Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on."
-Winston Churchill

Over the last few years, the liberal "blogosphere" has become increasingly infested with reports of lies, deception, fear mongering and general dishonesty coming out of the conservative-leaning blogosphere, and to be fair, I've read plenty of liberal blogs that do their own share of distortion and selective reporting for partisan gain.  One of my favorites was when the liberal blogs reported that an audience at a GOP Presidental-candidate debate booed a gay soldier, when in fact they were booing a man who heckled the soldier.  It happens all the time and is to be expected when the public gets an unedited voice to report the news.  In general, I do not share in the outrage that even the more popular liberal blogs display over the stupid statements made by their conservative counterparts.

What I cannot accept, and I hope you agree, is when partisan politics mixes with those with the reach and influence blatantly spit on their ethical responsibility to report honestly.  I am thinking about national news media, like Fox News, or syndicated programming hosts, like Rush Limbaugh, and yes, even many of our nationally-elected officials and candidates.  They all know that ratings, attention, popularity and votes come from (a) telling people what they want to hear, and (b) making themselves look better than everyone else.  Following Mr. Churchill's very wise observation, once the misinformation is out, it is essentially impossible to combat, and anyone trying to score political gain relies on this sad but very true fact of communication and human nature.

A few years ago I was listening to NPR (I am a bleeding-heart liberal, after all) coverage of some GOP event where a Senator had been making unsubstantiated claims against the Democrats.  The reporter asked a Senator if his statements were true and he said (I'm paraphrasing here) that it was the news media's job to verify the facts of his statements, not his.  I do wish I could remember who and when this was, but it wasn't just him.  This happens almost daily, because politicians know that their sound bytes will get front-page headlines and free airtime, and the correction will be hidden on page 7 of every paper.

Just this week, Mitt Romney made the unsubstantiated claim that "of all jobs lost during the Obama years, 92.% of them are women."  Fact checking website Politifact has labeled this claim Mostly False.  Does this matter?  The claim is out there, and the lion's share of the people who heard it are not trying to see if it is true or false.  If it won points for Mr. Romney, then he and his campaign are done caring about it.  Another lie spun, unable to be undone.

I expect that most of the people who make these kinds of statements are relying on their 1st Amendment right to free speech, and their knowledge that it is far too complicated, costly and ineffective to sue in court for damages that came from the lies.  In other word, our whole justice system is laid out to help the lie travel and keep the truth looking for its belt.  In the short term there may not be a practical solution other than blasting the blogosphere with fact finding and hoping that some of these make their ways into the consciousnesses of the people who blindly believe whatever they hear.

In the longer term, wouldn't it be better to pass federal legislation that requires political statements made on national stages to be vetted before they come out of the candidate's mouth?  There is precedent for this: candidates have to endorse paid political advertisements, which was intended to hold them to some measure of accountability.  Why not widen the accountability?  Why not actively promote truth as well as justice.  Will it be complicated?  Certainly.  Will it be contentious?  Without a doubt.  Does it stand for what American values ought to be?  Absolutely.  And as a bonus, if you oppose it, you are advocating the freedom to lie on a national scale with a free microphone.

Please consider writing your lawmakers and encourage them to draft legislation that requires a standard of factual evidence and truth to statements made on political issues.  It is time for lies to wear a few chains on their legs so the truth has its fair shake.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stand Your Ground or License to Murder?

One of our readers works for the IRS, catching people for cheating on their taxes.  Certainly this is a job where you can make enemies very quickly.  We were thinking, what could happen to such a person in a Stand-Your-Ground state?  One very pissed-off individual could follow you until you go into some dark, isolated place, shoot you point blank, hit themselves a few times in the face, and claim that the shooting was self defense for you attacking them.  Yes, this sounds a bit like a plot for Law & Order.  Ten states already have, or are considering enacting, stand-your-ground laws.  If there are no witnesses and one person is dead, it is very challenging for the police to distinguish between legally-justified homicide and cold-blooded murder?  At least in most states, you need to at least try to run away, and it is very difficult to carry a gun on your person.  When the law clearly states that you are immune from prosecution for killing a person in self-defense without first trying to run away, very few obstacles remain from turning that gun into a license to kill.

Concealed weapon permits and stand-your-ground laws may provide personal security and liberty to the gun holder, but as we have seen from the Trayvon Martin case, they steal those same rights away from the victim.  

The Second Amendment does not give the right to any person to weaponize in public.  Although it is ambiguously written, it should be clear enough that "a well-regulated militia" is not a random group of unsupervised armed citizens.  Conservatives might counter that it takes considerable time, money and training to secure a concealed-carry permit, but is this any guarantee that the person will not mow down someone with that pistol in a moment of haste, stupidity, hatred or bigotry?  

Is it time to take control of gun laws by returning to the text of the 2nd Amendment and not the lobbying efforts of the NRA and their gun-loving associates?  Mr. Martin is just the notable case of the day, but how many innocent people are killed by gunfire per day?  According to wikipedia, in 2000 there were 75,000 non-fatal injuries and 31,000 deaths from firearms.  Whether homicide or suicide, intentional or accidental, over 100,000 people were hurt or killed with guns.   It shouldn't require a boy who could have been the President's son to turn our attention to this issue, but now that we are facing it, let's really do something.

Write your lawmakers and tell them that the 2nd Amendment clearly limits gun ownership to "a well-ordered militia" meaning a supervised group of trained and accountable citizens, not a random collection of people who can afford a pistol and few weeks of training.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dem vs. GOP = Altruism vs. Greed?

World-reknowned biologist and all-around-smart-guy E. O. Wilson has published his latest book, The Social Conquest of Earth.  This book covers the current scientific theory of "group selection" in human evolution.  In a given human group, the greedy people are the ones who do better, while competition between groups favors those which are altruistic.  This got us thinking about American politics, and in particular, the suggestion that one primary difference between conservatives and liberals is the moral imperative to preserve hierarchies versus the imperative to promote equality for all.

Is the hierarchy an expression of greed that best favors individuals within a single group, while equality is the altruistic trait that allows a group to succeed over others?  If so, then these factors that regulate social conquest and human evolution are the inescapable two sides of any coin, the yin and yang of any society in a global context.

As Dr. Wilson noted, there is no way to avoid the interplay of greed and altruism, but that it is necessary to learn to moderate them.  In other words, we are just as stuck with conservatives and liberals as we are with night and day.  A lot of time is spent ranting about this being a fight of "good" versus "evil" but rather, it seems to be an issue of teaching each other to think less selfishly and more to think about the well-being of others.  We can learn to temper the extent to which greed (promotion of the individual) wins out over altruism (promotion of the group).

American society today is in the throes of a wave of conservative selfishness.  Disproportionate amounts of wealth are held by handfuls of people, and the GOP is hell-bent on keeping it this way.  Conservatives are pushing rights-limiting legislation to slowly chip away at the freedoms of all people to force all citizens to live the way they do.  Fear is spread more than truth, science is treated as a scourge, and even the most unpolitical issues are politicized into divisive wedge issues, all by the conservative media.  Conservative candidates seem to want to be elected much more than they want to govern, because being in charge means being at the top of the social order.  To me, at least, it all makes sense now.

Selfishness puts one at the top of the hierarchy and keeps things good for those who have it, while making those who don't slobber and drool at the prospect that one day, it could be theirs too.

I have to suspect that those who aren't already rich, dream of seeing themselves in biggest house at the richest end of town, and ask, "how could I ever get in there if everyone is truly equal?  All my wealth would be taken from me and shared with the lazy and undeserving to prop them up, and when I make it big, I want to keep every last penny!"

What is lost is the bigger view, that working only for your own gain does not help the group as a whole.  Human history and evolution over the last few million years shows this to be true.   The Founding Fathers figured this out when they created America to be a country unlike any other.  I have a hard time seeing how we can maintain the greatness which conservatives to tightly cleave to, if we are chopping our own knees off by failing to keep up the very acts and practices that got us here.  A country of inequality cannot prosper on a global scale.

At this point, the ideological entrenchment of prominent conservatives is so deep that they may not be able to see the importance of altruism until the consequences of their own selfishness are rained down upon them just as severely as their choices affect others.  This is why we created the REPRIMAND project, and now we have learned that there is a solid scientific argument behind it.  The path to equality for all will require breaking down the walls of hierarchy by teaching our conservative counterparts to recognize and moderate their selfish impulses.

If you agree with these thoughts, please SHARE them far and wide with your friends so that we all do more than merely complain about the problem.  Write your lawmakers and explain to them the importance of striking back against all restrictive conservative legislation with measures that affect them just as deeply, if not more.  By educating conservatives, we can change the future for the better.

Counter abortion limits by banning ED treatment over 38.

Today, Arizona became the seventh state in the last two years to place highly-restrictive bans on abortions, banning so-called "late term" abortions after 20 weeks.  The blogosphere is already full of rightful condemnation so we won't heap on that pile.  By now it should be obvious that this platform of the conservative agenda has enough momentum to keep going, and with it, many other restrictive acts that methodically strip away our equal rights.  Nothing will stop unless there is a popular revolt among its members.

If these were the draconian actions of a dictatorship, we would react by isolating the government and slowly squeezing the people into turning against their leaders by banning trade, cutting food assistance, seizing bank assets, and generally making everyone too miserable to allow their dictators to stay in power.  

Can we, the American people who seek equality for all, do the same?  We've tried political slogans, sound bytes, petitions and chastising on comedy shows.  The problem is that we are almost always preaching to our own congregation.  The new solution is to hit them right back, tit for tat, with laws that take away from conservatives just as many rights and privileges that they consider sacred.  This is the point of our REPRIMAND project.  Consider what would have happened in Arizona today if there were a federal mandate that all laws that restrict the liberty of one subset of our population must contain equally restrictive provisions for everyone else.

The 20-week limit on abortion is roughly half of the full gestational period of a pregnancy.  So if women are going to have their legal rights (remember, abortion is legal under federal law) limited to 50%, then men need to have an equivalent restriction. Since this is about reproductive rights and freedom, let's limit the amount of time a man can have access to erectile-dysfunction (ED) treatment to, say, the first 50% of his life.  The average life expectancy of an American man is about 76 years, so every man should be unable to receive treatment if they are older than 38.  Enact that in a state legislature and watch the sparks fly.

If you really want to stop the conservatives from legislating their hierarchical morality on all Americans, tell your state and federal lawmakers that it is time to legislate in kind, each and every time an issue of life, liberty, justice or equality under the law is sliced away by conservatives.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Conservative Values are Anti-American.

There is a short and very important video circulating on YouTube and Facebook: How Conservatives Think - Adam Strange - YouTube.  In it, the basic difference is laid out between social conservatives and liberals:  Conservatives insist on preserving a hierarchy as their moral imperative.  Liberals insist on equal-rights-for-all as theirs.  

On this blog we have explored this same issue under a variety of names: Conservatives Take, Liberals Give.  The Conservative Agenda: Separate and Unequal.  Conservatives will not stop taking away your rights until you start taking away theirs.

However we word this, there is a common and critical goal: get the word out, not just to like-minded liberals (i.e. preaching to the converted) but to everyone.  Whether you repost this page, or help make Adam Strange's video go viral, please do your part to make sure everyone knows that today's social conservatives are never going to make America into what America is supposed to be.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The best argument against right-wing politics.

I had dinner with a friend last week who is training to be a member of the clergy, and since we had already hit the taboo dinner subject of religion, we touched on politics as well.  He told me that people always ask him which party he identifies with, and are very surprised to hear that he is a self-identified liberal.  His reason was this: 

Whether the mistake is legislative, civic, personal, secular, religious, in the home or on the streets, this is perhaps the most succinct and powerful argument I've ever heard to refute the incessant chest- and bible-thumping from conservative squawkers and the religious right.  The next time a right-wing fanatic (whether an anonymous Facebook commentator or a national lawmaker) starts spouting their hate- or restriction-filled rhetoric, ask them this question.  Ask them what would Jesus do?  If they respond that Jesus never sinned, remind them that he still hit his thumb with a hammer when trying to strike nails.

Republicans Take, Democrats Give.

I have been away at a conference for the last week and took some time off from the news to, well, cheer up.  As I sat down this morning and read through the unending litany of nonsense that the GOP has done in just the last 10 days, I came to this inescapable conclusion.  Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers, whatever you want to call them, they are not legislating on the local, state or national level to preserve, provide and protect life, liberty, freedom and happiness for everyone, but to methodically strip away those preservations, provisions and protections to fit their own narrow definition of how we should be living and leading our lives.  In short, all I see are Republicans taking away.

You can share this with your friends, and rant and rave to the people who already agree with you and nothing will change because you are preaching to the converted.  Or you can take this message to your lawmakers and demand that they enact laws that strike back in kind to every restriction that the GOP lays down.  Signing petitions isn't enough.  Buying a few bumper stickers won't suffice (although it puts a few pennies in my wallet).  Even voting them out of office isn't enough.  The political platform of today's conservative electorate will not stop until they experience consequences just as severe as they are causing to others.