Archive for January 2013

A Truly Sacry Debacle – Senate/House Hearings

Well between the interrogation of Hillary Clinton, confirmation of John Kerry, Hearings on gun control, and the pandering of Democrats after Harry shafted them on Filibuster reform, do you have any questions why nothing gets done.  Apparently our “political leaders” look like they lost the leader part, we see craven political pandering and grandstanding, and appear fairly stupid.  Is this any way to run a government, investigate a tragedy, ascertain someones qualifications, or evaluate proposed legislation?  I wonder if it dawns on them that most of the country is now fully aware of what incompetent nitwits we have elected.  I hope so.

What the Constitution Really Means

I spend a lot of time here trying to make sense to my fellow Americans who quite frankly haven’t a clue.  But yesterday David Wheeler, father of 6-year old victim Ben Wheeler at Sandy Hook, gave us all a lesson in the Constitution and what it really means:

“Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as ‘life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness’, ‘the rights which we are endowed for the protection of which we have instituted governments.’ I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual. The liberty of any person to own a military assault weapon and a high capacity magazine and keep them in their home is second to the right of my son to his life, his life. To the right to live of all of those children, and those teachers, the right to the lives of your children, of you, all of us, all of our lives. It is second. Let’s honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight. Thank you.”

The whole testimony is here:  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21134540/vp/50648121#50648121

 

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Here before us is the whole truth, not some 12-year old mentality about the 2nd Amendment, but the complex ideas around our liberity and freedom.  It makes me angry and so sad.  The fact that the obvious is so hard and these parents had to suffer so much for a bunch of infantile people who think might is more important than right.  Maybe we have become a nation of cowards (for sure our Democratic Senate), but Mr. Wheeler put it all in perspective and reminded us what the Constitution is really all about, and it is not “to bear arms”. Thank you Mr. Wheeler and know there is not one day that I don’t think about about what happened and my heart goes out to you and all the grieving parents, brothers. sisters, husbands, and wives.

Change and Conservatives

Well we have two big things we need to fix out there, immigration and gun violence, and what we see from the Conservatives is not to do anything.  Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct.  Sheriffs in Utah promise to ignore federal laws in a veiled threat to ignore an assault weapons ban or clip size regulation.  Great, cut off their federal funding, and maybe a remedial course on actually understanding the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court.  I wonder what part of “well regulated militia” they don’t understand?  Seems they can only read the part of the sentence they like (the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). If you want change after seeing how things are not working and you are voting Republican, maybe you ought to look up the word conservative.  Can the country move forward anymore?  Only when we marginalize those who live in the 19th century.

SPECs – Social Progressives, Economic Conservatives

I heard this yesterday on MSNBC’s The Cycle (Blake Zeff) and it describes what could be our new politics. It stands for Social Progressives, Economic Conservatives. SPECs are the moderates in the Republican Party (what is left of them), and the conservatives in the Democratic Party. As the Republican Party as it is presently structured, self-destructs, this will be the new party. I think what the future holds for us because of demographic changes (and growing social justice) are Progressives (SPEPs. Social Progressive,s Economic Progressives) and SPECs. Those “divisive” social issues will be a small pocket in rural America and in gereral the real strong two party system will be about economic philosophy.

Is that a good thing? No, because the economic conservatives are the free market Republicans who destroyed our economy in 2007. The problem was demonstrated on Morning Joe on Monday when Paul Krugman was “shocking” them with his “fanactical” ideas which have been prophetic in our lessor depression, and yet they are ignored because they don’t understand them. Here is Joe’s descrition on Politico, and here is the actual footage from Morning Joe. Here is the problem: Economics require some second order thinking that goes far beyond your typical home budget analogy. Most of our talking heads don’t get it. They are stuck in microeconomics and cannot shift out of the home budget analogy. Here is an example from Joe:

“But maintaining calm was not as easy for Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, who agrees with former Joint Chief chairman Michael Mullen, that longterm debt poses the greatest threat to America ‘s national security. Richard took exception to the suggestion that deficits don’t matter and that longterm debt can be pushed to the side for years to come . Mr. Haass, Admiral Mullen and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles all believe that entitlements and debt are the most pressing challenges we face as a country over the next few decades.

You can add my liberal co-host, Mika Brzezinski, to that group. Mika let out a gasp when Mr. Krugman suggested Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls should be ignored. She compared Krugman’s “head-in-the-sand” approach to the one taken by climate change deniers. Krugman took exception, saying that no one could predict the future of entitlements so there was no need to worry until the programs became insolvent.”

Let’s see, Richard Haass and Mike Mullen are economists? They also misrepresented what he said. While an ever growing deficit might be a real challenge to our national security, Paul isn’t proposing this. Paul is clear that near-term debts are not a problem (what Joe lumped into all debt). When you look at the debt, the components came from the War, the Bush Tax Cuts, and here is the biggie, lost revenue from the crash, and safety net programs. If the economy were growing, these would be well within manageable amounts, maybe not good policy, but not destroying our economy with growing debt.

Long term debts created mainly by Medicare and Medicaid are an issue. But then they missed his next point because they can’t hear it. Cutting entitlements today to reduce the cost in Medicare in the future are solving a problem that does not exist right now, runaway Medicare and Medicaid costs. So why solve a problem in the future that is not a problem now and you gain nothing by solving it now. Money is not going into the bank to pay for later costs. You are just short changing people today for no reason so when you do have to cut back, well, you already have. It’s just too hard for them to understand this. Try this Joe and Mika: You can afford a car with air conditioning if you buy it today, but in five years you won’t be able to afford it, so you don’t buy one with A/C today?

What Paul is getting at, and they just can’t accept, is that we do need to ignore the debt right now to get our economy going and making it vibrant and competitive in the future or we will never be able to solve our debt problem. We know austerity does not work. Then, and he said this but they could not hear it, when things are going well in the private sector, cut back in the public sector. But they are so focused on the debt, which is a symptom, not the cause, they miss the whole solution which is jobs.

Said another way, in a depression, Keynsian economics kicks in and we have to invest and increase our debt. When we are booming, your home budget analogy kicks in and you need to be increasing your savings. But the SPECs either can’t understand or can’t accept this reality. And that is the greatest threat to our national security, people who can not look at the data and say, I think I was wrong about Keynes. Oh, and the data is overwhelming. Note the charts Joe used in his Politico blog were “fear” charts that did show that the deficit is actually decreasing and has for the last three years, or what its primary components were. But be afraid and keep doing what we are doing because it has worked out so well.

By the way, Joe said something that really shows how in the bubble he is, along with most economic conservatives.. He said we have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the economy and it did not work. I remember an underfunded stimulus and then Congress blocking everything else. We did very little. I guess he wants us to embrace austerity and this time it will work. Let’s see, stupid is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, right? If you really want to think about this see my series on The Economy for some background on why economic conservatives have it wrong. And we did hear the inflation/interest rate boogeyman that has failed to show as Keynesian economics has predict. Oh well.

UPDATE: Apparently Paul can take care of himself: “Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification* Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.”

*Incestuous amplification: When a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group.

Also See Greg Sargent and Joe Weisenthal.  As with all SPECs they simply have their economics backwards and they live in incestuous amplification or as Greg Sargent calls it, Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.  The facts are out there, but getting people who are ideolgoically constipated to recognize them is almost impossible.  In the meantime our economy suffers.

Punishing Illegals

Does anybody remember that our ancestors came here undocumented? Does anybody remember that many, including the Irish, came here as the only chance to improve their lives and feed their families? Oh those terrible rule breakers. Oh, and on the paying back of taxes, I wonder how much we owe most of them in refunds because they paid payroll and withholding taxes and never filed for their rightful refunds or benefits? Our immigration system is so dysfunctional that illegals fill jobs we could not fill any other way and we need them. Their immigration is to our benefit. So to those nut jobs in the Republican Party and Chris Mathews who never want see this problem again by building taller walls, it won’t work unless you make immigration responsive to our economic needs, recognize that we need each and every one of them, and they are not some barbarians at the gate, but part of a growing vibrant economy.

But I get carried away. Yes Republicans, let’s punish these people because most had a dream, they tried to better their lives and their families lives by hard work, and of cource, we need them. But those law breakers must be punished just like our forefathers were when they came here, right?

It is All Smoke and Mirrors

If one is attached to reality, I am excluding most of the beltway media, you find all the noise about Republicans rethinking their basic ideas to be more inclusive simply illogical. First as some more liberal commentators have pointed out, what they do is so much more telling than what they say. So when Bobby Jindal tells us they need to be more inclusive and then try to phase out income taxes that hit the wealthy while replacing them with sales tax that wallops the poor, or the states continue their attack on women by closing down access to Planned Parenthood, legal abortions, and any form of family planning, who are they kidding?

One of my favorites is Paul Ryan telling us how he is going to help the Republican Party do a better job at showing how their policies really help the poor and middle class. Now, if that does not tell you how much inside the bubble they are, nothing will. We have thirty years of creating an un level playing field for the “job creators” and what we got was job offshoring, attacks on unions and wages, and no flow down. History does not lie. Worse is their focus on austerity as a panacea for our economic problems totally oblivious to the fact that Britain, their fair haired austerity child, is facing a triple dip recession utilizing these failed policies.

So let’s review: Their economic policies simply don’t work and set us up for another crash of our financial system. They have a whole base that decides their primaries that is borderline racist, anti-intellectual, ill informed, homophobic, xenophobic, clutching their guns, and totally ignorant of real economics. So if they were going to be inclusive, they would lose their primaries. So what they have to do is appear to be inclusive and caring, but change nothing. You see that in the latest discussion about immigration reform. It will be all smoke and mirrors and the real stumbling block will be amnesty because Republicans must punish as policy. Why else would the DREAM act even be an issue?

Meanwhile Republicans continue to do things like try to add amendments to the relief bill for Sandy to pay for it with cuts elsewhere and the Northeast sees the depths of their total lack of empathy for anyone else’s tragedy. It is what they are all about and how do you become inclusive if you really have no empathy for others? It is a dead party that no longer reflects our nation and it hold us back from moving forward and being what we can be. At its very heart, it is a party that cares about white supremacy and the good old boy club over all else, because it is their fortress against the barbarians at the gate. It totally lacks empathy for others and as a Conservative party, is conserving what no longer passes as reality.

The good news is, most Americans have woken up to them. Most young people are inclusive. As Republicans “try” to be more inclusive, the shallowness of their commitment is obvious for everyone to see. Or as John Boehner got it wrong, President Obama is not trying to sweep them into the dust bin of history, they are doing fine all by themselves. Just enjoy the media twisting themselves in pretzels trying to explain how the Republicans are being “inclusive” or that their policies benefit the middle class. They continue because of their bubble and it amazes what they have shut out of their reality. One critical reality that may be hard for them to face is that they are irrelevant to the twenty-first century.

Who Said it Best – Paul Krugman, And Why Republican Rethinking is an Oxymoron

More on this tomorrow, but in the discussion of Republicans rethinking their policies, Paul weighed in with the obvious. They are living in bubble that so detaches themselves from reality and facts, that they actually believe they are rethinking. I saw a Republican “talking head” being challenged yesterday with what most of us know by data from non partisan sources (austerity fails and the original stimulus helped) and was shocked, shocked I tell you. But Paul said it best:

“I didn’t see Meet the Press, and there doesn’t seem to be a transcript available yet, but I hear that Paul Ryan declared it a proven fact that Keynesian economics has failed — and was, of course, not challenged on that assertion. (David Gregory is no Tim Russert, my comment sml)

Consider it, if you like, more evidence of the right-wing bubble. Outside that bubble, a fair number of people have noticed that Keynesian economics has performed spectacularly in the crisis — it successfully predicted that deficits wouldn’t drive up interest rates, that monetary expansion wouldn’t be inflationary, that austerity policies in Britain and elsewhere would hit economic growth. And no, don’t tell me that Keynesians predicted that the Obama stimulus would produce full employment; serious Keynesians, like me, were more or less frantically warning back in early 2009 that the stimulus was too small.

But in Ryan’s world everyone knows that Keynesian economics has failed.”

I challenge you to sit down with a Republican and challenge his beliefs on spending and the economy. For each point bring out a researched and accepted study showing that his belief is wrong (like the deficit is growing – it is not and has shrunk over the last three years), and he will deny it. After all, it did not come from FOX news. There is no hope for them.

Immigration Reform – Really?

A quick read of what the “bipartisan” Senate group put forward on immigration reform tells me we are going to get nowhere. There “guiding principles” are really nebulous statements that have logic holes in them you could drive dump trucks through. Who decides when the border is secure, and who should move to the front of the line? It looks to me like millions of trip wires set for Democrats so that the Republicans can say, “See we tried.”  The Republican base will never accept amnesty unless it is amnesty with 40 lashes making it unpalatable.  They are really all about rule following and punishment, not practical solutions.

Maybe Some Last Thoughts on Religion

Yesterday I wrote about one of the things I hate about religion, the tyranny of their ideas, or said another way, using religious belief as a justification to force their beliefs on everyone. But there has been a lot lately in the news about religion and atheists, and in my mind some very confused babble. Two particular articles last week were The Way of the Agnostic by Gary Gutting, and Is Atheism a Religion – Room for Debate. The later is fairly simple to deal with and I am an atheist. No, it is not a religion unless you decide that you have the ultimate truth and everyone else should believe it. The beauty of my atheism is that I can show rationally why most religious beliefs are nonsense, but tomorrow is another day. In other words, I don’t know everything and I am always searching. If you are no longer searching but have the absolute confidence in you convictions, well then it has become a religion for you because now it is based on faith, not on an ever questioning mind that is open to change.

But Gary Gutting’s article gives me a little more raw material to work with. Gary is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and he takes an intellectual approach to understanding some of the nonsense in religion, but to not disavow religion itself. I won’t pretend I understood everything he said. It was a slog, but he made some good points, but I think he missed the simple and direct understanding of religion which I will get to, so eloquently written in Life of Pi. His first statement I believe is pretty much true:

On the one hand, religions express perennial human impulses and aspirations that cannot plausibly be rejected out of hand as foolish or delusional. The idea that there is simply nothing worthwhile in religion is as unlikely as the idea that there is nothing worthwhile in poetry, art, philosophy or science. On the other hand, taken at their literal word, many religious claims are at best unjustified and at worst absurd or repugnant. There may be deep truths in religions, but these may well not be the truths that the religions themselves officially proclaim. To borrow a term Jürgen Habermas employs in a different context, religions may suffer from a “self-misunderstanding” of their own significance.”

You can read this as religion can be very good and motivate us to find truth and justice in the world, but a lot of it is nonsense, provenly false, but that does not negate some of its basic truths that are not based on literal belief of religion’s stories. Okay, I can certainly go with that. I don’t need to believe in a fairy godfather who watches over each of our lives to believe that the some of the morals and directives for the way we should treat our fellow human beings are not basic truths. He then spends a lot of time explaining how religion typically satisfies these basic human needs, love, understanding, and knowledge. He makes some good points about how religion satisfies these needs. Note that this has nothing to do with whether it is “true”, but a way that it works. He says it best:

“There are serious moral objections to aspects of some religions. But many believers rightly judge that their religion has great moral value for them, that it gives them access to a rich and fulfilling life of love. What is not justified is an exclusivist or infallibilist reading of this belief, implying that the life of a given religion is the only or the best way toward moral fulfillment for everyone, or that there is no room for criticism of the religion’s moral stances.”

He then takes on atheists by criticizing their belief that the very lack of good arguments for religious claims provides a solid basis for rejecting all of them. My problem with the rest of his argument is that it broke down into he said/she said. In other words it became a philosophical argument about morality and aesthetic meanings and how religion gives many the needed moral superiority of their beliefs. He implies that the fact that we can not understand some of our experiences means we can never know the answer to this question. That may be true, but I would add that his view is far evolved from what we actually see embodied as religious belief today, and in that embodiment one can understand why atheism could become a religion, denying all aspects of religion. He finishes with what I think is a great piece of advice:

“We should, then, make room for those who embrace a religion as a source of love and understanding but remain agnostic about the religion’s knowledge claims. We should, for example, countenance those who are Christians while doubting the literal truth of, say, the Trinity and the Resurrection. I wager, in fact, that many professed Christians are not at all sure about the truth of these doctrines —and other believers have similar doubts. They are, quite properly, religious agnostics.”

I found quite a bit of truth and common ground between religion and moral atheists in this article, but I found it a hard slog. Using rational thought sometimes just confuses the issue even though I am a profound rationalist. Sometimes literature can provide meaning that rational arguments struggle to impart. They give us great insight into our human condition. That is why I now turn to that absolutely wonderful book by Yann Martel, Life of Pi.

In this book, the main character, Pi, needs religion to understand the wonder of his world. It is a need basic to his very being. He even shows us how faith is critical whether we believe in a supreme being or not as was embodied in his rational biology teacher who had his own faith in the workings of nature. But Pi was never one into the “literal word” or as as Gary described it above, in the “knowledge” of religion, because he practiced being a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian even though his parents tell him he has to choose because you can’t have contradictory “knowledge”.

Pi then spends 227 days on a lifeboat and he is challenged with the chaos and cruelty of the loss of his family, the punishment he is suffering at the vicissitudes of a chaotic ocean , and his belief in a just and caring god. Yet he sees all the amazing wonder about him so beautifully display in the wonderful motion picture, and can only see this in some spirituality beyond himself. But he resolves all of this and all the questions of atheism and religion when he is being questioned by the two Japanese investigators who just can’t believe his fantastic story about Robert Parker (The tiger he shared his boat with). So Pi tells them a different story about the cook, a injured seaman, and his mother in the life raft. It is a story of violence, murder, and survival. At the end he says to the two interrogators:

“I told you two stories that account for the 227 days in between.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Neither explains the sinking of the Tsimtsum.”

“That’s right.”

“Neither makes a factual difference to you.”

“That’s true.”

“You can’t prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it.”

“I guess so.”

“In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”

Mr. Okamoto: “That’s an interesting question…”

Mr. Chiba” “The story with the animals.”

Mr. Okamoto: “Yes. The story with animals is the better story.”

Pi Patel: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

I think we interpret the world the way we need to. It allows us to do things we do not think we can do otherwise. Sometimes it allows us to far exceed our own abilities and expectations. It allows us to understand and appreciate the world around us or to simply deal with it. It gives us comfort. But in the end it is a personal choice and unless it is used to force choices on others (see yesterday’s blog) or to limit our understanding, why should we care? We are all seeking truth, understanding, and love, and how we get there is not so very important that we have to establish only one path. There are many paths. I think that is what Gary was saying and Yann said in his narrative. That is what religion is all about and the only other blogs I will do on the issue is when fools try to use religion as a tool to enslave the rest of us or limit the ways we can understand the world around us and limit our ability to find truth, love, and understanding.

 

Religious Freedom or is that Religious Intolerance

I picked up the paper this morning, it is after all Sunday Morning, and the first article I see on the front page of the New York Times is, A Flood of Suits Fights Coverage of Birth Control:

“In a flood of lawsuits, Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Mennonites are challenging a provision in the new health care law that requires employers to cover birth control in employee health plans — a high-stakes clash between religious freedom and health care access that appears headed to the Supreme Court.”

Now I will be frank. There is no logic to this. Those that object say they are being forced to provide health care in employer based health care systems that are against their religious (read superstitious) beliefs and say denying people this coverage is their religious right. That might be okay if people had other choices, but the reality is they do not, so if you work for a religious organization that denies this kind of coverage, you are forced to follow their religious beliefs whether you believe them or not. So exactly whose rights are being denied?

Quite frankly health care should be based on science, not superstitious belief, and whether a person choses to eschew certain health care benefits because of their religious beliefs is their choice, not the prerogative of the church to force it down your throats. And more importantly, if the church or religious organization was confident in their beliefs, they would not have to use the tyranny of denial to insure that the faithful are faithful.

But the whole thing even opens up a bigger can of worms. What is religion? If a “religious” organization can deny federally mandated coverage of contraceptives based upon religious beliefs, what about blood transfusions or hysterectomies? What else could they object to that would come under their religious blanket exception of rational thought and science? No, healthcare should be determined based upon good science not faith based thinking.

We could solve this whole thing if we just did away with employer mandated health care and moved on to a single payer system like the rest of the world. But we can’t do that because too many insurance companies make too much money gouging our pay checks and then we wouldn’t have a long term deficit problem. What was I thinking?