28
Jul

In July 2013, No Labels held a rally where lawmakers of both parties crowded a park outside the Capitol, stood on a grandstand and one by one declared themselves “problem solvers.” The government shut down a few months later as Republicans, including some who appeared on that stage, refused to allow a budget to pass unless it defunded the president’s health care law.

Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote, but which never came up for a vote in the House or became law.

-

Yahoo! News

Self-described centrist or “problem solving” bipartisan groups like No Labels are utterly useless for myriad reasons.

  1. The political center is an ever-changing place subject to the whims of establishment Democrats and Republicans.
  2. Bipartisanship can produce disastrous results (e.g. the Iraq War) and thus is not always desirable.
  3. It is sometimes best for opposing political factions to squabble with each other. That’s how ideas are debated and communicated to the public.
  4. If a bipartisan compromise does not benefit the public, then who cares that a compromise was reached? 
  5. There has never been and probably never will be a time in America’s history in which opposing political factions routinely set aside their differences for the supposed good of the country. We couldn’t even get Americans to agree on slavery, which must rank as the single most obviously abhorrent policy in our country’s history. (Not to mention, the bipartisan “solution” to slavery up until the Civil War was to avoid addressing the issue.)
  6. One cannot discuss politics without being met with passionate disagreement. We can learn to treat those who disagree with us with respect but if we respect them, we should not ask that they abandon their firmly held beliefs just so we can all reach some arbitrary agreement and then eat cookies and hold hands.
  7. Many radicals were widely derided in their lifetimes but later judged to be forward-thinking and courageous. It’s good to have radicals around. They stir the pot and challenge orthodoxy.
  8. Some people hold views that are totally immoral. They should be met only with fierce, unyielding resistance. 
08
Jul

Dithering on Marijuana Policy

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio borrowed a page from the Clinton playbook tonight when he appeared to embrace two different stances on marijuana policy at once. 

Earlier today, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced his intention “to end the prosecution of most low-level marijuana possession cases.” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who recently referred to marijuana decriminalization as “a major mistake and something I will never support,” responded to Thompson’s announcement by blithely stating that it would ”not result in any changes.” Most would interpret such contradictory statements as clear evidence of a disagreement. Not Mayor de Blasio. In a statement, his spokesperson declared:

"We echo Commissioner Bratton’s belief that as an elected official, it is Mr. Thompson’s prerogative to set policy for his office, and agree with the Commissioner that officers must enforce the law, as it is written, consistently across the city. That said, the mayor continues to believe—as does Commissioner Bratton—that it is important for officers to exercise discretion in their work, and that includes marijuana cases, as excessive arrests for small amounts of marijuana can be unproductive."

In other words, de Blasio theoretically supports the idea of arresting less marijuana offenders but isn’t terribly eager to embrace a policy that would actually result in less marijuana offenders being arrested. His refusal to take marijuana reform seriously explains why “marijuana arrests are not actually decreasing under the de Blasio administration.”

The Mayor’s blasé, non-committal attitude towards marijuana reform is somewhat surprising considering he spent nearly his entire mayoral campaign bemoaning the targeting of young black men in stop-and-frisk arrests. And while stop-and-frisks are now occurring less frequently, plenty of young black men are still being arrested for marijuana possession and dancing on the subway, among other petty offenses.

Ultimately, the Mayor only has so much wiggle room on the marijuana issue. It’s his upstate frenemy Andrew Cuomo who has the power to reform marijuana laws (don’t hold your breath). But when tangible progress can be made, the Mayor seems content to let the opportunity slip away. Progressives should expect and demand more from a man who rightly recognizes racial disparities in stop-and-frisk arrests as an urgent problem yet seems unwilling to tackle the related, nearly identical problem of racial disparities in marijuana arrests.

26
Jun

Thoughts on the Big Soda Ban

The proposed big soda ban in New York is officially dead and opinion polls show that the idea is more or less universally despised. But I still support the damn thing (or I at least think it’s worth a try). Why? Because as it stands, consumer choice is limited by soda companies for their own benefit at the public’s expense. As a result, people consume and pay for a lot more sugar than they need and thus develop all sorts of health problems which ultimately drive up health care costs for everyone.

If I walked into almost any big movie theater in Manhattan right now, I could not purchase a 12 ounce container of soda no matter how much I might want to. As a consumer, I have no choice but to buy the smallest serving size offered, which is probably 16 ounces. Many people wrongly believe that they’ll drink a lot more soda than they actually will and that they are getting a great deal (just a quarter more for a large!), and so they often buy a medium or large, both of which are pretty enormous.

Critics of the big soda ban often complain that their freedom of choice would be restricted because, under the ban’s rules, they could no longer purchase a 32 ounce sugary behemoth. But what about the freedom to buy a 12 ounce cup, which is the much healthier choice? Soda companies have eliminated that option for the sole purpose of making money.

As the graphic below helps to demonstrate, the sizes of soda containers in movie theaters and restaurants have increased dramatically over the years.

image

The average consumer probably doesn’t realize that a “large” soda at their favorite restaurant might be quadruple the size it once was. This is all done purely for the sake of profits. The Atlantic explains:

[P]rofits increase as people buy bigger portions. The additional cost for the soda companies and restaurants to serve larger sizes may be mere cents for a larger cup and the extra liquid. Consumers are willing to pay much more than these few cents. The companies cash in. Consumers lose.

So soda companies deal a serious blow to the public’s health and reap all the benefits. Is there anything technically wrong with that? No, I suppose not. It’s not illegal and it’s doesn’t violate any sacred principle of American capitalism. But if you’re an elected official who hears daily complaints about skyrocketing health care costs, it might be a good idea to find a way to reduce rising obesity rates considering obesity adds $190 billion to annual national healthcare costs. Banning large soda containers is one of many ways to tackle this problem.

Unfortunately, the guy who decided to propose the large soda ban, Michael Bloomberg, also called for the banning of sparklers and enacted all sorts of meddlesome laws that many people understandably scoffed at. Bloomberg was also perceived as an enemy of the working class, a billionaire who couldn’t possibly relate to the struggles of a low wage worker. Had the ban been advertised by a better salesman as a fight against big soda companies that could make people healthier and reduce health care costs, it might have garnered more support.

But that didn’t happen and the idea is now deader than Ned Stark. It’s not exactly a tragedy but let’s not pretend that consumers are now free to make any choice they desire. In fact, their choices when it comes to sugary beverages are restricted all the time and the lack of healthier alternatives is literally killing them

01
Jun

Andrew Cuomo Just Wiped the Floor with New York’s Progressives

The Working Families Party of New York, a progressive coalition of grassroots activists and labor unions, formally endorsed Governor Andrew Cuomo for re-election last night after a raucous and divisive convention. The WFP nearly nominated its own candidate, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, to challenge Cuomo but ultimately decided to support the governor in exchange for his support on several issues important to the party. One of the WFP’s demands was that Cuomo push for a Democratic majority in the state Senate. (One would assume that a Democratic governor would reflexively support his own party in his own state but alas, that was not the case with Cuomo). After securing the nomination, Cuomo recorded a video message for the convention audience in an attempt to win over the crowd but their response wasn’t exactly warm, to put it mildly.

image

I thought the WFP should have nominated its own candidate because I cannot fathom why a political party whose entire existence is devoted to advancing economic progressivism would endorse an economically conservative governor. But I can certainly appreciate that the WFP was in a tough spot. The Nation reported that if Cuomo failed to secure the WFP’s endorsement, some of its powerful union members could have left the party in protest. Several influential New York politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is practically the patron saint of the WFP, worked behind the scenes to garner support for Cuomo. It would’ve required some real gumption to swat away the hands of the state’s most powerful elected officials in order to run a risky protest campaign that could have jeopardized the party’s future. 

For the WFP to retain its spot on the ballot, it must acquire 50,000 votes in the upcoming gubernatorial election. In 2010, Andrew Cuomo received 154,835 votes on the Working Families Party line. A little-known third party candidate such as Teachout might have struggled to reach the 50,000 mark (although, the Green Party candidate in 2010, Howie Hawkins, received nearly 60,000 votes despite running a campaign that was virtually invisible to most voters). The WFP’s refusal to oppose a governor known for being a tad vindictive might have been a safe move but it was a decision that was met with open rebellion at its own convention.

The WFP’s lack of courage is a stark example of why progressivism often struggles to spread throughout the U.S. While the Tea Party aggressively challenged establishment Republicans and now has one of its golden boys preparing to mount a campaign for President, progressives have comparatively little to show for all their protests and firebrand speeches.

The major policy objectives of progressivism are popular throughout the country: raising the minimum wage, scaling back military interventionism, raising taxes on the wealthy, holding Wall Street accountable for its crimes, etc. The Reagan-era adage that only centrist Democrats can win nationwide office was proved false when Barack Obama ran to the left of Hillary Clinton in 2008 and then went on to easily defeat his Republican challengers. Obama is hardly the embodiment of progressivism, but he pretended he was in the 2008 campaign speeches that helped secure his nomination. 

As Theodore Roosevelt said in 1912, at the first convention of the National Progressive Party:

The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly what should be said on the vital issues of the day.

While Roosevelt’s words are obviously still relevant, his solution to a duopoly was far more radical than the WFP’s approach, which attempts to pressure Democrats to gradually move leftward. But that strategy will fail time and again if progressives can be placated with false promises. Less than 24 hours after getting the WFP’s endorsement, Cuomo dismissed his critics, boasting that “At the end of the day, I won the endorsement, and that’s what’s really relevant.” In other words, he said what he needed to say in order to get what he wanted and after that he’ll do exactly what he feels like doing without fear of reprisal. Such is the inevitable consequence of spinelessness.

27
Mar

MMA Fought the Law and the Law Won

New York is the only place in all of North America that prohibits professional mixed martial arts bouts, in part because the sport’s savagery is apparently too much for some state legislators to handle. Most of the debate over whether or not to legalize MMA revolves around the safety of its participants: are the fights exceptionally dangerous (or perhaps even deadly) or do they just appear to be exceptionally dangerous? Studies attempting to answer this question seem to complicate the issue more than resolve it. One editorial in The New York Times notes: 

A 2006 Johns Hopkins study noted “a reduced risk of traumatic brain injury in M.M.A. competitions when compared to other events involving striking.” The reason is simple: Boxing’s “protective” padding, coupled with its 12-round bouts and rest periods, means the boxer is subject to dozens of brain-jostling head blows in each fight. In M.M.A., most bouts end in a wrestling match, with one opponent forcing the other into submission; only 28 percent of all M.M.A. bouts are decided by a blow to the head… 

As a result, M.M.A. fighters have not only a lower risk of cognitive impairment, but of death. There have been only three fatalities in the 17-year history of American M.M.A. But we average almost that many in a single year in boxing: 129 fighters have died in American rings since 1960.

But according to a Canadian study:

A mixed martial arts fighter suffers a traumatic brain injury in almost a third of professional bouts — far more than the rate of such injuries in hockey, football or even boxing…

The researchers suggest banning the growing sport among young people, and instituting rules at the pro level that limit action after a competitor is downed, much like the 10-second count in boxing.

Of course, there are other factors to consider aside from the safety of the fighters. An estimated $135 million per year in revenue could be generated for New York state if professional MMA fights were allowed to occur at major venues. That amount could pay for all state assistance for the homeless (and then some) for, potentially, years to come. Perhaps because of that monetary incentive, popular opinion has been trending towards legalization:

Support for lifting New York’s ban on mixed-martial arts has grown over the past 11 months, according to a new poll. A total of 43 percent of registered voters now want the state to rescind its ban on professional bouts, Siena College found. That’s up from 32 percent in May of last year.

And considering the issue from a broader, more philosophical perspective, why shouldn’t two consenting adults be free to fight each for a living if that’s what they want to do? If the state chooses to intervene at all, why not impose regulations designed to minimize harm rather than prohibit the sport altogether?

Since professional MMA events already occur throughout the country, it’s difficult to understand what politicians in New York hope to achieve by outlawing the sport. Anyone with internet access can watch gruesome highlight reels of fights on YouTube and any MMA aficionados living in New York can simply travel to another state to witness a live event. And professional MMA combatants are unlikely to end their careers simply because one state won’t allow them to compete within its borders. 

It should be asked of all state legislators supportive of the ban: what tangible benefits have occurred as a result of this ban and how are those benefits better than an extra $135 million in state revenue and all the benefits that might arise from spending that additional revenue? My guess is that we wouldn’t hear a convincing explanation and that most New Yorkers would rather their state government find better ways to spend its time than wagging its finger at mixed martial arts. 

06
Mar

New Mayor and Police Commissioner Yield Mixed Results

Under Commissioner Ray Kelly, arrest statistics recorded by the New York Police Department were often hidden or partially hidden from the public. That’s changed with the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the reinstatement of Commissioner Bill Bratton, who previously served under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The New York Times has analyzed the administration’s newly released arrest data and the results are decidedly mixed.  

The improvements include:

  • Greater transparency of arrest statistics
  • A huge decline in stop-and-frisk
  • A significant reduction in the murder rate

But perhaps the most notable change (or at least the change most noticed by the press) is the spike in arrests of peddlers, panhandlers, and others who have committed minor violations, such as drinking beer in public, riding bicycles on the sidewalk, and, in at least once instance, selling churros on the subway.

This isn’t a surprising development. Bratton has long advocated for the “broken windows" theory of crime prevention, which posits that going after small-time crooks, such as vandals, will ultimately prevent more serious crimes from occurring. It’s a harebrained notion that Mayor de Blasio apparently agrees with. In its most insidious form, the “broken windows” theory can result in the abuse and harassment of artists selling their work on the street or kids spray painting an abandoned building.

One of the major objections to Ray Kelly’s use of stop-and-frisk was that it often targeted young black men and other non-privileged groups. I think it goes without saying that someone selling churros in a subway station all day is not a trust fund baby lounging in a Williamsburg condo at night. de Blasio and Bratton, if they persist with their current policing strategy, will incite significant backlash from the rank-and-file New Yorkers who put them into their respective seats of power. All Mayors have their faults but considering de Blasio’s opposition to stop-and-frisk and the chorus of critics who hated the “broken windows” theory during the Giuliani administration, one would hope that de Blasio and Bratton would avoid repeating past mistakes.

22
Jan

How Politicians “Evolve”

President Obama recently admitted something that has been obvious to many for quite some time. “I don’t think [marijuana] is more dangerous than alcohol,” he told the New Yorker's David Remnick. He went on to bemoan the racially discriminatory effects of marijuana laws and suggested that Washington and Colorado’s legalization efforts should “go forward.” Although the President has not actually endorsed marijuana legalization (in fact, he criticized the idea and speculated that it could result in the decriminalization of harder drugs such as cocaine and meth), his comments are markedly different from his previous public statements on the issue. Why, after 5 years in office, has the President chosen this moment to advance the cause of drug policy reform? Perhaps it’s because of Colorado and Washington. Perhaps it’s because, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans support legalizing weed. Perhaps it’s because, in short, he recognizes that he can criticize marijuana laws without suffering any substantial consequences. Now that popular opinion has shifted on the issue, Obama’s revised stance on marijuana actually places him slightly to the right of most Americans.

If all of this sounds a bit familiar, it should. It’s essentially the same game Obama played with gay marriage when he first ran for President. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman,” Obama said to the evangelical pastor Rick Warren in 2008. It was a few short years before Obama would become the first sitting President to endorse marriage equality. Why the change of tune? Perhaps it’s because in May of 2008, only 40% of Americans supported gay marriage, while in May of 2013, that number had jumped to 54%. As the public has “evolved,” so too has the President. 

Obama is certainly not the only prominent politician guilty of following an important activist-driven movement rather than leading it. Hillary Clinton, when she was a U.S. Senator from New York in 2000, denounced gay marriage, declaring that “marriage has got historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman.” In 2013, she suddenly felt differently.

On the topic of marijuana legalization, Clinton said in 2011 that “it is not likely to work. There is just too much money in it, and I don’t think that—you can legalize small amounts for possession, but those who are making so much money selling, they have to be stopped.” Will she change her rhetoric when confronted with a more progressive audience if she runs for the Presidency again in 2016? If her past behavior is any indication, she’ll likely find a way to appease some drug reform advocates (perhaps by emphasizing her support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts or her support for medical marijuana), without alienating the other half of the country who’d rather continue locking up all the nation’s reefer fiends. It would be the same strategy, the same posturing if you will, that she and Obama have used before when presented with contentious issues. Rather than lead, they wait for others to do the hard work of advancing a divisive issue and then, once that difficult work has yielded results, they embrace a policy position that they have actively worked against for years, to the delight and applause of many liberals.

Perhaps it is the case that Obama and Clinton genuinely “evolve” at a nearly identical rate as the majority of voters. But it seems more likely that political opportunism is at play here. How convenient it must be to come out in support of an historically unpopular issue right as so many others are doing the same. Any fool can see that this is smart politics, but it is not emblematic of genuine leadership and it is not at all “progressive.” It is an almost blatant admission that winning elections (in other words, acquiring power) and maintaining power is more important than doing the right thing at the right time.

Voters should demand more of candidates setting their sights on the nation’s highest office. Instead of realpolitik, give us righteousness. Instead of posturing, offer a principled stance. And for the love of God, speak to us honestly so we know who it is we’re voting for.

03
Jan

Marijuana for Me, But Not For Thee

New York Times columnist David Brooks published an editorial yesterday that, remarkably, distinguished itself as among the silliest things he’s ever written (despite some tough competition). In it, he takes us through an unsolicited journey through his teenage experiments with marijuana and concludes that while he doesn’t ”have any problem with somebody who gets high from time to time,” he nonetheless believes that “being stoned is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged.” 

OK, fair enough, you might be thinking to yourself. But Brooks keeps going:

We now have a couple states — Colorado and Washington — that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging drug use. By making weed legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. One RAND study suggests that prices could plummet by up to 90 percent, before taxes and such. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. Colorado and Washington, in other words, are producing more users.

[…]

Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

If laws “profoundly mold culture” and have the ability to “nurture” a certain type of “community,” then surely the marijuana laws Brooks is defending are a massive failure, are they not? Laws prohibiting the use and sale of marijuana are not just routinely ignored, they are now ignored more often than ever before. Today, 38% of Americans admit they’ve tried marijuana, compared to 4% in 1969. The prohibition of marijuana has successfully molded a populace that openly disobeys and disrespects federal laws. Why does Brooks expect the continuation of prohibition to suddenly yield radically different results? He doesn’t explain, but then again, he rarely does.

And what of the many behaviors that most would agree are generally undesirable yet do not carry with them the consequence of imprisonment, such as excessive eating, self-harm, or adultery? Should we prohibit these activities in an attempt to foster a healthier community? Much like marijuana use, we could not prevent extramarital affairs or an over-fondness for cupcakes by prohibiting them via federal law, even if we could all agree that society would be better off without obesity and unhappy relationships. It’s one thing to suggest that PR campaigns or mild regulations could help curtail a societal ill but it’s something else entirely to think that rounding up obese people and adulterers would make our country a better place to live.

Brooks’ column reads like it was written by someone who doesn’t live in the real world, but rather sits isolated from society, ruminating on what rules might be applied to everyone else. Indeed, Brooks can’t be bothered to address the most troubling aspects of marijuana prohibition, such as mass incarceration or a racist criminal justice system. Instead, he, a white guy who probably never faced much risk of being arrested for his marijuana use, thinks the rabble should be taught a thing or two about the finer pleasures in life by being tossed into a cage for a few months, or years, or decades. Only someone truly ignorant of the myriad consequences of prohibition could so flippantly argue for its continuation.

31
Dec

The Best of 2013 (Or: Stuff I Wrote This Year That Doesn’t Completely Embarrass Me)

Confederate Sympathizers and Bad History (Jan. 15)

The Fantasy of Moderates (Jan. 30)

The Contemptible Failure of Liberals to Denounce Obama’s Targeted Killings (Feb. 8)

Libertarianism and the Struggle to End Drug Prohibition (Feb. 20)

DOMA and Bill Clinton’s Legacy (Mar. 11)

The Clintons: Wrong on DOMA, Wrong on Iraq, Wrong for America (Mar. 29)

The Party of Lincoln: The Nonsensical Republican Sales Pitch to Black Voters (Apr. 11)

North Korea and the U.S.: Paranoia Abounds (Apr. 13)

It’s Time to End the War on Terror (May 6)

Why Are Liberals Supporting Chris Christie? (Jun. 5)

In Defense of Abraham Lincoln (Jul. 3)

10 Reasons Why U.S. Intervention in Syria is an Awful Idea (Aug. 27)

George Orwell was a Socialist. Deal with it. (Sep. 22)

Be Wary of Those Who Fetishize Compromise (Sep. 30)

Casinos: New York’s Half-Baked Idea of Economic Revitalization (Oct. 31)

Every Party is the Anti-Science Party (Nov. 13)

Election 2016: Nobody Knows Anything But That Won’t Stop Them From Opining (Dec. 2)

02
Dec

Election 2016: Nobody Knows Anything But That Won’t Stop Them From Opining

Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner for President in 2016. Elizabeth Warren should run against her, but probably won’t win. Chris Christie is the only Republican who can attract enough liberal voters to win a general election. But Scott Walker is the only Republican who can woo moderates and the conservative base. And hell, maybe Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders should run for President too, though they obviously have no chance of winning. 

These are but a few of the confusing and completely baseless assertions and predictions being propagated by the media three whole years before the 2016 Presidential election. Pundits cite early polling numbers but then are compelled to admit that polls this early in the game are essentially meaningless. Journalists uncover the growing thirst among grassroots organizations for a true believer, but then concede that such organizations have little influence on electoral outcomes. Everyone seems to know that Hillary is the Democratic frontrunner despite the fact that most Americans have never even heard of her presumed challengers. Poll respondents have magically formed opinions on the foreign policy of governors who have said almost nothing about foreign policy during their handful of years in office. If a rumored candidate ceaselessly appears on national television, they’re said to be a de facto nominee. If a rumored candidate is rarely, if ever, on CNN or the Sunday talk shows, they’re utilizing a “lie low” strategy, and waiting for their party’s field to take shape. Pundits speculate, gossip, theorize, and generally waste the time of any unfortunate person who is paying attention to them.

The giddiness is understandable. Presidential elections are at once both meaningful and pure tabloid fodder. They make for great television. They can inspire an aging movie star to talk to a chair in front of millions of people. But since campaign season officially lasts for more than a year and since the HBO version of the last Presidential election hasn’t even been made yet, let’s give it a rest, shall we, pundits? Spare us at least a few precious months and let the inane speculation commence next year, when people are actually running.

13
Nov

Every Party is the Anti-Science Party

In a piece for The Atlantic, Congressional science policy advisor Mischa Fisher linked to a fascinating Pew study, which revealed, among other things, that:

  • 30% of Democrats believe in both reincarnation and “spiritual energy” compared to 17% of Republicans
  • 31% of Democrats believe in astrology compared to 14% of Republicans
  • 21% of Democrats claim to have had an encounter with a ghost compared to 11% of Republicans
  • And 22% of Democrats have consulted a fortune teller compared to only 9% of Republicans

If asked, scientists would probably agree that your dead grandmother isn’t creeping around your attic at 4am and that you did not, in fact, activate your chakras during your last meditation session. Despite believing in all sorts of things that defy science, Democrats sometimes maintain a false sense of superiority, as if all of their views, political or otherwise, have been vigorously vetted and approved in a research lab somewhere. [Here are but a few examples of liberal writers and/or media outlets condemning the GOP as anti-science: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] Democrats’ near-certainty in their own powers of reasoning is both unjustified and entirely unhelpful from a public relations standpoint. Few are eager to concede anything to the know-it-all.

While the denial of climate change is of far greater concern to humanity than false beliefs in specters and magical healing methods, it’s not as if the Democrat’s anti-scientific beliefs are without consequence. Take the utterly ridiculous and dangerous anti-vaccination movement, for instance. While both 71% of Democrats and Republicans support mandatory childhood vaccinations, some liberals have nonetheless bought into the hysteria:

Data [shows] that vaccine refusals are highest in notoriously Blue states like Washington, Vermont, and Oregon. In fact, the vaccine/autism scare was fueled in part by prominent lefties like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., writing in popular publications such as Rolling Stone and Salon. In addition, such non-fringy characters as then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have declared things like, “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

It’s also probably worth mentioning that the figurehead of the anti-vaccine movement, Jenny McCarthy, contributed to Democratic PACs and to Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign.

None of this is meant to advance the argument that Democrats are more anti-science than Republicans or that both parties engage in equal amounts of pseudoscientific babble. When it comes to harming the global population due to ignorance, Republicans take the cake. Nonetheless, if Democrats persist under the delusion that, with science on their side, they are inherently superior to their political foes, then they risk overlooking their own intellectual flaws.

As Norman Bates once astutely noted, “we all go a little mad sometimes.” All of us hold imperfect beliefs about the world around us, partly because much of existence is still a mystery. While it’s crucial that we substantiate our views with evidence and logic, it’s also necessary for us to recognize our limited reasoning capabilities, lest we allow our egos to decide things for us.

31
Oct

Casinos: New York’s Half-Baked Idea of Economic Revitalization

The New York Times and the National Review rarely agree on anything but they are united in opposition to an upcoming ballot proposal in New York that would allow seven casinos to be built upstate in the Catskills and in the Capital Region surrounding Albany. The wording of this constitutional amendment is suggestive to say the least and, as the editors of the National Review phrased it, “ridiculously tendentious" at worst. Polls show that this wording results in greater support for the amendment. A lawsuit that objected to the wording was dismissed by a judge earlier this month.

But far more troubling than semantics is the false promise of a casino-led economic revival for struggling upstate communities. As the National Review explains, in other states such as New Jersey and Delaware, newly built casinos have ultimately cost taxpayers money rather than provide any sort of meaningful, long-term economic growth:

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie…oversaw an embarrassing bailout of an Atlantic City casino that went bust before it even opened. …the beleaguered taxpayers of Delaware…were forced to finance a multimillion-dollar bailout of the state’s casinos.

As a tool of economic development, casinos have always been a questionable proposition. That was certainly true in 1976, when New Jersey voters legalized casino gambling in the hopes of reviving Atlantic City, which at the time was a depressing, crime-ridden slum and today is a depressing, crime-ridden slum with casinos. In 1976, Atlantic City had an unemployment rate of 13 percent. Today, it is 15.3 percent. In 1976, Atlantic City was so poorly off that one in five of its residents lived in poverty. Today, one in four of its residents live in poverty.

The New York Times agrees:

the experiences of other states that have expanded casino gambling have been mostly dismal. The casino construction jobs are not permanent, and the better-paying croupier and management jobs often go to workers from out of the area and even out of the state. People from the community usually end up with the low-wage service jobs at best, and casino visitors rarely spend their money outside the resort.

While some conservatives may oppose new casinos primarily for misguided puritanical reasons, they still argue convincingly that gambling does little to restart struggling economies. In a best case scenario, parts of upstate New York could mutate into miniature versions of Atlantic City, which, as both the Times and Review point out, is in rough shape. In a worst case scenario, the casinos will fail to generate much business, demand taxpayer assistance, and drain money from working class families. Indeed, the toll casinos take on local populations has been extensively studied. David Frum summarized the findings for CNN thusly:

The impact of casinos on local property values is “unambiguously” negative, according to the National Association of Realtors. Casinos do not revive local economies. They act as parasites upon them. Communities located within 10 miles of a casino exhibit double the rate of problem gambling. Unsurprisingly, such communities also suffer higher rates of home foreclosure and other forms of economic distress and domestic violence.

Much like the lottery, casino gambling is “a regressive tax that takes its highest toll on those who can least afford it.” While the few scattered “racinos” (race tracks that have slot machines) and Indian casinos currently in New York may not be devastating the state’s economy, Governor Cuomo’s casino referendum dramatically raises the stakes. If voters approve the proposal, gambling addiction is guaranteed to rise among poor and working class families. The amount of jobs generated will likely not be as abundant as pro-casino advocates believe and most of these jobs are unlikely to pay substantive salaries that the average family can rely upon.

Currently, film and TV production upstate is hitting record levels, craft breweries and distilleries are thriving, and a major effort is underway to increase upstate tourism. Additionally, there are at least two highly profitable industries that could be created in New York: legal marijuana and natural gas. While we may not all agree on these options, either would probably be more economically beneficial than casinos. As the National Review concludes, “Texas Hold ’Em may be a lot of fun to play, [but] it isn’t a long-term economic program.”

30
Sep

Be Wary of Those Who Fetishize Compromise

Pundits and politicians who consider themselves the mature and reasonable advocates of bipartisan compromise are always eager to decry bickering and gridlock in Washington, droning on about how irresponsible it is to shut down the government. Yet, conspicuously absent from their complaints is any suggestion as to how Democrats should proceed. Is it reasonable to forfeit hard-won legislative victories because the opposition is threatening to shut down the government? No, it’s not. Doing so would only reward Tea Party extremism and increase the likelihood that Republicans will resort to this tactic again.

One of the biggest problems (and there are many) with self-described “moderates” is their refusal to accept that sometimes one side of a dispute is behaving reasonably while the other side is acting like a tantrum-throwing child who was beaten in a fair fight. The Affordable Care Act, whether you like it or not, passed in the House and Senate and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. A majority of voters elected President Obama twice knowing that he would reform our health care system. He won and conservatives lost. The fact that some Congresspeople have been instructed to defund Obamacare at all costs by their misinformed constituents does not magically grant them the right to upturn the democratic process.

So rather than issue noncommittal and entirely unhelpful statements about the joys of compromise, let’s instead refuse to acknowledge the threat of government shutdown as an acceptable negotiation tactic. On a purely procedural level, our government cannot be permitted to function in this way. There is already a system in place that would allow Republicans to defund Obamacare in a fair and reasonable manner: it’s called democracy. Get the votes and you’ll get what you want. Until then, get back to work.

22
Sep

George Orwell was a Socialist. Deal with it.

If there is one oft-repeated falsehood that frustrates me more than the assertion that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican, it is the belief that George Orwell despised all governments and sought their obliteration. While he certainly opposed totalitarianism (whether of the fascist or communist variety) and imperialism, he was very much a man of the left. In Why I Write, he stated:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.

So, no, Orwell did not understand “that there is so such thing as a government organized for the good of the people.” In fact, “a government organized for the good of the people” is a fairly accurate description of what socialists hope to create. If libertarians and anarchists are searching for a respected, widely read anti-authoritarian author to serve as a figurehead for their ideas, try Aldous Huxley, a committed pacifist who loathed all forms of centralized power. But, please, let’s not make stuff up about George Orwell just because we all enjoyed 1984. Twisting or misinterpreting someone’s beliefs in order to support an ideology is most assuredly something Orwell would not have appreciated.

12
Sep

Arming Syria’s Rebels: A Fool’s Errand

The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.

[…]

Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists.

The Washington Post

How confused is U.S. strategy in Syria? We’d like to witness a rebel victory and aid in that effort by supplying weapons to the rebels, yet we’d also like to prevent a portion of those rebels from emerging victorious with an armful of weapons. According to Secretary of State Kerry in a recent interview, there is a vetting process to determine which rebels are worthy of being armed, but the efficacy of this vetting process has been questioned (for instance, the infamous rebel soldier who ate the heart of his vanquished enemy was part of a so-called “moderate” faction).

In the context of a brutal Middle Eastern civil war, “moderate” may be a difficult term to define. Once upon a time, Assad himself was labeled a moderate by various media outlets. His wife Asma was described as “glamorous, young, and very chic" with "a killer IQ" in a glowing 2011 Vogue magazine profile. John Kerry and his wife even dined with Assad and Asma in 2009. Our understanding of what constitutes moderateness in the Middle East is in constant flux and thus rarely correct for any substantial length of time. So even if, in a best case scenario, the U.S. only supplies moderate rebels with weapons and the rebels then topple Assad and seize power, who can be even remotely sure that Syria will be a better place to live or that the persecution of minority groups won’t continue or that the newly installed regime will align itself with U.S. interests? Perhaps the greatest problem in President Obama’s Syria strategy is that even if it works (which is doubtful), it still does little to improve the living standards of the average Syrian.

Occasionally, some nations are ripe for foreign-influenced democratic reform. Post-war Japan was one such nation. But Syria is not on the brink of democracy, its people largely despise us (a mere 14% of Syrians approve of the job performance of U.S. leadership), and when we intervene in Syria’s internal affairs, we risk entangling ourselves with forces that are either enacting or pursuing policies of violence and oppression. 

Elsewhere