Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Difference Between Today's Republicans and Democrats

This video demonstrates the difference between the approaches of today's Republicans and that of Democrats. Intellect, not emotion. Problem solving, not ideology.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ask Me A Question

Pretend I am a candidate for President and ask me a question.

I can, and probably will, spend time writing about my vision for this country, but it really won't address YOUR problems or what YOU think are the problems of this country.

So, ask me a question and let's see if my answers would be worthy of a vote or not.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Divide & Conquer

"If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them."
-Sun Tzu

Karl Rove's election strategy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Faith vs. Reason

"Reason is experimental intelligence, conceived after the pattern of science, and used in the creation of social arts; it has something to do. It liberates man from the bondage of the past, due to ignorance and accident hardened into custom. It projects a better future and assists man in its realization. And its operation is always subject to test in experience... The principles which man projects as guides... are not dogmas. They are hypotheses to be worked out in practice, and to be rejected, corrected and expanded as they fail or succeed in giving our present experience the guidance it requires. We may call them programmes of action, but since they are to be used in making our future acts less blind, more directed, they are flexible. Intelligence is not something possessed once for all. It is in constant process of forming, and its retention requires constant alertness in observing consequences, an open-minded will to learn and courage in re-adjustment."
- John Dewey

"In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination."
- Albert Einstein

"Science has never sought to ally herself with civil power. She has never subjected anyone to mental torment, physical torment, least of all death, for the purpose of promoting her ideas." -John W. Draper

A more fun perspective: Here (Requires Video)

I have been pondering for a long time, trying to figure out exactly what my issues are with the current administration and the "right" in general. There are many emotional issues that strike me immediately, but I find them to be of little value when trying to evaluate the effectiveness and direction of this administration. For sure, they are arrogant and self-righteous and secretive and pompous and most of all they act like schoolyard bullies. But, truth be told, there is a little of that in every leader or politician with significant power.

I was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, so I'm no stranger to the personalities of those who work in the White House and on Capitol Hill. I have also worked in the government sector for over 13 years as a consultant and have served a tour in Afghanistan as an Army soldier, so I know that there is little validity or meaningful purpose behind large conspiracy theories or the like. For the most part their behavior makes them hypocrites as they regularly stand on their "moral high ground" and berate their opponents and ideological opposites while bemoaning the loss of civil discourse and debate. However, being a bit of a hypocrite has never really been a showstopper for any politician.

I think this behavior and all its consequences are merely the symptoms of related, deep-seeded issues that make up the disease that is at the root of my concern about this administration and others of their ideological ilk. What bother me the most are their policies and their reasoning behind their policies or should I say their LACK of reasoning. It's the logic, or lack there of, that I think is truly disturbing. However, the question is still: why? Why do men and women who are by no means stupid (ignorance and stupidity are two different things) develop and promote policies that, beyond their shiny surfaces and emotional appeal, are so illogical and counterproductive, especially in the long term?

On the way into work one day, early in the growing fiasco of Iraq, I heard an interview with Hans Blix on NPR. When asked why the Bush Administration went into Iraq when all signs were pointing against the existence of WMD and some of their own intelligence was shown to be false, he answered (I'm paraphrasing here), "Because they are believers. They believed that WMD existed and the believed that Saddam was evil." Pop! Bing! Bam! Boom! The light bulb went off in my head and I had the epiphany. What struck me so clearly in his statement was the use, and I think intentional use, of the word "BELIEVE". That's exactly it! They, the Bush Administration, neo-conservatives, and all their minions et al, are BELIEVERS!

BELIEVERS don't need empirical evidence; they don't need facts; they don't need logic; they only need their vision and their BELIEFS. In a nutshell this explains what makes them both shortsighted and illogical, and in the long run, detrimental to the long-term future of this country.

It's important to note that this isn't about religion or faith of the theological kind, although the approach to such things is related. I am not talking about being Christian, Muslim or Jewish or of any other religious "faith". What I'm writing about is applying the same system of faith and belief, and not a little cognitive dissonance and lack of critical thought, to the human political system.

When one is discussing "God" or "Religion" or "Faith" they are essentially talking about something that cannot be proved or supported via empirical evidence; regardless of how hard some seem to try. All of the historical evidence of the existence of Mohammed or Jesus does not prove the miracles or assertions of their divinity. At some point it requires an initial causality-rooted leap of faith. The greatest desconstruction of the Abrahamic books of faith will not allow one to get past the essential truth that rational thought cannot ignore the root fact that religion requires faith beyond the realm of man's investigations.

It requires FAITH to BELIEVE in God or a higher power because, by definition, God and these higher powers are beyond the realm of empirical evidence. Your FAITH and BELIEF are part of what proves your worthiness to God or the higher power. However, the body politic of man is not of the Godly realm and is wholly defined by empirical evidence and the perceptions of that evidence by those within the system. Therefore, when one must explain their actions within the scope of politics, they must be able to answer the populace with empirical evidence or at least logic in order to adequately explain their actions. If one cannot do this, then they will eventually be exposed.

With this in mind, let's take a look at the current administration and the modern conservative movement or what some call the Neo-Conservatives.

The Bush Administration had scored very high with respect to its reactions to 9/11. This comes from the inherent decisiveness that is one of the few virtues of BELIEVERS. War, combat and the defense of a nation require decisive action when this action is a response to a direct assault on our people and land. "He who hesitates is lost." We can easily concede that the actions in Afghanistan were both warranted and conducted in excellent fashion; even if it would be harder to argue that any other President would have acted differently. Even the peacekeeping is going fairly well.

Afghanistan was the epicenter for radical Muslim extremists and was a logical and proper choice for direct action. The funny thing is the world agreed. Strange how that works, you make a logical decision and most of the world agrees. Interesting.

Let's also concede that the campaign to invade Iraq was also executed with efficiency and audacity that speaks to the excellence of our armed forces. The problems of keeping the peace not withstanding, it's not our military that's the problem in Iraq, it is the reasoning behind our being there and the lack of forethought by this administration that is now causing problems and is causing the populace to refocus on the abilities of this administration.

Mr. Bush up until recently had enjoyed a pass with respect to critical review of his domestic policies as well his foreign policies not related to the war on terrorism. In essence, our attention had been diverted. However, the public has lost most of its fear of terrorism at home, the world is none too pleased with our foray into Iraq, and the war itself and the economy aren't going so well anymore. Real wages are down for the vast majority of Americans, our entitlement programs are going bankrupt, our healthcare system is a shambles, the rich are abdicating their responsibilities to pay taxes at the expense of the middle and lower classes, and our environment is being ignored in order to provide short-term economic gains. And, finally, Bush's lack of true leadership capabilities have been badly exposed by his inability to assess the scope of need related to the response to Hurricane's Katrina and Rita.

On the war front specifically, more men and women are coming home in body bags now than during the invasion and first year of occupation and we have no WMD to show for it, no evidence of a terrorist link of any significance in Iraq, and we are now faced with years of support and insurgency if we don't want to see a bloody civil war for which we will be blamed, and rightly so. We are hemorrhaging are domestic financial resources to pay for this war and reconstruction and the benefit of even the most remote possibilities of success are starting to seem incongruent with the costs. This is compounded by the fact that these resources are not available to help our own people.

We may establish a pseudo-democracy in Iraq, but what if they choose a fundamentalist government? What then? Do we declare the election null and void because we don't like the outcome? How democratic. And, what if they choose a secular government? How much money and time will we have to spend providing security to ensure it survives? The sad thing is, we are stuck paying for and supporting this effort because if we pull out now, it will be a bloodbath of epic proportions. Sadder still is the fact that in our approach to this war we alienated the only countries that could provide viable peacekeeping support.

So, how did we get here?

We got here because from the very beginning of this administration, there was a "BELIEF" that Saddam was evil and that he had WMD and therefore he had to go. After 9/11, that BELIEF became a matter of policy or at least an excuse.

Because this administration is filled with like-minded BELIEVERS (they wouldn't be in the administration if they weren't like-minded), they need little supporting empirical evidence to convince them of their righteousness. Conversely, once they were convinced of their righteousness, it would have taken a great deal of contrary empirical evidence to dissuade them. And, if you set the standard of evidence high enough, you can rest assured, no one will be able to meet the threshold. Oh, and if you actively cherry-pick information in hopes of "selling" a war instead of "justifying" it, then BELIEF is the key to success. You don't necessarily have to buy you're own bullshit, you just have to sell it.

The problem is that with a BELIEVER it's easy to overlook the inherent inaccuracies and "fuzzy" areas of intelligence when said intelligence supports your beliefs, but it's a different story when the intelligence is in opposition.

In science or in logical discussions, when one's assertions or theories are challenged, peers evaluate the evidence or argument presented and the worthiness of the challenge is determined. If the challenge can be repeated or has enough evidence to support its assertions, then it's accepted and adopted in lieu of the original theory. However, in a FAITH-BASED system you must virtually hit one over their head with the facts before they acquiesce. The difference is that BELIEF is based on emotion, and FAITH in an empirically unproveable concept, not logic or critical thought. Therefore, your evidence, or in this case, "intelligence", must be so strong as to overcome what the person BELIEVES, "with all their heart", is correct.

Come on, how can the President be wrong if he is surrounded by all those smart people and he BELIEVES with ALL HIS HEART that he is RIGHT?

Ok, that's the war thing, but what about the economy?

We got here because investors and consumers lost confidence in corporations and because the BELIEVERS, mostly Congress in this case, have worked to deregulate industry as a whole, not because there is evidence that looser regulations and lower taxes spur ethical businesses that create jobs, but because they BELIEVE that they do those things. The evidence, however, is usually quite to the contrary.

Putting on the blinders:

Because the evidence is based on non-hard science and statistics, things quite fuzzy to begin with, those on the pulpit of BELIEF label it "Junk Science" (An essential tactic in the world of BELIEF). It's that baseball bat to the head thing. "If it doesn't have a .05 confidence level then I'm not buying it."

This is a sentiment shared by many in the BELIEF camp even though they know (Ok, those in the camp with an education) that very little in social science, or even hard science, can achieve such confidence levels. So, instead of erring on the side of caution and admitting that there even is a "fuzzy area" of understanding to begin with, they turn to their BELIEFS and say, well, if you can't prove it (try proving a negative sometime), then I will trust my BELIEFS. However, as is par for the course in the inherent hypocrisy of BELIEVERS, they have no problems sighting social science statistics, with the same issues of confidence, when those findings support their BELIEFS.

If you're lucky they may admit that it's not clear from the evidence presented, but they will then always fall back on their BELIEFS. What's even worse is when they find some obscure study or statistic that muddies the water just enough to allow them to fall back on their BELIEFS and dismiss or ignore other facts or logical arguments that seem to contradict their position. See, FAITH has no need for confidence levels, it is what is. You either believe it, or you don't. Black and white. With me or against me. And, if you do BELIEVE, then to question is simply heresy.

And the Environment?

We got here because those in charge of protecting our environment and the consumer BELIEVE that the free market and businesses are capable of policing themselves. Furthermore, they BELIEVE that the cost of doing business and keeping the economy running means it's ok to lose a few trees, cause a little disease, poison a little water, or cut a few accounting corners.

After all, it's for the greater economic good of all people...right?

So, if you're against deregulation you must be against the economic betterment of the people? (You elitist, tree hugger you) You simply can't have it both ways in the BELIEF world. And, come on, those scientists and economists don't really KNOW, "without a doubt", what the affects of our policies are anyway.

Ok, if you buy that particular brand of B.S., then why not err on the side of safety and fairness? Stumper?

All of the current administration's environmental and business regulations, policies and laws come from their BELIEFS even though time and time again science and legal proceedings have shown that their BELIEFS are usually on the opposite side of fact, logic and justice for the people.

These are just some examples of how the role of BELIEF determines the path of this administration and those in Congress also on a similar BELIEF bandwagon. There are many others out there, but I will leave it to the reader to find them and see for themselves. However, don't think that this approach is limited to just those people and ideologists on the side which we call the "Right". There are many BELIEF ideologists on the "Left" as well. They are the ones responsible for political correctness run wild and for ridiculous regulations that over-protect and stifle economic expansion. Regardless of one's political stripe, it's their approach that makes them dangerous.

The "Right" seems to have more of the BELIEVER type because, for the most part, they encompass more of the religious fundamentalists within their sphere of influence and ideology. (Something I find ironic as Jesus sat firmly on the left side of the equation) Consequently, the same strong belief system that accompanies their religious faith is translated into politics.

This isn't a judgment, but an observation. The same observation I think our Founding Fathers made when they ensured that the separation of church and state was such an important concept within our government - even if they didn't explicitly write it into the Constitution.

Why is this an issue?

Well, I think it's an issue, in fact THE issue, because this sort of approach to decisions and leadership can lead to several problems - problems that have a national and global, long-term impact.

The first problem is that BELIEVERS, on both sides, tend to frame issues and problems in very simplistic terms, black and white if you will. They do this because any BELIEF system cannot easily deal with complexity. Complex systems are filled with contradictory information and require a great deal of insight, study and effort to understand and to manage. Many ideologically driven, decisive people don't have the time for such things and any BELIEF system worth its salt certainly has no time for skeptics and details. Therefore, everything and everyone must fit neatly into little boxes of black and white, right and wrong, or left and right.

Those messy little details that cannot easily fit into one of the many diametrically opposed categories are swept away as irrelevant or are attacked as inaccurate or misleading. Rarely are such messy little details dealt with by facts because that would involve questioning one's FAITH and once one does that, they open up a Pandora's Box of questions and messy little details. And, once one begins to question one piece of a BELIEF-based system, then it brings into question the entire system, and the BELIEVERS can't have that either.

In order to be right, someone must be wrong.

The propensity to label and categorize everything into opposing boxes also instigates and promotes divisiveness and an US vs. THEM mentality. (An essential state for the "divide and conquer" approach of Karl Rove) Consequently one is either with me or against me and if they are with me, then they cannot question the BELIEFS upon which we are based. So, instead of having enlightened debate about a subject, we end up with partisan posturing and the marketing of information that defends an ideological position but does little to help solve problems. The end result is polarization based on ideology instead of useful debate about the relevant facts or the approaches to a solution.

"Change, we cannot change, for that would require...effort."
- Kids In The Hall

Another problem with BELIEVERS is their unwillingness to question their own system of BELIEF. If one begins to question their belief system, then everything they BELIEVE they know comes into question and worse still, the world is no longer a simplistic equation capable of being categorized into tidy boxes. "If I can't categorize then I have to analyze and that requires effort, and God forbid I may have to change my mind should the data suggest that my viewpoint is wrong. And change? I cannot change, for that would require...effort."

Should one have the audacity to challenge their strategy of over-simplification, then the BELIEVERS have a label for the heretic: "elitist", "technocrat", "intellectual snob", and the real emotional zinger..."moral relativist". Notice they never say a person thusly labeled is wrong based on the facts, just that they are (Your Label Here) and OBVIOUSLY out of touch with this SIMPLE problem...or "truth".

See, BELIEVING is EASY. It's only challenging when one finally gets hit over the head with a messy little detail that can't be neatly categorized or easily dismissed (2000 Body Bags). It's much easier to say "In Shalah", "It's God's Will", than to accept the fact that A) we, meaning humans, don't control everything, perhaps anything; and B) maybe there is something I am missing or I'm wrong about.

Once one begins to question their simplistic model, then all of their resultant BELIEFS and decisions and positions based on that BELIEF are now brought into question. Furthermore, they now must actually work to develop an informed opinion on each issue, topic or concept istead of drawing their conclusions based on their BELIEFS or from the trough of like-minded ideologists (simpletons?).

Oh, and if one does change their mind, then the BELIEVERS have a resonating label for them too, "waffler", "flip-flopper", "opportunist".

The critical thinking mind does not fear change and does not fear changing one's mind when faced with clear evidence that's in contrast to earlier held positions. This is so because the mind that's not stuck in a particular BELIEF system understands that nothing in the human world, much less the political world, is set in stone and most things don't fit neatly into black and white boxes. Therefore, the critical thinker attempts to make decisions on the best information available at any one time.

Does this mean that the right decision will always be taken? No. But, what it does mean is that the critical thinker has justifiable reasons for the decision taken and clear reasons for instigating change based on the new data or information. Best of all, they can do it with a clear conscience. However, if one takes a position on BELIEF and only considers information aligned with their agenda, then they have no room for a change of "heart" and therefore will be subject to throwing themselves upon their own sword before instigating rightful change.

So, which kind of person would YOU want taking decisions that affect your life?

There are many other issues that come with those who chose FAITH over critical thinking, but again, I leave that to the reader to explore. However, we need to also ask ourselves how we have been sold on those that lead from the pulpit of BELIEF as opposed to critical thought. We, and I mean collectively as we have elected many that fit into this category, have allowed ourselves to be led by such people because they have appealed to our emotions.

Like all good BELIEVERS they know that facts alone will not incite the type of action for which they are looking. They must appeal to our emotions.

From the Right:

- "We have been attacked and we are vulnerable!"
- "You deserve your money more than the Government!"
- "Regulations stifle economic growth and take away jobs!"
- "Illegal immigrants take your jobs and kill your family!"
- "Saddam kills his own people and is making weapons of mass destruction that could kill YOU!"
- "Environmentalists are tree-hugging wackos who care more about whales then people!"
- "Public schools promote premarital sex and teach a theory that borders on religion and discounts God!"
- "Democrats are liberal wimps!"
- "The left is a culture of DEATH!" (I'm thinking they may want to consult some Iraqis.)

From the LEFT:

- "All corporations are evil and want to rip you off!"
- "All corporations that make money from natural resources are evil and will destroy the world!"
- "The IMF is the root of all evil!"
- "All Pro-Lifers are Terrorists!"
- "Good security means loss of all our freedoms!"
- "Republicans are religious zealot warmongers!"

Where the BELIEVERS excel in the marketing and promotion of their message, they lack context, critical thought and proportion. If you were to ask most any politician or leader what are the major problems in this country, you would most likely get similar answers from all of them, although in a slightly different order of priority. Where the large differences would become apparent between the critical thinker and the BELIEVER is in the framing of the problem and the approach to the solution.

Problems? What problems?

First, we should acknowledge that most of the problems in modern America are NOT that big a deal (save natural disasters and war). Trust me when I tell you, after spending 9 months in Afghanistan and years traveling in the Near East, that other than defending ourselves from major attack and recovering from large natural disasters, our problems are one of detail that most other countries wish they had time or need to discuss. Many other countries deal with whether or not they will even have schools, or roads on which to drive to school, as opposed to whether schools should teach the use of condoms. They worry about disease and food and basic infrastructure instead of obesity, violence on TV, and smoking. They worry whether their kid is going to step on a land mine, be forced into labor, or die of dysentery instead of whether they are playing too many video games and watching Janet Jackson expose a breast during the Super Bowl.

What we worry about amounts to fine-tuning. Because of this, most of the clear-cut, simple issues that face many other countries have already been covered and dealt with in America. This means that the "problems" we are dealing with today are very complex as they are usually dealing with culture and the approach to the solution. It's this complexity that causes problems and creates those messy "fuzzy areas". It's how one deals with said complexity that draws the distinction between BELIEVERS and critical thinkers.

BELIEVERS frame the problem by first trying to stuff it into a nice, neat box that can have a convenient label placed on it and can be effectively marketed on a bumper sticker (red, white & blue...please...with a fish or a cross) to a populace more interested in watching brain-numbing "reality" entertainment and buying their next cell phone than engaging in the reality of politics and the finer points of tax policy and environmental regulation. BELIEF leaders know that they don't need facts to sell their point of view to the uninformed, they just need enough "information" (propaganda) to frame the problem so that it fits neatly into a box to which like-minded constituents can identify. Then it's only a matter of saying, "Because this issue fits into Box A, the solution is aligned with all issues that fall into Box".

The solution that fits depends on whose "Box" you're currently buying into. If you're a BELIEVER on the right, than solution "Right Box" is the ticket. If you're a BELIEVER on the left, than solution "Left Box" is the answer. If you're unsure or your friends are questioning your particular BELIEF, no worries, each BELIEF system will feed you enough information (propaganda) and opinion for you to form an opinion aligned with the particular BELIEF without the waste of personal time necessary to read a little and form your own opinion.

What could be easier? And in America it's all about easy.

The rub is that the BELIEVERS know that most people, especially those who are already BELIEVERS, but even some who are just uninterested or lazy, will be happy to have their opinions spoon fed to them if it means they don't have to work for it themselves (read a book, turn off the TV, etc). And, gee, "these people sure are smart, so they must know what they are talking about, right?" Forget the fact that most pundits and wonks are nothing more than pretty talking heads. BELIEVER Leaders rely on the laziness and apathy or those unwilling to apply critical thinking skills or, more importantly, personal time to a problem because that would constitute work, and unfortunately, a certain amount of innate intellect.

On the flip side, critical thinkers are hamstrung because the only way to get their message out effectively is to present the facts and facts are dry and boring and often inconclusive; at least when compared to the certainty of FAITH. To compound the problem, this inconclusiveness plays right into the BELIEVER'S hands. "Are you confused by this inconclusive, liberal, mumbo jumbo? No problem, we'll cut right through that confusion and spoon-feed you your opinion...here on Fox News."

BELIEVERS have a whole host of organizations, think tanks and research centers that are happy to condense, massage, spin and market the appropriate information (propaganda) necessary to sell their respective agendas. The facts they do present are almost always out of context to the larger issue and are presented in a way to ensure that they promote a message consistent with the respective BELIEF systems they're supporting. Worse still, the "facts" are RARELY peer-reviewed or repeatable. In short, these Think Tanks and Research Centers act as the information middlemen and peddlers. The problem is they are NOT unbiased middlemen. And, if that's from where people are getting their "facts", then that's the BELIEF system they are consciously or unconsciously buying into. Worse yet, one can easily shop around until they find the information that fits their particular BELIEF system; as long as factual content isn't a prerequisite.

In contrast to this, critical thinkers try to look at all the evidence; and not just that which is produced by think tanks and the like; that inevitably have their own agendas. Critical thinkers seek out independent sources whose independence and strength of argumant can be verified and supported by the rigor of their research and not the the loudness, emotional appeal, and moral certainty of their presentation.

Simple is as simple does.

BELIEVERS simplify while critical thinkers muddy the water with details and messy little facts; but, as the saying goes, "The devil is in the details."

By simplifying issues, BELIEVERS create a framework that affords them the ability to present solutions that address only a simplified, dumb-downed problem. The real risk is that the problem is most likely very complex and the "simple" solution only addresses the cosmetic (emotional) surface and not the underlying root cause of the problem.

Too many criminals? Build more jails; but at what cost to manage and what happens when they get out? Schools not performing? Raise the standards and test, test, test; but, who foots the bill and where are all the qualified teachers going to come from and who decides what should go on the test? Need to pay for a war? Raid social security and deficit spend ; but who is going to pay for the retirements of those already in the program and what spending will we cut in the future to balance the budget?

What these "simple" solutions amount to are short-term solutions that usually end up causing a whole host of unintended and detrimental consequences, e.g. seat-of-the-pants management. But, these simple solutions have the attractive qualities of the impression of decisiveness and certainty that one can easily understand. Additionally, they have the force of emotion to ramrod the idea through the skulls of the lazy and intellectually challenged.

What these BELIEF leaders do is sell, and they are really good at selling. Who cares if the product is crap? You bought it didn't you?

The problem then becomes one of dealing with all the unintended consequences of simple-minded, short-term thinking. A problem exacerbated by the fact that no one from the BELIEF camp does any risk management or mitigation planning to deal with the possibility of unforeseen or unintended problems (see Iraq). Why? Because there ARE no risks because of the strength of their convictions. "I BELIEVE, therefore, it is so."

The result? More seat of the pants management. And, if anyone were to have the audacity to complain, then they are merely labeled a "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" or "nay sayers" who just don't like "Person X". (see former Chairman or the JCS, Treasury Secretary, former Counter-Terrorism Czar, etc, etc, etc.).

Complex problems need to be investigated from every angle and the solution will most likely have to be as complex as the problem itself. Often, the solution will have to promote the implementation of programs that will not lend themselves to cost benefit analysis or return on investment analysis. Furthermore, the first attempt at fixing the problem may not work as intended due to the complexity and lack of understanding, further delaying relief. This is unacceptable to BELIEVERS of all stripes - ironic considering the fact that most BELIEF systems deal in deferred rewards. And, this deferred result further complicates matters, as politicians need results in order to be reelected - and it's ALL about being reelected for the "Professional Politician".

This short-term thinking then leads to finger pointing and backbiting as each BELIEF system blames the other for the unintended consequences. This results in very little civil discourse and even less critical thinking and almost no problem solution.

With all this said, this does not mean that ideology is always bad or that we cannot draw great ideas from BELIEF systems. What it does mean is that managing, investigating and taking decisions is NOT something that should be done by BELIEVERS, as defined here, or through the lens of BELIEF. Our "problems" require a deep, critical understanding of the context, scope and issues behind them; they require CRITICAL THINKING! They cannot be packaged neatly into ideological boxes and solved with equally simple solutions.

If we allow ourselves to be ruled by BELIEVERS and their propagandist, then we are destined to be polarized and angry. Angry because we will never be solving the problems we do have, we will only be putting our finger in the next hole in the dyke; and polarized because we will spend our time arguing about whose finger should be used and which hole should be next.

So, after all of this, why does the Bush Administration and the Neo-Con et al bother me?

They bother me because they are a cabal of BELIEVERS. They are applying their simple-minded solutions to the problems they have artificially simplified via their BELIEF system and in doing so have created a whole host of unintended consequences that are being paid for with the blood, treasure and health of this nation.

Trickle down economic theory; peace through superior firepower; preemptive/dismissive foreign policy; unregulated free markets; corporate self-policing; these are all BELIEFS. They aren't policies resulting from critical thinking or thorough investigation. They are the result of thinking about HOW to SELL the ideology that meets their goals. They implement their policies because they BELIEVE that they are right, not because facts and evidence suggest that they are right. And, unless they are hit over the head with the proverbial bat, then they will not be dissuaded in their pursuit of their BELIEF.

The problem with this particular set of BELIEVERS is that they have an Army of middlemen (Think Tanks, Institutes, Salesmen, etc) that are there to ensure that the bat is never big enough or, if possible, available. This army spends its time attacking the message, and more often the messenger, by impugning anything that doesn't have a .05 or better confidence level or by attacking the messenger on a personal level. This is a very nifty trick that looks to use science against itself and looks to discredit the message by discrediting the messenger.

Very little in science has such high confidence levels, mostly because the scientists simply lack the time or resources to collect more data to make more accurate predictions of future behavior. The truly despicable nuance to this type of attack is that it kills two birds with one stone. By attacking the science behind an issue, using their simplistic, propaganda-ridden approach, they not only defend their position but also promote the position that further research would be useless, as they already know the answer or the answer is unknowable. In this way they ensure that the prerequisite confidence level is never reached because resources to do further research will not be made available and, consequently, they can continue on with their BELIEF system unimpeached and unchallenged.

Another problem with this simplistic approach is that many people don't understand the scientific method or statistical mathematics well enough to understand which findings and conclusions are truly significant; hence the BELIEVERS using a rediculous confidence level of a study, out of context, as a wedge to discredit the conclusions of a report or study that contradicts and ideological agenda. Global warming anyone?

Lazy people, BELIEVERS and the intellectually challenged rely on these middlemen (propagandists) to interpret the "facts" for them and all the while these middlemen (propagandists) are using an intellectual slight-of-hand to present their biased side of the story in a way that is consistent with their BELIEF system.

Odious is the word I would use.

Now, if the message cannot be effectively attacked in this way, then the BELIEVER, and their minions, both official and unofficial, attack the messenger. Hey, if what they're saying can't be spun, then spin the messenger. The fear mongerer Senator Joe McCarthy was a master at this type of character assassination, especially when it came to those who rightly came after him, and he would be proud of many we call political leaders today.

Give a reasoned rebuttal about why we shouldn't have gone to Iraq and you are labeled a pacifist, unpatriotiotic, a traitor. Show how tax breaks screw the American public and you are a liberal "tax & spender" who wants to socialize the free market by redistributing the wealth. Ask who was sitting on the energy policy board and how policy was developed and you are a nosey busybody environmentalist who wants to fight deregulation that will help the economy. This is a very effective tool to muzzle criticism. And, with the right network in place (Fox News, Think Tanks, Talking Heads, Government Agencies) you have the capability to repeat an unfounded accusation enough to ensure those who are too lazy to check will be convinced that any accusation is fact. Once they are convinced that the messenger is a (place your label here) , then his or her message is irrelevant, regardless of how factual it is.

Another tool from the BELIEVER tool box is the, "if you can't answer the question about a policy or activity, then repeat the relevant policy and appeal to their emotions" tool. This is how it works: You ask, "Is the President concerned that the coalition is weakening in Iraq because of Spain's intention to pull out." The answer, "The President is committed to working with coalition to ensure that the free people of Iraq will be afforded every opportunity to pursue their new found freedom. We will stay as long as it takes to fight terrorism in Iraq and the world. The coalition is made up of many European countries and we are all committed to a safer world free of terrorism. Next question."

The next person asks, "So, does that mean the President is concerned about Spain's intention to pull out of Iraq?" The answer, "The President is committed to working with coalition to ensure that the free people of Iraq , blah, blah, blah..." You get the idea. This is a very effective use of the "non-answer" answer tool or its cousin, the "speak a lot, but say a little" tool. This way, BELIEVERS can never be pinned down to an answer that would provide an opportunity to question their basic BELIEFS behind their policies or assertions. Listen to ANY White House press briefing and you will be schooled in the arts of Orwellian double-speak. I wonder if the Press Secretary feels the need to take a shower after each press conference?

What has been presented above represents the double-down defense of the ideologist, the BELIEVER, the Bush Administration, the Neo-Con, the radical right et al. Protect the BELIEF at all costs, because it will all come tumbling down otherwise. "Do NOT look at the man behind the curtain!"

The BELIEVERS currently in charge have mastered this game.

The Bush Administration is shortsighted, self-righteous and arrogant. Their FAITH in their BELIEF system allows them to dismiss contrary evidence and to ignore the perceptions of the world and their detractors because they KNOW they are right. They KNOW they are right because they have insulated themselves within a system dedicated to keeping their particular BELIEF system intact as opposed to solving the actual problems they face. All of this is done despite growing evidence that runs contrary to their BELIEFS.

They scoff at criticisms because no one has "proved" them wrong yet. Well, hard to provide proof when you must fight an army of BELIEF henchmen. Henchmen dedicated to preserving a system that limits access to those who pose challenges or questions too hard to dismiss or ignore using the standard tools of double speak and intellectual slights-of-hand.

This is why the Bush Administration and the "right" in general bothers me. This is why they scare me. It's the close-minded, single-mindedness and self-righteous approach that concerns me. There are times for decisiveness and single-minded determination, but in the world of politics, especially in a country of many complex problems and few simple ones like America, those times are few and far between. Most of our problems, and certainly the problems of the world, require much greater research, forethought and critical thinking than has been the hallmark of this administration.

They have run roughshod over the American people and the people of the world using the tactics of a bully who BELIEVES he is right no matter what. Sometimes, rarely, they have shown instances of leadership, but more often than not they have only demonstrated arrogance and a lack of intellectual depth.

The most significant quality of totalitarian thinkers is extreme contempt for facts, for, in their opinion, fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.
-Hannah Arendt

I have finally put my finger on why this administration bothers me and it's because they are BELIEVERS who want to shape the world in the image of their BELIEF system, excluding those who don't prescribe to their BELIEFS, instead of shaping the world into the best possible image it can be, within the constraints of modern society and economic environment, while including as many people as possible in the process.

If you do not understand the difference, then I am afraid that this essay is probably lost on you and, consequently, you probably shouldn't vote for me.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What is this all about?

So, what is this blog all about?

Well, I am convinced that what we lack in this country, from a political perspective, is not a collective lack of new ideas or ability, but a lack of individual leadership, depth of understanding, and critical thinking skills.

I don't believe that our Founding Fathers ever conceived of people who would seek to be politicians by profession. Political science as a university major? Methinks not. To them, the consummate politician and leader is one that comes from the general public, bringing with them the skills and experience they obtained while toiling like other Americans. These men and women should see the call to service as a role to be temporarily filled, not a profession to be sought. They should want to serve and then return to the fold. This kind of perspective brings an understanding of the real concerns, the real pains, that must be addressed. I think the Founding Fathers basic concept of Democracy and the system of Checks & Balances was predicated on the wish to structurally limit political power in order to promote constant change in leadership so our system of government could effectively deal with the only constant in the world of politics and society: change.

Today's politicians and those that support them seem to be really good at only one thing: politics. The wonks and politicians they support that make up today's supposed leadership have become experts at packaging a message and winning elections. Bush won not because of the strength of his ideas, HE had none, but on the strength of his charisma, charm and Karl Roves extensive research into the disparate groups that made up the right side of the political equation and his strategy to pull them together via divisive propoganda. This, combined with the use of former telephone marketing, high pressure salesmen turned political communicators, and a relentless appeal to emotion, allowed Bush et al to do the one thing they were actually qualified to do: win an election. It's no surprise that they have fallen back to, "We won this election so stop whining." as the reality is that they have nothing to offer past the election win itself. No original ideas, no leadership, no follow-through; just empty language leftover from their political campaigns.

Virtually every platform and policy that has come forth from this administration and the right in general is nothing more than the product of "Think Tanks" spread geogrphically, but clustered around a very specific and selfish ideology: "Me, Mine & the Bottom Line". You can try to rationalize it any way you'd like, but the result is the same. Tax policy comes from a cabal of rich people trying to protect their wealth; Social Security Reform comes from interest groups, Wall Street financiers, and free marketeers that want to destroy the "New Deal" because it has embarrassed them since its inception; foreign policy comes straight from the Neo-Con trough of chest-thumpers, none of whom have ever served anything but themselves and wear the blood of others as badges of American honor and power. Bush isn't a leader, he is a charming (in a Frat President sort of way) figure head who is smart enough to do what he is told and surround himself with "Yes" men and women who value loyalty over integrity.

What has become painfully clear is that the "Think Tank" ideas are steeped in ideology, branded in faith, and sold by slick, former telephone marketers who care nothing for the results of their work except for the success of the sale itself. Unfortunately, it's all fashion, with no function - save for the small group it's meant to benefit. The Emperor truly has no clothes. What we need is leadership that is not concerned with what the leader thinks is right, but is concerned with identifying the real pain within America and working with the best minds this country has to offer to develop and implement solutions that benefit the most people possible.

Unfortunately, we have traded one set of "elitist" for another. The only difference is that the current right-leaning elitists say, "What's good for me, can be good for you.", while those they replaced said, "I know what's good for the people and it will be good for all." While both extremes are faulty, at least one looks beyond the self in attempt to do what is right for the most people possible. So, which side should one err on in the absence of true guidance? The answer is the difference between selfishness and selflessness.

It's this dichotomy of thought and approach that is the true difference between the left and right in this country. And, it is the realization that neither extreme provides the best answers that drives me to look squarely at the middle way. As in most things in life, the answer to national problems is usually found in a mixture of approaches that combine both private and public good. While it's nearly impossible to meet all of the needs of both the individual and the public, what is clear is that something that defers to what is best for the public as a whole well invariably be good for all, while that which is good for a small minority is rarely good for all; no matter how one tries to make it possible for the majority to make it into this "select group" or how much "trickling down" takes place.

This, in a nutshell is the basis of my entire political philosophy. A true leader strives for that which benefits the most at the expense of the least. A leader is not concerned in wealth and power or rewarding those that contribute to such things. A leader is concerned with doing what is right and with what benefits all of those he or she must lead. Jesus preached this compassion and leadership and the uniqueness of the Christian faith is the realization that this compassion must be practice personally in order for it to be publicly instituted. Jesus would never rely on the benevolence of the rich to take care of the laboring poor. A classless society isn't a matter of wealth, but a matter of power vested in the common man and the idea of justice for all, regardless of the class structure created by wealth. A truly classless society realizes the importance of stability as much as wealth and that without one, the other cannot exist.

What is key to remember and understand is that it is a simple difference between an ideology of selfishness and selflessness. While collectively humans cannot survive on either fringe, they can thrive in the middle. It's this middle that must be explored and understood in order for anyone to truly move this country forward. In order to make the middle a reality it will take knowledge and understanding by all - and that requires rigor in our studies, clarity in our communications, and above all, patience in our approach.

It's only our own ignorance and selfishness that divides us.

Benevolence is not the same thing as compassion. Power is not an excuse to do what you think is right, it's an opportunity to ensure that the right thing is done. Wealth is not an escape from reality or justice, it's a reward for work and talent and an opportunity to contribute to the greater good. Knowledge is not something to be maligned, but something to be sought and constantly challenged and expanded. Faith is not critical thinking, and merely believing in something strongly does not make it so. Hope is not a planning tool. Ideological belief is not empirical evidence. Emotion is not intellect.

This is what this Blog will be about. Ideas from and for the common man. Ideas developed with reason, not faith, deference to the many instead of the few, and constantly shaped via the lens of true leadership.

If you cannot understand this concept or you feel such an approach is a threat to you, then don't vote for me.