Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Government is the problem

In his 1981 inaugural address Ronald Reagan made on of his most famous quotes;
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.
Reagan was warning America of the dangers of an uncontrolled, large, government that is looked upon by its citizens as the source of answers to the problems they face. This was, of course, a rebuff of the liberal policies that Reagan saw as a threat to our country. While I may disagree with President Reagan on the source of the governmental threat, I am beginning to see that he may have been very right in seeing government as threatening to our way of life.

In Tennessee we have experienced a bit of a revolution. Members of the far right have taken over our government and now hold the governor's office along with majorities in the state house and senate. They are now using their position of power to push through legislation that is not in any way limited by Reagan's desire for smaller, more limited government. No, they are expanding the powers of the state government, limiting the powers of county and local governments, and positioning government as the artificial head of Tennessee households.

Last year the state stepped in and passed a bill sponsored by Glen Casada, HB 0598, which removed a city or county's right to decide who should be included in anti-discrimination ordinances. This bill was directly aimed at the city of Nashville which had passed a law requiring companies that contracted with the city to have a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead of letting the people of Nashville decide what was best for their city the state moved in and told them what was best for them. Rep. Casada defended the bill by saying its intent was not to promote discrimination, but instead to make it easier for small businesses to operate in Tennessee by not forcing them to deal with a patchwork of laws that varied from city to city or county to county. Of course most small businesses operate out of a single location and would only have to work within the laws in their own city or county so it is hard to say how many, if any, small businesses actually benefit from Mr. Casada's law but to me it shows a lack of respect towards small business owners as Mr. Casada obviously doesn't think they are smart enough to deal with laws that vary slightly from one location to the next.

Mr. Casada is using this line of reasoning once again this year with a bill that would prevent a county from instituting a higher minimum wage than the state and another bill that would prevent counties and cities from establishing their own zoning regulations. Again Mr. Casada claims that these laws would help small businesses even though there is no evidence for his claims. It is easy to see, however, how large businesses and corporations, who are more likely to have operations in multiple counties and cities, would benefit from restricting local government officials from doing the job we elected them to do. These bills are nothing more than big government on the state level. Our local governments are where we, as citizens, have the most influence, where we have the greatest power and so these laws don't just muzzle our local governments, they muzzle all of us in a rather dramatic way. They are designed to help the few at the expense of the many and they represent, in a strong way, how government is the problem.

Tennessee law makers aren't happy with simply crushing the power of local governments. No, they also have their sights set on limiting our rights as individuals and as families.

Imagine, and I pray that no one will ever have to do more than imagine this situation, that a female member of your family was raped or sexually abused. Now imagine that this violation leads to a pregnancy. It should be up to the person carrying that baby and her family to decide on the best course of action. That woman should be able to rely on the traditions and experience and beliefs of her family to help her figure out the best way to deal with a terrible situation. She may decide to carry the baby to full term or she might decide to take another course of action. Either way the decision should not be one controlled or influenced by Tennessee state legislators who have never met the woman in question and know nothing of her suffering. What if a woman in your family became pregnant only to find out that carrying the baby could threaten her own life. Isn't this something that her and her husband should discuss and come to a decision on? We would expect her to consult her doctor and her parents and siblings. She might ask the advice of her friends and her pastor, we would never expect her to have to get a permission slip from her state representative though. It seems as though Tennessee state representative Mae Beavers thinks that our government should have some say so in her decision. HB 3808 would make coming to a decision in these terrible circumstance much more difficult. First it would put unnecessary restrictions on which doctors could provide abortion services and then it would institute health department reporting requirements that could make it possible, in more rural areas, to identify the women who have had to make such a hard and personal decision. If this law passes our big, over reaching, state government will take a personal. family, decision and turn it into a matter for public discussion. This is not small government, this is more than big government, this is government that is stomping on sacred traditions in our country. This is bad government. We see once again, government is the problem.

These few pieces of legislation are just the tip of the ice berg. There is a constant stream of legislation circulating through the chambers of the Tennessee State Capital that will not only limit liberty and subvert justice, but that will do so at the expense of a particular group of Tennesseans. Which group is that? The majority.

Hard work is the path to success. That is a sacred truth to most Tennesseans, but it seems that our government wants to turn that path into a toll road and hand control of that road over to a few select individuals. Now working hard, being smart, doing your best, and being a little bit lucky isn't enough for success. Success has been changed from something you strive for to something you pay for and those at the top seem to want to make success an option for as few as possible. Many worry that social programs make it to easy to not work and inspire some individuals to take more from our system than they give to it. I think the greater danger, the greater cause of avoiding the hard work needed to succeed is to see that no matter how hard you work, not matter how hard you strive, that success will always be out of your reach. We used to have a system that allowed everyone a chance to succeed, now we offer that chance to just a few. Even worse those few with the chance seem hell bent on limiting the chances of success even further. They want to change the rules mid-game to favor only them. They want us on their team, but they have no intent of letting us enjoy the victories we all work hard to achieve. Our government is helping to make this happen. The problem is government.

I can't claim to be a big fan of Ronald Reagan's, but I will happily admit when he got something right. Right now, in the state of Tennessee government is the problem, our bad government. Luckily we can fix the problem. Let's work hard to get a wider representation of views into our state government. Let's bring market principles into our political market place by encouraging competition and innovation. We need ideological competition in our government so that neither side can win. Because if one side wins, the rest of us will probably lose in many ways. Lets make government less of a problem.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Please sign my pledge

In 1986 a man by the name of Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, created a pledge for politicians to sign. This pledge states that the signer, if a member of the US Congress will;
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses;

and TWO,

oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
If the signer is a member of a state legislature the pledge states;
I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.
So, basically anyone who signs this pledge is stating that they will not raise taxes in any way, shape, or form no matter how economic conditions change, no matter what kinds of challenges face our country, no matter what may happen in the future that we can not predict and that might completely surprise us, the signers say they won't raise taxes.

Imagine someone started up a new pledge. Just like we all hate taxes, we all pretty much hate war. So signers of this new pledge agree to never use military force. If our country is attacked, no military force. If one of our allies is invaded, no military force. If our national security is threatened, no military force of any kind will be used. It would probably be a bit of a challenge to get many signers for this pledge because all of America could see what an insane restriction this would put on our government. No one wants to go to war, but we realize that sometimes we have no choice and that removing the option of military force could lead to the destruction of our country.

Guess what, taxes are pretty much just like military force. We don't like taxes, we would all like to see our tax rates reduced, but sometimes we have to use the option of tax increases to keep our nation functioning. When we were drawn into World War II our nation was faced with a great financial expense that wasn't expected by many in our country. To pay for our actions in WWII our government had to raise taxes. We, even after the tax increases to help fund the war effort, wound up with a high level of debt which required high taxes to pay off. Sometimes we have to raise taxes, it is an unfortunate but simple fact of life. Since this is so obvious it seems rather doubtful that politicians would be rushing to sign Grover Norquist's not tax increase pledge. Right?

Sadly no. Currently 41 out of 100 US senators have signed this pledge. 238 out of 435 members of the US House of Representatives have signed this pledge. People that we elected to run our country have decided that one of the major tools they can use to help fix our debt crisis, one of the major tools that they can use to fund our nation in an emergency, one of the major tools that they have to effect our nation's economy is completely off the table. How could individuals who are this stupid get elected? Easy, we, the American people, voted for them.

Pledging to not raise taxes is a great way to pander to voters. No one wants to see their taxes go up and so it makes sense for a politician to say that he or she will never raise taxes. Yes, from a strictly political standpoint it makes sense, but for our country it makes no sense. Politicians should be honest (I'm not dumb enough to think they will be, I'm just saying that they should be) and tell voters that sometimes it is in our nation's best interest for taxes to go up. They should explain to them that there is no evidence, despite what some will claim, that raising taxes automatically hurts our economy. There is also no evidence to show that cutting taxes automatically helps our economy. What we need in government is honesty and realism not absolutist pledges designed to pander to voters. So how do we start moving towards what we need instead of the garbage we currently get?

I have an answer to that question. You see I am starting my own pledge, not for political candidates, but for voters;
I ____________ pledge to not vote for any political candidate in a local, state, or federal election who has signed an absolutist pledge to do or not do something.
So come on people, show that you care about our country. Show that you are intelligent enough to realize that things can change quickly and that our politicians need some flexibility in order to govern effectively and efficiently. Show that you are sick and tired of political pandering designed only to further one person's political career. Let your friends and neighbors know that you care about America and don't want to see any limitations put on its ability to succeed or respond to an unexpected situation. Show everyone that you are smarter than the idiots who would sign an absolutist pledge of this sort by signing my pledge...

OK, don't worry about signing my pledge, but I do encourage you to put it to action. We need effective politicians, not pandering, and we should take the time to look deeper into the promises being made to us. Sometimes politicians actually keep their promises. That can be pretty frightening when you think about it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Birthers, a second look.

Last week I wrote a post about an encounter I had with a birther. I was rather shocked to meet someone who still held on to the false belief that President Obama was not born in the United States. All of the available, real, evidence shows that President Obama was born in the United States in Hawaii, (read the evidence here, here, here, here, here, and here) so how could anyone still believe he was born anywhere else? As a liberal my mind went to the same place that many liberal's minds go to when confronted with a birther, that the birther movement is populated by nothing but stark raving mad racists who hate the President simply because of the color of his skin but who want to hide their racism behind Section 1 of Article 2 of the US Constitution. I mean that is the only logical explanation as to why someone would believe such a ridiculous story... or is it?

Last week I also mentioned the work of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in a post. Ever since I first learned of Dr. Haidt's work, researching how we make moral judgments, I have been reading everything I could find that he has written. Well last week a new book by Dr. Haidt was released, The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics. In this book Haidt not only looks at how we make moral judgments, he also looks at why we make the judgments that we do. Haidt uses a metaphorical "graphic equalizer" (the set of sliders on your old stereo that you could move up and down individually to adjust the sound) with six sliders. Instead of representing a value of sound each slider represents a moral concern in Haidt's metaphorical example, Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. After years of questioning individuals to see how strongly they react to each of these moral concerns Haidt was able to see a pattern form that showed how liberals and conservatives responded differently. Liberals set the slider for care (or reducing harm) as high as it would go, liberty and fairness were also set quite high, but loyalty, authority, and sanctity were all very low on the scale. In contrast Conservatives set all of the sliders reasonably high and at almost identical levels. So while care didn't register quite as high with conservatives as it did with liberals, authority rated much higher with conservatives. Of course there is variation shown in individuals of both groups (and libertarians have to be considered completely separate from either liberals or conservatives) but the results were more than consistent enough to make a very strong generalization.

So what does this have to do with birthers not being racists?

It is no secret that most conservatives are not big fans of President Obama, in fact many detest him. They see him as disloyal to their vision of America. He violates their emphasis on sanctity by not holding as sacred many of the things that they do. They believe he cares too much about certain groups while blaming other groups for harm done to the groups he supports, and on social issues they see him too willing to expand liberty to include things they disagree with. So even if a particular conservative places more emphasis on one of the moral concerns than others there is a good chance that they will find disagreement with President Obama in that area. With one possible exception.

I can't remember hearing a loud chorus of conservatives claiming that the 2008 presidential election was rigged. There wasn't an entire movement of conservatives claiming that Obama stole the election and so it seems that conservatives, in general, do accept that Obama was fairly elected. In our country a person can gain authority over others through many ways, including being elected to the office of President of the United States of America. Conservatives tend to hold authority in great esteem and feel that it should be granted due respect. Some conservatives will put even greater emphasis on the importance of authority than other moral concerns, for these conservatives President Obama (truthfully any elected liberal) poses a serious problem.

You see if someone is fairly elected president and you strongly value authority it creates a problem for you if you want to vocally oppose that president. As I mentioned in the previous blog posting Haidt shows us that we do not arrive at moral judgments through reasoning and thought. We arrive at moral judgments through quick intuition and then use reasoning to come up with an explanation for the judgment we made. We have to have a good enough explanation that it satisfies others, and our own sense of values. We are so adept at performing these acts of post-hoc reasoning that we aren't even aware that we are working through the possible explanations for the judgments we have already made. This is what the birthers are trying to do. They know they don't like Obama, but they support the authority which Obama holds since he was fairly elected and so standing up against him would be disrespecting his authority. Unless his authority isn't real, isn't legitimate.

When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 conservatives claimed he wasn't legitimate because of his lack of military service and the fact that he had won the election with only 43% of the vote. They couldn't build anything resembling a logical argument for him being born outside of the US, but they still questioned his legitimacy. Herman Cain did quite well in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination for a while, Michael Steel was elected to be the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Alan Keys was drafted to run as the republican candidate against then Illinois Senate member Barack Obama for the US Senate. All of these men are African Americans which makes it hard to claim that conservatives in general hold racist beliefs against African Americans. It is hard to say that it is an issue of xenophobia as well when you remember the initial popularity Austrian born and raised Arnold Schwarzenegger held among conservatives when he was first elected as governor of California. It would have much easier for me as a liberal to just see the birthers as crazy racists, but I can't find a way to make their actions equate with racism.

I have the feeling that if Barack Obama's father had been from Spain or France instead of Kenya there would be a fake Spanish or French birth certificate circulating on the internet today. Barack Obama being the legitimate leader of the United States is a very hard thing for many conservatives to deal with as it brings into conflict several of the moral concerns that they use to guide themselves through life. They cling to this false idea because without it their world starts to crumble a little at the edges. Most don't make these claims for attention, or for fame, they make these claims to try and help make the world a place they can understand once again. Their actions have much less to do with simple mean spiritedness than they do with moral self preservation.

I dislike the birthers less now than I did before. I feel I have a better understanding of why they do what it is that they do and I also realize that my previous beliefs about them reflected a bit of bigotry in myself towards conservatives. Truthfully I find myself pitying them a bit now. Of course a conservative would say that I am just being a typical liberal. There would be a considerable amount of truth in what they said.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Facebook and politics

In Tennessee we have seen a rash of backwards, bigoted legislation proposed that has been moving through the state House and Senate at a fairly rapid pace. Now Tennessee is a pretty darn red state, but there are still large numbers of democrats and liberals here. There have been a few protests and marches staged against this legislation, but sadly the turn out for these events hasn't been very impressive. This is sad because the local media loves to cover events of this sort and when they show up and broadcast images of 20 or 30 people standing in front of the state capital it doesn't make it seem like there is a huge amount of opposition to these bills.

Now take a look back at 2009. In many parts of the country, including Tennessee, there were huge rallies in support of the tea party. We have all seen the polls and it is obvious that only a small percentage of the people in our country support the tea party, but images of hundreds or thousands of angry conservatives standing around, screaming, with signs raised, gave the movement more momentum than it would have had without such images.

Now go even further back to the 1960's and 70's. All over the country people took to the streets to show support for civil rights and to show opposition to the Vietnam War. Women were calling out for equal rights while burning their bras as men a block away were burning their draft cards.

Obviously the conservatives took a page from the liberal play book while it seems liberals have thrown that same book in the trash. So why do conservatives at least look so much more involved and energized than liberals? I blame Facebook.

Take a look at this map. When I first saw it I noticed something interesting. It doesn't match up perfectly, but if you overlaid a map showing political affiliations on top of this map there is a correlation between the two. The more conservative states tend to have lower levels of Facebook usage while the more liberal states tend to have higher levels. There are many reasons why this could be happening, but I'm not interested in the reasons behind it. I am interested in the possible results this variance might have.

It seems like everyday I am confronted with links to online petitions when I open up my Facebook page. Being the good liberal that I am I go to the petitions, and if I agree with them I electronically sign them before patting myself on the back for taking action to support the things I believe in. Yes, I, and a lot of other people, are very lazy. Instead of taking three hours to participate in a protest or weeks to organize one I fill in a few lines of text and hit send. Call me an armchair activist I guess.

But what if I, and you, didn't have access to Facebook or the internet? What if we simply chose not to use them even if we had the access? Would we be more inclined to leave our homes and make our voices heard in person at the centers of power? Without Facebook and the internet would we see any other way of voicing our grievances? Yes, Facebook and Twitter have been used to aid the organization of many political actions and movements, but is the effect always positive? I think these movements would be larger, in a visible sense, if people couldn't find ways to participate in them from the comfort of their own homes. I have seen with my own eyes how many people watched the streaming video of Occupy Nashville protesters getting arrested a few months ago, but it seemed very few of those people watching were interested in being where the action was. They made a choice between activist entertainment and activism, the entertainment won out.

So next time an online petition shows up in your news feed do more than just sign it. Check into the issue and find time to go support it in a physical way if it is something you believe in. If all of us really did something to change the course of our state instead of just virtually doing something I think Tennessee, and the rest of America, would be a much better place.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I love the internet...

I love the internet, I really do. I had my first contact with the internet in 1993, there was no web, IRC (internet relay chat) was as close as you could get to a form of social media, ftp, gopher, archie, these were the ways information was shared and discovered. I am not waxing nostalgic, I am thrilled that the internet has evolved and expanded into something that even a geek's mother can use. I am awed by the mass of information and opinions that can be found on the web, of course, as a blog writer, I am most happy that it provides me a way to voice my opinions to people I don't even know who may or may not agree with anything I write.

So today I would like to share with you the opinions of someone I don't know and that I don't agree with. I don't want to berate this person or make fun of him, but I would like to use him as an example of how our beliefs come to be and why we have such strong opinions in this country.


The link above will carry you to a short video from one of CNN's "iReporters". These are individuals who create their own content voicing their opinions or detailing the news in their hometowns. CNN selects from their submissions and posts them on their website. Well this one caught my attention.

JVHill, as this person refers to himself, has posted several videos and after watching a few of them I would be willing to guess that he at least is a supporter of the Tea Party movement. He seems to have a strong distrust/dislike for our federal government and in this video he is laying at least part of the blame for the recent rise in gas prices on our congress and President Obama. He takes an interesting approach that I really enjoyed. First of all he is pretty non-partisan in his attack (although it seems to my liberal ears that his dislike of Obama is stronger than his dislike of congress), anything that I see these days that is even close to being non-partisan is a bit of a surprise and I will say that I found this aspect of JVHill's video rather refreshing. Secondly JVHill uses his video to pray to God for gas prices, not to go down, but to go up to $5 a gallon. Outside of a few oil executives we wouldn't expect many people to be praying for an increase in gas prices, but there is JVHill calling on God to keep the prices moving towards heaven. It isn't that he is thrilled about paying more, he simply argues that our government is doing nothing to bring gas prices down and the only way that the American populace will ever forcefully demand that the government do something is for prices to get so out of control that we feel we have no other choice. Like I said, this is a very interesting approach.

When you think about it though it is a really odd thing for a conservative to say. Conservatives, especially Tea Party supporters, say they want the government out of our lives. They claim that the government can't do anything right. They support letting the private sector take over many government roles because the private sector always does a better job than the government. Yet JVHill is calling for the government to intervene in the oil markets and take action to lower gas prices. Michelle Bachmann supported the same concept in her presidential campaign when she said that if she was elected she would reduce gas prices down to $2 a gallon. Recently Newt Gingrich has also jumped on this bandwagon and said that if he is elected he will bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. So why are all of these conservatives supporting the government getting involved in the oil markets and messing around with capitalism when it contradicts everything they believe in? Because they, just like myself, you, and pretty much everyone else, aren't very good at formulating what it is that we believe. We are, however, very good at rationalizing what we believe.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, recently published a book titled "The Righteous Mind" that looks at how we arrive at what it is that we believe. We would all like to think that our beliefs are based on reason and rational thought. In fact that has been the scientifically accepted theory for quite sometime, but according to Dr. Haidt's research that just isn't the way things work.

Imagine you see a piece of paper with a drawing on it. Is that drawing beautiful or ugly? Within moments you could probably answer that question, but if you were asked to explain why you think the drawing is beautiful or ugly you might have a hard time coming up with a good reason. That's OK, we all know that different people like certain artists more than others, we all like certain colors more than others, we like different types of music, and we are all pretty much OK with the fact that not everyone agrees with us when it comes to aesthetic decisions.

Dr. Haidt took a similar approach to our moral beliefs. He did a study in which an individual would have a situation described to them. The situation getting the most attention in the media involves an adult brother and sister who are on vacation together. They are in their hotel room after having a few drinks and their conversation takes an unusual turn. The two of them decide to have sex. The brother wears a condom and the sister is on the pill so there is no chance of a pregnancy. Neither one of them is romantically involved with anyone else at the time. They both enjoy the sex but agree that it was a one time thing and that they would tell no one about it. They also both feel that the event has brought them closer together. The subjects of this research, after hearing the story, were asked what they felt about what they had just heard. Almost unanimously the subjects responded that it was wrong for the siblings to have had sex. When asked why it was wrong many responded that if the woman got pregnant her child could be born deformed. When reminded that there was no chance of a pregnancy many said it could hurt their relationship. When reminded that it brought the to of them closer many responded that it could hurt the rest of their family. When reminded that the two agreed to not tell anyone else the subjects, having run out of reasons for the way that they felt, would respond with something like "well it is just wrong, I don't know why but it is".

As you can see our moral beliefs share much in common with our aesthetic beliefs, they are formed not by reason but by intuition. The difference is that we are not normally expected to be able to defend our aesthetic beliefs while our moral beliefs come under question with some frequency. So while reason doesn't form our beliefs it does play a major role in our belief systems. We use reason to defend and support our beliefs, to ourselves and to others. When we find we believe something we feel then need to explain why and so we reason out an explanation. We will ignore facts, just as the subjects of the above experiment did, and build a moral story that fits our needs. JVHill has done that in his video. I do that in my blog postings. We all do that in our daily lives. The thing is that we are so good at creating our moral stories that we don't even realize we are doing it. It all seems perfectly rational and reasonable to ourselves because we have, to some extent, created the reality we have chosen to live in.

This has huge implications for the governing of our cities and states and our nation. If we could all come to terms with the fact that our moral beliefs, and therefor our political beliefs, have a strong tendency to be based on spur of the moment intuition instead of deep thought and consideration, we might be able to see where the other side is coming from a bit better as well. Don't get me wrong, deep thought and consideration do come into play, but not very often in the decision making process, only in the rationalization process, in other words we all use spin. So don't hate on politicians for spinning things to their best advantage. It isn't that they are lying, quite often they really believe what they are saying and are probably quite shocked when we don't believe them. We have to remember, not only do politicians spin things, we all do, and we normally don't even realize it.

So, to Mr. JVHill I say thank you. I believe you are totally wrong in blaming high gas prices on the government, unless you are placing that blame on the deregulation of the speculative markets which have been the primary reason for the increase. I think you are contradicting yourself by even making this video. I think praying to God for higher gas prices is a bit odd, especially praying to God for higher as prices just as a way to punish our elected officials. But I celebrate your spin, your ability to rationalize that this video is OK at this moment. Your ability to put aside the what you believe most of the time in order to rationalize what you are believing now and until gas prices drop back down 25 cents or so. Congrats JVHill, you have shown us all what it means to be human and that is a very valuable lesson. Without the internet you may have not been able to teach us. Yes, I love the internet.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Birthers still exist?

Had an interesting conversation tonight with a staunchly conservative individual who claimed that President Obama had assumed the presidency in violation of the Constitutional requirements for a President of the United States. He claimed that President Obama was not a natural born US citizen and therefor could not legally be president. When I mentioned that President Obama had released his long form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii he said it was a forgery. When I mentioned the birth announcements that had come out in Honolulu newspapers at the time of his birth he said that they had been falsified.

So I asked him, if all the evidence that proves that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii is somehow false what evidence did he have proving that Obama had been born somewhere else? After all if his Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery as he claimed there most be some sort of "real" documentation available showing that Obama was born in Kenya or somewhere else outside of the United States.

His response... He said that the evidence existed but that he couldn't remember what it was. Well until I see proof that Obama was born outside of the US I will have to accept the evidence that has been provided and verified showing that he was born in the US. So there you go birthers, stop trying to claim that all the evidence showing President Obama was born in the US is false and show us some evidence that he was in fact born somewhere else. I won't hold my breath.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moving towards extremism

Many people reading the title of this posting will automatically assume that I am speaking of the Occupy Movement or the policies of President Obama or some other current news headline that they believe shows some form of an extremist ideology growing in America. Actually no. I am not really talking about any particular current, hot button, issue, although I will probably mention a few before the end of this post. No, I am talking about our nation's history and a disturbing trend that has been happening slowly enough that many don't notice it but that none the less exists.

Let me start off with a couple of quotes;

Quote number 1: Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Quote number 2: Recognizing the equality of all men and women, we are willing and able to lift the weak, cradle those who hurt, and nurture the bonds that tie us together as one nation under God.

I didn't attribute the above quotes to anyone because I want you to think about who might have said them. Quote number one speaks to the popularity and importance of the largest social programs in our country, or as conservatives would call them "entitlements". Many conservative leaders in our nation would be thrilled to do away with social security, unemployment insurance, labor laws and farm programs as they see them as a drain on our economy, unnecessary government expenditures, and programs that encourage laziness by providing a way for people to avoid working for a living. Several leading conservatives had proposed plans that, even if they didn't eliminate these programs outright, would restructure these programs in such a way as to cause their death over time. So who is this person who claims that ending these programs would be political suicide and outright "stupid"? Obviously it must be an extremist liberal who can't relate to the real world from his or her academic ivory tower. I won't keep you guessing, the extremist liberal who said quote number one was Republican President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower.

Quote number two is obviously from some touchy feely liberal. A lefty concerned with nothing but amorphous issues like "equality" and taking care of the poor so they don't have to take care of themselves. This is exactly the type of person that conservatives enjoy painting President Obama as. Lifting the weak and cradling those who hurt, I wonder how much that will raise our taxes? These people need to go out and get jobs so we don't have to lift or cradle them. Of course these kinds of ideas come from thinking that everyone is equal, Donald Trump and a homeless drunk are not equal. Liberals want us to think they are so that they can take Mr. Trump's money and give it to a bum who doesn't deserve it. It is easy to see that quote number 2 had to come from the leader of some fringe socialist group. In fact this socialist leader was President Ronald Reagan and he said this while accepting the GOP presidential nomination for his second term at the Republican National Convention in 1984.

Of course a single quote can fail to really show you the nature of a person. So let's take a look at the policies of Eisenhower, and Reagan.

Eisenhower, as you can see from quote number one, was a believer in social programs like social security and unemployment insurance. He also didn't seem to think that lowering taxes was a huge issue as the earners in the top income tax bracket paid no less than 75% during his two terms. He also didn't mind big government spending projects (of course he had the tax revenue coming into pay for them) like the interstate road system that he started and funded. He could also see the danger of letting the concerns of the business world take precedence over the concerns of the real world as he warned the nation in his farewell address. In this speech he spoke of the dangers of the US "military-industrial complex" that would harm our nation to promote their own selfish goals. President Eisenhower today would not be seen as a conservative, in fact he would probably be seen as being to the left of President Obama. This begs the question, what happened?

Ronald Reagan is the patron saint of today's conservative movement. As we have seen in quote number two, however, Reagan may not have been as conservative as many today would like to believe. Yes, Reagan spoke often of smaller government and lowering taxes. In action though Reagan did not always live up to the goals he set for himself. This is because Reagan could step away from the ideology from time to time and address reality. When his 1981 tax cuts were shown to be creating a budget shortfall of huge proportions Reagan quickly backtracked and raised taxes to prevent the budget deficit from climbing to levels not seen since World War II. In fact Reagan signed off on tax increases about a dozen times during his two terms. Why would the hero of Congressional members who have signed pledges to never raise taxes for any reason do something like this? Because he saw that it was the best thing for our country. Pragmatism won out over ideology. Of course it wasn't just in tax policy that Reagan veered off of the road to today's vision of conservatism. Reagan grew the size of the government in terms of man power and new regulations on individuals and businesses. Reagan dramatically increased spending even in departments like the Department of Energy which he had vowed to eliminate. Reagan extended our military reach into the rest of the world. Reagan, the hero of today's conservative, was in fact a big government, tax and spend President who put our country deeper into debt than it had ever been before. If he is the founder of the conservative movement we see today we must ask ourselves, what happened?

Of course it isn't just Reagan and Eisenhower, Nixon was a major proponent of expensive social programs, Barry Goldwater supported gay rights, and the list goes on and on. Conservatives today are, when compared to the conservatives of just a few years ago, radical extremists who have moved so far to the right in their actions and propaganda as to have turned the Republican Party into something that would be unrecognizable to Lincoln or Eisenhower or even Reagan.

Recently Rachel Maddow aired a segment looking at the work of a political scientist at the University of Georgia. Often times it is said that people on the right are moving further to the right and people on the left are moving further to the left. This is the easiest way to explain the political divide we find ourselves in today, but it simply isn't true. In fact Congressional Democrats have been inching towards the right, not the left, the divide comes from the fact that Congressional Republicans have been running full speed ahead toward the right creating the divide completely on their own.

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If current trends continue we will be seeing more discussions of banning contraceptives and passing laws to encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians. We will see a continuing economic divide exacerbated by the weakening or elimination of the social safety net. We will see growing poverty while those at the top, those who I feel are responsible for pushing our nation so far towards the radical right, see their incomes continue to climb while their tax rates drop. We are seeing the takeover of our nation by a wealthy class who is using propaganda and class warfare to turn our nation into a banana republic where the rich prosper and the poor will work for anything and in any condition just to keep from starving. The leaders of the right are using social issues and economic lies to coerce us into accepting them as our rulers so that they can rig the system to work for them, and only them. They are a threat to our freedom and our democracy as they try to restrict voters rights and limit political speech to only those with pockets deep enough to drown out everyone who disagrees with them. I do not want to see the right go away, we need their ideas in the competitive marketplace that is US politics, but at the moment they seem, especially in many states, to be trying to form political monopolies and we must work to stop this.

I will freely admit to having many problems with some of Reagan's policies and tactics, but I wish we could return to the days when his actions actually represented the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Today Reagan is simply the most revered god in the right's pantheon of deities and they are making up the mythology about him, and themselves, as they go along.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Words for liberals

In 1994 Newt Gingrich wrote a memo that was distributed to Republican politicians through an organization called GOPAC. This memo was titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" and contained a list of "Contrasting Words" and "Optimistic Positive Governing Words" which Gingrich suggested that Republican candidates use to frame their campaign and their opponents. As I read through these lists today I realized just how appropriately these lists could be used today, not by conservatives, but by liberals. So I am republishing these lists of words and phrases, with a few minor changes, and suggesting that any liberal candidates out there start incorporating these words into their campaigns. It is time for Gingrich's Republican revolution to end.

Contrasting Words

Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

decay... failure (fail)... collapse(ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... liberal conservative... they/them... unionized self serving bureaucracy... "compassion" is not enough... betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...

endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti-(issue): flag middle class family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant...

stagnation... welfare... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... mandate(s)... taxes... spend(ing)... shame... disgrace... punish (poor...)... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal... abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights wealthy rights... red tape... patronage

Optimistic Positive Governing Words

Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!

share... change... opportunity... legacy... challenge... control... truth... moral... courage... reform... prosperity... crusade... movement... children... family... debate... compete... active(ly)... we/us/our... candid(ly)... humane... pristine... provide...

liberty... commitment... principle(d)... unique... duty... precious... premise... care(ing)... tough... listen... learn... help... lead... vision... success... empower(ment)... citizen... activist... mobilize... conflict... light... dream... freedom...

peace... rights... pioneer... proud/pride... building... preserve... pro-(issue): flag, children, environment... reform... workfare corporate workfare... eliminate good-time in prison citizenship by proxy... strength... choice/choose... fair... protect... confident... incentive... hard work... initiative... common sense... passionate

Liberals don't need to turn these words against conservatives, we need to show that conservatives have turned against these words. Liberals can use these words more effectively against conservatives than conservatives could ever have used them against liberals. When liberals use these words there is truth behind them, sooner or later truth will win, lets make it sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Liberal vs. conservative governments, which one actually works better?

In this years Republican primaries many have been surprised by Mitt Romney's failure to connect with Republican voters. Many reasons have been proposed to explain this disconnect, but my favorite is that Mitt Romney, the former governor Massachusetts, is too moderate to appeal to conservatives. After all, how could a real conservative ever have been elected governor of a bastion of liberal ideology like the state of Massachusetts? There is probably a lot of truth in this concept and it would might have been better for Romney if he had been the governor of a very conservative state like my home state, Tennessee.

Tennessee versus Massachusetts, a Southern state and a Northern state. A conservative state and a liberal state. It is pretty easy to see why many conservatives would prefer a candidate from a state like Tennessee to a state like Massachusetts, but in making this comparison we are faced with a question. Which state's government does a better job? Conservatives are practical people who are interested in results, so does Tennessee perform better than a state with high taxes, legally recognized gay marriage, and a health care system which was the basis for President Obama's health care reforms like Massachusetts? Let's take a look and see.

Social conservatives will point to same sex marriage as evidence that liberals do not support traditional family values and do not value the traditional family structure. So why then do only 31% of children in Massachusetts live in single family homes when 37% of children live in single family homes in Tennessee? Why does Tennessee have the 8th highest divorce rate in the US while Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country? Obviously the traditional family is doing better in a liberal state that supports gay marriage than it is in a state that has tried to make it illegal to even say the word gay in public schools.

Massachusetts - 1, Tennessee - 0

What about education? There are very few issues that rank higher for most voters and conservatives have strong beliefs about this issue. Here in Tennessee the government has put limitations on what can and can't be taught in public schools. The government has stripped teachers of their collective bargaining rights, and looked at increasing class sizes while reducing teacher pay. Surely this has produced a more efficient, better performing public education system? Well no. According to Education Week Magazine in their annual ranking of public school systems Massachusetts has the 3rd best performing public schools in the nation. Tennessee? This shining example of conservatism ranks 23rd.

Massachusetts - 2, Tennessee - 0

Surely though, Tennessee must have a system that encourages hard work and personal responsibility to a greater extent than the cradle to grave, oppressive, socialist strong hold of Massachusetts. If so then why are 19.9% of Tennesseans on food stamps while only 12.2% of Massachusettsians receiving this form of government assistance? Why are only 10.1% of the people in Massachusetts living in poverty while 15% of Tennesseans find themselves in poverty? Could this relate to the fact that the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is only 6.9% while it is 8.5% in Tennessee? Could it be that, even with a strong social safety net and a high tax rate, that people in Massachusetts still want to work hard and succeed? Conservatives will say tell you that a high tax rate will keep people from wanting to work hard and that social programs will give them an excuse not to, but Massachusetts has the 5th largest number of millionaires per capita in the nation while Tennessee ranks 44th.

Massachusetts - 3, Tennessee - 0

When all of this evidence is out there and easy to find why is that so many people still believe that conservative policies will succeed and liberal policies will fail? Simple, conservative policies do work, but only for a small group of people. That small group of people also tends to be the group of people who set government policy and the political tone for our country. They are amazingly intelligent people who have managed to whitewash the facts and pull the wool over the eyes of many Americans. Their success does not equate to your success and your pain and inability to live the American dream isn't one of their concerns.

Think about it for a minute, do you want live in a state with rampant poverty, where fewer people achieve financial success, where a single accident or illness can lead to your economic destruction, where children seem to be considered an annoyance instead of the hope for our future? If so then Tennessee is the place for you. Sure the taxes in Tennessee are lower than in Massachusetts, but that just means it is harder for the state to do what it should to make it possible for as many people to succeed as possible. Is Tennessee a shining example of conservative values or is it a stain on the American dream? Maybe it is time to get out the detergent so that we can clean the dirty greed out of Tennessee. The numbers don't lie, so we shouldn't lie to ourselves. Conservatism is a failed ideology that is bad for our country, let's reject radical conservatism and embrace the success that can come from hard work when we allow success to be an option for everyone instead of just a few.