Sunday, December 28, 2008

When did the Catholic Pedophile Priest Problem begin?

(updated two times, see below)

I've been meaning to do this post for a while so here goes...

By now, most folks who own a TV or subscribe to a newspaper know about the Catholic Pedophile Priest Scandal. Even the Catholic Church's own numbers from the scandal are shocking:

  • 4,392 US clerics accused of abuse from 1950-2002:
  • About 4% of the 109,694 priests serving in the U.S. during those 52 years were charged with abuse.
  • Over $1 billion in settlements to victims of these priests.

The likelihood is that these numbers are a dramatic UNDERCOUNT of the actual problem. John Walsh reports that more reliable estimates peg the number of pedophile Catholic priests in the U.S. at closer to 10,000.

Okay but here's my question: When did the problem of pedophile priests begin in the Catholic Church?

We know from accounts of survivors and confessions by priests of cases that go back as far back as the memories of anyone living today (basically to the start of the 20th century). The statute of limitations is such that once an accused priest has died, the pending cases against him are dropped (which limits our ability to know about cases going back further in time). But surely the problem didn't magically start 80 years ago. Rather it seems more likely that this has been going on for a long long long time.

Those who know they can get away with a crime are more likely to commit one aren't they (power corrupts and all that)? So it seems likely that when the Catholic Church ruled all of Europe, taxed people through indulgences, and routinely tortured and burned people at the stake (particularly women) -- that sexual abuse was likely widespread too. When the church is the law and above the law at the same time, wouldn't abuse have been rampant -- even worse than today? And if the person abused is more likely to become an abuser, isn't it likely that the cycle of abuse in the church has been going on for over a thousand years? Literally.

So what's changed is NOT that the church suddenly developed a pedophile priest problem overnight (or even in the last 80 years). Rather, what HAS changed is that the rights of victims and the rights of children have become more advanced in the last 50 years -- allowing a problem that has always been there in the church to finally come to light.

The craziest thing to me in all the reporting on the pedophile priest problem is NOT ONCE have I ever heard a reporter ask the question as to when the problem began. It would seem in fact that any common sense guess as to the origins of the problem would trace it back to a time when the church first gained the power to commit abuse and get away with it -- which would trace it back at least a thousand years and even as far back as 1700 years ago.

Update #1:  Melinda Henneberger, on the March 19, 2010 Real Time with Bill Maher (Episode 177) on HBO said two things that support the assertions in this post.  Henneberger, a practicing Catholic, is the editor-in-chief of and was the Rome bureau chief for The New York Times.  She said: 1.) that 'Catholic priests don't view sex with boys as actual sex' -- just as some American politicians don't view oral sex as actual sex.  2.) 'that it has always been thus'; namely that the Catholic Church has had a problem of priests molesting boys for its entire history.  I found both of those details shocking, but Henneberger presented the information in a nonchalant -- everybody already knows this -- sort of way. Wow.

Update #2:  So now we have confirmation that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) was aware that a pedophile priest would be returned to pastoral work and did nothing to stop it.  "Pope Was Told Pedophile Priest Would Get Post: Informed as Cardinal Document Trail Shows Benedict Got Copy of Church Memo." March 25, 2010.  "The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish."   If you drive the get away car in a bank robbery, you go to jail because you are an accessory to the crime.  So too, Pope Benedict, by not preventing a known pedophile priest from being transferred to another parish where he would strike again, should go to jail. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is Prozac causing all of these stock market bubbles?

Way back in March of 2000, ran a story titled, "Is Prozac Driving Wall Street?" It included the following nugget which now seems prescient:

Randolph Nesse, author (with George Williams) of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, estimates that about 20 million Americans are on antidepressants. And at least some people who take these drugs "become far less cautious than they were before, worrying too little about real dangers. This is exactly the mind-set of many current investors." If indeed "investor caution is being inhibited by psychotropic drugs," a Wall Street bubble "could grow larger than usual" before popping "with potentially catastrophic economic and political consequences."

Prozac and other anti-depressant use became widespread starting in the early 1990s. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the use of such drugs by all adults has nearly tripled in the last decade (nearly 1 in 10 adults in one one of them). And the massive rise in antidepressant use also corresponds with the ending of one recession (1992) and three subsequent enormous stock market bubbles and busts (internet, telecom, and housing).

But while the correlation is dramatic, causation is difficult if not impossible to prove. I think a more likely explanation for all the stock market bubbles is that corporate power has grown so dramatically over the last 30 years that passing effective regulation became impossible. With the corporate titans, left to self-police, it became inevitable that we'd see a massive game of financial musical chairs as they pumped all of the wealth out of one sector of the economy after another (they basically sucked all of the wealth out of retirement funds, real estate, and the public treasury over the last 10 years).

But here's my point -- I believe it is precisely the rise in corporate power -- that is causing the rise in anti-depressant use (not the other way around). It is precisely the way that corporate power tears down communities and families and dehumanizes our world that plunges so many people into anomie and despair. So for example, when Wal-Mart comes into a town and destroys all of the small retail businesses and the middle class jobs and community that went with them -- and forces people to work at low wages so we can all buy cheap Chinese-made imported goods -- that has GOT to cause an increase in depression in a town. Now multiply that by thousands of sectors of the economy that have been overwhelmed by corporate power over the last decade or two and you have the depression epidemic we have now.

Look, I'm not saying that depression isn't a real medical condition. I believe it is and I want people who experience depression to find healing. If that's in the form of a pill, great. But, do 1 in 10 Americans suffer from this medical condition and has the rate of this rare medical condition suddenly trippled over the past ten years? I think not. My point is that -- IF indeed the leading cause depression is not some unexplainable medical phenomenon but rather the very real suffering caused by the very awful corporations who have come to dominate our lives -- THEN we've got a huge problem on our hands. Because under ordinary (pre-Prozac) circumstances the rise in human suffering might cause people to ask the question -- "Hey how come everyone is so miserable?" And we might reach for collective solutions that work to change the conditions in which we all live. Instead, the problem is now INDIVIDUALIZED AND MEDICALIZED -- "individuals have medical problems it's not society's fault" -- and through massive prescription drug use, we may be silencing the very canaries in the coal mines we need to save our society from further ruin.

Just some food for thought ya'll.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Will the last capitalist to leave please turn out the lights?

In the space of just 8 years, George Bush managed to destroy the entire capitalist system. Think about it -- AIG bankrupt, Lehman Brothers bankrupt, General Motors bankrupt, the entire banking system -- frozen or bankrupt, the housing industry -- in complete freefall. We often think of capitalism as this permanent, timeless, immovable force. And yet after just 8 years of George Bush, or rather, after 8 years of this experiment in almost complete Chicago School neoliberal economic policy with no regulation, minimal taxes, and no oversight -- the entire capitalist system is on the verge of collapse (and indeed would have collapsed if the federal government hadn't stepped in to take over). That's kind of incredible don't you think? Capitalism is in fact a very fragile system -- all it takes to kill it is to leave the wrong guy in charge for 8 years. It makes you wonder if perhaps communism might have survived if only Gorbachev hadn't decided to just say fuck it and sell out to the west.

Look, as Milton Friedman himself would probably say if he were still alive, capitalism was a great idea in theory, it just didn't work that well in practice.

All these years, lefties have been starting nonprofits and running NGOs and publishing journals full of revolutionary ideas that went nowhere -- when all they really needed to do to bring down the capitalist system was to let Republicans run all 3 branches of government for a few years.

So a couple lessons to draw from all of this. First, those who crowed about how the downfall of communism proved the virtues of capitalism can shove it up their ass. Capitalism would fellatiate itself to death if it wasn't for the occasional checks and balances provided by lefties (and indeed capitalism itself apparently has to be completely taken over by a massive federal intervention every 50 to 75 years or else it would not exist).

Second, if we can suddenly find a trillion here or a trillion there to bail out banks, investment banks, insurance companies, the auto industry, and the housing industry -- then we can sure as heck provide a trillion here and a trillion there for universal single payer health insurance, universal college education, social security, clean air, clean water, and decent roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.

Finally, before the Republicans run off to hunker down in the Hoover Institution to come up with a blueprint for how to once again unite Wall Street and broke ass conservative rural voters in another unholy alliance to take over the country and rob the treasury again -- before they lawyer up and grant each other pardons and send their surrogates out to the cable TV networks to preach the virtues of bipartisan cooperation -- before all that -- it'd be really nice if Republicans just stopped for a minute and gave us all an apology. An apology for being asleep at the wheel during 9/11. An apology for sending over 4,000 American men and women to their deaths in Iraq. An apology for completely blowing the federal surplus on tax breaks for people who own private jets. An apology for bankrupting the auto industry and killing the financial services industry, and bankrupting the treasury. Because before we can even talk about working together for the good of the country -- it'd be nice, really nice for Republican to take responsibility for COMPLETELY FUCKING UP EVERYTHING THEY'VE TOUCHED FOR THE PAST 8 YEARS.

A brother can dream right?

Friday, October 24, 2008

"This is your brain on morality"

Gosh this is good:

Sam Harris discussing "Bounded Utility."

Harris is such a great speaker, it seems like a simple idea. But it's really a revolution -- in just 15 minutes Harris articulates a higher order morality, beyond post-modernism, that brings the best brain research to bear on the most important questions in the world.

Some tuneage for Friday

If Joe Cocker and Michael Hutchence had a love child it would be:

Kings of Leon

Definitely worth a listen.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Palin Phenomenon: "Like Care Bears meets Jenna Jameson"

For a woman with a net -10 favorability rating, people sure are talking a lot about Sarah Palin.

It seem to me that the Palin Phenomenon boils down to one simple fact: Sarah Palin is the first woman candidate for a national office in the United States who is sexy.

That has never happened before. We've had sexy candidates who are men -- John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama. But there has never been a sexy woman candidate for national office in the history of the United States.

Think about it:

On the Republican side:

Elizabeth Dole? Not sexy.

Condi Rice? Not sexy (nonwithstanding the fact that George Bush calls her his "office wife" -- the racial undertones of which are so creepy I don't even want to go there).

Barbara Bush. For the love of God, not sexy.

On the Democratic side:

Barbara Boxer? Diane Feinstein? I love 'em both (well Boxer more than Feinstein), vote for them every time. But, not sexy.

Madeline Albright? She stopped the genocide in Bosnia and probably deserves a Noble Prize but, not sexy.

Hillary Clinton? Probably the most skilled politician in the country, but I've never heard "Hillary Clinton" and "sexy" in the same sentence.

I'm not saying a woman candidate should or should not be sexy. I'm just saying we've never had a sexy woman candidate for national office before.

In some respects it could be seen as a sign of progress. It could be a sign that women can be viewed as both traditionally professional and sexy at the same time -- that those two traits are no longer seen as mutually exclusive. Except, by most accounts, Palin has not excelled professionally. She appears to have been a lousy mayor and her record as Governor is flimsy at best (corrupt and despotic at worst). No in fact, the Palin Phenomenon is not the realization of the feminist ideal of being able to have it all (respect as a parent, professional, and partner). Because all Palin is selling is Jenny McCarthy slutty girl next door sex appeal, the Palin pick reinforces the very worst of the existing sexist culture by turning women entirely into sexual objects -- your 401(k) and national security be damned.

As one Republican pundit after another writes these long love poems to Palin about how they want to fuck her, the soft misogyny of low expectations becomes sickening.

Rich Lowry at the National Review Online clearly wants to fuck her.
I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.
[In reply, Kos commented: It's like Care Bears meets Jenna Jameson!]

David Brooks, judging from his column today, apparently was masturbating WHILE watching the VP debate. Money quote:
There are some moments when members of a political movement come together as one, sharing the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions, breathing the same shallow breaths.
And Donny Deutsch flat out said, "I trust her. I want her watching my kids. I want her laying next to me in bed." (The link has the video.)

The Palin Phenomenon has turned the men of the Republican Party into the drooling drunk banker at the strip club.

There's a reason why the McCain campaign appears to have bought the domain name right after her nomination was announced. Now maybe it was just for defensive purposes (to keep it from being used by anyone else) but they clearly had a sense of the phenomenon they were about to set into motion.

Now all of this would merely be interesting from a sociological standpoint if the stakes weren't so incredibly high. The fact that the fate of the Supreme Court, national security, and the entire economy rests, partly, in the hands of voters who think they're in love with a sexy-librarian-stripper with a heart-of-gold, is a little bit frightening.

I think the day will come when we do have a woman candidate who is both smart and sexy. Michelle Obama fits that category and I'd be more than happy to vote for her in 2016. Heck, I voted for Hillary Clinton this cycle. But for now, we don't actually have a smart and sexy woman on the ballot. Just sexy. And for some voters, that's gonna be enough (and, like David Brooks, they'll come up with elaborate intellectual rationalizations for their vote after the fact). For others, not so much.

Update #1: "Bible Spice" has got to be the best nickname yet for Palin. (hat tip to JC)

Update #2: The nickname "Bible Spice" becomes a hit on Twitter. At least one writer credits Tbogg from Firedoglake for coining the term. Anyone want to make a wager as to whether Saturday Night Live uses this nickname tomorrow?

Update #3: Ooooo snap! A reader at Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish completely smacks down Rich Lowry's absurd Palin slobbering:
In reaction to Rich Lowry, I'm sure I'm not the only woman who, upon reading his words, sat up a little straighter and said, "Is he kidding? Is he goddamn kidding me?" Is this the kind of reaction the women in this country should want men to have to the possible first female Vice Presidential candidate in history? Holy hell.

I thought Palin's performance at the debate was downright embarrassing and on top of that I have to read this clown's blog, stating more or less that Palin gave him an erection? Little starbursts my ass. Here's what I thought when Palin "dropped" that first wink at us: "Did she just wink at us like she was America's cocktail waitress?" Rich Lowry is on the verge of slapping Sarah Palin on the ass and asking her for another of those fantastic whiskey sours.
Hat tip to Scout Finch at Dailykos for the catch. Also hat tip to Naked Capitalism (a fantastic progressive economics blog) for linking to this post.

Update #4: Double snap! Keith Olberman calls out Rich Lowry for his sexualized ode to Palin (hat tip to Attaturk at Firedoglake):

Update #5: Oh so THAT'S why the cable news networks talk about Palin so much -- it brings in the eyeballs. I just checked my Google Analytics and discovered that this post has been the most read post in the history of my blog -- setting a single day record that is FOUR TIMES HIGHER than my previous single day record. That's craziness (to be specific: it's crazy that more people would read a post on Palin than say, my illuminating writings on framing for example). The cable networks, newspapers, and magazines know that they need to sell advertising and that sex sells so that's what they are selling -- regardless of the polls, regardless of the national economic meltdown or the state of the endless quagmire in Iraq. Fascinating.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Million dollar idea

I'm gonna start a new online dating service. But instead of all those questions that they ask on eHarmony or all the essays you've gotta write on Match, my service is only going to have 3 questions:

1. How do you know when you are experiencing low blood sugar?

2. What techniques do you use to manage low blood sugar when it occurs?

3. What techniques do you use to prevent low blood sugar from happening in the first place?

I swear to goodness, low blood sugar ruins more human relationships than unfaithfulness, alcoholism, and money problems combined.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Can we talk about the Siddhartha Gautama's attitudes towards women?

So I just finished reading Karen Armstrong's biography of Buddha. I never quite know what to think about Karen Armstrong's work. On the one hand, she's clearly a brilliant writer, she's one of the foremost experts in the world on religion, and she invests massive amounts of time and energy into researching her subjects. But the problem I have when I'm reading her writing is that I don't know where she ends and the facts begin. In my experience, she retells the history of Christianity as if it's all been a bunch of post-modern mystical Unitarians getting together from the beginning -- and I have a hard time believing that's true. It seems to me she does the same thing with "Axial Age" world religions as well -- importing modern values back into the historical narrative -- and not separating out the two.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading Buddha, and was thankful for someone to take me through the entire story in 187 pages. I've studied a lot of Buddhism and done a fair amount of meditation but I've never read the story of the Buddha's life start to finish (Siddhartha back in high school doesn't count).

But what struck me most about the book was the following passage concerning the Buddha's attitudes towards women:

While he was living in the Nigrodha arama, the Buddha was visited by his father's widow, Pajapati Gotami: she was also the Buddha's aunt, and had become his foster-mother after the death of his own mother. Since she was now free, she told her nephew, she wanted to be ordained in the Sangha. The Buddha adamantly refused. There was no question of admitting women to the Order. He would not change his mind, even though Pajapati begged him three times to reconsider and she left his presence very sadly. A few days later, the Buddha set out for Vesali, the capital of the republic of Videha on the northern bank of the Ganges. He often stayed in the arama there, which had a hall with a high-gabled roof. One morning, Ananda was horrified to find Pajapati sobbing on the porch with a crowd of other Sakyan women. She had cut off her hair, put on the yellow robe and had walked all the way from Kapilavatthu. Her feet were swollen, and she was filthy and exhausted. "Gotami," cried Ananda, "What are you doing here in such a state? And why are you crying?" "Because the Blessed One will not have women in the Sangha," Pajapati replied. Ananda was concerned. "Wait here," he said, " I will asked the Tathagata about this."

But the Buddha still refused to consider the matter. This was a serious moment. If he continued to bar women from the Sangha, it meant that he considered that half of the human race was ineligible for enlightenment. But the Dhamma was supposed to be for everybody: for gods, animals, robbers, men of all castes--were women alone to be excluded? Was rebirth as a man the best they could hope for? Ananda tried another tack. "Lord" he asked, "are women capable of becoming 'stream-enterers' and, eventually, Arahants?" "They are Ananda," The Buddha replied. "Then surely it would be a good thing to ordain Pajapati," Ananda pleaded, and reminded his master of her kindness to him after his mother had died. The Buddha reluctantly conceded defeat. Pajapati could enter the Sangha if she accepted eight strict rules. These provisions made it clear that the nuns (bhikkhunis) were an inferior breed. A nun must always stand when in the presence of a male bhikkhu, even one who was young or newly ordained; nuns must always spend the vassa retreat is an arama with male monks, not by themselves; they must receive instruction from a bhikkhu once every fortnight; they could not hold their own ceremonies; a nun who had committed a grave offense must do penance before the monks as well as the bhikkhunis; a nun must request ordination from both the male and the female Sangha; she must never rebuke a bhikkhu, though any monk could rebuke her; nor could she preach to bhikkhus. Pajapati gladly accepted these regulations and was duly ordained, but the Buddha was still uneasy. If women had not been admitted, he told Ananda, the Dhamma would have been practiced for a thousand years; now it would last a mere five hundred years. A tribe with too many women would become vulnerable and be destroyed; similarly, no Sangha with women members could last long. They would fall upon the Order like mildew on a field of rice.

What are we to make of this misogyny? The Buddha had always preached to women as well as to men. Once to had given permission, thousands of women became bhikkhunis, and the Buddha praised their spiritual attainments, said that they could become the equals of the monks, and prophesied that he would not die until he had enough wise monks and nuns, lay men and lay women followers. There seems to be a discrepancy in the texts, and this has led some scholars to conclude that the story of his grudging acceptance of women and the eight regulations was added later and reflects a chauvinism in the Order. By the first century B.C.E., some of the monks certainly blamed women for their own sexual desires, which were impeding them from enlightenment, and regarded women as universal obstacles to spiritual advance. Other scholars argue that the Buddha, enlightened as he was, could not escape the social conditioning of the time, and that he could not imagine a society that was not patriarchal. They point out that despite the Buddha's initial reluctance, the ordination of women was a radical act that, perhaps for the first time, gave women an alternative to domesticity.

While this is true, there is a difficulty for women that should not be glossed over. In the Buddha's mind, women may well have been inseparable from the "lust" that made enlightenment an impossibility. It did not occur to him to take his wife with him, as some of the renouncers did, when he left home to begin his quest. He simply assumed that she could not be the partner in his liberation. But this was not because he found sexuality disgusting, like the Christian Fathers of the Church, but because he was attached to his wife. The scriptures contain a passage which, scholars agree, is almost certainly a monkish interpolation. "Lord, how are we to treat women?" Ananda asked the Buddha in the last days of his life. "Do not look at them, Ananda." "If we do not see them, how should we treat them?" "Do no speak to them Ananda." "And if we have to speak to them? "Mindfulness must be observed Ananda." The Buddha may not have personally subscribed to this full-blown misogyny, but it is possible that these words reflect a residual unease that he could not overcome.

--Karen Armstrong, Buddha, p. 151-154 [Armstrong uses the Pali spellings rather than the Sanskrit than many are used to seeing in writings about Buddhism.]
I want to make a few caveats before sharing my thoughts on this passage. To begin with there are a couple things we don't know. 1.) We don't know if Karen Armstrong got this section correct (that's a caveat we make with any author). 2.) We don't know if the various original authors of the sacred texts got the story correct (or if this was added later by overzealous and chauvinistic monks perhaps). Furthermore, it does seem that despite his initial reluctance, the Buddha did break important new ground. I imagine 2500 years ago it was a pretty tough sell to tell folks that women and men were equal (at least a tough sell to the men who benefited from patriarchy).

But here's what I want to say: IF this passage is a correct reflection of Siddhartha Gautama's views on women, it means that he never attained enlightenment. (As Chris Rock would say, Yeah, I said it!) Indeed it calls into question the entire concept of enlightenment -- because if the Buddha wasn't enlightened then who is? Buddhists are not simply claiming that Siddhartha Gautama was a great teacher who was ahead of his time. They are not claiming that he was a really swell guy who broke new ground. They are claiming that he attained enlightenment -- that he broke through to a timeless, universal, truth that transformed his whole being. But if this supposed enlightenment also retained a hatred of women, or a preference for patriarchy, or however you want to say it -- then by definition it's not timeless, universal, or true. It's not fucking enlightenment if you still discriminate against women.

Let's put an even finer point on it. There has never been a female Dalai Lama. Monks sitting in meditation for their whole lives, have never figured out what any six year old can tell you -- that women are just as good as men. By definition then, no Dalai Lama has attained enlightenment. The whole things starts to unravel at that point. If meditation can't teach you what a few hours of actual human experience can teach you -- then why place an emphasis on meditation?

Furthermore, those who brought the dharma to the U.S. aren't enlightened. Notorious alcoholic womanizer Chogyam Trungpa wasn't enlightened. I'm not saying he wasn't smart or charming -- I'm just saying you have to actually live your transformed self not just talk about it. His dharma heir Osel Tenzin sure as fuck wasn't enlightened.

Look, I love meditation and yoga and the whole nine. But it seems to me that the whole enlightenment industry, pales by comparison to the wisdom of actually living an ordinary modern life of experience.

In the end, Buddha the book and Buddha the man just felt terribly sad to me. I know Buddha claimed that by seeking nothingness he could experience a universal love for all of humanity. But I wonder if for most people it's not the reverse -- that through a particular love we experience a universal timeless love.

Update #1: Descartes' Error is often read as an indictment of Western rationalism (indeed, it's a very effective indictment of the rational tradition). But it seems to me that Descartes' Error is an equally effective indictment of Buddhism and Buddhism's denigration of the body, emotion, and the created world.

Modification on Lakoff -- the emergence of the "alcoholic parent model" in politics

So George Lakoff argues that there are two primary metaphors that orient how people think about politics -- the strict father model and the nurturant parent model. I've talked about this at length on this blog. But watching the political debate in the U.S. right now -- I don't think those two models precisely capture what's going on.

Specifically, over the last 8 years, I would argue that Republicans no longer adhere to a strict father model, rather, they adhere to an alcoholic father model. In a strict father model the father is still expected to demonstrate responsibility, honesty, morality, and discipline. But the Republicans have really abandoned that in favor of a strategy of covering for the alcoholic father at all costs. And it's not just Bush -- we're seeing the alcoholic father model show up in connection with support for Sarah Palin too. The bigger the lie the louder the cheers. The bigger the gaffe, the more they blame others. The worse the candidate, the more they proclaim that they identify with him/her.

For the most part, Democrats continue to follow the nurturant parent model of governance -- promoting empathy and care for others. But I wonder if some of the blue dog Democrats like Harold Ford, are following an alcoholic father model too -- the worse the Republicans behave, the more they lie and destroy our country, the more the alcoholic father model Dems urge bipartisanship and cooperation (trying to make everything appear normal even when it isn't).

A quick note to Dems -- if my theory is true, then it is also true that you cannot bargain with someone who adheres to an "alcoholic parent model" of governance. There can be no bipartisanship with the other side if the other side is pathological and won't take responsibility for their actions. All you can do is take the keys out of their hands, hide the checkbook and the wallet, and move forward without them.

Stuff white people like -- stealing the life savings of millions of people

One of the interesting things about the current financial industry meltdown (and really the last seven years in general) is to witness how totally fucking corrupt white people are. I'm not talking just any white people -- I'm talking respectable, Ivy League educated, head of their class, happy to go to their college reunion white people. Totally. Fucking. Corrupt. They will steal your grandma's life savings the moment no one is watching -- and go home to their families like nothing happened. It's really quite something when you think about it.

Update #1. A commenter pointed out that perhaps I had maybe over generalized a bit by blaming white people entirely for the financial industry meltdown. But the more I think about it, the more I think maybe I understated things. White people seem particularly skilled at the art of stealing a whole investment bank or robbing a whole country in the middle of the night (and getting away with it -- that's the crazy part!). Hell they stole THREE WHOLE CONTINENTS in the 16th century so I guess stealing the life savings of millions of Americans and THEN grabbing $1 trillion from the U.S. Treasury is just "par for the course" as they say.

Bush tries to use the Shock Doctrine one last time

So Congress this week is being pressured to rush through a $1 trillion dollar Wall Street rescue package -- with no strings attached. Funny, I don't remember Congress rushing through a $1 trillion dollar rescue package after Katrina?

I read the NY Times account of the meeting between the Bush Administration and members of Congress. Henry Paulson and the Treasury Department apparently showed all these charts and graphs and said that if Congress didn't act immediately -- we're potentially 24 hours away from a complete collapse of our financial system.

And I thought to myself, where I have heard that before? Recent accounts of meetings between Dick Cheney and members of Congress during the run up to the Iraq War show that Cheney produced all these charts and graphs saying Saddam was close to having a suitcase nuke and that the case against Iraq WAS EVEN WORSE!TM than the public knew. And of course, as it turns out, Cheney was just flat out lying.

The rapid push for a $1 trillion Wall Street rescue is pure Shock Doctrine. The plans already existed, then the pretext happens, then the plans are rushed through without debate under the cover of darkness. The audacity is that in this case, Wall Street is really trying to steal $1 trillion dollars from the U.S. Treasury during the dying days of a despotic government -- before the Republicans are run out of town. It would be, perhaps, the greatest theft of public money in the history of the world.

So I have a modest proposal. It appears that politically, it will be difficult to completely block some sort of bill from passing. So I say pass the bill, but with the following requirements.

1. Any company that accepts the bailout or sells asset to the government -- their entire executive team and their entire board has to pay back to the U.S. government every penny in personal earnings or stock they've made over the last 7 years.

2. Any company that accepts the bailout or sells assets to the government -- has to pay back any tax breaks they've received over the last 8 years. And;

3. Finally, the CEO of any company that accepts the bailout or sells assets to the government will agree to serve life in prison, waive all appeals, and report to prison immediately. Look, if you rob a liquor store you should go to jail right? So what do we do with all the white collar criminals on Wall Street who stole the life savings of thousands of Americans -- send them all to jail for life.

We meet those three conditions, I'm fine with the bailout.

Update #1: As always, Glenn Greenwald completely nails it. So does Ian Welsh. As does Paul Krugman.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Some tunes

I'm loving this song right now (Airborne Toxic Event, "Sometime Around Midnight"). I've found it's impossible to turn this song up too loud (well it's literally impossible to turn it up too loud because of some Youtube setting -- but even if Youtube wasn't trying to keep a brother down it'd be impossible to turn it up too loud because it completely rocks). Yeah, it's a little dark:

(And there seems to be a traffic jam over at Youtube right now so have some patience with getting it to load.)

Brandi Carlile's, "The Story" also makes a nice companion to the video above.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

There is no middle to tack to

I want to make 5 related points about framing.

1.) You can't understand the Sarah Palin pick without understanding the work of George Lakoff. George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley who has done pioneering work on framing. Lakoff argues that there are two primary frames that guide how people think about politics -- the strict father model and the nurturant parent model. Republicans tend to be guided by the strict father model of the family and of governance and Democrats tend to be guided by the nurturant parent model.

But here's the important point -- there is no such thing as a "moderate frame. From Lakoff's new book, The Political Mind:
There are no moderates -- that is, there is no moderate worldview, no one set of ideas that characterizes a "center" or "moderation." People who are called "moderates" use conservative thought in some issue areas and progressive thought in others without falling on any linear left-to right scale. Indeed, many so-called moderates have no moderation at all and are quite passionate about both their conservative and their progressive views.
People who are called "moderates" or "centrists" by the traditional media are actually known as biconceptualists -- they use strict father frames (conservative) to understand some issue areas and nurturant parent frames (progressive) to understand other issue areas.

As a result, "tacking to the center" as so many politicians try to do -- is actually political suicide. By tacking to the center -- diluting or watering down your frame -- you turn off your frame, without ever turning on another frame. As Lakoff said, there is no one "centrist" frame to turn on. People either respond to conservative or progressive frames (everyone has both) -- but they are mutually exclusive -- you can't activate them both at the same time (when activated, the one frame quite literally turns off the neural networks in the brain of the other frame).

Part of Karl Rove's genius is that he understands Lakoff. In 2000 and 2004, George Bush didn't tack to the center. Rather, he activated his base through aggressively promoting a conservative frame. There is no middle to tack to -- so the key to winning elections is to activate more of your base than the other side.

The selection of Dick Cheney -- who supported cop killer bullets, and opposed programs like Head Start -- was all about activating the conservative base. So too, selecting gun-toting, choice- opposing, polar-bear hating Sarah Palin is all about activating the conservative base.

2.) George Lakoff has got to be the loneliest fucking guy on the planet. He writes books for Democrats but Democrats (or at least Democratic consultants), don't ever seem to read them. Republicans (either intuitively or through rigorous study, I don't know) seem to understand and act on Lakoff's principles -- much to their benefit.

3.) If you believe that Lakoff is correct (and the evidence is pretty strong that he is) then Hillary Clinton would have been a better choice than Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate. Look I get all of the problems with Bill Clinton hanging around trying to steal the show and I get that Hillary Clinton seems to activate the Republican base as well. But if elections really are just a numbers game of who can better mobilize their base (because there is no "centrist" frame to activate -- but you'll still pick up many independents by sticking with your original frame) then Hillary Clinton does a better job of activating the Democratic base than Joe Biden.

4.) I believe most Americans see a political campaign as a metaphor for war. How you treat your political opponent is subconsciously understood to stand in for how you would treat an adversary during war-time. So when John Kerry brags, "Bring it on!" during the primaries and then sits with his thumb up his ass during the general election as the Swift Boat thugs are savaging his military record -- the general public comes to understand that if attacked by a foreign adversary, John Kerry would likewise sit around humiliated and doing nothing.

5.) Postmodernism is absolutely fucking killing the Democratic Party. Said differently, liberals who go out of their way to try to see the relative merits of every possible position are killing progressives who are actually trying to prevent the evil Republican mutherfuckers from taking over the world.

On three four separate occasions during the past year, I've heard liberals talk about their desire to find a way to love Dick Cheney. As I've said before, Dick Cheney is a murderous thug. If self- identified liberals would spend less time working on their own inner peace and more time working to put Cheney in jail, the world would be a better place.

I was trying to understand why both Gore and Kerry ran these ridiculous "100% positive" campaigns -- where they refused to criticize their opponent (an opponent I might add, who was mercilessly mocking them for their own refusal to fight back). I've heard both Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo and Chris Matthews say that the reasoning behind the decision to run a "positive campaign" was because inside-the-beltway Democratic consultants believe that that is how you run a political campaign. More specifically, the reasoning goes -- if you ask focus groups a generic question about whether they like negative ads they will tell you that they don't. [Then evil-Charlie Brown head Chris Matthews will shout, "But negative ads work in real life!!!"]

But the more I think about it, the more I think that the "focus groups told them to" answer is too pat. Democratic consultants are smart enough to see that negative ads work in the real world -- that's not difficult to demonstrate. No I think that what's going on is that Democrats, particularly well educated members of the Democratic political establishment really do love postmodernism. They really do want to honor the relative merits of lots of different viewpoints -- even ones they disagree with. They really do want to transcend partisanship and find a higher synthesis. Which would be great if more than 15% of the population also reasoned as they do. It just seems bizarre to me to see Gore and Kerry run these post-partisan feel good campaigns when 85% of the population is thoroughly partisan.

And therein lies a lesson for Obama. Look, he's absolutely brilliant, the most beautiful and gifted politician in a generation. His rope-a-dope strategy won him a seat in the Senate and it was enough to beat Hillary Clinton too. As a black man in America -- it's an open question as to whether the traditional media would allow him to show anger without instantly leaping up to label him "an angry black man." When he throws elbows he's very effective -- and his poll numbers jump accordingly. John McCain is so thoroughly unqualified to be president that just sitting back and waiting for McCain to self-destruct might be enough. But I can't help but notice a strong undercurrent of Democrats who wish our guy (or even the larger Democratic team) would hit a little harder, a little more consistently -- that we wish we didn't have to just take it on faith that when the moment comes to deliver the knock-out blow that Obama will choose partisanship and winning.

Update #1: Lakoff has a great piece on the Palin nomination over at the Huffington Post.

Update #2: Sure enough, George Lakoff is the loneliest fucking guy on the planet. From his new post on the way the Obama campaign is framing the debate:
Throughout the nomination campaign, I was struck by how well the Obama campaign was being run, especially how sophisticated the framing was. I was heartened that my five books on the subject might have had a real effect. But recently I have begun to wonder. It looks like, in certain respects, the Obama campaign is making some of the same mistakes of the Hillary campaign and the Kerry and Gore campaigns.
Full article here.

Update #3: Is Anne Lamott the one who started this virulent "we have to love Dick Cheney" meme? Look I love Bird by Bird, but it seems bizarre to allow our love ethic to silence our justice ethic. Our love for everyone on the planet demands that we act on our justice ethic by putting murderous thugs like Cheney in jail. I'm happy for anyone to work on loving Dick Cheney after he is in prison but it seems to me that it puts the cart before the horse to grant him pardon before he has been prosecuted for his crimes.

So seriously, how would it work?

John McCain has declared (to Rick Warren during his interview at Saddleback church) that "life begins at the moment of conception." John McCain followed that up by letting James Dobson and the theocratic wing of the Republican party pick his Vice Presidential nominee. It stands to reason then that, if elected, McCain would also let Dobson pick his Supreme Court nominees as well.

So let's play it out... There are already 5 votes on the Supreme Court (with the addition of Roberts and Alito) to overturn Roe (and Roe is based on Griswold which holds a fundamental right to the privacy of your own body). If McCain/Palin were to be elected, James Dobson gets to nominate 2 to 3 additional justices to the Supreme Court -- creating a theocratic super-majority.

If you believe, as McCain and Palin do -- that a fertilized egg is a human being and that abortion should be illegal in all cases including rape and incest -- then presumably you would want to use the coercive power of the state to force those 1.2 million women each year in the U.S., who would otherwise obtain an abortion, to instead give birth against their will. So how exactly does that work? First off, you can forget about responsible birth control (as you know, taking several birth control pills at once can serve as an abortifacient). But the ramifications go far beyond that. The abortion pill itself is really easy to hide and transport. Does the McCain/Palin government hire a network of secret police to monitor doctors? How do you know which women are pregnant? Does that mean that all women need to be under police/military surveillance as long as they are capable of reproduction? How do you know pregnant women are not harming the unborn child? Are pregnant women (read: "poor pregnant women") rounded up and detained in state run "birthing camps" so that the state can be sure that the baby is carried to term? What about travel? Republican-controlled states already have made it illegal for minors to cross state lines for an abortion. Will U.S. Customs Officers inspect women who want to travel to another country to make sure they aren't pregnant and leaving for the purposes of an abortion?

Is it really so unreasonable to think that McCain/Palin might want to institutionalize and operationalize their often-stated values?

How soon after McCain/Palin are sworn in, does the United States begin to look like a sci fi horror movie -- the patriarchal dystopia that many feared but never really believed could actually happen here? How soon after McCain/Palin are given the oath of office are hundreds of thousands of women (and their partners) applying for political asylum in Australia and Europe in order to not be subjected to state-sponsored control of their own bodies?

New McCain bumper stickers

Just announced! new bumper stickers from the McCain campaign:

McCain/Palin: Undoing Seward's Folly

McCain/Palin: Putting Country First (if by "Country" you mean the "Country of Alaska.")

McCain/Palin: Who says A Handmaid's Tale has to be a work of fiction?

McCain/Palin: All we are saying is give theocracy a chance.

McCain/Palin: Fuck your 401(k), vote for the crackers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Tradmed Dragon Must Be Fed

The traditional news media needs eyeballs in order to sell advertisements. They are not in the business of reporting the news -- they are in the business of attracting eyeballs to advertisements. So they need drama and drama requires controversy. So if you don't give them controversy by cleverly attacking your opponent every day -- they will manufacture controversy to attack you (to punish you for your failure to feed the media beast).

Exhibit A: witness Chris Matthews (and every other cable network's) relentless stoking of the mythical [nonexistent] Obama/Clinton feud today. IF YOU DO NOT GIVE THE TRADMED BEAST A JUICY CONTROVERSIAL STORY EVERY DAY THAT ATTRACTS EYEBALLS -- THEY WILL EAT YOU TO PUNISH YOU.

Ignore this advice at your peril: I imagine Al Gore and John Kerry are having a nice Heineken together at the Denver Holiday Inn Express right now instead of ruling the free world (I hope Bob Shrum picks up the $8 tab). I don't care who you are -- you cannot rise above it, you cannot stay above the fray, the tradmed beast is bigger than you and will eat you if you do not feed it. Word to your moms.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Essential reads

Both from (you might have to watch a short ad) but they are rocking it today.

Ya gotta read Glenn Greenwald's piece, "Vital Unresolved Anthrax Questions and ABC News." It is the definitive piece on what the new revelations today in the anthrax attacks say about this administration and ABC News' complicity in leading us into an unjust war. Key paragraphs:
If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks....

Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent -- indispensably aided by ABC News -- to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In my view, and I've written about this several times and in great detail to no avail, the role played by ABC News in this episode is the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this decade. News of Ivins' suicide, which means (presumably) that the anthrax attacks originated from Ft. Detrick, adds critical new facts and heightens how scandalous ABC News' conduct continues to be in this matter.
I have a lot more to say about this development but it'll have to wait for another post.

Also of interest, "In Defense of Casual Sex" -- finally a thoughtful discussion about so-called "hook up culture" and how people just need to chill out about it. The piece doesn't really hit its stride until the second page and then, just like that, the McCarthyesque sexual panic of the older generation is dispelled in three simple sentences:
For all the anxiety about "hookup culture" the truth is that for many people older than 20, "hookup culture" will sound remarkably like, well, "college." Indeed, students shifted from dating to what was essentially hooking up during a wild time -- perhaps you've heard of it -- called the '70s. But, as the median age of marriage continues to climb, young women are spending a lot more time romantically vetting -- and being vetted.
Also brilliant in the piece:
I also discovered that a lot of young men are scared shitless -- of women, themselves and their future; that, contrary to our cultural imaginings, they are just as desperate to figure things out as young women. I found that a lot of the pains in the relationships of us 20-somethings can be blamed on cultural prescriptions for masculinity. Yes, there is the stud-slut double standard -- but there's also an expectation that men, unlike women, will not seek safe harbor in a relationship. No, they are supposed to bravely sail their ships beyond the singing sirens and silted waters of their quarter life until they miraculously hit land in the Real Adult World.
Finally, I've added the Jed Report to my blog roll -- dude is completely rocking it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I and thou

In my experience, Christian fundamentalists view themselves as more moral than those who are not religious. In fact, in many cases, it seems that Christian fundamentalists believe that they have adopted a high moral standard and that non-religious people live by no moral standards at all (hence their frequent references to terms such as "anarchy" and "moral relativism"). But here's where it gets interesting -- it seems to me that not only do Christian fundamentalists believe this about themselves -- they believe that other people (i.e. non-religious people) also share this same view (that Christian fundamentalists live by a higher standard and that non-religious people have no moral standards).

I'm here to dissuade them of their smug self-assurance.

In fact, as I showed in my earlier post, "Why Secular Society Makes Better Moral Decisions than Organized Religion" not only does secular society have a moral code, on the three biggest moral issues over the last 200 years -- slavery, equal rights for women, and equal rights for people who are LGBT -- secular society has displayed a HIGHER moral code than traditional fundamentalist religious society. What is more, in my experience when people in secular society look at Christian fundamentalists -- they don't see people adhering to a higher moral code -- rather they see people loudly practicing bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in the name of religion.

To put this in perspective, perhaps it's best to use an analogy from the world of sports. Let's take golf. By analogy if you will, Christian fundamentalists think they are the greatest golfers in the world. And not only that, they think that no one else even plays golf and that the rest of the world admires their golf prowess. This self perception is fueled by the fact that they only read Christian Fundamentalist Golf Digest, only watch the Christian Fundamentalist Golf Channel, and only play against other Christian Fundamentalist golfers. Meanwhile, in reality the world is filled with really great (secular) golfers. Millions and millions of people play it, there is a highly competitive televised pro tour, and the rules of golf are understood well and widely. And when the rest of the world looks at the way Christian fundamentalists play golf they see a bunch of hacks who repeatedly call mulligans, fail to replace their divots, cheat on their scorecard, are boorish in the clubhouse, and are exclusionary in their membership. That's the gap we face as a society.

While it is true that are some truly amoral people in society -- I believe they are a tiny fraction of the population (and represent a pathology rather than the natural state of humanity). Indeed, recent evidence from the world of the animal sciences shows that morality and ethics are likely hardwired into our DNA (see for example Primates & Philosophers by Frans de Waal, The Moral Animal by Robert Wright, and The Evolution of Morality by Richard Joyce). Adherence to some sort of moral code is nearly universal -- atheists, agnostics, soldiers, teachers, hit men, and religious followers of all varieties all operate according to a moral code. The question is not (as Christian fundamentalists would have you believe) moral code or no moral code. Rather, the question is which moral code is truly best for society.

I think it's all well and good that the Democratic Party and the progressive movement in general have made efforts to reach out to evangelicals and other religious conservatives in recent years. But I have a different proposal. Let's not reach out to religious communities simply for the sake of diversity. Rather, I suggest we have a battle of ideas and that we start a conversation about what exactly constitutes a higher moral code and why. I will gladly put my 21st century secular moral code -- developed through thousands of years of religious and philosophical debate, scientific discovery, and social efforts to overcome intolerance and hatred -- up for comparison against a moral code developed by an ancient tribe that was always calling for god to rain genocide down upon neighboring tribes.

The Republican drill and burn lie

Timothy Egan in today's New York Times destroys the Bush-McCain drill and burn energy plan in one sentence:
The number of oil and gas permits on federal land doubled in the last five years, with no effect on price or supply.
Pretty much says it all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Giant panda center in China after the earthquake

Okay I promise this won't become a panda blog (or a LOLcats blog either). But a friend sent me these pictures of baby giant pandas and they are so incredible I had to share them. Apparently, the huge earthquake that recently struck China occurred in the area where giant pandas live and so in addition to rescuing people from the rubble, there was also a need to make sure the pandas survived as well.

Right after the earthquake...


Usually this blog is dedicated to releasing one relentless progressive meme after another (along with the occasional otter video). But today I wanted to present a few thoughts that run counter to traditional progressive thinking. In each case I would ask you to kindly hold your ire until after reading my explanation.

1. From an individual perspective, the case can be made that perhaps Hummers were a rational choice for some people during the era of $2 gasoline (and inexpensive steel). If you lived in LA (or NY or Chicago) where you rarely drive more than 5 miles an hour and are stuck in traffic for hours at a time, it made a certain amount of sense to travel around in a little mobile house. In LA traffic everyone basically occupies the same square footage in length -- Hummers just build vertically on top of that. Furthermore, given the ever present danger of death or disability from a collision (which we all assume every time we get in a car) it made a certain amount of sense to travel around in a little steel fortress. From a collective perspective they probably never made sense -- they started a vehicular arms race that introduced ever bigger and heavier (and more lethal) cars to the road while also increasing pollution. And the era of cheap gas is over so Hummers will probably never make sense again (even on an individual level) -- better to get out of the car altogether and take public transportation (which was always the better solution all along). So I guess I'm saying they made short term sense on an individual level for some people during a brief period in history -- which really isn't much of an argument at all.

2. McMansions can be a rational choice. It seems to me that the biggest costs in construction are the land and labor of bringing a crew out. If you are going to be building on a site anyway, one may as well build two stories as just one. I gotta figure the marginal cost per square foot of the additional story is less than the cost per square foot if one just builds one story. Furthermore, in many neighborhoods -- after one or two generations -- single story houses are often converted to two story houses. I bet one could even make the case that building a two story house in the first place uses less materials and costs less over time than building a single story and then later adding on to it.

3. I wonder if the rise of the iPod is actually a worrisome sign. Yeah we love the sleek little iPod. But it's a shift from the collective to the individual. Back in the day people invested in stereos. Stereos are, by definition, collective music devices. Stereos are designed for collective gatherings like parties or simply sharing music in the presence of other people. iPods by contrast are individual listening devices. iPods seem to make sense if one is on public transportation or in a shared living space or in a shared work space. And yes I know that increasingly manufacturers are making devices to play iPods out of larger speakers. I just feel like iPods give us a sense of being able to hang on to the music (and our way of life) even as, in fact, our standard of living is shrinking all around us -- as we live in smaller and more crowded spaces and feel increasingly isolated and disconnected even in the midst of community.

4. The rise of twitter perhaps is also an indicator of a decline in our standard of living. It seems to me that twitter makes sense if you are chained to your desk in a job that takes all of your time (which is incredibly common these days). In that case, twitter is a way to stay connected to friends virtually even though you don't have time to connect with them actually. Twitter is also great for cell phones -- but the irony is that it creates a situation where we are out and about -- with the chance to interact with real people -- and we're still chained to a device that takes us out of the potential for human action all around us. I love some of these tools but I've yet to find a tool that makes me feel anywhere near as good as I do by being around people.

Okay I guess points 1 and 2 contradict points 3 and 4 (Hummers and McMansions also increase isolation and disconnection -- so I should not have given them as pass on that). Duly noted. I'm prepared to be proven wrong on each of these other points as well (I guess that's how growth happens). Just for the record, I hate Hummers, want a McMansion (there, I said it!), have an iPod, and don't use twitter (so it's not like I'm consistent either).

Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The wisdom of the crowd

I've been getting some great comments on my blog in the last few days -- mostly because several great sites have linked to me and driven some really thoughtful readers to my site. I wanted to highlight one comment in particular. A while back I posted "A Progressive Guide to Framing." Recently, Soshann discovered it and commented:

Excellent thinking here. I would add my vote for using the terms Progressive & Regressive to describe two opposite sides of the political spectrum. Progressives are forward looking ie we are concerned about the effects of current actions on the future and believe that we can make a future better than the past. In order to do this we are happy to critique the past and find areas on which we can improve. Regressives are backward focused ie they venerate the past and see it as their duty to defend it and attempt to ensure it continues into the future. This gives them a very narrow view of the future as a basically Disneyfied world of sanitized replication of "traditional" values and practices.

Another useful point of disparity which can be used to positively frame the debate is the distinction between Authoritarian & Libertarian. I know that in the US this distinction has to some extent been colonised by corporate apologists arguing for liberty for corporate players but if used intelligently the terms fundamentally underpin a core distinction between the regressive & the progressive ends of the spectrum.

Progressives are generally against the use of force to impose our political views on others and we refer to rationality and reason as justifications for our policies & actions. We are naturally suspicious of the blind obedience to authority handed down from on high advocated by regressives. Liberation of the human condition from the dictates of received authority and a determination to see the world as it is and attempt to act in the interest of the greatest good for the greatest number are fundamentally good and attractive motivations to be highlighting an aspiring to for us all.

I think those are all excellent points and really helpful ways to frame the political debate.

I also want to give a shout out to Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism for linking to my last post. If you haven't read Naked Capitalism it's definitely worth checking out. It's chock full of insight, analysis, data, and thoughtful commentary on current economic news. Progressives are really good at understanding labor and social forces -- but I've often felt that we need to do a better job of understanding capital and markets. If you have any money in the market or are thinking of investing or just want to be informed about how capital and markets work -- you should definitely read Naked Capitalism. I've added Naked Capitalism to my blog roll as well.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hey progressive bloggers -- Stop carrying the Republican's pollen

I had an interesting experience recently. I was advising a non-profit in the midst of a fierce battle against a well-funded industry opponent. We knew that approaching a crucial vote, the other side was going to launch all sorts of scurrilous attacks against our policy positions. We knew all of their arguments and had a counter argument for each one.

But I proposed a different strategy. I said, 'let's not wait for them to go first and then reply. Let's go on offense now. Let's clearly state what we believe and just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may.'

The argument against this approach was that it would give the other side the opportunity to try to rebut our best ideas. But given the opportunity to frame the debate from the start, the client decided to go for it.

And an interesting thing happened. Sure enough, the other side jumped all over our arguments. But in the process, they were repeating our sound bites and spreading our message. In explaining our position first (before attacking it) they were spreading our message for us. For free!

It was the most incredible thing -- and I developed a name for it -- they were carrying our pollen. Plants don't care about the bee's stinger. All the plant cares about is that the big ol' mean bee rubs up against their flower (message) and carries it to the next flower.

I realized that Republicans have known this and used this to their advantage for years. They say one scandalous, ridiculous thing after another -- BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT PROGRESSIVES WILL REPEAT IT AND CARRY THEIR POLLEN FOR THEM.

Yeah, the Republican message machine is huge. But honestly, I think in many cases, it's the progressive media (including progressive blogs) who do the most damage by carrying the Republican message on the wings of their own (progressive) outrage.

The standard progressive blog post after the latest Republican outrageous statement is to:

1. Repeat the sound bite.
2. Say, 'oh my gosh can you believe that they said that!'
3. Make a joke by repeating the sound bite again but applying it to a different (probably Republican) example.

George Lakoff must be tearing his hair out by now. He has written like 100 books on framing and PROGRESSIVES STILL DON'T FUCKING GET IT.

The number one rule of framing is: YOU NEVER REPEAT YOUR OPPONENT'S FRAME. I know it's difficult-- Republicans say shit that makes us insane in the head. But anytime you feel like repeating a Republican sound bite, don't. Instead, try writing a piece on one of these topics:

  • John McCain twice tried to commit suicide when he was a POW. What do we actually know about his mental health in tough situations? Does he have PTSD? Which psychiatrists have treated him over the years, what treatments have they used, and is he still on meds? Why hasn't he released his mental health (psychiatric) records to the public?

  • What exactly did John McCain say when he confessed to war crimes as a POW? Does the fact that he presumably made a false confession under duress make his current support for torture all the more inhumane? What kind of blind ambition drives a man who has actually suffered torture to support torture against others?

  • How does Mother's Against Drunk Driving feel about the potential for a beer magnate to live in the White House? What percent of traffic fatalities in Arizona are directly attributable to drivers using products distributed by Cindy McCain's company? What percentage of the beer industry's profit margin comes from underage drinking? What percentage of the beer industry's profit margin comes from alcohol abuse? How many of McCain's houses are funded by these illicit gains from underage drinking and alcohol abuse?

Passing up their frame to reframe is a complicated art form. To be clear, I am not saying just allow attacks to go unanswered and only focus on the positive -- as Gore/Lieberman and Kerry/Edwards both did to disastrous results (fucking Bob Shrum has never read a book on framing).

In fact, perhaps the best reply to attacks is the one shown by the McCain campaign this week. Immediately gather a huge team of surrogates to shout down your opponent with "how dare you" as soon as a new meme is announced. It's a gamble but if you can snuff out a new meme and scare people into not repeating it, you've won. Karl Rove has turned this into an art form and now that his team is running the McCain campaign, you can expect to see it every week.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. But let's all quit carrying the other side's pollen for them no matter how clever we think we are or how outraged we are at the latest monstrosity from the Republican noise machine. And the easiest way to avoid carrying their pollen for them is to go on offense yourself.

For additional thoughts on framing see "Politics is like a hippie drum circle" and "A Progressive Guide to Framing."

Happy 4th ya'll.

Update #1. I believe all framing comes down to a simple question -- are you leading or are you following?

If you are leading your frame will consist of saying 'here's what I believe, here's why, here's how we're gonna solve the problem, follow me.'

If you are following you are responding to the other side, complaining, and asking someone else to solve the problem. Repeating your opponent's frame is -- by definition -- following rather than leading -- it's a tacit acknowledgment that your opponent is the one in the position of authority to solve the problem.

In elections (and really in most areas of life) people will side with a leader (even if he or she is wrong on the particulars of an issue) over a follower (even if that person has a better formed argument.)

Update #2. There is enough material in this one NY Times article alone for progressives to go on offense (and never have to repeat McCain's framing) from now until election day.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Jed Report is rockin' it!

You gotta check out the Jed Report. Americablog has been linking to them pretty consistently for a few months and the guy is completely rockin it. For example check out today's video -- A Google Earth tour of McCain's many homes. I particularly love the voice-over narration -- it reminds me a bit of Odd Todd:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cranky one liners, tell your friends

John McCain = George Bush + dementia (which is kinda redundant but you get the point).

Note to Barack Obama: Most people don't care what position you take on an issue, they care that the process you use in making the decision is principled.

It seems that everyone is writing their analysis of what happened with the Clinton campaign so I thought I'd add my own: Clinton hired Mark Penn. The end.

Enough already with Buddhists finding ways to love Dick Cheney! The latest ridiculous example is Deborah Solomon's interview with Columbia University Buddhist studies professor Robert Thurman:

"DS: What do you think about when you meditate?
RT: Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

DS: You mean you fantasize about being breast-fed by Dick Cheney?
RT: It’s a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection. It’s a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side, finding the mother in Dick Cheney."

Note to American Buddhists: Dick Cheney is a murderous thug. Over 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead in part because of him. Stop trying to hump his leg and start working with the rest of humanity to put him in jail. There's a reason why Tibet isn't free -- Buddhists are so busy suppressing their anger that they are largely impotent when it comes to the political struggle.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lilla Watson

I heard this quote for the first time tonight and it totally blew me away:

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together."
Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist

I feel like that's it exactly.

The physical oppression of the coffee grower in Latin America it tied up with the mental colonization of the American mind that rushes to fuel up on $4 coffee without questioning where it came from nor why we have to be so amped up everyday.

The prisoner at Guantanamo is shackled by security forces but he is also tied to the shackles in our mind that fear to question and fear to throw our bodies against the machine that produces such horror.

So often we think of domination and oppression as out there, over there, other, without realizing, seeing, or feeling that its mirror image exists inside our own heads constraining what we think, feel, and do. I definitely DO NOT mean this in a postmodern, new age, The Secret, we-create our-own-reality-through-our-thoughts kind of way. What I'm saying is that in the first world, our bodies and minds are not as free as we think they are. We are often unable to see the chains that bind and limit us because we have internalized them and normalized them. But I think we feel the yearning for liberation pretty regularly.

Monday, June 09, 2008

14 people murdered in L.A. County over the weekend

The LA Times put the story on page B3.

I'll just repeat that -- 14 people murdered in Los Angeles County in one weekend and it doesn't even make the front page of the local section.

Nothing to see here people.

Sandra Day O'Connor wants more civics education

The NY Times today reports:

"Sandra Day O'Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, feels that civics education in American public school has become less of a priority in the era of standardized testing. So, in conjunction with two universities, she is developing an interactive Web Site with a civics curriculum for students called Our Courts. "Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool," she said. "Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do."

Dear Sandra Day O'Connor:

Just heard about the new civics education website. Congratulations. I'm wondering if your civics curriculum will include any lessons on how the SUPREME COURT SHOULD NOT PICK THE PRESIDENT AND SHOULD ALLOW ALL THE VOTES TO BE COUNTED. Just a thought.

All the best,
RFK Action Front