Choice

Tomorrow I will join millions of Americans in casting my vote for who I want to take positions of leadership in the United States of America. What a privilege! For 235 years, we have enjoyed the right to cast our opinion about who our leaders should be. We often overlook the fact that most of the world still does not enjoy this freedom. As the fray of this election season nears a close, I’ve stitched together some thoughts here about the freedom that we’ll enjoy tomorrow and the manner in which I’ll exercise it. I don’t have time to edit this carefully, so forgive the less refined and perhaps error prone writing.

The freedom to vote is flawed. Simply put, we have the power to elect idiots who will make poor choices that adversely affect the future of our country. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. This freedom is also flawed in that the preferences we express are often not enacted. This can happen for many reasons: voting fraud that alters the outcome of an election, failure of candidates to stay true to their stances once elected, the inability of elected officials to overcome the will of other elected officials. Despite these flaws, the freedom to vote does still make a difference and, with some rounding errors, impacts our government and our country.

The freedom to vote means we have to make a choice. That choice should (must?) be based on an assessment of all the information with which we’re presented. Now there’s a problem: how much can we trust the information we’re presented? In some cases, not much. Much of the information we receive about candidates is false, and this can be due to the candidates, their opponents, or media sources providing false information. Nevertheless, we still have a responsibility and solemn right to form a choice based on the information, and we must do so weighing each issue relative to its importance to each of us.

I’ve made a choice for president. I will be voting again for Barack Obama. I believe that when you assess all the information, there are some very key differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney that enable a CLEAR choice to be made either direction based on one’s value system:

1. Barack Obama believes that taxes should be progressively increased, and so do I. Mitt Romney does not. This is an indisputable difference with which either would agree. In my opinion now and at the time I received a check, the Bush tax cuts were a terrible idea. Never before has this country engaged in war without increasing revenue, much less decreasing revenue. The tax cuts were also enacted at the same time that we dramatically increased entitlement benefits (Medicare)–another revenue minus. Finally, the tax cuts were intended to stimulate economic growth and they clearly didn’t. Fact: tax rates were higher during the Clinton years, and the economy still grew. Fact: the stock market is booming with low tax rates right now, yet jobs are still not being created by the “job creators.” Fact: Ronald Reagan understood that taxes would have to be increased to account for increased spending and deficits, and he did increase taxes multiple times.

2. Health care. I support the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and Romney does not. The complexities of the health care economy should not be underestimated, and I certainly do not fully understand them. However, health care costs, particularly as they figure into entitlements, are clearly driving our economy and increasing our debt.Part of the reason is that millions of Americans are uninsured, yet receive health care anyway. This is right and it is good and it is just in a civilized society. This is not economically viable. Someone has to pay for the health care that uninsured people receive, and that someone is everyone who is uninsured. It’s simple math that health care premiums are adjusted in proportion to the costs incurred by the insurers, which is inexorably linked to how much they have to pay providers. When providers are not reimbursed for the costs of uninsured, they have to charge more from the insured. It’s just math. In a country where government provided health insurance is not yet acceptable, a mandate to have insurance is logical and emphasizes personal responsibility. As a corollary, this personal responsibility argument for protection of the insured majority was originally a conservative idea.

3. I mostly support Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions…mostly. I believe his choice to end the war in Iraq was a correct decision, as there was nothing more to be gained. I believe his choice to focus on Afghanistan/Pakistan was correct in that it was directed at limiting terrorist threats to the US. I believe his use of drones is acceptable for the elimination of clear terroristic enemies of the state that are not US citizens. I strongly disagree with his choice to take out an American citizen without due process. I am strongly suspicious of his continuation of the National Defense Authorization Act, which threatens constitutional freedoms of US citizens. All of the above are decisions that a Romney Administration admittedly agrees with, so I’m fine with choosing Obama here. The stated posture of Romney toward Iran and China and the rest of the world is a posture of bullying and choosing not to be influenced by any other nation. I ask myself whether I would succeed in the workplace if I made and enacted all my decisions unilaterally with no regard for what others want. Of course I wouldn’t, and the USA shouldn’t assume it can do the same. It doesn’t make us weaker to work with other countries; it makes us stronger to develop leadership of other countries through carefully considered collaboration. Obama gets this, Romney does not.

4. Entitlement reform. We must reform entitlements before they become the overwhelming expenditure for the nation. This is not done by slashing benefits and privatizing the system. Romney has clearly advocated for privatization, whereas Obama has advocated for reforming the existing system. Last summer, Obama was clearly willing to negotiate lowering benefits in an income-based progressive manner, including gradually raising the age at which benefits could begin. This makes sense to me, and I’m fully aware that this means I won’t have as much for myself. If reform doesn’t occur, I won’t have anything! Again, I choose reforming the current system, even if it means losing some of my benefits rather than turning it over to the private sector. I’ll say this once: CAPITALISM IS NOT ALWAYS ALIGNED WITH PERSONAL WELL-BEING OF THE MAJORITY IN A CIVILIZED SOCIETY.

5. Women’s rights and gay rights. I don’t believe there is daylight between these candidates. Obama has shown from his actions that he is not as liberal as he’s been depicted on these issues, and Romney has in word and in deed made it clear that he is not as conservative as he would have us believe this month. He’ll go whichever way the political winds are blowing, and on these issues I believe Obama will do the same. No difference.

To me, these are the key issues on which the presidential decision can be made. This is not an election about which candidate is a socialist: both would be characterized as crappy socialists! This is not an election about evil vs good: neither candidates positions can be characterized as more “evil” than the other, despite the negative campaigning on both sides. Neither candidate is “lying” more than the other. Both have held executive offices and they have a record on which to base our decision.

Look at the facts when making your decision tomorrow. Block out all the smoke of demonizing candidates, characterizing one as having “sin nature” but not the other. Turn on your brain and look at the facts and compare them to your value system. Have a goal of coming out of the voting booth with an intellectual argument of why the candidates positions are aligned with your value system. Don’t cheat yourself by voting against a candidate because you think the devil sent him to scourge the world. And above all, value and cherish the sacred right you have to make and express a choice!

…in which conservatives look the other way

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An observation at the height of this election season. Speaking to newly minted Tea Partiers two years ago, Mitt Romney was a RINO (Republican in Name Only) whom they really couldn’t support as a presidential candidate. They had concerns about his “non-Christian” religion (their words, not mine). They had concerns that he didn’t really support true conservative values and issues.

Of late, Mitt has been gaining momentum on the strength of his first debate performance. Since then, I have heard bellicose cheering and embracing of Romney as the only choice for this nation’s next president, and I’ve heard this most from self-professed Christian conservatives.

Well, I thought I’d put together a bit of Romney’s past positions on some key conservative issues, so that the self-identifying Christian conservatives can be reminded what they’re signing their names to when they vote for Romney on November 6 as they’ve repeatedly already announced on Facebook. The following quotes are highlights of Romney’s own words about the bullet pointed issues which are generally touted as conservative:

Pro-choice:
“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. Since Roe v Wade has been the law for 20 years, we should sustain and support that law and the right of the woman to make that choice”

LGBT rights:
“The authorization of marriage on a same-sex basis falls under state jurisdiction”

“If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern”

Gun control:
Assault weapons “… are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.  I don’t line up with the NRA”

Minimum wage support:
“I think the minimum wage ought to keep pace with inflation”

Embryonic stem cell research:
“I will work and fight for stem cell research”

Entitlement privatization:
“Social Security’s the easiest (to fix) and that’s because you can give people a personal account”

War on Terror:
Of Bin Laden: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person”

Bank Bailouts:
“The TARP program… was nevertheless necessary to keep banks from collapsing in a cascade of failures”

Climate control:
“These carbon emission limits will provide real and immediate progress”

Immigration:
“I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country. With these 11 million people, let’s have them registered, know who they are. Those who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process toward application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.”

Don’t just take my word for it, either:

Mike Huckabee says the same
as does RINORomney.com

So all you conservatives enjoy stamping your name in support of this champion of your values.

My rant to drop the -phant.

Today I decided that I must change my twitter avatar. Now I know this is rather trivial and a first world pondering, but indulge my little explanation…

My previous avatar was a hybrid between a donkey and an elephant–a donkeyphant. Some have suggested the term elephonkey might be more appropriate, but it doesn’t have the same ring. This avatar was chosen to communicate a fusion of Republican and Democrat ideas. I can no longer in good conscience associate myself with the GOP. This is not because my views have changed so much as those darn elephants stampeding to the right as fast as they can.

I had the displeasure of listening briefly to a GOP leadership press conference today over lunch. I heard the same things I’ve been hearing for the past three years: the phrase “job killing” attached about 50 times to anything related to President Obama, “repeal Obamacare” as a platform plank, and statements about a “willingness to work with the President.” I dare say the current GOP leadership could not give a damn about working with our president! Early on in this Congress they made it clear that the number one goal was to make Obama a “one term president”

This GOP is the party that chooses to hold the credit rating of the United States of America hostage to make a point on the debt ceiling. The point they’re trying to make is that tax hikes for any Americans, particularly wealthy Americans, are unacceptable under any circumstances whatsoever, but extension of unemployment benefits or federal aid to disaster victims should not be passed without a defined method to pay for it that can only be a spending cut.

This GOP is also the party whose presidential candidates are claiming that President Obama is engaged in  “war on religion“. This new Gingrichian statement was, of course, merely a parrot imitation of Rick Perry’s ad stating the same thing. I’m religious…deeply religious…there’s no war on religion being waged by the President or his administration! I do not feel a single religious freedom being abridged by our current administration. There is only one war on religion in this country, and that’s the GOP war on Islam. I don’t even care to debate the merits of this war on a religion; that’s not relevant. Today Islam, tomorrow my religion. Once it becomes acceptable for our government to persecute one religion, then it has become acceptable for our government to persecute any religion—EVEN YOURS!

I could go on for a while, but I suspect you’ve already had enough of my ranting. My point is that I am no longer willing to have anything about my identity, including an avatar, that would associate me with the current republican party. I’m going to try on a new avatar for a little while, a little blue dog that seems only moderately sane:

He seems a little glazed in the eyes, which is certainly not an unfair characterization of me. I’m sure it’s obvious that the inference of the blue dog is to a relatively centrist part of the democratic party, the blue dog coalition.

Moreover, he’s just a cool dog.

So, I’ll just try this out for a little while and see how I like it.

Cheers!

Reentering the dark ages, but will it be warmer this time?

A Twitterfriend of mine, @AndyBoyBlue, recently posted a link to a great peer reviewed scientific analysis of how various cable news channels cover climate change. The results are disturbing: Fox News ignores science and reason, choosing instead to discount global climate change.

As a scientist and a subscriber to the existence and human-relatedness of climate change, I can’t resist putting together a quick commentary of this study, and I’ll try to approach it as I would any critical analysis of a scientific report.

The hypothesis of the report is that different cable news channels present distinct messages about climate change. Now this is probably nothing shocking at first glance. “Of course they present different views,” you say. But wait…is this the same thing as saying Fox likes McCain and MSNBC likes Obama? Not in the least I say. Although I lament that there is tremendous editorializing and bias in the presentation of political views, issues, and candidates, climate change is science, which is not a system of “values and beliefs” that are subject to interpretation.

Science is a process by which hypotheses are formed about the world around us, tested by experimentation, and found to be supported by the evidence or inconsistent with the evidence. Notice that I’m not using the word “true.” It’s not about finding some universal truth, it’s about iteratively forming and refining models that can best explain the experimental observations.

Human-influenced climate change is universally accepted by at least 95% of scientists worldwide. The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC is an international body of scientists from countless countries that have organized to understand, debate, and influence policy around climate change. We’re talking about 100s of scientists whose careers are dependent on being scientifically correct! The IPCC has commissioned and published a number of reports about the observations, causes, realities, impacts, and potential remedies of global climate change.

Our understanding of climate change is a fine example of what our civilization can achieve. Stop and think about the infinite layers of knowledge, technology and generations of science that have led to our present understanding of climate change. Thousands of years of science and observation of the surrounding world have produced an understanding about the weather, our earth, the solar system, the tiniest atomic subparticles and forces, how life works… We can examine ice core samples that tell us what climate patterns were like 1000s of years ago. We can use modern gps technology to tell us about the precise position of waterfronts and water levels. We can place remote sensors that communicate via satellites with the other side of the freakin’ Earth to track local climates, temperature, humidity, water temperature, barometric pressure, and atmospheric chemicals. And that’s just scratching the surface of what it takes to build evidence for climate change.

Human-influenced climate change is not a liberal opinion, it is a scientific reality!

Sadly, Fox News chooses to largely discard scientific reality. Here are a few examples of the analysis presented by the authors of the publication:

This figure shows an analysis of the tone of reporting by 3 networks toward climate change. The source of the data is a comprehensive scoring of news transcripts over two years. The data indicate that 60% of Fox News stories involving climate change are dismissive. Another example:

Yes you read that correctly; nearly 40% of Fox News stories involving climate change reject that there is scientific consensus. Yet another:

That’s right, 30% of Fox News stories about climate change reject its certainty. Well, why not just reject that damn liberal view that the Earth is round?!

Consider for a moment, if climate change were not real but rather invented by liberals, why? What on Earth would motivate 1000s of scientists to stake their career in a ideological bias? Even if you think that these 1000s of scientists are wrong about climate change, are you sure?  What if they’re right?

As I stated early on, I accept that our modern culture has encouraged the conversion of relatively non-biased journalism to ratings-driven opinion journalism that mostly reaffirms the beliefs held by the viewer. However, I do not accept that we can just decide not to believe science. There was a time in the development of human civilization when the discovery and understanding of the natural world was deemed to be too frightening, giving way instead to mysticism and demonization of naturalist teachings. It was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted for 100s of years, and many believe it to be a pause or even a regression in the development of civilization. Are we approaching another such time when science and reason shall be shunned in favor of mysticism?

As an aside, I took a look at the credentials of the paper. The authors are academics from three highly-respected North American Universities. Like my scientific field, authors in this field are required to disclose any competing financial interests that might bias their work. They report that there are none, and they disclose that their funding sources are academic. The article is published in The International Journal of Press Politics, whose editorial board includes academics from all around the world. Publication would have required a confidential review and support by at least 2 respected researchers in the field. Based on all of this information, I view it as a valid scientific publication.

A Manifesto for Occupy Wall Street?

As I mentioned last week, I spent an hour walking through Occupy Wall Street. One very interesting gentleman was dressed in a business suit, calmly and quietly holding this sign with his proposal for a manifesto to capture the complaints of the protesters:

I spent some time speaking with him and recommended that he have some handouts. It’s a very coherent and reasonable set of ideas. I’ve copied it in full below, as verbatim as I can including punctuation. I would encourage you to spread this post. I would like to see this set of ideas go viral. The OWS movement needs some coherency and legitimacy. Here it is:

Here are some suggestions for a manifesto for the Occupy Wall Street protests, which are currently taking place. The manifesto attempts to summarize common concerns about current banking practices and articulate a new agenda for a better system. The banks are busy lobbying lawmakers and the Administration every day. The public must be given equal access to demand a better system.

A manifesto for Better Banking.

The current banking system is both a cause and an intrinsic part of our economic and political crisis. The system encourages excessive risk and profit taking, and discourages long term sustainable investment and lending practices, and marginalizes the poorest and most needy from the banking system altogether. Worst of all, the risk—and thus profit—are effectively insured by the taxpayer. The public is in effect subsidizing Wall Street profits.

We do not hate bankers, but we hate the system. It is time to change it. We have five key demands and proposals. These are not only for the government to adopt; everyone across the country, who wants to change the system can help too. We demand a better banking system—one where risk is not passed to the taxpayer, but which supports sustainable enterprise and embodies values other than pure profit-making.

  1. The past. We demand an independent inquiry into the credit crisis, and, if necessary, prosecutions of those guilty of deception or fraud. The inquiry must name names, identify lessons, and hold those responsible properly to account.
  2. The future. We demand effective banking legislation to curb excessive and risky lending, but to sustain credit for businesses, particularly small business, in lean times.
  3. In particular, these reforms must include the following: requirements for greater high-quality capital reserves: the separation of retail from investment banking: legislation to encourage and support local, cooperative banking, and micro-credit for those routinely denied loans and banking services.
  4. The Politics. One problem of the current and unjust system is that the big banks enjoy unequaled access to the political system. This tilts the political system to provide for their needs over others’. We demand equal access: in particular the Administration must provide a full list of every meeting with representatives of Wall Street banks with the White House, Fed and other government officials. We demand equal access to put the public’s requirements on the table
  5. We encourage everyone to demand but also adopt “better banking.” We should withdraw our money from those banks that are aggressively lobbying for their own interests over the public’s (JP Morgan Chase is a particular example). We should instead deposit our money in cooperative and community banks, and credit unions. We shall also work, with bankers and other supporters, to establish a new national cooperative bank, owned by and run for its depositors and borrowers, not its share-holders.

Occupying Wall Street

WHAT IS OCCUPY WALL STREET? That was my question. I have heard a little coverage of the movement, if that’s what it should be called, from the media. I really haven’t heard very much about it, though. Maybe I’m not listening or watching the right media, but I just haven’t heard much about. It just seems to get the occasional enigmatic mention from various news outlets, including my primary source: SIRIUS satellite radio station POTUS. I’ve heard Occupy Wall Street described by US Representative Eric Cantor as a “mob” that concerned him, calling it “pitting Americans against Americans.” Well that’s an interesting perspective from a Tea Party leader. I’ve heard President Obama say that it “expresses the frustration Americans feel,” about the current state of the country. I’ve heard the question posed that Occupy Wall Street is the beginning of a progressive version of the Tea Party. I’ve even heard Rush Limbaugh claim that Obama is “setting up riots” by secretly organizing Occupy Wall Street, and Rush went on to describe the protesters as “idiots” and “inept…tools.” Pot…kettle…black…I digress.

Bottom line, I was curios what is Occupy Wall Street. In a fortunate satiation of my curiosity, I was in New York City for business yesterday, so I decided to take my camera and see just what this Occupy Wall Street is. I was surprised at what I found. I want to consider this an amateur photo essay in which the pictures will mostly speak for themselves. Of course, I’ll have to add some commentary.

To start off, here was the schedule for the day:

Of course, drum circles were had:

There was frustration:

There were constitutional scholars:

There was religion:

There was a polite discussion of government errors:

Visual artistry:

Intensity:

Intelligent folks who are connected with recent Supreme Court decisions (I’m not joking):

Opportunities for outreach:

There was even a very intelligent manifesto:

I will copy this manifesto in its entirety in a separate post

Some were really tired from all the occupying:

In short, there were people. These were not the caricatures that are presented through the media. These were people who are passionately displeased with their individual situations and with the state of our country. Agree or disagree, these people are human and worth listening too.

We are the people. When did we become a country who dehumanizes and degrades other people who don’t share our viewpoint? Why do we have to denigrate and demonize others to legitimize ourselves? Perhaps, I’ll close with a picture that most summarizes my feelings about what these people may be feeling and why they are Occupying Wall Street: