Wednesday, June 14, 2017

FORBIDDEN QUESTIONS

NOTE: I received the following comment from anonymous on my Stupid is as Stupid Does post:

Anonymous: You make some good points about our cognitive amnesia and the failure of Americans to ask hard questions about our country’s foreign affairs. I agree that we have been very stupid about using military force, though I tend to lean toward willful stupidity: too many powerful individuals and organizations benefit from war.  What are some of the tough questions you think should be asked?  

Dear Anonymous,

For an expansive list of questions that should be asked, and very likely won't, I offer the following list provided by Andrew Bacevich, a highly regarded historian, specializing in international relations, security studies, U.S. foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history, which was posted on the TomDispatch website. Bacevich is a Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Boston University Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies.  He is also a career U.S. Army officer who retired with the rank of Colonel.




Saturday, June 10, 2017

STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES


By Ronald T. Fox


"Stupidity is not the lack of knowledge, but the illusion of having it." 
                                                                                               Grigore Iulian:

STUPIDITY 7

These are confounding times.  The widespread rejection of facts and reason by many of our national leaders as well as a sizable portion of the American public has perverted our national discourse and led to decisions that boggle the rational mind.  Many people point to Donald Trump as the culprit who perverted our historical commitment to truth, but in reality our escape from reason traces back decades.  President Trump has clearly demonstrated he is well prepared to take irrationality to new heights.  

Not only have facts become politically irrelevant for most Americans, so has history. As a people, Americans are suffering, perhaps terminally, from cognitive amnesia, particularly as it applies to foreign affairs. I can’t help but think of the Santayana aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It’s patently obvious that most of our political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, and most top military brass, foreign policy think tanks, and popular political pundits, have learned little from our recent history of military interventions in the Greater Middle East, Africa and Asia.  The Trump administration is no exception.  With missile attacks, intensified bombing, and loose talk about troop surges, it is doing its best to continue the amnesiac process. George Orwell would be proud.

STUPIDITY 5

Why are we oblivious to the lessons of past political and military disasters in places like Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, to name a few? Why do we continue to try to achieve political ends through the use of military force?  Why do we tend to shun diplomacy?

Friday, June 9, 2017

May 2017 BONEHEAD ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH


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1. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). A constituent told Labrador at a town hall meeting at Lewis-Clark State College: “You are mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying …. You are making a mandate that will kill people,” to which Labrador responded:

“No one wants anybody to die. That line is so indefensible. . . . Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,” he continued, drawing loud jeers from the audience.

Not only is this untrue, this is so transparently untrue that you would have to be in a Guyana cult leader's camp for the last decade to even give him the benefit of contemplating it for a half-moment. Americans attempting to struggle along despite not having access to health care is a staple of the news cycle. Americans showing up in emergency rooms suffering from acute dangers that would have never happened in the first place, had they been given access to preventative care beforehand.

Not only do Americans die from a lack of access to health care, they do so regularly, and by the tens of thousands. Labrador's insistence otherwise is not just a lie, it's a thumbing of his nose at everyone in the room. There's no way Labrador believed what he said to be true.

It's rare that we can conclusively answer the age-old question of dishonest politicians—evil, or just stupid?—but in this case it's fairly clear that Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador is lying on purpose and sincerely does not care if his constituents know it.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

APRIL 2017 BONEHEAD ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH

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1. Donald Trump. The Donald allegedly told Tea Party groups at the White House that if the GOP health care plan dies, he will let Obamacare fail and let Democrats take the blame. So the Donald would allow our healthcare system to fail, destroying the lives of millions and millions of Americans, because he can’t get his way. What a baby! This should be a huge story.
 
Trump is like an attack dog. Whether its enemy Democrats, the enemy press, the enemy former President, the enemy healthcare system, or anyone else who speaks ill of him or his policies, he’s quick to move in for a kill. God help us.
 

Friday, March 31, 2017

MARCH 2017 BONEHEAD ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH

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1. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Fact-conscious Americans understand that Donald Trump is a notorious liar. What’s most alarming is that many Americans, including most Republican Party identifiers, believe anything The Donald wants them to believe—that humans don’t cause climate change, all Muslims should be presumed dangerous, vaccinations cause autism, scientists shouldn’t be trusted, Obama was born in Kenya, massive voter fraud stripped him of a popular majority, his inauguration attracted a record number of attendees, the media pumps out vicious lies about the president-elect, and on and on. Chalk up Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, as a devoted Trump believer. According to Smith, it is:
 
“ … better to get your news directly from the president. In fact it might be the only way to get unvarnished truth.”
 
This is what it’s come to in America: a significant portion of the public trusts Trump’s direct communications more than it trusts the media, not to mention the truth. When this happens, as is perilously close, our democracy ends.

Monday, March 20, 2017

IS EXTREME PARTISANSHIP THE NEW NORMAL? A RESPONSE TO JIM DUBBS

 

NOTE: Below is a response to my The Personalization of Politics in America post of February 12th submitted by loyal Phronesis reader Jim Dubbs. It is followed by my response to his critique.


I must say that I am totally put off by any argument that would even try to compare the influence of political partisanship to that of racism. No contest. In any case, you may recall that in 1964, Goldwater and those who had joined his "tribe" were very personal in their partisanship (as, in fairness, were many of us who vehemently disagreed with him). His erstwhile fellow travelers (e.g., Senator John Tower, the Birchers, Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, General Walker, etc. -- hardly mainstream Republicans, but definitely not Democrats) demonstrated a partisan bias that was inflamed mainly by paranoia. Conspiracies everywhere!
 
Try to recall how many times you heard, "America, Love it or Leave it," or that fluoride water treatment was a Commie plot? One could not be neutral. A lot of families and friendships were split; emotions were very partisan and very personal. And like today, the Republican Party was hijacked by a very loud and ideological minority.
 
I tend to feel that much of the personalization of partisanship today has been amplified by the comparatively sudden emergence and pervasiveness of social media. It encourages intemperance and begs for over-simplification, which means little room or time for reasoned argument and, in turn, can rather routinely degenerate into ad hominem attacks. Soon or later, there is no room for a fair fight or a level playing field if the other side has subscribed to the tenet that the ends justify the means.
 
I am not sure how this is particularly new, however. To be more convincing, the Stanford research would need to also have been done 50 years ago to provide a basis for comparison. I think that the bigger worry about the future of domestic politics is how we can get competent individuals to run for office given the unbelievable amount of exposure and dissecting the most trivial details of their lives they are now being subject to. We may end up with only the most narcissistic and/or delusional to choose from.
 
As for this claim of partisan bias being the "new normal," I would counter by citing two factors: 1) the degree of apathy among US citizens eligible to vote as evidenced by the low voter turnout compared to other democratic nations; and 2) the growing number of voters who identify as Independents. I have joked with colleagues that voter apathy is a clear indication of the sound mental health of the populace, recognizing that the same ruling group will remain in place either way. Of course, it might just reflect a triumph of cynicism...or laziness, and apathy does, by subtraction, increase the influence of the partisan true believers.
 
My optimistic side would cite #2 as the stronger argument against concluding that partisan bias is the new normal, threatening the future of our democracy. I suppose if you are a strong partisan, that can infuse your view of almost anything, but if there are fewer like you as more of us become Independents, how might that development figure into predictions of what is normal?

Hey, it's only politics, certainly nothing to lose friends over. Besides, let's see what the next election holds before we start discussing a new normal. I seem to recall that words like "unprecedented," "aberration" and "bizarre" were frequently used to describe this past one. Just sayin'. We have survived more than a few periods of extreme partisan divides in our history. This, too, shall pass. I only wish I could say the same about racism.


Jim Dubbs


MY RESPONSE:


I’ve come to expect, and welcome, Jim Dubbs’ thoughtful responses to many of my posts.  He always brings an informed historical perspective to the table.  He makes me rethink my arguments with a keener eye to comparative history.  I don’t always agree with his responses, as is the case with his current offering, but they are always welcome. His skepticism about strong partisanship being the new normal inspired me to take a deeper look at the problem.  In my response below I take issue with some of the points he made in his critique and also offer some new thoughts on where partisanship may be heading. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

FEBRUARY 2017 BONEHEAD ABSURDITY OF THE MONTH


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1. Religions Right Activist, Gordon Klingenschmitt. On the latest episode of his “Pray In Jesus Name” program, Klingenschmitt said that gay people should never be allowed to serve as school teachers because they “should be disqualified immediately because of their immorality.”
 
Klingenschmitt was commenting on a report about a Minnesota elementary school teacher and his husband who allegedly abused multiple boys over the course of several years and then killed themselves once an investigation was launched. Klingenschmitt said that while these men were obviously possessed by “a demonic spirit of child abuse,” the school system and society as a whole also share the blame for allowing gay people to teach in public schools in the first place.
 
“As a culture now, the demonic spirit of homosexuality has taken over and redefined marriage, particularly in Minnesota, to tell these boys that it is okay,” he said. “And the demonic spirit of deception has taken over the school board or whoever decided, maybe the principal, decided to hire these child abusers to teach elementary school. Well, if anything, they should have been disqualified immediately because of their immorality, because the immorality inside of these two men are indicators that they are unfit to be a good example to little children.”
 
“This is evil upon evil and it’s not just these two men who are at fault,” Klingenschmitt added. “It is our laws as a society that need to be changed to prevent and protect children from this kind of abuse in the future.”
 
It’s always good to know that religiously righteous folks are protecting our morality.