Mar 18, 2013

The Conservative Frame of Mind(less).... and, a Showcase of the Dimmest Stars at CPAC 2013

Is it the lack of imagination? Is it that conservatives have limited ability to think in the abstract? Or, is it that they don't care about anything that doesn't apply to them? Though I have to say that when it comes to wild, unsubstantiated, unreasonable conspiracy theories, the conservatives do come up with the silliest imagination. I'd call it "science fiction" but given their dislike for anything with science in it, it's best to label it "pulp fiction."

I began to ponder these questions after the conservative senator from PA changed his mind about same-sex marriage after his own son came out of the closet as a homosexual.
Sarah Palin used to tell us that it was creeping socialism/communism/fascism (she didn't really know the difference) when we spend for the social safety net; you know, that thing about the contract. Anyway, if you had to guess the exception to this she was in favor?.... Oh, yeah, it was spending in support of and research for a cure for something she knew very well--child retardation. She couldn't imagine other instances whether poor mothers (or anyone in need) should need anything else in social and medical services.

Arch-conservative Dick Cheney is in favor of gay rights. Why? Because his daughter is a lesbian!

Likewise with all those idiots who worship saint Ayn Rand and her libertarian views, and all the other conservatives who hate "big government" guess what they usually say when a disaster strikes...  You've guessed it...."Where is the government to bail me out?"  Tropical storm Sandy caused tremendous damage in several states along the eastern seaboard, and it was state & federal agencies that came to help, because these are the ones who can actually be of help during these events.

Just a few weeks earlier, the Romney-Ryan dogma  touted that FEMA should be dissolved and its mission given to private entities. Of course, Sandy reminded people that leaders who don't have a positive proposal about government should not be in government!

Yeah, not only liberals have bleeding hearts but they're more likely to understand the needs of others, and be compassionate even when they're not personally affected by an issue. 

I didn't have to experience a gay member of my family, nor had to first make sure that Massachusetts didn't sink into the Atlantic after it passed its same-sex marriage law, nor had to see a lesbian couple in my neighborhood to be in favor of equal rights to marriage. 

In other words, it's nicer to be compassionate, giving, just, and understanding without being selfish first.

CPAC 2013--The Conservatives Showcase Their Dimmest Stars

CPAC banner with dinosaurs and the goposaur 

 A political party has to remain relevant to exist, and political parties reflect public sentiment. Of course, leadership matters in moving public opinion. What's amazing about this Republican party is that many of its leaders believe the American public will move closer to its regressive positions. I have no idea why they believe that! Their most sacred policy proposals aren't liked by the majority of the US voter.

There are some voices within the GOP muttering that the more their policies see the light of day, the more the GOP is not liked!  The progressives have to keep harping on this, that parties and leaders who don't believe in a strong social safety net, positive government, in science, education, and a more equal economic field should don't deserve public support.

In the largest conservative meeting of the year, the conservatives got together in Maryland over the past weekend. Whom did they bring out to showcase? Not Christie or other moderates but this motley crew:
Sarah Palin, M. Bachmann, D. Trump, R. Santorum, Rand Paul, M. Rubio, Steve King (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Romney, P. Ryan, Ann Coulter, birthers, anti-science, anti-climate/environmental policies, tea party patriots, religious fanatics, conspiracy theorists, and Ronald Reagan's ghost (though his policies would be an anathema to this wingnut group).

I will not rehash here their lunacy, but I urge everyone who isn't aware of their extremism to check them out. When last semester I asked my students to research the parties' platforms as approved by their national conventions, many of those students were shocked by what they found out the GOP is about.


Mar 13, 2013

New Pope, New Name, Same Old Regressive Views

My apologies to my Catholic friends, but this is the 21st century, and having views like, gays are an abomination and insult to God's plan, that abortion & birth control are evil, that women are not equal, etc, is so ..Dark Ages! Now, this guy who was just another red cardinal was elected by other men in red capes, and, voila, with his white costume he has gained papal infallibility on his side!

Speaking of infallibility, this brief period between the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis was indeed a rare moment when no primate claimed to be iinfallible! I enjoyed it. Did you?

Poorly-designed mural?!?
Already we hear stories about his "humble origins and life", like Mr. Obama said, “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other we see the face of God.”  Well, allow me to disagree--and I can do this, because we live in a secular liberal democracy with a godless constitution, where religious authority can only threaten me with "spiritual death" not actual physical death through torture. I can live with that!

 May I ask, what kind of "champion of the poor is he when he tells the poor that family planning should be left to God, while their starving children are the responsibility of those faithful but ignorant parents?  That a woman's place can never be on the same level as a man's. Poverty, lack of education are characteristics of women who have many children and no access to opportunity to better their own lives, thus hitching themselves to the male provider.

It's amazing that so many humans don't see this pageantry and, more importantly, this outdated doctrine as a primitive institution and activities more suited for the dust bins of history.

Did I mention that this new Pope opposed same-sex marriage and adoption as "a war against God"?  I wonder how he feels about the Catholic Church excommunicating the mother of a young girl and the doctor who performed the abortion after the child had been raped in the neighboring country of Brazil while the rapist was not excommunicated....

The huge scandals of child rape by priests and the stance of the previous Pope and the Catholic church in general have left big questions about reforming a system. And, this is the crux of the matter: the problems are systemic! So, replacing a person, including the highest official, won't be enough if the system isn't radically reformed. 

However, this selection of a very conservative cardinal to lead the Vatican and the 1+ billion Catholics isn't a good sign if you expected this crusty institution to enter the 21st century of the common era.

Mar 6, 2013

Americans Have No Idea About How Bad Wealth Inequality Is in Our Country!

In my Comparative Politics class, we're discussing political economy these days and it's been an eye-opener for most, because what people think of reality, well, it isn't!

First, let's say that the purpose of civil society is to provide benefits to its members. In order for the political system to work for the benefit of the people--the common people, the majority of whom are in the middle class--it is best to pick a regime that has this foundation principle. In modern societies, this is a liberal-social democracy.

Liberal, because it safeguards and promotes individual rights and freedom. Social, because it provides a social safety net--services people need. Democracy, because it allows for popular participation and a government of-by-for the people.

A system needs legitimacy to be stable and for longevity. The modern state--a creation of the 18th-19th centuries--provided benefits but also a new narrative, myths, practices, and activities that turned people into citizens. Citizens who had obligations to the state but also benefits. Notions of patriotism and nationalism were forged out of this new reality. This has helped cohesion, elevated pride in one's country, and motivation.

If the system and the government are to work for the people, then we have to ask what, does this mean?  Well, I'm sure there are many views on this, but let me suggest a few items: happiness (yes, individually defined), good health, leisure, education, long life, less stress, stability, peace, clean environment, decent shelter, affluence, access to opportunity, economic mobility, justice, etc, etc.  This is the mission statement of a modern, advanced country. Obviously, this was not the mission of older systems, like the Old Regime.

In order to achieve the mission statement, societies/governments/rulers engaged in redistribution of resources and wealth.  Usually it was from the bottom up. This was not good unless you were a member of the elite. These members made all sorts of arguments (including might makes right) in favor of keeping their privileges. And, their appetite was insatiable. Louis the 14th needed more gold for his lavish palaces. Our modern super wealthy and their shills, most of the Republicans, have drawn the line that no tax increases, no matter how modest, should be applied to the upper classes.

 When Reality Escapes the American People

The Occupy Wall Street with its signs, "We're the 99%", brought needed attention to the upper 1% of the economic elites. Yet, the real magnitude of the problem is still unknown to the American people. The power of the myth, the cultural and political forces have managed to create a strong illusion. 

This illusion includes a good dose of patriotism and nationalism, but in a perverted way. "We're # one!"  Others are risking life and limb to get here. Look at the great things we've achieved, and still do. The American dream is alive! You can make it, like Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, and so many others. With hard work and a bit of luck anyone (most?) will make it ..big!  

It's hard to argue against the tendency to compare ourselves to societies far worse than ours. Somehow comparisons to other societies that have better outcomes aren't being made. Yes, there are several societies that have a better distribution of the economic pie, where people live longer, are healthier, more educated, have more leisure, live is safer environments, and report greater levels of happiness. Their political economies are, however, adjusted differently than the US.

As I speak with many students, I hear that they expect to be rich someday. Likewise, many ordinary Americans think they'll be rich one day, or at least part of the upper middle class. But, statistically speaking, this won't happen. 

Unfortunately, the reality isn't very rosy. The Economist, the Wall Street Journal--to name a couple pro-capitalist publications--have pointed out that economic mobility in the US has fallen behind western Europe! 

In a democracy where public opinion is important, where decisions are made based on people's perceptions, it matters greatly whether the public really knows the facts. 

For decades, studies have been consistent as to this public perception about economic reality in the US. People are asked what a fair society would be like. Then they're asked what they think the US is like in wealth distribution. Their guess is terrifyingly wrong!

Watch this video and forward it to everyone you know. 

 Wealth Inequality in the US

Who could have guessed it, that the top 1% control 40% of the wealth. That the bottom 80% of Americans have only 7% of the wealth, while the other top 19% own 53% of the wealth. Mind bungling.