SocraticGadfly: 10/14/12 - 10/21/12

October 20, 2012

The NYT inadequately criticizes American exceptionalism

It's nice that the Old Gray Lady ran an op-ed mentioning it, even mentioning how, although it's more prevalent among the right/GOP than the "left"/Democrats, it is indeed bipartisan. It's also nice that they mentioned the statistics, often cited by Democrats as well as those further left, undercutting the idea that America is exceptional in many ways.

It's even nice that Scott Shane explained a bit about its background and how problematic it is:
“People in this country want the president to be a cheerleader, an optimist, the herald of better times ahead,” says Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “It’s almost built into our DNA.”
This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically, rising to the level of our self-image. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed. Problems that cannot be candidly described and vigorously debated are unlikely to be addressed seriously. In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process.
However, I think Shane still doesn’t go quite far enough.

First, he doesn’t viscerally depict the fetid stench of what is honestly a species not of bullshit, but of the fouler-smelling human excrement.

Second, he could note that American exceptionalism arose from the American Revolution plus the Constitutional Convention, not just John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” Puritanism but that white America’s treatment of Native Americans plus Britain’s freeing of slaves had already put paid to American exceptionalism by the 1830s. (And that the treatment of Native Americans had Northern as well as Southern roots.

Shane then says this, near the end:
Of course, the reason talking directly about serious American problems is risky is that most voters don’t like it.
Which was preceded by this:
In a country where citizens think of themselves as practical problem-solvers and realists, this aversion to bad news is a surprising feature of the democratic process.
But again, no further examination of either one.

So actually, to someone not so “embedded” from the mainstream media into the bipartisan establishment, this isn’t surprising at all. Rather, it’s quite expected. Again, from both Tweedledee and Tweedledum voters. I’d be more surprised, actually, if Americans wanted to be honest about where we stood in the world.

Beyond that, there’s further reality that has escaped Scott Shane.

Reality? The Dunning-Kruger effect, the social scientific term for Garrison Keillor’s comment that everyone in Lake Wobegon is above average, is at play.

All Americans think they know better, even when they don’t. Again, this runs deepest among conservatives, but many Democrats/liberals exhibit it, too, at least among the “laity.” If I picked an average, white-collar, college-grad self-identified liberal off the streets, he or she probably wouldn’t know bupkis about the Trail of Tears or the Long Walk, would overestimate foreign aid spending (though by less than conservatives) and probably think America is generally better, by international measuring sticks, than it actually is, though less so than conservatives would, and less reflexively.

But, try to re-educate that person, especially if they’re entrenched in American majoritarian social structures, and you wouldn’t do a whole hell of a lot better than with a tea partier from Kansas.

What was it the old cartoon character Pogo once said? Ahh, yes: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” American exceptionalism has developed as an incestuous relationship between a public that is largely a mix of self-righteous and self-delusional and a ruling class invested in keeping the public self-delusional, while milking the self-righteousness.

And, it’s fair to point the finger at the American populace beyond this, too. And at people who are smarter and more internationalized than the average American, too.

I think above all of American businessmen, many of whom assume that the American way of doing business, grounded in the twin cults of worship of the CEO and worship of extroversion, is the only way to really do business right. And, of course, that’s not true, including and starting with the humongous income gap that this American style is used to justify.

Or American think-tankers assuming that America’s version of capitalism is better than the more social-democratic variety of much of continental Europe, and not asking “developing nations” for their opinion. Or, how many Americans of the political establishment look down their noses at parliamentary government systems. Of course, that may be because they’re afraid it will someday finally be desired here.

Shane also falls short in failing to look at the role of luck in American exceptionalism. That includes the luck of Euro-Americans stumbling upon arguably the most fertile of the continents, overall, and one blessed with much more natural resources than Europe. Add in the ability to kill off 90 percent of the natives via transmission of European diseases, more natural resources than Central or South America and better climate than Canada, and it was a piece of baklava, to riff on Max Klinger in a MASH episode.

Of course, to do a more serious riffing, taking off on Ann Richards’ comment about George H.W. Bush: “(White) America was born with a silver spoon in its mouth,” or to riff on Barry Switzer, not Ann Richards, that “(America) was born on third base and thinks it hit a triple.”

This second column partially dovetails with it, but is too kind to Obama, who really, when push comes to shove, believes in a kinder, gentler American exceptionalism in foreign policy. (Actually, on foreign policy, I suspect many a Green-type does, too, to be honest.)

Specifically, even as it’s been announced that the US is in talks to keep 25,000 troops in Afghanistan, David E. Sanger claims that Obama is “out of the occupation business.”

Yeah, right.

And, of course, THERE is where the real problem with modern American exceptionalism lies — the mainstream media’s attachment to the bipartisan foreign policy establishment that supports it abroad.

Of course, the human excrement will get spread deeply Monday night by both Tweedledee/Goody Two-Shoes/Mitt Romney and Tweedledum/Dear Leader/Barack Obama.

What the Founding Fathers got wrong

As we enter the start of another Supreme Court term and Justices Scalia and Alito worship the written word of the US Constitution even more than some Muslims who almost make the Quran a second god (and Quranolotry IS more a concern in Islam than Bibliolatry among even fundamentalist Christians), and as both Goody Two-Shoes/Tweedledee Romney and Dear Leader/Tweedledum Obama fall all over themselves to venerate that piece of paper, let’s look at what the Constitutional Founding Fathers got wrong.

First, for the “sake” of nation-building, “all men” of the Declaration of Independence became all white men. Black slaves in the south became 3/5 of a census abstract “person” for electoral votes; Indians not taxed got excluded while Indians who wanted to live like white folks, even with taxation, got chased to Oklahoma.

Second, ignoring the possibility of political parties, even though the British Parliament already had different factions, that were formed in part on political differences, and not just being “in” or “out” at court.

Third, the electoral college, in multiple ways. They didn’t consider winner-take-all possibilities. They didn’t allow for one state having 65 times the population of another, as part of that (California vs Wyoming) rather than 12.7 ties larger as in 1790 (Virginia vs Delaware, including slave numbers). Juliet Lapidos at the NYT also notes this.

They didn’t foresee mechanical reapers changing agriculture. Nor railroads, then cars and airplanes, overturning transportation and connectedness. They had no idea of the Internet and what it would do. Nor of atomic energy.

They failed to see that an ambitious and ardent man could make the presidency a strong executive indeed, despite the fears that most of them not named Alexander Hamilton had of that.

They failed to even entertain the idea of a parliamentary government with a low-power head of state president, rather than a king, blindly leaning too much on Montesquieu.

But, just as Christian fundamentalists don’t want to hear that their bible was written by humans who weren’t only fallible in a general sense, but short-sighted like other humans, unimaginative, and sometimes downright wrong, so the Scalitos of the world will book no opposition about the weakness, even wrongness, of the constitution.

Ditto for the Robert Byrds, who think “civics” is another word for “worship the Constitution.”

Well, it’s not.

If you really want to know more of what’s wrong with it, read “The Frozen Republic.”

October 19, 2012

Gratitude without god

When I first heard of this idea, a decade or more ago, I was in a psychological place where I was learning more and more about the idea of gratitude.

But, at the same time, I was pretty well down the road to my secularist, contra-metaphysical philosophical naturalist stance of today. I had tried “working with” ideas of “spirituality” but found what I was seeing promoted under that guise was New Agey-type metaphysics that, even if technically not religious, was indeed metaphysical and impossible to square with my re-emerging philosophical naturalism.

But, I was still trying to wrestle with this issue.

Having heard the phrase “an attitude of gratitude” in both New Age-type settings and from traditional ministers, and it being, for various reasons, an idea that I agreed with, I was trying to figure out how to be grateful if there wasn’t anyone to whom to be grateful.

Finally, I realized that I was mentally enshackled by the New Agey “present situations” that I had recently been in, plus my childhood religious preacher’s kid background.

Instead, why couldn’t I simply have an “attitude of gratitude” without a personal object for my gratitude?

And, so I do today. Little mental tools such as reminding myself of three good things that have happened for/to me today, especially if I had an active part in any of them, help this process.

The new job I have is reason to be grateful. I don’t have to listen to a boss asking me to resign (and himself not being grateful for me not doing so, since another person did leave a week after I would have completed my 30 days notice), threaten to “forget” my paycheck, or other things. I have work that’s fairly easy, still OK on pay, and fairly non-stressful while leaving open a growth curve.

I have the possibility of thinking about new work-creative outlets with the “timing” of the economy continuing to improve, as seems likely, albeit still slowly.

I have a life free from debt, the ability to live frugally without living stingily. That includes being a smart grocery shopper and knowing how to cook healthily while on a budget.

I’m grateful for modern medicine, including psychological counseling and medications as needed. Being a methodological and philosophical naturalist, I’m grateful for the scientific mindset behind it.

I’m grateful for the Internet. I’m grateful for the skeptical, critical thinking ability to recognize the dark side of the Internet itself, as well as seeing through most all of the spam, urban legends and such to which the Internet has given impetus.

Anyway, I don’t need to show you all my “gratitude list,” though I do believe journaling like this is a helpful psychological tool.

Let’s get back to my main point. Just as one can be moral without god, religion or metaphysically-oriented spirituality (karma is just as evil a “stick” as hell), one can be grateful as a state of being without needing a good to whom to tell that.

October 18, 2012

Obama-Romney October surprise ahead?

Per Gawker, yes, and it supposedly involves either Goody Two-Shoes, aka Tweedledee, aka Mitt Romney, or Dear Leader, aka Preznit Kumbaya, aka Barack Obama.

The actual website has little information beyond claiming one of the candidates “isn’t being honest.”

That said, we’ve got four days left, as of today, allegedly.

That also said, as of 4:30 p.m., the site had gotten wonky in some way. Don’t know if it’s been hacked by somebody or not.

But, back to claim of what this surprise will be about.

Hell, Obama and Romney are breathing dishonesty out with every move of their diaphragms, so this could cover about anything.

That said, here’s my guess as to what is it:
Mitt announces he's gay, has converted to Fundamental-LDS, new version, and is moving back to Massachusetts to have multiple husbands?
C’mon now, you’d love to read about that.

Update, Oct. 19: You, I, and even Gawker have all been rickrolled. Yes, per the website, it could be called "predictable." But, it could also be called "lame." If you're going to do this hyped of a rickroll, I'd at least expect some commercial spam. Or some actual lame-o humor. Not a double lame-o video clip and nothing else. If you, after reading this, also think it was effing stupid, then Tweet @OctSurprise. Bombard the hell out of them.

How much would you spend on pet health?

A New York Times column, with a couple expecting their first kid also staring at a $4Kdoggie health bill, is one of several things, both reading and real-life issues, that bring that to mind.

Beyond paying a vet that much, we get next to pet health insurance. After that, you get into the world of air-conditioned doghouses and more.

Even if I had more money, or made more money, than I actually do … the utilitarian in me simply can’t see spending that much money on a pet.

See the poll at right to voice your thoughts.

Steve Thomas a Perry-Abbott clone on #1stAmdt

Steve Thomas, a Republican state district judge in Texas, has just shown himself to be as much a hack on the 1st Amendment and church-state separation as Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott
District Judge Steve Thomas granted an injunction requested by the Kountze High School cheerleaders allowing them to continue displaying religious-themed banners pending the outcome of a lawsuit, which is set to go to trial next June 24, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Thomas previously granted a temporary restraining order allowing the practice to continue.
And, that time frame is the problem.

When this case goes to trial,wingnuts will argue, “This has been going on for nine months now, so what’s the harm of keeping it in place?”

Reality? It harms students who not only aren’t Christian, but are, but not fundamentalist Protestants. It harms the cheerleaders doing this and their supporters by teaching them wrong ideas about the First Amendment, church state separation, religious liberty, the tyranny of the majority and more.

And, it teaches them wrong about the First Amendment itself — since they’re wearing cheerleading uniforms, this is clearly a school issue, therefore, it’s a violation.

Finally, bluntly, it teaches them that lying in the name of god is OK.

Other than that, there’s no harm at all.

October 17, 2012

Obama vs Romney — does #SCOTUS really matter?

Obama and Romney at the second debate./Photo via New York Times.
For Democrats in general, and Obamiacs in particular, when they run across a progressive to left-liberal third-party voter (Green, though not a registered party member) like me, there’s one guaranteed final combination argument and plea they trot out to tell me why I absolutely, positively must vote Democrat.

And, it’s the “who do you want nominating Supreme Court justices” rhetorical question. If that alone isn’t enough, I can guarantee you that if the bare rhetorical question isn’t enough, that Roe v. Wade will be trotted out.

Well, let’s address that first.

First of all, I’m not a single-issue voter. And, I’m probably in that great muddled middle of Americans.

Ideally? If we didn’t have the current Supreme Court, I’d like for a “test case” before SCOTUS to wind up junking the trimester system and replacing it with a bimester one. In the first bimester, states would be able to impose no restrictions. (And, outside the court arena, a liberal president and Congress would get the cojones to start Medicaid funding again.) BUT … in the second bimester, I would be open, within narrow parameters, to giving states MORE control than they have now.

So, appealing to Roe v. Wade won’t worm your way into the cockles of my heart.

Other hot-button social issues?

Sure, Romney and Obama will differ on abortion. And gay rights. And women's rights. Of course, even there, we probably need to “nuance” the issue of how much disagreement they may have. That’s because we’re not sure what the hell Romney believes on most social issues, and Obama was for gay marriage back in the 1990s, before he was against it for a decade, before he became for it again.

So, those social issues? Not so hot button. And, on gay rights, unless Romney went way off the board, as long as he nominates someone younger than 55, he’s not likely to get a Scalia or Alito on this issue, but rather an Anthony Kennedy.

So, let’s look at other issues.

They'll allegedly differ on Citizens' United, but, isn't it strange that in two presidential debates and one by the Veep candidates, neither Obama nor Biden has mentioned it? And, let’s not forget that Democratic National Procurer Vernon Jordan paraded Obama before Wall Streeters way back in 2003 to get their USDA prime seal of approval. 

And, Jordan did exactly that:
Drawing on his undoubted charm, wit, intelligence, and Harvard credentials, Obama passed this trial with shining colors. At a series of social meetings with assorted big “players” from the financial, legal and lobbyist sectors, Obama impressed key establishment figures like Gregory Craig (a longtime leading attorney and former special counsel to the White House), Mike Williams (the legislative director of the Bond Market Association), Tom Quinn (a partner at the top corporate law firm Venable and a leading Democratic Party “power broker”), and Robert Harmala, another Venable partner and “a big player in Democratic circles.”
And that’s part of why Obama won’t really mention Citizens United, won’t really regulate the banksters., etc. Well, that and having a $500,000 “checking”account with Jamie Dimon and überbank JP Morgan.

So, any business regulation issues that the Supreme Court tackles? Not a lot of difference.

Free trade? Obama’s bashing of Romney for hypocrisy in China-bashing aside, they’re both ardent free traders. The rare case in this area that goes before SCOTUS? No difference.

But, let’s get to the meat of possible upcoming SCOTUS cases, certainly the meat for social libertarians.

Let’s talk the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. (More on the latter later this week, in specific.) Let’s talk civil liberties, because the Court has two cases in which it could further gut civil liberties.

And, speaking of civil liberties, how many “sting operations” like the one thatresulted in an arrest today of an alleged terrorist have also bent and folded civil liberties?

In cases like this, about civil liberties, where Obama the man who has out-Bushed Bush on anything related to the War on Terra and (on medical marijuana) the War on Drugs, and Romney the Mormon goody two-shoes do-gooder, will agree 110 percent.

And, let’s look at something near and dear to me — First Amendment issues. And let’s not forget that this amendment covers FOUR freedoms — speech, religion, press and assembly.

President Obama, so far, has not been highly friendly to any of the four. He’s been more aggressive than Bush on hunting down whistleblowers, thereby undercutting free speech. When these whistleblowers have been interviewed in the media, he’s leaned on those media outlets; ditto over things like restricting their access to Bradley Manning, prisoners in Guantanamo, etc., as freedom of the press intertwines with civil liberties. And, he made nary a comment about police thuggery at the 2008 party national conventions, and continued in the same vein of silence on police tactics vs. “Occupy” protesters, etc.

That leaves freedom of religion, which hasn’t gotten much legal test. However, since Obama has out-Bushed Bush once again, by expanding Bush’s office for faith-based programs, I think we know pretty much where the “constitutional law scholar” stands on that.

And, that leads to a final point. Beyond Obama and Romney not having a lot of difference on a lot of these issues, the fact that Obama likes to call himself both a liberal and a constitutional law scholar means that his hypocrisy level (and reason to be mistrusted) is arguably even higher than Romney’s.

So, really, does it matter THAT much as to the future of SCOTUS which of these two is in charge the next four years? No.

Beyond that, even if a President Romney were to go wingnut-happy with a SCOTUS nominee, there’s either a minimum of 41 Senate Democrats with cojones (latest polls even say Dems should keep a Senate majority) or there’s not. If not, then Democrats as a party and the United States as a country have even bigger problems.

October 16, 2012

Two bankrupt candidates, lying about bankruptcy

Well, Mitt Romney was right about one thing in tonight’s debate ­— both he and Barack Obama falsely believe (or at least profess to falsely believe) Social Secuirty is going bankrupt. Hence’s Romney’s desire to privatize it, and Obama’s Catfood Commission.

It was at that point, after about half an hour of tuning in, that I decided it was high time to tune out again and turn off the TV.

In “chess match” terms, Obama didn’t wax the floor with Romney, from what I saw, unlike Biden with Ryan. But, he did seem ahead on points, to use boxing analogies, while counterpunching a bit better than Romney and throwing his own jabs, too.

Sometime later this week, I’ll probably do a more in-depth post on one Democrat/Obamiac cherished anti-Green, etc., talking point — the appointment of Supreme Court justices — and myth vs. reality here.

October 15, 2012

Me no like #NakedCapitalism quite so much

I’ve commented a number of times on blog posts there, Yves.

But don’t think I will anymore.

I put one up Monday afternoon, with a link to a blog post of mine, and saw that it was under moderation. Fair enough, even if I have posted there before.

But, taking 4 hours (It had been right at 3 the last time I checked and it hadn’t been approved) seems a bit much for a professional level blog with multiple bloggers that are a regular part of the team.

Then, I now see that the approved version of my post was one with the URL stripped out.

So, although I’m not a professional-level blogger …

Naked Capitalism is coming off my small, personal blogroll.

And I deleted a couple of others at the same time.

High Heat Stats was originally a great baseball blog when it was at Baseball-Reference. But after Sports-Reference ended blogs and it started out on its own, it got to be SEO-type obsessive, even Tweeting MLB player accounts for hits. Worse yet, then, Andy and other founders sold it to Gannett/USA Today.

And Center for Inquiry is getting too Gnu Atheist.

Time for an American 'decline'?

Graphic via New York Times
GOP/tea party and Koch Brothers wingnuttery of ssaying that Obama will take the United States into an era of decline, in which these wingnut employers will have to lay off workers, etc., what if there’s truth in the statement, but it has nothing to do with Obama?

What if modern technological devices won’t cause another “industrial revolution”? What if the current economic growth rate isn’t just do to recovery from a fiscal crisis, but something more momentous and longer lasting?

And, what effects might it have? Will it further increase the income inequality already being fueled by the likes of the Koch Brothers?

The New York Times takes a serious look at this issue.

Now, my only formal study of economics was a high school semester of intro to macroeconomics. So, I’m not qualified to comment too much on the piece.

That said, regular readers here know that I loathe the idea of American exceptionalism, whether a Christianity-based version of the religious right or a more secular version espoused by neoliberal Democrats, and undercut it whenever I can.

So, is this great decline at least possible? You bet. Given neoliberal Democrats’ ties to Silicon Valley (including the anti-unionism it has), is it possible that said neolibs have overestimated the long-term economic potential of tech devices, and that they have especially overestimated them because most of the manufacture is done abroad, primarily in China? Certainly.

Is it also true that neoliberals haven’t done a lot more about income inequality than old-fashioned conservatives? Indeed.

So, if you’re not an Obamiac or Clintonite, especially — or if you are, but you’re an open-minded one, click that NYT link and read through.

I do hope Gordon isn’t correct. But, what if he is? There’s other factors at play, like an aging country with retiring Baby Boomers spending less. Even if Gordon is too dour with a 0.2 percent growth estimate … 0.5 wouldn’t be much, and is certainly a realistic guesstimate.