Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Death and Taxes

“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” Benjamin Franklin.

But, since taxes are so certain it would make sense that we should understand the point of taxes. The conservatives have been crying for years now that our taxes are too high and they should be cut. The limit of cutting taxes can only be based on what we as the general population view as getting our money’s worth from the taxes that we pay. If we don’t really understand what our tax money is being used for, then we will never stop cutting taxes until we get to zero. Obviously there is a major disconnect here between what we need and what we want to pay for with our tax dollars.

Taxes have been a part of life since people formed tribes and began to live in cooperation. Taxes began as a type of payment to the leader in appreciation for his leadership, or as a part of the spoils of his leadership. In ancient tribalism a leader could force the point of leadership by taking command and demanding respect -- like other primate societies today, or even gang societies of today. The leader assumes authority and provides protection and in return receives retribution. Leaders obviously recognized that they could use their authority to demand more retribution. The retribution in turn could be used to maintain a large gang, or army to both offer more protection, and also demand more retribution. For the leader the cycle could grow as large as the number of people he could subject to his rule.

This model of a leader offering protection for retribution was challenged with the model of different forms of democracy or moderated government. With democracy, the point is that the leader is subjected to the will of the people. Democracy is an effort to constrain the greed of the leader who has no reason to limit the amount of taxation he places on his subjects. But democracy can only succeed if the people are educated enough to understand how their leader is attempting to maximize his authority and make personal gains. Education is not cheap and therefore many people are not educated. And, even in our own country the wealthy were able to educate their children while not all of the rest were so lucky. By only allowing landowners the right to vote, the education of the voters was maintained.

In these early systems of “democracy” the wealthy were still able to tax those without the right to vote and thereby maintain the uncontrolled ability to take money away from those who could not defend themselves. We saw this in ancient Greece and it was the main reason for the American Revolution -- taxation without representation.

Modern political progress tends to be in the direction of giving more political power to the less fortunate. So, in order to give power to the less fortunate it was assumed that they needed to be educated in order to vote in an informed way. Since the less fortunate are less likely to be able to afford a private teacher it was determined that it was in the best interest in society as a whole to have the government sponsor education by creating public schools. Public schools could serve two purposes, to provide a way to learn basic skills, and to spread a common story of the nation to the entire population. Basic skills elevate the individual and raise him to another level of value. A common story brings people together in order to pursue the goals of the common story. Well, obviously in addition to military protection public education is a worthy recipient of our tax money. Especially if one can not control the people who vote, then at least one can control how those people view the world and use the common story to influence control of the government. It seems like money well spent.

Education is not the only universal need of a society. People need food, housing, medical attention, waste management, transportation and more. Since ancient times the system was established that people pretty much fended for themselves. People needed to find a way to make themselves useful to society, and they were rewarded for their usefulness. On an individual level a person would find a need and work to fill that need. With this in mind many people solved many problems in many different ways. However, as society grew a new concept gradually grew as well. This was the idea if efficiency. This could be seen with the concept of interchangeable parts. Instead of having each gun handmade and individual a manufacturer could make hundreds of similar parts and build hundreds of similar guns that shot similar ammunition. Suddenly the efficiency of this model was realized and guns became cheaper.

In a similar way society was being handmade on the local level. Someone would make a road that he could use and others would follow it and try to connect to other roads through a maze of streets every which way, until a path from start to finish was completed. However, it was in the interest of society as a whole to have an organized system of roadways -- and it seemed very wise to spend tax dollars on that type of infrastructure.

Some things are more efficient with organization. It makes sense to build thousands of similar weapons so that an entire army can be supplied more cheaply, or hunters can buy guns at a lower cost. But, it doesn’t make sense for a government to tell each hunter which animal to target on his hunt. At some level organization makes efficient sense, but taking the concept too far results in ridiculous bureaucracy and control. At this level of understanding it seems logical that government organization can create efficiency by implementing a system of interchangeability. Local people however know the details much better than the government and therefore should retain local control over those details.

The point remains that there are some things that organization and efficiency can solve. These are the laws, programs and infrastructure that the government should spend its resources on, and we should be grateful to pay taxes for these services. We also need to be smart enough to know when the government is wasting money and efficiency by creating bureaucracy where it isn’t needed. As educated voters we really own it to ourselves to know that these specific issues are at the crux of most tax related issues.

The real problem is that politicians don’t want us to see the whole picture. Politicians are in the business of getting people to like them. Therefore a politician is not very likely to tell you the problems with an idea. Instead a politicians is more likely to tell you the benefits. Any government program has a cost and a benefit. If you are only weighing laws and programs by the perceived benefit that a politician is giving you, then you are likely missing the big picture. Even in government it costs money to build something - anything.

Take for example the gasoline tax holiday that Senator John McCain has recently proposed. The money collected from this gas tax is already being used in our government system of programs. The money is connected to the number of gallons sold, not a percent of sales. The consumption of gasoline is fairly regular because most people drive similar routines of commuting, shopping etc. However, during the summer many people take automobile vacations and consume more gasoline than the rest of the year. Sometimes decisions to take a vacation depend on the price of gasoline, if it is cheaper they will not be deterred and maybe drive more. If it is more expensive maybe they’ll travel a bit less. Cutting the gas tax for the summer is more likely to push demand higher. Econ 101 tells us that more demand will mean higher prices. It is likely that cutting the gas tax for the summer would have the effect of increasing demand and therefore raising the price of the gasoline -- likely by the same amount that the gas tax was cut by. The result is that consumers will pay the same price for gas during the summer months. Who gets this money? Well, the Oil Companies, of course! So, cutting the gas tax for the summer will result in shifting the gas tax money from going to the government to the Oil companies instead. Or in other words we will be paying a gas tax to the Oil companies -- it is simple Econ 101.

That might be frustrating to say the least, but what happens in September when the gas tax goes back into effect? Will the Oil companies lower their prices? No! Will people drive less? No, they can’t because we are now back to the inelastic market where everyone needs to drive basically the same amount, because they are driving to work and shopping alone. They can’t cut out driving to work. They may stop shopping if their earnings don’t go up.

The point of this entire post, however, is that we certainly will always need to pay taxes for the government benefits that we need to make our society more efficient and organized. Cutting taxes was proposed by the conservatives as a way to increase government revenue. Cutting taxes was supposed to stimulate growth and therefore increase the profits that companies pay taxes on. But, now several years after the tax cuts to the wealthy we are entering into a recession. The government is paying us with welfare checks in an effort to turn the economy around. Of course they don’t want to call them “welfare” checks because only lowlife poor people collect welfare. No, instead these are tax rebates that only tax payers are eligible to receive. What are the real benefits here? Everyone always feels happy when they have found a few extra bucks, so as the recession looms the government is trying to make us feel happy. Much of the problem we as a country suffer from is our over extended debt. If we were wise educated people we would use the money to lower our personal debt. However, lowering debt doesn’t really help pull us out of recession. Instead the government is hoping that we spend it like a bonus. If we do that, then we will extend the inevitability of recession a couple of months down the road. It will happen in due time, because people are still just spending beyond their means. At some point they will collectively need to stop spending and start paying off the debt. When that happens we won’t be making so much and people will loose jobs and default on those loans. So, are those tax rebate checks really a smart way to spend our tax dollars? I don’t think so.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Health of a Nation

I am going to concede right here at the beginning that what I am about to say is based on nothing more than the view of a couple of pictures, conjecture and imagination. However, just like there may be no truth in it at all there also exists the possibility that there is some truth. I will make my argument in the form of supporting evidence for a hypothesis and leave the rest up to some brave soul who may be willing to do this project for her thesis.

Today an interesting paper on the reverse in longevity of Americans was released. The authors claim that the results certainly are surprising, because with the progress in the development of new technology it certainly seems strange that America, the country leading the charge in medical technology, would have such a slide in the opposite direction. The conclusion is that Americans on average are dying sooner now than in 1983.

The study is available online and goes into more detail than I need for my conjecture. Figure 3 in the study shows how longevity increased in the US between 1961 and 1983 on an county by county map. This map shows quite a bit of increased longevity across the country no matter where you lived no matter if you are male or female. However, figure 3 also includes two maps for the US between 1983 and 1999. These maps show a decline in longevity for the country on a whole, and particularly in the center of the country.

If you are aware of similar maps of this type used to portray the results of presidential elections you might recognize a striking similarity between the election maps of the 2000 and 2004 presidential election and the maps displaying the change in longevity. I don’t have the numbers at hand, but by just looking at these maps one can conclude that if you live in a county that supported George W Bush in the 2004 election your longevity also decreased between 1983 and 1999. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Not only that, but the counties with the highest level of support for John Kerry in the 2004 election actually saw increases in their longevity.

There could be several reasons for this. If we look at stereotypes we might be able to figure this out. A person who supported John Kerry is likely to be a Democrat or a liberal leaning independent. And everyone knows that type. Many of these liberals are health conscious, eat healthy (maybe even vegetarian), they exercise, go hiking, walk rather than drive, and are knowledgeable about the poisons in the environment that might harm them. Everyone knows that people like this live in two major areas - the San Francisco Bay area and The New York metropolitan area. And, guess what, these are the places with the highest longevity. These places also care the most about getting the government involved in protecting its citizens with health and safety regulations. So, its no wonder that these are the places why the increase in longevity in the US is most pronounced.

But, that really does not explain why the center of the country would have a decline in longevity between 1983 and 1999. This is the area with the strongest support for George W Bush and the Republicans. The decline for women in the area is even more pronounced than the decline for men. Why? Republicans believe that the government should not intervene, basically because people should have the freedom to decide for themselves. Obviously people want to live longer and simple desire will get people to make the right decisions. Based on the Republican beliefs people living under the Republican model should be healthier because the free market allows the people to make their own decision without government interference. People want to live longer and the free market will allow for things like healthy food, cheap workout facilities, safe vehicles, safe work places, cheap and effective health care and all of desires of people who naturally want to live longer. What better experiment could we have designed to test the two strategies for creating a better healthier society?

The years of this study are quite intriguing. From the Kennedy administration until the third year of Reagan social policy was mainly old school status quo. After three years of Reagan many of these policies were crippled by that administration. Slowly as Republicans became powerful their ideology and life style choices began to spread, mainly in the center of the country. Attitudes toward the “ridiculousness” of caring about what we put in our bodies began to catch on. And, based on the maps in figure 3 people began to care less about living a healthy life, especially in the Republican strongholds. Actually, based on this evidence it might actually be possible to put someone on a scale, weigh them, and determine if they are a Republican or a Democrat. Well, maybe not, because weight is only one of the many unhealthy things that Republicans seem to continually support. They don’t want our food labeled so that we can know what kinds of poisons were used in the processing. They don’t want us to be reminded of Global Warming. They don’t like protection and safety in the work place. They don’t want us to limit cigarette smoking in public places. They didn’t want seat belts to become mandatory safety devices in cars. They didn’t want the seat belts to have shoulder belts. They didn’t want the government to pay for vaccines for the poor. They don’t like to spend money on public health services. They didn’t want to spend money protecting our troops by giving them body armor. They didn’t want to spend the money to reinforce the Humvees they were driving in the Iraq War. The list is endless. But, I need to stop before I get too angry.

The point is, do we want to continue to follow the Republican ideas about public safety and continue to say our longevity as a country decline, or do we want to look to New York and San Francisco and increase our longevity as a country?

There are about 200 countries in the world. Many of these countries are extremely poor and many people are forced to live on less than a dollar a day. Health and safety issues in these places take second or third priority behind things like getting enough to eat. Based on GDP the US is number one in the world. However, what possible excuse could we have for falling lower than the top thirty countries in the world as far as longevity is concerned? This should be considered a national disgrace. But, by the careful deflection of this issue many are still convinced that the US health care system is the best in the world. It may be the case that health care in the US is great for those who can afford it, but many people can not afford it. And, in the future, if we continue down this trail, many fewer people will be able to afford health care in the future. This election cycle both Democrat candidates are pushing health care, but as the Republicans before him John McCain thinks that health care isn’t worth the money. The money should be spent on other things like the War in Iraq. But what he isn’t thinking about is the fact that more Americans are dying because of their poor health care than from terrorist attacks over the last 20 years or more. If we really are a nation of life as George W Bush likes to tell us then the Republicans should be a bit concerned about the health of our nation.

Then again, maybe Republicans just don’t care about their longevity because of some strange religious belief. If that’s true, then maybe this all makes a bit more sense.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, April 18, 2008

Something About Barack

Just after Christmas Barack Obama won Iowa in the Democrat’s primary. Iowa was the culmination of months (almost years) of campaigning. Anyone living in Iowa with a bit of gumption could basically go up to any candidate and shake their hand and ask them difficult questions. This personal campaign style could not be reproduced on the national scale. But, it could be copied in New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton started the election cycle with the blessing of the grand masters as the golden child of the Democrats. Being the golden child means that money flows in to your campaign from established donors relatively easily. Everyone else in the race needed to work hard to change the minds of many that they at least deserved a chance to be seen and heard. After all, this is the way that American elections take place.

After Barack won Iowa he was coming on strong in New Hampshire. He had “momentum.” Momentum is an elusive idea if you think about it. Do you personally think to yourself and say, “Hey, that guy just won last weeks election, I think that I’ll vote for him?” We like to think that we wouldn’t be persuaded in such an uninformed way. We like to think that we sit and listen to a candidate and think about what they say and consider whether what they say could effect us in a positive way. Of course, every politician says the things that we think will effect us in a positive way. They never, or almost never say things that will effect us in a negative way. As voters it is our responsibility to discover the ways in which one person’s positive message is our negative message. So, how do we explain momentum?

Well, Hillary managed to shed a tear just in time to slow Barack’s momentum in New Hampshire. For a moment the nation and particularly New Hampshire thought that Hillary was possibly human. The control of this collective movement of political opinion is the elixir that all politicians seek. It seemed for a short time that Hillary knew how to turn people toward her with the bat of an eye.

Fortunately for America the primary season is spread out over several months. And, what people find important one week might mean very little a few weeks later. The idea is to allow the selection process weed out the potential problems we might not like when a candidate is elected. This would be a fairly honest system if it weren’t for the politics.

Politics is much more complex than what we normally see in the election process. Politics is about relationships. And, the key to winning elections normally lies in powerful relationships. The first most obvious relationship is between the candidate and the public; normally it is a relationship that builds over time as people get to know him and he gets to know the people. However, candidates that have already established relationships with existing politicians might be able to speed up this process. A powerful politician might use his relationship the people that support him to endorse a candidate that is less well know. And, for many people that trust transfers easily. The people don’t need to learn about the candidate if a person they trust tells them to accept the candidate. This saves time all around, but it also cheats the candidates that don’t have these powerful relationships from being heard. The candidate that has a less established network of relationships is always going to be at a disadvantage no matter how good their ideas are.

Of course, these are the realities of politics in America. The problem, however, is that good ideas make a country stronger, not necessarily good networks. Candidates are elected on their ability to build good networks, and only very rarely on their good ideas. Sometimes a person with good ideas is able to break into a network by bringing those idea to key people in the network that actually care about good ideas. However, if the network is devoid of people like this it become virtually impossible to make political progress.

With Barack Obama, however, he seems to be able to bring his good ideas forward and present them in such a way that people in the network of the powerful Democrats can not ignore him. We are only in this tight primary race because Barack Obama is able to communicate in such a superior way. If he were an average politician like Hillary Clinton but outside the network he would have simply been out of the race by now.

If you have any doubt about the uphill battle that Barack has fought so far, look at the polls from before a campaign enters a state until election day for almost every state voting so far. Initial polls favored Hillary Clinton in almost every race until Barack Obama began to spread his message. The longer that the public was exposed to his message the more he climbed in the polls. Hillary was spreading her message at the same time, however voter continued to slip from her and join Barack. If everyone had voted without campaigning, then every race would have ended up like Florida, where no one campaigned; Hillary winning by a huge margin. We this same phenomena playing out once again in Pennsylvania. Barack was down by 20 points before the campaigning even started. Hillary had the race in hand, until she actually had to make her pitch - why should you vote for her? With even footing at the beginning Barack would have built a lead based on his vision alone. There would be no competition by this time. However, Barack had to fight an uphill battle changing the minds of people who had been biased in the beginning. And, surprisingly he is doing it again and again.

When I look at this evidence it is clear to me that there must be something about Barack that keeps working. People don’t change their minds easily. If he can change the minds of these people he will certainly be able to work his magic as he moves on to the general election. And, as a President of the United States he will continue to need that power of persuasion in order to build his own power network with the people in Washington. Then he can put those ideas in place and really bring about change. After all the power is in the networks even if the ideas are not.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Devil Inside

One fundamental difference between social conservatives and social liberals pertains to what makes a person “bad.” Are people born bad or good? Can good people become bad people? Can bad people become good people? What does it take for people to be good or to be bad?

Jesus actually spoke to this repeatedly. He understood that the main obstacle for a sinner was forgiveness. The ritual rite of Baptism was a cleansing and renewal that John the Baptist brought to us. The fasting in the desert was a way for people in Jesus’ time to shed the habits of sinfulness and to renew themselves. But, when a former sinner wanted to reunite with the community the only obstacle tended to be the community itself. The community expected sin from its sinners, just like it expected goodness from its leaders.

All of this is counterintuitive if we actually think about this for a second. Are we always good? Are we always bad? Of course we are never always one or the other. We are all truly human, and humans falter and err. So, we should expect the same of other people throughout society in general.

In “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” Philip Zimbardo explains to us how he discovered that random people will become evil by the circumstances that they find themselves in. External influence clouds the perception of what we believe to be good or bad. And soon we find ourselves doing bad things without realizing that what we are doing is bad. This was a scientific experiment that resulted in a conclusion that the researchers weren’t prepared for. This same breakdown in social norms resulted in those photos from Abu Grab in Iraq.

What Philip Zimbardo points out is that the external environment can make the probability that people will turn bad more or less likely. In fact, he is not saying that people can not resist these effects. What he is saying is that there are environments that make the likelihood that bad deeds will happen more probable. And, one element in that environment is the existence of people who disregard the rules. If an environment exists that will have a high probability of one person breaking the rules, then it becomes more likely that the next person will break the rules, and soon many people are breaking the rules until finally all of the people are breaking the rules. If we know this in advance, then environments may be created that reduce the probability of “bad” behavior.

Now, one interesting dilemma however is that when some people are given the power to judge the “goodness” of another person’s behavior then that person has an increased risk of having “bad” behavior. Within the bastions of authority we find corruption. This is not surprising, but it creates a need to “police” our authorities. Secrecy also increases the risk that someone has a higher likelihood of breaking a rule. Secrecy offers a safe zone in which no one knows what is being done. Once again this isn’t surprising. The point that is surprising is that all of us have the potential for evil within ourselves.

To sin is human. To be selfless is also human. Humans have a wide range of behavior and every one of us is capable of all of these actions.

The conservative model of crime and punishment is based on the idea that we take the bad people and separate them from the rest of us. This separation of good from evil will purify the society and we will have a better society. This model would make sense if there truly were good people and bad people. There might be a few bad people that we would not discover, because they would be able to conceal their “badness” because that is what bad people do.

However, the Christian and Liberal model of crime is not based on this idea. Instead, any Christian can tell you that we are all sinners. We all break rules and we all sin. The problem is that once a person sins then they have a personal loathing for themselves about the sin they have committed or the rule that they have broken. (Of course this is if they feel that the rule or sin was actually worthwhile.) Some sinners or rule breakers feel justified in breaking the rule or sin because they feel that the rule or sin was unjust in itself. People who speed generally feel that they are justified in breaking the rule because they can personally speed without hurting anyone or causing any problem. Other people might see a speeder and feel justified because they should also be allowed to get to their destination earlier. When the speeding actually results in an accident, then the speeder will feel remorse and self loathing. A Christian or Liberal will explain that those first speeders should not break the law for the good of the community. If the community witnesses a rule breaker then the probability of rule breaking will increase. The final result will be another accident.

A liberal will tell you that laws should exist for the good of the community. Conservatives will tell you the same thing. But the idea behind the mechanism for these laws is completely different. Conservatives want to discourage the “bad” people and encourage the “good” people. Liberals and Christians want to prevent the community from evolving into a “bad” community.

I wrote this explanation in order to point out that the Catholic Church is bound to repeat the sins of the past, because the authority in the Catholic Church does not understand the problem. Today, the Pope announced that the pedophile problem in the Church will be fixed because the Church will no longer select pedophiles to become priests. On the face of this it sounds like a good idea. Screen the potential priests and determine whether they are pedophiles. When pedophiles are found, then don’t allow them to become priests. The problem is not with the selection between good and bad people to become priests. The problem is with the environment that allows pedophiles to develop after they have already become priests. Pre-selecting non-pedophile priests and demanding that they remain celibate will increase the probability that those priests will seek sexual gratification. Obviously not all priests will chose children for that gratification, but arresting their sexual maturation to the time that they become celibate will increase the probability that they will seek people of similar sexual maturity when they do seek sexual gratification. Of course not all priest will become pedophiles, but the probability will be increased. Secrecy, mystery and authority enable priests to act on impulses that the environment nurtures.

The only real solution to this problem is to recognize the true nature of being human. Being open about being a sexual human being will allow priests to mature in their understanding of what it truly means to be human. When other priests know what everyone is thinking about on this level it allows the entire community to mature. Taking away the secrecy and forgiving each other even if one falls builds strength in the community. Ensuring that children can not be allowed to become victims puts everyone on the same page. However, realizing that sexual and emotional gratification found only in meaningful human relationships is the only real way to quell the ominous potential for this evil and will most likely never happen. And without that particular reform we will continue to have a few priests continue to sin in this way for a long time to come.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Center of the Country

Last week I ventured on a business trip to the middle of the country. St. Louis is a major American city based on the fact that it offers major league sports teams. However, when you compare the city of St. Louis to many other American cities it seems to be a little more “laid back.” When I suggested this idea to a friend he asked, “By laid back do you mean - nothing is going on?” I actually believe that something is going on, it is just going on a bit slower than in other areas of the country.

Missouri is the “Show Me” state. Basically this self-assigned reputation suggests that people in Missouri are born skeptics. However, I don’t believe that Missourians are skeptics in all areas at all. Instead, as a casual observer it seems more likely that people from this state tend to be set in their ways until they are show to do things another way. Now, stereotypes are generally frowned upon by those who are politically correct, but when you walk into a new place and everyone is behaving in such a strange and universal way it is hard to not believe in stereotypes to some extent. In fact, the idea that people from certain places behaving in certain ways would be strongly supported by the cultural influence in an area effects the population. People who move from these areas take their culture with them as well as their genetic pool.

Missouri is also one of those states that will most likely play a significant role in the 2008 election. Missouri is also a state with a history of racial issues. For example, the Dred Scott case was argued in St. Louis. Therefore it tends to be important to understand how the people in this “compromise state” might feel toward the possibility of Barrack Obama being elected to the highest office in the land.

The first Missourian I asked about Barrack Obama laughed at me. Of course this fresh graduate from Mizzou was extremely drink and would laugh at just about anything she did have a serious disbelief in the possibility of a person of color being elected president. As I proceeded to ask her if she had heard any of his speeches, or knew what he stood for she drew a blank. She was aware that there was no possible way that any of her friends would vote for him. At that point I was happy to learn that she was not registered to vote.

Well, I didn’t feel very encouraged after listening to this (what do you call a person from Mizzou?) person tell me “the facts of life” in Missouri.

The next person that I questioned about the 2008 election wasn’t exactly from Missouri. And, since this was an informal survey that actually means nothing I will tell you what he said anyway. I began by suggesting that of course he must have voted for Barrack in the primary election, and he laughed in my face again. (I guess this is bound to happen when one spends time in the bar.) When he collected himself he asked me “In the month after 9/11 back in 2001 could you have ever imagined that we would have a black Muslim running for President of the United States?”

Well, what other answer could I have for this obviously misinformed question than, “Of course, I expected that would be the next step in our political culture.”

When this man was caught off guard by my response he said, “Hey, you aren’t being honest with me!”

Then I was able to say, “Well, that’s because you weren’t being honest with me. Barrack Obama is not a Muslim. In fact, the problem that he is currently having pertains to his membership in a Baptist church. And, last I knew the Baptist religion is a Christian denomination.”

Of course arguing with a drunk is never likely to be productive. But it does tend to bring to the surface one of the problems that our country still needs to solve. Clear lies and misinformation will continue to plague this election. Whispered innuendo will be a major force that will continue to work against what would be best for our country.

Of course the person I was arguing with was a working class person that would benefit economically from the election of Barrack Obama more than the election of either of the other two candidates. However, the economic interest of the upper class is being served by the prejudice of the lower class. This tends to be a convenient circumstance for the upper class, because they would never dare to bring it up and expose their advantage. And, when people have been raised in a culture of racism then that racism is an undercurrent that seems to be acceptable within that culture.

My daughter recently returned from a trip to Texas. Being raised in California and having friends from many different racial groups she found her experience shocking. She was in the process of visiting different schools in an effort to choose a university to attend after graduation. Most likely just because her parents graduated from Texas A&M she felt an obligation to tour this campus. The non-diversity of that school was shocking, and she announced that it was highly unlikely that she would be able to attend that school. Her host, somewhat surprised, said, “Why? You’re white and you’re not a lesbian, so you would fit in just fine.” My daughter couldn’t even grasp the comment. She must have told us this story twenty times just trying to understand where these people were coming from.

But, the rest of the country might be a bit more like the center of the country rather than the coasts. And, because of this we are in need of a major national discussion on racism. And, I offer these points as just another effort to push this conversation forward.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Tale of Two Wars

What should America’s foreign policy be?

I just finished “reading” “Charlie Wilson’s War.” I actually listened to the audio version of it on my way back and forth to work over the last week. I highly recommend it to anyone who wonders how our government works. The book details quite a few examples of why politicians do what they do as opposed to what they say in public.

The story of our involvement in Afghanistan and the historical context around it brings up a very interesting question. If America really hated communism or socialism, why were the Republicans so dead set on the Nicaragua War and the Democrats so dead set against it? And why was the converse true of the Afghanistan War?

People who haven’t seen the movie or read the book might be surprised to discover that Charlie Wilson was a Democrat from Texas. He was actually known as the “Liberal from Lufkin.” So, why did Charlie find the Afghan cause so important and the Contra effort such a lost cause?

The answer lies in the true nature of these two different wars and in the basic ideology of the Democrats and Republicans.

The Nicaragua War began when Somaza the dictator of Nicaragua, from a merger of wealthy coffee plantation family and other wealthy families was overthrown by a group of people who organized because of the abuse they suffered under this government. The overthrow could have been viewed as a liberation of the people from the oppression of the upper class. But, because the wealthy in America fear the common people they were eager to restore this wealthy family back to power. In order to do this they hired soldiers of fortune - the Contra to fight against the new Sandinista government.

The Afghan War began when the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan and took over the government. The country was poor and not ruled by anyone possessing huge wealth. The Soviet Union mainly wanted territory and eventually access to a port on the Indian Ocean. But, in Afghanistan the Afghan people rose up en masse to fight the occupation of this land. These people didn’t need to be paid to fight, because they would gladly give their lives to fight the Soviet Union to the death.

These wars began roughly the same time in 1979, but the Republicans quickly backed the Nicaragua Contras while Charlie Wilson, the Democrat in Congress, sought to back the Afghanis. By looking at how those two wars started it is quite clear why one party backed one war while the other party backed the other. What does justice mean? Is justice protecting your ill-gotten gains or is it protecting your freedom? Obviously each political party here in the United States has its own interpretation. One war was to restore a wealthy family to power while the other war was to win freedom for a country that was overthrown by our direct cold war enemy - the Soviets. Which war was the more noble war? Which war was a war for freedom? Which war was for the people?

It is funny (or maybe sad) to think about how the Republicans have somehow inherited the caricature of the party that is willing to fight for freedom and liberty to defend our country, when they actually don’t act that way at all. A war for freedom and liberty isn’t really worth the fight in the minds of the Republican party. But, when real assets are involved, then the Republicans jump on the band wagon waving their pitchforks shouting “kill the beast.” In reality Democrats seem to act to protect our country in a more reasonable and rational way most of the time. When they are swayed to jump into the fight it seems to be when the plight of the people is in danger. Charlie Wilson went to bat for the Afghanis when no one else cared about them. He saw a noble people fighting to free themselves from oppression. This is the same fight that many working class Americans battle day to day because they have no choice; they need to feed their families. Hopefully, as these stories are retold and the truth bubbles to the surface we will see the true colors of the American political parties when it comes to defending our country.

When we put the Iraq War in the light of these two wars fought at roughly the same time we see how a Republican congress and a Republican President used their power to manipulate the facts to present their case for war. Their motives seem to be quite clear in this light. The Iraq War has nothing to do with winning freedom from the oppression of Saddam Hussein as many Republicans would have you believe. It is obviously for the control of Iraqi oil. Well, Ok I already knew that years ago, but it is always comforting to see additional evidence backing a theory. Although evidence mounts some people will never believe that whoever they support could ever do anything wrong.

Like a said above, this book is a must read. It goes into the nuance details of how this politician with a noble goal in mind could not realize when his war was beginning to go wrong. And, by wrong I mean that the CIA support against the Soviets turned into fuel for internal conflict in Afghanistan. The result put the Taliban in power and created terrorist camps. Charlie Wilson and the CIA remained blinded by the perception of the nobility of those they supported although the extremism that beat the Soviets was slowly being turned against the United States. They believed that if they were able to bring down one super power, they could surely bring down the other, because “God is the only superpower!”

When I start hearing words tied to actions like that I begin to worry. The mind of the person who says these things is convinced not only that God is all powerful. That part I am OK with. But they also imply a second part that says I am doing Gods will. The flaw is that the person acting believes that they know what God’s will is. This frightening thought process is not only a part of the Islamic religious ideology. It is a part of fundamentalist religious ideology. Not all Muslims are fundamentalists. Just like not all Christians are fundamentalists. But, all fundamentalists have this belief that they are doing God’s will and therefore nothing can stop them from doing it. And that’s why George W Bush’s claim that he is doing God’s will in the Middle East is so frightening. Eight more months!


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit