Talking to political opponents Pt. 1: Fear

If we want to advance our political viewpoint we will have to start convincing people that we don’t agree with. Even if you don’t win them over to your side you can at least establish a sensible basis of communication. That could come in handy when you need to work with them on a goal you can both agree on. In the shorter term I would just like to see less screaming at each other.

Arnold Kling is my inspiration when it comes to talking about politics. The tag line of his blog is “Take the most charitable view of those that disagree.” I think that is the key when it comes to talking to political opponents. I’ll talk about how to do that in another post but I will talk about why in this one.

So why take the most charitable view of political opponents? Because they are worried if not scared outright. The more strident the objection the more fear I hear. Unfortunately, the typical reaction to that fear is to become fearful in kind. That leads to harsh responses and the fear spiral is well on its way. Welcome to the current political climate!

I really think that recognizing fear is the key to starting actual discussions as opposed to yelling at each other. You can’t help but temper your response once you see fear in the other person. Only a psychopath would egg on fear once they detect it.

My suggestion for engaging with political opponents is to recognize and address their worry/fear. And no, calmly informing them how wrong they are is not going to accomplish that. There have been plenty of studies showing that people that have their views challenged with “facts” only makes them entrench further. I think this is because the underlying fear that motivated the outburst has gone unnoticed. If it is brought up they are told that their worry/fear is evil, wrong, or just stupid. Having what motivates you dismissed only reinforces the fear. Hence, the person giving out “facts” just doesn’t get it and is clearly an opponent to what is true and right.

If you really want to talk with your opponents, and I think this is a very good idea, you will need to do it in a way they understand. That means you will have to actually understand where they are coming from. You will have to know and understand them to the point that you could pass for someone in the same political camp as your opponent. Stay tuned for my next posts about the Three Languages of Politics and Political Turing Tests for some ideas of how to do that.

Preemptive Supreme Court ruling post

I have already heard some preemptive wailing and gnashing of teeth over the possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down parts of the ACA as it is being implemented today. As always, when a ruling goes against a group’s beliefs, political motives are blamed. Of course if the ruling goes in favor of your beliefs, the court is held up as being wise and truly understanding the law. This really doesn’t seem like an overly political issue though. Everything I’ve read makes me think this case is about implementing the law as it was written. Sure, political motivations are what brought to the case to court but that’s beside the point.

If the court does rule against the status quo, I hope there are some lessons learned. One, you actually have to implement the law that is passed, not what a lot of people think it means. Two, super complicated bills make it difficult to understand what you’re actually passing into law. And finally three, if you have to make the bill super complicated in order to get it passed at all you aren’t doing yourself any favors and the bill probably shouldn’t be passed.

I’m fully anticipating the court ruling against the Democratic (with a capital D, the party) way of thinking. I’m also anticipating a public backlash blaming conservative judges for striking down a law they don’t like. The irony of course is that they won’t be striking down a law, they will be ordering it to be implemented correctly. That is not a political decision, it is a legal one.

It’s all too much… (NSA, Syria, etc.)

The idea was that once I had my shiny new blog(s) I would commence blogging again. Aside from a few silly posts I haven’t done much really. iPhone, stereo, Doctor Who, not much of substance. It’s not as though there isn’t anything to talk about but rather that there’s too much. There are so many big things going on that make me crazy I’m overwhelmed. In addition to the ongoing drone strikes there is now:

1) The NSA scandal that won’t stop depressing me. First we found out that they are scooping up phone records of everyone, then we learn that they are collecting seemingly every interaction on the internet, we are just starting to feel the international response to revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders and even the UN and EU, and now we have learned that the NSA has been active in making sure it has backdoors to get around most encryption used on the internet. That last bit is worrying since if the NSA has a backdoor, others could use it as well if it is found. The idea that the NSA has weakened our protection online in order to protect us against the boogyman is galling to say the least. More and more I’m coming around to thinking that Snowden may have done the right thing…

2) Turns out the DEA is also collecting vast swathes of information about people in general. There was also talk of the DEA getting info from the NSA and then reverse engineering investigations to hide their info source. 

3) The whole Syria thing. Who exactly would we be helping if we bombed Syria? How many civilians would be killed if we bombed them? How do you determine who is a civilian in a war like that anyway? Is the desire to oust Assad really a desire to help Qatar and Saudi build a pipeline and stick it to the Russians? Three months ago I would have said that is crazy but what little trust I had in the machinations of the feds has all but evaporated. Plus, now Kerry says that “Arab” nations are offering to pay for an invasion of Syria? Ugh…

Add to that the ongoing drone strikes, various blog and publication attacks of “libertarians”, and, oh yeah, my health and I just can’t keep up with what to be outraged over.

If I force myself, I can see a bit of a glimmer of hope. There does seem to be widespread opposition to bombing Syria among the US populace. We’ll see if that’s enough to sway the representatives. And if it is enough, we’ll see if that’s enough to reign in Obama. It’s nice to see some anti-war sentiment coming back finally. I’m also sensing a building backlash over what the NSA has been up to, at least online. I do wonder how much the regular guy cares or knows about it but things do seem to be piecing up steam.

Anyway, if I can work up the energy I’ll blog in more depth on these things, but man… where do I start?

I’m going to scream…

So many of my FaceBook friends are telling me that they are voting for Obama because of Rommney’s stance on abortion or Obama’s stance on gay marriage. Most of the advertising for the candidates has been about the economy or social outlook/issues. Was no one paying attention in civics class? Big rant ahead…


It’s important to vote for the president for what the president actually can do. He does nominate Supreme court justices, but doesn’t confirm them. The reproductive rights stuff confuses me as it isn’t clear to me what the President’s stance on abortion has to do with what he can do. The same with marriage stuff.

Drone strikes on the other hand, he has total control over. It frustrates me to no end that the president actually killing people, sometimes Americans, is ignored but stuff that congress is responsible for is what is promoted for electing the president. Laws that affect social and economic issues are all on congress yet that’s all we’ve heard about this election. Kill lists? Fighting the courts for indefinite detention ? Ramped up warrentless wire tapping and expanding domestic surveillance? Record numbers of deportations? Cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law? Unilateral action in Libya? Messing with the bankruptcy process to help out friends of the administration? All directly under the president’s control. Apparently everyone is OK not only with Obama doing that stuff but is also OK with a Republican getting those powers some day.

In an ideal world, we would hold an administration accountable for those actions and vote them out. Instead, we are told to hold our nose and vote for someone that has already done these things because of the fear that his opponent might do some bad things in the future. All the while being bombarded with causes that the president only has indirect influence on as the primary reason to vote for them. Mood affiliation rules the day, “Don’t vote for that asshole” is the sum of the campaigns’ and supporters’ efforts.

Sorry for ranting, but I’ve had it. I’m sick of being held hostage to the two main parties that not only embrace the executive branch power grab, but actively promote it being the determining factor across a wide range of things that the president does not control. We are not electing a king. 

Why I feel trapped this election

Our current president has escalated drone attacks (especially in non combat areas), is actively pursuing the ability to indefinitely detain anyone, took unilateral action in Libya, doubled down in Afghanistan, has a kill list without any oversight, has assassinated at least one American without a trial, has deported more people in 4 years than Bush did in 8, has started to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries even when he said he wouldn’t, screwed the only profitable fully owned American car company along with various pensioners and bond holders in bailing out GM and Chrysler, has ramped up the use of warrentless wire tapping, secret FBI letters, and other nasty provisions of the Patriot Act, etc. etc. etc. In short, he has been a civil rights and foreign policy disaster. Compare the Democratic National Party platforms from 2008 and 2012. Not that anyone seems to have noticed or cared mind you… Since war and civil liberties are the most important things to me, I have been very frustrated this election cycle.

In an ideal world, an administration that does those sorts of things gets booted out of office and we start again. In the real world, once he gets the boot those powers get handed to a Republican administration. Imagine what Rove, Cheney, et al would have done if they were given those powers! What are the chances of Obama backing off of those powers? Slim to none. 


So, Obama or Romney? Oi, we are so screwed…



Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

"He saved the American auto industry"

I keep hearing about how Obama saved the US auto industry and I don’t understand why this is going unchallenged. FIrst off, by “US auto industry” they must not mean Ford, and it does include a majority foreign owned company. And by “saved” they mean that GM and Chrysler were prevented from going through the regular bankruptcy process. This companies were never in danger of disappearing altogether. How many airlines have gone through bankruptcy? Answer: all of them save Southwest. There isn’t any reason to think that GM would have gone away. What happened instead was that the Obama administration jumped in and did things their way. What happened? Bondholders like pensions, mutual funds (which are common 401k investments) hedge funds, and any other retail investor got 5 cents on the dollar despite the fact that they should have been first in line for compensation. The government ended up getting around 87 cents on the dollar and the UAW got about 76 cents on the dollar.

This was a pure political play. Right now the government is sitting on 10 billion dollars of GM stock and is currently sitting on a stock loss of about 16 billion. That’s a cool $26 billion all in order to secure UAW, and by extension unions in general, votes. That’s just at GM. Any job can be saved if you through enough money at it. It would have been far cheaper to simply mail a check to the people that lost their jobs via regular bankruptcy hearings and much more equitable.

Funnily enough, I don’t like the fact that taxpayers are out 26 billion and Obama spinning it as a success. The fact that it is trumpeted as a reason to vote for him makes my head spin.

Splits inside both parties, a wish

Both the democrats and republicans are starting to feel pressure from divided constituencies  inside their own tent. The split seems to be along moral/money lines. Conservative/liberal is a pretty good label for social values, but a pretty terrible one for fiscal ones. When you call someone liberal or conservative, what does that mean? Are gay members of the military conservative or liberal? What about a pro-life democrat? Should black millionaires vote for Obama or Romney? Clearly, the liberal/conservative label is almost as useless as the republican/democrat label. Practically speaking, those are the only two parties we have though. What if that changed?

For a  while now, democrats have generally been for broader use of government power in social programs than republicans. More recently, both parties have been hijacked by moral platforms that significant parts of the party do not approve of. Conservative Christians have a lot of control over the republican party moral platform and this makes a lot of the more tolerant/liberal people inside the party uneasy (see Ron Paul and his supporters). In the same vein, the democratic party is also the party of minorities. Black and Latino voters tend to be more socially conservative than the typical white democrat. Close to 40% of democrats don’t approve of Obama’s support for gay marriage.

Clearly, as long as the government is in charge of both money matters as well as values, both the democratic and republican parties are going to confuse and come up short for a lot of people. If parties have to align along two axes (only… I’ll get to a third one in a bit), 2 isn’t going to cut it, we need four. Here’s how I’d break the current parties down:

1) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially conservative. This is the current popular view of republicans.

2) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially liberal. This includes gay republicans and republicans that are just tolerant of different kinds of people.

3) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially liberal. This is the stereotypical white democrat. 

4) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially conservative. This is going to include a lot of religious democrats and that includes a large number of blacks and latinos. 


You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the military or foreign policy. That’s because both parties are so similar in that regard that I have trouble telling them apart nowadays. There are of course more than two axes, things like abortion, immigration, and the drug war are all possible single issue voter concerns. Currently, groups 1,2 and 3,4 are supposed to come together at their conventions and hammer out platforms that they will agree to. We then have two parties in DC that do battle. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that a lot gets lost in that process. I would much rather have all 4 groups present in DC. It can be argued that they already are, different states, and different congressional districts have different breakdowns on the social/liberal continuum. The problem is that all of them are still beholden to the machinations of the main parties political influence. The RNC and DNC hold big purse strings and make people they support toe the company line. I think it would be much more useful and representative if these groups could be on their own and form floating coalitions on  a bill by bill basis. The current atmosphere of having to score points against the other team is marginalizing too many people’s interests.


There is another axis that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be and that is the idea of how much control you are comfortable giving the government. This is the axis that libertarians get screwed on. While self described libertarians obsess over this, republicans take it as ancillary to how much they get taxed and democrats typically don’t notice until it gets to a ridiculous point. Many libertarians point out that a lot of the culture wars would go away if the government didn’t try to legislate morals or be involved in people’s personal affairs. The two core things about libertarians that are routinely glossed over are peace and tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what other people do in their own lives, but it does mean that you allow them to do it. If the parties adopted a live and let live attitude instead of legislating values, we could then concentrate on money matters.

All of this is pie in the sky thinking of course. I do think that if this split came about and caused distinct parties that more or less shared power, we would have a much more representative government. The two party system tends to flatten differences out between people that happen to have a loose connection on fiscal matters. My more libertarian suggestion is to simply remove the moral aspect out of laws, but the 4 party system would be a step in the right direction.

Wisconsin election isn’t the playoffs

In the aftermath of Walker’s win, a lot of people are saying, “See! Outside money is determining elections!” The problem with that narrative is that according to CNN’s exit polling, 88% of the voters had decided which way they were going to vote before May. There was a ton of money spent on that election but it looks like a lot of it was wasted. 

The result shouldn’t be too surprising. If you look at what has happened to Union membership in Wisconsin since dues have become voluntary, you’ll see that membership has plummeted. Drops of half to two thirds are being reported. If union members aren’t willing to pay for membership to fight for them, what are the odds of nonunion folks voting for them? The public sector unions, and let’s not kid ourselves, that is what this election was about, just aren’t that popular in Wisconsin. 

Lots of pundits and news outlets are making a big deal about this and making themselves look silly. I have long since stopped watching the mainstream media, but apparently their coverage was predictable. MSNBC was rooting for the opponent to the last. When it was clear that Walker had won, they said it was a victory for Obama. Don’t ask me, I’m not going to watch them to figure out their reasoning. FOX was of course jumping around gleefully predicting doom doom doom for democrats across the nation. CNN was calling it a close race for a long time (it wasn’t close at all), then they switched to the Queen’s jubilee celebration. They did break in to announce that Walker had won, but then they went back to the Queen. When you Google “Walker Recall” it looks like about half are going with the headline “Walker survives Recall.” 55%-45% isn’t very close. Walker didn’t just survive, it could be argued that he got a mandate.

I think we should all remember that this election was, in the end, for the people of Wisconsin. They had made up their mind fairly early on and it isn’t clear at all that what they think about public sector unions will translate into other states. It’s also clear that the main media outlets don’t live in Wisconsin. They have been the biggest proponents of the politics as sports contests and they had their horses in the race. All of the gloating and despair from people outside of Wisconsin makes me laugh. This isn’t a sports event, this isn’t about you (unless you’re in Wisconsin obviously) or your team. This was about Wisconsin. Apparently 55% like what they’ve had for the past two years. I guess that is where elections are like sports, the contest is won on the field, not by advertisers.

Healthcare reform

My Facebook page is being filled up with impassioned pleas to save healthcare reform. They are of course talking about the arguments in the Supreme Court over the “Affordable Healthcare Act.” I’m not a big fan of the legislation, no surprise there. Funnily enough, I don’t need to know the minutia of the 1000+ page law to draw my conclusion either. The main sticking point to me, and I think the reason it is being argued at the Supreme Court, is the individual mandate. The law says that everyone has to purchase health insurance, in fact it relays on this in order to realize its cost savings that are supposed to come from it.

Let’s forget for a moment that this law is not about healthcare, but health insurance, and let’s also forget for a moment that popular opinion shouldn’t sway the Supreme Court. I am also going to, for the sake of argument, allow that the law actually would reduce health insurance prices and it would actually work out best for everyone. I don’t believe that for a second mind you, but I don’t want to dwell on that here.

Have you wondered why there is so much chatter about this supreme court case? I’m not talking about the political scorekeeping involved, I’m talking about the commerce clause.


[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;


That little clause has been twisted to the point where it is unrecognizable. It’s meaning seems rather straightforward, but congress, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has used it in all manner of strange ways. In Ashcroft vs. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government could outlaw marijuana because of the commerce clause even though in this case the defendant never sold it at all, let alone between states. It was ruled that the defendant could have sold it, therefore the federal government had jurisdiction over it. Judge Clarence Thomas said this in his dissenting opinion:


“If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”


So who could blame congress when it passed a law saying that it could force every American to do something? When pressed on what gives them that power, they respond that the commerce clause gives it to them.

This really is the drug war’s chickens coming home to roost. Once the Supreme Court ruled that congress can essentially legislate anything at all because of the commerce clause, all bets were off. If this law gets struck down, they will have established that the Federal Government cannot force you to buy something. That’s hardly a shocking idea and it shows just how nuts the law is as determined by the Supreme Court.

There was a time when lawmakers assumed that prohibiting a substance was unconstitutional. Banning alcohol was a popular cause at one point, but they knew they couldn’t pass laws banning it until they amended the constitution. How quaint. It is now assumed that the federal government can legislate any damn thing it wants to. This law getting struck down will carve out a very narrow limitation on the feds, one that I’m really terrified that we have to spell out so clearly.

Much has been made about the hypothetical broccoli law. The thought experiment goes like this, broccoli is good for you, so can the federal government force people to buy it if not eat it? It’s a silly thing, no one really thinks that, but there are legions of people that think in the abstract that the government should legislate “good” things. You, know, for our own good.

this goes right back to my “Everything is fine as long as the right people are in power” model of politics. Why does no one think about the damage that will ensue as soon as the “wrong” people are in charge? Limiting government power is to protect us from whatever politician you think is evil incarnate. Dick Cheney or Nancy Polesi, it doesn’t matter. No one should be afraid of the changing of the political winds.

This is the real reason why this case is so important. If we can get some sort of semblance of sanity with regards to the commerce clause, it will be a victory. With any luck, it will also force the court to reconsider previous contortions over the clause as well. Remember, the law being “good for us” is not a sufficient reason for the government to employ its force.