The Smart Get Dumb and the Dumb Get Smart

The Smart Get Dumb

Despite the right’s obsession with the unavailability of Barack Obama’s college records, I don’t think it is a stretch to say he is smart man. So I’m left scratching my head at the way he is handling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A month has gone by and oil is still gushing into the Gulf, making its way around the tip of Florida. Kentucky Senatorial candidate  Rand Paul said that it was un-American for Obama to criticize BP. Rand zigged when he should have zagged. The only thing inappropriate about the President’s response has been the lack of response. Everyone is avoiding comparisons to Katrina but I’m sorry folks, if this isn’t Obama’s Katrina, I don’t know what it is.

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  • We’re a month into this crisis and Washington is still letting BP take the lead. BP’s idea of solving the problem is to use dispersal chemicals that do nothing to clean up the mess but make it harder to actually measure the amount of oil spilled …. convenient when law suit time comes and damages need to be tied to the amount of oil spilled.
  • The Minerals Management Service (MMS) under the Department of the Interior has got to be the most corrupt government department known to man. Their complete abdication of oversight is unforgivable. What should have happened by now? The department should have been dismantled by executive order with every employee thrown out on their ass. Yet from what I’ve heard, new drilling permits are being approved despite Washington’s claim that there is a moratorium on permits.
  • When Obama has the choice to go to Louisiana and get down and dirty with the problem solvers, he is going to a California political fundraiser instead. While the blind loyal sheep may forgive him his pattern of poor optics, I cannot. Until Obama gets front and center on this problem, he is George W. Bush redux.

About the only satisfaction that a liberal can get out of this ham-fisted approach to problem solving is that conservatives are caught in a catch-22. Clearly private industry is incompetent at getting this problem solved. The knee-jerk reaction of the right should be to hammer Obama for lack of action. But here is the rub … this is the same bunch of people who call for minimal government because “government can’t solve problems.”  So I guess, we’ve got ourselves in a real bind. The government does next to nothing productive and the problem persists. But according to our friends on the right, once the government gets involved they will screw it up anyway.

The Dumb Get Smart

One of the most brain-dead politicians in these United States showed signs of cranial activity on Monday. Michele Bachmann, the same idiot who said we should fear census takers because the census would lead to internment camps, actually exercised some restraint this week. After gloating last week to Sean Hannity about Rand Paul’s win in Kentucky, Ms. Bachmann must have taken stock of the situation post-Rand-civil-rights-fiasco and changed her tune.

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“I’m not commenting on Rand Paul,” she told reporters for the Star Tribune at the State Capitol. “I’ve got to focus on my race. . .I’m not going to focus on Rand Paul.”

via Bachmann: Not talking about Rand Paul — this week |

Unlike her Alaskan soul sister Sarah, Bachmann has figured out, at least in this instance, when to shut the heck up. I honestly didn’t think she had it in her. Kudos!

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance


Why Ideologies Fail

Liberalism fails.

Conservatism fails.

Communism fails.

Capitalism fails.

It is typical of man’s optimism, or idealism or perhaps just arrogance that we believe that if we codify a set of rules, we can solve the world’s problems. When we apply any academic construct to reality, the construct will ultimately fail. Why? Because life is messy. Life throws curve balls. Life is full of exceptions.

This week we got clear evidence of this in the travails of Dr. Rand Paul. Paul won the Kentucky Republican Senatorial nomination this week in a primary against a more moderate opponent. Paul is, as far as I can tell, the first national candidate who can truly claim to be a Tea Party candidate. He has embraced the Tea Party Movement and they have embraced him. Paul has lent some legitimacy to the movement by casting their concerns in good old-fashioned Libertarian philosophy. The cornerstone of this ideology is government staying out of the everyday lives of people. It is this very fundamental notion that got Paul in hot water within 24 hours of his nomination.

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Paul has said that he supports nine-tenths of the 1964 civil rights legislation. He says that no public entity should be allowed to discriminate against minorities. It’s that one tenth of the law that troubles him, the part that prohibits private entities from discrimination. True to pure Libertarian doctrine, Paul believes the government should not be allowed to tell a private restaurant owner or store owner how to conduct their business. If that means that they discriminate against blacks, so be it. Paul makes the point that such a decision ultimately hurts the vendor since he’s turning away business. He makes the additional point that if a vendor uses violence to enforce his discrimination, then he has crossed a clear legal line and must be prosecuted.

With respect to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Paul says that its goal is praiseworthy but its method of enforcement is overly burdensome to businesses. For example, why is it not reasonable to provide a disabled worker with a first floor office, rather than install an expensive elevator?

I chatted about this with my wife a couple of mornings ago and she made an interesting observation. “It’s one thing to debate these intellectual points in an all night BS session when you’re in college but to voice them during a political campaign is suicide.” The trick with politics is that it is the place where ideology clashes with real life. As a politician you have to sell your ideology to average people and convince them that your way is the best way. The problem that Paul is having is that he is persisting in an intellectual argument that doesn’t square with the real world.

Discrimination in housing or services is a problem because it exists within a larger scheme of societal dysfunction. When you allow private enterprise to discriminate against a minority, you end up with an apartheid system as an end result. The intellectual argument can be made that private enterprise is guaranteed by the Constitution to be free to discriminate but does granting that freedom serve the greater good?

In the case of the ADA, is giving the employee a first floor office sufficient accommodation? Not if virtually all of his co-workers work upstairs. By being segregated, the disabled worker misses the key elements of team work and camaraderie essential to a well working organization. He is made to feel isolated and second class. I got a taste of this myself at college. There were three dorms that were designated handicapped-accessible. One of the three allowed access to the dining room only via a freight elevator that led to the kitchen. So, in order to go the dining room, if I wanted to avoid the stairs, I would have had to go through the kitchen every day. Harvard considered this reasonable accommodation (back in 1980). For some it might have been. I personally found it distasteful and I chose a different dorm with a more dignified route to the dining room. Here again, the application of a law when it meets reality must take into account the personal impact upon real people.

So Rand Paul finds himself in a bind now because his ideological purity, with no ill intent (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt), flies in the face of what makes many of us comfortable. A strict reading of Libertarian ideology is not the only non-starter:

Communism/Socialism: Great idea on paper. Spread the wealth, elevate the working class, eliminate economic inequities. Fails because humans being who they are, will always separate into haves and have-nots and attempts to stop this usually result in an overbearing government … leading to tyranny.

Capitalism: Great idea on paper. Allow man’s desire for a better life to fuel creativity and industry. Get out of the way and let people succeed beyond their wildest dreams. The rising tide of ingenuity lifts all boats. Fails because it ignores man’s fatal flaw of greed. When left to their own devices, men will try to get richer and with limited resources, the poor can then only get poorer.

Liberalism: Great idea on paper. Equality of all people is paramount. The rich devote a part of their wealth to elevating the poor from poverty. Government does for people what it deems they cannot do for themselves. Tolerance of social differences is fundamental. Fails because some take advantage of the system or through no fault of their own become dependent on the system. Tolerance leads to slippery slope of no standards at all.

Conservatism: Great idea on paper. Limited government. Delegation of authority to lowest levels of society (state and city). Belief that a strict social order leads to a healthier nation. Fails because without leadership at the top, lower levels of government go off in all directions and sometimes seek the lowest common denominator in how to conduct themselves. Focus on individual responsibility becomes an excuse to ignore the truly vulnerable. Enforcing a strict social order leads to mistreatment of non-conformists.

The reason why so few problems get solved anymore is that, as a society, we are more locked into ideology than we have ever been in recent history. We are unable to pick the best ideas from a variety of constructs to solve any given problem. In politics, the true problem solvers, the moderates, are getting drummed out of the game.

The result is that we will continue to select leaders like Rand Paul, an ideological purist totally out of touch with reality.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance

Religion as Extortion Racket

I don’t usually write about religion in isolation. The few times it has appeared in my articles there has been some political angle. Tonight will be an exception. It will also be personal and not the least bit academic. Recently in the comments section of my blog there was a lengthy discussion of religion and it, in part prompted the following musings.

We need to begin at the beginning. The year is 1992. Soon after the election of Bill Clinton and shortly before her 72nd birthday, my grandmother succumbed to cancer. What followed was absurd and the resulting pain perhaps well deserved. My grandmother was not religious, not remotely. In fact, after my grandfather lost his right arm in a factory accident and the dust had settled, my mom asked my grandmother if she prayed in the immediate aftermath of the incident. My grandmother responded, “of course not. Who was there to pray to?” That was the mark of  true non-believer, someone who when the chips were really down, still did not believe in a higher spirit. So it was absurd that my grandmother should receive a religious service and burial. Most of us who have lost a loved one know that the funeral arrangements are as much for the living, if not more so, than for the deceased. And so it was the wish of my grandfather and my grandmother’s sisters that she should receive a religious service.

Since my grandmother did not attend church, the pastor at the service did not know her from Eve. His ignorance of how she lead her life was obvious from the moment he opened his mouth. Had he known her, he would have known she was the finest, most decent woman imaginable. Only my mother and my wife could match her. My sister and I use her as a yardstick for how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. Yet at the height of his eulogy, when emotions in the room were most raw, he declared “let us all pray that God will accept this woman into His kingdom even though she did not accept Christ as her savior. Perhaps though her soul is in peril, God in his infinite wisdom and compassion will have mercy on her.”  Soul in peril, indeed. From a moral and ethical standpoint, my grandmother could have wiped the floor of that funeral home with everyone assembled including the minister. I was enraged. You see, even though I was not religious at the time, I at least gave religion some credit for its healing powers. I believed that ministers, doctors of the soul so to speak, abided by the same creed as real doctors — “first, do no harm.” On that late-November day in 1992, that minister did harm. He wounded the hearts of at least some of the bereaved.

Fast forward to April of 2010. It is almost 18 years later and my grandfather, on the verge of turning 90 had lived his allotted time. It was now time to bury him. This funeral would be the exact mirror image of the one I attended 18 years ago. You see, late in life, my grandfather “found Jesus Christ”. The minister knew my grandfather’s second wife very well and knew granddad at least well enough to talk credibly about him. However his most important message was clear. “All those who have found Christ, will see this man again one day. But understand, if you have not found the Lord yet, do not delay because no man knows when his time will come.” Ah, I see. So the only way I will ever get to see my grandfather again, is to accept Christ as my savior. This sermon echoed the same sentiment as the one almost two decades earlier. Comfort could only be found in Christ. Non-believers would suffer, not only in the next world, but even in this one because if you do not believe, then you can only despair of ever seeing your loved one again in the afterlife. The proceeding started to resemble a multi-level marketing meeting as various people rose to eulogize my grandfather, but more importantly to declare their belief in Christ and how THEY were going to see granddad again someday.  It was a club you see. We were not here to talk about the life of a man. We were here to celebrate our membership in the club and how only members would reap the benefits of membership.

As I sat there I saw religion, at least in this instance, exposed as an extortion racket. Either believe, or your soul will be at risk. So will your well-being, your ability to deal with your own death and the death of your loved ones. You can have peace of mind but there is  a price to be paid. Only through Christ will any comfort come. The content of your character is irrelevant. As long as you pay up at the faith counter, all will be good. And when do the proponents of this racket choose to pry their trade? When loved ones are most vulnerable and in the most pain. That is what I found so shameful and unforgivable. What should have been celebrations of the lives of my grandparents were little more than sales pitches for a product.

With all this said, I still know that religion does bring many people comfort. I do know that right-minded churches work hard for their communities and donate time and money to those less fortunate. It’s that very knowledge that leaves me irreconcilably confused. How could people practicing a belief system of love, turn it into some membership scheme and extort non-members using their peace of mind as leverage?

I am not religious. But I do not go around denying the existence of God. I am not smart enough to disprove the existence of God. I don’t let His existence or lack thereof dictate the course of my life. I do know this much. A loving God honored my beautiful grandmother and demanded nothing in return and he forgave my imperfect grandfather. And if there is a heaven somewhere, both of my grandparents arrived there.

And my grandmother is kicking my grandfather’s ass, as we speak.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance