Tag Archives: election 2012

Last Minute “Big Picture” Political Snips & Snarks

For my second-to-last pre-election post, let’s offer up a potpourri of potent political snippets and graphics for the undecided, before I return on Monday to sum up the case for our Periclean Enlightenment.

But first a reminder of these earlier, devastatingly fact-full, Big Picture overviews of the main issues.

Democrats & Republicans differ at defense and waging war.” Gone viral! In harsh times, compare who does defense well.

The Eight Top Causes of the Deficit “Fiscal Cliff,” One party was solely responsible for five out of the eight main causes of red ink. The other three were bipartisan. With tax rates near their lowest in 70 years, what’s the beef?

Will cheating be a factor in this election?  A warning to “henchmen.” Those pulling vote-count scams may want a Plan B. Tell any henchmen you know.

Politics and the Fermi Paradox: why the U.S. elections may help explain the absence of intelligent life in the universe.  The biggest possible Big Picture!

“Which party stands up for science?”  The most devastating of all.

— Speaking of science: Bill Nye (my friend and President of the Planetary Society) takes on Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga) chairman of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, whose most recent (of many) anti science tirades include this videotaped gem. Broun called what he had been taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory “all lies straight from the pit of Hell,” intended to “keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” That’s the chairman. Of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.

Seriously, after watching a flood of other appalling statements by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo), Richard Mourdock, and so many other Republicans from the new-radicalism movement… do you think that this is still about “politics” anymore? Is there a reason why President Obama mentioned the word “science” fourteen separate times in the debates? We who believe in the western renaissance are fighting for our lives.

== Snippets that cut deep ==

The extinction of the “moderate republican” is clear in a fantastic graphic from xkcd, showing how the GOP has become the most tightly disciplined and partisan political force in US history, marshalled and commanded by one man… Roger Ailes.

Consider plus-plus vs minus-minus.  For 20 years the GOP blocked efforts to increase car mileage standards in the US. Their surface reason? “Saving the US auto industry.” The under-reason? Pressure from big oil, because no other measure could do as much to reduce U.S. dependance. So what eventually happened?

Over GOP objections, the dems both raised the mileage standards and saved Detroit. Now? US automakers are booming and we get rapidly rising mileage. And you’d vote for dolts who obstructed that, with all their might?

If you admit the GOP’s gone mad, but can’t bring yourself to vote for a democrat, then look up Gary Johnson. The best libertarian candidate ever, he may change party politics in America! You could help make it happen.

== Romney is Bush III ==

Can you imagine a party running for office on the platform “Ignore everything we ever did in the past!” Have you heard Romney or Ryan refer to past GOP governance (a majority of the last 30 years) at all?  Ever? Or mention the name of the previous GOP president?  Once? The only thing more stunningly unbelievable is that the dems don’t pounce on it.

But while never mentioning the name George W. Bush and pretending the GOP record is of no relevance — shaking a clean slate — Mitt has nevertheless surrounded himself with advisers and would-be appointees “about two-thirds of whom are veterans of the Bush Administration.” In fact, 17 of his 24 top advisers served under Bush.

That matters. You aren’t just having vote with a man, you are having vote with his  entire party and with every corrupt/incompetent official who helped to make it a toxic mess that poisoned America, with a record so awful that they themselves never, ever mention it. Like herpes. An electionally transmitted disease.

Gary Brecher makes my point about War more glibly in Obama’s Wars – Good Fighter, Can’t Cheerlead Worth A Damn.

My distilled challenge to sincere and decent Republicans: “Name one clear, direct and good-for-America outcome from the GOP ‘s long tenure in power since 1988. Even One!” When a party has a record of unalloyedly perfect damage to the republic and no accomplishments of any positive nature to point to, they are a threat to our childrens’ chances of inheriting the stars.

== Abandoning a Sinking Ship ==

David Stockman – yes, Ronald Reagan’s budget director and top economic advisor, who now helps lead a rising movement to take back conservatism from the monstrous path it has been taken by Rupert Murdoch, shows how – from an entirely conservative perspective – Paul Ryan’s so-called budget-balancing plan, that has the backing of the entire GOP, is loopy to the point of jibbering incoherence.

I don’t agree with all of Stockman’s counter recommendations… he is, after all, a Reagan Conservative and I would argue with him over many of his proposals.

But I acknowledge them to be sane conservative  proposals worth discussion by adults.  Of the  sort that Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley might have made.  Back when top conservatives believed in intellect, in science and facts. And negotiating like adults.

== R.I.P. “supply side economics” ==

Only… in that context take this proof of what I’ve long held. The blatant fact that Supply Side economics has never been true. In a November 1 report we learn that Senate Republicans applied pressure on the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September to withdraw a report finding that lowering marginal tax rates for the wealthiest Americans had no effect on economic growth or job creation.

“The pressure applied to the research service comes amid a broader Republican effort to raise questions about research and statistics that were once trusted as nonpartisan and apolitical,” the Times reported. Democrats in Congress resurfaced the report. Republicans objected that it underminded the governing fiscal philosophy of the party, that tax cuts for the wealthy will spur growth and benefit everybody.

Changes over 65 years in top marginal tax and capital gains rates do not correlate with economic growth. Reduction in top rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. Top rate reductions do associate with increasing divergence of national income going to the top 0.1%.

(Note: CRS is one of the last nonpartisan, professional services that used to report to Congress about matters of fact and outcome.  Most, including the Office of Technology Assessment and other groups that advised Congress impartially from the 1940s through 1998, were banished  under Newt Gingrich for the crime of pestering dogmatists with inconveniences called facts.)

This clear determination about Supply Side is important… and was always obvious.  Even in 1776, Adam Smith described what most rich folks actually do with sudden cash infusions. They put the new wealth to work in “passive rent seeking” and only rarely into capital equipment or risky new products and services. (Risk taking entrepreneurship can be rewarded in better ways than simply flooding most of society’s wealth into oligarch pockets.)

Moreover, that cash flow to the rich reduces the velocity of money. If there were ever a time not to do that, it is during a recession! When we want high money velocity, put cash in middle class pockets! (In fairness, there are times, e.g. runaway inflation, when largesse to the rich – reducing money velocity – actually makes some sense.)

George H.W. Bush called Supply Side “voodoo economics.” It was and is and always will be.

== Should the recovery have been faster? ==

Those who condemn our gradual (though steady and accelerating) rate of recovery from the Bush Collapse… the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression… imply that is should have happened faster, somehow.

But appraisal of past crashes makes very clear – recovery is always slow and painful.

In fact, the Obama Recovery scores high for its speed and effectiveness.  So effective that one wonders what Mitt Romney would do differently. He won’t say much, except calling for the same Supply Side prescriptions pushed by Bush.

Indeed, consider this.  In no other recession/depression did the nation face six hundred trillion dollars in toxic Wall Street gambles on its books.  If not handled right, that poison pill might have killed the economy dead! Instead, the Economist in London recently lauded President Obama. “U.S. Banks are now the healthiest in the world, in far better shape than dismal European banks, and poised to lead the world out of this mess.”

In fact?  There are dozens of aspects to the last four years I can criticize!  Like Timothy Geithner’s giving a free ride to Goldmann Sachs and the choice to use a light hand on the banks we rescued, who have been slow to lend out the cash WE lent to bail them out.  But these are quibbles compared to recognizing what that toxic 600 $Trillion could have done to us… but did not!  Because the Bushites were replaced by basically (roughly) sensible people.

== More from Mark Anderson ==

“Romney’s unprecedented refusal to disclose multiple past-year tax statements has to be an almost-disqualifying issue for careful voters. Given that he required 10 years’ worth of statements from his VP candidate, it is also hypocritical: obviously, he understands and believes in the importance of past tax filings in judging a candidate’s suitability for the highest office.”

Mitt Romney’s Tax Dodge: A guide to how the multimillionaire twists the law to hide his massive fortune – and avoid paying his fair share in taxes. Including profiting from supposed gifts to his own church. Yipe, it is a long long loooooong list!  Your ostrich uncle could wave away one or two.  If he waves away twenty?  Then he’s the sort who would have sided with King George in the Revolution.

Who bought the candidate? Identify top corporate donors in house and senate races… but remember, this excludes PACs!

Mitt Romney’s Real Agenda: This hard-hitting, fact-filled article is poorly named but important reading. “Mitt Romney’s real agenda” says very little about Romney’s actual plans for governance since, indeed, he has been beyond-miserly with specifics.  Instead, the article lays out the long series of bills and declarations by the 2010 Republican House of Representatives, which is undeniably the most radical Congressional House in more than a hundred years.  Led largely by Romney’s VP choice, Rep. Paul Ryan, the House has indeed created a vast record of declared goals that any American voter, of whatever political leanings, ought to read most carefully.  Ignore the reporter’s sometimes whiney commentary.  The facts speak for themselves, and chillingly remind me of 1789 France.

Alas, by concentrating on the GOP led House, he ignores the Senate, where the democrats have been able to block insane House bills… but the Senate faced utter gridlock as the GOP senate minority has thrown – in just two years – more filibusters than in the entire previous history of the United States of America. Is that the precedent they want to set?

If Romney wins, does he want that behavior turned back on him?

== More stuff! ==

Cuba has accused the United States of helping Cuban dissidents access the internet as part of a campaign to undermine the communist government.  I know Hillary Clinton’s “Worldwide Net-Tech” guy and this is part and parcel of her strategy to spread internet access all over the world, that can let people side-step around their tyrannical governments.  

It is 22 days since Mitt answered a single question from the press.  Does that courage impress you?

Maybe he’s too busy debating himself!  See this video of contradictions.

== And finally ==

The dems are Big Spenders?  See this graphic showing the rates of increase of domestic discretionary spending increase, showing that, for the GOP to tar the dems with that brush is the grossest hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, for the GOP and Fox to focus on the recent tragedy in Benghazi is utter (if painful) hilarity, alas.  See the rates of attacks on US diplomatic missions, which plummeted under Bill Clinton, increased under W and are now very low.

Compare Benghazi to miring us in decade-long, multi-trillion-dollar quagmire wars of attrition and “nation building” in Asia that left thousands of American boys and girls killed or maimed… for what? To create new satrapies for Iran?

Compare the number of U.S. citizens to die of terror on each president’s watch.  Compare the rates at which the terror networks have been punished, with Al Qaeda losing more top leaders in any one year – under Obama – than under all the Bush years (Junior and Senior) combined.

Please.  Compare.

1 Comment

Filed under economy, politics

Do the U.S. 2012 elections reflect the Fermi Paradox? The empty Galaxy?

The Fermi Paradox is the question of why we seem to be alone in the cosmos. Why don’t we observe any blatant signs of intelligent life in the cosmos, including the great works that our own descendants may begin to build, if we give them a good start in the right direction?

When I first started writing about this 30 years ago, I called it the Mystery of the Great Silence — a quandary that we’ve covered here and elsewhere, in articles that list over 100 hypotheses for why we appear to be alone.  A topic that is also woven into the weft and flow of my new novel, Existence.

Almost everyone who dives into this subject swiftly chooses a favorite theory.  Perhaps life erupts rarely, or intelligence, or most life worlds are more oceanic so that few create hands-and-fire users, or maybe life gets pounded in most places by comets or supernovae.  I’ve had the role of cataloguing these theories, refusing to tout just one! But I do have a personal Top Ten list. And two of these most-plausible explanations for the Great Silence are of significance to us today.

That’s because two of them relate to political choices we’ll make next week, in the United States of America. These two scenarios, which may seriously winnow down the number of visible galactic civilizations — and might soon do the same to us — are:

1. Bad governance leads to Big Mistakes (e.g. nuclear war, eco-collapse etc.) that kill off or render impotent many or most technological species. Note that this is a whole class of potential failure modes, a minefield of errors that young, technological races might commit, veering past one doom and escaping the next before tumbling into a third… or fourth… or…

2. Most tech species slump into the same social attractor state that snared 99% of human cultures. That pattern, repeated from Egypt and Meso-America to Babylon, China and Rome — from Tokugawa Japan to Bourbon France to Hanoverian England — was family-based oligarchy. The standard, pyramid-shaped social order wherein conservative elites (king, lords, priests, wizards) squelch rapid scientific advancement and middle class innovation as a threat to their carefully maintained inherited privilege.

This system – (envision all the endless variants on feudalism) – was dominant in nearly all past human societies because, for one thing, it is reproductively self- reinforcing! Indeed, you see the same drive at work in the hierarchy-seeking or harem-keeping behaviors of males in countless other species on Earth. It’s a powerful and deeply natural attractor state and there’s no reason it won’t be likewise compelling in other realms across the cosmos.

At a glance, it is obvious how both #1 and #2 are “Fermi-relevant” failure modes that could stymie many — perhaps most — intelligent-technological species from communicating or spreading among the stars. Other factors may also come into play.  But these two are persuasive top candidates.

== Does oligarchy limit the potential for collapse? ==

Contemplating these two potential explanations for the Great Silence raises a question: do these two winnowing factors work together?  Or against each other?

After all, one of the top rationalizations that oligarchies have given, when they suppress science and markets, competitive invention and enterprise, is that the priests and lords are acting for the good of all.  Preventing instability and disruption. Indeed, this is a chief point raised by Jared Diamond in his great, highly-recommended, but disturbingly off-target book COLLAPSE.

In other words, a lot of species might find serenity through #2 — while most of the rest are swept away by #1.  Together the pair may help to explain the interstellar quiet.  And naturally, the genteel stagnation represented by #2 seems preferable to the effective extinction of #1. Assuming these two choices represent our only alternatives — and some of the characters in my new novel EXISTENCE argue that point — then we have a pretty good idea why the stars appear so lifeless and empty of voices.

But as we’ll see, that may be a false way of looking at things.  Rather, I will contend that the oligarchy process guarantees falling into fatal pitfalls, rather than avoiding them.

== The Fermi Paradox and U.S. Politics ==

These two paths and types of failure modes seem especially relevant to the present US elections. COMPETENCE and RENUNCIATION are the distill-words.  Even if you favor oligarchic conservatism as a model for our future, over the fevered drive of Periclean-egalitarian positive sum games… you are still behooved to consider the competence issue. But hold that thought. We’ll get back to competence and option #1 in a minute.

First, how does Fermi Choice #2 — oligarchy-pushed renunciation — bear upon the 2012 campaign?  It’s relevant!

Consider: in the recent debates one candidate spoke about “science” fourteen times , whereas the other has has barely mentioned it during the campaign trail.

American scientists have voted with their feet, with only 6% now calling themselves Republican. (It used to be about 50%). Indeed, the head of the GOP controlled House of Representatives Science Committee recently and repeatedly declared the Earth to be 9000 years old.  Yes, the head of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.

In every conceivable way, from science to education… all the way to the rebuilding of a vastly powerful American Oligarchy, the GOP is your party if you feel that renunciation and a return to traditional patterns of aristocratic rule is preferable to Periclean instability. It is the Olde Way, pushed hardest via a media empire owned by multiple foreign billionaires, including the Saudi Royal Family.

Moreover, it may be that millions of other species faced similar choices and all picked this route! The decision may be inevitable. The star lanes may appear empty because millions of other races made the same, Darwinistically-driven choice — settling into genteel, aristocracy-tended conservatism. Which I’ll admit beats extinction.

Still, in weighing this choice, I know what decision I will argue for. I vote to keep faith with Pericles and Adam Smith and Washington and Franklin and Lincoln and Jonas Salk and Warren Buffett and the Silicon Valley geeks. Yes, the Periclean Western Enlightenment, with its egalitarianism, transparency, competitive markets, democracy and flat, anti-oligarchic social order does charge ahead into the future.  And yes, the faster we charge ahead, the more we’ll need transparency and freedom, to probe ahead of us, finding mine fields, quicksand pools and other pitfall-dangers ahead. And yes, the nostalgia junkies and oligarchy-lovers have a point when they cry out “slow down!”

But think.  The fundamental fact of the Fermi Paradox is that we see no signs of advanced civilization “boldly going” about, out there.  So, if oligarchic pyramids are the main attractor state, among the stars, isn’t that an argument that we should try something else? Perhaps something unusual? Something like this enlightenment?

Think about that a while.  Chew on it. Put it all together. If 99% of human cultures did the natural thing, and most other sapients do, as well, and we see empty star lanes… then maybe, just maybe, we should do something different. I say we ought to stick with Pericles.

Ah, but that only addresses failure mode #2. Then there is Fermi failure mode #1 and that matter of competence! 

== Stand on your record of governance ==

Whether you support the Periclean Experiment (in this election that makes you Blue… or largely a democrat… or maybe libertarian), or else you happen to favor a return to the oligarchic pattern of 6000 years (in other words, a follower of Fox-owners Rupert Murdoch and Prince bin Walied)… there remains the other Fermi Factor listed above.

Factor #1.  Is your side any good at governing?

You might yearn for a king, but if the one available is horridly stupid and BAD at statecraft, maybe you should side with the Pericleans for a while and wait for a better king.

Please.  Put aside preconceptions.  Use curiosity to overcome the all-too human tendency — to funnel disliked information through the emotional amygdala.  If presented with clear and systematic proof that your side is incompetent, will you at least have a look?

Cutting through all the polemic, attack ads and sketchy evasiveness, this 2012 U.S. election ought to boil down to which party tends to govern better. On that, the historical record is clear. For those who can still be swayed by factual comparisons – and if you care about the role America might play in taking civilization to the stars – have a look at these stark contrasts and share them with others:

“How Democrats and Republicans differ at defense and waging war,”

This one has gone viral, drawing a lot of hits from regions where soldiers and sailors live.  If we must endure dangerous times, shouldn’t we compare who does defense well?

The Eight Top Causes of the Deficit “Fiscal Cliff,”

In tallying the reasons for the deficit, we see one party vastly more at fault than the other, and yet that culprit is the noisiest in denouncing the debt it created!  Supporting evidence comes from Forbes, the business magazine, which tallied the rate of increase of government spending under the last five presidents, including Reagan.  The rate of increase was lowest under Clinton and Obama. Please. Click to scan the Eight Reasons for the Deficit and judge for yourself.

“Which party stands up for science?”

This one is just awful.  You cannot name a clade of intellect and knowledge in American life that is not under attack by Fox.  But science bears the brunt.  That that is an absolute proof which side you must be on, in this trumped up phase of the American Civil War.

These are not convenient, cherry-picked anecdotes or assertions, but complete lists for clear comparison, backed up by economists, generals, admirals and the 95% of U.S. scientists who voted with their feet, abandoning a party that plunged America into anti-science hysteria.

Finally, do we really want our geopolitics run by someone who thinks that Syria is Iran’s route to the sea?

== Might we be the exceptions? ==

Getting back to Fermi… one question stands foremost: who will govern better?  Those who are willing to negotiate openly, fight carefully, manage cautiously and consult science as we charge into an uncertain future?  Or dogmatists who erased every scientific panel that used to advise Congress from 1940 till 1996?  Because those panels offered inconvenient and impudent things called facts.

The great historian Arnold Toynbee studied every known Earthly civilization and concluded that societies either thrive or fail in direct proportion to how much trust and initiative they willingly invest in their “creative minorities.”  The far-lookers and problem solvers.

We are plunging ahead into a mine-field, one that may have killed every other sapient race in our galaxy!  Can we be the first to pick a safe path across?

Not if we wallow in nostalgia and tell the smartest people in our society to go to hell.

5 Comments

Filed under science

Unusual Topics To Raise at the Presidential Debate

Who among us doesn’t yearn to ask questions at the presidential fora?  Poking at both candidates, shaking the routine of canned talking points and practiced answers?  Sure, I have a firm preference. But separately, How I wish that I could ask the following:

1) Mr. President and Governor Romney. There is a crime afoot that’s been committed by politicians of both parties against the voters in almost every state, disenfranchising millions and distorting elections while giving partisan radicals  the upper hand over moderate liberals and moderate conservatives.  That crime is called gerrymandering — the deliberate twisting of voting districts in order to create safe seats, a job security scam for politicians.

Everyone knows gerrymandering is dishonest and destructive, helping drag American politics away from negotiation and practicality toward total partisan war.

In a few states, like California, citizens have rebelled to end this dark practice, and already in that state republicans and democrats are talking to each other, like they used to, before culture war.  What would you do, as president, to bring the foul gerrymandering habit to an end, and force politicians to work for a living, representing all citizens in their districts once again?

FOLLOWUP: Everyone knows the Electoral College is absurd, distorting elections almost as much as gerrymandering.  To eliminate it would take a Constitutional Amendment and that it won’t happen.  But one simple measure would ensure the Electoral College matches the popular vote.  Simply insist all states award their electors proportional to the votes cast in that state, instead of winner-takes-all.  Two states already do this. Will you commit yourself to push for that simple reform?  

2) Mr. President and Governor Romney.  Today, many Americans have narrowed their news inputs down to just one or two television channels and web sources that offer narrow, extreme views on the issues of our day. These channels — found on both the far left and the far right — push indignation and resentment till millions of Americans no longer consider members of the other party to be fellow citizens, only enemies in culture war.

Is it time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, which served our country well for so many years?  If Sean Hannity or Keith Olberman get to rant at hypnotically captivated viewers for an hour, pushing one narrow perspective, shouldn’t their viewers get to see serious questions or rebuttals by top level opponents? Say just one minute of response for every ten minutes Olberman or Hannity get to rant?

Look at how – right now in this debate – you are at your best, answering questions. Might just a few minutes each night, set aside for questions, shake us out of partisan stupor, arguing fairly with each other once again? 

3)  Governor Romney, why do you never mention the record of past Republican governance of the United States? The GOP held power more than the democratic party, across the last 30 years. Yet, you never speak the name of your Republican predecessor in the office you seek, even though you surround yourself with Bush officials and advisors and will put many of them back into positions of power. Can you cite for us right now any ways that America was statistically healthier in 2009 than it was in 2001? And if you can’t, why should we re-hire you? 

4) President Obama, you promised a government that would be much more open to its citizens, yet you’ve only done a little to cut down on secrecy or to increase citizen oversight. Every year, elites of government, business, and personal wealth gather more information about American citizens while our ability to look-back decays. Yes, real government can be more complicated than a candidate’s promises. But can we believe you, when you vow to get that promise back on track?

5) Mr. President and Governor Romney, do you agree with each other about anything?  Not motherhood or apple pie, or easy generalities like free enterprise or American greatness, or generalities about solving the debt, but some issue that would not win you votes?  Some hard news that we, the people, really ought to hear, that politicians find difficult to say? For example: about the 70 year War on Drugs?

Will you promise that — before the third debate —  you’ll together issue one page of joint stipulations?  Things that both of you think we need to hear, because you both agree not to attack each other for saying it? 

———-

Okay, I try for questions that I hear nobody else asking. And I’ll bet none of you have heard or seen these questions elsewhere.

As you might guess, I have tons of others that I’d love to poke at these fellows. And even more suggestions!  Some will be posted later. One can hope that the network hosts — even the candidates — might raise them on their own.

Ah yes, hope. Though delusional, it springs eternal.

== Other matters: “Which 47%?” ==

Amid the furor over Mitt Romney’s “inelegant” remarks about the 47% of Americans who are “freeloaders” — who pay no net federal income tax (FIT) — many rebuttals have shown that he slagged mostly retirees, lower middle class workers (who still pay payroll and other taxes), and even our fighting men and women who get their combat pay untaxed. (Along with a darned big slab of millionaires and corporations whose accountants and lawyers get them off scot free.) Note also that the fraction who pay no FIT had its biggest increase under George W. Bush.

What’s astonishing is the fact that many let him get away with a conflation of two entirely separate statistics.  The 55% of the public who support President Obama and the 47% who pay no FIT are supposed (by Romney) to completely overlap.

They do not.  Yes, democrats still stand up for the very poor, and hence a third of the 47% do pretty much plop onto the democratic side. On the other hand it has long been the plain fact that Red America suckles in far more net tax dollars than it pays, while Blue America — the wealth and productivity and innovation-generating areas — pay more more in taxes than they get back… yet blue states whine about taxes much less.  See the very starkly informative graphic below:

Of course it’s more complicated than that. In fact, the conservative in me feels that all Americans should be asked to pay at least a small, token tax just to feel vested in how the money gets spent. It’s one of many Goldwater style suggestions that could go on the table for negotiation… if today’s conservatism still bore any resemblance at all to that of Goldwater and Buckley. (Barry how we miss you.)

== Political Miscellany ==

As perfect evidence of that drift, take this nonsense that Buckley and Golwater would never have stood for: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” said Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster.  Of course Robert Reich is no conservative. But his point in this article is clear.  Lacking any facts at all to support their side, and knowing full well that they dare never mention (at all) their record at governance, the Murdochians have completed their migration.  They now say whatever they damn well please and let assertions stand in for truth. That is now the Red-Blue divide.

(When only 6% of U.S. scientists call themselves Republican, and every other clade of knowledge is under attack by Fox, this final shift can come as no surprise.)

Some of the heirs of Barry Goldwater have taken notice. Mike Lofgren, in The American Conservative  (One of the few journals of the right that today would be considered sane by Goldwater and Buckley) has penned a scathing denunciation of how today’s worldwide caste of uber-wealthy appear to be seceding from the nations and peoples they increasingly control. In “Revolt of the Rich,” Lofgren shows how this process – bringing us toward wealth disparities like those of 1789 France – threatens the very fabric of our western/american social contract.

“It is no coincidence that as the Supreme Court has been removing the last constraints on the legalized corruption of politicians, the American standard of living has been falling at the fastest rate in decades. According to the Federal Reserve Board’s report of June 2012, the median net worth of families plummeted almost 40 percent between 2007 and 2010.”

Here is another snippet:

“If a morally acceptable American conservatism is ever to extricate itself from a pseudo-scientific inverted Marxist economic theory, it must grasp that order, tradition, and stability are not coterminous with an uncritical worship of the Almighty Dollar, nor with obeisance to the demands of the super wealthy. Conservatives need to think about the world they want: do they really desire a social Darwinist dystopia?

“The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation state and auction its resources to themselves. Those super-rich, in turn, aim to create a “tollbooth” economy, whereby more and more of our highways, bridges, libraries, parks, and beaches are possessed by private oligarchs who will extract a toll from the rest of us. Was this the vision of the Founders? Was this why they believed governments were instituted among men—that the very sinews of the state should be possessed by the wealthy in the same manner that kingdoms of the Old World were the personal property of the monarch?”

If I might add, it would not end there.  Read about Paris, 1789, and the Estates Generale.  How the artistocratic First Estate demanded everything, conceded no obligations to the people, the state or society, and justified their exemption from taxes almost literally by calling themselves the job-creators.

In retrospect, and on a purely pragmatic basis, that was a very big mistake for those lords, an obstinacy that wound up costing them everything. It makes you wonder about the intelligence of the self-flattering aristocracy of our time.

Lofgren’s whole article makes compelling reading and I suggest you recite it aloud to some conservative “ostrich” who seems sane enough to listen… and possibly even to stand up to reclaim the sadly hijacked movement of Barry Goldwater.

Leave a comment

Filed under politics

American Exceptionalism… versus what has made America exceptional

At their convention, the Republicans chose their theme. The coordinated message from two-thirds of their speakers would be American Exceptionalism.

Unable to gain leverage by using the economy – which is slowly but clearly recovering from their own train wreck depression – and with the GOP suffering from devastating credibility gaps on everything from the deficit to medicare to taxes to women’s rights to skyrocketing wealth disparity, they decided to fall back upon…

…patriotism.  Waving the flag and hoping that the left wing of liberals would react with sneers.  (Post convention note: the dems did not fall for the trap.) 

Was this a case of using patriotism as a “last refuge”?

Let me surprise you by saying that, when it comes to many of the surface statements, I side with the Republicans!

The United States of America has been the most exceptional thing ever to happen to humanity. I say this not out of reflex triumphalism or chauvinism, but as a simple matter of outcomes appraisal. Indeed, I bet that in the grand context of time, the American Experiment will turn out to have been one of the major reasons, if we wind up succeeding as a species and even reaching for the stars.

Alas, in a supreme irony, those who most fervently push this overall viewpoint in fevered generalities have also been the same folks responsible for severely damaging the American republic, far more than any enemy has in 150 years.

== First – the case for exceptionalism ==

Most moderns have no idea how stunning the American Revolution seemed, to onlookers around the world.  Especially the example of “Cincinnatus” George Washington, who turned his back on power not once but three times.  Or Abraham Lincoln, whose legend penetrated all the way to tribes deep in the Caucuses, as told by none other than Leo Tolstoy.

If Britain and France had listened to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, and imposed a gentle peace on Germany, there would have been no Weimar Depression, no seething resentment leading to Hitler.

Later, in 1945, when America stood as the world’s behemoth, men like George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower had their chance to impose structure on the world, an imperial peace or “pax,” as had Rome, China, Babylon and Britain in their day.  The long (comparative) peace that ensued – Pax Americana – was deeply flawed in many ways. But compared to all other “pax” eras — and especially to the lawless times in between — it was the gentlest ever known.

Certainly it was beloved by those we defeated in war. Today the U.S. has no better friends than those former foes who benefited from the plan of the 20th Century’s greatest man.

Marshall aimed to avoid a core mistake of every previous pax empire.  All the others – even Britain – set up mercantilist trade patterns that sucked fortune out of distant satrapies and fed gold back to the central kingdom, fostering poverty and resentment everywhere else, making inevitable a later collapse.

In contrast, the counter-mercantilist pattern imposed by Marshall’s unusual Pax Americana favored transferring low level, labor intensive industries (e.g. textiles) en masse to poor regions around the globe in a cascade sequence that uplifted, successively, Germany and Japan, then Korea and Taiwan, then Malaysia and Singapore and so on, until right now this program of “foreign aid via WalMart” is raising up more than a billion people in China and India at the same time.

The core of modern development, this innovation is the number one reason that two thirds of children on this planet live in clean homes with electricity and sanitation, never hungry, and go to school every day. A program fueled in large measure by the American consumer, thanks to wise patterns enacted a lifetime ago. Patterns unique in the long and lamentable history of human empires.

(An aside: How did we manage for seventy years to pay for such a program – shipping low level jobs overseas in return for cheap products? It was financed by the rapid advance of new technologies, from jets to rockets, satellites, transistors, computers, telecom, pharmaceuticals and so on, created largely by American engineering and science. A joint effort of government, companies and individuals, that none could have accomplished alone… but that’s another story.)

== Have I made you angry? ==

Do I have the liberals out there shaking their heads and the leftists seething with purple wrath, by now? Stammering with eagerness to remind us of Pax Americana’s crimes?

Hey, I said I was aware of how many times this century’s “empire” lapsed in its ideals, was hijacked to ill ends or just did bad things, from banana republic invasions to Vietnam to realpolitik nasties committed during the long slog to achieve another part of Marshall’s plan — “containing” the crazy Soviet empire till its fever finally broke. I never denied the flawed fallibility that emerges whenever barely-uplifted cavemen get their hands on tremendous power.

What I ask you liberals out there to notice (the lefties are hopeless) is that your reaction — shared by millions of fellow citizens — is unique in the history of nations on Earth.  You grew up in a place where most people are brought up never to be satisfied with things as they are, even when the situation is far better than our ancestors ever knew. Pax Americana clearly committed a higher ratio of good deeds to crimes than any ten other top nations in the history of the world. Just look at how little-hated it is! But you focus on the mistakes, the faults…

…in hope of improving things, eliminating errors, re-charting a course that is even better!  An imperative of which I wholly approve. I believe your willingness to criticize the nation that you love is far more sane than the reflexive, blithering “exceptionalism” that we witnessed in Tampa a few weeks ago.

Yours is the true patriotism… if only you would recognize and admit it.

== The true exeptionalism ==

Those amazing accomplishments — creating the world’s longest best peace, along with the spectacular rise of billions out of poverty, plus the driving of racism and sexism and other ancient traditional obscenities into ill repute — these weren’t accomplishments of jingoist flag-waving but of relentless, day-to-day creativity, good-natured progress and lots of self-critique by every generation of new Americans.

The true exceptionalism is that habit of self-critique! And for that reason liberals (not leftists) are far more responsible for the accomplishments of America — and Pax Americana — than the manipulative “Yew Ess Hay!” rants of Sean Hannity and the puppet stringery of Rupert Murdoch.

But — oh, liberals — you do harm when you fail to take in that context. So I ask that you go over my core point, a second time.

You are critical because your society taught you to be! It is a wholesome reflex to cry out “we could be even better!”  Criticism is the only known antidote to error and you serve your nation by zeroing in on mistakes. In so doing, you are America’s truest children…

… though, like teenagers, sometimes many of you forget the context. You forget to openly avow that the thing you want to make even better was already the best thing the world has ever seen.  The nation of Lincoln and both Roosevelts, that took humanity to the moon and kept the longest, greatest peace the world has ever known, allowing a higher fraction of people to live violence free lives than any other time in the history of the race.

You forget that other societies, which you hold up as deserving tolerance and understanding, would never have said the same in reverse. They did not tolerate, or even encourage, the habit of us-criticism from their subjects, that we relish from citizens like you.

You gain credibility when you admit that context.  When you admit that yours is a nation worthy of your love.  When you accept that flaws are inevitable, but that you are part of that nation’s healthy immune response against those flaws! That you are a product of that nation’s upbringing, a reservoir of its hope for positive change.

A symptom of its health and youthful vigor and readiness to grow.

== Don’t give fools a monopoly on patriotism ==

Their version is jingoism, a dullard thing seen in all cultures.  A kind of masturbation to the clan’s tribal symbols, similar to what occurred in any and every nation across time, when the Romans or Assyrians or Pax Britons cheered their flags and called themselves “exceptional” each in their turn, and then – with their aversion to criticism – proved themselves wrong.

Can I tell you a secret? By sniffing and rolling your eyes at patriotic symbolism, you are spurning real allies. The men and women of our military, for example, who may be straitlaced and ramrod-backed… but who also happen to be the third best-educated clade in American life. The officers know that democratic presidents listen to advice when it comes time for war, and democrats keep those wars tiny, surgical and professional, like Bosnia and Libya and the hunt for bin Laden.  The generals and admirals remember – in sharp contrast – what was done to our forces by George W. Bush, who plunged us into huge, garish, endless quagmires of attrition “nation-building” in Asia, a president who many of those flag officers deem the worst in living memory.

Sure, you don’t like talk of war. You strive to end it altogether. Terrific. But amid your eager looking ahead, to a much desired time without conflict, stop!  Pause. Look back across 6000 years and know that it won’t happen overnight.

Realize and admit that it is impressive progress that we have changed the definition and meaning of war.  Recent struggles look more like intense SWAT team action than the indiscriminate rolling thunder of times past. And it’s been proved that violence on Planet Earth has plummeted each decade in the era since 1945.  The era of Pax Americana.

If we are stuck having some war for a while longer, be proud of the nation that tries, each generation, to do it with incrementally more care. A little more like rough cops — more closely watched, each generation — and less like barbarian hordes. Go ahead and nag for that progression to move faster; that’s your job!  But also shudder over what the world would be like, if anybody else had the power that we’ve wielded with a (relatively/comparably) light hand.

Liberals, you must learn to do jiu jitsu. Don’t spurn American Exceptionalism, and thus leave the scoundrels with their last refuge unchallenged.  Challenge them even over patriotism!

They whose warped version of a once proud conservative movement has harmed this country – more than any enemy has in 150 years – should not be left with that refuge, the refuge of a flag they relentlessly harm.

Like Washington and Lincoln and both Roosevelts and Ike, who saved the experiment and made it a beacon to the world… wear the blue of our revolution.  Wear it proudly.

3 Comments

Filed under economy, politics, society

Why the Candidates Should (But Won’t) Stipulate

Stipulate-electionIt’s been said that a politician gets to be perfectly honest just once in a long career — at its end. Refreshing candor sometimes pours after an old pol has faced the last campaign. No more fund raisers or flattering voters. One chance to tell the truth.

All right, it’s rare. Many politicians hurry through a revolving door, into fat directorships and lobbying firms. Still, it can be colorful when a few spill their hearts.

Take the day in 1992 when both Republican Senator Warren Rudman and Democrat Paul Tsongas made headlines declaring that everybody was at fault for the country’s fiscal condition at the time, from then-President Bush to the democrat-controlled Congress, to the American people. Responsible economists later credited Rudman and Tsongas for spurring reforms that helped lead to the Clinton era surpluses.

Around the same time, retired senator and conservative eminence gris Barry Goldwater denounced the followers of émigré philosopher Leo Strauss – so-called “neocons” – for hijacking Goldwater’s beloved movement over cliffs of romantic delusion. A more recent example of post retirement candor came When G.W. Bush’s ex-Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, revealed a swamp of backroom dealings and ineptitude, explaining that he was “old and rich” and unafraid to speak his mind. On the other side, some claim that Senator Joe Lieberman really came into his own when he ran as an independent, shrugging off party discipline (if such a thing exists, among democrats.)

Alas, under our electoral system candor is punished. Folks on both sides of the lamentably oversimplifying “left-right axis” yearn for the best and most sincere people on the other side to wise up!  To eject radicals from control over the other party’s agenda. Too bad we rarely ponder the way crimes like gerrymandering have been used by our own side, with terrible effects upon the radicalization of politics.    (Elsewhere I describe one time that party self-reform actually happened.)

== A Modest Proposal ==

Let me offer here a proposal that I’ve made every presidential election for decades. Throughout the campaign we’ll learn how the candidates disagree on a myriad issues. And platitudes, what they think voters want to hear.

Logically, there must be a third category — areas where these well-informed professionals agree with each other, but fear to speak  first.  But consider: there’s no political cost to telling voters what you really believe… if your opponent has agreed, in advance, to say the same thing.

What’s wrong with two leaders finding patches of consensus amid a sea of discord? It has a name – stipulation… as when attorneys in a case agree to agree about a set of points, so the trial can focus on areas where they disagree.

What does stipulation have to do with politics? Given the intensity of partisanship in recent American political life, can we dream? Bear with me for a “what-if” thought experiment.

Suppose, amidst the 2012 campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama were to suspend their mutual attacks just long enough to meet for an afternoon. Staffs would cover debate rules, and maybe how to prevent spirals of mudslinging and people would applaud just seeing them talk to each other like adults.

Only then — they go for a walk, alone. During this quiet moment before the rough and tumble resumes, they seek just a few points of consensus.

Don’t dismiss it too readily. For all his faults, the last GOP nominee – John McCain did this sort of thing before. So did Senators Clinton and Obama, amid their primary fights in 2008.  In fact, the only ones to object would be extremes in both parties.

Oh, neither candidate will change the other’s mind concerning major divisions. But here we have two knowledgeable public persons, presumably concerned about America’s future. Surely there’d be some overlap? Things that both of them feel that we, as a nation, should do.

Imagine a joint statement. Though reiterating a myriad points of disagreement, they make public simultaneously their shared belief that America should, for its own good, pass law “X”, or repeal restriction “Y”. Further, they agree – neither will attack the other for taking this stand.

No longer pandered to, folks might say — “Gosh, if both say the country needs this strong medicine, let’s give it thought.”

This would not free candidates completely from the stifling effects of mass-politics. But it could let them display something rarely seen… leadership. Even statesmanship. Setting aside self-interest in favor of hard truth, telling the people what they need to hear, whether they like it or not.

=== Is This Impossible? ===

Well, it happened before, during the Presidential campaign of 1940. When Franklin Roosevelt was running for a third term, he approached Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie, to negotiate just such a stipulated agreement in the area of foreign policy. Britain badly needed escort vessels for the North Atlantic and the U.S. had over-age destroyers to spare. But Roosevelt feared political repercussions during a campaign in which he was already under attack for breaking neutrality. Wilkie agreed to FDR’s request, and declared that lend-lease would be his policy too, if he were elected.

Everyone benefited — Wilkie rose in stature. FDR got his policy implemented, and the world was better off because political advantage was briefly put aside for the common good. On other issues, Roosevelt and Wilkie battled as fiercely as ever. Yet, that historical act of stipulation shines in memory.

How might today’s politics differ if two adults — each the standard bearer of a major party — agreed to let it be known how they agree? Might they take on some of our most politically impossible subjects? Perhaps a cow as sacred as the Social Security retirement age, a compromise on gun control, some campaign finance reform…

… or the biggest candidate for such a declaration?  The obvious of course. The topic that neither side dares to raise first.  The failed Drug War.

== How it could happen ==

Is this quixotic proposal too much to ask of today’s opportunistic brand of politician? Perhaps. Indeed, I have little hope that it has a chance of happening during the 2012 election cycle, while partisanship towers foremost in the minds of the partisan attack dogs who have turned America into a silly place for two decades, overshadowing any national good.

Still, our politics can evolve. Only during the most recent generation has the tradition of Presidential debates become so entrenched that no front-runner can now duck them. Ancient hurdles of age, race, and gender are falling. And note, there are millions of Americans who deeply yearn for a more mature approach to politics. If a candidate offered this kind of stipulation process, and the other refused… well, there might be benefits there, as well.

Indeed, imagine if a third party candidate – say the Libertarian Party’s unusually reasonable/interesting Gary Johnson – were to join one of this year’s presidential debates. (Okay, so I think that would devastate one of the major candidates, offering sane, libertarian-minded conservatives a place to escape their party’s current madness.)  Johnson’s natural move would be to pounce on obvious things like the drug war. Ironically, this could offer one of the other guys cover to step forward, partially agreeing with Johnson while remaining moderate/skeptical. Good positioning, politically speaking.  And as a result, we all benefit when the topic itself (changing the drug war) moves up in peoples’ minds.

All right.  It won’t happen. Not this time around. But it could.  And maybe someday it will.

Shatter the barriers against candor!

CANDOROnce upon a time, it was just a glimmer in a few eyes to imagine that debates would be standard in elections.  Now it’s normal.

Might the Candidates’ Post-Convention Summit and Letter of Stipulation also become traditional, like doldrums in July and mudslinging in October?

Someday, the whole nation may look forward to the occasion, once every four years, with a sort of delicious, nervous anticipation — awaiting the one day when two eminent politicians will say not what is politically savvy, but what is simply wise.

1 Comment

Filed under politics

No Record to Run on?

Let’s start with a simple wager.  During this election please count the number of times that Republican candidates actually run on their party’s record.

How often do they speak of their periods in power, which were far more extensive than the Democrats’?  Any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects?  Shouldn’t effective leaders brag about their past effectiveness?

Over the last twenty years, the Republicans often controlled all three branches of government. During that time the dems never controlled more than two branches — and that for only four years, total. True, the dems did a lot in those short intervals and their record is a legitimate topic.

But isn’t the Republican actual record also fair game?  How often do you hear them mention the name George W. Bush?  As Peter Beinart points out in Newsweek, “Romney has tried to handle the Bush legacy the same way McCain did: by ignoring it.”

Ask your adamant-ostrich friends to name one unambiguous statistical metric of national health that went up as a direct result of Republican rule. They cannot. So, what is the GOP sales pitch? It amounts to ” Okay we’re terrible! Insane and corrupt. But Democrats are worse! So hire us again, no matter how awful we were!”

Only parts of that pitch are at all true.  But it is one heckuvan interesting sales campaign.

== The story that statistics tell ==

We’ve become a people driven by assertions and truisms.  For example, the oft-spread notion that Democrats are squishy-compassionate, and therefore:

(1) they are naive and inept at running a Pax Americana that can be agile and win at international realpolitik, and

(2) those “socialists” must do badly at encouraging growth in an entrepreneurial-competitive capitalist economy.

Would it surprise you that these truisms run diametrically opposite to fact?  I will deal with canard #1 in a week or two, by comparing the vastly different (like day and night) ways that democrats and republicans wage war or enhance Pax Americana influence.

But let’s start with some basic comparisons of how markets, GDP and all that do under the two parties. I have asserted that the capitalist economy of the United States nearly always does better under Democratic presidencies and congresses than it does under Republican ones.  This flies into the face of the common propaganda nostrums credited by Fox viewers.  But see for yourself. Start with the statistics Bill Clinton cited:

Since 1960, Republicans have controlled the White House 28 years, and the Democrats 24. And in those years, Democratic administrations have created 42 million jobs, and Republican ones 24 million jobs. This, according to a Bloomberg analysis of BLS data, is accurate and true. It’s a devastating set of numbers–and by the way, the stock market has performed better during Democratic tenures as well, as another Bloomberg analysis showed that returns on investment under Democrats have done about nine times better than under Republicans).

But let’s assume you folks are members of that dying race, wonk-citizens who are moved by facts.  Try this explication of economic growth vs debt under the two parties.  Do you still believe (against ALL evidence) that the GOP is the way to fight the deficit?

Or employment. In modern times every Democratic presidential administration left office with a lower unemployment rate than when they took office. The same would be true of Obama today. But only one Republican Administration has managed this accomplishment.  That fact is basic.  Devastating.  Absolutely verified and true.

And here is a more comprehensive “presidential economics” review, though dated (2004, but I hardly think GWB 2005-2009 offer much of a counterpoint) — and the author pledges to update the data before election night. He looks at some other social categories too, and the verdict is almost unanimous, across the charts of indicators.

== So what does the GOP really want? ==

Not the health of competitive entrepreneural markets, that’s for sure.  No level playing field for startups. (Startup businesses always do better under dems.) But this should be no surprise!  Long ago, Adam Smith recognized that the great foe of freedom and competition across the millennia was owner-oligarchy. The American Revolution was against feudalism, remember? Wealth is GREAT at enticing lively business competition. I have a little and I want to earn more. But like all good things (e.g. water, food, oxygen) it can become toxic if too narrowly concentrated.  Smith knew this.  Gaze across 6000 years and tell me you really think otherwise!

Discussing the return of oligarchy, several new books have focused on this phenomenon, with a mix of depressing and suprisingly hopeful insights.  These books, Inequality and Instability. By James K. Galbraith, and Affluence & Influence. By Martin Gilens, were reviewed by Pacific Standard:

“(Galbraith suggests that) we seem to have forgotten how to grow the economy except by increasing inequality. The result has been a series of bubbles, and bubbles always cause damage when they pop. Galbraith also trains his lens on Europe, and finds that the common assumption that Europe is “more equal” than the U.S. is untrue; precise measurements reveal that, aside from the handful of northern European social democracies, the opposite is true.”

The other book is more pessimistic “Surveying a 40-year period, he finds that legislative outcomes almost never correspond to the public opinion preferences of the poor (at least when their expressed interests differ from those of the rich), whereas they much more frequently match the policy preferences of the wealthiest 10 percent.”

There’s a lot in the review and even more in the books.  Get concerned.  And realize that when GOP rule always benefits the very top oligarchy and never benefits entrepreneurial or level-playing-field capitalism, perhaps sincere libertarians and conservatives should go dust off their copy of Wealth of Nations and read the actual words of the founder of the modern, Anglo-American Enlightenment that so transformed the world.

“All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. As soon, therefore, as they could find a method of consuming the whole value of their rents themselves, they had no disposition to share them with any other persons.”  — Adam Smith

 == Ostrich Bait ==

The AIG bail-out has returned a profit to the US government. All $182 billion the government invested in AIG has been repaid and the government still has a 22% stake in the company to sell. And the auto industry is repaying it all, as well.  And there are many other cases.The alleged multi-trillion-dollar cost of the various bailouts is actually south of $100 billion.

Indeed, had Timothy Geithner not made his one huge mistake — failing to extort stock from Goldmann-Sachs in exchange for saving their asses — the whole bailout thing would be completely in the black.  Obama’s share, that is.  Not Bush’s. Which was, like the whole Iraq War, viewed as a way to channel billions to family friends.

== And now political potpourri ==

Climate scientists in the U.S. are now facing ferocious and organized harrassment campaigns.

As Mr. Transparency, I am always worried about growing technological empowerments that help our elites see better than we do.  Mind you, noting will stop elites from seeing!  So what’s the solution?  To demandsousveillance… an ever-incresing ability to look-back and supervise and watch the watchers.  For example, I do not mind the FBI’s new face recognition database. (Do you have a way to stop it?)  What I mind is the glacial pace of our new, sousveillance rights and powers.

For those who care about the health and well-being of our children, the low-point of the Republican convention was surely this line by Romney — and the response it got from the audience:  “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans — [bites lip and pauses for audience laughter(!)] — and to heal the planet. MY promise is to help you and your family.”

HOW he plans to help your families?  Vague and unsaid.  But judging from the GOP’s track record… oops!  Did I say track record? See the first part of this posting, above.

Want contrast? Have a look at the moderate and reasonable Republican Party Platform for Dwight Eisenhower’s re-election campaign in 1956. Or Ike’s dry-but-inspiring acceptance speech. Show it to your favorite ostrich-conservative, who is in deep denial over how spectacularly his movement has changed. My God.  I would vote for that sensible man, in a shot.

How changed is today’s GOP?  Texas judge warns of possible ‘civil war’ if President Obama is re-elected…   “He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?,” Head asked. “I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

Stark… jibbering… loony.   And yes, there are loonies on the left, as well! They occupy a few soft studies departments on some college campuses and have no influence.  They provide anecdotes for Hannity & co. But they don’t run a complete political party, nor have a track record of running the nation off a cliff. Nor are they judges, congressmen, or senate candidates for a major party.

I do agree with Judge Head about one thing, though.  This is Civil War.  The sides are the same. And now a leading pundit, Andrew Sullivan, seems to have either picked up on my allegory or come up with it on his own.

The fashion statement for Blue America, should the Bushites return to power?  The civil war Union soldier’s cap.

===================

* Addendum for those of you with “ostrich” republican relatives. Look up Gary Johnson, the best candidate ever fronted by the  Libertarian Party.   If your Republican friends admit their movement has been hijacked by monsters, but cannot bring themselves to vote for a democrat, show them Johnson. Get him to the debates.  At least some one will speak up against the crazy Drug War.  And your ostrich friends will have a place to free from the insanity.

2 Comments

Filed under economy, politics

The Case for a Scientific Nation: Part Two

Last time I made it clear whom I blame for 90% of the tragic collapse of American political discourse, and especially the War on Science.  Indeed, I will finish (in a bit) by quoting one of the most eloquent calls that I have seen, for a return to confidence in our future-oriented nation.

But first…

== Where democrats have sinned, too ==

Oh, I could cite figures to you. Like the fact that only around 6% of U.S. scientists are still Republicans. (And that includes folks like me, whose GOP registration is both nostalgic and “tactical.”)    Still, it’s true that Democrats do not have a blemish-free record when it comes to science.

Oh, the dems increased research budgets and ended most political censorship of peer-review commissions. They repaired the crippling damage done (deliberately) by George Bush upon our energy and efficiency research programs, goosed the now-healthy auto industry into a burst of mileage-saving measures, and steered manned spaceflight from an absurd lunar boondoggle to privatization of launch and reaching toward planetary resources. Polemically, I have reason to believe that President Obama is at least friendly to the notion that we should be a civilization propelled by curiosity.

Still,   Go look up Science Left Behind by Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell…about the rise of anti-science tendencies on the far left. A secondary but very real problem, described by a founder of Science2.0.  Anyone who talks for very long with a genuine American leftist — as opposed to the vastly more numerous moderate liberals — can quickly see that romantic-nostalgic spite toward science and technology is not the sole province of Fox-watchers.

(The real difference between the far-right and the far-left? Both extremes are crazy. Both despise science. But one of them owns and operates an entire political party and ran the nation off a cliff. The other dominates a hundred university soft-studies departments, and almost nothing else. Big deal.)

In fact, let me take this farther and lay down my biggest science-related grievance against democrats. I will never forgive Nancy Pelosi for what she did not do during her brief tenure as Speaker of the House.

One move might have made clear the two parties’ pro vs anti science traits. That action would have been to restore the independent advisory apparatus that Congress used to maintain, from World War II all the way until 1995, when Newt’s radical neocons banished the Office of  Technology Assessment, kicking out every fact-checker and irritating expert who might dispute polemical dogma with inconvenient “data.”

Amid the battles over Health reform and other major fights, this would have been a trivial side matter to pass in an afternoon, funding OTA for twenty years in advance and making sure all congress-critters would have neutral bean-counters and nerds at their elbows, irritatingly murmuring “Well… actually, the facts say…”

What could be more important, as our politicians are asked to construct policies about a rapidly changing technological environment, with every issue dependent upon scientific  insight? Both as a practical matter and as a declaration of fundamental political difference, no other action would have spoken as loudly or carried as much weight with our nation’s knowledge castes.

I take Ms. Pelosi’s failure to fix this very seriously. It disqualifies her from leadership, should the dems re-take the House. Seriously. A total blow-it.  Go with someone else.

== The real problem and solution, eloquently put ==

But enough with being evenhanded.  The matter before is is fundamental.  As fundamental as freedom, or the basic laws of economics.

This needs some punch. So let me hand the mike over to internationally renowned tech-business pundit Mark Anderson, of the Strategic News Service, who wrote the following, just after watching the brilliant landing of our Curiosity space probe on Mars:

Science is reality.

At a time when a large and increasing fraction of the U.S. population does not “believe in” science (i.e., objectively provable reality) – or, worse, has bought into the idea that science is just one choice on the reality menu – NASA has again given concrete reason to understand that science works, and that science is not an option, not a theory, not a menu item, but instead represents the finest efforts of human minds in understanding, and addressing, objective reality.

Those on Earth who currently think that science is a political football should take note: not only are you endangering your own reputation, you are endangering the welfare of your constituents, and today, of the planet itself. 

Any person or party which mocks science should be considered for what he or it is: a threat to the welfare and future of us all.  Under the influence of political propagandists, misled religious zealots, and truly dangerous television and radio empires (such as Fox (Not) News and Rush Limbaugh), too many people today have been led to believe that science is in some way an option to opinion.

Science is as optional as gravity.  Ignorant delusion is the only real option.

It is time for the U.S. to catch back up to the world in this matter, and recognize the value of scientific study and theory, the use of scientific consensus in guiding public policy, and the wonders that we can achieve when we abandon self-aggrandizing political fantasy in favor of objective scientific knowledge. 

We should use this marvelous achievement to create a new cultural change in the United States, returning us to the group intelligence of past eras, when no one doubted that an experiment, done with the same result in many locations, demonstrated an objective truth.  Not an opinion, not a religious position, not a political chip, but another permanent addition to our ever-rising mountain of human scientific knowledge.

The world owes much to the people of NASA, of JPL, and to the taxpayers of the U.S., who have achieved the most important step in space exploration yet attempted.  This was done by a willing and informed government, working with private contractors, paid for with taxes.  It stands as one of the greatest of tributes to human intelligence yet achieved, shoulder to shoulder with decoding the human genome. 

I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch the scene inside JPL headquarters in Pasadena, as Curiosity makes its way safely to the Martian surface.  We owe a great deal to those pictured in their moment of triumph, and citizens of the U.S. owe it to themselves, if they wish to remain a great nation, to put a rapid end to the rise of ignorance in their country which threatens scientific endeavor, and the acceptance of scientific findings. 

Our thanks go out to all of the people who, using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, just flew a car-sized laboratory across the solar system, landed it safely at the end of four lines under a crane under a rocket under a parachute that popped out from a targeted aerobraking shell, from a ballistic missile, to bring us yet more scientific knowledge about the world.

It is time for all Earth inhabitants to recognize the value of science.  In doing so, we will find common ground for agreeing on other important things.

Wow. I could not have said it better than Mark just did. All the way to his tone of militancy.  Because it is, indeed, time for moderate pragmatists to stoke up their own sense of militant ferocity and drive.

If you are unconvinced by the plight of the middle class, or the diametrically opposite records of the two parties at fostering economic growth or entrepreneurial startups, or the blatant oligarchic power grab of Citizens United, or the fact that all our present deficit comes from just four GOP “programs”…*

…then at least ponder science. Hated by viewers of Fox, adored by viewers of Jon Stewart.  That pretty much says it all.

——————

—– AFTER-THOUGHTS ——-

GOP “programs” that made nearly all of today’s skyrocketing U.S. debt. Two multi-trillion dollar land wars of endless quagmire-attrition in Asia, attempting futile “nation building” in places where we’re hated… plus vast tax gifts to the oligarchy, that they have not spent on the promised productive factories, not ever… plus Medicare Part D for which no funding source was ever devised, just a vast, red-ink gift to Big Pharma.  Add them up, plus the effects of Bush’s “ownership society” deliberate asset bubble….  Remove them and what do you get?  We are back to Bill Clinton, paying down the deficit every year.  And you would put those guys back in charge?  Really?

4 Comments

Filed under science

The Case for a Scientific Nation: Part One

While the Democrats held their gathering, I kept getting messages: “How did you know offshore banking havens, like the Caymans, would become a big issue?” Referring to my 1989 novel EARTH, in which secret caches of stolen wealth became the world issue by the 2020s.

Despite grim satisfaction from successful forecasting, I get no charge out of a looming, worldwide class war, (discussed a few posts ago… and we’ll revisit soon).  It could be tragic, wasteful and dangerous, though unsurprising, if you study history and human nature. Fortunately, we’ll have good billionaires on our side – Buffet, Gates etc.  But it will be rough. And enough of that.

Anyway, scores of other matters leaped to mind, during DemCon2012.  Especially the role of science in this election.

First though, a confession. It’s a rough time for contrarians. My liberal friends hear me go on about Robert Heinlein and Adam Smith: how creative competition makes positive sum civilization. Libertarians call me an “eco-nut,” a comprimiser and a “bleeding heart.”  I like to straddle fences, pointing out flaws and positives to all sides, encouraging the pragmatic negotiation for which Americans were once renowned…

… till we plunged — or were pushed — into phase three of our Civil War.

Alas, despite that contrarian instinct, I must take sides, because one wing of American political life — the same one that was wrong in all the previous stages of civil war — has veered away from the logical, courteous, cautious, pragmatic and intellectually cogent conservatism of giants like Goldwater and Buckley, into fevered fact-aversion unparalleled in the U.S. since the pre-1861 Know Nothing party. I’d love to see a mature conservative or Libertarian movement present at the negotiating table, standing up sensibly for the role of competition in a mixed and agile civilization.  Adam Smith’s enlightenment  suffers when they are absent. Indeed, perhaps sane conservatives will rise up someday against the hijackers of their movement… as liberals once did once, in the “Miracle of 1947.”

Overcoming the dogmatic followers of Rand, Limbaugh and Murdoch and Prince Waleid, they might bring the spirit of

Smith and Goldwater, Heinlein and Buckley back to the table, reminding us that the state is not always the whole answer.

While admitting that it isn’t always the enemy.

== What can end our Civil War? ==

Nice dream? Well, it assumes there’s still a “table” at all.  Instead of a smoldering pile of ash, in our modern era of no negotiations!

Alack, it will take a rout, a towering, epic defeat this November, for that kind of re-assessment to happen.  Hence, every smart person I know in the castes hated by the New Right – scientists, entrepreneurs, economists, teachers, doctors, military officers, engineers, economists, civil servants and so on – had their eyes fixed on Charlotte this week, hoping for more than just some sane liberals to vote for.

What will finally convince those moderate, sane, Buckley conservatives and Smithian libertarians to help end the civil war, by making November a rout?  They need proof that this struggle is not between left and right.  Instead it is between future and past.

What it will take is . . .  a re-dedication to science.

== Making Science an Issue ==

The professional pols don’t want to go there. Even those who like science fear discussing it. If you start talking like a boffin, especially after two decades of Fox propaganda that scientists are cowardly, conniving, herd-following elitist lemmings, you might get hammered as a “snob.” Nor is the other side guilt-free in the dumbing down of American discourse. The left has contributed to this problem, an aspect I’ll discuss in Part Two.

Still, there has been some movement!

For example, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have both agreed to address the questions posed by Shawn Otto and ScienceDebate.org. See their answers here. (And support the effort, if you can!)

Indeed, there is room for some encouragement. Mitt Romney’s answers about climate change have shifted from his adherence to the Fox party line, back to the answers – vague but not troglodytic – he used to give, before the primaries. That is, he went reasonable for ScienceDebate.  Of course he also still voices the “I doubt it” answer, depending (chart it!) on which audience he is speaking before… as if he does not quite realize that we have recording devices in this century.  Ah, well.

Unfortunately, to date, only two members of Congress have responded to the ScienceDebate questions! And House Speaker, GOP Rep. John Boehner outright declined. (See the site, to easily pressure your own congress-critter to answer!)

Go look the answers over.  Discuss them here in comments and with your friends.  Make science policy an important topic. And if folks don’t seem to care, ask them why.  Their answers may illuminate what’s at stake.

== Science is the linchpin of this civil war ==

Next, in Part Two, I’ll talk about how some democrats, too, have sinned against science, but how — despite that — this issue still distills a crucial difference, one the should decide any reasoning U.S. citizen during Phase Three of the American Civil War.

No, this election is not about left-vs-right. (Not when the economy, stock market, business startups, innovation and every other metric of competitive market health always does better under democrats.)

No, it is about whether we’ll remember that half of all economic growth since 1945 was propelled by science, technology and innovation.  And whether we might decide, once again, to be a pragmatic, scientific and calmly reasonable people.

3 Comments

Filed under politics, science, society