Daily Archives: February 4, 2012

Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture

The segment of a Moyers & Company episode, Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture, describes itself as follows:

Our country is more politically polarized than ever. Is it possible to agree to disagree and still move on to solve our massive problems?  Or are the blind leading the blind — over the cliff?

Bill and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries.

“When it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but… the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise,” Haidt tells Moyers. “Compromise becomes a dirty word.”

Here is the video:

Haidt makes a lot of sense and I like to believe I am self-aware enough to know about many of the issues he talks about. This is not to say that I agree with everything he said.

I have talked about confirmation bias in a number of articles on this blog. I do look for evidence that my ideas are wrong as well as evidence that they are right. I am also willing to admit that there are somethings we do not know and there are some things that have huge uncertainties. Any policy needs to try to accommodate the uncertainties.

There is a reason that I disagree with the consensus view in almost every group I am in. Although I believe strongly in progressive ideals, I know that they can be carried too far. I try to remind people that any policy is not merely an issue of yes or know. It is not a single bit binary decision. We must deal in real numbers where we have to estimate how much of any policy is right. We have to realize from the outset that any estimate we come up with may be in error by significant amounts.

I also liked what I thought was Obama’s management style that he touted in his campaign and in his books. Once a policy is decided on, its implementation must be measured. You have to know if the policy is working satisfactorily or not. If it isn’t, you have to know how much it is off and how much needs to be fixed. There is plenty of distance between saying the program is hopeless and must be stopped to the program is perfect and nothing needs to change.

I have the blog’s motto Extremism is the Enemy of Rationality™ at the top for a reason. By the way, somewhat contrary to what Haidt said, asking for rationality is only bad if you think the human mind is completely rational.

Why the “Liberal” Media Leaves Hawkish Foreign Policy Unchallenged

The Truth Out article, Why the “Liberal” Media Leaves Hawkish Foreign Policy Unchallenged, by Gregory Harms talks mostly about The New York Times as an example.

The New York Times could probably be fairly described as liberal. The term has lost much relevance and meaning in recent years, along with its counterpart designation “conservative.”

But if we apply the label generally to mean mildly progressive, roughly approximating the political center, one could reasonably assert that the Times falls within range of the liberal framework. (I would argue it’s right-of-center, but will remain general for present purposes.)

If we are to better understand issues like the Middle East, we need better information. Among the Times’ class of readers exists a pride in belonging to an enlightened, progressive social stratum – a personal observation I have made over now many years. This is not to suggest they are bad people; they’ve just never been told anything else. Much like the subject of Iran, the ingrained orthodoxies prevail. However, to truly progress beyond the demarcations of acceptable liberal discourse, the barrier between the domestic and foreign spheres needs to be dismantled. In this endeavor, the public has the lead. In this endeavor, the population is the vanguard.

So now I know why I have such a disdain for the foreign policy of The New York Times.  They are liberal right, and I am progressive.  Who knew?

Occupy the Super Bowl: Indiana’s New Anti-Union Law Sparks Protest at Sport’s Biggest Event

Nation of Change has published the article, Occupy the Super Bowl: Indiana’s New Anti-Union Law Sparks Protest at Sport’s Biggest Event, about the video below.

“Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a so-called ‘right to work’ measure into law that critics say will result in lower wages and diminished collective bargaining rights.”

The article also contains a transcript of the interview in the video.

De­Mau­rice Smith re­cently ap­peared on Dave Zirin’s radio show Edge of Sports Radio. Smith is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Na­tional Foot­ball League Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

DE­MAU­RICE SMITH: We are in lock-step with or­ga­nized labor. I’m proud to sit on the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil of the AFL-CIO. Why? Be­cause we share all of the same is­sues that Amer­i­can peo­ple share. We want de­cent wages, you want a fair pen­sion, you want to be taken care of when you get hurt, you want a de­cent and safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. So when you look at pro­posed leg­is­la­tion in a place like In­di­ana that wants to call it some­thing called “Right to Work”, but you re­al­ize that…

DAVE ZIRIN: A tricky phrase, “right to work”.

DE­MAU­RICE SMITH: Very tricky phrase. Let’s just put the ham­mer on the nail. It’s un­true. This bill has noth­ing to do with a right to work. If folks in In­di­ana and that great leg­is­la­tion—-and they want to pass a bill that re­ally is some­thing called “Right to Work”, have a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that guar­an­tees every cit­i­zen a right to a job. That is a right to work. What this is, in­stead, is a right to en­force and to en­sure that or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple can’t get to­gether as a team, can’t or­ga­nize, can’t stand to­gether, and can’t fight or ne­go­ti­ate with man­age­ment on an even play­ing field.

Romney, the Rich and the Rest

The New York Times has the article, Romney, the Rich and the Rest, by Charles M. Blow.

First, a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last month pointed out that Romney’s budget proposals would take a chainsaw to that safety net.
Then let’s take the fact that a report last month by the Tax Policy Center found that his tax plan would increase after-tax income for millionaires by 14.5 percent while increasing the after-tax income of those making less than $20,000 by less than 1 percent and of those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by less than 3 percent.

For a man who’s not worried about the rich, he sure seems to want them to rake in more cash.

The article above adds some details  to the previous post, Romney Isn’t Concerned.

I guess that Romney’s claim to want to fix the safety net depends on what the meaning of the word “fix” is.

Whenever one of these Republican candidates comes up with malarkey like this stuff from Romney, the reporter might say something like, “This would be a very nice plan if the data you base it on bore any resemblance to reality. Someday, if the reality ever conforms itself to your preconceptions, then voters might want to consider what you have to say.”  That is not a facetious remark.  The reason why the Republican program seems to ring true to some people, is that it might make sense at a time when the facts met their presumptions.  What the people who believe this stuff don’t seem to know is that, at this time, the facts are not aligned with the Republican program.

Thanks to RichardH for suggesting this article.

AG Urges Principal Forgiveness

The Boston Globe published the story AG Urges Principal Forgiveness. (You may not be able to read the whole thing if you are not a Globe subscriber. The important stuff is right here, so don’t worry about subscribing to the Globe.)

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today said mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should do more to stop “unnecessary foreclosures,” including by reducing loan principal for homeowners who are having difficulty making their monthly payments.
Melonie Griffiths, an organizer with the Jamaica Plain housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, said that even if taxpayers lose money when Fannie and Freddie reduce principal for needy homeowners, they will lose even more if the housing crisis is not resolved.

“It is one of the things that is going to get the economy back on track,’’ she said.

This is the one big idea that the Obama administration should have been pushing from the very beginning.  They spent trillions of dollars bailing out the banks which did nothing to get the economy moving again.  If they had used the same money to reduce principal on the loans, the housing sector and the consumer purchasing power would have recovered much more quickly.

I am sure the argument was that the banks would eventually pay back the loans, but the reduction of principal would be permanent.  The government would not be repaid for the money spent reducing principal.  However, as Melonie Griffiths points out, the payback to the government would not have been directly from the mortgagees, but it would come indirectly through a revived economy that would increase tax revenues and cut the deficit. No mention is made of the cost of labor immobility due to homes that cannot be sold because the mortgages are underwater.  In other recessions people have been more free to sell their homes and to move to where the jobs are.

Moreover, though the banks may have paid back the principal of the money that was lent to them in the bailout, they no way repaid the less visible bailout of extremely low interest rate borrowing from the Federal Reserve.  It is funny how nobody accounts for this bailout as money spent by the Fed. Few people may realize that the profits of the Federal Reserve Bank are paid to the U.S. Treasury.

I guess it shows that people with business experience, like Mitt Romney, are so used to looking at the small picture from the viewpoint of a single business, that they cannot see the big picture of the entire economy.  You’d think that a business person might think about  the experience of running a large company where you may have one division losing money so that another division can make more and the company comes out ahead.  This is the same thing that happens for a country and its whole economy.  It applies even more to the whole world and the world economy.  There seem to be few business people who can make the connection, although the connection seems obvious to me.

The liberal case against Obama

In The Boston Globe piece, The liberal case against Obama, Neal Gabler makes some points that I have been struggling with for many years.

[Ted] Kennedy believed that principles compromised might very well be principles destroyed, and while he wound up dutifully campaigning for Carter, one sensed that he suspected Reagan’s election might actually revivify liberalism – stiffen its back.
As his own campaign neared its end, he began calling it a “cause,’’ by which he meant the cause of sustaining the forces of liberalism and buttressing the last remaining liberal institution: the Democratic Party. In short, he seemed less worried about Reagan destroying liberalism temporarily than he was about Carter sapping it permanently.
But if you believe in the vitality of a robust Rooseveltian liberalism that can stand up to the right wing, then you might worry that Obama, by transforming the Democratic Party from an instrument for change into an instrument of compromise, and by legitimizing Republican talking points like deficit reduction over job creation, has fatally damaged progressivism – something far more important than the election prospects of any particular candidate.

The one thing that gives me pause in reading this is to wonder what Ted Kennedy thought in later life about the rise of Ronald Reagan and Reaganism.  Eight years of Ronald Reagan did nothing to revivify liberalism or stiffen its back. If anything, the Reagan era revivified and emboldened the far, far, far, right.  Or perhaps it was the softening of the damage done by Reagan/Bush/Bush by the terms of Clinton and Obama, that prevented the good effect and brought on the bad one.

The one thing that has seemed to change the terms of debate in recent years is the efforts of the Occupy movement.  The conditions have been bad enough to get large numbers of people taking to the streets in protest.  The Reagan/Bush years were not enough to do it. It took the collapse of the Bush the younger’s term to start the protests rolling. If the Occupy movement does not revive this spring, then maybe it is a sign that we do need to get conditions much worse before there will be a critical mass for a self-sustaining movement.  One of the points of the OWS movement is that you won’t find the solution to our problems in electoral politics.