Archive for the ‘Religious Conservatism’ Category

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Come gather ’round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters round you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.  If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again and don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’.  For the loser now will be later to win.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call.  Don’t stand in the doorway.  Don’t block up the hall.  For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.  There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’.  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.  Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.  Your old road is rapidly agin’.  Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.  For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn. The curse it is cast.  The slow one now will later be fast.  As the present now will later be past.  The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last.  For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan 1964

We baby-boomers LOVED this song.  It was our declaration of independence.  We are the children of the greatest generation.  But in our youth, all we could see was the hypocrisy of discrimination and the stifling effects of social conformity.  We celebrated individuality, freedom, and creativity.

Now we are the ones who are, at least in part, the rapidly fading order.  Millennials finally outnumber us.  We are also rapidly becoming a diverse racial country where whites are no longer the dominant race.  For some, that is welcome.  For others it is terrifying.

These tectonic demographic shifts drive our politics in ways that aren’t always obvious to those who feel the ground shifting underneath their feet.  These shifts are, none the less, a reliable prediction of where politics are moving in the future.

In order to provide a sense of context, here is an historical example.

Republicans under Abraham Lincoln forced the south to bend to the will of the federal government and free the slaves.  Whites in the south joined the Democratic Party and newly enfranchised blacks voted Republican.  The resurgent Democratic Party forced the government to remove federal troops who had been enforcing southern reconstruction. This allowed the rise of Jim Crow laws and the end of black political power.  Those white politics continued pretty much unchanged until the 60’s,  Democrats supported civil rights legislation and again imposed a new order on the south.  Blacks had been moving away from the Republican Party for decades because that party failed to support black interests (e.g. Teddy Roosevelt’s disbanding of a black army unit).  Democrats earned black votes in response to Democratic support of civil rights legislation.  Nixon’s southern strategy completed the transition of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party.

Let’s look at some of the other important growing demographic segments to see which parties they are aligned with and why.

Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans
All of these demographics are SIGNIFICANTLY younger than the white population.  The implications are obvious.  As the white population ages, the these groups will gain more political power.

It should also be obvious to even the casual observer that all of these groups have good reasons to affiliate with the Democratic Party.  Republicans have chosen to be the party of white people.  That choice was not lost on these groups.  Both Trump and Cruz promise to deport 12M undocumented workers.  Those opposed to that are going to vote Democratic.  The Republican Party largely blames the poor in this country for their condition.  Those who oppose that view are also going to vote for Democrats.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman accurately described the Republican problem.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively. What happened? African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other non-whites — all overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning groups — rose from 12 percent of voters in 1980 to 28 percent in 2012.

Women
Regardless of how you feel about abortion, from a political perspective 54% of women are pro-choice.  Republicans are aggressively pro-life.  According to Gallup, 70% of women have an unfavorable view of Trump.  Even with Clinton’s negatives among women at 50%, she has a 20 point advantage.  If Trump continues to attack her in the run up to the presidency in the same ways that he attacked women during the primaries, it is likely that his negatives will go up and hers down.

Highly Educated Professionals
These people are naturally liberal because they value science.  Republican positions on climate change only exacerbate this Democratic advantage.

Young People
Young people are very supportive of LGBT rights and many carry massive college debt.  Republicans oppose LGBT rights and oppose any efforts to reform higher education financing.

Evangelicals
Carter woke up evangelicals.  Reagan and Schafly converted them to Republicanism.  Lately, however, evangelical leaders have moved away from the narrow social issues and embraced a larger set of concerns about helping the poor.  They remain an area of support for Republicans, but the religious zealotry of right wing conservatism has taken over from the pulpit-lead politics of previous decades.

Working Class Whites
Republicans have an advantage with low information white voters.  Trump has mobilized them because they have felt that their previous Republican votes did not deliver the change that was promised.  They are looking for someone to materially change their current tenuous condition.  Their wages have stagnated.  Their job prospects are grim.  What investments they had have not recovered from the 2008 financial collapse.  They have determined that the game is rigged against them and they want someone to blame.  This all fits well with the Republican emotional approach to politics.  The problem is that this group, while passionate, is a declining demographic and in 2016 may represent 10% of the voting population.

Conclusion
The next election will be a contentious one.  Assuming that there are no bombshells between now and November, Clinton should win with relative ease regardless of who Republicans run.  That is going to be incomprehensible for Republicans because Clinton IS in many ways the devil of their religion.  It was just as incomprehensible for them that a white country elected a black man twice, but they blamed that on Romney and McCain not being conservative enough and the government bribing 47% of the population.

The facts tell a different story.  Too many of the growing demographic groups currently have natural affiliations with Democratic policy positions for any Republican to win.  The real question is what choice the Republican faithful, in the face of yet another national failure, will make – start swimmin’ or sink like a stone.

Conservative Myths – Dependency

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

The basic construct of democracy is that candidates campaign for votes. The candidate that gets the most votes wins the office.

Since this is a representative democracy, candidates try to give voters a sense of how they are going to behave if they get elected. This gives voters an opportunity to select those candidates that they feel would best represent them.

What has happened over the years is that this country has divided into two dominant parties. It would be convenient to say that conservatives are served by Republicans and liberals by Democrats, but that is a fairly recent development. The Republicans of Lincoln were the liberal party and the Democrats were the conservatives. The politics of race transformed the South into solid Democratic territory as the result of the white backlash to the civil war. The Democratic Party itself under FDR became significantly more liberal, but continued to hold its southern wing together by ignoring the plight of southern blacks. Kennedy and Johnson lead the legislative charge for civil rights in the 60’s. Racial politics caused another seismic shift during the 70’s when Nixon’s Southern Strategy embraced angry white men unhappy with Johnson’s civil rights activism. That strategy was expanded by Reagan who widened the Republican tent to include the evangelical vote that helped elect Carter.

The result is that we now have two parties that are pretty far apart ideologically. Both have their sets of beliefs. This particular post is going to look at some of the myths that are at the foundation of conservatism. There are likely some myths at the foundation of liberalism too. I’ll try to find some of those too.

Dependency
The myth is simple. Cash assistance for the poor prolongs their poverty. Reagan pledged to free the poor from the spider’s web of dependency by cutting their benefits. This allows those who believe in this myth to claim that eliminating benefits is really a compassionate act.

Fortunately there is no data to support this claim.

In fact, much to the contrary, cash assistance is common place in the rest of the world. 119 countries have at least one type of unconditional cash assistance. The US has none. In 52 additional countries the cash transfers require simple acts like enrolling your children in school. The only cash assistance available in this country is Temporary Aid to Needy Families. It has a huge bureaucracy whose sole role is to make sure that the aid is TEMPORARY.

MIT studied seven cash transfer programs in Central and South America and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work”.

The World Bank 2014 report came to a similar conclusion regarding their cash assistance programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In this country, a UC Berkeley study found that welfare payments did not increase single motherhood.

Though welfare as we know it was eliminated by Bill Clinton in 1996, the claim that welfare produced generations of dependents also failed the fact check. 40% of welfare recipients were off welfare within two years. Two thirds were off welfare within 5 years.

What about benefits?
More cash welfare improves the longevity, educational attainment, nutritional health, and adult income of poor children.

How about the results of cutting welfare?
Initially it appeared to encourage a lot of people to get jobs. But as soon as the Clinton boom faded, so did the jobs. Whatever gains the poor made during that period now appear to be the result of a strong economy and the expanded earned income tax credit.

Zombie Politics
This is one of those ideas that simply won’t die. This myth is buried so deep in the conservative mind that facts really don’t matter.

Paul Ryan proposed eliminating the last remaining vestiges of federal assistance and replacing it with block grants to the states who impose tough work requirements on the beneficiaries.

Summary
There is no data suggesting that cash payments to the needy are abused.

There is no data suggesting that reducing payments somehow provides a greater incentive to work than poverty itself.

There is plenty of data that suggest that those who suffer most from poverty are those who have the least ability to change their condition – children. There is also data that shows investing in poor children produces adults that are less dependent on the government because they are healthier, better educated, and more likely to be tax payers.

So why do we persist in an idea that is both cruel and foolish?

Because conservatives are more afraid of someone getting something that they don’t deserve than they are of injuring someone who is innocent. As a result, those who represent conservatives have found that if they blame the poor for their condition, they get more votes than the candidates who suggest that welfare could be an effective strategy to combat poverty.

Hopefully the next generation will not be so short sighted and hard hearted.

The Empire Strikes Back

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

There are plenty of frightening things about Trump’s campaign.

What is most frightening is his xenophobic appeal to nativism. It has given voice to an ugly white bigoted segment of society that has always been there, but was not discussed in polite company. These are the neo-nazi white supremacist racists who have enjoyed resurgence over the past eight years because a black man was in the White House. They were able to scream their bigotry in the public square because conservative Republicans claimed it was all politics. The worst stuff imaginable was suddenly fashionable among those who opposed the President because of his politics AND his race.

While they weren’t looking, however, conservatives have discovered that Trump is not just a racist, which they understand. He is also a populist. Worse yet, he is a rich populist, which seems an oxymoron, but doesn’t seem to disturb his followers. Even more terrifying to the conservative Republican establishment, his populism hasn’t just targeting illegal immigrants. It has also targeted bloated corporations who have had their way for too long and CEO’s who have been packing it in at the expense of their workers.

This is a very interesting turn of events. Ever since Reagan coopted the evangelical political movement awakened by Carter, Republican candidates have run on a whole platform of social issues. Once elected, however, they only delivered on the fiscal issues that were most important to their big money backers. Over the years everyone assumed that social conservatives actually cared about all of these fiscal issues too. Turns out that those supporting Trump don’t really care about the reducing taxes, expanding federal programs, and state’s rights. They understand the impact that big money has had on politics and are just as unhappy about large corporations and high income CEO’s as they are about illegal immigrants. Trump, running as a conservative Republican, hates free trade deals, loves Medicare and Social Security, wants to punish big companies that ship their jobs overseas, wants to tax CEO’s with cushy comp packages, and pledges to hold boards more accountable for their crony capitalism. In that regard Trump is MUCH closer to Bernie Sanders than he is any other candidate on the Republican ticket.

As Paul Krugman points out

The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed.

But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.

The empire has inevitably begun to strike back.

The Club for Growth, that mainline supply side shill for political big money, is raising money to start running ads against Trump because of his tax policy.

Their hope is that they are going to be able to convince enough conservative Republicans that Trump is not their friend. This is going to be really interesting because the moment those ads begin to run I predict his poll numbers will improve. Rather than vilify Trump, these attacks from the conservative Republican establishment will validate what Trump has been saying all along. Those that have been sitting on the sidelines not sure that Trump is the real deal will realize that the Republican establishment, whom they also don’t trust, DOES take him seriously. They believe that he is dangerous. They recognize that he isn’t going to succumb to their influence. And finally, the establishment is terrified of what will happen to them if Trump is elected. This attack will be the sort of endorsement some of those on the sidelines have been waiting for. Trump will use these attacks to double down on his message of change. He will say, “If you really want to see changes, rather than the same old three card Monty that the Republican Party has been running, vote for me”.

If Trump is able to prove that these sorts of attacks will backfire and that organizations like the Club for Growth no longer have the weapon they claimed, the Republican Party will enter a brave new world. They will be required to really debate fiscal policy on the basis of what is best for the voters rather than what is best for their big money interests. If that occurs, we could really see a Presidential election where Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both agree that the wealthy should pay more taxes, corporations should be penalized when they ship jobs offshore, trade pacts should benefit US workers, the social safety net should be strengthened because it benefits those that depend on it, and healthcare should be available to all at a cost that all can afford.

Compare this to the tax plans of the rest of the clowns on the Republican candidate bus.

Cruz, Paul, and Carson all favor a flat tax. Easy math says that the flat tax has to be somewhere around 25% in order to fund the government at current spending levels. Paul is at 14.5%. Carson at is 10%. Cruz hasn’t said. Beyond that, the flat tax is a huge give away to the wealthy who are paying significantly more in taxes today.

Huckabee is proposing a consumption tax. This federal sales tax would add $.23 to ever $1 spent on anything or an effective rate of 30%. The problem is that economic think tanks across the political spectrum say that it wouldn’t even come close to funding the government at its current level of spending.

Bush’s tax plan is the most interesting just because it is so weird. He has already promised that supply side economics will produce 4% growth for as far as the eye can see. But the details of the plan make that naïve prediction seem rational. Here are some quotes from a good article on the subject from fivethirtyeight.com

Bush’s plan offers an unlikely combination of solutions to the problem of slow growth.

He wants to cut the income tax rate and eliminate the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax — all policies that would benefit mostly the wealthiest Americans. At other times, he sounds like a populist, calling for the closing of loopholes that benefit corporations and hedge fund managers. And at others, he sounds like a policy wonk, arguing to shift tax policy in a way that encourages companies to build rather than borrow.

There’s no way to calculate yet what impact Bush’s proposals would have on the federal deficit, for example, or exactly how much more or less specific groups would pay in taxes. He hasn’t identified the corporate loopholes he would close or said whether closing them would fully offset his proposed cut to the headline corporate income tax rate.

The summary is that this is a politically motivated plan that borrows something from every other candidate including Clinton and Sanders, bundles it all up in a big confusing bag, and then wraps it in a bow of promised 4% growth. The reality once you strip everything away is that it is the same old voodoo economics that Reagan was forced to abandon, Bush I rescinded, and Bush II used to turn a surplus into a deficit.

The reality, at least for the moment, is that there are a lot of angry white voters out there who are unhappy with the Republican establishment. There are also a lot of frustrated progressive voters out there who are eager for a candidate willing to mount a full throated defense of progressive principles. Trump and Sanders are riding these respective waves. It is unclear whether those waves will propel both candidates to their party’s nomination, but the political establishment is becoming very uneasy with this populist uprising.

Courts Decide

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

The Supreme Court recently did what they are empowered to do – make decisions based on their best interpretation of the constitution.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary for a reason. We are a nation of laws where the power of the majority does not trump the rights of the minority. Our federal judges are appointed to reduce political influence.

The court also decides issues that we can’t resolve at the ballot box.

During this time of deep political polarization, every decision produces a backlash of second guessers. The same court they agreed with yesterday somehow betrayed them today. You’ll likely see some of that across the Internet with appropriate doomsday predictions.

Americans deserve leadership that can actually fix our broken health care system, and they are certainly not getting now from Washington, DC. Jeb Bush

From the beginning, it was clear that ObamaCare would fail the American people and this has proven to be true across the country and in Wisconsin. Scott Walker

The reality is that while not perfect, Obamacare is meeting its goals. Over 10M insured and the healthcare growth rate has slowed to its lowest rate in decades. This despite the fact that 25 Republican states have refused to expand Medicare. Also NOT ONE Republican candidate has produced a detailed replacement plan that can be scored against Obamacare.

I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. Mike Huckabee

This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty. Bobby Jindal

The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas. As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage. Scott Walker

What is funny is that the founding fathers created the judicial branch to protect the people from an imperial exec and legislative branch. Also at the time of the decision, 39 states had already approved gay marriage.

Those that complain about the court being politicized, recommend packing the court with conservative justices as the remedy. Yet, it was supposedly conservative justices who participated in the majority in both cases.

Then there were the appropriate predictions of the apocalypse.

Santorum said stopping gay people from marrying was about “the survival of our country.”

Sen. Ted Cruz said it was “the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”

Santorum might be correct if the country were exclusively populated by gay men, but it’s not. We are, in fact, in the midst of a baby boom. So clearly there are plenty of people still willing to contribute to the next generation even if that generation includes some married gay people.

As far as dark hours, at least from an existential perspective, this one isn’t very high on the list. Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the murders of the Kennedy’s, MLK, and Licoln; the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the Civil War, and Valley Forge all come to mind well before we get to this most recent SCOTUS decision.

Here’s what was actually decided.

Affordable Care Act The dispute was over six of the 363,086 words in the law. The part of the law said that insurance purchased through “an exchange established by the state” qualified for subsidies. Narrowly interpreting the law in this fashion, according to the court, led to many more serious contradictions throughout the rest of the law. The court decided (6-3) that Congress intended ACA subsidies to apply regardless of how insurance was purchased. The court encouraged Congress to be more careful in the future and left open the option for future legislation on the subject.

Same Sex Marriage The court decided (5-4) that adults have the constitutional right to marry. States can’t limit that right based on sexual preference. This decision doesn’t affect state laws regarding children, monogamy, or bestiality. It doesn’t affect who churches decide to marry. It doesn’t compel any business to change their practices. It only requires states to provide marriage licenses to all adults who apply for them and meet the requirements of that state (not already married, no sexually transmitted diseases, etc.).

There are certainly those who feel that this decision violates their religious beliefs. I would only remind them that similar religious arguments were used to support slavery, oppose female suffrage, support segregation, and oppose interracial marriage. Very few legitimate churches support those views today.

The courts aren’t perfect, but they do serve a vital role in our democracy. While I welcomed these decisions, I too was deeply disappointed by others (e.g. Citizens United). We all have the right to disagree, but we also have the responsibility as citizens to respect this constitutional process. If you want change, vote.

Climate Change Infallibility

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Here’s how twisted the climate change debate has become.

The Pope feels that he has to weigh in.

His opinion?

Climate change is real.

Climate change is a moral issue because of the damage being done to the poor.

His formal remarks on the subject will be published in an encyclical due later this month. Encyclicals are letters that Popes send to Bishops. The purpose is to instruct the Bishops on the Catholic Church’s position on particular issues. This is serious stuff. It is not an invitation for dialog. It is a statement of how this particular issue is going to be taught by the Bishops going forward. The Pope expects all good Catholics to follow the church’s teachings.

The reaction on this side of the ocean is incredible.

Catholic republican conservative Rick Santorum has built his political career on his religious beliefs. He opposes abortion and same sex marriage. On ISIS, he believes that the US should “bomb them back to the seventh century.” He believes that immigration is contributing to economic problems because immigrants are taking jobs from citizens. As a result, he wants to reduce LEGAL immigration by 25%. He opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Finally, he rejects scientific evidence that human behavior is causing climate change. He walks pretty much straight down the right wing conservative Republican political platform while wrapping it all in a mantle of Catholicism.

The problem is that conservative Catholics also believe in papal infallibility. That means that when the Pope speaks on matters concerning faith or morals, it is not only binding for all Catholics, but it is divinely inspired and cannot be wrong.

So this puts Rick Santorum in a difficult spot. Which is more important to him – his religion or his politics? Here’s his response.

I would just say this: The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.

Not only does he reject the whole concept of papal infallibility out of hand, but he also questions the Pope’s right to view climate change as a moral issue. Finally he uses the church’s past denial of the scientific evidence supporting a sun-centric planetary system, as evidence that the church isn’t trustworthy when it comes to science. He advises the Catholic Church to leave science to the scientists.

This is the height of hypocrisy. That’s because Santorum’s political position of climate change denial fails to follow his own advice to the Catholic Church. Instead of leaving science to the scientists, Santorum rejects the current scientific consensus regarding the causes of climate change because it conflicts with his RELIGIOUS views.

Here is how Santorum defends calling climate change “a hoax”.

If you leave it to Nature, then Nature will do what Nature does, which is boom and bust

And

We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.

Rick Santorum has no standing in the scientific community. His undergrad degree is in Political Science from Penn State. He got an MBA from Pitt and a JD from Dickenson. Pope Francis, on the other hand, IS a scientist. He has a degree in chemistry and worked as a chemical technician before entering the priesthood. He CAN speak with authority on the science.

He can also speak with authority on the morality of climate change because he is the head of one of the world’s largest religions. He isn’t the first to speak out either. He is one of a long line of Pope’s who have treated climate change as a moral issue.

Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development – Pope Benedict XVI

In our day, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened … by a lack of due respect for nature – Pope John Paul II

So we have a conservative Republican politician who has so blurred the lines between his political views and his religious views that he can no longer see the difference. He rejects the leader of his church claiming the Pope isn’t qualified to make a scientific judgment because of the church’s opposition to Gallileo – even though the church’s position is motivated by morality. Despite the fact that the Pope himself is a scientist, Santorum dismisses the church’s position as out of step with the scientific community. Then he uses exactly the same Biblical passage that the Catholic Church used to defend itself against the scientific claims of Gallileo, to support his own rejection of the scientific community’s conclusion that human actions are causing climate change.

In other words he tells the church to quit politicizing science and then turns right around to use his own religious beliefs to politicize science.

This raises an obvious question of whether Rick recognizes the Pope as his leader. Here’s what he told a radio interviewer in January.

I mean, it’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope and some of the things he says off the cuff…. I keep coming back to the Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church, and when he speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, I’ll certainly pay attention. But when he speaks in interviews, he’s giving his own opinions.

Santorum’s rejection of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is just another example of the hubris of the man. This is a perfect example of the solipsism that appears to infect the right wing conservative movement. There isn’t even the hint of self consciousness in Santorum’s statements even though they are obviously contradictory. That’s because there is only one ideology that he follows – right wing conservatism.

That is his god.

That is his religion.

The fact that he can campaign as a serious candidate only highlights the deep cynicism that pervades the conservative wing of the Republican party.

Fortunately the Bible warned us against these people.

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways James 1:8

Dear President Lincoln

Friday, February 27th, 2015

In honor of President’s Day, here’s an open letter to two of the Presidents generally regarded as the two best Presidents in history.

The challenge we face in this partisan political environment is to resist the temptation to rewrite history to serve a particular political position.

Some examples of that are David Baron and Wall Builders. He claims that the founding fathers intended to create a Christian Nation.

And Andrew Napolitano’s ridiculous claims about Lincoln and slavery.

Dear President Lincoln, thank you for your vision, courage, and sacrifice. You knew that slavery had to be abolished for the country to move forward. You asserted the federal government’s right to impose its will on those states that refused to comply. You had the courage to issue an executive order called the Emancipation Proclamation because Congress and states refused to act.

A lot of people were angry with your willingness to go to war over this issue. Some formed a new political movement called the Copperheads. They called you an emperor destroying American values with despotic and arbitrary unconstitutional actions. They held large rallies calling for you and your Republican party’s impeachment. The Copperheads ran candidates opposing your policies and won majorities in state legislatures including Illinois.

Important news outlets supported the Copperheads. The La Crosse Democrat called you a “Fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism” and a “worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero … The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer … And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Thank you President Washington for religious freedom. You held good citizens to the moral standard of one country rather than one religion. Honoring liberty and supporting country requires respect for ALL religious beliefs and the right for all to practice in peace. “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” 1790 Letter from President Washington to a Rhode Island Hebrew congregation. Your letter embracing a group of citizens who didn’t share your views of Jesus Christ was a wonderful example of your expectations.

The real tragedy today are those citizens who attempt to rewrite history to fit a particular political/religious narrative rather than honor it in all of its messy complexity.

As far as God’s politics, Lincoln said, “I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right, but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.

Caliphate

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

The recent Charlie Hebdo attack has again raised the prospect of global radical Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, the reaction in the US continues to be myopic and uninformed.

Here’s just a sample.

Network national security analyst KT McFarland blamed the shooting at Charlie Hebdo headquarters on France’s “really strict gun control” and “politically correct” policies that treat everyone equally. Echoing disdain for policies that treat everyone equally, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatens the city’s security by demoralizing the New York Police Department and painting the NYPD with “a racist brush” when officers act on that principle.

Strategic analyst Ralph Peters cited the shooting to attack Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), invoking the recently released Senate Intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques. Peters proclaimed that “these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn’t even want to waterboard,” adding that the Obama administration is too “soft on radical Islam.”

Breitbart.com editor-at-large Ben Shapiro used the tragedy to invoke tired Benghazi smears of Hillary Clinton and President Obama, asking when they would “recommend we arrest the rest of the Charlie Hebbdo staff for inciting Islamic violence?”

Outnumbered hosts agreed that Americans “are being hunted” by terrorists, and network host Kennedy added that “I think the best thing that Americans can do is arm themselves.”

Ingraham blamed the tragic attack in Paris on France’s immigration policy, saying “the principle of multiculturalism and open borders… is pure insanity, a suicide pact.”

While wrong-headed partisan responses from conservative pundits is not surprising, these also continue a false narrative about why all of this is occurring.

Jihadist attacks to not occur because of there are too few guns in citizens’ hands. They did not occur because of political correctness. They do not occur because we are too soft or because there is too much free speech. Jihadists are not hunting Americans. They don’t attack because of our immigration policy or the immigration policies of any other western country.

Jihadist attacks occur because disaffected young men (mostly) are radicalized by an idea and inspired to sacrifice themselves and others to support that idea.

Jihadists have no monopoly on disaffected young men. There is a long list of young men who carry out murderous suicidal attacks in this country who are motivated by any number of other twisted ideas that have nothing to do with Islam. It is the same quirk in the maturation process of young men that armies through the ages have been able to take advantage of. They need a cause that they can commit themselves to.

If it isn’t something uniquely sinister in young Muslim men, what is it that continues to cause attacks from radicalized Islamic fundamentalists on western targets?

It’s the Caliphate, stupid

The Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a person who combines both political and religious leadership. This is not all that different from revisionist history preached by fundamentalists who claim the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

This exploration of the Caliphate as the root of jihadism is based on some very thoughtful analysis published in a column by Canadian Columnist Gwynne Dyer.

The first question to ask is why is a caliphate at the root of this terrorist activity?

The answer is simple.

There is a civil war going on in Islam. Since Islam is a religion without borders, this war also has no borders. The vast majority of the casualties in this war are Muslim, but what gets reported in the west is when this war occasionally overflows into western countries.

The great Muslim civil war is about the political, social and cultural modernization of the Muslim world. Should the Muslim world continue down much the same track that other major global cultures have followed, or should those changes be stopped and indeed reversed? The Islamists take the latter position.

It has become a war because most Muslims across the world find modernization very attractive. Those who oppose democracy, equality, consumerism, etc. are a minority even in their own countries. They understand that the only way to preserve the way of life they feel is required of all devout Muslims, is to create a conservative Caliphate. This Caliphate can impose the harsh policies of Sharia law on the majority of the population who would not follow the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran given a choice.

They use the west to recruit followers by inventing a narrative that says that modernization and western culture itself is a plot to undermine Islam. The main strategy to prove their point are attacks INTENDED to trigger a military response. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq established the jihadi movement as a legitimate political force. Decades earlier the same tactics prompted the same response from Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

To the degree that these attacks also trigger mistreatment of Muslim minorities in other countries or acts that even the Muslim mainstream considers offensive (burning Qurans and public ridicule of Mohammed), the fundamentalists win.

So it should be no surprise that when ISIS declared that their intention was to create a Caliphate in northern Syria and Iraq, fundamentalist Muslim fighters from around the world poured into that region to help.

The second question is also obvious. What does the west do?

The answer to this question is more difficult.

The west cannot stop being an engine of cultural change. That is in our nature. So it will always be viewed by a fundamentalist minority as a threat.

The west also cannot stand idle while terrorists continue to attack. These are issues of security and law that demand a response.

But the west can’t continue to treat this ideology as a movement of rational people. This is similar to the challenges that the US faced with Japanese kamikaze attacks. How do you defend yourself against someone who is not only willing, but eager to die for their cause?

The solution lies in our own culture and our own values.

Our greatest asset in the United States in this conflict of ideas is the fact that our success as a nation is testimony to the power of freedom, liberty, and religious pluralism. If we compromise religious liberty in the name of defeating Wahhabis, we lose. We become who the Islamist said we were.

The best way to prove that secular society is preferable to an Islamist one is to prove that all human beings including Muslims prefer to live in these types of societies, over those ruled by Sharia and clerics, out of their own free will and not by coercion.

It may seem counter intuitive, but the best way to defeat this idea is to welcome Muslims who are willing to live by our laws into this country.

Just as the Wahhabists and Salafists use our freedom of speech to spread their message, we have to spread our message of freedom and liberty by demonstrating that western societies are able to walk our talk.

We also have to shut off the flow of money from Saudi Arabia that supports the spread of this fundamentalist ideology. We are finally in the position to do so because of the collapse of the OPEC cartel.

“We can’t kill our way to victory,” Adm. Michael Mullen famously said of the Afghan war.

We can’t spy our way to victory.

We can’t torture our way to victory either.

We can’t close the borders and expect to be safe.

We can’t silence the voices of those who disagree with us and assume that disagreement will end.

Ideas can’t be killed. But they can be defeated by a better idea. The current jihadi movement is built on a couple of lies. People live better lives under Sharia law. Western culture was created to defeat Islam.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that peace loving people live better lives when they get to decide for themselves how they would like to live.

We defeat jihadism by demonstrating that law abiding Muslims are more welcomed and free to practice their religion in the United States than any other place is the world.

Combating Fundamentalism

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Islamic Fundamentalism has reared its ugly head again in the Middle East.

This latest version is so radical and violent that the established radical and violent fundamentalist movements have disavowed it. So that checks the first box of the well-worn conservative criticism of Islam. Other Muslims ARE speaking out against this latest perversion of their religion.

ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant) was born in the ugly proxy war going on in Syria. It has its roots in the AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) group that the US defeated in the Iraq war in what has been called the Awakening Movement. It has gained some traction in Iraq lately because of the failure of the al-Maliki government to share power with Sunni’s. Their military leaders come from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party that was ousted in the overthrow the Iraq government.

ISIS forces have been bolstered by up to 3000 foreign fighters. Somewhere around 1000 came from Chechnya. Another 500 have come from Europe (primarily France and Britain). Sunni prisoners freed from areas in Iraq and Syria that ISIS controls also have added to their forces.

ISIS is primarily internally funded. None of the claims for connections to Qatar or Saudi Arabia have been proven. They fund themselves through extortion, kidnapping, and looting the resources of the areas that they occupy. Since that includes oil and electric power that they control in northern Syria, they have sufficient financing to fund their operations.

Between Saddam’s weapons stockpiles that were left unguarded during the US invasion, weaponry captured in Syria, and US weaponry left behind as US forces left; ISIS does not appear to need an outside arms supplier to accomplish its military goals either.

Conservatives like McCain and Graham are advocating a military solution. They haven’t said how they will finance it. The current air strikes in Iraq cost approximately $7.5M a day. They also acknowledge that:

It is a truism to say there is no military solution to ISIS. Any strategy must, of course, be comprehensive. It must squeeze ISIS’ finances. It requires an inclusive government in Baghdad that shares power and wealth with Iraqi Sunnis, rather than pushing them toward ISIS. It requires an end to the conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq. A strategy to counter ISIS also requires a regional approach to mobilize America’s partners in a coordinated, multilateral effort.

Let’s parse this a little more.

As listed above, it is going to be difficult to “squeeze ISIS’ finances” because they are not dependent on outside sources of income. They also have a healthy kidnapping industry that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year in worldwide ransom payments. The US and Britain are the only governments refusing to pay ISIS ransom demands.

It is hard to imagine what additional pressure the US can exert on Baghdad to form a more equitable government. We accelerated our troop withdrawal in part because Baghdad refused to reform itself.

It is unclear what else the international community could do to “end the conflict in Syria”. Syria is a client state of Russia. The international community has been unable to keep Russia from dismantling Ukraine using its own soldiers. What could the US or the international community do that they haven’t already done, short of military action, which would cause the Russians to act differently in Syria?

As far as military action is concerned, the US is able to carry out air strikes in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. How would that happen in Syria?

It is unlikely that we are going to get a request from Assad for help. If we did, accepting that request would legitimize the same government that we said no longer has a right to rule.

If we go in unilaterally, we are almost certainly going to cause a strong response from Russia. The nature of that response could lead to a much larger conflict that no one wants.

The ONLY way that we can justify any military action in Syria is with the overt support of the international community and the covert support of Russia. Last time I looked, there weren’t many in the international community supporting our much more modest efforts in Afghanistan. There isn’t much appetite among our friends to go another round in Iraq and Syria. The only way Russia is going to agree is if ISIS threatens the overthrow of the Syria government. While that may be ISIS’ long term plan, in the short term, ISIS is not expanding their territory in Syria. They are much more interested in Sunni sections of Iraq.

The larger truth is that, just as there was no military solution to Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq and Afghanistan – there is no military solution in Syria.

You don’t defeat an idea with a gun, particularly in revenge cultures like the Middle East. ISIS would like nothing more than a shooting war with the US. That helps validate their claim that the US is at war with Islam.

You can only defeat a bad idea with a better idea. That better idea is all of the western corruption and consumerism that fundamentalist Islam abhors. That better idea is equality between the sexes and economic opportunity. Those ideas have peacefully transformed China into a capitalist powerhouse. Those ideas are slowly dismantling the Islamic state that took power in Iran in 1979. Within a generation, those ideas will coopt and transform ISIS too. That’s because the children of these fighters, will be less willing to live the fundamentalist lifestyle than their zealous parents. They won’t fear or despise the west as a long as the west hasn’t spent the last 20 years killing their relatives.

The isolation strategy that eventually gave consumerism time to work its magic in Iran can also work in the new defacto Islamic State. They will find that governing is way less interesting to foreign jihadists than fighting. The west will find that isolating the Islamic State is going to be a far more effective strategy, even if we have to endure a small number of terrorist attacks, than attempting to defeat them militarily.

We believe in Science

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

“We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.” Elizabeth Warren

This was part of a longer list of progressive values that Elizabeth Warren listed in a July speech to Netroots Nation.

I agree with her list, but I thought it interesting to dig into why progressives believe in science. It might also be interesting to compare those beliefs with the implied opposing conservative view. Since this is just my opinion, I’ll change this perspective from “we” to “I”.

Why I believe in Science?

Science is inherently about the search for truth. While any human endeavor is vulnerable to bias, the scientific community celebrates revolutionary thought rather than suppressing it.

These claims are the result of the modern scientific method.

That method employs what we would now call crowd sourcing as a protection against bias.

Science, at least the hard sciences, depends on mathematics. Mathematics has no bias.

There are two types of scientists in the world – theoretical and experimental. Theoretical scientists rely on mathematics to create new models to explain or predict experimental results. Experimental scientists test these theories through experiments.

All scientists publish the results of their work in peer reviewed journals. The scientific community engages through these journals to verify the math, confirm experimental results, and comment on new theories.

If the math behind the theories survives review by independent groups, the theories gain credibility.

If the theories accurately predict experiment results, the theories gain credibility.

If the experimental results can be duplicated by independent groups, they gain credibility.

As theories gain support in the scientific community, more scientists engage in exploring the boundaries of those theories. As the experimental evidence accumulates and the boundaries of the theories emerge, those theories become accepted by a majority of the scientific community.

That’s where we are with climate science. The boundaries are still evolving, but the basic assumption that the current changes in climate that we are seeing are caused by human activity is accepted by 98% of those qualified to have an opinion.

I believe in science because I believe in the purity of mathematics and reliability of the peer-reviewed crowd sourced model.

Why do liberals believe in science?

The answer here is more nuanced.

The facts are that we are all fundamentally emotional decision makers. That’s what moral intuitionism is all about. The difference is that when it comes down to a choice, it is easier for liberals to alter their views in the face of contradicting facts than it is for conservatives.

We’ve also talked about how liberals and conservatives operate emotionally from two different sets of moral foundations. Liberals focus on fairness and care. Conservatives share those foundations but are also concerned about liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Science is inherently fair. Liberals view science as a tool to determine how to best address the problems of those who need care and protection.

That isn’t to say that liberals don’t also have their biases and areas where these emotional moral foundation-based decisions cause them to be science deniers. Vaccinations, though not exclusively a liberal issue, is a good example.
Finally, studies also show that liberals are fundamentally accepting of change while conservatives fear it. If science has any bias, it is toward change. Scientists are motivated toward answering the unanswered questions. That inevitably leads to upending accepted theories and replacing them with new ones.

Why are conservatives science deniers?

Conservatives weren’t always science deniers. The coalitions created by Nixon and Reagan, aligned conservatives with Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalist Christians ARE science deniers. The result has been the politicization of science because it calls into question beliefs that spring from a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Big Tobacco developed the political tools to cast doubt on mainstream science. It was the only way they could continue to sell a product that killed people. A long line of conservative political operatives have refined those tools to create wedge issues, build conservative coalitions, and attack liberalism.

Conclusion

Mathematics is one of the few things in our existence that is pure, absolute, and rational. That is not an indictment of emotion or belief. Science, because it is based on mathematics, simply stands in stark contrast to belief.

Those who attempt to base their lives on belief, for example, have no choice but to deny science. Science isn’t specifically attacking their beliefs. Science is simply creating theories to explain experimental evidence that is being discovered. Any damage that any particular belief suffers is generally unintended.

Here’s just a simple thought experiment to illustrate the point. If at some point in the future, science discovers that there WAS evidence of some “creative event” that could only be explained by intervention from a higher power, liberals would have no problem accepting that theory. Liberals would find themselves more closely aligned with conservative Christian beliefs on this particular topic. Atheists would then find themselves in the curious position of denying science in order to defend their position.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way and that’s the basic challenge of this age.

For liberals, science largely guides belief.

For conservatives, belief trumps science.

The Crime of Poverty

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:19-23

There was a cost to income inequality even in Jesus time. This cautionary tale, however, seems to have been forgotten today, just as it was over 2000 years ago.

Income inequality is real and is larger now than in any other time in our industrialized history.

In practical terms, this is the result of government policies which favor the rich.

We’ve already discussed ways that income inequality can be reversed – primarily by reversing the government policies which caused its rise in the first place.

Let’s look for a moment at the other end of the spectrum – the real costs of poverty.

The direct result of concentrating more of the nation’s income in the hands of the wealthy is that less money is going into the hands of the poor.

Less money in the hands of the poor has caused an increase in crime, specifically homicides and robbery in poor neighborhoods. In the 2002 report entitled “Inequality and Violent Crime”, the World Bank says,

Income inequality … has a positive and significant effect on homicide rates … the results for robberies are similar to those for homicides.

AND

…when poverty falls … either because income growth rises or the distribution of income improves, then crimes rates tend to fall.

Seems a simple conclusion – poverty and crime are connected.

But the conservative response based on the “fairness” moral foundation, is that the poor are responsible for their own condition because of bad choices. If they break the law they should go to jail. The reality, however, is that our prisons are now overcrowded with people convicted mostly of non-violent minor drug crimes.

The United States has 25% of the world’s prisoners but only 5% of the world’s population. Incarceration rates over the last 20 years have risen while crime rates have dropped 40%. The direct taxpayer cost is $64B/year. The indirect costs are a generation of primarily minority men who are absent from their families and have difficulty finding work when they have served their time. That’s because, though drug use has no racial preference, 75% of the people in prison for non-violent drug offenses are black.

As a precursor to the rest of this discussion. It costs between $30K and $60K a year to house, feed, and guard each prisoner in our prison population. Roughly 50% of those released from prison will return within three years.

Criminologists have found that the single most effective tool to reduce recidivism is education. If we took the money that we are currently spending to keep non-violent offenders behind bars and spent it instead to provide support for them while they learned the skills necessary to secure a living-wage job, everyone benefits. Everyone, that is, except the corporations who profit from the prison industry.

The prison industry is only one example of the economic forces that are arrayed against the poor. The poor have no control over the economic bias that exists in this country. Their opportunity to change their circumstances is dramatically limited by violence, poor nutrition, poor schools, poor transportation, limited low wage jobs, single parent families, the high cost of child care, and all of the companies who have figured out how to profit from these conditions.

The conservative response is that we shouldn’t “reward” the poor for making bad decisions. Any attempt to level the playing field is regarded by many conservatives as “enabling” poverty rather than empowering the poor. The result is government programs “designed” to encourage work which actually punish the poor for having children. Support, for example, is tied to the number of children in the house rather than adults. But that support does not include the cost of child care and support is reduced by the amount of money earned. So many families find that when the costs of childcare are factored in, they can’t afford to work and also put food on the table. The supports are also not enough to allow one adult to work and the other to stay home with the children. The choice for many single mothers is to kick fathers, who may not be able to find a job because of past criminal records, out to support themselves while they stay home with the kids at least until they are old enough to go to school.

These programs could certainly be improved, But let’s look for just a moment at a more radical solution. What would it cost us as a country to simply eliminate poverty?

It is an intriguing idea. Just provide everyone sufficient support that they are no longer encumbered by the basic issues of survival in our society. Every adult, regardless of their background, is guaranteed a minimum stipend sufficient to support themselves.

In a September 2013 article for the American Prospect, Matt Bruenig stated:

Eradicating or dramatically cutting poverty is not the deeply complicated intractable problem people make it out to be. The dollars we are talking about are minuscule up against the size of our economy.

It would take only 1 percent of GDP, or a fourth of what we spend on defense every year, to lift every American below the poverty line up above it… In 2012, the number was $175.3 billion. That is how many dollars it would take to bring every person in the United States up to the poverty line.

What would happen if everyone in this country suddenly had enough to eat, had a safe place to live, and could afford to work and raise a family?

Violent crime rates would fall. That would save on what we currently invest in medical services, law enforcement, prison systems, and other civic support systems.

Corporations win because without poverty, Americans have more purchasing power. Democrats win because income inequality is credibly addressed. Republicans win due to a combination of reduced government costs and credible fiscal responsibility at all levels of income.

It is a simple, pay me now or pay me later, discussion. The challenge with this discussion, however, is that it touches the conservative moral foundation of “fairness”. Somebody getting something that they didn’t deserve.

Therein lies the fundamental challenge of our political age.

Conservatives believe that poverty in and of itself is a crime. Those who find themselves in poverty have no one but themselves to blame. The hardships associated with poverty are both a just punishment for bad choices as well as the disincentive that the poor need to change their circumstance.

If anyone doubts this, we need look no further than those who defended Mitt Romney after his famous “47%” speech.

In the rest of the Bible story, the rich man, now in eternal torment, begged Abraham that if he couldn’t be saved, at least warn his five brothers who still had time to mend their ways. Sending someone to them from beyond the grave would certainly do the trick.

He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ Luke 16:27,28.

Abraham replied that Moses and the prophets HAVE been warning people.

Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’ Luke 16:31

What we know now is that God did ALSO send someone who DID return from beyond the grave and DID provide the same warning.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matthew 25:44-46

And you know what? Abraham was right, the wealthy and the politicians and voters who support them have not listened to Jesus either.

The choice is really simple.

You can defend the position that poverty is the incentive that the poor need to alter their circumstances – but you do so at great peril to your own salvation.

OR

You can follow Jesus commands, embrace the poor, and generously tend to their needs. Great rewards have been promised those who follow this path.