Confirming the coupling of money and power

Much of this week’s American political news has been dominated by two high-profile and highly-anticipated Supreme Court decisions.

The first decision struck down much of Arizona’s intrusion into immigration law, on the grounds not that the law violates individual rights but on the narrower legal grounds that immigration is a federal concern. The second, even more prominent decision gave Barack Obama a win (and Mitt Romney a campaign issue) on medical care.

But it’s neither of these decisions about which I want to write.

Instead, I’m motivated by the less-trumpeted and more predictable Supreme Court decision that upheld the Republican Wyoming legislature’s repeal of a law banning large third-party campaign contributions. This decision was along the same 5-4 ideological lines that had previously removed campaign contribution limits from federal elections.
Continue reading

From the frying pan into the fire?

As I head back home to California today for a weekend visit, it’s a good time for another in my periodic forays into the underworld of the American political psyche.

Earlier this week, I posted a generally negative review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

But my thumbs down was for the book’s political slant, not its core contents. Haidt proposed, quite reasonably, that our politics are founded on our emotions, not on our reason. The most spectacular example of the truth of Haidt’s assertion is the fact that all of the polls show that the U. S. presidential race is, so far, too close to call.

On any rational basis, this seems absurd. Continue reading

Reason on the ropes

I wasn’t intending to write about Science v. Religion again anytime soon, but a random conjunction of recent sources demand consideration as a group.

These disparate sources include an educator’s reaction to New York’s “banned list” of city exam topics, a noted blogger’s analysis of yet another piece of Tennessee anti-evolution legislation, and a listing of the anti-science views of Canada’s Conservative government.

Reading these sources one after another focuses the mind forcefully on the tenuous position that both science in particular and rationality in general have in the public mind. Continue reading

Anti-science: how America votes for simple, not smart

As more and more people fear (or cheer) that “the American Century” is over,  bookstore shelves fill up with titles that promise to explain the problems or identify the solutions.

For just one example, in That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, authors Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum take their title from a poignant 2010 quotation by President Barack Obama:

It makes no sense for China to have better rail systems than us, and Singapore having better airports than us. And we just learned that China now has the fasted supercomputer on Earth — that used to be us.

Two recent online articles highlight one clear difference between the American (and Canadian, to be honest) system and politics in the rest of the developed world.   The first article outlines the corporate self-interest behind well-funded attacks on unwelcome scientific findings. In the second article, we’re reminded that Americans don’t value science, and they don’t elect scientists to positions of local, state, or national leadership in anything like the numbers found in other countries. Continue reading

Sanctimonious Santorum — Obama’s best bet for re-election

In 1964, as a newly-minted undergraduate with more enthusiasm than sense, I joined the quixotic effort to elect conservative Republican Barry Goldwater President of the United States.

Four years later, with less enthusiasm — too much had happened  — but with determination, I worked to push Eugene McCarthy (no relation to Tail Gunner Joe) to the Democratic nomination.

And in 1972, with the promise of LBJ’s Great Society horribly diminished by unending war in Vietnam, from the safety of the Great White North I hoped against hope for the triumph of George McGovern over Richard Nixon, whose personal letter (“Greetings from the President of the United States: You are ordered to report for induction to …”) started the sequence of events that led me north.

What do these forty going on fifty year old political campaigns have to do with today’s subject? Continue reading

Newtlear warfare — how the rich get our votes

Newt Gingrich? That Newt Gingrich? And good ol’ boy Mitt Romney, who thinks that $373,000 in speaking fees isn’t really much money? Or Rick Santorum, who hopes that America will find the moral will to bomb the crap out of the Middle East? Or Ron Paul, whose solution to the worst economic crisis in 80 years is to dismantle the government?

After the South Carolina primary, it’s time to ask the question: How do they do it?

How do Republican politicians keep getting themselves votes despite the overwhelming evidence that their policies, foreign and domestic, are disastrous? What makes so many poor and used-to-be-middle-class voters fly in the face of their own needs and rally round the flag of the fat cats? Continue reading