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Monday, November 30, 2009

A Response to My Conservative Contradiction Observation

This is a response to a comment I got on Facebook from my last post. I'm responding it here so I can manage it better.

Not that so many (or any?) people read this so that I will be getting flooded with confused people emailing me or anything! :)

So, I took a look at the Arthur Brooks links.
(Oh no! Not realclear! :) ... Just kidding. )

He tries to appear impartial, but in reading some of the links you gave, he seems to have an agenda after all. He has even said he has registered Democrat and Republican in one decade and is Independent and was raised by liberal university professors in order to distance himself from the right. However, I think he’s more conservative than he lets on…

This quote made me chuckle, but it’s so true. Conservative coming out party.
From :

"This book is a call to action for the left, not a celebration of the right," Mr. Brooks says.

“That's a claim that some liberals may have a tough time believing, given Mr. Brooks's withering criticism in the book of liberal icons like Ralph Nader, Mr. Brooks's work for The Wall Street Journal's famously conservative op-ed page, and a promotional tour for the book that reads like a conservative coming-out party. There's a keynote address at a Manhattan Institute for Policy Research dinner, a book signing at the American Enterprise Institute, and an interviews with John Stossel of ABC's 20/20 and radio talk-show host Michael Medved — two people known for conservative views.”

Another quote from the article:
Few economists have focused on philanthropy, he says, leaving plenty of "low-hanging fruit" for a young scholar.

And I would say that there may well be a lot of low-hanging fruit, but it also means this sort of thing won’t have as many studies to challenge it (numbers, method of gathering “data”, which data is selected, etc) either which is quite beneficial for Brooks' message, obviously. I’d like to see how it stands up to future criticism by experts in his field(s), should this field get more focus.


Now back to my response to the Brooks links...

You said:
"I was thinking about your statement of "...being strongly against other legislation and programs with Biblical support, for example, to help the poor..." and wondered if you were aware of the work of Arthur Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University. Liberals have a well-polished marketing machine duping millions into buying into their "advocacy" for the less fortunate but the numbers don't support it.
(quite a generalization by the way) :)

I suppose it is liberal “advocacy” to some in the same way the Republican party is all about “values”….

A glaring problem is the numbers. I have quite a number of issues with where these numbers are coming from. If they just call people up and they provide a figure and that’s it, I have
no confidence in this “data” whatsoever. Not that people are trying to mislead, but they forget, estimate, thought they gave more, etc. If tax deduction info are used, are conservatives just better than liberals about reporting it and getting their tax refund? The tax deduction still leaves out people who give and don’t take the deduction, choose lower paying jobs/careers that help people- nonprofits, providing low cost medical care, etc-. Volunteering and such is in fact touched on, but I’ll go into that in a sec. And what sorts of charities were included? He mentions a symphony orchestra in the WSJ article, but did he include environmental causes or animal shelters? Or were they primarily ones that actually help people like soup kitchens and rescue missions and such? The numbers need to be solid and more comprehensive for this to be anything more than fluff.

This is one of my suspicions (highlighted by the quote from this other article), that the high conservative number was due to church offerings and to see how much of that goes to actually helping people in need rather than the building, you’d have to examine thousands of church budgets.

“According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do.”

And to beat you to the punch, the following sentence in the article (possibly refuting it) is this:

“But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.”

Quotes are from:

And to this I’d have to ask about the numbers again. Did they just ask them or ask for a pay stub or some type of proof? Are the incomes a national average of some sort- hard data or verbal- or specifically for the sample talked about in the piece? Are things like number of dependents, percentage of disposable income, etc accounted for?


You said:
Good article on why govt. spending is not a form of charity, as some lefties like to argue:”

Here's the link you were talking about:;

I’m not arguing that, hopefully. Poverty is the problem and some would like to see minimal government help and more private giving and others see a definite role for government in addition to private giving. Corruption will be a problem in govt or private agencies, but shouldn’t stop us from trying to help people however we can. I don't think people are necessarily arguing that govt spending is charity, but rather govt intervention with private giving or a primarily private approach are two different ways to "solve" the problem. Some think there is absolutely and black and white wrong and right on this, but it could be there are just two different approaches. Americans tend to give more than Europeans, but is that because we're more generous (or more religious) or we feel the need to give more because we know the government won't do much of anything compared to Europe's governments.

The link did include some info about accounting for volunteering which I was a question that came to mind, but left the data issue unresolved. Some of the non-monetary "data" was phrased like this: "Liberal young Americans in 2004 were also significantly less likely than the young conservatives to express a willingness to sacrifice for their loved ones: A lower percentage said they would prefer to suffer than let a loved one suffer, that they are not happy unless the loved one is happy, or that they would sacrifice their own wishes for those they love." That really doesn’t mean much of anything in terms of hard data since what you know you should do and what you do can differ. Maybe liberals would do more than they say and conservatives know what's right but wouldn't do it when push came to shove. Maybe conservatives really are more compassionate. Even with Brooks' work, we still don't know that. I don't know that he asked the right questions, gathered the right numbers, and backed it up with solid proof. I don't even know that this is remotely possible given the number of factors that can influence non-scientific things like this. Maybe your point was that my stereotype of the right was wrong. It could very well be, but I don't think Brooks proved anything one way or the other.

He addresses blood donation and being a member of “organizations” (rotary, ruritan, etc?) and says that conservatives are better at that, too. I’m guessing the latter are clubs that I wouldn’t necessarily consider charitable organizations with a narrow mission to help those in need (like homeless shelters), but they do do some charity work- or some do more than others...

This could be more urban/rural than liberal/conservative differences since small towns (the real America, as Palin liked to say) tend to have more of these types of organizations and community inclusive events sponsored by the organizations in a way larger towns don’t (I can see this difference in Oxford and Durham even though Durham isn’t huge and you can still find things to get involved in in Durham and larger cities; they still aren't as accessible and present, providing the only entertainment in town, in the same way as they are in small towns).

You say the liberals have a well-oiled marketing machine, but due to the lack of solid data this might qualify as just that for conservatives!

People say numbers don't lie, but there are so many ways to compile those numbers that you can make it say what you want, even if you don't really mean to overtly manipulate it. I see plenty of room for error in Brooks' survey, but I will agree that it is interesting. I look forward to more studies on this subject. Maybe.

Another thought...
Trying to uncover who is more generous liberals or conservatives may seem equivalent to trying to figure out who is applying that Biblical principle better. A big problem with this, however, is people actually have to come forth and declare their good works to get the hard data to make a solid report which tramples another Biblical principle - humility... Yet another factor to consider... A conclusive report gets further and further away...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Family- Ensign affair

The Secret Political Reach Of 'The Family'
NPR, Fresh Air, Nov 24, 2009

With all the affairs and scandal lately with Ensign and others in The Family, Jeff Sharlett was on NPR again.

I may not agree with Sharlett on religion (he's Jewish, for instance) and all of his writings and opinions, but he highlights very nicely some of my concerns with our political system and the intermingling of religion with politics and vice versa.

I have long wondered about the right and Christian right and the contradictions of being against abortion and gay marriage and pressuring constantly for aggressive legislation on these, but being strongly against other legislation and programs with Biblical support, for example, to help the poor or to promote peace as opposed to war. Why be against gay marriage and all things gay and let heterosexuals off the hook who have extra-marital affairs and premarital sex? Another issue for me has been the so-called Biblical capitalism (the belief in and defense of capitalism as though it comes from scripture). I don't understand why some Christians on the right cling so tightly to capitalism and regard anything less than free market fundamentalism as socialist and hence 'of the devil'.

I have to wonder what kind of influence this group has had on the Christian right and these contradictions. The Family can appear to be a defender of Christian values in America- against abortion and gay marriage- and many would- and do- get behind it. The Family may start with good Biblical intentions (though I doubt it), but the message is obviously twisted in the end. Power absolutely trumps love- as in the case of the Ensign affair when Doug Hampton went to The Family for help since Ensign is a "key man", but they paid him off instead of holding Ensign accountable for his actions and promise to keep persuing Hampton's wife. Instead of valuing people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa, they hold up Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot next to Jesus.

Video of Coe - "Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. Think of the immense power these three men had.”

Doug Hampton on The Family:
The Family, it's not what they say it is. And if I can just quote him, he puts
it very succinctly: He says they - the C Street group, The Family - they think
the consequences don't apply. Those need to be dealt with differently, because
of the responsibility, because of the pressure. Meaning that congressmen have
sort of special rules for them, because of the work that needs to be done. This
is about preserving John, preserving the Republican Party. This is about
preserving C Street. These men care about themselves and their own political
careers, period.

I am suprised that the party that is so willing to paint Obama as a socialist and any government "help" as evil, un-Biblical, un-American, etc is so willing to embrace this group that uses Hitler, Geobbels, and Mao as role models. I guess, though, it's unfair to paint Republicans as the bad guys. The Family's prayer cells reach across the aisle. As a Democrat quoted in the interview said, "Jesus didn't come to take sides; he came to take over." There is plenty of blame to go around.

There is a description of how the Family looks at David. They garner lessons so different than I think were intended. Their emphasis is that David was chosen and God chose to use the imperfect tool; they apply this to politicians, not all people. They think the real gospel is for the powerful and the goodness will trickle down to us nothings.

Besides the theological problems I have with the group, they may be violating our laws about diplomacy as well. Their key men cozy up to dictators and become point men for the US when the US officially stops dealing with them. They then use "prayer cells" to influence everything from social to economic policy. If genocide results, it's "God's will." Simple. Right?

Here's one example from the interview:

Uganga- 'aggravated homosexuality'- proposed law, not yet law

One might say yes, it's great that homosexuals, who are sinning like murderers and the like do, are getting the death penalty. But if homosexuals get the death penalty, why not heterosexuals for sexual sin? Why not drinkers? Gossips? If sin carried the physical death penalty, wouldn't more people think twice before sinning? Even if you agree with that last statement (I don't), you should think twice.

Many will contend, myself among them, that the Bible doesn't forbid the death penalty, but I still don't think we should go nuts with it- even aside from the fact that we in the US have probably executed many an innocent man due to racial prejudice and lack of technology. It's true that nations don't have the accountability that individuals do, but this accountability is what is taken away when you legislate such that all sin gets the death penalty. It completely gets rid of the very Biblical concept of repentance and forgiveness. So, no, I don't want to go down that road.

This is Sharlett quoting Inohofe talking about his 20 missionary trips paid for by US taxpayers. Besides the government paying for missionary trips, "as taught to him by Doug Coe" should be worrisome to all.
And he says what he's there to do is to, quote, promote the political philosophy
of Jesus as taught to him by Doug Coe.

Sharlett's comments on this freelance diplomacy are right on target:
It's - I mean when you take your personal religious convictions or political
convictions, even, and claim to represent the United States, but, in fact, are
representing an organization like The Family as Senator Coburn was in Lebanon,
as Senator Ensign has in Jordan and Israel, as Senator Inhofe has in Uganda, you
are steering foreign policy away from democratic accountability.

I've said this before, but this is the stuff nightmares and crazy conspiracy theories are made of. But it's real.

Link to a blog post about a right wing organization that investigated The Family some:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Palestinian statehood: the chicken or egg conundrum

This is kind of a continuation from:

The idea expressed by the interviewee that (more than a few) Jews went through a transformation from terrorist to statesmen, but Palestinians are incapable could be why the peace process isn’t going anywhere.

If Israel expects that Palestinians can’t transform, as they did, from terrorist to statesman, then Israel isn’t going to give an inch and will in fact create conditions that breed terrorism as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know, though, that this mutual understanding and respect has to precede talks and a Palestinian state. This would take forever. If we had waited on prejudice of African Americans to subside some before throwing out slavery and giving them civil rights, we would not have come as far as we have.

It comes down to the chicken and egg. Which are actually final status issues? Should we require a government, certain democratic benchmarks as we have been before a state is “awarded”? Or should a Palestinian state be declared first and negotiate Jerusalem’s international status, dismantling of settlements, removal of the wall, contiguous nature, etc in continuing negotiations? I still think one state should be considered; it would make all the other issues disappear.

Declaring a state first seems more logical to me. If no state is declared, then Israel feels free to continue the brutal occupation indefinitely, which is costly for Israel and obviously unjust and costly for Palestinians. If there is a state and other issues are worked out later, it seems there would be more of a reason for both sides to work things out.

Strangely enough, seems the world isn’t ready for this solution (statehood) that it claims in the end game for these negotiations that we always want to jump start. Everyone wants peace in the Middle East. Every head of state wants to assist in negotiations. This means nothing if they aren’t ready for the solution they claim is the goal of all this! Yet another contradiction in this never ending process…

Recognizing Palestinian state premature: EU

U.S. "would veto" Palestinian state move: Senators

The US and EU are saying no to a unilateral decision for Palestinians to move forward with a state. They want to return to negotiations that have stalled due to Israeli insistence on breaking the law and everyone else’s complicity in this crime. I believe that's called aiding and abetting.

A return to negotiations means Palestinians will have to give up more land- as if they had much, if any to give away in the first place. They were lured into negotiations with the US stand for international law that settlements are illegal and the US was going to go for a temporary halt to building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Due to Israeli insistence and certain events on the ground (continuing construction despite any US announcements), the US is falling back into line with Israel. What are the Palestinians supposed to do? Accept the injustice of more of the same or just move ahead with a state? It would be nice to have a bilateral agreement, but those always end up being Israel-US, not Israel -Palestinians anyway and under the circumstances, the latter is the best option. I had always thought leaving refugees, Jerusalem, borders, etc as "final status issues" was backwards anyway. Establishing a state first makes so much more sense than expecting Palestinians to act sovereign while trying to overcome travel restrictions, checkpoints, and other hassles and tragedies Israel imposes on them that make proving themselves or their sovereignty impossible.

I had always thought that everyone supported a Palestinian state. By definition, the much celebrated “two-state solution” demands it. It appears this is only the case under terms Israel agrees with, which will surely cement the status quo of collective punishment, blockade, travel restrictions, terrorism and humanitarian disaster that Israel has established.

And what’s this about Israel planning to retaliate if Palestinians unilaterally declare a state?? What kind of punishment can they throw at Palestinians that they aren’t already?

“Israel reacted quickly, warning that a negotiated peace agreement was the only solution to the conflict, while declaring a state without it would lead to Israeli counter-measures that could include annexation of more West Bank territory.”

Did Israel ask Palestinians' permission before declaring itself a state? Did the Palestinians get to dictate the terms of Israel declaring a state like everyone wants for Israel and the Palestinian state? I think not.

I still believe a single secular democratic state is the real answer, but I don’t guess I really have a say in this.

terrorists turned statesmen?

Some say Jewish terrorists have turned into statesmen and Palestinians terrorists aren't capable of doing the same (despite democratic elections and parliament among other statesmanly things). I wonder if it is possible for a terrorist to turn into a statesman. I think it is. Or perhaps it is all perception. Or maybe it is impossible and Palestinian terrorists will remain that way and the Jewish terrorists aren't really statesmen?

Questions over 1947 terror spectacular

So apparently Al-Qaeda wasn't the first terrorist organization to plan to use bombs from the air. A Jewish terrorist group was.

I have often commented on the irony of so many historical and current top political figures in Israel being former terrorists. Lieberman hasn't exactly renounced his group and its ideals, but... what do we care, they are a democracy. Most people probably think I'm misinformed or making it up or whatever to make a point about the legitimacy of the idea of a state for Palestinians-- or because I hate Jews (false, BTW). Jewish terrorist groups are and were real and are in part responsible for the Palestinian holocaust in 1947-48. They also could have been a model for Al-Qaeda's attack. And they say Palestinians invented terrorism.

Anyway, the article reveals a look at the attitude that Jews are beyond reproach, they are capable of bettering themselves, rising above, and creating a democratic state while the same cannot be said of Palestinians (the opposite, in fact).

The interviewer tries quite hard (below) to get agreement on a comparison between Jewish terrorists changing into statesmen and the possibility of Palestinian terrorists changing into statesman, but the interviewee steadfastly resists. According to him, Jews can change and deserve respect, but Palestinians can't and don't.

But the resonances of his father's history are intriguing. Do they suggest that the Palestinian militants of today can become the pillars of the establishment of the future?

Natan Brun laughs and shakes his head.

"Because Menachem Begin (the leader of a Jewish militant group, and later Israel's first right-wing Prime Minister) on 14 May 1948 passed through a transformation from a terrorist to a democrat. In one day.

"The Palestinians - I think - will never undergo this transformation. They are still terrorists... How can we make peace with Hamas?"

Begin's transformation could have been, I suggest, because he got what he wanted: a Jewish state. No, says Brun.

"He didn't get what he wanted. Because he dreamt about a state on two sides of the (river) Jordan. It wasn't his government, but his bitterest rival's, (David) Ben-Gurion and the others. But Begin understood that he had to change his way of life, his ideas, everything."

These kinds of things (below) coming from Palestinians are considered proof of depravity, proof that peace cannot be made with them, and garners condemnation from around the world. From Jewish terrorists, we might see this as heroic, interesting, brilliant. We must or we wouldn't be so accepting of the "legalized" version of their terrorist activity today.
"...a group dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Palestine, if necessary through violence, in order to create a Jewish state."

He came to Paris and said to the Stern Gang: 'Look - you kill British, you kill soldiers. It's nothing. You have to do something spectacular.'

"To the People of England... This is a Warning... Your government has dipped his Majesty's Crown in Jewish blood and polished it with Arab oil... People of England! Press your Government to quit Eretz-Israel (the land of Israel) NOW! Demand that your sons and daughters return home or you may not see them again."
We accept and celebrate the Jewish state that came to be by the same means Palestinians are trying. Israel is wise to that, though, so they can easily thwart it. Why we buy the whole victim cry is beyond me. I mean, the 4th best military power is a victim??

Another contradiction is here, below. The guy's father of course wasn't involved in violence, though the group he belonged to certainly perpetrated some horrible, murderous, contemptible acts. This explanation today gets Palestinians interrogated (or tortured), "convicted" of terrorism or just sent to jail. (Jail... and the recent talk of Shalit and a prisoner swap makes one think about who is actually in those prisons- probably people who haven't done much of anything if that if they are willing to just release them...) If we were going by Israeli standards, perhaps the interviewee would also have gotten an extended prison stay.

Natan Brun says that his father was never personally involved in violence. He was, rather, an ideologue, a disciple of Zeev Jabotinsky, the hardline Zionist who wanted to see a Jewish state along both banks of the Jordan river.

Good points are made in the comments section of the article- John from San Diego and Poyan from Toronto and others.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Armistice / Veteran's Day

I came across the origins of Veteran's Day this week and thought it was interesting that it was a day dedicated to world peace. I hadn't ever thought of it in that way, I suppose. Today, supporting the troops and veterans is synonymous with supporting war. You have to fight with people to prove that you are for the troops and at the same time against a particular military action or US government policy.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day."

Fort Hood shooting

Some links about the story. I tried to get some differing opitions. You can take your pick or read them all and compare.

And another whopper from NY Post:
Under reasons Hasan should be considered a terrorist in the article:
*loudly criticizes US policies; (ouch!, I guess I'm a terrorist)
*refuses, in the name of Islam, to be photographed with female colleagues;
*lists his nationality as "Palestinian" in a Muslim spouse-matching program,

I know everyone’s going to think I’m calling Hasan a v
ictim, sympathizing with terrorists, or worse. I just want to say up front that I don’t condone what he did, it was wrong and there should be consequences. That being said (lest I be accused of supporting terrorism, along with Muslims who don't say that every time they open their mouth), I think there are other things that need to be addressed. I'm not dismissing the radical imam link, but that doesn't appear to be as strong as Lieberman wants it to be and there are so many things at play in these types of situations.

I’ve heard a lot of people on the radio and internet complaining that looking at all of the facts and asking why is too PC, that the media, Dr. Phil and Obama are protecting Hasan as a victim, this proves Obama’s a Muslim, just call Hasan what he is, a terrorist, and be done with it already. I have to say something. I'm so tired of this garbage. It's ridiculous.

The facts may still show that his contact with the radical imam was a factor, I’m not saying we should discount that, but there is a huge difference (with consequences) between assuming this and determining this without assumption and by the facts alone. It’s just dumb to focus on the imam (which is far from a smoking gun if I have heard correctly) when there are so many other things to consider.

Many have focused on Hasan’s nationality and religion. They aren’t waiting to see what the contact with the radical imam amounted to, if his religion played any role, if stress and or mental problems played a role- he is Muslim, so that’s why he did it.

Maybe this puts people’s mind at ease. Maybe it helps them deal with the endless questions a tragedy of this sort produces. I think it does far more harm than good.

The most obvious repercussion is backlash to the Muslim community with knee jerk reactions and assumptions such as these. The 'Muslim therefore guilty' mentality is sure to convict the entire Muslim and Arab community and produce irrational questioning of Arab and Muslim Americans’ loyalty. I have already heard people advocating banning Muslims from service. My favorite crime shows always talk about following the evidence. I don’t know that this is reality in the real world of law enforcement; I have no experience there, but I like that. I suppose that’s why I am drawn to science myself- you might have prejudices or ideas, but you don't publish everything you're thinking when you begin the project (before you have done teh experiments) as fact, you publish when you can prove it. The media and general population certainly don’t always check prejudice at the door and just follow the facts when black/white racism or Islam/Christianity or other vs. Arab domestic terrorism is involved.

There is another danger with this line of thinking that may be less apparent or counter intuitive. To close the book at terrorism as the root cause does a huge disservice to our soldiers and “supporters”, though many who actively “support our troops” with banners, bumper stickers, and Facebook groups seem to be more than ready, even eager, to do this. Obama did it himself. He said in his remarks that no faith justifies these acts- as though it had already been determined that he was connected to Al-Qaeda and was being tried for terrorism.

The armed forces are great at breaking people down and building them up into lean mean fighting machines, but so very bad at rehabilitating these men who have endured so much, seen death, caused death, etc on a daily basis. They are thrust back into peaceful society and many aren’t equipped to deal with it. The suicide rate, divorce, domestic violence is higher among soldiers. I have heard reports of the people assigned to “help” these soldiers suffering from PTSD and other disorders relating to their military experience tell them to go kill more terrorists, rather than actually provide medical or other therapy they need. I hope things have improved since I heard that a few years ago. In order to take care of the soldiers and truly support the troops, we need to look at the facts and not just say he’s Muslim, it was terrorism, let’s move on.

What are these other factors besides terrorism that most (or perhaps just the loudest) people think are insignificant? Case load, hearing everyone’s war stories about killing, getting blown up, maybe listening to bad feelings they have toward Muslims due to the wars, etc. Secondary PTSD, like journalists can get, etc could be a possibility. People are sent to him when they are stressed and disturbed, but who helps him when he is overwhelmed? Those medical professionals should have more evaluations or more care taken with their mental state since they deal with such devastation of the human spirit on a daily basis. There are indications that he was sub par in performance, so perhaps he felt shame in this or couldn’t handle the tasks he was given and maybe this played a role.

In addition to the stress and or PTSD and medical issues he may or may not have had, I can imagine it is hard to be a Muslim in our military, especially post 9/11. A relative verified that he was in fact harassed for being Muslim.

Take the PTSD or hearing broken soldiers’ stories, harassment for being Muslim, and then he has to deal with impending deployment where he may have to kill fellow Muslims. He may have felt there was no way out- some commit suicide; others do violence to others. Maybe he couldn’t get conscientious objector status- it is hard to get, I hear. The military paid for his education, so he may have found himself stuck. He went with his profession because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood, I heard on one report, so perhaps he did what he could as the son of immigrants to get an education, but found himself in conflict with his religion and beliefs with no way out.

I just think it is too simple and possibly bigoted to assume that he’s Muslim, therefore he’s guilty, case closed. In cases like the VT shooting, school shootings, suicides there are always so many variables, angles, and perspectives to consider. There are most certainly always unanswered questions. Maybe calling the guy a terrorist serves as closure for some, but I think it is detrimental to many to draw that conclusion without considering the facts.