government

Dear Conservative Christians

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About gay marriage, or as it’s henceforth known — marriage, we know your very unhappy. You feel betrayed by the Supreme Court. Your pal Scalia wrote that there had been a “putsch”, or coup, and the Court Justices were acting like “nine rulers” over all America.   You believe that contrary to all reason the Court has dramatically and undemocratically redefined marriage in Obergefell v Hodges. After all, it’s happened before. In 1967, the Court ruled 9-0 that marriage now included mixed race couples. In strictest honesty, that was an even greater and more undemocratic than Obergefell. In 1967, the approval rate of interracial was less than 20%. Far less than the approximately 50-60% approval that gay marriage enjoys today. This was from a time, still in living memory, when people of color were considered less than human.  In a day, marriage became about the growth and prosperity two people instead of entire tribes. So yes, it was a big deal. 

However, I have good news. The Supreme Court did not redefine marriage; it undefined it. You consider the question of gay marriage, and homosexuality in general, to carry great moral weight. This is fantastic. It truly, genuinely is. The reason you should embrace the Obergefell ruling is that the Courts have said clearly and unambiguously that the government will not and cannot define morals for you. Perhaps I’m mistaken. Maybe you do want the government telling you what is and isn’t moral. Again, I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet that you want to decide questions of morality for yourself. That is exactly and explicitly what this ruling does.

Now, you’re not totally wrong. You have indeed lost some freedom here. Inasmuch as the government can’t tell you what is moral, neither can you tell others. I know this is a favorite hobby of evangelicals (the clue is, after all, in the name) but your moral values can no longer impede the lives of others. If you think homosexuality is immoral, so be it. Don’t be a homosexual. That’s the end of it. You can’t lock up a person for being gay anymore, and you haven’t been able to since 2003.

If you really truly believe in the righteousness of your cause, you must convince the rest of us by you living it daily. Having the government force your dictates on to others is aggressively antiChristian, quintessentially antiAmerican, completely counter-productive.

Obergefell is a victory for you. Celebrate it with enthusiasm. Failing that, have a heart

human_heart

Fear and change

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Starting with the secret Muslim socialist Kenyan Birtherism, conservatives have gotten so terrified and so paranoid that I’m afraid they will respond in the most human way imaginable. That they will inevitably resort to hysterical violence. Each of their conspiracies are more crazy than the one before.  At this moment, we have such a huge swath of Texas believing they’re about to be invaded by our own military for some obscure reason. So many believe this so strongly, they’ve convinced their governor and a leading presidential contender/actual senator to treat them seriously. This is after Michelle Bachmann said with a straight face and in all seriousness that Barack Obama will bring about the apocalypse.  These are the same people who pointed weapons at federal law enforcement officers at the Bundy Ranch. (Thank god the government stood down.  The Bundy Ranch Massacre would not have made a good headline.) and shortly after those same nutters shot several cops. Somehow I don’t see the Tea Party taking themselves out like Jones Town. I see them needing to exercise their demons using high caliber weapons. If you listen to gun rights advocates, the number one reason they will tell that they need all these guns is to protect themselves from an overreaching government. This is a uniquely American phenomena. No other government on the planet would allow people to stockpile weapons for the express purpose of destroying or resisting the government. But in these uncertain times, this is what is necessary for them to feel safe. And there in lies the key. 

If you look at history we’re in the middle of a transition. For thousands of years men have invented myths and religions to help explain the world and provide a sense of order and direction. And religion is really good at coming up with feel good bullshit about how the world was made and how it works. 

Eventually, sometime around the late Iron Age-early medieval period, government began to compete with religion in what it can tell people to do, and how it made sense of the world.  The clash was long and horribly bloody with no clear winner.  Religion and government more or less agreed to a compromise and thus began The Enlightenment. Since then there have been successive industrial and scientific revolutions that have gradually displaced religion and government from people’s lives. People have more freedom now than ever before. People are healthier and wealthier than at any point in human history and the twin institutions that we’re used to relying on, have proven themselves completely inadequate –if not thoroughly corrupt.  

The problem is science is, by definition, uncertain. In fact, it’s uncertain with a very high degree of precision. The government certainly can’t provide a comforting narrative. I think people beginning to realize there’s no quick fix, no handy ideology for the economy. Terrorism can’t be fixed with a strong military or shadowy police state. Environmental problems now have a global reach and global problems aren’t as simple as locking delegates in the same room in New York’s most architecturally boring building. It means talking to the “bad guys” because ignoring them or blowing them up simply won’t work. Even long standing traditions are under assault because they’re terribly oppressive and that’s no longer acceptable. If you chart the progress of freedom during the last 100 years here has been tremendous growth. But it hasn’t been easy And there are no guarantees. Obama isn’t the first President to promise change. They all do that. But he embodies that change by virtue of his skin color, his personal narrative, and his view of the world.  It’s this combination of racism and generalized anxiety that is causing such an extreme reaction to his relatively banal politics. 

Humanity has yet to embrace this new found power. It’s still looking towards institutions for meaning and direction.  It’s still rejecting that meaning, freedom, and liberty because they don’t have the strength to resurrect them as internal constructs. So many are afraid. This latest conspiracy theory is just a focused outpouring of fear and uncertainty.  Change is hard and we have the duty and obligation of ensuring that change comes to all.  The more we resist change the harder it goes for us. The less control we have. It’s time to seize control of our own emotions, our will, and abandon the need religion and governments to provide meaning and direction.  I don’t expect this to happen.  I fully expect that people will grow old and die clinging to their outdated beliefs.  But where there are children, there is hope.

Dear Senator Cornyn

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Dear Sen Cornyn believe when I say that at this moment I’m finding it difficult to accord you the respect due a senator. You removed Civil and Human rights from your Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.  This action, symbolic as it might be is astonishing, backward, regressive and idiotic. Our civil and human rights are NOT derived from the Constitution but the reverse. The Constitution merely elucidates A FEW of the rights we already possess. In a time where BOTH parties are justifiably concerned with civil and human rights to strip the name violates any lingering vestiges of trust that you have anyone’s interests at heart.  I’m not sure this the result of a continually failing Texas educational system or some sort of deeper pathology.  Do Civil and Human rights have no meaning for you?  They can’t possibly, you deliberately mutilated the sub-committee to make exactly that point.  When a world cries out for justice your response is our humanity is of no value? Our value to this country is meaningless?

This is the value of our Constitution: “Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it”  —  Justice Learned Hand

Throughout our long history the Constitution has never prevented us from doing great harm people.  Do not place so much faith in the Constitution now that this blind inhuman adherence to your values will prevent you from using the Constitution as a weapon or from abusing vast numbers of peoples.

The Resource Curse

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Taking a break from social justice issues that have populated this blog in recent months, I want to draw attention to economics, specifically something called the “resource curse”.  It’s a bit of a counter-intuitive phenomena where discovery or development of a valued resource or commodity adversely affects the national economy.  Typically, development of new resources is fantastic for the economy but there are exceptions.  The rise of the United States is in some ways the development and exploitation of new resources such as minerals, crops, timber, and various other industries including and especially the US’s own vast carbon based energy deposits.    What has made the American story, and many such stories, a success is the ability of the American economy to reinvest the profits from the sale of resources back into the economy.  More importantly, it allows America to import goods from abroad.

There are two reasons that the development of a resource might detrimental to an economy. In the eponymous Dutch disease case, the exploitation of a large field of Natural Gas increased the value of the Dutch currency.  The Dutch Guilder became expensive enough that it hampered their domestic manufacturing base.   Dutch Disease might have possibly been avoided if the profits from the Natural Gas had been able to circulate more efficiently through the Netherlands increasing the domestic consumer base enough to support their manufacturing base.

In other places of the world, like Nigeria and many of the Middle Eastern countries, too much of the national resources are put into developing a single commodity. Because the wealth is so highly concentrated, the benefits do not get distributed to the rest of the country. Even if they are, commodity fluctuations can still be highly toxic to an economy so reliant on a single resource. Since the infrastructure, social spending, and other sectors of the economy are sacrificed or ignored to develop a single lucrative resource, the economy declines over time as market fluctuations take their toll. For example, in Louisiana in the 80s went through something very similar.

Other countries such as Norway, UAE, or the state of Alaska, have taken great pains to translate the wealth gained from oil and turn it into real wealth for its citizens. The United Arab Eremites for example, uses their oil wealth to diversify their economy. Dubai has been tuned into a world class tourist destination, and the city is a hub for business, trade, and commerce. Should the oil run out or prices drop precipitously, the economy should still be broad enough to thrive. In Norway, the profits from oil and gas are managed by the government and are used to fund an generous social programs, giving Norwegians one of the highest standards of living in the world. The fund for these programs is large enough to withstand market volatility without compromising the standard of living. Alaska is genius in its simplicity. The state just cuts a check to each of it’s citizens for a portion of the proceeds as well as funding basic infrastructure.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways of managing resources. Perhaps one of the most toxic methods is evident in our own backyards. Rural Appalachia. As the coal mines fail and energy production moves to cleaner and less costly fuel, the mining towns are slowly dying. They’ve turned their frustration and despair into anger at the government which they see as a meddlesome outsider. Instead of developing a new economic bases, they want to double down on a failing strategy. In many ways, Texas resembles a petrol dictatorship with the wealth generated by the oil revenues concentrated in the hands of a few while funding for education, healthcare, infrastructure, and economic expansion are highly curtailed. Texas is already supported by the Federal government despite its oil wealth and with the precipitous decline in oil and gas, people are worried how Texas will weather the current economic climate.

The United States can be thought of like a complex corporation with a highly diversified portfolio and managed board of directors picked by shareholders. The company grows by reinvesting profits from its various divisions back into the company to develop a deeper or better product base. However, if the company becomes over-leveraged or the portfolio in one of its divisions becomes too concentrated the shareholders will suffer. It might be understandable for shareholders to demand high dividends for their investment but not at the cost of failing to invest in a diversified portfolio.

A country is not like a business. It’s a metaphor, but a good one. The US has never faced a competitive environment like today’s global economy. During our rise to power, the industrialized world had been devastated by 30 years of brutal warfare. Now there are dozens of sophisticated economies and dozens of developing economies able to provide free labor. It’s a time for innovation and investment. The US faces a serious risk of running into it’s own version of the resource curse. There are solutions but we won’t find them resting on our laurels and listening to our iPhones.

The chief business of America….

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The chief business of the American People is Business.  They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.  —  Calvin Coolidge 1925

Well?  Is it true or isn’t it?  America created history’s greatest mercantile empire.  We believe in Capitalism so much its nearly a self-destructive religion.  But in light of recent events, one wonders if that’s really what we believe in at all.  Particularly Republicans.  The hue and cry in the name of Capitalism, the flocking to shrines to Reagan and Ayn Rand those patron saints of Capitalism, would all give one false hope that Republicans have anything at all to do with the philosophy.  Yet, time and again, they act against it.  One wonders if they do not understand, or if they do not believe.

If they believe in the power of capitalism to reshape a society to bring prosperity, then why do they resist using capitalism in just that capacity?  All around the world in our bloody history, we have fought wars, embargoed nations, in order to bend them to our will.  Why?  If our ideals are so powerful will they not naturally dominate those other cultures?  More importantly, why do you care?  Cuba has an autocratic brutal dictatorship.  So?  It’s not our problem.  What can we do about it?  We can invade overthrow the government and institute a puppet state, because that’s worked really well for us.  We could embargo the Cubans because after 53 years they’re sure to crack any day.  We could throw a giant hissy fit which will get Republicans re-elected but it serves no one’s interest.  For political and social conditions to change in Cuba, it’ll have to be Cubans who will do it.  The US can do nothing in this regard.

So, let’s use the one thing we’re really good at.  Making money.  Maybe normalizing relations and opening trade between our two countries will bring about modernization and moderation.  Maybe it won’t but at the end of the day you have to have a fundamental respect for the choices people make.  You could argue that socialism and communism is doomed to failure.  Again I ask, So?  Again, not our problem.  Ideally you’d want other countries to be as prosperous as socialism will let them to be, because a prosperous country is a better trading partner.  It doesn’t matter if their socialist.  A complete non sequitur.  If it works for them, great! if it doesn’t, we’ll be there with IMF loans, fiscal policy reforms, and foreign investments to help get them back on track.

I believe in Capitalism.  I truly do.  I see communist countries adopting capitalist reforms and trying to modernize.  And it works.  Growth and prosperity have transformed places like Vietnam and China and the transformation is on going.  Even if it is a slow painful process.  That’s fine with me.  I’m not in a place to dictate to another country what the pace of their progress should be.  But this cold war era mentality was toxic.  It was toxic for 50 years.  That’s why they called it a war.

The business of America is business.  We shall not fight useless battles toward unprofitable ends.  Normalize relations with everyone who will talk to us. Remember, consent of the governed is not a right given to a people, they already have it.  It’s natural law.  We are not to govern them, and their own tyrants do so at their peril. Let’s put our faith in the power of ideas, and the resolution of the people to govern themselves.

What do you want? #Ferguson & #Garner

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Rev. Al Sharpton Holds News Conference At National Action Network's Office

What do you want?  Seriously.  It’s the season for requesting and obtaining miracles I think it’s far past the time for a list of demands.

No?

The trouble with populist movements is that while the outrage is genuine, concrete objectives are typically lacking.  There’s been a lot of populist outrage in recent years, very little of it successful.  Let’s see your goals be grand, or small.  I don’t care if you want something as simple as the right to sit where you like on a bus or as something as complicated as an end to world hunger, but you need a list.

#blacklivesmatter #handsupdontshoot

No one cares.  They don’t.  The people who genuinely believe this will not be moved by your hashtag, and the people who don’t believe it simply respond with #alllivesmatter See? they’ve got a catchy hastag too. So at the moment it sounds like your trying to make the world feel sorry for you.  Ooookay.  It worked.  Success! Now what?  I don’t think sympathy is going to prevent the next police attack.  If you don’t know what it is you want, go home.  You can scream, shout, weep, march, carry signs demanding justice but justice is ephemeral.  It’s abstract.  There is no justice in this world, but if you have thoughts on reforming the court systems the country would like to hear them.  But I don’t hear a proposal.  I hear the same firebrand speeches from the same firebrand “leaders” that we’ve heard for 30 years.  If black leaders had an ounce of integrity they’d resign from whatever posts they currently possess because they’re lying to you.  The speeches and marches and rabble rousing have more to do with creating a cult of personality than effective positive changes for black and other minority communities.  In short, they don’t know what they’re doing either.

It’s been pointed out to me that true black leaders tend to get assassinated.  Let me ask you a question.  Who is the CEO of ALEC?  If you shot him, would it matter all that much?  The Heritage Foundation? The CATO Group?  If you’ve never heard of these organizations or don’t know what they do, congratulations, you’ve let conservative white America win without credible opposition.  It’s easy to blame problems on conspiracy and racism.  It’s much harder to blame failings of your own leadership.  To know that if your leaders weren’t completely useless, incompetent and more than a little crazy you might make tangible improvements in government.

But it’s not just minorities.  Remember the Occupy movement.  Same deal.  Huge groundswell of populist sentiment.  Really fantastic news coverage, great use of social media.  Got zilch for their efforts.  Why? They didn’t ask for anything!  What the occupiers wanted was a vague collection of campaign finance reform and something about wealth inequality.  They got nothing.  If everyone who had come out to march had donated $10 to a credible lobbying firm that had the expertise to write legislation and guided through congress they could have achieved something.  They didn’t.

After Sandy Hook and other school shootings there was a massive outpouring of community sorrow and rage and what happened?  gun control was rolled back in a dozen states and soundly defeated on the national level?  Why? because the NRA is the only lobbying firm active.  Because congress and state legislatures know that the NRA will deliver not only the money but the votes of millions of crazy gun nuts.

If black, liberal, and other minority groups want to accomplish anything they’re going to have draft a list of legislative demands and then turn out en mass to vote on them.  You managed to turn people out to rally for your useless marches are you saying you can’t get people out to vote on something that will actually make a difference?

Something interesting about #Ferguson

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To bring lasting change requires data. Protest all you want, give speeches on the National Mall, craft memorials, write memoirs. None of that will bring change. One of the consistent failures of social justice advocates is their reliance on mid-century strategies to bring about lasting change. What was effective in the 50s and 60s? The big marches, the famous speeches and protests. Rallying around a hero and a cause changed the course of this nation but we are beyond the age of heroes. Welcome to the soundbite era. The meme generation. I was impressed with the variety of ways social justice advocates tried to get attention. They protested of course, blocked roads, gave interviews, symbolically raised hands. Classic. My personal favorite were the “die-ins”.

If I sound dismissive please believe me I’m not. It’s an important cause and I was genuinely moved by the events. I just don’t think it has a prayer of having any kind of affect.

The most interesting thing about Ferguson was this. We have no idea how many people are killed each year by police and law enforcement. None. The FBI and assorted groups of journalists have some interesting and widely disparate guesstimates but that is the best they can offer. Isn’t they remarkable? I find it shocking that in an age of so much information we don’t know this one basic fact. I suppose it’s easy to not to keep track of information you don’t want to have.

The other thing we found out is that with incredibly rare exceptions, police are never indicted for killing. Never. Literally there is a 99% acquittal according to politifact for police officers.

On those two facts alone can much policy be built. Take the following snippet as an example:

There’s data out there about police departments who have been required by the courts or have otherwise implemented copcams. These programs have been successful enough that the Obama administration is making moves to have these cameras installed more generally. We’ll see what, if anything, comes from it. Simple. End of story.

This is the take home message. the data generated from a few low key pilot programs was powerful enough to have created a concrete policy objective that is being implemented now. This tiny amount of data is vastly more powerful that all the social networked flash mobs making momentary headlines. This is true power. Not massed protests.

Let’s suppose Darren Wilson was indicted. Let’s suppose he was even found guilty and sent to prison. So what? You got your sacrificial lamb and you brought him to the slaughter. Then what? Nothing. That’s end game. That is the completion of your quest. And by the end of it , you will have achieved nothing of note. Certainly nothing to prevent the next Michael Brown. The punishment of Darren Wilson, while certainly just, is a useless for affecting change. Arguably, having lost the indictment might even further the goals of social advocates by deepening the injustice of it all.

What will bring change? Fix or create the data gathering process. Mandate that all police offices must report officer involved shootings and killings to the FBI. Fund deescalation training programs and track their progress. Shine a light on all the missed opportunities for data gathering.

Your only other option is to wallow in self-pity. Publicly for as long as the cameras will allow, and privately thereafter.