Friday, December 04, 2009

Should I Be Disillusioned with Obama?

Either Obama is doing the best that can be done under the circumstances, as David Brooks hints at ),  or I am sadly disillusioned with him because:

1. He took the advice of his generals rather than that of his Vice-President on Afghanistan.

2. He is much too friendly with the Wall Street bankers who provided him with so much of his money.  I think he could have gotten a better deal  with the powerful financial interests for the country when they were hanging by their fingernails. I have never trusted Timothy Geithner and am not confident in Larry Summers.

3. He is all too calm, cool, and analytical on the unemployment crisis, and when he speaks he thinks his feeling but gives little evidence that he feels the pain of the jobless. Sometimes I want to see more preacher and less professor.

4. He sold out to the drug and insurance companies on health reform, making a back room deal that enabled them to get the most important things they wanted for a promise to pretend to support reform and to mute opposition. The result has no public option and no importation of  cheaper drugs. Obama got what the wanted, the drug and health insurance industries got something they could live with and a promise of millions of new customers-- guaranteeing them huge profits, some of who would be subsidized by the government, and liberal Democrats got royally screwed in the deal.

5. He seems to exhibit the triumph of hope over facts and experience regarding the transcendence of partisan politics. The current  Republicans, with few exceptions, are obstructionists, dogmatic ideologues who do not hesitate to engage in demagoguery and distortion of the facts, and would rather defeat Obama than cooperate in enacting   constructive legislation that does not meet their obstinate orthodoxy.

6. Although I appreciate his coolness under pressure, I would on occasion like to see him  get really excited about something other than his wife, children, and family dog, you know, show some deep passion about something.

But maybe he is doing the best that can be done for a progressive agenda given the mess he inherited and the lack of good options on the major issues facing him and the nation.

So, I will give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment with my head but in my heart I cannot escape disillusionment. Heck, I am just plain mad with him. Final answer forthcoming when I hear from my liver.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Produces Islamic Extremism?

In other words, the very policies the U.S. has been pursuing in the name of combating Terrorism -- invading, occupying, and bombing Muslim countries; locking them up without trials; torturing them; violating the values we've been preaching to the world -- have been the most potent instruments for fueling Islamic radicalism and terrorism.  By contrast, those who have been continuously accused of being "soft on Terrorism" and even being allied with the Terrorists -- those who opposes our various wars, who demanded and provided basic human rights protections and equal liberties to Muslims, who objected to their own governments' oppressive and belligerent policies -- have done more to diffuse and impede Muslim radicalism than virtually anyone else in the world.
This is the thesis of an article every American ought to read and heed:

The article is based on interviews with ex-extremists who have changed expressing why they became radical enemies of the United States.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Tragedy and Futility of Afghanistan

The more I learn about Afghanistan, the more hopeless our cause seems. The latest shock is that we are paying the Taliban through intermediaries to let our supply trucks though. We are funding both sides of the war.  See:

Karzai and company are utterly corrupt are not likely to change much. The loss of life, the suffering, and  the expense are not worth the meager goals we might achieve by staying.

Along with a growing number, I think we should devise achievable goals while we get out. The consequences might be severe, of course, and we would have to live with that. I dread especially what it might mean for the children, especially the girls who  could be denied an education or liberation from the despicably oppressive rule of men whose ethics are rooted in centuries-old brutal traditions.

What is our goal anyway? I have no better answer than Peter Berger: Try to get Afghanistan back to where it was in the 70's. See:

Maybe this is unrealistic romanticism not relevant to present conditions. But one move that is relevant would be to persuade  the local warlords and chieftains by appropriate financial and other inducements that they would be better off to oppose the Taliban and support the American cause. The local authorities, not Kabul, are the ruling powers. They don't want the Americans and other foreign troops there, but they do want a better life for their people. Make that possible. It would be cheaper that continued military occupation.

In any case, Pakistan is the heart of the problem. Berger maintains that the Taliban would never have been successful without the intelligence and military  forces of Pakistan. Hence,we should say to Pakistan: Either you deal with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in your country with our aerial and financial assistance, or ____(fill in with the strongest alternatives that would be effective without destabilizing the country or letting it fall into the hands of the extremists with their fingers on the nuclear button). In addition tell them that we will do all we can to insure that India does them no harm while they deal with our mutual enemies within your borders.

Bottom line: there are no good solutions. Let us hope that Obama comes up with the least bad option. I trust him more than any of the certaintists, who know exactly what we should in the absolute confidence that the consequences will be a predicted.

The younger Bush left us with unsolvable  ensemble of problems by neglecting Afghanistan to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- a tragic mistake. Suppose  the US had reinstalled King  Mohammed Zahir Shah instead of supporting the present disgrace Hamid Karzai.

Of course, we cannot make or remake history to our liking. It is supremely important to recognize the limits of power and do what is prudently doable in the pursuit of national security and international peace and justice.

Others have made more powerfully and in detail the case I am making, a fact likely to be be familiar to anyone who chances to read this. I merely join them in suggesting we get out as quickly as possible and in a manner consonant with achievable modest goals.

Then we tell Israel and the Palestinians to make a just peace, or they are on their own -- no money  or military assistance to either side.  This, of course, is what ought to be done, but political realities in this country make it impossible given the power of Christians and Jews to prevent it or anything else that would effectively lead to peace and justice in that area.

Next time: what to do about Iraq and Iran, global warming, world poverty, and the delay or the Parousia.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Healthcare Debacle: Contrary Wants and Unyielding Facts

Would strict regulation of doctors, hospitals and patients under a single-payer system provide control? Or would genuine competition among health plans over price and quality work better? That's the debate we need, but in truth, doctors, hospitals and patients don't want to be limited,
 So says Robert J. Samuelson in today's (10-26) Washington Post

I mostly disagree with his  conservative take on things, but I think he is right about this.

Most people want lower health care costs and  greater or unlimited access to health, care just like they want lower taxes and greater government services.  Doctors and hospitals want their payments increased, and citizens don't want their taxes raised. Insurance companies want greater profits by raising premiums and refusing service.

Obama has promised lower costs and no raise in taxes for anyone but the super rich. So how will it all turn out? Well, there is always the national credit card from China, Inc. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, criminals are defrauding Medicare of billions and billions, and when asked about it, officials have plenty of excuses but express no outrage and resolute determination to stop it. Pelosi, Reid, and Obama, are you listening?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Down at the Graveyard: Light Thoughts about Grave Matters

OK. let's just collect all the clinches, puns, etc. about graveyards and bury them once and for all.

I was talking to the Superintendent at the cemetery:

How's business? I said.

Oh, just great. In fact, people are dying to get in.

Is that so?

Yeah, besides that there are people dying today who never died before.

No kidding! You do a good job here, I bet.

Yeah, well, we've never had any complaints for any of our tenants. Nobody has ever tried to get out.

What's it like working in a cemetery?

Well, its' awfully quiet. No loud music. No wild parties,  Late at night, it's pretty dead around here.

What do you do if a prospective customer complains about a plot?

Oh, we'd start digging into it and not stop till  we got to the bottom of it.

But aren't a lot more people getting cremated these days? Does that hurt business here?

Well, you know, more people are thinking outside the box, and that is a grave problem for us.

Do you have any worries at all?

Oh yes,  I do have a few worries, but I  think about them for a while and then just bury them.

You like working here, on the whole?

Oh yeah. And undertakers are wonderful people, very loyal and trustworthy. I can assure you  they will be the last to let you down.

Myths of Capitalist Apologists: Now and Then

At a conference in London, a Goldman Sachs international adviser, Brian Griffiths, praised inequality. As his company was putting aside $16.7 billion for compensation and benefits in the first nine months of 2009, up 46 percent from a year earlier, Griffiths told us not to worry. "We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all," he said. (Robert Reich)

Oh Yeah, well in the old days his ancestral myth makers said that the lower classes needed the goad of starvation to make them work, thus justifying subsistence wages.

I have never understood that last claim, since the same myth makers insist that the rich need the goad of greater income and wealth to persuade them to  work, invest, and create jobs.

Could it be that the lure of higher wages might  also make the poor work and work harder? Or are we common folks a different form of humanity who need different incentives?

These capitalist myths are all crap and baloney, I

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Work of Christ

Signs of Plutocracy

On every front: derivatives regulation, the proposed Consumer Financial Product Agency, new limits on commodities trading, the administration's initial proposals have encountered overwhelming opposition from lobbyists and been eviscerated as they inch through Congress.


This agrees every other analysis I have seen. Obama and Geithner bark but so far have not bitten except in mostly harmless ways. Congressional leaders express outrage. Congress roars as if in childbirth with an elephant but seems to be bringing forth a relatively harmless mouse.

You want a reason why the bills to regulate banks are being gutted? Just look at the money the financial institutions give Democrats. Check out how much Goldman Sachs and the like have given Obama.

Was it Will Rogers who said he was tired of people criticizing Congress. Why, he said, we have the best Congress money can buy!

OK, I suppose this condemnation has to be qualified a little given the announcement just made that severe pay cuts have been ordered for some big banks -- but not Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan Chase, who have repaid their direct TARP funds. But they benefit from other government programs and guarantees that enable them to make big profits with little risk. So, I insist that the plutocracy is still largely intact and capable of great mischief to the masses of us average folks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Moral Equivalency Between Israel and the Palestinians

Once again today a defender of Israel assumed Israel's right of defense against Hamas attacks. Of course, but only if you assume initially a moral equality between the two at the present moment.

I reject that assumption because of the events of 1948, when Israel forcibly expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and 1967, when Israel considerably expanded its borders. Granted, enough guilt is real on both sides since Israel became a state in 1947. But the fact remains that Israel today occupies territory not originally given them and has been an oppressor of the weaker Palestinians for all these decades.

While all  Palestinian violence against Israel is futile and to be deplored, no way can the two be considered as being on initially equal terms at the present, so that any attack by Hamas or other Palestinians is a justification for severe retribution in the name of self-defense.

Yet that is the unquestioned assumption we see over and over in this country. It must be challenged in the name of justice.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Today's Crisis

Oh my, Oh my, Barbie's ankles are too fat! What to do? Let her take Furosemide. That's what I do.

Corn Subsidies: The Multifarious Complexities and Ambiguities of Life

The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia: No shortage exists of reasons to bolster whatever theory anyone wants to believe.  (Leszek Kolakowski)
The Law of Universal Self Interest: We are all driven by self-interests, meaning not only selfishness but what the self is interested in. (Ken Cauthen)
Given the Law of the Infinite Cornucopia  and the Law of Universal Self-Interest, this essay is undertaken boldly but with humility and in light of Whitehead's observation that sometimes it is more important that something be interesting than true.

My understanding is that the huge subsidies given to American corn farmers Under NAFTA have been disastrous for Mexican corn farmers, leading to immigration from the farms to Mexican cities and the United States.

I propose that the government subsidies, which totaled $56.2 billion from 1995-2006, should be reduced by 10% each year and the savings used to sponsor illegal immigrants willing to return to Mexico and grow corn or take other jobs, with  added assistance from the Mexican government.

Will it work? I have no idea. Will  it happen? Absolutely not.

But it is an awfully interesting subject. If you google the terms, you will soon get into economic theory regarding free trade (may produce gain for the many, pain for the few), the loss of Amazon forests,  ethanol controversies, a lot of interpretation  to suit the predilections of the interpreters, American political realities, e.g., power of farm lobbies (Obama voted for the subsidies, McCain against, etc.), corn products and obesity, how rich nations can help overcome poverty in poor and developing countries,  economic adaptation to changing conditions, and a lot of other stuff illustrating my favorite terms -- complexity and ambiguity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Plutocracy Rules. Who Will Save Us?

Surely President Obama knows that we live in a plutocracy or something far too close to one. Surely he does not approve. Granted these two premises, I can only conclude that he thinks he is powerless to do much about it.

The financial industry has been dealt with tenderly, despite some brave words to the contrary. Tim Geithner's ties to Wall Street are cause for alarm. He is too much in the mold of Henry  Paulson. Larry Summers provides no comfort.

Congressional Committees seeking to provide stiffer regulation are having tough going. "Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is none too thrilled by the watering-down he has been compelled to accept by the New Democrats -- chiefly Democrats from affluent, suburban swing districts -- on his committee," says Harold Myerson in The Washington Post, (October 14, 2009).

Does anyone know how we can elect a Congress with Ralph Nader's ideas on this subject and a President who will suppport their legislation?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Quasi-Acerbic Reflections for Today

Am I the only one who wonders if we should be  spending money we must borrow bombing the moon when 35,000 showed up for 3500 stimulus awards  to help with mortgage foreclosures in Detroit? Detroit this summer had an unemployment rate of 28.9%.

Am I the only one who thinks that if Charlie Rangel is not sternly disciplined by House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi's brave words about cleaning up the place will become testimonies to cowardice?

Republicans Unpatriotic?

When President Obama went to Copenhagen and failed to get the Olympics for Chicago, some Republicans cheered, especially the extremist nut cases -- they who are usually so patriotic, even jingoistic.

When President Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace, some of the same crowd deplored this award to an American.

Let us admit that the Nobel Peace Prize is something of a Rorschach test that evokes our own predilections and preferences. What about Henry Kissinger? Yasir Arafat? Norwegians have their own as well. 

They key to this bizarre behavior is not to be found in reason and logic, but apparently is grounded in the premise that if Obama is involved, it must be wrong, even if the country must be disparaged in the process.

Strange, but these are some of the same people who think that passing a health care bill in the reconciliation maneuver would be  awful now, but was OK when President Bush the Younger used it to pass his atrocious tax bill to benefit multimillionaires and billionaires.

We must look to St. Paul, Augustine, Calvin, and Reinhold Niebuhr for the clue to this behavior and ours as well, i. e., the natural tendency of individuals and groups (the nation state being the supreme  example) to prefer  self-interest--affirmed, encouraged, and sometimes magnified by choice -- though at times moderated by concern and compassion for others, more so in individuals and small groups than by larger collectives. (Long sentence but the details get a little messy and complicated, full of ambiguities, contradictions, and the like.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who are the Republicans?

Republicans fall mostly into three groups and those in the vicinity: One segment has a moral imagination limited mainly to matters involving sex.

A second group either wants to grant big business as much power to run the country as possible or is willing to aid and abet or at least not hinder this effort.

Finally, there are a few more moderate folks who just want change to go slow and not upset things much in a short time.

By the time you combine these allow for those in the vicinity of these three subdivisions and for some exceptions to any rules, you have included nearly all of them. But start with the three main groups and add as necessary.

You could also start with history, region, and culture and arrive basically at the same trio of barriers to what I would prefer in the way of a country worthy to elicit pride.

Mail me a letter attached to a 2010 Prius, and I will provide political science and journalistic labels for these denominations of barriers to progress.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Does Obama Have to Deny the Truth?

Obama sometimes appears so pragmatic and politically motivated that it forces him to deny the obvious. President Carter, I think, overstated the case when he said that race was the major factor in the recent protests. Race is not the only ingredient, but it is surely one important one. Yet the Obama Administration is falling all over itself, trying to deny that race enters at all. Why?

Remember when he was so naive in his campaign in so stressing our unity at Americans that he obscured  the real  differences that divide us by race, class, region, self-interest, and ideology.

He knows better in his heart. Too bad his head tells him that truth is not politically advantageous in some cases.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Universal Health Care is so Hard to Achieve.

Many reasons can be cited to explain why it has been so hard in this country to get health insurance for every citizen, an idea proposed as long ago as Harry Truman. One is surely the powerful individualism that may have been more fitted to the early centuries of our history but ruinous today. This contributes to the lack of a strong socialist tradition characteristic of advanced European nations.

Another that needs more attention is the fact that white people do not want to be taxed for benefits that go to people of color, in the past meaning mainly black folks and today Latinos as well. This too has a long history. See:

Add to this the unwillingness of Americans to  support benefits that help others if it costs them something. Finally, add the political influence of huge insurance and drug companies that can use money, if not to buy. at least strongly influence legislation that preserves and increases their financial interests.

Doubtless other factors enter, but the ones mentioned are sufficient to explain why it will be like moving mountains with a shovel to get universal health care that is efficient and affordable.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Americans, Get Healthier, and Costs Will Go Down

Everybody knows that we spend much more than other countries on health care with worse outcomes. What is not so often noted is that we have more unhealthy people to begin with. Our kids and adults eat too much sugar, made cheap by huge subsidies to corn farmers. We suffer from obesity, sedentary habits, and eat too much fat and fast foods, producing a growing epidemic of type two diabetes.

If we want to have lower health care costs, then we as a population need to get healthier by preventing illness through better diets, more exercise, good health habits -- and no smoking and less alcohol.

When will the politicians tell us this simple truth we don't want to hear? I don't mean with euphemistic-tending, weak language like more preventive care. I mean direct talk like this: "Look, as a nation we are  fat, eat too much sugar and bad fats, don't exercise enough, smoke too much and, generally don't take care of ourselves very well. We can either shape up and get fit or pay more for health care, live with chronic conditions, and die early."

On Outlasting the Bastards

At the celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday, Bruce Springstein spoke of the election of Barack Obama in the context of Seeger's decades long fight against bigotry, violence, and injustice. Then he said, "Pete, you outlasted the bastards."

So come on, all you who long for peace, you who despise prejudice against any human being, you who long for an end to hate and violence, you who work for justice,we have to outlast the bastards.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Nobody Has Seen the Whole Elephant

A familiar story circulating in various religious versions has four blind men touching an elephant and saying what it is. One touches the side and says wall, another grabs the tail and says rope, another takes hold of the trunk and says hose, a final one grabs a leg and says pillar.  Sometimes the argument rages until the men get violent, or some wise person will resolve the issue by telling them the truth, e. g., all of them are partially right but each has identified only a part while the truth lies in the whole.  

Now this story has right and wrong interpretations. The wrong one is that all religions have part of the truth, but none has the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This view holds only if the wise person has seen the whole elephant and can identify partial views in relation to the whole.

I maintain that if we are talking about God, then nobody has seen the whole elephant and nothing but the elephant -- though many claim they have. More precisely, we can't be sure that anyone has, although many do so claim.

Hence, we can only testify to what we believe based on what is non-deniable and persuasive to us in light of convincing sources as tested by norms  compelling from our vantage point in history and, culture, given our particular life stories, reasoning , and interpreted experience.

But nobody can be sure of having seen, touched, felt, heard, and smelled the elephant, the whole elephant, and nothing but the elephant. Or at least, that is what I believe as of this moment.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Advice for the Day: The Importance of Definitions

My students over the decades knew that I was high on definitions (not that kind of "high" but taking to an elevated degree of emphasis).

Often I would take a statement or question offered and say, "Imagine that you cannot use that term and then tell me what you mean using other words." It was helpful either in revealing that the students really did not know what they meant or in clarifying for the rest of us what we were talking about.

I still am high on definitions. The reason is simple.
Some issues cannot be discussed intelligently unless the crucial terms are made plain so that conversation can continue on the basis of shared understandings.
Some examples:

Is it safe to fly?

Are we safer now from terrorist strikes than before 9/11?

Is the recession over?  

The list could be made very long.

Unless we know what  those who pose the question or  those who answer mean by "safe," "safer," and "recession," the exercise is of little value beyond expressing the beliefs or feelings of those asked. To the extent that perception is tantamount to reality, opinions polls can be useful. But they contribute little to understanding beyond that.

Hence, I find opinion polls on these subjects that do not define the terms or have the respondents do so merely evoke my life-long demand for definitions.

Advice for the day: Try asking for definitions next time when it is not clear what questions and answers mean. It will annoy the heck out of people, but you will feel good about it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Complaint and Advice to Journalists

Physician, Heal Thyself. (Luke 4:23)
Know Thyself. (Temple of Apollo)
We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us (Pogo)

I am deaf to the complaint that one should not blame the messenger, since in this case, the messenger has a great deal to do with what actually gets printed or broadcast.

Imagine two scenarios at a town meeting on health care legislation:

1. A penetrating  question is quietly asked  by a knowledgeable citizen and given a reasonable answer by a member of Congress to light applause.

2. A loud, cliche-ridden question revealing mostly ignorance is raised by a fist-shaking voter to the cheers of a raucous crowd shouting and displaying all the ugly slogans so prevalent.

Which will get the most attention by journalists?

Why? Because selection of stories is not necessarily based on newsworthiness or general significance but on what will improve ratings or readership. High ratings mean ad revenue which means high profits -- the driving force. It's the American way! Hooray for free market capitalism.

This analysis is confirmed by E. J. Dionne in The Washington Post of September 3:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Weeping for Ted Kennedy

The Gospel text for Ted Kennedy's funeral was the story of the Last Judgment, in which Jesus states that the requirement for entering the Kingdom is whether you served the sick, the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, and the stranger. For me  this is the most important reason, not the only significant one, for being so immensely grateful for the life and work of Edward Kennedy.

I had the privilege of being in his office one day in 1979. I was with a group returning with a report and recommendations from a Citizens Committee sponsored by the International Rescue Committee to
investigate the "boat people" escaping from South Vietnam. We were warmly greeted with appreciation by his staff and by the Senator. We also gave the report to  Zbigniew  Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Carter and testified before a House Subcomittee. But in Washington it was the pleasure of meeting and being greeted by the Kennedy I most admired that I treasure beyond all others.

My appreciation and affection for him grows as I learn more about him-- his many personal kindnesses to so many people in places high and low. His humor, hope, his political skills as passionate crusader for peace and justice combined with his ability to respect and cultivate deep personal friendships with his foes, and for so many other things.

I weep as I watch younger members of his family offer prayers highlighting his life-long passion for improving the lives of the left out and the left behind. I thank God for his life.

Even the heavens wept as family stood outside waiting to go in the church.

Teddy, Oh Teddy, how we will miss you, Oh how we will miss you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi: Repugnant or a Manifestation of Biblical Mercy?

Hardly any American voices have been raised in support of the Scottish decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted for the Lockerbie bombing. Political response from the White House through the Secretary of State and politicians galore have deplored the decision. Yet many of them are Jews and Christians who surely know of the biblical injunction to be merciful. That the man is terminally ill and expected to live only a short time did not seem mitigate any of the righteous indignation that greeted his release.

Not only is Abdelbaset al-Megrahi near death with cancer, there is serious doubt about his guilt. Knowledgeable and responsible persons in Great Britain have called his conviction a great miscarriage of justice.

Given all this, surely the mercy shown him can be commended by Christians and Jews, as well as other morally sensitive people.

For doubts about his guilt see:

Have we forgotten this news item?

Sunday July 3, 1988
The USA shot down an Iranian civil aircraft with the loss of 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scripture and Culture: Same-Sex Love

We are asked to affirm a description of sexuality based on a reality that's shaped not by Scripture but by today's culture.
This is the comment of a disappointed delegate to a church convention regarding his denomination's new open stance toward homosexuality. Unfortunately for this point of view, Scripture and culture cannot be dichotomized sharply in this fashion. The Bible was written in a cultural context and is interpreted in a cultural context. The culture of the time influences both text and interpretation, not only in form but also in substance.

There is more biblical support for slavery than condemnation of homosexuality. So why is the latter binding on us today but not the former?

If Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is not a moral imperative for us today, why is Leviticus 20:13?

I Timothy 2:11-12 is not authoritative for us today, why is Romans 1:26-27?

No, it is not a simple matter of obeying Scripture or culture, it is much more complicated than that. Sometimes enlightened culture is right against time-bound Scripture, e. g. in rejecting slavery and granting equality to women.

As I used to say to my students about the Bible-culture problem:
Some things abide, some things change. Which is which, and how do we know?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Prescient Me: Obama as Post-Partisan

On January 28, 2008, I wrote in a blog to Obama as a post-partisan candidate:

"You are inspiring, idealistic, and hopeful, and your message of partisan-transcending politics sure makes for a good speech and may even be a good strategy to get elected, but you are naive if you think the Republicans are suddenly going to play nice if you are elected president."


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Letter to President Obama on Health Care

Mr President:

I read in the in "The Wall Street Journal"* that the big drug companies are getting most of what they want in the health care bill. This alarms me. I fear that in order to get some kind of a bill, there will be a sellout to the insurance companies, Big Pharma, and other corporate interests and maybe to the Republicans for the sake of bipartisanship.

I know the enemies of reform are rich and powerful, but I hope you and the Democratic Party will do everything possible to fight the lies, distortions, misrepresentations, and all the other scare tactics of the combined forces of Republican and corporate opposition.

Republicans have fought every piece of progressive legislation from Social Security and Medicare right down to the present.
It is extremely important that Medicare be authorized to negotiate with drug companies on drug prices. The original bill was essentially written by the drug companies.

We need genuine and substantial reform, not the mere appearance of it.

I have confidence in you. Do not permit a sellout to corporate interests and reactionary ideology.

Thank you very much from an enthusiastic supporter.

Ken Cauthen

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tempest in a Teapot: Boston Cop-Harvard Professor Drollery

Modern technology--24-7 news channels and the electronic gadgets that facilitate instant messages-- has contributed to the gigantic blowing up of a minor misunderstanding into a national incident of purported major significance.

A little perspective and a sense of humor all around could have had both policeman and professor laughing at a comedy of errors initiated by the good intentions of all involved -- the 9-11 caller, the cop doing his duty, and the professor getting through a recalcitrant door in his own home.

What followed is typical. Framed only by the barest of facts, people everywhere brought to bear interpretive patterns springing from their general world-views regarding race and cops and knew instantly what it all meant. From one side, "racial profiling," from the other defense of police doing their duty, often in the face of danger and amid insults from loud-mouthed offenders. Even our calm, cool, collected President blew off before all the facts blew in and spoke of police "stupidity," necessitating a retraction and a quickly planned beer party to save his own behind and to remedy a situation that threatened to get out of hand.

Of course, we need a serious dialogue about race, and this was perhaps a teachable moment. But what we usually get is two monologues in which each party recites its own preformed narrative non-stop without ever listening to the other and with no inclination to test habitual prejudices. Two monologues do not add up to one dialogue. Thank goodness for the few sane voices, e. g., Colin Powell, who urged us to enter into a willing suspension of preformed interpretive schemes and attend patiently to the all the particular details of this specific situation before drawing any conclusions.

Was "racial profiling" involved here or a conscientious cop doing his duty in response to an emergency call? Was the professor being done an injustice in his own home by a prejudiced policeman, or did he subject the officer to verbal abuse by his words, demeanor, and tone of voice beyond reasonable endurance? Or something simpler or more complex? We all should have keep quiet until all was known in full context with some sense of proportion.

I tentatively conclude at the moment subject to change that it was most likely a farce, a comedy of errors apparently precipitated by initially innocent parties doing what was reasonable under the circumstances, but both by not grasping quickly enough and fully enough exactly what was happening seemingly let it get out of hand, resulting in an unnecessary arrest provoked by perhaps too much gratuitous, incessant, persistent verbal noise from the arrestee and ending with the whole nation subjected to it for days on end without relief or surcease of repetition and with hardly any recognition of the drollery it actually was.

This headline in the August 3 Washington Post illustrates my point well:

"Gates Says He Can Joke about Arrest"

Hey, "Kip." if you and the cop could have had a sense of humor that night, you would not have been arrested. The cop would not have overreacted, and the two of you could have had a beer without Presidential assistance.

PS: My son Paul suggests this alternative title: "Brew-Ha-Ha in a Beer Mug"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What I Hate About Commercial TV

I hate TV for:

1. The shameless advertising of nutrition poor, sugar rich cereals like Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, etc. on kid's programs, while claiming they are sooo good for you.

2, Contributing to the decline of manners and civility by introducing the yell and scream genre of sarcastic family interactions featuring Don Rickles type insults as seen in programs like All in the Family, Roseanne, Married with Children, and many more. Thank you, Norman Lear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All You Need to Know About American Public Opinion: The Facts

1. Americans want to expand health coverage for all, but it must not cost them anything or affect their own coverage negatively.

2. They want to reduce the deficit but such fiscal constraint must not reduce any of their cherished benefits or raise their taxes.

3. They want the unvarnished truth, but they do not want to hear any arguments, facts, or reasons that challenge any of their cherished beliefs.

4. They want to understand issues, but they do not want to spend any time seriously investigating all sides of the issues with open minds.

5. They want bipartisanship as long as that means both parties will accept their own preferred doctrines.

6. Congress stinks, but their own representatives are great as long as they bring federal dollars, jobs, public works, and other goodies to their own area.

7. They are against unnecessary military spending unless the obsolete or unneeded weapon or parts of it are made in their own state or district, in which case it is essential to national security.

8. Wasteful spending is bad, but any benefits that accrue to them are necessary for their survival and well-being and justly deserved.

9. They believe that government is bad except when they want something from it.

10. Above all, they want lower taxes and increased benefits.

11. They are against unnecessary medical treatments, improving efficiency, reducing overall costs, but they want unlimited access for themselves.

12. They want a full understanding, but don't bother them will any hints of complexities, ambiguities, trade-offs regarding public policy, but they know full well that their own personal lives are full of complexities, ambiguities, and trade-offs.

Now you know, so forget about all those public opinion polls.

Canonizing Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was a great journalist. Doubtless he deserves all the tributes he has been given. But, just for once, wouldn't you like to hear about an instance in which he blew it, lost his cool, got the facts all wrong, gave misleading information, and just royally screwed up? Enough of hagiography already!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Unfortunately, You Will Never Hear This on TV

If I were a member of the Obama Administrating being interviewed, here is what I would say:
Before we begin, I understand our roles as follows: You the interviewer will stress the negative, listing objections to Obama policy, roadblocks, difficulties, Republican criticism, likelihood of failure, unfavorable polls, critical assessments from alleged authorities, and so on.

My role is to deflect, refute, and ignore all that, to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and not mess with Mr. In Between." Now what is your first question?
Since it is an unwritten rule understood by all parties that sustained substantive discussion with any depth of sophistication and analytical acumen recognizing complexity, ambiguities, and trade-offs will be avoided in favor of cliches, slogans, and nifty or colorful comments with gentle bite, the process can continue without further ado.

Sotomayor Once More and Finally

The Sotomayor hearings were tales told by partisans, full of boredom and trivia, and signifying nothing beyond the determination of the nominee to get confirmed by whatever means necessary, means canonized since the Bork defeat because he dared engage in serious intellectual debate.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Myth of Unconditioned Rationality: "Wise Latino" Errors

Republicans are trying to make political capital out of Sotomayor's unfortunate "wise Latino" remark. They are creating or implying or giving aid and comfort to the fallacious notion of a pure universal rationality that is uninfluenced by the specifics of individual life history and background. The unconditioned mind so envisioned functions like a computer programmed with sophisticated software that enables the brain to apply strict rules to facts in light of the text of the Constitution and its court-sanctioned interpretation over the years. Thus unbiased conclusions that yield original intent or the real meaning of the historic document are enabled. The underlying assumption appears to be that this capacity is uniquely and superbly present in white Republican males.

The notion of an unconditioned judicial rationality will not bear up under even cursory scrutiny. The perpetrators of this politically-convenient myth know or should know better when not politically motivated to make grandstanding points for their relevant constituencies back home.

The fact is that our mental framework is shaped by numerous factors beginning with genetic endowment, including gender, and continuing with historically contingent specifics of race, class, religion, region, time, place, and culture, plus the details of family and individual life history and experience as interpreted by our available and appropriated conceptual categories, knowledge, moral norms passions, commitments, aims, and--yes-empathy.

To state or imply or assume otherwise is to embrace a notion of ahistorical reason so fatuous and indefensible that only those can deny it who are so invincibly ignorant and blind to what most people instinctively know when it is not convenient to avoid. Can anyone with minimal intelligence and discernment be that impervious to plain truth? Nah!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking News: Sotomayor Questions Senators

In my vision Judge Sotomayor gets to question Republican Senators on the Judiciary Committee, not about the finer details of Constitutional law or the technicalities of specific cases but about judicial hermeneutics, i. e., principles of Constitutional interpretation.

This would take place after she was given a potion making her the baddest bitch in town.

What a fun day that would be!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Getting Sick Enough to Vomit: The Discipline of a Good Depression

Sometimes a blog is so timely that it needs to be repeated periodically, especially when it seems equally as relevant today as it was last September.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We all know that you feel better after you vomit, but nobody wants to get that sick.

It is horrible to think about it, and I feel guilty for even letting the idea surface. But I will proceed anyway. Would a serious economic depression be good for us in the long run? It might.

Could a good depression revive the prudence, discipline, and caution that the Great Depression reinforced in the generation represented by my parents and grandparents.? If so, America might be the better for it.

In recent decades we have developed some toxic cultural habits--runaway consumerism, an unrestrained self-indulgent hedonism promoted by corporate advertising, disdain for delayed gratification, greed for bigger houses, cars, and the latest gadgets, a pattern of living beyond our means, a careless attitude toward debt aided and abetted by the easy availability of credit and credit cards, failure to consider the consequences of our reckless extravagance, and the like.

To revive an old phrase, the "Protestant ethic" has died. Even many of the churches that are growing rapidly are preaching a gospel of prosperity that a shocked Calvin would have abhorred. Paradoxically, it was the disciplined style of life that valued work and thrift as a divinely-approved virtues that helped generate the widespread prosperity subsequent generations enjoyed. In capitalism individual self-interest was supposed to produce universal welfare. Sadly we find in the current generation a bastardized form of culture that lacks the self-restraint and prudence of the stringent ethic of the past and retains only the desire and expectation of the unlimited possession of material goods in a life of self-indulgent gratification.

No, I don't wish another Great Depression on myself, my children, and grandchildren along with the whole lot of us. I just wish that we could recover the ethic strengthened by it for a generation badly in need of repentance and newness of life.

But sometimes we need to get very sick before we can vomit and feel better.

Difference between Obama and the Pope?

The Pope is infallible only when he speaks ex cathedra.

PS. Obama apparently also has the power to pass his
ad judicium perfectum on to others, e. g., Timothy Geithner also seems to possess it when he is sitting down, i. e., in the chair (cathedra).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why We Can't Have a Really Good Democracy

Monarchy is the best form of government,
if you can find a good King. Aristotle

The capacity of justice makes democracy
possible, the tendency toward injustice,
makes it necessary. Reinhold Niebuhr

Democracy is the worst form of government
except for all those others that have been tried.
Winston Churchhill

It is impossible to have a good democracy in the United States, i. e., one that is prosperous, well-ordered with liberty, equality, and justice for all, fully protective of minority rights, and that serves all appropriately.

The country is too large, too diverse racially, religiously, ethnically, regionally, economically, and ideologically to be a melting pot in which an informed moral commitment to the most noble values determines policy by way of a political process appropriately organized to achieve them.

It might be sufficient simply to quote Churchill, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." But I will proceed.

The worst corruption of democracy is that intensely focused parochial interests are able to distort the process to achieve narrow ends offensive to justice and the welfare of all, especially the poor and powerless. They may be regional (agricultural subsidies), ideological (reactionary religion), topical (NRA), or economic (well-funded corporate lobbyists). Since Congressional politicians are elected regionally, their views are frequently shaped by interests and perspectives peculiar to that constituency rather than the welfare of the whole.

Consider, for example, how the narrow interests represented by the gun lobby (NRA) are fanatically devoted to a specific issue, whose operatives watch every political move in detail searching of even the slightest deviation from their absolutist dogma. They are armed sufficiently with money and backed by enough members and regional ideological preferences to enable them to influence legislation in disproportionate fashion. Pharmaceutical and drug companies, the Chamber of Commerce, the Israeli lobby, the military-industrial-university complex, and others illustrate the principle that intensely focused restricted interests with money and organization can be victorious over much larger constituencies whose concerns are broadly distributed but lacking concentrated focus on these specific ones, especially when this is joined with general apathy and ignorance of issues and political processes in general that do not concern them directly.

At this moment Congressional factions are threatening to defy recommendations of the military, the Secretary of Defense, and the President that the F22 fighter is not needed and should not be funded. Why? Because the defense industries have seen to it that the manufacturers and suppliers are scattered around the country, enabling regional interests to supercede national interest. The same folks will condemn deficit spending and a bloated federal budget. Alas, alas! Hooray for American democracy.

Added to this is the dismal state of political dialogue in this country-aided and abetted by talk-show radio, mass instant electronic communication, and 24-hour news channels--that reduces debate to simplistic talking points that have emotional attractiveness for the unwary or analytically unskilled. These appeals are carefully designed with professional public relations assistance, sometimes spiced with deliberate lies or distortions crafted to exploit ignorance and bias. All this is made possible by the fact that multitudes people are too apathetic, too lazy, understandably so bogged down in immediate personal struggles, or so easily duped by their own uncritical, never questioned, base of inherited misinformation, bias, or subtle perfidy.

Let us not forget that in the Electoral College and the Senate, small states have power all out of proportion to the citizens represented in an increasingly urban population. In the Senate, e. g., at the moment this is bad news for health care reform since some of the most powerful Senators are from small states with interests different from where the vast majority of people live. For example, "The 21 smallest states together hold fewer people than California's 36.7 million -- which means there are 42 senators who together represent fewer constituents than Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein." For details see:

Pervading all this is a persisting individualism shaped by the early history of the country with its expanding frontier and the necessity of self-reliance, partially explaining why socialism never came to America -- that old standard question.

Countervailing trends are created by changes in cultural consciousness, e. g., on civil rights or gay rights, as well as by crises which do concentrate the attention of large constituencies. Such situations when skillfully organized can potentially exploit kairotic moments ripe and ready for transformative change when sufficiently informed by liberating visions that excite enthusiasm enabled by political mobilization and charismatic leaders and geared to achieve more ideal ends.

Of course, if we all loved justice, freedom, equality, prosperity, and well being for all as much as we loved ourselves, we might be inspired to try and smart enough to succeed in creating the institutions and processes that would produce an ideal democracy. Darn that original sin!

To spell all this out would require a book. My aim has been to make some initial suggestions hinting at why an ideal democracy is impossible under current conditions.

The Folly of Republicans

The reasoning of most Republicans these days on matters of politics and policy is as limp as an overcooked noodle without Viagra.

What really bothers Republicans about Sotomayor's "wise Latino" remark is the suggestion that anyone could be as wise as a white Republican male whose judgment is fully rational and not at all influenced by family history or social context.

Republicans think that interpreting the Constitution is like looking at Mt. Rushmore on a clear day and deciding which is Washington and which is Jefferson.

Never mind how many 5-4 decisions with each faction consisting of the same cluster of Justices, Republicans think Constitutional interpretation can be free of the background and outlook of the interpreters. So shockingly naive is such a view that only a politician or a fundamentalist theologian or a citizen oblivious to the obvious would admit to having it.

Republicans are distrustful of government to do anything right except when it is acting in secret or funneling money to their preferred beneficiaries.

Originalists, including many Republicans, assume there is one settled meaning of the Constitution built in from the beginning, whereas historians know that the Founding Fathers intended to begin an argument which must continue, they being well aware of disagreements among themselves and the many ambiguities, complexities, trade-offs, and the like generated in the concrete realities of life and history.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Ignorance of Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush: 'I don't know' if Obama is a socialist. CNN headline.

Jeb's ignorance, however vast, should not take precedence over the knowledge of others, however small.

Demented American Values and Illegal Drugs

How many times does it have to be said? The fundamental drug problem is not marijuana or heroin or cocaine, as troublesome and damaging as they are.

The far more harmful drugs are 1. tobacco and 2. alcohol. Tobacco kills at least 400,000 every year in this country. Alcohol kills at least 100,000. Add to this the health and other costs, and you will see that the usual suspects are minor in comparison. We have spent billions of dollars and incarcerated thousands, especially poor African Americans and have barely made a dent in the devastation wrought by illegal drugs.

The difference is that tobacco and alcohol are socially acceptable drugs, while marijuana, heroin, and cocaine are not. I do not mean to trivialize the harm done to people and the costs incurred to the nation by the illegal drugs, but we need a sense of proportion.

The illegal drugs are perils with no good solution, but the best approach is to take the profit--the money gain--out of them and deal with them as a public health concern, i. e., prevention and treatment, and not as a criminal justice matter.

Would there be major tribulations associated with the decriminalization of the the currently illegal drugs? Certainly, but I defy anyone to make a convincing case that the situation would be worse than it is now.

The root problem is the distorted, puzzling set of values we have in this country. We are astonishingly tolerant of guns and violence and still both puritanical and obsessed in regard to sex, and totally irrational when it comes to the drugs now classified as illegal.

See a more lengthy treatment of all this at:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quasi-Acerbic Reflections: Pundits

The punditry should be abolished. Were it not for the all-news channels their population would be less of a menace, but given the necessity to fill 24 hours a day by the likes of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, daily they egregiously violate Occam's razor -- do not multiply entities beyond necessity-- ad nauseam. The worst are the Democratic and Republican political strategists, whose vacuity and predictability are astounding and who never increase understanding of anything.

While sometimes a pundit may shed light on an issue, generally they are a superfluity. Anyone who reads a couple of good newspapers and a serious journal of current events will know as much as 93.34% of the experts whose breezy interjections could provide electricity for a small town if harnessed to wind generators.

If You Are Over 60, You Don't Exist in the Media

Or you might as well not exist for the attention you get. The CNN web site asked, "How are you honoring Michael Jackson?" Not do you plan to honor MJ, if so, how? I am sorry he died so young, but honor him?

His music and dancing were boring to me. The few seconds of Thriller I saw were not thrilling. He was two generations too late for me. Elvis Presley was only one behind me, but with few exceptions, his performances were not entertaining either in my book. But the general assumption in the media is that your musical and other tastes were formed after I was already married and a father.

Now there are some minor exceptions -- some PBS programs, C-Span, and and a few others recognize that some people are in or are approaching Medicare. The national evening network news broadcasts perhaps recognize us most clearly. Advertisements are the evidence -- constipation, upset stomach, leaky bladder, ED, dementia, pain, and other typical later in life ailments are subjects of interests and revenue for them.

But we know we exist. Nat King Cole or the Mills Brothers anyone?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Michael Jackson and American Excess

Too much has already been said about Michael Jackson, the woman man, white black, child adult -- he of odd, bizarre behavior, that sad, tragic idol who always wanted the approval of his abusing father, who thought if ever he were ordinary, people would not love him, who in the midst of the adulation of crowds was lonely, in whom there lived a kind, gentle child who never had a childhood, and who required tranquilizing drugs to relieve his pain.

But that is not my text today. I wonder if the attention worthy of a President given him in death bespeaks of a celebrity-intoxicated culture whose excesses approach pathology. He offered, say some, moments of transcendence and good will that united followers with humanity, but in my view was exhibitive of a quasi-religion whose "yoke is easy, whose burden is light," that makes no moral demands, judges no behavior, and whose exalted moments are shallow and ephemeral.

That is my text for today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hooray for American Support of Democracy

Republicans in Congress are getting more and more irksome, tiresome, and downright repugnant.

They condemn Obama for not taking a stronger stand against the Iranian regime. We have always stood for democracy, they say. You mean like in Iran when Republican President Eisenhower approved the engineering of the overthrow in 1953 of Mohammed Mossaddeq, the democratically elected leader of Iran who had nationalized the oil companies. We restored the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlev, who allowed the British and American oil companies to get their lips back on the nipples of the pipelines so oil wealth could flow Westward? In passing we might observe that Democrat Harry Truman had refused to approve the coup. By the way, the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, whose current Supreme Leader is shooting protesters in Tehran. Hooray for the American support of democracy in 1953.

Then there were those decades when American policy toward Latin America was designed to suit the interests of the United Fruit Company without regard to whether the favored regimes were democracies or not.

Wasn't that all in the past? Not quite considering that we have been in bed with Saudi Arabia for a long time. They don't have democracy, but they have lots of oil.

Republicans constantly raise the specter of government bureaucrats making decisions about health care for citizens. Apparently, they prefer bureaucrats in big corporations to make those decisions, corporations motivated by increasing profits by limiting medical care to subscribers. There is no sustainable system that will allow any and every form of medical care to everybody.

Is there any good reason why Republicans should exist at all?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Middle East: New Beginnings Needed

The best thing I have seen on the Palestinian-Israeli problem is Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, "Obama and the Middle East" (The New York Review of Books, June 11, 2009).

In brief, they say the old slogans and terms -- two-state solution, land for peace -- are impotent and should be abandoned. In the past both parties have felt they were provided solutions from third parties and asked to accept or negotiate them.

A new beginning should be made by a process that elicits anew what the essential interests of the relevant parties are--the Palestinians, including both Fatah and Hamas, and the Israelis, including the settlers. This might leads toward a two-state solution, or it might not get anywhere. What is clear, they think, is that merely polishing up the old terms, proposals, and solutions will not work.

I found it provocative and maybe even correct. See:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Totally Acerbic Observations

Have you noticed that the folks who do the network morning shows appear to be abnormally happy -- smiling and laughing beyond what the situation merits?

Items it is usually futile to talk to your doctor about include the following: nausea, sleep issues not related to apnea, and and abdominal distress unless caused by ulcers or cancer.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What's Wrong with the World?

Two fundamental things are essential to figuring out what is wrong with the world--original sin and universal suffering. Original sin is the natural, built-in tendency to prefer our own good--as individuals, societies, institutions, nations, etc.--to the good of others. Universal suffering means that all have known some form of human affliction--pain, accident, circumstances, disease, sorrow, failure, oppression, etc.--that take away in various degrees our joy and happiness. Suffering results from causes arising out the nature of things -- natural evil, and out of the harm we do to each other -- moral evil.

What is the solution? We have to recognize that that all --we and others--are afflicted with both egotism and suffering. This must be accompanied by the desire for understanding that leads to compassion for others.

To focus on moral evil, the typical dialogue between individuals and groups about our conflicts is that each has its own narrative and an explanation of its own suffering and injustice, which is not a dialogue but two monologues in which each party yells out its own story and does not hear or care to hear the story of others. Consider: abortion, same-sex marriage, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, the US and North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Pakistan, Venezuela, and on and on and on.

The problem: nobody listens to the other. The solution: genuine listening, which leads to a sharing of the truth and suffering of the other, which can ideally lead to understanding, which produces compassion, followed by repentance, which can result in good faith efforts to resolve issues in a way that enlarges the truth shared by all and the suffering endured by all.

My text has been: Repent and believe the Gospel, which being translated means. Come to terms with the fact that we have all screwed up, some more badly than others, repent in sorrow, and therefore become open to the possibility of hearing the good news that a better future for all is waiting to be born if we are willing to receive it in faith, hope, and love.

Now I have diagnosed the problem and offered the solution. It is up to others to begin working this out in practical ways. Meanwhile, I have to write another blog resolving other pressing issues. Global warming is next on my list. Good luck.

Friday, June 05, 2009

What They Learn in Journalism School

Based on years of watching TV news reports, I can imagine the day in Universal School of Journalism when they dealt with "How to End Your TV Report."

The cardinal rule, never to be violated, is: Do not end on a positive note, never. Several options are available:
1. Suggest that something awful could still go wrong.
2. Suggest a countervailing trend.
3. Raise a question that qualifies any optimistic developments in your piece.
4. Use your imagination to suggest that somehow the future is still in doubt, so viewers should tune in next time.
5. Say anything just as long as it is negative in some way.

That appears to be the one thing that all the students learned well.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Quasi-Acerbic Oddities for Today

Senator McConnell said he did not want a judge on the Supreme Court who let subjective preferences and personal ideology affect their rulings. You mean you do not want judges like Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Scalito?

Somebody should instruct Senators that all people have ideologies, personal background experiences, and identities that affect their rulings. I did not say determine, I said affect, i. e., influence.

Cheney is to the left of Obama on gay marriage. He favors it if the decision is made by the states, while the President has so far only indicated support for civil unions.

Senator Greg Judd says he does not want government bureaucrats making decisions about our personal health care. Apparently, he prefers to have them made by corporate bureaucrats working for companies who want to maximize their profits by limiting services.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Woman in my GPS

I didn't believe there was a real person in my GPS either until recently when we were on a newly opened section of US 15 that we know about but Hildegarde (Geography Genius) Himmelwassen didn't. She recalculated repeatedly trying to get us back on the right road, assuming that we were driving 60 MPH over farmland. After frequent recalculations, she finally had enough: "I don't know why I bother with you stupid idiots. You never take my advice anyway. I have had it with you. I'm outta here. You are on your own, since you think you know more than I do anyway. So long, suckers."

Yep, there's a real person in there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama is a Radical, An Extremist

According to a headline in the morning paper, President Obama stood before the graduating class at Notre Dame and urged us to have (gasp!) "open minds on abortion." The American people open minded on abortion? Come on, Mr. President, get real, this is planet earth, this is America.

The next thing you know he will be suggesting that we be reasonable about gun control!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ethics at the Boundary Line: Torture

Immanuel Kant distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. The former are universally obligatory, i. e., allow no exceptions under any circumstances. The latter may have exceptions in some cases or alternative ways of fulfilling it?

Does the rule "never torture" define a perfect duty? Is it a moral absolute? Or is it sometimes morally permissible?

Here we enter the realm of "borderline situations " (Helmut Thielicke, Karl Jaspers) in which the usual rules and norms do not provide clear guidance but require a difficult situational decision in which no choice leaves us at ease.

In this context, one can argue that the rule against torture should not be made an absolute. Few moral principles are. There may be rare occasions in which morality may permit extraordinary means, including torture. This could be argued on both deontological and teleological grounds.

Opponents maintain that no such events occur in real life (the ticking bomb scenario) or are so rare as not to justify any exception to the prohibition against torture. Moreover, even if such emergencies justify torture in that immediate extreme circumstance, one might reason that on the whole the damage to the rule of law and to the global image of the country might still forbid it. Hence on balance it may be better to have an absolute rule that is never violated though it may be costly in some instances, though how costly would make a difference. I tend to fall into this camp.

Nevertheless, the ambiguities, contingencies, and uncertainties surrounding this question create a troubling space in which reasonable people may disagree.