Take the Treyvon Martin issue.  The very idea that guns should be prevalent in our society and shoot now and ask questions later is a return to the wild west where they finally figured out that people had to check their guns prior to entering towns to reduce gun violence.  Treyvon Martin is the end result of simple minded thinking putting into place laws that have horrid unintended consequences.

I remember a Rachel Maddow segment she had with Meghan McCain where they attended the NRA gun show in Pittsburgh together.  Meghan was explaining that guns should be readily available so that citizens could protect their homes.  Meghan’s problem was that her logical construct was the gated communities of her parents and her friend’s worlds.  Rachel then visited a neighborhood in Pittsburgh where the gun violence had gotten so out of hand, it was a ghost town.  Simple minded solutions, which is what conservatism is all about, are destined to fail.  Do you really want to go to the grocery store where everyone is packing?

Whether it is the economy, guns and violence, women’s health choices, our environment, and it goes on and on, the conservative approach is to ignore the reality of the world before us, give us simplified solutions, and try to drag us back to the 19th century like we didn’t learn anything between then and now.   Their approach to everything is to do nothing.  They thought we should not do anything when the economy cratered forgetting everything we learned in the 1930’s.  Just lower taxes and schools and roads will build themselves.  Flow down works and less regulation will be good for all of us.  And most importantly when we face a real crisis as we do in health care, they want to protect the vested interests, keep things the same, and offer no solutions other than the market place will solve everything.  It sure solved everything back in 2008 didn’t it.  If this country is ever going to be great again, to grow and be prosperous, we have to marginalize conservative politics in America.  They simply protect the haves at the expense of our future.

No, I don’t think progressives have all the answers, but unlike conservatives who can ignore or hide the data proving their policies fail because it is ideologically based, progressive will move the country forward and when policies do not measure up, change them.  Conservatives, if you have not figured it out by now, are ideologically wedded to their basic beliefs and repeated failure does not move them.  As long as the system works for them, screw everybody else.  It will truly be a sad moment in America if the Supreme Court strikes down what is really a very small attempt at helping Americans get health care.  It will say all there is to say about a failed country who can no longer rise up to challenges, but instead is just a chaotic country of fearful people holding on to what they have at the expense of our future.