The First Presidential Debate is a Rehash of Campaign Ads and Speeches

I say this as Romney gives his closing speech. I’m disappointed in the debate and in myself for not suspecting it to be a rehash of campaign ads and speeches. Granted, I have not been alive long enough to have experienced a plethora of presidential debates, but I have been alive long enough to recognize what I have already heard several times over, with little detail, barely any citation, and no originality (unless you count making a campaign ad spew out more fake cheese than Velveeta).

Jim Lehrer is a disappointment. A moderator must never let anyone speak above him and not back down on a decision when it is time to move on. Otherwise, what are you there for?!? Yes, there has been some substance on every topic but in my opinion most topics the candidates debated have been framed with script. I happen to believe the moderator must shake up the debaters and get at what they actually believe and would actually do by eliciting ad hoc moments. The race for the presidency is when candidates should discuss their ideas in detail before the election, and the moderator shouldn’t let them exaggerate with hypotheticals of November 5th or January 20th.

If you have a completely divergent opinion from mine, I guess I would have to start by saying: yes I have been paying attention. But I have debated point by point on farm bills in the past and I do not want to waste my time on something equally exciting. I will admit this, Romney brought his A game and Obama his C. I refer to their styles and not their substance.

Is it the structure of the debate? Can so many complicated issues be compressed in an hour and a half? Maybe the debate should have had been in two parts so more information could be vetted from the two candidates. Ultimately, I should not look at this debate on how it made an impression on me but on the general public. As this moment, the general consensus seems to side with Romney winning the debate (looking at CNN).

Looking at recent history, winning a debate does not at all guarantee election; just ask Kerry. But you really know who the winners and losers are when more and more of the public starts adopting the views of one candidate over the other. I say winners and losers, not winner and loser, as more and more people are impacted by the choices, or lack thereof, we all make. The substance both candidates could have delved deeper in the debate is the nature of government itself. Both candidates often touched on it, but both have not said anything more illuminating than what I have heard in the past several years. Neither candidate would ever discuss the following:

  • The outsourcing of manufacturing jobs is actually a typical trait of societies transitioning from a modern economy (industry-based) to a post-modern economy (service-based). These are the reasons. Here are some ways to develop a 21st Century industrial based economy in addition to the service-based.

Both political party’s rhetoric may have side comments, mostly some kind of small stop-gap measure, but never ever have I heard a politician acknowledging the transitional nature of a modern to post-modern economy. And forgive me if I do not go in detail myself on why economies change from industry to service. I’m sure a little bit of good research can give you a quick overview of it (I might just do it myself when I have the time). Yet, I hear simple explanations all the time in academic circles most notably architecture, economics, history, and sociology with many comments dating back since the 1950’s. The issue of outsourcing jobs can’t be solved unless public policy addresses and reflects on the mechanisms in which it exists.

Please Refrain From Being Polarized

It’s easy to say your objective, weighing evidence with dispassionate analysis and facts. You believe your  judgement is sound and your positions are ethical, you’re not like the others.

But should you find yourself wrong without feeling livid, it came about with much consideration and deliberation that you could have been wrong at all. You feel you should stand tall or not at all.

Being right is about getting it right and how could you fuck up? It’s you! Right? How could you believe any lie or misconception, be subject to any deception? Without you knowing…


“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. And he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that’s what they sell every four years.


“As we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named — policy research for the working poor, broadly defined — I think that what we’re gonna have to do is somehow  resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic, I don’t think it’s too strong to call it a propaganda campaign, against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to  just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

Bait Taken and Secularization Pains

Kudos to William Saletan and his September 14th Slate article Peace Be Upon You! He makes all the points percolating in my head since word spread of Muslim protests caused by some loser who wants to insult Muslims via bad production values. Saletan does bring up a point I have never considered. Bigots, like the type who made the anti-Muslim video which portray Muslims as savages, would love nothing more than the people he/she is insulting to prove him/her right and in the worst possible ways. Bait taken.

However, the resulting violent protests does highlight issues of modernity in parts of the Muslim world. I use the word modernity, because one of its character traits is secularity, where legitimacy comes from reason and not religion. Free speech brings, among others, differences in opinion including insults and blasphemy. But I find many comments made by some Muslims partitioning free speech from blasphemy. I do find this not-to-be-crossed line completely erroneous. For example, suppose I said Mohammed’s first wife Khadija not only worked but owned her own successful business. A Muslim shop owner in Turkey may not mind this fact (and may even find inspiration); suppose a misogynist Muslim from the Taliban considers it an insult, thinking I’m promoting notions of women working? Would this be blasphemy? According to whom!? Blasphemy also includes acts considered irreverent to the sacred. I don’t need an example to further elucidate how empty free speech will become in the face of blasphemy laws. I would be open to make blasphemy illegal but I have yet to see any controlling reason to do so.

It seems much of the Muslim world is going through what much of the West did go through hundreds of years ago, reconciling the sacred with the secular. It is not to say the West is not having some trouble today, but it seems the trouble differs in degree. Western history abounds with examples not unlike what we see today in Benghazi or Cairo, with religious revenge killings against “non-believers” in broad daylight. The West also went through many reforms re-positioning the relationship between religion and the temporal. For example, in the late 18th Century, the ex-colonists called Americans formed the United States Constitution, whereby the 1st Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These principles are Enlightenment principles, derived from philosophers Locke and Voltaire and also Milton and Mill, and affected both the legal and social spheres of the West. Many Western countries had already or eventually adopted these principles laid out in the 1st Amendment. In the 1960’s, the Second Vatican Council attempted to address relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. The council served as a catalyst of modernization and in it seems to have had rescinded many edicts and positions in the face of modernity (the Church had to legitimize itself to “keep up with the times”). In 2011, the Italian case Lautsi v. Italy came before the European Court of Human Rights. It ruled that crucifixes displayed in the classroom of a state school does not violate the European Convention of Human Rights. These three examples among many show how the West has continued to re-position religion’s place in society. In the West, it seems religion has a high degree of freedom but is no longer allowed to govern society itself. It seems this is in sharp contrast to religion’s place in society in many Muslim countries, especially in the Arab and North African worlds.  However, note that the cacophony of American media attention tends to report on bad news and not good news. For example, the Turkish constitutional court case Refah Partisi v. Turkey is a win for secularism as it held “that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy.” It goes on to say the party (Refah Partisi a.k.a. Welfare Party) and its agenda  of reintroducing religious law violates the ECHR (European Charter on Human Rights), “particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.”

Who is worse than the video producer Sam Bacile, or whatever his real name is, are the people responsible for the deaths of the consulate personnel is Libya (and any other deaths in the future as a result of these protests). Let it be clear, the worst of all in this mess are the MURDERERS.

So a wacko produces a video offensive to Muslims. A minority, no doubt, of Muslims decides to (whether be it planned or not!) incite fear and hatred, promote death and destruction, in the “name” of Allah, Peace be Upon Him (these religious extremists proclaim for God for themselves but not for us?). Meanwhile, much of the America’s politicians and pundits narrate the event as a mistake to help free Libya, the Arab Spring is a wash, and American foreign policy is a complete failure under this administration. Muslim extremists would love nothing more than to see Americans claw at each other than to see our unwavering support for democratic transitions among territories they would love to control. Bait taken.

The Master Synthesis

“Deliberation can help transform interests and reveal previously unrealized areas of agreement. If can sharpen participants understandings of their conflicts.”

—Jane Mansbridge

Some are alarmed at the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America; understandable, but lest not forgot the alternative to talk, violence. Taking the stand in court, an hour behind the podium fighting for policies, or moments discussing feelings about political candidates are not meant to be attractive. But so in working. It’s simply necessary. Avoiding politics, common as it is among large swaths of people in every demographic, should have the same concern as the unemployment rate; they both are a sign of health of a country. The number of political participants is just as important to a democracy as workers to the workforce, the more the better.

Let me clarify. Political participants can be anyone, be it a politician or pedestrian. As soon as you open your mouth or write to influence another person on an issue, you become is some sense a political participant. Constant arguing is inherent in democracy and participation helps define is quality. It seems what topics are at the forefront of the political agenda is the reflection of the people participating in a political arena. Political arenas are areas where politics is discussed and is both formal (political conventions, media interviews, academic policy debates, etc) and informal (blogs, discussions between family and friends, protests, etc). They are a place where influence can inhabit and exist on television and on print as well as in the living room or park bench. To varying degrees both are important, because the constituents of any society needs to figure out who gets what, when, where, and why; or in other words, politics.

Democracy is not to be taken for granted and its inherent problems should be seen as an issue of quality and control, not dysfunction. It is a well-known fact in political science people who participate in primary elections tend to be people who are from opposite sides of the political bell curve. It becomes obvious listening to and reading the rhetoric of presidential candidates in primaries, rhetoric that is extreme for many moderates. As the presidential nominations end and the mono-e-mono race for the oval office begins (aka general election), you tend to see a bit of backtracking to appeal to the broader public (Mitt Romney is a good contemporary example). But what if more moderates in America participated in primary elections? I believe that itself will profoundly change the American political system. I would argue there would be less influence of both Christian extremists on the Right and environmental extremists on the Left, among other undue influences. What people should be sick of is not politics itself, but the low quality of it.

Therefore, the reasonable course of action is for the citizenry to participate in quality and control and to not shy away from any political arena. The more participate, the more of the agenda-making process shifts from extremists views to moderate views. Instead of a few religious zealots believing there should be no Jeffersonian wall between church and state (Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Letter 1802), moderate religious devotees can focus what, among other things, has been important imperatives in most religious belief systems like helping the poor, the sick, the orphans, etc. Instead of a few environmental zealots believe preserving some obscure species of rodent takes precedence over any and all business opportunities, moderate eco-activists may actually be inclined to accommodate both goals.

But to get back to the quote above. If more people take part in politics, than more moderates will influence politicians and policy. My main argument is this: the cynicism and viciousness in today’s political climate in America are not from moderate voices. It is the moderate who tends to deliberate while the extremist is entrenched in their respective belief system as they are concerned with only what they think is right (you know who is an extremist when they view their truths are eternal). To agree is not a trait of extremists.

This bell curve pretty much generalizes the public, with the extreme Left and extreme Right on their respective ends while most Americans (probably most people in every country) make the middle.

Impersonal Communication

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

For some time now it has been my personal philosophy seeing personal relationships and political relationships with equal regard. I draw correlations between the two and it seems they share the same ethical questions, albeit with differences in degree and responsibilities. Many if not most ethical standards between the two just might be the same. I am skeptical seeing the two kinds of relationships mentioned as inherently distinct from each other.

Being honest is a choice to show or hide information. Sometimes that choice might be decided with impulsiveness or with deep consideration, but it is still a choice. It seems making that choice to be honest with others always involves a choice to be honest to oneself. It seems everyone, myself included, is constantly making decisions, especially ethical decisions, in a process of reflection of what we ourselves believe which will govern our decision-making. Just the other day I was confronted by a customer service experience at work involving a choice to tell the customer a flat out lie to ensure a sale or being honest with her which could have ended it. I choose the later on the grounds that I can still persuade her to buy the product. Notice I did not say “it was the right thing to do.” That egotistical decision, although was a bad motivation, had a good consequence (the customer based her decision on an honest interaction). What makes it all even more complicated is that the choice I made can actually be parsed whether it was truly ethical or not. Take notice of utilitarian philosophy (a form of normative ethics), which emphasizes consequences, and Kant’s categorical imperative (a form of deontology), which emphasizes principles over consequences. Under utilitarianism, I made the right decision, although my decision was grounded with egoism. However, under the categorical imperative I did not make the right decision. For the reason I made the choice to be honest was not for honesty sake but by my confidence in persuading her to buy what I offer; this is not something I wish to be a universal law. In other words, my decision that day is based on my confidence of persuasion and if I did not have that confidence I might had had told her a lie. The correct act, under the categorical imperative, would had been to tell her the truth because lies are harmful. Period.

Ethics can become much more complicated and the realm of politics is all about decision-making . Undoubtedly there are many unethical politicians but also keep in mind people may have ethical differences. Some will emphasize consequences and some on principles. Most probably morph from one ethical system to another depending on the topic, the circumstance, etc. But many unethical politicians, like many other people, probably tell themselves lies and believe themselves true; believing that what they do is necessary in some “rationalized” fashion. Perhaps these are why Orwell included schizophrenia in the quote above.

So it does seem clear language and sincerity can go hand-in-hand. Making an ethical decision to be candid comes from the willingness to present one’s real aims in a naked fashion, undisguised and transparent. As I listen to politics I look for that nakedness, that willingness to show details, however discomforting, and listen to not only its intellectual merits but its emotional merits as well. I believe putting your emotions on your sleeve is a great way of being sincere which unreservedly shows what is and who should be considered. I remember listening to Catholic officials years ago defending the Church’s stance against condom use and their argument tended to focus on bodily purity and religious freedom. In their arguments I rarely heard concern for those harmed by AIDS/HIV, unintended pregnancies in impoverished families, and victims of rape and incest. The officials showed concern for their own values (in their God’s values they would say) over the needs of the victims, as if they where the ones harmed, and in the cases of rape and incest, as if they where the one’s violated. So, after being thoroughly disgusted, I would change the dial because people who do not consider others will lose consideration from me.

Is it Rational to Choose to Ignore Reason?

Rational Choice Theory–posits that individuals always act rationally and instrumentally, weighing potential costs and benefits as they aim to maximize their own utility (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

I don’t have to point out the flaws of this theory while experience with other people (especially drunk ones) and quick research can quickly dismiss it. What I would like to point out is this theory, more like hypothesis, is the dominant platform of both economic and political sciences.

To counter, Bryan Caplan coined the term “rational irrationality” to help explain the inconsistencies of Rational Choice Theory by branching rationality into two types:

  • Epistemic rationality – developing a belief system by honest efforts to avoid fallacious reasoning and being open to new evidence to form truths.
  • Instrumental rationality – using the most effective means to attain one’s actual goals grounded on one’s actual beliefs.
A situation where it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically rational is called rational irrationality.
           ^This situation is also known as bullshitting.

Situations that are more likely to elicit this behavior:

  1. The appeal of a belief over another.
  2. The cost of holding a fallacious or irrational belief is low. <—- This highlights the importance of integrity.

I graduated with a B.A. in Political Sciences and oftentimes I wonder if my studies was founded on other ideas from other disciplines besides economics where we get the likes of Rational Choice Theory and rational irrationality. Examples:

Evolutionary ethics: which tries to explain the biological foundations of ethics.

Sociobiology:  scientific study of the biological aspects of social behavior in animals and humans.

Social Dominance Theory: a theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies.

These are just a few ideas that can shed light on human behavior and certainly more interesting than a theory that looks very wrong on its face. It is not to say any of the three I find interesting is an adequate replacement of what Rational Choice Theory tries to cover; I am simply saying that it should be replaced. Maybe Bryan Caplan’s rational irrationality can be a temporary measure but I have the feeling a theory premised on human psychology and biology can bring us closer to a more better economic and political discipline.

A Mandate with an Escape Hatch

By 2014, if an uninsured American citizen with enough income refuses to obtain health insurance, the person has a choice to resign from obtaining health insurance by paying a penalty; or, how the Supreme Court majority puts it, a tax.

But this is not the escape hatch I was referring. Of the three arguments of those defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obama-care, (1. Inactivity can be regulated under the Commerce Clause, 2. the Necessary and Proper Clause justifies the state interest enacting an individual mandate, 3. failure to obtain health care can be subjected to a penalty) the third argument won out, which is really considered a tax no matter how Congress wished to word it, according to the Court. It denounced argument 1 unconstitutional, which means the government cannot make you buy broccoli and Justice Roberts found no sufficient cause for Obama-care to be necessary and therefore proper. That means, among other things, the individual mandate can still be struck down by the legislature, not with 60 votes in the Senate, but with 50 votes instead. I consider it wise for Roberts to devolve the decision of whether or not the individual mandate is moral to officials who are closer to the people and where the people retain their authority and their freedom to punish their respective representatives. To quote Roberts majority opinion:

“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” (National 6)

This libertarian interpretation (albeit a minority variation in today’s libertarian America) of judicial power hands ultimate responsibility over to the polis. But again, this is not the escape hatch i am referring. With all the complex legal jargon and maneuvering, Justice Roberts simply has handed the ethical decision-making on this particular matter away from the judicial branch, even though arguments 1 and 2 has been deemed illegal. Obama-care has been deemed legal. That is all. I wonder if Roberts was seen washing his hands excessively after he read his majority opinion aloud.

To my knowledge, in 2015, argument 3 (the tax penalty in Obama-care) can still be challenged in court. Justice Roberts might have to get his hands dirty once again.


The Fourth Estate

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.”

—Walter Lippmann

The media has been colloquially called the Fourth Estate as long as I can remember. Back in Acien Regime of France, a political system established under the late Valois and Bourbon dynasties from the 15th-18th centuries, the Fourth Estate was a political force that contrasted from the other three estates (the clergy, nobility, and everyone else) and was instrumental in questioning the power of the First and Second Estates (clergy and nobility, respectively). Today, it is seen to offer a check to at least two dominant and typically insular political forces in modern society, political elites (no matter how non-elitist some claim to be) and moneyed-interests, a.k.a businesses and the rich. I have not heard much wrangling about the definition, nature, and responsibilities of the Fourth Estate, but considering it is a seemingly important institution, I am reminded of Lippmann’s quote above.

The Fourth Estate is the primary institution involved in distributing information by which a community can detect lies. But is seems so much of the media is dominated by corporations and consequently, the bottom line of business, and not the bottom line of journalism; these two bottoms are inherently a conflict of interest. So what if most of the institutions of media are corrupted like so many believe but what should be done about it or even take its place? One method I believe can truly compete in today’s world is the citizen journalist. With the internet, blogging, digital equipment, and a whole host of new technologies citizen journalists have a larger advantage than their counterparts decades ago. What can help them thrive are consumer choices, where more and more people rely on their alternative media like community newspapers and radio, among others, that are not owned by corporations or by the government. I truly believe that this is possible. I have met so many people who write or produce videos as a hobby. I’m sure many people would like to become involved. WordPress is proof. But, like most important things in life, it takes people to get off their ass and just do it.

This Makes Whale Watching Overrated

La Jolla High students Daniela De Kervor (left) and Laura Wells release white seabass into Mission Bay. / Photo by K.C. Alfred * U-T San Diego

Union Tribune June 18th 2012 article ” Students raise seabass, replenish species,” written by Maureen Magee, is a refreshing bit of news about our educational system, and to a another degree, our environment.

While in high school the most I had experienced nature as part of my studies was on a sketchy fishing boat off the coast of Long Beach, California looking for some of the largest animals to have existed, and seriously considering downing a whole bottle of Dramamine. I did not learn a damn thing excepting my introduction to motion sickness. The cost: medicine, gas for the boat and bus, and a whole school day. The benefit: learning to stare at the horizon can help prevent vomiting. But to actually take part in raising and researching a rapidly depleting animal is what I wish I had done instead in my marine biology class.

Helping the environment is no doubt going to take massively coordinated efforts by institutions but drops in the bucket can still add up to a splash. If this were fully inculcated into school curriculum, even in only several dozen schools, this can make a lasting and significant impact for diminishing fish stocks. Maybe this idea of producing while learning can help society be self-sustainable.

Imagine taking this ingenuity (and I’m sure they’re more common than my life-experience suggests) to other subjects for group or individual endeavor. Learn microeconomics, for instance, by growing a produce and trying to market the good. I’m sure there are many youth who have a more natural and herbal-minded lifestyle who can benefit from an easy A. Or how about writing a letter of protest to a company or politician; try to get it published and study the responses (or study why there were no responses) in English/Literature class. The cost: effort and various resources subject to the topic. The benefit: among others, a High School Diploma that means something.

R.I.P. Rodney King

Rodney King in downtown Los Angeles on April 13, 2012. The acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of King sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (Matt Sayles / AP Photo)

Today, someone my age and rung on the ladder may think of being beaten nearly to death by police officers is more or less what happens in 3rd world authoritarian countries and not in one of America’s “World-Class Cities,” if Los Angeles can be characterized in that fashion. The resulting city-wide riot the following year, caused by the four acquitted policemen who beat Rodney King, is of equal disbelief if it were to happen today. I consistently hear that we have a long way to go in race-relations in America (and I think they’re right).

The ’92 L.A. riots is one of the worst this country has ever seen. The scale and damage it had caused along with the video footage of the acquittals of the police officers that came before it, was displayed in living rooms across this country, and had set race-relations back. Some people throughout my life viewed those riots as a horrible  event, but with more anger against the rioters than against the police who beat King and the system who did not do King justice. The destruction of public property and harm to bystanders, like in the case of the horrific video of the near-death beating of Reginald Denny, is unacceptable; the constant harassment, intimidation, and harm of the African-American community in L.A. by the police is equally unacceptable. After decades of subjugation, was the black community in L.A. suppose to a happier bunch of folks after hearing the acquittal of the police officers charged with beating Rodney King? After all, it was something that community had experienced in their daily lives on a consistent basis and wasn’t through a television while sitting comfortably on a couch. I have also encountered from time to time black students in grade school talking about the riots in a positive light. Sad, did they not know that much of the businesses that were looted were black-owned businesses? This is the clearest evidence that the ’92 L.A. riots did set race-relations back, as people became entrenched along racial lines. The media did not help in depolarizing the communities. In writing this post, I just learned that the person who saved Denny the truck-driver, was another truck driver who happened to be black, and is perhaps conveniently not shown on any video I have seen of the incident since 1992. One might think that may be pertinent to the well-publicized and scrutinized drama and important to understanding it was not actually about black versus white or black versus Korean but something much more complicated than that. I’m sure there are more examples.

There have been a number of rational voices as well but who stands out the most is the original victim in that fiasco. Instead of spewing vengeance and hatred after the acquittal of the men who nearly beat him to death as they were calling him “nigger” every chance they had, Rodney King instead called out a phrase that became well ingrained in our cultural psyche: “Can we all get along?” Regardless of his reckless driving where he ended up meting corrupt police officers or that substance abuse might have contributed to his death, he proved himself a good man at the most important time.