Saturday, November 15, 2008

that pesky liberal media bias

Why is it that conservatives tend to think the media is biased in favor of liberals?

Before we can talk about the liberal bent of the media, we must get a good grasp of what it means to be liberal or conservative, so if you haven't read my post entitled you might actually be a conservative, go back and do so now.

Ok, now that we're all up to speed, it is no surprise that conservatives would think the media has a liberal bias. Remember that the prime directive for conservatives is to preserve the way things are or were.

Now consider the role and purpose of the press: discovery of the facts, where ever they lie, and whatever the consequence. At least that's the ideal. When the press loses its objectivity and slants the news to support a specific position, we call that propaganda. Propaganda is inherently conservative because its purpose is to preserve or enhance a specific view of how things are or "should" be. Note that propaganda can be used to protect either the Republican or Democratic points of view, but in either case it is conservative.

As I have written about liberalism and conservatism, I have tried to use the most neutral language I can. But the fact is that some aspects of conservatism are hard to describe neutrally. For example, the simple truth is that liberal thinking is open minded while conservative thinking is closed minded. As I say this, I am painfully aware that some of you might think that I am attacking you because you think of yourself as a conservative. If you consider yourself closed minded, then the shoe fits and you should wear it. But if you hold well considered, thoroughly examined views that the conventional thinking considers to be conservative, I am not talking about you at all.

If you are truly open minded, and still come to the same conclusions you have always held, then you are acting liberally. If you are closed minded, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you are acting conservatively.

I feel like I am beating this point to death, but it is very important, and a radical departure from how the two party system treats the subject. Neither party is open minded about their pet issues, and it is an illusion to call either one liberal.

This is revealed in the fact that both Democrats and Republicans tend to believe the press is slanted against them. That is because for the most part, the press is not carrying their water. There are exceptions, and press neutrality is never perfect, but the best evidence that it still exists is the dissatisfaction of both sides with press coverage.

To the degree that the press holds on to it's open minded neutral objectivity, it is liberal. It is liberal in the best sense of the word, and will hold the two poles of American politics in balance.
So yes, the press is mostly liberal and you should be very, very glad. The only alternative is propaganda.

You might actually be a conservative

What I really want to talk about now is the U.S. Constitution, and about why conservatives think the press is liberal. But those will be other posts, since before I can go there, I need to define some terms. Specifically, we need to get straight on the terms "liberal" and "conservative."

Today in the United States, most of us think that these terms are simply the labels that indicate whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican. Most of us think that issues like gay rights, taxation, prayer in schools, abortion, support of the military, and fiscal policy, to name a few, are issues for which the Democratic position is liberal and the Republican position is conservative.

We tend to use these two terms as labels to cubbyhole ourselves and each other according to where we stand on the issues. There is some value, and some truth behind all of this, but there is a basic problem too.

Liberal and conservative are not sets of beliefs, but rather, ways of thinking. A liberal views the world from a perspective different from the way a conservative views the world, and as a result, usually arrives at a different set of conclusions. But sometimes, the two approaches can arrive at the same conclusion, or can flip flop their conclusions over time. So what is it that makes us liberal or conservative if it is not a specific set of positions on the issues of the day?

A good starting place is the dictionary. I found these definitions of the terms in the dictionary built into my Mac:

conservative |kənˈsərvətiv; -vəˌtiv|
adjective
holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
• (of dress or taste) sober and conventional : a conservative suit.
• (of an estimate) purposely low for the sake of caution : the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.
• (of surgery or medical treatment) intended to control rather than eliminate a condition, with existing tissue preserved as far as possible.
noun
a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.

liberal |ˈlib(ə)rəl|
adjective
1 open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values : they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people.
• favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms : liberal citizenship laws.
• (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform : a liberal democratic state.
• Theology regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change.
2 [ attrib. ] (of education) concerned mainly with broadening a person's general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.
3 (esp. of an interpretation of a law) broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact : they could have given the 1968 Act a more liberal interpretation.
4 given, used, or occurring in generous amounts : liberal amounts of wine had been consumed.
• (of a person) giving generously : Sam was too liberal with the wine.
noun
a person of liberal views.

As you can see, these terms are about ways of thinking, rather than about the conclusions you come to. It is my contention that liberalism is rare in this country. Yes, the Democrats won the last two elections, but that doesn't mean that the country is getting more liberal. It means that more people have aligned their thinking, to some degree, with Democratic philosophy. But Democratic philosophy has been around, in more or less its current form, since World War II. It was truly liberal back in the Roosevelt years, and when the civil rights movement was forming. But all that was a generation or two ago. Since the Vietnam war, the Democratic Party has been pretty set in its ways. Most of it's members are not open minded about issues. They are entrenched in positions, largely opposing the positions held by Republicans. In that sense, one could argue that both parties are reactionary regarding each other, with little fresh thinking to be found anywhere.

Democrats tend to be just as locked into pre-defined beliefs and assumptions as Republicans, and to the degree to which this is the case, are not liberal. They are just a different flavor of conservatives who want not to preserve the Reagan golden age, but rather the Roosevelt or Clinton or Kennedy/Johnson golden age. If you think a Democrat is liberal, open minded, and willing to consider that the way he has always seen the issues might not be just fine the way it is right now, ask him to consider the issue of abortion. This is a truly difficult issue for which there are no clear cut, black and white solutions, and for which liberal thinking would be very helpful. But both sides in this debate became polarized in the early 70's, and no liberal thinking seems to have occurred on the subject since the battle lines were drawn with the Roe v. Wade decision. The most liberal thinking I have seen on this topic is a speech delivered to a Sojouners conference a couple of years ago by Barack Obama.

I would go so far as to say that some of the self-described conservatives I know are actually pretty liberal, and that some self-described liberals are actually pretty conservative. On balance though, a good liberal is hard to find.

So in summary, liberalism and conservatism are not political party dogma, but rather orientation to the world we live in. Neither is inherently better than the other, but serve us best if held in balance. We should not throw out the baby with the bathwater but we should be willing to consider an improved baby washing system if it comes along. Our political parties are not inherently liberal or conservative, but tend to orient along these lines. And liberalism is relatively rare. People just tend to stay with what is familiar and comfortable, even when that is an illusion of liberality.

Hopefully you get my point. It will be important background perspective for a number of issues that I will address in the future.

Footnote:
The term "progressive" is not a proper synonym for "liberal." Progressive means in favor of progress. Progressiveness means being in favor of moving forward. It says nothing about the direction of movement, or whether that movement is liberal or conservative. One could argue that George W. Bush was progressive. He made great strides in furthering his philosophies of preemptive military action, the unitary executive, and the corporatization of government. But none of that is inherently liberal. Democrats should stop hiding behind this term and get real about becoming actual liberals instead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

don't piss on my boot and tell me it's raining

The title line for this post is an old Texas saying made famous a while back by Paul Begala with respect to "trickle down economics."

There is a widespread sentiment in America that Republicans in office are better for business, stocks, and the economy than Democrats. The logic of this sentiment is based in part on the tendency of Republicans to reduce taxation, regulation, and all sorts of interference by government in the affairs of business. There is a general belief that business knows best and functions more efficiently than government, and thus the economy will prosper if government just stays out of the way.

Closely related to the notion that Republicans are better for business, is the concept of supply side economics. (Critics of this economic theory call it "trickle down economics." Being a critic of the theory, I will do so hereafter.) According to Wikipedia, "trickle down economics holds that economic gains by the wealthy are spent by investment or purchases that result in jobs for middle and lower class individuals." Trickle down theory(TDT) is the Republicans and Libertarians answer to poverty. Trickle downers are fond of quoting JFK when he said, "A rising tide floats all boats."

Another closely related concept is Free Market Capitalism (FMC). The idea here is that supply and demand is the best way to regulate pretty much everything. Republicans and Libertarians believe that FMC will provide the best management of prices, labor costs, healthcare costs, poverty, ... you name it.

The overarching idea here is that if (Republican) government stays out of the way, business, in its wisdom, will prosper, and that prosperity will spread to the general population.

CXO Advisory Group (http://www.cxoadvisory.com/) is a financial research organization that tests all sorts of claims and assumptions about the market. Their web site states that "Our default approach is to challenge any and all conventional market wisdom with analytical skepticism."
Their research suggests that the case described above is not quite so simple. In summary, they state that U.S. stocks tend to be most overvalued under Democratic Presidents, under popular Presidents, during election years and during years when no new major military conflicts start. Conversely, they conclude that U.S. stocks tend to be most undervalued under Republican Presidents, under unpopular Presidents, and during years when new major military conflicts begin. Follow this link to see their conclusions in more detail: http://www.cxoadvisory.com/blog/external/blog7-26-07/default.asp.

This suggests that the conventional wisdom on Republicans being better for the economy is all wrong.

The first problem I have with this conventional thinking is the assumption that business always knows best. Publicly traded corporations are legally obligated to make the greatest possible profits for their stock holders. They are not legally obliged to provide American jobs, good wages, or any particular benefits to their workers and their community, or any particular level of quality in their products. My contention is that business cannot see the forest for the trees, and is incapable of acting in its own best long term interest. The trees that block the view are quarterly profits. Corporations are obliged to do what works now. CEOs and CFOs are under extreme pressure to show profits not five or ten years out, but right now.

The second problem I see is with the logic of Free Market Capitalism. FMC argues that everything is best governed by the tug of war between supplier and consumer. FMC treats employees as both consumers (of benefits and wages) and suppliers (of labor) and leaves them on their own to find the best deal they can. FMC seeks to eliminate government regulation of labor, products, and business practices generally on the assumption that these things will find an acceptable balance between what suppliers can get away with and what consumers will tolerate. There is a level at which this theory is correct, but the problem is that that level is the level of the least common denominator. The result is mediocrity both for supplier and consumer. Each gets, and gives the least result tolerable to the other. This became clear to me when my employer touted their commitment to providing "the most competitive health care benefits available on the market." That sounded like they were competing for my approval, but in reality it meant that they were competing with other employers to keep their health care costs as low as possible while retaining employees. The net effect was that the benefits diminished steadily year after year.

The third problem is with the underlying premise of trickle down theory. To illustrate this problem, consider the JFK quote. "A rising tide floats all boats." Trickle-downers think of the water as profits and wealth, and the boats as people and business. Their assumption is that wealth is the water that lifts people and business to prosperity. This is just weird. It's like assuming that the level of the ocean is regulated by the amount of water pumped out of boats, since people and business are the sources of wealth. But even trickle-downers know this is not really true. The market is highly sensitive to things like the labor and consumer sentiment data, because everyone knows that these are the real tide that floats business. The reality is that wealth and profits well up from a healthy, robust populace that has expendable income and a secure lifestyle. How ridiculous is it to think that a handful of ultra-wealthy corporations and individuals are the sea, and 400 million consumers are the boats! In reality, business soars when the population prospers, not the other way around. And this is why the economy improves with Democrats in office. They regulate business to protect the population at large from the excesses of the untempered profit motive, and spend money to stimulate and foster a social safety net and labor environment that increase the prosperity of workers and consumers...and that's the rising tide that JFK was talking about. FDR proved this with his new deal economy that pumped cash into the economy through jobs and social programs that improved the well-being of the population at large and ended the great depression, which was caused BTW by unregulated business under the Republicans watch.

Thanks to Jason Kelly for tipping me off to the existence of CXO Advisory Group.

ranked choice voting (a.k.a. instant runnoff voting)

From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting:
"Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is a voting system used for single-winner elections in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. In an IRV election, if no candidate receives a majority of first choices, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated, and the votes cast for that candidate are redistributed to the remaining candidates according to the voters' indicated preference. This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority among votes for candidates not eliminated."

Here's a demo of IRV that shows the process and results: http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=oakzoo
I've done the demo several times. The clearest illustration of how IRV works comes when you rank the animals in order from first to last as 1. warthog, 2. gibbon, 3. goat, 4. elephant. After ranking and confirming your vote, click the button labeled "how your vote counted". It will step you through the process it used to select a winner.

Why is IRV such a great thing?

1. It allows voters to truly vote their conscience. For example, a liberal could vote for Ralph Nader in 2000 without siphoning a vote away from Al Gore. Or a voter in either party during this year's primaries could vote for Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich and still have a counting vote for one of the two eventual front-runners in his or her party. with IRV we would have a much clearer picture of the true mood of the electorate.

2. It makes the major parties more accountable to the voters. Democrats could no longer assume that they had your vote because your only viable alternative was to vote for a Republican, and vice versa. Large numbers of people would be free to vote for a third party, such as the Green Party or Libertarian Party, so these parties would keep the major parties honest.

3. Closely related to number 2, it weakens the stranglehold of the two party system. A third party with an inspiring candidate and platform could actually win at some point if the major parties drift too far from the will of their constituencies.

IRV is used in several places around the country and the world, such as San Francisco, Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea, and Pierce County Washington. Numerous localities around the U.S. are in the process of implementing it as well.
The major opponents of IRV in this country are, you guessed it, the Democratic and Republican party machines. They are the ONLY ones with anything to lose by instituting it. The Green Party is a major proponent of IRV, for the same reasons that the big parties oppose it.

You can get active in promoting IRV. Here's more info:

http://www.instantrunoff.com/
http://www.fairvote.org/irv/
http://www.calirv.org/
http://irvwa.org/

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

hazardous chemical alert

Looking for something to be concerned about? Try this. The chemical compound "dihydrogen monoxide" is commonly used in home, garden and industry, and it has quite a resume. Here are a few of the known facts, hazards, and problems associated with it.

  • It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  • It's a major component in acid rain
  • It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  • It can be fatal if inhaled
  • It contributes to erosion
  • It's corrosive to certain metals and dissolves many other substances on contact
  • It decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
  • It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

At the present time there are very few controls on this substance, and few government officials seem to be concerned with regulating its use. Sound scary? Well, read on. the scariest part is still to come.

A ninth grader at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, April 26, 1997 with a project in which he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of dihydrogen monoxide.

He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of the chemical. Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and only one knew that the chemical was water.

The title of his prize winning project was, "How Gullible Are We?"

- Adapted from e-mail from Jason Kelly


on gay marriage and civil union

I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me that the state should sanction gay marriage.

But that is not because I have any objection to same gender marriage. In fact, I do not. And in fact, I was angry, disappointed, and frustrated by the passage of propositions in California, Florida, and Arizona defining marriage as only between a man and a woman on Tuesday.

So maybe I should start over.

I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me that the state should sanction any marriage. That's right, I don't believe the state should have anything to say about any marriage anywhere...ever.

The logic here is that the state has a legitimate interest in defining and defending the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that accrue to a committed life relationship between two people. When gay people want to engage in such a relationship, we give them something we call a civil union. There are valid arguments in favor of the state getting involved in civil unions. When two people commit to live together and share their lives in complex and intimate ways, there are issues that arise that are of real interest to the state; issues of responsibility, issues of privilege, and issues of rights. We all agree that a couple that commits to live under the same roof and share their property and traditions and responsibilities and families should be seen by the state as having special needs and responsibilities that deserve a unique legal status.

Historically, we have called this special arrangement between two people a marriage, and we have used marriage as the framework on which to hang these special rights, privileges, and responsibilities. But the fact that we call it marriage is a relic of religion and tradition. From a governance perspective, there is no functional difference between civil union and civil marriage. If you think this is not true, I challenge you to tell me the differences between marriage and civil union. Whatever distinction you can come up with will be based in tradition or in religious belief.

So the whole debate over whether or not the state should condone gay marriage is based on religious or traditional assumptions about who should be allowed to participate. This is blatantly unconstitutional. And in fact, this reveals the dirty little secret that the state has no valid jurisdiction over any marriage. We should drop the legal definition and laws governing marriage since, from a constitutional perspective, marriage cannot be different from civil union. Religion and tradition are not constitutionally valid differentiators between the two concepts.

My proposal is that the government should decree that all marriage licenses currently on file be converted to civil unions. It should be made clear that this change is made in order to remove any ambiguity about the state's lack of jurisdiction over the religious and traditional values held by the parties to these licenses. It should also be made clear that this change would have no effect on the validity of marriage, since such a commitment is between the parties to the commitment and their communities of faith and tradition. Following this change, all parties wishing to license their relationships for consideration by the state would receive civil union licenses and should be advised that they can get married within their own faith system if they so choose. It would be acceptable to license ministers to validate civil union licenses in conjunction with the marriages they perform, just as they do now with marriage licenses.

This change would completely diffuse the issue of gay marriage. Conservative Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim, and other faith communities would be free to ban gay marriage within their communities if they so choose, and other religious communities that condone gay marriage would be free to perform and validate such unions as well. None of this would be in any way significant to the legal status of any civil union. The state would define the criteria for a valid civil union based solely on the merits of the relationship as it fits into the standards involving the relevant rights, responsibilities and privileges of committed relationships between life partners.

I know this idea has a snowball's chance in Phoenix, but ideas always start somewhere, and who knows where it could end up...

knowledge, power, and money

If you are into the physics of platitude, you will recognize that this proves out, both in logic and in life.

From the halls of Cal Poly SLO:

power = work / time
time = money
knowledge = power
knowledge = work / money
money = work / knowledge

As knowledge approaches zero,
money approaches infinity
regardless of the quanity of work.

what this is all about

Everybody who knows me is aware that I have an opinion about just about everything...and rarely hold back from expressing my thoughts.

So I've decided to put it all out here for your consideration. There is no specific topic of focus for this blog, and it will probably be all over the map. If it inspires me, I'll write about it. And whether or not you agree, I hope it makes you think... or laugh... or cry...