Jul 26, 2016

Feelings Matter but Facts are Relevatnt Too. Which Side Will Prevail this Election Year?

So, yeah, feelings are very important and they trump reality. We have to acknowledge this. Most people are intuitive, emotional, and they pick a team or are brought up in a tribe that has their allegiance. Facts often don't change people's minds, especially during a heated argument or an strident political campaign.


(Link to video from the 2' mark)

That's why conservatives--who supposedly are big on "law and order"--keept pushing this narrative at their convention that we're about to die! Never mind that crime rates have gone down. Newt Gingrich when confronted with the facts he kept saying he was right because that's how he (and a lot others) feel. He may have found out that the crime rate on my block went up 100% last year, because someone stole a lawn mower!  You know what they say, a petty theft leads to the apocalypse. So, yeah, let us arm ourselves to the teeth to prepare for the inevitable. Whatever.

The point is that our democracy relies on the judgment of people, many of whom are very misinformed in a wilful ignorance way. I have friends and family who are all over the political spectrum. They rarely are interested in having a rational discussion about facts. I am not saying they have to agree with me--after all, values and priorities are individually based.

I teach political science and thinking about politics is a daily occupation for me. It's so rare, outside academia, to be asked, what do you think about this and how did you arrive at your conclusion.  If they're not sure where I stand on an issue, I may get the question, what do you think about it, though most often the reasoning, the path to the conclusion isn't needed. Why? Because it's confirmation bias at play.  They also hope for an answer that confirms their preconceived notion, otherwise the conversation on that topic ends there.

Republicans are better at pushing the emotional buttons. Simplistic but emotionally-laden remedies to complicated issues are preferred to details. Dems do that too, but they also tend to over-explain, and give complicated answers to hot issues. Trump does not deal in detail policies but in snake oil remedies that will fix things overnight, or at least the first thing in the morning of January 21st, 2017.

The bottom line is that if we had disagreements and true discussion based on reason and facts, there would be more common ground. But, people argue on emotions, and when perceptions of reality (who did what, when, and how) vary wildly and they are not interested in checking the facts. It's astounding to me that in the 21st century America (US) we are debating reality--debating not with facts but with feelings, like Trump, Gringrich and other cons bring to the table. Is the earth billions of a few thousand years old? Is science a guide to climate change? Vaccines? etc.

I can understand (not like it) if someone said he/she hates Mexicans, non-Xtians, whatever. But, the facts show these groups are not more violent or deal in drugs. Someone can say that homosexuality disgusts them, but they can't say that gay partners and parents are less loving or divorce more, or their children are less adjusted that heterosexuals' offspring.  Same with law and order. The conservatives should admit they want an authoritarian leader to keep them safe from imaginary crimes and real diverse society, but they can't argue that tougher punishment and incarceration reduces crime. Social programs, the safety net, and the well-being of the people makes a happier, less violent society!

More on the Dem convention in the next post..... I've watched the first night (Monday) of the convention and I was impressed by Michelle Obama, Bernie,  Warren, and Al Franken.






Jul 13, 2016

Historians on Donald Trump..

Can you maintain your objectivity when you see a train off its track about to crash and cause much harm? More and more voices, some from the conservative side, are talking publicly about the Trump candidacy for the highest office in the land as they can't sit silently on the sidelines and observe this train wreck.

Historians on Donald Trump is a Facebook page created by the famous Ken Burns. He has invited several noted historians and scholars of US politics to comment on Trump's politics. Take a look. [link

As David McCullough put it, Eisenhower said there were 4 qualifications for the office of the president, character, ability, responsibility, and experience. Donald Trump fails in all four.

In a related matter, the Republican party is putting together the planks for its platform--the official policy the party wants to implement if it could. As you'd expect, it's extremely conservative/regressive, but it reflects the Medieval nature of this party. The GOP and Trump's definition of greatness is the Dark Ages. Oh, the glory days of the strict father and subservient women, Biblical justice and intolerance of the pursuit of happiness--you know, the liberal principle that a person should be free to enjoy life on his/her own terms.

Abortion, birth control, women in battle, same-sex marriage, gun control, minority rights, separation church-state, equal pay, the environment ("coal is a clean" energy source), and of course anti-intellectualism and anti-science, are explained in the Republican policy platform...  As for the economic policies, yeah, those too are geared for the benefit of.... (you guess)
 

Jul 8, 2016

Is the US Condemned to High Levels of Violence? Meanwhile, another Mass Shooting in Dallas...

Mass shootings keep taking place, and gun violence is, sadly, part of everyday life here in the US. We are a violent country, but why? And, is it something we can change? Or, do we want to change that? After all, guns are connected to freedom! We need guns to fight the government, aliens, zombies, and whatever else Apocalypse may bring.

 After a deadly shooting, gun sales increase. The NRA is happy, and it has a hold on politicians. Do you know that Congress has  barred the Center for Decease Control (CDC) since 1996--when the NRA accused the CDC of being anti-gun--from doing research into gun violence, because, heck, it may lead to findings favoring gun control. Facts and science should inform public policy, right?... Since 2012, President Obama tried to reverse this, but...

The American Medical Association (AMA) has reversed its position though and now calls Congress to allow the CDC to do research into gun violence as a public health issue! 

Again, the lethal effect of powerful weapons and their availability is a big factor in US violence. I do not see why the "right" to own a gun should be above the right of others to have a ..healthier life!  We do have restrictions on all sorts of weapons not available to civilians. The right to live your life the way you want has to taken into account your actions as a direct impact on others. You can't do all sorts of things if your actions harm the community. You can't drive a car without a license, no insurance, and without emission controls. You can't cut down every tree or take every fish out of the sea. You shouldn't have certain weapons, certainly not open or conceal carry.


Jun 13, 2016

A Culture of Guns Feeds the Kind of Violence We Just Witnessed in Orlando. Which God Instructs His Children that Homosexuality is a Horrible Sin Worthy of Death?

If only there was another good person with a machine gun, or at least an assault automatic weapon to take down the Orlando shooter before he killed all those good people. Same, with all the other instances where unarmed civilians are gunned down by crazies all of our beloved country of ours. 

Now, I'll keep a moment of silence, after which I'll pronounce that my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. All of these acts, of course, will do nothing to help the past, present, and future victims of gun violence. 

The NRA is defending the interests of the gun sellers and manufacturers not the gun owners. It gets support from knuckleheads who believe that the more guns the more freedom people have. This is a libertarian paradise where the enemy is always the government, the communists and the non-xtians. Except we had this ...paradise in the early days of our republic--where Trump wants to take us back to--and it didn't work.

Yes, a gun in the hands of a good person may stop a bad person with a gun, but there are downsides as the proliferation of guns leads to more deaths. This is a fact. I include deaths from disputes with people having access to deadly weapons, suicides, children who shoot themselves or others, etc. There's no good reason, in my mind, why civilians should have access to assault rifles and high powered guns with big ammo clips. Such weapons must be banned. And, yes, it can be done in these United States if we wanted to. We have had a violent past (and present), a history of the vast frontier, wild men and untamed nature. But, so was Australia. They banned most weapons there and they have a huge reduction in crime involving firearms. 

Now, there's another sensitive issue in relation to the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday. Many have said that the crazy gunman may had been offended by the gay culture but, guess what, his actions had nothing to do with religion!

Really?! All three Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--teach that homosexuality is an abomination, a sin, worthy of the most severe punishment in human societies and in hell. The Abrahamic god is not tolerant, or loving, but angry, petulant, vindictive against the children of his creation, who are designed with imperfections and are worthy of condemnation and punishment of death for exercising their right to pursuit of happiness.

If you still choose to remain silent, sorry to say, you're part of the problem and for perpetuating violence and primitive superstitions. 

Update 6/14/16: This video by Samantha Bee just came out and it nails the points I'm making here.

Jun 8, 2016

The Democrats Make History But Most of the Work Begins Now Until the November Election. Oh, and Trump is a Man-child Loser.

Taking America back to greatness;
ah, the good 'ol times!
We're going to have a woman president for the first time in our nation's history, but this is not the most important reason to look forward to this election and beyond... It's the progressive direction--through executive action and per Supreme Court--that our country will take, and perhaps we may get a modern conservative party instead of this medieval GOP.

Young Trump at the Chipendale auditions.
He didn't make the cut,
because of his small hands.
Polls aren't accurate at this point, though based on several variables--like demographics, and economic indicators--Hillary Clinton should be able to comfortably win this election. I think Trump is not a uniter, and even though many Republicans will fall in line, there won't be a united effort. It looks like 1964 again. If I had to bet right now, I'd say we'll see a repeat of a Lyndon Johnson drubbing of Goldwater. 

One way to look it, though not necessarily a predictor, is whether Trump can do better than Romney 4 years ago. Yeah, you say, but there's no incumbent president and it's not the norm that the same party gets a third presidential term.  However, the economy is doing OK, low unemployment and no inflation, so Trump's argument (which is absolutely bullshit) he can make better deals won't look as credible alternative, especially when more Americans learn about the deals and the scams he's done building his empire.

So, Romney got 59% of the whites to 39% of Obama, and 27% of Latinos. I don't see Trump doing better with these numbers. Then how about the women who are the majority of the voters? In 2012, Obama won the women's vote by 12 points, whereas Romney won the men's vote by 8 points. It's expected that Hillary will get more that 12 points among women voters in 2016.



Images of the Great Leader everywhere in Trumpmurca,
by decree of the Dear Leader.
What's worse for Trump is that where he's very strong doesn't really help him--he may be getting 90% of the white voters in the South, but in many "blue" states he will lose the white vote. The Latino/Hispanic vote will most definitely not be as good as 27% for Trump as it was for Romney. In addition, millions of new Latinos are being registered to vote, and there's a real movement to vote against a bigot like Trump.

KAOS will be defeated
I watched both speeches last night as the two presumptive nominees spoke after their last round of victories. Hillary was amazingly good I thought. Unless you're totally blinded by bias, there's only one person qualified to be president. I'm not talking about policy or ideology; I'm talking about maturity, temperament, and skill.  I think this is the theme Hillary should pursue and not engage in mudslinging; let others attack Trump and get under his skin by talking his language. This doesn't mean that she can't be critical, but she should refrain from making statements like he needs a psychologist to figure out why Trump says whatever... 

Bernie ran a needed campaign but he may have gone a bit too far. Still, he can be a very important player in this election by marshaling his army into a "stop-Trump" movement. He has to tell his supporters that Trump is not an acceptable choice for president, and that the Dems need to take back control of the Senate so he, Sanders as a leader in the Senate, can push through more progressive legislation, and, oh, let's not forget the Supreme Court, where the Dems can confirm liberal judges to the high court. In the next 4 to 8 years, Hillary will nominate at least 2 new justices. The court can finally speed up the progressive direction of our country.



Apr 18, 2016

Good Idea, on Tax Day... (as per Bill Maher)

 Bill Maher makes a good argument: Forever 21 sells taxable t-shirts. Wealthy churches selling invisible product.....  OK, guess what Maher is suggesting...

 


Happy tax day 2016!

Mar 27, 2016

Republicans Are Bad for Women, Unless...

Well, unless you want to live in the dark ages, when women knew their place and men decided what was good for them! Then vote for any of the leaders in this regressive Republican party, including the presidential candidates who presumably want to appeal to the majority of women in our country.

In the last several years, Republican governors and state legislatures are passing laws that restrict women's right to reproductive choice, shutting down health clinics, and defunding family-planning organizations. Gail Collins has an excellent op-ed piece in the NYT on this topic. Here's an excerpt:

One thing that all these guys have in common is a desire to put themselves in charge of the reproductive rights of the entire female half of the country. Trump used to be pro-choice, but he “evolved” at some undisclosed point in the 21st century. Ted Cruz opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. John Kasich is willing to allow a troubled teenager to get an abortion if she’s seduced by her father, but not if the seducer is the next-door neighbor. This is why Kasich’s the moderate.

 And, here's "an angel of destruction" who'll destroy the GOP and tear America (and the world?) apart--as per conservative columnist, David Brooks:


That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on audacity, while everyone else is immobile.
But Trump has no actual ideas or policies. There is no army of Trumpists out there to carry on his legacy. He will almost certainly go down to a devastating defeat, either in the general election or — God help us — as the worst president in American history.

Brooks easily forgets the truly bad Republican presidents in the last 50 years. Hopefully, we won't experience a Trump presidency, so the title of the worst president in the last 100 years (at least) will remain with G.W. Bush 43.

Mar 16, 2016

What's Obama's Game with His Nomination to the Supreme Court?

Many progressives are aghast at the president's nomination to the Supreme Court, for two main reasons. One, judge Merrick Garland is in his 60s, and two, he's a centrist. This is not the best we hoped for. Yes, he is qualified, and under an ideal environment whereas the Republican party was a centrist, and a Republican president would also nominate a centrist, Garland would be acceptable. Those days are long gone though.

President Obama may be in his moderate self, trying to reach across to the other party, as he's tried to do all these years. He should have learned by now, that moderation ain't working. On the other hand, maybe the president calculated that the obstructionist GOP senators will not budge and thus his nominee is a sacrificial lamb to highlight how extreme these senators are by not accepting even a reasonable nominee.  

However, I would not have advised the president to do this. Things can happen, like public pressure that may make the Senate give in and consider this nominee, and, who knows, he may get confirmed if the conservatives realize they may lose the control of the Senate and get a more liberal nominee under president Clinton. So, again, not a good idea to nominate Garland.


No matter what the Republicans choose to do, this supreme court's annual session will end by June with no new justice being seated. Soon after that, the conventions will take place, and there will be lots of national polls about the strength of the two presidential candidates. It's possible that, if Trump is being blown out of the water by Clinton, the Republicans might reconsider their stance and re-examine Garland's nomination.

But, I'm also betting these Republicans aren't acute enough to realize the gamble they're undertaking by not holding hearings for this nomination. And, they may be stubborn enough to be willing to lose control of the Senate too. If I were advising them, I would have called Obama's bluff when he leaked that he was considering a former Republican governor of Nevada for the Supreme Court. The conservatives should have said, yes, if he's the nominee, we're most certainly interested! They should take Garland, because they can't be sure they'll get a better one even under president Trump. (OK, I fell off my chair as soon I put "president" and "Trump" together)

What should Hillary Clinton do in this matter? Well, we all hope she'll nominate a much more liberal and younger judge--one who can stay on the high court for 30 years, like Scalia. I'd also argue that she should nominate--and already begin to indicate--a very liberal judge, because the democratic base will demand it, the public would be disgusted by the obstructionist Republicans, and it'll be natural for her to nominate an exact opposite of Scalia.

I think Hillary will be more politically savvy than this president, who wasted 1,5 years when he took office by delegating to Congress two of his top agenda items, immigration reform and health care reform. He lost his momentum. Political capital--and he had plenty when he took office--must be spend quickly or it evaporates. He should have told Congress that he's the new boss in town, having won by a landslide, that he wanted this and that and no less. Instead he squandered precious time and a Democratic majority in both chambers in Congress.

If Hillary wins there should be no wasting time and no need to compromise with a broken, dysfunctional Republican party. It is that party that needs to move to the center to be a partner of reasonable politics. The GOP as it is caters to the extremes, like the Dems did to the KKK in the 1920s. That Dem party killed the moderates, like Al Smith from New York, and eventually had to be broken up, until a new winning coalition was put together by FDR.

I may never vote for a Republican but I do want a sensible, centrist GOP; it'll be good for our country. The way our system is designed, with power dispersed among the branches, and that the executive doesn't have control of the legislature, compromise is often necessary; that's how we get things done. But compromise has to be among reasonable people who at least agree about reality. 

It's natural to disagree about priorities and values, but facts are facts, science is science, etc. Sadly, this Republican party is divorced not only from modernity but also from reality. All modern advanced liberal-social-democracies have a parties that form a consensus on reality, like science, education, environment, and many social safety net features. No, not our Republican party.

As for the third "super Tuesday" Trump not only won most states but he was fortunate to lose Ohio to Kasich. The latter will stay in the game and in the next 17 winner-take-all states, Trump only needs the plurality to win all the delegates.  

Some other random thoughts

  • Kasich is not a moderate, only appears so compared to the extremists of his party;
  • I can't decide if I want Trump to win the majority of the delegates before the convention or watch hand to hand combat later at the GOP convention if he's a little short of the majority. I think of all the candidates of both parties, some 20 of them, only Trump puts himself above his party, which means he may break the party up if he's denied the nomination.  
  • I used to believe that Cruz would be a more beatable Republican in the general election since he's so bat-crazy. I also thought that the GOP might change after suffering another crushing defeat with a true conservative as its nominee; they would own the defeat with Cruz  as the nominee, but not necessarily with Trump--who may be dismissed as not a true Republican. 
  • I now think Trump spells bigger problems for the GOP, so I'm looking forward to an entertaining campaign season. However, I wish this charade didn't take place. We shouldn't have charlatans, con artists, and gutter politics in such prominence; they belong in the lunatic fringe.

Mar 4, 2016

The Summoning of Drumpf. The Cons(ervatives) Have A Monster of their Own Creation


I endured another Republican debate last night for some low-grade entertainment and since my expectations were very low on the IQ spectrum, I wasn't disappointed. A true spectacle starring "Little Marco", "Drumph" and "Lying Ted", oh, and another guy...you know, that governor whose opposition to recognizing death certificates of spouses in same-sex marriage led to the Supreme Court historic case (Obergefell v. Hodges).
 



Fox News anchors made an effort to challenge Trump's inconsistencies, generalities, and bogus economic arguments, but debates aren't meant to truly examine issues in depth. The court of public opinion relies on the judgment of the public to evaluate a candidate and his arguments. In a court of law, there is the legal structure, and a judge that instructs the jurors and oversees the debate, but in politics there's none of that. 

In a way, it can be argued that collectively we get what we deserve. This is the problem of democracy--it relies on the quality of the people involved, leaders and citizens. No, I am not advocating authoritarianism; I'm merely pointing out the obvious, which has occurred many, many times in the past.  Indeed, if Trump didn't have many millions of Americans behind him, he would have been in the lunatic fringe. 

Though, another argument can also be made that the lunatic fringe has been petted, entertained, and even cultivated by the Republican party in the last 30 years. The Trump phenomenon is not new; it just happens that an arrogant egomaniac has a megaphone through which he expresses what a significant size of Republicans already believe and say. Yeah, even the third-grade language (no complete sentences), insults, vulgarity, ignorance of issues, and prejudice of the ..angry base have found a loudmouth to be uttered in the political debates of the elites.  As I said before, this is not good for our country and the way we should conduct our political discourse. 

Now, how should the Democratic nominee deal with Trump? To begin with, he has to be taken seriously--a lesson the Dems are learning today by watching the GOP's contest unfolding. To rely on the news media to challenge Trump's inconsistencies and voodoo policies isn't enough judging from history. Ridiculous claims must be addressed; don't rely on the media or the public to dispel them.

I don't think it'd be hard to get under Drumpf's skin and then watch his go unhinged. But, his appeal should not be underestimated. He has a message. His logo--Make America Great Again--is the only one people can recite. I doubt most people know what the other candidates' logos are! He's simplistic but that's easily understood (it doesn't have to be an intellectual understanding) by anyone, especially the low-information voters.

A couple more observations. The country is moving in a progressive direction, despite the loud noises coming from the conservatives and reactionaries. The Supreme Court will soon take a more progressive path. What was radical 20 years ago, it's mainstream today. Even the world "liberal" is now adopted as one of their identifiers by the majority of Dems in all states, except Oklahoma, though it's strong there too. Back in 2008, the majority of Dems didn't want to identify themselves as liberals.

This election, like many others, will be decided by turnout. The more people vote the better for the Dems. We've heard that Trump has brought in millions of voters, which is probably true, but he carries very high negatives, which alienates many conservatives who may stay home on election day. Despite the low(er) numbers in the Dem primary, the groups normally supporting them will be energized next Fall, especially if Drumpf is the GOP nominee. He has alienated some of the Republican base, many of the so-called independents, the Hispanics/Latino, Asians, and women. 

Here's a view from the conservative elite discussing Romney's intervention against Trump and why some Republican don't like him. Or, "why this Republican party must die".... [link, CNBC]
 

The Dems are more united and generally happy with either Clinton or Sanders. The SCOTUS issue is big and will loom even bigger this year given the obstructionist Congressional Republicans. The battle for the Supreme Court can energize both parties' bases, but here the Dems have an advantage in numbers, especially among women. Did you hear that single adults are now the majority of Americans? Given that women are the majority in the US, then single women are a powerful political block. Why "political"? Because they're motivated by political issues of great concern to them, like health care, education, reproductive choice, etc. They are overwhelmingly pro-choice, for example, and they care about other issues liberals/progressives champion.

Feb 24, 2016

The Activist Republican Base is Choosing Trump. The Establishment of the Party is Shocked, Still Pushing Loser Rubio

Another big Trump win in Nevada. He loves the poorly educated and the Hispanics; he loves grabbing money; he loves the 2nd Amendment, the Bible, the U-S-A, he loves just about everyone who supports him. And, he'll make America win, win, win, again, after he builds the wall Mexico will pay for.  Oh, but the GOP so-called establishment is still try to pump up Rubio, who lost by 20 points in Nevada. It's a fainting hope that will not pan out.  Rubio is polling third in Florida today! Cruz will not win 50% in Texas as he had hoped so he could capture the trove of delegates there; he may even lose to Trump. Barring a miracle, Trump has the best path to the nomination.

But, I noticed that some conservative spinners are coming to grips with Trump getting the nomination and they've began saying that he is not so extreme! Yeah, right. How can anyone seriously think that this Republican party is mainstream in any respect is laughable. Look at the activist base, the state parties,  and the Congressional caucus; they're all extreme in ideology and practice. Now, how this will play out in the general election, remains to be seen, but I think Trump's appeal won't be as big among the moderate Republicans and independents.

OK, I hear the voices of those who say, Trump wasn't expected to have much appeal even within the Republican presidential contest, but is this really true? For the last 15-20 years, Rush Limbaugh, the tea parties, freedom chicken hawks, conspirators, and the other kooks have turned the activist conservative base into an angry mob which has been captured by a skillful demagogue.

 

Feb 22, 2016

Acting Like a Spoiled Brat, Encouraging Bigotry, Promoting Old Ideas (fit for the dark ages), and Gridlock Government: The GOP and its Frontrunners

Satire?.. [click on image to enlarge]
Things are becoming a bit clearer. The Donald and Hillary seem to be on the inside track to their party's nomination. If I had to vote today, I'd vote for Bernie, because of the issues he's raising. It's a discussion we ought to have had already. He's bringing to mainstream many of the issues the Occupy movement raised just a few years ago.  But, I think Hillary will be a stronger--yes, with many negatives--Democratic candidate in the general election. I'm not sure the country is ready to elect a 75-year old "socialist". Yes, I do think age is a factor, and I think Americans don't know much about socialism yet. We do live in a liberal, social, democracy, but who really knows this?...

The South is, well, the south, whereas a vast majority of whites are conservatives who support the Republican party in similar numbers as blacks the Democrats. However, those who support Trump are almost a different political species. Most are sad the South didn't win the Civil War. They are jingoistic, xenophobic, simplistic low information voters. South Carolina exemplifies their views. In the rest of the country, issues like the economy and jobs, health care, the environment, etc, are high priorities, but in SC the top concern was terrorism!

All Republican candidates are selling fear, ultra-nationalism, religion, saint Reagan, and policies fit for the Dark Ages. But, Trump has managed to combine the lunatic fringe--which in Republican circles is ..normal--and the angry mob that believes the minorities, and the leftist elites have robbed them of greatness. Apparently their attention has been captured by a shining object, more aptly an orange clown who speaks with a third-grade language, insults and bullies anyone he doesn't like, while he deliberately refuses to be more specific as to how he'll assume the role of Vladimir Putin to rule the US.

Here's a leader who may be the presidential nominee of one of the two major political parties and whose rhetoric belongs in the gutter. We should aspire for higher political discourse as a nation. Trump is throwing tinder in the fire stoked by the GOP all these years, and he's popular not because he comes up with new ideas or new extremism--these attributes and attitudes have been already cultivated within the Republican party.

Here's a leader that questioned Obama's birth place and faith. Just a couple days ago, Trump Twitted that Obama would have gone to Scalia's funeral if it were at a mosque!  He knows what he's doing, judging from SC exit polls that showed 73% of Republican voters want to ban all Muslims from the US, among other crazy beliefs.

A recent Daily News cover
Oh, we hear from the media that the "establishment of the Republican party" doesn't like Trump, or Cruz. Why, you may ask... Is this establishment in the mainstream? Well, no! See how the leadership of the GOP has behaved since Obama became president. Sorry, I meant to say, since Obama won the election. Even before he took office, the GOP began to reject everything he stood for regardless of the result of a landslide election. They began to challenge him not only on policy and ideological grounds but on legitimacy grounds too!  And, for good measure, they pinned the great recession on him! Being childish, however, has appeal among at least a third of the American public nowadays.

So, now, like a spoiled child, the Republican leadership pouts about the Supreme Court nomination, arguing that this president should not be allowed to nominate a new justice to the SCOTUS, because, heck, Obama will nominate a liberal. Horrors. But, their faulty memory doesn't recall that in 1991 when Thurgood Marshall, the most liberal justice on the court retired, president Bush (41) gave us Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the high court. And, when centrist Sandra Day O'Connor retired, Bush (43) gave us another ultra-conservative, Samuel Alito.



Feb 19, 2016

Divided Government, Stark Partisanship & Gridlock, but Elections Matter because of their Consequences

As amazing as it may sound to those who follow politics, many people in our country don't really understand the role the US Supreme Court plays. They see the fight between president Obama and Congress about nominating a new justice as another political game. Many of my students when asked how does the high court affect their lives couldn't come up with specific cases that determined the conditions and direction of our country. A few mentioned the Roe v. Wade case and then a couple others remembered the decisions about "Obama care" and same-sex marriage.

It's the same view the general public has that things will work out, more or less regardless who's on the Supreme Court, and to similar extend in Congress. Oh, yeah, there's partisanship and some hot-button issues, but most of us have picked a team (like in sports), and we hope for the best while we expect to be disappointed by the way our political system works.

I hope this issue of getting the 9th justice on the supreme court is an educational opportunity in many ways. For starters, it highlights the principle of division of power, checks and balances. Or, how the US model separates the executive (president) from the legislature (Congress) in contrast to most western countries where the executive (usually a prime minister) control the majority of seats in the legislature (parliament). 

On this topic, I wish the media asked the presidential candidates the following question, "How do you expect to do all the things you say you will do when we have a divided government, and in all probability--judging from the last many years--Congress will not go along with your plans?"   

As for the supreme court, the president gets to nominate, and eventually gets someone he chose confirmed. The Senate cannot reject or delay forever. I can see why the Democrats might have opposed a G W Bush nomination in 2008 a few months before the election, but conservative presidents choose conservative judges, like liberals choose their kind. The times of "mainstream" or truly independent candidates for the supreme court are over. The two parties are far apart, primarily because the Republican party has left the mainstream.

Also, an appointment to the high court with its eventual effect on our society is part of a president's legacy. The stakes are high, especially in a politically, and I dare say culturally, divided country. That's why presidents now look to nominate someone in their late 40s or early 50s so they can stay on the court for 30 years!  Funny, thing, I asked my students if they could imagine themselves age 50 and they almost fell off their seats. They got the point though that the next ..supreme will be on the high court making decisions affecting their lives until they reach age 50!


Heck, that's a good reason to register and vote!

Feb 14, 2016

The Year of the Monkey is Shapping to be a Great One for Progressives!

This is shaping to be a nice new year, and once again we're called to make a decision about the direction of our country. There are vast differences between the two parties' candidates, and let's not forget that elections have consequences! The Supreme Court is always at play during a presidential election.

There have been great debates about the direction of the country already, but new ideas come primarily from the left as the right wants to bring back what it has been tried before, often with dire outcomes. Yes, "the system" has a momentum that can't be easily changed given present political realities, unless, as Bernie Sanders says, public opinion and voting changes to reflect the need for change--change that will restore most benefits to the middle class.

The presidential term lasts 8 years, and Obama has over 300 days left in office. God just gave us a gift by recalling Scalia from the US Supreme Court. How can you argue with God, right? Scripture, as per St. Paul, says the people should obey those in power, because, after all, there's a divine plan in place. Therefore, Obama should nominate a replacement asap, and the president should be the communicator-in chief in order to get the new SCOTUS justice confirmed by the Senate.

Despite the nice statements about the departed justice, Scalia was a divisive figure and a conservative champion who believed in a romantic but unrealistic view of the US constitution. The conservatives have been attacking the liberal justices as "activists" who find rights in the constitution and overturn the "will of the people" and legislatures. Of course, the 2000 SCOTUS decision to essentially give G.W. Bush the presidency was an act of judicial activism by the conservatives, though they tend to forget it. 

Marco Rubio put it bluntly yesterday, that the US constitution is not "a living, breathing" document but must be interpreted "as the founders intended."  This is a conservative but misguided view. The constitution was meant for a living and breathing country, not a dead one of the 18th century..... a time when owning arms meant a musket and a knife!  Indeed, we tweaked the constitution 27 times already. 

Also, many necessary changes that promoted rights, freedom, and the quality of life came via the judiciary branch, especially when some states--often representing local majorities--remained stuck in the 18th century conservatives seemed to love. Oh, yeah, there are "moderate conservatives" I hear. OK, it's true. These are the ones who love the time before the New Deal. Maybe that's what Trump means by "Let's Make America Great Again."

There are many cases of importance the high court has to decide before it goes into recess in June, cases such for voting rights, Obamacare, union organizing, immigration, etc.  So, let the gladiatorial games begin...  Happy Chinese new year by the way.

Nov 15, 2015

We Are All French Today. We Cannot Allow the Terrorists to Win.


The terrorist attacks in France demonstrate that we are still very primitive as a species, although we're not all on the same page or even time. Of course, we can disagree about everything, but we should be conducting ourselves in a more civilized manner by now. Alas, we have a long way to go before we eliminate violent conflict and improve the condition of life for humanity. But, what are those chains holding us back?

Exploitation, competition for resources, and a long history of conflict, make it harder to achieve peace and prosperity. Primitive ideas and religion make matters worse. This has to be acknowledged. Certain myths and belief systems must be given up if we are to progress; such beliefs our clearly outdated. Perhaps there was a need some time ago that the world, the universe was explained through myths and superstitions. It doesn't have to be today in the 21st century! 


The Paris terror attack has several causes. One is the religious faith of people who see western secular societies as the devil's playground. Such faith fuels their hatred and makes it easier to kill others and themselves. Another is the economic and political conditions in places where western imperial powers occupied lands and exploited the local populations. Wars--either started by the West or perpetually being fought on the ground in the Middle East--traumatize people and thus makes it easier to be radicalized. However, radicalism includes indoctrination and certain cultural traditions makes it easier to capture adherents. Despondent youth are prime recipients of such indoctrination. 

A cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo posted this
Rational thinking and a calm approach to problems isn't the norm in crisis situations. A prolonged crisis creates scars, harsh memories, and emotions of revenge as in the case of places that have been experiencing wars, famine, violence, and instability for generations after generations. Peace and prosperity, and feelings that life is getting better aren't created overnight. It takes time. Cultures and personal attitudes change when there's stability, affluence, and improving conditions for at least a generation or two.

At this point, though, we have to evaluate the situation without rushing to extremes and let anger--which is understandable after such a horror--dictate our reaction. Obviously, we want to maintain our open tolerant and diverse societies, but we have to be careful who we admit. This is not xenophobia, but I think a country has the right to limit entrance to those who don't share the established political and cultural values.

So, is this different than,say, what Saudi Arabia is doing? Absolutely! In Saudi, free expression is not allowed. Any critical remark earn you lashing and the death penalty as this barbaric regime employs totalitarian control over its sheepish people. In our world, however, free expression is encouraged even if it means criticizing everything and everybody. As long as it is peaceful and there's no incitement to violence. But, those who see membership in this society must accept these rules of conduct.

My thoughts (not prayers) are with the terror victims' families, their friends, and to the whole French nation.  I understand what they mean when people say, my prayers are with you, but we should not encourage this religious nonsense, because it impedes progress and peace.  

  . . 

Nov 10, 2015

Let's Make America Great... by Avoiding the Disastrous Proposals of the GOP Presidential Candidates

I've been watching a clown show, the GOP presidential candidate debate. I'm more appalled by the cheering of the audience when the candidates say something moronic. OK, anything Obama is bad, that's expected. But, they keep repeating economic and social nonsense. Why do they keep repeating such? Because certain narratives have long been used in our political discussion by the conservatives and haven't been adequately refuted by the liberals.

All of these GOPers are against government. They want to take our country back to the days before the New Deal--which they all hate--which lifted Americans out of poverty, especially the elderly that since then they have a safety net. Same with other basic and absolutely necessary goods and services we need to be an advanced country with a decent quality of life.

The problem with addressing the conservatives' arguments requires answers longer than bumper stickers. It requires some knowledge of American history. It requires an understanding of what a developed country is, and how the successful democracies have made life quality better. They have done almost the everything in the opposite of what our conservatives are advocating. If, as they say, progressive policies, which include a strong social safety net, is a recipe for disaster, why so may other countries have done so much better than the US in meaningful (and measurable) variables regarding the quality of life?

The GOP has been captured by people who keep repeating adages about how the absence of government, regulation & oversight, no consumer protection, no universal health care, no publicly-funded education, a super military (read: unlimited spending), a morality (theocratic) police, segregation, obsolete gender roles, etc, are what we need!  They have no positive proposal for using our government for making our lives better. Republicans hate the government when it provides social services and all sorts of benefits to the people. It's incredible that whatever they're proposing today, we've already tried it in the past.... and didn't work very well.

But, those clowns on the stage tonight are earning kudos points from an ignorant political base who like bumper sticker messages. Oh, yeah, "Make America Great Again"..... When was America (I assume it means the U.S.A.) great again, Mr. Trump, and please define greatness...  Oyvey.

Oct 13, 2015

It's a Race Between HR Clinton and B Sanders

As many of you, I'm watching the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, and judging by how the candidates present their case, it's a race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The other three aren't cutting it. They're not saying anything different that the activist base will turn to them instead of the two front runners. And, yes, the delivery matters.

Of course they're all playing to the activist Democratic base, which is the one that will come out in the primaries. Therefore, there's lots of agreement on most issues. The peripheral issues aren't make or break for the people who will decide this primary race, and for more general election voters.

What I like:

BS: "Fraud is a business model" for Wall Street! Break up the humongous banks.

HRC is weak on dealing with Wall Street and big banks, but, she seems comfortable on stage and has command of the issues. Her performance will pay dividends, and if not against Sanders right away, it'll probably make Joe Biden's entry into the race less remote.

BS: If serious change is to happen, millions of people who aren't participating need to come out and vote. This is very true. Many Americans either don't see how politics in DC affect their lives directly or have given up. The system favors the insiders and the elites (usually the same group), but it can respond to popular pressure. The ballot can be an effective way to make the leaders understand what their priorities should be.

Most Americans don't understand our complicated political system. The media don't explain how things work. The candidates don't want to say that no matter what they promise, Congress has to go along. And, Congress isn't elected on a national ticket. Congresspeople represent their districts or states, not necessarily the interests of the country. So, it's very important that a president has the ability to convince--the people, the Congress, political parties, and the media. Popularity matters, but political capital must be spent quickly or it evaporates.




 

Sep 27, 2015

The Pope's Message Supports Many Progressive Causes.

Is the pope Catholic? Well, of course he is, even though he's challenging traditional conservatism in the church. OK, he says he believes in the devil and that exorcisms make sense. Plus, he's turning some really obnoxious people into saints. But, you know he's hitting a wall of criticism with the economic elites,  and the socio-political conservatives. He's also popular with the masses and the intellectuals who want the church to leave the dark ages and come forward. 

Obviously, a church has to be conservative in many ways, but religious dogma changes over time. What is practiced today in several important ways is not what the church did just a couple centuries ago. The Enlightenment and the formation of another heavyweight--the modern state--curtailed the influence of the church.

It's funny to watch the faithful complain when they taste what they had prescribed for others. Oh, the Xtians are persecuted, they shout. Like Ted Cruz and Mike Hackabee said coming to the defense of the Kentucky city clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses, because, heck, that's against her religion. Hey, have you heard of the Amish who works at the Motor Vehicle Dpt and refuses to register any ..machines of the devil? Haha.

But, we have to applaud the pope when he makes speeches that help move people in the right direction. The environment, health care, immigration, the income-wealth distribution, etc, are some of the issues championed by progressives. We know that some people and leaders aren't moved by rational arguments and facts when these come from their opponents. So, it's important to have someone they respect say these things. It moves the needle of our national dialogue in the right direction. Thank you, Pope Francis.