Science and Politics

May 31, 2017

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Flint water crisis was the behavior of the scientists involved — from the people in the DEQ who failed to question, let alone test, the feasibility of switching water sources, to those who falsely reassured citizens that the brown water coming from their faucets was safe to drink, to lab techs falsifying results, to the EPA administrator who wrote a memo stating that maybe Flint “wasn’t the community to go out on a limb for …” even as thousands of children were being poisoned with lead. Not testing, not applying the standards of scientific methods and reporting the results, or even worse yet, not acting on results when lives are at risk is so much at variance with what we have come to expect (and rely on) from scientists. However, the problem of scientists ignoring their ethical and moral duties is more endemic than the Flint situation.

Science has always faced pressure from politics even from the time of Socrates, and ultimately it was the willingness of scientists to stand by their methods and results that advanced the greater good. I wondered if we have so corrupted science with capitalism and politics that we can no longer rely on it. Certainly, the debate over climate change is an example of economic and political concerns as one example of rejecting scientific research and consensus. However, I think that science is fine. It’s the lack of moral/ethical development by some of the current generation of scientists that is the problem.

The scientific method, involving testing hypotheses and the replicating results remains the most reliable source of knowledge we have. When the same results are reproduced by different scientists then the facts are established. What meaning or interpretation we put on those facts is a different issue, but facts used to be facts that mattered. How is it that so many people trained in science and working as scientists can find justification to ignore facts and their ethical and moral obligations as the result? What produced a person with a PhD who questioned the political implications of revealing life threatening results in Flint? Science can weed out research from people with political agendas, but can it survive without scientists who lack an ethical or moral framework? Science has the ultimate goal of enhancing our collective lives by generating knowledge and translating that knowledge into action. Galileo pursued the truth regardless of the results and what it meant to his employability or his political/religious beliefs, and was willing to defend his findings. History is full of scientists that were willing to risk their lives to conduct their research, wherever it led.

In this emerging time when emotional beliefs “Trump” facts, we need scientists who have the moral courage to insist on the importance of objective and reliable facts as necessary for the collective good.

Advertisements

Memorial

May 31, 2017

Some reflections from this past Memorial Day …

Ricky Best, one of the men murdered in Portland, was a combat veteran. He wasn’t in uniform, but he certainly died in combat protecting the lives of fellow Americans. That’s what veterans do, and that’s why we should honor them.

The fact that Mr. Best died combatting a right-wing terrorist who was acting as though the expression of his hatred toward teenagers he thought were Muslims would, somehow, be acceptable to other passengers is even more disturbing. There is no doubt that the rhetoric of the Trump Campaign has communicated permission to express hatred toward Muslim-Americans, even to act on that hatred. When did open expressions of hateful threats become acceptable again in this country? Certainly, the election of President Obama produced a lot of very public hatred. However, that hatred for the most part was indirect such as the whole Birther movement. I think the unapologetic hatred started when Trump announced his intent to run for President (Mexicans are rapists, etc.) and if you ever attended a Trump rally you know what permission to hate is like. It is true that not everyone at a Trump rally would stand with Nazi salutes, call for violence, etc., but there were plenty of those types there and the failure of Trump and everyone else to stop the hatred makes them complicit.

The attack on teens who did nothing to provoke it other than look like Muslims, is only one of hundreds of violent actions and threats in the past year against Americans who are Muslim. However, these attacks somehow seem less threatening than a hypothetical ISIS attack and public discussion of right wing terrorists is almost non-existent. Why? Why would the reality of murder on a public train seem somehow less threatening to us than that of a hypothetical attack from ISIS? The answer is obvious. What is the solution? Love. Love is the only thing that can conquer hatred because love compels us to overcome our fear and act. Love compelled those men to defend those girls. In fact, the dying words to the people around from one of the heroes in the Portland attack, Mr. Namake-Meche was that he loved them.


Obstruction of Reality

May 19, 2017

The leaking of a Comey memo memorializing a request by Trump to give Retired General Michael Flynn a pass on investigation has created quite a firestorm. Some legal pundits and most GOP politicians have given misleading explanations of why Trump’s intervention with the lead investigator was not “obstruction of justice,” and does not rise to an impeachable offense. The explanations range from the usual algorithm of unfolding facts as “fake news … he really didn’t say that … he meant to say something else and he was only joking.” Other misleading explanations include that the FBI investigation is a counter-intelligence investigation (not true as Comey told the nation there was a “criminal investigation of possible collusion”) and the misinterpretation of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” clause in the Constitution.

The fact is that Flynn committed a felony when he gave numerous false statements to an FBI agent, failed to report he was acting as an agent for foreign governments, and probably violated the Logan Act. Trump may have been motivated to avoid the embarrassment of knowingly appointing a man who was a paid agent of Russia and Turkey (a Muslim nation) as his National Security Adviser over the warnings of informed people. (Imagine what Republicans would have done if Obama had hired a man secretly working on behalf of a Muslim nation and gave him access to the most sensitive intelligence!). Or he may have been motivated to cover-up collusion with the Russians. Republicans have been pleading that there is no evidence of Trump Campaign collusion, but that is also obstructing the truth. Brennan testified that he had no knowledge of any evidence of collusion, but as CIA director he had no access to the FBI investigation, and Comey refused to answer the question of evidence. Of course there is lots of evidence – circumstantial evidence, which is often enough to convict in a court of law.

By firing the lead investigator for investigating him, Trump clearly crossed the line from unethical to criminal, and when the Comey memo is produced the evidence of obstruction of justice will be corroborated. This is a scary time for our country. The past week has revealed not only corruption but incompetence in the White House. Still, a persistent 36 percent of Americans still support Trump, and only a handful of Republicans Senators and Congressmen are putting country ahead of their party.

The 36 percent might be understandable, as Trump once bragged those people would still support him even if he murdered someone in broad daylight. But for elected representatives of the people, sworn to defend the Constitution, there really is no excuse for their dereliction of duty. The same crowd that conducted nearly a dozen Benghazi investigations at a cost of hundreds of millions are obstructing their own investigations and moving at a glacial pace, and now are looking the other way as the FBI is being attacked by the President.


Democracy DOA?

May 18, 2017

In a mind blowing interview, Trump admitted that he fired the head of the only (semi) independent investigation of the possible collusion of the trump Campaign with Russia simply because it was “made-up story.” It was an admission that had to have made the White House Counsel scurrying for cover … cover to mask a criminal cover-up. The silence from Republicans has been deafening. That’s how I know American democracy is dead on the arrival of Trump.

When Nixon’s attempt to obstruct justice with a cover-up, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee not only legitimately participated in the investigation, they actually led much of it. When it came time, the leadership of Goldwater, Scott and Rhodes convinced Nixon to resign. When Clinton was accused of obstructing an investigation into his personal sexual relationship with an intern, Democrats didn’t like it, but also didn’t obstruct the Congressional investigation and process. Now we have a President accused of obstructing an investigation into matters that likely rise to the level of treason, and … Republicans such as Grassley shrug their shoulders and tell us to “move on.” GOP leadership – McConnell and Ryan — actually supported the probably illegal action. When an entire party puts party politics above the Constitution, then we no longer are a functioning democracy.

Trump once bragged that he could murder someone in broad daylight in Times Square and his followers wouldn’t mind. Firing Comey is confirmation of Trump’s sense that he is above the law. Fully 36 percent of Americans still strongly support Trump, and poll after poll demonstrate that facts and admissions do not affect their support. Although he has a record low job approval from citizens, he still maintains strong support of most Republicans and then there is the 36 percent that would apparently be as unmoved by possibility of treason as much as murder.

When nearly 40 percent of Americans are untroubled by an attack by a foreign power because it was on behalf of their candidate, then why would GOP leadership put country before politics? When the rule of law is no longer enforced then democracy is lost.

 

 


Liberalism as a Superior Economic Model

May 11, 2017

Liberal economic policies are consistently more successful than the conservative policies of reduced taxation and unrestrained capitalism. One need only look to the near collapse of the economy in 2008 for one of a multitude of examples from history on how liberal policies rescued the economy from the disastrous results of the conservative, free market crowd.

Conservative economic policy embraces the unrestrained capitalism that has resulted in historical as well as contemporary harm to the health of citizens. Historical products of unrestrained capitalism in the U.S. include slavery, child labor, the massive pollution of water and air. More contemporary disasters created by unrestrained capitalism include the economic catastrophes of the Great Depression and the Great Recession.

Liberal policies on taxes funded infrastructure and public education, expanded the middle class and raised the quality of life for all Americans. The Conservative economic policy of “trickle down economics,” beginning with Reagan, reversed the trend of expanding middle-class wealth, created the greatest consolidation of wealth into the top 1 percent in the history of the world, and stifled economic mobility (five socialist countries now have more economic mobility than the U.S.). If the actual results of tax policies are considered, liberals measure success by the distribution of wealth across all economic classes. Conservatives define success as the creation of wealth for 5 percent of the population. Perhaps the most immediate contrast of the two economic philosophies in our lifetime is that of Clinton and Bush. Clinton raised taxes and the result was job creation, economic growth and the first budget surplus in a generation. Bush reduced taxes and the result was stagnant job growth and the largest budget deficit since Reagan.

Over-regulation may be associated with impeding economic growth, but under-regulation is associated with catastrophic disasters. Industry might complain that EPA regulations have stifled growth (although the benefits of clean water and air cannot be denied). How much environmental regulations stifle growth is a theoretical argument, whereas the results of deregulation are undeniably catastrophic. Deregulation of the financial industry nearly destroyed the U.S., along with world economies, and it took a liberal solution of government intervention (TARP) to prevent a total collapse. Conservatives argue that government intervention and taxes only harm the economy, but that is an ideological argument not rooted in historical fact.

So, given the historical accomplishments of Liberalism, why the animus and why the muted defense from liberals? One answer is that liberals no longer have political power, or the potential for political power. Liberals have not held power in government since before Bill Clinton (who was no liberal) and will never hold power again unless a political/social revolution occurs. The reason why is that politics itself has become a marketplace and money rules. A dozen or so families and corporations now dictate the market (policy) and there is no market for ideologies other than creating more wealth for fewer people. The labels of Democrat and Republican have been rendered meaningless as far as working class Americans as concerned. They may talk differently, but in the end money talks louder. The corrupting influence of money in politics has reduced our ability to effect meaningful political change to a thin veneer of episodic elections serving only to mask the money to be made from those elections. Liberalism doesn’t have a chance … until or unless there is another catastrophe.


What Happened to Liberalism?

May 10, 2017

The label of “liberal” has become a pejorative term in the last 25 years and I wonder why. Young people associate liberalism with failed social policy, failed economic policy, wimpy pacifism and misplaced condescension. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Liberal policies have been responsible for most of the greatest achievements in our history, especially economic achievements. Here is a partial list of what “liberalism” contributed to our society:

  • Creating the 40-hour work week.
  • Establishing child labor laws.
  • Establishing the minimum wage.
  • Establishing workplace safety requirements.
  • Ending the Great Depression.
  • Building virtually the entire infrastructure of the country from the Hoover Dam and interstate highways, to the electric grid and the Internet.
  • Winning two World Wars.
  • Public education, including the best public university system in the world.
  • Giving women the right to vote.
  • Ending Jim Crow segregation laws, enforcing the rights of African-Americans to vote.
  • Creating the greatest industrial expansion in world history.
  • Creating the highest standard of living across all economic classes in world history.
  • NASA, and the resulting technological boom.
  • The EPA, which ended the mass water and air pollution of the previous 40 years.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Health and Human Services (HHS), responsible for nearly 60 percent of all Nobel prizes in science and medicine since then.
  • Creating real economic mobility.
  • Social Security.
  • Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Virtually eliminating poverty, until the 1990s.

Liberalism has had failures, welfare is one example, but once one separates the facts from right-wing distortions the failures of liberal policies are far rarer than the successes. Let’s blog a bit about Liberlaism.

 


Aging Conscience

May 1, 2017

I’ve always wondered why many older people I meet seem to be less interested in changing the world as they age. Issues that would have incensed them in the past – war, injustice, racism – now seem to evoke only a reluctant acceptance as the inevitable. It makes me wonder what is different about me and my friends that has made us more involved and active in social change as we age. Why is it that I feel more compelled to act as I age in contrast to so many of my contemporaries?

Is it because I am involved with the Law by representing victims and defending Constitutional Rights? There is certainly no less injustice in this era and I talk to the victims every day. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Perhaps as some people age they succumb to discouragement or frustration. Some of my generation are tired and discouraged, and I can hardly blame them. Baby-boomers began a civil rights and gender rights revolution that produced monumental social changes, only to see a slow but steady reversal of those gains since the 1980s.

I know that for many people in my generation the call to social action was less a function of a violated conscience, or personal experience as it was a call to having a feeling that they were part of something… belonging rather than becoming. Changing society seemed to be an easier task than changing one’s self. So, as they age and their energies are demanded by children and careers it becomes easier to become complacent about the society we are constructing for them and less a part of it. The abstract prejudice, the possibility of being drafted, the news images of poverty and hunger in some area remote in Appalachia… even the desperate rhythm of life in nearby urban ghettos seemed remote because of the self-imposed segregation of our parents. These were more symbols of injustice than the personal experience that compels one to respond. Joining a march or a popular movement justified by righteous goals is not a substitute for changing those parts of ourselves that contribute to the very same injustice.

This is how I understand contemporaries who were active in their youth fighting for the rights of racial and religious minorities, or against the military industrial complex who now support the radical right wing in D.C. You know, the people who worked to elect Obama who then voted for Trump. Maybe they didn’t devolve into justifying grabbing a women’s vagina, and simply never evolved to someone who would never consider the thought. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the loss of reproductive rights, civil rights and economic opportunity that is prompting a new generation of resistance now. I hope so.

I know my parents never stopped fighting for labor and civil rights because they were always talking with the victims or seeing injustice first hand. They were “agitators” I guess. Maybe it’s genetic. Or maybe it’s just something our children learn from example, and learn from the opportunity to see the world beyond their bubble. All I know is that the meaning I have in life is derived in part from the justice I can get for victims and the conscience that comes from trying to create change.