Fact checking Obama and Republicans

January 24th, 2015

Here’s a little exercise to demonstrate that I hold facts above party affiliations. Let’s look at that State of the Union address as a starting point to see how truthful President Obama was.

Then let’s look at Republican responses.

Those responses reflect a battle in the Republican party that is likely to continue for at least the next two years.

I’m relying on factcheck.org and politifact.com

President Obama

Here are the statements that they felt weren’t accurate:

more than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China
A survey showed most “expressed interest” in it, but are not “actively looking” at doing it.

the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave
Canada and Japan also don’t mandate paid short-term sick leave.

The U.S. has gained 11 million private sector jobs in five years.
This was actually true but somewhat misleading because dramatic public sector cuts in part as a result of Republican supported federal spending cuts reduced the net jobs growth to 6.4 million.

more of our people are insured than ever before
That’s based on some preliminary numbers. We don’t have the full 2014 federal numbers yet

Here are the topics that they felt were accurately discussed:

our deficits cut by two-thirds
Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis
creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999
the only advanced country on Earth” that doesn’t guarantee “paid maternity leave to our workers
America is No. 1 in oil and gas
America is No. 1 in wind power
Factories are opening their doors at the fastest pace in almost two decades

Jodie Ernst


We heard the message you sent in November loud and clear, and now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.
Exit polling suggests that voter’s primary concern was the economy (45%). This is evidenced by the fact that as the economy improved since the election, Obama’s approval ratings have also improved dramatically to over 50%. Republicans have focused their attention on veterans, the Keystone pipeline, Obamacare, and an abortion bill.

frustration with Washington’s dysfunction
While Congress has a historically low popularity rating of 11%, voters returned 95% of their representatives to office. They apparently expect their existing representatives to act differently.

We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills
We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families

Fewer than 1 million people ended up with no healthcare coverage at all last year. That is consistent with the normal churn in the market place from previous years. The primary cause is job change. Average premium increases are at historic lows. The number of uninsured is also at historic lows meaning that more people are gaining insurance than losing it. The Kaiser poll taken right after the election shows only 29% support repeal. Only 9% indicated that the law figured into their vote.

the Keystone jobs bill
Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy,
The pipeline will create only 50 long term jobs. It will create thousands of temporary construction jobs for the year or two it takes to build the pipeline. That construction will contribute $3.4B to the economy. That’s comparable to the costs to build the new Cowboy and Yankee stadiums combined. Roughly .02% of GDP. In other words a negligible amount.

we’ll work to correct executive overreach
Obama is on pace to issue fewer executive orders than any president since 1900.

cut wasteful spending
Recent reports indicate that Jodi Ernst’s extended family received over $460K in federal farm subsidies. Recent studies also support the claim that federal spending cuts have slowed economic growth and prolonged high unemployment.

we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society
Ireland is the only European country than bans abortion. The other countries that ban abortions in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Indonesia have large Catholic or Muslim populations. They include Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Likely not the societies that Ms. Ernst intended to reference.


President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it
many families feel like they’re working harder and harder with less and less to show for it
neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs

Ted Cruz

not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism
Obama vowed to combat “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State.

Obama “could not bring himself even to bring” up the president’s executive action on immigration
Obama said he would veto legislation that attempted to undo his immigration order

Rand Paul

“liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.”
President George W. Bush signed the bill that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.


The message 2014 voters meant to send was, “fix the economy”. Republicans have used their gains in this election as an endorsement of their larger agenda, but exit polls and even election results don’t support that position. This, however, reveals a weakness in Republican philosophy. It’s magic thinking. Their deep investment in their world view puts them in a bubble. They see a lot of other people who are in the bubble with them, but they don’t see how many people are outside that bubble. Even worse, they can’t understand why anyone would choose to be outside their bubble, and so comfort themselves with narratives about dependency or democratic deception.

Those outside the bubble, however, are reacting to facts on the ground. The solid economic growth news since that election resulted in a dramatic increase in President Obama’s approval ratings. His numbers are comparable to Ronald Reagan at the same point in his second term. Republicans successfully made the economy Obama’s responsibility in 2014. Now they are paying the price for that political gain.

The real reasons behind this solid growth are historically low interest rates, lower oil prices, a strong dollar, a robust stock market, recovering housing industry, increasing tax revenues, and increased government spending. The debt is going down (as a percentage of GDP), growth in healthcare spending is slowing, and the financial condition of programs like Medicare and Social Security are improving.

There are still foreign challenges, but we are very close to hammering out a deal with Iran. We have an historic agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gases. There is also a lot of momentum for Pacific Rim trade deals. Sanctions against Russia combined with the collapse of OPEC have dealt a crippling blow to their economy and stalled any future expansion plans much more effectively than any military response could have. Jihadism remains a worldwide concern. Pressure from a broad military coalition has stalled the advance of ISIS. Financial pressure has affected their ability to govern the areas they do control. Because of the collapse of OPEC and the recent changes in leadership, we are in a better position than ever to pressure Saudi Arabia to withdraw their financial support for Wahhabism and the madrasas that teach it.

The result has been an energized Obama on the offensive. That was the most obvious take away from the State of Union address.

Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, but are still struggling to build an effective governing coalition between moderates and radicals. This is further complicated by the 2016 Presidential election cycle. No better example than the number of Republican responses to the State of the Union address. I counted six.

Jodi Ernst’s speech wasn’t much of a rebuttal. Instead it was an attempt to promote Republicanism as a kinder gentler philosophy grounded in the nostalgia of rural Iowa. Jodi is this year’s version of Sarah Palin. My prediction is she will follow a similar arc. She will demonstrate similar weaknesses as she eventually has to discuss issues outside her comfort zone and respond to questions from those who will aggressively fact check her statements.

Ted Cruz made a spectacle of himself with his clumsy attempts to post his response on YouTube. The contents of that speech continued his straw man pattern of attacks against Obama. Every time he falsely accuses Obama of some action, and then attacks that imaginary weakness, he loses credibility with young voters.

Rand Paul is in a similar position. He has narratives that he feels work in his favor. He continues to repeat those narratives whether they are relevant to the current conversation or not.

I don’t think Republicans will be able to sort out their differences before the 2016 presidential primary season starts. Instead their squabbles will continue to play out both in Washington and on the campaign trail.

Here are two recent examples.

A moderate group of Republicans (mostly women) were able to water down an anti-abortion bill promoted by Republican conservatives. They are terrified that a conservative social agenda will derail Republican hopes for 2016. Here are some relevant quotes from that group.

“Week one, we had a speaker election that didn’t go the way that a lot of us wanted it to,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said. “Week two, we were debating deporting children, and again, not a conversation a lot of us wanted to have then. And week three, we’re now debating rape and abortion — again, an issue that most of us didn’t campaign on or really wanted to engage on at this time. And I just can’t wait for week four.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) was one of the women who raised objections to the initial measure. “We have a responsibility,” she said, “as the elected body representing our constituents, to protect the most vulnerable among us and ensure that women facing unwanted pregnancies do not face judgment or condemnation but have positive support structures and access to health care to help them through their pregnancies.”

Then there are those promoting a conservative social agenda.

“That GOP leadership, that establishment, they’ve got to get their stuff together. I love what they believe in, I believe in it too. But they’ve got to get tough, man. You know what? It’s not just the New England Patriots who are dealing with deflated balls right now,” Sarah Palin

“If we nominate a candidate in that mold, the same people who stayed home in 2008 and 2012 will stay home in 2016 and the Democrats will win again,” Ted Cruz talking about Mitt Romney

The reason Republicans lost in 2014 is that their message of social conservatism, xenophobia, magic thinking, and randian individualism was rejected by women, young people, minorities, and educated professionals. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party rejects this assessment. They feel that the reason Romney lost is because he wasn’t conservative enough. The establishment wing of the Republican Party has failed so far to find the common ground that would allow them to advance an agenda soft on social issues and hard on financial ones.

The improving economy presents a second serious problem for establishment Republicans. They have to figure out how to get on board. If this growth continues for the next six months without any significant financial legislation getting signed, it is going to be difficult for them to take credit. Their 2014 strategy of blaming the economy on Obama has backfired. Significant financial legislation, however, is going to require some compromise with Democrats. That means some increase in taxes or government spending or both. To get that passed will require a coalition of moderates and Democrats that can overcome Tea Party opposition. If they succeed in passing significant legislation over the objections of the Tea Party and their supporters, the Tea Party almost certainly will take another scorched-earth run at wresting control from the establishment in 2016.

Have to careful what you wish for, but as a progressive, I’m not sure that I could have come up with a better scenario to guarantee another Democratic victory in 2016.


January 21st, 2015

“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”

–Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” 1947

It is hard to imagine how plentiful a species the passenger pigeon was. In the 19th century, it was likely the single most abundant bird in the world. Their huge flocks would block out the sun. Their sheer numbers discouraged natural predation. They ate literally everything in their path leaving behind, in the words of Aldo Leopold, “a world plated with pigeon ejecta”

The passenger pigeon disappeared in a very short time because of human predation. The impression of the people at the time was that the population was infinite. But in less than 30 years passenger pigeons were reduced from an estimated 136 million breeding adults to a dozen or so flocks. The last known passenger pigeon died in captivity at the age of 29 in 1914. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the extinction of this species.

Last year a group of scientists gathered to discuss whether or not the earth has entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene. This epoch is the time period where human activity is the primary cause for large scale changes that are taking place on the earth.

The current epoch is called the Holocene. It began with the retreat of the glaciers 12,000 years ago and continued with the spread of humans across the globe. The Holocene represents a period of general warming of the earth.

In connection with all of the research being conducted to understand how human activity is affecting our climate, there is some new research attempting to measure more specifically what this human activity is.

The basic challenge is that humans have the same expectations of the earth’s capacity today that they had 100 years ago. Our aspirations are infinite but the earth’s resources are finite.

The result has been a “Great Acceleration” of human activities starting in the 1950’s that decrease the earth’s resources. These activities range from population, to water use, to GDP growth, to international tourism. All of these activities change the earth’s resources from greenhouse gases, to surface temps, to ozone loss, to ocean acidification, to tropical forest loss.

Great Acceleration

The authors of the study summarize their findings in the following quote.

Of all the socio-economic trends only construction of new large dams seems to show any sign of the bending of the curves – or a slowing of the Great Acceleration. Only one Earth System trend indicates a curve that may be the result of intentional human intervention – the success story of ozone depletion. The leveling off of marine fisheries capture since the 1980s is unfortunately not due to marine stewardship, but to overfishing.

A related study examined how this activity has pushed four key areas past core boundary values where continued activity would drive the affected systems into a new unstable state. Two are entering a zone where the affected system is already unsustainable and the damage may already be irreversible. Extinction is an example of irreversible damage.

biosphere boundaries
(click to see a larger image)

The two areas where we are in danger are loss of biosphere diversity and alteration of biogeochemical cycles (overuse of phosphorus and nitrogen). The two areas where continued human activity will start to cause changes, but those changes may still be reversible are climate change and land use.

The problem is that even though scientists are raising the alarm on a number of fronts, humans haven’t changed their behavior.

Here are just a few examples of items in the news over the last month.

  • 2014 was the hottest year on records
  • Climate change is killing the big trees of the coastal California forests
  • New research refines models on sea level rise and predicts rapid rise as ice sheets melt
  • Ocean life faces broad extinction
  • Even with all of this information, climate science in this country is politicized and most just aren’t that much concerned that we are reducing the time until everyone on the planet will experience serious changes in their lives. People in coastal areas will likely be affected first. Rising sea level and loss of barrier reefs combined with more intense storms means severe irreversible damage. The government of Kiribati has purchased land in Fiji for their 110,000 inhabitants to move to when their island disappears. The Marshall Islands invested in a sea wall which was overtopped by a heavy storm last year. The massive flood damaged the only airport and contaminated fresh water resources that were already in short supply.

    If the bee population continues to collapse, the fruit industry will not be far behind. In China, humans have been forced to take over the job of pollinating fruit trees because they inadvertently killed off their wild bee population. In their rush to expand fruit production, they killed the bees with pesticides and destroyed the natural habitat that wild bees needed to recover.

    Forests are stressed around the world because of climate change and deforestation. The remaining trees are more susceptible to disease. Invasive species have already wiped out Elm, Ash, and Chestnut trees in this country. We are also losing Beech, Redwood, and Sequoia.

    The Asian Carp is perilously close to the great lakes, which would dramatically change the ecology of the biggest single source of freshwater in the world. The lakes are also threatened by algae pollution from excess fertilizer run off.

    Our challenge as a species is that we are myopic. We care about our own survival first. We are wired to think locally. The problem is that there are seven billion of us now on the planet and our combined local actions threaten all of us globally. We are collectively “taking” more from the earth than the earth is able to sustain. The result is that systems which have operated reliably for millennia are starting to break down. When those systems ultimately fail, NOTHING replaces them. Instead the earth dies just like the carrier pigeon.


    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.

    The Human Condition, Faith, Facts, and Truth

    December 26th, 2014

    First a brief review of the difference between fact and truth.

    A fact is something that can’t be logically disputed or rejected. Within the base ten system, two plus two will always equal four. That’s a fact.

    Truth on the other hand has within it the quality of judgment. That’s because pointing out what is “true” immediately also identifies what is “false”.

    Truth is something that must be discovered or created. Here’s an example. The observable facts are that the path that light from a distant object takes can be curved by the presence of another large object (the sun). This observable fact supports Einstein’s general theory of relativity. We accept that theory as a true description of how the universe works because it explains all of the observable facts that we can assemble.

    The search for meaning (truth) has always been part of the human condition. In that search, we assemble observations. Some of those observations are facts (mathematics). Some are not (religion).

    The challenge of course is that all humans are also susceptible to accept those observations that agree with our point of view as fact and dispute those truths that call our favorite “facts” in question. Scholars from Johnathan Haidt to Aristotle have wrestled with this question of whether there is an absolute truth that can and should be universally shared.

    Science has moved the furthest in the direction of separating fact from belief and true from false. The way that they do that is through a version of crowd sourcing called the scientific method.

    When someone discovers something that they propose as a fact, they share it with everyone else in their scientific community. If others can duplicate that observation, it is affirmed as a fact. Others in the community can challenge that fact, but they have to produce their own observations that can be duplicated that demonstrate the the original observation was inaccurate.

    Only after accepted facts are established, do members of that community attempt to discover or create theories which explain why those facts occur. Those theories get tested and re-tested as new facts are discovered. Eventually some subset of theories emerge as accepted truth because a majority of the scientific community agree that these theories accurately explain all of the applicable observed facts.

    That doesn’t mean that these truths are absolute. As our knowledge expands, there is always the possibility that new facts will be discovered that force a re-evaluation of previous theories. This process of enhancement is what improves theories. Occasionally, observations require a radical change to theories. But usually the change is more gradual. That gradual change is currently underway in improving the climate models that we have. But one of the accepted truths in climate science is that the atmosphere is warming at a rate that exceeds what can be explained by natural phenomena.

    What makes all of this work is that this scientific method is BIASED toward crowd sourced peer review that is eager to discover and prove new facts. The claim by some that the scientific method suppresses facts in an effort to prevent contrary theories from emerging is self serving FUD. Those who voice that opinion are attempting to discredit the process because they oppose the results of the process – not because they have any proof that the results of the process are flawed. If anything, exactly the opposite is true. The scientific community gives fringe opinions too much respect. This provides those who practice “science for hire” undeserved legitimacy. One example of this junk science were the tobacco-funded researchers who for years tried to disprove the fact that tobacco caused cancer. The fossil fuel industry invests in similar research today in an attempt to muddy the water regarding the real causes and likely results of climate change.

    The challenge of trying to live a fact-based life, however, is that it often fails to satisfy our basic need for meaning. We have a gut feel that there is a God, even though it can’t be proven. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with dependency, but we can’t explain why. We have a gut feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with discrimination, but we can’t explain why. There are some human activities that we feel are revolting or depraved even when it only involves willing adults.

    We long for a connection to a higher power who can help us resolve these conflicts, provide us direction, and give us purpose.

    This is a belief-based life.

    Those who live belief-based lives are sometimes vulnerable to intolerance, bias, discrimination, and even fanaticism in response to those who don’t share their beliefs.

    The problem is that those who claim to live fact-based lives are no less vulnerable to the same temptations.

    So where does this leave us?

    Confirmation bias clouds our vision, confuses belief with fact, and causes us to take positions on an emotional basis and then attempt to defend those positions with junk science or conspiracy theories. In other words, facts no longer have an objective quality. Instead every fact gets evaluated against the filter of how it affects our view of the truth. Truth constructed from beliefs can’t be questioned even when there are no facts to support it. Climate change is a perfect example of this phenomena.

    While no one has a monopoly on facts or the truth, the further we drift away from respect for facts and the certitude of science, the more difficult it becomes for us to find the common ground that we need to allow our Democracy to work.

    Aristotle summed it up best.

    The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while, on the other hand, no one fails entirely, but everyone says something true about the nature of all things, and while individually they contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed.

    The universal truth may be that we are all human and in that shared humanity are the seeds for transcendence and destruction. This holiday is the celebration of our shared hope that we can overcome our weaknesses and build a better future where we all can live in peace.

    Brief History of Torture in this Country

    December 23rd, 2014

    Torture has been routinely practiced by both European and Native American people in this country.

    In the 1890’s, the Supreme Court ruled that torture as a punishment violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

    That did not slow the use of torture by private individuals, law enforcement, and the military.

    Lynching black men for being “uppity” began in 1882 and continued through at least 1981 accounting for somewhere around 5000 deaths.

    Police forces used “third degree” tactics which met current definitions of torture to elicit confessions for the first half of the 20th century. In the 70’s and 80’s, Chicago police use electroshock, near-suffocation, and excessive beatings on suspects. A Texas sheriff in 1983 used waterboarding. Two San Bernardino officers were convicted of torturing suspects in 1997. Prison abuses have been wide spread for decades including electroshock, sexual slavery, rape, and forcible tooth extraction.

    The US military tortured German U-boat crewmen during WWII. The CIA emerged as the primary sponsor of torture during the Viet Nam war with the South Vietnamese Army acting under their supervision. During the 70’s and 80’s the CIA trained members of South American right wing governments in torture techniques to repress populist reform uprisings. Brazil’s National Truth Commission blamed the US government for teaching torture techniques to the Brazilian military that was in power from 1964-1985.

    In 1948 the United States signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibiting torture. The US was one of the countries that participated in drafting this document. It was in direct response to the treatment of US POW’s at the hands of the Japanese and Germans. This was followed by the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both signed in 1977 in direct response to the excesses of the Viet Nam War. These conventions are the foundation for International Law which mandates that any person involved in ordering, allowing, or even failing to prevent or prosecute torture is criminally liable.

    Ronald Reagan signed the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This was when Reagan was admonishing Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall. China was emerging from the Cultural Revolution, but was still communist in structure and ideology. There were plenty of fingers that Reagan wanted to point regarding oppression and torture.

    The difference in all of this was that until 2001, torture (though widely practiced in this country) was illegal. In 2001 all of that changed.

    In 2001 in the wake of 9/11 attacks, the President Bush gave VP Dick Cheney responsibility to gather whatever information he needed using whatever methods he required to prevent another attack on US soil. Cheney instructed his lawyers to redefine what the word torture meant, turned the CIA loose, and the rest is history.

    Cheney belligerently defends the choices that he made even today, but his protests ring hollow.

    He continues to insist, as President Bush did, that the US did not engage in torture – but that method of Big Lie politics no longer works with a majority of the American people.

    His second defense is that he did what he had to do to keep the country safe. His definition of keeping the country safe was that there has been no repeat of 9/11. Instead we are left with the legacy of two failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the rise of ISIS.

    Instead of being welcomed as liberators, the invasion of Iraq dangerously destabilized the region. Cheney’s neocon vision of a democratic transformation morphed into just another puppet government in Iraq. That government pursued the same old sectarian divisions as Saddam. Those continued sanctioned oppressions provided ISIS an opportunity to mount what in effect is a Sunni revolt against the Maliki government in Iraq and the Assad dictatorship in Syria.

    The US invasion of Iraq and the promise to establish a US client state that would transform the whole region also raised alarms in neighboring Iran. Iran felt that the only way it could defend itself from a similar US invasion at some point in the future would be to develop a nuclear weapon.

    All this in the name of “keeping America safe”.

    If you parse Cheney’s responses to questions closely, he defines torture in the context of the 9/11 victims.

    “Torture to me,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “is an American citizen on a cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.”

    Some attribute that to just setting a high bar for just about any retaliatory action. In other words, unless you kill thousands of innocent people, you haven’t committed an act of torture. He says this with a straight face even though the war in Iraq killed well over 100K civilians.

    But that wasn’t his primary purpose. His primary purpose was to advocate a particular world view held by Neocons. That point of view suggested that the US was the sole remaining super power in the world, but the only way that US could remain in that dominant position would be to regularly demonstrate its superiority through the unilateral exercise of force.

    Here’s Paul Krugman’s explanation.

    The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated, but let’s not forget how we ended up invading Iraq. It wasn’t a response to 9/11, or to evidence of a heightened threat. It was, instead, a war of choice to demonstrate U.S. power and serve as a proof of concept for a whole series of wars neocons were eager to fight. Remember “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran”?

    The point is that there is a still-powerful political faction in America committed to the view that conquest pays, and that in general the way to be strong is to act tough and make other people afraid. One suspects, by the way, that this false notion of power was why the architects of war made torture routine — it wasn’t so much about results as about demonstrating a willingness to do whatever it takes.

    The willingness to do whatever it takes is where Cheney makes his stand.

    This philosophy allows Cheney to posture as a macho-man and criticize those who oppose him as “soft”. But when you look past the rhetoric at the man, you discover that his actions don’t match his rhetoric. He’s all talk and no walk. This is simple solipsism of a self-centered egomaniac.

    The results are easy to point out.

    When he was in office, Cheney was one of the loudest proponents of expansion of executive power. Torture, domestic spying, black site renditions, outing of a CIA agent to punish her husband, the Patriot Act, private meetings with Oil companies to set the energy agenda, and outsourcing the Iraq war to contractors like Halliburton are just a few examples.

    Yet when Obama has exercised the same executive power, Cheney said that the President went, “far beyond what was ever intended.” He has consistently called the President weak on terrorism, but by his own measure, this President has also prevented a repeat of a domestic 9/11 attack. Employing the same logic, shouldn’t Obama’s methods be graded on the same “results are all that matters” scale as Cheney’s?

    So it isn’t really the substance of the action that interests Cheney and his supporters, it is the intent of that action. If the goal is something that neocons support, no action is unreasonable to achieve it. In fact, the more extreme the action, the better because it demonstrates the deep commitment to principle of the actor. If those same actions are employed by a progressive President, however, to further his agenda, the means and the ends are both illegitimate.

    Putin is the foreign leader Cheney does appear to admire. This is the same Putin whose annexation of Crimea led to the collapse of the Russian economy and a run on the ruble. That collapse was accelerated by the sanctions that a “weak” Obama put in place and the oil exploration boom that Obama supported. Less noticed were the dire predictions of the “Cheney” crowd of an expansionist Russia that failed to materialize.

    Instead we have a more compliant Russia supporting US actions in Syria and Iran. Not surprising that we have heard little from Cheney about any of this.

    This brings us back to the question of torture.

    Torture is wrong whenever it is practiced.

    Even if it did result in useful information, it is wrong and can’t be justified. The reason it can’t ever be justified is because we are a nation of laws based on a shared constitution. Neither the law nor the constitution are relativist documents. No end justifies a means that includes unconstitutional or illegal activities. Fortunately it has again become illegal for anyone to use torture in our military or our intelligence services.

    Cheney and his crew may claim to be strong, but they were not willing to put themselves at risk for the principles they supported. They also made sure that a law was passed in 2006 to shield them from future prosecution as a result of their actions.

    When push came to shove in Cheney’s personal life, his actions consistently failed to reflect his speech. He actively avoided military service. He strongly defended his daughter’s right to marry her same sex partner. He let Scooter Libbey take the fall for his plan to punish Joe Wilson for questioning the facts around Iraq’s claimed nuclear program. He leveraged his insider position as Secretary of Defense into a CEO job with Halliburton by laying the groundwork for a massive outsourcing of military operations to private companies. During his time at Halliburton, the company went from 73rd to 18th in the list of government contractors. It was also ultimately fired by the GAO for over-billing. Cheney retired from Halliburton to join the Bush ticket in 2000. They gave him a $33.7M retirement package. About that same time they were rehired by the defense department. Haliburton went on to make $39B off the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Cheney’s significant holdings in Halliburton where placed in a blind trust during his time in office, but did very well. Cheney did donate a significant amount of the money he made from his association with Haliburton to charity, but donating money obtained illegally or at least immorally does not cleanse the method by which that money was obtained in the first place.

    The strong are those who are willing to stand up for our values and willing to take the risk that those values may leave us vulnerable in some way. They believe in the principles on which this country was founded. Those who claim that they only way that we can defend our values is to abandon them are the real cowards. God and history will hold them accountable much more effectively that I ever could.

    The New Party of NO

    December 2nd, 2014

    “We need to quit, you know, kind of rattling the economy with things that are perceived by the voters as disturbing,” Mitch McConnell

    A funny thing just happened.

    After six years of obstruction, the Republican Party is finally in the position where they can be blamed for their own misconduct.

    The result is that they are starting to change their behavior.

    Mitch McConnell has acknowledged that he is the author of the obstructionist strategy that Republicans adopted in 2009. They were fresh off an historic loss to the nation’s first African American President. At the time, there was plenty of discussion of a post-partisan post-racial era that would recapture the golden New Deal age of Democratic dominance.

    McConnell’s insight was that if Republicans refused to participate in the process of government, they could convince enough of the public that this new charismatic leader was at least partly to blame. He recognized that when an idea enjoys the support of both parties, it also receives the equivalent to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from mainstream voters. Anything that passed without that seal was suspect.

    Republicans rode that suspicion to a 2010 victory.

    Effectively grinding government to a halt was risky. It meant that Congress would fail at even routine tasks. It created the most dysfunctional government since the Civil War with historically low approval ratings for Republicans. But it also succeeded.

    Republicans intended to destroy the American legislative process, and they did. Republicans set out to exacerbate partisan tensions, and they did. Republicans hoped to make Obama less popular by making it vastly more difficult for him to get anything done, and they did. Republicans hoped to parlay public discontent into electoral victories, and they did. Republicans made a conscious decision to prevent the president from bringing the country together, and they successfully made the national chasm larger.

    Obama went from a figure of hope and change to the president who hasn’t signed a major bill into law since 2010. In 2014, Democrats were running for cover and Republicans were rewarded for their strategy.

    Now What
    The real reward from the 2014 elections is an opportunity to govern. On closer investigation, voters did not reject Obama’s policies. Many of those policies either in direct ballot initiatives or exit polling reports are very popular.

    Voters also did not endorse McConnell’s obstructionist strategy.

    Quite the opposite. Voters want a government that works and they have now put Republicans in a position where they have to demonstrate that they can do a better job.

    Obama again has demonstrated his acute political sense. Rather than play the traditional role of powerless executive, he realizes that he is finally free to enact large portions of his agenda. He is betting, just like Mitch McConnell did, that the voting public will reward whichever party gets the most done in the next two years, and he has a head start.

    He has already taken landmark action on immigration and the environment. He has a huge Pacific Trade agreement in the works. There is also the possibility of a nuclear agreement with Iran. The economy is recovering faster than the rest of the world and the Saudi’s will keep oil prices low for the next two years to discourage competition. He can’t move on things that require appropriations like infrastructure or legislation like tax reform. But there are plenty of other areas where he can and has been active, all the while calling out the Republican majority to do their job and pass something substantive that he can sign.

    The incoming Republican majority now has a choice. They can focus all of their energy on slowing Obama down, or they can take up the challenge that Obama has given them and begin passing their own legislation to address the issues that concern voters.

    Both strategies have risk. In the first case, they are ignoring voters and hoping that there is still some life in the obstructionist strategy. In the latter case, they have to demonstrate that government CAN be a force for good, but only if Republicans are in charge. To accomplish that, they will need the same thing that they have withheld for the past six years from Obama – bi-partisanship.

    Actions speak much louder than words. The actions of the incoming Republican majority suggest that the message of the last election was not a rejection of Obama’s policies as they have said. It was instead an opportunity to demonstrate that they can in fact govern, and a warning that they will be punished again in 2016 if they fail.

    While it is interesting that John Boehner can describe a nine month spending bill as “long-term”, what it does say is that the new Republican controlled Congress will forgo holding the government hostage at least until September, 2015. That is a good sign.

    Riding the Ted Cruz Crazy Train

    November 28th, 2014

    I heard Ted Cruz on NPR the other evening talking about Net Neutrality. He had a “wonderland” approach to the issue that made my head spin. I thought it would be fun to review his positions on a number of other issues.

    First, we should state for the record that Ted Cruz is running for President in 2016. At the point that he formally announces his intensions, he will have been in the Senate for 4 years. If you doubt that claim, he’s what one of his advisors says.

    “At this point it’s 90/10 he’s in,” one Cruz adviser said. “And honestly, 90 is lowballing it.”

    Cruz has quickly displaced Paul Ryan as the hero of the Tea Party movement. In part that was because Ryan disagreed with Cruz about the government shutdown strategy. In part, it is because Ryan has deliberately distanced himself from the Tea Party.

    So let’s go down through the list.

    Net Neutrality
    By way of full disclosure, Ted Cruz gets significant funding from those who would stand to gain if Net Neutrality rules are not passed.

    The basic issue is not legality. The government does have the legal right to regulate the companies who provide Internet service under a law originally passed to regulate telephone service. Companies that provide internet service can charge a premium for people who want faster connections TO the Internet. Just like phone service, however, once you are connected, what comes through that connection is the same whether the “call” is from Amazon or your significant other.

    Cable companies oppose regulation. They want an Internet where they can price content delivery in the same way that they price user connections. Big content companies like NetFlix are willing to pay a premium to get their content delivered faster than everyone else. The specific issue, however, is that since everything is delivered at the same speed now, the only way to create a new faster speed, is to slow down those who don’t pay.

    Cruz, however, chooses to describe this as a government takeover of the Internet and wraps himself in the sheep’s clothing of champion of the little guy.

    I promise the regulations over and over and over again will favor the big guys that have armies of lobbyists in there and will end up putting more burdens on the startups and the entrepreneurs.

    The problem with this claim is that the “little guys” want this law. They see government as their defender from the folks who support Cruz.

    Julie Samuels is the director of Engine Advocacy which represents about 500 startups and small companies, including Etsy and Kickstarter. She says the biggest Internet companies can afford to pay more for faster access to their customers.

    SAMUELS: They can afford to pay Verizon or Comcast or Time Warner more, even if it sucks for them. But let me tell who can’t afford that. That’s the small companies and the startups and the ones who are just trying to get out there and reach consumers and reach users.

    Politifact labels Cruz’s claim of a government takeover as false.

    Senator Cruz claimed a mandate from the 2014 elections to repeal Obamacare.

    the American people overwhelmingly said we don’t want Obamacare. It’s a disaster. It’s hurting the American people.

    The facts, however, don’t line up with his claims. Only 37% of those eligible to vote, actually voted. That electorate was more heavily Republican than national elections. But even with that built-in bias, exit polls showed that only 49% thought the law “went too far” – hardly “overwhelming” opposition.

    Politifact labled this claim “False”.

    How about the claim that the Affordable Care Act is “hurting” the American people?

    “Virtually every person across this country has seen premiums going up and up and up” due to Obamacare. – Ted Cruz

    The rate of premium increases has gone down nationally from over 10% to 8%.

    Politifact labeled Cruz’s claim “False”

    Here are a few other facts which contradict Cruz’s claim that the ACA has been a “disaster”.

  • The uninsured rate has gone down from 18% to 13%
  • Medicare trustees have said that the ACA extended Medicare’s fiscal solvency four years.
  • The death spiral that Cruz predicted failed to materialize because healthy people did sign up
  • The ACA has had a positive impact on the deficit as predicted by the CBO
  • Immigration
    Cruz has also made his immigration stance clear.

    This was a referendum on amnesty…. we don’t want amnesty. And I’m sorry to say the president is behaving in an unprecedented way. There is not in recent times any parallel for a president repudiated by the voters standing up and essentially telling the voters go jump in a lake, he’s going to force his powers.

    In those same exit polls in an election already biased in a Republican direction, 57% supported a path to a legal status for illegal immigrants. Only 39% supported deportation. Cruz was overstating his support here too.

    He also said, Barack Obama “is the first president we’ve ever had who thinks he can choose which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore.”

    Politifact found this Cruz claim false too.

    As far as his claim that the President was telling voters to “jump in the lake”, he was doing exactly the opposite. They supported his action.

    Eminent Domain and Keystone
    Cruz is a big supporter of the Keystone pipeline and also a big defender of personal property rights. By way of disclosure, he also has received over $2M in campaign financing from the fossil fuel industry.

    My view of eminent domain is that it should be limited with regard to the constitution and the fifth amendment of the constitution that provides that it can only be used for public use.


    I am disturbed by eminent domain abuse, because I think private property rights are fundamental to who we are as Americans… I don’t we should be helping out private interests,

    Eminent domain is the core issue with the Keystone Pipeline that is currently in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

    The landowner’s legal challenge cites the use of eminent domain as a major point in their opposition to the project. Previously the elected Public Service Commission had the authority to give utilities or other ‘common carriers’ like railroads to use eminent domain to construct projects that benefited the community.

    So how did Cruz react to the question of eminent domain being used to promote the private interests of TransCanada Corp?

    The problem with the Keystone Pipeline isn’t the issue of Eminent Domain, the problem is the Obama administration with the stroke of a pen shut that project down.

    I could go on, but I think you are getting the picture.

    There is a pattern here.

    Ted Cruz claims to be a champion of “common sense principles – small business, small towns” yet his actions on things like the Affordable Care Act, Net Neutrality, Immigration, and eminent domain directly contradict those principles.

    And it’s not just those issues. It is every issue on which he engages. If you doubt that claim, here’s a list of every issue covered by Politifact and their ruling on those issues.

    Over his last two years in the senate, he has been completely honest just once. Two thirds of the time that he opens his mouth on public issues, he is telling lies.

      True (3%)(1)
      Mostly True (13%)(5)
      Half True (18%)(7)
      Mostly False (23%)(9)
      False (33%)(13)
      Pants on Fire (10%)(4)

    Just by means of comparison for those who think I’m picking on conservatives, here’s the same list for President Obama. He’s clearly told some lies too, but over a much longer time in office with much higher visibility, he has flipped the script on Cruz. Obama has told the truth three times out of four.

    I would not hold this up for a standard either. That’s not the point. The point is that conservatives like Ted Cruz and those that support him vilify President Obama as the worst president ever BECAUSE in part of the lies that he has told. The reality, at least from an objective point of view, is that those who support Ted Cruz fail to apply the same standard of accountability to him that they use for the President. That’s the reason the Ted Cruz can get away with it.

      True (21%)(115)
      Mostly True (25%)(132)
      Half True (27%)(147)
      Mostly False (12%)(63)
      False (13%)(70)
      Pants on Fire (2%)(9)

    Much like the Tea Party he claims to represent, Ted Cruz is a walking contradiction. He thrives on the “straw man” argument where he constructs his own version of reality and then knocks it down with his “common sense” approach. The reality is that he is not the principled person he claims. He is instead just another opportunist taking advantage of dog whistle political issues. He acquires power from the support of those whose bias have left them vulnerable to exploitation. He brokers that power for money from the corporations who are really setting Senator Cruz’s agenda.

    The primary agenda of these interests is to render government incapable of filling its role as a balance to the expansion of corporate power. In that role, Ted Cruz has been a superstar.

    Republican Masquerade

    November 6th, 2014

    It appears that the Republican strategy of obstruction has finally paid off.

    The media narrative prior to the elections was all about Obama’s historically low approval ratings. There were only two other president’s in recent history with lower approval ratings at this point in their Presidency – Reagan and Bush II. Both of them also lost control of congress in their 6th year in office.

    What the media didn’t say was that Congressional approval ratings were at RECORD low levels – 12.7% with a disapproval rating above 80%.

    Roughly 30% more of the country approved the job that Obama is doing than approved the job that Congress is doing.

    Yet, even though Congress was up for re-election, Republicans successfully made Obama the focus of their campaign – again.

    How did that happen?

    I think that there were three inter-related forces at work.

    First is simple math. There were more Democratic seats in play in states that Romney won in 2012 than Republican seats in states that Obama won.

    Second, the coalition that elected Obama in 2012 did not turn out the in same numbers in 2014.

    Third, Democrats in close races ran away from Obama and his policies. Republicans in those same states ran away from the Tea Party.

    Here’s how all of that played out.

    Simple math convinced Obama and the Democratic Party to play small ball. Rather than allow this to become the same referendum on Obama’s policies that has occurred in every federal election since 2008, the Democrats in battleground states tried to make this about local issues. They were so terrified of Republicans waving the “Obama” flag that they simply tried to change the subject. Rather than provide voters the “red meat” debate on principles that they were asking for, the Democratic Party served a selection of small issue hors d’oeuvres. The voters rejected this tactic and the Democrats lost.

    Instead of talking about Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, or meaningful gun control, red state Democrats tried to paint their Republican candidates with the banner of Tea Party extremism. They talked about gridlock, failure to invest in the middle class, and accountability for things like the government shutdown. The problem is that midterm elections are generally about paycheck issues and none of those issues resonated.

    The Democratic base IS traditionally difficult to turn out in non-Presidential years. If you want them to come to the polls, you have to give them a reason. That reason could have been a full throated defense of progressive principles. It could have been an appeal to all of those people who HAVE benefited from Obamacare. That would have required their Republican opponent to explain to all those who have gained coverage under Obamacare, what would happen to their coverage if a Republican got elected. Even Mitch McConnell, who vowed to uproot Obamacare “root and branch”, was forced to admit that Kynect, Kentucky’s implementation could stay because it is very popular with Kentucky voters. The Washington Post fact checkers said,

    Ultimately, then, McConnell’s statements make little sense unless he has a specific plan that would allow Kentuckians who currently have insurance to retain it. He relies on narrow technical details that have a ring of truth—the grants for the Web site have ended; the Kynect Web site could continue; Medicaid expansion was a decision by the governor. But he leaves the big picture—What is his replacement plan?—completely empty.

    Thus his statements are a bit slick and misleading. If he wants to rip out Obamacare “root and branch,” then he has to explain what he would plant in the health-insurance garden instead. Otherwise his assurances on the future have little credibility. He earns Three Pinocchios.

    Because his opponent Allison Grimes failed to engage on principles, defend Obama, and defend Obamacare – she had little standing to call him on this lie. Instead she tried to portray herself as more of a Kentuckian that McConnell. She lost.

    It could have been a discussion of how Republican obstructionism has slowed economic growth and damaged the middle class. Instead of portraying themselves as staunch defenders of the poor and middle class, many of the Democratic candidates talked about their willingness to make deals.

    Just to make sure they got elected, Republicans ran just as hard away from the Tea Party and toward the center. Here are some examples.

    57% of Arkansas voters supported Republican Tom Cotton for Senate, but 69% supported an increase in minimum wage which Cotton also supported. Same thing in South Dakota and Nebraska.

    Colorado defeated a “personhood” ballot proposal and elected Republican Cory Gardner to the Senate. Gardner had supported personhood legislation in the past, but in this close election said he had changed his mind and also supported over-the-counter birth control. He narrowly defeated incumbent Mark Udall who tried to make women’s issues the centerpiece of his campaign.

    The final results aren’t in from Alaska, but there was a minimum wage measure on the ballot there too. Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan had opposed raising the minimum wage, but changed his position in this campaign.

    Republican candidates in Georgia and Virginia criticized high poverty rates. The victorious Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia ran in part on his accomplishments in reducing the number of incarcerated black men in Georgia. Victorious Republican Senate candidate James Lankford in Oklahoma railed against income inequality, as did the Republican senate candidate in Louisiana. The new Republican governor in Illinois said taxes should target businesses rather than “low-income working families”.

    Republicans, at least in part, won by distancing themselves from more radical positions associated with the Tea Party. They not only masqueraded as moderates, they openly embraced traditional Democratic positions that would have been heresy in 2010. And they won.

    This great irony was pointed out by Sally Kohn in the Daily Beast.

    Republicans ran as Democrats—and voters endorsed Democratic ideals both in voting for those masquerading Republicans, and in backing liberal ballot measures. For progressives, that—plus the fact that, thanks to these ballot measures, thousands of hard-working Americans are going to get a much needed basic raise—is about as silver as the lining on this election is going to get.

    Crazy Train – 2014

    October 28th, 2014

    We are witnessing the inevitable consequences of making science optional.

    Exhibit 1 – Ebola

    Ebola is a virus that was originally identified in 1976. Fruit bats may be the carrier. They aren’t affected.

    Humans are.

    There have been approximately 10 outbreaks of the disease, all in Africa, over the last 40 years.

    The most recent outbreak has been by far the most serious.

    Like many other diseases caused by a virus, there is no cure.

    This virus, however, is relatively difficult to transmit. You have to actually consume some body fluid from an infected person during the period of time that they are exhibiting symptoms in order to contract the virus. Because the symptoms are so debilitating, those most likely to contract the disease are those providing care to those who already have the disease.

    The common flu, which infects and kills WAY more people every year than Ebola, mutates regularly and is airborne. You only have to breathe the same air that was recently sneezed into by a flu victim in order to catch their flu.

    Ebola, while exhibiting dreadful symptoms, is relatively easy to contain. Just wash your hands.

    The reason that it spreads in Africa is because living conditions are primitive, cities are crowded, hygiene is difficult to maintain, there is little health care infrastructure, a shortage of clean water, and burial customs involve families touching the corpse.

    The reason it won’t spread in any more advanced country is because people DO wash their hands, there is clean water, there are fully staffed hospitals, governments are able to isolate the infected, quarantine those that have been exposed, and people generally refrain from touching a corpse if they suspect it may be diseased.

    Unfortunately conservative Republicans cannot refrain from dragging this “corpse” through the public square with a big sign that says “be afraid of foreigners”.

    Exhibit 2 – Beheadings

    The Islamic State has figured out how to manipulate the west again.

    They kill a handful of people in a gruesome barbaric way and the US fires up the engine of war again and sends it chugging back into the Middle East to the tune of $22M a day.

    Over 33K people die on our roads every year. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome. The only difference is that they are not broadcast on YouTube and they are mostly accidents, not homicides.

    There are almost as many gun deaths in this country every year too. Many of these deaths are just as gruesome as the ISIL videos. Few of the gun deaths are posted to YouTube, but most of them are intentional homicides.

    The bottom line is that you are 33K times more likely to get killed by a car or a gun than you are to be beheaded by a terrorist. Yet we aren’t spending $22M a day to make our roads safer. We certainly aren’t spending $22M a day to reduce gun violence.

    The reason we are terrified of ISIL is the same reason we are terrified of Ebola.

    Fox News tells us we should be afraid of them because there is a Democrat in the White House and an election in two months.

    It is boogyman politics at its worst.

    You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning or bitten by a shark than you have contracting Ebola or being beheaded by a jihadist.

    This is exactly the reaction ISIL was hoping for because their lifeblood is new recruits. The best way to get recruits is to pick a fight with the west. And we are happy to accommodate because Republicans have a chance to take over the Senate.

    David Brooks calls it contagious hysteria.

    He blames it on our polarized segmented society. People are choosing to live near those who share their political beliefs. They only talk with those who share their beliefs. They only listen to news sources that echo their beliefs.

    People who feel alienated from the leadership class distrust the institutions of those leaders, whether it is political, cultural, or scientific. As a result we see a dramatic increase in parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids because they fear autism. We see junk science and conspiracy theories carry as much weight as sound peer-reviewed academic research. We see a general erosion in the confidence in government regardless of who is in charge, and the ability for the democratic process to effect any substantive change.

    Add to this already toxic mix, a partisan broadcast media pursuing a business model that feeds on crisis, dissension, and demonization. Fox and MSNBC are the modern day Savonarola leading the mob in pursuit of those responsible for the plague.

    The true weakness is not in our institutions. It is in us.

    Fix the Roads

    September 12th, 2014

    The elder Mayor Daley’s political credo was that as long as you picked up the garbage, plowed the snow, and fixed the roads, Chicago voters wouldn’t care what other political shenanigans went on. He was a practical politician in a city that famously “worked”.

    The same can’t be said for the current state of Michigan. Even though Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the Governor’s mansion; they can’t seem to come up a plan to fund road reconstruction.

    This is not a new problem.

    The whole country went into recession in 2001 but the Michigan economy didn’t start growing again until 2009. Road funding suffered during that period of time as did funding for many public services.

    Then there is the general trend of more efficient vehicles. That means the state is effectively getting less money in fuel taxes per mile driven on the roads. Michigan is not, however, the only state with that problem.

    Last year’s severe winter, however, elevated Michigan’s problem to a crisis.

    Experts say that many of the deteriorating roads in the state have now passed the point where they can be effectively repaired. Instead they must be completely rebuilt.

    The estimated additional cost to simply keep the current situation from getting worse is somewhere around $1B.

    The cost to bring the roads back to a national standard is twice that.

    Part of the problem in Michigan is that we have some of the lowest tolls and fines for overweight vehicles in our part of the country. We charge overweight vehicles a $50 flat fee while all of the surrounding states charge fees based on weight, mileage, and even bridges crossed. This situation is part of the “friendly” auto manufacturing climate that has grown up in this state over decades.

    Paradoxically, Michigan also has the sixth highest gas taxes in country.

    But it ranks last in per capita road spending.

    That’s because, at least in Michigan, the sales tax on gas goes into the general fund rather than the road fund.

    While this makes funding more challenging, the basic realities remain. The state has to spend significantly more money on the roads than it has been spending. Fortunately the citizens in Michigan recognize this and overwhelmingly support increased taxes to fix the roads.

    The solution is obvious. You’ve got to raise taxes on somebody to generate another $1B – $2B in revenue. So why isn’t it getting done?

    In simplest terms – Ideology

    The republican legislative majorities occurred during the Tea Party wave election of 2010.

    They are now faced with the reality that there is no practical way to fund the roads without raising taxes. They already cut funding to schools and eliminated senior citizen state tax breaks to fund a billion dollar business tax reduction – knowing that they still had this issue to deal with.

    The governor, to his credit, put a tax hike proposal on the table.

    So did the Republican Senate Majority leader, who happens to be term limited and as a result can’t run for election again.

    They all received the support of the Democrats, but all failed to get sufficient Republican votes to pass.

    It is now so bad, that the Senate Majority Leader has admitted that he is out of ideas.

    “We’ve come close to getting the votes necessary to fix this longstanding problem. But quite frankly, we’re looking at all ideas now – newer ideas,” said Richardville. “And we’re not afraid to entertain anything from anyone.”

    So faced with a real crisis regarding Michigan roads and the prospect of another brutal winter that will damage even more roads beyond the point of repair, Tea Party Republicans refuse to vote for any plan that raises taxes or fees on anybody.

    I can’t think of any clearer example of the folly of the ideology that has overtaken the Republican Party. There are consequences to a philosophy that believes no tax can be justified and economic growth will offset any loss of revenue. It is impossible for economic growth to generate sufficient additional tax revenue to solve this problem. The deteriorating roads are impacting economic growth today preventing the promised stimulation from low business taxes.

    As Mayor Daley understood, voters expect government to provide a set of basic services. Voters are also wise enough to realize that they have to pay for these services.

    Hopefully voters will recognize that this party is unable to govern because of their “no tax” philosophy and vote them out.