May 1, 2015

Intellectual Honesty and Our Defective Politics

As I'm writing this, May day celebrations and demonstrations are taking place in many countries, where millions of people are basically asking for a better life. Now, of course the definition of a better life is not agreed upon--especially when it involves very different cultures--but, yet, there are common desires, like to have a long, healthy life, economic opportunity that leads to meeting human needs, freedom from oppression, choice, etc. The good life is desirable.

When we disagree about something, at least we have to agree on what we're actually talking about. Agree on reality first, before we evaluate the arguments for and against. It's OK for people to have different values and priorities. For me, for example, leisure and individual liberty is more valuable and a higher priority than money and material possessions. Although, I do need money and possessions to have a good life. This is true for everyone, even if the threshold varies depending on time, place, and subjective conditions.

Paul Krugman writes in this New York Times editorial that intellectual integrity matters; acknowledging mistakes, and having an open mind. Wanting to know the truth, the facts, should be a priority, but it isn't--not in the political, not in the economic, and even in the personal universes. Indeed, people get comfortable with an idea, a situation, an image, and then resort to confirmation bias, which becomes an ordinary response that often isn't even noticed.

I normally don't republish long quoted articles, but this one by Krugman deserves a longer mention. Go to the NYT page to read in its entirety.

The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern.

Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

You see, you shouldn’t care whether a candidate is someone you’d like to have a beer with. Nor should you care about politicians’ sex lives, or even their spending habits unless they involve clear corruption. No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course.
And that’s a virtue in very short supply.
 ....
Times like these call for a combination of open-mindedness — willingness to entertain different ideas — and determination to do the best you can. As Franklin Roosevelt put it in a celebrated speech, “The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
What we see instead in many public figures is, however, the behavior George Orwell described in one of his essays: “Believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.” ......

Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free ....

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field. Jeb Bush, for example, has declared that “I’m my own man” on foreign policy, but the list of advisers circulated by his aides included the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, who predicted that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, and shows no signs of having learned from the blood bath that actually took place.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.

Think about it. Suppose, as is all too possible, that the next president ends up confronting some kind of crisis — economic, environmental, foreign — undreamed of in his or her current political philosophy. We really, really don’t want the job of responding to that crisis dictated by someone who still can’t bring himself to admit that invading Iraq was a disaster but health reform wasn’t.

I still think this election should turn almost entirely on the issues. But if we must talk about character, let’s talk about what matters, namely intellectual integrity.

Apr 25, 2015

Wars, Genocides, Natural Disasters, Pain and Sorrow, are all Part of the Human Condition as the Creator Intented

This week, many people are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks. Should we care? Should we do anything about when similar events take place around us? What can we do? Is sensitivity enough? How about when an intervention is not possible for a variety of factors? These are all hard questions to answer. 

The largest Armenian church in Turkey today is St. Giragos which is also a cultural center since succeeding Armenian generations in Turkey have converted to Islam, either forced or in order to blend it and survive. This is by itself a lesson on the spread of religion.

A conservative (religious, social) would point out that humans are governed by "original sin," which basically means that humans have a bad quality in them--the "bad seed" can be seen religiously or symbolically. Therefore, the individual shouldn't have unlimited choices when it comes to morality and social mores. People don't know what is in their best interests. But, the fundamental question still remains, who designed humans? If it's evolution, then human nature evolved to adapt to the environment; scarcity of resources can result in "us versus them" behavior. But, if the grand creator is the designer of humans, then he has to be given credit for what his children do while he doesn't interfere.

When the Ottoman empire had practically collapsed, the Young Turks decided to ethnically cleanse the remaining territory as a way to preserve their country. So, intentionally, even enthusiastically they proceeded to exterminate the minorities. Not surprisingly, imams (religious leaders) instructed the uneducated and god-fearing populous that it was OK to kill Armenians, and generally all Xtians. Not all Turks participated in the genocide, but the idea of creating a nationalistic Turkey was the consensus. 

The Greeks in Asia Minor would later have the same fate, though the circumstances were different after the 1919-1922  war. Kemal Attaturk's army and the nationalists cleared Asia Minor of Greeks, and solidified the current borders of Turkey. War is dehumanizing; it can turn good people into savages. Religion can do this too. Yet, there are many stories of people from both sides that sheltered their neighbors from persecution and death. Humanity also has a brave, kind, altruistic, loveable side.

This morning, a big earthquake killed thousands of people in the Nepal region. Unlike war that can be seen as man-made, natural disasters, parasites, diseases that kill millions more aren't man-made. OK, maybe the adults deserve to die, because somehow the divine has deemed death is their punishment. But, how about babies, little children, the innocent? If all of them deserved to die, perhaps because they'd grow up to be sinners, then how about free will, choice, own volition?  All religions are big on people having to demonstrate their goodness. Otherwise it'd be pointless. A defective person would only do bad things; no choice, therefore, no personal responsibility.

This kind of intellectual pondering has no place in religion. Not if ideas, positions, moral stances are to be arrived by reasoning and rationality. Religion is divinely inspired, thus it cannot possibly be the creation of men, who don't have the capacity of infinite knowledge and wisdom. A few chosen ones are given the divine message in secret. The problem with this method of divinity is that even if we accept the message how do we know its true source? The gods have chosen to give conflicting messages to different peoples over the millennia. This is a conundrum for me. Any cursory comparative review of the religions shows how different they are, especially the farther apart on this globe they began. Proximity of start-up religions have similarities because people are influenced by each other. 

When there's unbearable sorrow, it's natural to seek comfort, a gleam of hope, somewhere, anywhere. Religion and the cultural associations it entails, provides such. When you lose so much, perhaps a loved one, you may seek comfort by an imaginary deity, that in the afterlife all this suffering will be gone, if, of course, you obey divine law. It's a bargaining, an almost foolproof construct, bathed in fear and sorrow.

But, what still amazes me is that after a big tragedy, where millions of people suffer horribly and die, almost all of them deeply religious, and the deity just sits up there observing and doing nothing, well, this is perversely wicked, immoral, unkind, and evil.   

Apr 13, 2015

What We Need is a Champion for the Middle Class and the Poor. Hillary Clinton Now Has to Articulate a Vision for the Future!

Hillary Clinton formally announced what it was already known. She wants to be a ..champion. "Your champion" as she put it. Yet, it's not all of us, because all of us aren't in the same place, on same plane, or even reality. Therefore, she can't be all things to all people; she better choose and choose well. 

Now if the populous were more aware of the actual conditions, the distribution of wealth, and what we're missing by not using our resources to benefit the 90% of the lower classes, then Ms. Clinton and most other leaders would be singing a different tune.


 

Anyway, there's a long way to go before the next elections, and hopefully this is going to be fun. There are several clowns who are throwing their red noses into the circus that's called the Republican selection process. Personally, I'd like to see a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton. It'll be better for her too. She's mostly vetted already--I don't expect big surprises to come out by her being more closely scrutinized now. The point is that she has to demonstrate that she has the energy to fight for the highest office in the land. She also has to have a vision for the future. It shouldn't be a coronation, nor a claim for tradition & the past--Bill Clinton's presidency happened almost a generation ago.

Apr 1, 2015

Back to the Dark Ages--A Republican Motto.

So, in my opinion, Carthage must be destroyed--Roman senator Cato the elder used to end every speech he made. Carthage was an enemy of Rome, but every time it was defeated, it rose up quickly, armed itself and the war cycle began again. Now, I'm taking the side of the Roman empire, but we should take similar action to Cato's when it comes to religion. We've got to break the spell. We deserve better than to be bound to immaturity, superstition, and, yes, evil.

George Carlin, a god of comedy
Indiana and now Arkansas are promoting law that supposedly safeguard religious freedom, when, in fact, these laws mean to give immunity to businesses that want to discriminate against anybody their holy faith dictates! We've been through this before, since the early days of our republic. Much of the discrimination was done by private businesses, but since the civil rights era of the latter part of the 20th century it appeared we're putting this evil behind us. But, of course, modern day conservatives, and the Republican party, are reviving discrimination camouflaged as freedom of religion. 

If racism, homophobia, and intolerance were all but dead, we would be debating such issues today in the US. There would be a few clubs or private organizations that would cater to the ingrates who are stuck in the dark ages. But, if a business is open to the public, it cannot discriminate, even if the owner has a strong case of a virus of the mind--religion. My employer should be allowed to take out blood transfusion from my medical plan, simply because he has a crazy religious belief that deems such procedure as immoral. Same with other coverage that modern medicine deems necessary for good health. 

Likewise, a restaurant, a movie theater, a whatever that is open to the public, cannot deny admission or service to gays, atheists, racial, ethnic, religious groups/individuals. A pharmacist should not be able to deny women birth control options because that idiot thinks his religion makes it immoral for single women to have sex.

We have to break the spell of religion, we'll be better off. It may be true that some immature people need religion in order to behave decently, though there are strong arguments against this view. If someone needs the fear of punishment in order to behave well, there are other ways to provide this motivational force outside the spell of religion. It is very sad that religiosity in the US is so high--much higher than in other advanced western-type liberal democracies. I would have no problem if religion was a strictly private matter. This is when the principle of choice, freedom of religion, own conscience and choice applies. But, unfortunately, stone-age beliefs are still holding our society hostage since there is a critical mass that carries this virus of the mind. 

Sen. Inhofe: Republican Neanderthalism?

We are still debating reality in this country! Issues like evolution, all sorts of science, the age of the earth, climate change, civil & human rights, etc, are somehow controversial ! Did you hear about Senator Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Environment Committee and also thinks that global warming is the "greatest hoax" perpetrated on humanity by.... Total nonsense. But he brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove his point that the US capitol was "unseasonably cold" hence no global warming! Yeah and heehaw.....  Oh, it got better.... In order to rebut the criticism following this stupid stunt, he came back the next day armed with a ..Bible in which he found a passage that as long as humans walk this earth, God has promised that the ..weather will be just fine. Yeah, if only he was the only crazed one, but he is not. 

Now let's watch to see how many presidential candidates on the Republican side are going to support discrimination, outdated social views, superstition, prejudice, willful ignorance, anti-liberal values, policies that favor the elites, and a path to the "good ol' days"--regressing to the dark ages that is.

Jan 16, 2015

If You Realy Believe it, Is it a Lie? Or, Why a Healthy Dose of Skepticism is Necessary.


 The Flyin' Spaghetti Monster...
I've often wondered why people believe extraordinary claims without a shred of evidence, especially when they reserve no doubt and dismiss any reasonable skepticism. I think it's conditioning, a cultural chain, and a deep need to believe what makes them feel good. Affirming unexamined beliefs adds to the mountain of bad arguments and self-deception.  


We see this everywhere, in politics too. Fox News viewers don't go to this venue to be informed; I mean, truly informed. They're looking for more ammunition and supporting arguments of their preconceived notions. By the way, this audience is the least informed in the US. The PBS and NPR audience is the most informed on the other hand. Liberals tend to be more open-minded and open to revision. Of course, everyone has practiced confirmation bias--whereas you accept or remember only the items that support a particular view, dismissing contradictory evidence. Yet, the degree to which someone does this matters a lot.

An extraordinary claim is personhood survival after death. Not only that, but there's a heaven and hell, and that even you can reunite with lost pets. Oh, and that this new realm is of a particular God, religion, etc. Now, there are countless books written on the subject, ..documenting the trip to heaven and back, because, heck, those who had a NDE (near death experience) can't be wrong! Interestingly, none of those people have come back to say that God or heaven was of a different religion than theirs!  

Such claims are extraordinary, so where's the proof? How can I, a skeptic, know that this actually happens and it's not the brain hallucinating? I think it matters whether the evidence can pass the threshold of reason and scientific scrutiny, especially when now we do have lots of research that shows there are physiological conditions that can make the brain produce a NDE. Leaving the body, going towards the light, seeing and hearing stuff, etc, have all been reproduced under certain physical conditions without a NDE. If you're interested in more of this, check out this podcast of a debate "Death is Not Final" from the Intelligence Squared series. Dr. Steve Novella (from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe) nails it.

Just recently, the boy, Alex Malarkey, who claimed he died and went to heaven, where he had conversations with God and Satan, and whose "experience" was written a most popular book among believers, admitted that he lied! Just like that. Now, do you think those gullible believers would change their minds or become more skeptical? My guess is, no! We've seen that frauds like Peer Popoff, Jim Baker, Benny Hinn, who have been thoroughly discredited (big media coverage, court convictions, etc), only to re-appear peddling their old schemes and raking in the cash. All in the name of the Lord of course...

Malarkey's story made millions of dollars to some by selling to the gullible while there are indications that his handlers knew the story was a lie. The crux of the matter is, again, this extraordinary claim was offered & sold as a fact, as an argument for Xtians who want and expect to go to a Xtian heaven. No proof, no healthy skepticism, because if you want to believe something it's your right and your reality! Like George Constanza said on Seinfeld, "Jerry, if you believe it, it's not a lie."  

Jan 7, 2015

The Best Response to Terrorism is to Defend our Liberal Institutions. Freedom of Expression is Paramount in a Free, Tolerant, Society!


View image on TwitterFree expression and democracy were attacked with lethal force today by religious extremists in France. The so-called jihadists murdered a dozen people while shouting "God is Great." Of course, it's not Islam or the Muslim world that did this; only a few deranged individuals would support something like this.  Many Muslims are already condemning this terrorist act, though I bet some Islamic leaders will remain silent. 

Those who condemn this barbarism say that prophet Muhammad and the Koran do not support such actions. Same argument about the Bible. Both arguments are false. The holy books contain many passages in favor of killing others who are simply of a different faith or decide to leave their faith.

veiled
With the changing of society, culture, and education, people developed a new morality, dropping the extremist dictates of their holy books. It's like a supermarket of convenience--picking what suits people and what's acceptable in a modern society. It is the lack of fanaticism, without sticking to strict interpretations of revealed morals and religious practices that has made our world better.

Richard Dawkins made a statement saying that non all religions are equally violent. He probably means at present time, as by faithful extremists.There a few, like Jainism who are, by doctrine, non-violent. If you're an Jainism ..extremist, you are the least violent; you may worry about killing any form of life, including insects, and the tiniest creatures. Extremism in the vast majority of religions, on the other hand, results in lots of violence, and history proves this.

So, how do you deal with moronic terrorists who are hell-bent in applying their trade? Obviously we cannot reason with them. The freedom we offer them is not something they want to extend to others. But, we cannot succumb to their threats; we should not change the conditions that make our society more free and liveable. Probably this action will embolden the crazies home and abroad. But, the US and western-type countries should react with restraint and maturity. There are many Muslims who do appreciate the so-called western regimes, either by living in them or wanting to immigrate to them. We have to show confidence in our institutions and that we can handle crises like today's.
View image on Twitter 
We shouldn't paint all Muslims with a wide brushstroke. What I see is that religious fervor coupled with ignorance can result in terror; and terrorism is often inspired by religion. At this time, Islam fuels the hatred of many fanatics. Again, when people become more secular, educated, have a decent life whereas basic human needs are fulfilled, then extremism fades, or is found with the mentally disturbed. Yes, there have been extremists who were educated and well-to-do, but they were also religiously rejected the fruits of the Enlightenment

I do respect people making their own choices as how to live their lives, but unfortunately this is not a universal belief. Liberal democracy and, in general, western civilization is often considered a threat to traditional societies, entrenched religion, and hard conservatives everywhere. Is it a clash of civilizations like Samuel Huntington has argued? That after the Cold War, the sources of conflict would be cultural, ethnic, religious, and not economic or democracy v. authoritarianism.  I think it is the conditions, the context within people operate that is the most important factor.  Change this and gradually you see new people emerge. For example, a single most important variable is the status of women in a given society. Raise their status and beautiful things happen!





Dec 30, 2014

NYC Police Must Be Held to the Highest Professional Standards and Proper Decorum. Mayor de Blasio Must Take Control of this Vital Agency

A police officer who wears the uniform, employed and paid by the people has to be professional at all times, especially when present at official events. Many police have been turning their back to mayor Bill de Blasio, as they did when he visited the hospital where killed officer Ramos had been taken and later during his funeral. This behavior is totally unacceptable, unless you're a hot-headed officer who wants to play politics at a bad time and show disrespect to the whole community.

I'd go as far as to say that the police officers who engage in such behavior are not earning any respect; they're squandering the support of many in our community that they're sworn to protect. Oh, yes, it is their job to protect us without violating our civil liberties! If they don't like it, they should find another job. We should expel those few of their members who exhibit thuggish behavior, who do not want to be held to the highest professional standards--especially because we entrust them to use lethal force if necessary. They should do the job they're hired for not the job they might like. Of course, they perform duties that occasionally (or for a few, frequently, depending on their particular position in the force) puts them in harm's way. On the other hand, being a police officer isn't one of the most dangerous jobs, by far! They also get generous benefits, and retire earlier.

Of course, the killing of the two patrolmen, execution style, by a deranged individual is a very tragic incident. It doesn't represent the people who've been protesting police practices that result in death. Many may have participated in those protests, holding signs saying that, people's lives matter, no matter the color of their skins. And we expect the police to protect us, including when we protest--which is what the right of free speech is. We can hold the police in great regard but also criticize the wrong-doings. These two aren't mutually exclusive as the police union seems to think.

Mayor de Blasio acknowledged the right of the community to protest, that black lives matter, and that, in the past, he had a talk with his teenager, bi-racial son (who spots a big afro) to be smart about a possible contact with police. Isn't the latter a reality? That black men have been treated differently than other groups? So, acknowledging the obvious doesn't make the mayor out of line or disrespectful.

The police union portrays the officers are victims. They are not. They are employees in a democratic society that have to respect the law, and exhibit professional decorum. I think the mayor has to start taking names and show the police union who is the boss under our system of laws and elections. Outside their uniform, off duty, every police officer can turn their back to the mayor, protest, etc. But, they should not be allowed to be unprofessional from now on.  I also think that they have to be reminded the chain of command. They know how to follow orders and follow procedure. It's a language they understand and, if the mayor doesn't act soon, he'll lose control of the situation and of a vital agency of the city.

 

Dec 24, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014! Because Everybody Needs Good Cheers, Love, and Camaraderie!



The weather is dreary in the northeast this xmas. No white xmas. Actually I enjoy this season, but not for its commercial and religious aspects. The worst, for me, is the frantic shopping--which I don't do but can't escape the mobs. The other is the very annoying xmas music, everywhere all the time. Seriously, folks, how many times do you need to hear the same songs? Do you need them to get into the spirit of the holidays? Really? Oh, maybe this is the besieged fighting the war against xmas.

You know, xmas is based on pagan traditions, like Saturnalia, celebrations of the winter solstice, decorating trees, exchanging gifts, superstitions, miracles and what-have-you. It was the xtian church's attempt to insert its influence during this time, not because Christ was born in December--he was not. By the 17th century, the religious celebrations in December were dead. During the Victorian era, and later in the new colonies in America, a few people plus commercial interests brought xmas back. 

In the US, Washington Irving made up lots of stories about Pilgrims and other Europeans celebrating "traditions" during this time. Irving's satirical The Knickerbocker History was a made up story about the people in "new Amsterdam" (New York), but people took it as old history. Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol added to the aura. Nostalgia, search for new themes with the rapidly changing society due to industrialization. Queen Victoria brought the decorated holiday tree into people's houses and to the English-speaking world; German-speaking people and Scandinavians already had this tradition that dated back to pagan Rome! There were some who didn't like this new trend: The Puritans, first in Britain and then in New England outlawed xmas. This of course is in line with the xtian view that you don't celebrate birthdays but instead the day you die, since this is the moment you join God in heaven. All the saints are celebrated on the day of their death! St Nicholas died on Dec. 6th, by the way.

Now, how about this St. Nick? This guy must have been awesome, performing miracles like Jesus--raising the dead, walking on water (easy part), fixed the weather, brought peace on earth, and gave gifts to nice children who sat on his lap. The new and improved Santa (Claws) looks much different than the original model, but, hey, Sinta Claus and his "other half" Krampus aren't as jolly as our fat Santa.

I'm all for having fun, take time to spend time with friends and relatives, be extra nice to those around us, and live life every moment while creating meaningful memories. This is the meaning of the winter holidays for me.  I can't celebrate the birth of a deity who designed a flawed product, created and still allows so much misery and suffering. No decent deity, no benevolent father would offer such a horrible deal.

Dec 17, 2014

Ignorance Usually is not a Good Defense, Unless You're a Conservative (i.e., Jeb Bush) Running for Office and Appealing to Idiocy

"I'm not a scientist," it's the excuse many politicians use to avoid answering controversial questions, like climate change, evolution, age of earth, etc. Of course, most of us aren't scientists, but use the products of science every day. And, most of us are alive, because of science. We doubled human life expectancy in the last 100 years, cured diseases, reduced infant mortality (and mothers' mortality at childbirth), went to the moon, understand a lot more about the universe, and we made our lives more comfortable because of science. So, science works.

What works actually it's the method of discovery, acquisition of knowledge, forming and amending scientific theories, and seeking the facts and the truth. Unfortunately, many Americans don't really understand what the scientific method is. There are several reasons for this. One is the strong influence of religion, which is much higher here than in other advanced countries. In addition religion has been meddling in education. Another reason is the failure of schools to teach what science and the scientific method is.

Education has to be knowledge, but what kind of knowledge? Memorization & repetition without understanding isn't the goal. Education, like science, should be a tool for knowledge. In this sense, it's more important how you thing than what you think about.

We may not be scientists but we must understand what science is and what it does. Democracy depends on the people's understanding of issues, engagement, and prudence. It's obvious that the quality of a system depends on the quality of the people involved. Ignorance doesn't serve the good political life--nor life in general.



"I'm not a scientist"

It's tiresome, to say the least, that leaders use this lame line. They are either ignorant or lying or both. If they're ignorant, they should recuse themselves from making public policy on issues they don't understand. They should stop promoting idiocy like, there's got to be two sides to the story, or teach the controversy, or there's no unanimity... Please, stop this nonsense. As leaders they should try to elevate public discourse by speaking carefully about science, the facts, and reality than by appealing the lowest common denominator.

Here's an ignorant person, a former governor of Florida and a member of the Bush clan, who is seriously exploring running for president of the U.S.

 

 Let the circus of the Republican/conservatives/tea partiers running for president begin. It'd be hilarious if it didn't have serious implications on our public discourse.

Dec 10, 2014

The System of Checks & Balances Failed Because Government Enablers Allowed the CIA (and not only) to Torture, Violate US & International Law

Update, 12/22/14: This excellent NYT editorial, "Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses" finds me in total agreement.
>>>>
 
I just read that royalty watchers were stunned by a basketball star's touching her royal highness, the breeder of a future king of Britain. Horrors. What's next? Pitchforks, tar and feathers? Frankly, I don't understand why there's so much media coverage for such a banal scripted activities of some of the most boring people on this planet. Anyway, I guess people need a circus show.

Meanwhile, the US Senate released a report about the CIA's torture practices. Yeah, pretty bad stuff. Torture is illegal and--I know I'm trending into controversial territory--immoral. No matter how it's labeled--like "enhanced interrogation--it's barbaric, unworthy of a society that wants to claim it abides by the rules of law, international treaties it has signed, and a champion of human rights.

What's interesting, and buried in the report, is that torture did not produce actionable information. Of course, many of our own experts had said that many times in the past. The torturers copied the brutality of some of our enemies. I imagine that if we watched a movie of Americans being treated the same way by some foreign language speaking torturers, we'd be calling for the annihilation of those savages and their organizations or countries.




From the Think Progress site, here are 17 facts in the Senate's report on torture. By the way, this is just about the CIA. There were other US agencies, including the military, that used torture. Remember Abu Graib prison in Baghdad?  


Below are just some of the most damning findings from the Committee’s report:
1. Torture did not lead the CIA to the courier who ultimately helped capture Osama bin Laden.
“The most accurate information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti — facilitator whose identification and tracking led to the identification of UBL’s compound and the operation that resulted in UBL’s death — “obtained from a CIA detainee was provided by a CIA detainee who had not yet been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques; and CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti.” [Page 379]
2. CIA personnel objected to torture techniques, but were “instructed” by the CIA headquarters to continue.
“The non-stop use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was disturbing to CIA personnel at DETENTION SITE GREEN. These CIA personnel objected to the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques against Abu Zubaydah, but were instructed by CIA Headquarters to continue using the techniques…”Several on the team profoundly affected.. .some to the point of tears and choking up. [Page 473]
3. The two psychologists who helped the CIA create the torture techniques earned over $81 million.
“In 2006, the value of the CIA’s base contract with the company formed by the psychologists with all options exercised was in excess of $180 million; the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009. In 2007, the CIA provided a multi-year indemnification agreement to protect the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. The CIA has since paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.” [Page 11]
4. Colin Powell was not briefed on CIA interrogation methods because he would “blow his stack”.
“At the direction of the White House, the secretaries of state and defense – both principals on the National Security Council – were not briefed on program specifics until September 2003. An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “… the WH [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.” Deputy Secretary of State Armitage complained that he and Secretary Powell were “cut out” of the National Security Council coordination process.” [Page 7]
5. The CIA used rectal feeding on detainees.
“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. …Majid Khan’s “lunch tray” consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was “pureed” and rectally infused. [Page 4]
6. CIA leadership refused to punish an officer who killed a detainee during torture session.
“On two occasions in which the CIA inspector general identified wrongdoing, accountability recommendations were overruled by senior CIA leadership. In one instance, involving the death of a CIA detainee at COBALT, CIA Headquarters decided not to take disciplinary action against an officer involved because, at the time, CIA… In another instance related to a wrongful detention, no action was taken against a CIA officer because, “[t]he Director strongly believes that mistakes should be expected in a business filled with uncertainty,” and “the Director believes the scale tips decisively in favor of accepting mistakes that over connect the dots against those that under connect them.” In neither case was administrative action taken against CIA management personnel.” [Page 14]
7. The CIA tortured innocent people.
“Of the 119 known detainees that were in CIA custody during the life of the program, at least 26 were wrongfully held. Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined they should not have been detained….Other KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] fabrications led the CIA to capture and detain suspected terrorists who were later found to be innocent.” [Page 485]
8. The CIA held an “intellectually challenged man” to use as leverage against his family.
“[A]n “intellectually challenged” man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” [Page 12]
9. The CIA intentionally mislead the media to “shape public opinion.”
“The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget.” [Page 8]
10. CIA officers threatened to kill and rape detainees’ mothers.
“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee's] mother’s throat.” [Page 4]
11. The CIA dismissed information that wasn’t obtained through torture, even though it proved to be true.
“KSM’s reporting during his first day in CIA custody included an accurate description of a Pakistani/British operative, which was dismissed as having been provided during the initial “‘throwaway’ stage” of information collection when the CIA believed detainees provided false or worthless information.’” [Page 82]
12. CIA torture techniques included mock burials and use of insects.
“(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.” [Page 32]
13. Some interrogators had previously admitted to sexual assault.
“The Committee reviewed CIA records related to several CIA officers and contractors involved in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, most of whom conducted interrogations. The Committee identified a number of personnel whose backgrounds include notable derogatory information calling into question their eligibility for employment, their access to classified information, and their participation in CIA interrogation activities. In nearly all cases, the derogatory information was known to the CIA prior to the assignment of the CIA officers to the Detention and Interrogation Program. This group of officers included individuals who, among other issues, had engaged in inappropriate detainee interrogations, had workplace anger management issues, and had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.” [Page 59]
14. One interrogator played Russian roulette.
“Among other abuses…had engaged in ‘Russian Roulette’ with a detainee.” [Page 424]
15. The CIA tortured its own informants by accident.
“In the spring of 2004, after two detainees were transferred to CIA custody, CIA interrogators proposed, and CIA Headquarters approved, using the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques on one of the two detainees because it might cause the detainee to provide information that could identify inconsistencies in the other detainee’s story. After both detainees had spent approximately 24 hours shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position, CIA Headquarters confirmed that the detainees were former CIA sources. The two detainees had tried to contact the CIA on multiple occasions prior to their detention to inform the CIA of their activities and provide intelligence. [Page 133]
16. The CIA tortured detainees in a dungeon.
“Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a “dungeon.” Another seniorCIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique.” [Page 4]
17. The CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the torture program.
“CIA records indicate that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program cost well over $300 million in non-personnel costs. This included funding for the CIA to construct and maintain detention facilities, including two facilities costing nearly $X million that were never used, in part due to host country political concerns. To encourage governments to clandestinely host CIA detention sites, or to increase support for existing sites, the CIA provided millions of dollars in cash payments to foreign government officials.” [Page 16]

Nov 9, 2014

Republicans Won Big. They Do When People Don't Vote!

Now that the dust has settled, we're looking at a bright couple of years of Republican leadership in Congress. Finally most of the gridlock will dissolve, because the Democrats must compromise now--as the American people demanded through this election. We may be witnessing a new conservative wave, a take-back-America from the clutches of the libruls. Sure.

Well, fear and anger won over hope and change. Most of the people who voted don't understand how our government works--or why it doesn't. The obstructionists were rewarded, because the president did not appear to deliver. The Democrats were in retreat; they didn't want to own even the good things, like improved economy (especially considering where it has been), and millions of citizens got health care coverage while medical costs are going down over all. If you don't own or explain the good things you've done, then the voters will not choose you because you claim your opponents are worse!

Republicans Win When People Don't Vote

It's very interesting to see where the votes came from. When fewer people vote, the GOP has the advantage. No wonder why they try to make it harder to vote. The charge of "voter fraud" (despite their efforts to prove it) is without evidence. But, millions of American citizens are barred from voting, because they may not have the required identification. In Texas, the state college ID isn't good enough, though a gun license is!

Where Democratic governors and legislatures have made voting more accessible, greater numbers show up. In Oregon some 70% did, even in this midterm election, whereas about half of that number is the norm in the country. Ideally elections should fall either on a Sunday or make them a federal holiday. Open up early voting, and same-day registration on election day. There's no fraud of people voting when they're not supposed to, or for others. There's election fraud though when citizens are disenfranchised.

In the last presidential election, about 120 million voted. In this one, about 70-80 million did. This makes for a different composition of the electorate. White men, especially over 45, prefer the GOP by big margins. Women over all prefer the Dems. Hispanics and younger people also prefer the Dems, but they don't vote in big numbers, not in off-presidential elections. 

Unfortunately, many Americans are either alienated by the complicated and gridlocked system, and they don't see how an election like this one matters to their life. Several of my friends and relatives failed to vote; most of my college students didn't either. They weren't even paying attention. Up until a couple weeks before the elections, polls indicated that perhaps most Americans didn't even know there was an election whereas the whole 435 House of Congress and 1/3 of the Senate, plus governors, and local officials were on the ballot!

We have a double-think condition in which we can hold two contradictory ideas in our heads as equally valid. We brag to the world that we have the best democracy, free press, abundant freedom, etc. But, we also admit that the system is broken, or that is not responsive to the average citizen, or that the game is fixed favoring the rich & powerful, or that our vote doesn't really mean anything. 

Progressive Direction

Despite the giddiness of conservatives, the country is on a progressive path. Of course there are/will be some bumps along the way, but just remember what has been happening in the last 20 years. Indeed, even in this election, where more Republicans showed up to vote, lots of progressive ballot initiatives passed easily--like increase in minimum wage, actions favorable for the environment, abortion rights (against embryonic personhood), legalization of marijuana, etc. There are clear majorities for sensible immigration reform (includes legalization of undocumented with a path to citizenship), health care, gender rights, same-sex marriage, homosexuals in the military, and many other progressive views are now are mainstream. No, America isn't going back to the dark ages. There's no taking it back, especially given the views of the younger Americans--those under 45.

On the other hand, I'm going to enjoy the show as more crazies joined the ranks of the Congressional Republicans. The incoming majority leader, McConnell, will now squirm because those who he really dislikes are going to poop in his party--Ted Cruz, Mark Rubio, Rand Paul, Joni Ernst, and a few other gems. I'd advise the Dems not to filibuster and let the Republicans expose themselves for the extremists they are. Why, they should begin impeachment proceedings too.

Government has been broken because of Republican obstructionism. No compromise was good enough for them to like the Dems or this president. The latter didn't understand this. There's isn't much the two sides can agree on, so even with the Dems retaining the Senate nothing major would have come out in the "lame duck" years of Obama's term. One notable would have been to confirm more judicial nominees; now they have to wait until the next president takes office in January of 2017.

If I had a secret hope it'd be that president Obama feels liberated after this. He won't be running for reelection and since he was an unwelcomed guest at the Democratic campaigns, he could do the right thing and fight for progress, and show some gaddam leadership. But, lip service won't do.

Oct 27, 2014

Ten Years of Liberal Citizen Blogging

Ten years ago, I was working for the Kerry campaign in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the battleground state, and all the calculations came down to winning this state would mean winning the presidency for either candidate. We know what happened.... another 4 years of Dubya. I still feel the disappointment of the night of the election, being behind in the numbers game and by dawn it was all over.

Ten years ago, I started this blog, when blogging was in its infancy. Many of us back then blogged under a nickname--I was Andros. Many of those pioneers who continue today have kept their nickname--Atrios, Kos, Digby, etc. It's been quite a trip, I have to admit. Lately, I was remiss in posting, due to a variety of circumstances, but I do want to continue for as long as I have interest in politics.

I remember saying, back then, that there would be an escalating clash between modernity and conservatism, between science and religion, and I hoped that progress would prevail. In some ways we've progressed in this time frame. I wouldn't have imagined electing a black man president, or same-sex marriage, and health care reform all within in a decade.

Unfortunately, the Republican party has moved even further to the conservative side, catering to the tea party and other wingnuts, and the electorate is about to reward the GOP for its obstruction in Congress. It's really amazing that the Republican party platform on most major issues is so extreme and is not supported by the majority of the American people, yet the Repubs will most likely retain control of the House and probably capture the Senate as well.


If it weren't for the 6 year terms Senators are elected for, I'd say let the GOP control the whole Congress to see what more of a disaster they could bring us. The most important power the president may have--on everyday politics--is the power to convince. Leadership depends on style, not only ideas and academic discussions. We progressives voted for Obama twice, and we are very happy that he beat McCain and Romney. However, Mr. Obama has also been a huge disappointment, because of the lack of leadership. He is not a very engaged president. He's articulate but he isn't a hands-on leader.

Perhaps--not holding my breath--Obama will feel liberated after these midterm elections and really push for sensible policies in his last remaining two years. Why not? He's got nothing to lose except shrinking approval ratings. I hope he will not leave as a defeated, faded leader like his predecessor. There are lots of important issues he could focus on--like the environment/climate change, and immigration.

At any rate, politics is a reflection of a society and a means to get things done. The quality of politics, the quality of our democracy, our polity depends on the quality of the people involved. We'll keep watching, debating, keeping liberalism--our own American version--alive.

A big thank you to all the readers of this blog over the years. Some time ago, I disabled the comments section as too many trolls visited and I didn't have the time to edit, delete, or reply. I know that many blogs allow them as a way to keep higher traffic numbers; I'm not concerned about numbers these days, but I miss the discussion of the early days, so I'll enable the comments option again and see what happens.

Thank you for the company dear fellow liberal citizens.

Aug 20, 2014

Stop the Militarization of Law Enforcement and the Brutalization of our Society.

There's a saying, the treatment or medicine should not be worse than the disease. We don't have to go to extremes to find safety and establish a decent, pluralistic, open, democratic society. We don't need to carry guns everywhere to guard against someone who's armed with bad intent. We don't need to be locked up, or locked down to be secure. The safety of the solitary confinement is undesirable. 

America the home of the brave should not be a militarized zone. America the land of the free should allow free speech even if it's part of a demonstration. Yes, liberal democracy can be inconvenient at times. It's the price we pay for such. Same with free speech--you will be offended; you will be exposed to stuff you don't like, you don't agree with, or even to hate speech. But, there are huge advantages to a liberal society...

The following video contains graphic violence. The police shot dead a man who's apparently distraught. What makes it appalling is that the police first lied about what actually happened, and secondly they were very trigger happy. This is what I call very excessive violence that many police are prone to. This must change. We should not allow our society to be militarized and brutalized!
 

As far as the recent events whereas the police have shot or mistreated people that led to protests, there's a justified outrage. I want to believe that most police are decent human beings, but there are many who are just tools; many that need lots of training--in sensitivity and skills. These law enforcement tools need to be taught that their job is protecting the public, our institutions, people's liberties, and our civil rights. They're hired to do a job that does not include combat duty. They should be dressed for the job they have not the job they may want. What's up with the military camo outfits? This is not the jungle or the desert! This is not warfare. Isolate the violent elements and deal with them appropriately, like police do in any country that wants to be civil and democratic.

What's up with the tanks, mine-resistant vehicles, machine guns, snipers, and use of brutal often lethal force? It's abhorrent. I resent going to a block party, a county fair, 4th of July fireworks, and other public event only to be greeted by military police with all sorts of heavy equipment. Why small peaceful towns all over the country that have a few dozen police officers need SWAT teams and military equipment? The Homeland Security Dpt [by the way, what an awful name this is] was the creation of a hysterical nation, a belligerent neocon administration and a immature Congress. I doubt more than a handful of people actually read the Patriot Act which was voted and signed summarily into law.

When a person is being watched and loses a sense of privacy, he is changed; he does not behave as a free person. When people demonstrate and are treated like criminals by law enforcement, democracy suffers. When the whole society is militarized and brutalized civil liberties/rights wither.

I was asked by a reporter recently to comment on the events in St Luis. I reiterated the points I'm making here in this post, plus I added that many people don't seem to separate events. Robbing a store is a thuggish act, a criminal behavior, but as long as it's no life-threatening there is not need to use lethal force to a) protect or recover property and b) to stop the perp by killing them.  Apparently the idiotic leaders in MO thought that by releasing a video of a person stealing stuff from a convenience store makes it easier to pull the trigger! Watch the video above, from another recent incident, and tell me why the trigger-happy police had to kill that person.

I also don't approve of the looting. Undoubtedly there are some individuals who thrive in mayhem and exhibit unlawful if not violent behavior. Some find the opportunity to personally profit. But, I can understand the rage when confronted by military force or brutalized by the police. I've seen it and experienced it first hand during the Occupy movement. There's no shortage of tools, poorly trained, and/or psychologically unfit law enforcement that sadly are allowed to do what they want not what their job is. This has to stop now.

 



Aug 12, 2014

Religion Guides Conflict in the Middle East. Solutions are Better Achieved when Religion is Put Aside!

Why people take important actions or why they choose to believe certain myths is fascinating to me. Often it's not about evidence and reason, but it's about culture, purpose, and wishful thinking. If it were about reason and ascertainable facts, there would be lots more consensus on reality!


Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about the role of religion in the many conflicts in the Middle East. I argue that religious beliefs dictate to a great extent what's been happening there. This is not to say that there aren't other causes and factors, but if the participants were not religious, I bet they'd behave much differently. There wouldn't be a Jewish state or dreams of a caliphate or that God clearly has taken sides in the conflict and rewards his believers. 


More traditional societies are more affected by religion. Modern states, especially the ones that have adopted liberalism, have been increasingly separating church-state; not so the regimes in the Middle East, though Israel is the only state that has strong elements of a secular democracy. Unfortunately, the Israeli government caters too much to the conservative Orthodox, who are motivated by strong religious dogmas. But, the vast majority of Jews don't take their Bible too literally. Like most Xtians have already done so. It would be reprehensible, and immoral--according to our modern sensibilities--to act as the Bible prescribes, especially in the Old Testament. Apparently many Muslims are still very fundamentalists and are in favor of theocracy.

As to the latest conflict, there's no easy or agreeable timeline of responsibility. Several peoples live in small contested land for thousands of years. The Balkans used to be like this, but it was easier to form countries with fixed borders. There were wars, exchange of populations, genocides, and religious conflict. But also there was more room to move and adjust the borders. Palestinians, Jews, and Christians all lay claim to this relatively small parcel of land in the Middle East.  Hamas began to fire rockets into Israeli civilian territory a few weeks ago. We have to ask, why did Hamas do so and what did they hope to achieve?

Those rockets couldn't seriously hurt Israel but certainly did provoke a violent reaction. Hamas knew that lots of innocent Palestinians would die if Israel retaliated--which it did. Are we closer to a solution today? I wonder. I am not excusing Israel's heavy hand, before and during the war. Let's say, however, that Hamas was in charge--with a big military force--and there was a Jewish minority. I don't think it'd take much guessing as to how Hamas would deal with the problem. 


I took the trouble to pour through Hamas' Chapter (Covenant). There isn't one paragraph that doesn't mention religion. The whole point of it is to eradicate the Jewish population from Palestine and establish a strict theocracy! A few days ago, NPR had a story about a young Hamas fighter who was killed. His mother kept saying “praise God” and that her son asked her to “pray for him” (before any mission). He had saved a few thousands of dollars “to get a bride” and if he was killed before that he asked his mother to spend the money on a hadj to Mecca! Praise God. This is a motivating factor for so many people. If they’re convinced that God is on their side and they’re going to heaven, especially as martyrs, even if it means killing infidels or fellow Muslims who don't have the correct version of God….

ISIS--the fanatics from Syria who have spread in Iraq is a prime example of religious lunacy. ISIS' public executions, the practice of a barbaric understanding of religion, and the fanaticism of its fighters is so extreme that even Al Qaeda rejected them. ISIS rose because those crazies are well armed, and financed, so such people tend to do well against corrupt, inefficient states, armies, etc.  If ISIS were smarter, they should copy Hezbollah, go into territories and instead of absolute terror they would improve the lives of citizens by providing needed services the Syrian or Iraqi state hadn’t. Now the US is using air strikes to push them back.

There are stark differences between those who recognize no limits to their armed struggle--anything goes at any price--and those who have the power but recognize restraints. For me at least this is important. Furthermore, I do not like theocracies of any kind. Humanity deserves better. Like I. Kant said sometime ago, this can be an age of enlightenment.... but only if we want it, because we choose to leave our immaturity behind.






Jul 2, 2014

Another Case Where Religion Poisons Everything. Plus, Supreme Calculatons are in Order

So, let's be clear: The conservatives, guided by religion, do not like birth control, at least not through a medical plan for women. Men, oh sure, they can have their pills for erections and whatever. The SCOTUS just decided (5-4 conservative majority) that a "close-held" company (most Americans work for those) can discriminate on the bass of their religious idiocy. In other words, imposing their religious views [primitive, non-scientific or reality-based] on the rest of us. 

Hobby Lobby's owners are part of the conservatives who want to chip away at the ACA ("Obamacare") and claim that birth control for women violates their religious belief. This may be the case, but there are all sorts of protections and laws regarding employment, workers' rights, public health, etc. Once a business owner decides to hire a worker, the latter has (should have) unalienable rights. Oh, by the way, Hobby Lobby does business in China, abiding by Chinese law. Hey, profits may take precedent in an officially godless-atheist country.

There are lots of crazy beliefs in religion. Customs, edicts, and made-up stories that govern people's lives, but this should be in the private domain. There's that separation clause in the US constitution about church-state relationship. The Bible has bans on pork, working on Sabbath, "unnatural" fibers for clothes, crustaceans, and what have you. The Mormons ban coffee and alcohol and I hear regular underwear. Scientologists believe the only way to be purified is to be hooked up to a machine and go through church cleansing, because, heck, all your problems are from the evil spirits occupying your body. Others don't accept modern medicine, etc. Obviously, we can't have public health policy and health care based on these religious beliefs. 

Yes, it matters that we have a science-based approach to public health! Oh, those pesky ascertainable facts that shoot holes into religious doctrine. An advanced, dare say, an enlightened society should allow for individual choice, including practicing willful ignorance, but there should be a religious grounds for public policy. You don't believe in vaccinations, blood transfusions, or that homosexuals shouldn't have any rights? Go back to your cave and practice those beliefs on yourself.

Let me repeat something else for the millionth time: Elections have consequences. Presidents choose all the federal judges, including the Supremes, and the Senate confirms them. Global warming? Half of the Republican governors--the state executives--are climate change deniers! The Republican party in Congress is mainly anti-science. You think this has nothing to do with public policy?

Supreme Calculations

Right to the point: Justices Ginsberg and Breyer should retire as soon as possible. We progressives really appreciate their tenure at the Supreme Court. But, they're old and we cannot afford to have them replaced by a Republican president. Ginsberg is 81 and Breyer 75. Most Supremes hate the label "judicial activists" but they all are! Both sides have advanced particular ideologies and priorities via the bench. The constitution, the laws, actions by government and individuals are up to interpretation. It's not black & white. They all read the same texts, hear the same arguments in court, yet they often reach different conclusions, because of their different judicial philosophies. 

The Senate has become crazier, more conservative (usually it's the same thing). The Republicans have managed to put the most road blocks to presidential initiative in modern times.  GOP Senate leader M. McConnell once declared that his utmost priority was to make Obama one-term president, to make him fail at everything he tried to get through Congress. There are many scenarios that show the GOP winning the US Senate in this mid-term election. Do you think, McConnell will be more or less likely to accept a liberal nominee to the SCOTUS?

The Republicans are more disciplined and will be more arrogant if they fare well in this election. In 2010, before the GOP won the House, Elena Kagan who enjoyed "bipartisan support" (we kept hearing), got only 5 Republican votes! Three of those senators (Lugar, Snowe, Gregg) are gone now. The establishment (old wing) of the party is under attack from the tea party and even arch-conservatives, including McConnell, have been challenged from the right! Who in the Senate, or the House would commit treason by dealing with the Dems or a Muslim black socialist in the White House?

Perhaps we could reverse the conservative majority in the SCOTUS. After we strengthen the liberal side by getting the replacements for Ginsburg and Breyer, we could await the retirement of Scalia and Kennedy, both at 78.

Many of the good changes we've seen in our country have come from the legislative and the judicial routes. We have to keep this in mind, thus we should never forget to vote or be political activists. Elections have consequences! (I think I've said this before).   And, yes, there are calculations.

Speaking of calculations, I want to see a Democrat win the next presidential election even if she's a centrist corporatist, because at least there will be improvement at the margins. Otherwise, it'll be steam ahead.... er, back to the dark ages.  Look, I agree with what Bill Maher said recently, that "Hillary should go away." The fact is that she won't. There was no doubt that she'd run. I don't know of anyone who'd be told that polls show a great chance of becoming president of the US and they don't run. I hope Mrs. Clinton has a primary challenger, like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 

I also don't think that Hillary wants to promote a particular agenda. She wants to appear presidential, win favors from all over the political spectrum. Since she was the NY Senator, Mrs. Clinton has not been ahead of any important issue, like gays in the military, same-sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, and many other issues progressives like. She has led from the rear! Hopefully, she won't appoint conservatives to the supreme court.

In my state of NY, I'm excited to see that Gov. Cuomo will most likely be challenged for the Democratic nomination in September. He's been a corporatist centrist. One of his recent choices was to pick a very conservative as his running mate. So, yeah, let's support Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu--who were robbed of the nomination of the Working Families party recently.

PS>Some polls show that men are split on whether there should be a religious exception on birth control, but among women, there's a clear majority against restrictions. This can be a mobilizing factor in the midterm elections--which are decided by who shows up to vote. 

Jun 19, 2014

Informed Opinions are Based on an Understanding of the Facts But Only if You Want So!

 
Update, 6/23/14:
John Oliver has a great take on Dr. Oz selling magical cures, people's priorities, and corrupt politics. 

.........

It's still amazing--perhaps it shouldn't be give the conservative (primitive) ideology that has influenced our education--that so many Americans don't believe in science, you know, ascertainable facts! Just recently there was another poll that close to a majority of our brethren in the US believe that God designed humans in their present form, which of course means they don't believe in evolution.

I understand that many perceptions, beliefs, and even actions are not reality-based. Perhaps we should stop pretending that most people can be convinced by reason and evidence. They are not--at least not right away if at all. Otherwise, lots of our contemporary debates should have been settled long time ago.

But, people like wishful thinking. They are, at best, misinformed, or, at worst, they practice willful ignorance. Even some of my educated friends are victims to scams and faulty logic. But, there are personal needs that cannot be satisfied by reality, so the alternative is to seek remedies in an alternative universe. I do understand this human need, but I really despise the con artists, most of which are ruthless exploiters and profiteers, like the mediums, faith/crystal healers, voodoo peddlers, religious quacks (any other type, really?), and tellers of secrets, "they (special interests, government, etc) don't want you to know."


Popoff For Jesus

Although some victims do see the light, many don't, even when the scammers are exposed, on national tv nevertheless. Case in point: Peter Popoff, Benny Hinn, Kevin Troudeau, Silvia Browne, James Van Praagh, and many others.

Oprah has had her share of promoting pseudo-science. I think she probably means well but she has a responsibility since she has convincing power. She should not mix entertainment with public health issues. Remember Dr. Oz? Well she made him famous, and now this guy has been making tons of money peddling bullshit. He was admonished during his Congressional testimony a few days ago--where he admitted that his claims (for all sorts of products) had no scientific proof. In other words, they did not work!.

It's very wrong to give bad advice to patients. It's unethical to to create or support anyone's delusions. As it is wrong to tell someone that their schizophrenia is due to demonic possession. It is wrong to tell cancer patients that standard medicine is toxic and there's an easier "natural treatment" that's miraculous! I once had a close friend who went through this, and it was (still is) very painful.

There's no "alternative medicine." What works is medicine, which includes standards of measuring the effectiveness of a remedy/procedure. The so-called "alternative medicine" has no such standards, and it's mostly make-believe and anecdotal. It actually can be very dangerous. I abhor those who sell such bullshit to sick people who are desperate for a cure. 

"Both Sides?"

Finally, open-minded people may have big holes in their heads that their brains fall out. Of course, there has to be debate and examination of the evidence. Any better argument and evidence must be accepted--always, with the door open for amendment. This is the scientific method. 

However, when it comes to education, to a professional opinion, a best-judgment call, it can't be "everything goes!" Not everything has equal value. As a teacher I would be failing my professional duty to say, some people believe the earth is round, some people are flat-earthers!  Likewise for a doctor to say, this medicine is effective x% but there are those who think a voodoo doll is just as effective. Rubbish.

The willfully ignorant or those who a conservative agenda say,  "we should teach the controversy"! OK, I don't expect much more from them. Seriously though? Taught in school as what exactly? Alchemy with chemistry? Voodoo with medicine? Astrology with astronomy? This bullshit isn't appropriate, not in an advanced country that values education and science. We shouldn't be teaching ignorance! This can be a deal breaker. There's only one science: It's a tool for understanding. It employs, reason, inquiry, theory that can be amended, predicts, explains; it deals with facts as best we can ascertain them. Science is NOT dogmatic, doesn't have to satisfy gods, kings, or personal wishes..